Victory!

 

One of the things I was taught in big-time professional writer’s school was that including things like smells in one’s writing makes it more real and “alive” to the reader.

 

That came back to me recently as I was reading John 11 where Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. 

 

At verse 39, Martha tells Jesus that Lazarus has been dead for four days and by now he stinks.

 

As I looked into the verse in various translations of the Bible, I found that there were quite a few different words used to describe the odor. The most common translation was “stinks,” but there were quite a few other options. I found “an odor,” ” bad odor,” “a bad smell,” “a stench,” “decaying,” “terrible,” and “a foul smell.” The most politically correct description was in the Webster English Bible which uses, “his body is offensive” and the most graphic description was in the Aramaic Bible in Plain English which terms the smell “putrid.”  Not unexpectedly at all was the KJV which used “stinketh.” (Thanks to Bible Hub here for quickly and easily displaying 28 translations of the same verse at one time.)

 

But the point here is that Jesus did not just raise a dead man from the grave. He raised a rotten, stinking, putrid corpse back to life. 

 

And He did it in a very public, dramatic manner.

 

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” John 11:41&42 (NIV)

 

His detractors had heckled him before he said this and I can hear the derision, the mocking, in their voices as they said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (Verse 37)

 

So, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in front of God and everybody (Yes, I literally mean that.) his detractors ran and told the Pharisees about the whole incident like toddlers tattling to their mommies.

 

The Pharisees responded by calling a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

 

Yes, they called a meeting.

 

The Pharisees were still smarting from that whole incident where they kicked the blind man who had his sight restored out of the synagogue and Jesus told them they were the ones who were blind. (John 9: 30 – 40.)

 

How could they deny Jesus’ power now? Verse 48 says,

“If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” 

 

And there we have it. They were afraid everyone would believe in him now. It wasn’t about the truth.

 

It was about their power, their status, their prestige.

 

It was about their pride.

 

It’s always about pride. It always comes back to that first sin. 

 

The Pharisees had become accustomed to being not just God’s representatives, but (to some extent) gods themselves.

 

They called the shots. They decided what God thought and who God was. 

 

In raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus had virtually signed his own death warrant. 

 

They were fuming mad. They resolved that Jesus and Lazarus himself had to die. (John 12: 10&11)

 

And then, just days later, Jesus rides into Jerusalem with crowds shouting his praises and laying palm branches and their coats in the road in front of him. 

 

We all remember how the Pharisees told Jesus to silence the crowd and he told them if the crowd was silent “the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40) but let’s not forget that there were actually two crowds in this scene.

 

Crowd number one is coming out of Jerusalem to meet Jesus because they had heard of Lazarus being raised from the dead and crowd number two were the people who saw Lazarus resurrected. (John 12:17&18)

 

And Lazarus was in that crowd! 

 

So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!” (John 12:19)

 

The whole world.

 

And, to my way of thinking, that’s the closest they got to being right. They were getting nowhere because God had a plan. God had orchestrated and planned every facet of this.

 

They would be successful in killing Jesus, and they even had some idea that he had said he would rise from the grave because they took great pains to have guards posted so his body could not be removed from the tomb, but they had no idea that their opposition to Jesus was part of God’s plan for victory.

 

When Jesus begged the Father, in his very first words from the cross, to forgive them for they did not know what they were doing, that in itself was the beginning of the victory.

 

The Pharisees knew precisely what they were doing in having Jesus killed, but they did not know that he was indeed the very Son of God himself. They had convinced themselves that he was not. Their hearts had been hardened in an echo of Pharaoh’s hard heart thousands of years before this. 

 

And Jesus forgave the hardness of their hearts from that cross. 

 

But here’s the deal: We love to hate on the Pharisees and look down our noses at them, but not one of us are any better than any of them. The Pharisees arranged and plotted his crucifixion, but it was the crowd before Pilate that shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” (John 19: 15a) It was the crowd that chose a convicted killer and rebel over Jesus. It was the crowd that shouted, “Let his blood be upon us and our children!” (Matthew 27:25) 

 

There’s plenty of guilt to go around but the curse that crowd spoke over Jesus was actually the cure.

 

His blood spilled that day was and is our redemption. What we intended for evil, God intended for good because it is that blood that cleanses us and raises our dead, stinking, rotten corpses from the grave. It is the love of God in Jesus Christ that melts our cold, hardened hearts and gives us real, true life in him. 

 

Two thousand years later, Jesus is still who he said he was and he is still changing the world.

 

He IS the resurrection and the life! He DID step out of the grave on that glorious Sunday morning! Despite all the anger and the hatred and the mocking and the utter injustice and horror of what resides in our very souls, he rose in victory over all the evil that resides in each and every one of us.

 

HE IS RISEN INDEED!

 

Today’s Praise

The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. Romans 8:11 (NLT)

 

But God

The Kinship Christian Radio Women’s Conference was last Saturday with over 700 women in attendance listening to featured speaker Liz Curtis Higgs, attending various mini-sessions, worshiping with Jillian Jones, enjoying delicious food, and generally being pampered and appreciated in many various ways.

 

I did not attend the entire event, but I was privy to approximately 100% of the process, planning, and logistics leading up to the event. My current level of research indicates the event was “fabulous as usual.”

 

So, certainly all involved in this mammoth undertaking deserve heartfelt thanks and appreciation. 

 

Liz Curtis Higgs is a renowned speaker, so I made a point of ducking out of folding chairs and tables to catch some of what she had to say.

 

I noted that, on more than one occasion, she referred to the twelve guys who followed Jesus around throughout his ministry as “The Duh-sciples.” 

 

Now, you might think I was offended by this as I very well could have been triggered by this obviously stereotypical  characterization of male intelligence (and at some point I may get around to that) but right now I’m still looking for a booth selling the Duh-sciple T-shirts.

 

If I can’t find the T-shirts, I may have to get a Duh-sciple tat instead.

 

It’s all good.

 

Anyway, She was indeed marvelous, brilliant, encouraging, thoughtful, and thought-provoking. 

 

When she talked about Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with a whole bottle of spikenard ($30,000 by today’s value and, yes, most translations simply call it “nard” but I’m in agreement with Liz here in that a perfume this rare and costly and expensive should not be called by a word that rhymes so closely with “lard.”) and how Mary used her hair to wipe His feet, she talked about how women in that place at that time just did not do that.

 

It was unheard of. It was not something “respectable” women did. It was scandalous. 

 

And she talked about how women think and act about their hair –that a woman’s hair is, well, personal.

 

And every woman (and every man) in the place knew what she was talking about.

 

And then she took off her wig to reveal how her own hair is thin and just recovering, just coming back, from cancer treatments.

 

Liz Curtis Higgs has survived cancer. Her oncologist says she has “No Evidence of Disease” in her anymore. 

 

She related how that is indeed glorious and God is to be praised, but when she first heard the doctor say that, she probably looked a little conflicted as a little piece of her said, “Oh, I guess I’m staying here instead of going to be with Jesus. Okay, Lord, I’ll stay here. I’ll stay here and do what you’ve given me to do.”

 

And Higgs said that when Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with that perfume, John writes that the fragrance of it filled the whole house. She said that it probably could have been smelled from a half-mile away.

 

Jesus himself said what Mary had done was intended for his burial and I remember reading somewhere that the aroma of such a generous outpouring of a beautiful scent like this probably was indeed still filling the air for many days afterward.

 

Beauty has a way of doing that.

 

Today’s Praise

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2: 4-7 (ESV)

 

The Amazing, Astounding … GOD!

(The Amazing Gary and Lame-O the Gring-O.)

While on a recent mission trip to Guatemala, one of the things I most enjoyed was a Saturday afternoon of fun, games, entertainment, and some Bible teaching  for the young ladies at Prince of Peace Home for Girls.

 

As I wrote last week, there are 43 girls at the orphanage and they very much loved and appreciated all we were able to share with them. 

 

One of our team members was a retired US Airborne Master Sargent. Gary had brought several magic tricks with him to amaze and astound the young ladies and he asked me to do something to get the girls warmed up for the magic show before he began.

 

Hence and therefore, I invented a stage persona for myself I called “Lame-O the Gring-O.” 

 

I reasoned that if I could mildly amuse the girls with some, shall we say, “less-than-perfect magic” prior to the “The Amazing Gary” it might just make him look a little better by comparison.

 

Now, the tricks Gary brought with him were actual magic tricks like the one where a ring is placed in a handkerchief and magically transports itself to inside a locked box and another one where a coin disappeared from a hanky and reappeared all the way across the room. (Come to think of it now, magicians do seem strangely fond of handkerchiefs.)

 

Anyway, I’m not sure if Lame-O the Gring-O accomplished his objective or just came off as pathetic, but I will let you decide:

For one of my tricks, I announced that I would demonstrate my psychic abilities. I called a girl out of the audience whom I knew to be very shy and reserved. As she stood next to me in front of the crowd, I bent down and asked her what her name was. When she replied, I loudly proclaimed, 

“YOU ARE EXACTLY CORRECT!”

 

I applauded myself and took a deep bow, while removing my hat to reveal a large letter “L” written in the center of my forehead.

 

I then asked her how old she was and, when she replied, I once again shouted,

“CORRECTO! THAT IS INDEED YOUR EXACT AGE!”

 

I then took another deep bow while shouting, “AMAZING! ASTOUNDING!! HOW DOES HE DO IT FOLKS?”

 

Then I said, “And now, young lady, I am about to read your mind without asking you to say a single word!”

 

She looked at me with no small dose of skepticism.

 

I began rubbing my temples, making it appear as if I were concentrating deeply. I may have added some low groaning noises for effect at this point.

 

“YES!! LAME-O is getting a message from your mind! Yes! I see it now…it’s becoming clearer, much clearer…..AH-HA! I HAVE IT!!” I then bent down beside the young lady and said,

“LAME-O sees that you are very, very uncomfortable, that you do not want to be up here right now, and … that you find LAME-O very, very strange indeed!!” IS THIS CORRECT YOUNG LADY?”

 

Of course it was. 

 

I believe there may have been an actual smattering of applause.

 

Gary went on to put on a superb magic show, which really did amaze and confound the girls. He turned his hanky into a magic wand, made a different hanky disappear, made a stack of nickels disappear, made another stack of nickels turn into teeny-tiny nickels, made coins disappear and reappear, made things magically change color, caused a ring to magically transport itself from inside a hanky to inside a locked wooden box, and made a coin magically disappear and reappear under a stack of dishes on the other side of the room.

 

He followed this with a heartfelt testimony of how Jesus had rescued him from a life of bitterness and pain and outright anguish. Jesus had healed Gary’s heart when he had every reason by human understanding to have turned out to be a very, very angry and wounded person.

 

And when Gary was done giving his testimony, we all knew God was the amazing, astounding One.

 

We all know that there’s some sleight-of-hand trickery involved in all “human” magic. Our skepticism of human magic is totally justifiable and reasonable because there is always something hidden, some element of deception. (I and all the guys in the men’s sleeping quarters knew this well because Gary had shown us the “secret” of each trick the night before.)

 

But we also know that salvation is not “magic.” We all know that the peace that passes all understanding that comes from knowing Jesus is not hidden in secret compartments or sewn into the corner of a trick hanky. We know that, even though our salvation is indeed supernatural, it was bought with a price and we are not our own. 

 

We know that our salvation comes from truth and justice and the Light of the World. Gary’s heart had been healed, not by any human magic, but by the supernatural love of Jesus Christ.

 

It’s the same supernatural power we hear on Kinship Christian Radio every day. Jesus is alive in the music, in the teaching, in all that goes out over the air, and in Him we have life.

 

Jesus is Lord!

 

HALLELUJAH!

 

Today’s Praise

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. James 1: 16-18 (NIV)

(Photo used by permission.)

 

 

 

 

 

Haunted

 

I’ve just returned from a week at Prince of Peace Home for Girls in Guatemala and I am haunted.

 

There is a spirit following me around and it won’t leave me alone.

 

Perhaps I should explain more fully:  Prince of Peace is an orphanage where 43 girls and young ladies reside.  I went there with 13 other people on a short-term mission trip sponsored by Bethany Global University. 

 

The mission team consisted of five students from BGU who are in various stage of being trained to be career missionaries, four members of Hope Community Church in Tennessee, Kenny Ortiz who teaches at Bethany and his friend James, our team leader Jim Levine and his wife Cherie, and one stray Dan Jones just because they let me go with them.

 

Truth be told, I had been to this same orphanage last year and I did not hesitate to go again when asked. Prince of Peace ministers to girls who have had horrific things happen in their lives. But love resides in this place and it is the pure, glorious love of Jesus Christ. All of the girls in this home have been sent there by the Guatemalan government, which speaks to what they have gone through. At one point, we learned that 97% of sexual assault cases go unreported in Guatemala, which mean that things have to go horribly, horribly wrong before a judge decrees that a girl or a young lady would be removed from her family. 

 

There are no foster homes in Guatemala and government-run orphanages are the stuff of absolute nightmares, so Prince of Peace is a remarkable blessing for those girls they are able to accept.

 

We spent some time painting interior and exterior parts of the orphanage, but our primary mission was simply to love them. After what these girls had been through, seeing and experiencing true, genuine love was something intensely valuable to them. What that looked like often involved things like ping pong balls, crayons, jump ropes, bubbles, aerosol string, balloons, and just plain fun.

 

Sometimes it was listening to them and praying with them. 

 

Sometimes it was just a simple, heart-felt hug. 

 

The hugs were not difficult to provide.

 

During the day, while the girls were off at school, we also had the opportunity to share the love of Jesus in another way.

 

Affiliated with Prince of Peace is the Church of the Fresh Presence, which meets on Wednesdays and Sundays in the orphanage’s “salon.” (I believe most Americans would call it “the lunch room.”) The church helps support the orphanage, and it also operates a ministry called PROVEE (from the Spanish word for “to provide”) which brings nutritious meals to children in schools. 

 

We were told that, for many of the children we would be feeding, the meal we would provide would be the only one they would receive all day long. We typically gave them bread, black beans, eggs, and fruit. 

 

To say that they were grateful is an understatement.

 

Even so, they typically waited patiently until all had been served and a prayer said before they began eating. 

 

The staff of the schools welcomed us and PROVEE because they have seen test scores, learning, and health improve since the children have gained better access to adequate nutrition. 

 

We were also allowed to share the Gospel in the public schools as the government of Guatemala, despite its flaws, does not fear Jesus Christ as ours does. 

 

Usually PROVEE provides breakfast, but one afternoon we took 280 sandwiches to a public school late in the afternoon. I was assigned to a classroom with what I seem to remember were second-graders and we shared the story of Noah and the flood with them. 

 

One little boy in the front row knew all the answers and boldly read all the Bible verses out loud. He also seemed to be the class clown. As he and I were laughing at one of his jokes, I could see some of his front teeth were broken off. I discreetly asked our Guatemalan interpreter about this and she explained that it was most probably one of the symptoms of malnutrition. On his desk was a large envelope with his name, “Daniel,” written on it.

 

My little namesake worked diligently on the word search activity we gave him. Some of his classmates came to him for help finding the words they could not find.  Later, they enjoyed their sandwiches very much. And I think they prayed with more gratitude over those sandwiches than many of us are able to muster over our best Thanksgiving dinners.

 

Daniel will probably never know that you read this and felt pity for him. He is not living a life of pity. People who love him are bringing him food and the love of Jesus Christ. There are people who are trying to make his life and the lives of many other children better one sandwich at a time. He is as enthusiastic and joyfully about being a seven year-old boy as any seven year-old boy I have ever met.

 

The people who are helping and blessing Daniel and the girls at Prince of Peace are not growing weary in this. They are not overcome by the evil around them and they know that the darkness can never extinguish the light that is Jesus Christ.

 

One night, we gathered together to talk over all that had taken place over the course of our day. As we sat around plastic tables sitting on plastic chairs in the Guatemalan night, Kenny told us he hoped, he prayed, that we would go home haunted by the Holy Spirit. He prayed that we would be forever changed by what we had seen and experienced. 

 

And then he told us that 42% of the world has never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He told us that the average American spends over $1100 per year on coffee while the average amount each American spends to bring that Gospel to unreached people is less than $30. We spend almost three times as much money every year on Halloween costumes for our pets than we do on telling people in other countries that all who believe in Jesus Christ will have eternal life.

 

And then Kenny said that he hoped we went home nauseated, nauseated, by the thought of acquiring more and more stuff to achieve the American dream knowing what we know and seeing what we have seen.

 

And so, yes, I am haunted. 

 

I am haunted by the Holy Spirit knowing that every song and every teaching I hear on Kinship Christian Radio about this incredible, glorious, life-changing, amazing love of Jesus Christ that puts a sandwich in the hand of little Daniel and rescues orphans from unspeakable evil is something that over three billion people have never heard about. 

 

And I would not be surprised to find that, one day when I am standing in heaven, I am introduced to a girl who was an orphan or a little boy with bad teeth named Daniel who took the Gospel to China or Afghanistan or North Korea. 

 

And I pray with all my heart, please Lord, grant that I was not sitting in my recliner with a TV remote in my hand eating junk food while they did it. 

 

Today’s Praise

Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? James 2:5 (NLT)

 

(Photo by Kelly Mills Davis. The child pictured attends a school where approximately half of the students have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. He’s been provided with a breakfast of a hard-boiled egg, bread, black beans, plantains, and an orange. His name is withheld for his own protection.)

The Mega-Church

 

Sometimes, we are not at our best but we still have to function.

 

Case in point: I am currently battling a cold and recovering from a migraine at the same time.

 

Waaah.

 

I still need to write a blog. 

 

Actually, “need” is not the right word. I want to write the blog. I love writing this blog because God opens doors for my soul to discover and learn things I would not discover or learn by laying on the couch and making sounds like an expiring bovine while lamenting how terribly sick I am. There are immeasurable blessings to be found in being diligent and faithful to bless people other than yourself –even when it is slightly inconvenient to do so. 

 

To put it more succinctly: “Suck it up, buttercup.”

 

Yes, I know that is totally antithetical to American culture today. I know that there are vast corporations who have made kajillions (spellcheck says that is not a word) of dollars on the premise of giving me what I want, how I want it, and when I want it –which is always right now.

 

That’s all fine and well. Many people have jobs, support their families, and make life better for many other people because of companies like that.

 

But that’s not what we want in the Church.

 

The whole premise of the Gospel is based on eternal life AFTER this life. We are eternal beings living a temporal existence. I have posted these verses many times before:  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:17 & 18 (ESV)

 

And, since a picture is worth a thousand words, that building in the picture above is a church in the Dominican Republic. One of my sisters in Christ recently posted that picture on Facebook with photos and video of over 30 people worshiping in that church. My friend and brother in Christ, Pastor Secundino Ulloa was shown preaching in that church and, even though my Spanish is not all that good, I am pretty sure he was saying that Jesus is the Word and the Word is life. 

 

With children chattering and sitting on their parent’s laps, with light shining in through the cracks in the walls and the holes in the rusty tin roof, the Word is life and the darkness cannot, does not, and will not extinguish it. The darkness trembles at this light that cannot be quenched. Ever.

 

When I asked the name of the church in that photo I was told it is “La Capilla de la Victoria, which means, “The Chapel of the Victory.”

 

It’s images like this that come to me when I am tempted to complain because my toast is not as perfectly golden as I would like it. It’s images like this that come to me when I am tempted to complain about… well, virtually anything. 

 

Our blessings are beyond measure. The Israelites complained in the dessert about the manna, even though it was the bread of life that had come down from heaven. No, it was not toasted perfectly golden brown. 

 

I have nothing, absolutely nothing, to complain about.

 

As far as I am concerned, the church in the picture is as grand and glorious as any mega-church I’ve ever been in because the King of kings and Lord of lords attends that church.

 

It is indeed the Chapel of The Victory because this LORD who came to earth was born in a stable as simple and humble as that chapel. He walked the dusty streets of Jerusalem, of Bethany, and of Samaria and preached the Good News. He died on a cross for your sins and for my sins. And He rose from the dead because death could not hold Him and the grave could not keep Him.

 

This humble Savior who did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped rose in complete Victory over sin, death, and the devil! 

 

He is the same LORD you hear about every day on Kinship Christian Radio and he is still saving souls and still changing the world!

 

Today’s Praise.

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matthew 18:20 (ESV)

 

 

 

 

 

Disciples

 

 

 

I’m going to write the blog backwards this week by starting with the answer:

“Both.”

 

Now, I’m guessing at this point you would like me to divulge the question, but if I did that, why would you read more than the first two sentences?

 

And let us not forget that sometimes it is more important to know why we ask the question than it is to know the answer. ( I learned that, grasshopper, from watching that pop-culture font of Buddhist knowledge known as “Kung Fu” with David Carridine when I was 17 years old.) 

 

Okay, so the question is: Should the things you hear on Kinship Christian Radio be designed primarily to save the lost or to make disciples of current believers?

 

This topic of making disciples has been popping up off and on now in my life for a couple of months. It’s one of those things that keeps surfacing like a whale coming up for air. It’s always below the surface, it’s immense, and although it can remain submerged for quite some time, it can’t help but come up for air and breathe eventually.

 

Of course, just mentioning discipleship has most of you thinking of The Great Commission from Matthew 28:19: 

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (NIV) 

 

If you think about that verse, it seems there is a tension there. We generally associate baptism with a new believer (or even an infant in some cases) whereas we use the word “discipleship” within Christianity to mean maturing and equipping a current believer into greater depths and expressions of their faith –including drawing others to faith.

 

Indeed, the Greek word used in the verse we translate as “disciple” is mathēteuō which means a student or a scholar of a teacher. There’s an apprenticeship facet to the word also. While the implication is that the disciple follows the teacher around for awhile and learns from him, eventually the disciple goes out on their own to teach and ends up with disciples of their own –but in the process, the disciple never stops learning and growing and becoming better in the discipline in which they have been instructed.

 

So, if you’ve been listening to Kinship Christian Radio all these years thinking that what you are hearing is broadcast as just nice Christian stuff someone thinks you will like, it goes much deeper than that. 

 

If that’s all Kinship Christian Radio was about, the programming could be a mile wide and an inch deep. Pop-culture happy thoughts, wisdom from clichés, and the occasional mention of a generic “higher power” would do that. 

 

But there’s really no power in that because there is no Jesus in that.

 

Of course, Kinship Christian Radio broadcasts the Gospel. If someone tunes in looking for Jesus, they will hear that God so loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever would believe in Him would not perish but will have eternal life. That message is always present. That message is the leviathan of the ministry.

 

But the part of Kinship Christian Radio I really appreciate is that it helps me grow and mature and be equipped as a disciple of Jesus Christ. The teaching, the tapestry shared by the announcers, the programs, and even the music has a beauty, a majesty, a power,  that can only come from the work of the Holy Spirit. 

 

Kinship Christian Radio is the Church (capital C) going out beyond the walls of the church, as I wrote last week. It strives to be what it should be to convey how wide, how long, how high, and how deep is the love of Jesus Christ. 

 

And it is the immensity of that love that grows little fish of faith into whales that sing in awe of the depth and richness and glory of our LORD and Savior! 

 

AMEN!

 

Today’s Praise

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. Ephesians 4:11-15 (NIV)

 

 

 

Beyond the Walls

In the Colonial Section of Santo Domingo: (l to r) Back row: Sor Mercedes, Tom Wetzell, Cristian Del Rosario Urbaez, Joanna Urbaez, Pastor Secundino Ulloa; Middle row: Beth Crosby, Elpidio Zapata, Dan Jones, Alice Urbaez; Front row: Alberto de la Cruz, and Ysabel Paulino.

 

As many of you know, I’ve just returned from a five-day mission trip to the Dominican Republic.

 

And yes, I freely confess that I do not regret missing the snowmegeddon which has raised walls on either side of my driveway approaching a height sufficient to hold back an invasion of Mongol hordes.

  

But enough of that. 

 

The trip was glorious! HALLELUJAH!

 

As for the details, let’s get to it then.

 

I was joined by Kinship Announcer Beth Crosby and Tom Wetzell of the MICB Board of Directors.  (MICB stands for Minn-Iowa Christian Broadcasting and it is the legal name of the charitable organization under which all of the Kinship Christian radio stations are organized.)

 

Our intent was to meet with some Dominicans I had come in contact with as a result of previous mission trips who were operating a fledgling internet radio station called Radio Bendicion Digital. (Blessings Digital Radio) The trip was not financially sponsored by Kinship Christian Radio, but Tom and Beth and I all have a deep and abiding love of Christian radio and we thought maybe some of the things we knew from the radio ministry here might be helpful to the people operating Blessings Digital Radio. 

 

We went to offer what we could, as God allowed, asking that all would be to His glory.

 

What we found was a ministry deeply devoted to proclaiming the glory of the LORD, saving lost souls, growing disciples, and ministering to those in need. 

 

These are people who will spontaneously break out into worship or heartfelt prayer. They will stand in a circle holding hands and begin to pray, each calling out to the Lord in what seems like many different requests and praises, but it all comes back into focus in thanks and praise as they conclude their prayers. 

 

These are a people whose church will hold a one-hour Bible study on Sunday afternoon and follow it up with a three-hour service during which absolutely no one will fall asleep. Ever. The neighbors down the block will not fall asleep. 

 

When the Newsboys sang the line “Let the church live loud” in their song “We Believe,” that church is alive and well in the Dominican Republic.

 

Blessings Digital Radio broadcasts music and teaching and shares the love of Jesus Christ. Director Elpidio Zapata controls all the equipment needed from a single desktop.

 

Digital, internet-based radio has the advantage of not being tied to massive antennas spread out over a wide area. On the morning we were there, we could see his equipment registered about 2,000 people in the Santo Domingo area tuned in with many others listening all over the world including the United States, Sweden, Spain, Switzerland, and even China.

 

But Blessings Digital Radio also has a heart for the needs of its community. Its people, many of whom are pastors, are involved in ministries for children, the disabled, unwed mothers, orphans, and other needs that have touched their hearts. The walls of the radio station do not contain them.

 

Those walls are in a small office up two dozen or so stairs above the busy streets of the nation’s Capital, Santo Domingo. For Ysabel Paulino, who broadcasts a program for people with disabilities called “Impactando Vidas” (“Impacting Lives”) that means her wheelchair must be carried up those stairs by two men. The stairs look like they would be very slippery if it rained and Ysabel said she had been injured on four different occasions going up or down those stairs. Handicap parking and accessible buildings simply do not exist in the Dominican Republic.

 

That doesn’t stop them.

 

At one point, we met with a pastor who had pledged a portion of her small church as a place where a new office could be built for Blessings Digital Radio. Walls would have to be constructed and the drum set would have to be moved, but Pastor Magandy and her congregation were willing to help the radio station. That office would be at ground level.

 

As we met with the pastor and talked about how all this could work, a Holy Spirit connection developed between Beth and Pastor Magandy and suddenly we all broke out into spontaneous worship singing “Aleluya” and “Cristo Viene” for I cannot remember how long. (“Cristo Viene” means “Christ Returns” and the implication is that it will happen soon.)

 

There were also many Spirit-led conversations, many of which occurred while our host, Pastor Secundino was driving us around Santo Domingo. 

 

Let me give you a little background on “driving us around Santo Domingo” before I get into the conversations.

 

The Dominican Republic has the second-highest rate of traffic deaths of any place in the world. Driving in Santo Domingo is absolute bedlam. There are about three million people who live in the area around the capital and they all seem to be going in different directions at the same time. There are virtually no stop signs, no street signs, no speed limit signs, and zero concept of leaving more than a gnat’s hair of space between the vehicle you are in and any vehicle around you. I counted a grand total of two stop lights in that city the whole time I was there.

 

“Vehicles” on the packed roads include everything from horse-drawn carts, three-wheeled bicycles loaded with 200 pounds of pineapples, thousands and thousands of small motorcycles and scooters that weave in and out of traffic like each one is driven by Dale Earnhardt, countless old (1991 to 1996) Toyota Corollas used as taxis and typically carrying seven or eight Dominicans, tiny Japanese trucks capable of no more than about 30 mph loaded eight feet tall with plantians, the occasional Land Rover or Mercedes, and full size semi-tractor trailers.

 

In official documents, it says they drive on the right side of the road just like we do. In practice, that concept is irrelevant. They drive where ever there is room to drive. 

 

In the middle of all of this are three gringos and varying numbers of Dominicans (including not one but two wonderful interpreters) in Pastor Secundino’s ten-passenger, four cylinder diesel van. The pastor’s real name is Secundino Ulloa, but a lot of us call him “Papa Cundo” because that’s a lot easier and more fun to say. 

 

And Papa Cundo proves that the fruits of the Holy Spirit are real. In the midst of all this swarming, frustrating, life-threatening utter chaos, Papa Cundo never once says a curse word, raises his voice, or loses his cool in any way. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control radiate from this guy under circumstances that would have me on my knees confessing my sins for days.

 

I know this because almost every time we went anywhere, I was riding shotgun. I arranged for Tom to take the right front seat once and he refused to do so ever again.

 

And, one day, while Papa Cundo is driving through all this, a conversation takes place in the back of the van about the church, what it should be, and how it comes to grow.

 

So, when the traffic is less life-threatening than usual and because I know he is wise in these matters, I asked Papa Cundo what causes the church to grow. And, through our interpreter, he said it was prayer and the fruits of the Spirit. 

 

It’s the church being the real church.

 

Shortly after that conversation, Beth interviewed Pastor Secundino for a Kinship Crossroads report. Using some of the radio technology we brought with us, we were able to sit at the Ulloa’s dining room table and have him tell Kinship Christian Radio listeners 2,000 miles away that the growth of the church, the effectiveness of the church, was about the church going out beyond the walls of the church.

 

And that night, we went to an event called a campaña (campaign) where the people of Secundino’s church picked up the stage and the keyboard and the lights and the sound system and the drum set and moved it down the block to an intersection in the street where there are several places where people commonly come to drink. They literally picked up the church and moved it out beyond the walls of the church. And they preached and they worshiped and they sang and they proclaimed the name of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord right there in the street.

 

And they did it with great fervor and strength and joy.

 

They did it with a faith as strong and rich as a cup of Dominican coffee. They did it heartily, in a genuineness that satisfies your soul like a bowl of their national dish, sancocho.

 

They did it without fear or concern about being “too religious.”

 

They did it as if unto the LORD.

 

And as I sit and write this now, I know that the same Spirit is alive and well in Blessings Digital Radio. I know that the God my brothers and sisters in the Dominican Republic call “todopoderoso” is the same totally powerful, almighty God who can and does save the lost through the death and resurrection of His only Son, Jesus Christ.

 

And so, I join them in their praise and worship shouting, ALELUYA! GLORIA DIOS! ALELUYA!

 

Today’s Praise

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Romans 12:11 (NIV)

 

 

Who Is This Guy?

I’ve been writing this blog now for several years. I’m not even exactly sure how long it’s been. Maybe five years? 

 

I sit down once a week and try to come up with something that has something to do with Kinship Christian Radio that will encourage you, something that will help you grow closer to Jesus, something that will bring glory to God.

 

But who am I?

 

If I’m honest with myself and with you, I gotta tell you, I’m pretty much just a big dumb guy in a plaid flannel shirt.

 

I don’t mean to be self-deprecating here. I know I’m not all that stupid in terms of measurable human intelligence, but really, the knowledge of even the smartest human being on the planet is pretty much a big nothing-burger in comparison to the astounding wisdom and intellect that created even the simplest organism on the planet, let alone the entire universe. 

 

I saw a post on an atheist-Christian debate site where someone said “Theology should come back to science…” and I was astounded at the level of arrogance humanity has come to. As if “science” were inerrant, omniscient, and not the product of flawed human beings. 

 

Aren’t these the same people who took decades to decide if eggs were good or bad for us? (The American Heart Association now says, yes, eggs are good for you –but only one per day and it’s better if they are not part of a Western diet. I kid you not.)  And the butter vs. margarine debate? Seriously, we do not have the time to go there.

 

So, I have no illusions that I’m a big shot or a big deal. In fact, whenever I even get close to that kind of arrogance, God is faithful to put some obvious reminder of my own fallibility into my path. 

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. Proverbs 9:10 (NIV)

 

The verse doesn’t even say fear of the LORD is wisdom. It says fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. 

 

So, when I pulled out in front of that car the other day and the guy almost hit me and my life flashed in front of my eyes for a second, God was saying, “Okay, we have a place to start now.” (I paraphrase.)

 

And with all of this fallibility of mine and the certain knowledge that I will indeed pass from this earth some day, in steps Jesus.

 

In steps God in the flesh.

 

When Jesus was having that last supper with his disciples and he washed their feet and things were suddenly getting very, very real he told them he was going away and they could not go with him, but he would come back. He commanded them to love one another, and Peter insisted he would go with him. Peter pledged his very life to Jesus and Jesus looked Peter in the face and told Peter he would disown him not once, but three times. 

 

He then tells the disciples (who had to be sitting there with swaying jaws by this time) that they should not let their hearts be troubled because he was going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house so that they could be with him. And he says to them:

“You know the way to the place where I am going.” John 14:4 (NIV)

 

And they don’t! They’re baffled!

 

Thomas, old doubting Thomas, looks at him and says,

“Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5)

 

These guys are as clueless as me. They have no concept, no clue. Who is this guy?

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (Verses 6&7)

 

Boom!

 

Jesus has come right out and said He is God! That’s who this guy is!

 

Of course, they still don’t get it and he basically has to get out the crayons and draw them a picture. For the rest of John 14, Jesus details what that means and tells them the Holy Spirit will come and color in that picture for them.

 

And that’s who I am. 

 

No, I’m not the Holy Spirit. I’m the guy God has given a crayon. 

 

In my tiny little way, in the futility of my weak human ability, God has put his very own Holy Spirit in me that I might be given a glimpse, a taste, a hint, a sliver of light in a dark world that I can search and strive and look under rocks to try and find the right combination of words and phrases to be able to begin to describe the all-surpassing greatness of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, glorious, amazing God and the height, the depth, the length, the breadth of his astounding, awe-inspiring love for all of us in His only Son, Jesus Christ! 

 

God doesn’t need me. He wants me! 

 

He gave me this gift to use. This is what I am supposed to be doing. 

 

And the thing is, He gave each and every one of you gifts too! As you tune into Kinship Christian Radio, you hear and experience the gifts he gave the announcers, the preachers, the teachers, the musicians, and every voice that comes over your radio.

 

You have a gift, too. You’ve been given something, some color of crayon, some way to share the love of Jesus in this life! Even if it’s baking cookies, bandaging a bloody knee, taking a kid fishing, speaking a kind word, saying a prayer with a hurting soul, traveling to distant lands, painting a bathroom, or painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, we have all been given some kind of gift that can shine the love of Jesus into another life! 

 

God has a plan for you. God has given you a gift. Any voice that says your gift isn’t good enough or doesn’t count is the voice of the liar. 

 

You are valuable. You are loved

 

Share what you have been given because it doesn’t belong to just you.

 

Today’s Praise

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! Romans 12:6-15 (NLT)

Christians at the Dump

 

One of my favorite books in the Bible is Ephesians.  In it, the apostle Paul uses some of his grandest and most glorious language to describe the love of God in Christ Jesus. 

 

Running under that current of God’s marvelous plan and astounding love there’s an underlying image in Ephesians that’s something we probably don’t catch immediately, but would have been part of the inherent imagery of first-century Ephesus. Paul mentions it almost immediately:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— Ephesians 1:3-5 (NIV)

 

That mention of adoption in this passage is not a casual reference on Paul’s part.

 

At the time, if a Roman citizen adopted a child, it was a legally-binding arrangement. A natural child could be disinherited, but an adopted child was an heir for life. Adoption was not something entered into lightly.

 

As Paul continues through his letter to the Ephesians, he repeatedly reinforces the idea that our adoption was predestined, that we are sealed as children of God, that we are unified into one family, that our inheritance as heirs is guaranteed, that we were formerly dead and uncircumcised, that we are saved by the grace of God, that we are members of God’s household, that we are no longer foreigners and strangers but members of God’s own family, and that we are God’s handiwork created to do good works which He planned for us to do since the beginning of time itself.

 

Those are all wonderful, glorious thoughts –and all in stark, glaring contrast to a newborn baby left on a dung heap to die.

 

You see, in first-century Ephesus and throughout the Roman empire, it was absolutely legal to dispose of excess or unwanted babies simply by leaving them at the garbage dump or local dung heap to die of exposure. It was expected and carried no social stigma, especially if the child was deformed, illegitimate, a child of infidelity,  the family was poor, there was family conflict, or was just guilty of being one of too many children.

 

Sometimes the infant was devoured by the dogs that scavenged public places. Sometimes, the child was picked up by slavers and sold as a pet, a play companion for another child, or a prostitute. The great temple of Artemis in Ephesus mentioned in Acts 19 had many temple prostitutes.

 

Into all of this steps the apostle Paul, who plants and grows and nurtures the people of the church in Ephesus.

 

It was those believers, from that church in Ephesus, who quietly started adopting and caring for those abandoned babies from the dung heap and the garbage dump as their own children.

 

And, throughout the words Paul writes to these people whom he never stops thanking God for, I can see the imagery of those children rescued from certain death or worse. One can only imagine the kind of Christians those formerly abandoned and left-to-die children would someday become.

 

The compassion and the love and the self-sacrifice of those believers did not go unnoticed. Many noticed how “The Way” had changed people and they also came to believe in Jesus Christ as LORD and Savior.

 

And the kingdom of God grew and spread putting forth leaves and branches and fruit.

 

So, brothers and sisters, as we hear on Kinship Christian Radio and the news all around us about what has happened in the great temples of our present culture,  let it remind us that the we are not to be overcome by evil, but we are to overcome evil with good.

 

For thus is the kingdom of God. 

 

Today’s Praise

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 (NIV)

 

 

 

Broken Glass

As I was reaching into the cupboard Monday morning for a coffee cup, I accidentally knocked a different coffee cup off the shelf. It fell to the counter-top and shattered into hundreds, maybe thousands, of pieces.

It was an unusual cup in that it was made of thick glass, not ceramic like most coffee cups. I’m guessing it was that heat-resistant glass used in cookware. It broke into pieces of all sizes. Some large, some medium, some small, and some that appeared to be microscopic. 

I say, “microscopic” because as I looked at the counter-top, I could see tiny glints of light in certain places where I could not see the actual piece of glass causing those glints of light.

I remember thinking (in my pre-dawn, pre-caffeinated condition of extraordinary grogginess) “Oh great. This is going to be a pain to clean up.”

And it was. 

Once I got some slippers on my feet and a broom in my hand, I discovered the shrapnel from the cup covered a large area of the kitchen. I swept the floor first, then mopped the floor. The floor mats (luckily not carpeted) in front of the sink and counter would go outside for a vigorous pounding.

Moving on to the counter-top, I considered the stick of butter sitting there. It was missing only one small pat, which had graced a serving of carrots from the roast last night.

Almost a whole stick of butter.

In my mind’s eye, I could see myself carefully scraping a thin layer off all six sides to save that stick of butter from being wasted… and then a small, still voice in my head said,

“Exactly how much broken glass is acceptable in your butter, Dan?”

And then I threw that stick of butter away.

Later, as I was wishing I had been more careful as I reached for that morning coffee cup, it occurred to me that the stick of butter answered a question that had come up in Bible Study the day before. 

We had been talking about when God called Moses through the burning bush to go back into Egypt and free the Israelites from their slavery. God answers all of Moses’ questions and objections, Moses tells his father-in-law, Jethro, that he is going back to Egypt, Jethro says, “Go in peace” and Moses and the caravan are on their way. Moses has been called, God’s great plan to save His people has been put into place and then, seemingly out of the blue, Exodus 4:24 says:

At a lodging place on the way the LORD met him and sought to put him to death. (ESV)

What?

That seems rather unexpected and harsh.

As it turns out, the reason for all of this is that Moses had not circumcised his second son. God had commanded that the sons of His people would be circumcised. Moses’ wife, Zipporah, came from a different culture where men were circumcised before marriage, not shortly after birth. So, for Moses, leaving that child uncircumcised was sin. It was disobedience to God. Moses could not go on this grand mission the LORD Himself had called him to if he was unrepentant of sin –any sin, no matter how good the reason and no matter how microscopic.

We instinctively, completely, and totally understand and agree that the  acceptable level of broken glass in a stick of butter is absolutely none. Zero. Not one of us would knowingly and willingly accept or use a stick of butter with any shattered glass in it all. Zero tolerance.

And yet, somehow, we believe those tiny voices that say the we should willingly allow and accept small amounts of sin in our lives, in our culture, in our nation.

And we allow the acceptable amount of sin to grow as we become desensitized to the broken glass that slowly tears us apart as it increases the internal bleeding that God told us would lead to certain death.

But we cannot speak life and truth and joy and peace to others with shards of broken glass in our gullets.

The bad news is that we stink at being sinless. Everyone of us will some day knock that coffee cup off the shelf before we have come to our full senses.

The good news is that there was someone whom God sent who was and is sinless. There was someone who can not just remove the shards of broken glass, but can make it as if we never knocked that cup off the shelf in the first place.

As every preacher on Kinship Christian Radio will tell you, Jesus removes our sins from us as far as the east is from the west. (Psalm 103:12) Because of Jesus, our sins are not just forgiven, the Father willingly forgets them. (Hebrews 8:12) When we repent and confess our sins, we are washed clean and stand before the judge of all humanity not just “not guilty” but innocent and dearly loved. We are redeemed and set free!

Today’s Praise 

And this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Romans 3:22-24 (BSB)

HALLELUJAH!