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Posts from April 2014

GUEST POST: Our Spring Break in Cuba

I have asked Mary Daunhauer, a member of our church and a regular participant in our short-term trips to Cuba to share about her trip last month. We have been partnered with Baptists in Cuba for years and through Cuba 4 Christ, we continue to send teams annually to serve.

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First, let me say that this mission is the answer to 10 years of prayer for access to the Baptist Camp at Yu Muri in Matanzas.

In 2006, we, the Cuba4Christ team members and our Cuban brothers and sisters, believed that God was/is calling us to reach children for Christ through VBS and other means and to move away from the "construction only" missions format of the past. We have prayed for an opportunity to encourage leadership and  to share the gospel with kids at Yu Muri Camp.

April2013_07In November 2013, we were hosted by the Western Baptist Convention (WBC) directly and actually stayed in apartments at the Convention headquarters in downtown Havana. We spent time getting to know the newly president (elected in 2013) Juan Carlos and his wife, Ygani. We shared our mutual desire to see children and their families become Christ followers in Cuba. Juan Carlos is trying to extend the reach of the gospel over the entire country and is discipling and training lay leaders as quickly as is possible. People are accepting Christ at unprecedented rates and churches are springing up everywhere. Their desire is to honor God and bring people to Christ. Juan Carlos has begun to include the Eastern Baptist Convention (EBC) in their plans and in their outreach as well. At their annual conference this year, some of the Eastern Baptist Convention leadership attended the conference and collaborations have begun to reach people in the more remote parts of the island. Juan Carlos is also the pastor of Calvario Baptist Church which meets in downtown Havana and is one of the largest congregations in the convention.

Working with the WBC directly has given us opportunities to reach further with support, encouragement and resources so more people can hear the gospel and be discipled. Juan Carlos and Ygani recommended that we work with Abby and Victor Lores via APEN. (APEN is the Spanish acronym for Child Evangelism Fellowship.)

Abby and Victor Lores work closely with the WBC in Cuba and their offices are located at convention headquarters in Havana. Child Evangelism Fellowship is a worldwide interdenominational evangelistic outreach and discipleship ministry and Abby and Victor are directors for Cuba. We were able to get to know Abby and Victor last November and learn about their ministry. They place strong emphasis on salvation but also on training children to share the gospel effectively in their homes, schools, and neighborhoods. We visited 3 new house churches in their care. These churches are in a run-down part of Havana known as Guanabacoa. This is one area identified by the WBC as needing more outreach and help in sharing the gospel.

We listened to pastors and church members tell of their hearts desire: to see people come to know Christ. We helped host a Saturday picnic for these new churches and gave resources to help them attract kids and give opportunities for sharing Christ: food, medicine, clothes, beanie babies, puppets, balloons, music, Bible study materials on flash drives, etc. We committed to pray for these people and their neighborhoods.

At the end of this mission last November, Abby and Victor invited us to join them at the children's Spring Break camp in April 2014. Yahoo! We were going to camp!

The Spring Break camp was promoted in all of the churches with a video promo shot and edited by Abby and Victor. The theme was "Putting on the Armor of God" and churches were asked to select 1 or 2 children to attend the camp during Spring Break. The camp can comfortably host 250 people but the number of kids was limited in part due to budget constraints. The children did not pay to go to camp, so the funds came from churches and the WBC. Eighty children, ages 7-8, attended camp, along with trained counselors who have been discipled in their churches via APEN and Awana, medical personnel, the camp directors, volunteers for kitchen, housekeeping and babysitting, and Cuba4Christ members.

We flew to Havana on April 11 and spent Saturday making preparations for camp with Victor and Abby. On Sunday we worshipped at Calvario Church, saw some longtime friends and rested for the days ahead.
On Monday we traveled to the camp in 2 large buses, given to the WBC by Texas Baptist Men. A microvan transported adult leaders while the young adult counselors rode with their kids. Abby and Victor stressed that this time was a great opportunity to know these children on a deeper level than can occur at church. They encouraged counselors to spend time with each " family member" and to pray with them and teach them to look to Christ for their salvation and their strength in daily living.

The kids received workbooks with training materials and were challenged to memorize scripture, study the Bible, and talk with God. All the activities at camp emphasized this theme, from the songs, and games, to the teaching time, and evening celebrations with the clowns. Victor presented the plan of salvation and what it means to have a victorious life in Christ and 10-12 kids raised their hands to indicate they wanted to receive Christ and were counseled throughout the rest of the time at camp. There will be follow up with these children when they return to their home churches as well.

Children  stayed in dormitories, had hot showers, ate 3 meals plus 2 snacks (meriendas), had training, played games, and had lots of time to run and play all over the campground. We stayed in visitor quarters and had air conditioning, filtered water, fresh fruit, etc. Not really roughing it too much!

Many of these children are the only Christ followers in their immediate families and the training emphasized the faithfulness of God during all circumstances and encouraged the children to put on the armor God every day. The theme song and video promoted prayer and Bible study and God's desire for them to be victorious in Christ.

What an awesome time we had at the camp. We got to work with devoted Christians and help children become ambassadors for Christ. The counselors and teachers shared with children about the need to walk closely with Christ and trust Him in all of life's circumstances, and to go and tell others about Jesus. This was a life changing experience for these children. Many of the the adults we work with in Cuba cite their time at the camp as a defining moment in their lives and their determination to continue to walk with Christ today. Yu Muri camp is often described as a little piece of heaven on earth and it is indeed beautiful, but it is so instrumental in pointing these children to Christ as Savior and Lord. These children will go throughout the island nation of Cuba with the gospel of Jesus. It is truly exciting to see how God is working here, and we praise Him for letting us be a part of His redemptive work in the lives of people, here  in " la isla preciosa", Cuba.

Back to the city on Thursday afternoon and a debrief with Abby and Victor after the children have been safely delivered to their parents. (BTW no illness or injury at the camp!)

Abby  and Victor invited us to their home for dinner and to get to know her parents. Her father, Reynaldo and his wife were pastors at Calvario Baptist Church for more than 30 years and Reynaldo is a fount of information about the origins of Baptists in Cuba.

Good Friday was spent talking with people we have partnered with for years and distributing resources to about 40 churches and ministries. ( We have been working with more than 90 churches and ministries in Cuba but have scaled back the amount of resources that we are bringing in now. We just don't have enough people on the trips to carry in the resources. )

We hosted dinner for friends Friday evening at a local restaurant and then attended a concert at Calvario Church.

The orchestra for the concert was comprised of  mostly university students who are part of churches in the WBC. Some of them traveled more than 16 hours to come and play in the orchestra directed by Samua, one of the musical directors for the WBC. The theme of the night was the cross of Christ. The doors were wide open and the gorgeous refrains spilled out into the streets for 2+ hours. I saw tourists strolling by, stopping and coming in to listen to the story of Christ and the cross. Amazing music and then a time of catching up with friends before we had to leave on Saturday.

Abby and Victor have already invited us back to work at the camp in October, this time with kids ages 11-12. We are praying that God will allow this and that more people will have a desire to serve Christ in Cuba. We are praying specifically for more men and young people to join us as we expand and grow and share the gospel here in Cuba.
Thanks again for being passionate about missions and teaching us to go and tell the Good News of Jesus Christ to all the world.
 
Cuba para Cristo!

How Can I Know?

A few years ago I was attending a camp where the guest speaker was waxing eloquently about his journey of faith. He was humorous and shared compelling stories, then spoke of personal salvation.

This is intentional and I was praying God would use this man's message to be more than a man's message. Believing God's Holy Spirit initiates salvation and draws people to Himself, I was confident that God was working.

Then. . .well, it turned a corner.

Suffice to say, I left this camp thinking this speaker's new title should be "Minister of Doubt." Based on what he said and how he said it, I would guess that eight of ten people in the room questioned their relationship with Christ following the meeting.

Some will argue that doubt is good. Really? It's good to be stalled in your faith journey because you cannot seem to get out of the starting gate? 

Doubt is real.

Even Ralph Neighbour, in his best-selling new Christian's Survival Kit would say that often believers will encounter doubt of their salvation. Yet, doubt is not a desire. It often comes in the "working out one's salvation" (Philippians 2:12). In the case of the youth camp, it felt more like a man's working to increase numbers of "decisions" for a newsletter or website in order to secure future engagements. 

I guess I shouldn't sugar coat it, huh?

AssuranceNevertheless, there are doubts that truly arise in one's journey of faith. As a pastor, I do not want to create doubt, but believe as a shepherd is to feed, lead and protect the flock, under Christ's leadership, I am to help those under my care to know and have assurance of salvation.

In my personal story, I suffered for years of doubt. I had a hard time believing that salvation was truly a free gift. I guess the Puritan work ethic ingrained in me led me to believe I must work for, not work out, my salvation. Then, if there ever was a sinful thought or action (and oh, there was) I questioned how that could be, if I truly were a child of God.

In hindsight, I know, without a doubt, that I surrendered to Christ's call and rescue as a child in Sunday School. I did not have the entire story of the Bible figured out. I did not understand all the nuances of the Gospel and had not yet read a systematic theology book. What I did know was simply this:

  • God loves me
  • I sin
  • God hates sin
  • The penalty for sin is death and eternal separation from God
  • Jesus is God's Son
  • He came to earth, lived a perfect life and died on the cross
  • He did so to glorify the Father and to pay the penalty for my sin
  • If I believed in my heart that Jesus did this and confessed with my mouth that Jesus was my Lord, I would be saved

I surrendered that day. God initiated the relationship. I accepted the gift.

Yet, doubt came years later.

I have met many others who struggle just as I did. In an attempt to not create doubt, but offer assurance as well as not to over-simplify things, I offer these thoughts as to why you, if this is your story, may be doubting your salvation.

  • You question a decision you made as a child to follow Christ.
  • You question your decision to surrender to Christ because it was really your parents (or other adults with influence) making the decision for you.
  • You may have surrendered to Christ, but never have followed through with believer's baptism. This step of public acknowledgment of new life has not yet happened. (Matthew 10:32-33)
  • You have something in your past you are ashamed of and do not want anyone else to know. (Proverbs 28:13)
  • You hold unforgiveness or bitterness toward someone else. (Matthew 6:15)
  • You have a present sin or habit in your life you are unwilling, or unable, to give up. (Psalm 66:18, Hebrews 12:1)
  • God is calling you to serve in a specific way or area, and you continually reject Him.

So, if you doubt you are a Christian, here's a brief review to help bring assurance or clarity:

  • Did you pray and surrender to God?
  • Did you confess your sins to God and seek His forgiveness?
  • Did you trust Jesus and His death on the cross as payment for your sins?
  • Do you have a new way of thinking about sin now?
  • Did you make your decision to follow Jesus known? Did you tell others?
  • Did you follow through with believer's baptism, the symbol of new life, after your surrender?
  • Did your life change? (I didn't say, did life get easier. It may not get easier, but there will be a change.)

Regardless of your past, you can know you are a child of God and put away all doubts forever. Many people have struggled with this issue over the years, so you are not alone. God offers us tremendous grace when we enter a right relationship with Him.

If you have surrendered to Christ, you can have confidence that you are still in relationship with God today.

However, and this is a reality, if you have not surrendered, the clarity that comes is that you do not know Him. You can today! Don't delay. 

Remember, no one can say "I've been a Christian all my life." It doesn't work that way. There must be a moment of new birth. 

Not doubts.

Just assurance.


This Story Never Gets Old

From the time I was a little boy, Easter was a special Sunday. At first, it was about getting a new outfit (I have pictures of my blue and white polyester leisure suit that matched my dad's from the early 1970s) and a plastic basket full of candy.

Over time, the meaning of the day became clear.

Photo1960As a teenager, we would arrive at our little church in Fort Worth, Texas and join about twenty other church members for a "Sunrise Service" in parking lot. It was unique, in that watching the sun rise over the Whataburger across the street even felt special.

Easter has become more and more a cultural event, rather than a holy remembrance. Nevertheless, even in a culture far from God the message is clear. . . JESUS IS ALIVE!

Today, churches across our nation and the world will likely see record numbers in attendance for the year. At least, that is the case in most of the post-Christian world. Many pastors will once again open the Bible to passages recounting the day when Mary and the disciples first heard that Jesus was no longer in the tomb. 

The repetition of this story is not a bad thing. In fact, it is the story! It should be told over and over, and not just on Easter Sunday. 

Jesus really died.

He did so to pay for the sins of humanity. 

He really was placed in a tomb.

Three days later, he really did arise. 

Jesus has defeated death.

He is still alive, the victor over death for eternity.

He's alive, and you and I can be, too.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (ESV)

 


You Mean That If I Ask Someone To Come to Small Group. . .They Likely Will?

It seems crazy doesn't it? 

Small groups (i.e. Life Groups, Sunday School, Home Groups, etc.) are foundational for potential community development and growth for the church. Yet, in most churches, growth has stalled or negative growth (also known as death) is happening.

What's the problem?

Is it the curriculum? Well, the Bible is the curriculum, or at least should be, and it's proven to be pretty effective over the centuries. 

Is it the teaching? Could be. Unless the leader is continually learning and striving to grow deeper himself/herself, the group can stall.

Is the group welcoming? That depends. Often the familiarity of our groups makes it feel welcoming to regular attenders, but, to be honest, most of us have forgotten what it is like to be the newcomer. 

There are dozens of factors and reasons as to why a small group isn't growing and reaching new people. However, here's today's challenge. Perhaps one reason is because we (the group members, the church) have stopped inviting others.

Not everyone will respond positively, but sometimes our fear of rejection keeps us from even asking.

Check out this recent data from LifeWay Research:

Small-groups-attitudeMaybe, just maybe, we need to be asking and inviting (for real, not in a blanket social media announcement.)


Practical Steps in Preparing for Easter

It's a complex thing, isn't it?

I mean, for Christ followers, we are used to being together for weekly corporate worship. The point of the gathering is God, not us. We know that. However, in the midst of our coming together as God's church, He always seems to bring those who do not know Him to the gathering.

Breath_mintsWe know where to park, where to drop off the kids, where to sit, where the coffee is, where the restroooms are (needed after knowing where the coffee is), etc. Even if you've attended for just a short time, the familiarity of how your church "does" church becomes innate. Yet, those who are guests, in the crowd, . . .just don't know.

God is drawing people to Himself, as He always has. He is not limited to doing so just on Easter Sunday, but he will use this day, perhaps because culturally, many will be open to hear. God is choosing to use His children (you and I) for His glory on this Sunday (and every day, for that matter.)

Here are some things that can help you get ready for this unique gathering where potentially many unchurched will join the church:

  • Be strategic in welcoming each other, not weird.
  • Dont' make guests stand up and be singled out. They already feel singled out.
  • Greet everyone. Don't wimp out in this area with some tepid excuse like "I don't know if they're a member or guest." If you don't know them. . .you don't know them, so greet them.
  • Don't hug people just because "you're a hugger." That's weird. Unless you're related to the "huggee". . . stop doing this.
  • Be early. Guests are rarely late or even right on time on Easter.  Every Easter in recent memory, I find our worship area filled with guests sitting uncomfortably in an semi-empty room wondering if anyone even attends the church.
  • Smile, but don't be fake. No one likes fake.
  • Remember, no one has reserved seating.
  • Park in the back. Leave the best spots for guests. It's about being hospitable.
  • Don't expect a guest to know where anything is.
  • If a guest asks where to go, don't point to some other room or building and say "Over there." Take the time to walk with them to the children's check-in area or Welcome Center. Make sure someone is taking care of their needs before you leave. 
  • If guests have their small children or babies in the worship service, deal with it. It may be distracting.  Children tend to act like children. Babies have been known to cry at times, too. The parents may not know there is a preschool or children's ministry available. Even if they do, they may not be at a place personally where they're comfortable leaving their child with strangers. So, work to not remain a stranger. Don't say something snide like "We have a nursery, you know!" to them. They're response will be "Bye." 
  • Don't expect a guest to know what's expected.
  • Don't look down on others.
  • Don't laugh at others.
  • Don't be "that person."
  • If you have a guest in your small group, don't leave them out of the conversation while you catch up with your long lost friends you haven't seen for seven days.
  • Eat a breath mint. Good policy for life, not just Easter. If you drink coffee, your breath stinks. If you eat food, your breath stinks. If you forgot to brush your teeth, your breath stinks. Just presume your breath always stinks and have a breath mint ready.

God is at work, even now, for what He will do tomorrow, on Easter, next month, next year, etc. What's amazing is that He has invited us to join him in this work. 

Many will gather with the church next Sunday. May we remember to be the hands and feet of Jesus (not just on Easter, but all the time) and truly love God and others.


Sunday Was a Good Day

Well, every day is a good day. I know, "God created them all!" #hallelujah

Yesterday, I was reminded of God's grace and how He pursues people for His glory. Six people went public in our service with the symbol of new life, known as believers' baptism.

Take a look.

 


"Heaven Is For Real". . .a Bad Take on Heaven

Culture is enamored with "gone to heaven and now back" stories. I just saw a deal at BJs Wholesale with three of the books in this genre packaged together for a great price.

Heaven-is-for-realNo, I did not buy them, but many will. Many have. In fact, many Christians have.

All of you who think the book, Heaven is for Real is cute (and plan to see the movie) as well as all the other "I left earth, went to heaven/hell and came back to write a book" books are now upset with me. I'm sure I "shouldn't say these things about books that touch people and help them." Sorry. Not sorry. This isn't about throwing anyone under the bus. This is about shining light on stories that enamor many believers, but do not line up with the Word of God.

It is frightening how many church attenders, members and Christians are so confused when it comes to eternity. I hear it when planning funerals all the time. 

Take a look at David Platt's wonderful explanation about these stories and the biblical viewpoint.

 

"Why are we buying this stuff, when we have the Word of God?" - David Platt