…but not for the Christian. When we look at our lives through God’s eyes, the ending of years is not nostalgic, but almost invisible compared to the continual renewal of life that shows up on God’s radar. Though to us, the year 2013, graduation from school, leaving a job or even dying are big things, I imagine that God watches carefully our constant discoveries of His reality, the maturing of our spirits, the small daily steps we take closer to His Son Jesus. These thrill God more than any Happy New Year’s party. Just as “His mercies are renewed every morning” Lm 3:23, every day is an opportunity to live anew in His Kingdom. So no more need for New Year’s resolutions, let’s live our new day resolutions. Every day wake up excited about reaching new ground for Him, new goals, new ways to serve, new discoveries of His presence. Life is not yesterdays or tomorrows, but a continual succession of todays. 2014 is not guaranteed, but if you are reading this, then you are alive today. Today is the day of salvation, the day to make changes. And if one of us should die in the next year, from one moment to the next the new day will take him or her to new marvelous levels. This life is just practice for the real thing. Thank God for our hope in Christ! And Happy New Day! Today!!!
Saturday, December 28, 2013
RICARDO: came to the church through his wife, Flávia, and his two children, Rodrigo, 14, and Beatriz, 12. Flávia was baptized in August 2012 and both of her children a couple of months later in October 2012. This year was Ricardo's turn. He had been studying the Bible with Joseph. Ricardo said that the studies with Joseph along with the Sunday School class and the Finance class helped him make the decision to be baptized. His mind was made up, but he had not told anyone.
In October of this year over 20 of the members from João Pessoa made a 6 hour trip to Catingueira where the Great Supper (a weekend event, uniting all of the congregations in Paraíba together for fellowship, Bible study, and spiritual growth) was held. Ricardo was in attendance this year. As he was talking with some of the men about the Sunday School class and how much it had helped him, one of the men asked him if he had been baptized. He said, “no.” They said, “What are you waiting for? Jesus could come back today.” He thought for a moment and decided that he needed to be baptized then.
Everyone was excited to hear the news. We went down to a nearby pond and there Ricardo was put in the grave and God raised him from the dead to a new life in Christ. Almost one year exactly to the day that his two children had been baptized and also during the Great Supper. What will happen next year?
Ricardo is already putting up a fight for his faith at work. As a police officer, he is fighting corruption in a politicized system. He stands to lose a lot of benefits and even maybe a rank or two. He knows that is what Christ would do.
FLÁVIA: has a background of visiting many different denominations but has been searching for the truth for a long while. If you remember, Flávia visited for the first time in July. Monica and I began studying the Bible with her. She said she wanted to be more involved in the work of the church. We explained that we first needed to assure that she was a member of the body of Christ before she could begin serving. After talking with Flávia about her conversion and baptism we came to the conclusion that she was already a disciple. She had been baptized years ago and her baptism was biblical.
Sunday, November 10th, I presented Flávia to the congregation so that everyone could share in the joy of welcoming our sister into the congregation at Jardim Luna and begin involving her in the work of the Lord she so eagerly desires to do.
BRUNO: Bruno gave his life to Christ. Danny Bratcher studied with him and baptized him in Campina Grande.
CINTIA, ISABEL, CELIA: became disciples of Jesus in Cajazeiras. They studied with our AME students, Jackelayne and Beliza, on one of the mission trips, and they were baptized.
JACKSON AND KELLY: were baptized in João Pessoa. They actually live in a nearby city, Santa Rita, the third and fourth Christians there, but they meet with the Mangabeira congregation, a forty minute motorcycle trip one way. Raniere Menezes studied and baptized them.
MARIANA: grew up in the church. She made the decision for Christ and was baptized by her brother-in-law, David McKinney.
Let the Gospel continue to save lives, bringing the lost into the Savior. Welcome to our spiritual family! Please pray for these new Christians in Paraíba.
Friday, December 27, 2013
A goodbye a little closer to home – Hunter, Lori, Mathias, Sabrina, and Daniel Hagewood moved back to the US in July. We miss them greatly, especially our kids miss their cousins (they were inseparable while here), even though they are on Skype nearly every day. Hunter had to relocate because of his job situation. They are living in Nashville.
Daniel and Jana Palk also returned to the US after working in Boa Viagem, Recife. They brought Bible Bowl to Brazil, and kept it going to 9 years. I tried to fill their shoes for the 10th year – HA! Yes, they are missed. They are also in Nashville.
Elias and Leylane have also moved down to São Paulo to preach to a congregation in Campinas. He coordinated our Seara program, and they were responsible for the house church in Colinas here is João Pessoa. One more hole left.
Some other workers have received proposals from down south, but so far they are staying in Paraíba. We pray for the sake of God’s Kingdom that for each family that leaves, Christ will raise up another, and that wherever our loved ones go, our Father will use them and their experiences in Paraíba for the good of His church.
Monday, December 9, 2013
I traveled to Patos in December, as I do every month, to teach the last class of the year to those being trained. The course was on Hermeneutics (Interpreting Scripture). I know, it doesn't sound very tantalizing but it is very important. All of the students said they learned about how to read and capture what the text says.
I taught using the "CAPTOR" method from the book "Getting the Message" by David M. Doriani. I was surprised at how most read their Bibles without knowing how to degust the banquet God has prepared in His Word. All of the students are very humble and eager to learn and put this new knowledge into practice.
that we all will read and study God's Word with humbleness and an eagerness to learn;
that all Christians will find the joy and love in putting God's Word into practice in their own lives.
The Sycamore church of Christ, Cookeville, TN, began its first Bible Bowl in 1980 with six teams. Thirty-three years later, held in a university basketball stadium, Bible Bowl had nearly 500 teams participate, with representatives from Brazil: Mathias and Sabrina Hagewood were there. Mathias's team went to the finals.
In 2004, Daniel Palk came to Brazil as a missionary from Cookeville, and he brought with him Bible Bowl. This has been an excellent avenue to get kids into Bible study. All three of my kids have participated, and every time they left pumped up about studying God's word.
After nine years of Bible Bowl, Daniel Palk returned to the US. He said that if he didn't get someone to take over this work, it would cease. We decided that we couldn't let that happen. So I assumed responsibility for the 10th Bible Bowl in Recife.
Organizing an event in another city is hard, but the hardest was not having Daniel and Jana's nine years of experience to smooth things out.
We decided the book: Revelation, and sent out emails to get congregations excited about this. There are several things we could have done differently and better, but at least Bible Bowl didn't fall by the wayside.
Fourteen teams from six congregations participated. The big winner was Boa Viagem (their youth group really studied hard).
2nd Division Teams: 1st place - Boa Viagem
2nd place - Várzea
3rd place - Boa Viagem
1st Division Teams: 1st place - João Pessoa
2nd place - Boa Vista
3rd place - Jardim Atlântico
2nd Division Individuals: 1st place - Boa Viagem (Aline 97/100 questions)
2nd place - There was a 5-way tie for second place with 95/100 questions - (Boa Viagem - Joel, Vitoria, Daniela, Josué; Várzea - Diana)
1st Division Individuals: 1st place - Várzea (Felipe 89/100 questions)
2nd place - Várzea (Ricardo 81/100 questions) 3rd place - João Pessoa (Lucas McKinney 78/100 questions)
This is a worthwhile program that pulls our kids from their computers, video games, and tv shows to study the Bible. For 2014, we pray to bring more young people to God's Word through Bible Bowl.
Joseph and myself traveled together, he stayed in Patos and I went on to Cajazeiras. Joseph taught the book of Isaiah in an intensive class to SEARA (Servants Sent To Announce the Kingdom of Love). While in Cajazeiras, I taught around 15 people the first night about hell. I asked them if they wanted to go to hell, what they thought hell would be like, and who was going to be there. We read Revelation 21:8 and spent quite a bit of time discussing what type of people would be in hell. After a little over an hour class, one of the students commented about Jesus, as if to say, do you not believe that Jesus saves us from hell. I was happy with the comment because I felt like I was getting through to someone.
Most of the kids that were there are a part of the Right Step program where they play soccer and have Bible studies, but most of the boys seem more interested in soccer than in learning about God. Knowing this, I gave them a decision to make so that I could have a better idea of what they really believe or want. Since everyone raised their hands when asked if they believed in hell and did not want to go to hell. You would think that they would be interested in learning about heaven, who will be there, and how to get there. The decision I gave them was, if they really wanted to know about heaven and how to be sure one could get there, to come back tomorrow. "If you really don't care and don't believe, then you don't have to come back tomorrow." I explained that I wanted and hoped they would all come back. Only three of the young people showed up the next day and they are already Christians. I tell you this because I am frustrated with the lack of interest. We all know it exists and there may have been some circumstances that prohibited someone from coming but not all of them. It saddens me greatly. I would love to see these teenagers in Christ. I can not force them. I am saddened and frustrated because of all the work and effort not by me but by Café and Leila, who work with them almost daily. How great is God's mercy and patience with us all, the only difference between myself and these teenagers is that I finally came around to believing. Some, maybe a lot, of these teenagers will never truly believe.
- that God may continue to be patient with these and others who do not believe around the world;
- that God may bless Café and Leila with love and patience for the lost, as well as myself;
- that God may bring these boys and girls to believe in Him fully.
Monday, December 2, 2013
I traveled to Recife with a carload of people to a leaders retreat called ELICAMP (Encounter of Leaders in the Field). Some unexpected things happened. The first thing is about Nicholas, my 13 year old son. He loves to play soccer and was invited to play with the Right Step program from . The program was coming to Recife to play against a professional soccer team. You may be thinking, he must be good to play against professional adults. If that is what you were thinking then you were wrong. He is good but - come on people. He was going to play against people his own age that are a part of the, let's call it, the very minor leagues. The day we arrived in Recife, Café called me to tell me that the trip had been rescheduled. So here Nicholas was, a 13 year old among men who would be listening to lessons on how to have peace in your; (Spiritual life, Finances, Congregation, Family and Ministry). Nicholas up when I told him that he was going to have to stay with me the whole weekend. He ended up having a lot of fun and he sat through all of the lessons and listened attentively. He even pushed the button to pass the slides while I was teaching my class on "Peace in Finances." We took advantage of our time, and I helped him prepare his first Sunday School lesson he taught to the young people the same Sunday of that weekend. Everyone said he did very good.
The next interesting thing was the result of my class. I had four hours and 20 minutes of class time to cover twenty hours of material. I hit the high points, the main one of the whole course being? Do you remember? Contentment! Everyone really seems to love that lesson, and I think it is because it does not matter how much God has entrusted to you at this moment, whether it is a lot or a little, we all need to be content and invest in His Kingdom. I also got into Dave Ramsey's material on how to administer your finances, and two people handed me cards while I was teaching. No, they were not "thank you" cards or "get well soon" cards. One was a membership card to Sam's Club - my dad will love that. The other was a credit card. This is the first time that has spontaneously happened while teaching this course. It is exciting to see people understanding the biblical teaching about contentment, that is, to serve God better, trusting Him and not a piece of plastic.
P.S. - I heard the next day that some broke their credit cards in their rooms that night. I don't know how many, but I was glad to hear it.
- that God may always be the one in whom we trust for our needs and that we may be thankful to Him for His Mercy and Grace;
- that the church in Brazil may mature to support its own workers, missionaries, preachers and elders;
- that each Christian may administer well what God has entrusted to him/her by investing in God's Kingdom in the many ways that is possible.
Monday, November 11, 2013
The first year of the AME program has been a success. Oh sure, we have made mistakes, learned a lot, thought of several things that could be done better, but that is the challenge of life. Overall, AME has been positive to the João Pessoa church, to the youth group, to the AME students and their families, and soon to three congregations about to receive freshly trained, fired up workers for a year and a half. These are in the cities of Feira de Santana (Bahia state), Palmas (Tocantins state), and Bogotá, in the country of Colombia.
This week we finish their last week of classes. I have been teaching about Evangelizing Other Religions. Our practical exercises have been interviewing priests, mormons, spiritists, etc. We visited a candomblé hut – an eye-opener: idolatry with animal sacrifices is still strong in our modern times. We saw rooms that would be a great setting for a horror movie. The strangest religion we visited is called Valley of the Dawn – it is the most syncretistic belief system I have ever encountered, a spiritism that draws power from Christ, God, Indians gods, African god, Egytian gods, etc. If something has ever been worshipped in the history of mankind, they have included it. We watched the indian spirits take possession of the acolytes, as they tried to cure evil presences from a person’s body. It would be funny to watch if it weren’t so sad. It amounts to slavery to rituals and superstitions and even to real spiritual powers, separate from God. The girls going to Bahia will have to deal with a lot of people who believe these things.
AME has done several campaigns this year, the latest in Candeias, close to Recife, where they visited houses and invited people to study the Bible, helping the congregation there to round up new contacts.
The previous campaign was with the João Pessoa youth group in Campina Grande. Six carloads of kids hit Campina Grande, to door clap in the neighborhood around the new building rented by the church. Several visitors came to the Sunday meeting and showed interest in studying the Bible. The good it does our kids to look up to the AME students and be a part of their training is priceless. We are really going to miss them.
The next big activity is this weekend: Mission Camp, organized, promoted all by AME. The weekend will be geared toward teaching and living evangelism, with different social events throughout João Pessoa, but concentrating especially in the Mangabeira neighborhood. Please pray for this event!
After the camp, the AME students will return to their home congregations to spend a month with their families, and then after the New Year, it is on to the world…
On a bright and beautiful Sunday afternoon, I travelled to Alagoinha, about one hour and thirty minutes from João Pessoa to meet with the church and teach on worshipping God through our finances. Instead of the usual sermon, I taught more of a Sunday School class type lesson on how Jesus, the apostles and the early church dealt with money.
Most of the Christians in Paraíba either came from the Catholic or denominational doctrine of tithing and free will offerings. Yes, the Catholic church does tithe now. Free will offerings are seen as giving the left overs. Completely different from what the Bible teaches. So how do most Christians give to the work of the church here in Paraíba? They usually fall under one of the two categories that I described above. Can you guess which one most of them fall into? I bet you can. Why is it that Jesus, the apostles and the early church dealt so much with the money topic? I think it must have been a problem then, too.
I have taught quite a bit about this subject over the past two and a half years. The truth of God's Word is sinking in the lives of some brothers. It is satisfying to be a part of moving someone closer to God and away from the World. We are all still learning but the journey itself is exciting. We are on our way to meet God face to face.
I was asked to teach this same course at ELICAMP (a leaders retreat for the congregations of the northeast of Brazil).
- that the Lord's church in Brazil will live contently with what God has given each member
- that each member will live the truth in our Lord's Words "It is more blessed to give than to receive." - Acts 20:35
- that each member will give themselves "whole heartedly" first to the Lord.