I have a vision for seeing what I am calling an “army of servants” or “volunteer ambassadors” raised up to partner with us at ServeNow to accomplish what we believe God has put on our hearts to accomplish.

I realized not long after I started working with ServeNow that the passage Jesus stood up and read from in the synagogue in his hometown is exactly what ServeNow in its various projects is really all about. Luke 4:18-19 (a quote from Isaiah 61) says: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This is God’s heart and what His Spirit does and wants to do through our lives as we step out to serve him. And this is the “heartbeat” of ServeNow that is being carried out in practical and real ways as I write this.

We want you to join us!

We are looking for an “army of ServeNow ambassadors” who will volunteer in various ways to help us accomplish our mission around the world. We have come up with a dozen simple and creative ways you can volunteer your time to “Serve Now.” (Click here to view a brief PDF summary of those ideas).

For example, why not host a car wash where donations are then given to provide clean drinking water (“Water for Water!”) to those in greatest need in Nepal/India (some pictured below!)? This way you can serve your community while making an impact across the world!

water1 water2 water3 water9

Or how about partnering with us through our “Nothing but Net” initiative? For example, you could host a basketball tournament, free-throw contest or sponsored “pick-up” game and the proceeds go towards mosquito nets in Nepal/India?

Water and nets are going to be bigger needs than usual this year in Nepal/India where we work due to the earthquake destroying many people’s homes. But every $5.00 translates into clean drinking water for one family for one month or one mosquito net that will last about 5 years! Better yet, those being ministered to in this way will hear how Jesus is “Living Water” for our souls and our “Shield/Savior.” Many end up coming to faith in Christ as a result!

Or how about going to a local Wal-Mart and purchasing a dozen quart size canning jars for $8.99? We can provide you with stickers and custom-made lids and a flyer that you then pass out to friends or place in local businesses for our “winter-coverings” project. Every $10.00 worth of spare change or bills put in the jar result in us being able to provide a blanket, hat, socks, gloves and sweater to those in Northern India/Nepal where temperatures drop below freezing each year and hundreds die. This year the need will be even greater with so many homes having been destroyed by the earthquakes.

Nepalcovering wintercoverings

Or how about requesting some of our half-sheet flyers that give a very short summary of the kind of work ServeNow is involved in so you can pass it out to your friends and get them involved as partners? (Click here for the PDF file version).

There are other ideas such as bake sales (for our bakery in Ukraine that will provide skill training for young women at risk of human trafficking/prostitution), bike rides to raise money for bikes for pastors who often pastor more than one church miles apart with no transportation other than walking, organizing home meetings or connecting with people/your pastor that I could come and share ServeNow with, and other fun and creative ways!

Or how about going on a ServeNow mission trip? We have several trip opportunities left for you to join us this year in Ukraine (July/January), India (October), Nepal (December-January) and more trips being planned for 2016! Check out our website or ask for a 2015-2016 mission trip brochure: www.weservenow.org/mission-area/trips-2015.

Also, please take a moment to sign up to receive our short weekly prayer blog. Each Tuesday morning you will receive a short story from the field with some prayer points to guide your prayer. We need intercessors to pray! Sign-up here: huddle914.wordpress.com.

What about giving a generous gift? Click here to read a summary of some of the various projects and needs this summer. Or just give a donation on our website (Click here), or send a check to: 5550 Tech Center Drive, Suite 302, Colorado Springs, CO 80923.

Lastly, let me share four quick stories. Right before I began writing this blog, I read an article about an 11-year-old girl who was given $20 to purchase a gift for someone in need through another mission organization. She ended up actually turning that $20 into $10,000 in five years by doing various things to raise that amount!

That also reminds me of two young boys I know who were each given $20.00 by their parents to give to some need. They had many opportunities to give that $20.00 but each time they didn’t feel it was the one God was leading them to give to. They held onto that $20.00 for nearly one year waiting for the right opportunity! That time finally came when they saw the jars for our winter covering program and heard about the impact every $10.00 can have!

Or take my friends on the A-Team at Wesley Church in Quarryville, PA (pictured below). I gave this group of special needs kid’s jars to fill with spare change for our winter covering project. One of those kids, who I used to babysit, returned his jar in one week with filled change!

A-TeamWesley

Fourthly, consider my other friends at the Solid Rock Youth Center also in Quarryville, PA. These sweet kids (pictured below) are “competing” (boys verse girls of course!) to fill their jars to provide the “Story of Jesus” booklets to children around the world many of whom have never had any Christian material in their hands before! One boy actually put $20.00 into the jar because he found it so cool that he could help other needy kids come to know about Jesus! It only costs one quarter to provide one booklet to one child who will share it with 4-5 other kids and often their own families! Adults have even come to faith in Jesus through this booklet!

SolidRock2  SolidRockkids

It doesn’t take much to start or make a difference. God is just looking for a willing and committed heart and he can do far more than we could dream possible. As scripture says: “For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37). Not everybody can do everything but everybody can do something!

So what will you do to “Serve Now?” I challenge you as our slogan puts it: “ServeNow, procrastinate later!” It may not be with us, (or only us!) but the important thing is that you serve the Lord wholeheartedly, doing whatever he instructs you to do!

Behind the Scenes

Posted: May 15, 2015 in Uncategorized

I wrote a blog article not long ago (The Secret Privilege of a Servant) on Jesus’ first miracle (John 2) and mentioned it is one of my favorite stories. One reason is because of something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. In that story Jesus includes the servants who were “standing by” in the process of the unfolding of the miracle. As they simply obey his instructions they witness firsthand something those who simply benefit from the miracle do not. In fact it says in John 2:9 in regard to the master of the banquet: “He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.”

The day I began writing this, I met two very interesting people. Their names are not household names. But they are two people who have served on a “team” of those who are household names. Ever since I began the new ministry role I am in, I have suddenly found myself “backstage” seeing what really goes on “behind the scenes” in the world of missions and non-profit organizations. As a pastor I learned the daily pressures, challenges and attacks pastors face that most are not aware of. I realized through that time that leadership is not nearly as “glamorous” as some may think it is. You are constantly critiqued, criticized, questioned, misunderstood, slandered and even falsely accused by the very people you have been called to shepherd. It’s not an easy calling. It has its blessings and reward for sure; but things are often not as they may appear to be by others.

Likewise, I’ve realized the people we may “know” did not get there by themselves. Often behind the scenes are people who are “unknown” by the world but really are the “unsung heroes.” For example, most people do not know or could not name the person who led the famous evangelist D.L. Moody to the Lord. He may have led thousands to the Lord himself, but first he had to be led to the Lord by somebody! Another example is Peter, the disciple of Jesus. His name is well-known but what about his brother Andrew? It was Andrew who introduced Peter to Jesus! Or what about the names in the following verses? How many are you familiar with? Acts 20:3-4 says: “Because the Jews made a plot against him (Paul) just as he was about to sail for Syria, he decided to go back through Macedonia. He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy also, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia.”

The only other name (besides the apostle Paul) that may be recognized is Timothy after whom two letters of the bible are addressed too! But what this reveals or reminds us of is that although they may not be recognized by man, they are recognized and remembered by God. It also reminds us that surrounding every “Paul” is a team that “accompanies” and assists him. It’s similar to the saying that beyond every great man is a great wife. There is often much truth to that and the same is true in ministry. These men surrounding Paul may be less “prominent” or “known” but not less important.

David is another name that is well-known in the bible. But David had mighty men who rallied around him (2 Samuel 23). Or take Mark 15:40-41. It tells us that near the cross as Jesus was being crucified were many women and that “Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs.” Luke 8:2-3 provides us more insight into how they cared for his needs. Verse 3 says: “These women were helping to support them out of their own means.”

Sometimes in the midst of the “spiritual” we forget the “practical.” Life doesn’t just “happen” any more than ministry just “happens.” For example, ministry costs money. Jesus was able to go around teaching, praying and ministering to others needs full-time, primarily because of these faithful women supporting and funding his ministry financially! Their names may not be as famous as Jesus and the twelve male disciples; but they were and their roles were nonetheless equally as essential and important.

Or think of it this way. Have you ever actually paid attention to all the names at the end of a movie during the credits? It is amazing how many people it takes to put a movie together! The actual “actors” may be the “famous” one’s that we all know and remember, but without all the other people doing their job and fulfilling their roles there would be no movie and therefore no job for actors!

I have great respect for the “unknown” or “unsung” hero’s out there, those I call the “servants” “behind the scenes.” They are the ones who makes the “magic” happen…or perhaps I should say are the ones used in practical ways by God in the process of miracles unfolding! I challenge you to be a servant today, one who is “standing by” ready to serve and simply do whatever Jesus instructs you to do, whether you are recognized for it or not!

Proverbs 16:9 “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”

Proverbs 20:22 “A man’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand his own way?”

These two Proverbs have been very meaningful and comforting to me lately in the midst of many changes, decisions and experiences (with many more to come!). God has been reminding me of His faithfulness and how He is God over and in my life. I have been challenged recently to truly trust Him not only for, but in every step and direction I take even when I may doubt or be uncertain of decisions I need to make.

I have always had a fear of making “mistakes.” For example, when I played baseball, I dreaded more than anything making an error. I hated making errors. On the one hand that “fear” was one factor that drove me to practice perhaps more than anyone else and become very good defensively. On the other hand, that fear could be crippling in many ways psychologically!

Likewise, because I am under no delusions regarding myself, I know how much I need God. It drives me to “look to Him” sometimes perhaps more than others that are more “confident” in themselves, decision-making skills, experience or “intelligence.” However, the issue is, I may be aware of my need for Him but do I really trust Him? The problem especially arises, (as I am sure many other people find a common struggle) when I am uncertain or unsure of what decision or course God wants me to take…but I need to make a choice. Then I worry and am terrified that I will make the wrong choice.

However, two recent experiences really reminded me of the Proverbs above and God’s faithfulness (and therefore convicted me of my lack of trust in Him!). The first was while in Myanmar (Burma) on a mission trip in April. The situation was this: the cost of a flight within the country was more than anticipated. Due to that and other things we had already committed too, it didn’t look like we could really afford to fly back to where we started (which we needed to get back to as our return flight to the US would be from there a day later). So we began to look at other options.

One option was to take a six-hour car ride and then wait about four hours and then take an eight-hour bus ride overnight to get to where we needed to go. It was cheaper (and “enticing” just to say we did it!), but not time-conducive, convenient or comfortable for four of us (we then would have a three-hour flight, a four-hour layover, fourteen-hour flight and for me a four-hour car ride back home…only to then that very week be loading all our stuff on a truck to move to another time zone thirty hours away! Needless to say that would be tiring enough in and of itself!) But it also was potentially risky because of traffic or other hazards that if faced, could really be problematic, especially when you have a flight to catch and need to be there in time for it! If something where to go wrong, it could end up costing much more than we may have other wised saved! However, this was the course I finally “resolved” in my heart we would do, even though I was uncertain when having to make that decision.

But then God showed us that while we may make our plans, He directs our steps! It turned out that due to certain circumstances, we ended up saving half of the money we had planned or budgeted for in another area. Not being sure though if we would be able to book a flight that quickly (process is very different inside the country!) we decided to try…and were able last-minute to book the flight.

And this is where the testimony really comes into play. Because of this, we were able to have our morning open and therefore were able to minister in a center where over 200 adults, teenagers and even some children are sent because of various addictions. As I shared with them about God’s grace, his heart for the lost, and how He is a God of redemption and restoration who delivers and saves, His anointing was clearly evident. In fact, even though what I shared with them was very similar to what I shared all that week in other places, His presence and power and the passion with which the message was delivered was “stronger” there than anywhere! It actually was a personal highlight of the trip…and it was something we had not originally planned for at all! I don’t know what all God did in the hearts of those there, but His heart clearly came through and we all acknowledged the reality that God ordained and orchestrated our steps!

It happened again in regard to moving out to Colorado. Originally the plan was to leave on Thursday, arrive Friday and unload/move in on Saturday. However, the rental company pushed our move in date back a few days and by then my family had already bought return tickets back to PA for Sunday. This meant they would not be able to stay and help us unload and we would have to stay with someone or in a hotel for a few days. However, upon arriving, not only were we exhausted, but the weather was horrible with hail, rain and snow! It would have been miserable, if not impossible weather to try to unload and move everything in. This coming week however, will be gorgeous!

The point of these two examples (among many other examples I could cite) remind me that God is in the details or very “steps” that we take. He is Sovereign and knows the end from the beginning. He sees the future and all factors. He knows which “way” we should take and go, even if we are unsure. He knows things we don’t know. We may make our plans (and planning has its place to a certain point) but we are not God, nor should we try to be God or trust in ourselves or our “decision making” abilities/understanding. Proverbs 3:5-6 instead advises: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

This doesn’t say we will “figure it all out” if we trust the Lord. Rather it says, as we trust Him and submit ourselves and our ways to Him, He will direct our steps as we go. He will “guide our steps” so that our “path is straight.” If we wait until we have it all “figured out” or “understood” we will never “go.” And think about this: God can’t make straight a path that isn’t being traveled! And if we did “have it all figured out” why would we need to trust, depend on or even have need of God and relationship with Him? Faith is not having all the facts or having it all figured out. Hebrews 11:8 says about Abraham that “when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” Don’t miss that last part. Abraham made a move and went before having all the answers and information, simply because God told him to go. He didn’t know everything about where he was being called to go, but he knew he was being called to go there!

Like Abraham, God will test our obedience to Him to see if we truly trust Him even when we don’t have all the “answers” “information” “specifics” or “details” in advance. We like to believe or “be” in control but God wants us to set us free to not only know He is in control, but so we come to trust Him in the affairs, direction and course of our lives.

This is what God was reminding me of in regard to trusting Him. As long as we are not deliberately disobeying His direction or commands, and as long as we are truly submitting our life, will and ways to Him, (allowing Him to guide and lead us according to His will and for his glory), we need not fear making a “wrong decision.” The problem only comes when we are being stubborn, rebellious or disobedient and try to go our own way. As one old saying puts it: “They who will carve for themselves shall cut their fingers.” But if I surrender my will and ways to Him as my Lord and shepherd, then I need to trust Him that He will lead, guide, bless and direct. Consider the following promises from scripture:

Psalm 37:5-6: “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.”

Proverbs 16:3-4: “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. The Lord works out everything for his own ends —even the wicked for a day of disaster.”

This is where we (I) need to trust God completely. If I am “leaning” and “looking” to him, as well as “committing” all to Him, then I can trust He will sovereignly orchestrate and make “straight” my paths. He will direct and at times redirect so that I am not going off course. He is a faithful shepherd. Does not a shepherd lead his sheep? Sheep don’t need to know everything. They need to trust and follow their shepherd, for it’s his job to lead them to all they need and through all the “ways” they need to traverse! And God is not only a faithful shepherd; He is also a Sovereign Lord. He not only leads and guides…He also orchestrates and ordains as we depend on and commit our ways to Him!

I think Matthew Henry sums it up well in his classic commentary: “The best man is no better than God makes him; and every creature is that to us which it is the will of God that it should be. Our enterprises succeed, not as we desire and design, but as God directs and disposes. The goings even of a strong man (so the word signifies) are of the Lord, for his strength is weakness without God, nor is the battle always to the strong. We have no foresight of future events, and therefore know not how to forecast for them: How can a man understand his own way? How can he tell what will befal him, since God’s counsels concerning him are secret, and therefore how can he of himself contrive what to do without divine direction? We so little understand our own way that we know not what is good for ourselves, and therefore we must make a virtue of necessity, and commit our way unto the Lord, in whose hand it is, follow the guidance and submit to the disposal of Providence.”

I used to have many misconceptions about the poor. I’ve also had prejudices against the “rich” for that matter. For example, I used to think it was wrong to be wealthy and that all poor people were miserable. I’ve since realized that there are rich people who are very generous and humble (and that it’s not evil to be wealthy!) as there are many poor people who have more contentment, peace, joy and hope than many rich people!

In this blog article I’d like to touch on a few things I have learned from the poor (especially poor believers in Christ). But first let me state that I define “poor” as those lacking basic essentials/needs and the “rich” as those who have more than their basic essential and needs. Most people in the U.S. for example don’t see themselves as rich, but if we are honest with ourselves, the majority of us are “rich” not only compared to most of the world but by definition of having more than we truly “need” to survive and relatively comfortably. We often compare ourselves to those who are “richer” to wiggle out of the label “rich” but consider that more than a third of the world lives on $2 a day. Other statistics show that the average worldwide yearly income is $10,000 a year (that is including those without jobs and also involves some children). The International Labor Union says that as far as those actually employed are concerned, the average wages are the equivalent of $18,000 a year or $75 a day. (That’s not factoring in those who are jobless, self-employed, receiving pensions, etc). Most of those who will read this, at least in the US, therefore would qualify as being “rich.”

That established, here are some things I have learned from the “poor.”

  • The poor believers I have met are far from being weak in faith but are strong and rich in faith; sometimes or perhaps even oftentimes, more than those not “poor.

This is in complete agreement with James 2:5-6 which says: “Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” I have found this to be true time and time again. And contrary to what the false “prosperity gospel” teaches, poverty is not evidence of “lack of faith” nor is wealth evidence of being truly rich in faith.  Many of the “poor” people I have been with have put me and most people I know to shame in regard to being strong and rich in faith/trust in God. I have repeatedly been challenged and strengthened in my faith because of being around “poor” believers who are rich in faith. We may possess what they lack financially or materially but they seem to possess what we lack spiritually. I have learned therefore, that they often have more to “give” than I do; in fact often I wonder if I am the one going away more blessed due to being with them than them being with me! And often when I am asked to pray for them…it is I who feels they should pray for me!

I have also witnessed a greater degree of passion and fervency for God and in prayer among the poor than most “rich” people. Lukewarmness seems to be a particular problem and sin among those of us who have more than what we truly need. It’s as if we lose our sense of our true need and dependency upon God and seeking after Him the more we have. We tend to deceive ourselves and become distracted by other things. This was the problem with the Laodicean church. They confused physical prosperity with spiritual riches. Revelation 3:17 records Jesus saying to them: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” The first thing he then went on to say was: “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich…”

  • The poor believers I have met have actually shown more contentment, joy and less complaining than many of us in “better” circumstances.

As I stated earlier I used to think “poverty” equals misery and joylessness. While poverty often equals suffering and hardship it doesn’t necessarily mean the poor have no joy. On the contrary, I’ve witnessed an amazing degree of simple joy and contentment among many poor believers. I’ve also noticed the more we (I) seem to have the more we (I) tend to complain and being discontent! This is because of a mistaken notion that contentment is a result of comfort, convenience and “things.” It’s a lie. It’s also a “rat race” that never ends. One year we “have” to have an I-phone 5 the next year or two we “have” to have the next one. It never ends. 1 Timothy 6:6-8 however reminds us: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”

Contentment is an art that it seems the poor actually master better than the “rich.” It is something they can teach a lot of us, because contentment is something that has to be “learned.” The apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:11-13: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Joy on the other hand is both a choice and part of the fruit of the Spirit. That is to say we are commanded to “be joyful always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16) but also reminded that joy is a by-product of the Holy Spirit residing in us. It is something the Spirit produces in us regardless of circumstances as we yield too are led by and filled with the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25). Joy is not to be confused with “happiness.” As others have put it happiness is based on what “happens” to me (it can come and go); joy however is something much deeper and not dependent on circumstances. It is rooted in Christ who never changes!

Perhaps the poor often have more joy and contentment because they are not focused on and distracted by all the materially and physical things of things world as those of us who have access and can afford these things are. They are focused on the things of the Spirit and the bi-product is true contentment and joy, which is something money and possessions cannot buy or sustain.

  • The poor believers I have been with are not resigned to “hopelessness” but have a tremendous sense of hope.

This became so evident to me on my most recent trip to Myanmar while “interviewing” the “orphans” at the home we spent some time at. I was taken aback how time and time again when I asked the kids (irrespective of age) what they wanted to do when they grew up there was not only no hesitation, but no sense of hopelessness. This was all the more amazing when the educational system in Myanmar is very broken. For example, schools in Yangon have 1 teacher per 80-100 kids. The Chin & Christian kids (minority) have to sit in the back as minorities are discriminated against or “true Burmese” children are given preferential treatment. There is not enough material for all of them, so that also compounds matters, especially when they are last to receive things passed out. Also, it is basically a necessity to hire a teacher after school and pay a separate “love gift” (average is $100 a month) to truly “make it.” Kids often fail and have to repeat especially 4th, 8th & 10th grade. Half will fail 10th grade alone because there are only a few colleges so only the “brightest” will go. You also have to go to a public school to go to a state college. But even then, state colleges are not accepted by other countries! And other country degrees are not accepted in Burma! Intermediate kids (which are more expensive) go outside of country to college and often end up getting jobs in other countries.

Yet in the midst of that environment I did not sense despair, but tremendous hope for the future! These “poor” and “orphaned” children also didn’t have “low expectations” but had dreams of being doctors, teachers, a pilot, engineer, designer etc.

True poverty is not necessarily being physically or materially “poor” but having no hope, no purpose, no meaning. To be sure, poverty can indeed breed hopelessness and if you provide hope you can break some people free and out of poverty. But my point is, under that definition of poverty many “rich” people are dangerously poor and in fact many turn to drugs and even suicide due to the emptiness and hopelessness despite having everything financially or materially. Without hope, without purpose one has nothing even if they have everything. On the flip side with hope and with purpose one has everything despite having nothing. While on this trip during some downtime I finished reading Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning” and this was proved true not only in theory but his own experience in Nazi concentration camps.

  • The poor are not stupid or all lazy…many are very shrewd and smart.

This is another common misconception regarding the poor. Many of the poor people I have met are actually very and amazingly resourceful and intelligent (more so than me at least!) even if not “educated.” In fact, they are often more “street” smart than those who are “book” smart. I believe there are different kinds of “intelligence.” That’s beyond the scope of this article but given the opportunities, training and motivation, many “poor” people have proven very successful. Through micro finance programs for example, there are many stories of “poor” people who worked very hard and are shown to be entrepreneurially savvy. Proverbs 28:11 also tells us that: “A rich man may be wise in his own eyes, but a poor man who has discernment sees through him.” Being rich is not automatic evidence of being “wise” anymore than being poor is automatic evidence of being “lazy.”

The whole “laziness” issue is also sometimes more a “cultural” issue than “person” issue. For example, culturally in a part of Myanmar I was in, the “norm” among government workers was spending more time talking over tea “breaks” than actually working. This is more a problem socially or culturally than individually even though it is individuals participating in this behavior.

Yes, laziness can be and is an issue among a population of the “poor” but so is greed an issue, distraction and vulnerability among the rich. Jesus said in Matthew 19:23: “”I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” He did not say this in regard to the poor. In fact the rich are warned, rebuked and exhorted more in scripture (in some very intense ways) more than they are applauded or commended…and more than the poor are rebuked.

I guess what I am trying to say through these thoughts are that there is much we can learn from the poor. There is much the poor actually can “give” to us. I know many who have gone on mission trips or ministered to the homeless thinking they would go to be a “blessing” but found they ended up coming back realizing they were the one’s “blessed!”

Also sometimes we have this “hero” mentality as if we are “superior” because we are wealthier. But really, if you want to play that “game” what is “better”; to have material wealth that is only temporary or spiritual riches that are eternal? And which carries with it a greater responsibility? In Luke 12:48 Jesus said: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” John, the forerunner to Jesus, when he was baptizing people said in Luke 3:11, that as part of evidence of true repentance: “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.” And the apostle John wrote in 1 John 3:17-19: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”

Here is how I think it is supposed to work. If the rich gave what the poor lacked in the physical sense and the poor gave to the rich what the rich lack in the spiritual sense, no one, rich or poor, would be lacking what each is in need of! Rather than a wide discrepancy between rich and poor materially and often physically, there would be equality. And this is how the kingdom of God and body of Christ is meant to work. We are all to be dependent upon God, while being interdependent on one another. And then, rather than pride or poverty, all praise would go to God and God alone who is worthy!

1 Timothy 6:17-19: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

I just got back from my third trip to the beautiful Asian country of Myanmar (Burma) and wanted to take a moment to share a few highlights in this blog article. I was thankful to have with me a friend from NJ who is gifted musically and vocally and who the kids/people were so happy and blessed to sing with/hear sing…as they love to sing! I also want to say thank you to those who prayed, gave and followed along with us…thank you for being an encouragement and blessing to us so we could be an encouragement and blessing to these precious people!

The first half of the trip we spent sharing, singing, playing and praying with some of the sweetest “orphaned” children I have met. Not all of them are without both parents, in fact many of them have a parent living but due to conditions and circumstances cannot take care of or provide for them. For example, the picture below is of a girl a named Rachel.

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Rachel is 18 years old and graduating high school this year. She is from the Chin state and came to the children’s home, along with her sister, when she was nine years old. Her father died and her mother was not able to support her. She wants to go to college and become a nurse, working especially with children. Her favorite thing about being at the Galilee home is the fellowship she has with her many friends here. She loves that she has many friends. She came to faith in Jesus and was born-again at age 15 through this home! Her favorite song is “Heart of Worship.”

The ages of these “kids” range from 18 down to about 7 (some though have been brought as early as 4-5 years old). I was struck by their humble, sincere, passionate and child-like singing and praying. There seemed to be a depth of intimacy with Christ and maturity of faith already at a young age. Five out of the nine girls that I interviewed in fact had come to know Christ personally through the Galilee home! James 2:5-6 rang so true: “Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?”

I was also struck by how quick they were to “know” what they wanted to do for a job when older. “Hopelessness” is clearly not pervading, but hope is flourishing despite family situation and even in a difficult school environment where over half cannot go on to college due to the school system and lack of colleges in Burma. Even the youngest ones, like my buddy Philip (pictured below) who is only 8 years old, was confident in what he wanted to do when older. He wants to be an engineer! He also told me (and it is evident!) that his favorite thing to do at the home is sing (and he sings loud!). Matthew 5:3-5 is his favorite bible verses: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

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I realized while with these children how blessed they actually are. While many of course would love to know or be with their actual parents, God has placed them in an even bigger family, with more brothers and sisters and “parents.” Psalm 68:5-6 in fact says: “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing…” Many of them when talking about their favorite thing about the home, mentioned either playing, singing or studying…but always added “together with the others.”

For example, Shiphrah is 14 years old and in eight grade. She comes from close to the North-Western Chin State. She was 8 years old when brought to the Galilee children’s home. She does not know her parents. Psalm 23 is her favorite bible passage. Her favorite worship song is “Power of Your Love.” She was wants to be a doctor when she graduates; specializing in treating cancer. But her favorite part about being at the home is singing/praying together with the others.

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Or consider Jessica. She is 12 years old and in eight grade. She has been at the Galilee home for two years now. Jessica is always smiling! She is from the Chin state. Her mother brought her to the home (not able to take care of her). Psalm 1 is her favorite bible passage. She wants to be a clothing designer when she is older! Her favorite song is “He Came to Live.” She enjoys playing & praying together with the others at the home best.

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Or take Peter who is 15 years old.  He has been at the home since he was 6 years old. His mom actually died three days prior to the time we interviewed him. He wants to be a police officer when he is older. His favorite bible verse is Proverbs 4:22: “…for they are life to those who find them and health to a man’s whole body.” His favorite part about being at the Galilee home is praising God together with the others.

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Besides spending time with these kids and the many others, (I also shared a morning devotion with them each day) I then spoke at two church services on Sunday. This is a church in the country’s largest city and former capital. The church I spoke at is actually one of the oldest churches in Myanmar, in fact Adonijam Judson who is considered the first protestant missionary from North America to Burma, pastored this church years ago for a time. Now there are eight different church services that meet in this church, each a different language! I preached at the first service which is in English and then preached at the “Mizo” service, one of the dialects of the Chin people from up in the North-West part of Myanmar. At the first service I shared about God’s heart for the lost out of Luke chapter 15; and then at the second, on some lessons from a story of the healing of a blind man from Mark chapter 8. In between these things, I also spent time with the couple/leaders who I have formed a relationship with each time I have been there (and who haven taken such good care of us!) in assessing and discussion future possibilities in regard to ServeNow within Myanmar. We will see how the Lord might lead and direct…

The second half of our trip was spent further up North in Kalaymyo. The area we were in is mostly Christian but the other side is mostly Buddhist. Buddhism is the dominant religion. Buddhists in this country are actually very aggressive and favored by the government. There is a saying in Burma that to truly be “Burmese” is to be Buddhist. Therefore being of another religion still does have social implications and challenges even though since 2011 the country has opened up more politically and constitutionally has no state religion.

In Kalaymyo I spoke at a different church Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evening. It was very precious to worship with these humble believers. There was such a simplicity and even “camp-ground” feel or atmosphere. Each evening there is usually something going on at the church, some service, some study, some prayer meeting. It felt more the way life was meant to be. That is not to say they are without problems too, but I envied the humility and simplicity of life they posses. In each of the churches there were also many youth/children which prompted me to share a bit of my testimony and try to encourage them specifically and especially. I also had something happen to me that I have only experienced one other time (in Panama); there were “complaints” at one service that my sermon was too short! I am used to hearing the opposite, so that was refreshing!

On Wednesday during the day, we had a day long pastor/leader & wife conference, where I spoke for four sessions on “vision” “leadership” being a servant and then shared from Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesian elders in Acts chapter 20. The common theme that many testified of in different ways was how they gained “new insight” or “clarity” into their role, importance and responsibility as a pastor/leader. The fact that so many used the term gaining “insight” or “clarity” was meaningful to me because the one goal God impressed on my heart in regard to this trip was “vision.” My continual prayer was that “eyes would be opened.” That was the theme or goal in way or another of every message. On the plane ride home, I sensed that that purpose was accomplished and had great peace about that.

Another testimony that a wife shared with me was that some questions she had coming into the conference were answered through the morning sessions. As she shared she had tears in her eyes as she is feeling the weight of having to be “strong” and picking up some of the slack of her husband who she said is “weak” in his faith.

Another woman testified that she “saw” in a new way the importance of faithfulness in searching for the lost, even if we are not gifted or called to be an “evangelist.” I had challenged all the pastors that this was part of their role even as a pastor/leader, (Ezekiel 34, 2 Timothy 4:5). It actually is a part of all our roles simply as believers (Matthew 28:18-20). It is something we need a greater passion and commitment too as this is God’s heart and priority (Luke 15) as well as the reason Jesus came (Luke 19:10).

On our last day in Kalaymyo something originally “unscheduled” happened. Because we ended up being able to get a direct flight back to Yangon, (rather than take a 6 hour car ride, followed by an 8 hour bus ride through the night!) we had our morning open and free. Therefore, we were able to minister at a “center” where around 200 adults, young adults, teenagers, even children, are sent because of various addictions. This turned out to be perhaps my personal highlight of the trip and in fact the message that I felt (and others felt) was most “anointed.” What I shared with them were similar things that I had shared that whole week in other places, but the Holy Spirit seemed to be present in a more palpable and powerful way and I spoke with a greater passion there than anywhere else. I had such a desire to communicate to them God’s grace, desire and ability to restore, and call them to come to Christ, as some were not saved. It was a reminder that Christ really did die for sinners and it also was a reminder to us of Proverbs 16:9 which says: “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” Prior to that day, I had resolved in my heart that we would take the car/bus but God redirected our plans and determined our steps would be to minister at that place to those people which we didn’t even know was a possibility or option at that time! His plans are always far better than our own! The last day we spent the rest of our time with the children we had been with earlier in the week. It was hard to say goodbye to them again.

The last thing I want to share about this trip was a moment we had up on “Kalaymyo Viewpoint” which overlooks the valley.

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While we were taking pictures I noticed a rainbow off in the distance. This was a few days after the devastating earthquake in Nepal (ServeNow has an office and staff in Nepal, as well as a team sent from India responding…in fact you can give here to help with that cause: www.weservenow.org/mission-area/nepal-earthquake). But being up on that mountain and seeing the rainbow reminded me of God’s faithfulness and promises in the midst of chaos. (the riots in Baltimore were also occurring and “hot topic” at this time as well). It also reminded me of how Jesus “wept over Jerusalem” on the mount of olives saying: “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace — but now it is hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:42-43). How true that is for so many and much of the world right now! Only in Jesus is there true peace. Only in Jesus is there true reconciliation where hatred dies, prejudice is destroyed, forgiveness can occur and healing can happen! Only in Jesus is there “light” and “life.” But so many reject and dismiss Jesus, blinding themselves to their only hope. We need our eyes opened. But the only way eyes are opened is if we turn to God in repentance and place our faith in Jesus. For those who do, we have peace, the promise of life and life eternal and God’s faithful, unfailing love that daily surrounds us in the midst of a world at war, being shaken and collapsing all around us. As Lamentations 3:22-26 puts it: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

“Passion” week is upon us, where many Christians will be thinking a little deeper on the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross (a very healthy practice) and then celebrating the fact that He has risen from the dead in power (a life-changing reality!). This time of the year was always my favorite as a pastor.

So, being I will not have the privilege of preaching this week, like the last six years, I thought I would write about it, even if just to minister to myself! In this article I’d like to attempt to show how the gospel (which means good news!) or “the cross, the burial and the resurrection” of Jesus is so applicable and ever so needed every day of our lives and in our world today.

Let’s start with the cross. First of all, how did Jesus even end up there? Think about it. Acts 10:38 tells us that all he did was this: “he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” (Acts 10:38). If you read the Gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John), you read story after story of Jesus healing people, helping people, teaching people, feeding people, delivering people, saving people etc. Yet despite this he ended up being betrayed from within by one of his own, abandoned by those he poured his life into all those years, turned on by the very people he came to serve with the cries of the crowd going from “Hosanna” to “Crucify” in a matter of a few days! He ended up beaten, scourged, mocked, despised, spit on, rejected, falsely accused and dying the death of a criminal on a cross, unfairly and unjustly (Isaiah 53).

This world, filled with fallen and sinful people, can be a very brutal, nasty, cruel and unfair place. You can be “loved” one minute and “rejected” the next. Embraced and just as quickly turned on! But that is one reason I find the cross on which Jesus died “comforting.” It was certainly not comfortable and it is convicting to think about, but it is also comforting to know Jesus faced the darkest and deepest evil in the heart of man and yet endured to the end. This gives me hope and gives me strength in seasons and situations where I have felt betrayed, abandoned, turned on, forgotten, rejected, despised, falsely accused etc. It can give hope to millions around the world who likewise are right now being beaten, treated unfairly, unjustly, facing the evil that is very raw and real in this world. The cross was raw, real and bloody. The crown he wore was sharp, painful and thorny. The scourging he received was harsh, cruel and unfair. The rejection was piercing, the betrayal agonizing, and the abandonment painful. And yet deeper than all these things, was something darker than any of us can fully comprehend or will ever experience…the weight of all the sin of the world was on him as God’s wrath was poured out on him as He died in our place for my sin and your sin and the sin of the world.

Then came the burial. Christ really and truly died. Christ really and truly was buried. This period is often forgotten about or not talked about as much as the crucifixion and resurrection, yet it was just as real and is just as applicable to us today. Not only in that our sins and our old life has been buried with Him (and ought to stay buried!) but how many seasons of life do we feel like we are in that time in between “Friday” (the crucifixion) and “Sunday” (the resurrection)? There was a “day” (“Saturday”) in between those two events. A time of “limbo” where discouragement, disillusionment, grieving, mourning, confusion, doubts, fears and so much more “lingered.” Things did not turn out at all as they were expecting. They thought it was over.

Aren’t there days like this in our lives? Something happens and we are left shaking and scratching our heads. We don’t understand how things turned out this way. We are disoriented. Dreams die and dreams are buried. Hopes are dashed and we lose heart. We are shaken to the core. Doubts linger, fears rule and disillusionment leaves us bewildered and confused. I call them “Saturday’s” of the soul.

But then comes “Sunday!” Oh, how I thank God for “Sunday!” Christ rising from the dead changes everything! Christ being alive and “appearing” changes everything! Jesus not being in the tomb anymore is indeed still the greatest news ever declared on earth!! His living presence imparts peace to our troubled and shaken souls. His victory over death begins to conquer our fears and turn our mourning into dancing, our sorrow into a release of joy. His resurrection means our restoration. Him rising in new life, raises us to new life! Hope, healing, peace, joy, courage, gratitude, and new life begin to flood and fill our hearts and lives again.

The Gospel is the most real thing in the world. It is the most powerful thing in the world. It is the most applicable and needed thing in all of our lives every day. The Gospel changes everything…most of all us. It means Jesus understands and relates to us in every season of life. It means he is with us in and through every season. He endured the cross. He was buried. But He conquered death. He overcame all the sin and evil of this world. He rose to new life. And so can we…and so will we literally and bodily as he did one day…for those who believe!

John 11:25-26: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

May he refresh and encourage your heart this week as you think on these truths.

Saved to Serve

Posted: March 30, 2015 in Uncategorized

“Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her.  She got up at once and began to wait on them.”   Luke 4:38-39

I love this very short “testimony” for several reasons. As others have pointed out, it reminds us of the blessing of “inviting” Christ not only into our heart, but home. His presence results in peace. His presence restores our strength. Secondly, this also reminds us and calls to be intercessors who pray for the well-being of others suffering, as those in this story did for Simon’s mother-in-law. They pled her case, they prayed on her behalf and Jesus responded in tenderness and power. Thirdly, this followed on the heels of a more public and “dramatic” deliverance of a man who was possessed by an unclean demon in the synagogue. While that was more demonstrative and in a more public setting, this reminds us Jesus cares as much for the “little” things or more “private” things. Lastly, it reminds us he is the unique Son of God with power over demons and sickness.

But there is one more lesson in this that is a good reminder for us all and the subject of this blog article. The moment Simon’s mother-in-law was made whole and restored, we are told “she got up at once and began to wait on them.”  In other words, the moment she was “saved” she began to serve those around her. The moment she was made whole, she began to wait on others. The moment she was restored, she began to use her strength to minister. Jesus’ tenderness towards her, resulted in her immediately tending to others!

Think about that a little more deeply. In fact, let’s break that simple sentence down to two parts and consider the example and lesson in it for us:

“She got up.”  When Christ makes us whole, we too need to “get up” off our sickbed. He has saved us from our sin! He has made us whole. Why then do we continue to live as if we were still sick and in sin? That’s a contradiction and false testimony of our new identity and condition in Christ! We need to “arise” to new life, now that he has “restored” us to new life!

“…and began to wait on them.” She no longer was focused on her own sickness, for she had been healed. But instead of using her new freedom to serve herself, she began to serve others. Likewise, we are called to get up and begin to serve.

If you don’t know where to start, start right where you are! Start with those right around you already in your life. Begin to wait upon their needs and others needs. Simon’s mother-in-law began to serve the ones who had served her by praying for her and pleading with Jesus to help her. She began to help those who had obtained help from the Lord on her behalf. She began to serve those right around her.

Who has helped you in your walk with Jesus? Who has been used in your life as an instrument or vessel through their prayers and intercession? Who has been a channel of God’s blessing in your life? Who has “helped” you in Christ or bringing Christ to you? Begin to find ways to bless them for being a blessing in your life. Begin to help them as they helped you. Look to serve them in their needs as they did for you in your time of need.

We have been saved to serve…and not serve later…but serve now! Simon’s mother-in-law did not wait to begin “waiting” on others. As soon as she was healed, she began to serve Jesus. Don’t say “one day” but instead begin “at once!” Being touched by Jesus is to result in us becoming transformed into servants just as he came to serve not to be served.

Matthew 20:26-28: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Philippians 2:5-7: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…”

How many Loaves do you Have?

Posted: March 30, 2015 in Uncategorized

There are two separate stories in the gospel accounts of Jesus miraculously feeding a multiple of people. In Mark’s gospel account the first is found in chapter six and the second is found in chapter eight. The first time he fed five-thousand men (not including the women & children!), the second time four-thousand men. One interesting difference is that he fed more with less in the first feeding and they had more left-over than the second time!

There are many lessons/reminders we can learn from these stories, such as how quickly we tend to forget what God has done in the past in a way that builds our trust and faith in the present. When faced with a similar situation and need (actually less than the first time) the disciples don’t remember at first what Jesus had done before. Instantly their minds are overwhelmed by the need and lack of resources and they have no faith. Likewise, we can witness God provide in one situation, but later when faced with a similar situation (sometimes smaller in comparison!) we panic rather than remember his past provision. Take a financial need. God came through for us and met our need in one situation but then in the next we panic all over again rather than remembering his past provision and trusting he will provide again in this present situation!

But the one lesson that just “jumped out” to me during a recent personal time I had in the gospel of Mark, is how in both situations Jesus posed this question to his disciples as they were overwhelmed with where to begin and what to do as they saw the need before them. He asked them in both cases: “How many loaves do you have?” (Mark 6:38, 8:5).

Think about that question for a moment. Think about what Jesus did not ask them. He didn’t ask them what the difference was between what they had and what the need was. He didn’t focus on what they couldn’t do or didn’t have. He simply asked them what they did have. And when they simply focused on what they did have and could give, he took it, blessed it, broke it, distributed it and did more with it then they ever could have imagined or dreamed or done themselves!

That’s the question before each of us. There is overwhelming need in this world and all around us. At times Jesus even will put it in “our lap” and before “our eyes” to “test us.” This is exactly what John 6:6 says was the case in one of these very feedings: “He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.” Philip and the disciples were completely overwhelmed and stressed out over this (as it stretched their faith beyond what was humanly possible!)…but the reality was, Jesus was not asking them this to stress them out…but to include them in the process of him working in a miraculous way that would end up being a story we are still talking about and being inspired from over 2,000 years later! When Jesus puts overwhelming need with humanly impossible means/resources to meet it, He is testing our faith and granting us the privilege of being involved and included in a testimony he is developing! Remember the first word in testimony is “test.” There is no testimony before there is first a “test!”

Our job is not to focus on what we can’t do or don’t have. Jesus is not asking us what we can’t do or don’t have. He is asking us what we do have…and asking us to give it to him. He uses the little we have to work wonders in ways we can’t imagine!

Desiring His Presence

Posted: March 29, 2015 in Uncategorized

As I write this it is a Sunday morning. Many people will on this day be “going” to a church service. But why? For what reasons? What is the greatest reason? Fellowship? Obligation? Routine? To hear an inspiring message from a pastor? Or is it because of a desire to be with and be in the presence of Jesus? Is it to meet with him? Is our greatest desire not just on Sunday, but every day, for His presence?

I got up a little earlier this morning than I normally do and spent some time reading through a part of the Gospel of Mark. One of the things that stood out to me again where the numerous times Jesus would get away by Himself to simply be in His Father’s presence. Luke 5:16 in fact tells us: “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Just in the first 9 chapters of Mark I counted six times it is actually recorded that he “withdrew” (or attempted to withdraw) from the crowds to pray:

  1. Mark 1:35-39

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else — to the nearby villages — so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.”

  1. Mark 3:7-8

“Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed.”

  1. Mark 3:13-16

“Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve — designating them apostles — that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.”

(Luke 6:12 informs us that the calling of the disciples occurred after he spent the whole night praying.  Notice too that their first calling was not to “do” ministry but to “be with him”).

  1. Mark 6:30-34

“The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

  1. Mark 6:45-46

“Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.”

  1. Mark 9:2

“After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone.”

Jesus was an extremely busy and sought after man. He was being pulled in every direction by all kinds of people with all kinds of agenda’s and need. As someone we were with just last night put it, we have to be careful of the temptation to lose sight of what God is calling us to do, (the most important thing is simply and first of all being in his presence: see Luke 10:38-42) while doing what we think is best for the “ministry” or organization or church or family or life or business. The only way to discern the difference and know what to do is by spending time like Jesus did, with and in the presence of our Heavenly Father.

But it’s not just to gain wisdom, it should also be because we simply desire to be with him more than being among the “crowds” or “doing the ministry” or anything else. Do you long more than anything simply for Him? Is your heart cry the longing of Psalm 63:1: “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Do you make it a practice to spend or seek to spend quality time in his presence no matter how busy you or how many directions you are being pulled or how many needs are around you?

You will notice in Mark chapter six, verses thirty through thirty-four, their first attempt for solitude and rest did not happen until after they ministered some more. Sometimes that is the reality of life. Yet notice that in the midst of all that activity Jesus didn’t lose sight of getting alone to pray, which he did in verses forty-five through forty-six. But if you read on in that passage you see that his disciples meanwhile get stuck in the middle of the lake, the wind is against them and they are straining at the oars but going nowhere. They have no power. Could it be because they had spent no time in prayer? Could it be because they had not rested?

Our strength is renewed in his presence and power is given to us in prayer. We gain wisdom, clarity, focus and discernment. Psalm 36:9 says: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” And Isaiah 40:28-31 says: “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

As the old but wise hymn “Take Time to be Holy” puts it, I challenge you as I challenge myself, with this:

Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word.
Make friends of God’s children, help those who are weak,
Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.

Take time to be holy, the world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret, with Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.

Take time to be holy, let Him be thy Guide;
And run not before Him, whatever betide.
In joy or in sorrow, still follow the Lord,
And, looking to Jesus, still trust in His Word.

Take time to be holy, be calm in thy soul,
Each thought and each motive beneath His control.
Thus led by His Spirit to fountains of love,
Thou soon shalt be fitted for service above.

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

One of my favorite stories in the bible is actually the first miracle Jesus performed. It’s found in John chapter 2 and it is the story of when Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding He and his disciples had been invited too.

This is what happened: “On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.

(P.S…it’s always a good idea to invite Jesus and those who belong to him, not only to your wedding, but your marriage. For that matter invite Him and invoke His presence into every event in your life because His presence is truly what makes all the difference!).

When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

(Another P.S…it’s always a good idea that when an issue arises in your life, tell Jesus about it! In fact, rather than Him being the last one you turn to, He ought to be the first!

Also note that Jesus’ mother went to Jesus on behalf of the hosts. There is another great principle found in that; we are called to be intercessors for others who bring the needs of others (not just our needs) before the Lord in prayer. Prayer (bringing our needs to Jesus) is also what will make all the difference in ours and others lives!

4 “Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”

Notice that Jesus did not directly say no. This is important. Sometimes we give up praying too soon because we don’t hear an immediate “yes” or it seems like the answer is “no.”  But like we will see in the next verse, we need to pray and not give up. Mary models that here and Jesus teaches this elsewhere (Luke 11:5-13; 18:1-8).

5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

This is perhaps the best advice and counsel ever given. To each of us…we should do whatever Jesus instructs us to do! When we simply obey Him and His word, He blesses us! (James 1:22-25).

6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. 8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so…

I love the simplicity of this. They simply did what Jesus instructed them to do.

And notice what He instructed them to do were things they could do. It was specific, practical and not complicated. Sometimes we over-complicate the Christian life. Sometimes we even over “spiritualize” the Christian life. But sometimes the spiritual things are the most simple, practical or specific things.

Although note that what Jesus was instructing them to do may not have made a whole lot of sense at first! They needed wine, not water. So why were they filling the jars with water and then drawing it out to take to the master of the banquet? Yet, notice that you don’t find anyone questioning Jesus about this. You simply find them obeying what He instructs. That’s what a servant does. They don’t debate or argue with their master. They simply do what He says…whether it makes sense to them or not!

But again, this was something they could do. Filling the jars with water and drawing some out was not more than what they could humanly do. We cannot do what only God can do, but as my current mentor likes to say: “God will not do for us what we are called to do ourselves.” Jesus is going to turn the water into wine, but he called the servants to “fill the jars with water” and then to “draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” He did not do that part for them; but neither did they do His part for Him! Here is a great principle: as we do what God calls us to do, He does what only He can do!

This goes on to say: 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” 11 This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.”

There is so much in this that we could spend a lot of time addressing, but there is one line in this that I want to close with. It’s the verse that says: “He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.”

You know, it is one thing to be the recipient of a miracle. The people who drank of this wine were blessed. But there is a greater blessing than being a recipient of a blessing; and that’s the privilege of being included in the process of a miracle unfolding.

Everyday people are recipients of the goodness of God, whether they recognize it comes from Him or not (James 1:16-17). But fewer people are the instruments or vessels through which God’s goodness is displayed and dispensed! (2 Timothy 2:20-21). That’s because it takes the heart and obedience of a servant. But that’s the blessing of being a servant; you have the “inside” story that others aren’t aware of or privy too! You have the “backstage pass” or the “behind the scenes” view.

It’s like the making of a movie. How many thousands watch certain movies and enjoy them? But how many fewer were involved in the process of making that movie? We see the end result, but the actors, directors and others were a part of its making.

By the way…it’s not always as glamorous behind the scenes as it may be to watch. Filling jars with water and drawing some out were not “glamorous” tasks. It took some time and effort to do it and there was nothing special about it. But what Jesus did in the midst and middle of it…that was special! And the servants saw this. The servants were a part of it. The servants knew where it had come from. The servants were privy to something the others were not.

I maintain that it is actually a greater privilege to be involved in and be an instrument through which miracles occur in others lives; than to merely be the recipients of God’s blessings in our own lives.

As I write this, it hasn’t been long since we put together a banquet in PA for ServeNow. All through that process and as I sat there the night of the banquet, I thought about all that went on behind the scenes and the work that went into making it happen. It didn’t just “happen.” But I realized most people there did not know what I knew. They enjoyed it (hopefully!) but I think it was more meaningful to me because of all that went on before and behind the scenes to make it happen. It certainly wasn’t all glamorous to put together. There were tasks that were not all that exciting. But watching what God did through it and in it and during it…that was a real blessing!

I challenge you to choose to be a servant of Jesus. Do whatever He tells you to do. Obey His word. Follow the leading of His Spirit, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense to you in the moment. Let Him use you as a channel, a vessel, an instrument, through which He blesses others, enriches their lives and reveals His glory that His disciples might trust more deeply in Him!

Why a Missions Trip?

Posted: February 22, 2015 in Uncategorized

This year (2015), ServeNow is offering ten different opportunities (four of which I will be leading!) to go on a short-term missions trip to interesting and also very needy places in India, Nepal, Uganda or the Ukraine where there is tremendous opportunity to make a tangible difference in people’s lives. In this blog article I would like to make a case for why you should consider going on a mission’s trip (whether with ServeNow or elsewhere). In fact I feel so strongly about it that even before joining with ServeNow I became convinced that nearly every believer should make every effort to go on at least one mission’s trip in their life for some of the reasons I list below. For me personally, I realized years ago, it was healthy and essential for me to go on at least one or two trips a year!  But would you take the time to carefully and prayerfully read on?

  • Mission Trips are life-changing…sometimes more for the one’s going!

My second point will be that mission trips impact and can change the lives of those you serve but I wanted to make this other point first, because sometimes the most changed/impacted person ends up being you!  Let me give three examples.

My first “missions trip” was more of a work-camp within the US but it was outside of my normal environment for a whole week. And it was on that trip that the Holy Spirit did a work in my heart in solidifying a commitment to seek Jesus with all my heart. A friend of mine on that trip likewise came to a place of conviction regarding the way he was living and I have rarely seen anyone change as much and as quickly as he did because of that trip. He became my first real friend in Christ. That trip and what happened on that trip really set in motion the direction my life would end up taking!

Another example are my parents. It was because of their first mission’s trip to another country, to visit a child they were sponsoring through a mission organization, that the course of their life was changed. They were so moved by what they saw that they have now sponsored over 30 children from various countries and have almost visited every one of them! They also go on several trips every year, are involved in other projects and they are now advocates to encourage others to sponsor/go on trips and get involved in mission projects as well! So one mission trip resulted in their life being impacted which is now impacting many other lives around the world and right here at home!

One of my favorite examples of someone’s life being changed on a missions trip occurred during a trip that we arranged for a group of 18 from the church I was pastoring at the time. There was one gentlemen in his sixties, who had been a construction foreman who wanted to go on that trip. The interesting thing was, he wouldn’t set foot in the church before that trip (except for one time prior). However, we watched as God worked in a big way in his heart and life during that trip.  Since that trip, I would joke that now we can’t get him out of the church! He began attending bible studies, made a confession of faith in Christ and was water-baptized because of one missions trip.

So, it is fair to say that I have actually seen God do more in or through one or two weeks on a mission’s trip, than months or years going to church services week in and week out! I have seen a deeper and richer fellowship and love for one another form through a one or two week mission trip than had existed prior.  People who may have gone to the same church week in and week out but didn’t really know each other, all of the sudden become very close friends.  Churches are strengthened.  Local ministries have sprung up because of a trip to another country.  I have seen people’s eyes open, hearts melt, and desire to serve like never before develop through a missions trip.  I have seen it change the way they deal with money, their attitude towards giving and possessions and so much more.

I challenge you to go on a missions trip.  Your life (and church!) may very well be changed more than anyone else!

  • Mission Trips impact the lives of those you serve.

It is amazing how much can be accomplished on a one or two week trip in some places of the world. For example, I have been on trips were I have spoken to more people (or witnessed more come to faith in Christ) in one week or a few days than I do in several months or all year!  But one reason why more can be accomplished is owed to a team truly coming together to serve under a common purpose and goal with undistracted devotion. Another part is due to the fact that what is little to us over here, can go a lot further in other parts of the world.

For example, in the case of ServeNow, every $10 in US money enables us to purchase a blanket, sweater, hat, gloves and socks to cloth people who have none of these things in places where literally thousands die every year because of the cold! Every $5 in US money enables us to provide a NT bible to someone who does not have one due to not being able to afford or have access to their own. For just $12 a month you can provide training for a young woman at risk of human trafficking providing her a skill that gives her value and could prevent her from going down that road. For $175 you can provide them with their own sewing machine to open their own business upon graduating which means empowering them to generate an income and make a decent living!

Some may say, well, in that case why don’t I just give money to do these things rather than spend that money to just go for one or two weeks? God may very well call some to that very thing, but I have found that by going, you actually end up giving more in the long-term because of that personal connection and experience and ways God moves your heart and fills your heart with greater compassion! Also on some trips, having a team or people come to serve enables the people there to do more than they could do without a team or people physically present.

  • What is holding you back?

Think about your reasons for not going on a trip. Is it because you feel you don’t have the money to afford it? Then read about people like George Mueller, Hudson Taylor or others who trusted God for what they needed and how God provided for their needs. Talk to others who have gone on missions trips and how God has worked sometimes even in miraculous ways (talk to me and I will share some stories with you!). Trust God!

Are you holding back because of fears? Fear of flying? Fear of dying? Fear of something bad happening? Fear of getting sick? Fear of being out of your “comfort zone?” You’re not alone! I have had all kinds of irrational (but real to me!) fears on pretty much every trip I’ve been on! But I don’t want to be like the person in Proverbs 22:13 who lets fear paralyze them from something of God and something good because of being afraid something bad might happen! Proverbs 22:13 says: “The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside!” or, “I will be murdered in the streets!”  Trust God and stop making excuses!

There are a million and one reasons and excuses you and I could come up with for justifying why we “can’t” do it. Maybe for you it is you’re “too busy” and don’t “have” enough “time.” But I have found we make time for what is really important to us. Maybe it is you would have to give up your vacation. Well…think of the sacrifice Jesus made for you! He “gave up” the glory and pleasure of heaven to come to this sin-cursed world and die on a cruel cross for our sins! Talk about sacrifice and lack of comfort! Maybe for you it is insecurities. Acknowledge those insecurities but don’t let them hold you back.  Going a trip may be the very thing God will use to help you gain more confidence in Him and the ways He has gifted or talented you! Some may feel like they have no gifts or talents, but that simply is not true. Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something and everything (and everyone) is important! I have been on softball mission trips where non-softball players went or those who were not able to play were along and yet they were equally (if not more so) essential to making the trip work by doing things we couldn’t do while playing, such as handing out flyers during the game, talking to people, praying with people etc. Don’t let physical ability, speaking ability, age, fears, insecurities, money, busyness or anything hold you back!

  • Support those who go.

Not everyone can go on every trip. Not everyone is called to go on every trip. Sometimes we may be the one called to go, other times we may be the one called to stay and support in prayer and with financial gifts those who are going. Without those who give, there couldn’t be those who go! And those who give to help those go are now equal partners in what God does on and in and through that trip! Giving is a way of “going!” I challenge you to invest in those who are going on trips. Even if you go yourself, invest in others. It is a connection point between you and them and what God is doing or does!

Perhaps you know some people going on trips in your circles. Support them and pray for them. Or, would you consider supporting those who go on the ten trips we have planned this year through ServeNow? Just think, you could be the answer to someone else’s prayers, both here and there…by giving! In fact, I believe it is more of a privilege to be the answer to someone’s prayers than to be the one on the receiving end of answered prayers!

If you are looking for a place to give or people to give towards or trips to get behind…would you consider ServeNow and those who will be going this year? Each trip costs over $2,000 per person. And in the case where I will be doing pastor/leader training for 100-150 pastors, it costs between $1,000-1,500 (depending on how many register) to be able to get them there, feed them and provide for their needs that otherwise they couldn’t. Even if just 4 people gave $500 towards that it would be covered and be a blessing to them and us! (You can give by clicking here and specifying in the comment box where you would like it to go whether the pastors training in Burma, travel expenses for those going on a trip, or any of the other things mentioned or not mentioned in this article!).

I challenge you to go and give because the result will be you will grow and others will grow and therefore God will be glorified! ServeNow, Procrastinate Later!

(If you are interested in going on any of the trips we are offering this year: contact me at: bfoley@weservenow.org) and I can get you our 2105 Mission Trip Brochure or answer any questions you might have!).

No Compromise

Posted: February 18, 2015 in Uncategorized

Revelation 6:9-11: “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.”

Revelation 20:4: “I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands.”

In the news this week has been the story of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians who were beheaded by ISIS. Sadly, they are not the first, nor will they be the last. In fact, it has been interesting (though disturbing) to me that we are seeing or hearing of beheadings specifically. In a day and age of advanced weaponry and other means of death, gruesome and demonic beheadings are in the forefront of recent pictures, video’s and stories.  The reason I find that interesting is because of the two passages in Revelation that I quoted above. These passages are in the context of end times events and the second coming of Jesus Christ. And part of the reality of the end times and return of Christ that is highlighted in these passages are those killed by specifically being beheaded because of their faithfulness to Christ and refusal to compromise.

Whether or not we personally will one day be faced with that moment of compromising or staying committed to Christ even if it costs us our lives, every-day we are faced with whether we will live a life completely devoted to the word of God and the Lord Jesus Christ…or not. And actually, if we are not faithful to Christ in our daily living, what makes us think we would be faithful to Him in the face of death? That should give us all pause and self-reflection with the Holy Spirit’s help.  A real martyr is a witness of Jesus Christ in life and death. They don’t just die for Christ in a moment of “heroic” bravery with a “spurt” of courage, but they die to self, pick up the cross daily and live unto Christ, whether it means life or death, acceptance or rejection.

It became clear to me, especially within the last six years of pastoring a church in NJ, that there is a division occurring and growing clearer and clearer everyday between those who are “lukewarm” and love the world verse those who are true “lovers of God” and His word. There is a division (and actually should be a contrast) between the lives of the committed (albeit imperfect) disciples of Jesus and those living lives of compromise and complacency concerned primarily with their own comfort and convenience. There is a growing division between those with a shallow and superficial “faith” and those with a sincere and substantial faith, grounded in the truth of scripture, living under the Leadership of Jesus Christ and being filled with the Holy Spirit.  The question is which camp are we in…and if it is the first are we willing to acknowledge it, confess it, repent of it and become a committed follower of Christ with the help of the Holy Spirit and in accordance with the word of God?

I also believe this choice will grow ever clearer as the end draws near and Christ’s return draws closer. Yet surrounding this is much deceptive…as many living in compromise think they are living committed lives.  ISIS itself is under a demonic delusion thinking what they are doing is the will of “God” (which Jesus said would happen: John 16:2).  So again, with all humility and honesty, the question that each of us should really be examining in our own lives is where does our devotion and loyalty really lie? Does it lie within the world system and world values or the word of God and person of Jesus Christ? To compromise is to side with Satan and offend Christ.  To be committed to Christ and the word of God is to provoke the rage of Satan and offend the world.  There is no neutral position.  We must make a choice and no choice is a choice to not be with Christ.  Jesus was clear that if we are not with Him we are against Him (Matthew 12:11).

As the world reacts and people debate and troops prepare and plans are put in place in dealing with the ISIS threat, I want to end with quoting what I think is a very relevant portion of Jesus’ teaching right now in light of this. But I want to preface it by referring back to the end of the first passage of scripture in Revelation that we began with. Notice that as John see’s the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their faithfulness to Christ and the word of God crying out for justice and for God to judge the world for it’s injustice, it says: “…they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.” In other words there were going to be more joining them before this would end. This is was what others were and would be called to.  In this reality (that will also come through in the passage below), there is a comforting truth: God is Sovereign over and in all of this, so we need not, in fact are called not to be afraid but rather rest in the fact that nothing can happen apart from his divine will. And if He permits it, He will give us the strength and grace to endure it if we remain faithful to Him.

In fact notice also the call to total commitment to Christ, along with the exhortations contained in this that we need to stay focused on applying and living out in our own lives.  And as you read it, consider this question: where do you really stand with Christ and his word? Now is the time and today is the day to stand with and live for him.  Ask the Holy Spirit to give you strength, courage and commitment to Christ no matter the consequences or cost in relationships or life.  Your eternal reward will always outweigh any earthly sacrifice made for the sake of Christ or remaining true to his word.  Read slowly, carefully, prayerfully and obediently, asking God to help you apply it rightly in your life.

Matthew 10:28-42: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

“Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

“He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Overcoming Disappointment

Posted: February 17, 2015 in Uncategorized

John 11:32: “When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Luke 7:20: “When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?'”

Luke 24:20-21: “The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel…”

We all face times, seasons and situations that greatly disappoint us; sometimes even devastate us. Certain events occur (some deeply personal) that are completely contrary to what we had prayed, thought, imagined, expected, hoped, desired or dreamed. Life often is full of disappointments. Each of the three passages cited above deal with a situation where that was the case. And inherit in disappointments is great danger.

The danger inherit within disappointments is that disappointment can be a “faith” robber. In fact the enemy will use disappointments to plant seeds of doubt in our minds and hearts regarding the word of God, character of God, promises of God and person of Jesus Christ. Disappointments can lead not only to doubts but disillusionment and bitterness with God. Many people have turned away or are staying at a distance from God because of disappointments. Because of this many are “stuck” or at a “standstill” in their walk with God where they are not experiencing God’s power and movement in their lives because of the fruit of disappointment.

Therefore it is vital that we learn how to overcome disappointment before we are overcome by it! Let’s take these three situations and stories and note a few helpful points in helping us overcoming disappointments.

  • Pour out your heart and give all your sorrow, anger, pain, disappointment to the Lord.

John chapter 11 is the story where two sisters, Mary & Martha, send word to Jesus regarding their brother Lazarus who had fallen sick. Their message was simply this: “Lord, the one you love is sick.” (John 11:3). In that “prayer” is an expectation that Jesus will come and heal him, especially since they were good friends. The reasoning perhaps was: “If he healed people he did not have a prior relationship with, surely he will come and heal one he is friends with!” They had no doubt in His ability or that he would make himself available! Yet when Jesus doesn’t show up to heal him or even come to his funeral (he waited until the fourth day) their faith (and hearts) are shattered.

Mary in fact is so hurt by this that when Jesus does come, she stays where she is and at a distance. This is likewise true for many people right now. They have been disappointed by God so they have put walls up around their heart and lives. They won’t draw near or have stopped drawing near to God and stay at a distance.

It is interesting to note that Jesus does not force his way into her presence, but waits for her to come into his presence. During this time Jesus is working in Martha’s heart and life, but nothing is happening in Mary who has chosen to sit in her house and wallow in her pain.

Sometimes the reason why some people are not experiencing the movement of God in their lives is because they are not moving towards Him. If we sit drowning in our sorrow, rather than pouring out our sorrow at his feet, Jesus will not turn away, but neither will he force his way upon those who are not willing or ready. Rather he stands still and waits for us to come to him.

There is also a big difference between “shaking your fist in his face” verse falling at his feet like Mary will eventually do and pouring out your heart and pain to him. One posture speaks of pride and defiance; a holding onto rather than a letting go and releasing to.  One of the most important things we need to do when we are facing disappointments is give it all over to the Lord, rather than “give it to him” in the sense of “letting him know how we feel” while continuing to hold onto it and the bitterness that comes with it.  Fall at his feet rather than pointing a finger in his face. 

Also, it is important to note again, that it wasn’t until Mary moved to Him, that He began to move in this situation. And it wasn’t until Martha rolled away the stone in obedience to Jesus command, that Jesus actually worked a greater miracle than merely healing a sick man; He raised a dead man to life! 

Sometimes, the very situations we are disappointed by or devastated because of, are actually situations God has something greater in mind planned than what we had in mind! But it takes someone who will continue to believe rather than succumb to unbelief and “give up.” Don’t give up! Dare to roll the stone away! As Jesus challenged Martha right before he raised Lazarus from the dead: “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”   (John 11:40).

  • Don’t focus on what you don’t understand that is causing you doubts; re-focus on what you do know that builds your faith!

The second scripture passage comes from a time when John the Baptist had been put in prison. He was actually the first to testify and witness and boldly declare to the people that Jesus was the long-awaited and promised Messiah. At that time, he had no doubt in his mind, as God had confirmed it to him.

Yet now, fast-forwarding years later, there he sits in a prison confused and having second thoughts. Why? Because Jesus wasn’t doing what he thought he would do. John expected that Jesus was going to physically set him free, because after all the Messiah when he came would “set the captives free.” It’s not that this promise was false, it was that John’s understanding was incomplete.

This likewise can happen to us and cause us disappointments and doubts. We interpret a promise of God or the word of God a certain way and when it doesn’t turn out the way we thought it would we get discouraged and can waiver in faith.

What Jesus tells John is crucial. It was essentially two things. First of all, he called John to refocus on the evidence (or signs) that were clear: people were being healed, delivered and saved!  This was just as was prophesied (John 7:22).

Secondly, Jesus said: “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Luke 7:23). In other words, Jesus was saying to John, “blessed is the person who does not succumb to unbelief and turn away from faith in Me, just because I don’t meet their expectations or do things the way they think it is supposed to look like. Blessed is the person who keeps believing despite their disappointments, rather than the person who gets offended and turns away from me.”

We need to give our disappointments to God, dare to continue to believe despite them, while focusing on the evidence or confirmation that is clear from the past and in the present!

  • Keep moving forward and look up; rather than staying still consumed with and crippled by, disappointment.

As “Rocky” puts it to his son in one of the Rocky movies: “Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward.”

The third passage is in regard to a few of the disciples who were out walking on the road to Emmaus after Jesus had been crucified. It has now been three days. Some of the women and other disciples have been claiming to have seen Jesus alive, but these disciples are too consumed with grief and disappointment to even perceive that the man talking with them was indeed the risen Christ!!

That’s another problem with disappointment, it clouds our ability to perceive the person and presence of Jesus right there with us! Luke 24:17 tells us that: “They stood still, their faces downcast.”

There are those who have come to a standstill in their walk with God because of disappointment. Their heads are hung down in defeat and despair; rather than looking up in faith and hope. They have lost faith and lost hope. And so they cannot discern the presence of Jesus or His voice anymore in their lives even when he is right there “speaking” to them!

Disappointment can be crippling to our faith. That is why we must remember to apply these three principles when dealing with disappointment:

  • Pour out and give over to Jesus all your disappointments, anger, sorrow and pain. Don’t shake your “fist” at him and “give it to him” in the sense of “telling him off” rather fall at his feet in surrender and release it all to him!
  • Don’t focus on what you don’t understand that is causing you doubts; re-focus on what you do know that builds your faith! God has already provided plenty of confirmation to us both in our past and in the present if we but have “eyes” to see it.
  • Keep moving forward in faith and “look up”; (believe even when it doesn’t make sense & hurts) rather than stopping and staying still, consumed with, crippled by and wallowing in disappointment.

Ultimately it comes down to whether we will succumb to unbelief or persevere in faith. In all three cases, Jesus challenged their faith. In the first he said: “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” In the second he said: ““Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” And in the third he said: “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25-26).

What will your choice be?

Restored “Vision”

Posted: February 4, 2015 in Uncategorized

Mark 8:22-26: “They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?” He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t go into the village.”

There are some important life lessons in this account that I have been thinking about and even talking about to some people lately that I want to develop here a little bit more. This story involves Jesus, a blind man and some of the people who knew Him. In other words you have a man in need, intercessors who cared about Him and His need and then the Son of God to whom they bring him too. This account shows us Jesus’ power over human limitations and disabilities thus proving He is the Christ, the Savior of the World. This story also contains some very interesting and perhaps even “unusual” elements in how Jesus goes about restoring sight to this blind man. Let’s break it down and see what we can learn and apply to our lives!

First of all, it is interesting to note that the blind man in this story had friends who loved him enough to bring Him to Jesus. He never would have been able to find Jesus on His own (he was blind!). Think about that right now. There are people in your life who are spiritually “blind.” Do you love them enough to lead them and bring them to Jesus if they are willing? Have you ever asked them or spoken to them about Him? Have you “brought” them to Him in prayer or to a church service or bible study (or whatever!) and begged Jesus to “touch” them that they might see? Thank God for the “intercessors” some of us have had in our lives who have “brought” us to Jesus! Now it’s our turn!

Secondly, I find it fascinating that once the man was brought to Jesus, He didn’t just heal Him right there and then in that place and in that very moment. Rather, it says “He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village.” Why?

One of the things I have been meditating on and sharing one on one with some people recently, is a valuable life lesson I find in this that has been and is important in my own life. That lesson is this: sometimes in order to see clearly or have our vision/focus renewed or restored, we need to let Jesus lead us by the hand out of the environment we are in and have grown accustomed too. So many times in my own life, it was by getting “away” for even a brief amount of time…that the “fog” would begin to lift and I would be able to see clearly or see things I never “saw” before!

Going on a mission’s trip for example opens your eyes to things you never saw before and opens your eyes to seeing the world in a very different way. Just getting away and alone with Jesus somewhere outside of your normal surroundings cannot be overstated or stressed enough. I encourage you to do just that whether it simply means getting in your car and going somewhere you don’t normally go for a few hours or day or weekend; or going on a missions trip somewhere. It is so important.  (P.S…contact me if interested, as we have several trips planned this year, in India, Ukraine, Nepal & Uganda that you could go on with either me or through ServeNow!)

Secondly, the fact that Jesus led him by the hand is a very tender and comforting reality. Jesus is willing to lead us if we will be willing to follow Him! Going somewhere outside our environment or what we are familiar with or comfortable with, can be daunting or uncomfortable. Worse yet, is when you can’t see where you are going! But what a comforting reality that not only will Jesus be with us every step of the way, but He goes before us and leads us by the hand! Let Him lead you to where He wants to take you! He knows what He is doing and where He is going and where to take you! And it’s in that state of vulnerability, humility and dependency that you will come to know His power in fresh ways in your life! And trust Him! You don’t need to figure it all out in advance! Better to actually “see” for real, than just “understand” in your mind!

Thirdly, besides Jesus not healing this man right where He was, He also does something else “unusual.” It says that he “spit on the man’s eyes.”  Ever wonder why He did that? Me too. Let me know if you ever figure out why!

Joking aside, I think there may have been several reasons for this. One reason makes for a great point. Jesus often works in different ways in different people’s lives. Sometimes He touched people and healed them. One time a woman touched Him and was healed! Other times He simply spoke and they were healed. The point is, we can’t reduce this to formula, because this is about relationship. If we could reduce to a formula (as some so called “faith healers” try to do to scam people of their money) somebody should start a “spitting” ministry! Imagine! “$5.00 for a cup of spit that will heal your diseases…order today and we’ll even give you a discount on our special “miracle mud!”

But seriously and secondly, this reminds us that sometimes Jesus works in unusual or unique ways in our lives. Sometimes how He may lead us, or what He may begin to do in our lives, might not make sense to us! But what is important is that we follow His leading and allow Him to work in our lives however He chooses or desires. Because how He works…works!

Thirdly, notice that Jesus put His hands on this man’s eyes twice. The first time the man began to see but not fully. It wasn’t until the second time that He saw everything clearly. The first time He saw the “form” but the second time he saw the full details and with total clarity!  Can you imagine??  Yet how many of us are “seeing” something but not seeing it “fully?”

This reminds us that sometimes we need more than one touch from Jesus! We can be “slow” to “see” or “learn” or “change” or adjust the way we have “viewed” life. Sometimes there is a process that takes some time! There were stages to this healing. Likewise, there are stages in our spiritual development and discernment. Sometimes we need another touch from Jesus! Be honest with yourself and with God. Let Him continue to work in your life and give you even greater and clearer spiritual perception!

Fourthly, notice Jesus sent him back home, but warned him not to go back into a particular village. What is this about? Well, this is a good reminder that there are “places” we shouldn’t go back to after Jesus has touched us. Places that may have robbed us of our “sight” to begin with. Places or relationships that may have “clouded” our vision. Activities or sinful habits that have “darkened” our minds and hearts. Heed His warnings!

Lastly, think about this. Jesus spoke to Him. Jesus led Him. But now, this man saw Him! He came to really and truly know Him. When you respond to His “voice” (His Word) and follow His leading, and let Him work in your life how He chooses, you will come to not only know His ways, but know and “see” Him! How awesome is that?

Changes

Posted: January 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

I just posted an audio message on my new podcast website (www.benfoley.podbean.com) based on Matthew 5:6 where Jesus said “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they will be filled.” In that podcast I talked about how I have been sensing God “stirring” a lot of people to more…or to step out in ways that they never have before. I spoke to how there seems to be a “wrestling with restlessness” (in a good way) that many are beginning to experience and tried to encourage making a change or whatever changes may need made at this time. In this blog article I want to speak to that one word that is dreaded by so many, yet without it we “get stuck” and stop growing and miss out on so much of God’s blessing. That one word is “change.”

As I write this it is January 20th, 2015. My family and I are in the midst of major life changes. We had a newborn baby on the last day of November. At the same time, we had begun packing as we would be moving back to PA for a few months before moving out to Colorado. I also went to Africa for the first time. This was all less than a month before we actually moved!  Then we made the move, after pasturing a church in NJ for the past six years. I began a new job, not as a pastor of another church, but joining with a mission organization (ServeNow). This is entailing major adjustments and learning so many new things. It has already been challenging and stretching…but it means we are learning things and doing things we have not before. My wife and I are also taking on homeschooling this last half of the year which is new…and also stretching. We just got back from a road-trip to Massachusetts for a few days and are adjusting to a life of traveling more frequently. On the day we drove back, I then had a meeting with a mission committee at another church. We have been in three different churches the first three Sunday’s since being in PA! Point being, we are in the midst of many new changes even circumstantially and externally.

Change is not easy. Is not always comfortable. It can feel very awkward. It can be very stressful. It can bring to the surface many insecurities and fears. It can be exhausting emotionally and even physically.  It can make you more vulnerable to seeking comfort in other things and make you more susceptible to temptations of all kinds. These are some of the reasons people in general seek to avoid change at all costs. Some won’t make changes even though they know they are stuck and unhappy, because to them familiarity (even if it is killing them) is better than the unknown and unfamiliar.

But without change we do not grow. Yes, learning new things can be challenging and frustrating at times, but the reward is so worth it! Without change we get too comfortable and “stuck” because we cease to depend on God as much as we tend to when we are in the midst of changes and challenges. Change shatters our illusion of having things “under control.” This is actually why so many are not experiencing much more of the power and movement of God in their lives…they don’t really need Him.

But I just want to encourage someone who may read this and be experiencing a “restlessness” and “stirring” to make some changes. In the podcast message I just posted I spoke about a story in 2 Kings 7 where the city of Samaria lies besieged, there is a famine on the inside and so people are starving and the price of food has skyrocketed. So dire are the circumstances that a disturbing story of cannibalism has even come forth.

It’s at this point that we are told of four men with leprosy sitting outside the city gate. We get a glimpse into a conversation they have where they are considering their options. We read of them coming to a place of recognizing that if they stay in the place and position they are…they will definitely die. If they go into the city they likewise will die, for there is a famine in the city. Their only other option is surrendering to the enemy. It doesn’t sound promising, in fact it is likely they might kill them, but of the three options it’s the only one with the possibility of perhaps being spared. They choose to make a change and move towards the camp of the enemy.

It’s then that something miraculous occurs. As they began to move it says God began to move on their behalf! He caused the enemy army to hear the sound of an army coming their way and they reasoned that the Israelites had hired the Hittites and Egyptian armies and were coming to attack them. The reality however, was that it was just four men with leprosy!  The enemy army ends up fleeing leaving all their food and valuables behind!  The siege is thus over, the famine is ended and everything changes…because four men dared to make a change in their own lives.

When we dare to step out of the place we are in and make a change, we can feel very small, weak and insignificant. And the reality is…we are! But the other reality is what the apostle Paul spoke to in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. Interestingly, while in Massachusetts this weekend sharing and speaking at a church, someone during the worship service basically spoke this forth as the Holy Spirit was seeking to encourage and exhort us in this very truth that Paul came to learn from the Lord Himself: “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

None of the above realities are pleasant to our flesh. We often pray for God to keep us or remove from our lives these realities! Yet, God is seeking to teach us to trust Him, rely completely on Him and come to know His power…a power that is especially demonstrated when we are “weak” in and of ourselves!

For whatever it is worth and whoever else this might be for, be encouraged and comforted today. Change is challenging but it results in growth. You will learn things and skills you never possessed before. When you step out and make a move, you will see God step in and move on your behalf! You will come to know His power, even His supernatural and miraculous power doing or accomplishing what you couldn’t and can’t in your own strength or ability.  There may be those reading this who…if you stay where you are, you will “die.” But if you get up from the place you are in and begin to move…that’s when you will begin to experience more of God’s movement in your life and will “come alive” spiritually!  So…step out! Step up. Make a change. Do something new. Depend on God. Look only to Him. Trust in Him. You may feel “out of control” but rest in His control. Rest in the truth that He is in control and knows about, and cares for, even the little details of your life!

Matthew 6:25-26; 33-24 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?…But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”

Desires of the Heart

Posted: January 10, 2015 in Uncategorized

Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

For this blog post, I just want to give personal testimony of the reality of this verse, to perhaps encourage someone that might read this (as this is a testimony not of my goodness but God’s goodness and faithfulness).  But before I do that let me try to clarify what this verse does not mean, because I think it is one of those that can be dangerously taken the wrong way. What I mean is that there are selfish and sinful desires; and then there are what I call “sanctified” and godly desires that align with the desire and heart and will of God. It is those desires that are promised here. In fact when you are truly delighting yourself in the Lord (which is the condition the promise is made on), you begin to desire what God desires. Your heart becomes aligned with His. But this is not promising that if we somehow “appease” Him, He will give us “whatever” we want. He may very well “hand us over” to our own desires (Romans 1:18-32) if we persist in our selfishness and reject His conviction, but that is a different issue.

I also want to clarify that the heart is a funny thing. The human heart apart from God’s saving and sanctifying work is “deceitful and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). This is why we need God to give us a “new heart” with new desires. And this is exactly what God does for us in Christ!  God actually promised this for example, in Ezekiel 36:26-27: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” This is what happens when someone turns to and trust in and is transformed by the Lord Jesus Christ.

But even after that, we need to continually remain humble before God, because although we have a new heart with godly desires, we still possess our “old” sinful nature that tries to exert it’s selfish desires. So we need to say as the Psalmist did: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24). Scripture also exhorts us: “Above all else guard your heart, for out of it flow the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23). Jesus also warned that there are those who the “desires for other things” choke the Word of God from bearing fruit in their lives as intended (Mark 4:19).

That all said and out of the way; let me share about God’s goodness to fulfill the desires of our heart, when we delight ourselves (give ourselves wholly and joyfully) to and in Him!

When I was in eleventh grade of high school a girl I did not know walked into my math class. Immediately I was smitten and it was like “I knew” I would one day marry her. I prayed so hard that semester to be seated next to her the next semester (we were on other sides of the room) and muster up the courage to talk to her. The next semester I was actually seated right behind her and I actually mustered up the courage to stand in front of the class one day and do my best “Gladiator” (favorite movie at the time) impersonation specifically to try to impress her (it actually worked and got her attention!). It all started from that day and we did actually begin to talk on the phone and date for a short time. However, I wasn’t “delighting” myself in the Lord at that time or living for Him and everything (including that relationship) fell apart and I was devastated and depressed. About a year or so later my desire to be a major league baseball player (I was obsessed with baseball) was also coming to an end and I was again depressed.

However, it was that summer that my life began to change, because God began to draw me back to Himself and I eventually surrendered my life entirely to Him. It was at that point that God began to redirect my desires and also began to grant me some of the desires of my heart!

For example, actually because of and after the tragic death of my closest (and first real spiritual friends) at the time; that girl from high school came back into my life. She began to come to the bible study that that friend and I had started. This time however, I was “delighting” myself in the Lord (and that actually attracted her more to me!). Not long after we began dating again and ended up getting married (and now we have four kids!). God worked things out (despite “bumps” along the way) where before I could not make it work apart from Him.

But there is more to that story. Had I not married her, I would not be in the role I am now in with ServeNow. And that’s because I would not have met the president of this mission organization, of whom my wife’s family has been supporters of for many, many years. I believe that God orchestrated our being married for a purpose even beyond marriage itself…a kingdom purpose…and that that purpose is now being fulfilled!

As far as baseball goes, that was a desire God redirected for a time and then removed completely. I ended up helping to coach a high school summer baseball team for two years (while attempting to be a witness to them of Jesus) and then got connected with a group of guys who played softball and would use that skill on mission’s trips in Latin America with a mission organization called: SCEI (Sports & Cultural Exchange International).  I began to play with them and go with them on various missions trips where we were able to use softball as a platform to share the Gospel with people who otherwise might not come out to a church, but would listen to a bunch of fellow softball player’s talk to them about relationship with Jesus! Whereas once I played baseball for myself in trying to find personal happiness and fulfillment, now I could use it for God’s glory and to reach others with the Only One who can truly satisfy the thirst of our souls and set us free from our bondage: Jesus Christ!

But I have to also share something “special” that God did that He really didn’t have to do, but I think is just His heart and goodness. On one of those trips we played against a team that had an ex-major league baseball player playing with them that day. I was playing third base that game. And while standing there I thought “wouldn’t it be cool if he hit a ground-ball my way and I could say I threw out a major league baseball?” Well…I had my “Field of Dreams” “Moonlight Graham” moment (for those who know the movie). He actually did hit a ground-ball my way that game and I threw him out at first!  From that point on I have had no desire for (and don’t even watch anymore) baseball or even sports in general!

Well, I also had a desire to pastor a small church and see God change people’s lives and awaken them to fellowship with God and a greater hunger for Him and His word. The last six years I was able to pastor a small church and see those realities occur in several people’s lives.

I have also had a desire for missions and now I will be able to be more involved in serving people in various ways in several parts of the world, in many cases getting the Good News of Jesus Christ to those who have never heard it better.

I have had a heart for those in danger of human trafficking and now will be able to be involved with some projects that will help prevent some from being swept up into that evil.

I have had a desire to “Make the dreams (God-given) of others come true” and now in this new role, I will be able to be a part of seeing that happen.

I have had a heart for India for years (India was the first mission trip I went on) and India is the country ServeNow primarily works in.

I also remember having such a strong desire to go to Myanmar (Burma) after they got slammed by cyclone Nargis and miraculously God not only opened a door to go, but connected me with a contact that I have been able to revisit and will be doing some ministry with again in a few months!

I also had a desire to have girls.  In fact (funny story) when my middle brother was born, (I was about 4 or 5), I wanted a sister.  My parents had the name “April” picked out if it was a girl.  Well, when I was told that I had a baby brother, I said: “Well, I will call him April until he turns into a girl!”  That still hasn’t worked.  But my first two children were girls.  My wife had a desire for sons and our next two were boys!  And in that case, like many others, God did something that I didn’t even realize I had a desire for but am thankful He did!

And lastly, (for this blog post anyway!), I took a few classes my freshmen year of high school in “Elementary Education” as I considered becoming an elementary school teacher. Well, I realized that as I write this that desire is being fulfilled in helping my wife to organize, teach and home-school our girls this year!

There are many more desires fulfilled that I could speak to in more detail, but my point in sharing these things is just to testify to the goodness and faithfulness of God, His word and His promises to perhaps encourage someone else. As 2 Corinthians 1:20 says: “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.” If you delight yourself in the Lord He truly will give you and satisfy in you, the desires of your heart. He is the “water of life” the very spring and source of eternal life. He is life…real life…itself…and that life is all found in fellowship with Him.

One more thing.  I honestly wonder if I would be alive today, had I not surrendered my life to Christ and come to know the joy, purpose, meaningful, life, hope and just fulfillment that is found in Him and doing His will.  There is no greater joy than fellowship with Him, willing obedience, wholehearted submission and surrender to His will. This very place that so many are so afraid to go…is the only place of true freedom and life that satisfies. Many stay where it is “safe” and they can still be “in control” or we try to satisfy our desires with substitute and counterfeit things. But until you truly submit your life to Jesus Lordship and Leadership you will not know the life and power and fellowship there is in Him.

I would encourage you to “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, but acknowledge Him in all your ways, for He will direct (make straight) your paths” as Proverbs 3:5-6 promises. God is faithful and God is good. The question is will you trust His goodness and submit your life and ways entirely to Him, delighting in Him and trusting in Him?

I have found the enemy of our souls (Satan) will seek to attack us in some of the following ways: temptation, distraction, discouragement, doubts, fear, oppression & opposition.

In this article I want to address oppression and opposition; but then also times when it may not be the enemy hindering God’s will, but God actually directing or delaying us in accordance with His will!

Let’s start with oppression. Oppression is that feeling that the weight of the world is on your shoulders in a way that depletes you of joy, peace and strength. It’s bearing a “heavy load” or weighty “yoke.” It causes us to feel very sluggish and “tired” with little desire to pray, worship or spend time in God’s Word.  Sometimes oppression comes upon us as a result of our own sin and straying from the Lord. Sometimes oppression comes from what other people do to us. Sometimes it is simply spiritual warfare directly from Satan.

One of the beautiful promises of Scripture is that God see’s, cares and has power to deliver us from oppression. In Psalm 12:5 God Himself says: “Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise,” says the Lord. “I will protect them from those who malign them.” The whole story of God delivering His people from slavery and “oppression” in Egypt is predicated on the fact that the Israelites began to cry out to God in regard to their oppression. Moses reminded the Israelites in Deuteronomy 26:7 that: “Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression.”

This is one of the keys to combating oppression: cry out to the Lord in prayer! Call upon His name. There is power in His Name and peace in His presence. Come to Jesus. Jesus Himself, in a statement that reveals His heart of compassion (and power) said in Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Rest assured, God cares and has power to set you free from oppression. In one of the most beautiful prophecies in regard to Jesus’ coming, one part of it states in Isaiah 9:4: “For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.” A major part of Jesus’ ministry and presence is setting the oppressed free.

I have found that when I am oppressed, getting into His presence and simply worshiping Him until the oppression lifts is crucial. However, when you are oppressed you don’t feel like doing anything…especially worshiping! But it’s in His presence that there is victory, freedom, deliverance and peace, joy and strength is restored.

 

Secondly, the enemy also seeks to oppose the will of God and plans of God in your life. He seeks to thwart and hinder any movement forward or advancement or spiritual growth to once again rob of joy. In 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20 for example, Paul writes to the Thessalonian believers this: “For we wanted to come to you — certainly I, Paul, did, again and again — but Satan stopped us. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.”

Recently, at the time of writing this, this is one of the main tactics I have been experiencing. This can also then cause oppression. But what God laid on my heart to combat this is greater prayer and intercession until it “breaks” or the way/door opens up. One of my favorite verses in the book of Song of Solomon puts it this way in Song 4:6: “Until the day breaks and the shadows flee, I will go to the mountain of myrrh and to the hill of incense.” Myrrh in Scripture speaks of sorrow. Incense is pictured elsewhere as representing prayer. Prayer is often hard work and can be likened to “climbing” a mountain or “hill.” But it’s in that place of prayer and intercession that things are moved forward in accordance with God’s will! This verse spiritually speaking, is saying “until the light drives out this darkness and there is breakthrough I will continue to remain in the place of prayer!” Remember, 2 Corinthians 10:4 tells us: “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” Prayer is one of those weapons we have that has divine power and results in God’s power being demonstrated in situations beyond our human ability or strength.  I have been experiencing that reality just recently and it is encouraging!

 

Lastly, let me address two other realities. And this is where we need wisdom and discernment that can only come from the Spirit of God. There are times or situations where it is not Satan opposing or thwarting, but God redirecting or delaying us!

Acts 16:6-10 for example records this: “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

Notice it wasn’t Satan who prevented them from entering these territories; it was God directing them to where He wanted them to be! Sometimes God closes doors, because there is another door elsewhere He wants us to go through. We need to ask God for wisdom as to whether He is redirecting us or whether it is the enemy hindering us.

Other times it may not be the enemy opposing but God delaying. To the Roman believers Paul wrote in Romans 1:13: “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.”

Here we learn sometimes God may delay us not because it isn’t His will or the enemy opposing; but because it’s not yet the right time. Fruit for example, needs time to ripen before it can be picked and enjoyed. Sometimes God has to do a work in advance to the work He is calling us to do! Sometimes this is a work that has to be done in us, other times a work in those we are being sent to, so that it will be effective and fruitful and accomplish the purpose God intends.

The point is we need spiritual discernment to know what is really going on spiritually. That can only come from asking God! And thankfully, James 1:5-8 reminds us that: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”

Seek God to “see” spiritually what you are up against. If it is oppression or opposition that comes from Satan, hunker down in worship and prayer. If however, it is God redirecting or delaying, trust in Him and submit to Him. He knows what He is doing!

Giving Part 2: Stories

Posted: January 3, 2015 in Uncategorized

In this blog article I want to follow-up with the previous post, by sharing three personal and real life stories (from myself, my dad and my wife’s grandfather).

The first story I’d like to share is about a time when I was newly married and we just had our first child. My wife was working part-time and I was working in real estate, along with other part-time jobs here and there. We lived in an apartment and were not making much money. But one day, I had it on my heart to give a specific amount to a local youth center.  That amount, at that time, was somewhat of a “sacrifice” for us in light of our bills and needs. Right after I wrote the check, my stomach sank when I saw in the mail a notice about owing three times the amount we just wrote out to give away, in regard to our child’s birth that our insurance apparently wasn’t covering. I was discouraged and was even tempted to tear up the check I just written to give to this youth center! But when my wife called to take care of this issue, we received interesting news…they had made a mistake and our insurance would be paying that amount! That in itself was like getting three times the amount we just wrote out to give away…back! But the story gets even better. That very night we got a phone call from Lauren’s sister. She proceeded to tell my wife that she had been cleaning out her car and happened to find an old check from months ago, that had never been cashed, between the seats. The amount of that check was literally the amount we just wrote out to give away, plus three dollars and three cents more! God can provide in ways you never could think or imagine!

The second story I’d like to tell comes from my dad. I asked him to write something up himself. Here is what he wrote:

“The blessings of giving started for us long before I had the business. When we started tithing things almost immediately started getting better for us. But the real blessing was the joy we felt in giving. We did not have a lot when we made the commitment to start tithing. I still remember being delighted to be able to help people in need. What really helped for us was never considering the money ours, we always set it aside first then looked for where God was directing us to give. Shortly after we started tithing the company I was working for hired a consultant to look at every aspect of their business. One of the things they told them was I was way underpaid for what I was doing. I got a substantial raise at that point. As we got more money via raises, bonuses, tax refunds we kept giving more both dollars and percentage as we realized that we got such joy out of it and also saw God was faithful to His promises in Malachi 3:10-12.

So when I started tinkering around on eBay I asked myself after a little while why I was doing this as I already made a nice living as a salesman. It was then I decided that the profit from that business would be used largely for us to be able to give more and to help the Kingdom. Wow, did it take off at that point. I mean immediately that day the sales like tripled without explanation other than God blessing it. Then very shortly after that we stumbled upon the memory cards and that really took off. As we continued to give the business continued to grow in leaps and bounds. It has been so cool being used by God and watching Him work through our business.

It has been a spiritual battle as well though. As virtually every time we go on a mission trip something would happen to threaten the business. Even now as Amazon has suspended my account I have a peace that if it is from Satan then my God is greater and the issue will be resolved. And if it is from God then I will trust in what He has planned next for us.”

The third story I’d like to share concerns my wife’s grandfather who was an extremely generous man. He gave to the work of the Lord and had a heart for those in need. The president of the organization I will be working with, who was a personal friend that the family has supported for many years, told me it was from him that he received the largest gift he has ever received in one check. When my wife’s grandfather was just 15 he prayed a prayer that he wanted to give away a million dollars one day for the sake of the kingdom of God. That was a “big” and “bold” request at the time, but in reality it actually seems like nothing compared to what he ended up actually giving away! God blessed him with a knack for business (he attributes a lot of his success to the book of Proverbs!) and he became the founder of what became a successful potato chip company!

There are so many stories that could be told, both from the Bible and from those past and present. You cannot out-give God. The question is will we trust in money or trust in Him? The issue is not the amount compared to others. Luke 21:1-4 tells a story about how many “rich” people were putting into the temple treasury “large gifts” and a poor widow who put in an amount significantly less, yet significantly more: “All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” We can’t give what we don’t have. We can only give according to what we do have. But the question is are we willing to give according to what we do have and what is put on our heart to give?

God can take that, even if it seems “small” or “insignificant” to us and do amazing things with it.  Think of the boy who gave all he had to Jesus.  Jesus blessed it, used it and multiplied it to feed over 5,000 people! (John 6). 

Small amounts can actually make a big difference.  With a ministry like ServeNow for example, just $5 provides a NT Bible to someone who cannot afford or does not have access to one of their own!  $5 provides clean water to a family for an entire month in area’s of India where it can be 125 degrees in the summer!  $5 provides a mosquito net to protect from malaria.  $10 provides a hat, scarf, blanket, gloves, sweater & socks to one person in Northern India where temperatures are freezing and hundreds literally die due to the cold and lack of sufficient clothing!  $323 can provide a day long medical clinic that will treat hundreds of people who do not have access (or have never had) medical treatment from a doctor before!  $165 provides a bike to a pastor in rural parts of Uganda, some of whom pastor more than one church, which means walking miles on foot.  A “little” can be a “lot” and make a “big” difference!

Sometimes God will put on our heart to give in ways that actually are “sacrificial.” It’s not that He wants us to suffer while others prosper. But He also doesn’t want us to prosper while others suffer and we do nothing about it (see 2 Corinthians 8:12-14). He wants us to share in the joy of giving and blessing of giving. It is actually a means of knowing Him and His heart.

Jesus is in fact our example: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Lastly, 2 Corinthians 9:12-15 goes on to remind us of this reality that I have witnessed and seen to be true time and time again: “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

Giving Part 1: Scriptures

Posted: January 2, 2015 in Uncategorized

“But just as you excel in everything — in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us —see that you also excel in this grace of giving.”     -2 Corinthians 8:7

In a few more days, I will officially be joining with a mission organization called ServeNow, which exists to serve those in need (often in dark/remote places in various parts of the world) and to help equip churches to better fulfill the Great Commission, while doing other good deeds in Jesus’ name. Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that while we are not saved by doing good deeds (but by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus) we are saved to do good works: “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” God has assigned for each of us work that He is calling us to do. Our job is to discover what those works are and then do them!

Years ago, before I began to pastor the church I did for the last six years, God was already at work in putting on my heart the kind of work I will now be doing. At the time He said to me: “Make the dreams (God-given dreams) of others come true.” Over the years, God has opened up some doors and put a few opportunities before me to do this on a very small scale. Sometimes it meant giving to certain projects or missionaries/mission organizations myself, other times it meant going and calling on others to give.

For example, when cyclone Nargis hit Burma, my heart was filled with a compassion I had never experienced before, for a country I had never heard of prior to that event. I began to pray and God opened up a door for me to go a couple of times and help in various ways. Our church just this year gave money to help build a new orphanage building and some are also now monthly sponsoring some of the orphans there after coming back and presenting the need to the congregation.

Now God is putting me in a role with bigger needs and greater responsibility. And of course, with that, and to do the work God puts before us, money is needed. So, I’ve naturally been thinking more about money. The reality is ministry requires money. In fact, Luke 8:1-3 tells us that Jesus’ own traveling ministry (which involved preaching, teaching, healing/helping people) was “funded” by a group of women in particular, some (or all) of whom had been helped by Jesus. After listing some of their names Luke 8:3 says: “These women were helping to support them out of their own means.”

The problem with money is that it is a sensitive and personal thing for so many of us. First of all, for many people, money is their god. It represents power for some, social status for others, pleasure, control or a combination of all these things for others! Money equals livelihood and it’s not easy for us to part with. But as David prayed before the people to God in 1 Chronicles 29:14 in regard to the resources that he and others had given for the building of the temple: “Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.” Before this, He prayed: “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this?

David understood everything comes from God, belongs to God and giving to the work of God is a gift, a grace and a responsibility. Paul called upon the Corinthians to excel also in the “grace of giving.” Giving is a grace (a gift) God gives us. It is a privilege. It is not to be viewed as a burden. Jesus is recorded as having once said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” (Acts 20:35). In Luke 12:48, Jesus said: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Giving is a grace and a sacred responsibility for which we will be accountable to God for. Our money is not to be squandered for selfish purposes. It is to be invested in the kingdom of heaven. As Jesus also once said in Matthew 6:19-21: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

The greatest, most secure “investment” you can make with your money that also produces the greatest “dividends” is in regard to the work of God and kingdom of God! Your reward will not be merely temporary earthly “treasure” but eternal reward in heaven that will last forever and impact other lives one earth, possibly even for generations to come!

We are to give, because God is a giver by nature and this is one way we reflect His nature and character. In fact, perhaps the best known verse begins by saying: “For God so loved the world, that He gave…” And God gave His only, His all, His best!

You cannot out-give God. Go ahead and try. This is one area you God basically says “go ahead I dare you to test me!” (Malachi 3:8-12). I could share testimony after testimony of God’s faithfulness to us personally in this regard. (In the next blog I’ll share a few stories). But Jesus Himself said in Luke 6:38: “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.”

Proverbs 11:25 says: “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”

Proverbs 19:17: “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done.”

Proverbs 22:9 says: “A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.”

But Proverbs 21:13 warns: “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.”

Proverbs 28:27 likewise promises/warns: “He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.”

I challenge you, as I challenge myself, to trust God more in the area of giving to the work of the Lord in 2015. I challenge you as I challenge myself more, to excel in the grace of giving. I challenge you, as I challenge myself, to take seriously the responsibility we have and privilege we have in giving. I challenge you to invest in eternal things, not earthly things. I challenge you to give cheerfully, sacrificially, willingly and according to what you have (not what you don’t have) (2 Corinthians 8:12). Give of your first and give your best out of faith like Abel; not your last and left-overs out of obligation like Cain (Genesis 4:2-5; Hebrews 11:4).  It will not only change your life, but God will use it to change others’ lives as well!

2 Corinthians 9:6-8: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

Rescued From This Present Evil Age

Posted: December 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”   -Galatians 1:3-5

Most of us (those who have trusted in Christ) stop at the statement that Jesus died for our sins. We rejoice (and rightly so) that while we have “missed the mark” (sinned against God and have fallen short of His glorious perfection) and thus should justly and rightly “miss out on the prize” (eternal life); Jesus, out of His love for us and through His death on the cross, atoned for our sins that we might be forgiven of our sins and granted the gift of eternal life. This is “good news of great joy!”

But the Good News does not end there. It only begins there. The Good News doesn’t only reconcile us to God; it revolutionizes our whole life. It doesn’t only change our eternity, it is to change our life on earth. The verses above in Galatians remind us that Jesus “gave Himself for our sins” not merely that our sins could be forgiven and we could go to heaven when we die…but He gave Himself: “to rescue us from the present evil age.”

We don’t often see this present world for what it really is. But this present world lies under the dark domain of Satan. We live in a fallen world. We live in a sinful world. We live in a world in rebellion against God. We live in a world filled with wickedness. It is simply…evil. Jesus gave Himself on the cross to rescue us from the wickedness of this fallen world system under the devil’s control.  He died not only to forgive us our sin; but to set us free from our sin and this present evil age.

Ephesians 2:1-3 reminds us of this reality before Christ came and rescued us: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.”

This is grim reality. And apart from Jesus Christ it would be the only reality. But Jesus’ coming and giving Himself on the cross for our sins resulted in a new and beautiful and other reality as Ephesians 2:4-7 goes on to describe: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

Picture it like this: we were spiritually speaking, locked and chained in a dungeon with no hope of escape, left for dead. We were “Sleeping Beauty.” But Jesus was the prince who slayed the dragon and by His “kiss of love” caused us to awaken from our sleep!

Jesus changed the eternity of those who trust in Him…and the way we are to live our lives on earth.

So what does this practically look like? How do we apply this to our lives today?

First of all we have to see that this “age” we live in is not merely fallen…but evil.  We can’t call “good” what is evil (Isaiah 5:20) or accept as “normal” what God says is “sinful” even if everyone else accepts it or condones it. Until we see and accept the world and its ways as God see’s it, we will continue to live under unnecessary and unhealthy denial, deception and bondage.

Secondly, if Jesus gave Himself to rescue us from this present evil age, how can we “jump” back into its polluted streams and “go with the flow” any longer? Our lives have been radically transformed so now how we live needs to radically change. How we think, what we speak, how we act, what we do needs to be different than the world around us. Colossians 1:12-14 reminds us that God, who is now our Father, He “…has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

We have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness, into the kingdom of light. We have been rescued from the domain and “dominion of darkness” (Satan’s rule) and brought into the kingdom of light (Jesus’ rule).

Therefore as Romans 13:12-14 calls us: “So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”

This Christmas season, remember that Christ didn’t merely give you a gift; He gave Himself for your sins to rescue you from this present evil age.  Really pause to think about the implications and application this should have in your life…not only for eternity, but even now on earth.  Ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes and bring conviction and correction to anything in your life that needs brought under the submission of Christ.  Participate no longer in the “deeds of darkness” but choose to be the “light” that we are now called to be as “children of the light.”  God has undertaken the greatest rescue operation of history for you!  It cost Him everything.  It cost Jesus His life.  The least we can do is now live our lives for Him in return for Him rescuing us. He has rescued us from this present evil age…to God be the glory now and forever, amen!