First attempt at a vlog post!
This month in America is Black History Month. I've never commemorated this month. In fact, as often as I have read on the net that it was once again time to celebrate this, I thought "Celebrating one race at any time doesn't seem like a great idea. Pictures like this spring to mind.
I think this sign would make me feel pretty bad if I were a student at that school. Then, knowing me, I might feel guilty that I feel bad about the sign. The shame would just hop on and stay on. I think.
Race has always been a tough issue for me to tackle. From this side of the ocean, the issue just doesn't come up anymore. Not like it used to in Florida. I grew up afraid. It wasn't my parents fault or my church's fault or even my school's fault. It was because I got beat up for being white...twice.
Twice I was beat up and once I was witness to my friends being knocked down by sucker punches from a group of four young black guys as we walked down the sidewalk in front of our junior high-school. There was no confusion about what their issue with us was. Those who did the beating called out all kinds of expletives and made it clear we 'whites' had wandered too close to their neighborhood. As my buddies stood up to defend themselves a group of about eight black guys started across the intersection. We turned back to get home.
The police were called in once when I was beaten down by two older teens. One small black guy rode on the handlebars of another bigger black kid. The smaller guy jumped off the handle bars as they rode past me. I was carrying an arm full of books, a pair of drumsticks and a backpack on my back. The little guy used my face as a speed bag and then the big kid finished me off with a haymaker.
Later, when I was talking to the police. I asked "What had I done?". The response was terse and to the point "You were white." They came, wrote reports, and went off to find the guys. I was only around 13 at the time, so I don't remember what all came of it. I remember the cop, sitting at our dinner table, and mentioning one of the guys had a record and would probably go to juvie for this. Later I think he was supposed to write me a letter or something. Don't think I ever got one.
So, as years went by I steered clear of black guys. I never went where I thought danger could be waiting. I learned to avert my eyes - look down - look up - just look a young black guy in his eyes, especially when he is with his friends. I have no idea how many friendships I missed out on. I don't know how many lives God wanted me to touch in that time and I didn't cause they were black.
Later on, I found a deep relationship with a living God. I believed. I forgave.
I began working in Charlotte, NC with a group that primarily worked in predominantly black neighborhoods. God gave me the chance to help out several families and I never feared. Even once, when I was walking around an apartment complex looking for an address, I received a call from the lady I was supposed to be going to help. She asked where I was and I told her, to which she screamed into the handset "Are you insane? Get you @#$ back into your car and wait for me there!" I did as told. A few minutes later a short, black woman whose face was shining with sweat from running and worrying for my safety jumped into my pickup truck cab. She said breathlessly "Next time, stay in your car. You see that group over there?" She pointed to a large group of young black men near one the corner of a building a ways away. "If they saw you alone here, they'd kill you before you knew what happened."
See, I believe that the devil will work hard to find a place to grab hold of in your heart and not let go. For some, their faith is wrecked by the death of a loved-one. For others in ministry, their life comes to a halt when their children walk away from God. For some it is sickness. For some, like me, it was fear that was the result of being made a victim of assault, which led to judgement and disdain - sometimes hatred - finding a place in my heart.
The Spirit of God can evict those intruders. But keeping them out is another thing. We have to use the authority God gives us to get them out and then replace them with Him and the fruit He brings: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are things that a guy like Bill Maher would praise, not realizing that they are the very traits that God instilled in Martin Luther King Jr. and so many other like him.
Today, I wanted to say something about Black History Month. Well actually, I had thought about posting something entirely different. But as I listened to Jason Upton on Youtube, I came across a song about Martin Luther King, Jr.
Reasonable people on both sides of the political aisle in America hold him up as a hero of social justice, and rightly so. He is perhaps the most quoted social justice champion in American history. He has been remembered with his own national holiday and remembered in countless stories, books, articles, songs, poems, etc.
What so many tend to forget, is that Martin Luther King Jr. was first a son, then a champion. He was a Christian. He was born a sinner, redeemed by His Saviour, confessed his sin, repented, was baptized and born again. He was not only a believer and a disciple of Christ, but he was a shepherd for God's people. A minister. An evangelist. You could say he was sold-out to God heart, soul and spirit.
There's a story from Jan. 27, 1956 that points to this identity. Martin had come home after a long day of meetings. His family was asleep. The phone rang. A voice on the other end told him "Leave Montgomery immediately if you have no wish to die". Here's the what happened in his own words from his book Stride Toward Freedom:
I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud.
The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. "I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I've come to the point where I can't face it alone."
At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: "Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever." Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything."
God told Him, in short: You'll never be alone. God spoke, just as in the scripture when it says "I will be the voice behind you saying "this is the way, go in it." He goes on in the book to say that later when he addressed a crowd, he made mention of the story and told them that God had said He'd never leave him 'till the end of time.'
He could NOT have done what he did, how he did it and seen the results he had - without the identity of a son, safe in His Father's hands. You might wonder how that can be true if he were later killed by an evil man? Just the same could be asked about the cross of Jesus. I don't have an answer. I just know that encounter with the voice of God at the kitchen table propelled him forward and made him the Champion he was.
If Martin Luther King Jr. were here today, I think we'd have a different view of him. I don't know if he'd be popular with today's media. I don't think he'd be popular with large parts of the church in America. But one thing is certain: he'd still be talking about the voice
This is my message for everyone - black, white and every shade in between:
You are not alone.
You can be adopted by God - as a son or daughter - given a whole new identity in Him.
He can make you bold. He can help you forgive. He can heal wounds that stay after the swollen eye and bloody lip are long gone.
It's possible you're the next Champion He is waiting for.
It's possible the sacrifice will be great.
The reward is worth it.
Now, please click the link below to Jason Upton's - Never Alone Martin. Send it to everyone you know.
I have been thinking a lot about stories lately.
After all, this blog is about stories. The vlog that we're working on is going to be all about telling stories. Our story. Your stories. His stories. In case you don't know who "His" refers to, we're talking about God's stories -what He's up to today and what He did back in the Bible.
It seems like we, in the West, don't realize how important storytelling is. We don't recognize that those conversations that move us most are the ones that didn't contain rules, instructions or training, but the ones that contained real facts, real events and real lives.
What do good trainers, motivators or teachers do? They use illustrations. What's an illustration for? To drive home the idea, moral or lesson being conveyed. And what are the best illustrations? The ones that relate to our experience! Teachers (one of my hats) use stories to illustrate lessons. We know that if we can touch your emotions while communicating a lesson, you're more likely to remember the lesson because of the association of the emotion.
That's the psychology of it (in a very shallow treatment). BUT, that doesn't get to the heart of it. You see, there's a verse that says that God has placed eternity in the hearts of men.
Think about that for a moment. ETERNITY.
You and I might like to humbly quip that we have 'good memories, only short' or that our 'hard drive needs an upgrade' because we can't remember facts and figures well. But, God has constructed your heart to contain the thought of, the desire for, the need for: eternity.
That's an awful lot of experience that he's prepared for our hearts. But, to my point, I think this eternity in our hearts is what makes storytelling so attractive! It connects with the big story - the one He has been writing since eternity-past.
I hope I'm not getting too existential here. I don't mean to sound like a wanna-be hippy running orientation for a weekend retreat or something, but I want you to realize that stories matter and perhaps most importantly for you: your story matters.
I know that not everyone believes in the God of the Bible. If they did, I'd not be needed. I wish I weren't needed in this capacity - I'd be the happiest unemployed missionary on earth.
But, even if you don't believe, can you try to see evidence of God's hand in your life? That is one of the reasons why I want to write a book of true love stories that end in happy marriages. In each of these stories (and I've heard many hundreds - I ask people to tell me) I see a hand, an intelligence, at work behind the scenes - sometimes at the forefront. Sometimes, it's so obvious that someone is orchestrating events worldwide that one would have to work hard to be ignorant of it! So, I love finding His hand in those stories.
Ok, enough for today. I'm glad to have sat down at 11:23 at night to write. I missed my self-imposed one-week deadline, but I got something in before going too far over: yay me!
Till next time: look for His hand in your story.
So, the other night my boys and I were watching the last of the three films in the Hobbit trilogy: The Battle of the Five Armies. As with all of Tolkien's tales in Middle Earth, I laughed, I cried and I got lost in imagining what a God we serve who can instill that kind of creativity into the heart of a man. I LOVE those stories - and with my hyperactive imagination, I love to get lost in those stories.
The other night, though, one scene in particular - the one quoted above - caught my attention. I was sitting behind the boys, so they couldn't see my face. I was bawling like a baby. I didn't want the kids to see me so they wouldn't get concerned, so I covered my face and stifled any noise. Had they looked then, I would have looked like someone trying to suck something off their hands with one nostril per hand and hyperventilating at the same time.
Now, you're probably wondering what it was about that scene that elicited such a visceral response from me - why would I cry more at a victorious turn of the battle than, say, when the king dies at the end? Well, I took some time later to analyze it, too, and here is what I came up with:
I want to see God.
That's it! But, it's deeper than that. It's not just that I want to see God in order to once and for all put to rest the eternal struggle of sight versus faith. It's not just that I want to see the expression on the collective faces of all those evangelistic atheists I've met in my life. It's that where an army would fall back because of overwhelming odds and sustained defeat, once they see their king - they turn around and fight again with renewed vigor!
Notice! It's not once they hear 'Hey, the king is watching! Fight hard!" It's not enough (at least not always or not in the direst of circumstances) to say "Hey! The king believes in you!" But, in life, as in the movie, there is that moment when you are, in every possible way, losing the fight - and then the king appears. Except - for many of us - for most of us - we never actually see our King with our eyes, like the dwarves did in the movie.
This has been a point of contention with me and God for a long time. Now, PLEASE don't get me wrong; this is not a confession of unbelief or lack of faith! I will go back to that in a sec. This is me telling you who I am and what I've felt and thought in my life (the purpose of this blog). When times are tough, or even when for me personally times are ok, but tough for someone near me, I go back to the question "God, won't you show yourself to them?" When I hear of our brother and sisters in closed parts of the world having visions of Jesus, I say to God "Yes! That's it! You can and are doing what we can't!"
Now, before you tag me with the 'Oh, yee of little faith' moniker, please walk with me for a moment through scripture. Who do we know from the Bible that also went through a string of unquestionable failures - or rather hardcore tragedies - all the while being observed by God, the devil, his unhelpful wife and friends? Yup: Job!
People ask what my favorite verse in the Bible is. Well, at different times in life it has been different verses. But one has stuck with me since I was thirteen and has never left. Here it is:
23 “Oh, that my words were recorded,
that they were written on a scroll,
24 that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead,
or engraved in rock forever!
25 I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
26 And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
27 I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!
Job 19:23-27 taken from NIV. Copied from Biblehub.com
Look at that! In the midst of terrible struggling, he says that he knows God is real. He knows that they will meet. Mind you - he hasn't had his 'God encounter' yet. That comes at the end the story. But here, in the middle of all the badness, he yearns to see God!
That's what got to me in that seen. A kind of righteous (I think) jealousness of these fictional characters in this fictional story. I saw in it my deep desire to see God Himself step into this battle on earth. To know that He is in His holy mountain (like the king in the movie) is one thing - it makes it worth the fight (and yes, I know we have Him in us - much better than they had in the movie - but I'm purposefully not going there now) but to see Him step down out of that mountain and rush head-first into the fray - just the thought makes one sit up straighter, see more clearly, makes one want to do hard things.
So, God has given us Himself in the form of the Spirit. This is, after all, how we know He is in us and we are in Him (1 John 4:13) and it is His seal on our hearts (2 Corinthians 1:22). And Jesus Himself made it clear that we need the Spirit more than we needed Him to stay in the flesh. So, it is good and it is His perfect plan!
Having said that - I will continue to walk these streets of Warsaw, looking up at the sky and in the distant background wonder if today is the day we get to hear the trumpets sound, the sky roll back like a scroll and get to 'rally to our king'.
These verses have become the theme of our life lately. For most of my missions career, I thought the greatest thing that could happen was the miracle of seeing someone come to faith. Watching, as they go from curiosity to discovery, to revelation and a changed life. I thought my responsibility began and ended with sharing the gospel and then letting Him bring the fruit. Life was rewarding, but something always seemed 'off'...what would happen with those new believers a year from now - two years - ten years?
In these verses we see Jesus take these men who have stuck with him, and give them a final command. "Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations..." Making disciples was one of those things that overwhelmed me. Who am I to make a disciple? Who am I to assume I know how to help someone grow. I thought I'd leave that to the more mature, more proven believers.
A few years ago, God drew our attention to these verses and this final command. I realized, I had not been making disciples, but converts. But, what God told me and showed me, isn't as important as what He wants to say to you and show you about your own life! So, read through those verses and ask yourself the following questions, while asking the Holy Spirit to speak to you:
- What did Jesus tell them to do?
- Who was He talking to?
- What did He tell them about Himself and His relationship to them?
- What does He want me to do?
This could be the beginning of a very interesting conversation between you and the Holy Spirit! Whatever He says to do, just do it! If you'd like to write to us to let us know how it's going, please do.
The very first thing I did as a missionary was to work at an evangelistic English camp. About twenty years ago I found myself a stranger in a strange land. The camp would change my life forever as I witnessed God at work in the lives of thirty young people. In all my years in church in the states I had not seen as much real, meaningful change take place in peoples' lives as I did in those 15 short days. I went back to the states amazed at what God had done.
Fast forward to about 15 years ago when we started holding six-week long discipleship camps. Together with my boss at the time, we designed a camp based on the need we saw to develop young leaders into Christians who had a revelation of God's unconditional love, were ready to pay any price to follow Him and had developed the character to hold any calling. These camps were not like the earlier ones. These were camps that were 'hardcore' and from which I still have a reputation in Poland as being the one who brings 'the hammer down' (not a deserved reputation, trust me).
Again, in these camps I was truly amazed at how much work God could get done in a person's life, if they just surrendered and focused on Him for a short period of time. Granted; six weeks is not short as camps go. However, if a person will live to eighty years old, then six weeks is an insignificant time investment in themselves. I was in awe as I saw young people arrive at camp, undisciplined, adrift in life, bored with Christianity and unsure of their salvation. Many had worked hard (even if they didn't realize it) to develop a religious, cold understanding of their relationship with God.
By the time they left, most of them (never all) had undergone life-transforming experiences with God, His Word, His Spirit and His Bride. All thanks to their commitment to make themselves available to Him for six weeks.
When we moved from Gorzow to Warsaw, I thought my time with camps had officially come to an end. I was done with early rising, morning sport, organized group quiet times, teaching sessions, meal duties, small groups, mosquitoes, late nights, crying before breakfast and on and on.
God had other ideas.
As God has asked us to 'Re-dig old wells', we've renewed old relationships. He specifically told us to take part in a nine-day camp with a group of leaders from a city called Legnica. The directors are people who were part of our six-week camps with whom we hadn't really been in relationship for over 10 years! They called, kind of out of the blue, and asked us to be leaders during their camp called Be Free.
The camp was amazing. God had only nine days to work very deep change in people. Much of it, perhaps most of it, was difficult. I think that's why people wait till camps to deal with much of it - it seems too daunting in 'normal' life because of all the distractions. Additionally. we are here as a group of leaders to be used by Him specifically to bring that change in their lives. When it all comes together and God is moving, it's an amazing thing to see...and an even more amazing thing to be part of.
During one of the morning quiet times, God said to me "Your camp is never over." That hit me hard. At first, it was a little scary. Up at five every day? Exercise every day? But then, the thought sounded more and more wonderful as I mulled over what it would (and does) mean:
- Daily time focused just on Him and what He wants to say and do in and to and through me.
- Daily being focused that I am alive to be spent for the sake of others.
- Daily spending time with my wife and kids as we serve Him together and ENJOY Him and this world together.
- Daily depending on Him for my support.
- Daily praying for people who need it and watching Him work.
I could go on and on. I'll finish here. Let me encourage you all - God is ready, waiting and already at work. He is waiting for our response to His love and work. Let's make life the best camp possible!
I usually write to you all about some event, story or relationship we're working on over here. I try to make those stories encouraging or inspiring or at least show some aspect of what life as a missionary is like in Poland.
Today, I want to write about an idea instead. It is this word "intentional". It seems to me that God has been bringing this word before my eyes repeatedly lately. From the title of the book that I've been reading "Loving our Kids on Purpose" (i saw intentional where it says 'on purpose'), to Church Planting Movements materials which always talk about doing things with purpose, to God speaking directly to my heart about keeping my eyes open wherever I am to see what He wants me to do.
A while ago in Poland, as I was standing in line to the cash register at a corner store, I looked at the back of an elderly woman standing in front of me. The Holy Spirit spoke to my heart "Do you see this woman?"
That question just crushed me. At first, I couldn't understand why I was so moved, but I quickly understood that God was giving me just a portion of His love for that woman. I was just in line. I was just buying a coke and a kaiser roll with cheese for lunch. God was actively pursuing that woman's salvation - most likely not long before her passing on into eternity.
Just this past weekend Angelika and I were in a city on the far western border with Germany called Gorzow Wielkopolski. That is the city we lived in before we moved to Warsaw. The day after we arrived, I took some time to walk the streets of the neighborhood I used to live and work in. On almost every street I met men and women I used to try to help who were or are addicted to alcohol. They smelled. They were dirty. They were not usually healthy. They were beautiful.
Samuel, my six-year old finally asked "Daddy, how do all these men know you?" And the answer was simple "Because I saw them. Then, I loved them on purpose."
So, is God asking you today to keep your eyes open and to 'see that woman'? Be intentional - live for the purpose of loving them to Him - don't let the day go by!
In the verse quoted above, the writer asks how people can believe if they haven't heard and how can they hear if no one is sent to tell them. This is totally about the gospel and it is very pertinent where I live, even though this culture is a 'Christian' one. For people to truly believe, they must hear the good news and for that to happen - someone must go share with them!
But today, I want to ask everyone reading this to consider this same principle in partnership development for Angelika and myself and the work going on here. Now, let me be clear:
God is our provision!
Our trust is solely in Him!
In trusting God, we've come to learn that He will provide for us in many ways - not just birds with bread in their beaks (though I have nothing against it and have seen things just as amazing) - but also He has used and will use:
- Our own abilities and giftings in tent-making (like Paul).
- Supernatural provision (like Paul)
- Giving and other material support from other believers (like Paul)
Once again, just as in Church Planting Movements, we see a return here to the example God has given us in the Bible. And we can say, as Paul did, that in all things we can be satisfied - through HIM!
I am convinced that there are believers near you, dear reader, that would want to support what God is doing here if they knew it existed. God might tell them directly and then supernaturally lead them to find contact info for me - but I also believe that God wants to use some of you to just go tell them - share this and other newsletters with them - give them my email info, website info, etc - and then they can contact me directly.
Thank you for reading - for sharing and most of all - for praying. Again, our trust for our provision, fruit and sustenance is in HIM! And He has and I believe will use people just like you to partner with us.
In the pictures here you are seeing folks from the house church network here in Poland being baptized. The crowd around the swimming pool are all folks who attend one of the many house churches. During this service we were so blessed to watch generations of believers baptizing each other. How's that work, you might ask?
Well, we are serious about the priesthood of believers. We encourage the person who led someone to faith or is discipling them, to be the one who baptizes them. This both reaffirms the priesthood of each believer as well as being a significant moment of confirming our relationship as a Body.
During this recent baptism service, a young man who was saved just two months ago baptized a young man he led to the Lord just two weeks ago! That young man turned and baptized his wife, who then together with him turned and together they baptized their son. This kind of thing happened again and again as we listened to the testimonies of folks who were recently saved, leading others to faith, even when they are just a single step ahead in discipleship- it's like baby ducks following their mother - just one ahead of the other!
Rejoice with us and intercede with us for discipleship to break out across this country and for current believers to catch the vision for making disciples and multiplying all that God has given them.
Those of you who have been reading all the newsletters I've sent out in the past few years will recognize the word 'multiplication' as an important one. Our goal is to do things that are easily multiplied and be people who are multiplying ourselves. It's in everything we do here and it's our goal in discipleship, group formation and even in our own home life while raising our kids.
So, just how important is it? Well, let me share the message on multiplication I heard over the last two days from our friends in the network of house churches here. Let's go to the gospel of the talents in Mathew 25:14-30. I'll let you refer to your favorite version of it on your own. Let's just look at a few significant things:
A talent was a measurement of money. Some new NIV versions call a talent a 'bag of gold' instead. That's accurate. It would have been many years of wages for the average worker. So, did the servant who received one talent get a little or a lot? If you have always thought of yourself as the one talent servant - have you been given a little or a lot? I hope this makes you think about the riches you have been entrusted with!
The owner went away for a LONG time. We can agree, that we've been waiting for our Master to return a long time. We believe He's coming soon - but so did the men living in NT days! So, this applies to us, for sure.
The master gave them ALL He had! What a revelation of the trust of God in our stewardship.
The servants attitudes affected their outcome. The way they saw the Master determined what they did. What was the motivating factor of the servant with one talent? I believe the answer is in the sentence "..I was afraid..." It was fear that caused him to hide the talent entrusted to him. Fear is never a good motivation in the Kingdom.
What was the end of the servant who mishandled his talent? If he had only lost the one talent, that would have been bad enough. But, we read that he was cast out into 'outer darkness, where there was weeping and gnashing of teeth.' Now, I avoid debates on salvation - I'll just say this: it sounds like a really bad place that I want to avoid!
It seems like God is really serious about each of us learning to take what we have been given by Him, whether it is five, two or one talent (and remember here, even one talent is about 20 years of wages!), and in His power, with His wisdom, multiplying it! If you haven't started yet - and yes, I mean you - not the pastor, leader or Christian worker in your church or group - but you! Then, pray with me now "God, show me how to take what you've given me and who you've made me and multiply it for your glory."
If you'd like advice about simple ways to share the gospel, make disciples and have a Bible group, please write to me! I can recommend materials, books, and people you can contact to train you!
Our youngest son Samuel has been practicing praying for the sick.
The picture here is of Agata and Pawel, the young couple I mentioned in my last newsletter and on the blog. This past week we travelled to Legnica, where they live, and attended a conference and a planning meeting for the camp we'll work at this summer.
We stayed with Agata and Pawel in their home and enjoyed their hospitality. More importantly, by living with them and their children for those four days, we were able to speak into their lives, as life happened. Around the breakfast table each morning, on walks through the park, while travelling to and from the conference center - and well into the "wee-hours" of the night, we shared the Word of God with them and helped them think about how to apply it to themselves.
I wasn't an easy time. I am, by nature, a person who likes to run from crowds. I'd prefer a hotel room and a swimming pool to a mattress on a floor and nonstop counseling. But, how can one compare the beauty seeing God work in people's lives to the luxury of being isolated? True rest really comes when we are in the center of His will. So, even though we all had little sleep and emotions ran high for most of the trip, we came home feeling rested and renewed and excited about what God did in us, in them and what He will do in the near future.
So, please pray for them and for us as we all seek to follow Him with all of our hearts.
We were very blessed to have a group of house church members make the trip up to Legnica to attend the conference. In the picture below of people praying, you can't really see the man in the wheel chair. What's amazing about this picture, is that most of those people praying AND the man in the wheel chair are members of house churches in the South-West of Poland that have started in the last six months.
The folks you can see there represent two generations of house churches. The man in the wheel chair had a horrible car accident and lost the ability to walk several years ago. Before his salvation, he was a gangster in a very literal sense. His testimony is enough to make anyone wonder how such a man could still be alive! God brought him out of a life of the worst kinds of crime, intimidation and dishonesty - into His kingdom! He then led one of the other men in the picture to the kingdom...God is at work here.
The second picture is of me and Kamil, from Poznan. Kamil is the young man who visited us in Warsaw recently to go out with us and pray for people on the street. The young man in the wheel chair was led to faith by Kamil! As he prays for healing and sees miracles, he shares the gospel. We're encouraging him to use that sewing to start groups of disciples that reproduce disciples. Time spent with him is ALWAYS an encouragement and a challenge to me, personally.
The time at the conference was a wonderful opportunity to encourage them, share some testimonies of what God is doing, and renew the vision of seeing new groups start - even though the conference itself wasn't about that.
This blog post is not going to be about a topic this time. This time, the post is about a picture. There are two pictures here - the boys on a walk in a park in a distant city where we went to minister and take part in meetings this past weekend - and also of the boys in a trampoline in a friend's backyard in that same city.
I sat recently and stared at the pic with the trampoline. It's just breath-taking. It's also a metaphor of their lives. It's fun - they are together - there is always an element of risk - and it's so beautiful because God is making it so - He made them beautiful and He made the country beautiful and He made the moment possible. If this same picture were taken in a room, it'd lose a lot of its impact for me. But that trampoline is in a back yard, in a village, in the middle of Poland.
As I think about my boys' lives - I think of trust in God. I have to trust God to keep them safe, even as I do what I can. I have to let them jump on the trampoline, but I need to make sure the net is in place. I want them to appreciate the beauty around them, even while they enjoy the excitement of the work (or play) at hand.
I could never find a place like the one in the pic, if it were up to me. We were there because Angelika and I were meeting with people who are organizing a camp that they've asked us to help lead. So, while we talked and prayed and planned, the boys jumped and shouted and breathed-in the fresh air.
I could never afford to provide my kids with a home like that, with a view like that, with a trampoline like that. But, God has made sure they got to enjoy it. And this story is repeated again and again and again. He takes my boys (His boys) to places I could never get them by being clever...He introduces them to people that I could never think to introduce them to...He affords them experiences that my missionary salary and part-time teaching job could never provide.
How can I, as a dad, not be so very thankful to God for such a childhood for my kids? Thank God with me, today, won't you!
At some point in my eighteen years in Poland I came up with a phrase: Cultural-Catholicism. I've shared this concept with people here in Poland and most have agreed that it's an accurate description of the majority of the native-born population. So, what does it mean? Here's a working definition I've come up with:
Cultural-Catholicism is when a Polish person identifies themselves as Catholic and as adhering to Catholic beliefs, but with no practical or faith-based foundation for what they say they believe and almost no Biblical knowledge. Therefore, they adhere to a religion, but only because of cultural influence and traditional values. They go through the motions of the faith, such as first-communion and confirmation, but only because it is what is expected when they are young and their parents don't give them a choice. But the Word of God and prayer play little to no part in their daily life, decision making and they therefore have no living faith and have not experienced the new birth.
As they grow up, they find that they neither know God nor what to do to find Him. God becomes this character from a story book that might be out there somewhere. They have been told He is good, but often live in despair of the next bad thing that will happen.
Perhaps the best way to understand it would be a conversation I had recently with one of my clients from English classes. I had spent some time that morning sharing testimonies with her about how God has guided me through prayer, how He was healing people when my wife and I prayed for them and how He had provided for us financially through miraculous circumstances.
With tears in her eyes, she said "Corey, I want to have that kind of relationship with God. I want to hear Him like that, but I don't know how to start."
Remember, this is a woman my age (39 at the time of writing this blog entry), a mother of two and a person who would unabashedly call herself a Catholic. Those six words are the experience and condition of MILLIONS of poles today. This cultural religion is passed from generation to generation, all while the traditions and practices are more or less kept. This is why we're here. This is who we're reaching.
Pray with us that the Jesus of their faith will become the Jesus of the Bible. Pray that their faith will go beyond their heads and into their hearts and be His faith. Pray that the Holy Spirit will convict each heart, individually of the truth of the Word, reality of hell, the forgiveness of sins, the love of God and the finished work of the cross. And pray for us, as we share our lives, the gospel and our testimonies with them.
I began working in Poland over eighteen years ago in the South-West region of the country. My work was wonderful and simple: meet young people every day and talk to them about God. One such meeting took place on the floor of a room belonging to two sisters. The older was a freshman in high school and the younger had just started middle school. They both listened, shared, read the Bible and prayed. But, as happens so often in youth, they followed a different road; especially the younger one. The elder and I kept contact over all these years, but I lost contact with the younger sister.
Fast forward almost fourteen years. One day, while sitting at my desk talking to God about the ministry here, God said one simple sentence "Re-dig the old wells." You see, since that time in Luban, I've lived in two other cities and my work went from a focus on youth evangelization to a focusing on helping people get free from addiction and poverty. A few years ago, God led us here to Warsaw to work on Church Planting Movements - start churches in homes that start churches that ....will you get the idea.
As I asked God what He meant by "Re-dig the old wells.", He told me to post pictures from years gone by to Facebook, thanking the young people from back then for making my life so special and for all they invested in me and let me invest in them of myself. One such person was the younger sister.
She made contact with me over Facebook, then we talked over Skype. It quickly became abundantly clear that she was hurting and wanting to find God. Now, she's an adult, with a husband and two little kids. She shared about their difficulties and that their marriage was very much at risk.
We made a trip to their city from Warsaw and sat with them over lunch in a crowded Arabic restaurant. I gave then a simple set of Bible studies to do together and we began praying for them regularly.
Recently, she called and shared that God has already done a great work in their lives. Her husband has come to faith and has began taking the kids to a local evangelical fellowship. They have started talking. They've begun reading the Bible together...and exercising together...they no longer talk about divorce.
There is still a great road to travel for them and we believe they will become multiplying disciple makers, as well as disciples themselves. So, please pray for them, even if I haven't given their names - God knows who they are!