My Time In Lisbon

Tonight, while sharing Jesus in the streets of Lisbon, I met a man with a definite need. He was begging for money on the side of a shopping street, and was missing his left leg from the knee down.

When I was hungry…
Our new friend is Umberto. We asked him some questions, seeking to see which language we could use with him. Turns out he speaks fluently English, Portuguese, Spanish, and French! He’s 26 years old, and has been on his own since he was 14. He lost the bottom part of his leg in a motorcycle accident. As a general rule, I don’t hand out money on the streets, so we asked him if he’d like to get a cup of coffee. To say he was shocked would be an understatement. He said on rare occasions people bring him food, but no one ever took him for coffee or to get something to eat! No one ever spends time with him. He led us to a café around the corner where we got coffee and some “slap yo’ mama good” pastries. And we got to know Umberto.

As we turned to spiritual things, he pulled a Bible out of his backpack and told us he reads 30 minutes every day. He was currently reading Psalms and told us all about Ps. 91, which was what he’d read today. He prays, speaks to God every day, and hopes to do enough good to tip the scales in his favor and earn a spot in Heaven. That’s when I shared the good news with him: Jesus has already tipped the scales, and would like to have a relationship with him. We spoke for some time, and it became clear that Umberto loves God, His Bible, but has been alone for so long that he didn’t want to trust what we were explaining to him. BUT, he’s agreed to meet with a friend on Saturday at the same café to find out how he can better understand the Bible and God’s plans for him. PLEASE pray for him, and for Joe as they meet to further the conversation. Pray for his salvation AND pray for him to finish raising the money for his prosthetic leg. He’s got 80% of what he needs. Now, because Portuguese is only minimally close to Spanish, either he needs €1,800 and already has €1,600 OR he needs €8,000 and has raised €6,000! Pray that the local body of Christ will be faithful to meet him at his point of need and express God’s love for him.

As we wrapped up our coffee, I told him that God was leading me to express God’s love to him, and asked if I could just give him a hug. He somewhat hesitantly said, “Yes, that would be okay.” And when I hugged him, and wrapped my arms around him, he grabbed a hold of me like he didn’t want to let go. He then told me he hadn’t had contact like that in 12 years, since his dad died and his mom abandoned him. He began to cry. I told him he didn’t have to be alone any more. That his is loved, valued, and would have people in his life to prove that.

From the café, we went to a local restaurant for dinner. Umberto took us to a restaurant where they serve his favorite Cod fish. We shared a meal, shared more life, and shared about our faiths. We shared our stories, and connected over common experiences we’ve had in our lives. After dinner, we hugged one more time. As I hugged him, I prayed God’s blessing on him and told him how loved he is. Then he headed home.

Please add Umberto to your prayers. I’ll do my best to keep in touch with our folks here in Lisbon and provide updates on Umberto as I can.

Thanks for praying!

Let The Rocks Stay Rocks

I was recently encouraged by a friend to think about Christ’s time in the wilderness, and His temptations there. So, I was reading though Matthew’s account, and got to these verses: “And the tempter came and said to Him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.’ But He [Jesus] answered and said, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’‘” (Matt. 4:3-4) I know what you’re thinking. We’ve all read this, and all contemplated what it means to depend on God for what we need and not our own provision. In German, they have a simple phrase when something is clearly understood. They say, “Ja, Klar.” And that’s what the main teaching of this passage is. It clearly states, as explained by Jesus, we are to depend on/rely on/live by God’s provision, and not our provisions alone. But there’s more; more that I think isn’t as clear, or is obviously ignored.

First, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3, which is a passage talking about God’s provision for the Israelites through the giving of manna. In both places, though, the Scriptures acknowledge that bread ALONE doesn’t sustain us… Implication? We do need bread! But we must also remember that even the bread we have comes from God, or as Moses wrote in Deuteronomy, “But man lives by EVERYTHING {emphasis mine} that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.” Before we assume that we’ve earned what we have, we must acknowledge that even our ability to earn bread comes from God. Being true to the passage from Deuteronomy, Jesus is taking a humble position. Everything we have, have had, or ever will have that is necessary to sustain us comes from the mouth of God. This passage reminds me to stay humble and LISTEN for God’s creative provision for my needs. This temptation comes to Jesus at the end of a 40 day fast, when Jesus was hungry. I’m reminded here of His words in John 4, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work.” (John 4:34) In humble obedience, do what He’s called you to do and trust Him to provide.

The other thing I’ve seen in this Matthew passage I had not thought of before. It’s been 40 days and nights since Jesus ate. Matthew 4:2 says He became hungry. His body is crying out for food, His spirit drives Him to obedience and humility. But His situation is filled with hard things and a tempter telling Him to make things easier for Himself. What could Jesus have done? He could have made bread. Ja, Klar. He could have made pillows to lay His head on and moan about His hunger. Shoot, He could have made the rocks into bubble-gum to at least assuage His grumbling stomach. But He didn’t. And here’s where God really grabbed my attention this time. The hard, seemingly useless things in Jesus life, stayed as they were. He left them rocks. My friend, Ian, posed it to me like this: “may you have the courage today to remain with the stones that cannot yet be turned to bread…” I’d never thought about how I try to make hard things at least comfortable for myself. I’ve never thought about how hard I work to make things bearable. This goes deeper than trusting God to provide. It goes to the core of obedience, suffering, and ultimately contentment. Ja, Klar. Trust God to provide. We all get that. But when it comes to suffering, discomfort, pain, fear, etc., we seem to strive to replace those things with promises of blessings and a better tomorrow. Jesus didn’t say, “I will wait for God to turn this stones to bread.” Paul, in the same way, came to realize that the hard things serve a purpose. He writes in 2 Cor. 12:9 – “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (ESV) When I attempt to turn the stones into something more palatable, do I keep the power of Christ from resting on me? When I avoid suffering, do I hinder His work in my life? I don’t like the idea that suffering is a part of my journey. Who does? I believe that many, however, short change the power and provision of Christ by avoiding suffering, bemoaning suffering, are trying to escape from suffering.
Let the rocks stay rocks and wait on God’s provision, knowing His power is perfected in your weakness and his power rests upon you in your weakness. Let the rocks stay rocks, but stay anchored on THE Rock.

Losing “your” life.

It’s been a season of funerals. Having attended three funerals over the last 9 days, I’ve been thinking a lot about life and what it’s all about. At two of the three funerals, there have been a significant amount of people who came to celebrate the impact the departed had made on their lives. And it’s put life on my mind. I know, it should have put death on my mind. But honestly, I’ve already faced death, and life is all I have left. Perhaps it’s because I am teetering on the verge of my 40th birthday that I am spending time contemplating what’s left of my life. But whether it’s funerals, my impending passage into my 40’s, or some weird combination of both, I’ve had to really think through my existence.

And when I get down to the brass tacks, I can understand why people experience a mid-life crisis. Unresolved dreams mixed with an unresolved fear of death could drive a person to some crazy things. But the words of Jesus, as recorded in all three of the Synoptics, remind me that it’s in the loss of my life for His sake that I truly live.  As Christians, Jesus takes care of our deaths “upfront,” so we can focus on life and real living.  And so it is that all of those who have trusted Jesus for their eternity can face the rest of their lives with the reassurance that they have already died.  All we have left to do is to live! And live well.

Some Thoughts

I am sitting in Houston International Airport (or Bush Int’l, as it is now called), and it is 4:30 in the morning.  The rest of the team is sound asleep on the floor around me.  Someone had to stay up to watch the luggage, right?

Anyway, I wanted to put this down before I forget it.  The biggest thought or lesson I am bringing home from our Asian experience is that there are MANY people from our country who love God and have answered His Call to go to the corners of the world.  They sacrifice holidays with family.  They sacrifice their favorite foods.  They sacrifice television and radio that they can understand.  They live humbly and serve selflessly.  In some places, like the place we were in, they even have to maintain a low profile and work in secret.  Too often I take for granted what I have here in the States.  I can speak the name of Jesus without repercussions.  I can gather with my local church and lift up songs.  I can pray for and be prayed for openly.  I can engage in the work that Christ has called me to without worrying that it might cost me the chance to stay in this country.  I can share with people here without fear that they or their family could be imprisoned or killed if they say “yes” to Jesus.  And yet, there are days when I feel alone, stifled, like I’m the only one who gets it.  That’s not true here, but for our friends in foreign lands, they are alone, stifled, and they know they will remain so.
So, here’s to my heroes.  For all of you on the front lines, who give and give and give, who sacrifice and work to advance the kingdom at risk of peril, loneliness, and discouragement; THANK YOU!  You are an inspiration to me, and a constant encouragement to push harder, reach farther, and to never give up.  May God bless you with His presence and with the opportunity to see the fruit from the seeds you sow.  And know that you are in my thoughts and prayers daily.
And to all of us in open countries who feel like we’ve got it tough…maybe we do.  But it’s nothing compared to what our friends overseas deal with daily.  So lift your eyes up and get to the task.  Let us run with endurance, knowing that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.  Strive for the prize.
J