Thursday, October 29, 2015

"One by One"

This past weekend was the Midwest SIAFU Men’s Conference at Morning Star Ranch in Kansas. As I got settled there, a young man caught my attention and smiled at me. He said, “Do you remember me?” Of course I recognized his face, but I couldn’t place his name and remember where I had met him.  I thought that I probably knew him from my time ministering in the prison at Hutchinson. I found out his name was Tony and that he had just been released that Wednesday. He had spent nine years on the inside, and he had been out for three days and found himself at our men’s conference. Now 31, he had been incarcerated since he was 22.

The rest of the conference we spent time getting to know each other better. We talked about life inside and then about adjusting to life on the outside. He told me that he wanted to grow to become an urban missionary like what I did. He wants to make a difference with guys on the streets. He had been at the revival we did in June (read about that here) and had also heard me teach a couple other times at the prison.

One of the personal burdens I feel for the guys I work with is that they may experience the love of the Father. So many of these men have deep wounds from male figures that are hard to heal from. Often they need a deep and profound encounter with the love of the Father that can provide healing from the past. So whenever I lead prayer and ministry times with guys, I normally include a time where we pray for them to encounter the love of the Father.  

On the last night of the conference, we closed with a worship, prayer, and testimony time; it’s a powerful time where they can get right with the Lord. As I was praying for this time, I felt the Father clearly say, “Lead them to me, and I will bring healing.”

As I got up in front of the guys, I felt especially burdened. I talked about how our father wounds can give us an orphan spirit. This is simply a feeling that we are alone and lost and without a dad. Even though we may be in Christ, we still feel lost and feel as though we are orphans. I invited the guys be open and to trust that God was going to move and that the love of the true Father would encounter them that night. I could sense the faith in the room grow as they nodded, hungry to experience this.

As we had a prayer time and ministered, there weren’t many dry eyes. The Spirit of God was tangibly moving throughout the room. We then had guys come forward who wanted more prayer. Tony came right up to me and we just hugged and prayed together. As the tears came, he kept saying how he doesn’t want to repeat the mistakes from the past. He has felt like a failure his whole life, but now desperately wants to change. My heart went out to him in a deep way. I sensed such tangible love from the Father for him.

That night after praying with him and so many others, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I thought about the millions in our cities who we are desperate for this encounter with the Father. But there is great hope. God is moving in our prisons and our ministry is providing opportunities for these guys to grow and become leaders. One by one, God is changing the lives. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Divine Appointments

In the past month, I have felt God tug on my heart to be sensitive to the Lord’s leading for me to pray and minister to those He brings across my path.  I have clearly felt the Lord asking me to be more willing to step out in faith.  The other night, I was asked to help with some prayer and ministry with my friends Pastor Jerry and Tharen.  We were praying over a house and a man who was struggling named Nate.  As we were praying, we felt the Lord’s presence in a special way and experienced some breakthroughs for Nate.  

After the prayer time, we felt led to go out and walk along the river.  I was in an area of Wichita where I had never been before and there were many people walking by the river.  My spiritual antenna was up as we were talking, walking and praying.  As we went by the river, I saw a young man that I felt a tug to pray for.   As I approached him, there was some fear in my heart as I wondered what he was going to think.  

I asked him if I could pray for him about anything and he shook his head yes with a lot of emotion.  He told me he was just released from jail that day and he had nowhere to go. He shared with me that his name was Ryan and he was a Christian who had grown up in the church in a good family but had found a life of drugs and ended up doing time in prison. For the past year and a half he had been in and out of prison.  He was preparing to spend his first night homeless when we ran into him. As Ryan shared his story with me the tears were flowing as he realized the Lord was with him and noticing him.  He told me he literally was just praying and wondering if the Lord still cared for him. He figured the Lord had given up on him after so many failures.  I reassured him of the Lord’s love and we had a powerful moment as I could sense the Lord’s spirit ministering to him.  

After talking and spending some time in prayer, I brought Ryan back to our group where I introduced him to everyone.  It was awesome to see them immediately embrace him. They invited him to go to church with them and help get him connected.  What was especially powerful was to see Nate embrace and connect with Ryan. They have similar stories and so they were able to connect in a deep way.  God is in the process of setting Nate free and now he was being used to minister to Ryan.

We got him some food and a place to stay for two days so he could figure out his next steps.  We closed the night taking communion together.  As Pastor Jerry led us in prayer and as we served the elements, it was dramatic to watch Ryan being accepted back into the family of God. It was as if the prodigal son was returning home.  As the tears came, I embraced him and assured him of the love of the Father.

Two days later, I met with him again and spent some more time getting to know him. He mentioned to me that his buddy Carlos was in town and Ryan wanted me to meet him. He told me that Carlos had accepted the Lord on July 4th and was recently released from prison.  As I was introduced to Carlos, I saw that he fit the part of someone who had spent years in the streets and in prison. He had tattoos all over his body and a rough exterior; but as he shared his heart, I could tell his life had been touched by the Lord.

He shared with me that he grew up in the Wichita and his first ten years of life were filled with extreme abuse and violence.  By age 14 he was on the streets, in gangs, using and selling drugs. In 1998, he was arrested and for most of the past 17 years he has lived behind bars.  In his last year in prison, he got connected with someone who kept sharing Christ with him.  He learned that Jesus could set him free from his past and from all of his sin.

So on July 4th, the day of freedom, he gave his life to Jesus. He said he felt a high like he had never experienced before in his life. He was released from prison three weeks later and now has moved to a small town to live with his wife and kids. He has connected with a church and pastor, and he is now in the process of building a new life. Every day is a battle for him, but he is fighting those battles by depending on Jesus.

All of these men know they have a tough road ahead of him. The odds are stacked against them from the world’s perspective; but these are the kind of men the Lord is raising up all over.  In one moment they can be forgiven and set free.   Men like Nate, Ryan and Carlos need the body of Christ to love them, take them in and give them support. Everywhere we walk, we are surrounded by people who are waiting to experience the love of Jesus.  Let’s be mindful of the people we see when in public, and then let’s be obedient to the gentle and small promptings of his Spirit.  You never know who you might have the privilege of meeting.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Unshakable Kingdom, Unwavering Warrior

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the East Region Siafu Men's Retreat. World Impact puts on these retreats for men in each of our three regions every fall. Siafu is a national association of chapters anchored in local urban churches and ministries dedicated to the advancement of the Kingdom in the city. The theme of this retreat was Unshakeable Kingdom Unwavering Warrior. Dr. Don Davis gave dynamic messages on how we can be Warriors for the Lord and what God is doing to adopt a People to Himself.  

While the teachings and worship were impactful and important, maybe one of the greatest purposes of the Men's Retreat was the connections created among the urban pastors, leaders and men in their ministries. The very name "Siafu" comes from an ant in Tanzania. A single ant is vulnerable and alone. But together, Siafu ants are an extremely powerful force – they travel in packs of millions and overcome anything in their way.

So it is in city. Many urban pastors and leaders can feel isolated and alone, but our hope is that through the network of Siafu chapters and these retreats we can create a deep sense of community and belonging. This impacts the city as a whole and, ultimately, the Kingdom of God.

One Pastor I got to know at the retreat was Desmond Wedderburn from Brooklyn. He recently joined World Impact as an Associate and has an already established powerful ministry called Calvary Crosses. Every Friday during the summer, his team does outreaches in the city focused on preaching and prayer for salvation and discipleship. He has a growing and dynamic church, but for the past ten years he has felt alone. This weekend retreat was his first exposure to other pastors and leaders – and many of the resources that World Impact and TUMI have to offer. Desmond said that this weekend allowed him to connect to a larger network of urban churches. It is incredibly beneficial to not feel alone.  

Pastor Desmond is one of thousands of leaders and pastors that we want to train, empower, and equip as we seek a great harvest of urban churches in the years to come.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The dwelling place of God - Ephesians 2.19-22

This blog was written from the lectionary texts two weeks ago. 

What is your single passion? .  If you thought about all that you are passionate about regarding life in ministry, what would it be?  For David it was that he would find a dwelling place for the ark of the Lord. We see in Psalm 132 that David didn’t want to give any sleep to his eyes until this reality happened. The idea of the very glory and presence of God dwelling among his people burned in him.

In our first lectionary text in 2 Samuel 7.1-14, we see that what was in David’s heart was to build a dwelling place for the Lord. Up to this point the Lord's presence had been in the tabernacle. Grateful for his own house, David wanted to construct a permanent place for the Lord.  Ultimately this temple would be built by David’s son Solomon. In granting David's desire, the Lord made an eternal covenant with him: “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.” As we know, this was fulfilled in Jesus when he came, our King in the line of David, and was fully the dwelling of God.

In Ephesians 2.19-22, Paul shares that we are now “members of the household of God”, and “being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” The very Spirit and glory of God is now dwelling in us, in the people of God. As David was consumed by the longing for the very presence of God to dwell in a house, we now have the this same presence living inside of us.  Does this reality overwhelm us and drive us to further seek the Lord?  It’s easy for prayer and worship of the Lord to be relegated to one of many spiritual activities that we do.  But as we come to understand the heart of God, to understand what it means to have his very essence in us, I pray that it would move and grip us to even deeper prayer and seeking him; that it would move us to even greater hunger for God; that we would ask for the absolute fullness of him to dwell in us; that we wouldn’t be satisfied without it.  God wants to fully dwell in us so that his kingdom will be established in us and that kingdom life will flow through our communities and many will experience it.  Let’s pray and cry out as a community that the full dwelling of God would be established in our lives and in our churches.  Let’s pray for a powerful move of his Spirit, and that his tangible presence will come down and rest in our cities that are so desperate for a touch from God.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Our identity in Christ: Ephesians 1.3-14

Each week for World Impact, I send out some short thoughts based one of of the lectionary texts for the week.  I am going to start putting that on my blog.  I will put the last few I wrote which have been going through the book of Ephesians. 

Our lectionary text in Ephesians 1.3-14 is an amazing passage that speaks of our identity and what it means to be in Christ.  I often meditate and try to fully comprehend what verse three says. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”  Honest confession here.  In the past I have struggled deeply with insecurity and comparing myself to other missionaries.  When you work with such talented and capable people, it’s easy to do.  The Lord has had to do a lot of healing in my life as I meditate on truths of who I am in Christ. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind on the truth in verse three: we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing.  This means that we have unlimited access to all we need to live a godly life, all we need to see the Lord move in ministry, and all we need to live out the calling and assignment that the Lord has given us.

One way to look at this is to think that we have everything from Christ in our bank account. It is ours but all of those spiritual blessings are not yet in our possession.  That is the difference.  So how do we lay hold of these blessings?  The primary ways are by faith and the renewal of our minds and by constantly telling ourselves the truth and believing what the Lord has done for us.  Then as we continually seek the Lord, grow in our humility and obedience, the Lord will release more and more to our lives. So no matter what you are facing in your life and ministry, know that you have everything that you need in Christ. There is no need to be insecure or compare ourselves, but we can be confident of who we are in Christ.