Men's Conference on Pursuing Genuine Biblical Revival
Keynote Speaker: Dr. Ray Ortlund
Pastor of Immanuel Church (Acts 29 plant in Nashville, TN)
James Buchanan Harrison Prof of New Testament Interpretation, Professor of Biblical Theology and Associate Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY)
Registration opens soon at www.FGCon.org
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
The church filled up so that we stood in the back as The service began with Cam doing the opening along with a song. Then an older saint, Esther (reminded me so much of Alice Oke), praised God for his abundant blessings. Next up was Elias to share an emotional testimony of how his father always pointed him to Jesus...until one day he turned away from his sins and did just that. He took us through his journey of acting like a believer for a while, his tumultuous relationship with Shanna, his "plan" to fix his problems by going to church with her, and God's mercy in bringing him to into relationship with the Savior. It was a beautiful story told in an endearing and emotional way.
After some more singing, it was Joshua's turn to share his testimony. Now Joshua is a quiet, reserved man (or so I thought). He shared this globetrotting adventure of running after worldly success, taking him to the sands of Dubei "for the money." God had different plans. Joshua was ushered to the States and into relationship with his Redeemer. I wish you all could have seen this soft-spoken guy turn into a Spirit-filled preacher as he shared what God had done in his life, transforming him into a useful vessel. At one point during his testimony, the glass entry door that I mentioned above fell off of its hinge. Thankfully Dennis caught it as it would have injured a child walking through the entryway at the time. I later told Joshua I thought that the door blew off by the power of the Spirit that was working through him during his testimony.
I followed Joshua, which was a tough act to follow. I said as much to the congregation: "I thought I was supposed to preach this morning?!" What happened next was one of the most powerful events in my life. I had prepared to preach Ephesians 4:1-16. I love to preach. I love the study of the Word of God that precedes the preaching, engaging with the text, struggling with it to find the flow of the argument, figuring out how it fits in its context, searching for how the gospel is the interpretive key, etc. What has been a struggle for me, however, is that I am invariably too tied to my notes. I manuscript my sermons and then am afraid to leave the manuscript. Well, as I said, I had pages and pages of notes on these 16 verses. The Holy Spirit had a different idea. I began to preach and felt a freedom in preaching that I had never experienced up to that point. I never got beyond the first few verses. God moved me to expound upon humility, gentleness, patience, and burden bearing by defining these beautiful character qualities and pointing to Jesus Christ and how he super-abudantly displayed them...and that our holy living can only occur by trusting, believing and being changed by how he had already lived these traits out perfectly. For example, how could I treat others as different less than myself when Jesus left the glories of heaven and humiliated himself, lowering himself to be as one of his creatures so that he might be murdered...all so that he could buy back a worthless, sin-ridden enemy like me? I felt used of God to lift up Jesus so that all men might be drawn to him that morning. And let me be clear, none of the good that came from that sermon was from me. But it was so encouraging that I was able to use God's gift to me in a way I had never done before. It confirmed in me my desire to preach. Jeff Cady was such an encouragement to me afterwards as he got right up in my face and said, "You've been given the gift of passion. Use it wisely."
Later that day, I preached the same text to the start-up church which meets at the camp. Dennis Brose preceded me by sharing his salvation testimony again with an evangelistic emphasis. I love this guy and what was God was clearly doing in his life during the trip. Pray for this young church. I'm not sure how sustainable it is as it is made up of mostly teenagers. There appears to also be a need of discipleship and unity among the leadership of the church.
Pray that we made an eternal impact in Costa Rica.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
It was time to begin again. As Chuck approached the small, hollow, square platform and went behind the podium which was strange by our standards (reminded me more of a small changing table), I remembered asking Chuck weeks before to give a testimony about marriage. It would be related to our third and final teaching session on how God gives power through the gospel for us to transform the way we live. Brad would continue our teaching in Ephesians, so it seemed only appropriate to use Ephesians 5:25ff as a springboard for someone to speak on gospel conduct fleshed out within the marriage relationship. Who else would I ask? Chuck is the oldest member of our team and been married the longest. He's a grandfather many times over. I can only imagine the lessons God had taught him in his years with Jan. Who else would I ask to testify about how God gives a man power to live with his wife in a way that is worthy of his calling? So I watched and listened as Chuck began his testimony. He started the way I have seen him start so many times: with a joy-filled spirit and a love for making much of God. After some introductory remarks, he initially said that he was going to have Cameron stop interpreting as he was going to speak of an area of struggle and wanted to shield it from his Berean brothers. However, the Spirit of God directed him to be transparent with us as well. He spoke of his sin, of the truism that your sin will find you out, and of his gracious helpmate, his wife, and her respectful and loving confrontation that led to deliverance through Christ. Quite simply, the men were awestruck at God's mercy to Chuck. I was blown away and was praising God for His greatness and providence. I could not think of a better message to share about gospel conduct in our setting. Not to mention that it was an area that is all too common of a struggle in Costa Rican marriages. Of course, I had no advanced knowledge of what Chuck would specific lesson he would share. God be praised!
Blessings followed blessings. God helped Brad as he taught on the theology that undergirded Chuck's testimony. Brad taught on the fact that Christians win the spiritual war in which they are engaged in the same way they came to the Savior: through admitting their sin and impotence to God, repenting over trusting in their own strength, and asking God (and believing God) to empower them to live in a right manner because their Savior already did. Brad shared a testimony within his session to demonstrate this fact. He testified to the sanctifying help that God has gave him due to an accountability group that upon hearing of his struggles and failures directs him to the hope and power found in the resurrected Messiah. As I said, God hears the cries of his saints. This session was evidence of that fact. We came down to Costa Rica with a primary goal of unpacking gospel-centrality as a way of teaching, thinking and living to the end that the Ticos would be transformed by the power of that gospel. Only believers that strive after further transformation from above can be effective kingdom leaders men. Pray that the Costa Rican church and the families which make it up will be radically changed as a result.
Let me also say a word about the structure of the conference. We could not have accomplished what we accomplished without God working through Brad. I had some grandiose themes running through my head in the early days, but Brad suggested that we simplify it to (1) gospel essence, (2) gospel truths, and (3) gospel behavior (following the model of Mike Bullmore's teaching on the functional centrality of the gospel (get a free download of Bullmore's very short article or listen to his explanation of it here). This was just the right structure for three sessions and exactly the kind of teaching upon which the original Fellowship in the Gospel Conference was based in May of last year (check out those conference talks here).
We were able to give the Spanish-translated books that we brought to Mario (pastor of new church located at the camp), Max (hoping to take over as pastor of Roca Viva), two other pastors, and some key guys that show the kind of dedication necessary to become future leaders within the church (Randall, Gustavo, Leo, Roy, Afredo and Freddy). Those books were: Grudem's Systematic Theology (Abridged), Mahaney's Cross-Centered Life, and Harris' Sex Isn't the Problem, Lust Is. Thanks to Elias finding this, we also gave each of them a music CD by Sovereign Grace Music.
The rest of the day consisted of Gringo-Tico soccer & basketball at the camp, followed by a swim in the freezing cold, yet refreshing inground pool. Later I continued preparing my sermon out of Ephesians 4, while Elias and Joshua put the final touches on their testimonies they would share at Roca Viva the next morning. This very full day concluded with one of the best seasons of prayer I've ever had. I have come to love each of these men in a deeper way than I had before this trip.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Prior to my teaching session, the Lord really did a tremendous work in preparing us for the session. Max began with teaching a devotional from 1 Timothy about the responsibility of men to be spiritual leaders in their homes and churches. This was followed by our own Mike Mumford who shared a moving testimony about how God changed him from a man who identified himself by his career and devoted himself to it...to a man who refused to accept an invitation to come back to that job which was lost earlier this year. He testified of his love for Christ and the delight it is to serve him as a leader in his home and church. The men were very much engaged with Mike's talk. One man asked him how he would make it without a job. Another man encouraged him with God's promises. It was moving and powerful.
[At the airport in San Jose...more later]
A word about Cameron. To a man, we love this brother. He is dedicated, driven, loving, and sold out for building God's church. They started out in Ecuador, but God closed that door due to the health difficulties of their twins. He, along with his sweet wife Kerry, prayed for a place to minister with an altitude and climate that would permit their children to live healthily. God showed them Costa Rica...and they obeyed the call. He's really a delight to work with. He's always helping people and going, going, going. But he also likes to have fun with people whether it's playing soccer or enjoying spiritual--and sometimes hilariously funny--conversations with people. He shared with me that he "feeds" off of being around people. He's a true church-planter (pray for Max...an attorney who Cam hopes will take over Roca Viva soon)...and a visionary when it comes to missions strategy. Many conversations proved this out. Pray for this dear brother and his family.
Day 1 of the conference began with over 40 total men in attendance. Mike kicked us off with the Conference Opening, followed by Jeff Cady powerful testimony of God granting him power to change from a harsh father to a gentle leader and daddy for his two girls. I believe this testimony was used in a mighty way. What's a wonderful providence is that I asked weeks ago if one of the men had a testimony specifically regarding leadership that they would like to share and Jeff responded almost immediately. So he had been thinking about this well in advance. And God was moving in Tiko brothers (who generally have families that are falling apart) to receive such a hope-filled message. I personally will never forget the silence and attentiveness of the men as Jeff described how he asked his girls to forgive him for sinning against them...and how God honored and empowered his desire to love them like Jesus loves us.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
Doug shared a stirring testimony of three traumatic experiences that he believes God used as a "wake up call" so that he would start getting serious about growing in his faith and being a leader in his home and church. He shared the unbelieveable details of how he fell out of a tree stand some 25 feet up in a tree, miraculously not landing on his head but rather on his hip...the best place to land for that kind of fall. The doctors told him he wouldn't walk for a long time. They would be proven wrong. Though seriously hurt, God healed him in such a profound way that he was back hunting in that same treestand only three weeks later. True to his nature, Doug really connected with the men that were present. The language barrier wasn't a barrier at all. He pointed the men to a number of Scripture passages about how faith was to be proven by action (James), that God doesn't want luke warm Christians (Revelations), and that men of God are willing to perform the greatest of sacrifices in service to their Redeemer even to the point of sacrificing their only son (Genesis).
Doug was followed by Randall's testimony. Randall shared his radical conversion. From a serial adulterer and drug addict to a man that was confronted by a God who loves sinners even when there is nothing lovely about them. This was an incredible event as he had invited many of the men who were there to come and hear his story for the first time. Men were challenged by the good news that no one is too sinful to be beyond the reach of the loving power of Jesus Christ.
I wish everyone could have seen the evangelism that took place that night. There were conversations about the cross in pockets throughout the back yard and patio. I had the extraordinary pleasure of being used by God to speak to Adrian, one of Randall's friends that hand come. Adrian is a 24-year old man who was really affected by Randall's testimony. He spoke very good English and so I was able to speak clearly to him without the aid of a translator. Adrian
thanked me for our coming as Paraiso was in need of much help. I told him it was he that needed help, that he was in grave danger as he was getting closer, day by day, to an appointment with God. God who is getting more and more angry at his sin. I was able to share with him for some 30 minutes about he gift that was available to him in the perfect Jesus Christ dying as a Substitute. I urged him in the strongest of terms that he was in a desparate state and did not want to endure God's wrath and did not have to, if he would repent of his sin and trust in the Savior. Here's the part that was incredible...he thanked me and said, "No one has ever told me this before." Though he didn't repent that night. He heard the gospel. Pray that the Holy Spirit will bring conviction and repentance. Pray that God will save this young man from the wrath to come.
Saturday, January 9, 2010
On Thursday us and a handful of guys from Roca Viva went to check out downtown Cartago. We walked through different shops and markets. I think we saw a bakery on almost every corner, Yum! One particular place we visited was the Los Angeles Catholic Church (Basilica). We walked into a mass service that was in progress. I saw men, women, and small children walking into the church and sprinkling water on their heads, then walk right back out in a carousel fashion. I was thinking to myself... What did that do for them? How many times have they done this? Do they possibly come every day? How many others in Costa Rica (and around the world) put their hope in this "sprinkling of the water"? Thank you Jesus for being the living water, the One who comes to bring salvation to His people through His shed blood on the cross.
The next few things that I saw BROKE my heart for the people in this church. I started to see men and women get down on their knees and slowly scoot (almost walking from knee to knee) up towards the front of the church. Some of the men that were with me saw this before and told me this was their "penance" and that they were doing this to bring payment for their sins. My jaw about dropped! I wanted to stand up and shout "Jesus paid it all, you can't pay for it yourself... believe and trust."
Finally we saw a statue of the Black Madonna (this wasn't the pop singer) known as La Negrita, who supposedly had great healing powers. The sick come to her statue in hope of a miracle from La Negrita. According to folklore in Costa Rica, the statue was found by an indigenous girl in 1635. She brought it home several times, but it mysteriously reappeared at its original site. The rock where she found it is now kept in a backroom in the basilica and is revered as a sacred relic and object of inspiration. It is common for people to touch the rock in reverence. Flowing just near this statue were streams of water where people would either splash some on a hurting part of their body or they would bring empty containers to fill and take home. According to Cameron, almost two million people from around the world flood this church on August 2nd every year to worship the statue.
In Leviticus 26:1 we read "“You shall not make idols for yourselves or erect an image or pillar, and you shall not set up a figured stone in your land to bow down to it, for I am the Lord your God."
Hope to post more later,
Friday, January 8, 2010
You may know that one of our team members, Dennis Brose, was a professional soccer player. Dennis was the "draw" for the tourney. He suited up in a shirt a little to tight for him, stretched his 40-something-year-old legs, and wowed the audience for the 7 minutes he played before tearing a calf muscle, sidelining him for the remainder of the evening. Randall, being a physical therapist, quickly came and confirmed the injury.
What was so great was that Dennis' real contribution to the evening was sharing his testimony of how soccer inevitably was not the satisfaction and fulfillment that his soul longed for...but that Jesus Christ and His saving love was (Dennis is seated toward left of picture with back toward you). The audience was captivated. It was a powerful testimony to this crowd of mostly children and young adults who love the game of soccer. They heard a man that reached heights of success that they could only dream of, and then heard him say they were nothing compared to knowing Jesus.
The most difficult part for me was getting to know a few of the orphans and to hear of their stories. There was an 11 year old boy, Jose-Daniel. He was a sweet boy that warmed right up to Dennis and I. I believe he was the boy that has 11 brothers and sisters, 4 of which are in the orphanage with him. The other two that broke my heart were Tatiana (left)and Carrie (right). They looked to be about 13 or 14. I was told that they were going to be leaving the orphanage presumably to live on the streets. The reason? To escape the sexual abuse at the orphanage. I was absolutely broken-hearted. Pray that the Lord will extend mercy to these young ones, protect them, and save them.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
After lunch, we then went zip lining (also known as canopying). We rode up in a 1977 full-sized Chevy SUV which was about the same width as the very steep and dirt road. When we got out, we were told there was a short hike to get to the top. It was 20-25 minutes of walking up primitive steps. Everyone was winded and needing a nap by the top. Platform to platform we zipped, some 13 lines in all. The 1st was very short (to build your confidence no doubt). The 2nd was the scary one...for me especially. After that we mostly got the hang of it and had a mixture of fear of heights and exhileration. The views were spectacular and it was quite an experience looking down on San Jose. God was good. He protected 273 "runs" or "zips." He also gave courage to a few of us that are fairly afraid of heights...one of which got a Roca Viva t-shirt as an emblem of that courage.
What was more important was the connection we made with the Ticos. We subsidized their trip as they wouldn't have been able to go otherwise. We were able to have many conversations and just plain old fun with them. Cam told us is was very important that we made this connections with them so that we might be able to minister them. One of the guys, Randall, told Cam this was the best day of his life. Cam explained that the men here just do not have a strong level of commitment to and fellowship with each other. Our spending a day with them displayed for them how Christian men ought to relate to one another.
Pray that these inital relationships open up doors for gospel ministry. More later.
Sunday, January 3, 2010
After much prayer and planning, 9 men from Berean will be leaving Detroit Metro Airport this Tuesday, January 5th and returning on Monday, January 12th to do what we can to minister to the men of Costa Rica. We will be ministering in a number of settings with the men from Cameron's church (Roca Viva or "the Living Rock"). We will also be putting on a men's conference at an area campground on Friday night and Saturday. The men from a handful of local churches are supposed to attend. The men that will be there are likely to be spiritually immature mixed in with unsaved men. There will be three teaching sessions based out of Ephesians. Lesson 1: The Gospel Proper; Lesson 2: Gospel Truths of Inheritance & Transformational Hope; and Lesson 3: Living in Gospel Power.
Pray for our safety and ministry effectiveness. Pray for the hearts of those that are to come to the conference. Pray for the power of the gospel to overwhelm them and us.