Visiting Santago de Cuba

20 05 2019

After a 3:00 AM start, long lines at Jet Blue Cuba in Ft Lauderdale, Florida and some very different immigration questioning entering the nation, a friend and I finally had feet on the ground in Cuba at 8:00 AM May 1st, 2019.  About forty minutes later, our Cuban pastor contact came to pick us up in our rental car for the week.

 

Having just been in Haiti days earlier, I found Cuba to be very green, covered with trees and flowers all along the highways and very well maintained.  There is a noticeable absence of traffic as the Cubans do not own cars.  The highways have mostly trucks, taxi’s, touring buses, a few cars and a large number of motorcycles, the most interesting had added side cars.  My personal favorite to capture on the roads and the small towns along the way were the 1940’s – 1950’s cars and trucks.

 

Santiago de Cuba is a city of half a million people.  It is the second largest in the country, where the Castro revolution started, where the capital was at one time and where Fidel Castro is now buried.  It is perceived to be the “warmest” city in Cuba because it’s in a valley.  Luis, our Cuban pastor friend, is not from this city, but felt called to plant a church here after he had one convert from a personal visit many years earlier.  The Lord had him move to the city which was not possible at the time because Castro would not allow the sale of your personal home in order to move to another location.  But, as Luis repeated a lot, God provides.

 

It is very different being in a nation in which the government owns most everything: the water, most buildings which include the stores and hotels, the hospitals, the trucks on the highway, the electrical power generating plants, the farms and fields, etc.  Almost every job is directed by or run by the government and the average worker makes $20.00 – $25.00 per month.  A doctor could make as much as $60.00 per month.  Luis shared with us that the Cuban government provides five pounds of rice, five pounds of sugar and oil to each family, nothing more in the way of food. He said for the average Cuban family this amount lasts for about two weeks.

 

Friday evening, we had a worship service at Luis’ building.  (Luis’ home and church building are physically connected as are all of the “underground” churches.)  The building would hold 125-150 somewhat comfortably, but we must have had well over 175 persons. The buildings in the city do not allow for air to flow through them and with the humidity and the number of bodies present, I’m guessing it was in the high 90’s.  Our pants and our shirts were soaked through with sweat.  But the worship was awesome and Luis allowed me to share the word that night.

 

Luis asked me to give an alter call and I am guessing around dozen plus people came forward to give their lives to Jesus.  And then it was like someone threw a match on a pile of gasoline-soaked rags.  The place exploded with dancing, prayer, deliverance and fiery worship.  We came back to our room around midnight exhausted, but a bit dumbfounded at the revival and presence of God in this place.

 

The same thing happened the next night and the next.  Cuba is experiencing revival like nothing I have ever experienced in my 48 years of being a Christian.  Young and the old are coming to Jesus and it was thrilling to experience.  Every church we visited has a building plan or a church planting plan because of the exponential growth taking place.  I felt privileged to not only see it, but experience it first-hand.

 

Have you been on a mission trip lately?  It will totally and radically change your life!

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9 Ways to Strengthen Your Marriage and Grow Older Together

13 05 2019

Over 44 years ago, Mary and I promised to never, ever use the “D” word when it came to our relationship – divorce.  We have kept that promise.  Along the way we have discovered there are a lot of things we can do as a couple to provide strength to the marriage relationship.

After eliminating the divorce word, decide to maintain honor in your relationship.  Honor is a hard word because none of us act honorably every day, at every moment.  Honor means to hold in high respect and worth and high public esteem.  To honor the marriage relationship is to place it before the children, your job and your ministry, but not before your God.  Love God first and then your closest neighbor, your spouse.

 

Keep giving each other space.  That means when she needs some alone time, do your best to help her make it happen.  If he needs a guy’s night out, help him plan it.  That “space” can help to recharge your batteries and who doesn’t want their life mate to return refreshed?

 

Share your financial expectations and maintain your budget.  Money can cause the biggest disagreements.  At least it did in our marriage.  All too often couples have differing money values, but a money date where we openly discuss our goals and look over our finances can really help the two of us to be on the same page.  Money dates could happen as often as weekly, but need to happen at least monthly.

 

Speaking of communication…never stop.  In fact, over communicate as often as you can.  You just can’t beat talking!  Taking a daily time, at least 20-30 minutes of time that is not interrupted by the children, the phone or the TV, is invaluable to your relationship.  It will keep you on the same page.  Whether it’s the kids schedules or your weekend plans communicate, communicate, communicate.

 

Be good to yourself and to one another.  Take care of yourself and your health.  Try to look good for one another.  I know, you have baby food on your sweatshirt and dog hair on your pants, but for heaven’s sake take the time to clean up a bit, have dinner together once in a while and share words of appreciation and encouragement. It will go miles in your relationship. This also means prioritizing dating your spouse.  Dress up, get a babysitter and spend time together laughing and having fun.  The investment is worth any cost because the return is incalculable.

 

Give each other room for failure.  Failing is a part of life and through it we often learn what doesn’t work.  I fail, you fail, we all fail.  Stop being so hard on the other person, acting as though you don’t fail.  When we give room for failure, we are showing good will and giving one another the benefit of the doubt.  Walk and talk through it and then forgive. Forgive quickly. Forgiveness is medicinal and we are both desperately in need of it.  Forgive as you have been forgiven.

 

Refuse to allow sexual intimacy to be stolen from you.  It’s yours and yours only. While frequency may decrease and children make it challenging, do not lose it.  Create a schedule if you have to and maintain it.  Nothing removes the “little foxes,” those growing annoyances, like love-making and nothing keeps passion alive like sexual intimacy.  Make a promise to yourself, to one another and to the God who gave this gift to you to never let it go.  You are one and sexual intimacy reinforces your oneness.

 

The glue that holds all this together?  Prayer.  Learn to pray together.  There is no better way to communicate, resolve issues, gain wisdom or “cast your care” than to pray together.  You will find the intimacy you have only dreamed of if you’ll pray together.  You will discover answers to lifelong problems, to long-term financial disagreements, to present frustrations and to future visions and goals.  Prayer is intimacy of the highest degree in marriage as together we reveal our hearts’ desires to God and to one another.

 

Lastly, seek the wisdom of others as needed.  None of us can go it alone.  We need mentors: older, wiser married couples in our lives.  We need a local church that provides teaching for our family and causes us to look beyond ourselves and to the mission of helping others.  We need those who will challenge us to be better parents, lovers, friends, employees, business owners and servants.

Read through this blog together, discuss it and then ask your life mate how the two of you are doing in the above areas.





God Experienced Divorce

6 05 2019

If you have been through a divorce, you know first-hand the devastation and loss that travels with the experience.  There all always more damages than one can possibly be prepared for.  Often, a divorce has been forced against someone’s own personal will, while the state laws favor the breakup of the marriage and leave them no choice or alternative but a divorce.

 

Further, many of the same persons struggle in their relationship with God once they have been through a divorce.  They wonder about His rejection or whether or not they are able to remarry. But there is good news for you if you fall into one of these categories.

 

God experienced divorce and He knows just what you’re feeling, what you’re going through and what you’re questioning.  In Jeremiah chapter three, the prophet Jeremiah writes these words inspired by God, “I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries.”  God said He was left with no choice but to divorce an unfaithful love, Israel.

 

However, before this chapter ends, God tells Jeremiah on several occasions to go and share these words of affirmation, “Return, faithless Israel, declares the Lord, I will frown on you no longer for I am merciful…for I am your husband…for I will cure your backsliding.”  He, in his faithfulness, takes an unfaithful people back.  He just can’t stop showing His mercy, His kindness and His forgiveness.  That is the heart of the God we serve.  Even though He experiences unfaithfulness, He remained faithful to Israel.

 

You and I are grafted into that same family through God’s Son.  Even if we were offense-free and divorce was forced upon us, we can be assured of our Father’s love, acceptance and approval. We too can experience His faithfulness and His mercy.





There’s a Fast-Food Place You’ve Got to Try!

29 04 2019

My wife and I get to the west coast of the U.S. at times and when we do…I have a confession to make.

 

We do love a hot, unique at times, different and fresh meal.  But every chance we get, we’ll request or gravitate toward a place called In-N-Out Burger.  It’s fresh, it’s hot, it’s clean, it’s friendly and it’s fast-food at its best! Real milkshakes, real fries, real burgers with very few menu options

 

My wife goes for the “protein burger” and I go for the “Double-Double.”  That’s 100% of double the meat and double the cheese. Harry and Esther Snyder started this California craze in 1948.  Not until the 1970’s did they start to expand and today there are around 250 restaurants as far east as Texas.   The current owner is Lynsi Snyder, the Snyders’ only grandchild.

 

 

But it was Harry and Esther’s son, Rich, who did something unique, something a bit subtle and yet awesome.  Rich was a devoted born-again Christian; it was Rich who decided to add the Bible verses to the chain’s cups and burger wrappers. “Hamburgers are so popular,” his pastor at the Calvary Chapel explained. He thought it was a great way to, “Awaken people to the fact that the Bible is relevant and has the answers for today’s problems.”

 

On every burger wrapper, on every French fry box and on every beverage cup there is a scripture from the word of God.  Yep, Harry and Esther’s son, Rich, is still getting God’s word out to every customer who comes through the door even though he was killed in a plane crash many years ago.

 

Not my usual blog post, but I do love a good burger.  So, if you’re ever near an In-N-Out Burger restaurant, it’s one great fast-food meal.  Make it a date night with your bride!





The Guarantee of Resurrection Life

21 04 2019

Many years ago, after a particularly difficult trial I was put through at the hands of another leader who was lying and misrepresenting his position for personal gain, I left that particular meeting pretty downcast and confused.  I knew he was not telling the truth, as did my wife, but there was really no defense to be made.  It was one of those times in your life that you know you were just going to have to deal with the personal pain and loss.  As well, we worked closely with this person and that fact did not help the matter.

 

Trials are like that sometimes.  You simply have no defense.  You take the hit, knowing you stand with truth and integrity.  You, as well, console yourself with the understanding that God knows, cares and will walk you through it.

 

But the best advice from this situation came to me just following the meeting when one of the persons in charge pulled his car alongside of me and said, “Remember, Steve, after every death you die there is a promised resurrection.”  I listened graciously, but with some questioning in my heart wondering just where he was during that awful meeting we endured.

 

Years later I still carry that statement with me because of its powerful truth, its lifelong encouragement and its depth of meaning.  There is a New Testament truth we hold onto as Christians.  That truth is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to earth and then gave up His life to die on a cross.  On Sunday, Easter we call it, He was no longer dead but alive forevermore. Following His resurrection, there was a continual stream of persons who witnessed that resurrection and literally saw Jesus after His grave experience.

 

Are you walking through a trial right now?  Are you facing a hardship or a broken relationship?  Have you been hurt or suffered loss in some way not provoked by your own behavior?  It is this time of the year that we remember the New Testament guarantee of resurrection life.  For after every death you die, there is a promised resurrection!

 

Have a glorious, life-giving Easter.  Our Savior is ALIVE!





Nehemiah Did So Much More Than Build a Wall

15 04 2019

The Old Testament man of God called Nehemiah was a king’s cupbearer turned leader of Israel.

 

He is well-known and honored for his obedience to leave a very comfortable position serving king Artaxerxes to return to his people, the Israelites, to rebuild the walls and gates around Jerusalem. It was a daunting task, but Nehemiah continually spoke faith-filled words like, “The God of heaven will give us success.”  The assignments were handed out and the walls were being rebuilt even through opposition.

 

But were the walls his most meaningful feat?  I actually think there were others that were just as important – perhaps more important.

 

First, Nehemiah saw something amazing happen in Israel as they went to work on the walls together. In chapter nine we are told the Israelites, under Nehemiah’s lead, gathered together to fast and pray.  The result?  Repentance.  They confessed their sin and the wickedness of their forefathers.  Then in chapter ten, we are told what followed confession was a new-found desire to once again obey God’s commands.  They took an oath to follow the Law of God, given to them by Moses.

 

Following this, the Israelites started tithing again, including a tithe of their crops and a tithe of the tithe to the treasury.  They would stop neglecting the house of their God!

 

Finally, Nehemiah reestablished the Sabbath.  With repentance, with obeying God’s commands through His Law and with tithing, Israel would also find rest in God’s Sabbath principles.

 

Nehemiah’s Initial response challenges me, “When I heard these things, I sat down and I wept.  For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.”  (Nehemiah 1:4).  Am I hearing God’s commands for me in the midst of my day?  Am I willing to step out and obey?  Am I willing to do something that others see as radical?

 

But perhaps most important for each of us, this story causes me to think that Nehemiah’s obedience and passion require a profound question: what breaks my heart; what am I weeping over?





Seven Benefits of Praying Couples

8 04 2019

My wife and I have found a place of intimacy that far exceeds any level of intimacy within a marriage through our connecting in prayer.  We have made this a priority for many years and have grown our marriage in numerous ways through the vulnerability of prayer together.  Here are seven benefits that we have identified from praying together.

  1. When we pray, we find agreement with God and with one another. Agreement is far more powerful, life-giving and life changing than disagreement.
  2. Through prayer together we are not so self-focused, but rather, we are focused on God, one another and the needs of those we are praying for.
  3. We are recognizing our need to trust outside ourselves. We are realizing we cannot provide all the needs or answers.  We are humbling ourself to say, we need God.  Prayer reminds us and our family that God IS our source.
  4. Prayer helps us to grow in grace and patience. We learn to wait on God.  We also learn to confess our needs, brokenness and vulnerability. We, before God, recognize our need for forgiveness.
  5. We communicate our life issues when we pray and that helps us to hear out loud those needs. We pray what is on our heart and when we hear one another’s heart, we know what deeply touches us and concerns us.
  6. Prayer changes us as we learn to listen to God. It changes us financially, emotionally, mentally and sexually.  In all ways we are changed as we reach out to and then hear God’s still small voice.  Our hearts and our minds are transformed through prayer and we experience a greater level of oneness.
  7. Praying together increases our intimacy. As intimacy increases our trust levels increase and as our trust levels increase, our strength and bond together grows stronger.

Helping you to start your prayer trek

  • Purchase a devotional book, read and then pray.
  • Take turns praying/reading.
  • Start small or brief and grow your time.
  • Find a specific focus and pray.
  • Walk your neighborhood and pray.

  • Pray together with your children teaching them to pray.
  • Pray in the car when there is a lull in the conversation.
  • Pray when one of you or your children are not feeling well.
  • Pray with thanksgiving to God repeatedly.
  • Bless one another in prayer.  Bless one another’s day, workplace, etc.
  • Ask your spouse how you can pray for them.







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