Friday, March 17, 2023

needing Rhino sponsors!

hello friends! we need help getting all of our Rhinos sponsored!
Rhino sponsorship helps us run our entire program.  
please watch this short video:

follow this link to see pictures of and get to know the boys still in need of sponsorship in Guatemala and Honduras.  thank you! 

Friday, March 3, 2023

the lie of self love

i'm starting to think that "love your neighbor as yourself" is putting up a challenge to "i can do all things through Him who strengthens me" for the title of most misused verse in the Bible! 

i have heard this passage abused several times recently, and it leaves me unsettled every time. 

in Mark 12:28-31, Jesus is asked what commandment is the greatest. he famously replies by giving two.  the first is to love your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  the second, he says, is to love your neighbor as yourself (v 31).

some false conclusions from "love your neighbor as yourself":
  • you need to love yourself before you can love others
  • in order to care for others, you must first take care of yourself
  • you need to fill your cup before you attempt to pour yourself out
  • you need to focus on self care
wrong as these conclusions are, they would at least be "conceivable" if being used as encouragement to spend more time in God's Word, pray more regularly, or even incorporate exercise into your routine as a means to better love others.  (still a poor interpretation of the text, as it's simply not what Jesus was saying.)

but the examples i've been hearing lately have been much worse - directly encouraging people towards self-love and self-indulgence as a necessary "filling of your cup" in order to care for others.

the mantra of learning to love yourself comes from psychology.  but because of progressive, prosperity and culture-embracing movements and voices, the idea has flooded into the church.  

the question is, does the Bible teach that we need to love ourselves more?  is that really what "love your neighbor as yourself" is suggesting?

i would argue that you cannot truly abide in God's Word, take into consideration the whole counsel of God, and conclude that Jesus' intention in Mark 12:31 has anything to do with self love or self care.  rather, the assumption is that we already love ourselves enough (too much!) - making the command purely about radically loving others.

consider the biblical theme:
  • "if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23).  this means to follow Christ, one must deny self.  not love self.
  • "for whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matt 16:25).  here Jesus emphasizes the direct opposite of self focus.
  • "in the last days there will come times of difficulty. for people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud..." (2 Timothy 3:1-2).  here Paul warns of the sin of self love.
  • "Jesus said to him, “foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20).  here Jesus explains how great the cost of following him.  there is no self care in view. 
  • "i have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20). this describes fully letting go of a me-first perspective. 
  • "let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor" (1 Corinthians 10:24). here Paul directly refutes the mantra of learning to love ourselves first.

this is a very small sampling of a major theme in the scriptures. it's all over the place.  indeed it is the world, not the Bible, that stresses the importance of focussing on ourselves. the Bible teaches the opposite.  

we already love ourselves too much.  it's our default by nature.  as we abide in Christ, the Holy Spirit helps us to fight the flesh and take up our cross daily and deny ourselves.  (there is tremendous freedom and joy in this by the way!)

in case anyone is completely missing my point, my argument here is not that we shouldn't take care of ourselves physically, or that it's sinful to take a vacation or have fun.  its just not what Jesus is telling us to do in order to "refill our cup" or "love ourselves first, so we can love others." 

what supplies us that we may radically love others is our abiding in Christ daily, getting away to pray, singing praises to God, and gathering with believers.  ironically, it is getting our eyes off of ourselves, and instead to looking to Christ, that fills us up!

it is a very dangerous twisting of scripture to use Christ's command about loving others as a justification to first focus on loving yourself.  

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

digging in for a new season

Mayan customs in Quiché Guatemala
We were introduced through a mutual friend to a local pastor here in Quiché. We're just starting to get to know him, but so far he seems trustworthy. He recently warned us regarding what we were getting into. He asked us how much we knew about Quiché. He asked us why we think we haven't seen any missionaries in this area. He asked us if our plan was to complete a short-term project, or dig in and stay. 

I asked what he meant by short-term... he said maybe a year or two. Once we told him about our ministry model, and convinced him of our intention to dig in, connect, preach, disciple, and stay... he let his guard down. He was visibly excited. He told us about the deep layers of spiritual darkness in this area. The dark mayan spirituality that is deeply woven into the local "christianity." He shared his battles with the religious leaders who ignore the scriptures and embrace a both/and to everything - "we can embrace our mayan roots and practices, and have Jesus too." 

He also told us about a massive push into Quiché from the biggest "prosperity gospel church" in Guatemala City. He was excited that our ministry focused on young men, because he said they are the demographic most drawn to their hype and gimmicky strategies.

We are ready to dig in! The last few years has been super challenging but its led us to depend on Him, and we've been strengthened in his Word more than ever before. I don't know what all will happen in this next season but I know it's going to be hard. I've sensed it since we got here, but I believe God has been preparing us for it. 

Enrique and Candy's wedding
I'm thankful for a couple of reminders recently, of fruit bearing after years of toil.
One was at a recent wedding of a Rhino graduate. He gave us fits for years. His highs were high and his lows were low. He's now steadily walking with Christ and studying to become a pastor. His wedding was full of other Rhino graduates (some with their wives and kids) who for the most part seem to be walking with the Lord and leading their families well. 

Another reminder was a couple weeks ago, when 6 of the Rhino graduates drove their motorcycles to Quiché to visit us and Nicho's family. (Nicho is a Rhino grad who moved with us to help plant the ministry here.) As they sat around the table reminiscing, we were reminded of their individual stories and all the battles over the years. Though imperfect and still working through new stages of life, God encouraged us by these examples of fruit that can bear after years of work. One plants, one waters, God makes it grow (1 Cor 3:6). To God be the glory.

May the Lord give us grace to step into this new season.
May He prepare the hearts of young men to hear the true gospel, and believe by faith.
May He help our young leaders be good examples, abiding and growing as they lead.
May He give us favor in the community as needed, allies to labor alongside.
May He give provision for the ministry grounds and facilities.
May He give us discernment as we navigate big decisions.
May He give us grace and strength and patience to endure the battles that lie ahead.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

updates: august 30, 2022

baby Esteban ("Lolo")
it's been about 3 months since we cried out for help, prayers and support for baby Esteban.  the response was overwhelming.  I still get emotional when I think about it. can't thank our Lord Jesus, and all of you who jumped in to help, nearly enough for the grace and love and support that poured in. it was amazing.

around here we've been calling baby Esteban "Lolo".  in Latin America everyone has two last names, one from mom, and one from dad.  both of his are Lopez ("Esteban Lopez Lopez")...  hence "Lolo".

Lolo is growing like crazy.  in size and absolute adorableness!  precious beyond words. attaching a pic. enough said :) to God be the glory!!!

while I was in Guatemala during Lolo's emergency, Kerrie had gone back to Florida to care for her dad. towards the end of his battle with brain cancer, she spent the last weeks of his life at his side, taking care of him. it was super hard and unexplainably sweet all at the same time.  on June 18, 2022, Roger went home.  

Kerrie still cries suddenly and randomly.  she was raised by her single dad who worked multiple jobs and relocated several times in order to best provide for them.  she has so many memories of her unique childhood, and the one "constant" throughout it all was... her dad.  

please pray for Kerrie and her step mom Judy.  we all miss him.  but we know he's not missing us!  he's is in paradise, with Christ, singing holy, holy holy...

Quiché Guatemala
Doc Pozuelos & Luci
we're in the season of getting to know a new place and a new culture.  such a part of me wants to simply announce the grad opening of our ministry and get to work! oh, the great joy of teaching the Bible and discipling young men every day!  I want to just fast forward and get there.  but I know this season is critical. 

we've been in Guatemala since 2008, but this region is completely different than where we were before. being more indigenous, the mayan traditions are more prevalent in the culture and the church. we've seen mayan sacrificial rituals taking place on the steps of the catholic church.  we had no idea how common the Quiché language still was here! basically everyone, even kids, still speak it daily.  it wouldn't be "necessary" for ministry, as spanish is still used, but we are contemplating learning it in order to go deeper relationally. 

we're learning a lot. we need relationships and credibility before opening our academy.  we have seen God moving already in this way, and we're thankful for Andrés, Greg, Profe Pablo, Jose and Norita, Jeremías, Don Fausto, Doctor Pozuelos, Colocho, and everyone else we have met here so far. we're getting a crash course on everything Mayan Quiché from the people who know best- the locals.

Mayan Punishment
one thing we experienced not long after arriving in Quiché was the "castigo Maya" tradition.  2 young men in our town had robbed a local family.  in the Quiché region, the family has the option of going to the police or keeping the matter within local indigenous justice system. if they choose the "mayan punishment", the police cannot intervene.

the 2 young men were tied at the ankles and forced to walk through the town on their knees while holding the stolen items over their head. when they finished, exhausted and with bloody knees, the local leader, as well as members from the family, struck their backs with whips as the men screamed. all of this happened with what seemed like the entire town crowded around to watch. 

apparently this happens often.  it has happened a couple more times since then. once with young boys around 11-12 years old, and another time with an older man that had tried to kidnap a girl. if you YouTube "castigo Maya" you'll see plenty of these examples in the region of Quiché. 

this type of "justice system" is considered normal here, it's how the mayans have dealt with crime for centuries.  and while it seems shocking and even inhumane, there are more layers to it.  consider that 98% of crimes in Guatemala go un-prosecuted and un-punished (actual fact).  inefficient law enforcement in a country where violent crime, rape, and gang-related crime is prevalent, leaves the indigenous poor as the most vulnerable.  i'm not endorsing it - just saying that the public humiliation of "castigo maya" is a real deterrent to criminal activity in indigenous communities.

Theology Class
one of my favorite things we have going on right now is the theology training we're doing for Nicho and Araceli.  using 3 sources, we are slowly developing our own theology course in spanish that can be used to help our local leaders and staff grow. 

it has been awesome to dig into these doctrines with the Lopez' and see their excitement as they begin grasping deep biblical truths. what a joy to see them growing in wisdom and knowledge in the Word of God!  please pray for me as i continue writing this curriculum.  it's a heavier load than i had anticipated!  my desire is for it to be gospel/cross centered, accurate and thorough, not too difficult academically yet not overly simplified, and most of all that it glorifies the Lord.

BVSA-Wide / Other
in addition to the happenings in Quiché, there are so many things going on BVSA-wide!  we have new Rhinos coming to faith in Christ, new missionaries starting training before heading to the field, veteran missionaries changing locations, our West Africa team growing, new developments revolving around church planting, and much more.  

i recently spent time in Buena Vista as well as Honduras, encouraging our teams on the ground and spending time with the Rhinos. so thankful for these 2 teams and all that God is doing in and through them!

i leave for West Africa in a couple weeks with another one of BVSA's board members. we're excited to get there as our team is growing and things are developing.  most notably, our lead planters are close to testing out with proficiency in the first (national) language and will be moving to studying the second (interior) language. this takes so much patience and we're thrilled for where they are.  

we have so much to be excited about and thankful for.  by God's grace he continues using our ministry to proclaim the gospel to the nations, teach the Bible, baptize new believers, and disciple young men in the faith. what more could we ask for?!  to God be the glory.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Baby Esteban Update - June 9 - BACK HOME!

Nicho, Araceli, baby Esteban, and doctors' Diaz and Mendoza

baby Esteban is back home - praise God!!! 

i was able to get back to Guatemala a couple days ago and help get Nicho, Araceli, and Esteban settled back into our home in Quiché. 

Esteban is doing great!!! although they are a little nervous about being far from hospitals and family again... they both expressed a strong desire to get back home. Nicho told me that this is where God called them to be and they need to get back as soon as possible. i am so proud of this couple for their commitment to the missionary call, and steadfastness through these trials!

after discussing it with doctors, as well as Laura back in BV, everyone gave them the green light as long as Esteban continues eating and gaining weight. as of today he is up to 5lbs 4oz! he has future appointments with different specialists (the first being another endocardiogram) - for which they plan to drive back and forth to the city.

this boy is a true miracle! thanks again to all who have prayed and given! 
"then the people rejoiced because they had given willingly..." 1 chronicles 29:9

Friday, May 27, 2022

Baby Esteban Update - May 27

Araceli and Esteban

in addition to my last update (scroll down), and after speaking with doctors this morning, they are saying that if all goes well this weekend... and one more electrocardiogram comes back clean... baby Esteban could be released as early as MONDAY.

they said he has exceeded every expectation big-time and everyone at the hospital has been amazed at his progress.  he has checked every box where there was high risk, and today he even weighed 4lbs 13oz!

all praise and glory to our faithful God! and deepest gratitude for the faithful and fervent prayers of his saints!!!

also, we won't be needing any additional funds for his medical bills!!! if he is discharged early next week, all of his needs have already been met!!!

Nicho and Araceli asked me to share this with everyone who has prayed and given:

"Hi to all our friends and family around the world who have supported us. You have prayed for our son Esteban, and given donations, and we want to thank you. God is so great to put such amazing people in our lives. People who are quick and willing to help their neighbor. Our love is not big enough to express it to all of you, but the love of God is big enough. He knows all that you have done for us and we pray that he will bless you and repay you for what you have done. Brock has told us all of your names and and shared your prayers with us, and we are praying for you all, giving thanks to God for you all. We don't know why this happened but we know that God has purposes. And through this he has blesses us with all of your love and support. Even people in other countries who we have never met!  We love you even though we don't know all of you. That is how great our God is! We give thanks to God for you. You have helped our baby to be well. Thank you so much for helping save the life of our son."

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:23

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Baby Esteban Update - May 25


#1:  Baby Esteban has taken AMAZING strides in the last 48 hours! From my meeting this morning with the doctors:
  • Heart is doing GREAT.  Murmer is gone.  Catheter has been removed.  Has 2 small holes that will continue to need close observation.  Overall a GREAT report!
  • Kidneys are doing GREAT!  Each urine test is looking cleaner. Going to the bathroom more easily and frequently.
  • Eating well without the feeding tube and gaining weight! 
  • Spending time daily with Araceli, and doctors want that to increase even more!
  • Still on antibiotics for the infection, will need to continue for unspecified amount of time.
  • Still fragile and susceptible to infection or digression; needs continued monitoring in the NICU, and some further testing on his heart.
  • In addition the doctors shared some possible health and developmental concerns that may arise down the road.
  • At this point they seem to have NO DOUBT that Esteban is going to make it - praise the Lord!!!

#2:  Since announcing the need for medical costs, over 60% of the total goal has already been provided!!!  We've been blown away by the response/willingness of God's people to so quickly give. 

My personal bible time was in 1 Chronicles this morning.  In the last chapters, King David, along with all the people of Israel, contribute personally to the building of the new temple in Jerusalem... and then 29:9 says: 

"Then the people rejoiced because they had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the Lord. David the king also rejoiced greatly."

It jumped off the page when I read it, and led me to rejoice!  Thank you for giving willingly and freely to help Baby Esteban and to bless Nicho and Araceli.  Even greater (as it says in the verse) thank you for giving freely to the Lord.   

We praise the Lord today for his steadfast love, his endless mercies, and his great faithfulness (Lam 3:22-23)!  Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23).


Monday, May 23, 2022

Baby Esteban Update - May 23

thank you everyone for the prayers - please keep them coming!  i have been translating and sending them to Nicho and Araceli and it has been a huge encouragement to them.  we believe the Lord is hearing our prayers and keeping and guarding baby Esteban's life!

we continue praying for his improvement, and also for the provision of his medical care.

please CLICK HERE for a recent update and for info on how to help. 

Friday, May 20, 2022


Dennilson, Araceli, and baby Esteban
Nicho and Araceli's baby was born on May 5, a month and a half early.  the public hospital in Quiché released baby Esteban about 10 days later.  Even though he was fighting an infection and only 3.9lbs, they let him go because several babies in the neonatal area had tested positive for Covid.  they felt he had a better chance to survive at home than there.

after struggling at home - continuing to lose weight and lose any desire to eat - we made the decision to drive through the night to Guatemala City and find a private hospital with a legitimate newborn intensive care unit.  when we arrived the next morning the doctors said he was barely alive.  after tests were run on his heart, his kidneys, and his infection, the head doc for the neonatal unit said "i have no idea how this baby is still alive"...  

when i heard that comment, i thought of our prayers the whole drive from Quiche... "Lord, would you keep him alive for your glory?  would you save his life and use it for your glory?  would you give him this testimony for your glory?  if it's your will to take him home, your will be done... but would you please let him live for your glory?"  our whole missionary team was up joining Nicho and Araceli in prayer during that drive!

baby Esteban is in the NICU at Hospital Yarden in Guatemala City.  he is in an incubator and has a feeding tube as well as a PICC line in his leg.  according to the doctors he has several battles ahead - heart murmur, kidney function, malnourishment, dehydration, body temperature, and an infection.  the challenge according to the doctor is properly treating each concern in a way that doesn't negatively impact another area.  he said complications in any one of these areas could cause his body to fail.

we are thankful for these doctors and this hospital.  and even more, we know our God is in the heavens and he does all he pleases (psalm 115:3)!  we know king Jesus has all control and we are trusting in him.  i got a text from Nicho an hour ago:  "dad, we will praise him no matter what."  


i will try to update daily.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

where am I?

i woke up in the middle of the night a couple days ago, saw a white column in my room, and literally had no idea where i was.

at first i thought i was in our last apartment in west africa.  but the placement of the door threw me off.

then my mind went to the jacksonville townhouse, but i quickly realized i wasn't there either.

i sat up to wake myself up, and realized where i was.  kerrie woke up and asked if everything was ok.  (the night before, i caught her doing security rounds in the house at 3am! she had drawn the conclusion - at 3am - that since the home we're renting had security cameras, there must be serious reason for concern and logically we're probably in grave danger. lol)  

after telling her i was just disoriented for a minute, we laid there for a while and eventually started laughing...

similar things had been happening to her.  back in san lucas, she saw a missionary family she recognized in a grocery store, but right before saying "hi" realized she was confusing them with a family we knew in africa! 

i can't even count the times i have used french instead of spanish...  or walked into the room and swiped the wrong wall expecting to hit the light switch... or forgot what options any given store has, or where stuff is, or what stuff is called... or forgot what tools, or office supplies, or clothes i have with me here, verses ones that i had somewhere else.

and i really miss family and friends from each location.  i wish i would have appreciated and taken better advantage of the time i had with people in each place.

but here we are!

at a minimum, it's a great reminder of 2 things:

1 - this life is not our home

  • our citizenship is in heaven, as we wait for our savior (philippians 3:20)
  • here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come (hebrews 13:14)
  • we must not love our homes, belongings, jobs, schools, cities, church community, friends, or families so much that they dictate where we live. "living as exiles" helps keep us in the fight. (1 john 2:15-17, 1 peter 2:11) 

2 - the christian life is a mission

  • at the end of Jesus' ministry, death, and resurrection, he declared "go into all the world and preach the gospel" (mark 16:15). 
  • there are still places in the world that have never heard the gospel, or have no healthy/biblical gospel presence.
  • the mission isn't complete, so we press on until it is (matt 24:14).

anyway, this is the train of thought the Lord led me down after waking up and not knowing where i was the other day :)

Saturday, March 26, 2022

week 1 in Quiché

 our first week in Quiché...

last Sunday was moving day. after getting my truck all loaded up i went down to help Nicho and Araceli load their furniture onto a moving truck.  it was pretty special to experience their combo of excitement and sadness as they emptied their little house of all they owned, with plans to permanently relocate to a place they'd never been.

after some prayer and some sweet goodbyes we finally hit the road.  Araceli cried a bit as we made the trek through the mountains. pretty understandable considering she has been married less than a year, is due with their first child in 2.5 months, and is leaving her family, friends and the only village she's ever known.  in fact, she told me last night that she has never traveled more than an hour from home.

we hit the ground running upon arrival. got the furniture moved in, started unpacking boxes and suit cases, grocery shopped, and bought a fridge for Nicho all in the first day.  the house we're renting hasn't been lived in for several years, and we started realizing it right away!  the first few days were spent dealing with busted pipes, flooded rooms, and lots of little things. on the bright side, Nicho and i got to know the town of Santa Cruz del Quiche pretty fast as we ran around trying to find/fix things!

yesterday we found an english school in Chichicastenango (for Nicho and Araceli) and took a tour of the whole town on market day, which was great. they'll start classes next week, and we'll be leading them through some online theology studies. it's going to be a great season of learning and preparation!

perhaps my favorite thing so far is how Luciana has been drawn to Araceli. the other day I noticed her watching Araceli clean her floors, and then later in the day she was cleaning our floors the same way. the next day she helped Araceli wash her clothes in the outdoor pila... then gathered her own dirty clothes and went out and did the same. and now they are making tortillas together in the evenings, Araceli patiently teaching Luci how to do it properly. precious!!

we've all been striking up conversations with locals and praying for God to lead the way for BVSA Quiche.  we don't know exactly when/where/how just yet... but we're here... praying, learning, seeking, and ready to obey however He leads.

Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!  Psalm 96:3 

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Hope amid horror

In 2017 a kid named Luis came into our program.  He wasn't a very good player, but we felt compelled to keep him on the roster.  (It's happened a handful of times over the years... where we felt like God wanted us to keep a player that in reality didn't make the team talent-wise.)

Luis was 14 at the time.  Once we learned what family he was from, we realized why God wanted him in the program.  He came from a very troubled home- a family with tremendous need both spiritually and physically.  In addition to extreme poverty, addiction, and abuse in the home, his parents were HIV positive and he had already lost two siblings due to AIDS.  

We tried hard to keep Luis in the program, but he was so rebellious.  Right when he would seem to be softening, and starting to do well, he'd quit.  We'd work to convince him to come back, but after a month or two he'd quit again.  Finally, he left for good and refused to come back.  All in all, we had him just under a year.

Brutally murdered
My daughter called me last night and said 2 young men from BV were murdered last week.  One was Luis.  It almost certainly was gang related - his body had been dismembered and cut into pieces.  She saw it on local news and recognized his decapitated head.

I was in shock.  My heart sunk.  Living in Guatemala you grow numb to these stories- but this was one of our Rhinos.  I can't stop thinking about him.  Been going back and reading journal entries about him, remembering all we went through.  Here's an excerpt from one I posted to this blog in March of 2017:

"i am so excited to have this young man in our academy. i trust God brought him to us with specific purpose. and i am believing the light of Jesus will someday fill his heart, his home, his future home, and his future family. luis will one day know the God who promises to turn our sorrows into strength, our sadness to joy, and our tears to laughter!"    
(Click here to see that full blog entry.)

My friend Cesar called me this morning to tell me that Coli (another Rhino graduate) had brought a friend to see him early last week, to hear the gospel.  It was Luis!  Cesar said he was crying the whole time and seemed to be receiving the word of God as “soft soil.” Not knowing anything about Luis' story, Cesar said the Lord led him to share many different scriptures about repenting, turning from your old life, and surrendering to Jesus. 

Luis was killed only a few days later.  My heart is so hopeful that he surrendered his life to Christ!  Maybe he was even killed for leaving the gang he had joined.

Please join us in praying for Luis's family.  His dad recently passed.  His mom is an addict and about as unstable as it gets.  It's a situation in need of a miracle from the Lord.

I just received a voice text from Cesar.  It was extremely encouraging for me, so I'm going to share it in conjunction with this story.  Translating it word for word: 

“Brother Brock, this is why we preach the gospel!  We never know what day will be our last, or when someone we know will take their last breath.  I am so thankful that BVSA is gospel-centered!  I know Luis heard the gospel there.  And if he didn’t choose to follow Christ then, we know the seeds were planted.  And those seeds got fertilized again when he came to me last week.  The soil seemed soft and ready!  I only hope he gave his life to Christ.  This is why we must share the gospel with everyone we can!  Thank you for sharing the gospel with young people in Buena Vista, and Travesia, and West Africa, and soon Quiche!  Tell all the missionaries thank you!  Let’s keep doing it every day that the Lord gives us!  If we've received the gospel, our job is to proclaim the gospel!  Thank you for planting seeds in Luis’s heart.  We must trust that God blesses every seed planted, and He will care for and nurture every gospel seed planted!  Thank you for making BVSA gospel-centered and Christ-centered.  Everything, everything, everything we do must be Christ-centered.”

As suffering and sin and pain and tragedies increase all around us, I feel more committed now than ever to be bold, clear, and careful in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It's our mission as Christians.  And Luis' life is a huge reminder of how serious a mission it is, and how high the stakes are. 

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not 
perish but have eternal life.  But how will they believe in Him of whom they’ve never heard? 
And how will they hear without someone preaching?   

(John 3:16, Rom 10:14)

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Covid experience in Guatemala

taken this morning! enlarge to appreciate :)
Greetings from Guatemala Covid Quarantine.  

This trip turned out to be much different than I  thought it would be.  Not that there's any expectation of "normal" any more...

Before we came to Guate, we knew Covid had hit the Wilson house.  But they were doing ok. Quarantined and getting through it.  So we came on in, continuing forward with our plans.

First on the agenda was our trip to Quiche, about 6 hours north of BV, where we're looking to plant another academy.  It was a great trip, but when we got back the situation with the Wilsons had gotten worse.  

Laura was recovering, but Ryan's health had tanked.  Laura, who is a registered nurse, had been monitoring his oxygen levels - and I could tell she was starting to get concerned.  

At one point I texted her and asked "at what point do we need to get him somewhere?"  She replied that she had been thinking the same thing, and told me about his breathing.  He was already to the level where, if stateside, he would have been put on oxygen. 

My daughter Brooke started calling hospitals. The first one had no room in its Covid wing. The second one said they had space for one person.  After talking to Laura, within 15 minutes we were packed (in case we'd need to stay overnight) and had Ryan in the car, headed to the city.

But then... Guatemala!  There were protests going on against the President, and all major roads were roadblocked.

We called Dr. Carlos and he confirmed the protests.  We asked for an ambulance.  Surely the protests would let an ambulance through!  But Doc said no - with the magnitude and preparation for protests like this one, they don't even let ambulances through for emergencies.

He said to meet him in San Lucas, that he knew a back road.  About an hour later, we started down a trek that in my 10 years living in Guatemala I had never seen.  It was treacherous and beautiful!  We were moving down a muddy, rain-washed out trail, that winded through lush rain forest.  Thankfully we were in the Wilsons 4-Runner so we never got stuck, although cars were getting stuck around us.

Finally, we made it to a paved road again, and then found our way to the main road to the city, and ultimately to the hospital.  Ryan was exhausted.  He had been bouncing and coughing the whole way.  We got him out of the car and into the ER, where they began to run tests.

They allowed Laura to go in with him, but they made me wait outside.  Occasionally they would let me in to help translate something, or just to help Laura process everything.  But for the most part, I spent the next few hours sitting on a concrete ledge right outside the door.  Dr. Carlos was coming off his own 24hr hospital shift, so he spent that time sleeping in the car.

After 6 attempts to get an IV in, Ryan told Laura, "lets just go home."  He knew that wasn't a good idea.  But he was tired and frustrated.  Laura was steady and sweet... encouraging him the whole time.  After IV fluids, oxygen treatment, and x-rays of his lungs, they finally said he needed to be admitted.  Alone.

Reminder:  Even though this was a nicer hospital by Guatemalan standards, this was no "American suburban hospital."  Sometimes in these scenarios in the foreign mission field, you just feel unsteady for a minute. While the Wilsons have been through some tough stuff in their short time in the field already, she was immediately forced to decide if she was willing to say goodbye to her husband right then, not 100% sure if she'd see him again.

She asked me what I thought.  All I could think to say was: "Laura, God got him here. They had one room. Doc got us through a ridiculous path. We made it.  We're here.  God has him here."

Minutes later, the three of us were staring at the double doors to the Covid wing with a lady in a hazmat suit ready to take him back.  I prayed over him, then she wheeled him back and the double doors closed.  The flurry of a chaotic day was suddenly silent.

I looked at Laura and asked, "you ok?"  She said, "I think so."  

We took about two steps and she stopped and said, "actually no, I'm not"... and began crying.  I gave her a big hug, and began saying over and over "God has him" and "He is Sovereign Lord" and "He is worthy of moments like this."

I had no literal, physical assurances to offer her.  I had no idea what was going to happen. After all, the reality was, Laura's sick husband and my sick friend had just gotten wheeled back into the Covid wing of a Guatemalan hospital in the middle of the biggest global pandemic the world has ever known.  Whose to say how that's going to end?

What I did know in that moment is that our Sovereign Lord hadn't lost control of anything. 

He is unchangeable... what he desires, that he does.  Job 23:13

Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.  Psalm 135:6

I knew Laura knew that too.  And Ryan.  (Anyone who knows him knows that the "sovereignty of God" is his mantra.)

And seriously - without trust in a sovereign God, how is "comfort" or "peace" even possible in these moments?

After a good cry-hug, Laura told me she was ok.  She later told me that in that moment God's peace completely washed over her.  She said her cry was a deep surrender.  That God's grace was sufficient, and His power was made perfect in her weakness. 


Fast forward a week.  Ryan is back home.  He's recovering slowly, but doing well.  I tested positive a few days later.  No symptoms at first, but the last few days have been rough.  Fever, chills, body ache, etc.  I've been isolated in quarantine now for 5 days.  

I'm thankful for times like this.  

Thankful for Ryan who is such a deep lover of God and His Word.  Such a good husband and dad.  I'm thankful God chose not to take him home just yet.

Thankful for Laura. She is such a rock!  It was special to share that day with her.  

Thankful for Doc Carlos's help.

Thankful that no one else here has gotten it.

Most of all I am thankful to have been here.  God knew in His wisdom and providence that we'd be here to help navigate the events of that day.  

And I'm also thankful to be stuck in this room where I'm writing this.  We were supposed to be home for my dad's 70th birthday party tonight, combined with my son's going away party- for college in Ohio.

But this is where the Lord has me instead.  And He's been faithful to meet me here, in a very personal way.  

There's a lot going on right now.  In His mercy He made me do a "force quit" to just be still and know the most important thing there is to know - that He is God.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Theology of Suffering

I watched an interview with Bill Johnson, the pastor of Bethel Church, a few weeks ago. In it, he said that it's always God's will to heal in sickness and suffering.  He said he refuses to add "if it's your will" to his prayers because, "that would be a prayer of unbelief, since God has already revealed that healing is always his will." 

I don't know if he truly believes that or if he is intentionally deceiving people (not for me to judge) but it is terrible theology.  Even though it sounds loving and “positive” and kind, it’s actually quite hurtful.

On his website, Johnson states, “How can God choose not to heal someone when He already purchased their healing?” He continues, “He already decided to heal … There are no deficiencies on His end … All lack is on our end of the equation.”

Before I explain why this theology is hurtful, let me explain why it's wrong.  It isn't just a little bit off.  Not like a doctrinal error that drifts a bit and needs tweaked back to center by the Word (we’re all guilty of that at times).  It's more like a directly opposite teaching to what is biblical. Not only is it not always God's will to heal, but he often chooses to use pain and sickness and suffering for his glory (and our growth).

6 reasons why this theology is wrong.  Let the scriptures speak for themselves!


1. We are taught to rejoice in our sufferings because of what is being produced in us.  How can we rejoice in our sufferings if our theology says pain and suffering is due to a "lack on our end"?  How can we be thankful for what is being produced during suffering if we believe suffering should be avoided and extinguished?  

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame… (Romans 5:3-5)

Count it all joy my brothers when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  (James 1:2-4)

I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake... (Col 1:24)

This momentary affliction is preparing an eternal weight of glory beyond comparison (2 Cor 4:17)

2. If the priority is always on healing, relief, alleviation, etc, our focus is always on ourselves rather than God's glory and purposes.  To deny ourselves, pick up our crosses and follow Jesus daily means we keep our eyes off our wants and embrace however he chooses to use us.  I realize this is easier said than done.  But put bluntly, it is selfish and short-sighted for a Christian to prioritize their own well being over God's purposes.

To keep me from being conceited, a thorn was given to me... Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:7-10)

Whoever doesn't take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me... (Matthew 10:38)

Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. (Acts 5:41)

Don't be surprised at the fiery trial... (1 Peter 4:12-13)

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial... (James 1:12)

3. God’s desire is that we love him, follow him, worship him, trust him, need him, and depend on him.  We often do all of the above better and more genuinely, when we're suffering in some way.  This explains why missionaries who have experienced capture and even torture, or any Christian who has faithfully persevered though a season of suffering, will often say they oddly “miss” those difficult days.  In times of suffering we depend on God in a sweeter way, and we are sanctified in a deeper way.     

For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. (1 Peter 2:19)

This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life. (Psalm 119:50)

But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. (1 Peter 3:14)

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Cor 12:9)

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. (Isaiah 40:29)

4. Christ himself suffered in this life, and he is our example.

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:21)

We are afflicted in every way... so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (2 Cor 4:8-10)

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin... (1 Peter 4:1)

5.  Suffering is promised and guaranteed for Christians.  It is a badge of honor. It is a calling and a privilege to join Christ in his sufferings.  Why then pray with such fervor to avoid it?

It has been granted to you, for the sake of Christ, that you should suffer... (Phi 1:29)

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted... (2 Timothy 2:12)

That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death... (Phi 3:10)

Many are the afflictions of the righteous... (Psalm 34:19)

6. Our only hope for a life without pain and suffering is in the resurrected body!  Why would we pursue it or expect it to come before that?  

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Cor 15:19)

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev 21:4)

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body… (Phi 3:20-21)

There are heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies… sown in weakness and raised in power… 1 Cor 15 (whole chapter)

Here's why this theology is hurtful

Indeed, it is a natural human desire to want pain to go away.  And, as the lie goes, it seems that a loving God would want us to be healthy, happy, and healed.  But as we’ve seen from the abundance of scriptures above, God doesn’t see things through human logic.  If he did, there surely would have been a better way to deal with sin then by sending his son to die in our place - a brutal and terrible death by crucifixion.

But our all knowing and all powerful God, in all his mysterious sovereignty, uses pain and suffering for his glory!  And our growth!  Which is why this theology bent on health and healing is actually hurtful.  

Under this belief system, rather than recognizing and emphasizing God's purposes in suffering, the sufferer is actually led to feel ashamed for their condition.  Bill Johnson's claim that anything short of healing reveals a "lack on our end" leads to no other conclusion.  God sees human sickness, weakness, and deficiency as a means for all glory and fame to be directed to himself.  But this false theology of health and healing steals this precious opportunity from the sufferer... leaving him/her feeling condemned.

A story I witnessed that says it all 

A dear friend of mine once received some crushing news of a life-altering diagnosis on his only son.

The son, 14 years old at the time, was a talented soccer player in our academy with a bright future both academically and athletically.  For a few weeks he had experienced serious back pain, and it had gotten to the point where it was excruciating.  X-rays revealed a curvature in his spine so severe that the doctors determined he would need to wear a body brace ("Milwaukee brace") for the next 2-3 years, 23 hrs per day, leaving only an hour for shower and therapy.

It was devastating news.  I was there when the doctors explained it to the family.  The boy broke out into tears, falling into his dad's arms and asked "why dad, why?" over and over again. His mom and sisters were sobbing.

Before I explain what happened next, I should say that this young man's father is the most Christ-like man I have ever met.  He knows God's Word better than anyone I know.  He has endured suffering in his own right for the glory of God, and is the most joyful worshipper of Jesus I know.  He also, important to note,  very much believes in the gift of healing. 

But in this moment of great pain and concern and emotion, he did not pray for healing of his son.  He did not assure his son that God would heal him or even that God can heal him.  What he did was one of the most precious and selfless and Christ-exalting things I have ever seen.

The confident way he spoke got the attention of all in the room.  He asked his crying son to calm down, and look him in the eyes.  And he said with a smile and hopeful voice, "Son, if God has chosen you for this, it is because he is doing something amazing!  Let’s rejoice and be excited and honored that he would choose to use you to suffer for his glory!”

For me personally it was one of those moments where time kinda stopped for a second. I wasn't expecting that at all.  I was totally dumbfounded.  For this man, before any concern for "what this means for us”, the moment was all about God's glory.  His first thought wasn't his son's diagnosis, or all the challenges that lie ahead, or getting a second opinion, or even praying for healing.  His immediate focus wasn't his son's physical well being, but rather his spiritual well being.  Even more, how God might use his son for his own glory and purposes.

THAT, my friends, was an accurate biblical response to sickness and suffering.  I'm not arguing for a theology that says it's wrong to seek healing.  Not at all!  (In fact, you can click here to see how that story ended.)  But a good biblical position on suffering would never suggest that God prefers healing over suffering to bring glory to himself.

In summary

Bill Johnson said adding “if it’s your will” to his prayers would be a “prayer of unbelief.”  I find that to be tragic!  In reality it takes a much greater belief to joyfully accept whatever it is that God’s plans and purposes may be - whether sickens or health, life or death. 

And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”  Matthew 26:39

As Christians we are to put all our trust and belief in the Lord, no matter what the outcome is for us in this life.  Unlike Johnson says, we cannot know in every situation whether God wants to use suffering or healing to declare his glory.  What we can do, like my friend did so beautifully that day, is put ourselves and our families at the altar and say “use us as you see fit, for your glory.”

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. Psalm 115:3

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. Proverbs 19:21

Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.  Psalm 135:6

I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things.  Isaiah 45:7

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. Romans 9:14-16