Monday, December 23, 2013

Phil Robertson...

Interesting how someone as seemingly harmless as Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson can get people so riled up. He says a few words of his personal beliefs in GQ magazine and a fire of controversy is ignited. Funny, I thought GQ concerned itself mostly with sideburn length, cufflinks, and lapel width, but, then again, I must profess to not having picked up an issue in recent memory...or longer.

Enough has certainly been written or said about Robertson’s views, and I’ve read and heard much of it. Robertson spoke coarsely and crudely, that much can’t be denied. My pastor spoke in defense of Robertson yesterday in church, but chose not to use Phil’s raw illustrations in doing so.

As Christians, we can all use a reminder that sin is still sin, no matter what our society accepts and oftentimes legislates. The Bible clearly points out that lust, greed, murder, lying, adultery, and, yes, homosexuality, are all sinful behaviors. In his GQ interview, Phil Robertson named several of these, but it was his anti-gay comments that brought down so much controversy upon him. Why? Because our society has decided once again ignore the teachings of scripture in view of popular opinion.  As long as enough people have a leaning in whatever direction, any behavior can be rationalized.   Those that hold to scriptural truths are considered backward and out of touch.  That's a part of the process, to shout down those that still call sin sin....Phil Robertson the latest case in point. 

But the current wave of support toward the acceptance of the gay agenda merely reflects a path of rebellion toward God that has ushered in abortion, illegality of school prayer, and several other issues in recent years.  Robertson’s opinions would have been welcomed and agreed with forty or fifty years ago. Some would claim that’s how far we’ve progressed, but it’s really an indicator of how far we’ve fallen... and, as our nation turns more and more from the Almighty, we can expect less and less of the blessings we once enjoyed.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas, Trains, Memories

Growing up the child of a railroader, you get used to being flexible about things. Your dad’s in (home) a couple of days, then out (away) for a couple, and that’s the lingo we was either in or out, and you planned accordingly.

When he was out, and you had an idea when he was supposed to be in, you started listening for the rich sound of a train chugging into town from the south. I’d often hear the whistle, jump on my bike and race for the nearest crossing, about a mile from my house. If I could beat the caboose to the crossing, I’d get the treat of having my father lean out the window atop his conductor’s perch and holler, "Hey o’ buddy, I’m home..." Just typing out that wonderful memory has brought tears to my eyes.

Being flexible often meant Christmas was celebrated sometimes on Christmas eve, Christmas Day, or - worst case scenario for a kid - the day after Christmas, depending on dad’s train schedule. That’s just the way you did it. I remember one Christmas eve about 9:00PM expecting dad’s train to be arriving in the next hour. Mom decided we’d open presents when dad walked in the door, and we anxiously listened for the sound of his old pickup pulling into the drive...

Having spent hours working out in the freezing December cold due to various train breakdowns, an exhausted, dirty, half-frozen father opened the front door to find his family still 2:30 in the morning. Setting down his black leather work grip in its customary spot, he sat down amongst us and declared the Christmas celebration was now in session. I didn’t appreciate that gesture on his part nearly like I do now. It’s just the kind of man he was.

If you’ve read many of these writings of mine at all, you’ve gathered the fact that my dad left an indelible mark on my life, and I miss him greatly. This year will mark the tenth Christmas since his passing.

But because that Christmas babe in the manger would later willingly die upon a Roman cross as payment for my sin, I will be reunited with my dad....and I can just hear him now:

"Hey o’’re home."

Friday, December 6, 2013

At That Moment...

It was a pretty routine Saturday morning for me. I’d just finished teaching my Spirituality group at the local drug and alcohol rehab clinic. I was still in the afterglow of hearing a new believer profess her faith in Christ during that session at the clinic. At that moment, as I pulled into the parking lot at the Lowes down the street, I really hadn’t a care in the world.

As I parked my truck, a Lowes employee was helping a woman place a large box into the back of her SUV, directly in front of me. Seeing only the profile of the man, at that moment, I thought it was an old friend of mine that I’d neither seen nor heard from for about a year, due to various circumstances in our lives. At that moment, I was fooled into thinking it actually was my friend, only to realize that it was only a look-a-like, but it made me pause and think about him and, walking into the store, he lingered on my mind at that moment, as I milled through the aisles.

Procuring my purchase, I climbed back in my truck and the cell phone rang. I glanced at the screen and, at that moment, started chuckling to myself. You see, it was the old friend that I thought I’d spotted previously in the parking lot. I answered the phone with the laughter of the perceived coincidence in my voice.

But, at that moment, my laughter quickly dissipated. My friend was at the hospital with his wife in ICU, and in his own words, "It doesn’t look good." He wanted me to pray with him and at that moment, I turned my truck in the direction of the hospital...
In the 33rd Psalm, verses 13 and 14, we’re told that:

13 The Lord looks from heaven;
He sees all the sons of men.
14 From the place of His dwelling He looks
On all the inhabitants of the earth;
(emphasis mine)

Taking this passage quite literally, we can trust that God in His magnificent omnipotency sees every one of us, at all times. He's always at work in our lives. My attention that Saturday morning in the Lowes parking lot was drawn to a man whom I mistook for a friend of mine that hadn’t been in my thoughts for a while. Minutes later, that same friend called me in a time of great need, a crisis period in his life. Was it just coincidental...or was it God’s way of redirecting my mind, my heart at that moment to help my friend through a trying period? 

I firmly believe the latter of course. Today, I’m not sure I could go back to Lowes and pick that employee out of a lineup, but at that moment, God used him to remind me of my friend, a friend who was in desperate that moment.

...The following Saturday morning, I hugged my old friend at his wife’s memorial service. God had taken her home hours after the time we’d spent praying in the hospital. He had the blessed assurance of knowing through his wife’s acceptance of Christ’s death on the cross as payment for her sin, she was with the Lord, at that moment...and forever.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Biggest Lie of All?

I’ve come to the conclusion that of all the lies that Satan has perpetrated on mankind, one is particularly successful, and thus, most lethal. I’ve witnessed its evil effect in every country in which I’ve been on mission: Peru, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Brazil...On Saturday mornings, I speak at a local drug and alcohol rehab clinic and practically every week, I hear some version of this horrible mistruth, and it gnaws at me that this one simple misconception can do so much harm.

People are walking around, wrapped up in it, like some sort of child’s soft security blanket, making them feel warm and comfortable. They live their lives leaning on a lie that keeps them from facing the reality of the Truth and many, perhaps most, will tragically only find out when it’s too late that Satan has led them astray with a deception that started from their early childhood and escorted them to the grave. Some of you will read this and still not face the reality that you have, too, been led astray...

So, what is this lie, this deceitful infection with a deadly affect? Here it is:

"Good people go to Heaven. Bad people go to Hell."

That’s it. A simple notion that someday when we stand before God, He’ll accept us based on the good life that we’ve led and that only the deserving, evil Adolf Hitlers and Timothy McVeighs of our world end up in the fiery depths of eternal damnation. 

You know, when an atheist stands before God someday, he must have a definite, sinking realization that he was 100% in error in his rejection of the Almighty. That would be an unbelievably horrible feeling. But perhaps even worse is the person who stands with a false sense of security that somehow they’ve earned their way to eternity with the Father. They’ll hear what I believe is one of the most tragic phrases in scriptures, underlined below:

Matthew 7:23 - "And then will I profess unto them, 
I never knew you: depart from me..."

Jesus wasn’t referring to atheists here. Many believe that He was talking about will stand before God thinking that their path to Heaven is clear, by their good deeds. Many have gone through their lives with a "man upstairs" theology. They know about God, even refer to him at times, but they have no real spiritual relationship. They say things like, "the Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise," using some comfortable verbiage to prove that they indeed have beliefs that somehow validate them. Similarly, I often hear people say "we’ll keep you in our thoughts and prayers," and I always hope the latter is truly the case. Their thoughts aren’t on the same plane, unless they are prayers, but I digress.

Some combine a good life that they’ve relied on with some form of religious basis, i.e., they believe in God, maybe even went through some religious activities in their life, like joining a church or getting baptized, neither of which are bad things, mind you, but not the basis of salvation. But many people hang those credentials on their spiritual wall and hope and often believe by combining it with a self-perceived good life, they’ll compile enough brownie points that St. Peter will allow them entrance...

In John 14:6, Jesus said clearly:
"I am the way, the truth, and the way. No one comes to the Father 
except through Me."

You can take that quite literally. Our only hope of salvation is through our repentance and acceptance of God’s grace-filled gift of Christ’s death on Calvary’s Cross for payment of our sins. If you’ve fallen for the damning lie that somehow you can be good enough, then plainly you’re saying Jesus’ death on a cross was not necessary; I can make it to heaven on my own...I plead with you to rethink that. Don’t fall for that lie any longer!

Walking Down the "Romans Road" to Salvation . . . .
                   Because of our sin, we are separated from God.

                   For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  (Romans 3:23)
                    The Penalty for our sin is death.
                    For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ 

                     our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

The penalty for our sin was paid by Jesus Christ!
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

If we repent of our sin, then confess and trust Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we will be saved from our sins!
For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Romans 10:13)

...if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

(Romans 10:9,10)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Belize Bits - Part 2

No doubt you know the story of Jonah - a man who had a calling from God to go to Nineveh and preach repentance. Instead, he flees God and eventually finds himself swallowed by a great fish. From inside the fish, Jonah realizes he must turn to God, and in Jonah 2:1-2a we read:

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish’s belly. 2 And he said:
I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, And He answered me...

In the remote village of San Miguel, Belize we made an unannounced visit to a man named Randy, a neighbor of one of the men of the church we were working with. Randy had recently broken his leg in a motorcycle accident and he sat helplessly on the floor in the back part of his house, his wife Lucia waiting on him hand and foot. Our arrival came as a surprise to Randy, but when it was all said and done, he told us exactly why we’d come by when we did...

A strapping, strong young man in his mid 20's, Randy lived his life fast and loose, and it was a night of alcohol and motorcycling that led to his current state of immobility.

As I began to share the Good News of the Gospel with Randy, Lucia also drew near, standing at her husband’s shoulder, listening intently. I quickly knew that she was very interested in hearing, but Randy was a little harder to read. He stared blankly downward at his broken leg and at no time gave any indication that he was remotely interested or even listening to what I had to say.

As I finished, Randy’s gaze slowly raised from the floor and he looked me directly in the eye. What he said next will stay with me forever...

" I know why you came by here today...God sent you," Randy began. "For years now, my father has been urging me to turn my life over to God, accept Jesus, but I never would. I was sitting here thinking: ‘maybe God had to get me to a place where I had no place to run before I would listen.’  Right before you walked in, I was thinking that my life was out of control, but God finally had me where He wanted me, sitting on this floor, unable to do anything but listen to Him...then you walked into my house."

The magnitude of the moment left me temporarily speechless, as Randy bowed his head in pure, genuine repentance. His eyes welled up with tears as Lucia placed a loving hand on his shoulder. Together, they began a new life as a Christian couple.

Maybe it wasn’t the belly of a fish, but the results were pretty similar: God used whatever it took to bring another one of his children home. Amen

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Belize Bits - Part 1

My mission partner Ryan and I paused for just a second and stared at the surreal antiquity before us. The dilapidated wooden structure, with its tin roof, looked like something straight out of the 1880's. The horse tied up in front of the house completed the look. Yet as we walked the streets that morning in Punta Gorda, Belize, this was the house we were drawn toward. 

Approaching with some caution, I looked for signs of movement from within. I imagined briefly being greeted with an old double-barreled shotgun like my great-grandfather’s I had at home in a closet. But the warm smiles emerging from the house quickly alleviated any such thoughts.

Four, six, eight, and more poured out of the structure onto the old front porch, ranging from age two to around seventy. I started sharing the Gospel from the bottom of the porch steps and felt at once that the family was interested in what I was saying. They had some church background, having attended here and there, not unlike many in America.

At the end of my "mini-sermon," I invited those that fully understood the opportunity to accept Christ as their Savior, and six of the older ones did just that. I noticed the oldest of the group, a lady who appeared to be the mother and grandmother of the group, did not respond. I asked her if she had any questions, and her oldest son quickly explained she spoke only Spanish, but he was going to tell her everything I’d said.  I could tell from the look in his eye, he meant exactly what he said...

Like so many in our country, here was a family that basically knew the Gospel: that we’re all sinners, needing to repent, and only through the redemptive blood of Christ shed on Calvary’s Cross can we be forgiven of our sins...they knew all that. But they’d never made it personal. They were what I refer to as head Christians, not heart Christians, having knowledge of, but no relationship with Christ.  Over and over in Belize, I met those in the same condition. Many came to Christ, applying what they already knew to their own lives...but sadly, some chose not to.  

I’ve heard it said that those are the ones that will miss heaven by a foot and a half, the distance from one’s head to one’s heart.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


The midday sun scorched the humid August air. Twelve-year-old John’s sweat dripped down on the railroad tie at which he’d been flailing away with a man-sized ax. His slender arms and shoulders ached from the hours of chopping the stack of ties his stepfather had hauled home the night before. Not nearly half finished with the task, John allowed himself only a brief respite, then continued hacking away, his stepfather’s parting words that morning etched in his mind. . .

"You have those ties out back busted up for firewood by the time I git home tonight, or I'll beat the hell outta you.” John knew that it was no hollow threat.

His twice-widowed mother, Leona, had met this brute of a man at Murray’s Five and Dime, where she’d been working to support John and his three younger half-sisters. The Depression had been particularly cruel on Leona and the children, and the man provided some security that previously they had not experienced.

From the onset of the union, the stepfather was amiable, at times almost loving, toward his sisters, but he held some sort of resentment toward John. John had assumed a great deal of responsibility in the family, but any efforts on his part to continue with his role as eldest sibling were met harshly and violently. He’d worn many a bruise or scar from earlier encounters with this man. . .He continued chopping.

Another hour passed. John’s muscles burned with fatigue. The bright redness of his sunburnt neck stung sharply from sweat pouring down his head. His mother watched through the dusty kitchen window, feeling helpless, praying that God would somehow remedy this entrapment in which her son was bound. She dutifully carried John out a cheese sandwich and glass of cool water, for which he stopped only briefly. Their eyes met with mutual despair. The silence of the moment was punctuated by the backfire of Murray’s delivery truck motoring up the road to their house.

Mr. Murray owned another store, in Centerville, about 70 miles to the north, where John’s real father had been raised. His dad had died when John was two years old, from post-surgical complications. John had three uncles and two aunts living in Centerville. They were a loving, closed-knit clan. . .the delivery truck motored to a stop in front of their house.

Leona often had a letter or a package to send up to John’s uncles or aunts with whom she’d tried to stay in contact. Kind, thoughtful Mr. Murray always had his delivery driver stop at her house to see if he could take anything to Centerville for her. . .

“Hey, Miss Leona, got anything going north this afternoon?” the driver hollered, seeing her walking back toward the house.

“No, not today, Herb,” Leona called back weakly, her mind occupied by the cruelty of the situation behind her. But suddenly she stopped, her head turning quickly back toward the sound of the ax...

Psalm 116:1 -
I love the Lord, because He has heard
       My voice and my supplications.

Jesus told us if we only have the faith of a mustard seed, we could move mountains.  God often answers prayers in ways that we least expect, but I believe that He does answer our prayers...

“Wait Herb, I do have something you can take. Can you give me five minutes?”

Running inside, Leona grabbed a tattered grip from the hall closet. She frantically threw in as many clothes and personal items as the old bag would hold. Tears of sorrow and relief streaming down her face, she composed herself as best she could, scribbling out a pleading note of explanation. Her hands trembled as she folded the paper over and tucked it into the top of the grip.

John looked up at his mother walking toward him, carrying the bag. Her tear-stained face was all the explanation he needed. Embracing in silence, save for the sobs of his mother, John looked over her shoulder and saw Herb awkwardly toeing at the ground.

“This is your chance. God has answered my prayer. I love you, son. Now, go.”

Defiantly, John buried the ax into the railroad tie he’d been laboring over. He kissed his mother on the cheek one last time and walked away from his dreadful life. . .

It was the first he’d ever spoken of it. The cancer that ravaged my 82-year-old father’s body had nearly taken its toll. Sitting alone in his hospital room, listening to him unpack the pain of his abusive childhood, I felt my eyes fill with angry tears as I reflected on the cruelty inflicted upon him 70 years prior.  His final words on the subject have stayed with me...

"I’ll never understand what I did to make that man hate me so.”

No doubt, the thoughts of many an abused child.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Drawn to a Drip

I could not avoid its incessancy.

Drip, drip, drip, drip.

It was an unusually hectic day. My men and I oversaw the execution of three condemned men. Having carried out dozens before, I’d developed a rather callous indifference to the procedures. Keeping a hardened distance was the only way a man could successfully serve on my squad. Several had tried, but found they were not suited for the task.

I knew the two men on the outer crosses to be common thieves, but that man in between them - I wasn’t sure what his real crime was. Many said he claimed to be some sort of king. My men mocked him earlier as he was whipped and beaten. I draped a purple robe over his bloody back to call attention to his proclaimed royalty, complete with a crown of thorns we’d jammed into his scalp.

We had beaten him so badly he could hardly make it up the hill. Despite people screaming wretched insults and spitting upon him, forward he trudged, his eyes seemingly fixed upon an objective of which only he knew.

Submissively, he fell on the rocky Golgotha ground. I then realized that from the abusive whipping, punching, and slapping to the agonizing walk through the streets to this laying himself down, he had voiced not one objection. No, not even a scornful look our way.

Now, it was always my practice when nailing men to the cross to make no eye contact. Attribute it to insensitivity, if you will, but though I’d hammered through many a man’s hands and feet, that grisly sound of piercing flesh and tendon, accompanied by the agonizing screams could penetrate the most thick-skinned amongst us. But driving the jagged spike through the man’s right hand with my heavy iron mallet, my eyes were drawn toward his. And though he screamed out in pain, that same expression of determination to finish this task remained. The blood gushed forth, and I watched as it ran down his arm.

We erected all three crosses and began the long wait for death to overcome them. Some men die quickly, while others battle death right up to their last gasp. If it carried on too long, we’d simply break their legs, rendering them unable to raise themselves up to breathe. Though seemingly cruel, it was perhaps the most humane act that we performed.

My men were shouting and laughing as they gambled for the man’s clothing. The mob both screamed in hatred and cried out in sorrow. Above all this commotion, I began to hear it...It drew my attention away from the turmoil. That sound began to penetrate my soul. My mind could not elude it.

Drip, drip, drip, drip.

What was it? Where was it coming from? I looked with determination for its source, as if it were calling to me.

Drip, drip, drip, drip. 

And then I saw it. The blood I’d seen running down the man’s arm was now falling off at his elbow, down upon the rocks below.

Drip, drip, drip, drip. 

No matter what I did, I was transfixed at the rhythmic sound of his blood splattering one drop at a time.

Drip, drip, drip, drip.

I heard the man cry out in agony and call out to God. At one point, he did something truly remarkable - he asked God to forgive us. He pleaded that we didn’t know what we were doing...and maybe he was right. He was like no other man I’d ever encountered.

The day grew darker and darker, until it was pitch black as the night. The ground shook violently, knocking me face-down, paralyzed with fear. Never have I witnessed such an event, and yet through it all, I remained drawn to the drops of blood hitting the rocks below.

Drip, drip, drip, drip.

I'm not sure what overcame me exactly. Looking up, I felt an undeniable love from this now dead man hanging limply in front of me. Getting to my feet, I stumbled forward. As I reached the foot of the cross, I blurted out what was churning in my soul, though I didn’t completely understand it all:

“Truly this man was the Son of God." *

The instant I professed what I knew to be the Truth, I heard a drop fall yet again. But this one landed with a softer, more comforting sound. You see, that last drop...fell on me.

Mark 15:39 (KJV)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

John's Journal

– Third day after the Passover

All quiet, for now. Peter’s sitting by himself again, sharpening that old sword and staring off into space. It seems so unreal. We were just having the Passover meal with Jesus...and now he’s dead. I’ve relived the events of the past few days over and over in my head, but I can’t change the outcome...Jesus is now dead.

We’ve spent the Sabbath in the shuttered darkness of this room, like cowards, in fear of being found. Mary Magdalene went to the tomb this morning to care for his body, and none of us had the courage to accompany her. He loved us so much and I feel like we’ve abandoned him.

Peter acts like he’s harboring an inner guilt beyond what the rest of us feel. At least he’d followed Jesus and saw what was going on that night. But he gets angry when we ask him what went on in the high priest’s courtyard and refuses to talk to us. He just sits there in the shadows, working that stone back and forth on the blade of that old sword.

The morning of his execution is sort of a blur now. On either side of him were two thieves being executed for their crimes. Jesus had spoken to one of them and, though I’d strained to hear, his words were absorbed by all the shouting and wailing around us. At one point, he looked down at me standing there with his mother, crippled with the unbearable pain of watching her son’s crucifixion. His eyes locked on mine, and he told me his mother was now my mother.
 How typical of Jesus, to care for others, even at the height of his own suffering.

Surely I could have done something to stop this. I don’t know. But I do know that I’ve never felt so loved as I did that night, eating our meal in that borrowed upper room, listening to Jesus speak as I leaned against him. Earlier, he’d gone around the room and had a special moment with each of us as he washed our feet like a servant would. His love for us was unquestionable.

Later that night, we walked to a nearby garden area. It was a favorite spot, one where Jesus often went to pray. The rest of the men waited at the entrance, while he took Peter, James, and me inside with him. He walked on a little further by himself. I’m so ashamed that we all fell asleep, waiting for him to return.

We awoke to see Judas Iscariot leading a mob up the hillside, carrying clubs and swords. I burned with rage when I realized that Judas was the betrayer Jesus had spoken of earlier that evening. I thought of Peter and that old sword he’d been carrying. Though I’d scoffed at the notion before, I wished then I had one myself.

But Peter is a fisherman. He’s not much with a sword. One of the high priest’s men grabbed Jesus by the arm to take him away. Peter pulled his sword out and started swinging wildly. He awkwardly lunged downward at the man’s head. The man moved just enough that the only thing Peter struck was his right ear. Evidently Peter had sufficiently sharpened that old blade, because it severed the ear completely. The man bent over, crying out in shock and pain.

We stood in disbelief at what Peter had done. Even though there was another sword somewhere amongst us, there was no way we could stand up to this gang that Judas had brought to abduct Jesus, and now Peter had struck the first blow. But Jesus quickly defused the situation.

"Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given me?"* Jesus admonished Peter. He told him to put the sword away. Then he knelt down and healed the man's ear. We were all astonished, even though we’d seen Jesus heal many before. The servant felt his ear and slowly moved his hand away. He gave Jesus a dumbfounded look as others stepped up to grab the Master and tie his hands. Fear overcame us and we all ran off into the darkness.

I’m not sure I can tolerate this painful agony much longer. The guilt of betrayal is gnawing unbearably at my gut. Jesus would never have left us this w

Mary’s at the door. Something’s happened. Will write more later.

*John 18:11 (NKJV)

Saturday, March 2, 2013

God Wasn't Lost in Translation

My interpreter for the afternoon was a 21-year-old college student, Jessica. For her services as translator, Jessica was receiving school credit for the English classes in which she was enrolled. Pastor Luis had taken us to the home of a family directly across the street from his church. Only an hour or so before, I had been introduced to the church as my host church for the week. My read was the gathering was social, not evangelical in nature. From all appearances, we were there for coffee, cookies, and chit chat, and nothing more.

As an interpreter, Jessica ’ s competency was marginal, at best. I had great difficulty understanding her thickly-accented English as she translated her fellow Peruvians ’ Spanish. Likewise, she struggled with comprehending my English responses. Despite her delightful personality, and willingness to serve a Lord she ’ d only hours before accepted herself, Jessica ’ s efforts as our communications conduit made the afternoon social a fairly quiet event. 

After short while, I sensed a bit of restlessness from the diminutive Pastor Luis, perched directly across from me. While he spoke not a word of English, with his head tilted somewhat to the right and his bushy, graying eyebrows slightly raised, the Pastor was definitely communicating strongly in my direction. The longer the social conversations lingered, the more urgent his body language became. 

I began to reassess the situation. Perhaps this was more than an afternoon reception for a foreign missionary. Taking inventory of the family of five seated before me, I decided I should find out their spiritual situation, just to be certain. 

“ Are they Christians? ” I subtly asked Jessica, leaning over to where she was sitting.

“ Yes! They are Christians, ” I heard her reply. At that point, I again went back into tea and crumpet mode. But the urgency from the Pastor Luis did not cease, but rather, seemed to increase. I began to wriggle uncomfortably in my chair, having no idea what he was trying to communicate.

Finally, his impatience with me reaching a crescendo, Pastor Luis instructed Jessica to have me tell the family about how Jesus was “ working in my life. ” So that ’ s what he wanted . . . a testimony. I began giving an account of a life fortified with Christ in hopes that it would encourage the brothers and sisters sitting before me. But Pastor Luis seemed even more annoyed and, at some point in my testimonial rambling, he snatched the conversational reigns from me. 

I sat perplexed listening to Pastor Luis. While there was no denying the passion with which he spoke, I received no help from Jessica about the content of his oration toward the family, now collectively leaned forward listening to Pastor Luis. My limited Spanish began picking up key phrases and words here and there. I realized that he was sharing the gospel of Christ with this family and inviting them to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior, the very reason I had come to Peru . . . but, thinking back to the words I ’ d heard from Jessica, “ they are Christians," just what was going on??

My confusion continued as suddenly the family bowed in prayer. Pastor Luis led them in what was obviously a prayer to received Christ. Tears were now flowing from the family members as they lifted their faces, beaming with joy from a new found Lord and Savior. Though I rejoiced in the moment, part of me still wondered what I ’ d missed. 

At that point, the family surprisingly got up to leave, hugging the Pastor, Jessica, and me exuberantly as we walked them outside to their waiting car. They loaded a suitcase or two into the trunk and piled into the small vehicle. Standing on the curb, watching them speed away, I turned to my interpreter in an effort to grasp some understanding of what I ’ d just
witnessed . . . 

“ Jessica, where are they going? ”

“ They go visit family now in Lima. Had to leave by two-thirty. Be gone for ten days. Pastor want speak to them today before they leave. ”

“ Jessica, when I asked you, are they Christians, why did you tell me, ‘ yes ’ ? ”

“ Because they did. ”

“ They did? ” 

“ Yes, they did have questions. But don ’ t worry, Pastor answer them for you and now they know Jesus, just like me! ”

And with that, the dense fog in which I ’ d been immersed suddenly lifted, as five new brothers and sisters motored off into the Peruvian sunshine.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Surprise Shots from Guatemala

When I first hired on with the Bureau of Prisons in the early 80's, I had a firearms instructor that used an expression that always stayed with me when having to go through the yearly firearms qualifications. The instructor told us the most accurate way to fire any weapon was to have a "surprise shot," achieved by not anticipating the gun going off, but rather, by focusing on the gun’s sight at the end of the barrel and maintaining a slow, steady squeeze on the weapon’s trigger until it fired. If you maintained the proper focus, the shot would come as a surprise and your accuracy would improve. Earlier this month in Guatemala, I experienced several "surprise shots," things that happened that I really wasn’t expecting...

On the hour long van ride out to a mission church, I sat in the back seat casually watching the scenery of a beautiful country pass by. Our main interpreter during the week was a 29 year old young woman who, by all appearances, seemed as ordinary as any young lady you’d want to meet. But looks can be deceiving. You see, Falon had been widowed 10 months earlier, her husband of only one year killed in a motorcycle accident. On the drive out to the mission, for the first time since the tragedy, she began tearfully unpacking how torturous the past 10 months had been, and how God had delivered her through the darkest days of her young life.

When I got up to speak that afternoon at the mission church, my topic "faith," having true faith even in the most trying times. I had an illustration from my own life that I’d planned on using, but I realized that standing next to me was a much more powerful testimony...Falon’s. Though she’d never spoken publically about any subject, I felt led to ask her to step outside her role as mere interpreter and share what she’d told me in the van that afternoon. With all the composure of much more experienced speaker, Falon gave a powerful testimony that didn’t leave a dry eye in the house...a surprise shot that hit dead center every heart in the room.

Later in the week, we were visiting an elderly lady in her home. She made a profession of faith and we rejoiced in her decision. My mission partner for the week, Keith, asked if there was anyone else in the house we could visit with. She went back in the back of the house and returned with another woman around her age, and an 18 year old young man I’ll call Juan.

We visited for a while with the woman, and she came to the same decision as the previous lady had: she, too, wanted Christ as her Savior. The whole time I was watching the body language of Juan. He seemed stereotypically teenaged in his actions, completely uninterested, seemingly desiring to be anywhere else but listening to two foreigners talk about Jesus.

But then something was said, I’m not sure what, that cracked the hard shell the young man had shielded himself with. Before long he was openly weeping about being 18, and having a father who’d abandoned the family when he was 10. We counseled with Juan and loved on him for over an hour. Normally stoic Keith wept with him over the hurt Juan had harbored all this time. Juan never committed to Christ that afternoon, but he made great strides in coming to terms with the pain that had been inflected on him and acknowledge that he did need God’s love in his life...certainly a surprise shot moment from what I’d expected from Juan.

A couple of incidents that took me by surprise occurred during visits to different classes at a Guatemalan school. One morning we were speaking to a classroom full of teenage girls. I was standing in the back of the room, listening to Keith’s testimony, trying to figure out some way to connect with the girls. God quickly provided the answer. Glancing down, I saw a magazine cutout taped to a desktop of a familiar face. It provided me with a foot in the door...

"How many of you girls know Justin Beiber?" I asked the young ladies, opening my message to them about their beliefs. Every one of the girls gleefully raised their hands, their eyes opening wide.

"Really? You know Justin Bieber??" They nodded with great enthusiasm. "Really?...when’s the last time you talked to him?" The girls broke out in laughter.

"You see, you know who Justin Bieber is, but you don’t really know him, do you..." I went on to explain that it can be the same way with our spiritual relationship. Many people know who Jesus is, know much about the Bible, etc., but don’t really know him, personally. Eight of those young women became sisters in Christ that morning...and Justin Bieber got a surprise shot assist.

Later in the week, we were talking with a group of 3rd and 4th graders. After I’d finished speaking, I found myself with about 10 or 15 minutes left in our session. Improvising, I asked if anyone had any questions about Jesus. Several hands shot up and the questions came fast and furious. I wondered what I’d gotten myself into, I must admit...

Then toward the very end of the session, a little girl on the front row meekly raised her hand. Something drew my attention to her hand, despite the others that had been frantically trying to get my attention. In a sweet, but very serious voice, Amanda asked, "Can I give my heart to Jesus right now, would it be okay?" You see, Amanda’s grandmother had been teaching her from the Bible for some time, she’d just been waiting for a chance to proclaim Christ as her Lord and Savior...a surprise shot indeed, dead on target.

The Guatemala City crusade saw 2935 professions of faith as 36 Americans on mission joined with Central and South Americans across the large city. I will remember many beautiful people that we worked alongside. The church we were assigned to witnessed 83 new Christians during the week, many via a surprise shot.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Look Back, A Look Ahead...

Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

I’ve seen enough "year in reviews" and "predictions for the coming year" to shake a proverbial stick at. But that’s what we tend to do at this time of year, look back and forward, simultaneously. So, if you’ll allow me, let me look back at 2012 and peek ahead at the coming year...

Teri and I celebrated 20 years of wedded bliss in 2012 by returning to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, where we’d exchanged vows in 1992. It was a wonderful trip, but there were a few reminders of the advancing years. For instance in ‘92, we rented motor scooters and zipped around the hills of Eureka Springs, hair flying in the wind. In 2012, we had the trolley car take us around town where we visited antique shops and enjoyed sitting in shady areas, eating ice cream and people watching...We excitedly found the over 100-year old stone church where we’d been married in ‘92, only to sadly find the building no longer was used as a church. Instead, a nightly magic show was housed there...we didn’t buy tickets. But like our 20 years of married life has been, the trip was a wonderful blessing. Three great kids, seven wonderful grandchildren...We look forward to the blessings of the next 20.

In 2012, we united with a new church family and praise God for leading in this matter. Stepping away from our old church was difficult, to say the least, but we never doubted God was moving us toward a new phase in our lives, church-wise, and have rejoiced in His doing so. We also cherish many memories from our old church and hold dear the many friendships we will always maintain. The past was wonderful and we expect nothing less with the future.

With International Commission, I made two mission trips in 2012. Going to Piura, Peru and Goiania, Brazil gave me fantastic memories that I’ll always treasure. The crusades saw over 4700 new commitments to Christ. Many of you partnered with me in prayer and financially in making these trips and, for that I can’t thank you enough. In 2013, God has led me to be involved in upcoming trips to Guatemala and Belize. Looking back at what God accomplished through the trips of 2012 excites me as I anticipate what He has in store in 2013!                                  
This blog ended 2012 with at its highest month ever, reader-wise, and I truly appreciate all the support I received. Looking back at its beginning in June, 2011, I really didn’t know where it would lead, but dutifully followed Teri’s urging me to write. An interesting twist in 2012 is the type and number of international hits the blog gets. For instance, last year Russia surpassed Great Britain in foreign readership of Reflecting the Light. I would love to hear from someone abroad who’s been reading regularly. ((Drop me a line from way out there.))

I think it’s a good thing to sometimes step back and look at the past, as long as we don’t linger too long. Someone once said "It’s fine to look at the past, just don’t stare." I agree. But, when looking back, we should also look forward. In order to know where we’re headed, it’s sometimes necessary to see where we’ve been. In my case, I thank God for what He’s done in the past year and look forward to what He has in store in 2013.

Prayers for you and yours this coming year,