Category Archives: News & Stories

A personal update

It occurs to me that some of my friends and readers may wonder from time to time what I’ve been up to.  Teaching in YWAM, (Youth With a Mission), is a joy that offers a nearly endless stream of new settings and delightful young students who are eager to change the world.   Making disciples is my call, and the Kingdom of God is my message.

Most recently I’ve been in Herrnhut Germany, Tyler Texas, and Hisar Bulgaria where I facilitated training for our national staff workers and then spoke at a conference organized by YWAM.   We had Bulgarians, Romanians, Greeks, Norwegians, Swiss, Roma, and American missionaries, pastors and professionals in attendance; passionate servants who are embedded in the culture, loving, praying, training, and making disciples.  As I stood before that small conference crowd I had the distinct feeling that this Kingdom message would be like a mustard seed that would grow and spread change across the entire nation of Bulgaria.

Whenever I can, I take friends and former students along with me on these travels for the fellowship, the discipleship, and the intention of training them to carry the Kingdom message to places I’ll never see.   Their company is always a special treat.

But teaching is just a part of my schedule.  People around home,  (Maryland), have always known me as a musician, and in the past few months God has been opening many doors to bring musical programs, worship times, and gospel encouragement to a number of churches and nursing homes in the area around home.

With my own Mother in a care facility, I recognize the power of music to connect people with Jesus and to encourage their hearts.  Last weekend I led worship for a ladies retreat in South Carolina on Saturday, for my home church on Sunday, and then did a musical/inspirational program for a local retirement community on Sunday afternoon.  These musical programs offer a chance for me to put into practice the insights God is teaching me about beauty, and it’s honored place in the Kingdom.

Tonight I’m writing from Lebanon, PA, where I’m teaching in a small Discipleship Training School.  Next week I’ll be with YWAM Charlotte doing the same.  And between now and the first of the year my schedule will take me to New Jersey, Virginia, Kentucky, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, Hawaii, and West Virginia.  It’s a very busy season, but I feel so blessed to have a small part in this Kingdom story God is writing among the nations.

You have a part of it too, and it’s almost certainly more important than what you think it is.

Orlando, religion and the Kingdom

Awakening to the news of last Sunday’s terrorist attack in Orlando, I felt awash with grief, alarm, and dread: Grief for the lives that were cut short, alarm that ISIS had struck again within our borders, and dread for the divisiveness that religious-political narratives would almost certainly generate on social media and the airwaves.  But I determined to withhold my thoughts until my head was clear enough to hear from God’s broken heart.

There were two very different responses from the so-called evangelical community. (I say “so-called” because the word “evangelical” connotes one with a message of “good news”, and not all evangelicals actually proclaim good news).  One small minority jumped into poisonous judgments towards those who have lost their way in darkness.  They impugned the name of Jesus by the hateful and callous statements they made in his name.

But a totally opposite response came from the Orlando Chik fil-A restaurants who fired up their kitchens on Sunday afternoon to feed the lines of people waiting to give blood for the victims.

Religion and the Kingdom almost always end up in conflict.   You can see this in full display in the gospel of Luke, when a group of Samaritans, (a people already condemned for their pagan beliefs and practices), reject Jesus himself as he entered their village.  The (religious) disciples were indignant: “Do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them”, they asked?  But their very question almost seems to have confused Jesus.  “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of, for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”  (Luke 9:55-56).

Did you catch that?  The Son of God himself resisted the way of judgment.  And so should we.

The distinguishing mark of a true disciple is not the purity of his doctrine, nor the passion of his judgments, but the fullness of his love.  “God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.” 1 John 4:16-17

Heavenly tourism or the Kingdom

Heaven dominated last year’s Christian bestseller list. There were at least three heavenly visitation books until one young author stepped forward to confess his whole account had been fabricated. Many were duped not just by an unscrupulous author, but by an unbiblical over-emphasis on a distant place we think of as “our heavenly home.”

The great tragedy, of course, is that Heaven continues to eclipse the Kingdom.  As real as it is, Jesus never once instructed us to seek Heaven above everything else.  Nor did he use heaven as a hook for evangelism. “Follow me, Peter, and you’ll go to heaven when you die.”  And neither did he teach us to pray, “May we come into Heaven where your will will be done…” No… His plan has always involved the heavenly-earthly Kingdom of God; the marriage of heaven and earth, and the very makeover of the world and everything in it.

The idea of spending eternity in Heaven often embraces the unbiblical notion of our disembodied spirits worshipping forever in that translucent realm.  We forget that the resurrection means these earthly bodies will live again in a made-over and improved form! Whatever the unfallen Adam was, we will be. Whatever the resurrected Jesus is, we will be!  God’s dream has never been to whisk us away to heaven, but to so transform His creation that “the glory of the Lord will once again cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14) From the moment of Adam’s transgression, the Father, Son and Spirit has been at work undoing the catastrophic affects of the fall.

I was so encouraged last week to read that Lifeway Christian Bookstores have pulled all of the “Heavenly tourism” books from their inventory. This is a great step forward.   Now maybe we can get on undistracted with the work of seeing God’s Kingdom come “on earth as it is in Heaven.”

Addendum:  Below is a Google “nGram” plotting the comparative  number of books published about various topics. The red line is Heaven, and the blue line is The Kingdom of God.  Note how thoroughly Heaven overshadows the Kingdom.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 5.48.41 PM

A plan and a people

We are at the same time living in a nation of weak, absent leadership with “no strategy” for moving forward in the face of evil, and in the world of an unshakable King whose strategy has been abandoned by His own people.  One is a people without a plan, and the other is a plan without people.

I need a daily debrief from the Spirit just to keep from drowning in the hopelessness of the news.  It’s not just Israel, Gaza, Ukraine, Ebola and the Islamic State, but also the passivity and sweeping ignorance of the church towards the Kingdom that sends my heart into despair.  Last night I listened to Somalian-American leaders in Milwaukee describe how young fatherless boys are being drawn into radical Islam because they are looking for a place to belong and a story to live.  Great news!  Our young are being drawn into an ideology that promotes beheading people in the name of a new world.

Have we no better plan?  No greater drama to offer?  Is it not a tragedy that America’s young people must choose between the “grand cause” of Jihad, the “grand cause” of Marxism, or a fatalistic Christianity biting its fingernails in hopes that Jesus will soon rescue us from this mess?    Where is OUR Story?  Do we tell it in our Sunday gatherings?  If those young Somalis wandered into our meetings, would they walk out with hope burning in their hearts, or with a conclusion that the American Church is pathetically disengaged and irrelevant to the crises of the age?

Now is the hour.  This is the divine moment for the church shout, “WAIT!  There is another way!  There IS a better story, a beautiful, grand possibility that answers all the churning needs of your heart, and heals the broken world besides.”  It’s both a plan and a people.

A tale of two cities

The signs of war are no longer visible in the streets, of Sarajevo, but invisible heart-wounds remain.

I’ve avoided a report on Sarajevo in part because it’s so stinking difficult to capture it in a few short paragraphs.  My two week visit was prompted by a reunion of YWAM friends and co-workers who had spent time in former Yugoslavia.  We told stories, worshiped, prayed and shared meals together as we sought God’s heart for this beautiful nation and her people.  The time for me was a grab bag of sadness, joy, excitement and aggravation.

With it’s mix of Communism, nationalism, and sectarianism, Sarajevo is a troubled place searching for both peace and identity.  Whereas Herrnhut, (see my June 20th entry), exported hope to the nations out of a community of love, Sarajevo gave us World War One and the more recent Bosnian War from it’s historic foundations of anger and betrayal.

My emotions bounced around like a gum ball as I moved from conversations with young grace-filled disciples on the one hand to others suffocating in lies as thick as the cigarette smoke that hangs over the cafes.   My heart was encourage by one young friend who confided that he had begun “following Jesus, though I haven’t yet put my full trust in Him”, another who is actively sharing his faith, writing and producing music, and another who has started a family and a medical practice since I last saw him.   Still, hopelessness and passivity stalk the streets like mafia strong men, while the young continue to flock after the pied-piper of materialism.

I have to believe that one day…. ONE DAY.. Sarajevo will receive the sweet news that her warfare is accomplished, her sins are forgiven, and the light of the Glory of God is rising upon her.   Would you take a moment and pray for “my” city and my friends?

The little village that changed the world

Herrnhut, Germany

I just arrived in Sarajevo from Herrnhut, Germany, sometimes known as “the little village that changed the world.”  It’s the home of Count Nicolaus von Zinzendorf and the Moravian Brethren.  These were the people who launched the modern-day missions movement with a legendary zeal that has seldom been equaled.   Sometimes even selling themselves into slavery for the Gospel, the Moravians packed their meager belongings into their coffins and set off for foreign lands from Labrador to Egypt, Suriname to South Carolina.   These were the same people who famously influenced John Wesley in his search for faith and who began a prayer movement that for 100 years maintained around the clock prayer for churches, missions and the advance of the Gospel.

In the early seventeen-hundreds refugees from numerous Protestant sects in Moravia and Bohemia, (present-day Czech Republic), fled to Saxony asking Count Zinzendorf for asylum from their persecutions.  The godly count welcomed them onto his estate and charged them to lay down their doctrinal differences for the cause of Christ.  He offered them a corner of his property and invited them to settle in what is now Herrnhut.

Zinzendorf was a broad-minded believer who championed the grace of God and the unity of believers above divisive doctrines.  So it was a perfect setting for YWAM to pioneer it’s first eight-week “School of the Kingdom.”   In the tradition of the Moravians, one of this week’s students shared his story of taking an outreach team into a rebel militant camp in Nigeria, and leading fifteen of the soldiers out of the camp and into faith in Jesus.

It was an amazing week of grace and learning in a setting that has earned a special place in history.  And now I’m back in wonderful Sarajevo, with a very different and almost opposite history.  More on that later.

A part of Zinzendorf’s Estate

The death of the wicked

I’m hearing an unbelievable amount of discussion this week about how the followers of Jesus ought to view the death of Osama bin Laden.   And since one friend just wrote and asked me to please comment, I will.   Please bear in mind that this is my personal conviction based on the Jesus I know in my heart as well as the one I read about in the scriptures.

I am relieved that a mass murderer is no longer able to manufacture further terrorism against innocent people.   A man who chose to live by the sword, has died by the sword.  Hopefully justice in some form has been served, and that of course is a good thing.  But it’s nearly impossible to know for sure with the various conflicting reports of the media and the Obama administration.

However, seeing my compatriots gloating and dancing in the streets makes me sad.  It feels like our hearts have sunk to the same level as the cold-hearted Jihadists who have declared us to be their enemy.   As a follower of Jesus, I want to be like Him, and try as I may, I cannot imagine the Servant-King dancing and gloating over the death of any man.  On the contrary, God says, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked would turn from his way and live.”  (Ezekiel 31:11) It’s a well known maxim that if we persist in hating our enemies, we will become just like them.  And that, I fear, is exactly what is happening with many us.

Travel, fear and hope.

Just a very quick note to mention that I’m on my way to Central Europe, and hope to update from there soon.   I’ll be teaching in Hungary, Romania, Macedonia, Hawaii, and Colorado in the next six weeks, and would appreciate prayers for effective communication, the freshness of the Kingdom message, and of course for all the issues of travel.

Hopefully this trip will be a respite for my spirit, which has been so heavy these past weeks.  There’s an unnamed fear that ambushes me daily in regard to America, and it’s been a constant battle to maintain hope in the midst of the “fundamental changes” in our freedoms, alliances, and national security.

Still… my confidence is in the promise of God’s Kingdom, and the Truth of His Word.   When everything else unravels at the seams, His promise and His Word remain.

Pat Robertson and me

Scarcely a day goes by that I don’t say something I wish I could take back.   I had to remind myself of that this week when, in the midst of the horrible tragedy of the Haitian earthquake, Pat Robertson told his listening audience that Haiti had – at one time – made a pact with Satan.  As a follower of Jesus I want to distance myself from that kind of posturing.   Whether there’s any truth in that story or not, it’s like telling your children that the neighbors house has just burned down, but “don’t forget, the old man has always been an alcoholic.”

I haven’t the right to either excuse or judge Pat Robertson.  He’s an imperfect man just like me.  And the Bible explains that “If we could control our tongues we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.”  (James 3:2) But the fact that Pat is in the frightful position of having a microphone plugged into a worldwide television network presents a problem.

And it makes me want to clarify that Reverend Robertson doesn’t represent the hearts of most Christians I know.   This is not a time for sermonizing and theorizing about judgment.   It’s a time for grieving, giving, and prayer.  On the morning after the quake I found myself in a roomful of young people crying out to God on behalf of the Haitians and looking for ways to help.   That’s the kingdom response.

This past week in Denver was amazing.  It was one of the most responsive groups of students ever, and I fully expect them to change the world.  Next time I write I’ll do my best to follow through on that study of the “missing pieces.”  In the meantime lets keep our hearts, hands, and wallets open towards the Haitian people and our prayers covering their suffering and loss.

This week’s Discipleship Training School students in Denver.

PS:  Just a note to mention that CBN has issued a statement reminding us that Pat Robertson did not attribute the quake to God’s judgment, (as some critics have evidently charged), and that the humanitarian arm of CBN has been on the scene since the day after the quake with volunteers and millions of dollars worth of aid and medicine.

A different kind of Christmas

I tried something different this year for Christmas.  Since I have everything a person could possibly need, I asked for my family to give donations to charity instead.  And I was even more encouraged when they decided I could do the same for them.  So at the end of the day, instead of having to figure out how to squeeze more clothes into my closet, or what to do with gifts I didn’t need, I had the joy of knowing that we had provided twelve chickens, a goat, ten mosquito nets, deworming medication for 2,000 children, and a contribution towards digging a well for the poor in Africa.  Though it sounds like a lot, it really wasn’t.  American money still goes a long way in Africa.  It was the best Christmas since I was a kid.

I wrestled about posting this because of the idea of “losing my reward.”  But at the end of the day, it’s not about a reward.  It’s about caring for our starving brothers and sisters.  I’m certain many, if not most of you reading this are involved in caring for the poor, but if this suggestion might inspire just one more person to take action, then that can make an eternal difference.

Here are a few stats:

  • One Billion people worldwide have no access to clean drinking water.
  • 25,000 – 35,000 people, (including 14,000 children), die every day of hunger-related causes.  (That’s about one child every seven seconds).
  • 2.6 billion people have no access to basic sanitation facilities.
  • There are about 12 million AIDS orphans in Africa.