The Pastor’s Corner is written by the pastor of Coronado Bible Church.


Fatigue, depression, anxiety, feeling ill; the list could fit any number of physical ailments. Let me add two more symptoms and see if it clears up the diagnosis … hyperirritability and negative feelings toward your host culture. This is a short list of the symptoms found online for Culture Shock. According to one dictionary, Culture Shock is “a state of bewilderment and distress experienced by an individual who is suddenly exposed to a new, strange, or foreign social and cultural environment.”  Those who seem to suffer worst from its affects are those unaware of … or unwilling to recognize its impact on their lives. 

The first two years in Panama were difficult for me. At some level, I faced all the symptoms listed above. I was exhausted after accomplishing one task requiring Spanish. I felt acutely the loss of home, friends, being a known and trusted pastor. There were moments when I experienced an inexplicable fear while driving after dark. I needed a ton more rest … the sun went down and I was finished. A series of strange rashes had me joking that I was “allergic to Panama.”

Thankfully, I had received mission training that helped me anticipate and normalize some of these experiences. When at the point of pulling out my hair in the hardware store, I could step back mentally, reminding myself that I had similar experiences in my home country. This helped me identify the factor causing my angst … the language barrier or being unfamiliar with different procedures. Taking this step back helped me own some of the responsibility instead of focusing it all on the Panamanians who were generally trying their best to be helpful. One of the telltale signs for me of Culture Shock was when I began to have thoughts like, “Why are they (Panamanians) all (insert something negative)?” Even coming prepared to resist that tendency, I have fought and often failed at avoiding such thinking. It’s a normal response to a new and different culture … any culture. That’s right you’d have similar thoughts if you moved to Ireland or France. It’s not the country … it’s the difference between familiar and foreign.

There’s no straightforward path through Culture Shock … the experience ebbs and flows, dies down and suddenly comes on strong. There’s also no simple prescription. Feeling “at home” in a new culture takes patience (with yourself and others), awareness, honesty, responsibility and … time.

Being on mission has helped me greatly. That’s not just for pastors. All Christians share a common mission. Focusing on that mission can give us strength to handle the stresses of living cross-culturally in positive ways; whether we’re dealing with the culture of our fallen world or our host country.

God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 2 Corinthians 5:19–20

If this hits home and you’d like to talk, give me a call … 6870-1488

Bullets, Balloons and Blooms

I grew up looking through a camera viewfinder … even when I didn’t have film. In photography, bracketing field of view or bracketing time sometimes helps us see things we’d otherwise miss. Dr. Harald Edgerton was a pioneer in photographically bracketing time. Precise synchronization between flash and camera allowed him to bracket time down to nanoseconds. His best-known picture, a bullet passing through an apple, was captured at about a millionth of a second.

Today video cameras exist that capture 380,000 frames per second. These cameras can be seen in action on the YouTube channel, “The Slow Mo Guys.” In photography the more frames per second, the more time appears to slow. In time-lapse photography, fewer frames over longer periods of time viewed in sequence seem to speed you forward in time. The first type of photography can reveal things like the hydraulic and ballistic ballet of a water balloon impacting a person’s head. Conversely, time-lapse allows you to watch the unfolding of a flower from bud to bloom with the rapidity a firework’s explosion.

My mother-in-law recently shared a compilation of such time-lapse blooms. As I watched, I was impacted by the strong and distinct realization that I was witnessing worship. Before you decide I’ve gone off the metaphysical deep end, consider just a few scriptures about creation.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Psalm 19:1–3

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joyPsalm 96:11–12

Ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this In His hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind. Job 12:7–10

I’m not saying that flowers and stars have consciousness and purposefully worship God; that would stretch the poetic language of the inspired authors. I’m trying to say exactly what I believe they were saying, “God created this world so that you cannot miss His Glory!” If you will bracket out distractions, look at and listen to the creation around you with a heart of faith … you will see that all things point to the magnificence and glory of your Creator.

I guess I’m trying to say this … “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” Romans 1:20 

For extra fun … and worship, check this out:


A violinist playing romantic melodies, surrounded by heart balloons; in the doorway of a jewelry store; if that doesn’t capture the vibe of Valentine’s Day, I don’t know what does. Sue and I were in the city on business and Panama has fully embraced this holiday. We saw workers dressed as cupids; a giant teddy bear handing out chocolate samples, couple’s specials on the menus; red and white everywhere. We even saw a great Valentine’s Day discount on a big-screen TV! There’s nothing like buying a present that will enable you to ignore your loved one till next February.

Valentine’s Day has ancient roots. So ancient, they can’t be pinned down. It probably began as a Roman fertility holiday wisely supplanted by the ancient church with a more Christian celebration. And Saint Valentine? The legends abound, but again go back so far (270 A.D.) that no one can say for sure. There are two Valentines in church history, and both appear so early that they might even be the same person. In both cases, the man bearing the name was martyred for his faith in Christ. In that sense it’s not a bad thing that the name Valentine is identified with love.

Some people blame the modern Valentine’s Day on the Hallmark Card Company, but the celebration went awry long before the card industry … or even before the United States. Romantic verses associated with Valentine’s Day have been found dating back to the 1500s. Commercially printed Valentine’s cards appeared in the late 1700s but not until the 1850s in North America. We may have shown the world how to milk it for all its commercial worth … but you can’t blame the whole mess on my country.

Is Valentine’s Day a mess? Not entirely. I don’t think it’s wrong for a husband and wife to use the date to do something special to celebrate their love. But … I’m pretty sure that the original Mr. Valentine would not appreciate all that’s done under his name.

Our gracious Heavenly Father invented human love and the context for its right expression. Jesus, when asked about marriage, made this very clear, “at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” Matthew 19:4–6

So, what should a Christian celebrate … exclusivity, faithfulness and a lifelong bond between one man and one woman. Pastors are sadly and sympathetically aware that this doesn’t always happen in our fallen world. A broken reality doesn’t negate God’s beautiful intent or the fact that Jesus’ words describe God’s will for those who choose marriage. I’ll close with some of the most romantic and beautiful words on marriage that I’ve found in the Bible,

May you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer … may you ever be captivated by her love. Proverbs 5:18–19

Thank you Sue for 31 Valentine’s Days … and approximately 11,293 days of love!

Up in the Air

There’s a distinctive rattle that belongs to a bike with training wheels. But hearing that sound from where I sit still surprises me. It causes me to look. There she goes, bobbed black hair and pink dress trailing in her wake. She cruises by without a care in the world. Sometimes she stops to quietly peer through our window. She’s an impassive little soul with a round face and large dark eyes. Unlike her bothers at that age, she is quiet and slow to smile. They were always roaring past the window pushing … or chasing one another on the scooter they shared. They would stop also and examine me with cupped hands to the window. I was the slower part of their entertainment.

I have worked for the past six years on the same street where their parents own a restaurant. The little path outside my window is their playground. I have watched them grow. It seems like only yesterday when the bothers were trying to contain their toddling baby sister. Now she’s out on her own doing laps with her training wheels. The story sounds quite mundane … except that it happens every day, thirty feet in the air!

The children I’ve just described have learned to walk and scooter and bike three stories up. Their parent’s restaurant is in the food court just down from Coronado Bible Church. It used to worry me seeing the children playing between our windows and the wrought iron railing. The bike is a relatively new addition and when I think of the context, it still strikes me as absurd; training wheels thirty feet in the air.

Thirty feet up is not the normal environment for children to try their training wheels … but it is normal for one little girl. A cement walkway bordered by windows and iron railings doesn’t sound too bad, but it is not without risks. There are steep stairwells along the path; real peril around the little girl on her bike. Still, I doubt she ever thinks about the height or the consequences of falling.

I haven’t worked out all the parallels, but I want something of that abandon in my walk with my Savior. In obedience to Christ’s commands, I want to go places and do things that others might not dare to do. I want to walk in faith and not fear. There are real risks in being a disciple of Jesus Christ, but there is no real danger. Your path is secure, your glad destination fixed … even if it leads through death. My confidence is not in the path, but in the One who has promised to walk it with me.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4

Waterfalls Revisited


Last week I wrote about my hike to the Lost Waterfalls in Boquete. One thing that kept me going on that hike were the thousands of footprints; evidence that many had successfully completed the trek before me (reference Hebrews 12:1-3).  

Another thing that kept me going was … not knowing upfront how strenuous the trip would be. The path was full of drastic, arduous ups and downs, punctuated with level paths easily traversed. You couldn’t see every obstacle at the same time. Bends in the path and the lush undergrowth combined to keep you blissfully ignorant. You were forced to evaluate and take on each hurdle as it came.

To give you an idea just how challenging this hike was, let me share the statistics from my wife’s fitness tracking watch. Our adventure   

– Took about 4 hours, 2.8 hours of which were considered “aerobic activity”

– Included 11,560 steps, 1,366 of which were counted as “extreme”

– Was equivalent to climbing 86 floors (only counting steps up … not down)

Let’s look at this differently. You ask a tour guide what there is to see in New York City. He eloquently holds forth about the stunning vistas from the lower observation deck of the Empire State Building. Before you can leave for West 34th Street, he grabs you and asks, “You want to know the best way to experience the view?” “Well, of course,” you answer. “Don’t take the elevator, he blurts out enthusiastically, “Walk the 86 floors!” “And,” he adds, “be sure to sign up for the Thursday tour when they pour mud down the steps to make it more fun!” How many sane people would sign up for that? Yet, according to Sue’s watch, that’s what we did. Not knowing up front the strenuousness of the journey allowed us to finish … because it allowed us to start. Not knowing what was around every turn allowed us to move on. Taking obstacles one by one kept us from being overwhelmed.

Think about following Christ. The fictitious future you worry about immobilizes you enough. Can you imagine what would happen if you could witness every future obstacle and pain in one moment? You would never finish … because you would not begin. Our God is beneficent and wise in not revealing our future but rather calling us to trust in Him. We should obey our Savior’s kind command, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34 I can almost hear my Father saying, “Take one hill at a time my child … I know where your path ends.” These truths are well expressed in one of my favorite hymns,

Day by day, and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
Gives unto each day what He deems best,
Lovingly its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.