Julie

julie

Sometimes I am concerned for my granddaughters growing up in secular Europe.

So today I listened carefully as my 12 year old Belgian granddaughter, Julie, a professed Christian, following the ways of the Lord, talked about her daily life as we hiked together through the mountains of the Ardennes.

“About a year ago I thought I had found a new friend from my street. She was my age, fun to be with and interested in the same things. But within days I learned that she was quite different in certain respects, which troubled me.

She resisted what her parents asked of her, demanded her own way of them and did not hesitate to lie. She said for example, that she has a brother and a horse, neither of which are true. Or when I wore my bicycle helmet because my parents instructed me to, she would not wear her helmet even though her parents had asked her to do the same.

One day she asked me to lie for her to her parents. I immediately responded, ‘you can lie if you wish but I will not lie for you or with you.’ Then I walked away from her.

Over the next month I saw little of her but I prayed daily for her. One day she invited me to her birthday party. Since that time we have become very close. She no longer lies about anything and she is more respectful of her parents. In fact her parents said to her, “‘We are glad Julie is your friend.’

She is now my very best friend and I know she will become a Christian because I am praying for her and talking with her about my faith in Jesus.”

As I listened I prayed, “O Lord, help me to be as clear about my identity in Christ and my mission to love people, yet shape the culture around me through gracious truth, even as this young child.”

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My Friend, Dr. Awad

dr-awad

I was recently reflecting with my friend Dr. Fayez Awad about his 80 years of life. Dr. Awad grew up in a culture that at times discriminated against him because of his Christian faith. However the favor of the Lord was upon him and like Moses he was trained in the wisdom of Egypt and rose in honor to where as a highly skilled veterinarian he was selected to care for the pets of the Prime Minister of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser.

As a young man Dr. Awad was called by God out of Egypt to live in the the United States. Here he established a successful veterinary practice in Elizabethtown, Pa where he and his wife Minerva raised their two children, John and Mary. Dr. Awad was sought after for his veterinary expertise by big city zoos because of his special knowledge in camel diseases. At the same time his clients in Elizabethtown and surrounding areas came to know him as a highly skilled diagnostician of small animal diseases and as being very effective in the medical and surgical care of their pets.

Dr Awad always proclaimed the goodness of God to his friends and clients. He would pray before performing surgery on the pets of his clients and commit the outcome into the hands of God.

As he and I shared together I suddenly had the thought,which I believe came from God, “Let us have a party to celebrate all that has God has done through your life and your ministry to people through your practice of veterinary medicine.”

Dr. Awad was a bit taken back by my suggestion but after some time to digest this thought he and his family came into agreement and began to plan for the party.

So on Saturday evening June 25, 2016 at 5pm, we had a party (one week after his birthday) at LifeGate Church, Elizabethtown, celebrating the 81 years of his life. Approximately 100 of Dr. Awads clients, family and friends gathered for the joyful celebration. The evening was filled with joy and laughter as we partook of Egyptian/American food and shared favorite stories of the years of Dr. Awad’s practice . It became apparent as the stores were shared that Dr. Awad’s life was not just about caring for animals but rather, caring for pets was Dr. Awad’s way of caring for people and showing them the love of the Father who cares about all of his creation, including the owners of the suffering pets.

Over the years Dr. Awad was not alway certain he was being understood because of his Egyptian accent, so he would end many of his explanations with “Do you follow me?”

So tonight I answer Dr. Awad: “ Yes, dear friend, we follow you. You are coming through loud and clear as an outstanding human being: outstanding in your skill and expertise, outstanding in integrity, outstanding in generosity and hospitality and outstanding in your demonstration of the love of God to a people you have come to call your own.

Thank you for coming to us out of Egypt and expressing the heart of the Father who could Himself be called an Immigrant in that he left the culture of heaven to come among us in the person of His son Jesus. And like you, He also asks repeatedly, “Do you follow Me?”

My Mother

iva-martin

My mother, Iva, was 78 when she died of complications of diabetes. I had reflected, as she was weakening in her final weeks, that there were many things I had learned from my patients over the years about their lives that I did not know about my own mother. Even though I had wanted to have this conversation with her for years, there was something in me that resisted taking on an interviewer role with my mother. But I thought, “now or never” and I began the conversation.

“Mother, what was it like when you were a girl? What was your relationship with your father? What was your relationship with your mother? With your siblings? How did your father’s mental illness affect you?

What was the most difficult part of your life? What was the best part? What was it like having me as your son? What would you do differently about your life? What is it like for you now, facing death? Tell me about your relationship with Jesus.”

For hours she talked and I listened. I learned things I had never known about her. I came to understand my own life in a new way. I learned that her spiritual life had become alive for her in the later part of her life. She said it was like the Bible came alive to her.

At the end I leaned over her as she lay on the bed and kissed her goodby for the last time, grateful that God had given me such a wonderful mother and doubly grateful that I had come to know her heart even at this late hour.

I had wanted to be with her when she died but I was fulfilling a speaking engagement in the Lancaster area when I received the message that she had passed to her reward. I learned that in her final moments she suddenly roused herself and exclaimed, “I see angels and they are coming my way.” As eager as we were to have her stay, God was more eager to have her join Him.

I was able to release my mother with joy. I realized that part of the pain of parting is the “the unfinished conversations.” But we had finished our conversations for now.

I know we will have more to share when I see her again.

Dale Keener’s Homecoming

dale-keener

My wife Ruth’s brother, Dale L. Keener, age 77, heard the final call this morning shortly after his morning prayer, “Holy Spirit, please lead, guide, and direct my steps today.”

And Jesus said,”Come on home, my faithful son.”

Dale was not only my brother-in-law he was my good friend and prayer partner. Ever since his time as a missionary in Ethiopia as a young man, he carried the world as well as his family in his heart. His greatest desire and prayer was to see all those God brought into his life, from family to neighbors to those he visited in prison, share heaven with him.

As one of his daughter’s said, “In Dale Keener’s home, there was always room for another at the table, always a place to stay.”

So, today, his work complete, Dale left unexpectedly for his long anticipated face-to-face meeting with his beloved Lord and Savior who has prepared an eternal place for him to stay.

Survivor’s Guilt

survivors-guilt

How does one handle ‘survivors guilt’?

We just completed a great week at the Ukunda Missions School. Vaughn and I and his leadership team are in a two day planning retreat at Chale Island. The setting is beautiful and God is moving us into clarity and unity about next steps.

But then I hear from Ruth and read on line about the historic snow storm back home. I am writing this at 3 am as the waves at high tide crash against the shore, spraying me with their mist. This spot is perfect but I struggle to be present to the beauty of this moment for my mind and heart are back in the States at a home alone Old Hershey Road.

Will Ruth and everyone else be safe? She says they are fine. She will wait till tomorrow to determine if the snow blower will work properly. I am believing God for everyone’s safety.

So should I delight that I have escaped the biggest snow storm of the last 100 years or should I feel some vaugue mixture of guilt that I am not home, mixed with regret that I will never be able to say, “I lived through the Storm of 2016.”

Whatever I should feel, I do feel something of all of the above.

I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 4:11-13:

“I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content….For I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

So thank God, He enables us to enjoy Him whether we are in a blizzard or on the shores of the Indian Ocean.

The Gift of Presence

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I have spent 40 years learning and practicing psychiatry. And I have spent a lifetime learning to know and to follow Jesus Christ. For at least part of my career I think that I tried to allow psychiatry to inform my faith. But now I would say that my faith informs and shapes my psychiatry. In other words I ask, “How does God see psychiatry?” and not “How does psychiatry see God?”.

This week I am teaching students at the Ukunda Missions School who are training as missionaries. The students are passionate about sharing their faith in Christ with those as yet unreached with the Gospel. They have sacrificed having families, or in some cases being with their families, in order to follow God’s call into missions. And they have sacrificed their desire for jobs and successful careers. It is as though they are, with Moses, esteeming the reproach they may receive for following and preaching Christ to be of greater value than the treasures this world has to offer.

As I face the students each day, I know that these young people, in their twenties, thirties and forties, are prepared to suffer and even to die for Christ. So I find myself praying, “God, of all the things you have shown me in my lifetime, including the things you have taught me from psychiatry, what is most important for me to share in these five days?”

It is rather like “special forces training.” I want these highly motivated young people to be equipped in every way for effective participation in the most glorious task of laboring and even dying in God’s harvest field. But time is short and we must impart the most essential elements.

I have sensed that my part has to do with helping the students become ‘incarnate’ to others even as Christ laid aside his glory and took on human form. The challenge is to lay aside our entitlements, our preferences and our prejudgements and to truly enter into the experience of another so that they can say, “Yes, you have understood me; yes, you have loved me. Now speak to me.”

Years ago one of my mentors, an atheist psychiatrist, said, “Our patients most value the gift of our ‘presence’ to them. They are willing to offer good money for that.” And for money I am willing to attempt to be fully present to my patients. But with those closest to me I often allow distractions to take me away from being fully present and truly listening to the needs of their hearts.

So I am using the Gospel of John chapters 13-17 as the foundation of my special forces training on “Servant Love.”

Coptic Connections

egyptian

It feels as though God is doing a new thing when the leaders of the local Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church invited a team of us from LifeGate to address their youth on ‘living a holy life in an unholy culture.’

Through presentations, testimonies and panel discussions, seven of us from LifeGate shared with the full house what it means to follow the Holy Spirit in a culture where many choose to follow the desires of the flesh rather than the direction of the Holy Spirit. It is apparent that whatever one’s cultural background, choosing to follow Jesus places you into a countercultural position.

We met tonight at the Coptic Church. We will be meeting again tomorrow, November 28th, from 5-8 pm. Tonight we dealt with issues of sexuality and tomorrow we deal with addictions, including drugs, alcohol and pornographhy.

May these new relationships yield much fruit for the Kingdom.C

Thanksgiving 2015

thanksgiving-2015

Our Thanksgiving Day family time was significantly enriched by a guest from Saudi Arabia. We shared stories and laughed and cried together.

As part of our time together I told the story of Squanto as recorded in the children’s book by Eric Metaxas. Squanto was the Native American who had been kidnapped and taken to Europe and then came back and actually helped save the struggling Pilgrims. In many ways Squanto’s life paralled the life of the Biblical Joseph.

We had a contest for the best instant message inviting Squanto to the first Thanksgiving Dinner. Everyone was a winner.

Alejandro and His Daughter

alejandro-and-daughter

Alejandro Colindres and his now grown daughter.

I am still reflecting on the power and inspiration of the weekend with Alejandro Colendres and Fraternidad Chrisiana, his network of churches, in their annual Christin Fellowship Conference in Stamford, Connecticut, attended by over 1000.

Alejandro’s ministry here in the States began 30 years ago when he came to the United States from Honduras for 10 months to be with his infant daughter who was suffering from a life-threatening illness and being treated in a hospital in Baltimore.

As he waited for the recovery of his daughter he very naturally shared his faith with every one he met. God arranged special encounters and miracles. People began coming to faith in Christ. The first cell group was held in a McDonald’s.

As people moved on from that location and were scattered they started cell groups; cell groups multiplied and became churches; churches multiplied. Today there are over 50 churches in the eastern USA and internationally.

The focus of this network of churches is training every believer to become a trainer of new believers who become trainers of new believers. This work is seen as a partnership with the Holy Spirit who arranges divine encounters and performs miracles which lead to increased faith and faithfulness.

The theme of the conference was ‘activate’. I was invited to address the conference on Sunday morning on that theme.

I can testify that my faith was ‘activated’ to a new level as a result of being with these people of God.

Immanuel Community Church

immanuel-community-church

Up until four days ago I had never met anyone from the Immanuel Community Church in Flushing New York. Now after spending Labor Day weekend as speaker for this congregatio’s annual retreat at Camp Deerpark near Port Jervis, New York, Ruth and I feel we have new friends which we will treasure forever.

Mark and Annabelle Perri pastor this amazing multicultural congregation in Queens New York. They truly are “defiant gardeners” effectively planting a visible community of God’s transforming grace in the midst of this confluence of the nations.

Mark recalls that in 2001, at the same congregational retreat, sensing an impending disaster coming upon the city and nation. Now 14 years later he has a similar sense. The congregation spent much of last night in prayer that God would prepare us to be faithful and victorious in these troubling times.

I face this fall season troubled by what may happen but somehow confidently expectant of a mighty manifestation of God’s grace.

And I stand amazed at the way God is connecting His people to work together in this great Harvest Time.

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