"I have but one passion - it is He, it is He alone. The world is the field and the field is the world; and henceforth that country shall be my home where I can most be used in winning souls for Christ."

Sunday, October 5, 2008

El Embajador en Español

La Llamada de Regresar...

Mis hermanos en Cristo,

¡Nos hace mucha ilusión compartir con ustedes el trabajo que Dios ha hecho en nuestras vidas durante los últimos meses! Entre Marzo y Junio de este año, yo estaba viviendo en México y serviendo con Randy y Gwen Ashcraft en Ministerios La Fe, porque yo creí que Dios me estaba llamando al trabajo de misiónes. Yo tenía una meta para mi viaje - para decidir si Dios me quiere regresar a México y servirle en el campo misionero. Esa meta fue cumplida. Dios usó mi tiempo alli para confirmar en mi corazón y por el consejo de otros que me quiere ser misionero, un soldado en su servicio.

En un mundo que se hace más hostil contra el Cristianismo, tenemos el honor de ser usados de Dios para llevar las buenas noticias de Su Hijo a los que se murió para salvar. Cuando encontramos los corazones abiertos a recibir Cristo como su Señor, nos gozarémos con los ángeles. Si nosotros sufrimos la persecución, yo oro que serémos ellos “de quien el mundo no era digno” y entregar nuestras propias vidas por causa de Su nombre. Nuestras vidas son suya para hacer lo que quiere.

Mientras que salimos, nuestro misión es hacer discipulos de Jesucristo. Esto incluyo el evangelismo, por medio de testificar y desarollar las relaciones, y también instrucción, por el estudio y la enseñanza de la Palabra de Dios regularmente. Nuestro plan inicial es moverse a Jiménez, Chihuahua a trabajar junto al Ashcrafts y Pastor Jose Luis Ayala en Iglesia Bautista La Fe. Estaremos implicados en ministerios incluyendo el visitación, predicación, grupos pequeños, música, y también el ministerio a los jovenes. Permaneceremos allí en Jiménez hasta que Dios nos mueve al otro lugar, si ése sea por meses o por años.

Estamos comisionados y enviados por Iglesia Bautista de Piedra Angular de Morton, IL, la iglesia que ha sido mi hogar por los últimos 3 años. Este cuerpo de creyentes tiene una pasión verdadera para las misiones y es implicada en el trabajo del reino de Dios alrededor del mundo. Será dificil dejar a tales amados amigos y a los pastores con quien serví en el ministerio, pero vamos a donde nuestro Señor nos ha enviado y nos sostendrá. Miramos adelante a poder volver a casa con historias de cómo Dios ha utilizado su inversión en nuestras vidas y ministerio para lograr sus deseos en México.

El país de México es un campo muy abierto al evangelio. Sin embargo, muchas áreas del país todavía no lo han oido. Unos grupos de la gente todavía no tienen una Biblia en su lengua materna. ¡Fuimos a un village de 100 personas en las montañas y, a mi sorpresa, ninguna de ellas había visto una biblia! Pero después de una presentación simple del evangelio, algún 30-40 de ellos oró para recibir a Cristo como su Salvador. Eso es lo que haremos en México. Llevaremos las buenas noticias de salvación a los que nunca la han oído.

Pidamos que Dios levantara un ejército de creyentes que compartirán en nuestras batallas con oracion. Necesitamos sus oraciones. Nada de valor eterna ocurre sin orar. Mientras que pasamos a los últimos días de esta tierra, nuestro deseo es compartir Cristo con tanta gente podemos - antes del fin. Nuestro futuro es emocionante, pero el enemigo no nos dejará ir indiscutidos. Necesitamos a ejército. ¿Estas listo para una guerra?

Peticiones de Oración:
· Sabiduria y dirección en el ministerio
· Entendimiento completo de la idioma
· Preparación para nuestro matrimonio
· Provisión financiero para regresar
Reportas de Alabanza:
· Dios confirmó su llamada de regresar
· Salvación de muchas almas perdidas
· Una perspectiva nueva del mundo perdido
· Contento y gozo por siguiendo la voluntad de Dios

Saturday, October 4, 2008

"Our Story - My Side" by Abby Temple

Have you ever felt God leading your heart? I'm talking crystal clear leading -not something you think could maybe, possibly be God. No, something that is so undeniably God that it overwhelmed the deepest parts of you.

I felt that type of leading during the summer of 2003. At 12 years of age, the voice of the Lord is not one that most children are trying to listen for. And honestly, I can't say I was solely focused on Him. Yet, in His gently powerful way, He spoke to my heart. I was sitting in a music conference room in Orlando, Florida, with my youth group. This was a night just like any other, nothing unusual that might make me suspect something. I sat in my seat and listened to other youth sing karaoke. Then a young girl started singing. No music, just words. She truly had a beautiful voice, and the acappella notes rang through the room. It might be easy to believe that at 12 years old, I was somehow just overtaken with the emotion behind the song, Carry Your Candle. However, His voice was unmistakable. You see, the sermon that night had been on Mary, the mother of Jesus. I remember the pastor talking about how mature Mary had to have been, at some 14 years of age, in order to be trusted with the responsibility of being the mother of the Christ Child. Though I knew I wasn't any where near worthy of this much trust, I decided I could become someone worthy of such. The pastor asked the question, “Don't you want to be that type of girl? Like Mary?” The obvious answer in my heart was, “Yes!” So, with that in my heart, I listened to this girl sing a beautiful song based on spreading the gospel. Unmistakably, God spoke. I knew, right then and there, that His plan for my life was going to be missions. I started crying like I honestly never had before. I had to excuse myself to the bathroom. To say that my heart was overwhelmed is an understatement. Because my family and I were in the throes of an adoption from China, I suspected that God would use the place in my heart for the Chinese people in one way or another for missions. From that day on, I knew that God has a special purpose for my life. I knew He was leading me internationally. Although I knew not where, nor how, nor when, nor with whom. I knew because He had told me.

Fast forward a few years. I leave those years out partly because they don't pertain to the end of the story, but also because I struggled in those years. Though I knew in my heart God had called me for His glory, my life didn't exactly reflect one of a focused “missionary to be”. I struggled because I wanted to be accepted, forgetting that the One who completely accepted me had not gone anywhere. However, through much prayer on my parents' part, I realized again how accepted I really was by those who truly cared, Christ included.

Through World Changers in Chicago, sitting in the prayer service on Wednesday night, God reiterated His calling on my life. Again, His voice was unmistakably clear. I went forward to speak with my youth pastor about how God was leading my heart. He didn't at all seem surprised, and he prayed right there with me. Though I knew when I was 12, I don't really believe I submitted until that night at World Changers in 2006.

Keep going forward – Early April of 2008. I was truly in complete submission to His calling, no if's, and's or but's about it. Kaylee and I had started going to True North Church in North Augusta for their praise and worship style service and intense focus on missions. Actually, I think this was only the second time we'd gone. The pastor preached a sermon on missions, and how as Christians we all need to get involved. I listened, because I knew this sermon especially pertained to me. The pastor read a letter from a lady in the church who had just heard of the children in third world countries who lived on trash piles. They had nothing of their own, so they had to feed off of garbage. Her letter was convicting because in it she said, “Why did God bless me, and leave others with so little? And how can I be so comfortable while there are children living on trash? I don't want to always be this comfortable." Oh, how I could relate! I didn't want to always be this comfortable. I wanted to experience what those children felt. I wanted to do anything I could to help. And I was truly willing to do whatever God had in store for me. Again, tears flooded my eyes. I was, yet again, overwhelmed with desire to fulfill God's calling on my life, but this time I wanted to go immediately! Right then. I was tired of waiting to finish school, and certainly couldn't imagine trying to make it through at least 4 years of college before I could go full-time. A few days after this sermon, I sat talking to my mom in her room, and cried as I told her how ready I was to get to the mission field. But, when? Where? How? Was I going alone? She replied, “Right now you need to stay on the track you're on. You're going to finish high-school, and you're going to college, unless or until He shows you otherwise. And if He does, He's going to open the doors.”

April 13th, 2008. I sat in my mom's closet with her as she cleaned out old fabric swatches. Though I'd talked to Kaylee a good bit about what I'd dreamed of in a future mate, I hadn't really spent much time talking to Mom about the subject lately. Not because she wouldn't be interested or because I wouldn't want to tell her. But, because Prince Charmings weren't just waltzing around everywhere I looked. I wasn't thinking AT ALL that he might just poke his head into my life's door any time soon, so why the need to talk about something when you have no prospects? Whatever my reason for talking to her about it on this day, God knew it that through this unusual conversation with my mom He would eventually confirm a certain situation He was bringing about. “Mom, you know, my Prince Charming is out there somewhere. Do you ever think about that?”, I asked. Though she was probably slightly taken aback by that seemingly random question, she said a few things. I said a few things. Then she ended the conversation with, “Abby, I don't think you've met him yet. I don't believe he's in Aiken. But, I don't think you're going to have to go looking for him. God's going to bring him right to you. You just need to trust Him on that.” I know, I know, doesn't it sound like something I just made up? Well, it isn't. Those words are exactly what she said that day.

Rattle-tap-tap, our dear friend Erika's at the door. She had just returned from her long-awaited missions trip to Mexico for Spring Break. Who knows why she came over that day? All I remember is, “Abby! I've met the cutest guy! And he's a missionary! He has a real heart for the Lord! I think ya'll have a lot in common, you should get to know him. I went to his Facebook profile and read his stuff, and I just kept thinking of you.”

“Ha! Yeah right, Klipa! What're the odds of that!?” However, she had said he was a missionary. And I was ready to be a missionary. So, maybe he could help me get on the right track! With very little thought, I located Jonathan St.Clair on Facebook and shot him a friend request. My only fear was that he would think I was some crazy teenager who would end up with some ridiculous crush on him. So, I threw in on the message line, “So, this is totally and completely Klipa's doing.... :O)”. I remember it because, I purposely put in the “completely.” To just use “totally” might make me sound like I really was some ridiculous teenager. No, I was seriously interested in talking to the guy about how he got involved in missions. And given that he was 26, and I, 17, I wanted him to take me seriously. But, the “:O)” had to go in, because it needed a friendly touch.

April 13th, 2008 – Jonathan St.Clair has accepted your friend request. Finally, a missionary I can talk to! A “Hey, nice to meet you” on the walls and that was about it for the next 4 days. Still my fear was that he would think I was interested in him, and that my intentions weren't pure. I can say with an honest heart that my intentions were completely pure. The thought did cross my mind, 'Christian guy. Missionary. Unmarried.' But, the age gap was going to be too much. Honestly, there was no way. Or so I thought.
April 17th, 2008 – I sit down at the table to write Jonathan and ask him how he got started in ministry. I tried to keep it short, didn't want to be buggy. But, obviously I had a lot of questions running through my mind.

“I really feel called to missions. And God has seriously been working on my heart these last few months. But, ya know, gotta get a college degree before I get into anything too huge. Definitely a blessing that Klipa met you---Cause I have no clue who to ask around here. So, I have a couple questions for you. If ya don't mind. :O) I've been doing World Changers for the last 2 years. I love it, but it's not terribly evangelistic, at least my crews haven't been. I really want to witness, like work with people, children, anyone. I'm willing to go far....Or stay close. I guess I should start close before I go far. So, how'd you get involved? And when? Short term while in college? Week? Month? It's really overwhelming! Please, just give me any advice you may have. I'd appreciate anything.”

I mash the send button and the next thing I know a (1) pops up in my inbox. “Mom, this is so weird. I just wrote that Jonathan guy that Erika told me about. And he just wrote me at the same time! I just hit “send” and I have a new message- it's from Jonathan!” Weird. This was the first of many weird “coincidences”, so to speak, that would happen over the next month or so. His message was similar to mine, minus all the questions. “We're 'friends' so, tell me who you are. And here is a little bit about me.” Something along those lines.

Before I go on about Jonathan, I must add this part in as it is key to the rest of the story. Jonathan and I had our crazy first message coincidence on a Thursday. That Sunday, April 20th, Kaylee and I went to True North. She and I had spent copious amounts of time talking about missions and where we felt God wanted us to go. Both feeling called to one sort of international missions or another, we discussed seriously the option of going international for a short term trip together. Although we were both already signed up for World Changers, she doing so reluctantly, my whole heart in it, somehow we were open to wherever God led that summer. Right before Kaylee had signed up for World Changers, she told me that she really didn't feel like that's where God wanted her this summer. She said she didn't really know where God wanted her, but she was not at peace in her heart about World Changers. I was not a happy camper, as I was really looking forward to spending a week of our senior summer on the mission field together. But, through much prayer she agreed to go ahead and sign up, and then if God led another way she'd remove her name. So, on that Sunday at church, we just happen to run into Chip Herring, whom I'd known for a few years, and Kaylee had never met. Chip's a neat guy, the college minister for True North and Cedar Creek Church combined, I believe. In typical Chip-fashion he said, “Hey ya'll should come to Mexico with us this summer!” Oh, I can still hear those words coming out of his mouth. “Mexico? Hey, that's where Jonathan is. Weird, yet again.” I thought. At this point I wasn't really suspecting anything of my friendship with Jonathan. So, very little thought went into that suggestion from Chip, at that moment at least.

The week in Mexico just so happened to be the same week as World Changers. One of my best guy friends, Eric, had already tried to get me to go on this same trip. But, I wouldn't hear of it because World Changers was, again, that same week. Kaylee, my oh-so-faithful prayer warrior friend, took what Chip had said to heart, and brought it back up to me a day or so later. “Abby, I really think God may want us on that Mexico trip.” The truth is, I trust Kaylee's judgment. If she feels like the Lord is speaking to her, then I better listen to what she has to say. Though it took a lot of prayer, and weighing of options, God was clear when He spoke to Kaylee's heart, and He spoke to mine, too.

I prayed a lot about that decision without even mentioning it to Jonathan. Somehow I found out that the trip through Merge was going to the same ranch Jonathan was serving at, and I didn't want him to think I was coming to meet him. I wasn't. In fact, he wasn't even supposed to be there, he was leaving June 7th. However, before I made any final decisions, I did ask him about the ranch, and Randy and Gwen and what kinds of things the trip might entail. He told me briefly about the ministry there, as it was still the first week of writing and we hadn't gotten to that part yet. Still, he wasn't going to be there, and it didn't matter anyway. I was going to serve the Lord and others and get a glimpse into the international mission field. So, the decision was made to go on this trip to Jiménez, Chihuahua, Mexico.

I'd like to say that life went on like normal. And it did to an extent. But, normal life didn't include writing some missionary I'd never met on a daily basis. And we're not talking, “Hey, how are you?” every day. It was one huge, on-going conversation about everything from family (a lot about this), music (lots about this too, obviously a common interest), food (still a very common interest), but most importantly about the Lord. About beliefs and convictions and witnessing and Bible studies, missions, you name it and we talked about it. Stories, funny ones too! Oh, I would just laugh and laugh at some of his crazy, almost unbelievable, yet too-detailed-to-be-made-up, stories. The “huge man on the plane who smothered me in my seat” story. The “only scored one accidental goal in my 4 years of college hockey career” story. The “went to San Fransisco and on my day off from conferences ended up in a library rather than the surf” story. If I didn't know better, I'd say I was writing a comedian! The 'ditto's, 'me too's, and 'I can't believe it! I do the same thing's!' were present in almost every message. Purely just friends, excluding the fact that we hadn't met.

I do believe that I started to suspect God leading earlier than Jonathan did. However, I was determined to not even hint toward anything but a true friendship. So, though my prayers changed a bit, “God, what are you doing? Is this really too good to be true? Or is this You?”, my words to him remained the same. I had no idea if Jonathan was feeling at all led the way I was, or if it was really just one huge coincidence.

I do remember when my prayers truly felt confirmed in my heart. I was praying daily for Jonathan, his ministry, and his decision in choosing a wife. Though writing Jonathan, and praying for him all the while, I was still continually praying for my future husband. But, one night, I don't know why, I sensed a change. I don't know what made me start to pray very seriously about Jonathan, and the possibility of him being my “One.” But, I did. I prayed so many things that night. Oh, the wisdom and guidance I pleaded my Savior for, because somehow I knew that I was going to need them. I prayed that night for Jonathan, and I prayed that night for my future husband. I don't know how to explain how it hit me, but it hit. I was praying for the same person in both of those prayers. God would have to confirm it through counsel and guidance, I did know that. But, His assurance was clear.

I remember one night I was babysitting for Erika in mid-May. After HOME group, she came in and, like always, asked me how I was doing. She asked me about Jonathan and about our writing. I can't remember how long we talked but, I specifically remember what I told her that night. I told her that, in my heart, I knew that Jonathan was the type of man who could lead me. I've never wanted, nor did I think God wanted for me, a man who would bow down to my every request. I wanted a guy who was strong spiritually. One who would be the leader of our home and, while taking my thoughts and opinions into consideration, would make the final decisions. My desire was to be the Proverbs 31 wife. And so, as Jonathan would say, I needed a “Superman” husband. With thoughts swirling in my head, and now even more questions unanswered, I started praying hard. Daily, I was continually praying about this situation that God was putting together.

Jonathan returned home from Mexico on June 7th, only to find an unexpected $600 in his bank account from tax returns. Before leaving Mexico, he had researched plane tickets for that week back to Mexico in July. At that time, the round trip tickets were some $900. Within a couple weeks, he had written my dad and gotten clear conformation from him that my parents believed this could be of God. He had also talked with his parents about what God was doing, and they seemed open to the possibility that God was orchestrating it all. So, with confirmation from both sides of the family, he went online to book the tickets. By that time, the tickets had miraculously dropped from the $900 price to under $600. God had given him more than enough to pay for the plane ticket. All I could say was, Wow!

Between the time that Jonathan wrote my dad and then booked his tickets, and our trip to Mexico, we would stay up late and text back and forth. It sounds crazy I know, why not just call? Well, he had decided he didn't want to hear my voice before we met. Looking back now though, I really appreciate these few weeks we had because it confirmed a lot in my heart. I'm not exactly sure how to explain this, other than to say I felt really close to him those nights. Without even speaking to him, it was like I was there or he was here, we were together. I just felt close, very close to him. It was similar to what I felt with my sisters before having ever met them. And in fact, with the girls, they didn't even know I existed. Yet, I still felt very close in heart to them, my sister's whom I'd never even met. (This same extremely close feeling I felt when I was around him in Mexico. I remember telling Klipa that I just felt like our hearts were one.) It was an incredibly deep feeling, one I obviously can't describe well. But, none the less, these weeks were essential in the coming together as one.

So, up until July 10th, 2008, we'd never met face-to- face, never spoken over the phone, and though I'd heard his voice on his many videos, he hadn't heard mine. The glorious day had come, I was going to meet the man I knew I would marry! Kaylee can commiserate with me here: 3 AM-the alarm went off. Miraculously, I had been able to fall asleep after the crazy thunder storm we experienced the night before. We got ready and she assured me that I looked fine. We were off to Cedar Creek to meet up with our awesome team, and then to Columbia to head towards Houston. The meeting was emotionally packed, and I couldn't have had better people there with me, my precious “other mother”, Erika, and my dear friend Kaylee. Oh words can't even describe....

The week was incredible, standing on the soil of the mission field to which I knew I'd return and being there with the man I was convinced I was going to marry. I also was able to spend hours talking to my sweet new friend, Gwen Ashcraft, about missions, family and marriage. To have the wise counsel of mature believers confirming what I was sensing all over was from God, was a very peaceful feeling.

About a month later, Jonathan took my parents up on their offer to fly him down to SC for his birthday. Having him here was like having family over for a week. He fit. I mean, just fit right in. My parents loved him already, and now they were able to meet him face-to-face. He and my big brothers got along great, cutting up and shooting hoops. And my sweet little sisters just adored everything about him. It was very powerful to see Jonathan with my little sisters, especially the two I'd had a part in praying home. And Lacy, my faithful, deeply spiritual younger sister, was able to meet the man she'd been praying for for months.

September 19th, 2008, Jonathan flew into Charlotte where we picked him up from the airport. We were meeting his family and surprising his brothers and sisters in Greenville for the play
“Annie.” His sister Tiffany had a part in it, and God had worked out that the two families would meet then. With a lot of planning and preparation, unbeknownst to me, Jonathan had worked it out to propose there in Greenville. It was simply gorgeous in the park where he did it, and to have both families there, minus Jonathan's oldest brother, his wife, and their beautiful family, was just perfect. I couldn't have asked for anything more. It was like a dream.

All of this has been like a dream. No, better than a dream. It's a fairy-tale written by the Author of Love Himself. What a good, incredible, awesome God I serve, to bless me with such a beautiful love story. Thank you again, Jesus, for having Your way with my life. “For Your ways are higher than my ways...”

Have you ever felt God leading your heart? I'm talking crystal clear leading. Not something you think could maybe, possibly be God. No, something that is so undeniably God that it overwhelmed the deepest parts of you. This has been my last few months, and this is the sense I feel in my soul when I think about my future.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Journey to the Beginning - Our Story

Early 2007...
I've been serving here at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Morton, Illinois as a youth pastor for almost 2 years now. But I'm starting to feel like God wants me doing something different. I don't know what. I don't understand why. I don't want to do something different. This church has become home for me, and I just love my teens, my youth workers, and my pastors. But if God wants me doing something different, I must follow. I must obey.

What else should I do? I know it is some area of ministry - some full-time Christian service. I surrendered my life to full-time service when I was 12 years old and God has kept me on that path ever since. So I look into several different options. I contact a youth ministry and camp outreach in New York City and downtown Manhattan. I get papers to audition for a Christian musical theater ministry in Branson, Missouri. I consider rejoining Life Action Ministries, whom I traveled with my entire life before college. I pursue opportunities, but must wait on God's timing and direction.

I announce to the church and youth group that I would be resigning. Many people are shocked. Some of my teens are confused. "Where are you going, Pastor Jon? Did we do something wrong? Are you mad at us? Are you going to be a youth pastor somewhere else?" I had no answers. And so, the last lesson I taught to my teens here was on Abraham. When God called Abraham, He told him to leave where he was and go to "a place that I will show you." He didn't know where. He didn't know why. And he had to follow on in obedience until God directed him further. This is where I now was.


June 2007...
As God's plans begin to unfold, the last thing I ever did with my youth group was to take a missions trip to Jiménez, Chihuahua, Mexico. It was on this trip, that God began to speak to me again in the direction He wants my life to go. We minister alongside Randy and Gwen Ashcraft. I begin to see that missions is not some greatly complicated ministry for only the most elite Christians, but rather, a practically simple ministry of telling people about Jesus and what He has done for us.

I begin to see the need for more workers as we travel for hours into the mountains to small villages where people have never heard the name of Jesus - and never even seen a Bible. The preacher stands up before the crowd and says, "Who can tell me what this is?", holding his Bible in the air. "A book!", all of the children cry out. "Yes, but what book?" Silence. "This is the Word of God." Silence. I have never seen faces like that before. It was a look of shock and awe. It was almost an unspoken, "Where did you get that?!? I didn't know such a thing existed." As the preacher began to walk through the plan of salvation, starting with Adam and Eve and sin coming into the world, ending with Christ paying the price for our sin and rising again and returning to heaven, eyes were opened. Sinners learned that they were sinners. And after the invitation, some 30-40 of the 100 people in that village raised their hand to say that they had received Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.

The opportunity is there. And I am in a position now where there is no reason I should not go. There is nothing tying me to the States. There is nothing keeping me from the Mexicans, save for the fact that I can't speak their language. God is calling me. Oh, it wasn't loud. It wasn't some great sign from heaven. It was Ashley Hoye saying, "Pastor Jon, you really like it here don't you." It was Tim Gentry saying, "You know, Pastor Jon, I could see you doing this full-time." It was Randy Ashcraft saying, "We need workers; we need people to minister with us." It was Jesus Christ saying, "Open your eyes and look to the fields, for they are white already unto harvest. Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. For lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world."

We sit down with the teens on the last night of our trip. Each person is sharing what God has been saying to their heart during this week. When we were almost finished, I spoke up: "Guys, I don't even know what all God has been saying to my heart this week. All I know is that I'm not ready to leave tomorrow - and I'm not sure I won't be coming back." I was so grateful to God for the way in which He directed me - that He allowed my teens to be there as He was calling me to serve Him as a missionary. I could see their faces, which were once confused as to why God was taking me away, change to a settled understanding that God has led me to go somewhere else.


July 2007 - February 2008...
I continue to pursue God's call towards Mexico. I begin to study Spanish in every way possible. I seek counsel from my parents: "What would y'all think if I went back there to Mexico full-time?" Dad: "Well, I think you already know... We just want you to follow God's will for your life, and if you think He wants you there, then you go." I talk with my pastor's about Mexico: "We're behind you, Jon. If you believe God is calling you to Mexico then we will support you. We'll be your sending church." I talk to Brother Randy about returning: "Brother, you come back down whenever you can, and stay as long as you want."

On my dad's advice, I begin to plan a 3-month trip to Mexico. I am going alone. I will be working with the Ashcrafts, helping in the church in any way I can, learning the language, and getting to know the people and culture better. To a degree, anybody can survive and even enjoy a one-week missions trip to another country. There is the excitement of the new, the fellowship of friends, and the adventure of a once-in-a-lifetime experience to keep you going. But to go alone, for an extended period of time, you will get a much more realistic picture of what life and ministry on the mission field is like. That was my goal. This trip was to determine if God wanted me going back to Mexico full-time.


March 15, 2008...
My trip begins. I quickly realize how much of the language I don't know. I have studied a lot of Spanish over the past 8 months, but when I am constantly surrounded by it and engaged in conversations with native speakers, I am struggling to keep up, but quickly learning.


April 13, 2008...
Something happens today that will change my life forever...


May 19, 2008...
What happens next in the story encompasses much of my time in Mexico and also some of the time before it. So I believe the easiest and clearest way to share this with you all is to copy some sections of a journal that I wrote on this date:

Lo Que Dios Ha Hecho
5/19/08

What follows is a record of the things God is and has been doing in my life. I can sense that my life is at a point of major change and want to record these things both as an explanation to those who ask and a clarification for my own understanding:

This story begins in September of 2007, when I understood clearly that God desired for me to end my relationship with my previous girlfriend. At that time I was very confident that that was what God was telling me and have never doubted that decision since. From that day until now, something has happened in my heart that I had been told to do before, but had never done. In fact, I wasn’t quite sure how to even do it. It is the advice that my parents have given me to go to sleep emotionally. When God created Eve for Adam, he was asleep. Adam did nothing to make the relationship between himself and Eve occur. God planned it, God did the work, and God presented His finished work to Adam. Even now, I am not sure I would explain to a person how to put their emotions to sleep; I can only share how this happened for me.

In July of 2007, I began to sense the Lord pointing me towards serving Him as a missionary to Mexico. Since that time, I have been learning Spanish, praying, planning, and preparing for a life of service in this capacity. Through the counsel of my dad and the agreement of Brother Randy Ashcraft, I began to plan a three-month exploratory trip to Mexico to prayerfully and practically consider if God is really calling me as a missionary to this country for the next stage of my life, whether it be for the rest of my life or not. Since the September that followed, my thoughts of a life’s mate have been second to my thoughts about Mexico. Oh sure, I have considered different ladies that I have met and if they could be the one God has chosen for me. The remainder of this story will be quite lengthy, for I write it in great detail. Every detail of this story has been prayed through and considered as part of God’s direction for my life. I have just spent 2 ½ hours with God alone at my spot on the mountain behind the ranch, praying and talking aloud to Him about everything He has used in the past 8 months to guide me to this quite unbelievable place in my life. Read with great care, for I write with it.

As my life began to head towards Mexico, it had a great effect on my considerations for a wife – for a like-minded wife is a key element to any minister’s success. As I began to talk with my parents, I told them this: “I don’t want to pursue anything with any girls right now. I’m about to go down to Mexico and try to decide if that’s where God wants me to go full time. I don’t want to get down there and be distracted by a relationship with a girl, or worse, to let my feelings for any certain girl affect my decision about what God wants me to do with my life.” So, though I didn’t think of this at the time, this is how I went to sleep emotionally. It wasn’t intentional. All I knew was that I had big enough things to decide right now and I didn’t need to add the decision about a wife to the list. What I was doing was putting God’s will, God’s plans, and God’s desires ahead of my own. I tried my best to push away or put off my feelings for any girl until another time, when I would try to decide what God wanted for me. Further, I told my dad this, “All I’m going to do right now is to pray about it. Here’s why. At times in the past, I have prayed something for myself that was not God’s will for me. So God, obviously, has not given it to me. But in the time that I’ve been praying, God has changed my heart’s desires, so that when He answers ‘no’, I am not let down or hurt by that answer. My prayers have not changed God’s plans for me, but they have changed my desires to His desires for me.” Actually, I remember a really neat time with my dad about two weeks before I came down here. Just before one of our evening services, he came and prayed with me during our prayer time. While he was praying, he said something like this: "And Lord, I just pray for Jonathan, that You will help Him to be patient and wait for Your plan to bring a life's partner into his life. I know how much He desires that and wants to trust You with it. You said that it is not good for a man to be alone, and You also said that You will provide all of our needs, so I pray that you will help him to trust You." And so I sleep.

My life continues towards Mexico. My plans are made. I will be leaving March 15th and returning June 7th. Before I leave for my journey, a few more important things happen, which I did not consider important until reflecting back on them tonight. One is a comment made by my parents. It was actually made several times, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. “You know, God may just bring you somebody while you’re down there in Mexico…” Once it was even followed with, “Have you thought through your beliefs on inter-racial marriage?” I remember that I kind of laughed and just agreed. My thoughts were such: “I’ve already got plenty of good choices for a wife here; I don’t need to add any more to ‘the list’.” Another very important thing that happened occurred two days before I left the States. It was a conversation I had with my sister Charity over Facebook. One day she sent me a Bible verse, Exodus 14:14, which reads, "The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” I did not realize until later how significant that message and that verse would become. So I leave the States, putting my desires for a wife aside.

Finally the trip begins. I arrive in Mexico and am immediately immersed in the culture and language that I have been trying so hard to learn. I realize very quickly how little I really know and how much I need to study. The first couple that I really get to spend time with is Pastor Jose Luis and his wife Mary. We begin to converse and they quickly learn that I am single and available. So the typical questions, suggestions, and jokes quickly arrive as well. They mention several girls to me, including one who will be arriving sometime during my trip, who is “muy guapa” and wants to be a missionary’s wife! I enjoy these questions as normal, but pay little attention to giving them serious consideration. My thoughts are, “Ha! Here we go again. Everybody knows somebody who knows somebody that I should marry. Everybody has a sister, friend, relative, or acquaintance that ‘would be perfect’ for me.” About a month after I’ve been here, a serious conversation occurs between these two and myself, which I also don’t understand the significance of until later – tonight, in fact. We sat there after dinner as all the boys had gone on to something else. I began to look through their missionary prayer cards on the fridge as Pastor and Mary begin to tell me the stories of each one. “Those two met in college as they were studying to be missionaries. This man here was on the mission field for 4 years before he met his wife, while on furlough back in the States. And for these two here, the year that he began to pray for his future wife, when he was 16, she was born…” Then Hermana Mary looks at me very seriously and says this, “You don’t worry about her. You are here trying to serve God with your life. God will bring you a wife when He is ready; I promise you that.”

I now enter a section of this story that will seem unrelated, but bear with me – it is very related. About 4 weeks after I get down here, a church group comes down here – Cedar Creek Church from Aiken, South Carolina. Brother Randy tells me this: “Brother, you are just gonna love this church. This will be one of, if not, the best of all the groups that we will have this year. We will not have a single complaint, a single problem, or a single difficulty with them. They are a very lively, encouraging, loving people.” And he couldn’t have been more right. Cedar Creek was our family from the moment we met at the airport. This group comprised 5 couples and a few of their children. Our time with them was a combination of powerful ministry and dear fellowship as the family of Christ. The bond that was created between the 15 or 20 of us, literally, will never be broken. And even in terms of ministry partnership, this will not be the last time we hear the name Cedar Creek, as they invited both myself and Adrian Hernandez to come visit their church when we go about raising our support to come to the field full time. In fact, I asked Cedar Creek to inform me of ANY trip that they would be taking to Mexico in the future and I would see if it were possible for me to join them. Even as they left and returned home, the various team members immediately connected back with us through Facebook and have been a constant encouragement to us. Countless messages, comments, and updates from Cedar Creek kept us going through the slow times of ministry. I remember one comment in particular from Wes Holbrook which he sent to both me and Adrian: “My brothers, I just wanted you to know that I prayed specifically today for you two, that God would bring two women into your lives to support you in the ministries He has called you to.”

One week later, Brother Randy and Gwen travel to the States, this time for a month or so, to visit their supporting churches. Adrian and I move back into town with Brother Brian and therefore are more connected to the States through the internet. On April 13, I received a message from Erika Klipa, one of the married ladies from Cedar Creek. After some talk about our favorite TV show, she asks, “By the way, how old are you? I have a friend with a lovely young daughter of 17 years of age. She believes in arranged marriages.” That last part, I believe, was a joke, but I thought as usual, “Ha, here we go again. Everybody knows somebody who knows somebody I should marry…” I replied: “I’m 26. Hmm…” She says, “Oh come on what’s 9 years?!?! She's really cute! AND a believer, AND raised conservative Baptist; a truly beautiful Christian young lady inside and out, with a heart for mission work.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this description of a girl that people recommend to me. And to be honest, more than half the time it’s not true, in one way or another. But coming from one of my dear friends from Cedar Creek, I believed it just as if it had come from my own family. Later that day, I got a friend request from Abby Temple with the message: “So, this is totally and completely Klipa’s doing :o)”

So life goes on as normal. A few days pass. Then one afternoon, April 17th, I have the random thought to write Abby a short message telling her who I am. However, knowing that Erika had talked to me about Abby as a possible mate, I had no doubt she had said the same to her. So before writing anything, I wanted to clarify my position to Abby. I told her that I was not pursuing any relationships right now. I further told her that if I were, I would not be talking to her, but to her father. Then I said this: “But anyway, from what Miss Erika tells me about you, there aren't many girls like you around anymore. And it could never be a waste to have friendships with godly people like you. So I would love to be able to be friends as much as is possible without having ever met you.” I tell her a bit about myself and hit ‘Send’. Now, the internet down here is quite slow. So within about 30 seconds, my message is sent and as I look at my home page, I see one new message. It is from Abby! It was a bit lengthy, as mine was. This was not a response to my message. It was a message almost exactly like what I had just sent her – “This is who I am; who are you?” This probably doesn’t sound as dramatic to anyone reading as it was to me at the time. Understand, this was 4 days after we “became friends” on Facebook. We had had no communication during those days. It was just a “random thought” I’d had to write her, which she apparently had at the exact same time. It was only the first of many strange coincidences that would happen over the next month.

As the ministry here continued, I had many opportunities to see God work and would often return home and update my family, church, and friends of what God was doing. As Abby and I began to write, it was nothing more than a normal friendship, except for the fact that we’ve never met each other. We quickly found out that we are very similar, similar in interests, family background, hobbies, tastes, and preferences. But our conversations were never just surface-deep. Not a single message went by without some kind of spiritual update, insight, or question. She truly was a godly young woman, as Miss Erika had said. As we have talked, I have continually tried to guard her heart. I know I told her at the beginning that I was not pursuing a relationship and I did not want to lead her to think that had now changed.

Oh! I can’t forget this part! About this time, I receive a message from my sister Charity. It says something like this: “I am praying for you constantly, big brother. I have been doing a lot of thinking about you lately and praying about what kind of wife you would need...”

This has been the hardest thing for me to recall/decide in my time with God tonight – when did I begin to suspect that God may be doing something in this situation with Abby and me? It is difficult to determine. As I said, none of our conversations were just surface. I would ask her deep spiritual questions. And I was constantly impressed with her answers. She obviously has a very solid grasp on the Scriptures and what God teaches us through them. In one of these questions, I asked her, “How should we reach sinners? What is the best way to witness? Should we be friends with sinners? How can we reach sinners without damaging our testimony with other believers? Big questions, I know. I just wanna hear your thoughts, your philosophy I guess, or maybe your theology, of witnessing. Anyway, just let me know what you think; I'm really curious.” Her answers to all of these questions were impeccable! First of all, they were totally based on Scripture and the example of Jesus Christ. Secondly, they were exactly the same as my own convictions and I couldn’t have answered my own questions better! As I read her answers, I could detect the incredible passion and burden she carries for the lost. And as best I can tell, this is when I began to suspect that God had brought this girl into my life for a very special purpose. This girl’s desire to be a missionary was not some childhood Christian fantasy. This was a living, breathing, live-giving desire that only God Himself could give. This is the call that God has placed on her life. This is the kind of girl that a missionary should pursue as a life’s partner!

Now my thoughts begin to race. All of these things that I have considered insignificant or even forgotten about come flooding back into my mind: “God may bring you somebody while you’re down in Mexico…When I pray, God changes my desires to His desires for me…God will bring you a wife when He is ready; I promise you that…I prayed specifically today for you, that God would bring a woman into your life…a truly beautiful Christian young lady inside and out, with a heart for mission work…there aren't many girls like you around anymore…I am praying for you constantly, big brother…” I know that I’m often a hard-headed person and God sometimes has to hit me in the head with something many times before I get it. But during my time here, one of the main things I’ve been learning is how to listen to God in a very real, moment-to-moment basis. So how many things does God have to say to get my attention?

So now I sit here in another country, trying to follow the call that God has been confirming for me here, and I find myself wondering what God is doing for me back in the States. I think of the verse Charity gave me, “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” This is the thing that baffles my mind about this whole situation – I have done nothing to make it happen. I have not pursued a relationship with Abby. I have not tried to make Abby like me. I have not tried to convince myself that Abby is a good, godly girl. God showed me that clearer than anything through her own words. Tonight, I write all of this to help me understand what God has been doing.

I do not know how to describe specifically how God is leading me towards Abby. But as I have thought through all of this tonight, I realize that God has directed me in this exact same way before! In essence, it is a feeling. It is a feeling that is based on a combination of opportunities and God-ordained situations and godly counsel. This is the best way I can describe it: This is the way I felt last June, when I began to suspect that God wanted me to come here to Mexico full-time. The opportunity was there. God used situations to lead me back this way. And all godly counsel I received was in agreement that I should pursue this. And I just felt that it was what God wanted. So it is with Abby. The opportunity is there. This is why God led me to push this decision until after I got back from Mexico. God has used situations, both to introduce me to her, to get to know her, and to hear her heart for the Lord. And thus far, all godly counsel has said that this could be from God. I still can’t explain how God has done this. To describe it as a feeling seems trivial. To describe it as a sign from God seems to lack solid proof. So I pray that God will confirm this in a way that only He can.

This is the process I must go through now. My frustration in all of this has been that I can’t explain it in a way that makes sense, humanly speaking. So I fear going home and seeking counsel about this and appearing like I’m making some kind of emotional decision. Here is what I prayed to God tonight: “God I don’t know how to explain this in a way that makes sense. You have been putting all of this together and have just thrown it into my life. So I’m going to assume and pray that you will also put all of it together and just throw it into the lives of those I will be seeking counsel from.”

And thus my story continues. Tonight, I feel like Adam, waking up from his sleep and turning to observe this incredible work that God has done for him. And now, I wait to see what God will do to complete His work...


May 25, 2008...
It is only a couple more weeks before I leave Mexico and return home. Brother Randy has asked me if I could stay through July to help out with the last of the church groups that will be coming down this year, but I told him that I have to get back to work, so I can keep up paying the rent for my apartment in Illinois. Well, then he mentions to me that during one week, there will be two church groups coming on the same week and they could use someone who speaks Spanish well enough to take one of the groups, if we do different things that week. So I told him that I would check my finances when I get home and see if I can make it back for that week.

A month or so earlier, Abby and I had been talking about foreign missions trips. She told me she had never been out of the country, but that she and her best friend Kaylee were talking about taking a missions trip together sometime. She then writes, "So today the college pastor at Cedar Creek just randomly came up to Kaylee and me and asked if we would like to go to Mexico with them this summer." I didn't know when or where they were going but said, "Yeah, you should definitely go on that, if you can." As time went by, she and Kaylee prayed through that decision and both of them decided that they would be going on the trip.

As we got talking a bit more about her trip, we realized that Cedar Creek was one of those two churches coming during the week in July when I was praying about coming back. I would have the chance to meet Abby face to face! I remember telling the Ashcrafts, "This doesn't just depend on money anymore. I'm gonna need to see what my parents and Abby's parents think about all of this before I decide if I can come back that week."


June 10-25, 2008...
I return from Mexico and fly to Pennsylvania to spend two weeks with my family. I begin by checking my bank account expecting not to have much there for my possible return trip to Mexico. Much to my surprise, there is money there! I check my records only to find an unexpected $600 tax return deposited directly into my checking account. God used the U.S. government to pay for my trip back!

I talk with Mom and Dad about Abby, share my journal with them, and they counsel me to write her parents. So I begin to write Abby's dad. I ask him if he approves of Abby and me writing each other and what he thinks about what's going on between us. Here is what he wrote to me: "I would like you to know that Mrs.Temple and I are both very comfortable with you and Abby continuing to communicate and I look forward to meeting you in person soon. I also hope
you are able to return to Mexico while Abby is on the mission trip there in July...let me say that some of the desires expressed below are going to sound presumptuous and/or premature, but I share these because they are very important to me...It seems to me that God has introduced you and Abby to each other in this unusual method for something special, likely something more than just as friends..."

A few days later, Abby's mom shared another story with me through Facebook. Here is what she told me: "One day back in April, Abby walked into my room and shared with me a renewed call to missions. She first felt called to missions when she was 12, but God had been working on her again that day. She had so many questions about how and when and where and am I going alone? Then a few days later she came into my room again with questions about guys. After a lengthy discussion about how all the guys she knows are very shallow and unfocused on God's will, I told her something that I just really felt God wanted me to say: 'Abby, I don't think your husband lives here in Aiken. In fact, I don't believe you've met your husband yet. And I certainly don't think you'll have to go looking for him. God is going to bring him along and just drop him into your life.' " Then get this - later on THAT SAME DAY, Erika Klipa (Laura's best friend), just back from her trip to Mexico, walked in to the Temple's kitchen with Laura and Abby and says: "Say, Abby, I've met the cutest guy! He's a missionary in Mexico. You should write him..." Laura told me that she didn't realize the significance of those two conversations they'd just had until later.

This is what I prayed for; this is what I asked God for - that if this were His will, He would confirm that through our parents, our authorities. Now I knew. God created Abby and me to be together. He had led us both into His will for us individually, and now He was leading us into our life together. I hadn't met her yet! But I knew.


July 10, 2008...
I fly out of Chicago at 5:45 AM. At By 8:30, I arrive in Houston and head to my gate to meet up with the group from Cedar Creek. As God would have it, He allowed Erika Klipa, the one who introduced me to Abby, to be there for the trip as well and to capture on video the moment I first met my bride-to-be. It was an incredible day!


The week was just as amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed catching up with my brothers and sisters of Iglesia Bautista La Fe as well as spending time with the Ashcrafts, Cedar Creek, and Abby and Kaylee and Erika.


July 17, 2008...
We are back in the States and back at our homes. I wrote Abby's dad to tell him my view of Abby after spending a week finally together with her: "Tom, I know that we've done a lot of talking about Abby and I did have a really good idea of what she was like before meeting her, but to meet her face to face and spend time with her, especially discussing different aspects of her life and spending time together in the Word and prayer, was just unbelievable. I mean that quite literally. I had a hard time believing that I was actually there with her, that she was really as wonderful and deeply spiritual as I'd thought. Here is my perception of what I saw in Abby last week. She has such a dynamic personality. She finds so much joy in the little things of life. She encourages and inspires everyone around. She spreads a smile to every face she sees. She is a hard worker and she enjoys that work as well. Barely a meal went by that I didn't see her and Kaylee in the kitchen, helping to prepare the meals or clean up afterwards. She has a heart for children. She was often with the Ashcraft kids, helping care for them, or with the kids in the villages or the church. She has a heart for God. It was so beautiful to hear her read and discuss the Bible. It is obvious that she has had a lot of practice in that before. And to hear her pray - wow, that was just incredible. Needless to say, I was not mislead or let down... But I'll tell you what "sealed the deal" for me, so to speak. This one afternoon, we were sitting in the dining room at the ranch with Klipa, Kaylee, Eric, Miss Gwen, and I think Jordan or Meredith or someone. And I just started firing questions at Abby. I mean I asked her about her sisters and what they're like, her family and the times you guys have spent together, the places she's lived, the friends she has, the churches she goes to, the place she works, and just anything else I could think to ask. And even though I've heard her talk about some of those things through messages and stuff on Facebook, it was completely different to hear her actually speak of them. You know how they say 90% of communication is non-verbal, or something like that? That's the idea of all this. It just hit me as I was sitting there listening to her talk. It hit me how grown up and mature she is, how deeply she feels for her sisters, her family, and the things of God, how much time she has really spent in prayer, how well she really knows God's Word. I just sat there listening. I didn't talk much at all. We were all there together for probably 2 hours or so. It was like God just sat right down there beside me and was going, "Look at this girl. Isn't she incredible? Can't you see how much she loves me? Listen to her talk about what's important to her..." and on and on. I've said it before (I'm not sure if I said it to you or someone else) that I don't deserve Abby, but after hearing her open up her heart that day, I knew I don't. To think that this could be God's gift to me as a life's partner overwhelms my heart with gratefulness. That afternoon confirmed a lot of things for me. And then the rest of things were confirmed in the times we spent together in prayer and the Bible. Laura told me about the strength of her prayer life. I could tell from Abby's own words that she has a solid grasp on the Scriptures because of spending so much time in them. And when I could hear her read God's Word and talk to her Father in prayer, it was so real. Bottom line, you have a wonderful daughter. I know that God gets all the praise and glory for making her into that beautiful treasure, but you and Laura have done a fine job modeling Christianity and godliness for her. She is so special to me."


August 2, 2008...
I am talking to Abby on Facebook when she says, "So, I've got an early birthday present for you. Do you wanna know what it is?" So I said, "Well, I don't know. How am I gonna get it? Mail? Email? Phone?" She says, "Well... in person." "What?!?" Abby says, "My mom just walked in the room and my parents want to pay for you to come see us for your birthday. Would you wanna do that?" What do you think I said?


August 5, 2008...
I called my parents and told them all about Abby and the trip. My dad told me this: "Well, son..." He paused for a long time. I could tell he was trying not to cry (just like me!) "This may sound really strange to you, coming from me.... but if you get back from that week with her family and her parents don't have any hesitations, Mom and I don't think you need to drag this out with some long engagement." Again, God was confirming this through my parents.


August 9-17, 2008...

Abby's family is wonderful! She has two older brothers and three younger sisters, all three adopted from China. Her family was like family to me right from the day we met.

The second night I was there, Tom sat down with me and Laura and Abby and we talked through everything that was going on and what we believed God was directing for our future. After a few questions, Tom shared his heart with us through tears: "Ever since our children were born, I have been praying for their future spouses. And I have prayed two things for them. One, that they would come from a strong, Christian family, like yours is Jonathan. And two, that they would have the kind of relationship that her mother and I have had all of our lives. Our relationship is just fun, relaxed, caring, Christ-centered, loving, and a delight to be together. And we can see already that that is the type of relationship that you and Abby have. I can't ask for anything more. So we want you two to know that we bless your relationship. You have our full blessing to pursue marriage, and praise the Lord!" God confirmed His will for us through our parents.


August 31, 2008...
Where God guides, He provides. I have been working long hours trying to save up for an engagement ring, while paying bills and everything else. Today, I got a message from Jane Stephens, a lady I met at Abby's church in Aiken. She shared with me how much Abby means to her and her family, being friends with their daughter for most of her life. Then she says this: "Now to get to the point of this email. I am really writing for my wonderful husband, Greg. He feels led by God to offer to assist you in obtaining the funds needed to buy the engagement ring for Abby that you are wanting to give her. It would be a blessing for us to be used of God in this way. If you will accept our help, please email me with the details of the amount of money you need in order to buy the ring." They did help me and I bought the ring.


September 19, 2008...
Today my family will meet the Temple's. My sister Tiffany is living in Greenville, SC and will be performing in the musical Annie tonight. After much secretive planning, my family, the Temple's, and I will all be meeting up and going to the play tonight. My brother and sisters don't know I'm coming; Abby doesn't know her brothers are coming up from Charleston; and only my parents and her parents know that I'll be proposing tonight!
My sister tells me of a beautiful park right next to the theater where I could pop the question. So we get the plan all set. We'll send my brother Christopher ahead to the park with a video camera and he'll hide next to this swing beside the river and waterfalls where I'll take Abby off for a walk and ask her to marry me at the river's edge.

So we meet my family. My brother and sisters are surprised. Dad tells them I'm proposing tonight. I tell Christopher to follow me to the bathroom when we get to Chili's for dinner. Abby's brothers show up at the mall before dinner. Abby is surprised. We go to Chili's with both families and everyone meets each other. I sneak off to the bathroom and tell Christopher the plan. "...Across the bridge, down concrete steps on the left, down the stone steps, across the footbridge, to the swing, to the river's edge, to one knee and propose..."

After dinner, Abby's brothers "have to drive home" so we all say goodbye to them and head to the theater. We get there and I whisper to Abby, "Oh this is really pretty! I wanna go for a walk." So I ask Dad, "Hey is it ok if Abby and I go for a walk before the play starts?" So we walk off. But Abby goes down the wrong steps to the river. I have to think fast: "Oh no, now I've gotta find those stone steps!" We calmly walk around along the river, as I'm frantically looking for those stone steps. Then I saw them, "Hey look, stone steps!" (Oops, I was just thinking outloud). We head across the footbridge and I see our empty swing. Just then, two people head over and take it. Oh no! Now what! There is an empty bench a little further along. We head over there and sit for a while. I've got to give Christopher time to move over to where we are. I'm looking around but can't see him anywhere. Soon, the swing is empty. "Hey let's go sit on the swing. Those people finally left." As we walk there, Abby spots Christopher hiding behing a trashcan nearby! Oh no, think, think, think... She says, "Did they send someone to spy on us?" She'd helped me out. A few minutes later I said, "Is that the girls over there? Are they really spying on us?" We walk to the river's edge. I say completely casually, "Baby... will you marry me?" She kinda froze and looked at me, a little confused. She smiled, "What do you think?" I pulled the ring from my pocket and said, "No... Abby Michele... will you marry me?", kneeling in the muddy grass. She said yes! So I sent my parents a text message that read: "She said yes! Y'all get over here!" Soon we heard them all coming through the park, down the stone steps, yelling, whistling the wedding march, and letting the whole park know we'd just gotten engaged. Smiles, laughs, and tears came when Abby realized that her brothers hadn't left yet, but came back to congratulate her...

This whole time has been a real journey - but it's only the beginning. This is our journey to the beginning. Our life together will begin on May 16th of next year, but our story will continue in obedience to God's call to Mexico and through a life of service to Him for as long as He leaves us on the earth. This is what happens when God writes a love story - a beautiful beginning and an even more beautiful ending!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Big News

Wow, it's been a while since I've updated all of you through this blog. But I've got some big, exciting news to share with you all: Two days ago on Friday, September 19th, I asked Abby Michele Temple to marry me and she accepted! We're engaged!

I'm not exaggerating or over-spiritualizing it when I say that God has brought her into my life to be my wife. The love story that God has been writing for us over the past 5 months is quite unbelievable and honestly feels like a dream sometimes. But it is all real, clear, and powerful. I will be posting the full story here shortly, because I want all of you to know what God has done for us. He deserves all the praise and glory for this work of His and I want Him to receive more praise by sharing this story with anyone who wants to read it.

Stay tuned. It will be quite a ride...

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Sunday School Message #9

Introduction: Well, today is our last Sunday to meet together. I want to tell you all that it has been a privilege to study God’s Word together with you and I look forward to more opportunities we will have to interact in the years to come. Today we are studying the final, and most important, aspect of “How to Think Like Jesus.” Today we are going to study A Heart for Love. Let’s begin in prayer…

8. A Heart for Love
a. Mat.22:37-40
- We’re reminded of the importance of love in Jesus reply to the lawyer in Matthew 22. “Jesus said unto him…” Jesus said that all of the laws of God hang on those two commands – to love God and love others. Today we’re going to focus on the second of those commands. What does the Bible have to say about loving others? How did our Lord Jesus treat others? Because as always, we need to follow our Lord’s example.

b. Jn.13:34-35
- This passage is the first time that Jesus commanded His disciples to love each other. He says, “A new commandment…” Two things in this passage are very important. Jesus says that we should love each other as He has loved us. This is the best way to describe our love for each other in one phrase. We should love others the way Jesus loves them – the way He loves us. We need to see people the way He sees them. They are not just another irritation; not just another person to get in the way of our lives. They are a special treasure that Jesus cherishes. We ought to love others the way Jesus loves them. The second thing that is important is verse 35. Jesus says, “By this shall all men know…” We have talked often about the importance of our testimony as a Christian. Jesus tells us here that if we love each other, the world will know that we are His disciples. This is probably the most important motivation we have for loving others – the world will know that we are His disciples.

c. Jn.15:9-13,17
In this next passage, Jesus repeats His command for us to love each other and explains it to us more. “As the Father…” Notice, if you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love. Again we see the connection between obeying God’s law and loving others. In verse 11, we learn that loving others is the key to having joy in our lives. “These things have I spoken…” And in verse 13, Jesus tells us the ultimate demonstration of love – to give one’s life for his friends. Very soon after Jesus spoke this, His disciples would understand exactly what He was saying and exactly how much He loved them. Then notice in verse 17, Jesus repeats His command. “These things I command you…” Remember that anytime the Bible repeats something, it is because we need to take special notice of it. We are commanded by our Lord to love others.

d. Jn.17:21-26
We have looked several times at Jesus prayer to His Father in John 17. In these verses, Jesus prays the same things to His Father that he taught to His disciples. “That they may all be one…that the world may believe…the love…may be in them.” So we see that Jesus didn’t only teach these things to His disciples. He prayed that they would follow them.

e. Rom.12:10
Look now at Romans 12:10. The Apostle Paul tells us, “Be kindly affectioned…” Notice he says that we should have “brotherly love” for each other. As Christians, we are a family. We ought to have the same love for each other that a family has for each other. And then he explains this by saying, “In honor preferring one another…” This is a very simple explanation of how we can love others – we prefer their needs above our own.

f. Rom.13:8-10; Gal.5:14
These next two passages talk more about how love fulfills the law in relation to those around us. “Owe no man…” And Gal.5:14 says, “All the law…” Love does no evil to another person. It’s simple.

g. Eph.4:1-2; 5:1-2
But you say, “It can’t be that simple. If I treat people like that then they will just walk all over me. They will treat me badly, because they know that I will not treat them badly in return.” What does the Bible say about that? Look at Ephesians 4. “I therefore…” Notice the words in verse 2 – lowliness, meekness, longsuffering, forbearing. Yes, when you love somebody the way Christ loves us, you may be hurt at times. You may be mistreated. But wasn’t Christ? When Christ was mistreated and hurt, did He ever respond by hurting others? No. He was humble. He was longsuffering. We’ve seen in passages already that we are to love others the way that Christ loved us! We are to be humble, longsuffering, meek, and forbearing. And notice chapter 5, “Be ye therefore…” When we love others the way that Christ loved us, we are being “followers of God, as dear children.” We are “walking in love.” We are giving “an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savor.”

h. Phil.2:2-5
We studied this next passage when we were talking about humility. But look again at how it also describes our relationship with others. “Fulfill ye my joy…” Did you see the phrases “like-minded”, “having the same love”, “lowliness of mind”, “esteem others.” Those same attitudes that have been described by other passages in the Bible are also true about our love. And look at verse 5, “Let this mind be in you…” This is the mind of Christ.

i. I Cor.13
For our last passage today, we are going to read the most famous passage on love in all the Scriptures: I Corinthians 13. “Though I speak…” Let’s break down this powerful passage and examine the many aspects of love. Verse 1 – Love is more important than our gifts, talents, or abilities. Verse 2 – Love is more important than our knowledge or our faith. Verse 3 – Love is more important than our good deeds. Verse 3 – Love suffers long. Again we see this principle of suffering in relation to our love. It is not always easy to love, but it is always commanded. Love does not envy. Envy wants what somebody else has so much that you even wish they didn’t have it. A relationship, a family, a house, a car – these are all things that we can envy. But love does not envy. Love does is not puffed up. Love does not exalt itself before others. Love does not show off. Love is not proud. Verse 5 – Love is not rude. Love considers others above itself and acts in a way that does not offend others. Love does not seek her own. We’ve seen this in several verses now. Love seeks the good of others above itself. Love is not easily provoked. It is not made angry easily. If you love somebody, you will not be constantly getting angry with them. Love thinks no evil. Verse 6 – Love does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth. If somebody loves you, they will not tempt you to sin. They will not encourage you to lie. They will not hinder your spiritual life, but they will help you to grow. Verse 7 – Love bears all things. Again we see the idea of longsuffering. Love believes all things. Every love relationship is based on trust. Love trusts in those it loves. Love hopes all things. Love is always seeking the good of those it loves. It hopes for their best and brightest future. Love endures all things. No matter what hardship if goes through, love will always come out on top. Love can never be taken away by circumstances or situations. It endures all things. Verse 8 – Unlike many other things, love will never end. And finally verse 13 – Now we live our lives with three things – faith, hope, and love – but the greatest of these is love.

Today’s lesson was very short. But that is because this teaching about love is very simple. We must love others as Christ loved us. We must have the same mind as Christ had. Young people, love one another. “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Conclusion: This has been a wonderful time for us to study together over the past two months. I thank you all for your faithfulness, your attention, your participation, and I pray that as I go back to the States for a while, that you will all remember the things that we have studied. I pray that you will all be able to think like Christ. I pray that you will make your decisions, during these important years of your teenage lives, the way that Jesus would. So remember, to think like Jesus, you must have a heart for the lost, a heart for prayer, a heart for God’s will, a heart for others, a heart for purity, a heart for service, a heart for faith, and most of all, a heart for love. Let’s pray…

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Sunday School Message #8

Introduction: Let’s begin… Until now in our study on “How to Think Like Jesus”, we have studied about having “A Heart for the Lost”, “A Heart for Prayer”, “A Heart for God’s Will”, “A Heart for Others”, “A Heart for Purity”, and “A Heart for Service”. What we’re going to study today is “A Heart for Faith”. We have a lot of verses to look at today, so let’s begin in prayer.

7. A Heart for Faith
a. Phil.3:10; Psalm 119:11; Jn.17:3
- I want to start by asking you this question? How can you have faith in something that you do now know? You can’t. If you want to increase your faith as a Christian, the best thing you can do it so study God’s Word. The more you know God’s Word, the more you understand how the different doctrines of Scripture work together. The more you know the teachings of Christ, the more you have faith in His promises and His faithfulness. The Bible says, “Your Word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Jesus Himself says, “…this is life eternal, that they might know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” I want to share with you my life’s verse, Philippians 3:10, “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death.” That is what I want for my life. My goal in life is to know my God and my Savior. I want to experience the power of His resurrection. I want to experience the fellowship of His sufferings. And at the end of my life I want to be made conformable to His death. I can think of no greater honor than to give my life for my Lord.

b. Js.2:14-26
- Ok, let me give you an example of the importance of the knowledge of God’s Word. I want to ask you a few questions and I want some of you to answer them. Does faith save a person or works? Faith? Faith alone? So our works have nothing to do with our salvation? Then let me read a passage for you. “What does it profit, my brethren…” Somebody explain that to me. Did the Bible just contradict itself? This is why Bible knowledge is so important. Suppose you were trying to witness to a Catholic and as you’re telling them that they don’t have to do the works that Catholics teach will save people, that person quotes this passage to you. What would you say? Here is the answer. Faith and works always work together. The Bible is very clear in other passages that faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is not alone. The key to this passage is verse 18: “…I will show you my faith by my works…” It is faith alone that saves, but then that faith, if it is genuine, will always produce good works in a creyente’s life. Do you understand? Faith is essential to salvation; works are the evidence of faith. So we need to recognize the need for a solid understanding of God’s Word in order to have faith.

c. I Tim.1:5,18-19;
In this passage, the Apostle Paul is giving advice to the young pastor Timothy, whom he had taught personally. We’ve talked about this before. Now listen to the advice that Paul gives in these passages. “Now the end of the commandment…” And then in verses 18 and 19, “This charge I commit unto thee…” He tells his disciple to fight a good fight, holding two weapons – faith and a good conscience. This verse shows us the importance of our faith. If Paul, a mighty man of God, sent out his young disciple with only two weapons, they must be the two most important things in all of his Christian life.

d. I Tim.4:12; I Tim.6:12; II Tim.4:7
- But you say, “How can I have that kind of faith? I’m just a teenager.” What did the apostle Paul tell to his disciple Timothy? “Let no man…” He said, “Be an example…in faith.” I want you all to understand this. I’ve told you before that your teenage years are some of the most important years of your lives. Right now, you are becoming the person you are going to be. And Paul’s challenge to Timothy is a challenge to us also. He says that we should be an example to those older than us in our speech, our conduct, our love, our faith, and our purity. If you were to look through the Scriptures and study the lives of the great men of faith, you will see that the majority of those men began studying God’s Word and living for Him when they were a youth – great men like Joseph, David, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. I pray for all of you to be great men and women of God one day, so you need to begin developing your faith now while you are a youth.

- The notice that Paul also tells Timothy that faith is a fight. He writes in I Timothy 6:12, “Fight the good fight of faith…” And in II Timothy 4, we have the final recorded words of this great man of God before he was killed for his faith. He wrote, “I have fought…” He fought the fight, he finished the course, and most importantly to him, he kept the faith. Until the end of his life, Paul’s greatest priority was his faith.

e. I Jn.5:4
- Listen to what this verse says about our faith. “…this is the victory…” It is through our faith that we can conquer the world. The world is constantly attacking us with lies. The devil wants to destroy our faith in God, the Bible, and Christianity. Paul says that our faith is what will give us victory over the world and its lies. In our society, we are constantly being faced with new lies. I don’t know how things are here in Mexico, but in the States, we are hearing new lies all of the time. About two years ago, a man named Dan Brown wrote a mystery novel called, “The DaVinci Code”. Have you all heard of that? It was then made into a movie last year. This book had a story that was very interesting and well-written. But in the middle of the book, it tries to convince the characters in the book and the readers that Jesus was not the Son of God. It teaches that Jesus was secretly married to Marry Magdalene and they had a child together. That teaching is blasphemy! It is against everything that the Bible teaches. Even now in the States, there have been three books written for children that are trying to tell them that there is no God. They teach children not to believe anything their parents teach them about God. They teach children that the church is just a bunch of old people trying to control what they do. The author of these books said that with these books, he is trying to destroy God. They are currently being made into movies also, because that is what most kids today watch. The first of these is called “The Golden Compass”, and the second is in production right now. Young people, you need to have a solid, confident understanding of God’s Word, so that you will not be deceived by these kinds of lies that Satan is throwing into our world.

f. I Pt.1:5-9
- The Bible says that faith is to believe in things that we cannot see. Listen to this passage about how our faith will one day be realized. “…who are kept by the power…” This passage says that the trial of your faith is more precious that gold. When your faith is challenged, it helps you to grow. If somebody challenges something you believe in, you must go to the Bible and study it and find the truth.

g. Js.1:3-6
- Look now at James chapter 1. This verse says something similar to the last passage. “Knowing this, that the…” Notice two things from this passage. First, “…they trying of your faith works patience…” When God brings trials into our lives, we often don’t understand why. We often feel mistreated. We feel like God made a mistake. But we learn from this passage that many times God uses trials to increase our patience. Second, notice that faith is the key element in prayer. We must pray in faith – faith in God’s sovereignty, faith in God’s promises, and faith in God’s power. “Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering…”

h. Matt.17:20
- This next passage is one of the most well-known of all passages on faith. Jesus Christ tells us, “If you have faith as a grain…” You will be able to move mountains. The Lord Himself says, “…nothing will be impossible to you.” Let me ask you this. When was the last time you asked God for something that only He could do? When was the last time you saw God do something that was impossible in our eyes? Have you ever seen that? If you haven’t, I challenge you to do so. Think of something that only God can do and pray for that until He answers! Don’t give up too soon. I believe that one of the main reasons that we don’t have our prayers answered is that we give up too soon. Maybe it is a family member who needs to know Jesus as their Savior. Maybe it’s a financial problem. Find something. Pray for it. Put your faith to the test and watch God show Himself faithful.

i. Heb.10:38; 11
- One more passage and we’re done. I want to close by reading to you a very powerful chapter of Scripture. In the book of Hebrews chapter 10, we read, “…the just shall live by faith…” and the author continues on to write about many heroes of the Bible who showed their great faith in God. Listen as I read: “Now faith is the substance…” Young people, your name could be written there right beside those people. You can be men and women of faith. You also can be people “of whom the world is not worthy”. And I pray that you will be.

Conclusion: So our study today really has two points. If we are going to think like Jesus, we must have a heart for faith. And if we’re going to have a strong faith, we must be in God’s Word daily and have a strong understanding of its teachings. We need to grow in our faith, study God’s Word, and prove through our works that we are Christians. Let’s pray…

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Ministry of Reconciliation - II Cor.5:18-21

Tipo de Sermón: Expositivo

Titulo: El Ministerio de la Reconciliación

Texto: II Corintios 5:18-21

Tema/complemento: Dios nos ha dado el ministerio de la reconciliación

Asunto: Estamos aquí satisfacer el ministerio de la reconciliación

Propósito del Orador: Quiero motivar mi audiencia tomar parte del ministerio de la reconciliación
Interrogativo: ¿Porque debemos satisfacer el ministerio de la reconciliación?

Transición: Debemos satisfacer el ministerio de la reconciliación porque es comandado, es temporal, y es bendito.


“The Ministry of Reconciliation”

“Good afternoon, brothers. Thank you for coming this afternoon. I can’t tell you what an honor it is to preach to you from this pulpit, where so many men of God and missionaries have preached in the past years. I do not feel worthy of this honor – I am nobody – but I am very excited about what I believe God wants to say to all of us today. I am here to preach God’s Word to you. I am not here to share my own thoughts, opinions, or ideas. If I was, we should all just go home now, because nothing I say is important. But today I have the opportunity to be God’s messenger and to communicate His message to us. So if you would, please open your Bibles to the book of II Corinthians. As you are turning there, I want to ask you a question:

Why are we here?
- Why are you here? The answer to that question could be different for every person in the world, could it not? Some people are here to make money. Their goal in life, their only purpose for living, is to make money. How much? Nobody knows, but it’s always more. Some people are here to have a family. Their purpose for living is to get married, raise children, buy a home, and provide for their family. Some people are here for fame. Their purpose for living is to be well-known among men. They may do this through a life of sports and athletics, movies and Hollywood, politics and government, or business and enterprise. Some people are here for love. Their purpose in life is to find love in relationships with another people. Some people are here for people. Their purpose is to help mankind, improve the world, and change the society. These are all purposes that people could have for their lives. Some are more noble than others. But in this church today, I am preaching to believers. I know that the majority of you know Jesus as your Savior. And therefore, every one of us in this church have the same purpose for living, according to this passage that we’re going to study tonight.
- So you are probably all thinking “The Great Commission”. Well, I’m not going to preach about the Great Commission tonight, not because it’s not important, but because the guys told me, “All of the gringos who come preach on the Great Commission!” Ah, right? I mean, you all know why, don’t you? I promise you that it’s not because we think you’re all simple, ok? I’m serious. That’s not why. I believe that all of the gringos, all the Americans, all the preachers from the States preach on the Great Commission because that it what’s on our minds. That is the reason that we have come to your country – to obey the commandment of our Lord! The Bible says in Matthew 28, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Amen.” God’s Word says in Acts 1, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” When Americans come here to Mexico, it is because we want to fulfill the Great Commission.
- But tonight, I want to talk to you about something more basic. Oh it is related to the Great Commission, but it does not have the same focus of going “into all the world”. Tonight, we’re going to study together a passage that describes the most basic responsibility of every believer in Christ. Tonight, we are going to find out, if we don’t already know, “Why are we here?” The answer is this: We are here to fulfill the ministry of reconciliation!

- We’re going to read together II Corinthians chapter 5, verses 18-21. Let’s stand together in honor of God’s Word. Everyone together, “All of this comes from God…” May God bless the reading of His Word. Let’s pray… “Our Father, we give you thanks for the opportunity to study Your Word this afternoon. I ask that you would give us wisdom tonight as we study this passage. I ask that you would open our eyes to the responsibility that you have given us here on this earth. I ask that you would speak through me, that you would teach us, and that you would motivate us to fulfill the purpose for which you have left us here on the earth. I ask you to give me Your words; help me to speak your message clearly, for I know I can do nothing without you. In the name of Jesus we pray, amen.”

- We are here to fulfill the ministry of reconciliation. My purpose in this message is to motivate us as Christians to fulfill this wonderful ministry God has given us. In this passage, we learn three things about this ministry of reconciliation. We learn that the ministry is commanded, the ministry is temporary, and the ministry is blessed. So let’s begin with the first point of this passage in verse 18

I. The Ministry Is Commanded (v.18a)
- We see this fact in the phrase, “Now all these things are from God…” That means that they are…

a. By the Will of God (v.18)
- “All these things” – What things? Look at verse 17 – “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” The whole work of reconciliation is from God. It is by the will of God, not the will of man.
- “Sinners cannot decide to be reconciled to God and devise a plan to reach Him. That is what all false religion in the world is. All the world’s false religions are the same thing – sinners devising a way to be reconciled to God. Christianity is God determining a way to be reconciled to sinners. God alone can change our relationship, and that’s the good news, ‘God so loved the world that He’ made a way of reconciliation.” Notice also that the ministry is literally…

b. By the Command of God (Mat.28:19-20;Ac.1:8;Tit.1:1-3)
- You know the Great Commission – “Go therefore and make disciples…” “You will be my witnesses…” Is that an option or a command? It is a command! Jesus didn’t say, “Well, I’d really like it if you would go out and made disciples.” He didn’t say, “Would you like to be my witnesses?” No! He said, “Go!” He said, “You WILL be my witnesses.” Brothers, the ministry of reconciliation is commanded! Tell me this, if you can. Where did we receive the idea that we can control our own lives? Does anybody know? I don’t know, but it’s not from the Bible! What does the Bible say? “…You are not your own…You have been bought with a price...Whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ.” My brothers, we are not servants of Christ – we are His slaves! Slave is the word in the original Greek text. Young people, do you remember this? We talked about this in Sunday School last week. A servant is one who places himself in a position to serve another by his own will. A slave has no choice. A slave has been purchased by his master. A slave must do everything his master commands. Brothers, we are here to fulfill the ministry of reconciliation! Notice also that the ministry of reconciliation is commanded…

c. By the Heart of God (Lk.19:10; Mat.4:19; Ez.34:16)
- Luke 19:10 tells us that “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” When Jesus called His disciples in Matthew 4:10, He said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Listen to this passage from Ezekiel 34, “I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick…” It is the heart of God to seek sinners. When Adam and Eve had sinned in the Garden of Eden, we don’t see Adam walking through the garden saying, “God, God, where are you?” No, it was God saying, “Adam, Adam, where are you?”
- God has always been the seeker of men. And when our Lord returned to heaven, He commanded us to carry on his ministry, the ministry of reconciliation. We are here to fulfill the ministry of reconciliation. Notice now in our passage, the second point; that…

II. The Ministry Is Temporary (v.18b-20)
- I want to read you a quotation from one of my favorite pastors and theologians, Dr. John MacArthur. When I was the youth pastor at Cornerstone in Illinois, I often tried to explain this concept to my teens, but was never able to put it into words this clearly. Listen to this, Dr. MacArthur says…

"You know, Christianity can get very complex. Your Christian life can get very complex. Your Christian calendar can get very complex. And so, If I might, I'd like to simplify everything and pull it down to the irreducible minimum of what it is that you're all about and I'm all about as Christians. We have been given the ministry of reconciliation. It is simply this: Our duty is to tell people they can be reconciled to God. That's what we do. Our mission is to preach the fact that God will forgive all someone's sins forever. That the relationship of hostility and hatred and enmity and bitterness and alienation from God can be totally changed - that enemies can become friends, aliens can become sons. That is the good news...The good news is that alienation from a holy God, which carries the price of eternal damnation, can end, and you can be reconciled with God and enjoy His glorious heaven forever, all your sin having been dealt with. Our high calling and our high privilege is simply to tell people that God will forgive all your sins forever. Are you interested? This is what we live for; this is what we preach for; this is what we teach for; that people might be reconciled to God...That's what we do. That's why we're here. Folks, that's the only reason you're here at all! If we had been saved purely for fellowship with God, we might as well go to heaven, because the fellowship here isn't what it ought to be. If we were saved purely for fellowship with each other, we might as well go to heaven where it is perfect, because it's imperfect here. If we were saved to have triumph over sin, we might as well go to heaven, because the triumph here is severely checkered, isn't it? And we all live in Romans 7 somewhere - wanting to do what we don't do and not wanting to do what we find ourselves doing. We've here because there's one thing we can do here that we can't do in heaven, and that's the ministry of reconciliation...That term defines the heart and soul of our responsibility as believers in the world..."


- Look once again at verses 18-20. These verses describe for us exactly what the ministry of reconciliation is. Verse 18 says, “…who reconciled us to Himself through Christ…” So this ministry is only done through Christ – through His power and through his work on the cross. Verse 19, “namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them…” This is literally how a righteous, holy God can allow sinners like us into heaven. He cannot overlook or ignore our sins, but He does not count them against us. He satisfied His judgment against sin when Christ bore that punishment on our behalf. And this is literally how we should present the gospel to people – that God will not count their sins against them if they accept the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. We have already seen in Acts 1 that…

a. We Are the Witnesses (Acts 1)
- In that passage that Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth…” Geographically, that would be as if Jesus said to this church, “You will be my witnesses in Jiménez, and in all Chihuahua, and in Mexico, and to the remotest part of the earth.” This ministry is temporary, but we are here to fulfill the ministry of reconciliation. We are to be witnesses everywhere we go. This is the only reason we are here. Jesus also described our temporary role in the ministry of reconciliation in the Sermon on the Mount when he called us…

b. We Are the Salt and Light (Matthew 5:13-16)
-“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” This passage teaches that our ministry of reconciliation includes the way we live our life. A girl friend of mine in the States reminded me last week of a phrase her mother taught her: “Be a witness everywhere you go and use words if necessary.” And the greatest responsibility of all is taught in our passage.

c. We Are the Ambassadors (John 17:4,6,9,11,15,18,20)
- Do we really understand what it is to be an ambassador? An ambassador is one who goes in the place of his master. An ambassador speaks what his master would speak. An ambassador acts as his master would act. An ambassador is to complete the mission that his master wanted to complete. Verse 20 says, “…we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God…”
- Tell me this: Is Jesus Christ here with us today? Sorry, trick question. Yes, He is here with us. We know that from the Bible, “I am with you always, even until the end of the world”, and we believe it as Christians. But is he physically here with us, so that a lost person could walk by that door and see Jesus Christ in here with us? No, He is not. The only “Jesus” that the world can see is a Christian. You are the only Jesus that some people will ever see. My pastor at my home church in Illinois would often quote a poem that says this: “You’re writing a gospel, a chapter each day, by deeds that you do, by words that you say; people read what you write, whether faithless or true; say what is the gospel according to you?” We are here to fulfill the ministry of reconciliation. This ministry is commanded of us; this ministry is temporary; but notice from the last verse in our passage that…

III. The Ministry Is Blessed (v.21)
- Look at verse 21, one of the most powerful verses in all of the Scriptures, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” What a blessing! Could there be any greater blessing in our lives? God made His own Son to be sin in our place, so that we can become the righteousness of God. When God looks at you as a Christian, He no longer sees a sinner – He sees His own Son. God punished Christ as if He had committed every sin that I have, and He treats me as if I have lived my life with the perfect righteousness that Christ did. What mercy! What love! What a blessing! As we take part in the ministry of reconciliation, I tell you all, it is a blessing! The Bible says in…

a. Lk.15:10
- “In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents…” If you have seen this happen, then you know what I am talking about. I cannot describe to you the joy that fills your heart when you see God work in the heart of a sinner, bring them to an understanding of their need, and grant them faith in His promises and repentance from their sins. It will totally change your life! When you share the gospel with another person and see God work in their hearts this way, you feel like you’ve done nothing, because God has done all the work. You were just His messenger. You feel unworthy to be used by God in this way, but very blessed to be a part of that work. Before we close, I want to share with you a few…

b. Testimonies
- …where I have seen God do this amazing work. The very first Saturday I was here, I had the chance to go on visitation with Adrian. And that was a very different experience than in the States. Many times in the States, you have a hard time just getting people to take the tracts. On that afternoon, I saw how open people are and ready to receive the gospel. That afternoon, I stood by and watched as Adrian led two ladies in a prayer to receive Christ as their Savior. That was a very powerful experience. Over the past 3 months, I’ve been able to see many different people receive Christ. God is working here in Mexico! We are here to fulfill the ministry of reconciliation and this church is fulfilling that mission! I have shared these next two stories briefly with you, but I want you to hear them in detail. A few weeks ago when Brother Lanny was here with the medical team, I had my first opportunity to lead a lady to the Lord all on my own. And I will tell you all, I was scared to death. I was standing right back there in the corner when the Lord pointed her out to me and said, “Go talk to her.” And I argued with God. I said, “God I can’t do that. The gospel is something that she HAS to understand to believe. I can’t be messing up my Spanish when I talk to her.” She was sitting there reading the little Bibles we had in the seats. I could tell that she didn’t know what she was reading and I was reminded of the story of Philip in Acts 8. He met the eunuch from Ethiopia, who was reading the Bible, and so he went up to him and said, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” And the eunuch said, “How can I unless somebody explains it to me?” So I walked up to this lady, whose name was Marina, and I said, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” She looked at me and wanted to say yes, but just shook her head. So I said, “Would you like me to explain it to you?” She said yes. So I tried the best I could to explain the gospel to her – that she was a sinner, she needed a savior, and could make that decision today. The whole time I was talking, I just kept saying, “Do you understand me?” She did. So I led her in a prayer and she received Christ. It was just amazing! I felt as if I had just been watching somebody else witness to her and not myself.
- This last story, I told you last Wednesday. When I was living here in town with Brother Brian, almost every night, I would walk down to the sports park and get quesadillas for supper. Then on the way back, I would stop at this store to get a drink. Well, two weeks ago, as I was in the store, the owner, Maria, was there with another lady. And as I was paying for my drink she says to the other lady, “This guy comes in here about every night and he’s always so happy and has a smile on his face.” So the other lady says to me, “Is that true? Are you always happy?” I said, “Yes ma’am, always!” I saw that this was a good opportunity to share Jesus, so I was looking for a tract in my pocket, but I didn’t have one, so I left the store and went home. When I got there, God told me, “Go back there and talk to her.” So I took a few tracts and went back to the store. When I found Maria, I told her, “Ma’am. I have something for you. You asked me why I’m always so happy. Well it’s because of this. I am a Christian. I have Jesus living in my heart and I have a purpose for my life. I’m a pastor from the United States and I’ve come here to share the Word of God with people. So I’d like to give you this to read.” She said she would read it, so I told her, “Well I’ll probably be back here tomorrow or another night, so we can talk about it if you want.” So that Wednesday night, I asked all of you to pray for her as I went back to talk to her. So I was praying that she would have read the tract and that God would make her ready to receive Christ. As we began to talk that night, I asked her if she understood the tract. I asked her that if she were to die tonight, based only on these verses, where would she go. This is what she said: “Well, I don’t know. I mean I certainly don’t want to go to hell, but this says that sinners can’t go to heaven. And I know that I’m a sinner, so I just don’t know…” And I said to her, “Well I know.” She said, “You know?!?” I said, “Yes.” So I told her how she simply needed to believe and confess it with her mouth and that night, Maria accepted Jesus as her Savior. I tell you, brothers, that the ministry of reconciliation is a blessing!

Conclusion: Brothers, we are here to fulfill the ministry of reconciliation! It is commanded of us, it is temporary, and it is a blessing! May we recognize this great responsibility and privilege and go out there and win the world for Christ…