“What is that in his mouth?!?” The doctor was looking at X-rays of our youngest son after he was taken by ambulance to the hospital.

Earlier that afternoon Stephen had awakened from his nap to learn from my mother who was visiting us at the time that Diane and her friend had taken a walk. He went outside and was the two of them returning, about a block away. I was in the backyard workshop with one of his older brothers when I heard a yell. I paid little attention until I began hearing a yelping sound, a wailing sound: “Ohhhh! Ohhh! Oh…”

Oh my, I thought, someone hit a dog. I couldn’t imagine any other explanation. But the wailing continued. Louder. More urgent and earnest. Demanding my attention. I realized something worse had happened – still not knowing what what going on. I ran to the front of the house to discover that Stephen lying on the pavement. He had been hit by a car traveling down the street.

He had seen Diane and her friend coming home from their walk and had darted out into the street without looking when the warning cry had rung out: “Stephen! Look out!” Turning back around, he didn’t make it safely back to the curb when the car hit him. The man who was driving had actually slowed down, thinking that someone had had a heart attack.

But Stephen we lying on the pavement. Barely moving. Soon the police were there. As we waited for the ambulance the police officer did a very kind thing. He was wearing a jacket with a soft fur collar. He took it off and gently put it under Stephen’s cheek, cushioning his face from the abrasive street pavement. That was a kindness I remember to this day. Something I had completely overlooked in the chaos of the moment.

Soon the ambulance arrived and took him to the hospital. There he was examined from head to toe, including a full body set of X-rays. X-rays of his face revealed a dental appliance. It was holding a temporary tooth in place because he had lost that tooth in another accident a few weeks before. I jokingly said they called it an appliance because it could do nothing a real tooth could do but cost as much as a major household appliance! Funny.

We explained all that to the doctor and he laughed. He was able to laugh by that time because miraculously by that time we had determined that Stephen had suffered no major injuries. We took him home, gave him a warm bath and some Tylenol, and put him to bed.

When you see your child lying in the street and realize that he’s been hit by a car, you can justifiably experience a moment of high anxiety. But there was another time that was not a momentary crisis. The outcome of that experience actually helped me maintain a relative sense of calm in the face of that events of that day.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, wehave peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. – Romans 5:1-5

Sometimes we learn lessons through times of great difficulty that serve us well in times of crises. (Tomorrow…)

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Antigua, Guatemala Shop | September 2018

It wasn’t the first time I’ve been misjudged. It wouldn’t be the last. That night, however, was one of those times when I had it coming – even if I was being misjudged. I put myself in a bad position, intimidated an elderly couple, and even received a barely veiled threat that I could be shot if I caused any trouble.

The problem started with my car. It wouldn’t. It was no match for the torrent of rain that was coming down. The street soon filled with water, and my car choked on the deluge. I was alone. This was long ago, in the age before cell phones, so I had no means of communication. I was stranded in my car as the rains continued to pelt against the windshield. No umbrella. No rain parka. Impatient young man.

Then a car came down the street! It turned into a driveway right next to where my car had flooded out! The garage door magically opened for them. I didn’t know what else to do than step out of my car and run into their garage. I hadn’t counted on their next move. They closed the garage door before they got out of the car. I was stuck inside a closed garage with an older couple whom I did not know.

When they got out of the car I spoke as kindly as I could, trying to explain my sudden and uninvited appearance. I’m sure I looked quite threatening. A 19-year-old drenched, dripping, inside their garage. I had absolutely no desire to harm them. I really didn’t want even to frighten them. Too late.

“My car flooded out in the rain and flooded street. Could I use your phone? My name is David Bahn. My mom and dad own the Sands Motel here in Cape.” I was doing everything I could think of to put them at ease. To no avail. I could tell they were quite startled and a good bit afraid.

Thankfully, however, the Mrs. seemed to warm to my plight and told me to come on in. She even got me a towel and I dried off a bit as I called for help. “Dad, can you come get me? My car stalled in the flooded street. Where am I? I’ll check. Maam, what is this address?”

She told me and I relayed the information to my dad. Help was on its way. Just then the Mr. walked in with a 22 rifle! It was not loaded, but he had bullets and he proceeded to show me the gun and the bullets.

I’m not certain how wise all this was. If I had intended to harm them he would never have been able to prevent me from gaining advantage over him – even with his unloaded gun. But I meant no harm, and I wanted in every possible way to show that was the case.

If you’ve ever been misjudged you know the feeling. Wrong motives are imputed to you which don’t belong to you at all. You want to defend your honor. “I’d never do that. I’m a decent man. You’ve judged me wrongly.”

It’s all to easy in those times to get sidetracked by defending your honor and dismiss the very real hurt and anxiety you may have caused. The issue is often one of intent and impact. And in our efforts to prove our good intent we can lose sight of the impact of our words or actions. I may not intend to step on your toes. But if I do, it hurts!

One of my hot-buttons is being falsely-accused of something dishonorable, unkind, or hurtful to others. I am so committed to avoid doing those things I can even be blinded to my actions to that end. When challenged, I too easily lose sight of the impact and try to prove my good intent.

If we are committed to defending our honor at all costs, including the cost of hurting others’ feelings or ignoring our impact on them, we will box ourselves into a corner of self-justification and self-righteousness. This was the trap of the Pharisees who could never see beyond the umbridge they felt when Jesus challenged their religious practices. We may be able to make ourselves feel good by means of our own efforts. But that good feeling will never last. Only when we acknowledge our sin and seek God’s justification will we find true peace.

[Jesus says,] No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.– Luke 16:13-15

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Bird of Paradise | Antigua, Guatemala | September 2018

The cold and rain swept down the street on that Tuesday night that we attended the prayer service at the Brooklyn Tabernacle in Brooklyn, New York. Pastor Jim Cymbala welcomed us into his office and gave us an hour of his time. We talked about ministry, prayer, and even a little about Lutheran theology. He was a fan of C.F.W. Walther no less!

The service that night was alive with prayer, praise, and God’s word. 2500 people were on their feet singing praise, on their knees praying to God for the intercessory needs that were requested, and listening to God’s word being preached. It was an edifying and inspiring experience.

One overwhelming impression has stayed with me about that night. God was honored. We were personally encouraged. Pastor Jim Cymbala even invited Pastor Schultz and me to come forward and had the congregation come and pray over us. Rows of people ten-deep strained forward to pray for us. We listened as Jim prayed, accompanied by the whispers, together with softly and more loudly-spoken prayers. That was touching. But that God was honored by all the people there, through their prayers and earnest intercessions left an indelible imprint on my heart. God was honored.

When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, he asked three times for God to remove the cup of his that Jesus was going to drink (cf. Jeremiah 25:15-27). He knew what he was in for. He realized that he would face the most cruel abuse, torture, suffering, and death imaginable. He knew, also, that the suffering was not merely physical – as horrific as that would be. He knew that he would be facing the wrath of God. God would forsake him in his darkest hour and he would die alone. He was consuming the bitter cup of God’s wrath and judgment on account of our sins – no his own.

Some people struggle with the idea that Jesus is self-proclaimed as the only means of salvation. No one can come to the Father apart from him (cf. John 14:6). The witness of the Apostles is consistent with that: “There is no other name given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “There are so many people who do not know of Jesus, but live good lives,” they say. “How could God not save them?”

I consider Jesus in the Garden. If there is any other way that one can be saved, then Jesus’ prayer is in vain. His conversation with the Father in the Garden is an opportunity for God to reveal way other than through Jesus’ death. He does not. If there is another way, we must conclude that God is a vile and sadistic, evil and callous fiend.

Jesus never even hinted at that when he went to the cross. He remained faithful to the end. And now God has exalted him to his right hand, where he now receives the honor and glory that he deserves.

Confessing Jesus Christ at the way, truth and life honors him. People of the truth will do that gladly, and honor Jesus by doing so.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 1:5-11

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Guatemala Flora | September 2018

A dad brought his 10-year-old son to my office. “Tell Pastor Bahn what you did,” he said. The young boy was not overly-afraid as far as I could tell. I had tried to present a non-threatening demeanor. I’m not certain whether the father wanted that, or if perhaps he wanted to scare the bejeebers out of his son by taking him to The Pastor.

There was an awkward silence. The boy barely raised his eyes to me. It seemed that he was more ashamed than afraid. “I told a lie,” he said. 

“Hmmm,” I wisely replied. “That’s not good. What did you lie about?” We talked for a few minutes about lies and how dangerous they were. I used some pennies I had in my desk to make a point. “If I tell you that this is $10 would you believe it?”

He must have thought it was a trick question, so he finally offered a sheepish, “I guess so.” 

“Hmm,” again my wisdom showing itself. “Do you really think that just because I said this was $10 it would be $10? Don’t you know this is just a few cents?”

“Uh huh,” he admitted. 

“So my telling you something is true doesn’t make it true does it?”

“No sir.”

“Do you know how God created the world? He said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. When God spoke what he said came to be. If God said, ‘Let there be $10,’ there would be $10.” I could tell I wasn’t making much of a dent in this 10-year-old boy’s mind. 

“Let’s try this: Suppose I told you this was $10 and you took those pennies to the store and tried to buy some Legos with those pennies. What would happen?”

“They wouldn’t sell them to me.”

“Even if you were completely sure it was $10? Even though I had told you so?”

“No. That’s not $10.” He was growing more confident.

“But if you believed it was $10, because I told you it was so, or if I told you that they were selling Legos at Walmart for a few pennies, and you believed it, you would be disappointed and maybe even a little embarrassed if you tried to buy them. You might have told your friend that you were going to get some Legos and you could play with them together when you got home from the store. But you would have to tell them that you couldn’t buy the Legos.”

Quite a nice little sermon here, huh? Only now do I realize that I was setting up another scenario in which he would be mightily tempted to lie. Fortunately the conversation didn’t go that way.

When you tell someone a lie, you give them hope, and they can be disappointed, hurt, and embarrassed if they take your word for it. What’s more, when we lie we are playing God, attempting to make a world out of our words. Only God can do that.

More important still is that God is completely faithful and true. Jesus is truth incarnate: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me.” – John 14:6

As truth incarnate, his words never lead us astray. Believing them will not put us to shame. We can rely on what he says. That applies to his promises of forgiveness, answered prayers, help in time of need, salvation, and eternal life.

Followers of Jesus are people of the truth.

Continues tomorrow…

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Yellow Rose of Guatemala-II | September 2018

A very troubled woman was pouring out her heart about her past experiences with abuse and her troubled relationship with her son. Sitting on the red plaid couch in the counselor’s office, crying, lamenting, even cursing, she made her point. She had experienced traumatic emotional and verbal abuse at the hands of her father and mother. She had been deeply wounded.

“I can’t believe they did that to me! I would never be so unkind and unfair. Don’t they see how much they hurt me?” 

As she talked about it, the counselor asked her some quietly-probing questions. “Tell me more. Can you help me understand what you felt then. Did you turn to God for help? What do you think your Father wanted from you during those troubling times?”

She was soon calm. Her breathing slowed. Her anxiety faded. Her anger ebbed away. Her defences – of which she wasn’t even fully aware – lowered.

“Tell me about your son. What is he like? How is your relationship with him?” Then the clincher, still gently and with great love: “Isn’t that like what you experienced?”

She sat in stunned silence. The very thing she had sworn never to do she was doing to her own son. She began to cry. She had been undone. Her brokenness had been exposed. She could no longer harbor resentment and anger toward her parents if she was to ask for healing grace from God. She had to see her own sin before she could forgive her parents. Forgiveness comes from forgiven people. Ultimately from the sinless One, our Lord Jesus Christ.

They say hurting people hurt people. Broken people break people. Whether or not all forgiven people forgive people, we cannot say. But only forgiven people can forgive people. We can never do it on our own. Forgiveness is fueled from forgiveness received.

There is a chasm into which I have looked on occasion. It is deeper than the deepest sea, full of doom, destruction, and damnation. In those moments of sheer honesty, I’ve realized that if there is no grace I have no hope. Without grace I am utterly lost.

There is also a mystery of grace that strikes awe in my soul, and I’ve experienced it with great joy. In those, “Oh my. It’s me,” moments of life, we can lift our eyes from that deep chasm of doom and despair, and rejoice in the marvelous, gracious, and forgiving love of God. In those moments hear him say, “Yes, it is you, and I love you more than you can ever imagine. Come to me through Jesus Christ and enjoy the riches of my lavish grace!”

In Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. – Ephesians 1:7-12

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Yellow Rose of Guatemala | September 2018

I had a crush on her. She was a petite brunette whose attention I managed to get, but only occasionally, and never of the romantic kind. I once went up Interstate 55 in my red Volkswagen Beetle to her hometown for a visit. We never even connected; she was a no-show! Nothing ever came of it.

On this particular day I experienced the last nail in the coffin of our non-relationship (or of my crush). It proved also to be a sign of the fact that “nothing ever came of it” was a good thing.

I was taking a metaphysics class. It was an easy A, and of some interest to be sure. I was always willing to share my faith during those days, and eventually became known as the religious one in our class. This, however, would be my first foray into the waters of faith-sharing in a hostile environment. I didn’t expect it. I went in almost completely unprepared.

The professor asked us to bring to class “something that you find comforting.” We sat in a large circle around the perimeter of the room, desks facing inward. The professor would come in, take his seat, and stroke his beard. A few minutes would pass, and he would finally say, “Does anyone have something to share?”

After a short while I decided to share from the Gospel of Matthew:

[Jesus says,] “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing? 26 Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are? 27 And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life? 28 Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! 30 And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, won’t he clothe you even more, you people of little faith? 31 So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.” – Matthew 6:25-34

The response was nothing like I expected. I was ridiculed for finding this comforting. “That’s not comforting. ‘Today has enough trouble of its own.’ Really? Others chimed in along the same lines. I didn’t know what to say. I was rocked by their reaction, and stunned that none of the other Christians in the class came to my defense.

My next class was choir. She was there, speaking with a guy before class started. I later figured out that she was dating him. But since she was a Christian and I had actually met her at the Lutheran Campus Center, I figured I’d get some sympathy from her.

“I took this to class today.” I showed her my New English Version of the Bible. I had received it as a confirmation gift about a year before. “I read from Matthew, and you wouldn’t believe how they reacted.” Her boyfriend remained quiet. I guess I had embarrassed her by implying that she would be sympathetic to my misfortune. “They jumped down my throat. It was awful.”

“Dave,” she said, “don’t be a fanatic.”

Ugh. If the earlier attack had been a hurtful experience, this was a punch in the gut. I guess I should have known, but I didn’t. I thought I was in a safe place, and with a safe person. I was not.

That is nothing, however, compared to Julie Aftab’s experience.  Here’s part of her story:

She was 16 years old, working as an operator in a tiny, public call office in Pakistan, when a man walked in and saw the silver cross dangling around her neck.

He asked her three times: “Are you a Christian?”

Julie Aftab answered, “Yes, sir,” the first two times, and then got frustrated.

“Didn’t you hear me?” she asked.

They argued, and the man abruptly left the little office, returning 30 or 40 minutes later with a turquoise bottle. Aftab tried to block the arc of battery acid, but it melted much of the right side of her face and left her with swirling, bone-deep burns on her chest and arms. She ran for the door, but a second man grabbed her hair, and they poured the acid down her throat, searing her esophagus.

Julie is now a missionary with People of the Book Lutheran Outreach (POBLO). She has told her story a number of times and now, living in Houston, seeks to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to women from Muslim countries. Hers is not the only story of people who suffer for the sake of the Gospel.

Jesus’ words to his disciples help us in those times we are attacked for our faith. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” – Matthew 5:10

When we suffer for the sake of the Gospel it is no time to feel bad about feeling bad. Suffering in this case is not a judgment of God, but a visitation of cruel unkindness against God. We ought to feel bad when we suffer. But we need never despair. We need not worry that we are not living up to God’s standards. The question is not whether we are being punished for our sins.

But neither should we be surprised.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. – 1 Peter 4:12-14

This is a lesson I need to learn, and how to handle the suffering we experience whether or not we see it coming.

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Guatemala Rose | September 2018

 

It took me a long time to figure out that Diane didn’t want me to solve every problem she mentioned to me. She would express a concern, frustration, or problem and I would offer the perfect solution. I had a difficult time figuring out that she didn’t want me to fix the problem, she wanted to be heard, appreciated, and understood. In fact my Mr. Fix-it schtick was proved to be a double frustration. I was not showing concern for her heart, and I was standing in the way of her. She needed to work through the challenge herself.

For a long time, however, I struggled with the idea that she was expressing frustration, but not wanting me to fix it. I had the idea that she didn’t want to do anything but complain. She didn’t want to act. That may or may not have been true, but in the end she was the one who needed to act, not me.

The idea that I’m to fix every frustration for her is akin to having faith for someone else. It’s the same as being the patron who supplies the financial needs of a church, but who cripples the church in the process, never allowing the church to find its own way, and take responsibility for self-care (under the providential, gracious, and rich goodness of God.

So what are we to do when someone we love is stuck? How are we to help someone who can’t seem to make a good decision? The answer to this is to take care of those things over which we actually have control. Can you provide a listening ear? Can you offer a word of encouragement? Can you suggest a different path?

Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct. – Galatians 6:4-5

When one of our sons was in a difficult spot, challenged with college, life, career and girlfriend decisions, Diane made a deliberate decision to say, “I’m sure you will make a good decision.” That was respectful to him, gave him the responsibility to deal with his own issues, and provided a lens of hope toward a future founded upon today’s good decision.

That’s not all we did. During those days we were urgently in prayer for our sons. We looked for opportunities to celebrate his good decisions. But we did not solve his problems for him. He needed to do something about it himself.

We may get ourselves into trouble by over-functioning. We can actually do too much for someone to the point of enabling bad decision-making and behavior. In the mean time it is also up to us to do the good we are able to do whenever it is in our power and pervue to do it.

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Guatemala Flora | September 2018