Saturday, December 21, 2013

Do I seek fairness as much for others as I do for myself?

Many of my friends believe Phil Robertson has been treated unfairly. Perhaps.  Truth be told, when you are a well-known representative of a company, a brand, an idea, or an organization, there is a cost to words that do not reflect the stance of your employer.  This is not a "free speech" issue.  For example, the chairman of Exxon could not make a public statement calling for a ban on all offshore drilling.  That statement is in utter conflict with his company's position.  He soon would be on It is easy to imagine other speech from prominent figures that would not be well accepted.  The president of PETA could not make a commercial for Whataburger.

Anyway.  Is it sad that biblical principles are not well accepted in our culture?  Of course it is.  Is this all a big scam to make more money for Duck Commander and for A&E?  Perhaps.  But I see a more fundamental problem with American Christianity from this episode.

We quickly rush to causes when there is not cost to us.  We are alarmed at unfairness...but, many times, only when it affects us personally or only when we can show outrage, but once again, it's when the remedy does not include money.  Others notice our self-centeredness, and the message of Christ is not well received if we act as His representatives.

A sense of fairness, researchers say, is peculiar to people.  Animals don't make sure smaller animals have enough food.  A big dog may hog a whole bowl and leave some of his little ones drooling and hungry.  But people, when witnessing unfairness feel something deep inside of them that says...this is wrong.

Biblically, we are told consistently to look out for those who cannot look out for themselves.  Isaiah 1:17 says this...Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.  Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.

If we examine this list and be honest with its contents, we can conclude several things.  One, God's heart is troubled by oppression.  We, as Christ-followers are to defend the oppressed.  Two, God's heart goes out to the helpless.  We are to help those who cannot help themselves. Three, God expects us to LEARN.  We won't naturally do right, we have to learn to do right by observing others who do right, and passionately studying God's word.

With all these activities, there is a cost.  A cost of money and a cost of time.  In fact, there are entire organizations defending these causes with tens of millions of dollars a year.  But they can't do that much.  It's up to us as Christian individuals to fill the gap.  And than means our money, our time, our energy, and our passion.

Here's the test for you.  Do I seek fairness as much for others as I do for myself?  When I speak of fairness, is it always in the abstract, or is it on a personal level with another human being we know?  Is my fairness only on Facebook or is it face-to-face with a person from Isaiah 1:17.

You be the judge.  Have a great weekend.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

My family at TacoBar, Jaco Beach, Costa Rica.  Great swings for seats
My family is pretty cool.  Much more so than me.  They love to work for God and they like to play a little bit too.  They're not scared to try new things or live outside the country.  They eat the local food, drink the local water, and enjoy the scenery.  They're always looking for a new adventure for Christ, be it in Costa Rica, Texas, Minnesota, Mexico, or Illinois.  I'm proud of my family, it gives me great pleasure to spend time with them in this place.  We love coming here, we love working with our school, learning more about the language and the Costa Rican people, praying for the lost, and helping those in need.

When we take short vacations during our time in Costa Rica, sometimes we shut down a little bit.  It's human nature.  And that's why I'm writing this today.  Let me tell you what happened.

Before we snapped this photo, we took to the ziplines at Jaco Canopy Tour where our guide was Patrick.  Patrick was a long-time expat who makes his home in Jaco.  He inquired of our comings and goings in Costa Rica, and we explained what we do.  Patrick then told us of his faith in Christ, and mentioned that he attended Horizon Church.  As part of his life, he served homeless people in Jaco on Friday nights.  I looked at our bearded, heavily tattooed guide, and thanked God that there were people like him.  Because even in what Americans call paradise, there are the hurting, the lonely, the homeless, the addicted, and the suffering.

Following our short zipline tour, we stopped for lunch at a famous local place called TacoBar.  The kids enjoyed the swings, while Vickie and I did not.  As we ate, an aging woman, toothless and limping, came into the restaurant asking for money.  The woman appeared to have cognitive issues and had trouble talking.  She carried her possessions in two plastic bags from the local grocery store.

Here's the thing.  I'm not sure whether she needed money, food, clothes, a bed, or a hug.  I'm not sure whether she had an empty purse or a handful of twenties.  I am sure of this, however.  She needed Jesus Christ in her life.

And I'm glad there are Christ-followers like Patrick, who instead of partying away Fridays in paradise, look out for the least of these.

Lord, help us always be vigilant to those in need, whether we're in church, at home, on the street, or in a restaurant.  Amen.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

To care for others is to live for Christ

Life is not lost by dying; life is lost minute by minute, day by dragging day, in all the thousand small uncaring ways. - Stephen Vincent Benet

I was taken with this little quote that's repeated by the pastor at the conclusion of the Sunday evening service at Escazu Christian Fellowship.  Life can be lost by dying, but for those who have crossed the line of faith and have trusted Christ as their Lord and Savior, that part is settled.  It's our eighty or so years we spend here of which we have a choice.

I've met many who claim Christ.  And I've met many who care deeply about their own families.  In fact, it's quite rare that a man or woman does not care about their family.   As a society, we still judge that to be sinful.  

I've met quite a few who care deeply about injustice, hunger, oppression, and violence.  Some of those are deeply involved in attempting to right those wrongs.

I've met a few who care about lost souls.  They suffer internally when they consider the fate of those far from God, and they go and do something about it.  In their home, first of all, in their neighborhoods, businesses, restaurants, and parks.

But, unfortunately, my friends, the vast majority of those who claim Christ have not seen the beautiful, life changing nature of caring deeply.  The busy nature of an American family's schedule and plans have left little time for caring about anyone except those that are closest to them.  Christian families do a wonderful job of letting those closest to them know they are loved.  But the subtle trap of a busy schedule deprives most of us from the most fundamental command that Christ gave to us.  Love one another.  And this love is supposed to break down the walls of the home, the workplace, and the church.  It's supposed to reach the community and the world with a love that's never ending and kind.

If we are the hands and feet of Jesus, then we are clearly without callouses and blisters.

So, today, read this little quote from Benet, and then begin to care.  You will change someone else's life, and you may even change your own, too.  Here's a few of my family and friends who care for the lost in Costa Rica.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The fear of heights

At Pico Blanco near Escazu, Costa Rica, December 7, 2013.  From front to back: Danielle Markham, Katrina Befus, Lynnea Befus, Kristin Markham, Bradley Markham
In 1990, as part of an inspection process, I climbed to the top of the South Texas Unit 2 Reactor Containment Building to get a close up look at a ring header containing numerous flow nozzles. The trek to the top of the 225' building included a section of a rung ladder that was not enclosed in a cage.  I became a little nervous, but completed the climb up to the very top section which was quite well protected.  After we had inspected the header, we made our way down, and once again I experienced the nervousness that had accompanied the climb to the top. From that moment forward, I developed a rather healthy fear of heights that made it difficult for me to drive over high bridges or climb up exposed stairs or ladders.  To sum it up, if I was up high and there was a observable risk of falling, I was had.  As an example, when we visited Colorado Springs a few years ago, I could not make the drive up Pike's Peak.  I had to cry out "Vickie, take the wheel!"

Over the years, my fear has waned and today it rests at about ten percent of what it used to be. Near San Jose, there are lovely mountains overlooking the city.  Pico Blanco, the highest of these peaks, is a common destination for teams visiting La Palabra de Vida.  I'm happy to say that we climbed to the top two years ago, and I had little trouble navigating some parts of the path that did pose danger.  Two of my children, Bradley and Kristin, accompanied me, along with about twenty others. Danielle, my youngest daughter, twisted her ankle, and was sorely disappointed at the missed opportunity.

This year, we prayed away injuries, and we all made the trek to the top of the 6700' peak in record time...well, for us, anyway.  The younger ones in my family and some teachers from the school led the way, and I lagged a little behind, as my leg strength waned quickly during parts of the climb.  Along the way, I decided that I would not burden my children with assuming they should be petrified of heights also, and this picture is a result.  They do not possess a fear of height, and they decided that the danger to climb to the top of this little craggy outcrop was not great.  They were right.  You will notice, however, that I am nowhere to be found in this photograph.

Matt Befus, the director of the La Palabra de Vida foundation, led us in three devotionals during our journey, and each one praised God for the magnificence of his creation, is care and concern for his children, and his lovingkindness when we are at our worst.

I would only add this.  Acknowledging that you have a fear is the beginning to overcoming it.       Like many of you, I suspect, I feared leaving the United States with my family for several weeks, I feared using a large portion of our savings for the Lord's work, and I feared not having a job for over a month.  I confessed those fears to the Lord, and He has guided and directed my path and the path of my family each time we have trusted Him.  This year, we have trusted Him more than ever, and our time has been well spent.  Surprise, surprise. :)

Have a wonderful Lord's day!  Bill

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Three crosses in Tamarindo (Christ to the nations)

The next two weeks, our family will be teaching a "leveling class" to several children who are at La Palabra de Vida.  It's one part ESL, one part curriculum introduction, and one part Jesus.  La Palabra de Vida proudly declares that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and salvation through Him is available for all who ask.  While we teach, we cannot help but intertwine our faith with the English language.  La Palabra de Vida does a great job at raising up young Christian leaders for Costa Rica.

Following the conclusion of this course, my family, in keeping with our tradition during our three trips to Costa Rica, will take a short vacation to the Pacific Coast.  This year we're going to the Guanacaste region, and expect to end up somewhere near the town of Tamarindo.  Famous for surfing, sunsets, and secluded beaches, Tamarindo is appealing to us as it's a few minutes away from the nightlife and festive atmosphere of Jaco Beach.  We're looking at a nice place at Playa Grande, only a ten minute walk from Tamarindo.

Many of us, in the U.S. and elsewhere, have been saddened in the dramatic deterioration of America culture in the United States and the movement away from Christianity.  Although a recent bestseller suggested that 77% of Americans believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, we know by simple observation, that the vast majority of our neighbors and friends do not have a relationship that is meaningful enough to cause them to worship on a Saturday or a Sunday.

This is especially disheartening, considering the urgency that American Christians have traditionally felt to deliver the gospel to their homeland and many, many points far away.  I've even heard that America is the largest area that Brazilian missionaries are sent to, because it qualifies as an "unchurched country."

In the midst of the darkness, however, let me provide a glimmer of hope.

In Tamarindo, a town of only a few thousand, where people no doubt come to relax, swim, dine, party, and rest, the hope of Jesus is carried by Americans who believe that they are responsible for carrying Jesus Christ to the nations.  When we considered Tamarindo, I did a Google search for Tamarindo churches and came up with only three.  Let me introduce these churches and their leaders to you. 

Tamarindo Church - - Pastor Lyle Watson - From Virginia.  Served and was blessed by Young Life in Virginia Beach.  Graduated from Princeton.

Salty Chuch - Lead Pastor - Robbie O'Brien from Florida

Calvary Chapel Villareal - Senior Pastor Phil McKay - Former United States Marine, from Southern California.

 Be encouraged, my friends.  And let that encouragement take you to places you have never been before in the name of Jesus Christ.  Matthew 28:18-20