Thursday, December 23, 2010

*Last night we had our annual Christmas Reading and it was truly a wonderful time reading and re-visiting the Christmas story together!  It is a great joy to serve with such committed, caring and creative people!  Since I have been fairly immersed in the Christmas story, especially the cast of characters that cross the stage of Christ’s birth and entrance into this world, I thought I would share with you one that particularly touched my heart.  I don’t think I had fully examined the life of this fascinating individual before last night.  I am passing it on to you in a mostly unedited version of last night’s performance.

Finally, tonight, we’ve all heard the saying that “Christmas is for the children.”  I’m sure that is definitely true, at least from a secular or cultural perspective.  There’s no doubt that their anticipation, their delight and their wonder brings something special to the season.  I am grateful for that feature.  But, I’d like to point out that in God’s Christmas, some of the major beneficiaries and contributors were...the elderly!  I’m sure you might not have considered this before.  We know Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, unless you are converted and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt.18:3)  That’s why we’ve emphasized having the “heart of a child” as one of the spiritual high points of life.  Let’s not forget, though, that just as important is the devotion of the elderly!  Those who through the inevitable process of getting older, have been faithful to God:  through all the years, through all the battles, through all the highs and lows of life, they still have a vibrant faith and hope in God!

It’s here in our story that we are introduced to a woman who’s been called one of the “3 Wise Women of Christmas.” Her name is Anna.  We have a brief, but beautiful, biography of her life is in (Lk.2:36-38) “Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.”  Ah, yes, Anna.  We generally only think of her in connection with Simeon in the Christmas story. While there is definitely a shared hope in the promises of God, Anna has her own story to tell.  She had gotten married with all the dreams and hopes of a good life, but after only 7 years her husband died.  Life changed drastically for her, and now she was faced with the decision of “what do I do with my life now?”  Do I spend all my time and energy in hopes of finding another husband?  That certainly would not have been wrong, but Anna came to the conclusion that the best way for her to spend her life would be devoted to loving and serving God.  Her goal became to stay as close to God as possible, which is why “she did not depart from the temple, but served God with fasting’s and prayers night and day.”  Everyone knew that she loved the house of God and the people of God.  She was a regular in the temple settings.  Now, well over 60 years has passed since that original life decision, and she’s 84 years old when she makes her entrance on to the Christmas stage!

Anna possessed one of the things that God prizes the most: a heart of devotion!  Fortunately, there is no age limit when it comes to devotion.  Hers was a devotion that did not quickly fizzle out but, persevered though the loss of a husband and the uncertainty that brought with it.  It was a devotion that continued through the long years of waiting as she clung to the promises of God as utterly reliable... even when other’s zeal for God had grown cold.  Anna’s testimony is the story of faithfulness rewarded!  This devotion is what kept her so in tune with God since the Bible records, “coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Israel.”  Talk about being in the right place at the right time!  Even if her role in the sacred drama was brief a brief one, Anna savored the richness of seeing God’s promise fulfilled! 
In spite of what the world may think, Anna was not passed her prime, at least not in God’s eyes.  She was able to bring a “word in season” and her testimony carried the weight, and wisdom and worth of a life devoted and well-lived for God!

The unparalleled  message of Christmas is not just God reaching down to the lowest, but also God reaching out to the forgotten and the marginalized.  Anna certainly qualified here: first, she was old, strike, she was a woman, which back then was strike two...and finally, she was widowed, strike three!  One of the most poignant prayers about old age is (Ps.71:9) that says, “And now, in my old age, don't set me aside.  Don't abandon me when my strength is failing.”  One of the many challenges of growing old is the fear that your best days have come and gone, and there’s nothing left but to be put on the shelf, and life now is nothing more than just watching from the sidelines.  Anna lets us know that as people age, they still have a place; they can still be useful for many tasks that God has for them.  They still retain their value!  That’s why someone has written the true words, “Beautiful young people are acts of nature, but beautiful old people are works of (God’s) art.”

Note: I’m sure there’s much more here, but this wonderful cameo we have of her life speaks to many today (if you’ve looked in the mirror, you, too, are getting older).  This was “confirmed” to me in a very specific way that had “God” written all over it.  Two weeks ago, I was preaching in Hesperia, CA for pastor George Neos.  I was facing the deadline of completing the script for this Christmas Reading.  On Sunday morning, I went across the street to Starbucks with my notes with me to work on this, as I drank my tall, triple-shot, sugar-free vanilla latte (extra hot).  There was a man next to me with his laptop open and a journal open, and I sort of knew he was a Christian.  I asked him if this was true and he told me yes, and we talked a little bit about our shared faith in Jesus Christ.  I told him that I was writing a script for our Christmas drama, and especially the scene about Anna.  He asked me if I would send him a copy of it when I was done, and I said, of course.  When I finished it a week ago, I sent it off to him.  I was blessed when he replied, thanks, and told me that he would be reading this to his 84-year old mother on Christmas Day!  Christmas is not just for the children.  Christmas is also for all the Anna’s in our world who love the Lord Jesus Christ! God bless you all, and have a Merry Christmas!
Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I am convinced that the greatest gift I have received over the course of my walk with Jesus (next to His grace and salvation, my blessed wife, and many faithful friends) is the prayers of people for me.  I am an undeserving recipient of this precious and powerful gift.  I can think back to my early Christian days to Sister Marcela Burgess.  She was the 70 year old-plus sister in the church who took me in as a young convert and gave me a place to live.  Sister Burgess graced me with her prayers from then to the time Mona and I went to Tucson to pioneer, right up until she went home to be with her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Another is my mother-in-law, Toni Pena.  Her salvation is such a miraculous testimony to God’s grace and power that transformed her almost 38 years ago.  Besides the fact that she gives me favor with her daughter (“You listen to my hijo, Mona”), she has blessed me with a constant stream of prayer for God’s help over all these years.  Thank you, mom Toni.  Then there are the countless people who come up to me and say to me “Pastor, we are praying for you.”  I never take that lightly that someone would actually remember me before the throne of God’s grace.  In fact, I need it and am unashamed to solicit it!

So, when I was thinking about Thanksgiving 2010...the best I could come up with is “back at you!” or my prayer for you.   This prayer is not “original” with me, but it is a “Bible prayer” which means it is not only inspired (praying directly in the middle of the will of God), but also powerful and effective.  It was one of Paul’s prayers for the believers in Thessalonica.  I’ll give it to you and then, there are 4 particular aspects of this prayer that I would wish for you all.

“How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?  Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.  Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you.  May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.  May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.” (1Thess.3:9-13)NIV


Just like people would ask for extra mashed potatoes or gravy (even dessert at least once a year) Paul’s prayers are richly flavored with thanksgiving.  “How can we thank God enough for you.”  This was the consistent pattern throughout the New Testament: prayer that begins with praise and worship and ends with praise and thanksgiving.  Paul was always doing this.  This was not the exception but the rule!  He began his letter (1:2,3) “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly  mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Even when he wrote to and prayed for the Corinthians, which many have labeled as “the problem church” (I’ve got breaking news for you: they all are!) he began, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge.” (1Cor.1:4,5) These are not the words of a flatterer or a manipulator but someone who was genuinely grateful to God for the contribution and faithfulness of others.  He’s encouraging them by telling them when he prays for them he thanks God for the grace evidenced in their lives.  It really is striking how prominent a part this plays in all the New Testament epistles: prayer and thanksgiving go together!

“Father, I am extremely grateful for the faithful saints of God here at ‘The Door.’  I thank you for all that You have done in their lives and continue to do.  They have truly been enriched by You in every way, and that has spilled over on to my life as well!”


This was at the forefront of Paul’s concern and their need.  Earlier he told them why he had dispatched Timothy to go and minister to them (3:2,3) “We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God's fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials.”  He prayed in vs.10, “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.”  This deficiency was not the result of disobedience but ignorance.  Paul had only been with them a short time when they came to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, but persecution forced him to leave prematurely.  He was deeply concerned to see them strengthened.  Like the song lyrics, “You are my strength, strength like no other, strength like no other, reaches to me.”  I believe in the days we are living in, every season of life calls for a corresponding measure of God’s strength in our lives.

“God, I thank you that your promise to us is ‘As your days are so shall your strength be.’  You’ve promised strength that would correspond exactly to whatever it is we are facing.  Be the strength of our lives and let it be evident to all that this is supernatural: that we ‘might be strengthened with might by the Spirit in our inner man.’”


Love is the only spiritual muscle that motivates us to do the right things, in the right ways, for the right reasons, and at the right times!  This is why the Bible says that love operating in our lives is “the fulfilling of the law.”  Love motivates us to live outside of ourselves and our own small world, to join with others in something bigger than ourselves!  It is the “glue” that binds together the different joints, ligaments, bones, muscles in the Body to make it effective.  Paul’s exact prayer is that this love would “increase and abound” to the point it overflows to both those within the church, and those outside the church!  The Apostle John reminded us that this is the supernatural evidence that we have been born again: that we love one another.  Jesus reminded us that this would be a specific last days target and assault, “Because iniquity will abound, the love of many will grow cold.” (Mt.24:10) This is why we can never take love for granted like some static quality.

“Lord Jesus, we are living in a ‘dog-eat-dog’ kind of world where ‘looking out for #1' is not just a popular saying, it is the normal way of living.  The reality is the world can be a cold, brutal, self-serving place.  If you add to this our own lack and deficiencies in the love department, that we can let people down and they can do the same, it’s not hard to see the buildup of deep and personal hurts that hinder our walk with God.  Don’t just ‘heal our land’ but also ‘heal our hearts.’  Help us to fan our love into a flame and keep it burning so that we don’t take You or others for granted.  Help us never to leave our first love.”


I’ve got to tell you, if your goal in life is to keep up on all the latest fads, with the next “big thing” so that you will always be fashionable and’re going to wear yourself out!  I will tell you, though, what is always in style (at least with God) and that is holiness.  If the Scripture says, “without holiness no man shall see the Lord” it is telling us that holiness will always be “in style” with the One who matters most!  So Paul prays, “so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.”  There is no greater incentive to holiness than the Lord’s return...the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ! 

“God, finally, help us to live and love and labor with eternity in mind.  If You are most glorified when we are most satisfied in You, then fashion in us Your ‘family likeness.’  Because you are holy, make us holy.  Let us learn and love to walk in the ‘beauty of holiness’ all the days of our lives.”

Saturday, September 18, 2010
Note: I was asked to write an article for our Bull’s Eye publication on the theme of The God of Relationship.  I thought I would post it here as well.  As if the Apostle John was the correspondent!

I will never forget the day and that history confirms, it was the “day that changed the world!”  I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the events that occurred that day, and I realize that words are almost inadequate to describe them all.   I’ve already told you that “we beheld his glory, the glory as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  What I do know is that it was an extremely long and grueling day.  In fact, the day really started the night before, and events just kept on building and propelling us into the following day.

It all began at the Passover meal the night before.  I’d observed our sacred Passover celebration every year.  I knew this would be like no other when I heard Jesus say, “You've no idea how much I have looked forward to eating this Passover meal with you before I enter my time of suffering.  It's the last one I'll eat until we all eat it together in the kingdom of God.”  In spite of the arguments that erupted among us about who was the greatest (looking back, I’m ashamed to have to admit that’s what we were doing) it was still wonderful to spend such intimate time with the One I had come to know and love as the Christ, the Son of the living God!  I’m not sure how I managed to weather the shock of hearing Jesus say that night, “one of you shall betray me!”  You’ve got to be kidding, that’s impossible!  How could that be, or more importantly, who could do such a thing?  That’s why in the end I had to be honest enough to ask, “Lord, is it I?”  The words almost stuck in my throat.  While I didn’t get a direct answer there was some kind of exchange that Jesus had with Judas.  I was the one lying closest to Jesus at the table and Peter (who always wanted to be in the know) kept nudging me to ask “Lord, who is it?”  I still wasn’t sure who or what he meant completely, even though Judas at that time said he had to leave early to take care of some urgent business. 

I forgot all about it though, when Jesus changed the conversation by talking to us about the “new covenant” in his body and his blood!  Wow!  Who could forget the promise we’d held to for centuries of a new covenant that God would make with his people!  I had almost memorized Jeremiah’s words, "Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel .... I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest....for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”   Then Jesus took the bread and blessed it, breaking it and giving it to each of us, and he did the same with the cup after supper, telling all of us “do this in remembrance of me.”   All this seemed to seal the almost sacred atmosphere we were experiencing that night.  I hated to see it all end, but we eventually sang a hymn of praise together, and then went out with the Master into that fateful night.

You talk about feeling special!  I was stunned and honored when Jesus asked me and my brother James, and of course Peter, to accompany him to a place which he frequented for prayer, a place called Gethsemane.   He asked us to “watch with him” as he was obviously troubled over all of these converging events.  Jesus had always been a rock-like personality to me, always concerned for others more than himself and willing to help bear their burdens.  That night he seemed to be carrying some burdens none of us could fully grasp or comprehend.  I wish I could give you a more detailed account of that precious moment but, well, to be honest...I kept falling asleep.  I know it disappointed the Lord, but after that long day I just couldn’t keep my eyes open.  Even with my acknowledged drowsiness I did sense that something pretty momentous was taking place.  I’m sure I heard him pray, “nevertheless, not my will but yours be done!”  If you saw his demeanor the way I did, you too would’ve known that he definitely meant it!  There was no wavering about him when we departed from that garden.

The rest of the night dissolved into pretty much of a blur because things started happening so fast.  The night was suddenly interrupted by the noise and the torches of a large group of men approaching us.  We noticed that there were also soldiers among them, along with officials from the chief priests and Pharisees.  They were asking for “Jesus of Nazareth,” which seemed odd to me since they’d seen him at the temple all during this week of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  Now you may not believe me, but I was there and saw it with my own eyes.  When Jesus said to them, “I am (he)” they were all like bowling pins that had been knocked down by a perfect strike!  They all drew back and fell to the ground.  It was pretty awesome to see!  I didn’t know it, but Peter was “carrying”...he had his sword with him.  He drew it and attempted to lop off the head of one of the intruders.  Thankfully, he missed, but the guy’s ear was missing and was a bloody mess.  Jesus instantly took command and told Peter to put away his weapon, and then, amazingly, he healed the man’s ear!  In the end, we were greatly outnumbered and overpowered and felt pretty helpless, as they took Jesus into custody and led him away.  The rest of us were left standing there bewildered and asking, “What’s going on?  Where are they taking Jesus?  What had he done wrong to be arrested and treated that way?”  In the end, to our shame, we all just turned away and tried to distance ourselves as much as possible from this chaos and the threats it carried.   It was not our finest hour.

Because of my family connections I discovered that they had taken Jesus in the middle of the night to the house of Annas who was the High Priest’s father-in-law.  I can’t even begin to describe the mockery of justice that followed!   This wasn’t a legal trial by any stretch of the imagination.  It was more like a “kangaroo court” as they shuffled Jesus about from the High Priest, then over to Pilate, the Roman governor.  I even heard that they made a quick trip over to the palace of Herod of all people!  When the verdict came back “crucify him,” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  Death by execution, for what?  What crime had he committed?  Was it loving the unlovely, or healing the sick, or giving people hope?  Was it because he kept choosing to operate outside of the establishment’s accepted guidelines?  I have to tell you, my head was swirling with all the things that seemed to be snow-balling out of control. 

Things really started to turn ugly.  The degree of hatred and animosity fueled by obvious envy was beyond belief.  The only way to describe it was there was something downright demonic about it.  Pilate issued the order to have Jesus scourged!  That meant 39 lashes that tore at a man’s flesh.  While scourging doesn’t always kill the prisoner, for the one under-going this brutal suffering, they almost wished it had!  The Roman soldiers had a field day as they put a robe of purple on his battered body, and a reed-scepter in his hand, as they proceeded to hit him and spit on him while taunting him to prophesy the one doing it, if he really was the “king of the Jews.”  Before I knew it, the night’s rush to justice ended as they were leading Jesus away to be crucified that day.  Rome had this practically down to a science.  They made the prisoner carry his own cross, or at least the upright beam, as they paraded him through the streets.  This was purposefully designed for two things: first, to further humiliate the prisoner, but also, to send a message of fear to the gawking crowds, “You don’t ever want to oppose or stand up against Rome!”  To me, the saddest part is that no one came to Jesus’s defense.  Where were all the people he had healed?  What about those who had been so amazed at the divine authority evident whenever he spoke?  Even I was silent because, after all, who’s going to listen to a simple ex-fisherman anyway?

The gruesome procession finally ended at Golgotha, a favorite execution spot outside the city.  Here they nailed Jesus to the cross and hung him between two thieves.  It seemed as if time stood still, almost like heaven was holding its breath.  Plus, the ominous darkness that settled on the land added to the somber quality of these unparalleled events.  In my mind I kept thinking back to when John the Baptist first saw Jesus in his public ministry, “behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  The only interruption was the hateful insults that continued to be hurled at Jesus.  Everyone in that crowd joined in: the two thieves, the Pharisees who were sent to witness the execution, and of course, the soldiers themselves.  No one cared or had the decency to realize that his own mother was standing in that horrific place in the midst of that crowd, along with myself and a few of the other women.  Besides us, I think the only one who got it that day was the Roman soldier in charge who later exclaimed, “Truly this was the son of God!”  In the end, I can still hear it today: Jesus’s final cry from the cross.  In the midst of his horrible agony and incredible suffering came the unmistakable note of triumph and victory, “it is finished!”

I’ve recounted all this because one thing stands out in my mind; the reason is because nothing like this had ever happened.  At that specific and fateful moment when Jesus died, the veil of the temple, the veil that separates the holy place, that veil was torn in two, “ripped” from the top to the bottom.  There is no question that this was supernatural!  This veil was up to 4" thick, and God himself tore that veil in two like you would a piece of paper!  Do you know what that means?  It’s almost too good to be true.  Yes, relationship with God was now made possible!  My sin that had separated me from God, like that veil separated people from the holy place, had now been paid for, and, there is access into the presence of God for everyone!  I can now come with boldness to my king’s wonderful throne of grace! 

Did you hear me?  Relationship with God is now a glorious reality and a precious privilege!  Salvation has been made available to all who would come to my Jesus!  I don’t have any problem saying “my Jesus” because, praise be to God, he had died for me that day.   “And this is eternal life, that they may know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”  Eternal life isn’t just living a really, really long time.  Eternal life is relationship with God!  That’s why I’m writing and had to tell you my story, because it’s such good news!  “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—   the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—   that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ!” That’s why I’m waiting now for the day when I shall see him uninterrupted for eternity!  OH HAPPY DAY WHEN JESUS WASHED MY SINS AWAY!!
Sunday, September 5, 2010

I feel constrained by a number of things to write and post another blog.  The first is simply the discipline of writing, you must keep doing it.  The other is that Sunday, September 12th is National Grandparents Day.  Yes, I know there is a holiday or day designation for just about everything, but this one has merit.  There is small disagreement over the actual origins but most attribute the impetus to Marian McQuade of Oak Hill, West Virginia.  Originally she wanted to champion the cause of lonely elderly folks in nursing homes as well as urging young people to tap into the wisdom and heritage grandparents could supply.  Eventually, Congress officially designated the first Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparents Day.  The actual resolution cited the day’s purpose as: “ honor grandparents, to give grandparents an opportunity to show love for their children’s children, and to help children become aware of strength, information, and guidance older people can offer.”  I can’t disagree with any of that!  The final reason for writing this now is the growing realization that more and more people (and they’re still young!) are becoming grandparents!

The real genesis of this idea, however, can from some of our strategy for 2010.   I wanted to give a chance to new and younger evangelists to preach in our church.  A fresh voice and good benefits all the way around.  The first up in February was Jamil Hurst from the Rotherhithe congregation in South London.  During the revival I had Marty Carnegie introduce him in the first service, since he had been his pastor in London for many years, and he was largely responsible for recommending him.  Marty said, “He is a true grandson of this congregation.”  When he said that something was immediately triggered in my spirit!

It’s been happening to me more and more frequently, too.  I am speaking in places and being introduced as Pastor Warner...“He is the grandfather of this church or ministry.”  This is the meaning behind the title of this article.  It comes from the Xhosa tribe in South Africa when I was preaching in Pt. Elizabeth, S. Africa.  I was introduced as “Tumkhulu” (tum - cool - loo) meaning grandfather.  Along with this is “fundisi” (foon - dee -see) for pastor.  I still have the figurines they gave me of two Africans (gray-headed and “mature”) in honor of this title, having planted Alan & Laurie Kern there many years ago.  Plus, this kind of recognition or appreciation is always received by me, not personally, but as a representative of our local church and the faithful investment of our great people for many, many years.  All of this inspired me beyond the obvious that we ‘might’ be getting older!  There are some very potent spiritual truths and blessings connected with this that we should consider.

1st, The spiritual delight & encouragement grandchildren bring!

The Bible is very clear here in (Prov.17:6)NLT “Grandchildren are the crowning glory of the aged; parents are the pride of their children.”  There is a blessing and a responsibility inherent in this facet of life.  We need our youth and our youth need those who are older.  This is why we don’t just divide the church up into a permanent and exclusive “youth group.”  While we do minister to our youth, we don’t give in to our culture’s obsession with youth (will do anything to retain this, real or artificial).  God’s will and purpose is expressed though people of all ages joined by the Holy Spirit into Christ’s marvelous “Body.”  There is no doubt that becoming a grandparent represents a true milestone of life.  It seems that once you marry off a son or a daughter, there is a bit of a loss that can accompany this.  Then you start looking for a “return on your investment” in the form of your “children’s children!”  Along with this comes some interesting changes.  I asked evangelist Marty Carnegie if he and Barbara were coming to this year’s marriage retreat.  “Ahh, Pastor Warner” he said, “we’re going to be baby-sitting.”  I’ve never heard that from him before!  I’m sure it was a blessing to Cetan and Brittney, but my, my, how things change!  In this same vein, one of the great blessings and delights of our Bible Conference is to see the sons and daughters and the “grandchildren” of this congregation come to Tucson and be with us for that blessed week.

2nd, The organic nature of revival and the work of God!
When Marty referred to Jamil as a “true grandson” he was not referring to an organizational linkage, but a family bond.   The dictionary defines organic is “having a growth and development analogous to that of living organisms.”  The scriptural pattern of this is the life of Abraham.  (Gen.14:14) describes Abraham’s response to a crisis involving his nephew Lot.  It says, “When Abram heard that his nephew Lot had been captured, he mobilized the 318 trained men who had been born into his household.”   Even though he was outnumbered by his enemies, there is a dimension of victory related to an “organic” group, or those born in your house!  The lesson is pertinent to the church today.  Many of the “mega-churches” or moves today are not convert-based but involve people looking for a “better deal” and moving from one field to another.  It is not focused on those moving from darkness to light or from the power of darkness to God and the kingdom of light.  The blessing of sons or daughters or grandchildren in the faith is that of a valued, cultivated and guarded relationship.   Isn’t this the Pentecostal promise Peter preached on that miraculous day?  He said, “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.”  I believe that though it has broad application, that promise and dimension can be taken literally.

3rd, The awesome power of multiplication

This promise is inherent in the faith and blessing of Abraham.  God told him, “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed...” (Gen.22:17, 18)   There is a generational quality to God’s blessing and the Gospel’s capacity.  The promise of covenantal fruitfulness and progeny reaches to the “children unto the third and fourth generation.”  No, this is not automatic, but if we contend for this and pray, then the Gospel carries this dimension: the power of multiplication!  How many “generations” are we talking about today?  In some cases, there are four generations removed of pastors; and some fifth generation workers!  What a mighty God we serve! 

So if someone refers to me as tamkhulu, I wear that as a badge of honor, and give God all the glory, “Lord, continue to prosper the work of Your hands.”  Does this mean that the sky is the limit?  I don’t know, but I do know that we are extremely privileged as a church to taste something of this reality and vision.  Helen Keller was right when she said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”  Oh, and by the way...!   Do you remember when you were willing to go and take your kids with you anywhere that God had called you to?  Those things haven’t changed just because there are now grandchildren!  We could add to what Jesus said, “And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands or ---- grandchildren ---- for my sake, and the gospel's, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.”  Happy grandparents day to all. 
Wednesday, August 25, 2010

That’s why I asked myself, “are you nuts?!”  I will admit it: I say some pretty dumb things from time to time.  Once of the most recent examples was flying to California to preach for Pastor Rob Scribner and the Lighthouse Church in Santa Monica.  Traveling for me carries its share of potential for “drama” from the trivial to the trying.  I landed in LAX with my usual excess of luggage: two suitcases, one duffle bag and my valise with my sermons, a briefcase, and a carry-on bag with my laptop, miscellaneous items, some medical supplies etc.  Just the “normal” amount of things to elicit appropriate mockery from my friend, Rob Scribner.  I got in to the passenger seat of his car and Rob went about loading the luggage and putting my wheelchair in his car (unfortunately, there were no Sherpas to help).  I was staying at his house and had unpacked, settled in, and we had eaten dinner.

Afterwards I went to my room and did not see my carry-on bag.  I asked Rob if he knew where it was or had brought it into the house.  He wasn’t aware of it but he checked his car just in case bag!  I assured him that it had been part of my luggage load when I landed.  Oh, oh, we have a problem!  He’s feeling bad because he wants to be a good host.  I’m feeling bad because some of my things are missing.  So, we both proceeded to call LAX-Southwest Airlines-airport authorities about the lost or left bag.  In the midst of this situation I went and added more drama to things by turning up the “anxiety dial” by saying to Rob, “Some of these things are irreplaceable!”  Now this story has a happy ending.  Someone had found my carry-on bag sitting all by itself in the LAX parking garage (uhhmm, can you say security issue?!) where we left it by the car, and notified the authorities.  I guess the bomb-sniffing dogs gave it a thumbs up so, by the time we called and described the bag and what had happened, they told us that they had it.  Pastor Scribner then went to pick it up.

Phew!  Relief!  End of story, right?  No, not really, because the Holy Spirit started dealing with me about what I had said, “some of these things are irreplaceable.”  I thought, “Are you nuts?!  Irreplaceable?  You’ve got to be kidding?!”  It’s just “stuff” and even if it’s an inconvenience, stuff can be replaced.  You see, stuff is only temporary, it doesn’t last...none of it.  It’s not “irreplaceable.”  Needless to say, I had to repent, “God, forgive me, that really was a stupid thing to say.”  I had to repent and apologize to Pastor Rob as well.  One of the fundamental life lessons about spiritual maturity is being able to discern and live for what is eternal not what is temporary.  Jesus instructed, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”  Listen up, stuff is only temporary, it cannot make you happy or secure, and it certainly is not “irreplaceable.”  Scripture reminds us on different occasions, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”  John Ortberg wrote, “We come in naked and penniless; we’re going out naked and penniless.  In between we get some stuff to put on our bodies and some stuff in our pockets, but none of it is really ours.  We borrow it for a while; then one day we will hand it all back.”

All of this made me think again and remind myself about some of the things that really are irreplaceable, and how these are the things I need to always give priority to.  Consider a number of them, in no particular order.

  1. The truth of God’s Word.  Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”  In my book, that’s irreplaceable!  When Peter was talking about the active instrument in the miracle of the new birth he said, “having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.” (1Pet.1:23)   In the family setting of Martha and Mary’s house where Mary sat at Jesus’s feet and heard His word, and was criticized for doing so, Jesus came to her defense by saying, “there is really only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it — and I won't take it away from her." (Lk.10:42)

  2. God and His wonderful presence.  This is one thing in life that I can’t live without.  It is irreplaceable! This is why in David’s prayer of repentance he said, “Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.”  More important than position or title or things was the sense of God’s presence.

  3. Love and God-relationships.  We know that love is not just one of but it is the greatest abiding quality. The circle of relationships and the deep friendships that have been cultivated are one of those irreplaceable things in life that we tend to take for granted or neglect.  Patrick Morley writes that as a young businessman he always made it a habit to ask older men their regrets.  At the top of the list was: “I was so busy trying to improve my family’s standard of living that, before I knew it, my children were grown and gone, and I never know them.  Now they are too busy for me.”  The lesson for us is it’s easy to find ourselves with little time for people that matter.  Reality is that relationships cannot be microwaved; they take work and are never convenient.

  4. Labor for Christ and the Gospel.  The capstone teaching about the resurrection is a call to give ourselves to the work of the Gospel.  Paul’s reasoning is that our labor is “not in vain in the Lord.”  It is irreplaceable. He said, “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and steady, always enthusiastic about the Lord's work, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” (1Cor.15:58)  Jesus even went so far to say  that something as small and seemingly insignificant as giving a cup of cold water to someone in His Name would mean, “he will certainly not lose his reward.”  The old poem still rings true that says, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past.  Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

  5. God’s favor and a good testimony.  Isn’t the ultimate and irreplaceable goal to hear those words from the Lord Jesus one day, “well done, good and faithful servant.”  Nothing can top that.  That’s why when Jesus was cautioning us against a man-pleasing spirit or doing things just for human recognition, He said, “they have received their reward in full.”  There’s nothing more He said, that’s it.  Nothing is worth selling out God’s glorious grace and favor and the testimony of a faithful life.

  6. Precious souls won to Christ.  We’ve had it drilled in to us that the true treasures of the kingdom are the trophies of God’s grace that we have witnessed and the people we have influenced for Christ.  All of our “stuff” will perish or go to someone else, but souls won to Christ will be an eternal satisfaction.  When the apostle Paul wanted the believers at Thessalonica to know his heart and motivation he wrote, “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes?  Is it not you?  Indeed, you are our glory and joy.” (1Thess.2:19,20)

  7. Money and resources invested in the Gospel.  When you get this revelation things are never the same! God gives us the privilege of taking the money and “stuff” that ultimately does not belong to us, but He has entrusted to us, and use it for His glory and kingdom.  He credits this to our account!  Hey, what a deal this is!  That’s why King David said, “Who am I, that I should be able to give like this?”  Temporal riches given to God or used for the Gospel take on an eternal quality.  They become irreplaceable.

So, back to my stupidity.  Lord, remind me over and over about the things that are truly irreplaceable and let me focus on them.  The Bible makes it clear that it is this kind of “sight” that is crucial for victory, for overcoming and for longevity.  This was Paul’s “big secret” when he wrote, “That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.  For our present troubles are quite small and won't last very long.  Yet they produce for us an immeasurably great glory that will last forever!  So we don't look at the troubles we can see right now; rather, we look forward to what we have not yet seen.  For the troubles we see will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever.”  (2Cor.4:16-18)
Saturday, July 31, 2010
It was exactly a year ago that I was struggling to climb Hatcher’s Pass (8 miles anywhere between a 6-15% grade) in the final stage of the Sadler’s Alaska Challenge.  The “mental game” in any endurance event like this is so strange: while you’re competing your mind is telling you “You’re nuts!  Why are you doing this?”  Then, when you finally finish and the race is over, the thoughts become more like, “That wasn’t so bad; I could do that again!”  So, it got me to thinking what it would be like to be “back in the game” like last year.

More importantly, it made me think about God’s aim and priority which is always seeing people “back in action” or back in the game!  He is always at work to this end.  Hebrews 12 is all about running the race and in vs.11-13, God says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.  Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet," so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather be healed.”  He talks about the unpleasant but necessary dimension of the Father’s discipline pointing out that fact that it is afterwards that makes the difference. “Afterwards it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”  God’s exhortation in light of this is to “strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees; make level paths for our feet so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather be healed.”  Can you see that God’s priority and working is to see you healed and back in the game?  Several years ago I had a bout with cellulitis and had to go to the emergency room.  The first doctor that saw me after being there all night began almost immediately talking to me about amputation!?  I understand that if an infection goes unchecked drastic measures may be called for, but you haven’t done anything yet!  Don’t you think it’s a little premature to be looking at the amputation option?  Why don’t we concentrate on getting this infection under control so we can get this man back in the game.  When I mentioned all this to a respected Orthopedist I know and he asked me the name of the doctor, his response was, “Oh, he’s new.”  That says a lot.

This should remind us of an important aspect of the Church’s ministry.  (Gal.6:1) says,
“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.”  Restoration is such a needed and powerful work in the “people business”!  The word means, “to mend (what has been broken; torn; dislocated); to equip; to make one what he ought to be.”  It’s clearly talking about a dislocated member of the church, the Body of Christ.  We are not an “art gallery” for the saints, but we are a “hospital for sinners.”  This doesn’t mean that we ignore or minimize sin, lowering God’s standard and making room for loose living.  It means that God’s aim and our calling is restoration, helping to get people back in the game!  This is definitely an atmosphere that we must contend for and a spiritual skill we must develop.  When you ask people how they are doing and they say, “Oh, Pastor, I’m fine.”  Not really, not if you’re not back in action!  There’s a little hint here about the cost involved because it is in the Greek continuous present tense (an on-going dimension versus just snapping your fingers).  It is God’s way of telling us that this work will require a great deal of patience and perseverance.

There are many aspects where we see this in people’s lives.  There are those who are backslidden, out of the will of God and no longer walking in His ways.  There are others who have suffered different wounds or injuries.  Then there are those who have been side-lined by life’s circumstances, or they are passing through a different season of life.  Other times they’ve simply given up to a spirit of withdrawal.  Either way, this is real, and an ever-present reality.  It is also one that the devil, our adversary, exploits all the time.  If he can work to get people effectively out of the game or dislocated, then he has won a victory of sorts.

There are so many great examples of God working in people’s lives to bring about restoration.  Let me just mention two because they are similar in both their experiences and also the word that describes the work God did in their lives: John Mark and Onesimus.  Both of these men had disqualified themselves by
turning back. First, John Mark by backing out of Paul’s first missionary journey at a critical time, and Onesimus by stealing from others and fleeing to Rome.  Paul wrote to Timothy about bringing John Mark because “he is profitable (easy to use) to me for the ministry.”  Regarding Onesimus, who had been converted in Rome where Paul was in prison, the apostle Paul could point out the transformation in his life by saying that he “once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me.”  I am so glad that God is in the restoration business!  He is able and He wants to teach us to also be those who are able to work with people to see them back in the game and once again useful to the Kingdom of God.

What is our confidence in all of this?  (Phil.2:13)NLT says,
“For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him.”  You know that desire in your soul that is drawing you to Christ and to get back in the game, well, that in itself is a work of God.  He put that there, along with the power to make it a reality!  I find it very interesting in the Old Testament there is so much detail and effort related to the placement and purpose of the cities of refuge.  Without going in to all of the rich truth about these cities, God was making sure that throughout the land there were to be these reminders (clearly marked) that there is a way back home!  He is still making that known today.  I think of the poem that says:

I wish that there was some wonderful place;
In the land of Beginning Again;
Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches;
And all of poor selfish grief;
Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door;
And never put on again!

The good news is that God wants you back in the game and will help you to see that process become a reality.  These are some of the miracles in Gospel ministry that truly refresh my soul!  Uhhmm, maybe that’s why I am starting to work to regain some racing shape because there’s a race coming up in August.  “Harold, it’s time to get back in the game!”
Saturday, June 26, 2010
A Tribute to Brother Jesus Vizzerra

I can’t remember how old I was when I received my first trophy; but I was very young. I think it was for sailing, and it was small pewter dish engraved with the event, my name, and my placing. There were a few more to follow for playing ice hockey. They are sitting somewhere today, definitely tarnished, I’m not even sure where. Later on in my life there were numerous medals, and some trophies for competing in various marathons, cycling and handcycling events. Most of these are hanging on a nail in my garage. All of them are memories, but I’m not sure how memorable they really are.

Now let me tell you about some other “trophies” that are much more meaningful to me. The group picture for Pastor Warner of
NGM (Next Generation Ministries) reminding me of the sacred responsibility of the children of our church congregation. Then there is the plaque from Cameroon and Gabon and other places reminding me of the investment in world evangelism that we have been blessed to participate in. There is the picture of my two “bodyguards”, Frank Romero and Chayo Perez (another story for another article). There is the picture of a young and happy Benjamin Cervantes sitting on my lap with the inscription, “The little lion has gone to The Lion” which I will forever cherish. There are the acrylic globes from the churches in Cape Cod and El Paso recognizing the decades-plus of faithful ministry. And, oh yes, there are the countless “works of art” that children draw and give to me all the time representing some aspect of their faith and their depiction of Pastor Warner’s preaching and wheelchair! All of these expressions of gratitude are things that I really do treasure and do not deserve, and many of them I have accepted not for myself, but as a representative of our church, The Door - Christian Fellowship in Tucson, AZ.

The greater question occupying my mind today is
“what are God’s trophies”? What are the things that the Father delights in and have eternal value to Him? First and foremost, the greatest trophy is Jesus, “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Then there is His Church, the Bride of Christ, made up of men and women redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb “out of every tribe, language, people and nation.” When Saul of Tarsus met the resurrected Lord Jesus on the Damascus Road he was asked, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” The church is His trophy! He is so identified with her that when Saul was persecuting believers all the way from Jerusalem to Damascus, he was actually persecuting Christ! There is the trophy of the Lord’s faithful and devoted followers. Referring to them, Malachi says, "They shall be Mine," says the LORD of hosts, ‘On the day that I make them My jewels." Jewels that are symbolic and worn for special occasions! And let’s not forget the trophies of those who have preceded us in death and gone to be with the Lord, since we are told, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” God does have His trophies!

There is also the
“heroes of faith” that we talk about all the time and who are recorded in Hebrews chapter 11: a whole chapter devoted to those who believed God, lived by faith, and staked everything they had on God’s Word and promises. The impressive list of people like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, King David, Samuel and the prophets. Then, to be reminded, “For God had far better things in mind for us that would also benefit them, for they can't receive the prize at the end of the race until we finish the race.” That means that the story is not over yet. There are still “heroes” of faith running the race today who are part of that great company of God’s people down through the ages, saved and justified by grace through faith.

As a church family, we also have our own
“heroes of faith!” The converts to Christ and changed lives that are God’s handiwork and the true credentials of Gospel ministry. The faithful saints who have served God with love and excellence for ten, twenty, thirty, some of them going on forty years. Oh yes, they are definitely on the mantelpiece of memory! Having just come out of our Bible Conference we must also recognize the trophies of the men and women God has called and raised up, and are being used by God preaching and planting churches all over the world. People who like so many others God says are “chosen vessels unto Me.”

Jesus Vizzerra
was one of those heroes! He was born on September 28, 1946 and he went home to his eternal reward with Jesus on June 23, 2010. He was saved in 1976 and was one of the many “Sahuarita crew” of outstanding converts that came from Sahuarita and Continental, AZ and are woven into the fabric and story of our church family over the last thirty-seven years. From the time “Jesus met Jesus” it was so exciting to see him grow in the things of God. He was such a wonderful blessing to our local church as he worked at the mines south of Tucson, and did all he could to be in every service. Even if that meant working the graveyard shift and coming right to church with little or no sleep. He was hungry for Jesus! He is one of my heroes because when he got saved he was not able to read. He went to school and he diligently taught himself to be able to read and write because he wanted to study God’s Word! There were the countless outreaches and “carne asada” fellowships all emanating from Sahuarita, from Jesus and his dear wife, Frances, and the other saints there. The trophy that was Jesus Vizzerra went to pastor a church in Silver City, NM. The trophy that was the Vizzerra family went to pioneer a church as missionaries in San Jose, Costa Rica (and who can forget the “good times machine”). Brother Jesus was one of, if not the longest-standing evangelists in our entire Fellowship of churches, preaching and ministering to people all over the world. It wasn’t so much the eloquent or exegetical quality of his sermons that was such a blessing, but it was his spirit, the type of man he was. He dearly loved His Jesus, his wife and children, his church, His Bible and the people God allowed him to touch over many years.

Much of that hyphen “ - “ between 1946-2010 was about Jesus Vizzerra as a disciple, a beloved brother, a faithful minister, a devoted husband, a committed father (who led by example and wanted more than anything to see his children following the Lord Jesus Christ), a hard worker, an upright man, a prayer warrior (“Lord, we are desperate for You”), a man willing to sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel (not just one time but as a lifestyle). What would be my own personal tribute to Jesus Vizzerra? Yes, he was a disciple, but he was also my friend. He was the type of man who made being a pastor a joy and a delight. I was proud of him, because when I saw brother Jesus I knew I was looking at the real deal, a genuine Christian man.

One of the secrets to living life well is learning to collect the
right trophies. At their best, they are a little reminder of something to make us grateful for the past and motivated for the future. According to the Apostle Paul in 1Corithians 9 one of the fundamental problems of humanity is they’re giving themselves for the wrong trophies, ones that will not last, those with a fading not an eternal glory to them. That’s why he would say “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.” People, saved by God’s grace, are the right kind of trophies! That is why we are living to one day stand before God and hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Just try to imagine what that will be like (what Jesus Vizzerra is experiencing right now). John Ortberg said, “The trophy that matters is not on our shelves or our resumes. It is the soul that we become. That is the crown that we will one day cast before God.”

In our country there are numerous
fallen hero organizations and memorials to soldiers, law enforcement personnel, firefighters and others. Their purpose is to remind us that while they are gone they are not forgotten: the memory of them lives on. One poem for Fallen Heroes by Linda Racaniello concludes with this:

So as long as we are alive
we will hold them in our hearts
and as long as we can breathe
our heroes will never be apart
So as we bury you with honor
we will grieve, then heal and pray
and even though we’ll miss you you
we’ll be reunited in heaven one day

One of our warriors has gone on to be with the Lord. He will be truly missed. However, in theface of the last great enemy, death, we have something better than a poem or even a memory. We have the unshakable promise, purchased with the Blood of Christ and the power of His resurrection, of a
reunion in heaven one day!! The old hymn says, “What a day that will be, when my Jesus I shall see. When I look upon his face, the One who saved me by His grace. When He takes me by the hand, and leads me to the promised land, what a day, a glorious day that will be!” Jesus Vizzerra will be there on that day, rejoicing in the presence of His precious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! I look forward to seeing him on that day! Until that day we must continue to run our race. Let this be our guiding light: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

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