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It’s hard to believe that it has been ten years since we spent our first ‘winter’ in Mérida. Although we headed into the Christmas season without the typical blustery winds or early snows of home, we could still hear the carols and melodies both in the stores and on the streets as choruses would sing the message of Christ’s birth for all to hear. There was also the smell of pine, as families purchased live trees to decorate to transform their homes for family gatherings and Christmas celebrations.(Here’s a video clip from our own Christmas tree adventure!) We learned that piñatas were popular with both kids and adults alike during this season, not just for birthdays. Reenacting the Christmas story was also a tradition. One year, our daughter even got to perform as Mary (see picture above).
 
Our first Christmas here, we were invited to share in the festivities of our pastor’s family. There, we discovered that gift giving happens at midnight after the Christmas Eve service and a late family meal. Christmas Day, then, becomes a continuation of family time and eating those all important dinner leftovers.
 
Throughout the past 10 years, we’ve seen that, although the expression may be different, the hope and expectation of the Savior is what unites us regardless of our differences. Thank you for joining with us that we may continue to proclaim this message so that this universal Body of Christ might continue to expand. 

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As we begin the New Year, we normally do it with good intentions. We see the possibility of a fresh start and shoot for the moon when it comes to making our resolutions. Then, reality hits and we find that it takes much more than good intentions to accomplish our plans. If we’re to reach our goals in 2016, it’s going to take perseverance.

That’s exactly what I’d like to share with you today: the story of one teen’s perseverance that has enabled him to reach a milestone in his young life and be a blessing at the same time.

Meet Dominic Juarez. He emailed me in late September of 2015:

I’m a member of the Royal Rangers at BVCC in Chula Vista California. We are currently working to complete our GLOBAL MISSIONS merit. One of the merit requirements is to send a CARE PACKAGE to a foreign missionary supported by our church – Bonita Valley Community Church in Bonita California. I picked you. Therefore, I’m sending this email in the hope that there are some things from here in the United States that you would enjoy receiving (FedEx or DHL) there in Mexico?

Now, while we live in a modern city and have access to many products from the US because of free trade agreements, there are certain items that we have difficulty buying here in Mérida. And, while we could certainly live without them, it is a blessing when we have opportunity to get them. For our kids, these amount to candy corn and jelly beans, to Kelly and myself, Bengal Spice Tea by Celestial Seasonings.

These products made up the list of items that we had sent off to Dominic. Of course, understanding that shipping to Mexico is a complicated procedure, we sent him the list with the resignation that the items might, in fact, never reach us. So, it was without surprise that we received this email from him a month later:

I wanted to give you an update on the care package we promised. We have purchased the goodies, but it has been a challenge getting it out to you. We were not aware of the regulations of international shipping. Since we live near the border, we drove into Tijuana to ship from DHL there. That seemed like the easiest and least expensive route. Not quite, so we brought the goodies back to San Diego. Then we did ship from San Diego using UPS. Well they neglected to inform us of Mexico’s consumable goods restrictions. UPS emailed today that the package is being Returned to Sender. Apparently we need some kind of authorization notice from Mexican Customs to ship candy, WOW. Just to let you know that we have not given up. We’ll try again and keep you updated.

We’d appreciated his intention, but when 2015 came to a close, we had assumed that the obstacles were, in fact, too great, and that he’d had to give up on his desire to bless us, perhaps even on receiving his Global Missions Merit. Imagine our surprise then, when an unexpected delivery reached our door just yesterday. As I signed for the delivery, I asked myself, “Could it be Dominic’s package?” As Kelly, Rebekah, and I opened it and found the items that we had listed, we were sure that it was.

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We sent a thank you email right away including the photos that you’ve seen above. To that, Manny’s father wrote the following:

…thank you for being part of Dominic’s path to his Gold Medal Award with Royal Rangers.
He kept reminding me of this to keep his word to you and to the Lord. You have made a difference in this young man.

He included the following picture of Dominic receiving his Silver Medal Award, a milestone on his path toward the Gold.

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Dominic’s determination and perseverance in the face of difficulty enabled him to find solutions to the problems that arose and helped him to keep his promise, reach his goal, and be a blessing.

How are you determining to be a Dominic in 2016? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section.

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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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I’m sitting here writing beginning to write these thoughts on Giving Tuesday, the day that we are reminded that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Still, as I look at my inbox, I see only four messages related to Giving Tuesday, while Black Friday and Cyber Monday offers are there by the dozen, and those are the ones left over after my first attempt to clear them away.

The first question I ask is, “How did I get signed up for so much junk mail?” but then I get a bit more philosophical about the situation. What is it that these companies know about us that causes them to bombard us with dozens of ways to accumulate more? Why does Thanksgiving seem more like the perfunctory calm before the storm of capitalist activity that is Black Friday instead of a day to truly celebrate all of the blessings that money can’t buy?

In the last session of our CHE vision seminar, we uncovered a few clues. As we talked about worldview, or the grid through which all of us interpret reality, we uncovered the fact that there are lies, or false building blocks, that can weaken a community and hinder its growth.

As we talked within the group, we began to see the effects of the idea of individualism, or the celebration of individual freedom over and above the well-being of the group. As we teased out the thought that personal happiness had become for many the ultimate goal, we found it to be quite a weighty anchor that slows the progress that we try to make in any community no matter how small.

The effects of prioritizing personal happiness could be seen in all sorts of evils from petty theft to marital infidelity. Besides, what couldn’t be justified if we have convinced ourselves that we’re only taking what we deserve?

The problem is that, over time, these cracks of justification weaken the foundation of trust established in the group. These fissures, then, if left unchecked, lead to the group’s ultimate demise. The testimony to this fact can be seen in any number of broken homes, ruined churches, or fractured communities.

So why is it that we find so many offers choking our inboxes at the start of this Christmas season? Perhaps it’s because we’ve failed to recognize the fact that we’ve been building with some false building blocks in our own lives. Perhaps we’ve fallen prey to the lie that inflates the importance of our personal happiness, telling us that each purchase we make, and each desire we satisfy, will move us closer to that goal. Or perhaps, as my wife says, we’ve simply not taken the time to unsubscribe ourselves from junk email lists.

Whatever the case, during this season of giving, let’s try to set aside some of those false building blocks we’re tempted to reach for. Let’s strengthen our communities with quality materials that carry an eternal guarantee. Let’s build one another up with the faith, hope, and love that Christ embodied on this earth and offers to all who would follow Him today.

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WhatHappenedPark

It was called, “Unidad Deportiva: Francisco de Montejo.” We found it after Rebekah’s curiosity led us to take a bit of a walk to see what the big building behind our neighborhood was all about. What we found was hard to believe.

It was a city sports complex, complete with a gym, soccer field and basketball courts. It had bathrooms, meeting rooms, and offices formed but incomplete, and in the time that had elapsed from the start of the work to the time that we had “discovered” it, it was obvious that it had suffered from its years of neglect.

After a bit of research I found that this was supposed to be an investment in the well-being of our part of the city. The project began in 2011 with an investment of $2,055,000, advanced to 75% of the way to its completion, only to be stalled for undisclosed reasons.

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The question that one asks is, what happened here? Didn’t the project organizers take into consideration the cost of the project before they began? Couldn’t the funds be appropriated to finish the work, so close to completion, and apparently so necessary for a population that seems to be losing the battle against obesity? You would think, but as of just a week ago the work remains at a standstill.

It’s a bit of a stretch of the imagination to think that a project so high profile, so apparently important, could falter and fail so miserably. It stands as a stark testimony to the need for proper planning, execution, and evaluation.

The process of ministerial formation, although not nearly as expensive is not without its share of pitfalls. Many students, such as the eight that make up my current evangelism class, enter with the assurance that they are called to a task of eternal consequences. They begin their studies with the affirmation of their pastors and the approval of the Bible school administration, many elated at the opportunity to prepare themselves in service to the Lord.

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But something happens along the way. In the middle of the work, the finances don’t seem to stretch they way that they had planned. The work doesn’t seem to fit into the time that they allotted, or the desire to persevere, that had once seemed so strong begins to flicker and fail. The danger to quedarse en el camino, (fall behind) or to echarse para atrás (quit) becomes ever more real. As in building projects, the need for planning, execution, and evaluation in the area of ministerial formation looms large.

There was no hesitation in my mind, then, when Kelly and I were asked to serve as counselors for the Bible school students for the current 2015-2016 school year. We accepted. We believe in the call of God in the lives of these men and women. We believe that he who has started a work in them will be faithful to complete it (Phil 1:6), and we’re glad to offer whatever help that we can to facilitate the process.

Let’s talk about process:

  • Where have you seen a project or a plan fail due to lack of proper planning, execution, or evaluation?
  • Have you’ve found solutions to minimize or mitigate this problem? What has worked for you?

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Inspire
In a series of articles starting with our winter newsletter, we’ve been communicating our vision and stepping through how we see it being realized. In this update, we are covering the essential element of inspiration.

On Easter Sunday, I heard Jeff Peterson, pastor of Central Assembly, speak on the resurrection. In his sermon, he quoted the fictional character, Anne Shirley: “My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes.” As he mentioned it, I couldn’t help but think of the situation in which Mexico finds itself.

In the year 2000, Mexico was striding boldly into the future. It was emerging from economic crisis and, for the first time in 72 years, had elected a president from an opposition party, a sign that the corruption of the past was giving way to a modern democracy. However, with the war on drugs claiming an estimated 120,000 lives, and recent allegations linking the government to cooperation with the cartels, Mexico is seeing its hopes and dreams buried again.

Still, though the picture may look bleak, it is not beyond redemption. On the first Easter morning, Jesus and the cause He stood for had been dead for three days, His disciples were scattered and in hiding, but, when He arose, everything changed!

In his message, Pastor Jeff brought this home with Job 19:25-26, encouraging us to remember that, even in the darkest of times, our Savior lives to redeem, resurrect, and restore us.

As we return to Mexico one of our key tasks will be to inspire the non-believer to trust this resurrected Christ for their salvation and the believer to follow Him into a life of purpose. This will be our aim on a daily basis, whether we’re meeting with ministry leaders or our our next-door neighbors.

Speaking of inspiring, if you haven’t seen it already, check out the story of Joseph’s first half marathon. I guarantee it’ll be an encouragement.

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There is something about a personal achievement, about seeing a goal and reaching it. There are so many elements involved: a dream, the resolve, planning and execution; the goal is birthed, the course is set, and the effort undertaken to bring about the desired effect. It really is something to be celebrated, but there is something sweeter–passing it on.

Last fall, I ran a marathon. It was a great personal achievement. It was the sum total of months of effort from conception to execution. You can imagine my satisfaction to see that all pay off in front of my family as they were able to watch me ran faster than I had ever run previously, turning in a 3 hour 34 minute time over a 26.2 mile course.

During my training, my son Joseph ran one of my 10 mile workouts with me. He had never run farther than 3 miles prior to that day. During the session, he suggested that he could join me for the race. He had run 10 miles, he thought, what was 16.2 more?

As an experienced marathoner, I refused to enter him into the run that fall, especially at 13 years of age, but I hung on to the idea of tackling a distance event with him in the future. Nevertheless, I wanted him to be fully prepared and I wanted to be able to run with him. Thanks to a quick recovery after my race, all of our wishes were going to come true.

During the expo of my fall marathon, I had received a card about the Bentonville Half Marathon to be held on March 28, 2015. As the post-marathon soreness wore off, and I began running again, I began to get Joseph interested in running those 13.1 miles with me. In January, I asked him point blank, are you ready to do this? His” yes” was followed by a quick registration and enrollment in training. We were “go” for launch.

But that was where things got a bit complicated. Before, I had trained alone. The only person I had to motivate was myself, the only complaints to quell, those of my own aching muscles. All of a sudden, there was a voice outside of my head to contend with.

First, there was the time of our runs. Joseph’s school day starts at 6:30. There was no way we were going to be able to get out of the house, get in our training, and get him off to school with breakfast in his belly before that. So our training would have to happen in the evening, a big adjustment for this morning runner. 

Then, there was the location of our runs. Joseph had struggled in the past with asthma which seemed to be exacerbated by the cold. So many of our runs would have to be logged indoors, on the treadmill, another huge adjustment.

Even with these adjustments, there were the good and bad days that we both experienced. Sometimes, it was just hard to get into sync with one another. As the training stretched on and the workouts became more challenging, we had moments when we questioned the wisdom of our goal, wondering if we had bitten off more that we could chew.

Still, we pressed on. Through the ups and downs, we persevered and arrived at the starting line. The night before brought plenty of anxiety: the temperature was forecasted to be near freezing. Joseph wondered aloud if he would be able to breathe during the race. I reassured him, “We’ll take it in stages.” I said, “We’ll walk if we have to.”

The next day, race day dawned warmer than the forecast, but there was still concern. Joseph had not slept well. I prayed at breakfast and put the race in God’s hands. After our coffee, a pre-race ritual I was happy to share, we toed the starting line. We were hopeful, but it would take more than hope for us to finish those 13.1 miles in front of us.

The starting gun was fired, and we moved off with the pack, walking then jogging as the way became less crowded. Finally, at about the first mile marker we had begun to run at our goal pace. We were set to finish the course in two hours time. Joseph complained of a bit of soreness, but, so far, all systems were go–no breathing problems.

We reached the two mile mark and the first water stop in good shape. In fact, contrary to what we had originally planned, Joseph said, “I don’t need to walk; let’s keep running.” So run we did, each mile successively faster than the last.

Before long, the concern had vanished from both of our faces. It had been replaced by the exuberance that we felt of sharing in this moment together. We began to enjoy ourselves–we hammed it up for the camera, we chatted non-stop, and took in all of the sights and sounds of race together.

Finally, it dawned on Joseph, “I’ve been smiling the whole race!” He really had! Still, I think that my satisfaction was even greater. As we struggled over the final hill and on through the final mile, I took his hand, something I had done over thirteen years before with my twin brother as he helped me finish my first marathon. Arms raised in victory, we crossed the finish line. Joseph had run his first half marathon, farther than he had ever gone before, and I had been there to help make it happen. I was a part of this moment of exuberance.

After we crossed the finish line, got our medals, and greeted Kelly and Jonathan, who had encouraged us at various points along the route, there was talk of our time. We had finished in 1 hour 48 minutes and 20 seconds, a full 12 minutes faster than we had hoped. Even better, we found out that Joseph’s time was good enough to put him in second place for his age group, an unexpected honor. 

In case you were wondering, no, there were no awards for me. My time was only good enough for 24th place among my peers. Still, I had a prize many of them could not claim. I had been able to take a personal achievement and pass it on. My son had followed in my footsteps, had gained from my coaching and encouragement, and stood now recognized as a success. I’ll take that, and I’ll cherish that for a long time to come.

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Spring has sprung! Although the first day of spring was yesterday, I am able to really experience it today. We are enjoying temperatures in the 60s. Rebekah and I had an encounter with a baby goat – new life!- at a local Farmer’s market. And, I walked outdoors in our neighborhood. Many neighbors are also taking advantage of the nice weather and the fact that it is Saturday – mowing lawns, washing cars, organizing the garage, riding bikes, running, and the list goes on.

Culturally and/or regionally, we talk about the idea of spring cleaning which involves everything from opening the windows in the house to air it out and giving the house a good deep-cleaning to packing away our winter clothing and cleaning out our garages. There is an idea of ”out with the old – in with the new” that can motivate us to advance not only in physical ways, but spiritual ways as well. Maybe it can bring that extra inspiration to drop a bad habit, shed some pounds, get more involved with the community, or incorporate a spiritual discipline into our daily routine.

This is the first time in 5 years that our family is experiencing this rejuvenating feeling that comes when spring hits! You see, the last time we were in Missouri to itinerate (traveling to new and supporting churches and raising the funds we need to return to the mission field) was in 2010. So, as you can imagine, this is a special occasion for me. As I write this, I am outdoors hearing the birds chirp and sing. It seems like they’re pretty thrilled, too! The fact that it is spring also means that we are about 3/4 the way through what many missionaries call their “itineration year” – this is part of our own “cycle of life” that usually involves 4 years on the field and 1 year off. That leaves us about 4 months to finish raising support, whittle down our belongings, secure all our proper documentation for living in another country, sell our vehicles, and again, the list goes on. How’s that for motivation?!

Over the “winter months”, actually since last summer, we have taken time to develop relationships within the church body in the U.S. and communicate the vision we believe God has given us to see the Yucatan full of churches, diverse in class, status, education, and language – united in their love for God and one another. This is now our “spring”…we are motivated to return to Yucatan, and see this vision come to fruition as we continue to plant seeds, water seedlings, and watch as God provides the increase.

What has God been stirring in your heart over this past winter?

  • Teach a Sunday School class?
  • Watch less television?
  • Incorporate more movement into your daily routine?
  • Increase your missions giving?

There’s no time like the present! Let’s “spring into action” together and see what God does in and through us!

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Had enough of that Thanksgiving turkey? Finished with all of the binge shopping that Black Friday and Cyber Monday promote? If you’d like to put aside consumption for at least one day this holiday season, perhaps Giving Tuesday is just what you’ve been waiting for.

Since 2012, Giving Tuesday has been promoted as a way to make generosity a part of our holiday tradition. It was created to help steer the good cheer of the season toward nonprofits and charitable organizations worldwide. This year looks to be bigger than ever as the Giving Tuesday campaign has been embraced by more than 10,000 institutions.

This year, we’re getting in the act as well. I’ll be rolling up my sleeve to donate at the Community Blood Center of the Ozarks, while our whole family will be serving belatedly at a Convoy of Hope, “Hands of Hope” event.

How about you? Do you have a plan to celebrate Giving Tuesday? If you don’t, I’m sure there are plenty of efforts, both local and international,that could use a boost this Christmas season that would welcome your contribution be it your time, talents, or treasure.

We, too, would welcome your help as we close out 2015 with the hope of returning to the field in the New Year. We believe in our vision, and feel that we have the partners in place to make it a reality, but we are unable to leave until our funding is secured. You can be a part of making that happen either on a monthly basis or with a one time gift by following this link.

So celebrate Giving Tuesday with us. Let’s make giving part of our family’s holiday tradition!

The photo “Give sign on TOMS South Congress Austin” was taken by Nan Palmero and used in accordance with the Creative Commons 2.0 license

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There’s been a theme recurring in my mind for the past few weeks; it’s the idea of a God who keeps his promises,  a God who doesn’t forget.

Last week, I had the chance to preach on Mephibosheth, an obscure name in the story of David, but an important example of the God who remembers. David had made a promise to his closest friend, Jonathan,  who just happened to be the son of his fiercest enemy, Saul.  He promised to be kind to Jonathan’s family when came to power.

Now, there would have been a pretty remote chance to see his promise come to pass had David reflected the kings of his day. They were known to conspire against their enemies and wipe out any trace of their descendants, lest one of them think of the possibility of rebellion and a shot at regaining the throne. But David was not like the kings of his day; he was a man after God’s own heart, And how does God act? He keeps His promises.

The story resumes years after the promise was made, years after Saul and his sons, including Jonathan, had been killed.  David finally establishes his reign, and when that work was done, he looks for a opportunity to keep his promise.  He seeks out Ziba, an old servant of Saul, and inquires of him the location of Jonathan’s son, the crippled Mephibosheth. He sends for him, and then, in all of his magnanimity, restores to him all of what had belonged to his grandfather.

He didn’t need to do it. There was no one alive to hold him to his promise. It was, to say the least, a unexpected act for a Middle Eastern monarch. But David was more than that, he was a king whose temporal rule was to point toward the eternal Kingdom of the Heavens and the God whose kingdom it is, and that God is a God who doesn’t forget.

Flash forward to 2002, when a town called “Tigre Grande” was flooded by Hurricane Isidore. During the storm, water from rivers of the state of Campeche surged in, filling lowland farms to the tops of telephone poles. At the time, a small church was taking shape, but, because of the floodwaters, the town was displaced, and its residents are disbursed throughout the county. The town was later reestablished and rebuilt, but, unfortunately, the little church did not survive.

Anyone else could have easily forgotten the little town of Tigre Grande, lying 50 kilometers away from the nearest good road, anyone that is, but God.

It was 12 years in the formation, but God’s promise to build his church was fulfilled. Early this year, God stirred the heart of a young missionary couple, Rangel and Claudia Vázquez, for Tigre Grande. They took a trip to investigate. What they found was astonishing. They had asked about the possibility of starting a Bible study in the village. When word had spread and the day of the first event arrived, a group of townspeople, 22 in number, were there to be a part. They had been waiting for them and the message they brought that day. Rangel and Claudia were able to say that just as the townspeople had not forgotten the the church that had begun years before, neither had God.

Kelly, the kids, and I had a chance to meet the group and share in a small service in garage of one of the houses that had been rebuilt by the government after the storm. The kids and adults found seats or stood in the little space, a dog stretched out in front of the table that served as a pulpit. As we sang, and prayed, and studied the scriptures together, we saw the signs of a church reforming, and we heard the testimonies of lives being transformed in that small village, down but not out, lost to some but not forgotten by God.

But that’s who He is, the God who keeps His promises, the God who doesn’t forget–not then, three thousand years ago with Mephiboseth, not now in the case of the Town of Tigre Grande, not ever.

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