Tag Archives: ministry

The value of one soul

Liceo Bilingue La PuertaWhen she came to Christ last year, she was so excited that she began to rebuke classmates for their lackadaisical attitude toward God. She was the one salvation out of the school this year — until he accepted Christ just a few weeks ago when I visited Guatemala. Together, they are the fruit of this year at the Door Christian School in Guatemala.

The irony? We were considering cutting their studies program because of lack of funds. Why are effective ministries not funded? Why do Christians not pay their tithes and promises?

Sinners helping sinners

sinners helping sinnersIt’s the great irony of ministry: I’m far from perfect, and yet I attempt — and sometimes succeed! — in helping other imperfect people.

As ministers of God’s grace, we should never lose sight of the fact that we, ourselves, are sinners. We are NOT the inerrant voice of God. Stay humble.

The world hurls “hypocrite!” I don’t snarl in return. Because basically it’s true. Who can say it’s not? Who is without sin to throw stones?

God’s grace is such that He reaches people with His grace THROUGH imperfect people.

Photo source.

Christ brings color to your life

color to your lifeTired of drab? Jesus will take your black-and-white life of money or sin and paint something beautiful out of it. He made me a person who helps other out of self-destruction. First I was a missionary in Guatemala. Now I work in a Christian school. You can have a purpose in your life!

*Photo Credit: James M. Berry, photographer extraordinaire, and a great friend.

I wanted to help my friend Zeke.

IMG_3531It’s been two long years that I have wanted to visit my friend, Ezekiel. I met him playing soccer just before the accident. I wanted to pray for him and embrace him. He lived far away, in Salt Lake City.

I wanted to somehow bless him. Instead, he blessed me.

I got a vision of him preaching. I saw him functioning as a powerful man of God. I could totally visualize him being used by God. I saw no obstacles for him.

This was convicting to me. Because I see all kinds of limitations and disqualifiers for myself. While I had no doubt that God wanted to use Zeke, I am plagued by doubts about myself.

Seeing potential

photo(5)Hosea and I are extremely happy. After being without a team for 1 1/2 years, he’s been accepted on to Autobahn Soccer Club based in Santa Monica. Club soccer is the highest level for kids. You’ll get the best training available.

In my unbiased opinion (keep in mind that I’m the dad), Hosea is something of a soccer genius. With ball in front of goal, his spontaneous tricks befuddle goalies. He’s got a baby face, but he plays like a tank.

But 1 1/2 years ago, another club wouldn’t have him. He made a few poor decisions. He lack fitness. He was heartbroken. So was I.

At the end of his tryout, Coach Herve saw some spark that he liked. He saw potential.

If you are in leadership in the church, do you dismiss the players God sends you. Do you dwell on their defects, their inferiority. If you are going to build a winning team, you’ll have to see what Jesus sees: potential. (Everybody has potential.) Develop it in your followers.

The most exciting day in a long time: an emo for dinner

better than expresso

What’s better than coffee? Getting someone saved.

The highlight of the week has been reached. We had our neighborhood emo for dinner.

An emo is a latest iteration on the goth/punk subculture, which revels in depression and dresses dark with bright colored hair. Why would I want my daughter hanging out with her? Because we’re going to get her saved.

Behind the despair, there’s a heart that needs Jesus. Behind the self-harm (if she does it), there’s a dire need for love. We Christians are not on Planet Earth for any other reason than to lavish love on the unloveable.

There is nothing more thrilling or meaningful than to see people come to Christ.

Nine years ago today, my mother died

legacy | missionary

Guess which one is me. I “stand out” a bit from the teachers who now lead the Christian school in Guatemala in my absence.

It was a glorious conclusion to a life lived for God. In her later years, she had served as a chaplain in the Sylmar juvenile hall facility to counsel wayward youngsters back to the the Lord’s path. She oversaw the preparation of turkey dinner with all the trimmings for incarcerated youth and solicited toiletry packs for the kids.

“You are so lucky to have Chaplain Beth as your mom.” The hoodlum’s words hit me hard. I had accompanied her to a Bible study one day. The thug’s admiration for my mom exceeded my own. To be honest, at the time I was annoyed in typical teen rebellion by some of her irksome attributes (all humans have them). It took a delinquent to set my thinking right.

fam14revised

With my family last Fall.

Years after, I set my life-course onto the mission field and served with my wife in Guatemala for almost 16 years. When my mother died, I could affirm at her funeral that she was alive — in me. I had no regrets because I figured I had caught all the good lessons to learn from her. I’m still serving Jesus today. I teach at a Christian high school in Santa Monica for no other reason to help kids get into the right path. My mom helped kids inside jail, I help kids outside.

My pastor sometimes says he feels as if his dad were with him, encouraging to glorify Jesus. I don’t feel my mom with me. I feel she is me. I live what she lived. Everything she stood for, I stand for.

I can’t hardly remember the things that irked me about her (stuff like nagging). Now what stands out is her legacy.

I love coffee.

I love Jesus, my wife, my family, my ministry and coffee — in that order.

There are rich and famous people who are widely admired by the world, but when they die, they become forgotten. They leave nothing to the world. Give me the simple soul who plants his imprint on a fellow human being. You can change the world one soul at a time.

I wonder if I’ll ever meet that kid from juvenile hall again. If I do, I’ll thank him.

Am I supposed to say I miss Mom? Am I supposed to brood and fret over no longer being physically present in my life? Sorry. I feel like her death was a glorious graduation.

Step on you class

step on meSome people take Step Class. Others Step On Others Class.

They adhere to the idea, that to get to the top, they must climb upon others. To feel good about themselves, they must make others feel bad about themselves. This pernicious poison is more pervasive than you might think.

You ought to take a class in loving others. This is what was so revolutionary about Jesus: He practiced love, especially toward the sinner. But the person who held himself in self-proclaimed piety got His wrath.

*This pic comes from a gym in Santa Cruz, and I adapted it. Sorry if you are offended by it. Please know that I’m not making any money on it. I give you kudos for a great pic.

The cup makes the coffee

real ChristiansIf I drink my home-percolated Costco coffee in a Starbucks cup, that makes it Starbucks coffee, I’ve decided.

It’s a good decision. I’ll enjoy it much more now, and it’ll certainly be a lot cheaper than going to Starbucks.

He is a Jew who is inwardly, Paul says in Rom. 2:29. By extension, a Christian is one is inwardly, not one who “dresses” the part, though it be a lot cheaper.

Pastors are like trashmen

I was watching Ethan for my boss, while he taught class. The 2-year-old loves watching videos of trash trucks! What a funny thing.

garbage-truckAs I meditated on why (I suppose he like the big machines with hydraulics), I realized that pastors are trashmen. They are constantly helping people to get the trash (sin) out of their lives.

Trash is a part of life (we are all sinners, the Bible says). But you don’t want to wallow in it; you want to get it out of your home because it poisons. Sermons expose the trash lurking in our hearts. (We thought it was having fun! What a shock to find out that our “fun” was wallowing in trash like the pig loves mud!)

Don’t be offended the inglorious comparison. I’m a pastor too.

A church for Muslims: Compassion not suspicion

Adrian-churchPastor Adrian Rodriguez has been preaching the gospel, translated by his wife, to about 30 people every Sunday in a church on the outskirts of Hartford, Connecticut, and not one of the congregants is Christian.

All of them are Muslim.

“We’re dealing with very hardcore Muslims,” he says of the immigrant refugees from the Middle East who are drawn to his church. “They’re very indoctrinated. But God is speaking to their hearts.”

Pastor Adrian’s response to America’s burgeoning Muslim enclaves is perhaps Christianity’s best model: View them with eyes of compassion, not with eyes of suspicion.

With 375 Muslims per 100,000 residents, Connecticut is the 14th most Muslim state in the nation, according to a Huffington Post article in 2012. The number of mosques has doubled to more than 2,100 nationwide since the year 2000, according to a survey.

While most Americans are not hostile towards Islam according to reports, there has been concern about radicalized youths. The Homeland Security Department estimates 100 U.S. citizens have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS.

Read the rest of the article.

Fatigue failure

fatigue failure

I was surprised that planes crack more from pressurization than from turbulence. That’s why 747s that do long flights have been around fro 30 years while small planes doing several flights a day hit the scrap heap quickly.

It turns out that we can only stand so much. Depending on the elasticity of the material, the on-and-off loading wears it out and it eventually breaks.

God promises NOT to give us more than we can bear, but sometimes it seems like it is more than we can bear. God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it — 1 Cor. 10:13 NKJV.

I’ve wondered why older Christians struggle with bitterness. There’s some truth to burn-out. Pray for renewed in your strength, rejuvenated in your spirit and to run like the youth.

But those who wait on the LORD
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.
— Isa. 40:31 NIV.

The man of 1,000 jobs had to leave…

Relaxing with a leader on my recent visit.

Relaxing with a leader on my recent visit.

… in order for 1,000 workers to rise up and do those jobs.

When I was the pioneer pastor of a church and school in Guatemala, I did everything.

I was intense. If I didn’t know how to direct worship, or something, I learned and did it competently. As members trickled it, it was hard to delegate. I was unwilling to relinquish ministry.

First God allowed my voice to unravel (somewhat) and forced me to seek a substitute (even if he sang out of tune).

Then He got rid of me altogether. Threat of kidnappers forced me to return to the States, and then EVERYTHING was handed off to others.

Jesus handed off ministry after 3 1/2 years. I took almost 16.

This is God’s pattern. The only way to raise up a future generation of leaders is by letting them lead.

Si le quedó grande el traje, pues ni modo

photo (24)Translation: If the suit was too big for him, well, of course. = If the shoes were too big for him, well, of course.

Four years ago, I handed off ministry abruptly to Pastor Ludving: a main church, a couple of church plants and the huge task of administering a financially-struggling Christian school. Previously, Pastor Ludving had only pastored a small pioneer work.

Suddenly, he found himself thrust into a situation where he was promoted among colleagues who inevitably questioned and compared his every decision to what I would have done (I was their pastor for 16 years). Sometimes, he didn’t get a fair shot because people sometimes didn’t give him a chance for a learning curve.

Yet, there he is still. Four years later he has won over most everybody. He has refined his dealings with people. And he has managed to succeed in areas that I never did: The accounting is up to date, and the building is immaculately clean!

He’s “grown into the suit,” despite being much shorter than me.

My trip to Guatemala came to an end yesterday with a huge sense of gratitude to God for what He does. You may find joy in some other achievements in life, but I love serving God.

(Sorry about the Spanish title. I don’t mean to put anyone off. I used it because nothing in English corresponds precisely and because I thought it was a nifty pun, given the stature differential. I hope you can overlook it. :D )

Show your true colors

show off your colorsI don’t know why I have to be different than I am. People want me to be a tough guy. I am not a tough guy. I have never been a tough guy. God made me a sensitive type. If you don’t like it, too bad. I’m not changing for you.

Sometimes churches can try to make you fit their mold. We would lose our diversity if everybody liked football. God made us all different for a reason. If we were all football fans, how would the soccer fans get saved.

When God gave you unique fingerprints, unique DNA and a unique personality, it was to bless His church. Be yourself!

The best and the worst

Beautiful Pictures on G+The best and the worst can be found in the people of God. When Christians love, there is nothing better. When they reflect Christ’s love poorly, it hurts badly.

If you are a Christian, this is my appeal for you to love. If you are not a Christian and you have been hurt by one, this is my appeal to you to forgive us and to keep trying to find love from Christians.

Original image from Beautiful Pictures on Google Circles.

The loco church

flying chanclasThey’re not aiming for American Idol, a recording contract or a nationwide tour. They call themselves the Flying Chanclas (flipflops in Spanish), and their ambitions are much larger. They have their sights set on souls.

Yesterday, the Flying Chanclas from the Pacoima Potter’s House Church and a smattering of other Christians “invaded” Santa Maria, CA, a small town not far off the coast, to pass out flyers and do a concert in the evening to get people saved. I brought my drama group.

In an age where droves are crowding churches so big they’re called “mega,” others prefer — myself included — decidedly small churches where you can do more than sit and watch professionals deliver Emmy quality ministry. You can get involved with your own rickety performance. You can DO something more than just applaud others. I’m part of a group of churches called Christian Fellowship Ministries.

While all the hype is about the mega ministry, many Christians get their kicks by carrying out the Great Commission quietly, anonymously, one soul at a time. (After all, Jesus’ chosen successors weren’t the masses; they were individuals.)

You may not see this in mainstream news outlets, but the local loco church (as in, we are loco for Jesus) is thriving. If you were with Jesus 2000 years ago, would you want to partake of the multiplied loaves and fishes or serve them?

But as for the Flying Chanclas, you’ll have to ask Pastor Matt Sinkhorn of the Potter’s House in Sylmar, Services are held at Hubert Humphrey Park at 12560 Filmore St. in Pacoima 91331 on Sunday at 10:30 a.m.

There are also Bible studies at the pastor’s house Sunday night 6:30 and Wednesday night 7:30 at 12107 El Dorado Ave. #11 Sylmar CA 91342

Friendship is the bomb!

friendsThis side of eternity, the greatest thing is having friends.

Prepare the way for another

Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi

If you ponder who is the greatest footballer of all time, Lionel Messi would be a contender for the title. Thanks to Messi, FC Barcelona are the team to beat, the standard-bearers of magic on the pitch, a distinction formerly held by nemesis Real Madrid.

But there would have been no Messi, and Barcelona would have remained always in the shadows of white uniforms of Spain’s capitol city, had it not been for a legend from the past. Johann Cruyff is almost forgotten in the radiance of today’s stars. But it was Cruyff who made the way for Messi.

cruyff

Johann Cruyff

Wanted at Real Madrid, the Dutch dazzler opted to move to then-underdog Barca. Immediately he won the championship and two Ballons d’Or. Later as coach, he won four consecutive titles and one European Cup. He devised the farm training team for future stars to rise in. It was there that Messi discovered his own greatness.

Today, Cruyff fades into the background as the steamroller Messi continues to smash records. Who is greater? The one who became great or the one who forged the path for him to find destiny.

Maybe your ministry is waning, your influence declining. Fret not. What you have done for God has brought others into their own destiny and greatness.

Pain: when I think on my circumstances

Pain: when I think on my circumstancesJoy: when I think of others’ blessings.

I get discouraged by my own circumstances.

But when I think about other rising disciples in the church, I rejoice to see God blessing and using them.

Lesson learned: think about others.

Rejection chain

rejection1Jepthah was run off by his brothers. He was an illegitimate son. When he became a man, he carried out great exploits, vanquishing Israel. But he never healed his hurting heart, and in consequence rejected his daughter. His lack of family love led him to a wrong-headed idea of an unloving God. He made a stupid vow (to sacrifice whatever came first out of his house to greet him when he returned victorious from battle) and instead of repenting and recanting his vow, he stupidly carried it out. He killed his daughter.

The greatest danger of rejection is NOT how lousy we feel. It is that we will do the same to others. As the saying goes, hurting people hurt people.

Supposedly, the church is a refuge for hurting people. Instead, it turns into a lair of cruel critics. I don’t leave the church because there is no where better to go. After all, Christ left His church. Nothing else.

I wish to be different: loving, accepting, patient, comprehending, optimistic with people, seeing the positive and not the negative.

Don’t think I’m touchy-feeling. The naked truth is I have rejected too many people in my time. God, forgive!

I am determined to change. I am determined to praise my children instead of criticizing them. I am decided to see good in everybody, to be patient with problems, to love the unlovable. It is not easy. I must pray every day before the day begins because, if not, bile flows from this wicked mouth of mine.

True change is not a glib meme or a mantra. It takes work and, I believe, divine assistance.

Do you fit in in church?

dropping out of church

Photo credit: http://authordebbieyoung.com/2014/01/22/why-doing-a-jigsaw-puzzle-is-a-bit-like-writing-a-book/ (I don’t own the rights to this image, and I’m not making any money on it.)

A jigsaw puzzle piece decided he didn’t want to hang out with his brothers. He wanted to go off and discover his destiny elsewhere. Things were too rigid in the jigsaw puzzle. He wanted freedom. He knew that in the world he would make a huge splash and he didn’t need his fellow pieces.

And so, the beautiful picture had a glaring omission. Fellowship was broken, and God’s anointing, which flows where there is unity, was blocked. And the puzzle piece never was beautiful anywhere else.

God designed you for a purpose. You may have other dreams that can draw you away. You are most beautiful where God has placed you. Don’t drop out of church.

Can we just stop hurting people who come to church to heal their hurts?

I don't own the rights to this image. I got it from http://mafietta.com. I'm not making money on it.

I don’t own the rights to this image. I got it from http://mafietta.com. I’m not making money on it.

All over the blogosphere, and talking to people outside of church, I find people who have been hurt in the very place where they should’ve been helped.

Yikes!

Honestly, we look more like the Pharisees than Jesus, who ate with tax-collectors and stopped stone-throwing at prostitutes. Of course, the Bible points to a moral standard that must be upheld by the church, but many times it’s simply a pastor’s ego, a leader’s power trip, that offends.

If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea — Matt. 18:6 NIV.

I haven’t left the church. I wish and pray to see the church changed.

Making a masterpiece takes…

masterpieceI’m still trying to produce my life’s masterpiece, that stroke of genius, that huge and beautiful work by which I may be remembered.

In the meantime, there are lots of starts and stops. I’ve thrown out the canvas a bunch of times. I’ve produced a long line of inferior works. Some of them have been good. But none of them is critically acclaimed.

Of course, I’m referring to whatever your calling may be, not just art. I myself am no artist. But I’ve compared my work serving the Lord to artistry. Am I satisfied success

with the works I’ve done to glorify Jesus? Not yet. I’ll keep working.

Don’t fret. Keep on in the right direction. Your last work will be your best and will make everybody forget the rest.

Making a masterpiece takes time.

Old guys rock with God

old manFirst, an post-menopausal woman gets pregnant, even though her old husband doubts angel Gabriel’s announcement. Then an old prophet comes up to see the baby Jesus. Another elderly lady, a prayer warrior constantly in the temple, also coos over Jesus in Luke’s gospel.

The old guys ushered in the Age of Aquarius — I mean, of the marvelous Age of Grace. The old guys heralded it, waited for it, saw its dawning. God used the old guys.

They weren’t dumped in a retirement home. They weren’t mocked for old people habits. Maybe they talked incessantly of the “good old days.” Maybe the complained about new-fangled devices. Maybe they had their senior moments.

Regardless, God used them. And He wants to use you.

It’s fabulous that new generation of leaders rise in the church. But let’s not marginalize the older generation.

Oh, I forgot (!). In the interest of self-disclosure, I’m 47. And I don’t want to be excluded from whatever God is doing.

In case you don’t know…

nothing can separate us from the love of GodAbsolutely nothing can/will/shall separate us from the love of God.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,fn neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. — Rom. 8:28-29 NIV.

Starting over

starting overSometimes, a few revisions, minor changes, slight alterations of modus operandi, sometimes it’s not enough. Sometimes, you have to throw out the whole thing and start over.

No, I’m not talking about divorce. I’m talking about salvation, or starting a new career, or starting your discipleship over completely.

It can be hard to humble yourself (myself) and take the role of inexperienced. Well, there’s nothing wrong with starting over.

I had been watering a bush in our school for a year. For reasons I ignore, it basically died. They pruned it down to the stem. Now it is sprouting. We had to start over.

As I looked at the plant, I wondered if there was a lesson for me.

Prayer as begging

God's healing

Cristal weeps when she feels God’s power healing her.

Why twice?

In every thing by prayer and supplication … let your requests be made known unto God. — Phil 4:6 The synonym for prayer, translated here “supplication” and elsewhere “petition,” is strange for its redundancy.

In Greek it is δέησις (deēsis), which means a need so urgent you turn to begging. You have no other hope. It evokes the utter powerlessness of being prostrated before a potentate who holds your life in his hands. Pleading, nothing more.

Pastor Charlie Forman

Pastor Charlie Forman with Pastor Ludving.

So many times, my prayers cover things I can also cover. These are things I need to get done, I can done. I just want God to help me do them efficiently.

Then there are needs about which I am exasperatingly powerless. About those needs, I tend to get frustrated, get mad, sulk. In fact, if I’m brutally honest about myself, I complain more than I pray.

That seems to me to be what Paul is addressing. Yes, pray, but also plead (supplicate, make petition) to a God who alone can help you. You can trust God for the needs that are completely out of your control.

 

A return to the beginning

image from darrellcreswell.wordpress.com

image from darrellcreswell.wordpress.com

In the beginning, this blog was very narrowly focused on a niche: encouraging pastors and leaders to pray for finances for their ministry. But as I interacted with the blogging community, I was drawn into reaching out with non-thematically related posts.

I believe I will be returning to the Mustard Seed Budget theme. I believe I will start pioneering a church again. So praying for finances to cover costs will start to figure large in my life again.

Everyone loves Psalm 23. But I was struck just now how it basically starts with finances: The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. God will take economic care of his people.

Since returning four years ago from the mission field (where I was almost 16 years), my wife and I have done a lot to try to re-establish ourselves in the States. The transition has not been easy. We started with no money. Thank God for a nearby church that gave us food right when we had none.

Isn’t it interesting that this famous Psalm, which many recite for consolation, starts with finances? That shows how important is God’s care of us!

Actually, the Psalm also ends with a promise of financial blessing: Surely goodness and mercy shall pursue me all my days. The verb pursue is used everywhere else in the Old Testament to refer to an army in pursuit of a retreating enemy. David is saying that he WON’T be pursued by soldiers, debt, problems. He WILL be pursued by goodness and mercy.

There’s no business…

soulbusiness… like SOUL business.

The lost one

saved

Not one of the lost ones in the church in Guatemala.

At 11 years of age, a former student told his little brother and sister to not move while he hung himself in front of them. The tykes obeyed.

What angst or demon would a boy to such unthinkable horrors as rival the Holocaust? I cannot comprehend. It tears me up inside. What could we have done to avoid this?

We don’t win every battle. We lose some badly. Amid the exultings of success stories lurk the blackest stains of those who chose not to listen to the word of God, who opted for worldliness instead of godliness.

Guatemalan kid

The Iglesia Cristiana La Puerta works to save kids from the lostness of the world. Happiness results. This is what moves me.

I’m sorry, but I can’t get excited about a celeb’s fashion faux paux. When you have lived ravages, it’s impossible to dwell on the frivolous.

It galls to hear atheists revile Christians as a great evil. I assure you: It was not a Christian that drove that kid to twisted thoughts, emotions and actions. It was something sinister. It was something we Christians fight against.

Christian Fellowship Ministries

Resting after a soccer game, these youth are part of the Liceo Bilingue La Puerta Christian school in Guatemala.

Can you be moved to act? Christianity needs Christians who are not side-tracked by selfish desires, who take up the weight of prayer, who take the Good News of hope to the streets.

We lost one. Near you, there’s one who’s on the verge of being lost. Only you are within reach to help, if you will let yourself be moved.

Legacy

El Liceo Bilingue La Puerta

Students in 2014 in the Liceo Bilingue La Puerta, the school my wife and I founded with so much work. Good people joined and helped us.

I’ve known churches that dive kamikaze when the pastor leaves, so naturally I was anxious. But it’s been four years since I sought refuge in the United States from criminal threat. And the church my wife and I started 20 years ago is thriving. So too the school.

It feels like I died. (At just about anybody’s funeral, all the good things are remembered. When somebody dies, you see what his impact was.)

The Door Bilingual School in GuatemalaNow that I’m visiting Guatemala again, I’m seeing people who I reached out to 20 years ago. They express profound appreciation.

“I don’t know who he is, but I’m going to go give him a hug,” one schoolkid said. The kids thronged me. My eyes misted… Even those who never knew me appreciate the years of toil to establish a work of God.

colegio cristiano Guatemala

He’s Mikey, but I call him “Einstein Hair.” I love that little guy.

People are still getting saved. The school continues to be a safe harbor. The disciples continue to labor to extend God’s kingdom.

For the first time in my life, I can see a legacy. And I ask myself: What will my legacy be in the United States?

Be a storm chaser

brave the stormWhen it comes to God’s kingdom, we shouldn’t shirk from the adventure. No fear should makes us cower. We should be “bold as lions” and thirst for the things we are most afraid of.

Is it tithing? evangelism? discipleship? church planting? ministry? Take it on, and ride the storm. Don’t seek the comfy life of never challenging the devil. I’d rather die on the warfront than in a retirement home bed.

Dare for more in your Christian walk. Risk for Christ.

Who you are

who you are when you are aloneWhen you are alone, you are weak, vulnerable, defenseless. Contrary to popular Christianity, this does not “reveal” the real you. It may reveal what the devil wants to grind you into.

Who you truly are is your most heroic moment in life. You wouldn’t have achieved that great moment if you had not the character inside. That’s who Jesus wants you to become more and more. He wants you to repeat the command performance.

triumphHow many times have grown distraught because we have believed we “are” who we are when alone? The trouble with this idea, perpetuated in Christian books, firstly is that it’s not in the Bible. The Bible teaches we are weak and should keep ourselves surrounded by people who are going to encourage and nurture the better self inside. What army leaves a soldier alone and abandoned and then blames him if he loses the war?

Too much condemnation has been piled on by authors who think they’re clever by quoting this cliché. Please stop now.

Be freed into joy and realize that your best moment in life is who you are. Your high point augurs good things for your future. Believe in God because He believes in you.

My heart goes out to them…

Cannabalism

Though my heart goes out to the multitudes who have been hurt by “toxic” churches, I am not among those abandoning the church. If Christ instituted, going AWOL cannot be part of the solution, regardless of damage done. You may need to change church, not leave it entirely.

I belong to the group seeking reform for the church. When I see reform, I wish to reform myself. I, a sinner, need to change. I am part of the church. As I change and become truly more Christ-like, the church will better reflect His love.

So many of my posts challenge unbelievers in their unbelief that I am even fearful to publish this challenge to the church to self-examination, self-surgery, self-healing. (I didn’t hardly even dare to make visible the stinging criticism in the picture. Only if you look closely can you make it out.)

Jesus said: As you judge, you will be judged. Let us therefore use mercy one with another. Love those who are hard to love in the church. Don’t come down to their insecurity. If they rattle off criticisms, don’t you do it.

Image

Carry another’s burdens

Lighten someone's load

Image

So why do people use it as an excuse to miss church?

hypocrites

Work your way down in the organization

be humble

With Zach (at right)

Ha! The last three years have been the humility lab class for me. I went from being general pastor of four churches and principal and founder of a school to… nothing. Criminals forced us to flee the mission field and return to the home church.

cleaning ministry

With my aunt on the East Coast

At the home church, I longed to serve and I yearned to make a difference, to help stoke the fires of revival. But so many missteps of mine only stoked the fires of resentment. I was asked to give up ministry and look for a secular job. Ouch!

It seemed like every ministry position was already filled by someone who was more qualified than myself. I tried Sunday school. I tried teaching in the regular school. I tried publicity. I thought my experience could be a boon for the church.

After floundering for a couple years, I finally found a ministry where I was heartily welcomed, where I didn’t step on any toes, where I could satisfy my hearts longing to simply be useful. I don’t want to be important but to do important work.

It was not my first choice of ministry. It was cleaning.

serving

With my family at Niagara Falls

I kept secretly admiring the main cleaning guy, who unpaid got up early and stayed up late assuring that schoolkids and church members alike could enjoy spotless environs. Zach Scribner had a vision for  cleaning and saving the church money. I had zero vision for cleaning.

But I wanted to help where I could make an impact. Zach never got a day to rest in — until now. He is overjoyed to finally get a day off. And that makes me happy.

Chatting, a brother said, “Working your way up in an organization always works.” And that’s when it hit me: I haven’t worked my way up, I’ve worked my way down. Serendipitously, I fell into Mark 10:44: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. Aim not to be chief but to serve.

Kneeling before a toilet bowl, I reflected that I was doing it for my God. I thought of many who would despise such labor, some of whom also kneel before a toilet bowl, not to clean, but to throw up… for their god, alcohol.

In any other organization, expect to work your way up. In the church, look to work your way down.

Finances for your ministry: a Vacation Bible School boon

finances for your ministryI don’t like expensive church activities, so when Brenda Bowen announced a $10/week vacation Bible school, I was overjoyed.

Brenda Bowen

Trained in utter poverty of African missions, Brenda Bowen delivered ministry that excluded no one from the salvation message.

There would be hardly any money for the snacks, the crafts and all the activities that were to be done. I was drafted for a couple of skits, one of which was clowns with my son and another boy. What fun!

But since God is great, the project finished with $80 extra — not the shortage I imagined impossible to avoid. This is God’s provision for His ministry.

If you are working to save souls, you can expect God to take care of you. Like Peter who hauled in a net-wrenching haul of fish when there were none in the lake, so God will multiply and make something out of nothing. When you pray for finances, believe and wait expectantly.

Little prayers: how to pray

a cheap padlock

A $1 padlock like this one saved us!

 

My brother made fun of us when he visited our mission church in Guatemala. Too many padlocks, he moaned.

But one extra little padlock saved us from getting completely robbed.

The thieves sawed through an iron bar to enter at the window probably at 2 a.m. They served themselves leftover coffee and ate breads. They were in no hurry. Guatemalan police are overrun with crime and work fewer shifts at night. No neighbors would interfer; they could get shot for that.

How to pray

Sweet reunion with the much-loved Pastor Alex

They took our keyboard and a few other things. But one small padlock on the outside of the door kept them from walking off with our school’s computers. I

Faith, Pastor Steven's daughter.

Faith, Pastor Steven’s daughter.

guess they ran out of time because the $1 Chinese padlock was no formidable security. What they took had to fit out the upstairs window.

Sometimes, it’s the itty bitty things that save you. That little prayer — unaccompanied by fasting, with no fancy language — will make the difference. Don’t skip it thinking it’s a mere nothing. However short it may be, however unadorned, speak it to God with sincerity. That small “cheapo” prayer may be the single factor preventing the thief (the devil) from running off with everything.

How do I pray? Zach’s fall

How do I pray?

how do I pray?

Zach, staying off the left cheek, with his wife, Hillary

Zach plummeted 30-40 feet and missed the deepest part of the Malibu Creek Rock Pool, where only the manliest most insane dare to dive from the top rocks. He thought he broke his tail bone, but it only turned out to be muscle damage.

His freakishly swollen left buttock has been quite a novelty for teasing friends and family. Apparently Zach unembarrassedly bares butt for all interested gawkers to see and even photograph. I demurred.

no fear

On Thursday, Zach daredevil-dove at the Malibu Creek Rock Pool

We thanked God today for the miracle. He could have broken his back and been paralyzed.

Zach is an enigma to me. He’s equal parts bravado tough guy (he played football for UCLA) and compassionate nice guy. There’s not a dare he would skip or a rebellious punk he wouldn’t empathize with. For the last six years, he’s performed the unlauded labor of church cleaning for no pay, even though it deprives him of sleep and his wife. Cleaning starts at 5 a.m. He speaks of the “cleaning greats” at the Lighthouse Church, the men who taught him how to tame the wild beast of ubiquitous dirt when our K-12 kicks in.

Malibu Creek Rock Pool

After the plunge.

I am intrigued by Zach. I want to be like him. He seems to me to be a Christian ideal. Like Zach, we must be tough. We must withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and remain faithful to God. Like Zach, we must be compassionate. Without empathy, we’re shrill Pharisees. We must feel the hurt of so many millions who have been defrauded by the promises of sin.

Prayer must be tough enough to persevere. It must come from compassion and empathy. Can we feel people’s pain as God does? How do I pray? With toughness and with compassion.

Believe in the guy who’s in a slump

b70f797787e9e3cee502ad5cd0077454Better than throwing salt on his wounds, better than mocking him, better than washing your hands of him, better than saying “He had it coming,” express confidence to the person who’s floundering. It will lift him out of his funk.

Believe in someoneSir Alex Ferguson believed in Wayne Rooney. The Manchester United forward had gone 9 months without a goal. Pundits were sharpening their knives: wash-out, has-been, flash-in-the-pan. Coach Ferguson, who’s had an extraordinary knack for winning teams, kept believing in Rooney until the mercurial players found his winning ways again — with a overhead backwards kick that left the world gaping and shut up critics.

Believe in Someone

from Ben Rogers blog

Believe in someone.

You may “win” the rat race, but you’re still only a rat. You may get to the top of the crab pile, but you’re still only a crab. If you help someone out, you’ve made a friend for life. And that is worth more than pounding your chest and shouting the tired I’m-the-best rant.

It’s what Jesus did. While everybody hated the odious, turncoat tax-collector Zacheus, Jesus dressed him with dignity, sharing a cappuccino with him. While accusers had stones in hand ready to hurl at the adulterous woman, Jesus defended her and didn’t accuse her. He touched the leper, ate with prostitutes, hung out with drunkards. Jesus was really into the business of accepting people.

261892_520929111299325_1611898260_nGive love freely. Expect nothing in return.

Give and don’t stop giving. And though you may be the most unloved person on the planet, if you give love freely, you will find 10,000 people at your funeral wanting to honor your memory.

Pray for pastors

  • How to pray?
  • Prayers of the Bible
Pastor Steven Fernandez

At left, Pastor Steven Fernandez. His first pastor, George Neos, at right, when he went to visit him.

Pastor Steven Fernandez had just broken the hinge on his car door. He was driving home with it roped up, and the cable for the clutch snapped, leaving him stalled in traffic — late at night, on the dangerous streets of Guatemala City. With some natives helping, he managed to get the Fiat home only to find a screw in one of his tires. Sigh!

Iglesia La Puerta

This is what we live for — and what we go through so much for. Pray for pastors!

Pastor Steven took over the Guatemalan work after I left the country. Unaccustomed to such Third World ailments common on the mission field, he is grappling with things he never experienced in America. Alas, poverty.

Missionaries

Cars are always breaking down for missionaries and pastors.

I remember passing through  these kinds of nightmares. Roofs drip like a waterfall during thunderstorms. Water doesn’t come out of the faucet for weeks at a time. Power outages mean you keep candles handy (I preached through a power outage once holding a candle close to my notes!) Ah! The adventures of being a missionary! All this reminiscing is making me yearn to go back!

Missionaries

Pastor Steven says — correctly — that when the devil’s attacks intensifies, revival is just around the corner.

Amid hand-wringing and nostalgia, one thing is clear: All pastors need our prayers. As church-goers, we forget that pastors are even more in Satan’s gunsights than us. It’s typical for pastors to face hardships of finances, of family and of car breakdowns. We need to sustain them with prayer!

Don’t complain about some ill-spoken word from your pastor (he’s human too!). Pray for him. Pray for revival, for his family, for his checkbook, for his car. Remember what the Bible says: And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward. Matt. 10:42 NIV.

If giving a cup of water nets reward, how much more so if you give him a cappuccino pray for him!

Great in the sight of God is the prayer warrior

This is my buddy, Vincent. He's just starting out with Christ in the Hesperia, CA, church.

This is my buddy, Vincent. He’s just starting out with Christ in the Hesperia, CA, church.

A Christian who doesn’t amount to much in this world should be glad, for he is great in the sight of God. — James 1:9 Living Bible.

I’ve been tripping out on this verse lately. I guess I’ve been knocked down a few rungs. I used to the general pastor in Guatemala, with four churches under my jurisdiction. Now I’m one of approx. 50 kabillion assisting pastors, and I hardly ever get a chance to preach.

Hahaha! No this is not my car. This is my son, though. This car was at the same mechanic where I took my car. My car is a Ford (almost like a Model T... well, it's old, but not a classic).

Hahaha! No this is not my car. This is my son, though. This car was at the same mechanic where I took my car. My car is a Ford (almost like a Model T… well, it’s old, but not a classic).

I used to be founder and principal of the Guatemalan church’s school. Now, I’m a teacher kicked around by students. Yes, it’s been time to eat humble pie.

But while I have “descended” in worldly status, I have “ascended” with God. I have more time to pray. I have time to write (being too busy to write was my black eye neglected gift for eons). I have more time to pray.

Leanna is one of my nice students. She's also very funny. She wasn't feeling well on the day of this photo, and so she thought she didn't have to answer any questions in Spanish class -- hence the post-it on her forehead "Be nice to the sick girl. Don't ask her questions."

Leanna is one of my nice students. She’s also very funny. She wasn’t feeling well on the day of this photo, and so she thought she didn’t have to answer any questions in Spanish class — hence the post-it on her forehead “Be nice to the sick girl. Don’t ask her questions.”

Did I say that I have more time to pray? That is special. The “lowly” brother isn’t “lowly” to God. He can work anonymously and accomplish a lot more than the church’s showmen. He can pray.

So really, what I said was a lie: I haven’t been knocked down rungs. I’ve been catapulted into new dimensions of ministry with God. Never scorn the ministry of prayer. Kick things up into high gear — pray!

Restore the passion: prayer and service

Staying in prayer is key to staying in leadership. How to pray? Pray with faith. Prayers in the Bible.

My son, Robert, tracks the long punt, hunting to convert a goal.

My son, Robert, tracks the long punt, hunting to convert a goal.

To watch those kids jog during the soccer game made me disgusted! How do they expect to win if they won’t run? If they only play half-hearted?

Then, I saw myself on the field. I was jogging.

Rob faces a dilemma. How do you turn a losing team into a winning team?

Rob faces a dilemma. How do you turn a losing team into a winning team?

A fairly steady stream of withering criticism took the wind out of my sails. When I returned to my sponsoring church after 16 years as a missionary in Guatemala, I threw myself into ministry. Then I started cutting back — why give my ALL when ALL I got was negative feedback? God spoke to me through a State Cup Cal South tournament. Instead of running, I was jogging. How did I expect to win?

I cut the oranges for the kids' halftime.

I cut the oranges for the kids’ halftime.

Handling criticism is no piece of cake. Making transition from head pastor to just one of the guys has not been easy either.

I wanted those kids to run with everything they had. Who cares if they were losing? Who cares if they made mistakes? Who cares if the coach screamed at them? Run — for the love of the game — run! Don’t give up.

It’s pretty easy to see others’ faults. But when I saw my own faults reflected in those kids, it was horrifying. I’ve got to run — for Jesus (not for detractors). Thank You, Jesus, for helping restore me to the intense servant I always was. Forgive me for becoming a mechanical, half-hearted servant. Thank You for showing me to renew my passion for service.

‘All authority’ includes finances

With Gary Case, missionary extraordinaire, when he was on a layover at LAX. He's now in Japan pioneering a church

With Gary Case, missionary extraordinaire, when he was on a layover at LAX. He’s now in Japan pioneering a church

When you spearhead a ministry, the devil will resist you even with the rent. As a missionary paying a mortgage with a small church, I prayed a lot for finances. I discovered reading the Bible some incredible verses to pray. Here’s one:

Pastor Ralph and Brenda Bowen planted three churches in Africa during 20 years.

Pastor Ralph and Brenda Bowen planted three churches in Africa during 20 years.

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, resurrected Jesus said in Matt 28:18. Typically, we Christians think of His authority over demons, over sin, over sickness, etc. We forget that “all” includes finances. He has authority to send finances.

My purpose, unlike so many other American Christian pastors, is NOT for you to pray for luxury. It is for you to NOT quit ministry because finances are

fellowship after church

fellowship after church

scarce. Don’t close the doors to your church just because you’re on a shoe-string budget. Instead, keep performing fruitful ministry and simply pray for God’s provision.

It seems people in America get twisted about praying for finances. Some think God doesn’t attend such matters. Others think it’s wrong. (Well, yes, greed is sin.) But when you have lived the day-to-day anxiety of will-we-make-it?, then you understand how praying for finances brings more than just peace of mind. It brings answers.

Unpaid here

with my family

with my family

I became an actor briefly. It seemed like the logical thing to do to avoid the stigma of “unemployed.” Besides, this is LA — 60% of the people are actors, which means “unemployed.” I never took acting classes; I just declared myself an actor (it’s cheaper that way), and I no longer felt obligated to provide explanations for joblessness.

I'm hamming it up again.

I’m hamming it up again.

But soon I realized my folly. After all, I was a writer before I became an actor. About writers, let me say it is totally redundant and unnecessary to place the adjective “aspiring” in front of the word “writer.” Being a writer is another acceptable way of calling yourself “unemployed.”

with a Chinese friend. Man, is he serious!

with a Chinese friend. Man, is he serious!

Then too, I’m a prayer warrior. Boy, I keep chalking up the unremunerated professions, don’t I? At least here on Earth, it’s hard to get paid to pray.

Of course, in Heaven, it’s paid handsomely. Most people just don’t have the patience to defer their gratification that far into the future. (On second thought, given the brevity of life, maybe it’s not that long to wait for after all.)

We couldn’t enjoy the remodeling

ATT001935No sooner had we remodeled our home in Guatemala than we fled to America. A run-in with criminals forced us to leave. The trauma of the robbery at gunpoint took the foreground; the irony of our “lost investment” sat in the background.

ATT001997The stylized ceiling and modernized kitchen seemed like a good investment. We had lived in Guatemala for 15 years and did not foresee leaving our beloved missionary life. The threat of kidnapping changed that abruptly. The money already spent proved pointless.

Pointless.

Our stay in Guatemala was NOT permanent. It was temporary. So too our life here on Earth is short. ATT0020810Moses called his son Gershom, which means foreigner, because he felt like he didn’t belong in Midian. Peter says we’re only sojourners here on the globe. Our true home is Heaven.

What we invest for ATT0021412pleasure here is… well, it kind of seems pointless.

Was that what God was telling me? Whatever you do for eternity — even if it’s only five minutes of prayer today because that’s the best you can do — stands forever. We are here only briefly, so if all your effort is focused for this earth, try to enjoy these fleeting moments as much as possible. My recommendation: Work for eternity.

Text without ceasing

smallbusiness.chron.comIt used to be that Bible teachers would downplay pray without ceasing (1 Thes. 5:17) because — they said — it wasn’t possible to talk to someone 24/7.

We now know this was wrong. It is possible to communicate with someone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The texters do it.

You scold your kids for texting at the table, but why? You text in the boss’s meeting. People are constantly texting in church (hey! no hypocrisy here — I’m guilty also). Some people, if they wake up at 3 a.m, empty their bladder and inbox at the same time. Others keep the phone by the pillow.

I’m a teacher, so I know about texting answers. Some students are so proficient, they text in their imagespockets without evening removing the device to see what they’re spelling. How they see the response is still a mystery for me; I’m the teacher and can’t figure out all their tricks.

So don’t pan prayer without ceasing. It can be done! (If you can stop texting long enough to say Hi to God!)

If you have needs (I do), then text them to God.

Every attempt works

from blogs.phoenixnewtimes.com

from blogs.phoenixnewtimes.com

Out of frustration, we called it burro-cracy. (Get it? A variation on bureaucracy.)

547750373398755794_zDvsmcus_bThe burro is not a flattering term in Spanish. When we would try to get paperwork done, they would tell us one thing was wrong. We would go to a lawyer or notary and fix it. Then we would wait in line again, usually an hour. Next they would tell us something else was wrong. This process repeated itself for days and weeks until finally months later through lots of diligence, we would finally get approved.

AARGH! WHY COULDN’T YOU JUST TELL ME AAAAAAAALLLLLLLL PROBLEMS THE FIRST TIME?????????

from blue pueblo (the best pics!)

from blue pueblo (the best pics!)

Thank God, prayer’s not like that. It’s easy. You don’t have to get a bunch of papers signed, notarized, stamped, authorized, officialized. You don’t have to walk for kilometers on your knees. You don’t have to…

All you have to do is talk, and you’re instantly in contact with the Almighty. Every attempt at prayer — no matter how clumsy, no matter how imperfect you are — brings the will of God. I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing — 1 Tim. 2:8 NIV. They may be filthy, but when the hands go up, they become holy.