Peace with God

"Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." - Romans 5:1

This is as much of a story of peace in my life as it is of peace in the life of another person.  As I was meditating the other day, the Lord was speaking to me about the lack of peace I sometimes have in my life.  Here we are, in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.  Some have given it the label of a 4th world country if there was one.  There are many good organizations and ministries doing so many different things here to help many people who are in real need.   

There are ministries that are giving hundreds of roofs to this community after the devastation of hurricane Matthew.  Amazing!  There are seeds being distributed for the growing of fruit trees and vegetables that are essential for the economic future of the countryside in the Grand'Ans district.  Amazing!  There are buildings being built, homes being repaired, clean water wells being dug, cholera prevention systems being created, jobs being given, food being distributed, medical clinics formed and tending to the health needs, dietary education being taught, orphans being taken in, and the list goes on and on.  Amazing!  A true representation of meeting real needs that Jesus talks about in Matthew 25.  

Then there are these moments I have, maybe for some of you, you have had these moments also.  It's a moment where people ask you, "so what do you do?"  Because it seems in our culture that our jobs or the things we do so often define who we are.  Or you look at the things you do and get caught up in the trap of the devil and begin to compare it with others.  "Discipleship."  "I do adult discipleship."  What does that mean for me?  "I have a discipleship school and teach God's Word."  Well, Okay.  I have to confess that, at times, I feel like I'm putting different activities on these raised pedestals over each other where what I do becomes simply a fading shadow under the limelight attraction of other tangible acts of love being done by so many others.

As I live here, steeped in the reality of deep poverty, many times I wish God had given me the ability to create and establish jobs, to have the mindset of an entrepenuer.  I don't have that.  I often wish God had given me the ability to mobilize people quickly and arrange big projects to be completed.  That too seems distant for me.  I sometimes even think that I could be so much more effective with my time and energy if I were single, and that having a wife and 4 kids in this country is a weight, and slows me down, that the money being given to support my family could support so many more single people to do so much more for the kingdom.  This too, is a lie.  

Sometimes, I ask God, why did you bring me here? to a place of incredible physical poverty and need, where it seems that often, the very thing I have to offer is spiritual, emotional and intellectual support, and that often times, the people around me don't want that.  Instead, they want jobs, they want clean water, food, houses or land, which is understandable considering their situation.  They need physical help!

With this inner turmoil, God reminded me of a story about peace that He recently brought to one of our new students.  This story encourages me to remain steadfast, it encourages me that God is always at work, and many times I am not aware of how He is working, even if it seems insignificant to me.

At the beginning of every school year with each new class, we take all the students on a 6 day back packing trip in the back woods of Haiti.  The 6 days are filled with different physical activities that have deep spiritual truths, times of worship and study in the book of 1 John, and being pushed physically beyond their ability so that they experience the value of being part of a family together.  It's always so sweet to see how God uses these short 6 days to cause so much transformation in us as leaders and in the students on the trip.  It's absolutely one of my favorite times here in Haiti.

It was day 5 of our trip, and the leadership team was going to begin praying for the students, who were off having some time alone with the Lord.  A man who was passing by interrupted our time just as we were beginning to pray and said that one of our students was laying down, sweating, shaking, and vomiting.  We immediately sent one of our intern leaders (a student who had previously graduated last year's class) to check on him.  After about 5 minutes, he returned and confirmed that he was not in good shape at all.

I decided to go back with him, taking along another man so there were 3 of us.  We came with water as well, not really knowing what the Lord had in all of this.  As I was walking, I was considering our location, that we were least a 4 hour hike from the closest town with anything that resembled a hospital.  I was praying and asking the Lord what He wanted to do in this, I heard confession and unforgiveness.

So when we arrived, we found him and he was lying down, sweating and shaking.  We moved him to a shaded area and gave him some water.  After that, I asked him if there was anyone in his life that he had not forgiven for something that they had done to hurt him.  He paused, thought for a moment, and said "yes."  There was someone in his life that had spoken very bad things about him and he had never forgiven him.  In fact, he had previously planned on killing this person for what he had spoken.  At one point in the past, he was very close to doing it, but never went through with it.  From that point, he had never forgiven him, and had always wanted revenge.

I asked him if he was ready to forgive him now for what he had done and he said yes.  So I explained how and walked him through forgiving this person out loud, naming specifically the wrong he had done to him, and also praying a blessing over his entire life after the prayer of forgiveness.  He did this, prayed out loud and released this person from the debt that was owed.  After he prayed, immediately the sickness was gone.  No more sweating, shaking or vomiting.  We asked how he felt, and he said, "amazing."  No more pain, no more sickness.  He looked completely different!  He said that it was like God was removing all the bad things in his heart, and the vomit was like God desiring to get out all of the things that didn't honor Him that was in his life.

We rejoiced and praised God for this experience!  Truly he had experienced healing and deliverance through the power of confession, through the power that God releases when we forgive others in our lives.  This student has been touched by God and we get to be a part of that.  It's such a blessing to see how God is changing his heart from desiring to be rich to desiring more of Jesus in his life.

Through the midst of unrest all around, personal challenges here, family challenges, in the midst of deceit, impure motivations, jealousy, injustice, poverty, and overwhelming needs physical that simply just seem, at times, insurmountable; it is always refreshing to be able to see and experience the fruit that God gives through His peace.  And He continues to remind me that what I get to do and be a part of is by no means insignificant.  Even in the midst of feeling helpless at times when it comes to meeting needs physically, He is reminding me that we are the body of Christ and every part has a very important role to play. 

Thank you Papa for my role.

Embracing Our Identity

One of the most challenging things about living in Haiti for me personally is not necessarily the overwhelming physical needs.  Yes, this is hard to face, especially when I’m in a place that is spacious, our family has more than enough food and all of our needs and beyond are continually met.  I’d be living the same way if I lived in the U.S. but the extreme need feels magnified around me.  Yes, this is difficult.  However, I’ve found something even more challenging, and that is not necessarily the poverty that I see surrounding me, but the poverty of the mind that is steeped and rooted into the heart of this culture.

Back in January, we had a short term trip come out to partner with us from the Rock Church.  During this time, we had purchased material to help rebuild over 35 roofs for those who had lost them in the recent Hurricane.  One Thursday morning, the team and I walked down the narrow alleyways of Sentalen, (a very poor neighborhood here).  As we began bringing material into the nearby homes, people multiplied, voices rose up and crowds were pressing around us.  I quickly gave instructions, we prayed and broke up into groups.  During that day, everyone served faithfully and put their hand to the good work before them.  At the end of the day, we were able to rebuild 3 roofs in that neighborhood that helped 5 different families. 

What I had hoped for was a community to gather around this elderly woman, living with her elderly husband, who had no way of repairing their roof.  And another woman, living alone, who had so generously opened up her home to other victims of the hurricane to stay there.  Instead, what I found was a depraved mindset.  During that day, children, women, men, young and old, skinny and well fed, reached out to me, grabbed me, begged me, surrounded me, asking for money or a new roof.  Keep in mind, our team is not only taking care of these roofs, but doing kids activities for over 400 children, and serving food to them as well. 

“You fixed hers, now fix mine.”  Sure, the women getting their roof replaced were very happy, but outside of that, there was nobody, not one neighbor who seemed thankful for these people receiving a new roof.  All of them had the mindset of, “If I’m not getting help, I don’t want anyone else to get help either.”  The Poverty Mindset says, “I’d rather see everyone suffer than to see one person lifted up out of their misery…”

Shortly after that day, we took an optional evacuation by the U.N. and spent 2 weeks away from Jeremie, Haiti.  We’ve been back for 5 weeks now, and this past week, we returned to that same neighborhood to make good on a promise of one more resident’s roof.  This lady was a single mom who had 4 children and shared the house with a family that had been displaced due to the recent hurricane.  Putting a roof up meant the family could return and live there.  

After the roof was finished, the neighborhood was in a frenzy, bursting with people wanting the left over material.  In between the time frame of the leaders on the worksite coming and going, the homeowner, who had just received a brand new roof at no cost to her, facilitated the theft of metal sheets and wooden pieces.  Not only did she do this, but when one of the leaders returned, she also lied to him about where the material went, as some of it went to the neighbors, and she hid some of it in her home. 

When I found this out, I had mixed emotions of frustration, anger, disappointment, sadness...and then my heart broke for her.  My heart broke for her and so many like her that even in their situation of getting a new roof, it wasn’t enough, she wanted more.  She had an unthankful heart, a heart of greed.  And I’ve come to experience this is very common here.  Mostly, it seems especially in the city, that something given, no matter what it is, it isn’t enough. 

I’ve been struggling with loving people like this for the past 1 ½ yrs I’ve been here, because it’s in your face every day.  I think generally, it’s easy for us to love those who are thankful or who love us back.  Jesus says if we simply love those who love us, what reward do we have?  As I’ve been battling with this in my heart, to show continual kindness to people who have an unthankful heart, who literally to your face reject your gift, reject your love and your offering because they want more, one morning this verse struck my heart.

“But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High.  For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.”  Luke 6:35

God is using these experiences and His Spirit to show me Who He is, and Who I am.  He’s showing me the reality that to the extent I understand my identity in Christ, is to the extent I will show kindness towards the unthankful and evil.  Ultimately, if I’m lacking in showing kindness to them, I’m lacking in knowing the reality of Who I am and Whose I am.  He’s showing me how to do this with an open heart, ready to receive unthankfulness, knowing that this is my identity in Christ.  He has freed me, He has freed you, He has freed us all to live this way, for He is kind to the unthankful and evil.

Speechless

Two weeks ago, our team returned from a trip to the Dominican Republic for our first team retreat.  We had scheduled to go to an event called, School of Power and Love. The focus of this conference is teaching about our identity in Christ and the outflow of power that comes from holding firm to that belief.  Every day we went on outreach, which is not unusual for me, having already gone through a discipleship school myself, as well as having already launched and completed our first year of a discipleship school here in Haiti.  However, the difference of these outreaches were aiming at bringing Jesus' love by asking people if they have pain or injuries and praying for healing.  It was like a direct arrow being shot specifically towards the enemy so that these men and women could experience the love of God through physical healing.

As testimonies began coming in, pretty crazy things were happening; blind people seeing, legs growing longer, pain completely leaving people.  The amazing part is that so many different people were testifying about how God was using them, not the one single anointed preacher, but them, the body of Christ.  For some reason when it comes to these things, I'm the guy who has to see it myself to believe it.  I had been asking God to use me this way, but to do it in such a way that I knew without a doubt, the person in front of me was healed.

So we went out the second day, and a guy I prayed for said his headache was healed.  Well, I thought, he could just be making that up to make me feel better and not really be honest with me.  The third day we went out, an old man was healed from a pain in his lower abdomen.  He began jumping for joy and praising God, he seemed genuine in his expression of gratitude, in fact, he even wanted to buy everyone sodas as we were leaving to show his appreciation, but I wasn't too trusting in the translator we were with that day; something just didn't seem right, and when I invited this man to come share his testimony at the conference, the translator seemed hesitant in having him come.  Could this have been a genuine encounter this old man had with the Holy Spirit?  Or could this really have been a manufactured expression that was pre-planned?  I still had my doubts.

So on the final day, I asked the Lord to use me to touch someone and asked again that it would be in such a way that I couldn't doubt any longer.  So we went out again, this time with my oldest son, Malachi.  This was his first time going on outreach during the conference, as he had been reluctant to go every other day.  So now with my doubts, I'm supposed to be the encouraging one for my sons.  Apparently everyone in my group was new to outreach, so I again was the veteran in this.

As we walked around a small village, one girl led us up to a house that had blaring music.  Someone was having a good time at this house, so we decided to stop by and see what was going on.  As we walked up the hill and the large group of people turned their attention toward us, suddenly we didn't feel welcome at all.  There were probably over 30 Dominicans hanging out, relaxing and we were not invited guests and we knew it!  As we decided somewhat reluctantly to move forward, we asked for the owner of the house.  He came forward and it was his 60th birthday.  We asked for permission to pray for him as well as asked for permission to interrupt their party to pray for others.  To our surprise, they gladly said yes.

I immediately told them through our translator that we were here to pray for them and asked if anyone had physical pain in their body.  A woman stepped forward and we began speaking with her.  She looked in her 30's wearing a hair net.  She began to tell us she has had lower back pain for the past 2 1/2 years.  It had something to do with her discs.  Malachi asked her how far she could bend over and she showed us, it was about halfway.  Suddenly, I remembered what one of the speakers had said about “increasing the risk,” especially if you are doubting.  So, I got this crazy idea to do just that.  I yelled to everyone, “Hey guys, are you ready to see Jesus heal this woman! He's going to do it.”  Yep, and I was thinking to myself, “God I really hope you do this.”  We laid hands on her and prayed, commanding the pain to leave.  After about 10 seconds we stopped and asked her to check it.  She bent over, and bent over all the way!  She touched the ground and stood back up, looking at us in amazement.  Her eyes began to fill with tears as we asked if all the pain was gone.  She said it felt better, but there was still a little pain.

We prayed again, another quick 10 second prayer and then asked her to check it, she bent over again, all the way again and touched the floor, stood up and said all the pain was gone!  As she stood there, speechless, tears filling her eyes, my female translator came and hugged her for what seemed like 5 minutes while she just cried and cried.  All of her friends and family stared in amazement of what just happened, they too were speechless.  Afterwards, we applauded and thanked Jesus Christ for healing her and I shared a short gospel message.

Although nobody came forward that day to surrender their lives to Jesus, a woman was touched.  She was touched and had a genuine encounter with the living God.  She's going to have to deal with that.  All other 30 people who were there have to deal with that too.  How can they explain that?  This friend of theirs, hurting for 2 1/2 years, now after being prayed for, it's gone, all pain gone.  You can’t explain that, other than admitting the power of God came upon her.  The funny thing is that I always believed that I would feel something if that ever happened through me.  And I felt absolutely nothing, other than Jesus' compassion for this woman the 2nd time we prayed.  But there was no lightning, no heat, no warm fuzzies, no show in the prayer, no dancing or beating or yelling at this woman, no rebuking the devil, just 2 very quick, simple prayers of authority.

This woman experienced the love of God through His power that day.  And it brought glory to Jesus Christ.  I experienced something too.  Through all my skepticism and disbelief, not of what God could do, but that He wants to do it through me, God was faithful to my prayer.  It was amazing to see this woman healed.

After that, I can't begin to ask myself how many others there are out in this world, who are waiting to experience God that way.  How many are being kept in pain that the Lord wants to use us, not just the anointed few, but the Holy Spirit filled many, to bring them into an encounter with Him?

Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8) to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).  Healing people was not the sole focus of His life, but it was a part of His lifestyle, an overflow and byproduct of His fellowship with the Father.  Is it a part of ours?

"Jesus didn't heal everyone in the world while He was here, but He did heal everyone who came to Him and He did heal everyone the Father sent Him to.  Jesus is our model, the same Spirit that raised Him from the dead lives in us.  We can't expect anything less in our lives.  We can't blame the person in front of us for their lack of faith and we can't put guilt or shame on ourselves.  But what we can do is cry out to God in the secret place and take risks publicly."
-Bill Johnson