Sunday, May 21, 2017

Power and PowerPoint

Today we had our first Project Leader Event of the three we have planned for the season.  Yeah, the batteries died on the "O" and "C" of our display sign...and Amanda (our Church Relations Coordinator) had her car battery die also.

Despite the losses of power, I was praising God the PowerPoint ran fine.  I didn't set it up myself, mind you...maybe one of these days.

Anywhoooo...I'm glad to get the event behind us. I mean, I enjoy it when I finally get there. How could you NOT enjoy spending time with other shoebox enthusiasts.  It's the anticipation and the planning (or not enough planning) and assembling all the things you need to take and loading the car. Other than that...

I feel like we did everything we could. We had invitations sent from the regional office. We sent emails to all our churches.  And this week Amanda called all the churches who brought their boxes to the drop-off site where the event was held.

And we had a perfect number of seven guests come.  On the positive side, that's a 40% increase over the five who came to last summer's event.  And when you add in our three team members and four kiddos--it makes a nice fourteen.

The people who came are already passionate shoebox project leaders.  I hope they learned a few new things.  Other than the PowerPoint that OCC developed for the occasion I was able to re-enact the role play I saw at the Connect Conference using the Presentation Brochure to more fully explain Operation Christmas Child to pastors or leaders.  Maybe it will be useful for those who came.

Many of my OCC friends are in Rwanda right now distributing those precious shoeboxes. Those great distributions could not take place without people packing boxes.  And maybe today's event, small as it seemed,  means more children will get a box next year.

We got three new prayer partners today (woohoo!) and maybe these sweet kids will become project leaders themselves in a few decades.

After all, we serve a powerful God.  And you just never know...

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

More Egg-Citement

It's been an egg-citing couple of weeks in our Operation Christmas Child world here in Erie.  God provided nearly 12,000 eggs and next it was time to get them filled with rings and mardi gras bead necklaces.

A work day was planned on the evening of April 25th and we were blessed when 46 people gathered to help get those eggs filled.  It was great to see people of all ages coming together to make light work of thousands of eggs.  Unlike other years, we decided to put pieces of tape on the sides of the eggs to keep them together and keep the contents from spilling out. By the end of the night we'd finished all but a few hundred of the eggs.

I was especially glad for those pieces of tape the next day when I was trying to reorganize the bins stored in the back of my van to make more room and had a bin of filled eggs slide out of the car.

I thought we'd have a few thousand eggs left over with nothing to fill them, but God had other plans. One of our team members, Angie, messaged me and said she had a large donation of rolls of stickers--more than her church could use for their packing party.  When she brought them over I was amazed to see roll upon roll of cute heart stickers.  Now we could use MORE eggs and would need more hands to fill them.

The next evening a local church's youth group spent an hour filling more eggs and last week a local Christian school made egg-filling one of their service projects and completed filling all the eggs we had.

The story doesn't end there, though.

Last week the Dollar General stores had their winter clearance items for .25 or .50 each and I was able to get 277 nice clothing items for only $79.00.  Then...on Thursday and Friday they cut the clearance prices in half again.  The Easter clearance ended up being 95% off so a bag of a dozen plastic eggs sold for just 5 cents.  The egg hunt was on again!

Not only did I bag more winter clothing items for only .12 each but trips by several team members and myself to 15 Dollar Generals yielded another 5,000 eggs that are waiting to be filled.

In the midst of all this egg-citement, we got another donation-a load of 37 cases of paper.  This is such a blessing and filled some of the few remaining spaces in the storage container.  (Did I mention we got a delivery of 28 cases containing 4,001 baseball hats week before last?)

Last night we had 11 team members meeting to strategize about how God can use us to collect 54,321 shoeboxes in northwestern Pennsylvania this year.  We talked a little bit about our upcoming packing party on September 23rd.  In preparation for the meeting I added up our stuffed animal totals and...God has already blessed us with just over 10,000 already!  And we have 33,000 clothing/anchor items for our boxes.  Now we're praying for 17,000 more stuffed animals and/or anchor items--asking God to let every one of those 27,000 boxes to be filled with items that will bless the children who receive them.

You just can't beat this egg-citement.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Egg-cellent Adventures

It started at the 90% off Easter clearance sale at Target in 2015.  I spotted bags and bags of plastic Easter eggs on sale for less than a penny each and decided it would be fun to fill them with plastic rings for the children who receive our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.  So...I bought all 10,000 or so of them and God provided great deals on fun items to put into them.

When the 2016 Easter clearance came around there wasn't a very good supply at Target, but Walmart had tons at 75% off and I snapped them up.

I expected the 2017 Easter clearance to be the same, so I stocked up on cute rings and was also delighted to receive a big donation of mardi gras necklaces I knew would be a perfect fit for those eggs when they came my way.  Not if, but when.  I never thought of praying for eggs.  I just assumed they would be there when Walmart's clearance went to 75% off--ready for me to pick them up at a penny each.

Last Wednesday--the day before I knew Walmart's clearance would drop to 75% off--I checked our largest Walmart store and was shocked to find NO eggs.  Feeling nervous, I drove to another store.  Again, NO eggs.  I looked at Target--NO eggs.

A little late, but NOW I decided to pray.  I sent out messages to team members who lived near other stores in outlying areas and asked them to check their Walmarts.  The answers came back--NO eggs.

We have a work day planned for next Tuesday, April 25th.  Our plan was to fill all those plastic eggs with rings and necklaces.  One problem.  We had NO eggs.  I checked online and found I could buy some for 5 cents or 6 cents each, but that was way too expensive.

I prayed.  I asked some team members to pray.  I asked Facebook friends to pray.  But I did one other thing, too.  I started to think about what we would do at the work day with no eggs to fill.  I began to craft a back-up plan.

At the same time, I sent a text message to my daughter, Jen, who lives two hours away and asked her to check stores in her area.  She promised to go on an Easter egg hunt.

On Friday morning I opened a text from Jen who reported she had 3,200 eggs and there were many more to be had when she could get back to the store. WooHoo!  I sent out praise reports and asked for continued prayer.

At 4:15 AM on Saturday morning I awakened from a weird and scary dream.  In the dream I was driving a car and Jen was in the passenger seat behind me.  I stopped the car, went to open her door and saw that her arm was closed in the car door and hanging out. I quickly opened the door and she passed out and fell out of the car. Yikes!  This dream upset me so much I got up--unable to shake off the memory.

I checked my Facebook page and saw Jen posted the picture above a few hours earlier with this message--

Are you willing to be the answer to someone else's prayer? Well, my mother had asked me a couple days ago to look for some clearance Easter eggs in the Pittsburgh area since she could find none in the Erie area. Herself and many others have been praying that she could find 7,500-10,000 plastic Easter eggs for super cheap to put in shoeboxes for OCC. Today, with the help of some super patient cashiers, a willing co-worker, and the generous donations of a few complete strangers in Target; and after five different trips to two different stores I was able to pack my car with more than enough eggs to fulfill their request! In case anyone has ever wondered how many plastic Easter eggs one can shove in the back (I needed to be able to see out of my side mirrors in the front) of a Subaru Forester the number is approximately 11,800 eggs! Not bad! So if you ever wonder if God hears our prayers? He does! And does he answer them? Sure thing, though maybe not always as we hope! And does He provide? Absolutely!! Look for chances to help and serve others, you may just be the answer to their prayers!! And here's to hoping the hubby doesn't kill me for putting that many eggs in my new car!Kathy come get them quick! 

Yahoo!  Praise God!  Since I couldn't go back to sleep, I did what I do best--think.  I began to think about prayer and faith.  I wondered if I showed a lack of faith when I prayed for God to provide eggs yet worked on a back-up plan in case He didn't.

After thinking, I realized I ask for God's will to be done when I pray.  God is sovereign and I can't demand for Him to answer my prayers in a certain way.  I wouldn't want to, because I really want His best.  So I don't think it's a lack of faith when I pray but also prepare as well as I can for God to answer "yes" or "no" to my request.  If I pray for clear weather for an event it's still wise to prepare as well as possible in case God in His sovereignty decides that rain is the best answer for my prayers. That's not a lack of faith; it's wisdom.

Thank You, God, that You are sovereign. Thank You for reminding me in this crazy little egg-cellent adventure that You are the One who gets the glory when Your people pray.  Thank You for showing me again that You use ordinary people in extraordinary and exciting ways to show Your love to children around the world through every detail in these precious shoebox gifts.

Nothing could be more egg-cellent.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Let's Party

Here we are on Easter Saturday--the day of waiting.  Sometimes it feels like a lot of my life is spent in waiting.  I think of prayers I've been praying for decades, still without seeing any apparent movement.  God hears, I know.

Some of my waiting is self-imposed--always looking ahead to the next thing instead of hunkering down in the present and enjoying the gift of it.  I'm getting a bit better at that, but waiting to get better!

I waited for weeks for the Operation Christmas Child Connect Conference to be over, for our team meeting following it to be done, for our team recommitment to be completed.

And, now, the waiting is over.  The 2017 Connect Conference was different this year--spectacularly blessed, but different.  The emphasis on personal evangelism was so convicting. The first speaker said, "Don't ask God to send someone to your neighbor when you live 50 feet away." And...the message didn't change throughout the conference.  Speaker after speaker pressed the need for FRANgelism (sharing Christ with friends, relatives, associates, neighbors.)  I don't like conviction.  I'm not sure what to do with it.  The obvious answer is--obey--but what does that look like?  Okay, I'm probably just making excuses. Ahem.  So...

As for the team meeting, after a good team discussion--THE PARTY IS ON.  The team is ready to forge ahead together, in God's strength, to pack 27,000 boxes by the end of the day on September 23, 2017.  I celebrated this on Wednesday by purchasing 4,001 more baseball hats.

As for the team recommitment, we lost seven team members already this year--nearly a quarter of the team.  We're going to be asking God to replace a Central Drop-Off Site and at least three other Drop-Off Sites.

Back to praying.  And waiting.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Connect 2017--Skip Heitzig--Misson Possible Part 2

I met a new hero yesterday—Pastor Mark from Texas—his faithful church of 25-30 people collected 5,400 shoeboxes. I’m thankful for his work and the work of y’all.

My original hero is Billy Graham. In 197? I was watching on TV and during the invitation thinking “I’m glad I’m not there or I’d have to walk down in front of all those people.”  Then Dr. Graham turned and said, “If you’re watching by television” and I knew I had to respond.

This morning I want to talk again about our mission.  You’re on mission for God.  Matthew 28:18-20 is our mission. 

A few years ago I was in Spokane, WA and saw a sign for Southwest Airlines that said, “Buckle up, you’re going on an adventure,” and I thought that should be the motto for every Christian.  God’s mission is the greatest adventure on earth.  It’s something that is missing from too many Christian lives.

That’s how Paul began his journey. He asked, “What do you want me to do, Lord?” and that’s how he began.  George Muller cared for thousands of orphans and educated over 120,000 children— said “90% of life’s difficulties are overcome when our hearts are ready to do the will of God, whatever it may be.”

Yesterday we talked about why our mission is global and today we’ll talk about how it is possible.  Our mission is not impossible.  How can it be possible?  You mentioned yesterday how many unbelievers there are in the world and that sounds impossible.  It is possible when three things happen.

--When followers become fishers – Jesus gave a command to GO based on His absolute authority.  Jesus has authority to command his followers to be fishers simply because he died for the fish.  Everything you need God has made sure you have.  John 14:12 –“He who believes in me the works that I do he will do also and greater works than these…”  Does that mean we’ll do greater miracles?  No, I believe He is speaking of spiritual healing. Jesus’ ministry was confined to the nation of Israel. But within 30 years of Jesus’ death the gospel spread around the known world.  Greater works were being done.  More people were saved in the first 3 months after Jesus ascended than in His own ministry.  On Pentecost alone 3,000 souls were added.  The key is in Acts 1:1 – Jesus continue His work in us.

--When followers become focused – This conference refocuses what we’re to be about.  In Acts 1:9-11 they saw Jesus taken up into heaven but were promises He would return in the same manner.  Disciples are looking up but they angels told them to look AROUND.  A few verses back Jesus tells them He will fill them with His Spirit.  As soon as Jesus says that, the disciples ask if He’d restore the Kingdom to Israel.  They get distracted.  Satan loves to distract us from the task at hand – “spiritual spam”.   The American work force wastes millions of hours deleting spam.  The most paramount issue is how can a sinner be made right with a holy God and enter into eternal heaven.  That’s the only important issue.  Like Christian in “Pilgrim’s Progress” we need to plug our ears and run straight ahead calling, “Life, Life, Eternal Life.”

--When followers become filled – Acts 1:8 promises the Holy Spirit.  This task we’re called to is a spiritual endeavor.  How did these simple disciples make a dent at all in the Pagan world?  When Jesus tells them to GO He first tells them to WAIT until them are filled with power from on high.  You need the right equipment to do the task.  That is the filling of the Holy Spirit.  Best chain saw – most expensive – came back exhausted the next day complaining and the clerk turned it on!  Every day believers are trying to do the work of God in the energy of the flesh.   There was once a brave captain whose sword was dreaded by all his enemies. The king demanded to see the sword and couldn’t see anything unusual in it.  The captain said, “You have only examined the sword not the arm who holds it.”  It’s a mystery when we see God using so many people.  We can’t figure it out.  But there’s a great, mighty Hand behind those God uses.

Your mission is the Great Commission and it’s possible.  Coca Cola has a goal – for all 7.5 billion people in the world to taste their product.  97% of the world has heard, 72% has seen a can, and 51% of everyone on earth has tasted Coca Cola and they’ve only been around 100 years.  Thing go better with Coke but things go a lot better with Jesus Christ.

Parable:  A group existed that called themselves fishermen.  There were many fish and they were hungry.  The fishermen met in meetings and talked about the abundance of fish and how to fish.  They talked about how everyone should fish and they organized a board and hired staff to define fishing, to defend fishing.   But no one fished.  Expensive training centers were built to teach fishing. Many graduated and were given fishing licenses and were sent to do full-time fishing.  BUT like the fishermen back home they never fished.  After one meeting on the necessity of meeting one man left the meeting and went fishing.  He was honored for his catch and scheduled to attend meetings to tell of his experience.  So he stopped fishing.  Many survived the ridicule of those who criticized their clubs.  Imagine how hurt some of the fishermen were when someone suggested those who did not catch fish really weren’t fishermen.  Is a person a fisherman if he never catches a fish?  Is one following if he is not fishing?

The mission we have is global and it’s possible.  We are hearing stories of the work being multiplied globally and it encourages us to say “Send me” and “What’s next?”

Connect 2017 -- Jim Cymbala -- Brooklyn Tabernacle -- Prayer

If it wasn’t for Jesus we wouldn’t have met each other, but here we are brothers and sisters.  I’m going to tell a story from the book of Acts when the church almost lost one of their leaders, Peter.

Acts 12 – Peter was kept in prison but the church of God was earnestly praying for him. 

The early church under that stress practiced one of the first principles Jesus gave them—ask and you shall receive.  Jesus said, “My Father’s house shall be called a house of prayer.” 

Paul says to Timothy, “First I want people to hold up holy hands and pray.”  In Genesis 3 men began to call upon the name of the Lord.  With no Bible to read, something told people to call out to God.  The first people of God were “those who call on the name of the Lord.”  David said, “He will hear when we call to Him.”  Moses said, “Who has a God like us who answers when we call?”  We don’t need the same weapons or strategic plans of the world when we have prayer.  The church was born in a prayer meeting as they waited for the Spirit. 

The early church now has no influence. James has been called and Peter arrested so what do they do?  They have no money.  They have nothing yet they have everything because they have God.  “In the day of trouble call upon Me,” God said.  We have a living God who answers us. 

My wife and I in these decades since we came to rundown Brooklyn have seen God start a prayer ministry that now has over 1,000 people coming to pray on a Tuesday night.  God answers prayer!

What would happen if churches shut down and just prayed?  Every revival has started that way.  God comes when we humble ourselves and pray..  The early church shut things down and started to pray.

Nothing happened right away but they kept praying.  And they kept praying.  Just before it looked like Peter would be killed, God stepped in.  Peter is sleeping in chains and an angel appears and an unnatural light shines.  That’s what has happened and will always happen when we give ourselves to prayer.  God will send something to happen.

We don’t need more computers or more cleverness or higher IQ; at the heart of everything what the church of Christ needs is something fresh from heaven.  Tozer said, “If you can explain a church something is wrong.”  When God comes you can’t explain it. 

What we need today is more of something from heaven—a supernatural visitation.  The devil is strong and moving on the earth but our God is greater.  That’s why the worse epitaph would be “You have not because you asked not.”  Maybe you were running and busy—but what I would have done if you would have just asked. 

When God enters into what we’re dong there’s an impact you can’t explain.  How many times did we watch Billy Graham on TV. No one ever claimed he was a fancy speaker or a complicated theologian—he just preached the good news.  But why did he bear so much fruit?  Prayer.

How many want something fresh in your ministry?  The Bible says as Peter slept an angel woke him up.  That’s what God does in answer to prayer.  God wakes people up when we pray.  What’s the first great revival that shaped our country?  The Great Awakening.  What caused that?  It was God.  When God comes He begins to wake people up.  It’s like scales fall off their eyes. 

When my daughter was in her late teens we went through 2.5 year nightmare when she was a prodigal.  I tried everything and one night on a Tuesday night at a prayer meeting someone sent up a note and said they thought we should pray for our daughter.  I took the note and felt it was of the Lord and asked our associate pastor to pray.  They began to pray like those in labor.  Some of us think that’s fanaticism but it’s travail like a mother giving birth.  They called on God and I went home and told my wife, “It’s over.  Chrissy is coming home.”  The next morning Chrissy was back on the floor in my kitchen on her hands and knees and she said, “Daddy, I’ve sinned against God.  I’ve sinned against you” and as she wept she asked “who was praying for me last night?”  That didn’t come from my cleverness.  When the Holy Spirit comes people get awake.   And the chains fell off.

I’ve seen male prostitutes and cross dressers come into church.  One named Ricardo went by Sara on the streets and I saw God change that man and chains fell off.  God changed him and years later he got married.  We rented Madison Square Garden to do an outreach  and the couple walked out on the stage and people were so happy.

Lastly, as they were leaving the prison compound the Bible says as they approached the gate opened by itself.  When people pray, God opens doors.  Sometimes we try to force doors open, but when God opens them…  I want more open doors from God! 

Samaritan’s Purse is about open doors.  When we say we’re going to call on God we will get a battle royal because Satan knows he is defeated when we pray. 

God opens doors…I don’t want to preach anymore.  I want to pray with you.  There’s way better preachers than me.  We don’t need preaching so much.  God is listening.  His ear is open right now.   

**This was followed by a moving time of prayer as Jim prayed over hundreds of people who filled the area in front of the stage and flowed up the aisles.  God heard.  

Friday, April 7, 2017

Connect--Greg Laurie--Evangelizing Jesus Style

Samaritan’s Purse is not a relief organization; it is an evangelistic organization that does relief work. The real emphasis is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.  If we leave that out, we’ve left out everything.

We’re going to talk about how to share your faith—how to share your faith effectively or Jesus style.

John 4;  Believers and unbelievers are all uptight about sharing the gospel
Who is called to “God into all the world and preach the gospel?” – We are (Matt. 28:19,20) 

Our mission is to lead people to Christ, get them on their feet spiritually, and do it again and again. 

It’s the Great Commission and not the Great Suggestion but for many it’s become the Great Omission.  Sin can be not doing what we are supposed to do—the sin of omission. 

Where are we to preach? – EVERYWHERE!  We call it FRANgelism (friends, relatives, associates, neighbors)

Why should I preach the gospel? – because God’s way of reaching people is through people.  I Corinth. 1:21  -- the primary way God chooses to bring people into the Kingdom is by the verbal proclamation. Jesus didn’t say “go into the world and be a good example”

When are we to share the gospel—ALL THE TIME!  2 Tim. 4:2-- be on duty at all times.  One day I went into a restroom and took my seat then heard someone beside me in the stall clear his throat.  Then the person said, “hi” so in as masculine a tone as I could muster I said, “hi”.  He asked “Are you supposed to meet me here. I was gonna buy some drugs.”  I wondered if God’s Spirit could use me in a men’s room.  So I said “I don’t have any drugs for you but I have something better—a relationship with jesus.”  He said, “I already tried that. I even went to church at Harvest Christian Fellowship.”  I said, “I’m Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship>” and He replied, “Oh, my God.”  I moved the conversation outside the rest room and he made a recommitment.

How do we share the gospel?--   There’s no better example than Christ Himself.  The Bible says “The common people heard Him gladly.”  He was the friend of sinners. Unbelievers were drawn to Him.

--Our objective in sharing our faith is to build a bridge not burn one.  Everyone’s favorite subject is themselves.  Start talking with the person about himself.  We see this in John 4 with Jesus and the woman at the well.  We know she made bad moral decisions.  My own mother was married and divorced seven times and I was conceived out of wedlock.  So I feel I know this woman at the well.  This woman thought men would meet the basic needs of her life.

John 4:3-10 – Jesus NEEDED to go through Samaria – it was really out of the way for Him but Jesus needed to go because He knew there was a woman who needed to hear the gospel

--“Jesus Style” sharing starts with caring  the Care Bears have one thing right – If you don’t care about non-believers it doesn’t matter how much you know.  Sharing our faith can’t just be a job; it has to be a passion;  We must be ‘weepers’ of souls before reapers of souls.   Jesus overcame prejudice and went to a woman of a different race.  Jesus wants us to leave our comfort zone. 

Jonah—God asked him to go to Ninevah but Jonah didn’t want them to be spared.  God said “Go”; Jonah said “No”; God said “Oh” (God will always have the last word.)  The story of Jonah is not about the fish; it’s about one of the largest revivals in human histories with the whole city repenting.

--If we want to evangelize “Jesus Style”, use tact  Isaac Newton said, “Tact is the ability to make a point without making an enemy”  We tend to speak Christianese. We call them ‘sinners’ and ask them to ‘repent’ and be ‘washed in blood’ and you freak them out.  Don’t assume your listener understands what you’re saying.  Use illustrations.  Jesus made it a dialogue not a monologue. Engage in conversation.  Jesus engaged people.

--To share “Jesus Style” we have to adapt to the situation – A person cannot fully appreciate the good news of the gospel unless they know the bad news.  The whole gospel is you’re a sinner separated from God.  If they don’t think they’re a sinner, ask if they have ever done anything wrong.  Let them know there is a judgment; God doesn’t send people to hell; we send ourselves there because of our rejection of Him. You have to tell the whole truth or you haven’t given the gospel

--To share “Jesus Style” you have to stay focused – John 4:20-24 – don’t get sidetracked on side issues.  The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing and that’s the gospel.  The main thing is not politics or a certain point of view—it’s the gospel.

I once asked Billy Graham “What would an older Billy Graham say to a younger Billy Graham? He answered, “Preach more on the cross of Christ and the blood of Christ. That’s where the power is.”

Telling your story (your testimony) is a wonderful bridge to the gospel.  This woman, minutes old in the faith, immediately goes out and tells others.  Many people believed as a result of her testimony.

Paul would always start with his testimony about the Damascus Road.  People can’t argue with your story.  It’s a way to preach to a person without really preaching. 

Tips on sharing your testimony—
--Don’t glorify or exaggerate your past
--Don’t make your past sound better than your present..  We all have the same story—you were guilty and afraid to die and headed to hell…
--Lift up the name of Christ in your testimony—He is the star of your story. Don’t boast about what you gave up for Him but what He gave up for you! 

My mom was a beautiful woman raised in a Christian home but she ran away from home, eloped, got divorced quickly. She’d drink every night and pass out.  I was more of a parent to my mom and I followed in her footsteps.  But God in his mercy got hold of me at age 17.  The hardest person for me to reach was my mother. She’d come to my crusades but never received Christ.  She never wanted to talk about it.  I prayed for over 30 years.  At age 70 she had an auto accident because of driving drunk. She was on dialysis.  One day the Lord spoke to me about having that conversation and I went to talk with her and pressed the issue.  That resulted in her making a recommitment to Christ and one month later she died.  Sometims the Lord will prompt you and you need to respond.  My mom was married to Bill for 25 years and he never seemed that interested in the gospel. He lived a few years after my mom and when he was dying someone said I should go talk to him. God spoke to me on the way to the airport and I went to talk with him.  I realized he was not far from death and I shared the gospel and he prayed with me to receive Christ.  Minutes later he did.  When the Lord prompts you to have that conversation, do it! 

Next to knowing Christ myself the greatest joy is leading others to Christ. 

We have our marching orders to go to all this world to preach the gospel.  And I pray God uses you in the months ahead to see more fruit than you’ve ever seen.

Connect 2017--Skip Heitzig

Skip Heitzig, SP board member and pastor of Calvary of Albuquerque, brought our Friday morning devotions --

There is one text this conference has been built on—Matthew 28:18-20 – The Great Commission.  In Acts 1:8 Jesus speaking again said, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you….”

In the 1960s there was a program called Mission Impossible that was comprised of a small elite group of special agents called the IMF—Impossible Missions Force.  Every episode began with a set of instructions on a tiny audio tape that said, “Your mission, should you decide to accept it….this tape will self destruct in 5 seconds.”

This team was sent around the world on a mission they could accept or not accept.  Our mission is the Great Commission that we can accept or not accept.

When I first heard the term ‘missions’ as a child it did not sound adventurous or fun. As a Catholic our mission was The Pagan Babies Fund – you could adopt a child for $10 (they called it saving a child) and for another $10 you could name that child.

After I came to know the Lord I saw the adventure in missions.  We call it missions but Jesus calls it ‘fishing’ – fishers of men.  I’m not much of a fisherman; if I catch something it’s by luck.  I discovered the best places to go fishing are sometimes the hardest ones to get to and the most dangerous ones to be at.  If you ask a fisherman if he’d rather go to where everyone is fishing or where there are many fish, he wants to go where the fish are. 

The churches who don’t evangelize will eventually fossilize.  Our mission is global. There are a few reasons why we need to take the gospel around the world. 

Reasons we need to take the gospel around the world—
1)  The Character of God – God is a sending God. He told Abraham to go so the nations could be blessed.  That’s the ultimate purpose of missions—to bless the world through Jesus.  The tragedy of the Old Testament is that God’s people forgot their mandate.  Isaiah told the Jews they’d be a light to the Gentiles.

--Jesus Himself was a missionary – “Came to seek and to save the lost” – God had only one Son and He was a missionary, a missionary doctor. God sent His Son on a cross-cultural mission.  Imagine the culture shock of leaving heaven and coming to earth.  If you want to follow Jesus you must follow Him to the ends of the earth because that’s where He is going.

--The Holy Spirit is all about missions – beginning in Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, and uttermost parts of the earth.  In Acts the H.S. is mentioned 60 times and it’s all about sending people to the ends of the earth.  Acts 13 begins Paul’s first of 3 missionary journeys.

Missions is the “family business”.  God put us in His family and wants us in the family business.  Book—“Why Churches Die”—Hollis Green  1) When converts do not become disciples and 2): when disciples do not become apostles. 

2)  The Condition of the Harvest – all around the world people are broken and looking for hope.  Jesus was moved by compassion for the crowds because they were scattered as sheep without a shepherd. …. Pray the Lord of the Harvest to send laborers.  Jesus saw a crowd differently than most of us do.  We want to get out of the traffic to the front of the line.  Evangelism begins with learning to see people the right way.  Jesus saw their inward condition and was moved to compassion. 
Leading a person to Christ begins with looking at a person like Christ would.  You can take every unbeliever and line them up and it would go around the earth 30 times and that line is growing by 20 miles every day.  This is inot the time for the church to turn inward but to turn outward.  The Church is the only organization that exists for the benefit of non-members.

      3) The Commission of Jesus Christ --  Jesus told the church to ‘go’ instead of telling the world to ‘come’.  Start with your own area and go out to the uttermost parts of the earth.  On my way to India a woman asked me why I was taking a western religion to an eastern country.  I asked her if she knew the gospel started in the Middle East. 

One rock star said missions is the height of religious arrogance.  That may be politically correct but it is spiritually incorrect.  The gospel is for ALL the world. The angels over Bethlehem said the good news was for ALL people.  Jesus said “God so loved the WORLD” not just the west.

If a person has leprosy or another medical condition the treatment is the same universally and the gospel is the universal cure for sin for all people.  God has the cure and the doctor says, “Go into all the world.”

4)    Because of the Coming Judgment --  Acts 8:9 – as Jesus was taken up two men stood by Him in white apparel and said,  “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up…this same Jesus will return as you see Him go into heaven.”  Between His first coming and His second coming we have a limited amount of time to tell the world this lifesaving message.  When Jesus comes again it will be a time of judgment. 

Jesus had compassion because He could see the ultimate consequence of their unbelief and we have a limited time to make an impact.  I would compare the world to a sinking ship.  The captain knows it’s going down but the passengers do not.  The captain (Satan) gives us perks and people think they have a wonderful captain but they don’t know they’ll soon be dead. 

At the end of the Mission Impossible intro it said this tape will self-destruct.  God tells us this world will self-destruct but while we wait for His return the fishing is really good out there.  Next time you see a bumper sticker that says, “I’d rather be fishing,” stop and say to yourself “me too” and ask God to send you and use you.

Thank you for taking that commission and using your influence to spread the gospel to children and families because you decided to say “Send me.  I want to fish for men’s souls.”

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Connect--Rev. Robert Morris--God Needs You

Tonight's general session began with a Parade of Nations as a team member from each of the 129 different nations represented at the conference carried in his or her nation's flag.  Each was dressed in native garb and it was a moving sight.  

After a greeting from Franklin Graham we also enjoyed performances by the Amani African Children's Choir, Dennis Agajanian, and the Tommy Coomes band.

Then Franklin Graham introduced the speaker for the evening--Rev. Robert Morris from Gateway Church outside Dallas --

Rev. Robert Morris –God Needs You
1) God doesn’t need anything.  I know God is self-existent, self-sufficient and self-sustaining …but while on a cruise I felt God say to me “I need You.” As I studied this I realized...
      2) God decided to need you.  God decided to partner with us
Genesis 2:19 – “Out of the ground God formed every beast…and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them…and that was its name.”   I think he named the birds last and he was getting drowsy and named them ‘bluebird’, ‘redbird’, ‘blackbird’….  Why did God ask Adam to name the animals? He decided to partner with us.  God gave dominion of the earth to Adam and Eve. 
--Mark 6:5,6 “Jesus could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled because of their unbelief.” Couldn’t find anyone to partner with Him.

Numbers jump out at me.
I Samuel 17:4-11  Goliath’s height = 6 cubits and a span; he had 6 pieces of armor that weighed 600 shekels (numbers 666) He was anti-God and being used by the enemy. 

Goliath said “Choose a man and let him come down to me.” If I win you’ll become my servants and if you win I’ll become your servant.  Satan is saying to God, “I’ve got you now.  I’ve got a champion and you don’t have a man who has guts to stand up to my man. I’ve figured out you work through people. I’ve got a guy who’s not afraid and I’m gonna take your people into bondage.”  Satan can see the horizon but he can’t see the future. 

God said, “I don’t need a man. I’ve got a boy and I’ve been preparing him with a lion and a bear.”  Why couldn’t God have just sent a lightning bolt and killed Goliath? 

All through Scripture since creation God is looking for one person to partner with Him—at least in prayer—to get His work done.  Romans 10:14 “…How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?”  If you’re prompted to talk to someone about God…it’s not the devil prompting you.  Don’t pray, “Send someone to my neighbor to tell them about Jesus.” 

3) Have you decided to need God?  Not for salvation, but for whatever you’re going through right now.

--God is never going to do our part.  We have a part and God has a part and He won’t do our part.  There are some things God’s never going to do. 
--Our part is never supernatural.  David had to sling the stone but God made it hit in exactly the right place. Moses lifted up the rod and God parted the Red Sea.  You can relax. Do your part and let God do His part. 
--Our part is first.  God’s already done His part. He’s sent His Son to pay for our sins and sent His Holy Spirit to empower us and blessed us with every spiritual blessing. Now He’s waiting on us to move.  If the world is going to hear the gospel, God says “It’s your move.” 

I know you’re already doing the work of the Kingdom but in what area do you need a miracle?  What’s your part? 

Let me go back to Adam and Goliath. Speaking of Adam, doesn’t it seem a bit unfair that one man sinned and the whole world was condemned. Before I answer that, let me say anytime you read something in the Word you don’t understand…it’s because you don’t understand.  There’s nothing wrong with the Word.  Since it only took one man to lose it all it only took one man to get it all back.  Since a man lost it, a man had to get it back.  This proves God decided to partner with mankind and His Son had to become a man.  Jesus had to live a perfect life and be punished for our sins so we could go to heaven.

Goliath said, “Choose a man, that he may come down and fight with me…”  Is it possible that Satan said to God, “Choose a man that he might fight with me,” and God said, “Okay, I choose Jesus—we’ll make Him a man.”

You have a choice; you have a part. God was reconciling the world to Himself through Jesus.  People don’t go to hell because they sin; they go to hell because of unbelief.  He that doesn’t believe does not have life.

Our job is easy. We can’t win anyone to Christ; only God can.  I just tell people about Jesus.  I do my part, and God does His part. 

Ask the Holy Spirit, “What are you saying to me through this message.”


You know, I don't like to travel and a day ago I was just wishing this trip to Global Connect would just be over.

But that was a day I'm safely here and having an amazing time with God's people.  Last night we had a blessed session with so many of our international OCC friends--praising God together in different languages was just the start of this little taste of heaven.

We considered together how many unreached people groups there are in the world and how God is calling us to reach ANY and ALL and EVERY one of them.  I was astounded to learn of the unreached groups among the deaf with 70 million persons who are deaf and sign in 400 different sign languages.  Oh, Lord, bring them to Yourself.  The harvest is so plentiful. God, help us be faithful to pray for laborers.

I've already reconnected with so many good friends I only get to see once or perhaps twice a year.  As we share tales of God's goodness the encouragement seeps deep into the hard corners of my soul.

Diane tells me my prayers for her mission trip to Greece were answered.  Ginny shares how God reconnected her here in Orlando with a high school friend she hasn't seen in decades and blessed her so abundantly in that meeting. Lynnette reports of God's goodness in her relationships.  This morning I saw Christy and we swapped stories of God's provision for our packing parties.  So many answers to prayers I've prayed throughout this year.  Seeing faith become sight never gets old.

And I'm connecting with some of our international partners, too. What a joy it was to pray with brothers and sisters from East Asia in the prayer room this morning.  On the way to breakfast I chatted with Steven, the National Coordinator for Kenya, whose team is responsible for distributing over 107,000 boxes this year.

At breakfast I met Kristina, a field representative from Albania and spent some time talking with Perry from the Philippines.  Did you know in the Philippines they even used zip lines to deliver some of their boxes? Crazy.

I was overjoyed to meet Vitaly, an international field representative from Ukraine.  He was glad to hear our team had been praying specifically this year for Ukraine and asked us to pray for the local ministry partners to stay faithful to their calling in discipling the children who receive boxes.  They distribute 500,000 - 600,000 boxes there each year!

So...I've only been here 17 hours and God is answering so many prayers.  My only regret is that more of my team members couldn't be here to connect with me.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Inquiring of the Lord

I selfishly write this blog more for myself than for readers. It's a way for me to process some things and especially to keep a record of how God works along the way--what He does and doesn't do; what He says and doesn't say.

These large packing parties often have difficulties and the challenge for us is to decide what God is saying in the midst of those.  It's been a few years now since I've had this much problem discerning whether God wants us to proceed with a large packing party this year.

You've been reading how He's provided a storage container full of items to fill boxes, and He's still providing. You'd think that would be confirmation that this packing party should happen in September, but I'm still not sure.

The past week has brought three major challenges that make me wonder. The first is the report of relationship strains in our team.  Only God knows how to fix that and we'll be talking about it at our next meeting.

Second is the announcement that the boxes provided for the packing party will be the ones pictured above--traditional GO boxes without the printing.  There's a good reason for this.  The pop-up ones we've been using the past few years, though easy for us to handle, aren't as strong and make it hard for the children who receive them to reuse them to store their items. The GO boxes will be stronger BUT we have to go back to folding them, and that creates a huge logistical challenge.

Third--I just learned there is a scheduling conflict on the September 22 & 23 dates we set for the packing party and the church where we hold the party may not be available for us.  We'll know in a day or so.

Here's the thing.  IF God wants us to hold this packing party and IF we are united as a team, then none of these issues is insurmountable.  God will always make a way.

This morning I opened my Bible to 1 Samuel 23 to continue reading. I certainly didn't expect to get any wisdom from 1 Samuel to apply to this packing party issue.  But, wouldn't you know--God spoke to me through this chapter.

As 1 Samuel 23 unfolds David is in hiding from enemies--fearing the Philistines but fearing even more his own king, Saul, who wants to kill him.  When David hears the enemy Philistines are attacking again, the first thing he does is "inquire of the Lord" asking whether he should attack.  And the Lord said, "Go and attack the Philistines and deliver Keilah."

But David's ragtag army of misfits and malcontents were afraid to go to battle.  So...what did David do?  He didn't berate them or listen to another leadership TED talk, or give them a motivational speech.  David "inquired of the Lord once more."  And...the Lord answered him (again) and said, "Arise, go down to Keilah, for I will give the Philistines into your hand."  The next verse (23:5) matter-of-factly states, "So David and his men went to Keilah and fought with the Philistines...thus David delivered the inhabitants of Keilah."  It doesn't say how David got his army to follow him or what his battle plan was, but once He knew God was ordering him to go David simply went into battle and won.

The chapter's not over yet, though. After his great victory David hears that his king, Saul, is plotting again to kill him. What does David do? He asks Abiathar the priest to bring the ephod and He asks God, "Will Saul come down just as Your servant has heard? O Lord God of Israel, I pray, tell your servant."  And God tells him that Saul will come and that David will be surrendered to him. I'd love to know how this happened. Did he hear God audibly speak to him? My inquiring mind longs to know but Scripture doesn't say  So...following God's advice David left Keilah and stayed in the wilderness "And Saul sought him every day, but God did not deliver him into his hand."

David had foreign enemies and domestic enemies and God had a plan to protect him from both.  In one case God clearly led him into battle and victory.  But in another God had him retreat into the wilderness and protected him there.

We need to go back to inquire of the Lord. We need to ask Him if a large-scale packing party this fall is a battle He wants us to fight. Because, my friends, it IS a fight.  Will you inquire with me?

Monday, March 27, 2017

Back At It

And...we were back at it again last Wednesday with another packing party work day.  Though the temperature dropped to twenty degrees at least it was sunny and dry and we were blessed with more than forty people from the community who came to help sort and count 10,300 cups, fold and rubber band 10,000 belts and make 2,000 or so jump ropes.

It's always amazing to think how the items we touch will end up months from now in the hands of children in other countries one way or another.

We accomplished an amazing amount of work and it was exciting to see the storage container brought to a sort of temporary organization.

I was feeling great until a few hours later when a team member called to tell me in a roundabout way about feelings that were hurt.  Why do human relationships have to be so challenging?  I mean, I'm close to sixty-five years old and I still can't figure out how to admit to and resolve conflicts.

So, we're going to delve into that subject at our next team meeting and decide if we can all commit to work together as a team well enough to even attempt another large packing party in six months.

I'm trying to look at Jesus' ministry and see how He taught about and modeled relationships.  I'm only half way through Matthew and I already have so many examples.  His very first teaching that we call the Sermon on the Mount is full of direction about how to live with and relate to one another.

I'm not too old to learn how to clearly express my feelings, confess my faults, and ask for forgiveness.  I just need to get back at it.

Saturday, March 11, 2017


I haven't been connecting very well through blogging but God has been bringing lots of connections into my Operation Christmas Child world nevertheless.

The picture above was taken at the end of January at our Mid-Atlantic Area Coordinators' planning weekend. It was a true honor to pray for Dania after she shared her full-circle shoebox story with us. How wonderful to connect with her and hear again of the impact these simple shoeboxes can have.

Meanwhile, God's been bringing us connections with so many volunteers to provide items and manpower for our packing party.  We had a work day on February 22nd and are planning another one in March.  Over 40 people came, including more than a dozen students from Bethel Christian School.

Myron cut the rest of the rope we had and hundreds were tied into jump ropes.

The students worked hard to unbox shoelaces and belts to get them prepared for the packing party while other volunteers stapled paper into packets.

A few new friends from Erie Homes for Children and Adults came to assist us, too...

And in the midst of the chaos there was time to stop and connect in prayer...

Last Saturday brought a really sweet connection when my friend Lisa from Virginia stopped in with these fabulous donations.  She and her three grown children, her sister, and her niece drove up in their minivan for her grandmother's birthday party.  In addition to their luggage they brought nearly 600 beanie babies (all washed and sorted) and over 500 washcloths.  Lisa said her children didn't mind riding with bags of animals under their feet because they love Operation Christmas Child!  This special connection is a real blessing from the Lord.

And the connections continue.  We haven't had any new applications for our team this year, so we're asking God to bring us some new members--especially on our prayer team and our church relations team.

And we're praying for all the countries where so many boxes have already been delivered and for those still waiting to get boxes through customs and into the hands of children...

Because every box is a connection to show a child and family God's love.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Identity Crisis

There's plenty happening in my shoebox world but I just don't feel like writing about that.  I've been up since 3:00 am and as I sit and watch the snow falling I thought I'd take a chance and spout off about my latest struggles.

When David wrote so many of his psalms were they his own personal journals?  I wonder if he realized they'd be read by millions of people centuries later.    If he understood that would it have made him less candid?  I don't know, but I do know many of us find comfort in reading his honest emotions.

I feel raw and vulnerable and I don't know who to tell so why not post it in a blog?  I'm having some sort of identity crisis that makes me cranky and miserable.  Is this spiritual warfare?  Maybe--but that sounds too lofty for my pitiful turmoil.

Day before yesterday the temperature here in Erie, PA reached a record 77 degrees. The sun shone bright and the air oozed with odors of spring. Yesterday the thermometer plummeted to 25 degrees and the snow started again.  Even the weather can't figure out who it is.

I can't figure out where I fit in and it's driving me crazy.  I can't align with Republican conservatives but I can't fully embrace the tenets of a liberal.

Theologically, I'm not fully aligned with Arminianism nor Calvinism.  I'm trying not to be a Pharisee but can't quite make it to whatever the opposite side would be--maybe Christian Libertarian?

And as I scroll down my Facebook newsfeed filled with posts about new makeup products (I don't use any) and stylish leggings (only wear black and only when running) and Pinterest projects (don't get me started) I wonder if I can even identify with the female gender.  I don't carry a purse for cryin' out loud.

But all that aside, what I struggle with most these days is the elemental question: Who is God?  

Whoa.  It's a big question.  I've wrestled for decades to try to comprehend God's love for me.  I mean, I know He has to love me because He says so over and over in Scripture and He wouldn't lie, right?  And, yes, I've tried reading John 3:16 inserting my name in it to make it personal. To be accurate, there have been many, many times when I've experienced God's love but it never seems to be enough.   Like a greedy toddler I want more.

I recently re-read a fiction story I read some years ago--one that moved me to tears as I felt God genuinely revealed His love to me through it.  But as I've tried to share about that I've been gently rebuked by folks who've pointed out the story is actually heresy because it doesn't show the full character of God--not only His love but His holiness, His judgment.  We can all agree God is incomprehensible so where does that leave us?

God reveals Himself in Scripture, but I'm reading the Old Testament right now--Judges and 1 Samuel have had some great examples of God's holiness and love evidenced in smiting large groups of both enemies and Israelites.  Of course, there was a refreshing break from the killing in the book of Ruth as all the characters who died leaving the women widows seemed to do so less violently.

I guess it's time to refresh my memory and get into the gospels again. I know Jesus is "the image of the invisible God" so maybe if I read the account of His life I'll get a better perspective.

Don't get me wrong; I've studied "Knowing God" by J.I. Packer and other books that highlight God's attributes.  Right now it's not academic knowledge I need.

Maybe I'll read some of my old journals and see the highs and lows I've already experienced in this journey, because eventually I always stumble out of the valley.  At least, by God's grace, I always have.

And if I were David, I'd write--God, if You're listening, come and rescue me from myself.  Selah.