Happy Birthday, Ruth

ruth

Happy Birthday, Ruth.

I started out being quite insecure and uncertain about many things. God in His mercy gave you to me to help me become what He wanted me to be, a work still in progress.

He knew I would need a lot of encouragement, patience and love. And you have given me these in abundance.

I bless the day you were born and they said “It is a girl and her name is Ruth”. And I bless the day now over 51 years ago that you said, “I will!”

And I bless this your birthday when we have both surpassed the “three score years and ten” and we both have finally come to see that our age does not define us but we are defined by “every word and every promise that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

And I would propose to you again.

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Elisa

elisa

When your life with God begins with a miracle at age 11, what is your life with Him like eight years later when you’re in the middle of college, dating, and the busyness of life? That is what I want to learn from my 18, almost 19-year-old, Belgian granddaughter, Elisa, in our hike through the Ardennes mountains.

At age 11 Elisa said to her parents one day, “I don’t know if there is a God, because he never speaks to me.”

Her parents responded, “Why don’t you take your new guitar and go to your room and worship, because God often speaks as we worship him.”

Sometime later Elisa came back from her room with a big smile and stated to her parents, “God spoke to me: He gave me a song, the words and the music.” She played the song as her mother and father listened through their tears.

Shortly thereafter Elisa was assigned to give a talk in school about an object . She informed her parents she would talk about her guitar and play ‘Yankee Doodle.’

Her father said, “Why don’t you play the song that the Lord gave you?”

She responded, “I could never do that; I am the only Christian in my class; everyone would laugh at me.”

Her father then encouraged her to go to her room and pray for boldness.

She immediately went to her room to pray. She was soon joined by her younger sister Ruby, and they joined together in fervent prayer for boldness. After an hour of prayer she informed her parents that she would play her song at school.

On the appointed day after giving her talk about her guitar she stated that she had a song that she plays at her church. Her teacher invited her to play it.

Elisa closed her eyes tightly and sang loudly so she would not lose her courage. When she opened her eyes, the teacher was crying as were many of the students. The teacher said “That is so beautiful; why don’t you bring your guitar every day and we will sing together as a class?”

This became an almost daily ritual for the rest of the school year.

Elisa’s faith grew stronger as the years went by. She composed more music; she produced an album of her music, and she was invited to sing at country music concerts where the secular participants joined in singing, “Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.”

This past year has been very demanding. Elisa expects a lot of herself and is very careful and detailed in her work. As a consequence she placed at the top of her class in graphic design college.

However, as we walked together, she admitted that in order to achieve this success, she put everything into her studies and in so doing she sacrificed time with God, her boyfriend and her family.

“Now,” she continued, “I have the satisfaction and acclaim of having done well in college in my first year, but I long for the intimacy of my relationship with Jesus again. It has been over a year since I have written a worship song.”

“I want to open my heart again. I want to find a way to balance my life in the coming year and years so that I don’t push the really important things aside as I did this past year.”

As we walked together, I found myself praying, “Oh, Lord, give Elisa the desire of her heart, and while you’re at it, give me at age 72, the desire of my heart, that we can both find the way to daily nourish our intimacy with you so that You are the inspiration and direction for all we do. “

So I conclude this time with Elisa with the firm conviction that what brought the first miracle brings every miracle, the passionate desperate cry, “Oh God, please ….”

For You did say, “Ask you and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened unto you.”

Ruby

ruby

“Do you know my story, Grandpa?” Ruby my 16 year old granddaughter asked.

“Well, parts of it.” I answered, catching my balance as we descended a mountain trail in the Ardennes.

As I turned to face Ruby, memories associated with this vibrant young woman flooded my mind. I remembered the time as a three-year-old when Ruby almost died of febrile convulsions. (My son reminds me that I learned of this accident during a bishop board meeting and that I led my fellow bishops in prayer, crying out, “Let me die, not her.” When my son later questioned my theology, I informed him that grandparents may not be the best theologians.)

I remembered how Ruby as a fifth grader was quickly developing skills as a gymnast. But a severe concussion and coma from a playground accident changed that trajectory, and she decided that she would become a nurse.

I recalled Ruby as a skilled horsewoman, as a sometimes saxophonist and recently as an archery competitor.

And, of course, I knew Ruby as friendly, outgoing and often the center of good times.

But I knew there was more to learn so I responded, “Yes, parts of it;” grabbing on to a branch to slow my descent. “But, tell me more.”

Ruby began, “Well, several years ago I found myself very much enjoying and being influenced by my friends, subtly drifting away from my Christian values.

“Then at a youth group retreat I had a powerful encounter with the loving heavenly Father. He changed my heart; He changed everything. He gave me a freedom to express myself among my friends. If my friends disagree with me, I do not let it trouble me; I just continue expressing God’s love to them.

“Recently a teacher came to me and said with a big smile that she would always remember me because of what happened last year in class. The teacher had said, ‘Oh,God!’ And I immediately said, ‘Don’t take the name of the Lord your God in vain.’

“On another occasion a Muslim boy told a friend, ‘I want to talk to that Protestant girl (as distinguished from Catholic) because I have been reading the Bible and I want to discuss with her what it means.’

“My fellow students and I have discovered that if on occasion we want a break from lectures, we can engage a teacher in discussion. On one such occasion I said, ‘Let’s have a discussion about evolution.’ My fellow students groaned and said, ‘There goes Ruby again.’ One such discussion lasted for over an hour. The teacher asked me why I did not believe in evolution. I responded that I find it more satisfying to believe that I was created by a loving heavenly Father than that I evolved from a monkey. The teacher was so amazed by this that he contacted me again to continue the discussion.

“Several times on my way to school, I encountered some people who are part of a religious cult. I discussed this with my youth leader, and I studied the tenets of their beliefs. The next time I met them, we carried on a conversation and then I asked if I could pray for them. They refused, stating that I would not use the right words. After learning the ‘right words’ I said I could include those words in my prayer. But they still refused.

“But my best story happened recently. I was facing my final 11th grade English exam. It was an oral exam and I needed to be prepared to tell a story and to report on a book. I asked the teacher if I could report on the Bible; she responded that she wanted me to read and report on another book in that She felt I was too familiar with the Bible. I persisted, asking if I could report on a book and still discuss the Bible if there was time. The teacher agreed.

“In the exam I started off by giving the story of how God’s love impacted me. At the end the teacher said ‘I hope what you say is true.’

“Then I asked her if I could pray for her. She seemed somewhat taken aback but agreed. So I prayed that her ‘hope would become a certainty’ for her. She thanked me for the prayer. I later learned that she had given me an ‘A’ in the exam. “

As I reflected on my conversation with Ruby, I realized that she is a climate changer . She enters a ‘space’ and immediately declares that Jesus (not the latest pop singer, actor or athlete) is very important to her. This creates an atmosphere in which faith in Christ is “in the air.” Then people have the freedom to either agree or disagree. But even in disagreeing they are still thinking about faith.

May the contagious faith and love of Ruby help ignite a youth movement in Europe.

And may grandfathers, such as I, become less self-aware as we abandon ourselves anew to our great calling as ‘climate changers.’

Julie

julie

Sometimes I am concerned for my granddaughters growing up in secular Europe.

So today I listened carefully as my 12 year old Belgian granddaughter, Julie, a professed Christian, following the ways of the Lord, talked about her daily life as we hiked together through the mountains of the Ardennes.

“About a year ago I thought I had found a new friend from my street. She was my age, fun to be with and interested in the same things. But within days I learned that she was quite different in certain respects, which troubled me.

She resisted what her parents asked of her, demanded her own way of them and did not hesitate to lie. She said for example, that she has a brother and a horse, neither of which are true. Or when I wore my bicycle helmet because my parents instructed me to, she would not wear her helmet even though her parents had asked her to do the same.

One day she asked me to lie for her to her parents. I immediately responded, ‘you can lie if you wish but I will not lie for you or with you.’ Then I walked away from her.

Over the next month I saw little of her but I prayed daily for her. One day she invited me to her birthday party. Since that time we have become very close. She no longer lies about anything and she is more respectful of her parents. In fact her parents said to her, “‘We are glad Julie is your friend.’

She is now my very best friend and I know she will become a Christian because I am praying for her and talking with her about my faith in Jesus.”

As I listened I prayed, “O Lord, help me to be as clear about my identity in Christ and my mission to love people, yet shape the culture around me through gracious truth, even as this young child.”

Feet on the Street

On Sunday I preached at Feet On The Street, a church in Reading, PA, experiencing a youth revival, pastored by Daryl and Rebecca Zimmerman and founded by Daryl’s parents, Marv and Bev Zimmerman.

As I arose to preach I experienced the strange but clear word from Holy Spirit that I was to give my shoes away. Now it happened that I was wearing a new pair of shoes which I really liked and I was not looking to give them away. But when the Spirit speaks you either respond or you go into disobedience.

So I announced to the Congregation that I was giving my shoes away. It happened that my shoes were an exact fit for a striking young man in the front row, Jesus Diaz. I learned quickly that just two days before he had come to the pastor and they had agreed that he would step out in leading a new ministry to early teenagers in the congregation.

The gift of shoes became a powerful encouragement to the young man and to the congregation that God’s anointing was on Jesus for this new ministry and that God would guide his steps and bring great blessings to the community through this ministry.

I went home from ‘Feet On The Street’ in stocking feet but with a full heart. God is so amazing!

My Friend, Dr. Awad

dr-awad

I was recently reflecting with my friend Dr. Fayez Awad about his 80 years of life. Dr. Awad grew up in a culture that at times discriminated against him because of his Christian faith. However the favor of the Lord was upon him and like Moses he was trained in the wisdom of Egypt and rose in honor to where as a highly skilled veterinarian he was selected to care for the pets of the Prime Minister of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser.

As a young man Dr. Awad was called by God out of Egypt to live in the the United States. Here he established a successful veterinary practice in Elizabethtown, Pa where he and his wife Minerva raised their two children, John and Mary. Dr. Awad was sought after for his veterinary expertise by big city zoos because of his special knowledge in camel diseases. At the same time his clients in Elizabethtown and surrounding areas came to know him as a highly skilled diagnostician of small animal diseases and as being very effective in the medical and surgical care of their pets.

Dr Awad always proclaimed the goodness of God to his friends and clients. He would pray before performing surgery on the pets of his clients and commit the outcome into the hands of God.

As he and I shared together I suddenly had the thought,which I believe came from God, “Let us have a party to celebrate all that has God has done through your life and your ministry to people through your practice of veterinary medicine.”

Dr. Awad was a bit taken back by my suggestion but after some time to digest this thought he and his family came into agreement and began to plan for the party.

So on Saturday evening June 25, 2016 at 5pm, we had a party (one week after his birthday) at LifeGate Church, Elizabethtown, celebrating the 81 years of his life. Approximately 100 of Dr. Awads clients, family and friends gathered for the joyful celebration. The evening was filled with joy and laughter as we partook of Egyptian/American food and shared favorite stories of the years of Dr. Awad’s practice . It became apparent as the stores were shared that Dr. Awad’s life was not just about caring for animals but rather, caring for pets was Dr. Awad’s way of caring for people and showing them the love of the Father who cares about all of his creation, including the owners of the suffering pets.

Over the years Dr. Awad was not alway certain he was being understood because of his Egyptian accent, so he would end many of his explanations with “Do you follow me?”

So tonight I answer Dr. Awad: “ Yes, dear friend, we follow you. You are coming through loud and clear as an outstanding human being: outstanding in your skill and expertise, outstanding in integrity, outstanding in generosity and hospitality and outstanding in your demonstration of the love of God to a people you have come to call your own.

Thank you for coming to us out of Egypt and expressing the heart of the Father who could Himself be called an Immigrant in that he left the culture of heaven to come among us in the person of His son Jesus. And like you, He also asks repeatedly, “Do you follow Me?”

New Testament Fellowship Assembly

new-testament-fellowship-assembly

Positioning himself on his knees in prayer, John Harris prophesied to the gathered New Testament Fellowship Assembly at LifeGate on Friday night, May 20th, “ ‘From this position my Church shall be elevated’ says the Lord.”

Vaughn Martin followed this word with a teaching from Isaiah chapter 6.. Uzziah, king of Judah, became very successful and in his success he arrogantly entered the temple to offer sacrifices and was stricken by God with leprosy. In the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah found himself in a heavenly temple. He knew that as an unclean man in a holy temple he would suffer the same fate as King Uzziah. He would be killed. However the fire that could have killed him actually cleansed him. The Holy Spirit has been poured out as fire to cleanse us of our fear of man and our love of money. In the book of Acts, Peter, who at the crucifixion had been afraid of the words of a servant girl, was transformed by the fire of God to a boldness that confronted the nation with the gospel of the resurrected Jesus. And the early Christians were so cleansed by the fire of the Holy Spirit from their love of money that they sold everything that they had and gave it to the poor. May this Holy fire of the Holy Spirt baptize and cleanse us.

Alejandro Colendres followed with the word, “ When you look out your window into the world, ‘What do you see?” You see brokenness and despair and bondage and devastation. The next question is “What are you going to do about what you see out your window?” Yes, start in prayer and in allowing the fire of the Holy Spirit to cleanse you, but then ‘Rise Up and Do Something!” You must Do Something! Go into the streets and embrace people with the love and power of God.

In the final part of the service, Alejandro demonstrated his teaching by moving into the congregation with embraces and prayers and strong prophetic words. The Spirit of God came on the assembly as the apostles moved among the believers praying and prophesying under the power of the Holy Spirit. Hearts were mended, bodies were healed and prisoners were set free.

Sonya Pena and the worship team were like the angels crying “Holy is the Lord,” as the fire of God swept though the congregation.

Yes,” the Lord is Good. The Lord is Good and his mercy endures to each generation.” Blessed be the name of the Lord.

My Mother

iva-martin

My mother, Iva, was 78 when she died of complications of diabetes. I had reflected, as she was weakening in her final weeks, that there were many things I had learned from my patients over the years about their lives that I did not know about my own mother. Even though I had wanted to have this conversation with her for years, there was something in me that resisted taking on an interviewer role with my mother. But I thought, “now or never” and I began the conversation.

“Mother, what was it like when you were a girl? What was your relationship with your father? What was your relationship with your mother? With your siblings? How did your father’s mental illness affect you?

What was the most difficult part of your life? What was the best part? What was it like having me as your son? What would you do differently about your life? What is it like for you now, facing death? Tell me about your relationship with Jesus.”

For hours she talked and I listened. I learned things I had never known about her. I came to understand my own life in a new way. I learned that her spiritual life had become alive for her in the later part of her life. She said it was like the Bible came alive to her.

At the end I leaned over her as she lay on the bed and kissed her goodby for the last time, grateful that God had given me such a wonderful mother and doubly grateful that I had come to know her heart even at this late hour.

I had wanted to be with her when she died but I was fulfilling a speaking engagement in the Lancaster area when I received the message that she had passed to her reward. I learned that in her final moments she suddenly roused herself and exclaimed, “I see angels and they are coming my way.” As eager as we were to have her stay, God was more eager to have her join Him.

I was able to release my mother with joy. I realized that part of the pain of parting is the “the unfinished conversations.” But we had finished our conversations for now.

I know we will have more to share when I see her again.

Dale Keener’s Homecoming

dale-keener

My wife Ruth’s brother, Dale L. Keener, age 77, heard the final call this morning shortly after his morning prayer, “Holy Spirit, please lead, guide, and direct my steps today.”

And Jesus said,”Come on home, my faithful son.”

Dale was not only my brother-in-law he was my good friend and prayer partner. Ever since his time as a missionary in Ethiopia as a young man, he carried the world as well as his family in his heart. His greatest desire and prayer was to see all those God brought into his life, from family to neighbors to those he visited in prison, share heaven with him.

As one of his daughter’s said, “In Dale Keener’s home, there was always room for another at the table, always a place to stay.”

So, today, his work complete, Dale left unexpectedly for his long anticipated face-to-face meeting with his beloved Lord and Savior who has prepared an eternal place for him to stay.

Brussels Tragedy

brussels

We praise God that our lives were forever impacted by Belgium when our son Vaughn married his lovely wife, Ilona, a native of Belgium, 20 years ago. They have raised their three daughters, Elisa, Ruby and Julie, to walk in faith in a very secular setting.

Today we are grateful that Vaughn’s family is safe but we grieve for the lives affected by the violence this morning in Brussels, a beautiful city often considered the capital of Europe. And we grieve for the impact this violence will have on the nation and all of Europe.

We pray that God will give great wisdom to Belgian leaders so that they will lead the nations in finding a life-giving way to respond to this devastating crisis.

“Pray … for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.”

1 Timothy 2:2-4 NLT

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