WHY LAOS?

Why would I leave familiarity behind to live in a country with an unfamiliar language, less conveniences, and lower quality infrastructure? Why put myself through the challenge of trying to understand different traffic laws, learning how to do what used to be simple tasks like shopping for household supplies, or having to learn new tasks like how to get jugs of water delivered to my place? Furthermore, there’s the difficulty in trying to understand a different way of communication, what to do when invited to a wedding, how to respond to questions or behavior considered rude in my home country, and the important lesson of how to appropriately interact with people of the opposite sex!

When people find out I live in Laos, they often ask what country it’s in, unaware that it exists as a sovereign nation. The follow-up question people ask is, “Why Laos?” 2015-03-29 20.06.04It’s dusty in the dry season, muddy during the rainy season, and has a thermostat set on “oppressively hot and humid” most of the year. Ants outnumber people and all other living things 10,000 to 1.

Why Laos?

Every country I’ve been to has its own beautiful scenery and geographical features. With its rustic backgrounds, jagged mountains that stick haphazardly out of the ground, mighty and majestic waterfalls and swimming holes, and enormous caves seem unexplored as you venture further and further into utter darkness, Laos is certainly no different. You’ll see many breath-taking scenes while traveling in Laos.

But that’s not why I came.

Every country has its own special food, and enjoying sticky rice with chili sauce, grilled fish, papaya salad, laab (minced meat salad), and a wide assortment of mouth-watering fruit makes a visit to Laos a delicious – and sometimes adventurous – eating experience. “Kin khaw” – which I roughly translate as “Eat!”- has become one of my favorite phrases to hear.Honeycomb

But I didn’t stay for the local diet.

Lao traditional dancing in all its elegance, accompanied by the sounds of the traditional flutes and Lao instruments, enraptures the soul with delight, but it’s not why I stay.Lao dance.jpg

Corruption and bribery are cited as major problems plaguing the government and society. (Of course, Laos is far from being the lone country in that category). Yet the government is also full of leaders striving to help their nation graduate from among the least developed nations, and there’s an excitement in joining them in that struggle.

I came, came back, and finally remained because I was inspired. Inspired by the Lao people I met who had a passion for transforming communities and the entire nation. They welcome assistance but have a heart and strategy to lead the way in lifting their people out of poverty, guiding the youth away from drug and alcohol abuse, and building each other up to prosper. They are kind and relationship-oriented, always ready to invite you to join them for a meal if you haven’t eaten yet.

Yes, there are growing pains in development. Like a teenage growth spurt, rapid change can be exciting but also clumsy. A male adolescent could mope around in misery over his voice-cracking embarrassment, or he can delight in the process of becoming a mature, sophisticated man. I may have just compared a nation to an awkward and hormonally imbalanced male, but I hope you get the metaphor.2015-04-16 06.51.28

Laos will prosper. One day, Laos will no longer lack the means to grow and process their own food. One day soon, a large proportion of currently malnourished children will no longer suffer irreversible brain damage or stunted growth due to a lack of nutrients. The internet, for goodness sake, will one day be reliable and consistently fast!

Partnering with the Lao people in whatever way I can to see their nation become a shining example is my dream and why I believe God put it in my heart to make Laos my home. There are great opportunities here.2016-06-07 10.57.12

I’m not here to show them a Western way of operating but to collaborate in order to make the Lao nation abundantly prosper – the Lao way and with the Lao heart. And for now, I cannot leave; God has tied my heart to this place. But I won’t object.

Dividing the Indivisible – The Undoing of the United States

I’m frustrated with the political situation in the U.S., as many are, but I hope this doesn’t simply add to the political noise. I truly believe a failure to take this message to heart, regardless of where it comes from, will lead to the deterioration of the once United States of America.

With an election year coming up, and the political banter well underway, it seems right to express it now. Here are my frustrations concerning…

  1. The people, us, the voters: Many quite freely exercise their freedom of speech by complaining and criticizing. An elected official nowadays basically is agreeing to hold a position where they will be slandered, insulted, mocked, and ridiculed. Who would want to lead a group of such people? Why do we treat our leaders this way? Yes, leaders should expect criticism and complaints, but there’s a great difference between constructive criticism and simply tearing down someone when you disagree. At least seek to offer a better solution respectfully. Instead we sit in the back row and hurl tomatoes but remain unwilling to involve ourselves. For the sake of the nation I plead with all to support and honor those in authority. We don’t have to agree, but it seems we’ve lost the ability to disagree respectfully. We must gain this back or it will destroy us. For those elected to a high position, can we assume that at least part of their motivation is to do what’s best for the people?
  2. Those in authority: Why are you aiming to “win” an election and “defeat” your opponent? That’s like having a goal to get a ring on a finger and say “I do” rather than aiming to have a joyful, successful, lasting marriage. Shouldn’t “winning” mean reducing poverty, increasing the quality of education, and improving the nation as a whole? Shouldn’t you aim at “defeating” injustices, unemployment, broken families, and violence? Why must we set two parties against each other who seem mostly concerned with maintaining power and holding fast to the ideals of the party, because they otherwise risk being rejected by both parties? Why compete against each other? A president once quoted Jesus by saying, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” We are at a critical moment, for our nation will progressively become more limited and full of turmoil if we continue in dissensions and quarrels amongst ourselves. Leaders, it’s not about you or your party. You are being elected to serve the people. We may not agree on what’s best, but if you commit to putting the nation’s best interests first and engage in discussion over how to do that, then I believe the people will commit to putting their trust in you.

We have come to a point where we paint leaders out to be villains who do no good. Even if we largely disagree with someone, we can still respect and honor them. Additionally, when those in leadership positions promote such hate toward one another, is it any wonder why such violence exists around the country? I’m not insinuating a strong correlation between animosity among our leaders and the frequent shooting tragedies, but I do call for a better example from those in leadership positions.

We need to evaluate where we are headed and change the current cultural climate, not so the U.S. can remain a “superpower,” but instead for it to remain a prosperous land of abundance that can bless other nations and once again be land of opportunity where people want to live.

Race & Religion: Be Careful When Promoting Equality

Violence against particular groups based on their race or religion continues to plague humanity, perhaps at an increased rate in recent years. Both race and religion create a great bond among those who share the same identification while repeatedly stirring up great animosity between different groups.

Racism/ethnocentrism exists everywhere, far beyond the white/black tensions that frequently arise in the US. One ethnic group either sees themselves as superior, perceives that another group treats them as inferior, or for a myriad of other reasons simply does not like another group. Religious differences, even within the same major religious classifications, have led to tremendous hate and bloodshed.

The popular stance appears to aim at seeing everyone as equal. For example, regarding race one might say they don’t see the color of one’s skin. Yet what does that communicate? One might as well say, “Your race doesn’t matter. Despite the fact that you are ____, I see you as normal (like me).” But ethnicity does matter. At least, it matters to God.

Some suggest God is “colorblind,” as if race developed as an accidental byproduct of humans following the command to “be fruitful and multiply.” I strongly disagree and suggest that God does not look upon mankind and solely see one human “race” void of different ethnicities. Something that should be celebrated, however, has led to intense rivalry and bitter quarreling throughout history, and I expect it to continue.

Why so negative? Because ethnic and cultural differences are intended to bring greater glory to our creative God, and good things from God have become tainted by Satan, sin (pride), and wickedness. God will gather all ethnicities, people created in His image from every tribe and language, together at His throne where they will worship the Christ who redeemed them (see Revelation 7:9). Which brings up religion.

Religious Fighting

People often preach tolerance or a desire for those among varying beliefs to “coexist,” stating that religions generally teach people to do good and treat others well, so all should be respected. The mistake in promoting such a viewpoint is that treating all beliefs as equally valid demonstrates an ignorance over the important differences and actually discredits them by insinuating no beliefs are true. When eternal destination is at stake, beliefs matter a great deal. “You believe what you believe, and I’ll believe what I believe” sounds like “I don’t care what you believe because I believe what I believe,” rather than a desire to actually understand the other person’s faith.

I am not saying violence is justified or an acceptable means to deal with differences, but I am not surprised by it. Violence is a result of fear and pride. In order to move past those feelings, we must not promote a broad “acceptance” but instead seek to understand. We can promote peace, which I encourage, but let’s not be shallow in our thinking. Equality nowadays typically means doing away with differences, or, if we’re honest, making people think and act like we do. Instead, learn about other ethnicities, appreciate the creativity in each, and recognize both good and bad aspects of each culture. Concerning religion, don’t belittle a person’s faith by equating it with all other beliefs. Then, after learning about another’s belief, one should be free to accept or reject a faith. Forcing or manipulating people to convert indicates a human-driven belief system. And God is our final judge, not man.

People can either decide to determine for themselves what and how to worship, including worship of self, sex, money, and good works, or they can worship God as He has prescribed. God does not look upon all religions and say to their devoted followers, “Good enough.” It’s insane to think so, because it would make God a monster or a confused moron to have people believe such a variety of ideas. Why would God teach some people to suffer for the sake of others while teaching another group to pursue their own happiness by removing themselves from suffering? Why would He present Himself as a loving Father to some while having other groups live in fear of Him? According to Jesus, as the Messiah He never would have suffered and died on a cross if God had another way for people to be saved (see Matthew 26:39).

Point being, don’t promote an equality or acceptance that disregards differences. God intended there to be differences among cultures, and all have value in demonstrating God’s creativeness and glory through the uniqueness of peoples that He has created in His image. Regarding religion, examine accepted beliefs and acknowledge that the faith people hold on to demands more respect than a “whatever is good” attitude, for the consequences of what one believes remains of utmost importance.

Why a Rainbow Fits the Pride Movement More Than Anyone Realizes

The pride movement currently transforming society displays a rainbow as their emblem. While the image is likely intended to represent an acceptance of a whole spectrum of lifestyles, the rainbow represents something far more.

The movement is characterized by those wanting to indulge in acting out the passions they have inside and garner an acceptance from others to live according to those desires. In response to those who have reacted with hateful condemnation or a milder disapproval, they have resolved to proudly declare an acceptance of engaging in lifestyle behaviors based on what feels good rather than what others suggest God established as right.

The symbol of this pride movement is a rainbow.

Thousands of years ago, God made a promise following an act of judgment against the wickedness of the world, using a rainbow as a sign of His covenant not to destroy the earth with a flood ever again. He said, “I have set My bow in the cloud” (Gen. 9:13) as a reminder of the covenant. Interestingly, the original word for “bow” refers to the weapon used for shooting arrows, and this “bow” God placed in the clouds is aimed up, toward the heavens.

Rainbow

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” -Isaiah 5:20

Human pride turns to debased thinking that accepts inner desires as good and right, disregarding what Creator God commands.

“Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” -Rom. 1:32

The passage refers to people of the same gender having sexual relations, but it also includes “gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish [morally], faithless, heartless, ruthless” (Rom. 1:29,30). That includes a few more people, doesn’t it?

In case you feel left out, a few verses later reads, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10).

Therefore, a rainbow perfectly represents a pride movement where people defiantly choose their own ways rather than God’s righteous ways. However, though we stand in rebellion against the Almighty God, He placed the bow aimed at Himself. Thousands of years before fulfillment, God demonstrated that the wrath our proud ways deserve would instead be poured out on the Holy One, Christ Jesus.

“But He was wounded and bruised for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace; He was lashed—and we were healed.” -Isaiah 53:5 (TLB)

The rainbow, chosen as a symbol of pride, actually serves as a reminder that God is well aware that we stand in opposition to Him, and in response He says, “Come to Me.” We throw rocks at our Creator, mock the living God, sneer at the laws of the righteous Judge, and set ourselves up in place of the Most High. Yet He willingly says, “Let’s put that behind us.”

“Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” -Isaiah 55:7

Recently, images of rainbows appear everywhere. In seeing them, remember that in the midst of our arrogance and defiance God “is patient toward [us], not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Aligning ourselves with pride will only put us in opposition to God, for “God opposes the proud” (James 5:5). Instead, let us see rainbows as a call to humbly return to a gracious God.

rainbow

Why Doesn’t God Like Me?

What does it mean to be a man or woman after God’s own heart? King David was called such (Acts 13:22), and God promised to establish his throne forever, while the previous king, Saul, was rejected by God.1 Jealousy consumed and controlled Saul, but at times God prevented David from falling deeper in sin.2 If you desire to please God and have Him look on you with favor, the question you would ask is “Why?” What made God respond so differently to these two men? Simply having or expressing the desire to be described like David will not make it true. After studying the lives of these two men, we must honestly examine our hearts to discover if our character resembles Saul or David more closely.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me…” –Psalm 139:23,24 (written by David)

Saul

From a wealthy family, handsome, and a head taller than everyone, Saul fit the image of a king well, especially after leading Israel to many victories in battle. In reading through the account of his life, you’ll also see instances where he appeared to be spiritually minded and expressed repentance when disobedient to God’s commands. Though God eventually removed His loving kindness from him,3 it would be a mistake to write him off as one who defiantly opposed God. He more closely resembles someone you’d find in church. He gives the impression through his words and actions that he’s a spiritual man, seeking to please God. We may not want to admit it, but we likely display behavior similar to Saul at times.

Saul set out to obey God, but because of the pressure of the people around him he justified what may have seemed like minor disobedience.4 Or he convinced himself that it was okay to not fully obey God based on what seemed good to him, even making it sound good spiritually.1 If you’ve ever said/thought “I know I’m supposed to do (or not do) this, but God understands,” you’ve had a heart like Saul. No matter how well-intentioned it sounds, disobedience will not please God. Additionally, when God didn’t answer Saul how he wanted, he sought guidance from other sources.5 Surely none of us have kept asking for counsel or advice until we heard what we wanted to hear…

The character flaws in Saul to be watchful of in our own lives: blaming others to justify his sin,1,4 being self-centered rather than focusing on God or others,6 having a greater concern for his own reputation than for honoring God,1 having the appearance of godliness without a heart that sought to know Him,1 and growing jealous of those who received more recognition.7

Saul knew all the right words for repentance. He knew how to say the right things in attempting to please others. Yet his actions demonstrated the true character of his heart. Throughout his life, Saul’s behavior demonstrated the extent of his devotion to God. He achieved great success and became proud, only exhibiting brokenness and a desire to do right when others exposed his sinful behavior.

“…this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me…” –Isaiah 29:13

David

David came from a poor family and was least thought of among his brothers.8 He had many humble roles before becoming king but served in each wholeheartedly, even fighting against lions and bears to protect his sheep as a shepherd boy. Perhaps his hours spent alone among sheep helped him develop a deep relationship with his LORD. One becomes a good and godly leader through developing the inner self more than by outward action.

David was most concerned about the glory of God.3 He stood against Goliath not to make a name for himself but because the Philistine warrior had defied the name of the LORD.9 He attributed his success to the LORD,9 remaining humble throughout all his achievements and honor,3,7 and continuously sought the LORD when making decisions. David showed great mercy and grace to people who cursed him.10 Forgiveness can be a hard thing for people, but David honored Saul despite his repeated attempts to kill David.11 He showed generosity.12 Even though he was anointed by God to be king as a youth, David demonstrated great trust and patience in the LORD’s sovereignty and promises by not taking vengeance on those who stood against him13 and by allowing the people to anoint him as king rather than force their acceptance.14 David was a true servant king, recognizing that his position was given for the sake of God’s people,15 and he “administered justice and equity to all His people.”16 He worshipped, often and unashamedly, in private and in public.17

David’s life exhibits many promises given in the Scriptures: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7). “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8). “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter:5:6-7).

From all the Psalms David wrote we can see he truly loved God and spent intimate times with Him. God wasn’t a far off Being but his true Rock and Refuge. In the Psalms we also see that David didn’t always feel close to God or see Him at work in his life, but he always trusted in Him. David loved God and lived for His glory.

David committed great sins, but demonstrated quick and sincere repentance.18 His life demonstrated a firm belief in the sovereignty, mercy, grace, and goodness of God, even while enduring many difficulties at the hand of wicked men. The testing of our faith will prove how genuine we are in seeking God as an end, not a means to an end (1 Peter 1:7). In other words, if we give up on our faith when life doesn’t go our way, it only shows our heart is after the good things we receive from God rather than after God Himself. David clung to God more closely and worshiped Him during his trials, because his heart was after God and not after his own prosperity.

Take care in monitoring the position and intentions of your heart. Long for a close connection with God out of love, not for personal gain or appearances, and we can truly be people after God’s own heart.

“The LORD sees not as man see; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” -1 Samuel 16:7

11 Samuel 15  21 Samuel 25:32, 29:9  32 Samuel 7  41 Samuel 13  51 Samuel 28:6  61 Samuel 14:24, ch 22-23  71 Samuel 18  81 Samuel 16:11  91 Samuel 17  101 Samuel 24  112 Samuel 1:19  121 Samuel 30:23-24  132 Samuel 19:23  142 Samuel 2  152 Samuel 5:12  162 Samuel 8:15  172 Samuel 6, many Psalms  182 Samuel 12:13, 24:10, Psalm 51