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Archive for the ‘Service’ Category

mI visited Agape Hope House in Nairobi, Kenya earlier this month. My thoughts and emotions ran the gambit that first day as we spent 6 or 7 hours with the children in the orphanage and then talked (and prayed) with Oliver and Maggie that day and over the next few days. My thoughts have turned back to Kenya and the children many times in the two weeks I have been home. Today, I hope to convey something of the raw… actually a better word is pure, emotion that God is stirring in me as I pray and ponder what I can do to help… how can I further God’s work in these children’s lives and in the lives of those God wants to use to join Maggie and Oliver, LJ and Danee, Coleman and Serving Orphans Worldwide, and me in ministering to “the least of these”.

 

The smiles belie a sad reality. Opportunity in Kenya is scarce. The path ahead for these children is not well trod. There are many obstacles in their path and the way is overgrown and hardly discernable. Yet smile they do. Because they are children they don’t comprehend how difficult the path ahead is.

  • These children have never slept in their own bed… and yet they smile.
  • These children have never had a birthday party at Chuck-E-Cheese, or McDonalds, or the skating rink… and yet they smile.
  • These children have never bought a new piece of clothing or shoes… and yet they smile.
  • These children don’t have a clue what it is like to have your own room, your own bed, your own “stuff”… and yet they smile.
  • These children eat every meal in masse, attend class in masse, go to bed in masse, and generally get attention in masse. With individual attention given by so few to so many, rare is the child who knows the tender love and attention my children (and grandchildren) get on a regular basis… and yet they smile.
  • The mental picture of “Mom” and “Dad” for many of these children is sketchy… and yet they smile. (Thank God for Maggie and Oliver who pour into them as much as they humanly can and who bring some balance to the term Momma and Daddy.)
  • These children have never had anyone wash their clothes, make their beds, clean up their room… and yet they smile.
  • These children have never had a choice of what they would like to eat… and yet they smile.

But, because of Agape Hope House and a few faithful donors these children have hope and a window of opportunity that is greater than their peers living outside the compound walls. The path from where they are may have as many obstacles, but the education, the encouragement, the guidance, and the faith they gain at Agape Hope House equips them to navigate a path to a better life. Today there are those who have walked the path to a better, faith-filled life of adulthood from Agape Hope House. While still a challenging path, knowing that others have taken the path and been successful is in itself a great encouragement. Some of those who have grown into adults with the benefit of Agape Hope have returned to mentor, to support, and to help.

The love of Jesus and the children is the motivator for Oliver and Maggie. They have given their lives to the work. The ½ acre piece of ground with 19 buildings, 140 orphans the day I was there, and a school enrolment of 487 stands as a light in a dark and difficult environment. The contrasts on this day buffeted me. The time of play with the children was just plain fun. The talk with some of the children on how they came to be at Agape Hope tore at my heart. The shy smiles of some and the mugging for the camera by others made me laugh. Noticing the girl sitting alone after doing her laundry while all the others played made me wonder – “what’s her story?” And every time a child slipped their hand in mine or Coleman’s or one of the other adults the bitter sweetness of the moment stung and stirred.

If this touches you, stirs you, or simply makes you curious, please take a few moments to look up Serving Orphans Worldwide on the internet at soworldwide.org. Visit Agape Hope Children’s Home on their page to learn more about the work Oliver and Maggie are doing for children in Nairobi.  Finally please join us in prayer.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ‘ Matthew 25:31-40

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I recently traveled to Kenya to support some friends who are serving in an orphanage and school in Nairobi. It was an awesome trip and I was greatly encouraged by the Davis family’s faithfulness in serving the Lord and the dozens of young people under their charge. I told a friend last night that the trip was amazing, but somehow that word really isn’t sufficient. My wife and I travel for leisure a fair amount and seeing new places, experiencing new cultures, and making new friends is not a new experience for me. My common response is that a trip is “amazing”. This was so much more than that. It was inspiring. It was hard work. It was uplifting talking to LJ and Danee about the work. It was wonderful to hear from the Lord frequently and be able to obey with the encouragement and activity that He directed.

 

It weighed on my heart to see the poverty, filth, and lack of opportunity that is so much more prevalent than in the USA (or any of the places we travel to for fun). But as heavy as that was, the light of God’s goodness in the work being carried out stood out in stark, highly desirable contrast. There are many lessons that I have taken from the trip. Some were fully formed while I was there. Some are still being processed. Yesterday we hosted friends for our home group and the Lord brought a new consideration to light that I want to share today.

Maturing in faith and becoming a seasoned Christian will always include steps out of our comfort zone. In fact, growth as a believer will be an on-going series of steps that progressively move us from a place of comfort and ease into new territory that will often be a little scary and uncomfortable. But it is in stepping into the new that we learn to trust in Jesus’s presence and provision more than our own abilities and strength. I used to think that the word comfort meant ease and leisure. The actual root of the term comfort means “with strength”. Com = with, fort comes from the same root as fortress or fortification – a place of strength. When we are comforted, we are given strength to endure whatever difficulty, trial, or challenge we are encountering. Being comforted is a good thing. Being comfortable is in itself not a bad thing. However, as I have discussed in previous posts, there are times when the good can become an enemy of the best. And God wants the best for His children.

So what is the problem with being comfortable and why does God want us to move out of our comfort zone? The issue is not that God is a killjoy. Joy, comfort, and peace are great gifts He provides. But these are by-products not the end product. The end is a deepening relationship with Him and a greater intimacy with the lover of our soul. It is God’s desire that each one of us grow to know Him so well that we live in constant communion with Him. Prayer without ceasing is more than a pious platitude, it is an accurate description of the life God wants to lead us into. Which is where our personal comfort zone can become a hindrance rather than a good thing.

The Creator of the universe is without limits. His love is truly beyond our comprehension, but He wants us to experience it in ever greater amounts. To do so often means we must let go of our existing beliefs and understanding to experience the next greater level of His love. The same is true of His wisdom, His faithfulness, His mercy, His grace. Each time we let go of our current state of satisfaction and lean into a holy hunger for more of Him, we will experience a stretching and growth that reveals more of God’s nature, and by definition, will result in a degree of loss of the negatives of the world’s perspective. For me personally, this stretching often includes a letting go of self-reliance in some area to gain a greater God-reliance.

I saw this in Kenya. It was evident in my friends LJ and Danee. Masai Village-14It was also true in me. God’s specific word to LJ was “to prepare the land”. The orphanage had fallen into disrepair. Mismanagement had resulted in the loss of the license as a children’s home and much of the 14-acre compound was overgrown with brush and vegetation. The entire family responded to the call to prepare the land. Now for many of us, traveling overseas can be a daunting experience. That increases when the travel is to a third world country. Raise it another notch when we are placed next to the 2nd largest slum in the world. Kibera Children's Center-43Oh, for good measure, take the entire family with children ages 15, 14, 13, and 9 in tow. Kibera Children's Center-53I know very few people who would be able to be stretched that far. But the path the Lord has led Danee and LJ on has been a path of consistent next steps of trusting God as they go a little further out of their comfort zone, only to see Him provide exactly what was needed after each step.

While I was there, I witnessed LJ assuming the new role of overall Operations Manager for the entire compound. By his own admission, LJ is a country boy from rural South Carolina. He did not aspire to running an orphanage and school, but as I witnessed while I was there, LJ and Danee are faithfully doing whatever is required in leading, guiding, and serving the community. And the land itself is beginning to flourish. A ¾ acre vegetable garden is up and growing. Kibera Children's Center-91Soon it will be a major supplement to the food provisions for the 84 children getting their meals at LifeSpring. The livestock are multiplying. The third fluffle of rabbits are being nurtured and rabbit hutches were built while I was there.

 

Chickens roam the grounds during the day with baby chicks sticking close to mama hen for protection. Goats graze on grass where brambles once grew. To support the growing campus, LJ has hired widows and young men in desperate need of employment. The land is well on its way to being prepared.

LJ’s work as an instrument and controls technician prepared him for some of the work. I chuckle though because Google has come to the rescue many times as they encounter new situations they have never dealt with before. (Like letting me know that a group of baby bunnies is called a fluffle!) In one instance they were talking to one of the widows who had been hired to tend the garden. In Kenya all the schools are in English, so if you have had the benefit of attending school you are liable to speak decent English. This widow, who cares for her grandchild in the Kibera slum, knows zero English therefore she has never been to school. Kibera Children's Center-98Trying to communicate to her that LJ had bought four tin sheets to replace the plastic she was living under in Kibera was both humorous and deeply touching. Google translate had to translate into Swahili so the widow could understand that some men would be coming by to help her. Kenyans don’t cry. Stoic persistence to survive doesn’t leave room for expressing much emotion, but the emotion flickered on her face when she realized the act of kindness being done for her. Kibera Children's Center-93

LJ and Danee went to Kenya following the Lord’s clear leading. But following the Lord’s leading and knowing all that we are getting into are often two different things. In some cases, the Father will give us a degree of insight into what’s ahead. I think of Paul the apostle heading to Jerusalem where he would be arrested. God clearly told him to go to Jerusalem. And he was also clearly told that difficulty was ahead. But God gave Paul an assurance that walking this difficult path was God’s will and that God would be with him. Paul was called out of his comfort zone over and over again. In stepping into God’s call out of the comfort zone and into the unknown, Paul grew into the apostle God created him to be. Today the Church is blessed because of Paul’s faithfulness in living outside of his comfort zone since much of the New Testament was written by Paul.

As the Lord opened my eyes to the reality of our growth as believers being tied to stepping out of our comfort zone, I realized all the saints in the Word were taken out of their comfort zone. Abraham left his family, his land, and ventured many long and difficult miles to a “promised” land. There was comfort in the land of Haran, but God’s call was to step out and follow Him. Mary was a young woman engaged to a kind carpenter, when an angel said you have been chosen but it will take you out of your comfort zone. Mary said “let it be done to me as you have said” and she stepped out of her comfort zone and into God’s plan for the salvation of humanity. Jesus was a good Jewish lad, well versed in the law, but God had a plan and a call upon His life. Jesus was unique. He was fully God, but at the same time fully human. Being fully human, He experienced a degree of comfort as a carpenter’s son, then apprentice, and finally working as a carpenter in His own right. But when God said step out of your comfort zone and into my call upon your life He did. Jesus ministered for three years outside of His comfort zone – forty days fasting in the desert, speaking to crowds that wanted signs and wonders, but not necessarily the all-in life with God He was espousing, doing battle with the persons of power and influence who chaffed at His familiarity with God, and finally suffering a painful and humiliating torture and execution at the hands of both Roman authorities and Jewish leaders. Jesus modeled a life of stretching our human boundaries of comfort in faithful response to God’s call to something better, something richer, to life in union with God and His unique plan for each person.

Friends I am deeply stirred that God has a call upon every person into a life that is beyond amazing. He has a call upon you. But it is a journey that will frequently take us out of our comfort zone. God will ask us to step in faith in Him and not in sight by using our own wisdom and strength. We will have to rely upon Him. We will be stretched. At times it won’t be “fun”. At times it will even be difficult. But as we listen and lean upon Him, He will be with us to bring about His good will in us and through us. And this is so much better than the “good” we might experience in the comfort zone. Because it is the best.

What burden or desire has the Lord put on your heart that gets shelved because it is outside your comfort zone?

Where do you see injustice, need, or sin that really pushes your buttons, but thus far you have done little beyond complain about it?

Do you have a passion for something the Word says to do, yet thus far you have not truly considered the possibility of you doing something just because?

Take a few moments and ask the Father to bring your next step into clear focus. Ask with a willingness to take the next step. Realize these will not usually be huge leaps out of the blue, but a gradual revelation where God draws you to a faith place that makes each progressive step a stretch, but doable with a little courage and trust in the One Who has provided for you in the past. For the Davis’ it was a few years walking out many progressive next steps into mission work. For me going over to help them was similar, taking about a year of progressive faith steps. Having been, my faith is stirred to help even more. Will I be more comfortable? Walking in God’s grace and lifted by His love, I reckon I have all the strength a person needs. So the answer has to be yes, but in a new way. When we walk His path, taking new steps into the unknown that He directs we will be comforted with His great comfort. And that is way better than just being comfortable.

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This week I have had the opportunity to meet a sweet young woman who is battling cancer.  She is a single mom with three children under the age of 10.  We are partnering with her work family to take her meals, to visit with her, and pray.  Needless to say, she has been a primary topic of conversation with the Father this week.  A couple days ago as I was praying, the story of Jesus healing a woman with a chronic bleeding disorder came to mind.  The story is found in both Mark and Luke’s gospels.  Here it is from Luke.

“Luke 8:42a As Jesus went with him, he was surrounded by the crowds.  43 A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding, and she could find no cure. 44 Coming up behind Jesus, she touched the fringe of his robe. Immediately, the bleeding stopped.  45 Who touched me?” Jesus asked. Everyone denied it, and Peter said, “Master, this whole crowd is pressing up against you.” 46 But Jesus said, Someone deliberately touched me, for I felt healing power go out from me.” 47 When the woman realized that she could not stay hidden, she began to tremble and fell to her knees in front of him. The whole crowd heard her explain why she had touched him and that she had been immediately healed. 48 Daughter, he said to her, your faith has made you well. Go in peace.””
I have prayed for healing for many people.  There have been miraculous healings.  There have been healings in other areas of lives than the physical malady we had begun praying for. There have been healings that have transpired through the efficacy of modern medicine which I take on faith the prayer helped to be effective.  There have been terminally ill patients who in prayer it became clear that ending this life well was the appropriate prayer.  And there has been a very small percentage of times when the results were not what I had hoped for.
Through today’s scripture the Lord showed me a new and crucial element of prayer for people who are ill.  Notice that the woman didn’t ask Jesus for healing.  She didn’t come to him with an elaborate petition for healing or a list of reasons she should be healed.  There was not an elaborate process followed to gain his attention and favor.  No, there was really only one thing she felt essential to be made whole.  She needed to get close to Jesus.  Close enough to touch the fringe of His clothing.  Her faith was in Jesus and proximity to Jesus brought about the flow of His healing power.
That’s it.  It is as simple as that – draw close to Jesus and let Him do what He will do.  Jesus is in the “making whole” business.  But be aware, to be made whole by Jesus will encompass much more than just healing from an illness.  He who created us body, soul, and spirit is interested in the totality of our lives.  He wants to perform a transformation in us in it’s entirety, not just on the surface.
This is liberating to me as an intercessor.  I have always known it was Jesus who heals, but I have at times taken on a degree of responsibility that I had to pray it through, that I needed to fast and intercede sufficiently, that I needed to have the right faith to see the healing happen.
I remember a fairly long season of prayer for a 20 year old son of a work friend who was diagnosed with leukemia.  We surrounded the family and prayed and he went into remission.  “Yeah God!”  It was but about 2 years later that it returned.  This time they determined he required a bone marrow transplant.  No match was found so he went through the auto marrow transplant where his own bone marrow was removed, it was radiated to kill all cancer, and then put back into his body.  He seemed to be doing fine and then he picked up an infection.  With no white blood cells to fight off the infection he slipped into a coma.  I felt guilty because I had not kept this young man high on my prayer list.  When he slipped into a coma I joined the prayer team interceding for his healing.  I remember getting daily updates and praying each and every day.  This went on for 40 days.  Amazingly he hung on in that coma.  He did not seem to deteriorate, but as the doctors began telling us, he wasn’t improving and he had to improve.
The break-through came about day 40.  I remember crying out to the Lord from my hotel room in Montreal.  It was in the evening and I looked up at the ceiling because that about how far it felt my prayers for Chase’s healing were going, bouncing off the ceiling and coming back to me.  As I looked up, spiritually worn out, I asked a different question, “Lord, what would you have me pray?”  “Pray for Chase’s mom, that she will release Chase to come home.”  Suddenly the whole prayer changed.  Instead of feeling like I was pushing against a wall, I had a real sense of being aligned with the will of the Father.  Joy and peace filled me and prayer flowed.
It was only a day or two later and the Mom’s prayer request suddenly changed.  Apparently she to had heard from the Lord because instead of the fervent plea to intercede for his healing, she asked us to pray for the Lord’s will to be done and for peace and strength for the family.  Chase passed a day or two after that.
I know the Lord heals.  The story above is one where the healing was Chase going home to be in the closer presence of the Lord.  For others He will touch them with healing as evidence of His love and power on this side of the veil.  In either case, the goal is the same, to draw us closer to Jesus and cause us to grow in our relationship with Him.
Closer to Jesus – it has become the cornerstone of my prayer for healing.
Closer to Jesus – it is the ultimate goal.
Closer to Jesus – where we live and move and have our being.
Closer to Jesus – it’s who we were created to be.
Closer to Jesus.  Close enough to touch Him.  Close enough to be touched by Him.
Be blessed today my friend.

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We desperately need healing in our nation.  Historians, Statesmen, and even our Lord Jesus have pointed out that division precedes destruction.  A nation divided, like a house divided, shall soon fall.  A look back in history shows us that the greatest danger to a thriving nation is internal division and strife.  Ancient Rome was one of the greatest nations the world has known, controlling most of the civilized world of its day.  Civilization flourished and stretched its influence across Asia, Europe, and Africa.  But the soul of the nation became corrupt.  Division, strife, intrigue, assassination, and disunity weakened the resolve of the people.  Moral decay left a nation that had once been a nation of laws and nationalistic spirit a giant with a weakened will to fight.  When Rome fell, the Dark Ages ensued.

There are several touch points in our nation that should give us pause.  There is a radical element that has risen inciting protests, disobedience, violence, and even anarchy.  This has been highly publicized, perhaps even with a favorable slant in the media, to the point that the greater portion of the public has chosen sides.  Polarization has occurred and continues to do so as greater focus is given to the “protests” and little effort seems to be taking place to move in the direction of reconciliation.  This is madness.  At the very least it threatens our position in the world as a just and compassionate “leading nation”.  At the worst, and it is a plausible worst, it threatens our security as a nation founded “under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”.

I have been praying for our nation, asking God for healing and for guidance.  It has been my experience that God will guide our prayers when we offer them up in faith.  Last week as I was seeking the Lord’s face, I sensed that I needed to pray for empathy… for myself and for people across this land.  We need to gain a perspective of the issues we are arguing about from the other side’s point of view.  As I have done so, I have seen an interesting thing happen within my heart.  Instead of perceiving all the protestors in a totally negative light, I can begin to see them as human beings with real hurts, fears, and concerns… people a lot like me.  People who have not had the same life experiences as me, therefore they do not have the same worldview.  We live in the same pluralistic nation, but we see it differently.  The only way for us to coexist is for us to have a large degree of compassion for one another that isn’t predicated upon our belief system, our political views, our skin color, our gender… upon the differences between us.

Our differences do not have to divide us.  We have always had differences in this nation.  Our nation was founded as 13 distinct and highly autonomous colonies.  They had major differences.  Our constitution is indeed a marvelous document written to forge a single nation of these distinctly different states.  It leaves significant room for the different expression of beliefs and values of the people while establishing a foundation of law and joining us as a single nation.  And we have persevered as a nation for over 240 years, through good and bad times, with strong dissention and disunity on occasion, with a civil war and many periods of internal turmoil.  But we have remained one, united nation.  Not uniform, but united.  I take four things from this high-level view of our history.  1) There is an enemy, a spiritual enemy whose tool is strife and division, who wants this nation to fall.  2) There is a spiritual protector whose tool is love and compassion, who wants this nation to exist and succeed.  3) There has been, and I believe still is, a divine reason for this nation in the world.  4) It is incumbent upon followers of God to seek His guidance, wisdom, and help in healing this land and fulfilling the purpose for this nation.  2 Chronicles 7:14 are the key verse that we, the Church should be heeding.  “if my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

As the Church, as people who have been rescued by Jesus’ love, as people who once were enemies of God through our sin and disobedience, we should be taking the lead in seeking reconciliation and healing.  Our first step is prayer.  Our second step is empathy.  We need to open the dialogue with people with whom we disagree.  We need to hear their perspective.  We should work toward understanding why they believe what they believe.  And we should understand why we believe what we believe as well.  The Prayer of Saint Francis is a good model.

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand;

to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

 

What I am proposing is not the easy thing to do.  It is counter to the current mood portrayed in images on our TV screens and computer monitors.  It is not aligned with the ever-increasing rhetoric I am seeing in social media.  But as I seek the Father’s heart, it seems to be aligned with what the Spirit is whispering to me… “Blessed are the peacemakers…”  “Love covers a multitude of sins…”  “You will know them by their love…”

Friends, please join me in praying for healing in our nation.  And follow that up by asking the Lord to provide opportunities to engage others in civil discussion.  Seek to understand their perspective.  And ask the Lord to help you understand, and when appropriate, articulate your point of view.  While the media may continue to highlight the strife, let us humbly and quietly seek the common ground, the healing, and uniting that I believe the Lord desires.  When we do, we will also see doors open for the Gospel to be shared and God will get the glory.

Be blessed today.  And be a blessing.

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Our devotional this morning used John 15:5 and I saw a portion of that verse in a whole new way.  Jesus is speaking.  “I am the vine; you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  I guess I have tended to zip over the last part of that verse, the part that says “apart from me you can do nothing.”  Today it struck me that from Jesus’ eternal perspective, the things we do for ourselves, the things that create a lot of busyness in our day but are not done from our connection with Him don’t really amount to much.  Actually I guess more accurately they amount to nothing.  That’s a sobering thought.

So how does that square with having a job to support our family, raising our children to be good citizens, or just being a good neighbor to those around us?  Using the rest of this scripture for context, it comes down to our connection with Jesus and our on-going growth in that relationship.  Our purpose is to become more like Jesus.  That is accomplished in and through every aspect of our life.  Our relationship with Jesus is what prepares and then propels us forward into those things that He has purposed for us to walk in.

Two quick stories from the past two weeks illustrate this.  A little over a week ago I was involved in an auto accident.  Actually I was waiting at a cross-roads and the accident was in front of me and one of the vehicles then rammed me.  I was not injured but my little car is badly damaged.  In the moments preceding the accident I had plenty of time to cross in front of the vehicles, but I uncharacteristically waited.  Because I waited, I became involved.  I don’t feel like I did much in the ensuing care-giving, but others seemed to take comfort in my support and prayer.  And I had a tremendous peace both at the time of the accident and in the days that followed that I was where I was supposed to be and I did what I was supposed to do.  Nothing fancy, but the Father’s peace was tangible.  I am still in contact with some of those involved and I believe the Lord will use this event for good in each one of the lives involved.

Second story – earlier this summer friends of mine in the Care Ministry at church mentioned that a choir of orphans from Haiti were in the US touring to raise awareness and funds for the orphanages they represent.  The family that has been instrumental in making this happen – Linda and David, also go to our church.  These stories raised an awareness that became a Holy Spirit nudge to “do something”.  Yesterday they came for a day of swimming and fun at our house.

In my prayer leading up to this I wanted to have a message of ringing clarity for them or some spiritual insight from the Lord to share.  But what I got was a strong sense of just loving on them and sharing from what the Lord has blessed us with.  In my younger years… maybe even just a few years ago, I would have been dissatisfied that the day wasn’t more spiritual. 

Talking with the host family at the end of the evening though, I heard how the Lord had provided so many manifestations of His grace throughout the process of getting the children here.  And then they explained how they so badly needed the break that our day provided.  They have literally been performing 2 and 3 times a day all summer.  They cleared their calendar to just relax and join us.  That statement just confirmed to me that we did what we were supposed to do.

Friends, I encourage you to spend quality time with the Lord.  Allow His love to color your perspective on all things.  Become one who consistently listens to the Lord whispering to your heart.  Learn to recognize when the Lord is speaking to your heart and obey your heart over what your mind tells you in those cases.  As we do so, we are vines that become more and more fruitful.  And that fruit is the sweetest of fruit because it is fruit of eternal significance.

Blessings to you in abundance.  And let the Father bless others through you today.

By the way, the ministry that our friends run to support the Orphans in Haiti is called “Love Him, Love Them”.  You can find it at the website of that name.

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One of the main events at Gauntlet each year is the sunrise baptism in the ocean.  This year 1400 persons waded into the Atlantic Ocean to be baptized in a pattern followed by  Christ-followers for close to 2000 years.  Baptism is a rich symbol in the Christian faith.  In baptism we are identifying with Jesus is His death and burial as we plunge under the water.  In rising out of the water we are connecting with His resurrection from the dead.  Baptism is an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace God has given us in our salvation.  By baptism we proclaim we are followers of Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

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Even as organized as our church has become through the 10 previous Gauntlets, baptism of 1400 people takes some time and creates quite a spectacle.  Below are a few pics of the service.  Three short vignettes stand out to me.

First, we met and spoke with Maddie as she provided Life guard support.  I explained how Jesus is real and that baptism is a person’s next step after accepting Him as their savior.  Maddie is at a life change point as she enters her final year in college.  She has questions about what she is going to do with her life.  As we walked away after praying with her, I could sense the Holy Spirit stirring in her heart.  I pray that she too will soon be baptized and experience the joy and peace that Jesus gives.

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The next shots are from the lifeguard seat in the middle of our service.  One of the staff came up to me and pointed out the man kneeling in the sand to the south of our group.  He had wandered up early in the baptism and, after chatting with some of our folks, fell to his knees and remained there for the entire time I was there – close to an hour that I know of.  His posture of prayer over our group remains one of the most poignant images for me of the week.  It also reminded me that there were literally thousands of people back home praying for us before and during the Gauntlet.

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The final Baptism morning vignette was when Greg, Dylan and I held our devotion on the pier.  We wanted a vantage point where we could continue to observe and pray for the baptism service, but also open the Word and see what God had in store for us.  As we finished an older gentleman from the restaurant on the pier approached and asked what was going on up the beach.  I shared about the baptism and Gauntlet which lead to an engaging conversation with Mark.  A one-time minister, Mark had slipped and backslidden to the point that he had ended up on the streets.  A year and a half earlier he decided he had to turn his life around so for 16 months he had worked at the restaurant and was staying away from the drink and other temptations that had caused him to fall.  We prayed with Mark.  I was blessed as my guys were fully engaged in the conversation, even encouraging Mark to watch the services on-line.

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So many people… so many God-stories… so many miracles… such an amazing God.

The next post will be about the worship.  The one after that is about one of the mighty miracles that occurred and which is continuing to play out in a most marvelous way.

God is moving… the wave started in the student section and it is growing in intensity.  Come Lord Jesus – overwhelm us with more of you.

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I had the privilege of serving as a room leader at Gauntlet 2016.  In my young adult life I was a youth leader at two different churches and I even lead a diocese-wide youth event in Louisiana.  Other life demands took priority as I entered my mid 30’s so my youth leadership became focused upon coaching and a four year stint as a scoutmaster.  Gauntlet is our church’s youth camp, but it is youth camp to the extreme.  There were over 5300 youth at the Gauntlet with another 1700+ room leaders and support staff.  We descended upon Daytona Beach in 129 buses and filled 9 beach-front hotels.  And for the first time we filled the entire Ocean Center auditorium.

I intend on posting several pics and a few highlights from the week in this blog over the next few weeks.  The Gauntlet is an environment where youth and leader alike hear clear teaching on how to become a Christian and what it means to live the life God has created us for.  It provides ample opportunity to speak with caring leaders and fellow sojourners about life’s trials, challenges, failures, and triumphs in a safe place.  Within this context each person is given multiple opportunities to identify and take their next step in the faith journey of life.

This was my second time to serve.  And I almost didn’t go.  My experience the first time was enough of a challenge that I questioned whether the Lord wanted me there.  I left the date open on my calendar and I continued to ask the Lord to make it clear if I was to attend.  About 4 weeks prior the Lord gave me the nudge that I was to go and He provided two very clear instructions.  “Don’t have expectations on how your students are to respond”  and “Trust Me.”  So I signed up.  I am so glad that I did.

That I had chosen the right path was confirmed for me on the bus ride down.  Everyone traveled down in “pods” of three or four buses.  We were the first pod of buses from our campus which also happens to be the furthest from Daytona Beach.  Just outside Jacksonville the bus in front of ours broke down.  The failure on the bus disabled their air conditioning, so our bus leader asked us to make room for the folks from the other bus.  Our boys immediately moved to the back of the bus tripling up in seats or standing in the aisle.  We spent the next 3+ hours waiting on one of the other buses to complete the trip down to Daytona and then return to pick up the passengers from the disabled bus so our pod could continue.

The AC in our bus was stretched to the max with the extra body heat and the lack of air movement over the AC coils, so it was not very comfortable in the back where the boys were all scrunched together.  But during that entire time there was no whining or complaining.  The boys chatted.  I got to know several of the young men like Hawk, CJ, Bernard, Nick, Sean (or maybe Shawn), Drey, Marcelous, Dillon, and others.  For three hours we sweated together, watching bus after bus pass us as we sat on the side of the road with the Florida sun beaming in the windows… and the mood never turned sour with self pity.  I’m chuckling to myself right now because I was, and still am, pumped at how mature the boys handled the situation.

Although I didn’t meet and begin getting to know them until we arrived in Daytona Beach, my two roommates and new friends, Dylan and Greg were among those on the bus who handled the situation so well.  And they proved to be just as mature and good-natured as my initial impression of the other young men on bus 5.  It was truly a blessing to spend the week with these two guys, to get to know them, and to talk about what our next steps in growing closer to Jesus are.

That’s enough of a story for today’s post. So without further ado I share the first of my Gauntlet 2016 pics.

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