Thursday, June 22, 2017

As for me and my house we shall serve the Lord

     If I was a gambling man I would bet that the majority of Christian homes have Joshua 24:15 mounted on the wall somewhere.  I know the majority of Christian homes that I have been in have that verse on display.  As cliche as it may be, that is a superb vision for anyone's home.  We want to serve the Lord in our home in the way we love each other and treat each other.  We want to serve the Lord with what we do for entertainment and in our free time.  Every aspect of our home we want to honor and serve our Lord.  Obviously we fail in this area every day.  Each member of my household.  Yet, by the Lord's grace we press on to do just that.  And by the Lord's grace we will be doing that in a whole new way and literally in our own home.  Let me explain.

     When we got confirmation to head to Valdivia to pioneer a new church plant we were once again stepping into the unknown.  Logistically we didn't know how things would line up.  There are still many factors that we aren't sure of but we are just waiting to see how the Lord directs and what doors He opens.  It has been so encouraging already to see the connections made and opportunities opened.  When we took our visionary trip last year to Valdivia, we couldn't have been more excited to get down there and start the work.  Some hiccups have come on the way, but that is to be expected.  But during that trip I remember my dad saying with a little joking in his voice (I think), "Even if you don't come down here, I am."  You have to understand something about my dad.  He is a beach bum.  He loves coastal living.  There is something about the salt water that is in the air and the sand that gets stuck everywhere and in all places.   Being there on that visionary trip drew him in!

     Allow me fast forward.  I can't remember the exact timeframe, but my parents told me they purchased a piece of property outside the city of Valdivia.  I was so overwhelmed with joy for them.  Especially after they told me they could walk to the beach in five minutes!   This is what they deserved.  Both of them worked very hard to provide and take care of their family.  My dad worked in heavy construction for what seems like forever.   They to me are such an example of finishing strong.  Here is my dad at the time of retirement.  The normal "American dream" is to work hard and then retire to some nice place.   No one would have ever blinked an eye if they took off to some remote island in the South Pacific to live out their days.  But they packed it up and headed to the mission field.  They came to Cajamarca.  Yes, Cajamarca is a wonderful place, but it isn't retirement material.  Not only that, we are like in the back end of space from the coast.  We are 9000' up in the Andes Mountains.  The only coast you will see is when your surfing the web which will just get you grumpy. So when they shared that they bought a coastal property I couldn't have been more happy for them.  But the news didn't stop there.  I could talk about all the open doors that have come by them doing this and the people they have meet and opportunities we have learned because they purchased this land.  Hopefully in future posts I will share some of those things.  Let me just say, we are way ahead in the game in understanding options in Valdivia and the culture through this process.  It was a crash course on Valdivia.  But that isn't all either.

     During a Skype conversation my dad told us that they would like to give us some of the property if we wanted to build our own home.  Nicole and I were completely shocked and beyond grateful.  We didn't know how this would all work out, but we knew the Lord had some type of plan.  During our visionary trip we looked at the cost of renting.  Valdivia is a very expensive city.  So the opportunity to build a house could in the long run be a benefit for us.  Still, there were many factors.  We both just couldn't believe that my parents were willing to give us a section of their property that they had worked so hard for and so deserved.  I wrote them after the Skype and asked are you sure?  To our great delight they said yes.  We want to help you guys out.  So Nicole and I with grateful hearts said yes we would love to build our own home, even though we didn't know how we would afford it.

     Through some contacts, my parents recently told me that the city of Valdivia is planning on incorporating the area where the property is into the city.  According to the Valdivia zoning laws, the size of the property can't hold two homes.  They have permits to build two homes, but if and when the city incorporates our area, they wouldn't allow it.  These contacts told them you need to get a second house built on the property so it can be "grandfathered" in.  So next month I will be heading down there to put in the foundation and the sub floors and hopefully to roll up the exterior walls.  But we didn't know how we were going to pay for that.  So here comes the next part.

     Nicole Skyped her parents and told them all that was happening.  Once again to our surprise, Nicole's parents joyfully said they would help us out with the costs of the house.  Without their help we really had no idea how this would even be possible.  We are beyond grateful for their willingness and hearts to help in all the ways they do.  Without hesitation when they heard about this, they said what an amazing opportunity, whatever it takes we will get it done.  Much like my parents, they have worked hard and provided and continue to provide for so many.  They are getting towards the retirement age,  I think, yet they keep on so they can support the ministry here and many others.  We couldn't do it without their help.

     Are we going to be in Valdivia for ever?  Only the Lord knows.  There is plenty of ministry to do.  Plenty of zones to reach there.  What if the Lord moves us on like he is doing here in Cajamarca?  Well, we would have a house that we could rent out to help cover our ministry expenses if we leave.  Or even a house to sell if needed to cover a move to another location.  Or when we get to retirement age, we can have a place to live out our last days on this earth.  Who knows what the Lord is going to do, but there are many options.

     Nicole and I have been blessed with incredible families.  We are beyond thankful to our God for the families He placed us in.  We are beyond grateful for what both sides are doing for us.  We know that it is the Lord who has given us all this and we are thankful first and foremost to Him.  I know for a fact, that neither of our families want any credit or glory or praise or thanks, but I wanted to share and to share this, I need to paint the whole picture and give thanks and credit where it is do.  Our families are incredible even if none of this transpired.  Our love for them and gratitude for them would be no different.

     I am also thankful for ReGeneration and CCC and CCS and CCHMB for your love and support and to be so willing to help out in any way possible with this.  We are overwhelmed by all you do for us and by expressing such joy and excitement about this and what we are doing.  

     In a few weeks I will post some pics of Valdivia and the property and the work we get done.  If anyone is wondering at this point about the ministry here in Cajamarca, yes it will be continuing and the Lord is doing some really cool things right now.  Our goal here is to see this church have it's own property as well, which we are praying for.  I will be sending out a newsletter next week or so.  If you are not on our mailing list, shoot me your email and I will add you.

Soli Deo gloria


Friday, June 2, 2017

Looking back on God's faithfulness.

Several years ago I met Alistair Begg at a conference.  We talked for a few moments, but we kept in contact over the years through email.  Several times he asked me to come up to the BASICS Conference which his church Parkside puts on.   Last year I finally went.  I didn't realize that when he was asking me, it meant Parkside was taking care of all the costs.  But it was God's plan for me not to go until last year.  Parkside owns several houses around the church that they use to house their missionaries.  They put me in a house with Kep James who was really their first missionary and who has been in Boliva since the eighties.  Kep is an awesome guy with an amazing ministry.  He planted a church in the city of La Paz and a few years ago he transitioned the church to a local Bolivian.  So it was cool to pick his brain as I am going through that process right now.  Before I left the conference last year, Parkside approached me about partnering up with us to do ESI in Cajamarca.  I was so excited about this for numerous reasons.  If the local pastors here can be equipped and get a good grasp on the gospel, no one can even imagine the impact this could make in our region.  Beyond anything I had ever hoped for.  Besides that, we have had several pastors and leaders from other churches throughout this region come to the church and ask us if we could train them on how to preach the Bible like we do.  The problem was, I couldn't.  We just aren't equipped to do that or have the means.  Well now through ESI, that is possible.  One pastor who had approached us several times is from an area called Bambamarca, which is a good distance from here.  This is getting ahead of the story, but he is signed up and will be going through the training.  So let me explain ESI.  ESI is a ministry that Kep developed in the past few years to help equip local church leaders.  It is a three year program that works to encourage and train faithful servants to build a biblical model of ministry, as Paul outlines in Romans 15:14, “I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness (godly character), complete in knowledge (biblical understanding), and competent to instruct one another (ministry skill).”  So the training equips and mentors church leaders to reflect Jesus in their Character, Bible Understanding and Ministry Skills.  One of the things I love about it is that, it focuses in on the gospel.  It focuses in on the main issues.  It focuses in on the majors.  You know like grace alone, justification by faith alone.  The things that are salvific. All the other stuff, all the peripheral, all the issues that don't lead to salvation, are not emphasized.  So it breaks down barriers.  It allows us to work with any denomination.  What has happened here in Peru and South America for that matter (that is why Kep had this vision to establish this ministry), there is a line.  That line is the gospel.  So many churches operate above that line or below it.  Meaning that if you are below the line, character and godly living doesn't really matter.  Correct doctrine and theology surely don't matter.  Cause correct doctrine (if applied to the heart) always leads to and produces godly living. But if you are below the line, you don't want that.  These are churches indifferent towards doctrine.   Below the line is liberalism and various other issues.  Below the line you have no guidelines.  If you are above the line, you have added to the simple truth of the gospel.  You have added man made traditions and called them law.  It is the legalistic churches.  These are the churches that add to what it takes to be Christian or to be saved.  Many of these pastors don't even know they are above or below the line.  Many of them have not been trained in any way, shape, or form.  Many of them have heard a story and that is all they know and they just repeat that.  They don't know how to study on their own or apply the Scriptures on their own.  Many have been "schooled" by what they see on "Christian tv".  So Kep saw the need to help out the local churches.  So out of his church he started this program.  The program has expanded.  There are now ESI centers in 5 Latin American countries.  Last September, I believe, Parkside flew 2 of our guys and another pastor who I knew was doing training in a region north of us, down to Southern Peru to learn how to do this training.  It looked as if we were only going to have 5 or 6 guys in the Cajamarca region doing the ESI.  But we had 19 pastors and leaders signed up in the region north of us.  But a few days before Edwin (the director of ESI in Southern Peru) ordered the material I got an email from the pastor in the northern region saying he will not do the training cause he wants a good relationship with his sending church.  Only God knows what took place in that situation, but it is sad that for whatever reasons, the gospel and the training of men in the ministry was deliberately hindered.   But I know God will deal with that and the repercussions of it.  But we had 5 or 6 guys here so I was still excited.  Well, things have developed.  The city heard about this training and approached us asking if they could help out in any way.   It is so the Lord's hand.  We now have 30 church pastors and leaders who will be coming every Monday to the municipalidad (the city has given us a facility to host this) and going through this training.  This is a huge blessing.  There are several guys who will be coming from different churches that are over an hour away.  This is exciting for us as a church.  This week we had an elders meeting and we went over the vision and direction of the church.  One of our passions is for people to have a high view of the Scriptures.  We feel that we need more biblical churches.  We need churches committed to the preaching of the word.  We feel that is the means God has ordained to reach and feed His people.  The minute we start diverting from the Bible and using gimmicks to reach people we have strayed from the plan of God.  The Apostles didn't use gimmicks.  They preached the word and that was the pattern that was laid down since the beginning.  They didn't make it up.  But now man thinks we are wiser and we use drama and other gimmicks in church.  We think that is going to save people.  Isn't it amazing that the Apostles saw anyone saved?  How did that happen?  They didn't have movie equipment or anything like that (I am saying that tongue in check). Alistair always says, don't play any movies cause the people are gonna want to see the movie and not listen to you.  That is some great wisdom there.  I went to a church for years that would play movie clips during the sermon and once the movie came on, all I could think about was the movie and I would want to get home as fast as I could to go watch it.  I wouldn't even remember what the pastor was talking about.  My fellow elders feel the same way.  So we have this strong conviction that the word of God is to be the center point of the public gathering.  We feel we need more churches who have a high view of the Scripture.  Well through ESI, there is no doubt this will begin to take place in the churches of those who go through this training.  We don't need to plant more churches in this area, we need to equip and train the pastors who have congregations and churches that are already established.  Sure many of them are off theologically.  Many of them I would not step foot in.  But the great thing about ESI is they will learn the gospel.  They will learn how to live the gospel.  And they will learn how to minister the gospel.  Of course there will be some issues and practices that we might not do in our church, but once again those are the peripherals.  Some guys will be way over on one side of the spectrum and other guys will be way over on the opposite side of the spectrum, but it's ok cause once we get them clear on the gospel and in agreement on the essentials we can build on that.  Everything else will fall into line.  Augustine said, "In essentials unity, essentials liberty, but in all things charity (love).  To quote Alistair again he says "Let the main things be the main things."  He also says "the main things are the plain things."   I like that.  So I got a little sidetracked there, but Monday Edwin will be flying up and we will introduce ESI to all the applicants and to the mayor and city officials.  I am super grateful and thankful for Adolfo and for his drive and vision to help get this going and all the work he has already put in, not to mention all the work that is still to come on his part.  I am grateful that Parkside is flying Edwin up to be at the kick off of this Monday.  Not only that, but Parkside provides all the material for each person going through the training.  Each person receives a personal library that runs about $600.00.  Many of these books for this program Parkside had translated.  It is such a blessing for these guys to be able to get these books.  I am excited to see how the Lord uses this.  Our church is excited to see how the Lord uses this.  Looking back I can see how the Lord's providence led to all of this.  God began orchestrating this years ago.  As I see that, I am so expectant to see Him do amazing things here in Cajamarca.  I will be leaving this area soon.  Sooner than later.  I am really on my last days here.  So to see this established before I go gives me a great joy and peace.  The Lord does His work.  Oh, one more little piece of exciting news, ESI will be happening in Chile as well.  More to look forward to!

Soli deo gloria

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Reflections

It has been about two weeks since I returned from the BASICS Conference in Cleveland Ohio.  I am super blessed that Parkside Church once again brought me up and provided everything for me to get there and for me while I was there.  This year was awesome also cause my bro Don was able to come with me.  I know without a doubt that he was blessed beyond measure as well.  One thing for sure, it isn't a restful time.  Not even getting into the thirty six hours of travel to get there, or the running around to get some much desired American products at Target.  Setting that aside, the conference itself is a lot.  It is a full three days.  Besides that, during breaks and free time, and each day after the conference ended, we were meeting with the Parkside director of ministries or their missions pastor or some elders from the church.  It was a full go.  I am not complaining at all.  I was so excited and blessed.  It was a good busy.  There are certain conferences you go to that when you come back you are ready to hit the ground running.  This isn't one of them.  I needed a couple days off to digest and process all that took place.  The problem was (I don't know who did the preaching schedule, oh ya it was me), I had to preach on Sunday (we got back to Cajamarca sometime on Friday) and then my wife and oldest daughter left on Tuesday morning for Chile for two and a half weeks!  But the Lord is gracious and I have had quiet early mornings to process and go through several of the main points that I came away with.  Sitting under teaching for hours a day for three days, it is a lot to try to retain.  Over the next several months, I will be going back through all the teaching sessions to re-chew on them.  And over the next couple weeks I plan on opening up this blog and just write out with no real structure or thought on some of the things I took away and my first impressions.   So today is the first of those.  It is funny cause what I am going to write about is really what hit Don the most.  It hit him immediately.  For me, it took me a little while for it to take hold.  It resonated with me right away, but over the last two weeks it has just brought this great joy and gratitude to my soul.

We arrived Saturday night in Cleveland and after a shower, meal and a good night sleep we awoke early on Sunday morning to head over to Parkside to spend time praying with the pastors and elders before service.  We were told that Sinclair Ferguson would be preaching the morning message.  He preached from Romans 8:28.  Just a few weeks ago, when Mud and Miracles were here in Peru, Pastor Brian preached from Romans 8:28.  Pastor Brian's message was one of the best messages I ever heard, not only from Romans 8:28, but best messages from anywhere in the Bible.  For me it was so special to have him preaching in the church that I pastor.  He has graciously allowed me to teach in his pulpit on multiple occasions and so I was extremely honored and excited for our people at Refugio to hear him.  (Several people during the week asked if Pastor B was going to be teaching again the up coming Sunday, to which I replied no, and they would reply back "oh" with disappointment all over their faces).  So I was curious how Dr. Ferguson would compare.  I am not going to lie.  It was good.  It was right up there with Pastor Brian's.  It was the best message I heard while there at the conference.  It was better than any of the conference messages (and all of them were on point).  Dr. Ferguson's message was one of the best messages I have heard on Romans 8:28.  It was from a different perspective than Pastor Brian's.  I am still partial towards Pastor Brian's but Dr. Ferguson's was a powerfully good message.  Kay Carter, who is Alistair's assistant, told me on Monday afternoon that it was one of the best messages she has ever heard and she sits under Alistair's teaching.  Think about that.  Anyways, the point Dr. Ferguson made was, we as God's people are blessed.  We are blessed because God loves us.   He loves us so much that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Ultimately, we are not blessed because of material possessions or because or our health or  because of anything else.  See that is what has begun to really soak into my soul and give me this overwhelming joy and gratitude.   Here is why this has made such an impact on my soul.   I look at my life and I think, "wow, I am blessed."  Why do I say that?  What makes me think I am blessed?  Honestly the first thing I will think about is my wife.  The Lord has blessed me with an incredible woman.  Then I look at my children.  The Lord has blessed me with four incredible and unique children.  I think about what I am doing.  I am blessed to be able to play a small part in what the Lord is doing here in Cajamarca.   All of that is truly a blessing from God.   There is no doubt.  I am not taking anything away from that and I thank Him everyday for those blessings and many others.  But the main reason I am blessed, is because I am a child of God.  Because while I was a sinner, Christ died for me.  That is the blessing.  Cause let's be honest, there are people who do not know the Lord, who have great families.  People who have great "jobs".  And so often I hear people talk about how the Lord has blessed them (and it is true, I don't want to take anything away from what the Lord gives) but they are speaking in materialistic ways.  "Oh the Lord blessed me cause I have this new house or new car or new job or whatever".  "Isn't God good, look at what He gave me."  I hear, "God is good to me because of_________", fill in the blank.  What if you didn't have that?  Would you still be blessed?  Would God still be good?  How often do people hear you speak of how good God is because of the cross?  Would you still give glory to God if you didn't have the "items" you wanted? Material items are no sign that God is blessing you.  The Bible tells us that God makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  We are told the wicked prosper.  Materialistic blessings are not great signs that you are blessed.  We know that every good and perfect gift is from our Heavenly Father.  We know that even for those who do not love Him, what they have are blessings from God and by His grace.  But we, as believers need to grasp this, that we are blessed because while we were sinners, Christ died for us.   What separates us from those of the world?  Is it because we have been blessed with family, friends, job, wealth, health, possessions?  No!  The world has all of that.  I can't help but see some prosperity gospel, which is no gospel, in our use of language.  "I am blessed because I have this and I have that."  Really?  That is why you are blessed?  Since that message I find myself now saying, "Lord I am blessed because I am your child.   I am blessed because of the cross.  Thank you."  And from there I proceed to thank Him and praise Him for the earthly gifts that have been bestowed upon me by His gracious hand.  I want to be sure that I relish in the greatest blessing.  I want to be sure that my highest praise and thankfulness is not for anything other than Christ and what He has done.  We must be sure that we are not looking to temporal, earthly items as our blessings (which they are blessings, don't misunderstand me), but we have an eternal inheritance that will not rust or that thieves can steal.  We have an inheritance that is beyond measure.  We will be with the Lord for ever, the same Lord, that while we were yet sinners, died for us.

I am grateful for such an incredible woman to share my life with and who pushes me to serve Jesus more passionately.  I am grateful for my four crazy kids.  I am grateful for where the Lord has me.  I am grateful for many of these blessings that the Lord has granted me.  And really they are blessings because I am His.  But my biggest blessing and what I want to keep at the front of my mind and my speech and in what I do is the cross of our Lord Jesus, where He died for me while I was still a sinner.  No longer am I a stranger,  I am a child of God.   What a glorious thought.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

"A man's best friend is a good wife." Thomas Edison

I sat across the school room table and watched my wife interact and teach three of our four children.  Balancing on an edge the different strengths and weakness and personalities of these three.  While all at the same time bouncing between subjects and grades.  I looked on in admiration.  She was gentle yet firm (every now and then frustration gets ahold, but if you knew my kids, it is surprising that frustration and yelling isn't the every moment of the school day).  Proverbs tells us "He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD."  I have found this to be true.  I know that many men throughout the world will tell you they are the most blessed men on earth.  Well I am no different.  I am one of those guys.  I truly know in my heart of hearts that I am the most blessed man on earth.  First and foremost because I have been adopted into the family of God.  Before the foundation of the earth, the Lord set His redeeming love upon me and chose me in His precious Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  There is not a higher blessing that can be bestowed upon anyone.  Apart from that glorious truth, the Lord continued to shower me with blessing.  He gave me a woman who is like no other.  I could write and write until this blog was overtaken by all she does, but that isn't really the point I am trying to make.  What I am trying to say is that my wife is an amazing woman of God who pushes me to fall more in love with Jesus each day.  She radiates the glory of Christ and is always challenging me to be more like Him.  She always encourages me in the ministry as well.  Even though she never had the desire to be a pastor's wife or to live cross culturally, when the Lord prompted me, she humbled herself and stepped up to do whatever was necessary to support me in what the Lord called of me.  I must say that I don't have any stories like William Carey or John Wesley.  I have been blessed by an overly supportive help meet.  Full time ministry (cross culturally or not) is hard enough on it's own.  I couldn't imagine having a wife who wasn't supportive or in some cases resentful or combative.  God is gracious.  Giving me Nicole is just another proof of that.  Without her on my side encouraging me and helping me to press on, I wouldn't be here today.  Someone said that behind every good man is a good woman.  I have no idea who said that or how that developed but I will say it is true in my case.  Most of the time, she gets no recognition for all she does, nor does she want it.  But as I watched her teaching our kids this morning, I wanted to take a moment and express my gratitude towards her.  I pastor a church of several dozen people.  I speak at churches in the States when we are on furlough.  For the most part, it could appear that I do all the ministry.  But since coming to Peru I have always said my wife has a bigger ministry than I do.  She is elbow to elbow with the people.  She made the first relationships.  She is doing more than I ever could.  Even this week, in the midst of packing for Chile and homeschooling and all the house hold duties, she is running over to the church morning and evening and dealing with the landlord and the maintenance people that are there doing repairs.  All the supplies for Sunday's, she takes care of that.  She is writing all the women of the church and seeing how they are doing.  She just pours herself out day after day.  I was so blessed and honored a couple weeks ago when the Mud and Miracles team was leaving they acknowledge just how much my wife did.  I swelled with pride!  Even after they returned to the States we received a few emails commenting on how amazing Nicole planned and maintained the schedule.  They got just a glimpse in 10 days what I get to experience everyday.

The great reformer Martin Luther said "Let the wife make the husband glad to come home, and let him make her sorry to see him leave."  That is my experience.  Nicole is my best friend and as cliche as it may sound, my soul mate.  I have become a better man since she has been in my life.  She is a Proverbs 31 woman no doubt.  I can confidently tell my daughters to look to their mom to see a true virtuous woman.  I don't have to teach them how to become a mom or wife.  They just look to Nicole.  I don't have to teach my son what kind of woman to marry.  All he has to do is look at his mom to see.  I am a most blessed man.  The Lord is kind and gracious.  Giving me salvation and a woman to share my ups and downs with.  To share my fears and failures with.  A soft and forgiving and gracious woman.  What more could a man want?  I have to say nothing.  My cup truly over flows.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Mud and Miracles

It has been almost a week since the Mud and Miracles team from Half Moon Bay have returned to Northern California.  To be honest, I don't even know where to begin or even what to say, but I know that I need to put on paper some of my thoughts.  We have had the blessing and privilege of hosting several teams and families and even individuals over our years here in Peru.  Each team or group or person has brought lasting impact in Peru and within our family.  I think back of our first visitors, the Wettengels, and just how them coming almost gave us some legitimacy in what we were doing.  Their daughter Anna has been down here 3 times now!  Or I remember when I was first contacted by Zach Wise.  He came down here for a few months with his beautiful family and his sister in law (who ended up marrying one of our leaders at the church and now lives back in the States).  Through that trip our families have developed and incredible friendship, one that we are so eternally grateful for.  By far, we were the benefactors of their visit.  They literally have become our family.  Or what about the Epic youth team.  This was a huge group.  More than 30 people all fired up to just get in and serve Jesus here in Peru.  Lifelong relationships were formed from that trip also.  Every year we return to the States I get the blessing to share at their youth group.  Justin is my brother from another mother.  We had the privilege of working with Global Cane Outreach, not once but twice.  This is an incredible ministry which has blessed the people of Cajamarca in ways that probably would have never happened if Bev never took the step of faith to start this ministry.  Through their first trip we got to know Char whose church now is partnered with us.  A church full of joy and passion.  Of course we can't forget ReGen, our sending church.  To be honest, when this one was developing I was thinking, "what is going on here?"  I didn't really know Josh and Erica (the youth pastor and his wife).  They started serving at ReGen after we had already moved to Peru.  Our interaction was limited with them.  I will be the first to admit, they were on the ball and a huge blessing.  All my hesitation was wrongly founded.  This team was great and we love Josh and Erica in ways that can't be expressed.  Not only did a friendship and partnership start with Josh and Erica, but the with the whole Mata family.   They have become so dear to us.  We just can't wait to go back home so we can hang out more with them.  They are an amazing family with such love and passion for Jesus.  One of my personal highlights (one of many) from our last furlough was hanging out with Miguel at Fredrick Street Park and rapping about everything from the Raiders to the government controlling weather patterns.  Skating a few parks with Ezekiel was pretty tight also!  So with all that, we have been blessed beyond measure by all who have come to visit and serve here in Peru.

Now let me get back to Mud and Miracles.  We have always had such a deep and heart felt connection with CC Half Moon Bay.  From the first time I heard Pastor Brian preach, I was moved to the core.  Over the years, he has taken time to help me and guide me and I have grown even more fond of his ministry.  Well that fondness had grown beyond him to the church he faithful pastors.  So when they told us they were planning on coming down to serve, we couldn't have been more excited.  From the embryonic stages of planning this trip, we knew this was going to be a special one.  Not only because of our relationship with Pastor Brian, CCHMB and even the Mud and Miracles group, but because we truly knew that the timing and what we were going to be doing was amazing.  Several other missionaries here in Cajamarca helped and poured their hearts into this trip as well.  That alone was such a blessing.  Too many times, fellow missionaries are only worried about building their own little kingdom and loose sight of the fact that the we all are part of the body of Christ and that end game is the glory of God and that people would come to know Him. So to see this unity and willingness to help and to use their giftings was great.   If you remember, pray for me specifically that I don't ever loose sight of the fact that I am a tool in the makers hand to build His kingdom and not mine or get consumed by what I am doing.  Anyways, from the moment this team got off the plane, it was something special.  I am not at all a mystic.  But you could feel the love and energy that this team brought and right away they showed my 20 complete skateboards to use for our skate ministry.  Pastor Brian even brought me 4 cases of Big Red (that alone made this trip special).  I will admit that over the years of growing closer to Christ, I have become more emotional.  I will cry on occasion.  But I cried probably every day with this team.  And on the day the left, I really cried.  I cried like haven't cried in a long time.  Each person on this team was so vulnerable, so open, so honest and so real.  They served their hearts out.  They gave all they had.  For some, it was the first time ever giving in the way they did.  From loving the forgotten and abandoned to physically busting their humps building a house for a family of 9 who didn't have a dry, warm, comfortable, clean place to lay their heads, this team gave it all.  Once again, we were the benefactors of their coming here.  My life is changed forever.  I know as one of the pastors at Refugio, our church is changed forever.  I know without a doubt, the family who received a new home are changed forever and several of the orphans are changed forever as well.   But my biggest hope and prayer (as it has been since planning this),  I hope and pray that every member of Mud and Miracles, those who came and even those who couldn't, are changed forever as well.  M&M, you guys should have learned in your 10 days here, that you have so much to give and that all the drama and issues you have doesn't mean you aren't valuable in the kingdom of God.  You most definitely are! You conquered struggles and emptied yourselves of yourselves.  You focused on serving others, in love, and gave all you could give.  Don't stop that.  Press on.  Fight the good fight of faith.  Every single one of you has challenged me to grow in Christ and serve with more passion and love.  To me, you guys are the real deal.  You guys truly epitomize the name Mud and Miracles.  What a glorious example of what Christ can do with those who just are willing and who will be honest and open.  All of us in reality are just mud.  Some don't like to say that or think that, but we are mud.  Yet all of us, can be miracles.  You guys are!  I can't say it enough, but thank you for coming to Peru and serving Jesus and serving Refugio and serving our community.  We love you guys and are beyond blessed by all you have done.  We are praying for you and we can't wait to see you soon.  Mud and Miracles!!!!!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Forgivness

Forgiveness is a colossal notion in the Christian life.  I tend to think that most evangelism, preaching, and even counseling deal a great amount of time on the topic of forgiveness.  A large potion of the story line of the Bible is man's need for God's forgiveness.  We (individually and corporately) have violated the commands of God.  More oft than not, we minimize this idea.  God is the creator of all things.  This is His universe and yet we flippantly do what we want.  Christians included.  I believe part of that is because of our skewed view of forgiveness.  We think that it is God's nature to forgive and man's nature to sin so we don't take it seriously.  While it is true that it is God's nature to forgive and man's to sin, that doesn't give us license.  We tend to minimize the idea that sin is serious.  If I can drive over the speed limit by five to seven m.p.h. and get a grace on that and not pay a fine, we have the tendency to think that is how God is.  He will turn the blind eye to our sin.  We tend to think that God is just like some earthy judge or police officer.  He is not.  Sin is serious. Even the sin we don't think is.  Remember Christ took all the sins of the world upon Himself.   God's wrath was poured upon His Son for sin.  So we need God's forgiveness.  It is not some little topic.  But that is not really the reason I began this post.  That isn't the forgiveness per say I have been thinking about.
I have been pondering more on our forgiveness. The forgiveness we grant to others.  That is a serious issue as well.

Jesus said, "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt. 6:14-15).

James puts it this way: “Judgment by God is without mercy to those who have shown no mercy. But mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).

Jesus tells a story in the gospels about the ungrateful or unforgiving servant.  This servant was forgiven a debt that was beyond anything he could ever pay.  Upon receiving this forgiveness, he turns around to one of his fellow servants and demands payment.  He would not give time to repay the debt or lenience on the debt or forgive the debt.  At the end of the parable Jesus says "So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

That is heavy.  Those are serious consequences to think about when it comes to our forgiveness of others.  What got me thinking about all of this was a couple days ago my wife asked me, "How do I know if I have forgiven someone?"  That was a great question.  A simple question, yet so profound.
It was something I had never really pondered.  Right away it brought to my mind people who I feel have done me wrong.  I began to process if I had truly forgiven people.  Let's be honest, forgiveness is hard.  We want God's forgiveness.  Some people (Christians included) feel they deserve God's forgiveness.  That He owes them.  But then when someone does something to us, oh forgiveness, really?  I don't think so.  They caused to much pain.  They did ME wrong.  Forgiveness is hard. Forgiveness will never happen when we are in the flesh.  It won't happen.  But forgiveness needs to happen.

So as I stewed on this idea, how do I know I have forgiven, I began to think about certain individuals. I came to the conclusion that the best way to know if I have forgiven someone and to help come to some type of definitive answer to be able to say this is how you know you have forgiven, is to examine those individuals who I feel did me wrong.  So I asked myself, is the first thought that comes to my head when I think about so and so or hear so and so's name, is the first thought, so and so did this to me?  If the first thought I think about is the wrong committed upon me, I am lacking some measure of forgiveness.  What if they needed help?  Would I help?  What if they failed in something? Would that bring a smile to my face?  Do I want to see failure in their life? Do I want revenge?  All those are signs of where you stand on forgiveness.

I know that many people have gone through terrible circumstances.  I know that forgiveness is hard.
I know it is a struggle.  But forgiveness is so liberating.  Forgiveness is so needed.  It has been a soul searching couple days thinking on this process.  I saw some dark ugly spots in my heart.  There were packets of resentment and unforgiveness dwelling and taking root.  I am grateful my wife asked me the question.  I am more grateful that the Lord revealed in me areas that were not conforming to the image of Christ.  I am even more grateful that He supplies the grace to change and the forgiveness that I so desperately need.  Our God is good.  It can be painful to walk this road, but the comfort that He pours upon His children is overwhelming.  May the Lord comfort you where ever you may be.

Soli Deo Gloria

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Word of God is enough

My first experiences of Christianity were in a pentecostal church during the time of what is labeled the "Toronto Blessing".   I don't need to get into the specifics of the Toronto Blessing, there is plenty of ink spilled on that topic by plenty of godly men who are much more qualified to speak on it than I am.  So if you are curious you can do your own research on it, but I guess I will just summarize that the Toronto Blessing was an unbiblical movement that really wasn't a blessing at all.  Many movements and "churches" are still entrenched in this false system of theology.  To be honest, I am surprised by how many people, who claim to be Bible believing Christians, follow after this nonsense.  Due to my "upbringing" in the faith, the Bible was not the authority for life and practice.  To be fair, never would I hear anyone undermine or belittle the Bible.  Everyone affirmed that it was the word of God.   Everyone said the Bible is our sole place to find truth and authority.  But there were always other little comments.  "God said this to me."  "The Lord TOLD me to share this with you."  So early on in my Christian experience,  I began to have a narcissistic engagement with the Scriptures.  I wanted to hear God speak to me.  I wanted to have a revelation from God personally, like so many others were.  How come I am not getting that?  So when I read the Scriptures, which was rarely, I didn't care about context or the big picture or anything like that.  I wanted something to jump off the page that was for me.  To be fair once again, the pastor of the church would say things like, you check the Bible out for yourself.  Or don't take my word, you have a Bible, check it out.  The problem is, I can take the Bible out of context and make it say whatever I want.  Look at so many of the false teachers today.  They use the Bible and because of that, and people's biblical illiteracy, the people soak it up.  They believe anything that is "Christian" or quotes the Bible.  So the Bible was great, it was God's word, but not really relevant.  Because people would "speak into my life" and it was so much more exciting.  Someone would give me a Bible verse, and then go on to explain how that is for me.  It was great!   I could take take a verse and make it my verse.  It was for me.  So I would read and look for verses that I liked and that could fit into what maybe someone spoke to me or what I wanted to hear.

Fast forward several years.  I got plugged into a Bible teaching church.  Started downloading solid biblical teaching on my ipod.  Started listening to Alistair Begg and guys who would expositionally teach the Scriptures.  It was like that song from Aladdin, "A Whole New World" was opened up to me.  I began seeing the Bible, not so much as a verse here and there to "speak into my life" but as a whole that speaks of God's great promises of salvation which in reality does speak into my life and that is far greater than any disconnected verse that I twist and rearrange to fit my circumstances.  Let me say this though, I am not saying that a specific verse will not grant you comfort in situations.  Not at all.  We hold and cling to verses that have impacted us personally.  I am on the mission field because of specific verses.  My wife has comfort to be here and to live cross culturally because of Isaiah 40:11.  But I began not reading the Bible self centeredly.  I began to see that the Bible is more about God and His glory than it is about me.  I began to see that there is a bigger plan than just me.   Oh it involves me, I get to be part of it, but it is so beyond me.  Not every little verse is specifically for me.  I began to read the Bible, not to search for God's personal word for me today, which is often far from what the text within the context is really saying, but to read it and see how great and wonderful Christ is.  Reading it this way gave me this new love and fondness of Jesus.  Jesus Himself says that the Bible is all about Him (Luke 24).  So the more I read and understood who Jesus was and is, the greater my faith and trust of Him became.  It is still growing and deepening every day I open my Bible.  Now when I read the Bible, I focus on Jesus first and not myself.

Over the past several years,  I have been helped greatly by author/pastor Graeme Goldsworthy.  His passion is biblical theology and getting people to see the unity of the whole Bible.  How all the pieces fit together.  I actually taught his book "According to Plan" to my church on Sunday mornings.  I made the messages more expositional and more for a Sunday morning than the book, but I used the book as my outline and guide.  I want my church to be biblically literate.  To be that, they need to see the whole picture.  Now the reason I even started to write this post was, because the more we get into the word and understand the unity within the diversity, our love for Jesus will grow.  Our understanding of His plan and His salvation will get deeper.  We will become less satisfied with superficial views of Him and shallow teachings about Him.  We will be more aware and resistant to false views and teachings and gain understanding of Him and the Bible.  So many people undermine the Bible without even realizing.  As Christians there are doctrines that we all will die for.  Throughout history people have died for the truth of justification by faith alone.  People have died for salvation in Christ alone.  People have died for so many causes that we need to be willing to die for.   The church is willing to die for the inspiration of the Scriptures.  The church is willing to die for the infallibility of the Bible.  The church will die, to stand on the inerrancy of the Bible.  But there is another that we need to be prepared to die for.  I know many are.  I know many would even say they are willing.  And that is the sufficiency of the Bible.  There is where my Christian experience was lacking.  This is what bothers me about silly little devotionals like Jesus Calling or any other book that claims to be the words of Jesus.  Sara Young even said the Bible wasn't enough.  So she needed Jesus to speak to her.  And people actually read this stuff.  Why would you read anything that claims to be the words of Jesus and from an author who said the Bible isn't enough?  It has been the number one selling "Christian" book for some time.  We have the words of Jesus. We don't need new words.  Jesus has spoken (Heb 1:1).  Jesus is God's revelation to us.  That is what the author of  Hebrews is going on about.   That Jesus is superior than all the other revelations.  In Jesus we have the fullness of God.  No, the Bible is not Jesus but we find Jesus in the Bible.  The Scriptures don't save us (John 5:39) but we find Jesus in them.  Salvation comes through Jesus whom we find in the Scriptures. 2 Timothy 3:15 tells us that the Scripture make us wise unto salvation.  How?  Because through them we see Jesus, the true Jesus.  And Salvation is through Jesus.  So the Bible is sufficient for us.  In 2 Peter, Peter tells us God has given us everything for life and godliness.  Paul tells us the Bible prepares us for every good work.  What more do you need?  I am not claiming we don't need to read other books.  I just said I read other books.  But I don't read books that are claiming to be the words of Jesus.  I don't need to, I have the true word of Jesus.  I have the book that Jesus spoke.   The Bible.  No, the Bible doesn't give us a word for every situation in our lives.  It doesn't tell us who to marry or what job to take or where to move.  But it gives us enough to make good decisions.  It doesn't give us exhaustive information on every subject, but in every subject that it does mention, it speaks only what is true. And as Kevin Deyoung says "and in its truth we have enough knowledge to turn from sin, find a Savior, make good decisions, please God, and get to the root of our deepest problems."

I can't say it better than him so "The word of God is more than enough for the people of God to live their lives to the glory of God. The Father will speak by means of all that the Spirit has spoken through the Son. The question is whether we will open our Bibles and bother to listen."

I used to long to hear God.  To be like those people who got words from the Lord.  Yet all the time my Bible was closed.  Or I was reading it out of context.  Or I was looking for something just for me.  A personal word just for me.  The funny thing is, it is a personal word.  I just didn't see it.  It is a personal word about my sin and about a great savior and about a gracious God.  Let's open our Bibles and read it from cover to cover and understand that it is ONE book with ONE underlying theme and ONE message, which is Jesus.  And in that message, is God's plan for you and me, which is our salvation and reconciliation back to Him all for the glory of God.  I don't believe anything will build your faith more than reading and seeing the Lord Jesus through His word (Rom 10:17).  Open your Bibles and look through the lens of Jesus as your read.  The more you see Jesus, the more you will see how great and loving our God is.  Don't settle for anything less than the Jesus from the Bible.