Lillian Skinner, Homecoming Queen

Lillian Skinner, Homecoming QueenI’ve never really been a big fan of the whole pageantry that surrounds Homecoming.  I like football and all of the brouhaha of Homecoming just lengthens halftime and delays the game action.  Furthermore, I’ve never been much of a fan of the popularity contest that is Homecoming.  The whole thing just smacks of superficiality to me.  In general, I find our culture’s concept of beauty to be very ugly.

But maybe I’m changing.

Last week at a local high school football game, I got sucked in.  The young ladies looked elegant.  Their escorts were dapper.  Maybe it’s me mellowing in old age.  Maybe it’s the fact that I knew some of the kids and thought they were beautiful outside and inside.  Whatever the reasons may be, I found the festivities pleasant.

Then I caught a feature on the Today Show on Monday about a Homecoming festivity in Texas.  Let’s just say that I am solidly in the “Pro-Homecoming” crowd now.

At Grand Prairie High School in north Texas, 17-year-old Lillian Skinner was elated to learn that she had been nominated for the Homecoming court.  Only she wasn’t.  Some mean classmates had cooked up a cruel practical joke at Lillian’s expense.  Just to see how Lillian would respond, they told her she had been selected for the Homecoming Court.

Thankfully, the world isn’t full of only cruel people.

Anahi Alvarez and Naomi Martinez were legitimately nominated to the Homecoming Court.  These girls had befriended Lillian.  And when they heard about the cruel joke others had played at Lillian’s expense, they made a pact to do something about it.  The two girls vowed that if either of them won, they would give the crown to Skinner.

As Providence would have it, Alvarez was named Homecoming Queen.  In front of a football stadium packed with thousands of classmates and parents, Alvarez immediately passed her crown to Skinner.

“Seeing the look on her face and the way she reacted toward it, it was priceless,” Martinez told a Dallas TV station.  “I knew it was the right decision.”

This whole episode transported me back in my mind to high school.  I’m not the kind of guy who remembers things vividly, but I will never forget the day when Ashley Johnson (Ashley Daigle now) stood up to some bullies on behalf of a girl named Bonita.  Ashley was the pretty cheerleader.  Bonita was the awkward, often-unkempt new girl.  And the bullies were a group of my friends.  Most of them weren’t mean-spirited kids.  They were just thoughtless, stupid 16 year olds.  I’ve walked a few miles in those shoes, so I can personally testify to what idiots 16 year old boys can be.

Since that day at Mary Montgomery high school some 20+ years ago, I have learned some valuable life lessons.  Like, you can’t hide your ugly heart with a good wardrobe.  Sooner or later, your ugliness will show.  Try having a clean heart instead.  You’ll be surprised what great things that does for you when you lie down to sleep at night.  Also, true beauty is found within.  Our world has warped the concept of beauty.  Girls have image issues because we idolize 90 lb. runway models.  When I was a teenager, a six-pack was how you bought your Cokes.  Now, kids are obsessed with their abs.  I wonder, if we spent a fraction of the time perfecting our character that we do primping what would the world look like?  Finally, anyone can be beautiful.  External beauty is fleeting.  At some point we all lose to gravity.  But inner beauty can grow with age if we are mindful of it.  Scripture warns us, “For the Lord sees not as man sees:  man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).  Simply put, beautiful people act it.

So congratulations, Lillian Skinner.  Wear your crown with pride.  And thanks to you and your friends for inspiring us to remember what true beauty is.

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Ray Rice, Domestic Violence, and Christianity

Ray Rice Domestic Violence and Christianity

After a torturous 7 month off-season, the NFL finally returned this weekend.  I absolutely love football!  College football will always be my first love, but, thanks exclusively to my obsession with fantasy football, I now follow the NFL with a keen eye.

Sadly, after an amazing opening weekend of NFL action, nobody is really talking about the games.  Today, tmz.com released bone-chiling video footage of Ray Rice, now-terminated Baltimore Ravens running back, hitting his then-fiancee with a vicious left cross in an Atlantic City casino elevator.  The devastating blow knocked Rice’s fiancee unconscious.

Rice’s domestic violence case isn’t really news.  Rice assaulted Janay Palmer (now Janay Rice) on February 15.  Initially, both Rice and Palmer were charged with simple assault.  The charge against Palmer was later dropped.  In March, Rice was indicted by a grand jury on the charge of third-degree assault, a significantly more serious charge.  Rice entered a program for first-time offenders in May.  The program will clear his record of the criminal charges if he meets certain conditions, including participating in counseling.

Ironically, after Rice’s conviction, he and Janay married.  The couple held a joint press conference in May where Rice apologized and Janay said the incident was partly her fault.  As you might suspect, domestic abuse counselors responded strongly to her statements, saying that physical abuse is never warranted.

From there, a comedy of errors ensued by the NFL front office.  On July 24, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell pronounced a two-game suspension for Rice.  In the aftermath of that announcement, Goodell came under significant fire for not issuing a more significant penalty.  In response to the criticism, the NFL introduced new standardized penalties for domestic violence on August 28.  Those penalties include a six-game suspension for a first offense of domestic violence and an indefinite suspension of at least one year for a second offense.  In fact, Goodell issued a public apology, admitting, “I didn’t get it right.”

The entire situation, which seemed to have died down from a public relations standpoint, exploded again today with the revelation from tmz.com.  They acquired and released the video footage from within the casino elevator when the sickening assault happened.

[WARNING:  the video below is graphic and disturbing.]

As of this moment, the Baltimore Ravens, who have stood by Rice throughout this situation, have terminated his 5 year/$35,000,000 contract.  Rice was scheduled to earn over $8 million this year.  He will be hard-pressed to find another team that will take a chance on him.  Sadly, this may have more to do with his diminishing skills than his lack of ethics.

Rice hasn’t only lost his job, but he’s lost the respect and support of many other NFL players.  Denver Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton tweeted, “This video makes me sick to my stomach.”  Former all-pro NFL center, LeCharles Bentley tweeted, “He could’ve killed that girl.  They need to sports science the force of that punch.  NFL players are STRONG… Like very strong.”  Many other tweets went out.  Few of them were ones I would quote because of the use of expletives.  They almost unanimously denounce Rice and his behavior.

Sadly, domestic violence doesn’t just happen in casino elevators with professional athletes.  One in four women will experience domestic violence during her lifetime.  Domestic violence accounts for 21% of all violent crime. Up to 20% of all children in the United States see abuse of a parent or caregiver every year.  As a result, these children are more likely to experience neglect or abuse, less likely to succeed at school, have poor problem-solving skills, subject to higher incidence of emotional and behavioral problems, and more likely to tolerate violence in their adult relationships.  Over 1.75 million workdays are lost each year due to domestic violence.  Coupling the lost employment time with increased health and safety costs, domestic violence costs our country $3 to $5 billion annually.  To our shame, domestic violence is a plague upon our society.

In Old Testament times, the prophet Jeremiah warned the religious leaders of his day who were minimizing abuse and oppression:

“They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.  Were they ashamed when they committed abomination?  No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush.  Therefore they shall fall among the fallen; when I punish them, they shall be overthrown, says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 8:11-12).

Modern Christians do well to consider Jeremiah’s warning.  We cannot stand idly by, pretending things are peaceful, when the reality is one of abuse.  We cannot forget how to blush in the face of domestic violence.  Christians must remind a fallen world of God’s standards – especially concerning issues like domestic violence.

Christians acknowledge that God has established the home.  In the home, the man is to be the head, or authority, of his household (Ephesians 5:23; 1 Peter 3:1).  Husbands are commanded to love their wives and to treat them gently (Colossians 3:19).  A faithful husband will love his wife even as he loves his own body (Ephesians 5:29).  Fathers should lovingly discipline their children, but always being careful not to exasperate them (Colossians 3:21).  God’s standard for the home is so important that churches should only consider men for leaders who have led their families well (1 Timothy 3:4).  This picture is an overview of what God expects in the Christian home.

When God’s standard breaks down and abuse erupts in the home, the church must move definitively to protect the weak.  If a woman is being abused, the church should seek to protect her.  By God’s grace, He may bring repentance and restoration into the brokenness of an abusive home.  Until that time comes, the church has the responsibility to embody Psalm 9:9:  “The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.”

I can still vividly remember a moment over a decade ago where I was called to a home where chaos and abuse were rumored.  I was called there by a friend of a the lady (who had been visiting our church).  I arrived only moments after the local authorities.  The situation was complicated by the abusive husband’s job: he was police officer.  I tried to help the distraught woman and her children as the authorities stood at a distance, whispering among themselves.  I gather clothing that had been scattered across the yard, tried to comfort a small child, and prayed earnestly that God would give me wisdom.  Honestly, I was completely overwhelmed by the situation.  I didn’t have the right words to  say.  I didn’t even know where to begin.  Through the help of a sister in Christ, we were able to remove the woman from the situation.  It wasn’t long until I relocated from that community.  I don’t know how that situation turned out.  I doubt it went very well.

I have often wondered what more I could have done for that distraught lady.  I know I didn’t say the right things.  I doubt I appeared very brave.  The best I can say is that I showed up.  And maybe that is worth something.  For too long the church has stuck its head in the sand while domestic violence happens right under our nose.

The notoriety of Ray Rice’s case probably won’t die down anytime soon.  The video is simply too sickening to go away quickly or quietly.  Hopefully, it will bring domestic violence into the light.  There will be calls for government agencies, pleas for more funding, and legislative attempts for stricter laws.  All of these may be part of the solution.  But my prayer is that the church will be on the forefront of this battle line, defending God’s model for family and rescuing victims who are physically and emotionally battered.  No other organization has the Words of Life that the hurting and abused desperately need.  It’s time for the church to show up and speak up and love well.  The church is always at her best when she is loving like Christ loves.

 

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Dumping Cold Water on the Ice Bucket Challenge

Dumping Cold Water on the Ice Bucket Challenge

If you are like me, you probably can’t log on to social media without seeing someone take the Ice Bucket Challenge.  Everyone from J-Lo to George W has jumped on the frigid bandwagon.  What can only be described as the ultimate social media marketing success, the #IceBucketChallenge has done a great deal to raise funds and awareness for the ALS Association.

ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is an awful disease.  It is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.  The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to death.  Patients in the latter stages of this disease may become totally paralyzed.  More than 5,600 Americans are diagnosed with ALS every year.  It is estimated that as many as 30,000 Americans have this horrible disease at any given time.  Sadly, there is yet no cure for Lou Gehrig’s Disease.  Reading up on this disease has moved me with compassion towards those who suffer from ALS and their loved ones who can only watch as ALS runs its course.

The ALS Association is one of the frontrunners in raising both awareness and funds that aid in research of this disease.  They bill themselves as “the only national non-profit organization fighting Lou Gehrig’s Disease on every front.”  According to their website, the ALS Association has raised $79.7 million through Ice Bucket Challenge Donations.  That’s a lot of money that can be used fund research and provide care for those suffering from ALS.

But it is also a lot of money that funds embryonic stem-cell research.

Embryonic stem cell research is speculative medical research (it has never resulted in clinical treatments) that is predicated on the destruction of embryonic human life.  The process of harvesting the stem cells kill the embryos.

As a Christian, this creates a moral dilemma.  While we are called to be compassionate towards those who are suffering (ALS victims certainly would qualify), we cannot compromise on the value of human life.  We believe that life is a gift from God meant to be valued.  Any research methodology that would destroy human life as a means towards curing a disease is a research method that goes too far.

In response to criticism from the American Life League, ALSA has stated that they are currently funding only one study using embryonic stem cells.  That study is funded by one private donor.  However, they also state, “The Association may fund embryonic stem cell research in the future.”

So what should Christians do?

Most Christians are unaware of the embryonic stem cell research philosophy employed by ALSA.  Those same Christians value life – even the life of the unborn.  Those same Christians are also some of the most generous people you could ever want to meet.  Moved with compassion and caught up in the spirit of fun the Ice Bucket Challenge creates, they dump cold buckets of water on their head, oblivious to the murky ethical issues surrounding ALS research.

In an attempt to make their congregations aware of these ethical issues, leadership in several local Catholic dioceses have spoken out.  In Cincinnati, the diocese stated, “We certainly appreciate the compassion that has caused people all over the country, certainly including many Catholics, to be interacting and engaging in a fun way to support ALS research, but it’s a well-established moral principle that not only the ends be good, but the means must be good too.”  As such, they asked students at local catholic high schools to abstain from the Ice Bucket Challenge.

The Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission offered this advice:

With the proximity to a moral dilemma that this situation presents, it is reasonable that Christians would register hesitation and distrust towards collaborating with an organization that harbors no moral opposition to the destruction of unborn life, but instead endorses such activity.  Christians should also consider whether their contributions are unwittingly undergirding a philosophical word view at odds with Christian ethics.  The taking of innocent life under any circumstance is sinful.  Moreover, fostering a culture of life predicated on the destruction of life is contradictory.

The SBC ERLC contacted Christian bioethicist David Prentice to see if there were organizations that he might recommend.  Prentice suggested the following options for ALS research that used only adult stem cells:

Before you engage in the Ice Bucket Challenge, consider where the funds go.  Don’t compromise your convictions on the sanctity of human life.  However, that doesn’t mean we can’t compassionately and generously support organizations that will seek a cure to this horrible disease without compromising our convictions.  May the body of Christ lead the way in defending life, demonstrating compassion on the victims of ALS, and generously supporting those who seek to eradicate this disease.

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Five Inescapable Truths that Missions Teach Us (Part Three)

If you are just chiming in on this series of blog posts, you can read the first blog post and the second blog post in the series here.

When it comes to the truth of God’s people in the world, there are two ditches we can fall into.  The first ditch is one of self-pity and defeat.  I’ve met those who feel so alone in their spiritual journey.  They are an island unto themselves.  They feel like they are the lone voice crying in the wilderness, the only one standing for God in a godless environment.  Most people respond to this perception with despair and depression.  Nobody likes to be utterly alone.  The other ditch is one of pride and arrogance.  These people seem to think, “Hey everybody!  Look at me!  I’m standing alone for the Lord!  Nobody else is doing it.  Just me!  Wonderful old me!”  Obviously, this perspective is just as dangerous as the first.  Where the first perspective is destroyed by depression, the second perspective is destroyed by pride.

The solution to both of these woefully inadequate perspectives on the people of God is to realize that, no matter when or where you are, God has his people.

One of my favorite Old Testament passages is about the prophet Elijah who wins an amazing spiritual battle against the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18).  After such a great victory, Elijah runs away like an emotionally-drained mad man.  He basically sulks for a while, wondering why God has put him in a position to stand for Him alone.  Elijah wishes that he didn’t have to be the only one who loved God and stood for him.  God corrects Elijah, snatching him out of his pity party.  He tells the prophet that God has seven thousand men of God in Israel, all who have not bowed their knee to Baal.  Elijah felt alone, but God had his people.  God always has his people.

Doing missions helps us see that truth lived out before our eyes.  It looks like pastors who live on $40 a week.  It looks like parents who sacrifice to send their kids to a Christian school.  It is people who give and sacrifice to see their church expand.  It takes many shapes and sizes, but each depiction reminds us of the same truth:  God has his people.

This year we had the privilege of playing a part in two special services.  Both were firsts for me.  We got to return to areas where we had previously worked and dedicate two new church buildings.  On previous mission trips, I had led teams to serve in Ventinilla and in Linao.  Both areas were new outreach points – places where little or no evangelical ministry was ongoing.  In both places, I had the privilege of preaching the Gospel and seeing many people make decisions for the Lord.  As time passed, those new believers were discipled by diligent pastors who conserved the fruit of the harvest.  They taught bible studies, baptized new converts, and helped people navigate the land mines of a new life in Christ.  People learned spiritual disciplines like prayer and bible study.  They learned how to share their faith with their loved ones.  New converts were made.  And the process would repeat itself all over.  Now, after time had passed, these places were blessed to have actual houses of worship.

In Ventinilla, Pastor Manny was elated to tell us of the work that had been done there.  Last July, a small group of people determined to form a church held a Bible study under a mango tree.  On July 26 they held a 24 hour fast for a building, trusting that God would supply their needs through His grace.  A few short days later, on August 1, construction began on a simple chapel that would soon be their home.  Within about a month, they had their first worship services in the new building of Ventinilla Baptist Church.  Just a few days ago on January 21, they baptized 9 new converts!  Today, they are proud of the new work that God has done there.  They are still praying for some basic needs.  They borrow chairs every week from their neighbors so that they will have a place to sit.  They also don’t have quality musical instruments or a sound system.  Most interesting to me, they are praying that God will provide doors for their church!  They have a make-shift barrier that they put up during the week to keep out thieves and critters, but on Sunday, the church stands open, welcoming people, dogs, and chickens – all of which often wander through the sanctuary!

The people worked hard to prepare the new chapel at Ventinilla Baptist Church

The people worked hard to prepare the new chapel at Ventinilla Baptist Church

This picture is taken at the front of the room and captures the size of the building.  The people are appropriately proud of what the Lord provided.

This picture is taken at the front of the room and captures the size of the building. The people are appropriately proud of what the Lord provided.

I preached on 2 Timothy 2:2 at the church dedication.

I preached on 2 Timothy 2:2 at the church dedication.

I was in Linao for the first time in 2013.  We had met Pastor Ferdie for the first time on that trip.  He is from a fundamentalist Baptist Church where they sing in choir robes and preach from the KJV – a little different than I’m used to to say the least.  But we became quick friends as his love for Jesus shone through everything he did.  I was deeply impressed by his commitment to the Gospel and to the mission of our Lord.  When we did a clinic and a crusade in Linao, a barangay just a few miles from his home in Pura, we saw more than a hundred people saved.  Since that crusade, Pastor Ferdie and his son Jeiel have worked diligently in that community to disciple the fruit from that crusade.  I believed so much in what they were doing that I led my church to put up the money for a new building there.  We sent them money last summer.  A construction project ensued that was monumental.  Their men dug footers and stretched those dollars a long way.  The result awaited us on February 9.

When we arrived, the building was packed.  They let us look around for a few minutes before they cleared the building, asking everyone to go outside for the ribbon cutting.  After cutting the ribbon, we went inside to dedicate the building.  Unlike Ventinilla, this was the very first Sunday this building was in use.  They had been working on it up until the 11th hour.  As I stood and preaching from Psalm 127 (“unless the Lord build the house…”), God began to do an unusual work in that place.  When I was done, Pastor Ferdie came up behind me and asked me to preach some more.  Strangely, that has never happened to me in America!  He told me that there were many lost people there at that moment that they thought would be there later for the crusade, and that I should shift gears and preach another evangelistic message.  Never one to shy away from preaching, I ramped up again.  The end result was God miraculously saving a number of people that afternoon!  What a great start for a first day in the building at Linao Baptist Church.

I’ve been in contact with Pastor Ferdie since returning home.  I wanted to know how his first day preaching on his own in Linao went.  Check out the exchange below…

Great news from Pastor Ferdie!I wonder if that would happen in your church?  Members stand during the worship so that guests could have their seat?  I hope it would.  After all, it’s when the Body of Christ acts this way that we all see the truth – God has his people!

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Five Inescapable Truths that Missions Teach Us (Part Two)

I was sick and tired of eye glasses.  We had lugged about 5,000 pairs of glasses half-way around the world.  In case you are wondering, that is more than 350 pounds of glasses – sorted, packed, and catalogued.  Glasses.  Glasses.  Glasses.  All sorts of glasses.  Ugly glasses.  Really ugly glasses.  Really, really ugly glasses.  Glasses with flashlights on the sides.  Glasses that were worn out.  Glasses that were stretched by fat heads of previous owners.  Glasses that were chewed on the tips.  Glasses that military types refer to as “BCDs” (Birth Control Devices).  When you have 5,000 pair of glasses, you have just about every type of ocular device imaginable.

And each eyeglass clinic would present the same challenges.  First, we would organize the glasses by prescription strength and gender for the clinic.  Then we would haul the bags of glasses to the clinic site, doing our best to maintain the organization so that we could find glasses quickly.  After all, we needed to fit a person every 30 or 40 seconds or so for 2.5 hours to keep pace with the schedule.  When we arrived at the clinic sites, we never knew what awaited us.  Shade would be great.  Moving air would be better.  Our hosts did everything they could to keep us comfortable, but sometimes the heat was just excruciating.  While I presented the Gospel, the team would set up the clinic.  Then the fun would begin.  The objective was to fit 250-300 people with glasses in about 2.5 hours.  Then we would break for lunch and do it all over again in the afternoon!

Stacy Spencer reads eyes at a clinic.

Stacy Spencer reads eyes at a clinic.

We had a hard time fitting glasses to the elderly Filipino ladies.  Their thin bodies would be swallowed up by many of the glasses we had.  A couple of times we commented on how we wished we had smaller glasses, even children’s glasses to fit them.  Alas, out of 5,000 pairs of glasses, we had yet to find many smaller pair and no children’s glasses.

Until I was digging through a bag of 3.0 ladies glasses.  There was a pair clearly labeled “child.”  The glasses looked brand new.  They were actually relatively stylish.  They looked sturdy and strong.  In a down moment, I pointed them out to my coworker, Stephanie.  Then I dropped them back in the bag and went about my business.

Within five minutes, a took a ticket from a mother with a young girl in her lap.  She motioned that the ticket was for her daughter.  I read the prescription.  She needed a 3.0!  I immediately went back to the bag where I had deposited the child’s pair of glasses, praying that they had not been snatched up in the frenzy that was our clinic.  Yes!  There they were.  Still sturdy and strong.  Still looking brand new.

I called over a translator and asked him to speak to the mom for me.  “Please tell this mother that we only brought adult glasses with us.”  He repeated the sentence to the mother in tagalog.  “But please tell her that God sent a special child’s pair just for her daughter because He loves her so much.”  The translator just stared at me.  “Tell her,” I implored.  He translated.  Instant tears came.  In the mother’s eyes.  In the translators eyes.  And in my eyes.

Patrick Walsh works hard in a clinic.

Patrick Walsh works hard in a clinic.

It was in that moment that God reminded me of the second undeniable truth that missions teach us:  God always supplies.  In Acts 3, Peter and John looked at a crippled beggar and said, “Silver and gold have I none, but in the name of Jesus Christ, rise and walk.”  They didn’t have finances, but that day God provided.  The day has long since passed when the church could say silver and gold have I none.  We have built impressive monuments to our own egos while the world starves for the Gospel.  We have silver and gold.  But we lack the power of the apostles.

Missions reminds us that God always supplies.  He supplies as we sacrifice to go on trips.  He supplies as we stand behind others who go in our stead.  He supplies as we give up worldly pleasures to provide training for pastors and people we will never meet this side of eternity.  God supplies.  The American church desperately needs to hear this.  I’m so tired of a tight-fisted mentality in the church.  “We can’t send that much there.  There’s a lot of work to do here.”  We create false dichotomies of “here” and “there.”  The reality is that we need to engage both here and there.  We need to trust that as we obey God and sacrifice here to send people there, that God will raise up additional resources for our needs here.  Why?  Because God always supplies.  If you don’t believe me, I wish you could see that little girl’s face.  One glance would prove it.

Nowhere has the provision of God been more clearly expressed than in the cross of calvary.  There God provided for our greatest need:  salvation.  In that moment, Jesus took the penalty of sin upon himself, becoming our substitute.  He bore the wrath of God so that I don’t have to.  Praise the Lord.  God provides.

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Five Inescapable Truths that Missions Teach Us (Part One)

I am freshly back from an unbelievable mission experience.  I had the privilege of journeying as part of a team of eleven short-term missionaries from Kentucky.  We went to the Philippines to serve the people of the greater Paniqui area in the province of Tarlac.  As always happens on these trips, I return with a heart full from God.  Once again He has reminded me of some essential truths that I want to pass along for those of you who share this blog with me.

Truth #1 – God is the Lord of the Harvest.

In Luke 8, Jesus taught his disciples that the Word of God falls on different types of soil, or different types of hearts.  Sometimes the seed of God’s Word falls on the path and gets trampled under feet until the birds gobble up the seed.  These people are the ones who hear, but “the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts” (v. 12)  Sometimes the seed falls on rocky terrain, sprouting quickly but dying off just as fast.  These people are ones who say joyfully that they have found God, but do not root their lives in Him and fall away at the first sign of trouble (v. 13).  Sometimes the soil where the seed falls is thorny and the seed gets choked out.  This soil type represents those who hear God’s message, but the cares, riches, and pleasures of life choke out their faith and they never mature (v. 14).  But sometimes the seed falls on good, fertile soil where it produces a yield of a hundred fold.  These people are the ones who hear the Word, hold fast to the word with a good heart, and bear fruit for the Lord (v. 15).  God is the Master of the soils.  We are but the sowers.

Paul knew this all too well.  In Corinth, there was some division over who should be considered the spiritual father of the people.  Some claimed Paul.  Others claimed Apollos.  Paul knew that “I planted.  Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”  The result of this thinking was a startlingly humble posture.  “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.  He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.  For we are God’s fellow workers.  You are God’s field” (1 Cor. 3:7-9).  Paul refused to accept praise for the harvest of the Corinthian church.  He was but a mere tool in the hands of Almighty God.

On our trip over the last two weeks, 1,376 people made public professions of faith!  Those numbers are mind-numbing.  Filipino pastors tell us that historically in our crusades there, that the churches retain nearly 15% of these public professions.  Just for kicks, let’s say they overestimate that number by 100%.  A retention rate of 7.5% would equate to around 103 people.  That is a decent sized church!  Spread among the six churches we partnered with, this will only strengthen their bodies and lead them towards multiplication.  (More on that in lesson #4.)  I praise God that the Lord of the Harvest allowed the seed of the Gospel to be broadcast faithfully, clearly, and non-manipulatively to people whose hearts He had prepared.  Only God can do that!

This was a different sort of mission trip for me.  Typically, I preach at least 3 times a day for 10 days.  This year I brought along some pastor friends.  I prepared them beforehand.  When we hit the ground, I let them watch me for a day, and then I turned them lose preaching in our clinics.  After they got used to speaking through translators, I set up my friend, Tim Harris, to preach in his first evening crusade.  We were in a decent-sized barangay (or neighborhood) called Acocolao.  We worked a clinic there in the afternoon, fitting well over 200 people for eyeglasses in sweltering heat.  Based on that clinic size, we knew to expect a pretty decent sized crowd for the crusade.  Pastor Ernie Garcia was in charge that night, as his church was closest and would handle any follow-up.  Discreetly, Pastor Ernie asked me, “Pastor Rob, why aren’t you preaching tonight?”  I knew what he was driving at.  He knew me.  He trusted me.  He didn’t yet have that same comfort level with Tim.  I reassured Pastor Ernie.  “Pastor, you can trust Pastor Tim.  He is a great preacher and a mighty man of God.  Besides, I don’t bring people to Jesus.  He is the Lord of the Harvest, not me.  I’m just a tool.”  With that, the conversation was over.  Pastor Ernie was too polite and too humble to press the issue any more.  Besides, I knew what a great preacher Tim was and that the God he served was even greater still!

Every year we have what I refer to as a signature night.  For me, Acocolao was that night this year.  We got to the plaza and the place was packed.  I didn’t know until after we started singing (or rapping as it were….) that a cult was having an outdoor crusade less than a kilometer down the street from us.  Our ministry with eye glasses had left them with hardly anyone in their crowd!  Pastor Tim and Pastor Ernie got off to a bit of a bumpy start in the sermon.  Pastor Ernie didn’t know how to translate the word “canoe” or “Scotland.”  But Bro. Tim handled it like a champ and plowed forward with the Gospel.  They found a comfortable rhythm in the sermon – Tim giving an impassioned Gospel presentation and Ernie parroting him in tagalog.  Tim’s message was powerfully anointed.  It was clear.  It was convicting.  It was God-exalting!  When He asked people to make a public stand for Christ, 116 people came forward.

God moved over 100 people to salvation that night!

God moved over 100 people to salvation that night!

What happened next was just the best thing ever.  Tim turned over the invitation to Pastor Ernie.  Pastor Ernie, the one who doubted whether Tim should preach or not, addressed the crowd.  He stuck a microphone in an old woman’s face and asked her if she really meant business, if she was trusting Christ.  The woman lifted her hands to heaven and said in tagalog, “I am giving my heart to Jesus tonight.”  He asked a man.  Same response.  He drug a boy up on the stage and asked him if he understood what he was doing.  “Apo,” meaning, “Yes sir.  I do.”  Emotionally broken, Pastor Ernie entreated the crowd to continue to walk with Jesus.  I caught just a short clip of it on my phone.

Pastor Ernie was overcome.  He was overcome that God had moved in Acocolao.  He was moved because God had glorified himself through the simple proclamation of His Word. He was broken because men and women and young people were doing serious business with a holy God.  And he was emotional because he was remembering that it is indeed God who is Lord of the Harvest.

When I enjoy fresh vegetables from my friend Bob’s garden, I don’t go to his house and thank the hoe or shovel or the water hose.  The hoe and the shovel were used in the planting and cultivating.  The water hose was used in nourishing the crop.  Without them, the harvest wouldn’t be what it is.  But they are lifeless things unless Bob picks them up and uses them.  So it is with us.  So it shall always be.  At our best, we are but mere tools in the hands of the Almighty, used to cultivate the harvest of souls and complete the Great Commission.  Some plant.  Others water.  But God gives the increase.  To God be the glory!

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When Tragedy Strikes Close To Home

Those close to me have probably sat and patiently listened as I did my best to enlist you in my band of prayer warriors for my niece.  For those who haven’t been tortured by me yet, your time is at hand.  You need to hear her story.

Ainsley Kate is the six month old bundle of sweetness that belongs to Julie and Philip Ryle, my baby sister and her husband.  Julie and Philip have been blessed with three precious children.  Caroline is a quirky, creative, super-intelligent five year old.  Luisa is our imported niece – we got her from Columbia.  She has cerebral palsy.  She is non-ambulatory and non-verbal, but she is the 300 watt light bulb that lights up whatever room she is in!  We all celebrated when the Ryles returned from Columbia with Luisa.  They came home with our new niece and the proverbial “bun in the oven”.  Maybe you’ve heard the age-old question, “Where do babies come from?”  Well, in the Ryle family they evidently come from Columbia!  So, last May little Ainsley Kate was born, rounding out the Ryle trio.  If the Ryle family sounds vaguely familiar to my readers, I mentioned them in a blog post last January on the beauty of adoption.

A few weeks ago, Ainsley had a medical episode.  She ultimately was diagnosed with infantile spasms, a diagnosis that is medically classified as “catastrophic.”  Most children who evidence infantile spasms will struggle developmentally and many end up with profound mental retardation and on-going seizure disorders.  You can imagine the fear, anxiety, and heart-ache that came with this diagnosis.  I would strongly urge you to pause from reading my words, and click over to what my sister eloquently penned in light of Ainsley’s diagnosis.

Praying for Ainsley Kate

Thankfully, my brother-in-law and sister have a strong faith.  Their commitment to Jesus is inspiring to me and others that are watching them travel this journey.  They understand that God will give them grace to make this journey.  They are biblically sound enough to avoid the lies of culture and pseudo-religion.  They choose instead to stand on the promises of God.  In fact, you should pause and read the profound words Julie wrote about  The “God Doesn’t Give You More Than You Can Handle” Lie.  She rightly lands on rock-solid promises of God rather than misquoting 1 Corinthians 10:13 that says God doesn’t give us any temptation beyond what we can escape by His grace.  There is a difference in God graciously allowing an exit in times of temptation and God crushing us for His Glory.  If you don’t believe me, just ask the Apostle Paul.  Or Julie and Philip.

We already see signs of returning health and healing in Ainsley (read about it here).  Today she goes for a very important follow-up EEG.  My prayer is that God will heal her completely, that there will be no developmental delays, mental retardation, or on-going seizure disorder.  I pray that prayer with a heart as full of faith as I can muster.  I believe in a God who heals at His pleasure and for His own mysterious reasons.  I also believe in a God who sometimes does things backwards than Iask for – a God who rightfully does things for His own glory.  If God chooses to heal, that would bring Him glory!  If God chooses to sustain and give grace through profound medical issues in the days ahead, that will bring Him glory as well.  Regardless of how he chooses to work, I rest easy knowing that the issue isn’t if He will work in this situation.  I’m just not privy to know how He may work.  All I’m left with are my faith and my prayers.

And that’s why I’m writing today.  I’d like to ask you to stop and spend a moment praying for Ainsley Kate.  Would you please join me in praying for her complete healing, for her developmental health, and for no on-going seizure disorders?  Will you kindly join me in praying for her parents and grandparents as they sift through the avalanche of emotions that bury them in these difficult times?  Will you join me in praying for her sisters as they do their best to process what I’m sure is a confusing time for them?  In advance and on behalf of my family, I thank you for your prayers.  God bless!

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