Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"the least of these"...

Our schedule in Mexico was generally set in advance. We functioned day to day with ministry opportunities that our contact in Nuevo Laredo had set up.

One of our routine teachings is that "our disappointment is God's Divine Appointment." (Walker Moore)

I have written of this before. So many things happen in life that are disappointing, yet if we are looking, there are usually obvious opportunities to minister that result from whatever the disappointment was or led to.

On this day, we were scheduled to minister in a Wal-Mart mall complex. We were very excited about being able to do this. We had prepared the team in advance for this ministry, and they could not wait. Even though we had ministered many other places before and after this, they were juiced about this specific site.

I have also shared that I do not respond well to short notice in schedule changes.

In His wisdom (and perhaps sense of humor) the Lord routinely places me in sets of circumstances that 'help me grow through this.'

As we were en route to Wal-Mart, we got notice that the site canceled us!

Our translator set into motion a new plan. He contacted a pastor friend and asked if we could minister to his body.

He begged us to come and minister to his congregation. He promised they would be there in 10 minutes.

Anyone who has ever functioned in a Latin culture finds the humor in that statement.

We arrived, knowing we still had a schedule to meet.

Upon arrival, I was told I needed to bring a message to this congregation, and that the pastor had said, "my people come, but they won't do anything." In other words, they believe but won't put their belief into practice.

Can I just say, I don't respond well to being told just moments before we begin that I need to preach a message at the conclusion of our 18 minute drama? I should have no problem with this. I know Scripture teaches, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." 1Pe 3:15

Still, it was as if I had been punched in the stomach and had to recover from the shock and pain. My partner knew me well enough to know I needed time. She took the team and gave me time to get into the Word.

10 minutes came and went and no one was there.

I chased through the Word.

My partner told our translator that we could wait to begin for no more than 45 minutes, as we had be somewhere else, after. He agreed.

45 minutes later, there were three or four children present. We began anyway, trusting the Lord to bring those He needed to hear.

We were set up awkwardly, at the front entrance to the church (or the back of the building). This was because there was no room in the sanctuary area, and rain had caused this area to be under a puddle of water.

Throughout the performance, people filed in. All had to pass through the middle of the drama to get to a seat to watch.

The Lord had prepared my mind for His message, which I then assumed I would not bring as no adults were present to hear it. Just as I made this mental switch, adults filed in one after the other, until the church was full! All this in the last five minutes of the drama.

This message was the least of brent and the most of Christ. I wish I could always preach this way, as He is in complete control. Yet, my blood pressure rises immeasurably in these times of uncertainty.

The approach was two fold. First we dealt with those who had never made a decision for Christ. We saw nearly half of those present surrender their lives to the Lordship of Jesus! We praised Him for this, but quickly moved on.

Next, the message the Lord provided was on "five attributes of a healthy church."

All I can tell you is that the Lord came in power! He moved mightily among the church members who had reportedly entered with apathetic hearts. He called his body to action, and they remained behind after we had to leave, to put framework to what the Lord had called them to do.

Sometimes, when God moves, men give praise to men for their part. While this message and move of the Lord had little to do with me, I was asked to return to this city in a couple of months to lead a crusade... based on God's message in those moments (where I nearly came unglued). He brings His affirmation in unexpected ways.

God had a message for His church. He saw that our time at Wal-Mart was canceled so that His people could hear this message. Had I had time to prepare, I would have made it more of me and less of Him. Not intentionally, but that tends to happen instinctively.

I accepted no credit when praise was given. This was the Lord growing a man, a team, and a body who needed to hear from Him, all at one moment in time.

Truly, our disappointment was His Divine Appointment.

Many came to Christ. Many were drawn into His motivating presence. Many learned a lesson through experience that they had previously, only understood intellectually. One man learned (again) that God is in control and if we allow ourselves to be used and are in His Word and seeking after Him, He will use us in power.

Praise God for His power. Praise Him for His faithfulness. Praise Him for the impact He had on my team, the new believers that resulted, His body which He motivated to serve, and for my renewed understanding of a principle I seem to have to keep learning.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

My Spring Break team from last week...

What is the value of a life?

What is the value of a redeemed life?

How do you measure this philosophical, theological line of thinking?

Last week in Mexico, on the last day of ministry, just hours before we packed up to return to the States, I met a man.

As he neared me, he would have been imposing, even striking fear, had it not been for two things.

First, he appeared to have had a stroke. His left arm hung without purpose, and his left leg drug forward each time it was pressed to stride.

Second, joy manifested out of every pore of this man's presence.

Upon closer look, he had a bat tattoo across the front of his neck. He had a spider web inked on one side of his neck that descended out of view.

He moved forward and took my hand and introduced himself. I studied him. He was a contradiction.

If not rendered "harmless" by these two characteristics, he would have made all who looked on him, uncomfortable.

He began to tell me about himself. First in English, until he ran out of words, then through a translator.

God had restored him.

He used to be involved deeply in the gang world, the drug trade. He had done time in many prisons in the US and Mexico.

He was what we might typically have called a "bad man." The kind you fear you may run into, the kind you don't want your daughter being near or falling for. He had committed heinous crimes. He had paid penalties for his crimes. What price do you put on life?

His name is Ricardo. He was a 'hit man.'

His story is amazing!

I stood in driveway of a lady pastor. She joined in the telling of the story. She was one of 18 children. All 18 sold drugs. She had the largest trade. She had a large store, and had a great deal of traffic. When she was 'saved,' the Lord showed her she would turn her store into His church. She had been obedient.

Ricardo had taken many lives for a little cash. He was the "go to guy," for ending the lives of problem people.

How he came to Christ is miraculous!

He had been in a desperate fight. He was kicked in the throat and had his larynx crushed and lost the ability to talk, among many other injuries that left him in a coma. One might think, he got what he deserved, or a part of it.

Two weeks, he lay comatose in the hospital. Somehow, just before his death, he came to, and the lady pastor was at his bedside. She told him about Jesus. Just before he passed away, he gave his life to Christ!

After his death, the details were not spoken, but life was restored to him!

His new life would be metaphorical and literal.

When he once again could draw breath, the Lord healed him in multiple ways. He suddenly had the ability to speak. The Lord had touched his throat, through his death and restored life. Jesus had brought healing to this man, in many senses.

Now, five years later, he is a walking, talking testimony for Christ!

The only scar he bears from his death and restored life, is the reduced use of his left side. His arm does not function, but his leg gets him around.

Each time I've served in Mexico, I have seen newspaper peddlers on street corners. The papers they hold have large, front page pictures of bloodied corpses lying lifeless.

I don't know how many of these my brother Ricardo is responsible for. I don't know how many new believers walk the earth because of the radical transformation in his life.

I only know, that he once was lost and now is found. He was blind, but now he sees.

He is responsible for the untimely end of many. He is a vessel the Lord has used for new life in many others.

I don't know what life is worth. I only know that new life in Christ supersedes all else.

If this man walks in the peace and joy of the Living God, then so can I!

Being more like Jesus, means being more like Ricardo. Not the old one, the new one.
The man who reflects joy and peace to all he encounters. If anyone should despair of wrong-doings, he should. Jesus brought him healing and peace.

I can't measure that. I don't begin to understand it.

I only know that Jesus will do for you and me what He did for my brother in Christ!

Whatever guilt the enemy uses to beat us down with, does not stand a chance in the presence of His Holiness.


"Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 1Thes 5:16-18


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Deanna and her partner Kenny in Mexico, last week

We had an incredible week in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. We saw a couple hundred people surrender their lives to Christ!

The Lord had us focus while there, on His Holiness. The result was that many students were broken before Him and were in a place to hear His voice like never before. He spoke plainly to many, and their responsiveness was huge.

There are so many stories to share.

I confess, this trip was harder for me to make than the others. The primary reason was inside info. I knew the CIA was telling people this border city was the single most dangerous place on earth at the time we went. I found that hard to believe, having been there so many times before. I needed the Lord to give me peace.

He had done so a month or so ago, but after a day or so there, hearing of the murder of two US citizens leaving a children's birthday party, about undid me.

I knew that since the Lord had called us, the safest place on earth was in the center of His will... Nuevo Laredo. I also knew I was ready to give my life. The difficulty I had was the thought of potentially having to leave a student behind.
I didn't think I could handle that.

I had to trust in Him completely. The enemy fought hard to disrupt our ministry. Overall, he was ineffective. God moved in such power, and the students lives were changed!

I am so proud of the 36 parents who let their children go! The drug wars kept the media focused on border towns. We did have five who signed up who did not end up going... some because of potential danger. I do understand this.

However, there is such power in the testimony of those who were faithful in the face of fear.

A team of 41 headed to Nuevo Laredo and were in the center of His will. We broke into two teams and ministered all over the city. We shared Jesus in youth detention centers, drug/alcohol rehab centers, migrant centers (for those deported from the US), poor communities, flea markets, churches, plazas and more.

Certainly we have been there with smaller teams that reaped a greater harvest, but I have never seen the Lord move in a team the way He did this one.

The face of Nuevo Laredo has changed. The bloodshed there has resulted in streets that are empty by 9:00pm. It used to be that the city would party until late at night. Now, the presence of the army, the federales and even bike riding, flack jacket clad policemen are everywhere.

One can see the faces of people fall, when these men roll into a neighborhood. They have learned that these men are moving targets, and that their presence sometimes brings unrequested violence to their area. The other issue striking fear into the people of border towns, is that the drug cartels are dressing identical to the federales and the army, at times. This act instills fear and confusion.

Corrupt traffic police are taking full advantage of the situation by stopping more cars and insisting on bribes to not commandeer private vehicles.

Our teams traveled in caravans of two vans each. My caravan was stopped by a traffic policeman who insisted upon taking our van, and the identification of the driver. Our translator, berated him and told him he was the reason so few American would visit the city. When our translator threatened to call a government official, the policeman let the van go.

With all of these things going on, it is no surprise that many ministry teams from across the US have canceled their plans to minister there.

However, those who know they are called, and follow in obedience, will walk in the power of the Lord. Their testimonies will speak powerfully of how the Lord is moving. Souls are won for His Name and by His Spirit. The lives of student and adult alike are changed because they have learned to walk with Him in times of fear.

It was not easy, but it increased my faith. There were tense moments, but my God has all authority over every border guard, drug lord, corrupt cop, federale, and He makes a way where there seems to be none.

Praise God for His provision! Praise God for the faithful who went, the faithful who let them go, and the faithful who prayed!


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Katie and me in Mexico

Deanna and I are leading a team to Mexico for Spring Break. We actually have over 40 people going, so we are breaking into two teams upon arrival.

Deanna and Kenny (from my office) will lead one, and Katie (pictured above) and I will lead the other. We will all be together in for meals and teaching, but will minister separately.

I would ask you to pray for the supple hearts of those we will minister to and for safety. We are heading into a border town that has received a great deal of negative press for drug wars.

No, we are not insane.

God has opened this door for us, and contrary to worldly wisdom, we go where He leads, even when it seems uncertain. We know that nothing can happen apart from His authority. We trust in Him completely.

It is interesting that we are taking the largest team we've ever taken at a time when the press has been most negative. God has some amazing things in store and we cannot wait to see how He will move!

Still, we covet your prayers and ask that you would visit www.awestar.org and click on the trip updates and then on Spring Break to follow what He does.

We leave on Saturday with a 14 hour drive, minister for a week and return the following Saturday evening.

Even now, I am busy making final preparations and trying to get all of my teachings in order for this journey.

The discipleship time is among my favorites. I love seeing God do a work in the hearts of His own after they have spent the day pouring themselves into others.

You really should experience this with me one day! You will be changed. Our God is amazing!

Thank you for your support and encouragement. I will update after we return.


Thursday, March 04, 2010

Snowballs about to fly...

In the last few months, I have seen a consistent theme on my facebook. Facebook is a social networking site on the internet. It began on University campuses and has spread worldwide. It has allowed those who knew each other "way back when," to reconnect. In the process of it's growth, it has annoyed many college students who weren't too excited about old guys like me showing up on their page.

So vast and powerful is this tool, that employers watch their employees with it, and prospective employers look at a potential hire's facebook to see what their life looks like. In some cases, this has prevented people from being hired, as what is important in their lives shows up on facebook. That is not always a good thing.

One of the features of facebook, is something called a status update. This allows you to express to others what is on your mind. It then comes up in their news feed, and they can comment on it. It keeps people in touch with each other. The comments go directly to the author and others who comment then show up on everyone elses page who also respond.

I like to use this feature to talk about Jesus. I will put up little bits of wisdom or thought provoking ideas that attempt to reflect Christ.

The reason I have brought all of this up, is that I tend to get responses from many... usually positive. The other side of it though, is that there are negative responses. They don't usually come in the form of comments.

On this networking site, you have to find and then request people to be your "friend." They in turn, must accept or decline your friend request. If they accept your request, you have full exposure to most things on their page. This includes their photo albums, status updates, and the things other "friends" write on their wall, among much more. There is also a feature that allows you to de-friend people, should you so choose.

Because of the nature of my job, being before students around the US, I have quite a few friends. Not as many as some, but more than others.

What has struck me over the last year or so, is that each time I put up a status update that calls the body of Christ to obedience in some form or fashion... my friend count drops by several.

I have seen this happen over and over, again.

The name of Jesus is controversial. It causes a stirring in most. For some it is a good thing, for others, it brings conviction. People often don't like conviction. It calls them to action. Action they may not want to take.

Jesus said, "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." Mtw 10:34

That sword is often His Name. It divides rooms in an instant. It divides families. It divides hearts. It does so, because there is such power in Him and in relationship with Him. It also does so, because people do not like to be reminded of things present in their lives that need to be carved out... by that same sword.

Some students don't want their friends seeing "Jesus" showing up on their facebook page. Some adults see it similarly. Many believe that relationship with Christ is to be kept private. I don't see that in Scripture... anywhere!

If taking a stand for Jesus causes me to lose friends, I will take that stand!

His Word says, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes." Rom 1:16


It is time we take a stand and not care what the results are. I don't mean bashing people with heavy Bibles. I mean proclaiming Truth, regardless of whether or not it costs us friends.

Acceptance by the world does not bring peace. It brings further motivation to find and keep acceptance by even larger populations. It is a self-perpetuating endeavor.

Acceptance by our Savior includes fellowship with others, but we are also promised rejection. He said, "All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm until the end will be saved." Mtw 10:22

I would rather speak Truth and lose friends, than gain popularity and die spiritually.

Even those who reject, are ground for sown seed.

I will speak Truth, and let the Spirit of the Lord minister. If my popularity decreases, then I must be doing something right.

"He must become greater; I must become less." Jo 3:30


Monday, March 01, 2010

Lauren in Indiana

I attended another funeral last week. I don't want to go to any more. This is the second funeral in the last month. This one was for a 22 year old young man. He should not have died. Sometimes the things we turn to for escape in the world, can cause us to depart early.

This was a young man who loved Jesus. He had been on the platform the Sunday before, playing bass on the worship team. He loved music. It was one of his passions. He loved people. They were another.

He invested in people. He loved them without judgment. He encouraged others not to be judgmental. He challenged routines and rules for the sake of making sure that things in life made sense.

He also had a restless spirit. One that caused him to be unsettled with some important things in life.

His life ultimately ended early, due to a decision made to obtain instant gratification.

He had a positive influence in the lives of many, yet a decision made in weakness would make him an example to some, of what happens when we seek to fill our flesh over what is edifying to Christ.

That certainly doesn't erase the blessing he was to many. Whether or not good deeds outweigh bad ones is not the point. Sometimes we get caught in our moment of weakness and must pay a heavy price. We force others to do so without intent.

The price he paid would change the course of life for many.

The family strives to find the good in his life. Same for his friends. Suddenly, they are mid-terror on an amusement park "karma" ride that they did not pay admission for.

I know I struggle to do the right thing every day. It is always easier to do what makes me feel good and brings immediate, momentary pleasure, than to deny myself in order to glorify Him.

None of us are perfect. Failing to strive to bless the heart of our Savior, because of what we cannot be apart from Him, is never reason to quit doing that which brings Him glory.

But, we do.

I did not know this young man, but his family is precious to me. I hurt for them.

My first encounter with them was at an impromptu meeting at a Starbuck's while I was in their city for a wedding. An alumnus of Awe Star had called together friends (and some of their parents) to hear about upcoming missions opportunities.

I was surrounded by the eager ears of students and the cautious hearts of parents.

This mom in particular (not knowing our story) brought it down to this simple question, "Has anyone ever died, going with you?"

I feared telling her our story, but prompted by the Lord to do so, I was honest. How the Lord would use this still amazes me.

At the conclusion of sharing, this previously concerned mom looked at me and said, "My son is going with you! And, I will speak to other Mom's to see that theirs can go, too!"

Only God could bring such peace to a parents heart in the face of an opposite reality.

In the ensuing years, she would send two of her sons with us. They were each a huge blessing to their teams and the cultures they served in. Her oldest, the one who passed, I never got to meet... yet.

I greive for one I have not met... his passion spoke for him.

His brother said of him, "He was philosophy and theology living among the dirt and the dirty."

What affirmation of real living! I would love to have that spoken of my own flawed existence.

We must seek to be found instantly, and continuously obedient to our Savior.

He is worth the price!