200 Young People. 26 Below.

This report is about 2 months late, but I figured better late then never.

IMG_9320 Almost 200 young people joined together for the first Midwest 26 Below Retreat: a missions focused retreat for young people. Sarah and I were thrilled that about 26 of our friends from the Cedar Rapids area came along with us.

IMG_9336 Sunrise Saturday morning

Nate Bramsen spoke on “Counteracting Counterfeit Christianity.” I’d say Luke 9:23 sums up the whole weekend pretty well: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross DAILY and follow Me.” As Nate often emphasizes, taking up a cross isn’t something that happens to you; it’s something you choose. It’s not comfortable. It’s not popular. It’s not normal. But it’s the way to walk closely with JESUS – and nothing in this world compares to that.

Those who follow Jesus radically are not the ones truly sacrificing – they are gaining the greatest Treasure imaginable. It’s those who forfeit a close walk with Jesus for the love of this world who are the ones making the great sacrifice.

IMG_9264 In this session, Nate had everyone out of their seats participating in a group activity that illustrates how quickly evangelism can happen when people are discipling others as Jesus commanded. Many of my friends told me this session on evangelism and discipleship was their favorite. Messages available to listen to online here. (Scroll down to the bottom of page.)

IMG_9232 Brady Collier, sharing with my friends about the Bible study he and his family do with international students.

IMG_9305 Missionary Panel (Missionaries answering questions and sharing from their experiences)

In this photo, Joel Hernandez (former missionary in Mexico) is sharing about the importance of reaching out to Hispanics here in the states. Countless Mexicans bring the gospel back to their home villages because someone in the States shared it with them while they were here. Many of these villages have no other way to hear the gospel.

One of the reasons I wanted to post about this retreat was because it is a reminder of the way God is raising up young people with a heart to serve Him. So often, we hear bad reports. We hear news of sin, rebellion, and young people leaving the church. But God is working, answering prayers, and raising up “warriors” for His kingdom … warriors for truth who have a heart to know Him and bring His love and light to this confused and hurting world.

I’ve been reading Jeremiah recently and I especially appreciated Jeremiah 24:7 which says, “I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.” I thought, What a good prayer to pray for others. That God would “give them a heart to know Him.”

May that be the passion of each of our hearts: to know Him.

“that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:10-11).

“Evidence for the Resurrection” Gospel Tract Now Available

We received a shipment today that we’ve been anxiously awaiting … 15,000 copies of our “Evidence for the Resurrection” gospel tract. They are now available on our online store in packs of 50, 100 and 500. You can read the inside here.

IMG_9470 We are grateful to Nickie for the new design. [smile]

The resurrection of Jesus is an awe-inspiring study, because the deeper we look, the more we find that our faith is built on unshakable ground.

We have found this gospel tract to be received with interest and appreciation–especially over the Easter season. Most Americans will agree with you that Easter means more than bunnies, and they appreciate something meaningful and interesting to read.

Many have never heard that we actually have evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. They need to hear that it’s not just a story, it’s a historical fact that has never been refuted. And since Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:14), we’d better be able to show others that this event truly happened!

“…He shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” Acts 1:3

“Facing A Task Unfinished,” and using St Patrick’s Day!

I am so excited about the “Global Hymn Sing” that Keith and Kristyn Getty are organizing for this Sunday. Partly, because I really love the message of this song! If you haven’t heard about this yet, the Gettys are inviting thousands of churches around the globe to sing the new hymn “Facing a Task Unfinished” together on Sunday, February 21st, 2016. Learn more here.

The command to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19), begins whatever side of the globe we are currently on! A great place to start is to coordinate a group of friends to pass out gospel tracts on St Patrick’s day–a month from today.

We are revising our St Patrick’s gospel tract this year to have them printed in bulk. They’ll be available for order in about two weeks. Nickie is working on it right now as I type…

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May our hearts’ prayer be the same as the song below, “Saviour, whose love constrained them, to toil with zeal untired, from cowardice defend us, from lethargy awake! Forth on Thine errands send us, To labour for Thy sake.”

… We bear the torch that flaming fell from the hands of those
Who gave their lives proclaiming that Jesus died and rose
Ours is the same commission, the same glad message ours
Fired by the same ambition, to Thee we yield our powers

O Father who sustained them, O Spirit who inspired
Saviour, whose love constrained them, To toil with zeal untired
From cowardice defend us, from lethargy awake!
Forth on Thine errands send us, To labour for Thy sake …

We go to all the world, His kingdom hope unfurled
No other name has power to save, But Jesus Christ The Lord.

Original Words by Frank Houghton. Original Music by Samuel Wesley. New Words and Music by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty, Ed Cash, and Fionan de Barra; © 2015 OMF International, Getty Music Publishing (BMI), Alletrop Music (BMI), and Fionan de Barra (all admin. By MusicServices.org)

See here for all lyrics.

Sixty Years Ago Today!

What a significant event happened sixty years ago today! After we watched this video, my grandpa began sharing stories about Jim Elliot. He and Jim led a youth group together at Lombard Gospel Chapel, and Jim was in my grandparents’ wedding. I have appreciated hearing stories from them, both serious and funny, about how Jim was the “real deal” – with a huge heart for God and people…even walking in between stopped cars at traffic lights to pass out gospel tracts 🙂

Daughters of Destiny Camp, Truth that Sets Us Free

IMG_8183 Sarah and I were greatly encouraged to see the Lord’s hand at work in girls’ lives last week at the Daughters of Destiny camp at Mountain Top Youth Camp (in North Carolina).

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Many girls made comments such as, “I felt like Sarah was speaking directly to me because she was addressing the very thing I’m dealing with!” or “I’ve been believing ‘that very lie’ and didn’t know it!” It was sweet to see their sensitive hearts to the Lord. Of course, this is all the LORD’s doing, and we’re so grateful for the MANY who were praying!

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John 8:31-32 sums up our theme for the week:

“So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free'” (John 8:31-32).

It is awesome to witness how the “Truth sets free” – not only in salvation but in all kinds of life struggles! One of my prayers for the girls was that burdens would be lifted as they realize the Truth about God’s character in relation to their current trials.

IMG_8153 Lining up for dinner

For example, we might believe fearful or discouraging thoughts about circumstances such as, “God isn’t paying attention to my current circumstances,” or, “Everything is going wrong.” Yet, the Truth is, “God works all things together for the GOOD of those who love Him” (Romans 8:28). And, “No purpose of [God’s] can be thrwarted” (Job 42:2), and, God “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11).

IMG_8136 The mountains were beautifully displaying colors everywhere we looked.

One topic that Sarah focused on quite a bit was “lies we believe about sin.” It was VERY encouraging to see girls resolve to confess hidden sin to parents–praise the Lord!

One lie commonly believed is, “I should conquer this sin on my own before telling anyone else I’m struggling.” But the TRUTH says, “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).

There are many other lies, such as, “That happened so long ago, it doesn’t matter anymore,” or, “The only one I was hurting was myself,” or, “No one will ever know,” or “My parents would be so disappointed it would be better for them not to know,” or even, “This is just the way I am now, and I have to live with it.”

Those are all lies from Satan! Lies have always been his strategy, and they are damaging weapons. The truth is that total VICTORY can be experienced in Jesus Christ. But it won’t come by hiding our sin. It comes by bringing our sin out into the light! Yes, it takes great humility, but the pain of confessing doesn’t even compare to the joy and freedom of a clean life — forgiven and now able to be transparent — nothing to hide! It’s WORTH IT to confess your sin!

If you want victory, if you want healing, then “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed” (James 5:16).

IMG_8132 This young lady, Hope, was in a Bright Lights group for many years before she moved to North Carolina. She shared with us how much the Lord used her Bright Lights leader in her life, and how now SHE is praying about beginning her own group! We were so excited to hear that, and we think she will make a wonderful Bright Lights leader!

“… what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2).

IMG_8190 Sarah and I were amazed by the intricacy of some of the crafts the girls were doing!

IMG_8215 We were especially grateful for the bread-making class as we got to eat the delicious breads they made.

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This fall at home Sarah is writing Bright Lights Set 9 on this very topic of “lies and truth.” Hearing the girls’ feedback last week at camp was a huge help, encouragement, and confirmation that this set would meet a need.

On Tuesday night, Sarah spoke on “Lies we believe about ourselves.” This was one session the girls commented on the most.

Some common lies girls believe about themselves are, “I am worthless and insignificant,” “If I looked like so and so, then I’d be happy,” or “I’m a failure and a disappointment.”

The Truth is NOT to tell yourself “I am beautiful; I am talented; I am special.” No. The Truth is that we are desperately wicked! (Jeremiah 17:9).

But once we are IN CHRIST we have a new identity–we are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). We find sweet rest and security when we understand who we are in God’s eyes once we are in Christ!

The Truth is that IN JESUS “we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us” (Romans 8:37). We are “seated with Christ in heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:6), we are valuable to Him (Matthew 10:29-31), we are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people” (1 Peter 2:9-10), and as we abide in HIM we can bring forth much fruit (John 15:4-5)! The list goes on and on.

As our lives bring praise to our Creator and Redeemer we find satisfaction–not in our own value but in His! We find joy, not in our own worth, but in falling before His Throne worshipping Him with gratefulness for His great love.

There’s a little peek into what the next Bright Lights set will be. We’d really appreciate prayer as we’re working on editing it this fall!

IMG_8277 Banquet the final evening

IMG_8340 After the camp, we went with Bill and Marj Longstreet to Charlotte. Together with their daughter Jan, they hosted a “Bright Lights Seminar” on Sunday afternoon at Fairbluff Bible Chapel. We were very blessed by them.

IMG_8326 Quite a few moms and daughters came out to learn about the Bright Lights ministry at little seminar they hosted at Fairbluff Bible Chapel. It sounds like some more groups will be starting in that area, praise the Lord.

IMG_8327 Grateful to Jan for all she did to host us!

Vessels of Honor Conference

Last weekend four friends and I drove down to the “Vessels of Honor” conference, held at a college in the Kansas City area. It was humbling and encouraging. I gleaned a lot. And as I look through my notes, I am still gleaning. 🙂

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I received much rain, both physically and spiritually. 🙂 The physical rain was because I forgot an umbrella. The spiritual “rain,” the rich teaching, was the preferable part, but getting wet was kind of fun too.

11270520_10153028400383318_1606222366252370415_o Scott DeGroff taught about being mighty warriors for the Lord today and walking in victory. Sometimes we have a pessimistic attitude, thinking that a struggle we’re having will just linger on and on. But if we belong to Christ, we don’t ever have to live like slaves to various struggles or sins, because Jesus powerfully frees us from sin’s grip. We need to “wake up” (Romans 13:11) and ask Him, trusting Him for the victory. We must be delivered from living a wasted life that we’ll be ashamed of at the judgement seat of Christ.

IMG_5585 Mr. Attwood talked about seeking after a more intimate walk with Christ. The more we fall in love with our Savior, the more things that used to captivate us lose our interest … because of the explosive power of a new affection. The closer we get to the Light, the more corrupt we see ourselves … but this makes us love Him more as we experience His forgiveness and grace.

There is always a danger in becoming so busy, even with “ministry,” that we don’t spend quality time in the presence of the Lord, worshiping Him, studying Him, enjoying close fellowship with Him. Yet, it’s these times that change us most and enable us to encourage others most!

IMG_5562 Scott DeGroff and Mike Attwood, answering questions

When speakers are willing to spend much time with the attendees, it demonstrates how much they care. And that says a lot.

In between the 12+ hours of Bible teaching, we had some free time for extra activities. I love being with people who love to talk about the Lord, and that was the atmosphere of this event. It was a mature group of youth and young married couples (who don’t want to quit coming 🙂 ).

IMG_5550 One of the guys attending (Chris) initiated a door to door witnessing outreach in the nearby neighborhood. A group of about 20 joined him, and some exciting things happened.

11141787_10153028449898318_5692873668064859635_o Much of the teaching was in break out sessions. I really enjoyed Mr. Attwood’s (left) breakout sessions on rightly dividing the word of truth. He spoke of all the problems that have arisen because Christians have failed to distinguish between the church and Israel. It was an excellent session. I also enjoyed Lynn DeGroff’s session on discernment, especially in popular Christian literature being published today.

11313083_10153028323913318_5308071870858695107_o The singing in the main sessions were nice, but many wanted to keep singing more …

IMG_5565 … so an attendee (Danny) coordinated a hymn sing one evening. It was beautiful!

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IMG_5581 Abby and Guy

Many of you know Abby through Bright Lights conferences over the years. In this picture she and her husband Guy are singing “Complete in Thee.” It was a sweet conclusion during the last session of the conference.

“…in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete … ” (Colossians 1:9-10)

May we run after the Lord Jesus in hot pursuit, confident that He is a Rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6)!

‘Radical’ by David Platt, Free Audio Download

I recently started listening to David Platt’s book, Radical. I’ve appreciated the challenging and encouraging points he makes, and I like how it’s read by the author.

Some people I highly respect have recommended this book, so it’s been on my “reading list” for a long time. I prefer audio, so finally I borrowed the CDs from a friend. But today I noticed that Christian audio was giving away the book free: see here. I’d really recommend you download this and listen to it — even if you’ve already read the book. =) The offer is only available for a few days.

Also, I posted a bit about a “book review” of Radical that Stephen shared with our Bright Lights leaders on a conference trip here.

(Note: I have been so grateful for the ipod my brother gave me a few years ago because of how much I have enjoyed listening to audio books/sermons the past few years… I strap it to my arm and have found it’s a wonderful way to maximize time when I’m cooking, cleaning, exercising, organizing, etc. A few minutes here and there really add up to a lot of time!)

Thoughts of St Patrick

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Christ be beside me; Christ be before me;
Christ be behind me, King of my heart.
Christ be within me; Christ be below me;
Christ be above me, never to part.

Christ on my right hand, Christ on my left hand,
Christ all around me, shield in the strife.
Christ in my sleeping, Christ in my sitting,
Christ in my rising, Light of my life.

Christ be in all hearts thinking about me;
Christ be on all tongues telling of me.
Christ be the vision in eyes that see me;
in ears that hear me Christ ever be.

This beautiful song, “Christ Be Beside Me,” was taken from some writings attributed to St Patrick.

Praise God that He took hold of a rebellious young man 1,600 years ago and used him to make such an impact that the world still celebrates him today–though they don’t know why.

Although we don’t have a lot of information from Patrick’s life, we have two letters that he wrote. They sound a lot like Paul.

As the world remembers Patrick, may our thoughts be consumed with Christ–as Patrick’s thoughts were.

“ … the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that, even so late, I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance. And he watched over me before I knew him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil, and he protected me, and consoled me as a father would his son.” – St. Patrick, missionary to Ireland

“26 Below” CMML Youth Conference

IMG_3637 Last month I had the privilege of being part of the “26 Below” retreat, run by CMML (Christian Missions in Many Lands) the missionary sending organization of the network of New Testament-patterned Bible churches that I have grown up in.

It was a very challenging and refreshing time.

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The speaker was Nate Bramsen, missionary to Niger. The day of the conference he got word that religious extremists were burning churches in Niger and burned a place of worship in his village (a stone’s throw from his home), and almost burned his home and teammates’ homes. His team had to leave the area.

I think Nate’s Christ-like response to this news made an even stronger impact on the retreat attendees than his messages.

“Some call them terrorists, but I call them blind,” Nate mentioned, emphasizing that when we look at the cross we can’t help but “fall in love with them” and pray for their salvation! I’d encourage you to read the article he wrote for the Gospel Coalition about these events.

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We had a one-hour prayer meeting for Niger, asking the Lord to use these events to draw people to Jesus. I normally don’t pray for just one country for an hour, and doing so reminded me of how much you can think of to pray for regarding one country simply when you just keep praying!

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In the Q and A time, one topic that was addressed was this: following Jesus sometimes means you will be alone and may not always have the fellowship you desire. But you will have Christ, and He is enough.

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I really enjoyed my roommates. =)

The fellowship at this conference was so sweet. Raw, honest, Christ-focused, and energizing – it’s such a gift from the Lord to enjoy fellowship with other like-hearted young people who are excited about the gospel and using their lives to proclaim it.

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Girls breakout session on purity called, “Satisfied in Jesus: Purity and Struggles of the Heart.” I was blessed by the sharpening comments the girls contributed. One girl spoke of the “idolatry of the heart” that a crush can be. Another emphasized the simple cure of looking at the cross when we’re struggling with getting our focus right.

The topic of the conference was “Transparency.” I appreciated Nate’s point that a Christian’s transparency shouldn’t be simply “being real” or “just being you,” but rather “being clear” or “being invisible” so that the world can see Christ IN you. How much do people not see Jesus in me because they simply see so much of ME? Transparency is getting out of the way so that they see Christ.

To hear the messages from the conference click here. Or, to hear Nate’s podcasts on Matthew click here. (Some of my favorite podcasts have been “Shut the Door”, “The Anatomy of Anxiety”, and “The Answer to Anxiety”)

The Thessalonian Example

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When earthly desires and dreams beg for our focus and distract us from “pure devotion to Christ,” (2 Corinthians 11:3, 1 Corinthians 7:34) remember that the answer is not to try to somehow minimize earthly desires, but to maximize heavenly ones! I especially love how William MacDonald describes this in the Believers Bible Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 1:9 – something I was reading yesterday as I’m working on the Will Our Generation Speak Study Guide.

“Notice that they turned to God from idols, not from idols to God. It wasn’t that they had become fed up with their idols and then decided to give God a chance. No, they turned to God and found Him so satisfying that they dropped their idols.

It’s that look that melted Peter,
It’s that face that Stephen saw,
It’s that heart that wept with Mary,
Can alone from idols draw.
—Ora Rowan

Let us never lose the sense of thrill and awe that is implicit in this account. Two men go into a heathen city with the word of the Lord. They preach the gospel in the power of the Spirit. The miracle of regeneration takes place: men and women become so enraptured with the Savior that they abandon their idols. Next you have a local assembly of believers praising God, living lives of holiness, bravely enduring persecution, and winning others to Christ. Truly the Lord’s service is the prince of callings!”

If any of you are not familiar with William MacDonald’s Believers Bible Commentary, I highly recommend you get one. =) It’s definitely a favorite of ours!

I’d also recommend you reread 1 Thessalonians 1, enjoying the beautiful conversion story of the Thessalonian believers!

Picture from Snoqualmie Falls (Washington)