Thankful For My Wife

colleen-blue-bonnets-094I’m thankful for my wife. She is a Proverbs 31 wife:

“A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.”

I am blessed to be married to a woman who loves Jesus deeply; who desires to grow in her faith and walk obediently to the Lord; who desires God’s best for her husband, kids, and friends; and who works endlessly to take care of her family and home.

I was blessed to see her work in the kitchen for two long days to prepare a wonderful spread for our Thanksgiving guests. Everything was not only thoughtfully planned, but thoughtfully prepared.

I lack nothing of value. Thank you, Lord.



Shalom, My Brother and Friend

ברוך דיין האמת

zvi-50 yearsZvi Kalisher, a man I truly admired for all the right reasons, now stands in the presence of the risen Christ. This day was inevitable, but one which, in an earthly way, I hoped would never come.

Countless stories of Zvi’s exploits will be shared among friends over the next week, and there are many great stories that should be told. But here, I want to remember the simple man behind those stories of heroism, whether they be stories of the holocaust or of sharing his faith in Israel. He was not flashy. He didn’t seek to own stuff. Though he was famous in some ways, fame and fortune were not his goals in life. He wasn’t an intellectual; he loved and lived the simplicity of the gospel and knowing Jesus as Saviour! He often said, “I don’t need a train to carry all the books to explain God and faith. I just need this one book.” Then, he would hold up his Bible for all to see which book he referenced. He was a simple man in the best ways.

I met Zvi almost 25 years ago, and I’m thankful that was not a one-off meeting. By God’s grace, I was able to get to know him personally and have him in my home on a regular basis. I learned much from Zvi, but the thing he modeled most for me was consistency. He consistently came to congregational meetings on shabbat. He consistently came to weekly evangelism outings. He consistently came to Wednesday night prayer meeting. He consistently carried his Bible. He consistently shared a testimony for the Lord. He consistently told me (and anyone who would listen!) about his kids and grand kids.

Consistency: such an important lesson for a young man to learn. Thank you, Zvi, for the lesson learned: ברוך דיין האמת.

Here are a few photos I recently inherited from a pastor who loved Israel.




In the Presence of Significance

(L to R): Craig Dunning, Lorraine and Leon Dillinger
(L to R): Craig Dunning, Lorraine and Leon Dillinger

Yesterday, I had the rare opportunity to sit with people of significance, Leon and Lorraine Dillinger. Such opportunities are rare in life, because people of true significance are rare treasures. I’m tempted to use the word “greatness” in reference to the Dillingers, but doing so would 1) embarrass them, and 2) risk taking honor away from the Lord whose work in and through them is what tempts me to use the word “greatness.”

In a nutshell: Equipped with an intense love for Jesus paired with an unsurpassed commitment to do the Lord’s will and some medical and Wycliffe translation training,  Leon and Lorraine went to Papua, Indonesia in 1958, and have, for 56 years and counting, given their lives to the Lord’s service among the Dani people. Leon, arrived 9 months before Lorraine, and in addition to preparing an airstrip for future flights in/out of this remote highlands village, he also prepared their “honeymoon cottage,” which was a grass hut. When Lorraine arrived, they married and lived in that grass hut.

The stories they have lived are too numerous to attempt to retell, but a few important ones must be included here: they reduced the Dani language to writing; taught the Dani to read and write (their own language); translated the Bible into Dani; have been part of the establishment of 130+ Dani churches, led by Dani pastors; and established schools and a Bible institute. They also helped improve the Dani people’s health by introducing certain medications and a variety of new vegetables (the sweet potato made up about 85% of the Dani diet when the Dillingers arrived) and protein sources including soy beans, peanuts and a variety of animals for meat.

A fun contextualization story: When they were translating Isaiah 53, they faced a conundrum.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

The Dani had no knowledge of sheep. The only animal of which they were aware were wild pigs. Lorraine said, “We wondered what to do. The Dani had never seen or heard of sheep. We decided that we could use ‘pig’ in place of ‘sheep’ because the Dani understood how pigs can run off; they see that all the time. However, that didn’t solve the problem. Pigs don’t go to the slaughter quietly, which meant we couldn’t use ‘pig’ in place of ‘sheep.'”

What did they do? Realizing only “sheep” or “lamb” could work in that passage, they requested and received from the Dutch government a flock of sheep and began teaching the Dani about the character/personality of sheep so that the passage could make sense to them. (The sheep also served as a source of protein and wool, which was helpful in the cold temperatures of the Papua highlands.)

In addition to speaking in chapel, Leon and Lorraine spoke to our student ministries class. I was impressed at how this couple who has spent over 50 years living among a primitive people could so easily communicate with a group of youth-directors-in-training, who are part of a high-tech, modern world. However, the principles of culture that the Dillingers learned in their work among the Dani are the same principles of culture that today’s student ministry leaders must adapt. I hope at least some of our students realized the privilege they had in hearing from these fountains of wisdom and knowledge yesterday.

leon-dillinger-time-coverIn the Dillingers, I met humble unassuming servants of the Lord. They have the work credentials – even making the cover of Time (Dec/1982) – that many in our culture would flash before others in order to get to the front of the line or gain complimentary goodies. But they don’t use their credentials in those ways. I noted in Leon’s chapel presentation that he didn’t communicate “I did” or “we did,” – even though it would have been perfectly normal in our “it’s about me” culture. Instead, always mindful to give the Lord proper priority, he used phrases like, “the Lord worked it out so that . . .”

Lorraine was equally humble (remember, she has worked side by side with Leon reaching the Dani since 1958): In a private conversation about what can be a controversial topic in mission theory, I pressed her for a clarification about their work as it contrasted to something a recognized missiologist said in a seminar I attended recently, and her answer was simply, “What we found was . . .” Even though she obviously disagreed with the other person’s statement and has a lifetime of credentials to support her position, she didn’t throw him under the bus or speak unkindly toward his work. She simply reiterated what she and Leon had experienced among the Dani. I learned much from their demonstration of humility.

Although they no longer live full time among the Dani, their work has not stopped. They continue to visit the Dani regularly, and Leon is working on a set of Bible commentaries in the Dani language. I hope that their complete story (or as much as is possible) can be captured in a book. The historical record of the modern mission movement will have a significant gap if it isn’t.



A Refreshing Testimony

Recently, I heard a refreshing testimony at a men’s prayer breakfast. Appropriate for the season, the speaker was the head coach of the local university’s NCAA D2 womens basketball program.

A few things that made this testimony refreshing:
1. It’s always refreshing to hear a man stand and tell how he came to know Jesus.

2. Although the coach was named conference coach of the year and his team won their conference, he didn’t mention those things. In fact, he deferred such accolades to the men’s coach from his university who shared the same awards: conference champs and coach of the year. Humility is refreshing.

3. The reason he mentioned the men’s coach was that the men’s coach was one of the men who had pursued him for the gospel. His testimony was focused on how God used others to bring him to an understanding of the gospel, which was a gentle reminder to the men in attendance that they have a responsibility to talk to others about the gospel.

4. The man giving his testimony had coached at the highest levels of men’s NCAA D1 basketball and for some reason is now coaching women’s D2. He didn’t seem to use the D1 reference as a way of drawing attention to himself, but rather as an illustration of how “dropping” to D2 women’s basketball was part of God’s plan for him to come to faith. He mentioned hind-sight as being helpful to understand the work of God in our lives. It also struck me how he demonstrated contentment by not seeking the men’s job at his university when it came open. 

5. He also gave credit to his best collegiate player who as a player gave the coach at least three Bibles with various verses highlighted and took the coach’s son to church regularly. And the coach gave this credit to the player who presumably is or was in the NBA without dropping any names. That’s really unusual in our day and age of marketing and building “street-cred” by dropping names of famous or powerful people . . . as if Jesus isn’t famous or powerful enough.

Thanks, Coach. You honored the Lord in the way you gave your testimony.

Ken and Lucy and Wolf Brand Chili

It’s football season and almost time for the State Fair of Texas, so these really hit the spot. Our dear friends, Ken and Lucy Nunn, from North Carolina blessed us with a treasure trove of goodies. And among the goodies were several cans of Wolf Brand Chili, which are now being rationed.

Before Ken came on his last visit, he asked if there was anything special that we would like. Our answer: “Canned chili. Preferably, Wolf Brand Chili, but since you are on the east coast, any local brand of chili will be fine.”

Ken likes a challenge, so he searched the Internet to find where he could get Wolf Brand. We never imagined Ken would go to the trouble of shipping WBC from San Antonio, Texas to North Carolina so he could bring it to us in Israel, or we would not have asked for that item. However, Ken and Lucy are like that: They really want to bless those they love. And in God’s mercy, we have been one of the targets of their love.

Over the years they have brought a variety of things for us and others: clothes, candy corn, licorice, scented pencils, beef jerky, kids books, scholarships, baseball uniforms, baseball equipment, and chili are a partial list. And, all of it has been gathered, packed and carried with lots of love.

Ken and Lucy, you are a treasure. We love you.

By the way, the chili has been enjoyed in the form of chili cheeseburgers and chili dogs. Next up: Nachos with a perfect blend of cheese, chili and (recently acquired) jalapenos. Thanks for your part in the menu.

Kids Say and Do the Darndest Things

Recently, I was teaching my 1-3 grade class the 10 commandments, and thought it would be a good idea to teach them to Grace at home. She took to them fairly quickly, and could recite them pretty accurately (in four-year-old words, of course) when I called out the number. For example,
Me: “Number 1”
Grace: “Don’t have other Gods.”
Me: “Number 2”
Grace: “Don’t make idols.”
Me: “Number 3”
Grace: “Don’t bring God’s name in Spain.”

I burst out laughing when she said that because it was such a cute misspeak, and is the complete antithesis of our lives.

That made me laugh. This made me think:

Last week, I decided that we should start teaching Grace about giving financially to the Lord. Though it is a regular part of our life, it was something that was completely foreign to her.

I started out by explaining to her that when we love Jesus we give him a portion of our money. To some degree, she understands the concept of money. After all, she has a purse with an assortment of coins from here, there and yonder, which she is “saving for her trip to America.” (I’m afraid she’ll be disappointed in the small return those few coins will bring.) In an effort to encourage her to embrace the idea of giving to the Lord, we explained how the money from the offering box is used. Honestly, they were interesting details, but not critical for this four-year-old.

I tried to make the concept of giving reasonably understandable and doable by giving her two, one shekel coins. I explained that I was giving her two coins and that she might want to put some of that money in the offering box when we went to church later that evening. I even offered to show her where and how.

Clearly, by giving her two coins, I intended for her to give one and keep the other. Though I didn’t say it specifically, I thought it would be a no-brainer. I even added, “Whatever you aren’t going to give to the Lord, I want you to leave here so that you don’t lose it.” “Okay,” she said, and quickly returned to doing whatever she was doing before I started this life lesson.

An hour or so later as we were gathering our things at the door, I noticed that she had both coins in her hand. Thinking that she had forgotten that detail of my instruction, I reminded her that she should only take what she’s going to give to Jesus.

“I know Abba. I’m giving them both.” Realizing that she must have misunderstood something in my lesson, I clarified: “Are you sure that’s what you want to do? Whatever you aren’t giving to the Lord, needs to stay here.” “Yes, I love Jesus, so I’m giving them BOTH to Him.”

Her simple answer caused me to think: Wow, she got the lesson better than I delivered it. Thank you, Lord! Wow, she got the lesson better than I sometimes get it. Help me, Lord!

My prayer: That the desire to honor, obey, and love Jesus will increase and permeate her life the rest of her life. That my desire to honor, obey and love Jesus will be as real as what my four-year-old modeled that day.

Father’s Day 2008

Happy Father’s Day to me. The older Grace gets, the more I understand the blessing that it is to be a father, particularly to her. And, the older she gets, the more I understand how great is my responsibility to train her in the ways of the Lord.

Today, was a wonderful day. Our family spent the afternoon at the pool. We don’t go often because it is fairly expensive. In fact, we had sticker shock, today. However, the cost was worth the joy we shared through the afternoon.

I know so many men who aren’t able (or choose not) to spend time with their children, and many of them don’t enjoy the time when they are with their children. I’m so blessed.

Grace quickly made friends with twin girls whose father is American and whose mother is Belgian. They spoke French and English and have traveled extensively throughout the world. Like them, Grace will soon be bi-lingual, and she is already pretty well traveled.

The girls splashed me, rode my back and tried to dunk me throughout the afternoon – and every moment was both a joy and a trip down memory lane. When I was young, I often went to the pool with my best friend Kenny and his grandfather; and we did the same thing to him that the girls did to me, today.

Thank you, Lord, for blessing me this day.

A Great Compliment

After we arrived from our recent trip to Italy for the European Baseball Championship, I received a great compliment. It is common for players or their families to say thanks for my efforts as a coach, but this one was different.

Unlike any other teams that travel to the European Championship tournament, Team Israel is required by the government to travel with a special security team. The guys that travel with us have always been very professional, which isn’t surprising since they are the Israeli equivalent of the US Secret Service. Rarely have they ever understood or been interested in baseball, but they did their job well all the same. And I appreciate that fact.

This year, after we had gathered our luggage at Ben Gurion Airport, one of our agents approached me and said, “Craig, I want to thank you for what you do, and I don’t mean the baseball. That was good, but I’m talking about preparing these guys for life. Thank you.”

That “thank you” meant more to me than many others that I have received over the years. Sometimes the “thank yous” are obviously heart felt and are greatly appreciated. Others, however, are clearly just the socially expected behavior.

What made this one different were two things: First, the source: Our security agents see a different side of life than most of us would be comfortable knowing about. They, for the most part, have dedicated their lives to insulating the rest of us from the nasty underside of the world. Second, the observation: This particular agent recognized that my baseball training program is geared toward making my players better baseball players and better people. Better students. Better soldiers. Better citizens. Better husbands.

Perhaps, I have accomplished more than I thought.

Giving Thanks

“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” – I Thessalonians 5:18

During our recent stay in the States, Grace had many opportunities to develop a taste for spicy Tex-Mex food. I was surprised at how she was attracted to chips and salsa, but she didn’t shy away from it, even when it burned her taste buds. A love for the taste of Tex-Mex was born, which thankfully, isn’t impossible to satisfy here in Israel.

Since it had been over a month since we had Tex-Mex, Colleen decided to prepare soft-tacos for dinner. There are a couple of companies that import flour tortillas and hot sauce and the rest of the ingredients are readily available, which makes it a fairly easy effort to enjoy a familiar taste from Texas.

After we had anxiously taken our places to partake of such a fine treat, I asked Grace if she wanted to give thanks for our meal. She quickly agreed and said, “Jesus, thank you for the food. Thank you for the meat and lettuce. Thank you for chips, and for sauce I don’t like.”

Colleen and I could barely keep our laughter behind our big smiles, but we did. It sounded so funny: “…thank you for sauce I don’t like.” Now that I’ve had some time to get past the funny part of what she prayed, I realize that she modeled something for me: to be thankful for what the Lord provides for me, even when I don’t like it.

The Lord works in our lives in many ways to make us more like Jesus. And, as Colleen had provided particular food items for Grace’s nourishment, the Lord sometimes provides hardships or other things we don’t like for our benefit. The question is: Do we say, “Jesus, thank you for the hardships that I don’t like?”

A Personal Psalm

Following is a personal psalm that I wrote ten years ago for the occasion of my ordination. It is based on the model of Psalm 136 and served as a wonderful opportunity to identify and proclaim the many ways that God has worked in my life. I commend the exercise to you for your personal edification.

A Psalm of Thanks

O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for His mercy endures forever.
O give thanks unto the God of gods; for he is good: for His mercy endures forever.
O give thanks to the Lord of lords: for His mercy endures forever.

To Him who alone doeth great wonders: for His mercy endures forever.

To Him who has given me loving parents: for His mercy endures forever:
Who have always been supportive even when they didn’t understand the direction of my life: His mercy endures forever.

To Him who gave me someone who would become a “best friend”: His mercy endures forever:
Who first invited me to church: His mercy endures forever:
And expressed a concern for my soul: His mercy endures forever.

To Him who sent a preacher with the message of salvation: His mercy endures forever:
Who preached with passion and love: His mercy endures forever:
And clearly communicated to me salvation in Christ: His mercy endures forever.

To Him who gave me men and women who would train me in godliness: His mercy endures forever:
Who opened the Holy Scriptures to me: His mercy endures forever:
And guided me in wisdom: His mercy endures forever.

To Him who allowed me to live in Zion: His mercy endures forever:
And gave me a family and ministry in the Holy City, Jerusalem: His mercy endures forever:
And set within my heart a love for his people, Israel: His mercy endures forever.

To Him who shall sustain me through trials and temptations: His mercy endures forever:
When the tempest shall rage about me, He is sure: His mercy endures forever:
When burdens are heavy, He is strong: His mercy endures forever:
Though darkness may encompass me, He giveth light: His mercy endures forever.

To Him who now sends me out by the laying on of hands: His mercy endures forever.

O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for His mercy endures forever.

Modeled after Psalm 136 by Craig Dunning – October 30, 1996