Tag Archives: Salvation

South Sudan Mission Recap

The team all met up from different parts of the country at the Washington D.C. airport and made our way to Nairobi, Kenya via Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We spent one night in Nairobi, then headed for the small airport which would fly us to the northern town of Lokichoggio, from which we would drive into South Sudan. This morning we were met by our Ugandan team members, Saphan and Isaac, we made it to the Loki airport without issue, then waited for a few hours on our vehicles to pick us up there.

The rain had hit throughout the night, so the roads were bad. It took us about three hours of driving to make it to the South Sudan border about 45km away. We had a few issues getting stuck in the mud, but the major issue came when we reached the border and discovered the riverbed to be full of flowing rainwater. We sent our facilitator across the river to see if the immigration office would remain open for us a bit, and believing they would, we abandoned our vehicles and the team waded across the river. Our bags came behind us in the hands of some very helpful young guys, for a price of course.

Once across it was discovered that the immigration office was not going to be as helpful as we thought, and Heart of God Africa Director, Denise Matthews had a fight on her hands to get us accepted into the country that night. After our luggage was across and Denise had won her battle, we hired new cars to take us the last hour drive to Narus, South Sudan; our home for the week.

Throughout this first night and the next morning much of the team was very discouraged, as things did not seem to be coming together according to plans and expectations. But through an intimate and powerful time of prayer, everyone’s spirit was rejuvenated and ready to reach the Taposa people with the Gospel of Christ.

Believing that the book of Joshua was setting the theme for the trip as we travelled into the unknown, and having very little idea what we were getting ourselves into – pioneer missions at it’s finest – we decided the first day we should send only a small group of people out of the compound to ‘spy out the land’.

When those of us who went to spy returned, it was only with strong confirmation that God was at work. The team greeted many of the Taposa who we had been told do not greet visitors well, and especially do not like their photos taken, yet we were greeted with smiles and waves, allowed to take many photos of and with the warriors, and one lady even threw down her pile of firewood to invite us for a drink of water. As we entered a small hut, we instead told her about the living water and she, along with a couple of other women, gave their lives to Christ.

The next day, the whole team ventured out into the village with the same results. We were greeted very warmly, as we went around telling anyone we met about the love of Christ and praying for blessings on them.

The third day we decided it would be good for us to visit the homes of the 15 members of the church, pastored by Joseph, our trip facilitator. Joseph is a Ugandan missionary to South Sudan, trained by Youth Ablaze, and has been in the country now for around a year, I believe.

As we walked past the tree under which the church meets, there was a blind man sitting in the shade. The team prayed for the man who said he could only see shadows passing him, but nothing more, and as we prayed he began to be able to see distinct shapes and colors, identifying skin color of team members and saying he could see the color of the dirt and leaves of the trees. Though there was not a complete healing in our time with him, the report came later from one of Joseph’s assistant pastors that the man was up and walking by himself around the village. The team also prayed for blessings on the homes of most of the church members, and prayed particularly for many women to be able to bear children. We are believing that next year we will see many toddlers around, confirming that God heard our prayers.

On Saturday we drove a little over an hour to another, much smaller village, called Korjip. The village elders had heard that our team was in Narus and that God was moving among us, and inviting us to come, had already determined amongst themselves to donate land for us to build a church on, as well as any other project the Lord leads us into.

We sat in a circle under a shade tree and exchanged formalities with about 40-45 people there, then I was given the opportunity to preach the Gospel. I began by asking the people, “when I say the name Jesus Christ, how many of you have heard of Him and know what I am talking about?” Out of the whole crowd, only one person raised their hand. Relating the message as best as I could in a way they would understand, there were obviously a few who walked away not wanting to hear what I was saying, but by the end of the message, between 30-35 of them accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. I also told them that God was not just a God of words, but also of power, and told them how we had already seen God improve the sight of a blind man and prayed for barren women, and that we would like to pray for them as well.

The men moved to one side to pray for men and the women stayed under the tree, as it is offensive in their culture for women to touch or pray for the men. The very first man who had greeted us in the village, an elderly warrior who had walked in with use of a walking stick, was the first to come up for prayer. He told us that his knees were bad and that he wanted us to ask His new Savior to heal him. I and another team member, Paul, placed our hands on the old man’s knees and prayed. When we had finished praying I asked him, hoping-ly, to test it out. He said there was no improvement. As little discouraged at what I had got us into, I told him we should pray again (see Mark 8:22-26 where Jesus prayed twice for a healing). We put our hands back on his knees and began to pray, begging God to prove Himself with power, that these people would know we weren’t just coming with some new teaching. After a few minutes, I asked the man to try walking again. He took two steps, took of running, the leaped high in the air; completely free of knee pain. I may have been even more excited than this man was, and now we were rolling.

The next man came up with the same exact problem, and he was healed the same exact way. Prayed once, and nothing; prayed again, running and jumping.

There were so many that we all split up and I ended up praying mostly with just an interpreter  at my side. We prayed for a third man with excruciating pain in his side and lower back. Once we had prayed he was able to bend and move pain-free. Another old warrior with bad knees was in line behind this man. I prayed for him once and asked him to test it. Out of excitement at seeing his friends leaping around, he followed suit, and took of running and jumping. The problem was that he hadn’t been healed. He came limping back toward us barely able to walk, causing Denise, upon seeing his limp, to tell another lady that if this man walked out healed, she’d kiss the tree. Well…

While we were still praying for people, the village Chief arrived from a meeting he had been attending, and so we regrouped under the tree. He made a formal presentation giving us the land and asking us for help with water. As you know, we have been fundraising to drill a water well in relation to this trip, and Denise told him yes, and that we would be sending someone to test the water before we drill.

The team returned home overjoyed with what God was doing in us.

On Sunday we attended Joseph’s church under the tree. There were many new faces in attendance, and a small handful of them received Christ as their Savior in this service, after hearing the Gospel of Hope and the testimony of our team.

Then in the evening we met the church members in the central marketplace for an open-air outreach meeting. We sang and danced. Most of the team members shared their personal testimonies with all who gathered to listen, then I was again given the opportunity to preach the Gospel to them. Although we could not get a formal count, in looking around I saw a group of around 30 people praying to receive Christ. It was an awesome day for the Kingdom of God.

On Monday the team again divided, some staying at the compound to pray, while others went to visit the two small hospitals in Narus. We were shown the conditions people are treated in and told of the needs they have, and had the opportunity to pray for all the patients there that day: 4-6 suspected cases of measles, one epileptic boy, one girl with malaria, and a man badly damaged in a motorcycle accident. We also prayed with the hospital staff for God’s provision and blessing on their work.

On Tuesday, our last full day in Narus, we went into the local prison – something, as we were told, that no other missionary group has ever done for them. We were met by every police officer and security guard on the force, in full uniform, and the 14 prisoners currently residing there. There were cases of theft, adultery, and one murder in the crowd. Saphan, the Heart of God Africa Prison Ministry Director from Uganda, preached the Gospel to these 13 men and 1 woman, and all of them accepted Jesus as Savior. I then had the opportunity to share my testimony of how God changed my life, and Isaac shared a word of encouragement to them on the power of God now at work in them.

The prison director confessed to us the difficulty of his job in being honest and kind while trying to rehabilitate the prisoners, and the temptation to beat or even kill some of them. I laid my hand on his shoulder (apparently something you should not do when praying for someone in uniform, but love covers a multitude of sins) and I prayed for him and all the police standing around us. As we left, many of them took a group picture with our team, though I do not have a copy at this time.

Sadly, the next day our time in South Sudan was over. We prayed one last time as a team, then loaded the cars. After a short stop in the local Commissioner’s office to tell them goodbye and pray for them, we made our way back to the Kenyan border, and on to Lokichoggio where we would spend some time in a nice little hotel to debrief as a team before the long flight home.

I can honestly say that I am overjoyed by the fruit born on this trip and am hopeful for the future there through Joseph and his church. I cannot wait to return and see how things have progressed, and how all the people saved – roughly 100 for the week – have held to the new truth they have been shown and carried it forward.

This was only our first push into the 10-40 Window, but as God continues to open doors to the unreached, we will be there to step through them. If you would like to support my evangelistic works through Heart of God, like this one and others, you can click the ‘Donate’ tab, or you can learn more about Heart of God and how you can get involved through any of our various ministries at http:www.heartofgodinternational.org.

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Salvation Leads to Salvation

The other day, I started reading the book of Matthew, and as I typically do while reading, I had some thoughts come to mind that I wrote down to come back to and think on later. And it didn’t take long in Matthew for one of these thoughts to come to me.

The book of Matthew starts with the genealogy of Christ, and the situation surrounding His birth. Upon finding out that his fiancé, Mary, was pregnant before marriage, a man named Joseph, is trying to decide how to handle the situation.

“But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).”  — Matthew 1:20-23

To Israel, long before the time of Joseph and Mary, the prophecy had been given that a Messiah would come who would be both a King in the line of David and a Prophet like Moses. And even in Isaiah 7:14 we find the passage the angel quoted about His name being ‘Immanuel’ signifying that this Messiah would somehow be God in the flesh. The Jews knew all of that, and it is why they had many expectations of what Jesus was supposed to be like and how He would live. But the thing that sticks out to me here, though, is that the angel doesn’t come and tell Joseph that this Son would be the King of the Jews or a great prophet.

Instead, the angel tells Joseph to name the child Jesus, which translates as “Jehovah is Salvation,” because the life mission of this child is that “He will save His people from their sins.”

Now, of course anyone familiar with the Christian story knows that Jesus came to be the Savior of the world. Even those who barely know anything about Christianity have probably heard John 3:16 at some point. Have you ever considered this, though, that even Jesus name – His born identity – is wrapped up in this one mission.

What interests me about this, however, is not that Jesus identity is wrapped up in the mission of saving people from their sins. It is that as believers, our identity is wrapped up in His identity, which was wrapped up in the mission. Meaning that our identity, too, is wrapped up in the salvation of the world.

What I mean by this is that when we are born again by grace through faith in Christ, the Bible makes it clear that we are being transformed into the image of Christ – the image of the Savior. This means that since Christ’s mission in life, above all else, was to save people from sin, then our new-found mission now that we are in Christ is the same as His. We are, above all, to be heralds of the Gospel — the ‘Good News’ that Jesus made a way for humanity to be saved.

Another way to say this is that our own salvation cannot be separated from the salvation of the world. They are inextricably linked. Let me give you some biblical evidence of this:

  • “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” –1 John 2:2
  • “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”    –Ephesians 2:10
  • “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” –2 Corinthians 5:18

In each one of these scriptures, the writers jump straight from our salvation to the salvation of others. We are saved and then we help others find salvation. That is the biblical pattern.

Here’s what that means: your job, school, hobbies, friends, family, etc., etc., are given to you by God to be stewarded for the salvation of the lost world. Your God-given identity is found in Christ and because of that your life is to be “the aroma of Christ” to the world, and it is now a part of who we are that, “as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 2:15-17) That means in word and deed, it’s our mission.

We live Christ in the world, and we speak Christ to the world. Salvation leads to salvation, and the mission that Christ set in motion continues on.

So let me ask you this. When was the last time you let someone else know that God has come (“Immanuel”) to save His people from their sins (“Jesus”), and that they too can find freedom in Him?

Law Breakers

Scenario: You are driving down the highway on a long road trip. The speed limit is 70 miles per hour, but knowing the chances of getting ticketed are slim, you push it up to about 73. Going around a long curve you are passed by another driver doing at least 85mph, which makes you mad. Then, at the end of the curve you see a police officer who pulls you both over and gives both of you a ticket.

Question: How do you respond?

If you are anything like me, you get really upset because you clearly weren’t speeding like that guy was speeding. He obviously deserved a ticket, but we were barely going over the speed limit. The cop could have let us off with a warning.

The thing is, in our minds we have a skewed sense of what’s “fair,” that in reality leans toward our own benefit. We certainly think the other guy should get a ticket for his obvious speeding, yet, although we were intentionally going over the speed limit, we don’t think we should get the ticket because we were barely breaking the law. It’s “guilt by comparison.”

The reality is that too many of us expect that same version of justice when it comes to our faith. We think that the judgement of God towards sin will be slanted in our favor because although we do struggle with minor sins, it isn’t like we’ve killed anyone. Since most of us live our lives only barely breaking God’s laws, and on that day there will be so many people at the judgement seat who have done way worse that we did, it is only fair that God punish them and not us.

Deep down we really want God to be like that police officer who we can negotiate with and get off with a warning. However God’s judgement on humanity must be seen more like that of a judge in the courtroom rather than the cop who may let you off because you weren’t doing too much over the speed limit.

I remember one time in High School when I got a ticket for not stopping behind a stop sign. I did stop, but it was about 10 feet after the sign. I even had good reason, too. It was late at night and I was on a road coming out of the pasture. Had I stopped behind the sign, I would not be able to see traffic coming from either direction due to the brush that extended all the way to the road. So, instead of stopping at the sign, I stopped at the roadside so that I could actually see traffic. To my dismay, though, I stopped at the roadside right as a police officer passed and who quickly turned back to give me a ticket. Because I didn’t have the skill to talk my way out of it, I had to go see the a local judge.

I thought that surely once the judge heard my side of the story that I would be let off, but that isn’t how things work in court. The judge only had one question for me. Did you stop behind the stop sign like the law requires. “No, but…” I was cut off. The judge didn’t care about my “but” once I had admitted to breaking the law.

God’s judgement will be the same. Did you keep my commandments? “No, but…” It won’t matter what we have to say next. If you break the law, the justice of God demands punishment.

The scariest part of this is that the Bible makes clear that everyone is guilty of breaking the law, and deserves the wrath of God. You can’t negotiate your way out of this. You can’t compare yourself with others to try and prove you aren’t as guilty as they are. It won’t matter. You can’t talk your way out of this ticket. You have sinned against God, and He will see to the punishment.

The good news is, though, that God is a God of mercy and He doesn’t want to punish all of humanity. He wants to show grace and offer forgiveness of sin. The problem is that the law requires punishment for the crimes committed?

That’s where the story of Jesus comes in. In order for God to meet the demands of the law, while also offering forgiveness of sins, He came into humanity and bore the punishment of our sins for us. That is why Jesus died on the cross, and that is the only “legal” way we have of finding forgiveness in the eyes of God’s law.

Most people don’t think they need a Savior, which is usually an issue of pride. They tend to think that they are decent people and that God will overlook their sin as long as the morality scales lean more toward good than bad. The problem is, they are judging this by what they judge is fair, instead of what the judge says is “legal.”

What you need to know is that it doesn’t matter how far over the line you cross into sin, the punishment is the same – death and eternal separation from God in hell. Either you will face that punishment yourself, or you will accept Jesus as your Savior who paid the ransom for your guilt when He died on the cross.

There will be no morally good people receiving eternal life, only redeemed ones. What will be your plea when you stand before the Judge of Creation? “Forgiven in Christ,” or “Guilty as charged?”

Celebrating New Year’s for Eternity

Well, it is now the last week of 2011. It almost seems as though the year just began, and now it’s over.

Many of us at this time of year begin to do some introspection of ourselves and analyze our lives over the past 12 months. We ask what we did well, and what we could have done better. We enjoy recalling the happy times and still feel sadness over the losses.

Although January 1 is only another date on the calendar, for most of us it marks a new beginning; a new season of life. It’s a chance to start over. But then you give it a few months into the new year, and we all return to the words of King Solomon:

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
     vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil
     at which he toils under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
     but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
     and hastens to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
     and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
     and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
     but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
     there they flow again.
All things are full of weariness;
     a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
     nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
     and what has been done is what will be done,
     and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
     “See, this is new”?
It has been already
     in the ages before us.
There is no remembrance of former things,
     nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be
     among those who come after.”
(Ecclesiastes 1:2-11)

When we look at things from Solomon’s perspective, what we must realize is that we continually live between New Year’s celebrations. The farther behind us the last one gets, the closer we are to the next. And there is nothing that really changes on those days except the numbers on the calendar.

If we can be really honest with ourselves, if this is the totality of human existence — we live, and work, and watch the years come and go, until we finally die — then it really is all vanity. If this endless cycle is all we get, then we must purpose ourselves to take as much joy from our brief and meaningless existence as we can. “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die” (1 Cor. 15:32).

But for the Christian, our vision is much bigger than this. In Christ, our hope is set on the idea that there is something more than this life. We are eternal being created in the image of the eternal God. This thing that we find ourselves in now is only a small glimpse of the joys that we will experience when we move on and dwell with Him forever.

What that means then is that as Christians, we don’t despise the joys of the world as some have done, but we don’t look to worldly joys for our ultimate satisfaction either. Instead, we delight in God as we enjoy the good things He has made and allows us to experience here, year after year, and we look forward knowing that the days will only get better and better forever with God.

Yesterday morning on my way to church, I was listening to a song by Aaron Keyes that says, “You’ve only just begun to show your greatness and power. We’ve only just begun to see Your almighty hand,” and this thought came to me. Even a million years into our eternal existence with God, those lyrics will still be true. We will only have seen and experienced the beginning of the goodness of God. Even in eternity we will find that there are new aspects of God to delight in every day forever, and it will never get old.

That is why Christians have for centuries, now, declared in song that “when we’ve been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun.” Every day of those 10,000 years will be filled with more and more reason to praise God. His goodness will overflow forever. We will never run out of time or reasons to delight in Him.

So bringing it all back down to earth, today: 2012 is about to enter the scene, pushing 2011 out for good. And in this new year as in the old, there will be reasons for celebration and reasons for sadness. So, just for now, before getting overwhelmed with grand ideas of how life will be different in the new year, can we just stop for a moment and recognize that no matter what has happened in the past or what the immediate future holds, that what our hearts are really longing for is to see and experience God’s goodness that will last for eternity.

If you haven’t taken the time to do so before, let me invite you one more time in 2011: “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8) And then as we move into 2012, realize that the joy that comes truly is only just the beginning of what God has in store for you for eternity.