Witness Stones

In Luke 19:40 Jesus said, “If we keep quiet (and don’t praise God), the stones will cry out.” Why would you and I remain silent, forfeiting to stones the joy of praising God for what He has done?

Samuel used stones as a memorial when God’s people wanted to remember His goodness and faithfulness. First Samuel 7:12 says that when God enabled the Israelites to defeat the Philistines, the Prophet Samuel “took a stone and … named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far has the Lord helped us.’”

Joshua also used stones to help God’s people remember His goodness. After wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, the Israelites experienced the power of God to roll back the waters of the Jordan River, enabling them to cross over and take possession of the Promised Land. Joshua then commanded them to build a memorial of stones as a public testimony of what God had done for them … stones that would remind them to keep on praising Him.

Do you know the old hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”?  In one stanza it says:

Here I raise my Ebenezer; hither by Thy help I’ve come!

I doubt that many people who sing this hymn have the vaguest idea what is meant by that phrase.  What was the song-writer referring to with this obscure and unfamiliar phrase about raising an Ebenezer?

When you hear the word Ebenezer, you probably think of Scrooge from Dicken’s Christmas Carol.  Not too many people name their sons Ebenezer these days.  But in Scripture we find this word in 1 Samuel 7:12:

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen.  He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far has the Lord helped us.”

Literally the word Ebenezer means “Stone of Help.”  Samuel set up—or raised—this stone as a memorial, a marker-stone, to commemorate the victory they had just concluded over the Philistines.  This was not a stone to be worshiped; it was not to make a certain place holy, like a Mecca.  But Samuel knew well that the Israelites were very prone to forget God’s goodness and God’s blessings.  So, he raised this stone as an everlasting reminder of how God had helped them win this victory.

I thought that this landmark program—number 1500—was a good time to talk about Ebenezer stones—or stones of remembrances—for our own lives, by looking at the life of Moses.  There were some definite Ebenezer stones in his life—stones of remembrance, stones when God helped him.  And these turning points in his life relate to ours as well.  As we look at Moses’ Stones of Remembrance, consider how your own life may have some similar ones.  The first one would be:

The Stone of Salvation

You are no doubt familiar with the story of how his life was saved as a baby by a very creative mother and sister. When Pharaoh’s daughter saw baby Moses in the basket on the Nile, she took him into Pharaoh’s home and raised him as one of her own.  He was physically saved, so there would be a stone of salvation for Moses.

Do you have a stone of salvation?  I’m talking about salvation from the penalty of your sins.  Can you tell of a time when you were made aware of your sins, where you were convicted of your sinful condition, and you knew that you could not save yourself?

If you have not yet set up your stone of salvation, here’s all you have to do:

Romans 10:9-10:  That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”

As Moses grew to manhood, he was educated as an Egyptian with all the privileges that came from being raised as Pharaoh’s daughter.  But he never forgot that he was a Jew, one of God’s chosen people, so he wanted to help his people.  Pharaoh kept the Jewish people in bitter servitude and they were sorely mistreated.  One day when Moses saw an Egyptian beating one of his Hebrew brothers, he killed the Egyptian and hid his body in the sand.  He thought he was doing the right thing to defend his countryman, but the next day, when he saw two Hebrews fighting each other and tried to stop them, they turned on him and said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us?  Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?”

Well, this just blew Moses away.  He thought his murderous act was a secret, but now he realized it wasn’t, and when Pharaoh heard about it, he tried to kill Moses.  So Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he became a lowly, humble shepherd. For 40 years Moses lived in exile in Midian.

Here Moses would need to raise a

Stone of Shame.

Overnight Moses went from the prestigious position as Pharaoh’s grandson to that of a fugitive.  He had disgraced himself by killing a man, and now he had lost his honor and his position and he was reduced to being a shepherd in a foreign land—for 40 long years.

Have you ever had a Stone of Shame in your life?  I have.  My period of shame lasted for ten years—ten years when I decided I could run my life better than God, and I walked away from my commitment to him and did my own thing.  I told myself a lie and believed it—and the lie was that life would be intolerable without a husband.  There could be no happiness or fulfillment if I didn’t get a man!  Now, I know I’m the only woman in the world to ever think like that, but that’s the truth!

So, my legitimate need for love and acceptance became an addiction, as I determined to do it my way instead of trusting God.  During those ten years, doing my own thing led to a sinful lifestyle, one that was not pleasing to God, and one of shame.

Maybe some of you are in that place now. You know that something is not right in your life.  You’re living in disobedience to God’s plan for your life, and you know it.  Or there is a big dark cloud hanging over you from your past and you’re stuck at the Stone of Shame. God wants to help you put this Stone of Shame behind you so you can move forward to the good things he has for you.

Moses figured he had blown it so badly, that God would never use him again.  But he was wrong.  After 40 years, as Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law at Horeb, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush.

As God spoke to him from the burning bush, he commissioned Moses to rescue his people from the hand of the Egyptians. Moses is now a humbled man, and he insists that he cannot do it.  But God said to him, “I will be with you.  I am who I am, and you will tell the Israelites that ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

Moses feared they would not believe him, so God gave him some signs to assure him that as long as God was with him, he could do what God called him to do.

So, here Moses would raise a

Stone of Assurance

I have to believe that there are some of you who need a Stone of Assurance.  You need to know that God isn’t through with you yet, and he has a plan for you.  Like Moses, you may need reassurance that he will be with you, but you have to give him control of your life.

What is it that is keeping you from doing what God has planned for you to do?  Is it fear?  Is it that you have your own plan and you just want God to bless your plan?  Is it laziness?  Is it lack of trust in God’s ability to do through you what you cannot do yourself?  Is it a relationship? Until you submit it to God, you cannot go forward to the good things that God has for you, the good works he put you here to do.

After forty long years Moses was finally ready to do what God had called him to do.  And now begins the battle between Moses and Pharaoh to let God’s people go!  You know how God took them across the Red Sea, escaping Pharaoh’s last attempt to catch them and bring them back.  They crossed on dry ground, and Pharaoh and his army were drowned as the waters came rushing back over them.

There Moses could raise a

Stone of Deliverance

Surely there are many who need to raise a stone of deliverance, a memorial to God’s faithfulness in your lives.  A testimony of his goodness to you in spite of all you’ve done and all your failures.  Has he been faithful to you?  Then raise your Stone of Deliverance.

Many years later as Moses was presenting to the children of Israel the tablets with the Ten Commandments, he said to them:

“The Lord your God commands you this day to follow these decrees and laws; carefully observe them with all your heart and with all your soul.  You have declared this day that the Lord is your God and that you will walk in his ways, that you will keep his decrees, commands and laws, and that you will obey him. And the Lord has declared this day that you are his people, his treasured possession as he promised, and that you are to keep all his commands” (Deut. 26:16 – 18).

He challenged the people to set up a

Stone of Commitment

They were to declare before God and his servant Moses and before all the people that they were committed to obey the Lord, to walk in his ways, to keep his commands, to glorify their God all the days of their lives.

Today some of us need to set up a stone of commitment, publicly and without reservation, where we say to God, “I’m not playing around any longer.  I am serious about walking with you, obeying you, living for you, spending time getting to know you.”

Yes, there are landmark times when we need to set some stones of remembrance: a Salvation Stone, or a Stone of Shame, a Stone of Assurance and one of Deliverance, and a Stone of Commitment.  What stones—what Ebenezers—do you need to raise maybe even today?  Could you just stop and take time to think back and let God’s Spirit speak to you.  It’s a good time to raise some stones of remembrance; stones that will help us to go forward to the new thing that God wants to do for us and through us this year.

Read Joshua 3 and 4.

I. THE LITERAL STONES | Joshua 4:1-9

  • Read Joshua: 4:2-3, 5, 8. What were the stones of remembrance and where did they come from?
  • Read Joshua 4:6-7. Why did God say they were to be collected and carried to the riverbank?
  • What literal objects could you place in your home or office that would serve as reminders to you of your personal experiences of God’s power?
  • What are some other practical ways you can remember what God has done for you in order to cultivate and maintain an attitude of gratitude?
  • From the following passages, describe other visuals God gave His people and what each represented: Genesis 9:12-16; Exodus 12:1-13; Matthew 26:26-29; John 20:24-29.

II. THE LIVING STONES | Joshua 4:10-18

  • Read Joshua 4:10. What was necessary before the Israelites could experience God’s power?
  • Read Joshua 4:11. What was the living proof of God’s power?
  • What do you think the crossing of the Jordan symbolizes in the Christian life?
  • Did the Israelites believe their experience of God’s power meant their lives would be easy from then on? Give a verse to prove your point.
  • What is significant in Joshua 4:18? How would this affect the Israelites?
  • Who are the living stones today? See 1 Peter 2:4-5; Ephesians 2:19-22.

III. THE LASTING STONES | Joshua 4:19-24

  • Read Joshua 4:22-24. What did the stones mean?
  • Read Joshua 4:6-7, 22. What were the Israelites to do with the memories of their experiences of God’s power?
  • When others look at your life, do they demand an explanation for what they see? What explanation do you give them?
  • What testimony are you leaving behind for your children/grandchildren, and how will you be sure they get it?
  • What are at least two reasons for us to give verbal testimony to what God has done for us? See Joshua 4:24; Luke 1:1-4; John 4:28-42; John 20:30-31; 1 John 1:1-4.
  • How do nine of the 10 lepers in Luke 17:11-19 illustrate only living stones, but not lasting stones? How does the one leper illustrate both a living stone and a lasting stone?

Take a moment now to reflect on God’s blessings, grace, and power in your life. Write down what you remember and make two copies … one to keep, and one to give to someone else as a witness of what He has done for you. Then praise God for Jesus, His living, lasting Stone.

 

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When I Was A Pregnant Teen Sleeping With Older Men, Planned Parenthood Failed Me

Planned Parenthood covers up statutory rape, leaves vulnerable women in abusive situations, and tells them their lives are better without their babies. I know because they did it to me.

When I Was A Pregnant Teen Sleeping With Older Men, Planned Parenthood Failed Me

June 13, 2019

Planned Parenthood is bad for babies. It’s the nation’s largest abortion provider, ending the lives of 332,757 unborn Americans in 2018. It isn’t just bad for babies, but also for women. Planned Parenthood covers up statutory rape, lies to women, leaves vulnerable women in abusive situations, and tells women that their lives are better without their babies and children.

I know all of this because I am one of the women who went to Planned Parenthood for help. Instead, I was further hurt at a time I was most vulnerable.

When I was in high school, I started going to Planned Parenthood for birth control and health care. I was open with them about my risk factors for birth control: primarily that I was smoking heavily, which increases the risk of stroke when combined with hormonal birth control. They didn’t reprimand me or warn me about the potential negative consequences of being a smoker on birth control.

I was honest with Planned Parenthood workers about the age gaps between me and my partners—gaps that put my relationships in violation of my state’s statutory rape laws. No Planned Parenthood worker ever asked me if I felt safe in these relationships (the answer would have been no) or reported them as a mandatory reporter. Nor did any of the practitioners tell me about the risks of having multiple partners. In failing to do so, they shirked their responsibility to me, a woman in need.

By providing me “health care” but not addressing the unsafe situations in my life, they did little to ensure I was actually healthy or cared for as a whole woman. With so much time spent defending Planned Parenthood and their “important” role in women’s health care, where is the care for girls like me?

Having birth control without any adults in my life knowing about it and having the ability to take myself for STD testing (also without parental knowledge or consent) didn’t make me safer. Instead, it allowed me a false sense of security. I thought I was protected from the worst consequences of the regular drugs and partying that offered nothing but empty joy and growing darkness for those involved.

To say this is a time of my life I’m not proud of would be an understatement of epic proportions. It’s hard to recognize myself in the choices I made then, in the things that seemed, if not acceptable, at least reasonable. The truth is, though, that risky behavior is just that: risky. That risk will eventually catch up to you no matter how hard you try to hide from it, in some way or another.

I got pregnant as a teenager. It shouldn’t have shocked me that I got pregnant, but at the time it really did. I expected birth control to protect me from that forever, and it didn’t. When I started telling the people around me that I was expecting a baby, looking for support to figure out the next step, most people told me I should have an abortion.

Many of the people pushing that believed their rhetoric about why it would be best for me: I was immature and had no career that could support a child. I was a well-known partier and problem person, and ill-equipped to settle down and be a stable parent. By the end of the first trimester, I was also single. How could I possibly hope to support a baby?

Friends and onlookers took me aside to tell me that I could just quietly end my pregnancy, move on with my life, and be a mother later on when I had things “figured out.” Or, if that idea made me too uncomfortable, I could just give my baby to some nice couple who had their lives together.

I didn’t have an abortion, and I didn’t choose adoption. My life had been a swirl of instability for many years. I had foolishly surrounded myself with people who said they loved me, but only wanted to use me. Keeping my baby was the first real step out of this, my first step toward valuing myself. When it was no longer just me, I had to stop making impulsive, irrational choices that felt good in the moment (or sometimes, awful in the moment), but led to vast amounts of pain in the longer term.

Becoming a mother saved me. It wasn’t instant perfection; leaving my old life wasn’t easy. To claim that would trivialize how hard it’s been. But making the choice to keep my child has been so worthwhile and healing.

Parenting and loving a child actually helped care for the person I was (and am) far more than anything Planned Parenthood ever offered. I felt valuable and nourished in a way that I hadn’t from people pushing abortion.

Women in these hard situations aren’t there because they enjoy it, but because they don’t recognize that they could be having relationships that are so much more. Our culture doesn’t sufficiently teach what good relationships look like, what bad relationships look like, and how to distinguish the two.

A good relationship is built on some simple and easy to distinguish characteristics that not everyone has been taught to look for:

-There is no domestic violence. Around one in 11 high school-aged girls, and one in 15 high school-aged boys, report they’ve been in a relationship that involves physical violence in the last year. I didn’t realize as a teenager that relationships could exist without physical violence. Internalizing that as an adult has reshaped how I view the interactions between men and women,

-Where partners are on an equal power level. Dating shouldn’t come with so many strings that one person is afraid or unable to leave. Dating isn’t a marriage, entered into ‘til death do you part. If one person controls the other or has undue influence, it’s not healthy. Relationships should never be built on control.

-Where sex isn’t the most important thing, especially as a teenager. Teenage relationships should be about learning and growing. Sexual activity in teens has been linked to depression and suicide risks, all other issues aside.

It is daunting to think of trying to get through to teens, especially those on rocky paths. The correct answer to helping them isn’t just abandoning them or hoping they’ll outgrow their rebellion without lasting damage.

Many times in my life the people around me could have stepped in and helped, but didn’t. The workers at Planned Parenthood should have intervened, for one. I don’t know if I would have graciously received it. In fact, it’s entirely possible I would have resisted.

But I was also a child, and that resistance would have been a childish insistence in staying in a negative situation, not a well-reasoned action. It was negligent for Planned Parenthood, and the adults around me, to let me keep making dangerous and foolish decisions for so long. Thank goodness I chose life, and found the strength to make a change.

Planned Parenthood claims to champion the cause of women just like the girl I used to be: on the fringe, in poverty, in need of “reproductive health care” services devoid of any judgment. But abortion-pushing Planned Parenthood workers are not helping women, they’re perpetuating the very patriarchy they so claim to hate: reducing women to just vessels for sex. Meaningless sex, without strings attached, long-term promises, or the very end result that sex is designed for biologically: children. We don’t lift up women by telling them that their success in life is built around relationships with men where they need to hop into bed before they’ve made a lasting commitment to one another.

It’s incredibly counterintuitive to tell women that true freedom is sex without consequences. Sexuality can be used for good, but putting women—especially vulnerable women—into a position where they barter their bodies and their sexuality for stability is wrong. If Planned Parenthood really cared about girls and women, they’d take care of them far better and stop idolizing sexuality and letting risky behavior slide.

Don’t be afraid to try, and keep trying. The women who are struggling most need you to keep offering help. Real help, away from danger, not perpetuating it like Planned Parenthood does.

The author is a regular Federalist contributor writing anonymously here due to the personal nature of her article.

This byline marks several different individuals, granted anonymity in cases where publishing an article on The Federalist would credibly threaten close personal relationships, their safety, or their jobs. We verify the identities of those who publish anonymously with The Federalist.

https://thefederalist.com/2019/06/13/pregnant-teen-sleeping-older-men-planned-parenthood-failed/


 

 

The Father’s Hand of Protection

By Jerry Pierce • June 17, 2016

Father holding son

In this article, which first appeared in the May 2016 edition of Decision Magazine, Pastor Dale Evrist explains the unwavering protection God offers through Christ. Find hope in this message, even if you don’t have an earthly dad to celebrate this Father’s Day.

The picture of Shaun Cunningham’s outstretched arm shielding his young son’s face from an errant baseball bat at a March 5 spring training game between the Atlanta Braves and the Pittsburgh Pirates quickly went viral on social media.

If a picture is really worth a thousand words, surely none of those words were as rich in meaning as what Landon Cunningham, a 9-year-old Braves fan, said about the prospects of danger from flung bats and foul balls at baseball outings.

Shaun Cunningham deflects a flying bat to save his son, Landon, from certain injury.

“As long as I’m with my dad, I’m OK,” he told the Ocala Star-Banner in Ocala, Fla.

Dale Evrist, pastor of New Song Christian Fellowship in Nashville, Tenn., and author of a book on God’s protection of believers called The Mighty Hand of God, would agree.

When Evrist saw the photo of Shaun stretching out to shield his son—who was looking down at his dad’s phone when Pirates outfielder Danny Ortiz’s bat went flying toward the stands—he almost immediately thought of theological parallels.

“If an earthly father’s instinct in protecting his child enables that father in a split second to ward off a projectile coming at his son to do him harm, and if we serve the God and the Father of the How Much More, then how much more will your heavenly Father give good things?” Evrist told Decision, quoting from Matthew 7:11. “He knows the bat’s coming. He’s the helicopter over the parade. He declares the end from the beginning.”

Evrist acknowledges that God’s plan often allows suffering, and sometimes tragic death, yet God’s economy seems to allow for more protections from natural calamities and human evils than the believer likely realizes.

Scripture is full of instances in which God protected His people—always with His divine purposes in mind.

  • In Exodus 14:21-31, God is described as fighting for Israel as He divides the Red Sea as a means of their escape from the pursuing Egyptian army. Though often stiff-necked, Israel is God’s chosen vehicle for bringing forth the Messiah.
  • In Joshua 2, God rewards a fearful and repentant prostitute, Rahab, for her faithfulness in hiding the Hebrew spies by sparing her and her family while the rest of Jericho perishes.
  • In 1 Samuel 7, the Lord observes Israel’s repentance from idol worship and blesses them with victory and protection over the Philistines for the rest of the Prophet Samuel’s life.
  • Psalm 91 waxes effusive about God’s protection, characterizing the Lord as a refuge, shelter and dwelling place, an avenger and a saving source.

In Acts 9:15, the Lord says that Paul “is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.” Although Paul and all the other apostles except for John died as martyrs, Paul’s life had God’s protection amid shipwrecks, a stoning, beatings, venomous snakes and other threats until his work as a missionary was fulfilled. He suffered but was not crushed.

Evrist notes: “When the servant of God walks in faith and obedience, they are indestructible until God’s plan for them has come to completion.”

Where Prayer and Protection Meet

Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in suburban Memphis, admits he doesn’t comprehend why God allows evil in one place—he mentioned the church shooting in Charleston, S.C., last June as an example—yet stops it in another.

But he’s grateful in those times of protection, all the same.

Gaines is adamant about the role of prayer in the life of believers. He authored a book study, Pray Like It Matters, which is used in churches across the country. And he is certain prayer mattered on Easter at Bellevue.

Some 75 people gathered the Saturday before Easter to plead for the safety and spiritual condition of each person attending Easter services the next day. Such prayer over each seat in the worship center is a weekly work of a small but committed team of church members.

Prior to the final service March 27 at Bellevue, which draws more than 6,000 people each Sunday, a greeter noticed a man carrying what looked like a partially concealed pistol.

She quickly notified a security officer, who stopped the man. After a brief conversation with the man, the off-duty Memphis policeman discovered that a bag the man was carrying contained a rifle and a large amount of ammunition.

All the while, the third service was delayed in starting because a woman had fallen and was receiving medical attention near the sanctuary exit the man was attempting to enter. Her accident kept him from entering the service.

“I don’t understand it,” Gaines said. “And yet I do believe that we are to pray for protection. … In no way do I think we prayed better than some other group of people who experienced tragedy. But I do believe that all Christians ought to engage in fervent prayer for protection.”

Gaines said authorities believe the man was delusional, and it was unclear what his motives were, but Gaines is certain the potential for bloodshed was averted.

The right response to such protection, Gaines said, is thanksgiving and praise.

“The Bible says in Psalm 127, ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain’ (NASB). Ultimately, the Lord is our protector.”

Right Alignment, Right Assignment

The character of God is on full display in the Psalms. In Psalm 121:1-3, the psalmist writes of Israel: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber.”

In the same way that Israel had a divinely ordained assignment to bless the nations with God’s salvation, each believer has a God-ordained assignment as an ambassador of Christ that includes promises of protection.

Second Thessalonians 3:3 says, “But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.” In His model prayer, Jesus teaches the disciples to pray, “deliver us from evil.”

Again, Evrist emphasizes, “When the servant of God walks in faith and obedience, is the enemy looking for ways to take us out? Certainly. But I really think in most cases he needs our cooperation, where we put ourselves in harm’s way by not being in the right place and doing the right thing.

“When you really start crunching the numbers, you find that far and away, most Christians can point to a place where God’s hand of protection was evident. You can go through World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan—so many stories of people saying ‘I shouldn’t be here today. God’s hand really protected me.’”

Ultimately, God has the prerogative over our life and death.

“And so,” Evrist says, “we can take comfort in knowing that if someone is walking with God and God’s plan for them really has come to completion, and that their life on this earth is over, I can completely live with that.”

This article first appeared in the May 2016 issue of Decision Magazine.

Original here

With Brotherly Devotion

Seven men continue a beloved friend’s missionary work in Costa Rica

 

APRIL 25, 2019 BY JOHN VANDENOEVER

Locked inside a chain link fence in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica, is a dismal pile of rubble. Seven men stare at the debris, wincing at what’s become of the skate park they built a year ago. There had been so many children, laughing and challenging each other, gliding up the ramps to do jumps and tricks. But before long, the top layer of the skating surface began to chip away, worsening until the park became unusable. Now the children stay outside the crisscrossed fence, pressing their faces into the openings for a look inside.

Seven men from South Carolina, and one from Costa Rica, pray about the next day’s cement work at the skate park in Puerto Viejo.

 

Within the fence, the seven men shuffle around to the back of a low cinder block building—First Baptist Church of Puerto Viejo—where they enter a graveyard of discarded wooden ramps. They look over the frayed pieces they labored so hard to construct, the surfaces coming undone, the layers peeling away. Joseph Hayes, whose wrists are tattooed with broken shackles, shakes his head. “It’s such a disappointment seeing them stacked like trash.”

The men are from Beaufort, South Carolina, a place of such natural beauty that this town on the Caribbean coast is hardly an upgrade. They met at church but travel as His Kids Empowering Communities, an organization formed several years earlier by two disparate forces—the diminutive, cantankerous Ken Gagne and the broad-shouldered, gregarious Michael Mackewich. While Michael was a financial services advisor with a talent for collaboration, Ken was 20 years older, a jack-of-all-trades with a particular way of doing things. Though he took some getting used to, Ken proved to be a passionate, unifying force. Today, on the one-month anniversary of his death, the team carries on. In solidarity, they wear black Costa Rica T-shirts with Ken’s name printed in memoriam on the left sleeve.

Discarded wooden ramps from the skate park project.

“Ken worked ’til the day he went to the hospital,” says Gerard Moreira in his raspy voice.

“He had an infection in his heart,” explains Josh Ward, the team’s youngest member. “He was working a week into it, describing it as flu-like symptoms.”

But Ken refused to go see a doctor.

“Yeah, that infection he had was for a minute,” says Gerard. “Maybe if we could have…” He pauses, thinking. “Maybe if he’d got checked …”

While in the hospital, Ken stopped eating. Then he had a stroke. Nobody was ready for him to go.

At Ken’s funeral, the Puerto Viejo team were his pallbearers. They wore their black Costa Rica T-shirts. And Ken did, too. “He was a servant,” says David Felver through his big, dark beard. “He had a heart for God. But the first time I met Ken, I said, ‘There’s no way in the world this grumpy old man and I are going to get along.’”

“He really didn’t deal with a whole lot of people because of how his personality was,” adds Gerard. “But once he loved you, that was it. Then he loved you.”

“He loved talking about the trip and the projects,” says Mike McCaskey, who next to Ken and Michael has traveled to Puerto Viejo the most.

Michael Mackewich, co-founder of His Kids

“Well, he was going to move here,” adds Michael. “That was his goal.”

Puerto Viejo is known for its clear water, great surf, and laid-back ambiance. Its main street runs along the beach, and on it is a cluster of shops and restaurants, with more bicycles and foot traffic than motorists. In the center of all the bustle is the church, on a corner where all day long buses hiss to a stop, their doors opening to a fresh batch of sojourners. Teenagers and younger children roll by on bikes and skateboards in a constant flow of activity.

“I don’t have the credentials to be a pastor,” says Orlando Brown, a transplanted Jamaican with a bushy goatee, now a resident of Puerto Viejo. “But I pastor the kids on the street.” It’s long been Orlando’s dream to care for these local kids and divert them from the drugs so prevalent in their community. “I was like them. They need the gospel. That’s what they lack—the gospel and love.” He removes a section of fence for the Beaufort team so the work can begin. The kids have been climbing over it anyway, anxious to get their skate park back.

 

Ken Gagne came to Christ late in his life, perhaps a decade before he started making trips to Latin America. Never married and childless, he was used to having things his way, which often made him impatient with children.

Orlando Brown, a fixture of the church in Puerto Viejo.

“There was a story told at Ken’s funeral,” Mike says. “Our pastor was brand new. He had a son who was probably 9 years old.” He goes on, explaining that there were three boys—the pastor’s son and two others—throwing a football around in the hallways of the church school. Ken had run into them earlier, making it clear they were not to throw the ball inside. But when he was out of sight, they threw it again. “And Ken steps out from around the corner and grabs it with one hand. I think he had a knife in the other, and POW! Popped it. Then he says, ‘I told ya’ll not to throw this ball around here.’”

The group roars with laughter.

“With the new pastor’s son!” says Joseph.

“Welcome to Beaufort,” adds David.

But over the years, Ken developed such a heart for kids that, the way the men tell it, you would never put the old Ken together with the new. What had changed?

“That first missions trip,” says Joseph.

During their stay in the Limón Province, the His Kids team continued their ministry to the Bribri people. Here, cement is lifted to fill a pillar for a church building.

Mike agrees. “Coming down here and working with these kids.”

 

Later in the evening, the team joins their church-planting friend Jeffrey Bejarano at a large building with steel rafters near the Panamanian border. It’s night two of the “Noches de Milagros” evangelistic services. “This is very remote,” says Michael. “The people here likely don’t have a Bible, and the church is only 7 months old.” These conditions make the In Touch Messenger invaluable to Jeffrey, who’s distributed about 150 of them over the last two years. When Michael heard about the Messenger, he knew it would be a tremendous fit for Costa Rica. “Dr. Stanley’s messages and the Bible? What else could you need? It’s even got a flashlight … and it’s solar-powered.”

Though the skate park occupies most of the team’s time and energy this week, His Kids is forming partnerships throughout the region, watchful for opportunities that will give children a safe place to play, grow, and hear about Jesus.

As the sky darkens, the band warms up inside, and Stephen and Mike mingle with the young people. They’re sharing the Messenger in one of its newest forms—a bottle-opener-shaped USB drive that flips open to reveal a micro SD card, perfect for a cellphone. Through a Spanish translator, Stephen and Mike take each recipient through the Messenger’s contents. Their supply of devices runs out quickly.

A USB drive with audio Bible and lessons from Dr. Stanley.

Mike remembers a Christmas in Beaufort when they’d promised 100 bicycles to local kids. The bikes were ordered, but only half of them arrived in time.

“Ken met me at another Walmart with his trailer and bought the other 50,” says Mike. “We submitted the receipt, but then Ken calls the church bookkeeper and says, ‘Don’t worry about paying me.’”

“That was Ken,” Gerard says, smiling. “He did a lot of things that your left hand wouldn’t see your right hand doing. That was a good dude.”

 

Throughout their stay in Puerto Viejo, the team shovels up gravel and chips away old concrete, making way for a fresh pour of concrete on their last day. They set two-by-fours in place and measure out level pour lines with string. There are complications with the delivery trucks and a deficit of tools for the job, but the men are resourceful, retrofitting ordinary garden rakes to function as spreaders and smoothers.

And they remember Ken.

Worship at the “Noches de Milagros” event

“The six months leading up to this trip, every Sunday morning I would have to fight to get into church,” says Mike. After the two men shook hands at the front door, Ken would start in on a litany of thoughts he had about pouring the concrete in Puerto Viejo: “‘We got to put it down and put it down right. We got to wet it every day for two weeks and stay off it.’ It was like that every Sunday morning for six months.”

“The man could build anything,” says Gerard.

“Or he could figure out how to do it,” adds David.

“He didn’t need plans and that kind of stuff,” Mike remembers. “He planned it out in his head. We didn’t know what was in his head—but he’d let you know if you weren’t doing it!”

And in his unorthodox way, Ken united them.

“After we went to Costa Rica, the very next time I saw him, he comes over and hugs me,” says Stephen. “And I thought, Wow, he’s never done that before.

“That’s my experience as well,” David says. “After the trip, the hugs started.”

Local youths watch expectantly as cement is poured for their new skate park.

 

When the day arrives for the new skate park surface to be poured, the men stand with their long-handled tools, watching the sun rise as they wait on the white-and-red mixer truck coming down from Limón. Then, as the truck slowly backs through the gap in the fence, its front wheel drops through the street with a loud crack. “Are you kidding me?” Mike groans, staring down at the hole. Somehow the driver maneuvers the truck out of it and with a flurry of movement, the men place three thick boards, reinforced by a sheet of steel, over the hole. The temporary repair holds through all three deliveries.

It seems all of Puerto Viejo stops to witness the work, taking snapshots on their cellphones and buzzing about the changes. And once again the children hook their fingers through the chain link, as Gerard directs the mixer and David spreads the sliding concrete along the long floor until it’s packed and smoothed.

There’s a lot left to do. Just as Ken discussed every Sunday morning, the concrete must be kept moist and left alone to dry as it should. And six months or a year in the future, the His Kids team will return to install the new skate ramps.

“We have to come back,” says a determined Joseph. “The skate park is not finished.”

Sunday morning worship with Joseph Hayes, David Felver, and Ricardo Vargas, Jr., an invaluable Costa Rican partner of the His Kids team

Mike agrees, “It’s important to get this job completed because it was important to Ken. It’s a way to honor him.”

“He would never stop,” says Gerard.

And neither will this team. They share a dream not just of a busy skate park, but of an educational center for the kids of Puerto Viejo and communities beyond it. “There’s a long-term vision and many different projects that we have,” says Michael. “The Lord has put it on our heart, and we’re committed. And there’s probably another six to ten people that wanted to go on this trip, who are already talking about the next one.”

Until then, the children of Puerto Viejo have a wide, smooth surface to skate and play on, plus a safe and welcoming space for Orlando and the church as they serve and love their community. But the skate park is not only for the children. “The parents of many of these children are kids themselves,” says Orlando. “If we do this the right way, we will have the mother and the father come to watch their kids. And we will share the gospel with them, too.”

 

Photography by Ben Rollins

https://www.intouch.org/read/magazine/in-focus/with-brotherly-devotion

When Father Fell off the Pedestal

“The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him.” Daniel 9:9 (NIV)

I grew up thinking my father was the coolest guy around. Being in the insurance business, he never met a stranger. At six feet four inches, everyone remembered him. He had a repertoire of corny jokes and loved to play pranks on the family. His favorite one was yelling for us four kids to “Hurry and get out of bed, because I just saw an escaped elephant in our backyard.” As we got older his announcement was, “Oh look it snowed.” Snow was almost non-existent in Northern California, but he knew it was the best way to get us out of bed in the winter. When we did have snow, he was outside in his Bermuda shorts, messing around with snowballs that he aimed at the first person out of the front door. He never quite grew into his grown-up shoes.

He could cook and whipped up gourmet meals before it was chic for men to show up in the kitchen. He had majored in hotel administration in college and because of his major, he had to learn to cook. It opened the kitchen to my father’s creativity. We were so proud when he was featured “Cook of the Week” in our local Palo Alto Times and had an entire page with all his exotic recipes such as Swedish Meatballs and Chicken Curry. (Remember this was the ’50s and ’60s.) I have early morning memories of him getting up before anyone else, putting on coffee and reading the paper. I’m sure he cherished a few minutes of quiet in our cramped little house. By the time we kids were up, he had chocolate chip pancakes or eggs and bacon frying on the electric grill. I know my father invented chocolate chip pancakes because it was years before I saw them listed on a restaurant menu.

Even with his gourmet bent, my father would eat anything. Many a night I remember him snacking on a Velveeta cheese, mayo, and peanut butter sandwich. I shudder to think how that might have contributed to his premature death of heart failure. And I gag, thinking what a horrible combo of foods to stick between two slices of white bread.

As lighthearted as he was, he had strong feelings about politics. The one big talk I remember him sitting us down for was to explain the horrors of communism. We knew it was a serious subject as he called us all into the living room for counsel. Dad was rarely serious.

One day, the pedestal cracked and my father tumbled down. I saw my father as a mere human. Somehow he had hidden the unhappy in his marriage to my mother and decided to divorce her and marry another woman. Heartache followed all of us as we knew our family would never be the same. It took many years for our mom to move forward.

But, as I think of this verse in the book of Daniel, my memory of my father is warm. He was a flawed human and did damage to our family, but right before he died he told me he had made peace with the Lord. God is merciful and forgiving. I know I will meet Dad in heaven. I’ll find him playing practical jokes on St. Peter and inventing unusual sandwiches.

Copyright © 2013 Carol G. Stratton, used by permission.

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VIDEO A Thirteen-year-old is Threatened While Standing For Life in the Womb

By Jake MacAulay – June 15, 2019

Addison Woosley, 13, spoke out during a Raleigh, North Carolina, city council meeting Tuesday. Woosley called for an end to abortion and to make Raleigh a “sanctuary city for the unborn“.

“Abortion should be illegal because it is murder. The definition of murder is the killing of one human being by another,” Addison said. “There’s no way around it. Abortion is murder. So, why is it if an infant is destroyed before birth, there is no problem, but if killed after birth, it’s considered a brutal murder?”

The truth of Miss Woosley’s assertion can easily be seen in America’s founding documents. In the Declaration of Independence, our founders were acknowledging a “self-evident truth” wherein they stated:

“All men are created equal with certain unalienable rights.”

Did you catch that?  They were not “born equal,” but rather “created equal” by their Creator with certain unalienable rights – chiefly life.  And we all know human beings are created in the womb of their mother.

“On ultrasounds, the baby tries to move away from the disturbing instruments that try to kill the baby,” Addison said, “The baby’s mouth opens wide in a scream when being killed. These babies are alive. They feel being killed. It hurts them and there is nothing they can do about it.”

“Are you choosing to be like the plantation worker flogging the little black child,” the girl asked the council, “Or are you going to protest even if it cost your life like Martin Luther King, Jr.?”

In reaction to the middle schooler’s oration regarding the protection of the pre-born, shouting progressively became louder until her voice was drowned out altogether. Despite looking understandably frightened, Addison Woosley wrapped up her speech confidently and walked alone back to her seat where the thirteen-year-old girl was berated and jeered at by adults in the crowd.

I want to personally and publicly thank you, Addison Woosley, for your courageous, selfless stance against the abominable practice of infanticide. You have been thrust into this hostile war on your generation and you are responding like a boss.

Yet, despite that and against the odds of our morally depraved culture, you are willing to fight for the lives of the defenseless.

“You shall not murder” is as pertinent today as it was when God created us with the right to life. Our founders acknowledged that the “Supreme Lawgiver” created this law as a protection for His creation, and violation of His law results in personal and societal consequences.

When we abandon God’s Word, we abandon all rationality. Instead, we have chosen to prop up an abstract morality full of contradictions and deceit.

Addison is right; chattel slavery and infant murder have always been, and will always be, an abomination.  Justifying one over the other and maintaining “freedom for the people” is outright duplicitous and diabolical. Rather than threaten this thirteen-year-old, Americans ought to concede to her godly, constitutional wisdom.

Schedule an event or learn more about your Constitution with Jake MacAulay and the Institute on the Constitution and receive your free gift.

 

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VIDEO When Orthodox Jews Oppose Followers of Jesus

By Dr. Michael Brown – June 9, 2019

For several decades, I have drawn attention to the Church’s historic persecution of the Jews in Jesus’ name. It is one of the ugliest and longest chapters in Church history, and it cannot be downplayed, forgotten, or ignored. With God’s help, I will continue to call out “Christian” anti-Semitism wherever I see it today. But I will not ignore Jewish persecution of Christians. It too must be called out.

In the Gospels, Jesus and His followers, all of them Jews, were persecuted by hypocritical Jewish leaders, ultimately leading to the Lord’s death on the cross. And that pattern continued in the Book of Acts, where the Jewish leadership stood in opposition to the message of Jesus the Messiah, sometimes persecuting His Jewish followers to the death (see Acts 7).

Some even stirred up trouble wherever these Messianic Jewish emissaries went to share the good news (see Acts 17), and this continued in the centuries that followed, with some documented cases of Jewish leaders siding with local efforts to persecute Christians.

Of course, no amount of Jewish persecution of Christians can justify the horrors inflicted on the Jewish people by professing Christians, including torture, exile, being forced into ghettos, being burned at the stake, being offered baptism or death, and much more.

And it is an open secret that the Nazis drew on Martin Luther’s anti-Semitic writings to help enflame German hatred against the Jews.

None of this can be denied, nor should it be denied. To the contrary, we must be ever mindful of this tragic history lest we repeat it in our day.

But, to say it again, when there is Jewish persecution of followers of Jesus, that must be called out as well, especially when it takes place in Israel.

It was a radical Jew who delivered a bomb, disguised as a holiday gift, to the house of Ami Ortiz, the son of Jewish Christian parents. He miraculously survived the bomb blast, which took place in 2008.

But this act, extreme as it was, was not in isolation.

As reported by Time Magazine in 2008:

Messianic Jews, as these Jews who believe in Jesus are called, number just a few in Israel — anywhere between 6,000 and 15,000 — but they provoke hatred all out of proportion to their meager numbers. Many orthodox Jews view them as traitors for joining the Christian faith, which for centuries has persecuted Jews. One Messianic Jew, Tzvi Sadan, a teacher and editor, recalls telling his father, a Holocaust survivor, that he had accepted Jesus as his savior. ‘My dad flipped out. He said that the SS guards in the camp had ‘God Is With Us’ written on their belts. He told me, “You’ve joined the enemy.” But he calmed down a bit when he saw my prayer shawl.’” (What Sadan means is that he didn’t stop being a Jew by following Jesus.)

Over the years, Messianic Jews have suffered different levels of persecution within Israel, although none so violent as the bomb attack on Ami Ortiz.

But there have been protests and even vandalism at Messianic Jewish meeting places, attempts to get some believers deported, and various threats and harassments.

Virtually all these acts are carried out by ultra-Orthodox Jews, who view “missionary” activity as diabolical, destructive, and dishonest. As some of these protestors once chanted outside of a large Messianic Jewish gathering I was attending in Israel:

“Hitler wanted our bodies. You want our souls!”

Today, as the number of Messianic Jews in Israel has risen to about 30,000 and as the society at large is much more open to these Jewish believers in Jesus, opposition from ultra-Orthodox Jews continues to rise. (For my little run-in with some ultra-Orthodox protesters last year, see here and here.)

As my friend and colleague Ron Cantor reports from Israel (with a video link worth watching):

“Believers attending a Messianic concert last week in Jerusalem were accosted by dozens of Orthodox Jewish protestors, who held a violent and chaotic riot for hours, calling the people ‘missionaries’ and ‘Nazis,’ and telling them to get out of Israel. They held up several signs saying, ‘Beware, Missionaries!’ in Hebrew. In Hebrew the world Missionary is a slur. Of course, we are not missionaries, but citizens of Israel.”

Again, I understand how these protesters view us. As a rabbi said to me decades ago:

“Our ancestors died rather than believe what you believe. Yet, without coercion or pressure, you not only believe in Jesus, but you try to proselytize as well.”

But, to say this yet again, none of this justifies the actions of these protesters, who were held back by police.

Ron writes that:

“Jenya Lempert and his teenage daughter were accosted by swarms of young men blowing whistles at excruciating pitches and linking arms to block the entrance into the concert hall.”

As Lampert told KNI News:

“It was a pure act of hatred. They hate us, they were standing against us, they brought their minors as human shields.”

Indeed, Ron explains:

“Orthodox protesters have been known to bring teens, who have more liberties than adults to break the law.”

But his response to all this is right on:

“It is important to not get angry but pray. At the same time, understand that this is pure fanaticism and brainwashing of children. However, it only represents a tiny minority of Israelis.”

And how should Christians around the world respond to these harassing acts?

First, they should pray for the believers being persecuted, sending them a message that they are not alone.

Second, they should pray for the repentance of the persecutors, believing that there are many Sauls of Tarsus among them.

Third, as friends of Israel who appreciate the liberties that the nation affords its citizens, they should encourage the government to stand with those who are being persecuted to send a message the government will not tolerate this kind of behavior.

All that being said, my personal expectation is that the final generation – whenever that will be – will look a lot like the Gospels and Acts, except that in the end, there will be mass acceptance of Jesus by His own people, rather than mass rejection.

May the Lord turn the hearts of His people Israel!

(If you’ve never been to Israel and want to experience the tour of a lifetime, join me there next May.)

 

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