Brazil Nuts

IMG_3580

“I have a surprise for you,” said my mother as she entered my room with her hands behind her back.

“What is it?” I asked as I looked up from my bed.

I was ten years old and was taken aback. Seeing my mom in my room was unusual for me. And I didn’t understand why her hands were behind her back.

“Well,” she said, “Today at work, someone gave me something to eat and I thought of you.”

“You did?”

“Yes,” she replied, “And when you eat these, you’ll dream of other countries and distant far away lands.”

She had my full attention.

“What is it?” I asked.

She then tossed a package of Brazil nuts into my lap.

We both laughed, but that memory came to me this past week when one of our Brazilian Mission Team members offered me a Brazil nut.

“Huh,” I mumbled as I munched on the nut. “I’m actually eating a Brazil nut while in Brazil.”

Manaus, Brazil is a city of roughly two million people. Like most cities, there are wealthy people and poor people and lots of other somewhere in between.

While in Manaus, I had the opportunity to work with Pastor Edson Fernandes from the Igreja Batista Agape. Agape means Unconditional Love. Pastor Edson, his wife Neide, and the congregation of their church live up to that name very well. They show unconditional love to the people of their community and to each other.

They took a risk in welcoming us into their church. Over a week’s time, we were able to minister to the children of the community during the day, visit with many people in the city and in schools during the week, present a special dramatic presentation to a packed house, and see many children, teenagers, and adults commit their lives to Jesus Christ.

I was honored to spend several days ministering alongside them. We left them with many supplies, clothes, and other items they could use for themselves, for outreach, or for their ministry. One of our team members even purchased lots of supplies to help them begin their own food bank ministry. As we were leaving, the Pastor and his wife said to us, “We will take many of the items you have left and use them to reach out to a mission church we support. It’s 20-30 minutes by boat down the Amazon River.

Seeing the love they have for others and their willingness to share what little they have to share the love of Jesus brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart. I thank God for my time with Pastor Edson and Neide Fernandes and Igreja Batista Agape. I pray I can live up to the standards of love they demonstrate in and through their church.

Thanks, Mom, for tossing me that package of Brazil Nuts so long ago and sparking my interest in the nation of Brazil. Your investment has given me great joy on this day.

IMG_3432

The Selfish Decree of St. Patrick

o-SAINT-PATRICK-570

On March 25, 433, St. Patrick stepped onto the shores of Slane, Ireland. He immediately demanded the opportunity to speak to the people of that city. His speech went something like this:

“Good people of the Emerald Isle! Henceforth on March 17th, or upon the weekend closest to that date, the rivers of at least one major city should be dyed green in my honor. People without the knowledge that the 3 leafed shamrock represents the Holy Trinity shall wear them proudly, along with shiny green top hats. I decree that everyone should skip church in order to attend parades where green beads and cabbages will be thrown to the massive crowds who have gathered to celebrate the anniversary of my death! Oh, and children who don’t wear green shall be pinched unmercilessly. Ok, that’s it. Let’s all get sloshed!”

Here’s a slightly more accurate account:

St. Patrick was born to Italian parents, residing in Scotland, in the year 387. When he was 14 years old, he was kidnapped by Irish pirates, taken to Ireland, and forced to serve as a shepherd. While there, he learned the language and the customs of the people. He also spent much time in prayer and soon dedicated his life to Jesus.  Six years after his capture, he escaped captivity and begged a ship captain to give him passage. Even as he was escaping, he had a dream where the people of Ireland were calling out to him, saying, “We beg you, holy youth, to come and walk among us once more.”

st-patricks-day

Upon his return to England, Patrick began his studies for the priesthood and was later named as Bishop Patrick. He was then given the task of converting Ireland for the glory of God. He did arrive in Slane, Ireland in 433, and set about sharing the gospel with everyone he met. One legend says one Chief named Dichu tried to kill Patrick, but discovered that his arm was unable to move. Once he prayed with Patrick to give his life to Jesus, his arm relaxed and he could move it once again.

Patrick preached the Gospel across Ireland, living the life of a missionary and converting thousands. He planted churches across the entire island, training priests and overseers to lead them. St. Patrick served the Lord for the remainder of his life in Ireland, living most of them in poverty. He passed away on March 17, 461.

The following prayer is attributed to St. Patrick:

I arise today through the strength of heaven;

Light of the sun, splendor of fire, speed of lightning, depth of the sea,

Stability of the earth, firmness of the rock.

I arise today through God’s strength to pilot me;

God’s might to uphold me,

God’s wisdom to guide me,

God’s eye to look before me,

God’s ear to hear me,

God’s word to speak for me,

God’s hand to guard me,

God’s way to lie before me,

God’s shield to protect me,

God’s hosts to save me afar and anear,

Alone or in a multitude.

Christ shield me today against wounding.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,

Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ on my right, Christ on my left,

Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,

Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,

Christ in the eye that sees me,

Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today through the mighty strength of the Lord of creation.

May we all be as focused on Christ as was St. Patrick.

IMG_0444

Start – A Message For The Celebration Church Family

14771684-start-button-3d-red-glossy-metallic-icon

Leonardo da Vinci once said, I have been impressed with the urgency of doing.  Knowing is not enough; we must apply.  Being willing is not enough, we must do.  His words make a lot of sense.  When the time is right, we must take action.  Doing so is more important than understanding while doing nothing.

With this in mind, how are we supposed to respond to atrocious problems that exist both around the world and across the street?  How do we respond to the thousands of people still living in tent cities in Port au Prince, Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake?  What can we do about the problem of modern day slavery and sex trafficking in Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America?  How can we end hunger in the United States?  These problems are daunting and seem impossible.

I’m convinced that the only way to make a difference in this world is by starting.  It’s like the old saying:  How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time. 

In 1989, a group of people saw the need for a new type of church in the New Orleans region.  They felt led by the Lord to be a church that would not only change the lives of its members, but that would impact the city of New Orleans, Southeast Louisiana, and the rest of the world for Jesus Christ.  They weren’t sure how to start, but as a first step, they called a young man named Dennis Watson to be their pastor.  Celebration Church was born.

In 2005, just a few days after finalizing a merger with Crescent City Baptist Church, the members of Celebration Church were faced with the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.  With a loss of at 60% of the congregation, it was tempting for everyone to sit back and lick their wounds.  However, with a hurting city before them, the pastors, staff, and members of Celebration Church worked diligently to connect with other ministries and organizations around the world in order to minister to the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the victims of Hurricane Katrina.  Sitting still was not an option.  It was time to start doing something. 

Now, in 2013, through the Accomplish the Vision Campaign, the daunting task of beginning the first Celebration Church Life Transformation Center lies before us.  After much prayer, we believe that our work needs to be stationed in the New Orleans 9th Ward.  We also believe that God wants us to establish a presence in this area by the end of December.  Once again, we are at a crossroads.  Once again, it’s time for us to take a step of faith.  Once again, it’s time for us to start.

Won’t you join us in facing this challenge?  You can do so in three ways:

  1. Pray.  Ask God to give the leaders of our church wisdom in strategizing the development of the Life Transformation Center.  Also, pray that God would financially bless the Accomplish the Vision Campaign.
  2. Serve.  If God is leading you to be a part of our first Life Transformation Center, you are invited to our strategic planning meeting this Saturday morning at 10 AM at the Metairie Campus Club 56 Room.
  3. Give.  Continue to give faithfully to the Accomplish the Vision Campaign.  All money received from the campaign will go to further the work of Jesus through the projects set forth by the Accomplish the Vision Campaign.

John

How Freddy Got Albert To Read

cover-friedworms

His name was Albert.  He was 11 years old and lived with his mother in the New Orleans 9th Ward.  Freddy was 22 years old and had been married less than a month when he and his wife moved into a mission center down the street from Albert’s home.  When Freddy first met Albert, their conversation went something like this:

Freddy:  Hey, Albert.  I’m Freddy.

Albert:  Yeah.

Freddy:  Your mom asked me to tutor you in reading.

Albert:  I don’t want your help.

Freddy:  Okay.

Albert:  I’m serious.

Freddy:  All right.  What are we supposed to do with our time then?

Albert:  Not my problem.

Freddy:  Well, is it ok with you if we don’t do tutoring?

Albert:  Yeah.

Freddy:  Good.  Want to hear a story?

Albert:  No.

Freddy:  Great, let me tell you one.  It’s about eating worms.

Albert:  Worms?

Freddy:  Yeah, this boy made a bet that he could eat some worms with some friends, I think.  I can’t remember exactly.  Anyway, he cooked the worms so they wouldn’t taste so bad.

Albert:  How did he cook them?

Freddy:  He may have fried them.  Maybe, I can’t remember.

Albert:  You mean you started telling me a story that you don’t remember.

Freddy:  I guess so.  Sorry about that.  It’s in that book there on the shelf.

Albert:  Go get it.

Freddy got the book from the shelf and together they spent the next few weeks reading How To Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell.  In the first session, Freddy read everything to Albert.  On the second session, Freddy asked Albert to help him read because his voice was tired, but he could still help with the big words.  After four weeks, Albert and Freddy finished the book.  Over the course of the summer, they read three books together.

Celebration Church in Hispaniola

This is the island of Hispaniola.

hispaniola

In 1492, Columbus landed here and named it La Isla Espinosa.  The name was later Anglicized to Hispaniola.  The island is made up of the French-speaking nation of Haiti and the Spanish-speaking nation of the Dominican Republic.  For the last two weeks, God has opened the doors for the pastors of Celebration Church to make a huge difference across this entire island.

Robert in HaitiIMG_0362

Early last week, Pastor Robert Storey and his wife Kathy spent several days in Haiti working with the Convoy of Hope Christian Relief Organization, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to the people of Port au Prince.  Then, this past week, Pastor Dennis Watson, our lead pastor and Pastor Manley Miller, our Metairie Campus co-pastor, teamed up with the Storeys to train pastors and teach leaders all across the Dominican Republic.  Over these past several days, God has not only used them to lead people to Jesus and minister to the hurting but also to train literally thousands of ministers across that island.  Every time they teach or preach, they receive more invitations to teach and preach.  It could be said that God is literally giving us the island of Hispaniola!

Dominican Republic mission

If you’re a part of Celebration, God is using you to reach Hispaniola?  You may be thinking, “Me?  What did I do?  I’ve never even heard of the place.”  It’s because of your faithful giving that our pastors can teach, preach, and minister on that island.  So, next time you see something about the Dominican Republic or Haiti, you can tell everyone, “Hey! God is using me to make a difference on that island.”

Are You God? The Legacy of Mildred McWhorter

ImageServer.asp

When God called Mildred McWhorter to vocational missions, she said, “Lord, You’re got to be teasing.  I can’t be serious at a funeral.  Much less, for the rest of my life doing mission work.”  However, God used her for 35 years in inner-city Houston, reaching out to people of various ethnicities in a city of 3.5 million.

As a young missionary, she was confronted by a young man with a switch blade who decided that he was going to scare her away from the area.  He wasn’t going to put up with a woman who had come to the area to win them all to Jesus.  So, much to her surprise, he wielded his knife and cut all five buttons off of her blouse.

Switchblade

Remembering the moment, Mildred says, “Man, it didn’t hurt me where he cut the buttons off but my thumb like to killed me because I flattened him!  I hit him right in the nose!”

She knew that she was in the Lord’s will as she watched the young man with the broken nose run away from her, that is after his friends had picked him up off of the ground.

The people of inner-city Houston soon embraced Mildred as she embraced them.  Once, she was holding a small boy in her lap who looked at her and asked, “Are you God?”

Surprised, she answered, “No, I’m not God, but God’s love lives in my heart.”

“No!” answered the little boy.  “You are God!”

Again, Mildred responded, “No, I’m not God, but His Son Jesus lives in my heart.”

The child pointed to her heart and said, “No.  I can see Him right there.”

Of this story, Author Esther Burroughs, in her book Splash the Living Water writes, “Imagine living in the power of the Holy Spirit so clearly that a child feels he can see God in your life.”

Mildred remembers, “I found out that you win people who have nothing, who don’t care for themselves, who’ve thrown their lives away, you win them by caring.”

Click here to see Mildred sharing a testimony about her calling and service – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_uj6OaoqiG8

Mildred is now retired, living in her native Georgia, but her legacy lives on.

McWhorter-Bldg

Over the years of her service, Miss Mac, as she was called, and the volunteers working alongside her were able to establish a strong mission presence in inner-city Houston with mission centers in three locations.  In 2007, Mildred was in attendance for the opening of the Mildred McWhorter Missionary building on the site of one of the mission centers.  This missionary building serves as the administrative headquarters for the mission centers and houses 36 volunteer missionaries and staff.

Click the link to read an article about Mildred’s work in Houston:  http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=861&dat=19920404&id=vcNHAAAAIBAJ&sjid=oH8MAAAAIBAJ&pg=1220,4994473

God, thank You for Mildred McWhorter’s shining example of missionary service.  May we all be found as faithful as she.

The Truth Is, Truth or Dare is the Place To Be

Congratulations to the teenagers of the Des1re Youth Ministry of Celebration Church for their first night of their Truth or Dare outreach event.  The drum-line, games, flying basketball dunkers, dancers, actors, speakers, and video were all amazingly put together for an incredible life-changing night.  The lines of teens waiting to pray with people at the end was undeniable evidence that God was seriously at work through the efforts of these young people.

I had lots of opportunities to be in productions when I was in Jr. High and High School.  I also had the chance to help with lots of Christian Outreach events as a teenager.  However, it wasn’t until much later that I was able to participate in anything close to the same magnitude as what these young people accomplished tonight with their first production of Truth or Dare.  I’m so proud of them all.

If you are connected to a teenager in the New Orleans area, do them a favor and take them to Truth or Dare on Saturday evening.

Truth or Dare is being held at the Crescent City Christian School Gymnasium at 7 PM Saturday Evening.  Tickets are $5.00.  For more information, see http://www.desireyouth.com

We Need Each Other

As a young worship leader in college, I started dating a girl who later became my wife.  As she and I grew in our relationship, we discovered that we loved serving the Lord together.  She helped me with church productions and I served on the drama team that she led.  When our relationship became very serious, I grew frightened at the idea of a lifelong commitment, so I broke up with her.  After a few months, I realized that my life was empty without her.  I knew that we had to spend the rest of our lives together.  God meant for us to be together.  We needed each other.

Two years after we were married, we went to serve as missionaries in Central Asia.  We soon found that our personalities clashed with many of the other Americans there.  We felt like we had made a terrible mistake in moving around the world to serve with these people.  However, we were still learning the language and we needed their help to survive.  They needed teachers for their school and they needed help in planting a church.  As difficult as it was for us all, we forced ourselves to get along.  For whatever reason, God had us together for that season.  We needed each other.

A couple of years later, back in the U.S., I found myself working in a small church with an older pastor.  As a young man with lots of energy, I worked hard and tried to implement lots of positive changes to the church’s ministry.  I soon discovered, after falling into bed one night in total exhaustion, that my efforts were pointless.  The pastor and I were not working together.  After some time, we managed to improve our communication and started to involve each other in worship planning, special projects, and ongoing ministry.  It took a long time for me to understand that God had placed both of us in the same church and therefore we could accomplish much more if we worked together.  Even though we were from different generations, we needed each other.

In all of my formal ministry training, no one ever taught me that I needed other people.  My professors taught me about systematic theology, music history, and pragmatic choral procedures, but I never learned that most ministry does not take place on the stage in front of people.  Hence, I never realized, until I was serving in ministry, that it’s mostly about people.  I thought I had to do all the ministry myself.  I thought I had to be a Christian Ministry Superman.  But it’s not about me.  It’s not about you.  It’s about the Lord.  It’s about pleasing Him.  And I’ve come to understand that I can’t do it alone.  Even if I worked twice as long and twice as hard, I would still need help.  There will always be one more service to plan, one more soul to win, one more drummer to be find, one more set to build, one more message to plan, etc…  I will never get it all done by myself.  You will never get it all done by yourself.

We need each other.