Monday, July 15, 2019

senegal trip

a few weeks ago, we returned home from a 2-week trip to west africa.  i'll never recapture all that God
accomplished on that trip in this blog post.  for that i've got a journal full of thoughts, stories, prayers and meditations.  but here's a few simple take-aways from the trip.

1 - the heat in west senegal is a lot different than the heat in the east senegal!  and it takes quite a journey to get from one to the other...

the capital city of dakar sits on the western most point of the entire continent of africa. there, the climate is nice - hot during the day, but cools down at night - and there are grocery stores and places to eat.

but BVSA-Senegal, God willing, will be located on the complete other side of the country. we left at 4am on our third day in dakar for the trip east.  after about 2 hours we seemed to have left all infrastructure and civilization behind, and were left with nothing but desert on all sides.  the first 6-7 hours was comfortable... decent roads and the air conditioner was working!

the last 5-6 hours of our 13+ hour journey were quite different. the paved roads had become desert sand, which didn't allow us to go very fast at all.  the slowing of the engine and the increase in temperatures led the air conditioner to lose its power. 

i'll never forget the first desert-bathroom-break.  we stepped outside and the air was so hot that it didn't even seem real.  vic cuccia and i stood by the side of the van, stretching out our arms and legs, when a slight breeze hit us.  i never knew a breeze could be so miserable. it felt like the rush of air that you feel on your face when you open the oven...

after winding through the desert for hours, trying to follow navigation or look for power lines... we officially determined we were lost.  we were thrilled when we came upon a small village of teepee style cornstalk homes. the people were clearly amazed to see a van pull up, and even more amazed when they saw white people inside!  unfortunately, they had never heard of the village we were looking for... which left us back on the road to figure things out for ourselves.

we finally got there. a little tired and overheated...but we made it.

REWIND A MONTH:  we were at our home church of emmaus on a sunday morning, when a woman approached my wife, and to my best recollection, said the following:

"are you the ones going to work with the arnold's in senegal?  oh, i have to tell you... i went there on a mission trip a few years ago.  it's the most miserable place i've ever been.  the heat is unexplainable.  and there is no break from it.  i've never been so hot in my life.  i literally had to wring out my underwear.  oh, and the dust! its everywhere, and it gets into everything.  and on top of that, it's all desert there. there is no greenery, no grass, no trees.  it's just depressing.  but i'm so glad you are going!  they really need help!"

ha!  kerrie's face went blank - like she saw a ghost!  i'm not sure if it was because of everything the woman said, or simply because she had the nerve to say it!  eventually, we got a good laugh out of it...

but... to that lady's credit, i have NEVER experienced HEAT like i experienced in east senegal. this is dry, sub-saharan desert heat, where temperatures can sit at 130 degrees on a regular basis. our hosts, the arnold's, had warned us about it...  we had heard other people's first-hand stories... but until we felt it for ourselves there was no way to appreciate it. 

2 - by the end of our trip, we had been trained to look out for snakes at all times.

i only saw one little guy the entire time we were there, but we were warned over and over to keep our eyes open, especially while walking around at night.

east senegal is the home of many of the deadliest snakes in the world, including the puff adder, the black mamba, the spitting cobra, and lots of different vipers and cobras.  at one point, i was walking through some brush (at night, using my iPhone camera) and a guy who was on the trip with us snuck up behind me and firmly pinched the back of my leg with his fingers. i screamed like a 5 year old girl! needless to say, we will learn to keep our heads on a swivel living in east africa...

3 - the senegalese people are warm.

a decade in central america, especially the village where we lived, led us to be somewhat skeptical.  there, most people have a "hard edge", and you never know who is connected to gangs and cartels. killings, kidnap & ransoms, death threats for money, carjackings, etc, are common place.  with that, you  simply develop natural defenses over time.

but rick assured us, over and over again, that the senegalese are not this way.  and it was evident in the way they received us.  people seemed genuinely interested in us and wanted to talk.  some men invited my son and i to play in an early morning soccer league. even there, the men were extremely friendly and welcoming.  the next day, some guys in the street asked us why we didn't show up again that day... they said "twice as many people showed up because they heard some visitors from america had played yesterday!"

being used to a culture of chauvinistic macho-men, who give a stare-down and "bow their chests up" to any one visiting from out of town, this was a welcome change of pace. the general warmth of the people certainly helped off-set the difficulty of the elements (heat, dust, etc)!

4 - here's my favorite moment of the entire trip.

after a couple of days in the village, i was definitely growing concerned about my wife.  it was so hot, and dusty, just like our new friend had warned her a month earlier (lol).  my mind was on her and my 6 year old daughter.  i kept thinking to myself, "are they going to be ok here?".  "i can handle it, i actually kind of like it!  but i don't want to drag them here if they don't like it."  i prayed those 2 nights, telling God how i felt, and surrendering it to Him...

the 3rd day, we were out and about in the village. we had been interacting with a family, and some children in the street. in the commotion of it all, kerrie tapped my leg and said "hey." when i looked at her, she said to me softly, with watery eyes, "i love it here."

words can't describe the peace i felt in that moment.

God is faithful.  God is good. only the peace, joy, and purpose offered through Jesus defies logic like this.  my wife - lover of trees and cool weather - loves it here.


Sunday, May 26, 2019

satan will sing you to sleep

every once in a while i read something that someone else wrote, and i'm filled with an unexplainable excitement.  it happens often with scripture, when i'm being stretched or challenged.

but sometimes, it's when something messy and complicated that exists deep in my heart and mind - gets beautifully unwound, cleaned up, and articulated.

that just happened.

jon bloom at desiring God, inspired by an unnamed missionary couple serving in the middle east, connects with something deep in my soul in the following article, posted on may 25, 2019 at desiringGod.org.

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“You don’t tell people about Jesus, because you don’t care about their eternal state.”
His assertion stung. But I knew it was true. Confronted with the way he lives for the lost, its truth was as obvious to me as the nose on my face. And like the nose on my face, I wasn’t paying much attention to it until he called it out. But unlike the nose on my face, his assertion was eternally significant.
I recently met this remarkable man while travelling in the Middle East. He, along with his wife, is leading a rapidly-growing movement of Muslims turning to Christ in a very restrictive part of the Islamic world. I had the great (and exposing) privilege of spending hours with him. I wish I could tell you more about his story — how Jesus called him and the incredible ways the Lord uniquely prepared him to make disciples and plant churches in a very dangerous place. His story is worth a book someday. For now, I will spare the details, lest I in any way expose him. 
I must pass along something he shared with me, though, because we all might be ignoring the obvious and eternally significant “nose” on our collective Western Christian faces — to our own spiritual detriment, for sure, but also to the spiritual catastrophe of those around us. 
What could happen to them

My new friend lives in an Islamic country where sharing the gospel, if you’re caught, will get you thrown into prison and likely tortured to extract information about other Christians. Yet he and his wife are daily, diligently seeking to share the gospel with others because they want to “share with them in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:23) — even more than they want their own survival. 

Each morning, when this husband and wife part ways, they acknowledge to one another that it might be the last time they see each other. She knows, if caught, part of her torture will almost assuredly include rape, probably repeatedly. He knows, if caught, brutal things await him before a likely execution. For to them, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
Yet each day they prayerfully pursue the Spirit of Jesus’s direction in order to show the lost the way of salvation. And they are equipping other Christians to do the same. 
Wholly dependent on God
When I say “prayerfully,” I mean prayerfully. They, and their fellow leaders, spend a minimum of four hours a day in prayer and God’s word, and frequently fast for extended periods, before they go out seeking souls. They do this because they need to. 
Spiritual strongholds do not give way and conversions don’t happen unless they do this. One wrong move and a whole network of believers could be exposed. So, they depend on the Holy Spirit to specifically lead them to people the Spirit has prepared. For them, the doctrine of election is not some abstract theological controversy for seminary students to debate. They see it played out in front of them continually. 
The cessationism-continuationism debate is also a moot issue for them. They regularly see the Holy Spirit do things we read about in the book of Acts. As my friend described the Spirit’s activity where he lives, it was clear that all the revelatory and miraculous spiritual gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12–14 are a normal part of life for these believers — because they really need them. 
They’re not debating Christian Hedonism either. When you live under the threat of death daily, either life is Christ and death is gain to you, or you will not last. So, I learned that my friend has translated John Piper’s original sermon series on Christian Hedonism into his native language and used them as part of his core theological curriculum for believers. 
Lulled by an evil lullaby
All those things were wonderful and encouraging — as well as convicting — to hear. But then he told me a disturbing story.
A number of years ago, this man and his wife were given the opportunity to move to the States, and they did. After living here for a period of time, however, the wife began to plead with her husband that they move back to their Islamic country of origin. Why? She told him, “It’s like there’s a satanic lullaby playing here, and the Christians are asleep. And I feel like I’m falling asleep! Please, let’s go back!” Which they did (God be praised!). 
This story contains an urgent message we must hear: she wanted to go back to a dangerous environment to escape what she recognized as a greater danger to her faith: spiritual lethargy and indifference. This should stop us in our tracks. Do we recognize this as a serious danger? How spiritually sleepy are we? 
According to my new friend, we can gauge our sleepiness by how the eternal states of non-Christians around us shape the way we approach life. Judging by the general behavior of Christians in the West, it’s clear to my friend that, as a whole (we all can point to remarkable exceptions), we don’t care much about people’s eternal states. 
Are we content to sleep?
My friend and his wife are right. There is a satanic lullaby playing, even in churches, across the West. Why else are we so lethargic in the midst of such relative freedom and unprecedented prosperity? Where is our collective Christian sense of urgency? Where are the tears over the perishing? Where is the groaning? Where is the fasting and prevailing intercession for those we love and those we live near and those we work with, not to mention the unreached of the world who have no meaningful gospel witness among them? 
Paul had “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in [his] heart” over his unbelieving Jewish kinsmen (Romans 9:2). Do we feel anything like that? And Paul’s Spirit-inspired urgency to bring the gospel to the lost shaped his whole approach to life:
I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:22–23)
What is shaping our approach to life? If we think that kind of mentality was only for someone with Paul’s apostolic calling, all we need to do is keep reading 1 Corinthians 9:24–27. It’s clear that Paul means for us to run our unique faith-races with the same kind of kingdom-focused mentality.
If we’re not feeling anguish over people’s eternal state and ordering our lives around praying for and trying to find ways to bring the gospel to them, we are being lulled to sleep by the devil’s soothing strains. It’s time to start fasting and praying and pleading with God and one another to wake up. 
Now is the time
It matters not if we call ourselves Calvinists and believe we have an accurate knowledge of the doctrine of election, if our knowledge does not lead us to feel anguish in our hearts over the lost and a resolve to do whatever it takes to save some. “We do not yet know as we ought to know” (to paraphrase 1 Corinthians 8:2). What we need is to cultivate Paul’s heart for the lost.
My conversation with this new friend showed me that, Calvinist though I am, I do not yet know as I ought to know. 
But, Father, I want to know as I ought to know! I repent of all lethargy and indifference! I will not remain sleepy anymore when it comes to the eternal states of the unbelieving family and friends and neighbors and restaurant servers and checkout clerks all around me. 
Over our dead bodies
According to Jesus, in his parable of the ten virgins, spiritual sleepiness is a very, very dangerous condition (Matthew 25:1–13). We need to get more oil — now! There isn’t much time.
I want to be done with satanic sleepiness and cultivate the resolve that led Charles Spurgeon — that unashamed Calvinist — to say
If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.
Father, in Jesus’s name, increase my anguish over perishing unbelievers and my urgent resolve to “become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22), whatever it takes!


original article by john bloom at desiringgod.org

Monday, May 6, 2019

pieces coming together while stateside

so much has happened during this "stateside furlough."  i am just now attempting to journal some of the stories...

our time here has been fruitful in more ways than i can explain.  it's been a special season with family - including our daughter brooke’s wedding, our daughter madi’s college graduation, and our son jake’s transition into college.  we've also had wonderful extended time with our parents and siblings, which has been pretty impossible over the last 10 years.

i've been able to preach at several of our supporting churches, and kerrie and I have been teaching a class on sanctification at our home church of emmaus jacksonville.  it's been such a joy to have the time of encouragement and edification within the body of believers - another thing that's tough to find in the foreign mission field.  we’ve also connected with a local soccer ministry to refugees called and are excited about whatever God does with that partnership.

i have also taken advantage of the time stateside to fundraise for the academies, collecting uniforms and equipment, and have gotten back to visit both guatemala and honduras to encourage our missionaries, staff, and Rhinos.  thanks to all who have donated gear!

God beginning to reveal what is next 
we took a true “sabbatical” for our first several months back in the states to rest and refuel. we had felt that iraq would be our next BVSA location, and we had visited there and made some contacts. but during this initial 3 months back, we felt like God was telling us to be quiet and be with Him – and specifically NOT to pursue anything ministry-wise.  the sabbatical was great for several reasons, and I will share more about that at a later date. but at the conclusion of the 3 months, kerrie and i were at a worship gathering at emmaus on a sunday morning...  

some missionaries from west africa were visiting, who had been working in the same village to a completely unreached people group for 28 years.  living in "the bush", a 13 hour drive from any airport, they had seen 3 people come to Christ over that entire time. at the conclusion of their talk, the husband said something to the tune of: 

“oh...  we’d also like to ask for prayer on something. lately we’ve been trying to reach the boys and teenagers in the village by playing soccer.  if I throw a soccer ball down on my property, they flock to us. we believe this is a great opportunity, but we just can’t take it on because of the work we’re already doing.  so we’re praying for someone to come that could lead a soccer ministry and help us reach all of these boys.”

instant goosebumps!  kerrie and I looked at each other in disbelief.  we were in shock!

new families
skipping ahead to more recently...  
since that time, we have been meeting with the couple from west africa now for several months and are convinced that God is sending us to west africa for BVSA #3!  when we initially shared this with them, they couldn't believe it.  they have been working alone (for the most part) for nearly 3 decades, and were stunned when we shared that we were willing to come.  when we still said "yes" after all the warnings of how difficult life in this village is, i think they finally believed us!  the wife eventually shared with kerrie that they simply didn't want to get their hopes up.

we are still believing for a BVSA-Iraq, but are trusting that God had His reasons to change the order around.  we are scheduled for a visit to west africa in june, and we will begin the process of logistics for a move.

being a 2-family ministry model, we began praying for 2 missionary families to join us.  our plan was to meet with all of our supporting churches to see if there were any families feeling called to the foreign mission field. then, we would follow up with an email blast to all of our contacts to share the need as well.

God had other plans!  Before we did either of the above, God began doing miracles.  in a short time, God brought 2 families into our lives that we did not previously know. almost immediately, they both shared with us that they felt called to join us for the ministry plant in west africa.  (More specifics to come!)

family #1
oby is a muslim-background believer who was excommunicated from his family when he chose Christ. this is an invaluable perspective in light of where we are headed - to a village that is 100% muslim. monique is fluent in french.  in the country where we are headed, french is the national language! oby is also an avid soccer player and certified coach.  and most importantly, the two are as passionate about Jesus, and sharing their faith, as any young couple we’ve ever seen!  what a miracle!

monique & oby with me, kerrie, and luci
prayer requests: monique has a serious medical condition that we are praying for answers and healing.  they have some school, medical, and car debt that needs taken care of. we're praying against satan's attacks, as we know he doesn't want this amazing young couple taking their gifts and experiences to an unreached people group. 

family #2
the husband serves as the community pastor at their church, and also started a youth center in the city where they live, to minister to troubled boys age 10-18.  they regularly have boys living with them who are in the worst situations.  their experience in this area has uniquely prepared them for BVSA ministry work!  they have an 18 month old girl, and are also expecting a baby boy in september. 

prayer requests:  they currently have a foster child staying with them who will need to be reunited with her mom before they can commit to leave.  we're praying for this girl, her mom, and for God's will in that whole situation.  praying also for her pregnancy, and all the emotions and nerves that come with taking young children to the mission field. also for the process of raising support, and sharing their decision with family and friends. 

needless to say we are in awe of God!  his faithfulness is blowing our minds, yet again.

2 new families with some members of bvsa leadership!
please be praying with us for both families, as well as our own... as we know that satan is already scheming and trying to disrupt. please pray for strong unity and devotion between our families, and great determination to see the Lord's will be done.

i’ll share more soon- with more location details, names of families, etc.  we're being careful for now, for specific reasons.  

THANK YOU for your continued support.  this "stateside assignment" has been a critical time for us, for so many reasons.  most importantly, it has allowed for the Spirit-led pieces coming together for our next academy plant – this one in the 10/40 window to an unreached people group!  praise Jesus!!!!

Thursday, February 14, 2019

honest feedback: do we not realize we're at war?

the following is based off a sermon i recently shared at ocean city church.  you can listen to it here if you'd like.

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can i be honest?

re-adjusting to american culture has been much harder than expected.  

but not for the reasons i expected.

part of me, since we're only in transition as we prepare to move again, wants to ignore this.  but it's impossible.  we're here.  God wanted us to see it.  and i believe he wants us share about it, too.

please don't mistake this for self-righteousness. that makes me laugh actually - me, righteous! ha!  without the cross, i'm a filthy rag.  and God knows i struggle with some of these same things.  nonetheless, here's some honest feedback from the perspective of a family who has spent the last decade in third-world poverty, and is struggling to deal with the transition back into american culture.

this is a culture that craves, longs for, strives for – if not worships – comfort & convenience, health & safety, entertainment, and achievements.  

please read that again.  

because i believe it's leading millions of so-called american christians to a life that is in direct disobedience to the teachings and heart of Jesus Christ.  it's leading people to a stale and idle faith, and it's destroying christian families.  in some cases, it's keeping people from living anything that resembles a christian life at all.

this longing for comfort, safety, and success - and this desire for constant entertainment - would make total sense for non-christians!  seriously, if what we "see" is all there is to this life… if it all ends when we die…  then why not make it as long, comfortable, and enjoyable as possible?!  why not fight to have better, make more, save more, live longer, and enjoy more?! 

but what’s alarming, is how this same characterization describes the american christian community. 

simply put: as i adjust back to the american flow of life, i have been profoundly struck by the fact that most christians do not look any different than the rest of the world.  i think the reality of spiritual warfare has been made so real to me while away, that i find myself constantly looking around and thinking, "do they not realize we're at war?".

now i know that this discovery is most attributed to my departure and return. it's not like everything changed while i was gone.  (well, some stuff actually did.)  but in general, it just required living in a completely different reality - for a long enough time - in order for me to see it.

i believe this cultural transition, or shift of realities, can be beneficial as it shines a light on a very scary subject. similar to the laodicean church of rev 3, i believe american christianity has fallen trap to a delusion.  a false security that suggests "we've got all we need, we're in good shape, we're fine."  but like he said to the laodiceans, what if Jesus is saying to us, "you think you're good, but you're actually disgusting."

and what if this delusion is leading us to completely and unequivocally miss the point of our lives?  

what if comfort, entertainment, hobbies, safety, health, etc… are creating false idols in our lives, that satan himself is puppeteering in order to make sure we miss the point of our lives? 

and what if missing this means missing everything?

because it's not just the BIG sins that capture the hearts of the american church.  (of course the big ones are always alive and well: pornography, greed, pride, love of money, worldly pursuits, etc.)

those are easier to spot and harder to defend.  but what about when we simply allow things to distract them from Jesus?  i mean, if it keeps us idle, or lazy in our faith (lukewarm), Jesus seems to say that’s even worse.  "either be hot or cold – not in the middle.  if you’re claiming me, and yet living like the rest of the world, that’s actually the worst because it gives people a false impression of what following me really looks like."  (rev 3:15-22 paraphrase)

i think the line between "hobbies/interests" and "false idols" is very fine.  tragically, idols in people's lives are often being written off as "interests."  it's a subtle line, but satan is the master of subtlety.  he delights in using this subtle space to render christians ineffective.

here's a few observations since being back.  within the american christian community:

- politics is an obsession.  people are so passionate about their "side" that they end up using politics as a measure for everything.  every issue and conversation run through a political filter as opposed to a biblical one.  ask yourself, do you spend more time reading political material than spiritual material?  

- sports is an obsession.  it is taken far too seriously. fantasy sports keep people passionately dialed-in to every game, every play.  the passion, time, and energy given to sports is alarming.  same question - how much time reading/watching sports material compared to spiritual?

- kids activities are an obsession. some families practically have no life outside of running kids to and from.  no time to grow in faith together.  no time to serve anywhere together.  the entire home-life and family heartbeat literally revolves around kid's sports and/or activities.

- entertainment is an obsession. movies, music, internet, social media, and video games dominate people's hearts and minds.  its so easy here to become a slave to a "whats next" mindset... always looking forward to the next fun thing.  oh, how miss having few options and nothing to do!

- food is an obsession.  what we like, don't like, can/can't have, conditions, restrictions, diets, etc. all of a sudden everyone has a highly complex situation!  it consumes people and demands far too much energy, money, and affection.  americans and their food...

- social media is an obsession.  it is creating a me-centered, self absorbed society. Jesus spoke often about the importance of "denying ourselves", yet american christians - through social media - cannot get enough of themselves.  frankly, its a form of self-worship and it's rebellious against God.

mature christians must be able to see these things for what they are.  we can no longer be lulled to sleep by the ways of the world.  remember it is satan who is the ruler of this world (john 12:31) and the god of this age (2 cor 4:4). 

i fear many american christians don't realize we're under the sway of the wicked one (1 john 5:19).
i fear many american christians don't understand the biblical fact that we are at war.  

there are only 2 possibilities for this:  
1. people genuinely don't know (never been taught, don't read their bibles for themselves) 
2. people set up their lives in such a way that makes it easy to forget

make no mistake, we are at war.  there is a very real enemy who is waging war for our souls. he is constantly scheming and strategizing, looking for ways to take us out daily.

we cannot let comforts, conveniences, health, safety, entertainment, etc win our hearts and minds.  our Lord Jesus requires much of us in the way of obedience, growth, and sanctification - and his teachings are clear on the subject. let us abide in him in such a deep and meaningful way that the scales are removed from our eyes.  

j.c. ryle said "the most dangerous chains a prisoner can wear are those that he neither feels nor sees." 

satan uses subtle, "culturally relevant" weapons (politics, sports, social media, kid's activities, entertainment, etc) to distract, consume, and confuse us... rendering us lethargic, ineffective and fruitless in our christian lives.  we become slaves without even knowing it.  unable to live in freedom, in wide-open pursuit of God, because of prison chains we don't even notice are there.

all of these distractions and pursuits can create a dangerously narcissistic life. simple bible teachings begin to get overlooked, and time with jesus scratched from the to-do list. the poor and hurting get forgotten about in all the chaos. no priority put on sharing jesus with our neighbors, coworkers, and classmates. not to mention the commission to reach the nations with the news of a savior.

both the greatest commandment (matt 22:36-40) and the great commission (matt 28:18-20), by default, nixed from the schedule.

there is hope in Jesus.  we can be made new and receive a fresh start through repentance. its never too late!  we receive discernment, clarity, peace, and conviction as we abide in him.  he is the vine, and we are the branches.  as we abide (cling to, connect to, remain in, get life from - pray, read, study, worship, fellowship) he will produce in us the fruits of his spirit, allowing us to live life to full!  

as it says in psalm 119:18, dear God, open our eyes that we may see your wonderful truths...

in revelation 21 Jesus says, "write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.  the one who conquers will have this heritage, and he will be my son, and i will be his God."

the one who conquers.

conquer.  stand firm.  persevere.  be a soldier.  spiritual warfare.  sacrifice.  strive.  victory.  armor up.  fight the good fight of the faith.  conquer.

the bible is full of these war terms.
but how can we conquer if we don't even realize we're at war?


Thursday, December 13, 2018

why we don't teach/celebrate santa with our kids

jake was 5 years old when we got the call.  it was from a mother of one of his classmates.  she was furious!

i was gone at work, and kerrie took the call.

"jake ruined my son's christmas."  thats what she said.  seriously... thats what she said.

she went on to explain that jake had told her son that santa claus was not real and that christmas was about the birth of jesus, not santa.  kerrie kindly told her that she was sorry...  but also explained that while we don't tell our kids to go initiate this convo with their friends, we do tell them the truth about santa and expected something like this would happen eventually.

but this mom wasn't satisfied with that.  she said something to the tune of, "jake doesn't have the right to ruin someone else's christmas."  to which kerrie responded with one of my favorite kerrie moments.  "wait...  so everyone else has the right to tell a made-up story to my son and expect him to believe it, and my son doesn't have the right to simply tell the truth?  look, we tell our kids the truth about christmas.  i'm sorry if that didn't work out well for you."

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to be clear, we aren't on some mission to destroy santa or the easter bunny.  typically not boycotters or picketers.  in fact, marshmallow-filled chocolate santas and peeps are two of my all-time favs!

but here's why we don't teach or celebrate santa with our kids:

1 - its not true.  i have trouble teaching mythical santa claus and flying reindeer as fact, and then say i'm committed to teaching my kids biblical truth.  the two contradict.  we do our best to always tell our kids the truth no matter what.  everyone says it's innocent, but what makes it innocent? who determines that?  when the emotion and the "magical christmas feelings" that culture throws at us are removed, it becomes clear to us that there is no way we're teaching fantasy myths to our kids, especially during the ripe age where their hearts and minds are hungry for God and his word.

2 - santa for jesus is the lousiest swap in the history of time.  the true story of jesus is more amazing, more wondrous, and more spectacular than any story ever told.  its "i'll give you everything no matter what you've done" versus "i'll give you a present if you are good."  are you kidding me?!

3 - as jesus followers we are expected to not conform to the patterns of the world.  we want our kids to learn to discern what patterns are "of the world" verses what patterns are good, pure and true. we believe this is a real-life example that helps them do that.

4 - santa is a feasible tale only for the wealthy and privileged.  living the last decade in a poor third world country, the issue of santa rarely ever came up.  simply put- for people without resources to feed the story, there is no story.  we are not ok telling our kids that santa doesn't make it to guatemala, or to the rest of the world's poor.  and we don't want our lives (or our kid's lives) to be so out of touch with the poor, that living in such a false reality could even be possible.

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if you celebrate santa in your home (most of our friends and family do!), we're not against you and we're certainly not judging you.  but we get asked this question often, which is why i'm sharing our take on it.

kerrie and i have raised 4 children that we've always told the truth about santa.  interestingly, none of them ever felt hoodwinked.  i don't remember ever hearing them complain or say that it wasn't fair.  recently, our three adult kids all expressed their gratitude for it.

we've always had plenty of fun at christmastime and we have several of our own traditions.  we aren't scrooges!

but we do refuse to trade the most extraordinary true story of God's journey from heaven to earth (Emmanuel, God with us!)...  for the untrue story of santa's journey from the north pole to good boys and girls' chimneys.

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that classmate of jake's was mad at him the next day.  jake came home and told us that he asked him if he would still be his friend.  but he didn't apologize for telling the truth.

we celebrated!  the experience gave us a great opportunity to teach him - at a 5yr old level - about not conforming, what it means to suffer for jesus, and how to live a life that balances love and truth.


john piper has an "ask pastor john" segment on that tackles this issue head on, if interested.


Friday, November 30, 2018

no legacy, only Jesus

my wife kerrie and i recently had the opportunity to get away for a weekend to celebrate our anniversary.  while there, we went out for a run and ended up running through a local cemetery.  

i know...creepy.  but it was a great path!

as we were running, i found myself reading the tombstones.  the most common thing i read was "loving father and husband" (or similar).  for military veterans, there was always a reference to that.  we were in new york, so some said things like  "NYPD loyal" or "NYFD proudly served."  i even saw one that said "Go Bills" and another that had the NY Jets logo.  many were decorated with fall/winter decor or sports teams flags. 

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even before that run, for quite some time i had been thinking about "legacy."  kerrie had me listen to a song several months ago by casting crowns called "only Jesus", and to be honest it wrecked me.  it even revealed some sin issues of my own that i needed to address.  check it out here if you haven't heard it.

we hear talk about "building a legacy" all the time.  what does that really mean?  i think a "legacy" is basically the reputation and achievements one is remembered by.
  
sounds fair enough. i wonder what leaving a good legacy for me looks like.

good husband, dad, son, brother?  that would be nice...
follower of Jesus?  missionary?  man of integrity?  definitely want those things to define my life…

but paul actually talked about this in philippians 3.  remember the list he writes to describe himself?  it includes his religion, family, heritage, career, and ambitions...  then he famously says he considers all of that crap compared to knowing Christ.  he says those things are of absolutely no value - they are like garbage - compared to sharing in the sufferings and the glory of Jesus!

in light of his "identity", he's saying "it's all irrelevant without Jesus."

in light of his "legacy", i bet he'd say, "don't remember anything about me...  just remember Jesus."

that's what I want on my tombstone.  just like the song says:
“don’t remember me.  only Jesus.” 

more importantly, i want to live every day with that in mind.  i want my zeal for Jesus to surface in every conversation, relationship, and situation...  that i may leave the sweet aroma of Christ wherever i go.

that would be a legacy worth leaving.


Tuesday, November 27, 2018

under armour shirts & xmas wish-list

this is big news for anyone who 💕loves 💕Los Rinos...

NEW UA Rhino Shirts in stock, just in time for N-A-V-I-D-A-D! 🎄  

-- give a GREAT gift and support a GREAT cause at the same time --
get one for yourself too 😎 




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🎄Christmas Wish-List🎄

2018 is wrapping up, which means there are many needs at BVSA as we look to next year.  

Would you consider donating to BVSA as the year comes to a close?  

Our missionaries - and our mission - wouldn't exist without faithful supporters!




Tuesday, November 13, 2018

"be with me better"

enjoying time together as a family
family, friends, supporters, etc:  thank you for hanging in there with us during the first leg of our sabbatical!  its been more than we ever imagined.

for me, sitting still has been hard.  once i feel like God has spoken (ok, maybe only opened the slightest crack in the door) i tend to plow forward.  most of the time, i think thats a good thing.  in fact, i push idle christians to MOVE, DO, and JUMP as often as i can.

which is what makes this current season so tough.  God is telling me to be still.  more specifically, I keep hearing him tell me "be with me.  i'll tell you what and where when you're ready to hear it." 

the fact that he hasn't been clear on the "what and where" part...  kind of makes me assume i'm not great at the "be with me" part.

i feel rested.  i haven't been sick in 4 months, probably my longest run since 10+ years ago when we left for guatemala.  my stomach feels great.  i've gained weight (i think its good weight! haha).  i think i had just gotten used to constant stomach infections and stress.

this season has been a blessing for reasons we couldn't have predicted.  full of precious time with our family.  consistency with your adult children, parents, siblings, etc is something that missionaries give up.  this season of being a part of their daily lives has brought us extraordinary joy.

i'm working on being with God.  Jesus cherished getting alone with his father.  as awesome as the last decade of ministry has been... i haven't been great at cherishing my alone time with Jesus.  i'm learning and growing in this area.  

with cesar and andrea in guatemala october 2018

we just got back from a recent visit to our guatemala and honduras academies, and are so encouraged by how things are going.  i love talking with our missionaries, encouraging them and helping with whatever they need.  


we don't yet know exactly when and where the next ministry plant will be.  we thought for sure we were headed to iraq.  i'd be on a plane tomorrow if God would confirm and release us.  but we've put it all back on the table in light of what we believe He is asking us to do. "BE STILL. BE WITH ME."


please pray for us.  i want to be better at being with Jesus.  i thought i knew how to do that, but i think he wants me to do it better.  i've heard this before - its precious and familiar to me.  similar to how he spoke to the rich young ruler (matthew 19:16-22) i hear his voice telling me "i want everything."

but Jesus, look at all i've done for you.  "i know, but there's more to do."  
but Jesus, look at what i've given up for you.  "i know, but you can give me more."
but Jesus, you know i love being with you.  "i know, but you can be with me better."  

Jesus, you've blessed me so much.  i know, i know... you want to bless me more.



Tuesday, September 4, 2018

USA culture shock

fam together at a friend's wedding
we're back in the states on a sabbatical.  furlough.  to rest, refuel, and get back to the mission field.

sounds great, right?  should be nice and easy!  after all, we've got a place to live, family and friends nearby, and all the conveniences that have eluded us over the last 10 years.  (i.e., "i'm going to get coffee creamer, be back in 5 minutes!"  are you kidding me??!!)

then why is this so hard?

the last 10 years in central america completely transformed our way of life.  total immersion into a poor and virtually unknown rural village - located 7,000 ft up in the guatemalan highlands - does wonders to your perspective and priorities!  your worries and concerns forever altered.  and your overall family rhythm becomes something entirely different.

we miss that.  and we miss our guatemalan family.

but being back has been good in so many ways.  God has shown us a few reasons that He called us here during this exact time that we had not seen before.  special reasons that involve all 4 of our kids.  and being with parents, family, and friends for an extended period of time (as opposed to a 1-week visit) has been wonderful beyond words.

still, the ultimate mission of Jesus (matthew 28:18-20) is what firmly has our hearts.  we press forward and look to Him for our next steps.  God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied Him.  right now, we are pursuing being fully satisfied in Him - and nothing more.  as we seek Him, we ask that He show us how and where, once our sabbatical is over, we can best be used in achieving His great commission.

my prayer: america the beautiful (and dangerous)

"God, THANK YOU for this unique time in our lives that you are allowing us to be with our family, see our friends, and rest in you.  such a blessing!
in some ways i fee like a stranger here.  but i also find myself feeling "safe."  
i'm not texting kerrie while she runs errands, to be sure she hasn't been assaulted or kidnapped.  the last 10 years re-wired me... but i hear you telling me that it's ok to "let my guard down" and relax.  thank you for this mental rest.  
and oh... how i am enjoying worshipping you, together in community, free and loud!   
but Father, i ask that while we're here you keep us protected from certain poisons associated with living in american culture.  
keep us close to you and in your word daily, so that the comforts and conveniences may not dull our spirits or distort reality.  
i pray against the onslaught of entertainment and distraction so that it may not win a fraction of our hearts and minds.  
i pray against the divisive nature of politics and religion in this place.  help us love everyone gracefully, without compromising truth. 
protect kerrie and i personally from these things while we are here.  and please protect my children during these critical years while they call america home.  
keep us all growing deeper in love with you, and more dependent upon you, every day.  
and remind us daily of the world that is longing to hear.  
forgive us for our sins, Father.  help me lay down anything that i unnecessarily think too much about, or care too much about.  you are all i want, and all i need."