Monday, December 17, 2012

In God We Trust?

As I prepared a lesson for a Bible study recently, something jumped off the page at me. It’s one of those moments in scripture that make you realize why we refer to God’s Word as the "Living Bible." No matter how long our world exists, the Bible will always be completely applicable.

In the Hosea 8:1-3, we read:

8 Put the horn to your mouth! One like an eagle
comes against the house of the Lord, because they
transgress My covenant and rebel against My law. 
2 Israel cries out to Me, "My God, we know You!"
3 Israel has rejected what is good; an enemy will pursue him.

The nation of Israel at this time was in full-blown rebellion to God, as verse three states, rejecting what is good. And, although they might have symbolically cried out "My God, we know you!", Israel lived perversely. They worshiped idols and false Gods.
What really jumped off the page at me was the word ‘eagle’ in verse one. " eagle comes against the house of the Lord." An eagle...the national symbol of our country. I mulled about it for a minute, then realized how perfectly applicable it was today. Substituting the word ‘eagle’ with ‘United States’, how real it seemed today. "...the United States comes against the house of the Lord, because they transgress My covenant and rebel against My law."

The unthinkable tragedy of the past week at Newtown, Connecticut is a blistering reminder of how our country has painstakingly removed any sign of God from our public places, as if any spiritual reference is some sort of virus that needs to be scrubbed from societal walls. At public school Sandy Hook Elementary, the mere mention of God would no doubt been challenged by forces of opposition who have won battle after battle to disregard the spiritual roots this country was founded upon. A word of prayer, a posting of the Ten Commandments, a Christmas manger scene, all would have been viewed not just as inappropriate, but illegal, all in the misguided name of freedom, liberty.

On the contrary, like at every public school in the land, Sandy Hook Elementary is mandated by law to teach doctrine directly opposed to God’s word. Lifestyles considered perverse abominations in the Bible, and at one time, in our country, now are presented as normal alternatives in our culture and in our classrooms. Teaching the scriptural-preferred practice of abstinence is considered controversial in modern sex education classes, though a recent study indicated it was preferred by 80% of all parents. By the way, that’s where the instruction should begin, at home, with the parents.

I could write ten pages on the subject, but you get the drift. As long as we continue to drive God further and further from our lives and from our country, the void will fill with ungodliness.

Like Israel in the Old Testament, the United States has our own version of the false cry,

"My God, we know you, " >>> In God We Trust.

How realistic is that motto these days? Do we as a nation put our trust in God? And sadly, how long will it be before that, too, is declared illegal??

Friday, December 14, 2012

Nightmare in Connecticut

Genesis 3:6 - When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Genesis 4:8 - Now Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let’s go out to the field." While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

Like all of you, I sat, once again, in disbelief as the atrocity of the day’s news unfolded before us. Twenty kindergartners were killed in a Connecticut grade school this morning. Another school, another massacre of children, this time, unimaginably, a classroom of five-year old kindergarten kids.

As the grandparents of two kindergartners, my wife and I sat watching the horrific scenes from a Connecticut grade school in mostly stunned silence, only interrupted by Teri’s occasional sobbing as her heart broke over the loss of these precious lives.

The news broadcasters are in unison. No matter what pundit you turn to, they all seem to be asking a form of the question, why. What is going on in this world? Where did all this evil come from? Reread the above passages. Genesis 3:6 documents the fall of mankind. Adam and Eve escorted sin into the world.  One generation later, one of their sons, Cain, murdered his brother Abel.   Sin’s effect on mankind moved quickly then...and continues to do so.

In 1962, the United States Supreme Court abolished what we commonly knew as school prayer. A routine part of the school day was a simple moment of prayer. But now days, school is a place where God is not welcome in any way, shape, or form. And yet, there will be those who, upon hearing today’s tragic news, cry out "Where was God in all this?!?"  I wonder if those same folks think it mere coincidence that these type of mass killings in schools did not exist before the 1960's.

A few minutes ago, I watched from our back deck as a young mother waited for her child stepping off a school bus. She walked him back to their house about a block away.  I’ve seen her on that walk dozens of times, but today she must have had a sense of reflection about the 20 Connecticut mothers and fathers that won’t have their children home with them tonight.   I know I did...

Please Lord Jesus, comfort those parents, grandparents,and other family members who are suffering through this nightmarish night. Love them in a way that only You can. Forgive us, Lord God, for the measures we’ve taken as a nation to move further and further from You, for the evilness we’ve legislated, for the ungodliness our country’s embraced. We fall on our knees and cry out to You for mercy.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Thanksgiving Leftovers...

The Thanksgiving holiday came and went with the usual overeating on my part. The wife made a particularly delicious corn casserole that I relished the thought eating for days with leftovers, only to find that she’d unceremoniously dumped it after a day in an effort to make room in the refrigerator. I was not happy about it in the least bit.

There were a couple of other things about the Thanksgiving holiday that raised my dander a bit. Okay, maybe more than a bit...

Thanksgiving itself has become more and more just a prelude to commercialistic Christmas. Black Friday has seeped into Thanksgiving night (or afternoon) shopping. I went into the local Walmart on Thanksgiving morning to pickup some last minute items for the big meal that afternoon. I walked by pallet after pallet after pallet of cellophane wrapped items marked with the times, i.e. 8:00PM, 10:00PM, etc, that each pallet of stuff would be unwrapped for shopping availability.

I didn’t look too closely at the items, but I did notice that there wasn’t anything there that I would wade into the masses to fight over. In fact, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would, but the next day I watched a video of a chaotic crowd fighting over the items on one such video. If you have a minute check it out here:

It’s beyond bothersome that as a society we’ve come to this point of materialistic idolatry. I think it’s safe to say that Jesus’ teaching in Luke 12:15 " on your guard empathically against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" was pretty much thrown out the window in that crowd.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t lay the blame on WalMart or any other business. They are merely taking full advantage of what we’ve become as a society. But the real victim is a once-cherished holiday tradition of giving thanks to God for our many blessings that has deteriorated to this current sad state of affairs...

On Thanksgiving weekend, I took the family to a afternoon matinee of the movie Life of Pi. It was a 3D flick about a boy and a tiger, or at least that’s what I thought. What we sat through was a movie which had a not-so-subtle spiritual message that there exists many paths leading to God, and, as long as you believe in something, anything, you’d experience your spiritual awakening and a relationship with the Almighty.

The main character was a Hindu/Muslim/Christian. As the narrator of the film, he told the story of being a believer in all three religions. Let me say emphatically, there is no such thing as a Hindu/Muslim/Christian. Pi’s own father said it best when he told his son, "If you believe in everything, you believe in nothing." I can’t speak on first two religious beliefs, but when Jesus said, "No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6)," He meant just that. This movie was basically making Christ a liar and I’m regretful that I supported it with my money. Don’t go and do likewise.

I long for the day when as a nation we fall on our collective knees and cry out to God for forgiveness for our waywardness and truly thank the Almighty for how blessed we are as a country. In his original proclamation that set forth the holiday we now know as Thanksgiving, President Abraham Lincoln stated it was "a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens." It speaks volumes about our country, and our President, that this year,  Barack Obama’s Thanksgiving proclamation failed to mention God completely...for the fourth year in a row.

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Special Moment from Brazil

There was nothing out of the ordinary about the woman that caught my attention. She sat unemotionally quiet with the other women, not interacting with anyone. She appeared to be around 30 years of age. I wasn’t sure she’d listened to a word I’d said through my interpreter that afternoon. As I spoke to the women of a drug and alcohol rehab clinic in Goiania, Brazil, the woman’s expression was apathetically distant.

During my message about Jesus lifting up and redeeming troubled women in the Bible, I noticed another young woman becoming emotional, quietly sobbing to herself, while others around her tried to comfort her. It was obvious that God’s word was touching her heart, and I wasn’t surprised to have her respond during the invitation to receive Christ. But the whole time I was speaking, my attention kept being drawn back to the first woman. The more detached she seemed from my message, the more my attention was drawn toward her.
The weeping young woman was the only one that came forward during the invitation. We celebrated the new sister in Christ with a commitment prayer and song. Pictures were taken and her once downcast, tearful face was now beaming brightly with the joy of a new Savior, and new life in Christ. But the quiet woman didn’t take part in the celebration. Instead, she sat quietly off by herself, seemingly just waiting for us to leave the facility so she could continue her regular routine.
We gathered our things, and the international team started leaving the area, along with most of the staff and residents of the facility. I packed up my backpack and started following the others out when I noticed the quiet woman still sitting off by herself, staring ahead with not a hint of emotion. As I walked toward her, I attempted to make eye contact, wanting to acknowledge her with a nod or a smile, but she didn’t look up at me.

I walked on, but as I got to the woman, something stopped me dead in my tracks. I can’t exactly tell you the feeling I had in words, but I definitely felt a message in my head, in my heart.
"Don’t you walk past that woman..."

I can’t say it was the booming voice of God or something written in the sky, but it was clear and it was evident that I could not continue on with the others. Oh, by the way, my interpreter just happened to be walking past at the very moment I stopped...

"Hello, what’s your name?

She gave me the briefest of smiles, one which revealed a past use of methamphetamine. We talked a bit about this and that, then I asked Eliana whether or not she’d ever received the forgiveness that only Christ’s shed blood on the cross could provide and she lowered her head and said, "No, I’ve been too bad." It was at that point that the once stoic woman began to sob...

The truth of the matter is, we’ve all been "too bad." We’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, as Romans 3:23 reminds us. But there is the hope that we find only through God’s plan of salvation through Jesus’s death on the cross. It is there and only there we find the promise of Isaiah:18:

"Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.

The precious blood of Christ cleanses us from all our transgressions, no matter how high they number, or how low they bring us down.

...Eliana spoke of a life filled with sin. Shameful remorse creased her once expressionless face. Tears flowed freely as she spoke openly, confessing a life she now wanted to leave behind. I explained to Eliana that her sin was not beyond Jesus’s redemptive blood, that no matter what her past had been, God loved her and wanted her to receive the Grace of salvation.

"God would not let me walk past you today, Eliana, without talking to you. What does that tell you?"

"He loves me...and still remembers me. Yes, I would like to receive Jesus in my life...please."

I told Eliana something that I’ve told many others while on mission trips. I told her we probably would never see each other this world. But, someday, we’ll both be in heaven because of what she’d received that afternoon.
"And when that glorious day of rejoicing comes, you come find me, we will celebrate."

During the crusade in Goiania, 2731 made commitments to Christ. That afternoon, in a women’s rehab clinic, God allowed me to witness one of those confessions of faith. It was an experience that I’ll never forget. Thanks to the many who prayed for the trip. Thanks to my international coworkers, Americans, Brazilians, and Paraguayans who served alongside me. But mostly, I give thanks to a great God that gave me the opportunity to meet so many wonderful Eliana.

Yes, we shall meet again, my new sister!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Time to Jump In

There’s an old story that I’ve heard several times about a tightrope artist who was performing his act of daring over the magnificent Niagra Falls. He’d made the perilous journey back and forth to the excited applause of the crowd that had gathered. Then, to make the feat more daring, he pushed a wheelbarrow across the falls and back. Then, putting a 100 pound sack of flour in the wheelbarrow, the daredevil proceeded to push the load again back and forth, atop the tightrope, bringing the crowd to a worked-up frenzy.

"Who believes I could put a person in my wheelbarrow and push them across the falls?" he asked the excited crowd. To a person, each one of the audience raised their hands in support of the man’s obvious talents.

"Okay, who volunteers to jump into my wheelbarrow and be that person??" Not a hand was raised...

It’s one thing to say we believe in God, In God We Trust and that sort of thing. But it’s quite another to actually live our lives reflective of that actually jump into God’s wheelbarrow with our lives in His hands. Since a fantastic revival at our church last week, I’ve been unable to get a certain passage off my mind. 2Corinthians 5:7 says:

                                          For we live by faith, not by sight.

This concept has persistently tugged at me since I heard evangelist Ronnie Smith talk on the subject last Wednesday night. I’ve had to stop and ponder how much of my life do I really live in full faith and trust in God vs. how much do I live by sight, attempting to control myself?
How much of my life have I placed in God’s wheelbarrow? Is my wallet in there, how I spend my money? Do I make financial decisions independent of God’s guidance? When’s the last time I laid out my possessions and asked God to remove those things that weren’t pleasing to Him, those things that I value too much, more perhaps, than I value my relationship with Him. How about my wristwatch, is it in the wheelbarrow? Is how I spend my time a decision that I make exclusively myself, or do I say, take the time you need Lord and use me as you see fit?

I could go on and on. This concept applies to every aspect of my life. The sinful truth of the matter is that only a very small percentage of my life is actually in that wheelbarrow. Instead, I have it piled up on the shore, where I can control it. Oh, when I foul up an area of my life, I call God over and then put the mess I've made in His wheelbarrow, at least until He’s gotten it straightened out. But generally speaking, my time, my money, my life as a whole, is basically organized in way that is pleasing And in that way, I’ve brought those things to the altar of the god

Maybe you can relate. When we hold a white-knuckle grip on our lives and fail to give God complete control, we’re saying three things:
           1. I don’t trust you God, to do what You say.
           2. I don’t believe you God, that you can do what You say.
           3. And, I don’t love you God, enough to hand it over to you.
Last Wednesday night, I made a commitment to begin to hand over the keys to my life, completely to God, to get in the wheelbarrow. I want to truly live a life of faith, not sight. It’s a process, but in the end, I believe it will be a much more rewarding life than with any period I’ve yet experienced. I invite any and all of you to join me...are you willing to take the ride of your life?

As always, I invite your comments and questions. My email address is Thanks for taking the time to read what God has placed on my heart.

Monday, October 1, 2012

He Said WHAT??

All the splendor of a beautiful fall morning was upon us as my wife and I tooled out and about Kansas City, stopping here and there at yard sales, bakeries, and wherever else our little Ford Escape would take us.

We’ve never been bumper sticker people, per se, but about a year ago, my wife brought home a couple of bumper stickers with the simple phrase "Read the Bible" on them. I liked the message and both our vehicles now proudly display them. Underneath the "Read the Bible" phrase is a passage reference of why we should "Read the Bible," II Timothy 3:16, which tells us:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof,
for correction, and for training in righteousness...

As Christians, the passage tells us simply that the Bible is the direct word of God, and, as the phrase goes, it’s all good. But, during our Friday morning gallivanting, we encountered another driver who didn’t hold our views of the Bible.

As we were enjoying our morning outing and the beauty of the day, the peaceful bliss which enwrapped us was suddenly punctured by unexpected vileness, courtesy of the driver passing on our right. As I slowed to make a left hand turn, the man in the car next to us rolled down his window, leaned out, and stated his viewpoints about the Bible in a three word phrase that was chilling to the ear..."BLEEP YOUR BIBLE!!!" I apologize for putting a profanity in your heads, but I couldn’t think of any other way to report the incident.

It was jolting, to say the least. Initially, I felt angry indignation toward the offender. I wanted to follow him and find out exactly what his problem was. That feeling quickly changed to one of confusion and finally sympathy. Here was a man who was obviously spiritually lost, not knowing the joy of salvation that comes only through knowing Christ as Lord and Savior. Instead, hatred had moved into his heart, and it spewed out of his mouth that day.

I have a member of my own family who’s a self-proclaimed atheist, and displays the type of resentful anger toward Christianity that the poor driver demonstrated Friday morning. I’ve been praying for him for years. To date, his heart remains hardened toward God or, for that matter, anything spiritual. In his own way, he’s saying the same thing that the driver said toward me, as are so many who hear God’s calling, but refuse to respond. They are the folks, "whose minds the god of this age (Satan) has blinded, who do not believe..." (2Corinthians 4:4)

As Christians, we are to continue to pray for and pursue the lost. It isn’t always easy, but we can’t become derelict in our duties. God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:4) By His Holy Spirit living in us, we have to have the same desire in us. Something I need to work about you?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Seeing the Light

I suppose everyone’s heard the old Hank Williams song "I Saw the Light," released in 1948. Hank Williams is considered one of the great country singers of all-time, but he led a troubled life, cut short by the ravages of alcoholism at the age of 29. My father had a couple of Hank Williams records, and I grew up listening to his unmistakable sound.

The simple lyrics to " I Saw the Light" begin:

I wandered so aimless life filled with sin                                     
I wouldn't let my dear Savior in
Then Jesus came like a stranger in the night
Praise the Lord I saw the light.
Light is a common theme throughout the Bible. A quick search turns up hundreds of usages of the word light. None more clearly and simply defines the Light of the Bible more than Psalm 18: 28:

For You will light my lamp; The LORD my God will enlighten my darkness

Without Christ in my life, I was in darkness. As Christians, we are mandated to bring others to the light. I’ve named my blog "Reflecting the Light," because that’s what I want to do, reflect the Light of God’s love for me, expressed by His sacrificing his own Son, Jesus, for the sins of the world.

Before we were Christians, we didn’t necessarily know we were in darkness. Ephesians 5:8 tells us:

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light

We are mandated here to "walk as children of light" first and foremost to give glory to God, but also to bring others to that same light that we walk in. Last week, I wrote about losing my money at a crooked carnival game. I’m also reminded of a time when I entered a carnival spook house as a kid. It was basically just a pitch-black maze which you had to weave yourself through. There were a lot of eerie sound effects playing and people screaming in fear. I wanted out badly, but couldn’t find my way on my own. Every once in a while the exit door would open, and a slither of light would appear throughout the maze. The key to finding your way out of the darkness was to keep following that light. The closer you got to the light the brighter it appeared.

That’s pretty symbolic of where we are without Christ in our lives, stuck in the darkness. As Christians, we are to shine the Light through our lives for others to see, helping them come out of their darkness. It has to be done in a loving way, not a blinding way. A preacher I heard in Minnesota last week likened it to using a flashlight to help someone find their way. You don’t shine the light directly in their eyes, blinding them. That would turn them away from the light.

But that’s what we do, sometimes, trying to beat the Gospel over someone’s head. Instead, we should try to shine our Light lovingly, in a way that displays Christ’s love for us. Now, go, and shine the Light of Christ for someone today, and show them the Way to their salvation.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Step Right Up...

"All ya gotta do is take this ball and knock all three milk bottles out of the circle and ya take home a BB gun, whatta say, kiddo? Fifty cents a throw, wanna give it a go? Lemme show ya how easy it is..."

And with that, the carnival barker took a ball and tossed it at the small pyramid of bottles, knocking them out of the chalk circle that they’d been stacked inside. 

"See how easy that is, bud? I’ll even let you have a practice throw for free, Whatta ya say?"
Sure, why not take a practice throw, see if I could do it. I was a pretty good little league ball player and that old barker had done it. So taking dead aim at the bottles, I wound up my twelve year old arm and let fly. Sure enough, all three bottles flew out of the circle. The barker claimed it was the best throw he’d seen in weeks. Now, my dad had warned me not to play any of the games, that they were rigged so that you couldn’t win. Obviously he was wrong about this one.

"For just 50 cents, you make that same throw and you’ll walk away a winner," the barker said, carefully restacking the bottles. It sure made plenty of sense to my pre-adolescent mind. I had a pocketful of hard-earned money from mowing grass around my neighborhood. Invest just 50 cents, win the BB gun and I’d still have plenty for cotton candy and ferris wheels. I plunked my money down and picked up the ball...

My pastor in last night’s service talked about the deceptions and distractions of the world. They can be traps that Christians often fall into, leading us to greatly harm our relationship with our Heavenly Father. Adam and Eve listened to and followed the deception of the serpent, ushering sin into the world. Sin usually takes that pattern. We listen to or see it, then we often choose to experience it. But throughout the Bible, God warns us about such deception:

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. (I Timothy 6:9)

But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. (James 1:14)

In my life, there have been times that I've allowed the influence of worldly desires to lead my life astray. I look back on those periods with a great deal of shame and regret. I also take great joy in the ultimate forgiveness that I’ve experienced from a loving Father who provided His own Son to pay for those and all other sin in my life.  I cannot possibly express enough gratitude for that.

...It was a long walk home that night. I hadn’t experienced the thrill of a whirlybird ride or tasted the wonderfulness of fresh popped popcorn. I wouldn’t go to sleep that night dreaming of how high the ferris wheel had taken me or remembering the gooey sweetness of a caramel apple. Instead, I’d spent an abbreviated evening giving my money to a deceptive carnival barker, fifty cents at a time. I couldn’t imagine why I couldn’t knock those bottles out of the circle, like I had on my practice throw. Greedily and angrily, I threw ball after ball, trying to win that shiny BB gun. All I’d got for my efforts were a sore arm and a feeling of humiliation.

"Sorry kid, better luck next time."

I’m not sure where I first heard this, but this three-pronged look at sin has always stuck with me:
Sin will always take you farther than you wanted to go.
Sin will always keep you longer than you wanted to stay.
Sin will always cost you more than you were willing to pay.

My greed and anger had driven me right out of the carnival and back to my home, much farther than I wanted to go that early in the evening. I stayed at the game much longer than I’d ever intended. And with all my money spent, it certainly had cost me more than I was willing to pay.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Man on the Moon...

If you’re my age or older, you no doubt remember July 20, 1969. I had just turned ten years old and had been introduced to a new hero.  He didn’t score touchdowns or hit home runs. No, we didn’t have his card in a shoe box, or a poster of him on our bedroom walls. Instead, we just had this fuzzy television image of a man in a spacesuit descending a ladder. I ran outside when he’d taken his final step, one that he described as "One giant leap for mankind," and stood gazing at the full moon to see if I could somehow spot Neil Armstrong walking on the moon...

Neil Armstrong’s passing last week gave me cause to stop and reflect on the glory days of our space program of the 1960's and 70's.  I remembered something else that was pretty remarkable that occurred several months before Armstrong took his giant leap during the Apollo 11 mission. And while we might return to the moon’s surface some day, but I'm skeptical that we’ll ever see a recurrence of what happened during Apollo 8.

On Christmas Eve, 1968, Apollo 8 crew members sent magnificent pictures of our planet back to us from the perspective of the moon. I think it was the first time we’d seen the beauty of God’s creation from that vantage point. Then astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders did what nowadays would be unheard of.

With the largest ever television audience at that point in history watching, the three men began to read:
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth..."

Genesis 1. They read the first ten verses of the Bible. Could you imagine the uproar that such an outrageous act would cause today?? The next day, they did something even more remarkable, by today’s standards...they prayed.

The forces that wrestle for control of our nation wouldn’t stand for such behavior today. The ALCU and atheists organizations would see to it that such outlandish actions never occur. The sad part is, as a society, we’ve succumbed to their pressures, and no astronaut would ever think to acknowledge a creator, let alone pray to one publicly. 
The Apollo 11 mission was a demonstration of how far we’d progressed, technologically. Unfortunately, looking back on Apollo 8, we can see how far we’ve regressed, spiritually.  As we remember a true American hero, Neil Armstrong, let's also look back and repeat the prayer of Apollo 8.  The words are just as relevant today as they were in 1968:

Give us, O God, the vision which can see thy love in the world in spite of
human failure. Give us the faith to trust the goodness in spite of our
ignorance and weakness. Give us the knowledge that we may continue to
pray with understanding hearts, and show us what each one of us can do
to set forth the coming of the day of universal peace. Amen.
Apollo 8's Christmas Eve broadcast:

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Peru, Josh Hamilton, and Chick-fil-A...

I just returned from a ten-day trip with International Commission to Piura, Peru. Actually, I’ve been back for a week, but I’ve been battling a bad summer cold all week, which pretty much sidelined me for the past seven days. But God used the past week to help me focus on some interesting aspects about my trip, and the society we live in...

First of all, it was a fantastic trip. My good friend Donnie and I experienced God’s working in the hearts of the Peruvian people. We met and worked with true servants of God. Holding worship services in their church and in the streets of Piura, conducting home visits, and just talking to people in their neighborhoods.  We witnessed 97 people confess Christ during the week.  The entire crusade saw 2038 new Christians.  Praise God for each and every conversion!

There was an undeniable Spirit of love that existed almost immediately between those brothers and sisters in Christ and us. By the end of the week, though we didn’t know each other’s language, we knew each other’s hearts, and parting was very difficult.

Sharing Christ with the lost souls of Piura came very easily. The Holy Spirit had prepared the hearts of many to hear the Word and respond. Person after person, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers came to know Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. Again, sharing Jesus in that environment came very easy...

Last night my wife and I took in a Kansas City Royals - Texas Rangers baseball game. We especially wanted to go because it was Family and Faith night at the ballpark and several Christian ball players were to speak, including Josh Hamilton, a former MVP of the Rangers.

Hamilton’s story of drug and alcohol abuse is well known.  I was moved by his testimony and message. Our seats were directly in front of the steps that he descended after he spoke.  I was privileged to shake his hand and tell him I appreciated his message.

After Hamilton spoke, another speaker, Scott Dawson, gave a stirring call to the audience, asking those who’d felt moved to receive Christ as Savior to move to an empty section of the stadium, where there were counselors waiting to speak with them. Many began to make their way toward that section. But Dawson did something even bolder. He urged the Christians in the large crowd to lean over and tell the person beside them "If you’d like to walk over to that section, I’ll be glad to walk with you..."

I’d spent a week in Piura, Peru telling everyone I’d encountered about Jesus Christ, but still, I felt a feeling of hesitation overcome me about the guy who’d I’d been sitting next to all game, chatting here and there about this and that...why was that?

In Piura, Peru, I was in tune with God’s Holy Spirit, for sure. I need to be more so in my everyday walk. That’s first and foremost. But there’s an element in our society that has put shackles on the tongues of Christians everywhere. That element reared its ugly head during last week’s Chick-fil-A ordeal. A Christian CEO on a Christian Radio station and in a Christian newspaper said simply he believed in the Bible’s teachings...and there was an outcry from the Political Correctness Police.

I was proud of the turnout at Chick-fil-A last Wednesday...but it should not have been necessary.  The same cultural atmosphere that Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy encountered by simply stating his belief in the Bible, is the same atmosphere that caused me to hesistate tapping that man's shoulder last night.  We’ve been duped into caring far, far too much of what negative response we might encounter if we share Christ with our neighbor, our coworker, our relative. Shame on us for allowing that fear and intimidation be the driving force, instead of the message we’ve been mandated to spread...

I don’t know for certain whether or not that man sitting next to me was a Christian or not. I do know a couple of things, though. He heard tremendous testimony about how Christ was working in the life of Josh Hamilton. He heard a well-presented plan of salvation from Scott Dawson.  And, though he didn’t respond to my offer, he felt me overcome my initial hesitation, tap him on the shoulder and tell him I’d be happy to walk him over to where the new believers were gathering.

Maybe it will serve as a seed and God will use another to bring him to Christ.  I pray for that.  I also pray God will continue to give me chances to tap someone on the shoulder...and the courage to do so.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Note From Peru - 2012

I've returned to Peru for another crusade with the Internatiomal Commission, and like last year's crusade, there is obvious evidence of God's work before, during, and no doubt after our visit will be over. My good friend, Donnie, and I alone have had the blessing of witnessing over 50 professions of faith in Christ in the three and half days we been here. The total crusade number is over 500 at this point, with three and a half days to go!

Last night, we held a street service, bringing chairs out into a street.  Not to worry, it wasn't that busy of a street!  Only about two or three cars a minute whizzed by. For once, I made sure I wasn't a back row Baptist. Several were witnessed to as they walked by and I know at least one made a profession of faith.

As we were getting ready to leave, a woman came up to me and asked me to come pray for her ailing mother, which I did, taking Pastor Luis and a couple other men with me. We prayed over her, asking God to ease her pain, and heal the bladder infection she suffered from. Although a rather simple thing here, any infection of the body is a serious situation here.

After we prayed and were getting ready to leave, a woman from the church whispered in my ear "she not believer, brother."  I called my interpreter back and we asked her if we could tell her about Christ. She say yes, and shortly after, became a Christian!

When we left her room, she still had the sickness that had driven her to her bed, but the ultimate sickness that has plagued man since Adam, the sickness of sin, which the Bible says ultimately leads to death, had been completely removed by the Blood of the Lamb. God used her sickness to create a situation where she could hear about

Appreciate all of your continued prayers.

Piura, Peru

Thursday, July 12, 2012

An All-Star Memory

By all appearances, it was just another rather meaningless game of little league baseball in the little farm town of Arcadia, Kansas. I was 12 years old, on a team my father coached. We’d gone to the championship game the year before in the 11-13 year old league, but the bulk of that winning team had moved up to high school ball, and the remnants left behind made for a fairly mediocre team. So much so, that I was forced to do a lot of the team’s pitching, though it wasn’t my forte by any means.

I started pitching the last game of the season, a season that saw us win four or five games at best. I’d shared pitching duties with another kid all year. We had a third boy, Kent, who was 13, and pitched in a pinch. Kent loved to pitch, but was really was better suited for the outfield.

Something came over my pitching skills that night that was unexplainable. My usual wildness off the mound turned into pinpoint control. My fastball was a little faster, and the curve balls we weren’t supposed to be throwing at that tender age were actually breaking. Seemingly, the spirit of Cy Young had overcome me and I became unhittable...literally.

We played six inning games in those days, and as I walked off the mound at the end of the fifth inning, there was a buzz going about the ballpark...the visiting pitcher’s throwing a no-hitter! I hadn’t allowed a single hit all game and with only three outs to go, the pitching gem was in sight...

As I sat fidgeting in the dugout, my father came up to me on the bench and put his arm around me. I figured he was just going to encourage me, tell me not to be nervous, just keep doing what I’m doing, etc. Instead, he told me something that made a 40 year impression on my life...

Proverbs 10:9 says

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely,
but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.

Integrity may seem like a dying art these days. We’ve come to live in a world full of mistrust, largely due to integrity’s fading presence. I wrote last week about someone stealing ice water I’d set out for the garbage collectors on a scorching hot day. Jesus said it best when he instructed:

But let your word ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’ Anything
more than this is from the evil one.  Matthew  5:37

Be honest, upright, and a person of your word...

...Dad started out with "Hey, ol’ bud." Whenever he had something important to say, it seemed like dad used that phrase..."Hey, ol’ bud. You’ve pitched a heckuva game tonight. But I gotta let Kent pitch this last inning. It’s his last game in this league, and I promised him I’d let him pitch a little tonight. He’ll probably never get to pitch in high school ball, so I gotta let him pitch tonight..."

Nobody probably would have remembered that little league no hitter I might have finished that night, but me. No one but me remembers that the first batter Kent faced hit a clean base hit up the middle to break up the no hitter. And, I imagine my dad would’ve loved seeing his son pitch a no hit game that hot Kansas night. But more important to him was keeping his word, his integrity, to Kent. Forty years later, a little league achievement is far, far less important than the major league lesson I took from that night.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Baseball, Apple Pie and Andy...

It seems somewhat fitting that as we celebrate our country’s birthday, we also pause and reflect on the passing of Andy Griffith. Andy, Barney, Aunt Bea, Mayberry... doesn’t get much more Americana than that. 

My kids used to grow weary of me watching old Andy Griffith reruns. Like many of you, I’ve seen every episode, most several times. There was a wholesome goodness about escaping for a half hour to Mayberry, North Carolina that hasn’t really ever been duplicated. Much like the town in which I was raised, in Mayberry everyone knew everyone else. Most importantly, everyone seemed to care about everyone else. I’m afraid that’s a fading aspect from today’s, what’s-in-it-for-me society.

The other day, I had some iced cold bottles of water that I was going to take on a little city exploring with my wife and our granddaughter, who was visiting for the week. As we got ready to leave, I looked out to the curb where my trash cans sat waiting for the garbage collectors to come by. I thought about the heat beating down about 103 degrees and realized those guys out on the trash route could use a cold drink more than I. So, I took an old cooler and set the water out for them, with a sign that read, "Garbage Collectors: Please take all the water." Seemed like a Mayberry-like thing to do...

A few hours later we returned to find the garbage truck had not made it to our house yet. However, someone had stopped and taken the water, the cooler, even my little handmade sign...stealing water left for the trashmen. At the risk of sounding like an old curmudgeon, what’s this world coming to.

Yesterday, a well dressed woman at Walmart was in front of me in line with quite a few items. She was talking on her cellphone and putting her items up on the conveyor belt simultaneously. She was in a world of her own. Somehow, she managed to complete her transaction, load her bags back into her shopping cart, and stay on her phone without ever making eye contact with the cashier. She started to whisk away and I noticed she’d left a bag on the counter. "Excuse me, ma’am," I said, as she continued yammering on the phone, trying to get her attention. In one motion, she whirled around, snatched the bag from my outstretched hand, and went on, never once leaving her phone conversation...

We’re probably all guilty of being a little inconsiderate of others at times. Our world is more and more on a fast pace of self-centeredness, for sure. But as we celebrate the blessings of living freely in our great country this Fourth of July, maybe it would behoove us to grab our fishing poles and walk back down that country road a ways with Andy and Opie.  I might be dreaming a little, but with just a little effort from each of us, perhaps we can recreate our own little slice of Mayberry. Thanks Andy...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Journey Through the States

During my life, I’ve had the opportunity to visit 34 different States in our wonderful country. A thorough swing through the Northeast would cover a good portion of those I haven’t visited. Oddly, I’ve never been to a directional State, one starting with North, South, or West. I’ve been to California and Washington, but Oregon, sandwiched in between the two, no. From its locale, Oregon might not ever get crossed off the list!

While these are the geographical States that I’ve been to, there have certainly been other states that I’ve dabbled in, and even spent considerable time in, that are not on any map. I bet with a bit of reflection, you’ve been to these states at various times in your life as well.

One morning at work in 2001, my wife phoned and told me someone had just flown an airplane into the World Trade Center. I first found myself in a State of Ignorance, not really knowing for sure exactly what the World Trade Center was, nor what it represented. Before that fateful day, we now know simply as 9/11, I think most of our country lived more in a State of Innocence, not fully realizing the capacity of evil our world was capable of.

Later that fateful morning, I gathered around a television with others, watching in silence at those unbelievable events. I stood in a State of Disbelief as people leapt from the upper floors of the towers before the buildings finally collapsed. I’m certain I traveled through the States of Confusion, Understanding, and Anger, in that order. You might well have had the same travel itinerary...

Several times during my career, I was uprooted from one work location to another. It seemed that each move occurred while my life was residing in a State of Contentment. With each incident, I entered a State of Doubt of whether or not God was truly in control of the situation. But every time, through the vehicle of hindsight, I was delivered to a State of Awareness that He indeed was guiding my life in order to achieve His purpose for me and my family.

In August of 2003, we were vacationing with our grown children, grandchildren, and my in-laws. We’d pulled campers to a favorite campground in Branson, Missouri. Basking in the States of Joy and Happiness all week, we enjoyed swimming, boating, and all the area had to offer.

About three o’clock on our final day there, my mother called and hit me with news that jerked me to a State of Devastation...biopsies had confirmed that the suspicious spots on my father’s chest x-rays were indeed cancerous. Without treatment, he would live about six months...and there really wasn’t a feeling that treatment would do any good. I sat alone in a State of Shock.

Later, I pulled my wife aside and told her the grim news. She immediately led us to a State of Prayer. I asked her not to say anything to the rest of the group. I didn’t want our last night to be spent in the States of Gloom and Despair. Later that evening, I treated my father-in-law to his first ever helicopter ride, and had an especially memorable time on an area thrill ride with our oldest daughter. You might say I was spending time in a State of Denial, but I think it was more a State of Realization of how precious our time with family really is...eight short months later I stood over my dad’s flag-draped casket in the definite States of Loss and Grief.

All too often, I’ve not dwelled in a State of Appreciation for all that has been sacrificed on my behalf. Further, I’ve sinfully lingered at times in a State of Apathy about my salvation, keeping my heart to myself instead of sharing the fullness of the Father’s perpetual State of Grace.

Yes, I’ve had the good fortune to visit a good portion of our great country. But it has been the various States that my heart has traveled through, often despite my efforts to protect it, that have left the deepest impressions in my life. It was during those journeys that God molded and shaped me into the man I am today.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Father's Power...

A few years ago, I led a men’s group at our local church. The first session, I started the group by asking each man who had been the most influential person in their lives. There were 15 or so men in the group that day and, almost to a man, each one said, "my father." I then asked them to tell us a little about their dads, and why they had named them the must influential in their lives. While each man had a different story to tell, many of the grown men were moved emotionally, some to tears while testifying about their dads.

I could relate to those men that day. My dad’s influence in my life is just as strong now though he passed away over eight years ago. Fathers possess a special quality that can be quite powerful. I hope I’ve had the same impact on my children my dad has had on me. 

Please let me reshare one of my favorite stories from another men’s group I had the privilege of leading many years ago in Louisiana. Eighty-five year old Brother M.C. Kelly told us this story about his dad and the impact he’d had on his life. Nothing I can think of relates the power a father possesses more than this:

"When I was about 10 years old, the little town I grew up in was forming a baseball team. I really wanted to be on that team, but I had no ball glove. I was in the local general store with my father and there was a ball glove in there for $4.00. We were very poor, and it might as well have been $400. My father worked long hours, but we barely had the means to feed our family, and oftentimes, did not. I looked longingly at the glove, but knew better than to ask. 

We left the store and the prospects of trying out for the baseball team were vanishing. Over the course of the next week or so, my father was absent for the evening meal. In fact, I went to bed every night without seeing him, and when I got up early the next day, he was already gone. 

The first night I saw my father again, he walked into the house with a package under his arm. He handed me the package, which I unwrapped to find that $4.00 ball glove inside. You see, my father had been working before and after his regular job, chopping wood and any other odd job he could find for a quarter, a dime, or whatever, because he loved me and wanted me to have that glove..."

Bro. Kelly’s voice trailed off and we looked up to see an 85 year old man openly weeping as he remembered an incredible act of love of a father, 75 years that’s real power.

Blessing to each of you dads this Father’s Day. Never forget what lasting impact you hold on someone’s life.

Friday, May 18, 2012

What's In a Name?

To the right of my desk at home hang two documents that I treasure much more than their monetary value. They are each nearly 150 years old. I inherited them from a cousin over 30 years ago and the older I get, the more I appreciate them. They are the Civil War promotion and discharge papers of Smith Povenmire, my great great grandfather. Smith served with the 179th Ohio Infantry in the Union Army. I’m hoping my dear old friends from Louisiana will be able to overlook that fact and read on.

I’ve done some research on Smith Povenmire. By all accounts he was an honorable husband and father. I have a couple of pictures of Smith that I’ve come across over the years. While they tell me little about the man himself, they do serve to put a face with the name. His son, John W. Povenmire, my great grandfather, had two daughters and four sons, one of which was my grandfather, John Orville Povenmire. While my grandfather died when my dad was just a small child, his brothers, my great uncles Smith, Ira, and Otis, all left lasting impressions as men of strength and integrity. I remember them as a boy as grandfather figures whom I admired greatly.

Growing up, my mother used to tell me to never "smear the good name your father gave you." I didn’t realize it at the time, but that "good name" had been passed down for many generations. I’m thankful for the name, and as I’ve grown older, realize the influence of men I never knew that set a standard for living that I’ve tried to uphold.

Psalm 78: 5-7 tells us that God

"...commanded our ancestors
to teach their children,
6 so the next generation would know them,
even the children yet to be born,
and they in turn would tell their children.
7 Then they would put their trust in God
and would not forget his deeds
but would keep his commands.

You ever think about what message you are sending your grandchildren, your great grandchildren, or even your great great grandchildren? I hope some day my grandchildren and their children and so on will read what I had to say in these blog passages. Not because they’re great pieces of literature, but because they somewhat reflect what God has done in my life. They’re part of my testimony, if you will.

I’ve gone to funerals before where the minister conducting the funeral read from notes written in the margins of the diseased’s own Bible to eulogize the person. The notes represented how God had spoken to those particular people at various times in their lives, and they served as a voice from the grave to those gathering to remember a loved one or friend.

I suppose everyone wonders how they will be remembered. I’d like my descendants to know I came from good stock, tried to uphold the name, and most importantly, trusted my life to God through belief and acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord of my life. That’s the influence and legacy I’d like to leave.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Five Cups Overfloweth

On the outskirts of Lima, Peru lie poverty-stricken areas where thousands live in conditions that, to most of us, would seem unimaginable. They are communities that exist outside the peripheral view of the mainstream, literally carved into the mountainsides. Houses there are built from whatever material is available, primarily concrete block and sheet metal roofing. It was in one of these communities, known as the “Mirador,” literally the Viewpoint, that God blessed my wife and me last July while serving on an evangelistic mission team.

We split up into two teams of five, going from house to house all afternoon sharing the Gospel of Christ. Each team had a couple of Americans with interpreters from Ecuador and Chile. The Lima church we were working with ran a satellite church on the Mirador, and two sisters in the community served as the church’s missionaries. They were blood sisters as well as sisters in the Blood.

It was these two sisters who arranged many of our appointments that day on the Mirador. You see, they had been witnessing through word and deed to the people of their community long before we arrived. For instance, on a daily basis, the church sent simple breakfast food up the mountain, for children of the poorest of poor. The sisters coordinated this effort and many others for the people of their impoverished community. They made our efforts easy, as people were readily approachable, largely due to relationships these godly servants had established with their neighbors.

We saw person after person come to Christ that afternoon on the Mirador. There was Juanita, a woman who sold groceries out of her home; Roberto, a man making repairs on his house, Jovanna, a woman who’d resisted becoming a Christian before, but called upon the Name of the Lord that day...and on and on it went.

At one point, one of the sisters led us to her own home, where she’d arranged for three other women to meet with us, all nonbelievers. As we walked into her square, concrete block house, I was met by the sight of two nursing mothers, awaiting our arrival. While our culture calls for this to be done with discretion, this was not the case on the Mirador. Trying to mask the surprise of the situation, I asked my wife how I should proceed.

“Look ‘em in the eye and tell them about Jesus.” And, so I did. A few moments later, we celebrated three new sisters in Christ.

We continued visiting several other homes that afternoon, as the Holy Spirit moved about the Mirador. Each time someone said yes to Jesus, the two sisters cried out with joy. We witnessed some thirty-two commitments to Christ and, at the end our visits, we returned to the missionary sister’s house to rest and reflect on our day. The other team was still out on the mountainside.

The sisters seated our team of five at a well-used table and chairs in one corner of the house and went to work serving us refreshments of saltine crackers and coffee. They arranged the crackers on a chipped dish in front of us, brought the coffee out in a stove top percolator, and placed five mismatched cups in front of us. Their graciousness and hospitality were outshone only by their enthusiasm. It was quite obvious that this was a rather big event to be hosting. The warm fellowship they demonstrated toward us made their simple offerings as satisfactory as a grand feast.

Shortly after, the other team arrived and the sisters invited our team to the opposite side of the room to be seated on an old sofa and a few other metal chairs. The other team was seated at the table to receive the same royal service. From my seat, I noticed the sisters quickly, almost frantically, washing the five cups we’d just used for coffee. Hurriedly wiping them dry with a tattered towel, I surmised that those were the only five cups they possessed. Sure enough, the same cups were placed on the table to serve the second team.

Material wealth can easily be measured in earthly standards. By the world’s estimation, bank accounts, real estate holdings, and other physical assets make up a person’s personal worth. That afternoon on the Mirador, we witnessed genuine richness from two sisters that served their Lord with all their heart, soul, and mind...and to their name, they only owned five cups.

Friday, May 4, 2012

All Dogs (and Cats) Go to Heaven?

Atop wall shelves in one corner of our den are the pictures of four dogs and three cats. In the middle of the pictures is a card with a simple phrase that explains their meaning. The card reads:

"We’ll never forget good friends"

You see, the seven animals pictured on those shelves are pets that we’ve loved and lost over the last twenty years. There’s Callie, a Calico cat that we had for nearly 17 years; Jess, a boxer mix that was as ornery as he was lovable; Sophie, a lab/shepherd mix that was fiercely loyal and a bit too jealous at times; Luke, our first Black Lab who was as close to perfection as a dog could be; Ms. Kitty, a fat ball of furry love who we lost all too soon; Bobbi, our first tuxedo cat who ruled the roost for over 15 years, and Tillie, a spunky, beloved cocker/pomeranian who often battled Bobbi for head pet in charge.

Sadly, we’ll be adding an eighth picture to the group. Last Wednesday, we lost Duci, our second tuxedo cat, whose beauty was recognized this year in a cat calendar where she’ll appear as "Ms. November."

Duci was only six years old, but was suffering from feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), an incurable, fatal disease. Ms. Kitty had succumbed to it a few years ago. On Wednesday past, I made the decision to end Duci’s suffering. It was really a no-brainer, but still difficult. Pets in our house have always become part of the family.

The pain of losing a beloved pet feels a whole lot like the pain of losing a human loved one. When I lost my father in 2004, I felt sadness that seemed unbearable. I’ve felt similar feelings about losing pets, but there is a difference. The grief over a lost pet should be somewhat temporary. Not because we didn’t love them, no. But the relationship that we form with them isn’t to be on the same level of the relationships we form with people. That was never God’s intention when He gave us the animal kingdom to oversee. I still miss my dad greatly, but when he passed, I didn’t go out and start looking for another father that I would love just as much. All the pets on our memory wall have been "replaced" by other animals that we love just as much as we loved them.

I look forward to one day seeing my dad in heaven. I know that he was saved by his confession of Christ as his Lord and Savior. The Bible says that all who "call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Romans 10:13). That remains our greatest hope as Christians. Some like to be comforted when they lose a pet by thinking perhaps the animal will be waiting for them in heaven.  Someone's even conjured up the notion of a "rainbow bridge" that supposedly pets cross over and await our arrival in a field of daisies, or something.   I’ve checked my Bible pretty thoroughly and can’t find the passage that talks about that rainbow bridge.

I’ve heard arguments, both pro and con, about pets being in heaven. Billy Graham says, "God will prepare everything for our perfect happiness in heaven, and if it takes my dog being there, I believe he'll be there." I’ve read books on the subject, arguing biblical passages supporting the theory. And, I’ve heard theologians cite scripture they claim rules out the possibility. After carefully examining both sides of the issue, I can conclusively say...who knows for sure? There’s absolutely nothing definitive about the subject. I do know this, heaven is a perfect place, and whatever the situation is, we’ll experience joy and happiness there that we’ve never felt here. There’ll be no complaint department, nor a need for one.

My conclusion on the matter is this: God’s plan of salvation was to send Jesus to die on a cross for the sins of mankind. Our role on this earth as Christians is to bring others to the foot of Calvary’s cross so that they, too, may receive the loving Grace that we’ve experienced. Whether our furry friends meet us in heaven or not isn’t the issue. Our real focus is our own salvation, and the salvation of the people we encounter every day.

Meanwhile, I’ll miss Duci...

Monday, April 30, 2012

No Bridge Over Trouble Waters

More than 6,000 Hondurans perished when Hurricane Mitch devastated the Central American country with 140 MPH winds in October of 1998. I witnessed the destruction a few months later serving on a mission trip to help build and rebuild churches, some that had been affected by Mitch. The massive amount of water dumped on the country before, during, and after the storm had turned rivers into wild ferocities, seeking outlets that were already overflowing.

One afternoon during our week-long trip, a Honduran missionary took me on a short drive to witness firsthand some of the hurricane-impacted rural areas outside the small village where we’d been working. In his sure-footed vehicle, we crept and climbed our way to a tropical rain forest area on a mountainside. Getting out beside a roaring river, my guide explained it was once a serene setting, the river merely a peaceful stream. The sound of its furious surge forced us to shout to hear one another.

He pointed to an area where a wooden footbridge had been washed out by the storm. The bridge, he noted, was the only link to the outside world for those living on the opposite side. I looked to see dozens of run-down shacks dotting the mountainside across the river from me. The community would be cut off until another bridge could be erected, which wouldn't be anytime soon.

As I peered across at the isolated community, I spotted two barefoot girls walking toward the raging river. They were seventy-five yards or so upstream from me, headed for the river with purpose. They looked to be about twelve and eight years old. As the girls neared the water, I began to watch them intently. What they did next will stay with me for the rest of my life.

With determination, the older girl grabbed the younger one and together, they walked straight into the furious river.

“LOOK! What are they doing?”

The missionary turned and saw what I’d been watching.

“Oh no...they’ve been told not to do that.”

“Hey, get out of there!” I yelled, though the girls had no chance of hearing me, let alone understanding the English I spoke.

My guide just shook his head in silence. I sensed this was something he’d witnessed before. We watched helplessly as the older girl battled her way across the raging river, with the younger girl clinging to her, literally for her dear life. At times their little heads were about all we saw bobbing above the water.

The force of the river carried the girls downstream as they finally emerged at a point just below us. They scrambled up the hill toward where we were standing. Dripping wet, their dark eyes met ours and they smiled, continuing on to a small concrete block shanty where they ducked inside.

When they emerged moments later, the younger girl was carrying a cellophane bag. As the girls approached us again, I saw it was a bag of rice. Both girls squealed with joy at the peppermint sticks I’d fished out of my backpack for them.

“Gracias, senor!” And with that, they scurried back down the embankment to return to their side of the river. I was still perplexed by the whole scene.

"That rice is probably all their family will have to eat for next week or so,” my missionary guide shouted in my ear. “Families send children across the river to find food on this side. You see, they send their children, because they’re the most expendable...” His voice trailed off as we nervously watched the two girls fight their way back across the river.

“Ok, but why send both of the children?” I asked, as the little girls climbed out on their side of the river and raced back to their simple shanty with the rice.

“Well, believe or not, the younger one serves as an anchor to keep the older one from being swept away. But, it doesn’t always work. Ten or twelve children have been lost since the bridge washed out.” Looking down the violent river, my throat tightened as I thought of the precious lives that had been swept away by the perilous act that I’d just witnessed.

“Dear God, please remedy this situation,” I whispered under my breath as we climbed back into the missionary’s truck. I didn’t turn back toward the river again, but I didn’t have to. I could still hear its roar for days, months, and now, years after I’d left it.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Three Dogs Tight

I heard Bill Cosby joke once that parents of only children aren’t experiencing the full joy of parenting.   After all, he said, if you come across a broken lamp in the house, you immediately know who did it.

Similarly, the same might be said for having multiple pets.   Being a three-dog family, we’ve witnessed some moving traits that animals demonstrate toward one another.   Our three dogs, Belle, Georgie, and Rosie are a mini family unit within our family.

We adopted Rosie the Boggle about two years ago. Boggles are a mix of Boston Terrier and Beagle, what some would refer to as a designer dog.   I suppose if you can think of a name for what were once called mutts, you can sell them instead of give them away.  Rosie has become the pup Belle and Georgie never had.   She follows them here and there, imitating their actions right down to the Belle-like way she sticks her hind legs straight back when she lies down.   She often basks in the sunshine with Georgie, nuzzling up against his soft black lab fur.

Georgie and our petite Great Dane, Belle, are both nine years old.   They’ve both been a part of our family for the past eight years.   No two dogs were ever more compatible. I don’t think a cross word between the two has ever been barked.   But there’s been times when they’ve shown a companionship that left us smiling in wonderment.

Vocationally, my wife and I had to live separately in the early months of 2005. Georgie moved with my wife to our new house in Kansas, while Belle kept me company and sane, while I waited for my transfer from Louisiana.   In April of that year, my transfer came through and we joined the rest of the family.   As we pulled into our new driveway, my wife came racing out to meet us and I eagerly jumped out of the truck.

Belle’s attention was on something else.   In the backyard, from behind a chain link fence, she’d spotted her old friend, Georgie.   You see, it had been four months of separation for them as well.   Belle sprinted to the fence and both dogs put their front paws atop the railing, nose-to-nose in an excited reunion.   The rest of their day was spent in joyful play and joint napping.

From the day we took her in, Belle has claimed a spot in our bed, at our feet.   Georgie’s custom made bed lays on the floor at the foot of our bed.   This has been their sleeping arrangement every night we’ve had them...except for a two week period in the winter of 2010.   Georgie had undergone a serious surgery to repair a torn ligament in his leg.   He was unable to climb the stairs to our bedroom, so I’d made him a pallet to sleep on in the downstairs den while he recovered.

The first night home from his surgery, we went through our usual routine before retiring.   I headed up the stairs to go to bed, looking back to see Georgie resting comfortably on his pallet.   Oddly, Belle was lying on the floor, next to her injured companion, instead of her usual practice of following me upstairs.

"C’mon, girl, let’s go to bed."

In a rare moment, Belle deliberately disobeyed me, lowering her head on the floor next to Georgie’s bedding.   She seemed determined to stand watch over her buddy.   While I thought that was touching, I was sure it wouldn't last the night.   You see, Belle has always been a true creature of comfort.  But when I woke up the next morning, her spot in our bed was still vacant.

Belle’s vigil over Georgie lasted two weeks.   Then one night, she once again followed me upstairs to go to bed, but stopped at the top of the stairway.   Turning back with her head tilted slightly, Belle peered downward into the darkness while conveying the softest of whimpers.

Switching on the stairwell light, I saw her companion contemplating his first post-surgery climb of the steps.   With Belle’s urging, Georgie made a slow, careful ascent up the dozen or so steps leading to his awaiting friend.   Both dogs then headed down the hall and got into their familiar spots.

Our three dogs have always demonstrated loyalty and love toward us that can not be mistaken.   But the quiet bond they possess with one another is an example from which we humans could learn much. I know I have.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Saturday Blessings

The group I see every Saturday at a local drug and alcohol rehabilitation center is always diversified. They come from all walks of life, but it’s the homeless ones that grab my attention, perhaps a little more than the rest. They come from under bridges and back alleys for a few days, maybe a week of relief from the harsh cruelty of their lives.

Homeless addicts are generally easy to spot. Their clothing is tattered and worn out, matching the look in their eyes. It isn’t difficult to see when a man hasn’t had a real haircut for ages, or when the redness of his skin is aglow from the scrubbing of a long overdue shower. His eyes aren’t as focused as most, a reflection of the difficult life he’s led.

Many are illiterate, always looking at me with a prideful helplessness when I hand them a pen and registration form. And although the Bible I place before them will go unopened, they often run their rough, weathered hands over it in a moment of reverence perhaps we’ve long since forgotten.

Yet, it is often during these times of respite from their difficult lives that these folks have touched me and others with insight and declarations of faith that you might never expect. Stripped of the materialistic comforts we so often take for granted, many of those I’ve met from the depths of society have developed a spiritual relationship that always leaves me trying to find more meaning in my own life. In short, they minister to me, though our intended roles are just the opposite.

My Saturday morning sessions are generally centered on having a real relationship with God through Christ. I emphasize that one should repair or create that relationship first in their attempt to reconstruct the nearly destroyed lives their addictions have brought about.

Floyd sat through my Saturday rambling with nary a word from his mouth. He made no eye contact, and for all I knew, the words I’d spoken about trusting God with one’s life weren’t reaching anywhere near his ears, let alone his life. His hair was matted and disheveled. He had on the wardrobe of many years of collecting whatever he could come across. He sat staring off into space, seemingly wanting nothing but for me to finish so he could move on.

Then, at some point Floyd’s eyes raised to meet mine. He looked at me directly and I could sense he wanted to speak. I nodded his direction.

"When I pray, asking for money to buy gin and cigarettes, is the money I receive coming from God or the devil." What a question. My answer was simply, "Yes." It got a few chuckles, but Floyd didn’t laugh.

Floyd said whenever he’d asked for money, God had provided, even though He knew what Floyd would do with the money.

"Sometimes, I think God not giving me what I asked for would turn out better for my life..." Then after he reflected for a few seconds, Floyd had a moment of revelation.

"You know, maybe that was God’s way of telling me He was still there..."

There was a quietness that fell on the room. Many of the participants and I realized that sometimes, just knowing God was present was enough. Floyd had touched us unexpectedly with a simple testimony.

Yet another Saturday, Cuban refugee Carlos slowly raised a wrinkled, somewhat withered hand to ask a question. I called on him and he said something in broken English that I couldn’t quite make out. I heard "Jesus," "die," and "cross," mixed in with some slurred "spanglish." I walked toward him and asked him to speak more slowly. Carlos said, this time quite discernibly, "If Jesus had all that power, why did he allow himself to die on the cross? I’ve never understood why He did that." I asked him if I offered to pay off all his past, current, and future debts, would he take me up on it.

"Of course I would," Carlos replied. Jesus, I told him, died on a cross to pay for your past sins, your current sin, and your future sins, out of His incredible love for us. Without that payment, we’d have no way to reach the Father, no way to God’s presence, heaven.

"Carlos, have you ever accepted Jesus as your Savior?" I asked him.

"No," he replied, "but now that I understand, I do!"

All that and more from folks taking a short break from lives most of us cannot imagine.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Reflecting on Easter - Part III - One Last Detail

One last detail that I was reminded of when I reread the Easter story was that Jesus loved me as an individual, not just as a part of the great mass of humanity. He came to save all of humanity, yes, but each of us has our personal journey to the foot of the cross.   In John 19, as Jesus hung from the cross, we hear Him say some telling things:

26When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, "Woman, behold, your son!"

27Then He said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.

28After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, "I am thirsty."

Jesus, bearing the weight of humanity’s sin in the most violent, gruesome manner imaginable, took a moment to take care of his mother and a beloved friend, the apostle John. Verse 28 says, "After this, Jesus knowing that all things had already been accomplished..." After this, one last detail that Jesus found needed to be done.

My sins, like the ones of those who witnessed His death, made it necessary for Jesus to go to the cross. His Love, like the Love he had for those at the foot of the cross, is the same Love He shows for me every day.   

Praise Him, praise Him, Jesus our blessed redeemer!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Reflecting on Easter - Part II "Peter, Peter"

Luke 22: 54-62

54 Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. 55 And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56 A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, "This man was with him."

57 But he denied it. "Woman, I don’t know him," he said.

58 A little later someone else saw him and said, "You also are one of them."

"Man, I am not!" Peter replied.

59 About an hour later another asserted, "Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean."

60 Peter replied, "Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!" Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times." 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.

This passage is often referred to as Peter’s denial. Two things jump out at me here. Verse 61 says Jesus turned and looked "straight at Peter." Looked him dead in the eye. Was this the all time case of conviction, or what! Only hours earlier, Peter vowed to follow Jesus, "even unto death," and at his first opportunity to make good on his vow, he fails miserably. And yet, I have so many times failed in my efforts to serve Christ. And, like Peter, God can look us dead in the eye, holding us accountable for those failures. But as we later find with Peter, God redeems us, forgives us, and give us more opportunities to feed His sheep.

The other aspect of this passage that hits home with me is at the end of verse 54, "...Peter followed at a distance." Simon Peter was at his most courageous, impetuous self when he was in Christ’s immediate presence, wasn’t he? When Jesus came walking on water toward the boat full of disciples, it was only Peter who:

"... got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. (Matthew 14:29)

When Jesus was arrested in the garden, we see:

Simon Peter then, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's slave, and cut off his right ear; (John 18:10)

And finally, it was our friend Peter, who boldly and correctly answers Jesus’ question of identity with the statement of statements:

"...Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matthew 16:16)

Much like ourselves, when Peter followed "at a distance," his demeanor changed. His boldness weakened. We have to be careful not to follow Christ at a distance. When we put other activities or events ahead of serving or worshiping Christ, we’re guilty of following Christ at a distance. When we hear the Lord’s name used inappropriately and remain silent, we’re guilty of following Christ at a distance. We wouldn’t tolerate someone speaking about a family member in the same manner we tolerate the use of profanity with the Lord’s name, now would we? And that leads to, when we put other relationships ahead of our relationship with Christ, we’re guilty of following Christ at a distance. Our relationship with our Lord and Savior is to be the number one relationship we have. Jesus tells us plainly to:

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." (Matthew 22:37)

In his book Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby points out that "What you do in response to God's revelation (invitation) reveals what you believe about God." So many times, I’ve failed in my responses because I found myself following Christ at a distance.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Reflecting on Easter - Part I - "Give Your Best"

Sometimes when we know a story by heart, like the Easter story, it’s easy to overlook details that go on within the story. This past week, as I’ve been reading the account of Jesus’s last week on earth several facts stood out to me that maybe you, like me, hadn’t contemplated. I’m breaking it down into a three part entry.  Here's the first part with two more to follow later in the week:  

Mark 14: 13-15:

13 So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, "Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. 14 Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there."

Who were these two, the water toting man and the owner of the house? Random people that bear no significance? Not really. The man with the jar of water was the disciples’ guide, taking them to the right place. Jesus told his disciples to "follow him." I’ve often needed a set of eyes to point the way when I didn’t know where to go! And the homeowner is also more significant than we give him credit for. The key phrase in identifying the man is his house was "furnished and ready." Ready for what? Ready to host a most significant event in our Christian faith, the last supper of Christ and his disciples. The setting in the upper room was made ready by a man that we never learn anything about, except that he was ready to serve. 

Years ago, I walked into our church building in Louisiana on a Thursday afternoon and heard the sanctuary organ playing. I’d thought that I was the only one in the building, so hearing the organ playing was surprising.   I walked into the sanctuary, finding our regular organist playing to an empty room. Miss Aziele was a lady well into her 80's, who’d played the organ for that church for many, many years. She no doubt knew every key and pedal on that old organ frontwards and backwards. She saw me and stopped playing. I asked her if she was playing for any particular reason. Her response has stayed with me to this day. Miss Aziele said, "No, I just come down here every week for an hour or so to practice.   I always want to give my best."   After playing for so many years, one could easily assume Miss Aziele wouldn’t feel the need to practice on her own time, but she wanted to "give my best." What a lesson she taught me that Thursday afternoon.

Every Sunday, our sanctuary at our current church is beautifully adorned by one of our senior ladies. She’s done it for years, putting out seasonal flower arrangements, festive candles, etc., all in an effort to enhance our worship experience. Her work is rarely mentioned, most likely taken for granted, but not a week passes that she doesn’t spend her time quietly serving her God and our church with her efforts. She, like Miss Aziele, wants to always give her best.

I’m sure there are many in your churches doing likewise. So often the work of those in the spotlight gets our attention, but we need to appreciate those who serve in unseen ways. Think of someone you can encourage with a word of thanks that might not hear it otherwise. And as we contemplate this week, the holiest of weeks for the Christian, may we always remember the incredible sacrifice made on our behalf through Christ’s death on the cross, and as we do, may it inspire us to always give our best.