Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Fabio needed a bath.

 My wife and I were in a community called El Sanjon, which means the sink hole.  It's name is a great description of what things were like there. 
Dirty. Poor. Barren. We were there to welcome a new church into our fellowship as they chose to become our latest Light and Life Missions affiliate church.

 We were with a missions team from DeLand, Florida, The Lighthouse Church.  When we have a team with us and there are other capable preachers, I usually allow them to be the face of the outreach for that event.  This was the case on this day. 

As I sat in the back of the ministry team looking out on the folks gathered there for service, a man caught my eye.  He caught my eye because he was a big guy like I am, and you just don't see many men his size in Nicaragua.  As I watched him I made some assumptions about who he was.  He was dirty, and leaning over to one side in his chair.  His eyes didn't appear to stay focused on any one thing that was happening around him.  He clapped his hands as we worshipped, but his clapping was labored, out of rhythm, and sporadic.  I assumed he was the local drunk.  Sadly, every barrio has one. 

As service continued I watched him.  My heart grew more and more tender towards him and I began to pray for him. One of the many things that I have learned in my years of ministry is that there is a reason people do the things they do.  There is always some measure of private pain that stands behind the addicts decision to self medicate.  No matter what prescription they have chosen. Drugs. Alcohol. Sex. Over spending. Church.  Whatever it is. 

As the speaker concluded and we came to the altar call as I'm sure you can imagine, this man was the first one to make his way to the altar.  As he stood, I did as well and as I approached him i saw the pastor out of the corner of my eye making his way toward us and we all three converged at the same time.

I asked him what i could pray with him about. He tried to answer me, but couldn't.  Immediately I realized that my assumptions about him had been wrong.  Just behind his left ear was a horrible scar.  There didn't appear to be any bone there and the scar continued across the top of his head to the back of his right ear.  He couldn't answer my question because he couldn't speak. I looked to the pastor and asked what was wrong.

I learned from the pastor that this man's name was Fabio and he was not the local drunk.  20 years or more earlier in his life someone had tried to kill him.  His head had been chopped in half with a machete.  He survived, but was left without the ability to speak and his motor skills were poor.

My heart broke and I began to pray for Fabio.  I prayed for him and petitioned God for the things that I assumed Fabio needed and wanted.  Things he could not ask for himself.  I was ashamed of  my assumptions and looked to  the ground as I prayed. He didn't have shoes.

As we prayed and prayed, God began to restore Fabio's speech.  I could hear him as words began to come form his mouth.  Simple. Basic. Quite. But words none the less.  By now my wife Arellys had joined us and we were all praying together for him. Arellys being the wise person she is asked him simply if he knew Jesus as his saviour.  He did  not.  But he wanted to.  She led him in a prayer of confession and repentance.  He accepted Jesus as his saviour.  Suddenly, without dramatic fanfare, I knew something had happened.  I looked up and looked into his eyes.  He looked back at me and with clarity and conviction said to me "would you buy me a bar of soap"? I was overwhelmed.  God had healed him and restored his speech. All of the things that he could have asked for. He chose soap.

God spoke to me that day. As I had prayed for Fabio, so concerned for his needs and his healing, I had not taken time to consider that his greatest need was to be cleansed.  Not from the dirt that was on the outside, but the stain of sin and separation.  When he asked for soap, I knew that now that he was cleansed from the inside, he wanted people to see and to know that he was free from sin. 

I will not forget Fabio, his picture is above.  One of the greatest obstacles to the gospel of Jesus Christ being spread is the preoccupation we often have with the physical needs and problems that are all around us.  I am not suggesting to you or saying that we should abandon meeting people's physical needs.  I am just learning again in a deeper and more relevant want how to balance meeting those needs.  In a way that makes the message of Christ and His redeeming grace the bottom line in everything we do or say.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Fine for Littering

Life can be an oxymoron. There are many contradictions in life.  My wife likes to eat ice cream when she is cold. I am hot natured but I have to sleep under the covers at night. I am terrified of heights, but I love the mountains.    Most of the time life’s contradictions are small, manageable, and easy to overcome. But there are times when the contradictions that people have within their ideas, beliefs and perspectives are more serious and more relevant.  Moral contradictions fall into that category.  

My family and I like to go for walks down a local nature trail near our home.  It isn’t for exercise as much as it is for time together as a family.  We all go, me, my wife, and my three children 14, 9, and 2.  It is an easy pace, no real pressures.  Recently on one of our walks, my middle child said, “well that’s not nice”, I turned to see what she was talking about.  She was reading a sign that read, “Fine for Littering”.  She understood it to mean that it was okay to litter in that designated area.  She didn’t really understand what the sign meant. 

As I thought about her statement and perspective, I realized that we often develop our ideas, beliefs and perspectives with misunderstanding. For her to gain understanding and develop the right idea and belief about what the sign said, she needed to have instruction. As we look around in our day to day lives there are many signs that are being used to build our perspective of what is right and what is wrong.  But if we are to build a correct understanding, we too have to be instructed.

The American Christian Culture is in the midst of trying to deal with many such contradictions. In our ambition to be as inclusive as we should be, we have allowed Christianity to be high jacked by moral contradictions. We have allowed anyone and everyone to develop their own understanding and perspective of what Christianity is or isn’t. What it does or does not mean.  But many of the divisive perspectives of morality can be and are addressed by God’s Word. The challenge is that people are not being instructed. 

The mantra “don’t judge” has invaded every denomination, every spectrum of the church from the most conservative to the most liberal ideas of Christianity. Misquoting Mathew 7:1 Judge not, that ye be not judged” has become a get out of Jail free card. Being judgmental is the religious equivalent of what being racist used to be.  No one wants to be labeled racist, No one wants to be labeled judgmental. Playing the “don’t judge” card is the new race card.  It is intended to shut down discussion and to eliminate any accountability for what we call “Christian”.  In doing so the term has become so blurred and so minimized, that most people really don’t know or understand the differences between “Christian Culture” and the “Body of Christ”.
Today anyone with any view of any issue can call themselves “Christian”. Today in American Christian Culture you can be “Pro-Choice or Pro-Life” and still be “Christian”. You can be for “traditional marriage” or for “marriage equality” and still be “Christian”. Terms like “sexual atheism” and “moral relativism” are on the rise. And while most of these polarizing topics are debated and addressed, there are many more subtle yet equally dangerous moral contradictions within the lives of most “Christians”. The reality is absolute opposites cannot both be equally true simultaneously. There are things which are clearly “right” and clearly “wrong”.

The challenge to change this trend can be overwhelming to say the least.  We are all busy and tired.  Most of us are struggling with the challenges that day to day living present us.  The idea of taking on an entire culture with the ambition to change it are in reality impossible. 
Unless, like so many other things, we have an idea about our role in bringing change that is wrong.  I believe we can look to this same misquoted scripture in its context to better understand our role in changing the current course of Christianity in America and the World.
What Jesus said in Mathew chapter 7 does not end at verse one.  Rather, He goes on to teach about the importance of examining our own lives first.  Mathew 7:5 tells us …first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.

The mistake that we have made for too long in dealing with this issue is that we have drawn sides.  We have camped out in our own way of thinking and have labeled the other side of the issue as wrong while we remain happy in the camp of right.  The fact is that all real change in any measurable way starts with each of us looking at and dealing with self.  Of all the ideas, beliefs, and perspectives out there that I deem to be wrong, the most important ones that I must crucify do not belong to anyone else.  They belong to me. 

When we each individually begin to take on the role of crucifying ourselves rather than others, we will be on the road to real and meaningful change.  When being in right standing before the father for my self is more important to me than correcting those around me that are wrong, I will be a credible agent for change in my community, my culture, my country, my world.  And when you do the same, you will be too.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Buckets and Bowls

Nicaragua is a tough place.  Nothing is easy.  Communication and planning are especially difficult and in the early days of our ministry almost impossible.  We had left early that day headed to an area near what is known as the “Triangle of Death”, a community hidden away in the outskirts of the city of Chinandega far away from the other barrios and communities. Hidden, forgotten and distant from the areas that people see.  

It had been from the beginning and still is today the ambition of our ministry to go places other people would not go or had not been. We really didn’t know much about what we would encounter or what we would experience, but we prepared for what we knew.  By this time in our ministry we had been serving in Nicaragua for 9 years.  We had seen a lot and had learned to expect the unexpected.  With the knowledge we had, we set out to reach a group of forgotten people.  We had a short term mission team, we had a plan, we had a program, and we had a ministry. The problem, no one knew we were coming.

We had decided to find a church that we heard had just started in this new area and work with them for the day to evangelize the surrounding area.  We would be going door to door doing “old time door knocking evangelism” and invite people to the church.  We would then have a service and a feeding center. Our hope was to connect people to the church and its pastor.

The trip would be typical, no good roads, lots of waiting, lots of “redirecting”.  As we traveled, we saw the familiar sights.  A horse in the middle of the road that wouldn’t move for us to pass, small children with few if any clothes on playing in the muddy streets, hopeless adults just buying their time waiting for something to change. Finally after an hour or so of travel, we turned onto the “imaginary road” that led to the church.  By now it had started to rain and I was concerned about how much we could get accomplished.

 As we made the turn I saw something that I had not seen before.  In the distance, in the middle of the road I saw what looked like a blockade blocking the road. It wasn’t unusual for us to come across things that had been placed in the road to prevent people from passing through, but this was unusual because I didn’t really know what I was seeing. The colors of the blockade were bright and the items used to block us were in a nice line.  Usually it would be tree limbs, garbage, and giant rocks piled in a hap hazard way.  My translator and driver were busy finding our way so I kept quiet and figured I would learn about what I was seeing soon enough.  

As we got closer to the blockade we stopped and I realized that it was made up of buckets and bowls. Not only was it made of buckets and bowls, but it led directly into the entrance to the church that we were looking for.  As we got out of the vehicle, the streets began to fill with small children and mothers, elderly men and handicapped people.  With bright faces and beautiful smiles they began to form a line.  Old and young alike began to find their place in line.  I went to the front of the line of buckets and bowls and took this picture. 

I was totally blown away.  I had no idea what was happening.  How did these people know we were coming?  This place was a total Gilligan’s Island, “no phone, no lights, no motor car, not a single luxury” and yet here people were, totally prepared for a feeding program.  By this point I had to know what was going on and so I pulled my translator aside and began to question them.  

The Pastor of the church was there too and he began to explain. The church was doing all that it could with all that it had to meet the needs of its people.  Most of the families there had little to no food.  Some small children and those who were sick had died. The situation was hopeless.  But their faith in God had not been moved. Earlier that week during one of their nightly services they began to pray and seek God for His intervention. As they sought Him in prayer and fasting the Lord told them that He would meet their needs.  He called on them to prepare themselves for His provision. And so daily they came to the church to wait on the Lord for provision.  Each individual came daily.  They got in line and held their buckets and bowls and waited on the Lord.  The Pastor and His wife built a fire daily and waited for The Lord to move.  In spite of what others would call reality, they prepared themselves for the vision that God had given them for His provision in their lives.  The Pastor went on to explain that as the rain fell and the weather grew increasingly dangerous that the people of the church placed their buckets and their bowls down in line to save their place while they sought shelter from the rain. I was blown away. Their faith in God had moved them beyond their needs and moved them to action.  They were prepared for his provision. 

God spoke to me that day.  It changed my life.  The fact is that we are all seeking Him for something, provision, opportunity.  We all have needs.  One of the great needs for many Christians is the need to find their place in the Kingdom.  Why am I here? What is my purpose? We seek Him with diligence to understand and discover the answer to the questions of purpose and destiny.  

We most often neglect the next step. In addition to our seeking we must begin to prepare ourselves for the answer. You have to prepare for the opportunity.  We do the natural, He does the supernatural.  I meet many Christians who have a desire to serve Him in some relevant way.  They spend countless hours in prayer and petition with God asking Him these questions, but rarely do I meet the individual who has taken that next step.  Preparation.  

The Institute for World Ministry is for many people the needed next step.  Whether your ministry future includes missions in a foreign field or not, the great commission is the same for everyone.  And it starts and ends with “GO”.  

IWM will prepare you for the greatest part of the great commission.  Without the “GO” there will be nothing more done. “Go” doesn’t just mean foreign missions, it includes the going that we are all engaged in on a daily basis. 
So whether you are a new believer still needing answers to these questions, or a leader in a local church needing resources to help launch your mission’s ministry at your local church, IWM is for you. If you are interested please visit our website at, or give me a call at 251-645-2117.Contact us at The Institute for World Ministry

Sunday, September 28, 2014


For the last few years, I have felt more like I was following God's plan for my life than I ever have before.  My family and I have been spending our summers in Nicaragua working with our Ministry, Light and Life Missions.  We worked during the school year both in the school system.  We have had a great schedule with more flexibility and free time than I had ever had in my life.  Opportunities for ministry were coming our way on a pretty regular schedule and we were doing all that we knew and believed that God had called us to do. The thought had settled in my mind that we were finally settled.  We were finally in that place where we were living the dream of being in "ministry".

In February that all changed.  During my private prayer time God spoke the word transition to me.  It caught me off guard.  I wasn't really looking for it, for the most part I was very sure of the direction my life, (which includes my family, job, ministry, missions and so much more) and I was not seeking God to change things.  I was comfortable.  Balanced.  The last thing on my mind was "transition".

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and he takes delight in his way.
Psalms 37:23
I spent the next few days asking Him about this word, transition, what did He mean, what was He doing, where was I going next?  He remained quite, only ever saying to me that one word, transition.  Never elaborating, no details.  Finally without what I could see as real answers, I shared this with my wife, Arellys.  We agreed to fast and pray and try to hear from Him.  Anytime that God speaks to me about change in our lives my first thought is that we are going to be selling everything and moving to Nicaragua.  After several days of seeking Him, we both came to an understanding that that was not what He intended.  The only clarity that we received is that we both heard form the Lord that this transition was going to be into an even greater role in ministry.  More full time, more missions oriented.

Having not heard much more than that, we decided to wait.  We would simply wait on Him to open a door.  No change, no planning or preparation.  Just wait on Him to open a door.  I hate waiting.

A few weeks later, without fail, the door opened.  I was approached by James Graham, my friend, a spiritual father, and the Director of International Gospel Outreach, IGO.  The missions organization that we are apart of.  James asked if I would pray about and consider coming on staff at the IGO offices in Semmes and become the Director of Missionary Training for IWM, Institute for World Ministry.  I knew immediately that God had opened a door.  I also knew immediately that transition was going to be a bigger change than I had considered.  I never considered that I would be asked to take on such a role in IGO.  I felt like it was over my head, out of my league, beyond my skill set. (I could go on).

Since the offer, I have started working in the IGO office a couple days a week as I make the transition into my new role.  By January, my plan is to be there full time.  In the last few weeks since this change had taken place I have been amazed daily by the people that I have met, the stories that I have heard and the opportunities that I am seeing to do even more in missions than I ever dreamed possible.

The whole journey started with one simple word.  No burning bush.  No light from heaven.  A simple still small voice in my heart that said one word "transition".  That moment has now set in place a chain of events that I could have never planned or asked for.  That one moment of direction without details, has changed my life, my future, my family, my forever.  It has not been easy at all times and through every step, but it has been and is worth it.

I struggle because I like to know what is going on.  I like to know the plan.  I like to take it one step at a time.  But in this, God has chosen to do it His way.  And as He always does, He knows best.

I want you to be challenged by this like I have been.  Faith is an amazing thing.  Ever changing, either growing or dying, Faith is crucial to our ability to follow Him.  Faith launches out in obedience without any tangible assurance.  Faith listens to the word transition and patiently follows as He orders our steps.  It is not random.  It is not coincidental.  Each step has been planned.  And each misstep on your part or mine had been prepared for.  We cannot catch Him off guard.  He is ready.  He knows. Too many times in my life I have missed out on opportunity to see and experience great things.  Too many times I have wanted to make my own decision, follow my own path.  This time, it is totally different.  But I am ready to see obedience as it's own reward and ready to see what God is up to in this.