Greetings to those brethren who hold the ropes for FPGM through prayer and pecuniary sacrifice. Thank you. And, greetings in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to any around the world who may stumble upon this post. Brother Ricky and I depart for Israel in a week, and ahead of that journey, I find myself reflecting upon tools, tools that believers can and should use to point others to faith in Jesus Christ. What are your talents? What are the abilities God has given you? Are you using them for the furtherance of self or for the furtherance of the Gospel? Colossians 3:17 comes to mind: "And what soever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him." A few verses later, it reads: "And what soever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men" (Colossians 3:23).
Years ago, when FPGM was merely a seed rolling around in my mind, I found myself loving to ride a bicycle and spending many afternoons pedaling all over Marin County, California and along the Pacific Coast in the San Francisco Bay Area. I wasn't a cyclist by any means, but I loved the exercise and solitude of riding a bicycle along lonely roads, a means to clear my head as I was trying to finish up my last couple of semesters at seminary. During this time, I had no idea what the Lord wanted me to do after school, and my wife and I had just assumed it would involve an immediate transition to the foreign mission field. But then, I began to think about how I had failed to be a faithful witness on my home turf. What made me think I would be a faithful missionary on a foreign field? Anyway, I knew I needed to be able to demonstrate faithfulness to preach the Gospel here in America before God would open the door for Jamie and me to return to South Asia or wherever else He might call beyond the borders of the United States. But how? It was at this time, as I was sitting with my feet dangling over the edge of a high cliff on the Pacific Ocean in an attitude of prayer, that the Lord brought I Peter 4:11 to mind: "If any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."
Nearby, my bicycle was parked; and I immediately saw it as a tool. I loved to ride a bicycle; I had the ability to ride a bicycle very long distances as demonstrated by a recent 136-mile all-night ride from 200ft. below sea level in Death Valley to the trailhead for Mt. Whitney at 9,000+ ft. God's Word said to minister as of the ability which He had given. A light bulb went off in my head: I would ride a bicycle across America, from coast to coast, and faithfully share the Gospel of Jesus Christ along out-of-the-way highways and byways with any whom the Lord would put into my path. Perhaps then, I could become faithful in sharing the Gospel in my own country that doors would then open for me and my family to take that Gospel to the ends of the earth. The rest is history. In July of 2003, I started pedaling from Surf City, NC and didn't stop until October of 2014, 4,712 miles later, when my front tire touched the surf outside Neah Bay, Washington. Full Proof Gospel Ministries was born. In 2005, I started at the northernmost point of the East Coast (Escort Station, Maine) and pedaled all the way to the southernmost point in the contiguous United States (Key West, FL), another 3,412 miles of ministering as of the ability which God giveth. Then, the Lord started opening doors to go outside the United States and eventually back in South Asia for more permanent work. I marvel at the Divine Hand of Providence and how something as simple as a bicycle can be a tool to point many to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Some years later, as things were becoming programmed and burdened by logistics in our foreign mission work, the Holy Spirit warned me with Jesus' words to the Church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:2-5. I had left my first love, and the Scriptures were commanding me to repent and "do the first works." FPGM's first works were a long bicycle ride. To make another long story short, I decided in the Spring of 2009 to put the foreign works on hold and pedal a bicycle from a spot on my original route in Northern Minnesota all the way to the northern end of the American road system at the top of Alaska and then back down and out to the western end of the American road system on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula, a total of 4,208 miles, thus connecting the farthest corners of Key West and Prudhoe Bay. As along the other pedaling journeys, many heard the Word of God and Testimony of Jesus Christ, and through this time, the Lord brought me to a place of repentance after the manner set forth in the Letter to the Church at Ephesus. More importantly, it was through using the bicycle as a tool on this third journey that the Lord put a young man named Ricky Springer into FPGM's path. Again, the rest is history. Years later, Ricky heads up an important arm of our overseas work as relates to Israelis; and we are preparing to go serve the Lord and the people of Israel together in the land of the Bible. Praise God for tools used to point others to faith in Jesus Christ and for how a Sovereign God uses these tools to direct the steps of His children (Proverbs 16:9).
Another tool that the Lord has given me, dating back to my high school years, is a love for practicing and teaching the martial arts. As a young man, I had a terrible temper, got into a lot of fights, and was known for ridiculous fits of rage. It really is somewhat funny: twenty-four years ago, my cousin seemed gung ho about karate and begged me to accompany him in joining a local martial arts dojo that met twice a week at the Balls Creek Lions Club near Newton, North Carolina. I never had any real interest in the martial arts, neither was I excited about the little block building, the drab concrete floor, or the filthy black feet that inevitably followed every training session. Notwithstanding, following a skateboarding accident, I capitulated to his whining and visited my first class with one arm in a sling. Little more than a year later, my nagging cousin quit, and to my knowledge, he never again donned a martial arts uniform. I, however, fell in love with the arts; and it became clear that the hard training and the supervision of a sensei who feared the Lord (and has since gone home to be with the Lord) would help me learn how to control my wicked temper. The Lord also used these things to help me see that I was a false convert; and in 1993, I gave my heart to Him. Because martial arts was a tool that helped me learn how to control my temper, and because it was used of the Lord in my life to point me to Him, I have never felt right about giving it up and would only do so if HE closed that door. More than two decades later, I don't recall ever having to truly use martial arts to defend myself. I have walked away from many fights and have endured smiting while preaching the Gospel, but, by God's grace, I have never hurt a man with what I have learned. These days, my dojo is a platform or a front used for taking the Gospel into closed countries. And, it has become a tool to effect fellowship and discipleship for Christian young people and for pointing the lost to faith in Jesus Christ.
I do realize that there are Christians out there who would call any form of martial arts the "unfruitful works of darkness" and would claim that martial arts is inextricably tied to idolatry and false religion. I have learned to chuckle at these accusations, for they not only reflect an ignorance of history, they reflect an ignorance with regard to the opinion of the founders of many traditional martial arts styles. Anko Itosu (1831-1915), often deemed the Father of Modern Karate, wrote a letter to the Japanese Ministries of Education and War in October of 1908 to convince them of the value of teaching karate in the schools. The opening sentence of this letter literally translates: "Karate did not develop from Buddhism or Confucianism." Wow, there's your answer. Other influential style founders have spoken of the value of religion in the life of a marital artist, that such provides a necessary moral and ethical framework in which to train. I have even heard it said that martial arts without a moral framework is nothing short of barbarism. The Bible is the moral and ethical framework for my life; the exhortation of Proverbs 24:10-12 is clear; and I only recognize one Soke or Master in this life, the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, I continue to train and teach with a clean conscience and an excitement for opportunities that arise to use martial arts as a tool for pointing others to the Gospel.
Last Fall, when my family and I spent some months in South Asia, such doors were opened in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. In the past, martial arts has allowed me to get into public schools, other dojos, and elderly homes to share the Gospel. Next month, while we are in Israel, I am hopeful about an opportunity to teach a class in a jujitsu dojo where the instructor is a believer and some of his Jewish students, undoubtedly, are not. The will of the Lord be done. And, in any of this, may the Gospel take precedence. Below are a couple of videos you might find interesting; they show how something like martial arts can be used as a tool to point others to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In all of this discussion, my hope is that you will use your abilities, talents, and tools to do the same.
various south asia demos
girls' slum school in dhaka, bangladesh
jewish elderly home in cape town, south africa
Opportunity to share the Gospel isn't only found through our talents and hobbies; it can be found anywhere we go or in anything that we do, even if it's just a family outing or an occasion of fun. If you will always go out with "feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace" (Ephesians 6:15), you will start to see divine appointments. And, a divine appointment is a divine appointment whether it's in the desert sands of Ladakh or at the corner gas station just down the road from your house.
Speaking of desert sands, I am reminded of an incident last Fall when my family and I were serving the Lord in Ladakh. A day came when we needed a break, and my children were itching for some fun. Ricky and I had been walking a cross in the Nubra/Shyok Valley up near the Pakistan border, and we had just come from a fruitful time in the old Balti village of Turtuk. We were tired, and the little kids were bouncing off the walls, if you know what I mean. We had heard that there were some Bactrian camels in that valley left over from the old Marco Polo trade route days, and we had been told that you could pay a few bucks to ride them. So, we broke for fun and eventually located the huge double-humped hairy beasts. The ride was a little overpriced but well worth it as far as Bethany, Charlotte, and Josiah were concerned. As a young man led the kids out across the dunes on a couple of less than amused camels, I decided to walk with them and snap a couple of pictures. There was something strangely familiar about the young man, and he sure didn't look Ladakhi, so I took a chance and mumbled something to him in the Nepali language. He responded! Wait a minute, there weren't supposed to be Nepalis in these parts. Praise God that I actually had a few Project Jagerna Gospels of John in our van. I have learned over the years to always have some of these Scripture portions that we print in Kathmandu on hand, for it is possible to run into Nepali-speakers in the strangest of places. I ran into one a couple of weeks ago in downtown Roanoke, Virginia inside a small shop. And, he received the Scriptures in his language. And just yesterday, I set aside a few to pack for Israel, yes, even Israel. Who knows? Anyway . . . back to the camel episode: I ended up having a good conversation with this young man and found out that he lived in a District we had never been able to visit in Nepal. He got a job giving camel rides all the way over in Ladakh because it paid better than anything he could find in or around his home village. He was definitely unhappy, however, for the Ladakhis treated him terribly (pretty typical for racist Tibetan Buddhists unless you are a white man whom they assume to have lots and lots of money), and he really missed his family. In those moments, while the children were having the time of their lives, I was able to share the Gospel and pray for this young man from Western Nepal. He gladly received some Gospel tracts and a Gospel of John in his language. It was a divine appointment at a time when we really weren't even thinking about ministry. Later, as we left the camels, I "stumbled" upon a Christian brother from Southern India who was serving as a cook at a nearby military camp. He didn't have a Bible and was so encouraged and blessed to receive one from our hands. Listen friends, evangelism is a ministry; but it's not something you turn on or turn off like a 9-5 job. As a Christian, your lifestyle is NOT your evangelism as some say, but evangelism should be your lifestyle. Does that make sense? Anywhere, and everywhere, be ready. The Lord will use you.
Such are my thoughts on the eve of another departure. Our flight leaves February 17th and, Lord willing, Ricky and I will return on March 20th. I am excited about an overnight layover in Istanbul. As is our custom, we have tracts in the local language and will use the opportunity to scatter some seeds. Please pray for my family while we are away. Jamie and the children, as is par for the course this time of year, are busy with homeschooling. Pray for the Lord's provision on this journey. Israel is one of the most expensive countries on the planet. Notwithstanding, the Lord never guides where He does not fully provide. Finally, pray for FPGM as we are working to put together a volunteer missions team to labor with us in Ladakh for the entire summer. There are six applicants going through the process right now; and we hope to have the team finalized by the end of the month. Then, it will be up to the Lord to make provision for those involved. As always, your prayers on our behalf are much appreciated and NOT taken for granted. I look forward to sharing with you what the Lord does as we walk the dusty roads He once walked, declaring a Messiah who came once, a Star out of Jacob, and who will soon come again, a Sceptre out of Israel (Numbers 24:17). Yes, the two comings of Messiah are spoken of in the Torah :)
Don't forget to check-in with FPGM's Studies on Revelation Podcast.
Use your tools and talents to point others to faith in Jesus Christ. When you go out, shod your feet with the Gospel.