Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Lessons from a child

We have been blessed with a wonderful new addition to our family.  Samuel Carter Safford is my grandson.  Yes, it is hard for me to believe that I am an grandfather - I am too young to be a grandfather!!

Needless to say, he is a joy for my wife and I.  We get to see him regularly and are enjoying watching him grow.

I was thinking this morning of our relationship to our Heavenly Father, and I was reminded of something that Sam did a little while ago.

As most of you know - I travel a lot.  I get to go to other countries and serve with amazing people.  I get to see some unbelievable  places, and I get to eat a variety of foods.  AND, as I return, I get to bring things home with me from these cultures and share them with my family.

In April, I returned home with a drum for Sam.  I was excited about giving it to him, and was looking forward to his response as he received such a "cool" gift.  Again, in June, I returned with some "Chiky" cookies for Sam, and again I was excited to see how he responded.

His response was a lesson to me.  I thought he would take the drum and play with it.  I thought he would get all excited about the cookies and want to eat them.  However, both times, he looked at my gift and reached beyond them to be with me.  He wanted me - not my stuff!  He missed relationship with me while I was gone, and longed to be with me again.

Yes, Sam is young - he will learn - the stuff is so much cooler than I am.  But in the meantime, I will enjoy his enthusiasm to see me.

His response made me think about God.  Remember when we first accepted the good news of the gospel.  God's wrath for my sin was poured out on His Son, and I was given Christ's righteousness in place of my sinful heart.  God did this so I could have a relationship with Him.  That's amazing!!  And when I was first introduced to it, the greatest gift God gave me was Himself.  That was all that I wanted.  That was all that I needed.  God was/is sufficient.

But as years go by, it seems that I get enamored with the gifts that God can provide and forget that He is the greatest gift of all.  I even go so far as to pursue things that are contrary to Him and His nature and I seek to find satisfaction in them.  Oh, foolish person that I am, what greater gift is there than to be called a son of God.

God help me to see you again as I did at first.  Help me to find my pleasure and satisfaction in you and you alone.  Help me, as Sam has taught me, to pursue you first and enjoy your gifts as they were intended - a reflection of your love for me.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Image result for powerball
What if you won 1.5 Billion Dollars? 

I was listening to the radio as I traveled to Cedarville, Ohio this week, and the Powerball Jackpot has risen to 1.4 billion dollars.  By the drawing on Wednesday, I expect the total prize to be $1.5 billion.  If one were to win, the actual payout (after taxes) will be somewhere around $500,000,000.  That is some amazing prize.

What would you do with that kind of money?

If you have talked with anyone at all about this drawing, the question rises, "what would you do with that kind of money?"  From vacation houses to paying off debt, from taking care of family and friends to buying an island, the answers differ from person to person.  What doesn't seem to differ is the enthusiasm that accompanies the idea of being a millionaire - or a MULTI-MILLIONAIRE!!

Here is a thought for us as believers...

Almost everyone would agree that if they won that kind of money, they would take care of family and friends.  They would give them as much as they can to help them out.  They would pay their bills, set them up financially for life, or at least make sure they were sufficiently blessed.  Even those who do not know Christ as Savior share this philanthropic ideal.

Isn't what we have in Christ far more valuable than $1.5 Billion?

Money is passing, pleasure is passing, ease in this life is passing... EVERYTHING in this life is passing.  Living with God is eternal!  Being part of His family, sharing in the eternal inheritance, spending time with Jesus in Heaven is ETERNAL!  Why is it that we have such a difficult time sharing something that is infinitely more valuable than money and possessions?  Why are we not making sure that the gift that we have been given in Jesus Christ - that, by the way, does not diminish as it is shared with others (like money does) - is not made available for everyone we come in contact with?

Is it possible that we have lost the vision for the value of His Grace given to us?

Just a thought...

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

It isn't a weed if you call it a flower!

It happened on the way home one day.  Dee and I were driving past David King's house, and he was outside working on his flower beds.  It was a hot day, very hot.  David was obviously experiencing the heat as his face and shirt were drenched in sweat. 

We asked him what he was doing.

"Working in the flower beds." was his reply.  And then came a question that I have not stopped thinking about since he asked.  Not because of the question, but rather the prompt answer that came to mind.  David said, "I cannot keep these weeds from growing in my garden.  How do you guys take care of your weeds?"

Without thinking (which is not uncommon for me) I answered, "We don't.  We just started calling them flowers."

This statement has rolled around in my mind for the past few weeks.  As I mowed the lawn the last 3 times, I kept thinking about how true this statement is in other areas of our lives.

When I begin to call things by other names, my response to them changes. 

Many years ago, I was making breakfast for my children, and I asked them if they wanted "french toast".  My oldest daughter said, "I don't want toast".  To which I replied, "not toast, Brooke, french toast - it's different."  We went back and forth for a while, and eventually the light went on for me.  She wasn't going to get it, so I asked her if she wanted, "glibberglobber" for breakfast.  She said, "yes", and I made her french toast.  To this day, we have glibberglobber, not french toast.  Same thing - just called something different.

The reason this thought is really impacting to me is because of the use of terms that are critical.  My daughter not knowing what something is called and being willing to try something "new" isn't a big deal.  However, when I begin calling "sin" something other than it is, I start to make it easier to swallow, or at the very least, less offensive to me.

"Gossip" is a sin, "talking with others about someone" isn't quite as bad, and "sharing information that might be useful for someone to know" is almost defendable.  All three involve the same activity, but calling something a "sin" makes it so much more difficult to justify.

Sin is behaving any way that is contrary to the nature of God.  He has made clear - using precise words - what sin is.  We are all guilty of sin, but think that if we just lessen the degree of the explanation of our sins, then we will be less guilty.

That's like calling a dandelion a "rose".  Just because I change the wording doesn't make it any more like a rose than it was when I called it a dandelion.

The truth is, when I begin to call weeds, "weeds", I know exactly what needs to be extracted from my garden.  And when I look at God's word to see what "sin" actually is, I realize what God needs to extract in my life as well.

The good news of the gospel is that God has provided a way through Jesus Christ for our lives to be "sinless" because of His righteousness that he offers us through His shed blood.  But this only happens when I see the sin in my life that is so offensive to a Holy God!

God help me call the "failures", the "weaknesses", the "mess-ups" in my life what they really are - SIN, and then bring them to my Holy Father who offers forgiveness, grace and mercy.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

NEBC - Guatemala Trip - Day 5

Today is our second full day of ministry at the camp, and we have a bunch of things planned for today.

We started the day the usual way – breakfast followed by devotions, today we talked about the life of Joseph.  We were challenged to see the difficulties of life through the lens of the sovereignty of God like Joseph did.  We talked about obedience, especially in the area of forgiveness, as Joseph modeled with his brothers in Genesis 50 after the death of his father. 

After devotions, Matt and Sam headed to the chapel like they did yesterday (interestingly enough, Matt talked with the kids about Joseph today), and the rest of the team went to work digging ditches and painting.  Well, except for Jenny and Leslie who took a shopping trip with Jose Luis to get supplies for chocolate chip cookies – yeah, they are making them for the kids tomorrow!  We worked all morning until it was time to swim.  Then we had a blast playing in the pool with the kids.

Today, I actually joined the kids in the pool, so I was throwing kids around, dunking a few, tossing a few into the pool…  you know, the normal activity of being in a pool.  I picked up Genesis (one of the girl counselors) and carried her to the edge of the pool.  I asked the kids, “si or no”, and they excitedly all answered, “SI”.  No, I didn’t throw her in, but I was thinking about it!!  I told the kids that I would throw the counselors in tomorrow… they thought that was hilarious.

After lunch, we took the kids outside and took some pictures, then we lined them all up.  The counselors and the team were standing on the balcony above where the kids were, and they tossed water balloons at the kids.  We had scheduled a balloon toss game, so that was the introduction – the kids loved it.  Then we played the balloon toss game. They loved it.  At the end of the game, we decided to let the kids have an all out balloon war – or at least that was what I thought we had decided.  Instead, there was a coup in the group, and while I was telling the kids what to do, Sam was telling them that when I counted to 3, everyone was supposed to throw the balloons at me.  I liked this group before this, but now, I am not so sure…  Seriously, the kids loved the opportunity to get me back for throwing them in the pool.  It was a blast.

The evening consisted of the “discovering your heart” time again, and the kids really responded to the lessons that were presented.  We were able to hug on them and encourage them.  The ladies actually broke into groups, and Lian said she talked with her group about what they did with their dolls when they were younger.  She said she really wasn’t sure what that was all about, but they had a great time talking.  Sometimes we don’t know exactly how we are going to connect with the kids, but if that opens the door – talking about dolls it is…

After dinner we made our way to the woods for a campfire.  The counselors presented the kids with songs and challenges to live a different life.  They asked them if they would be interested in receiving Christ, or committing their lives to Him, and many of the kids raised their hands and the counselors went around and prayed with the kids.  It was a wonderful and tangible time to see God work in the lives of the kids.

Our day closed with our evening wrap up.  Sam shared his testimony and his story of coming to AMG.  Phil shared ice cream. We really enjoyed that.  Amy was wrestling with the thought of leaving and wondering if her work here was fruitful.  Phil reminded her that her time here is critical for the ministry of AMG, and she needs to take home the things that she has seen here so that others might know what God is doing and so they can get involved as well.  The fact that now the team can pray more knowledgeably about the ministry of  AMG Guatemala, Camp Canaan and the Matochos center is critical for the success of each of these ministries.

Tomorrow is our last full day of camp, so the emotions will be running high.  We have a lot of interesting things planned for the kids, so I pray that we have the time and the energy to do all that we want to.  Which leads me to the fact that it is almost bedtime now…  good night.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

NEBC - Guatemala Trip - Day 4

Today is our first full day of camp, and we have a busy schedule planned.  We began the day with people doing personal devotions in various places, and then we joined up for breakfast.  After eating, we met together to discuss the life of Abraham.   We were impressed by his faith that gave him the confidence to know that even though God called him to sacrifice his only child, he knew that God could (and would) raise him from the dead.  What a great man of faith.

After devotions, Matt and Sam headed off to teach during the morning session with the kids, while the rest of the group broke into 2 squads – painting crew and hole digging crew.  Both teams got to work and for the next 2 ½  hours painted and dug – they did a lot of work. 

About noon we broke to join the kids as they were heading to the pool to go swimming.  It is so neat to see these kids, who don’t have access to a swimming pool, jumping in the water, holding their breath under water, playing water games, etc.  They act just like the kids back home.  Of course, our group is right there with them, playing games and swimming together.  They are having a wonderful time.

Pool time ended and we played games (basketball and futbol) until lunch.  Then we ate lunch and we had our activity and craft time.  The girls did the craft first – so the boys played futbol and threw cherries at each other.  Jose Luis and his  son, Chipito, were right in the thick of the cherry fight.  They had cherry marks all over their clothes.  It is hilarious to see a 56 year old man playing with the kids – allowing them to throw cherries at him too!  They were having a blast. 

Eventually the girls finished their craft (a picture frame holder that they painted and then received a “Polaroid” type picture to put in it), and it was the guys turn.  What was funny was the difference of the behaviors of the girls.  They were not playing futbol.  They were not running around throwing things at each other.  They were sitting on the basketball court and the soccer field and coloring with sidewalk chalk and making bracelets with rubber bands.  It was much more peaceful than the boys!

We were cleaning up the craft/game time, and we were told the kids were going to two different places (boys in the chapel, girls in the salon), for a “discovering your heart” time.  The girls from the group went to the salon, and Sam and I went to the chapel.  Both groups were talking about protecting their hearts and learning how to love one another better.  The final activity of the group was very amazing to watch.  They told the boys and girls that they needed to hug each other and tell each other what strengths they see in each other.  The boys were crying, hugging each other, encouraging one another – to the point that when we broke for prayer, one of the boys was sobbing loudly.  It was very moving – these kids do not receive this kind of love at home.  They are encouraged to be hard, unemotional people.  It is “necessary” for their survival.  The team was impacted deeply as we watched the kids love each other, and as we participated as well – hugging each child and telling them that God loves them, and we love them too.

We went back our housing area and sat around as a team.  One person asked about embarrassing stories, so a few of us told some embarrassing things that have happened.  Without giving you any more information, you must ask Amy about her towel experience…  definitely one of the best “embarrassing moment” stories I have ever heard!!

Soon after it was dinner time and we ate with the children.  Then we had a little “free time” in the salon (basically an all purpose room where they eat, have meetings, play games, etc.) and we made up some crazy games to pass the time.  Most of the games didn’t even make any sense – like the boys running into the girls circle and jumping up and down like a bunch of monkeys.  The girls would crash the boys monkey circle and we would all just laugh.  One kid asked Sam what the rules to this game was – Sam asked me, and of course I did not have an answer – we were just having fun!

Free time was followed by a movie about David and Goliath.  The kids sat on the ground and watched the movie.  After it ended Layda (one of the male counselors) gave a challenge and then prayed with the kids.

Our night ended with our wrap up time.  Each person shared the highlights and the difficulties for the day.  I was thrilled to listen to the group share the ways God is stretching them, encouraging them, using them.  It has been a wonderful day.

Tomorrow is more of the same – another day to serve God and see what He is going to do.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

NEBC - Guatemala Trip - Day 3

Today is our first full day at the camp, and you can tell that the team is excited about the kids coming today. 

We began the day with breakfast followed by our devotional time in Hebrews.  We are walking through the 11th chapter this week and looking at heroes of faith in the Old Testament.  I am amazed at the people that were chosen for this chapter, and the things that were highlighted about their lives.  We talked about what it means to live a life of faith.

After this the adults had a meeting with Orpha and we talked about the plans for the week.  The teenagers were helping the counselors in preparation for the arrival of the kids.  As the morning wore on, the anticipation grew for the arrival of the kids.

At one point we all headed off to the basketball court to practice some of the songs/dancing that we would be doing with the kids.  Everyone found their way on to the court and were dancing the motions that the counselors were teaching us.  It was fun, but very funny to watch.

Eventually the kids arrived, and the next 8 hours was filled with all kinds of interactions.  The team did a great job connecting with the kids by playing basketball, futbol, swimming, individual games, talking, sharing, etc.  We had lunch and dinner at different parts of the “salon”, because we cannot eat their food, but we still had the opportunity to interact with them after they ate. 

Some highlights of the day was watching the kids get off the bus – cheering as they saw the counselors and the team.  We helped the kids get their luggage and head off to their cabins.  The teenage girls shared their testimonies in the evening worship time and I pray that God uses that in the lives of the kids.

The team had a great wrap up time as the kids headed off to their cabins for their own wrap up time.  We prayed together, and then we headed off to bed…  Or, not.  As I am writing this, the teen girls are doing their devotional work for tomorrow (together) – we are studying the life of Abraham.  The men are playing Rummy.   The ladies – probably asleep already as it is 10:00.  This really is a great team, and I am excited about what God will do as they continue to serve the workers and the children here at Camp Canaan.

Enough for now – no, I am not joining the Rummy game… I stepped in a mud pit during the soccer game, so I need to get cleaned up.  It’s about time…  Tomorrow is more of the same, and yet a new day all together – I am looking forward to what God does.

NEBC - Guatemala Trip - Day 2

Sunday morning at Seteca, a seminary here in Guatemala, and the team is up bright and early ready for a 2 hour ride to Matochos.  Phil and Sam arrive and tell us that although McDonalds was supposed to open at 6, that really means 6:30-6:45, so they could not bring breakfast.  Flex, flex, flex… that’s what we tell teams, so we loaded up our luggage in the vehicle and headed toward Matochos.  We stopped at McDonalds around 7:15, ate breakfast, and loaded back up for the rest of the trip.

When we arrived in Matochos, we went to the school and visited with Miraflor.  We introduced ourselves and then stood around and talked for a little bit.  Phil alerted us to the fact that the preacher of the church was called away, so we would be doing the morning service.  Pastor Matt spoke, Rudee, Lian and Leslie gave testimonies/challenges to the people as well.  Allie and Jenny went with the children and did a Sunday school lesson with them.  They all did a great job.

After church, we went to Villa Laura to return some chairs, and visit the local church.  We met with some of the people there and prayed with them.  We met Obed, the director at Villa Laura, and he showed us around this facility that was 15 minutes from Matochos.  Villa Laura has 150 students.  It is just a small school, but important in reaching some of the families in this area with the gospel.

Eventually we headed back to Matochos for lunch (a chicken soup meal).  After lunch, Rudee and Lian had the opportunity to meet with their sponsored child – Thailia ( which is interesting since Rudee is from Thailand!).  What an interesting “coincidence”.  I really enjoyed watching them talk and meet for the first time.  Rudee and Lian gave her gifts and hugged her and her mother.  Then they all prayed together with Phil and Sam.  It was awesome.

From there we headed back to the city to make our way to Camp Canaan.  We arrived shortly after 5, and unloaded and got ready for dinner.  The kids arrive tomorrow, so we just sat around, talked, shared, and enjoyed our time with Jose Luis and Orpha.

We wrapped the day up with some instruction for the week, a challenge to live as Christ would with the children/workers and with other team members, and then some highlights of the day.  Some shared about relationships they began/continued, some shared about things that God had showed them today.  Rudee mentioned the lesson she learned as she thought about how conscious she is being about the water she is drinking, the food she is eating, the necessary behaviors in the restroom (not allowed to flush toilet paper), and how that correlates to the spiritual alertness she should be experiencing every day as well.  We were challenged to be as spiritually alert with our walk with God as we are being with our physical alertness.

It was a great day.  The kids arrive tomorrow around 10-11, so we will be preparing the camp for their arrival in the morning.  It is after 12:30 back home, so I guess I ought to be getting to bed soon.