Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Overwhelmed



 
My wife and I returned from our mission to the Dominican Republic late Saturday night. We made it to church on time on Sunday morning, but something odd began happening before we finished singing the first song.

As I sang “Hail to the King,” my eyes began to burn and tingle. By the end of the song, tears were running down my cheeks. I looked over at my wife and the same thing was happening to her.

The second song was “We Believe” by The Newsboys. When we got to the line “Let the church live loud,” I needed a tissue.

Several, in fact.

The pastor, knowing that we had just returned from the mission, asked us to come up and explain our tears.

We tried, but all we could really say was that we were overwhelmed.

With tears falling on the pages of Ephesians 3, I tried to explain to the congregation by reading this:

18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. (NLT)

What had happened in the Dominican Republic is that my wife and I had gotten a glimpse, an inkling, a taste of just how immense, how majestic, how immeasurable, how beyond awesome is the love of God.

Even now, I struggle with trying to find the words to describe it to you, so I’ll give you a few examples.

We attended a service at the Altar of God Church at about 5:00 p.m. on our second full day. (Some Dominicans hold their weekly church services on Sunday evening, rather than Sunday mornings.)

The church service itself embodied the word “zeal.” I can say with great confidence that no one falls asleep during a service at that church—even though it lasts for about three hours.

The woman asked to preach spoke about 1 Kings 17:8-24 where the flour and oil never ran out and Elijah raised the widow’s son from the dead.  She preached with a fire of the Holy Spirit that was relentless, adamant, and powerful.

During her sermon, she mentioned that her two-year-old daughter was ill and had not eaten in two days.

After the service, we prayed that Jesus would touch this child and heal her. Little Katy was obviously pale and weak at the time.

We went back to the pastor’s house where we were staying and, before we had finished supper, a happy, bouncy Katy was in the kitchen healed by Jesus and asking for something to eat.

Later in the week, we were in the small mountain village of Manabao, helping with a children’s ministry and eight children accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

The next day, in the same church in Manabao, I was miraculously not only able to sing, but was asked to lead others in singing! (Anyone who has ever heard me sing knows this is indeed a miracle.)

Numerous times, the Lord put people and events in our lives that made it clear He was opening doors for us to tell others about His infinite love for them. This happened again and again, even on the flights to and from our destination.

In one case, I was sitting next to a man on the plane who was the administrator of a number of dental clinics for the poor. He had it on his heart to start dental ministries for the poor in other countries, but he had never met an “ordinary person” who was going on a mission and didn’t think it was possible for him to do so. I encouraged him by telling him if I could do it, he certainly could. I am certain if the Lord wants to extend His mercy through this man’s talents, He will most certainly do so.

All through the week, we could tell the prayers of those who had sent us were reaching God. The prayers of one woman were being emailed to us. Over and over, we saw themes, words, and phrases that appeared in her prayers in our lives and our ministry. Even lyrics of the songs that were on our hearts were in her prayers, though she had no way of knowing we were singing them repeatedly.

One of those songs was “Multiplied” by Needtobreath.

Your love will surely come find us
Like blazing wild fires singing Your name
God of mercy sweet love of mine
I have surrendered to Your design
May this offering stretch across the skies
And these Halleluiahs be multiplied.

And that was the most amazing part. The love of Jesus surely did come find us and it did not add to itself—it multiplied. These were not coincidences. They were God incidences.

The love of God in our Dominican hosts fed us and filled us. It was present and palpable. We could hear it and see it and feel it and taste it and we could reach out and touch it.  

Today, there are dozens of people in my life whom I genuinely love that I did not even know two weeks ago. I already miss them and long for them.

I went to the Dominican Republic to bring whatever I could, but I returned overwhelmed and overflowing.

Today’s Praise

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Luke 6:38 NIV)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Thrive

Mission team member Kellie Gerdts with some precious Dominican children.

I was recently blessed to be asked to participate in a mission trip to the Dominican Republic through Bethany Global Short Term Missions. The following blog post was written about a week ago in Santo Domingo, on the team’s second full day there.

When I first heard the Casting Crown’s song, “Thrive”, I liked it, but my “Christian radar” went up. We were made to thrive?

Really?

There are Christians all over the world who are definitely NOT thriving. Poverty, pollution, illness, disease, corruption and all forms of evil afflict God’s people all over the world.

Faith in Jesus definitely does not guarantee an easy life. Jesus said in this world, we will have trouble. (John 16:33)

My first impression of the Dominican Republic is that this is a place where people are not thriving.

Santo Domingo is a crowded city of three million people. The homes are concrete block that would never pass a building inspection in the U.S.

They have running water, but it is cold water only. Many homes have black plastic tanks on the roofs to supply water to the home when the power goes out—and the power goes out at some point pretty much every day.

And the traffic!

The traffic can only be described as absolute automotive anarchy.
The streets are narrow and almost all have no street signs, no stop signs, and no speed limit signs. People often park on the sidewalk. There are police here, but they are so vastly outnumbered as to be of little effect.

It’s like the entire city is a maze of a million round-a-bouts filled with cars, trucks, buses, bicycles, street carts, an occasional horse-drawn cart, and tens of thousands of buzzing little motorcycles weaving in and out of the ceaseless bumper-to-bumper melee.

There is litter everywhere because of the poverty and a simple lack of what is necessary to deal with it effectively.

In short, it looks like these people are doing anything but thriving.

But at the end of the first full day of being inundated and overwhelmed and having my heart broken by what I perceived as misery all around me, we attended a church service at the Altar of God church.

What we experienced was a people whose faith is thriving.

There is such love for the Lord here in these people. Their praises rise again and again with shouts of “Gloria Diós!” and “Aleyuya Jesús!”

This is a church and a people of God on fire for Jesus! The Holy Spirit is here in power, burning and growing and shining with brilliant light.

So, while the temporary things of the flesh here seem chaotic and weak and poor, the LORD’s passion and love for his people is indeed thriving and sending down deep and eternal roots.

Where my heart broke for the earthly conditions here, my soul is jealous of their zeal for the One who died and rose again to save us all.

GLORIA DIÓS! ALEYUYA JESÚS!

Today’s Praise
Shine like the sun,
Make darkness run and hide,
We were made to thrive!

(Lyrics from "Thrive" by Casting Crowns)


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Walking on Water


 
And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” (Matthew 14:28 ESV)

As I was pondering the miracle of Jesus walking on the water and Peter coming to Him, it occurred to me that all who serve the LORD are walking on water.

While popular culture would have us believe that everything can be explained by “natural forces” acting over billions of years, there are miracles outside the realm of “natural” explanations all around us every day.

Kinship Christian Radio is one of those miracles.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with how this ministry all began, but it started with one man’s vision of a radio tower with the words “JESUS IS LORD” on it.

He and a number of others who saw a need for Christian radio in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa got together and prayed. None of them had any experience in radio. None of them were multi-millionaires. None of them had ever done anything like this before.

What they did not know was that the Lord was stirring more than their own hearts. Various churches and prayer groups in the area were also praying for Christian radio at the same time.

They put up their own property as collateral to finance the beginnings of what would later grow and be blessed into a ministry bringing the Word of the LORD over the airwaves to an area containing 900,000 souls.

All throughout this ministry, it has been bathed in prayer and the focus has never diverted from broadcasting the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now, if these people had relied on the conventional wisdom of our day, no one would have thought it possible that a radio station funded entirely by donations and based on an old farm site outside tiny Blue Earth, Minnesota, would have lasted more than a couple of years.

Almost anyone would have predicted that all involved were stepping out of the safety of their financial boats and into a howling storm that would cause them to lose everything they had and sink into the sea of bankruptcy.

They stepped out of the boat, right into the wind and waves.

Now, I wasn’t involved in the ministry back then, and I don’t know if any of them ever became terrified, but I do know they kept their eyes on Jesus and never relented from prayer.

Kinship Christian Radio Executive Director Matt Dorfner recently announced that the ministry has acquired two more translators to broadcast that Gospel message—and they are located in Elko and Bloomington, Minnesota.

With the addition of these two Metro-area repeaters, the ministry of Kinship Christian Radio will increase from 900,000 potential listeners to two million!

How’s that for walking on water?

Today’s Praise

Oh what I would do to have
The kind of faith it takes to climb out of this boat I'm in
Onto the crashing waves


To step out of my comfort zone
Into the realm of the unknown where Jesus is
And He's holding out His hand

But the waves are calling out my name and they laugh at me
Reminding me of all the times I've tried before and failed
The waves they keep on telling me
Time and time again, "Boy, you'll never win!"
"You'll never win!"

But the voice of truth tells me a different story
The voice of truth says, "Do not be afraid!"
And the voice of truth says, "This is for My glory"
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth


(Lyrics from “Voice of Truth” by Casting Crowns.)

 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

After Christmas


The after-Christmas blog can be one of the hardest to write of the year because we’re all kind of coming down from all the season brings. It’s not uncommon to draw a blank when it comes to this post.

But today they played a song on Kinship Christian radio I had not heard before. It’s called “Christmas All the Time” by Jason Bare and the words say it better than any post I could write.

(I could not find the official lyrics online, so I transcribed these directly from the song. My apologies to Mr. Bare for any errors I may have made.)

 
As I’m walking down the street,
I hear the bells of charity.
To the man in red and white,
I give my change tonight.

There’s a family at my church
and the father can’t find work,
So I give them food to eat
to get them through the week.

There’s something about the season,
that makes us care a little more,
and give more than we had before.
There are so many reasons,
to make this happen all throughout the year.

I want to love everywhere I go,
I want to touch a heart that needs hope.
Let the savior of this broken world,
live through my life.
And let me love, let me love,
Like its Christmas all the time.

In a cardboard house they lay,
men and women hope and pray,
for a warmer place to sleep.
On a snowy Christmas eve,
in the shelter line I stand,
serving those who need a hand.
And  like the gifts the wisemen bring
I’m giving everything.

There’s something about the season,
that makes us care a little more
and give more than we had before.
There are so many reasons,
that we should do this more than once a year.

I want to love everywhere I go.
I want to touch a heart that needs hope.
Let the savior of this broken world live through my life,
and let me love, let me love,
Like its Christmas all the time.

This baby born in Bethlehem,
taught us how to be a friend,
to the least of these along the way.
We need to find a need and meet it,
find a hurt and heal it,
share the Christ in Christmas every day.

I want to love everywhere I go,
I want to touch
a heart that needs hope.
Let the savior of this broken world live through my life.
And let me love, let me love,
like its Christmas all the time.

Today’s Praise
We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19 ESV)

 

 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Present




My wife is not buying me a Christmas present this year and I’m not buying one for her.

 
Now, before you jump to the conclusion that we’re having some kind of marital strife, let me assure you that is not the case at all.

 
Sometime just before Thanksgiving, we were asked to go on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic.

 
My first thought was, “We can’t afford that.” (Actually, that’s my first reaction to just about anything.)

 
My lovely wife and daughter will tell you that I am painfully, excruciatingly cheap.  When my daughter was younger, if she somehow cajoled me into buying lunch, I would agree only if all involved (including any friends she had along) ordered no more than three items each off the dollar menu.

 
For some reason, she found this embarrassing--even irritating.

 
You will note that I said, “my first thought” was we couldn’t afford it. After 23 years of marriage, I am now occasionally capable of not actually voicing my first thought.  The fine art of shutting up has taken me many, many years to put into practice—and I’m still woefully inept at this essential marriage skill.

 
What actually came out of my mouth was something like, “Well, if the Lord wants us to go to the Dominican Republic, we will go to the Dominican Republic.”

 
Thank you, Holy Spirit!

 
We investigated, we asked questions, we prayed about it, and we were lead to start the process.

 
One of the things I learned was that the cost was going to be about $1622. Each.

 
Now, I have been greatly blessed by the Lord, our God, and my family is not in want in any way, but I am not a rich man. To me, $3244 is a very large sum indeed.

 
Still, as I told my wife, we serve a God of abundance and if He wants us to go, He will provide what is necessary.

 
Of course, with those kinds of funds needed, some cuts to the family budget were called for. Hence, the agreement between my wife and I to not spend money on Christmas presents for each other.

 
The organization sending us provided us a sample fund-raising letter and others on the mission team gave great advice on how to go about it. I wrote the letter, we bought stamps, and my wife (an absolute master of organizational skills) developed a spread sheet mail-merge database and sent them out.

 
In all, about 75 letters went out.

 
Within ten days, friends, relatives, co-workers, and members of our church provided 97% of the amount needed—and we know there are still checks in the mail.

 
Hallelujah!

 
It’s incredible! It’s miraculous!

 
If I didn’t know God was involved, I would not have believed the response.  I am overwhelmed at the generosity shown both by the people involved and the Holy Spirit who moved hearts and souls to help us go and serve the Lord.

 
So, there’s not going to be a new power tool under the Christmas tree with my name on it this year.

 
But the gift I have is that the Lord, the King of kings, came down from His throne as a tiny baby wrapped in cloth and laid in an animal’s feeding trough.  He brought the whole world the good news that He would take away the sins of all who believe and give them the gift of eternal life!

 
Yes, the gift I have is that He has entrusted me and my wife to bring that most incredible, miraculous, beautiful message to others.

 
It’s a message we can all share this Christmas, even if we don’t travel 2400 miles to do it.

 
Today’s Praise
Follow the star to a place unexpected
Would you believe after all we've projected
A child in a manger?

Lowly and small, the weakest of all
Unlikeliest hero, wrapped in his mother’s shawl
Just a child
Is this who we've waited for?


Cause how many kings, stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
How many Gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that has torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?


Only one did that for me.

 

Lyrics from “How Many Kings” by DownHere

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Peace


I grew up in an era where it was not uncommon for someone to hold up two fingers and say, “Peace.”

Likewise, the “peace” symbol was common on clothing and jewelry.  It’s still used in “retro” fashion.

Back then, “peace” was a one-word protest against the Vietnam war.

While I have no intention of dredging up all that nastiness once again, the point is that our concept of “peace” is much different than how the word is often used in the Bible.

We think of “peace” quite simply as the absence of war. But two thousand years ago, an angel of the LORD suddenly appeared to a group of shepherds near Bethlehem and the night sky burst open with brilliant light. The shepherds were terrified, but the angel (as they almost always do when they appear to a human) told them not to be afraid.

The angel went on to say that he brought them good news of great joy for all people because the long-awaited Savior (the Messiah!) had been born. The angel told the shepherds that the baby would be found wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.

And then, in one of the scenes of the Bible which I so wish I could have seen, the night sky is suddenly FILLED with angels and they are singing:

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:14 KJV)

Now, history records that at that time, the Roman empire was not engaged in war of any kind. To our way of thinking, the world was truly at peace.

But that’s not what the angels meant.

The Greek word used in the Bible is “eirene” (pronounced “i-ray’-nay”) and it means “to join or tie together into a whole.”

The angels meant that the news they bore would make us whole, to be at peace, not with our fellow men—but with God.

It means they were announcing that the Messiah was now here and all the peoples of the earth could now be at peace and whole with God, not through anything we had done, but because of God’s own good will for us! God had taken the first step--the only step—that could restore our relationship with Him!

As Jesus conducted His ministry, he used that same word many times. Often, he tells someone he has healed or whose sins He has forgiven to “Go in peace.”

Go and be whole. Be at peace with God.

As I was reading various verses where Jesus used that word, I came across the scene right after He had washed the feet of His disciples. He had explained that He must go away, but they would not be left as orphans. And the words He used to tell them the Holy Spirit was coming echoed back to that night when the sky was filled with angels:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27 ESV)

Despite protests and gestures and symbols, many wars have been fought since then.  As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote in 1867:

And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men.


Even Jesus said wars and rumors of wars would continue up to the very end. But despite having seen the horrors of the Civil War, Longfellow concludes that same poem (which would later become a Christmas song) with an acknowledgement that the LORD God is victorious in the spiritual war:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the Right prevail.
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Today’s Praise

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phillipians4:7 ESV)

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Red Kettles



All across America, one of the most common sights of the Christmas season is people standing next to red kettles ringing bells.

I used to enjoy hearing my change clink in one of those kettles as I exited a store at Christmas time. But  as we convert to a cashless society, I find my bank card doesn’t generate loose change.

We’re all familiar with the Salvation Army, but a couple of paragraphs in David Jeremiah’s book, “Signs of Life” intrigued me into doing some research on this Christian organization that is so visible at Christmas.

Founded in 1865 in London, England, by William Booth and his wife, Catherine, it was originally called the East London Christian Mission. Booth was a Methodist minister but his insistence on preaching to the poor, the homeless, the hungry, and the destitute on the streets of London rather than from behind a pulpit led to disagreements with mainline church leaders and a split with the church.

Additionally, many churches did not accept Booth's followers because of their past. Undeterred, Booth challenged those Jesus had pulled from the pit to save others like themselves. Soon, they too were preaching and singing in the streets as a living testimony to the power of God.

From its inception, the Salvation Army drew controversy. Pub owners, who found their business falling off as alcoholics and other “frequenters of public houses” were converted, formed the “Skeleton Army” which disrupted Salvation Army meetings by throwing rocks, bones, rats, tar, and other debris  at members.  

In fact, the bonnet designed for women by Catherine Booth in the early days of the Salvation Army was designed to deflect projectiles like these as the ladies ministered in high-risk areas of London.

The familiar Salvation Army brass bands were originally formed by a father and his three sons to protect William Booth from attacks by hooligans.

Historian E. H. McKinley wrote that Booth’s concept of the Salvation Army was for “wife-beaters, cheats and bullies, prostitutes, boys who had stolen the family food money, unfaithful husbands, burglars, and teamsters who had been cruel to their horses.”

Apparently, there was no shortage of “those people” at the time as 250,000 came to Jesus through the Salvation Army between 1881 and 1885.

Today, the Salvation Army operates in over 125 countries and provides services in 175 different languages. It has over 1.1 million soldiers and 4.5 million volunteers.

It is one the world’s largest social aid organizations in the world with 2004 operating costs in excess of $2.6 billion. It is the second largest charity in the United States and helps more than 32 million people in the United States per year. (That’s just over 10% of the population.)

The Salvation Army has been instrumental in relief and aid for both natural and man-made disasters for over a century. They are often the first organization on the scene of a disaster.

Since 1885, it has operated a tracing service to help find missing loved ones. It has missions to help veterans, prisoners, the elderly, the homeless, the hungry, to combat human trafficking, to offer youth camps, to help with Christmas gifts, and to free people from addictions.

Oh, and the tradition of those red kettles goes back to 1891 when Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee was at a loss as to how to fund a Christmas dinner for 1,000 of San Francisco’s poor.

I think Christmas might be just a little merrier if I were to stop by the bank and pick up a roll of quarters.

Today’s Praise

God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:28-31 NIV)

 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Christian Media



 
As we look around at the world today and see (through the lens of the secular media) what seems to be an ever-increasing spiral into greater and greater sin and immorality all around us, please allow me to share some statistics with you that you won’t hear on the 10:00 TV news:

An estimated 45% of American adults tune into a Christian television program at least once a month. That’s over 109 million adults.*

An estimated 35% of American adults read a Christian magazine at least once per month. That’s almost 85 million adults.*

And who hasn’t noticed the recent wave of Christian movies?

In 2002, Sherwood Baptist Church of Albany, Georgia, began a movie production company called Sherwood Pictures with a donation of $20,000. Its first film, “Flywheel” was produced on a budget of that same $20,000, grossed $37,000 at the box office, and sold 600,000 copies on DVD. Subsequent films by the same company included Facing the Giants which made 102 times its budget, Fireproof which grossed 67 times its budget, and Courageous which made eight times its budget in the first ten days after its release.

The Passion of the Christ, The Chronicles of Narnia series, Heaven is for Real, God’s not Dead, and many others have all been huge at the box office.

Hollywood has even taken notice, terming the phenomenon, “The Bible Boom.”

And speaking of the Bible:

Even though Americans bought $572 million worth of Christian books last year, that figure does not include the Bible. No list of current best sellers includes sales figures for Bibles because its sales tower above all other books. Bible sales range between $425 million and $650 million per year.

The Guiness Book of World Records estimates that six billion Bibles were printed between 1815 and 1975 and The Economist reported that 100 million new Bibles are being printed each year. The Barna Group found that 92% of American households have at least one Bible and the average is three per household.

A decade ago, Christian websites weren’t even on the radar screen of most people, but today an estimated 17 million adults spend at least some time visiting a Christian website at least once per month—just like you are doing now.*

And, since I am writing this for a Christian radio ministry, let’s not forget the almost 112 million American adults who listen to Christian radio once per month and the 39 million American adults who listen to Christian radio every day.*

Christian radio reaches 17 million people per year who never attend church.*

While there is no contesting the increase in lawlessness and the decline of morality all around us, you are not alone in your faith, my brothers and sisters in Christ. Truly, the Good News of Jesus Christ is not dead and there are literally millions out there ready and willing to hear it.

Today’s Praise

"Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you, According to the faithful mercies shown to David. Isaiah 55:3 (NASB)

 

*All statistics marked with an asterisk were obtained from a 2005 study by the Barna Group.