Monday, December 31, 2012

The Day I Died

Six months after visiting Haiti, I find myself crossing a new milestone worthy of much praise. In order for anyone to understand this milestone, I'll need to take you back to exactly one year ago today. 

I was preparing to hit the partying streets of Atlanta, GA, in order to celebrate the infamous New Year's Eve holiday.  With beer bottles in hand, my friends and I set out for yet another night on the town. Other than the $50 cover, this was nothing new to me. Most of my Friday nights prior to this had been spent at a bar, and most of my Saturday mornings had been spent on my couch with a killer hangover. Little did I know, this would be the last NYE celebrated in that fashion;  a week later, I would die.

Or at least that's how God's Word puts it. Repeatedly.

Galatians 2:20
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

See also: Luke 9:23, Mark 8:35, Galatians 5:24, 1 Peter 2:24

Prior to that NYE, I would have considered myself a "Christian." I believed in God. I believed that Jesus was God's son. I believed that God sent Jesus, who was both 100% God and 100% man, to die for our sins, so that we might live with God in Heaven forever and ever, amen. That's the gospel, right?

But WAIT. I said the sinner's prayer that day in church when I was 14 years old. I told God I wanted to have a relationship with His son. I was baptized for goodness sake. You know, the "wedding band" of salvation. I had publicly displayed my commitment to Christ as my Lord. Oh....wait. Lord? I guess that's the part I had signed without reading. I was what Craig Groeschel would call "A Christian Atheist:" Believing in God but living as if He doesn't exist. Or what Kyle Idleman would call a "Fan of Jesus" rather than a follower. I had bought into one of the enemy's greatest lies... a watered down gospel. 

God would gently (and at times... not-so-gently) begin to reveal this truth to me during the coming month.  January was filled with a series of divine appointments... with books, sermons, people, events, and revelations, all happening at just the right time. I can't tell you why I decided to participate in my church's "21 Days of Prayer and Fasting" that would begin that next week, but I did. I can't tell you why I decided to fast alcohol, but I did. I can't tell you why I decided to commit time to prayer every day for the next 21 days, but I did. The only explanation I have is that God was with me. He had a better plan for me than I had for myself. He had plans to prosper me, to bring me hope and a future. And those plans would never have been fulfilled if I had stayed in the driver's seat. So he asked me to pull the car over and swap places with him. To stop asking Him for directions only when I though I was lost. 

Matthew 7:21 says, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." Through this verse, God revealed to me that many people who call themselves Christians, such as myself, are devastatingly wrong. It goes on to say, "Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' " It was as if God was giving me a glimpse of my possible future, standing before him on Judgement Day, completely ready to accept his salvation and expecting to spend eternity with him, only to be found filthy in sin because I had never died to self, allowed His Son to clothe me in righteousness, and lived like I truly believed the gospel.  

Saved by grace is a difficult concept. And I think the enemy has done a pretty good job in tricking us into believing that it means we can live this life however we want because there is no way to earn or lose our salvation. You're getting nervous aren't you? Don't worry... I'm not about to go all "works-based" on you. Technically... that's correct. We can't earn salvation. But have you read James 2:26? My point is that true salvation... a pure understanding of what Christ did for us....a real commitment to follow Him... and a genuine love for Jesus....will change your life, will never be fruitless, and will call you to your rightful place in the passenger's seat. A false sense of salvation is the enemy's greatest scheme. 

To repent means to change your mind about something. When we change our mind about something, we behave differently regarding it. To receive the gospel with a repentant heart, We have to change our mind about ourselves and about our God. For me, I had to stop believing that I was good enough. That I didn't require a rescuer.  That God would never expect me to be someone that I couldn't be. That God was fair, and it would be unfair for God to require righteousness of me when He was the only righteous one. I had to start believing the truth. That God would not be righteous if He didn't require righteousness in return from everything around Him. Right can never be okay with wrong. No matter how great His love is for us, it is impossible for a sinner to be in His presence. That is the necessity of the Cross. That is the truth that God revealed to me last January. That is what changed my mind, my heart, and my life. I stood no chance in that courtroom on Judgement Day without evidence. My evidence is this: A new heart (II Cor. 5:17),  A new driver (Romans 8:14), and new works, done because of salvation, not for it (James 2:26). 

May you be covered in his dust,


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Heart for Haiti

The Lord has brought me so far within six months of committing my life to Him, but I think He brought me the farthest during the two hour van ride from the airport in Port-au-Prince to the hotel in Grand Goave. As I observed the Haitian homes made of tarp and sticks, sheets of metal, and stacked concrete rubble pass by our van window, I listened intently as our mission guide explained the bitter truth behind the corrupt Haitian government, it's calamitous history, and why Haiti is still functioning as one of the least developed countries in the world. 
My heart immediately began to break for Haiti, but even as I took in the stories of evil, corruption, and devastation, I couldn't help but notice the impeccable mountains peaking out from behind the piles of rubble and waste; the hopeful smiles on the precious Haitian children, dressed in tattered clothing and walking barefoot on the hot gravel streets; the beautifully woven cornstalk walls of the mountain churches, and the rich blue waters of the surrounding Caribbean. Haiti was the most beautiful mess I'd ever seen. The people were beautiful. Nature was remarkable. God was present.
I was reading in John on the first night before going to bed, and one verse stuck out to me. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” (John 1:5). This verse would be an underlying theme throughout the entire trip. Though voodoo and witchcraft were prevalent in Haiti, they were powerless to extinguish the light that was so evidently growing and taking its rightful place in authority over the darkness.
Earlier that night as we were eating dinner outside of the orphanage, we were blessed with the heartwarming sound of Haitian worship coming from the church below us. A few of us removed ourselves from the dinner table for a better listen, and we were brought to tears. We had one of our translators interpret the song for us, and I recorded it on my phone. This song served as a powerful spiritual warfare tool for me during the trip. At night, when evil would draw its sword, God faithfully brought this song to mind, and the light conquered the darkness.
Part of our trip cost was dedicated to providing a nice meal for the children we visited. Word of that traveled fast, and every place we visited nearly doubled in size with children walking up to two hours to receive a meal. It was an indescribable feeling to be able to provide a heaping plate full of rice and beans to a four-year-old and watch him eat every single bite. These children were starving, but on that day, they were filled. The pastor of one of the mountain churches we were visiting told us that he prays every day to be able to feed the children that come to him, and that we were God's answer to that prayer. He thanked us for being a blessing and told us and the children that only Jesus could move us to leave our country and come to Haiti to help them. He referred to us as “missionaries” and I felt highly honored that God was using me for that purpose.                                           
We had a 13-year-old teammate who was accompanied by her mother on the trip. She brought extra snacks in her backpack everywhere she went so that she could pass them out to people we passed. As we were leaving one of the churches in the tap-tap, we passed by a voodoo church and were moved to pray and worship around the tree that was used for sacrifices. As we were worshipping, a very old woman approached us and lifted her hands in worship alongside of us. She did not speak our language, but she knew what we were doing and she wanted to be a part of it. When we finished worshipping, the 13-year-old handed her a snack, and the women told our translator that she had nothing to eat, but that she prayed that God would provide for her, and He sent us. God's daily provisions are so evident in a country where the people are desperate for them.
Prior to the trip, our team was concerned about the language barrier we were going to face as we tried to communicate and present the gospel to the Haitians we came in contact with. Not only did God provide for this need, but he faithfully provided us with four incredible men of God who would serve as our translators that week. It was wonderful getting to know the young men and hear their touching stories of how God has protected them, provided for them, and loved them. I asked one of our Haitian friends if he liked living in Haiti, and he responded: “If you could be inside here (pointing to his heart) you would know that I love my country.” Another friend added, “We are patriots. We would fight for this country. You have to understand that we have a different mentality than what you might have seen here. We know that we have to work to survive.” Later, I heard the second friend explaining his life to one of our teammates. He explained that it's like having two water bottles and choosing to empty one and fill one to the top. If the empty water bottle were to ask him why it wasn't filled like the other bottle, he would reply “What right do you have to question me? I will fill you when I need you to be filled, but right now I need you to be empty.”
Our guide told us the story of a church group that had visited Haiti two years ago. As they were there, they heard that a young girl was going to be sacrificed they next day. The group decided to go out and try to save the girl. The child had been sold to the witchdoctor by her mother for $15, and the pastor of the group was able to buy her back. She is now living in an orphanage and praising God for the missionaries who saved her life.
After leaving Haiti, I have kept in touch with all four of our translator friends. Their kind words have touched my heart in a much-needed time when the enemy is desperately trying to demean the value of short-term missions. One of my Haitian friends wrote, "I feel on top of the world to let you know that it was a blessing from above for you to leave your country and come help my brothers and sisters in Haiti." God has moved me to continue supporting the precious country of Haiti. If you are interested in supporting them as well, I have provided some links below.

May you be covered in His dust,