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Christmas is all about Christ, isn’t it? At least that was the core of the debate over the use of “Xmas,” a popular one in my childhood. Even now, with the plurality of holidays that seem to clutter the end of the year, the thoughts of many still turn to that event that split the calendar that we still use in two–the birth of Jesus.

Still, even though so many reflect on this day when God came near, it often seems so hard to enter into the spiritual interactions that we long for. With so many relatives, friends, and even strangers gathered together, the opportunities to turn the conversation to the spirit of the season, God’s activity in the here and now, seem to abound. Nevertheless, for many of us, it can be hard to move the conversation much deeper than the amount of snow that’s fallen outside.

What’s one to do? How can we interact with one another in a way that the season or any day truly deserves? How can we invite God into our conversations this Christmas?

I believe that the Bible, specifically the book of Acts, provides a template that we can use to direct our activities throughout the holidays and beyond, and it’s my prayer that this insight from Scripture will help you and your family put Christ back into Christmas, even it if be only in your circle of influence. First let’s look to the text:

Acts 8:26-401

26 As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and he met the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the Kandake, the queen of Ethiopia. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and he was now returning. Seated in his carriage, he was reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah.

29 The Holy Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and walk along beside the carriage.”

30 Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

31 The man replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” And he urged Philip to come up into the carriage and sit with him.

32 The passage of Scripture he had been reading was this:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter.
And as a lamb is silent before the shearers,
he did not open his mouth.
33 He was humiliated and received no justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, was the prophet talking about himself or someone else?” 35 So beginning with this same Scripture, Philip told him the Good News about Jesus.

36 As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?” 38 He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away. The eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Meanwhile, Philip found himself farther north at the town of Azotus. He preached the Good News there and in every town along the way until he came to Caesarea.

Now for those of you who are headed out the door to that office party or holiday potluck and are just interested in the steps to take to facilitate spiritual interaction here they are:

1. Pray for direction. (v.26, 29)
2. Obey the direction your receive. (v.27, 30)
3. Observe; hear the person’s story. (v.30)
4. Ask about their impressions, understanding, or need. (v.30)
5. Begin with the thoughts expressed. (v.35)
6. Explain God’s place in their story. (v.35)
7. Allow for the other to respond. (v.36)

For those of you with a bit more time, I offer some explanation:

The above passage is an excerpt of the account of Philip “the evangelist,” one of the seven deacons, “men full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom,” chosen in Acts chapter 6 to assist the apostles with equal food distribution among the church’s dependent widows. Prior to this passage, we see him, having fled the persecution of the church carried out by Saul of Tarsus, preaching in Samaria and carrying out a rather successful ministry. Under his work, the residents of this community received the message of Jesus, and many believed and were baptized after seeing the miraculous signs that accompanied his ministry.

Therefore, this encounter with the Ethiopian Eunuch is a bit unexpected. At the center of a successful outreach, we would expect Philip to remain in order to consolidate the work, but, apparently, God had other plans. This leads us to the first step in building bridges toward spiritual interactions:

Pray for direction: Now while it is not overtly stated how Philip received his message in verse 26 to go to the desert road, we can assume that he was at least in an attitude that facilitated spiritual direction. In my mind, that points to an active devotional life, one which enables us to hear from God and recognize his voice.

This can be a big hurdle for many of us during the holiday season. With additional tasks on our list and events to attend, it can be tempting relegate to our daily time with God to the perfunctory prayers offered up at mealtimes or perhaps during the religious events that dot our calendar, but with Philip, we see just how essential his prayer life truly was. It was the catalyst that turned his attention to an encounter that would change the life of one man and perhaps opened an entire nation to the message of the gospel.2 Our prayers, as well, may be just what we need to prepare us to cooperate with God in the life of a loved one or sensitize us to a need lying just below the surface.

But how should we pray? A retired missionary, Lloyd Marsh, offers advice on this point. During his instruction on helping others to receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, he would teach them to ask God, “What do you want to do?” God has a plan for the people that we meet, we should be asking Him how He would like us to cooperate with Him in fulfilling that plan.

Obey the direction you receive. Some would argue that this point is unnecessary, as one should obviously do what God tells us to do. Nevertheless, many of us could probably recall the myriad opportunities that we had allowed to slip by for fear of awkwardness or rejection. However, determining to act upon the message that we receive or the impression that we feel can help us tremendously when the event arises.

In the case of Philip, we see two occasions when he received specific direction (v.26 and v.30), and, in each case, action immediately followed. It was his obedience to the direction that he received that made the real difference in the situation.

Likewise, although we pray, unless we take action, no difference will be made. A little book, The Ten Second Rule has been helpful to both Kelly and myself as we try to overcome our natural reluctance to take the next step in obedience. The basic premise of the book revolves around this idea: “Just do the next thing you’re reasonably certain Jesus wants you to do,” and do it in ten seconds or less.

Perhaps it will be a direction to speak with that uncle you’ve always avoided or an impression to get to know that other family during the school presentation that will lead to an unexpected blessing. You never know. One thing, however, should be determined in advance: inaction isn’t an option.

Observe; hear the person’s story. This is perhaps the biggest gift that we can give this holiday season, especially when our conversations have tendency to turn into competitions instead of true giving and receiving, if this Brian Regan video is any indication. James 1:19 says it best, “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.”

This is precisely what we see in Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian. Having obeyed the command to walk beside the carriage, he was able to hear that the eunuch was reading from the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, the prophecy of the “Suffering Servant,” one that Jesus fulfilled with his crucifixion and death. This observation supplied the explanation behind his unexpected direction and provided the opportunity that he needed to be able to intervene appropriately in the life of this high-ranking official.

As we spend time with others this holiday season, it could be a look or a sigh that, when noticed, might bring about an area of need where we could minister. On the other hand, a sermon or a reading from the Bible might generate an opportunity for sharing. The difference will be made when we intentionally choose to observe and develop our desire to bless others.

Ask about their impressions, understanding, or need. Sometimes, statements are made and are allowed to fall to the ground. Philip, having heard the scripture, could have walked away, satisfied that others, too, were reading the word of God. He didn’t. He asked a simple question which served to catapult the conversation into an explanation of the gospel: “Do you understand what you are reading?” (v.30)

We too can ask simple questions that may lead to deeper conversations. Questions like, “Why did you say that?” or “How did that make you feel?” may lead those around us to open up in a way that they normally wouldn’t. This is especially effective if they see that we’ve taken a genuine interest in the conversation that we’ve begun with them.

Begin with the thoughts expressed. When the opportunity does come for us to turn things to spiritual matters, a canned sermon, or a memorized script shouldn’t be our fall back. Instead, we should use Philip as our guide. He began with that same Scripture from Isaiah 53 to explain the gospel to the Ethiopian. It effectively answered the man’s question and stimulated his faith.

An admission of anxiety might allow us to share about God’s peace. An expression of loneliness might give us the opportunity to share about God sending us Immanuel “God with us” (further emphasized by our own presence with the person to whom we are ministering.) In each situation, we validate the person by hearing and responding to their situation.

Explain God’s place in their story. With Philip, the progression was natural. A scripture lead to an explanation of the ministry of the Messiah. For us, it may take a bit more thought, but the key lies in viewing our lives not as segmented compartments but as a unified whole. Once we allow God to encompass and invade every area of our own lives, connecting the current situation expressed with the activity of God in the person’s life will come more naturally.

Allow the other person to respond. Philip, after sharing his explanation, gave room for the eunuch to express his belief. His desire to be baptized signaled his acceptance of the explanation and his willingness to be initiated as a disciple of the one in whom he believed. Allowing room for others to express their reaction to our explanations may result in a request for prayer, an invite to talk further, or even, like in the case of Philip, a chance to lead someone to the Lord. The key is to make space in the conversation and to invite their response to your explanation.

Can move past superficiality this holiday season? I believe that the answer is yes, and the template that Philip models for us in Acts 8:26-40 shows us how we can. May the Lord help us to put this knowledge into action as we gather with others this Christmas and all throughout the coming year.

1 Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
2Irenaeus states that the Ethiopian eunuch was “sent into the regions of Ethiopia, to preach what he had himself believed.” CHURCH FATHERS: Against Heresies, III.12 (St. Irenaeus). Ed. Kevin Knight. New Advent. Web. 8 Dec. 2015. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103312.htm

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Mexico to Missouri

It’s been quite a ride for us since our last update. We’ve moved five times and only just this week have begun to settle into what will be our home for our year of itineration. Our first move came as we vacated our field housing in preparation for departure. Our second was our flight to Springfield where Kelly was greeted with her driver’s exam. (Her license had expired while we were away, so she needed to pass both the written and the road tests.) Then we were off to Erie, PA for a month of reconnecting with family and supporting churches. The fifth move was our trip back to Missouri just in time for the A/G Centennial celebration. Finally, we vacated our temporary housing and came to rest on the west side of Springfield, in the Willard school district.

As we prayed with the kids on the night before their first day in American public schools, I reflected on all of the movements and couldn’t help but be thankful both to God and to those He used to make our relocations possible. There were so many crucial moments, so many opportunities for things to go wrong, but with His help, and the help of those so moved to respond to our need, we passed from moment to moment without fail.

Of course, you could ask the question, “What would cause a middle-aged man to uproot his family and move away from his field of calling?” To which I would respond, “To go back.”

We’ve come to the US and traveled the miles so that we might connect with you and share with you the burden that we carry for Mexico, but also the joy that we experience as we walk in obedience to Christ and His calling. We do so to raise support: prayer and financial, so that we might minister more effectively. We do so also to call others into obedience to Christ as He stirs the hearts and lives of those who would follow, some to Latin America, others to other regions in the world, for we know that the task is great, but the workers few.

But such a return trip is not without risks. We risk the possibility of the doors of opportunity being closed to our stateside ministry. We risk the inability to raise our necessary support in order to return. We understand these risks and face them, with honesty but also with determination, knowing that the same God who enabled us to return, will be faithful in sending us back as He works his miracles on our behalf, many of those through the hands of those He has assembled in partnership around us.

Thanks, then, to those who have received us and to those who will soon extend this favor. Thanks for allowing us the opportunity to connect with you and to enter, if for just a moment, into relationship, to be an instrument through which God might move you to fulfill the unfinished task.

‘Til all know,

Dave and Kelly

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I don’t get chance to feature Kelly very often on our updates. That’s because she’s usually behind the camera.

This particular Monday morning, however, we were able to switch roles, and she was able to operate in one of her special giftings, reptile control!

Hit the link or the play button to enjoy the video!

*|YOUTUBE:[$vid=dt7mPssM1-g]|*

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Giving and receiving encouragement.

Giving and receiving encouragement.

The start of a new school year comes with its own special set of concerns. Parents brace themselves as their kids move into new experiences and new relationships. Kids wonder about fitting in and getting along with their teachers and peers, while teachers worry about connecting with students and helping them learn and grow.

Into that atmosphere a bit of encouragement can go a long way. Here is message that I just received from a graduate:

“Thanks for emphasizing prayer in the classroom. It is and will be an example to follow.”

Then, following my first class of Evangelism, I was greeted by Guadalupe, a student from my class the year prior.

“Teacher,” she said, “I just wanted to let you know that the survey techniques that you had taught us have enabled me to start Bible studies in the homes of ten new families!”

Isn’t God good? He knows just what we need to keep keeping on.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. ” Gal. 6:9

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We’ve lost power twice this week during two consecutive days. Both times I was put out of sorts. “I had plans,” I said to myself. “I’m entitled to carry them out.” But something inside me told me that my attitude was out of sorts. Then, when I turned to the Internet to look for some electronic pity, reality smacked me in the face. A fellow missionary in southeast Asia commiserated with us, saying that she had been losing power everyday, sometimes twice a day. My mind was pushed to other friends in Africa who had to buy their own generator because reliable power was simply not available. Yet there I sat in Mérida, a city blessed with every modern convenience, complaining about spending a couple of hours in the dark. Certainly our plight pales in comparison to these other situations.

And yet there was no denying my frustration. Perhaps because as I missionary I had thought that my challenges would come from other fronts: resistance to my message, cultural adaptation, language acquisition and the like. Leaving the US, there was the idea or illusion, as we say here in Mexico, of leaving everyday life behind, of having an adventure with God. Funny, so often this adventure is filled with the everyday.

Inept drivers, sickness, homework, yes, even power outages have not been left behind, but isn’t this too what Christ had to face? He had a constant pressure placed upon him in each moment of the day, and there were always a host of characters waiting for him to slip up in even the tiniest detail. But he never slipped, and although his wrath was displayed in the cleansing of the temple he was throughout without sin.

So in my life as a missionary, I find must choose to remain flexible, understanding that simply having left the US does not exempt me from life’s everyday difficulties. And through it all, my prayer is that I might persevere, as Hebrew says, understanding that the difficulties that I must bear have been born before–understanding that, if I am faithful, I will be able to say with Him, “It is finished!”

Photo credits: Power outage by Brenda Anderson Some rights reserved

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Coffee Chronicles

The coffee roaster at Federico's coffee shop where I buy my green coffee beans. Federico is a friend we met last term who's recently become a disciple of Jesus. (Photo is from http://merida40.wordpress.com/) One of the great things about having the opportunity to return to Merida has been the blessing pick up where we had left off–to catch up with old friends. Certainly there have been some sad occurrences: our pastor, Orlando Vazquez, a minister with over 50 years of experience and our good friend, went to be with the Lord in October. Still, there have been joyous ones as well. Take for example what has happened in the life of Federico.

A few years ago, I had posted about one of my favorite things, coffee. In that post, I talked about the significance of coffee in my life. Among other things, coffee is what had led me to strike up an ongoing conversation with Federico. Federico roasts and sells coffee in downtown Merida, and he’s my source for green coffee beans for my own home roasting enterprise. At that time, although interested in religious things, Federico lived on the outside looking in, close enough to comment on the goings on within religious circles, but too far away to experience the transformational power of life with Christ.

We talked about many subjects during those first years here in Merida, political, social, and religious alike. We talked about our personal problems as well. And while there was many a time where I had turned the conversation to present Christ’s solution to our social enigma, to talk about the difference that He had made in my life, and to show how his life could be different as a Christ follower, I never had the chance to welcome him personally into life in the kingdom.

Imagine my joy then, when I returned and saw the change in Federico. Since I last saw him, he’s talking about his relationship with Jesus, he’s been attending an Evangelical Christian Church, and he’s finding ways to invite others to experience the change that the Lord has made in his life. He’ll be the first to admit that he’s not perfect, but he’s certainly tasted and seen that the Lord is good, and he’s committed his recourses, his business, and his life as tools in His hands to make a difference in the world around him.

Was it our conversations that made the difference in his life? At this point, it’s difficult to determine, but it’s wonderful to know that Federico is no longer on the outside looking in, he’s a changed man, and what a blessing it has been to celebrate it with him.

(Photo from http://merida40.wordpress.com/)

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Checking In

The kids experienced spring, fall and summer in one week!

Our last few weeks have been loaded with activity. Saying goodbye, hello, goodbye, and hello again in the span of six short days. Yes, you heard right. We left Costa Rica on Sunday the 31st of October to land in Springfield, MO, where we stayed with friends for the remainder of the week, unpacking and repacking our bags and picking up our dog Kaixin for the journey to Mérida, Mexico. By 9:30 PM on Saturday the 6th, we were back in Mérida, greeting our good friends from our home church, Gólgota, as they picked us up at the airport, 18 bags, dog and all.

We are currently residing in temporary housing as we look for a place to call home for the next four years. The kids are enrolled in their former school, and we’re all getting our exercise as we walk and utilize public transportation until we can purchase our Speed-the-Light vehicle.

That brings us to some prayer points for this post Please pray:

  • That we’ll be able to acquire a versatile vehicle at a good price that will serve us well for the next two terms. (Suggestions anyone?)
  • That we’ll find affordable, safe, and comfortable housing that will facilitate our life and ministry here in Mérida and the Yucatán
  • That we’ll be able to re-enter wisely and gracefully into the lives of our Yucateco friends and ministry partners.
  • That our residence visa, basically the key to everyday life here in Mexico will be available soon

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Life in San José is expensive, and nothing seems as acutely expensive as the food. Going grocery shopping for the first time gave us an extreme case of sticker shock, and the problem naturally compounds itself because, eventually, we would have to eat again. Thankfully, we found out about the Feria in Guadalupe.

The feria is a Saturday morning ritual in San José. “Ticos” are keenly aware of the high supermarket prices. Because of it, they routinely skip the produce aisle and bring their shopping lists and the carts to the feria. The lot, vacant during the week, is teeming with life from early in the morning to late in the afternoon. There are vendors by the dozens selling fruits and vegetables, cheeses and baked goods, all at prices below grocery store “ofertas.”

Our trip began at 7:30 with the 10 minute taxi trip from our house in San Pedro north to the feria site. We sat down to a traditional Costa Rican breakfast, complete with “gallo pinto” and coffee before heading to the stalls.  Green peppers at 40 cents a piece, strawberries at a $1.00 a pound and granadas at 20 cents a piece were some of the bargains we found. Even better, we were through with our shopping by 9:30, early enough to enjoy the Saturday at home.

Life continues to be expensive in Costa Rica, but fortunately, when it comes to produce, we’ve found a repreive and a possible Saturday morning tradition for the few weeks that remain in our stay in Costa Rica.

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Recognize this picture? If you’ve seen our missions display you might.

It’s a snapshot of our struggle to teach and train in spite of the lack of resources on the mission field. In that particular instance, I was trying to set up an old projector without a VGA cable on a kiddie table. The result, after an hour of work, was frustration. We went without the Power Point that session. It’s a common tale when we have to rely on what the local church may have on hand to facilitate our presentations. In many locations, even a white board is a luxury!

However, thanks to Vector Ministries and their Speed the Light challenge, the frustration that you see in the above picture is a thing of the past. This past Sunday, at Praise Assembly in Springfield, they presented us with a brand new Sanyo projector, complete with cables! Now instead of worrying about our equipment us as we head out to train, we’ll be able to focus on discipling those we’ve been called to serve.

Thanks Vector Ministries!

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This last weekend was full of amazing coincidences. It started on Friday evening. Headed down to Nederland, Texas for services with Greg and Amanda Swafford, we stopped for a night with friends Brian and Jessica Fisher in Frisco, just north of Dallas. They had apologized earlier in the week for having to attend a minor league baseball game while we were there, but being the flexible, baseball loving missionaries that we are, we were up for the outing. Imagine our surprise, however, when we found that the game was between the hometown Frisco Rough Riders and the visiting Springfield Cardinals! We got a chance to root for our hometown team in Texas!

The real treat came following our weekend. Our nine hour trip back from services with Danny and Stephanie Baker in Leesville, Lousiana would take us past Hot Springs, Arkansas, the birthplace of the Assemblies of God. We debated the visit, as the side trip would certainly kill our ETA, but our debate ended as we researched the stop. The first General Council which gave rise to the Assemblies of God took place from April 2nd until the 12th, 1914. It just so happened that on Monday we were passing by Hot Springs on our denomination’s birthday!

We called area churches and were directed to the spot which sits on Bath House Row in downtown Hot Springs. The plaque, laid on the 60th anniversary of the event, is the only physical remnant of the former Hot Springs Opera House where the council took place. It’s easily overlooked as visitors pass by, many without even looking down at the inscription affixed to the cement, but for us it has special significance.

On Monday, April 12, 2010, 96 years after the event, we found ourselves returning to our roots, and as our feet surrounded the memorial plaque, we reflected on the principles that brought about the founding of the Assemblies of God–evangelism, missions, and ministerial training. We’re glad that now, almost 100 years after its organization, those principles are still at the forefront of its agenda. What’s even more humbling is that we’re able to serve as its representatives as we emphasize evangelism, missions, and ministerial training, making disciples in the Yucatán.

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