Here’s the latest picture collage of our growing grace tribe – the church plant we opened on May 6th of this year.
“On May 6, a revolution began…
When a seed was planted in the city of Surco…
We are that seed.
A group of friends, simple ordinary people…
Who have decided to live an extraordinary life…
By recognizing that life has been given to…
Love, grow, and share…
And our arms are always open…
To welcome all those who want to…
Finally live in freedom, in love, in faith…
Join our revolution of Grace…
Sundays 10am, Friendship Park in the city of Surco
I love the moment when it dawns on you that you’re experiencing something for the first time, especially when it comes out of the clear blue. It’s a combination of the unexpected mixed with novelty and laced with good vibes that makes moments like these worthy to be remembered and later shared.
I had one of these moments on Sunday when some friends approached me before our service and handed me a card. I’ve been handed cards at a service before, but never one like this.
It was a thank you note. And that is not what makes it extraordinary. I’ve been thanked before. But what made this thank you note so unique was the context in which it was given and to whom it was given.
See, our friends Steven and Patricia celebrated their first wedding anniversary on Sunday, and they decided to celebrate the day by handing out hand written thank you cards to significant people in their lives.
It was like anniversary card giving, only in reverse. It was brilliant. Instead of waiting and wondering if they’d receive cards, they took the time to think about the people who had been a part of their wonderful journey in its first year, and then took the time to write each of them. I’m pretty sure most couples are still feverishly wrapping up the wedding thank you cards by this time and here they were expressing their gratitude to people in their community who had lived life with them along the way.
I can only imagine the happiness they felt as they recalled the things that inspired them to write. It’s proof that they understand the truest definition of treasures.
And I wonder if they even realize the effect it had on those who received a card. For me personally, it flooded my mind with memories of those who were there in that first year for us, and the many that have followed, and made me thankful anew for all of them.
That’s typically the result of a genuine act of kindness. It sparks the same sentiment forward and in return.
So I write these words in honor of my friends Steven and Patricia, in light of their first year of marriage. May your years together be filled with joy, adventure, and much loving. May you continue to generously share your lives with others, and may we all learn from your unexpected choice to celebrate by way of gratitude. You both are an inspiration to many, an enormous support to Stephanie and I, and a gift to our community at Vida. We’re so glad to have you guys along for this wild journey, and we’re looking forward to witnessing all that God has in store for you guys.
|| Steven & Patricia are church planters in Peru who are part of the Vida en Surco team. They live in Lima, Peru, where together they coordinate children’s ministry, help organize service projects, and lead a small group for young couples. You can follow their awesome journey on Facebook at The Steven & Patrica Stitch.
Church planting is a thing reserved for the brave, the thick-skinned, the press-forward-even-while-flinching, half-insane, bunch. It takes a special breed of Christian to join up with this kind of an adventure. But this past weekend I was reminded of a character trait that lies at the core of Christians with this disposition from our amazing volunteer team. I learned that behind the grit and determination, the laser-beam focus, the can-do | no-surrender | all-in attitudes, lies a sweet nougat filling. Joy.
Our church plant is but 4 months old. And it is proving to be a wide-eyed, hold-its-head-high and alert infant that makes you belly laugh when it chuckles. This past weekend we had a challenge that is typical to urban church planting – we had to find an alternate location for our portable church. The city we rent an auditorium from reserves the right to ask us to meet elsewhere when they require the use of their auditorium. Fair enough. Especially when we consider how amazing it is to be able to meet in such a strategic locations on all but a few Sunday a year.
But this weekend, the need to find a solution crept up on us. We had to find a solution that would not create too much instability for our 4-month old congregation. And in the week we had to plan it all we were able to witness the faithfulness of God open some pretty amazing doors. Some good friends of ours who serve as missionaries here in Peru, opened their entire home for us to invade for worship. We moved out all their furniture and moved in all of our equipment and chairs, and made a home into…well another temporary home for our church.
But what stood out to me from last week’s adventure was that element of Joy. Joy born from grace, not self-sufficiency. Joy born from trust in the master-plan, not spin to mask a plan-b. Joy that comes from the gut, not some external guarantee that all will turn out.
This group of amazing people came to serve this past Sunday with Joy. And that Joy spooked away any martyr attitudes or angst that our meeting elsewhere was throwing off our groove. Much on the contrary, it is that Joy that helped us all recognize that our gathering together isn’t about light-shows, or nice auditoriums, or worship styles and coffee set-ups, and all the things we can become addicted to as a community. It reminded us that our hope of Glory is Christ in us. It is his loving Spirit inspiring us to face the next challenge with the Joy that gives us strength. It’s reminding us that we are still a Body and a family no matter where it is we meet to worship.
And so this morning I thank God for the life-giving friends that surround us in this adventure, because they bring us such Joy.
More pictures from the weekend at our facebook fan page.
I had a cup of coffee with a small group leader today at the park where we hold our weekend services. We read the following passage today and noticed an interesting admission by the Apostle John that I believe can happen to all of us.
“Then I saw a scroll in the right hand of the one who was sitting on the throne. There was writing on the inside and the outside of the scroll, and it was sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel, who shouted with a loud voice: “Who is worthy to break the seals on this scroll and open it?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll and read it. Then I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll and read it. But one of the twenty-four elders said to me, “Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.”- Revelations 5:1-5
Here the Apostle John catches a glimpse of something BIG, something significant. And in the moment and bigness of the need (for someone worthy to open the scrolls as it was in this case) his eyes wander away from Christ.
When the question of “Who is worthy to…” was bellowed, there seemed to be no one around who could get the job done.
John was witnessing scrolls. I wonder what we are witnessing. What big thing that needs to get done, or be accomplished, or have happen in or around us that beckons the same booming question: “Who is worthy to…” fill in our blank…?
Pastor this church.
Raise my kids.
Jump start a cause.
Make a difference.
Who can get this done? Who is big enough? Strong enough? Who?
And John’s response betrays him momentarily, for it takes a being with a mightly big titled to remind him of something that already was, a reality that had already been settled, a victory that had already been won. John cries bitterly because there seemed to be no one to stand in and address what was at hand.
I can relate. I’ve freaked out. I’ve cried bitterly at times when I’ve seen my daughter go through pretty tough health issues and felt impotent as her daddy to make things better. I still feel the freak coming on when I think about the magnitude of what God has called us to do…that is, only when I take my eyes off Jesus and start looking everywhere else but into his deep eyes.
“Simmer down! Deep breath, Danny! Hold it together!” I too must remember that… well how does the elder phrase it?… “Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Yep. There He is. He is still champion. He still has his throne. He already won. And he is worthy, and big enough, and present, and wise, and full of life. He is able, and he is active, and he is loving, and he is stronger… He is worthy, and he lives in me.
I have but to look…and remember…and take hope.
We’re in mighty good hands.
“…This I know: God is on my side!” – Psalm 56:9
One of the side benefits of saying yes to the life I live is the promise of adventures filled with wonders and awe.
This week the promise was made good; I’m still in awe.
I would have longed to be a fly on the wall at this event, had it not been for the fact that I actually was. All dressed in black, eyes bugging out of my head, I sat there in the back row of a gathering for ladies trying to go unnoticed… and watching a miracle take place for the second time.
My wife Stephanie, of Scandinavian/German descent, stood there on the platform and began delivering a message to a room full of Latinas in a tongue other then her native one. She stood there alone, sans an interpreter, and began sharing a message on how guilt messes people up and how Jesus came to remove that awful stench.
My eyes welled up. I want to blame it on the fact that there was such a huge concentration of estrogen in the room, but I can’t. My eyes welled up because she had done did it again! There she went making it abundantly clear that I had met, befriended, fallen irrevocably and eternally in love and then married the most incredible woman on earth.
I wasn’t a fly on the wall when she gave birth to our first baby, who the doctors had assured us would only live 5 minutes after birth and then die due to a rare genetic condition. I was there when she stood strong and trusted God and watched her baby enter the world only to be declared a miracle by the doctor who first held her.
I was there when she had to say goodbye to church family, the one she had known all her life, the one that watched her grow up and blossom, to go and plant a new church with her crazy husband.
I was there as she stood by me when I fell into an ugly dark pit of depression after having felt spiritually abandoned. Her unconditional love and joy were a demonstration of God’s unyielding love, and it was the broth that helped me regain strength.
I was there at the dinner table when she told her parents, two of the people she holds in the highest esteem, two people she adores and loves more then I could even attempt to express, that she was moving to a foreign country to be a missionary.
I was there when she sorted through stuff that was near and dear to her heart, gifts from friends, pieces of furniture that she had cuddled her babies in, only to give them all away to take the next step.
And I was there also when she told me, “Never…. Never will I ever be a pastor’s wife at a Spanish speaking church because I would NEVER EVER want to have to preach in Spanish.”
And there I was on Wednesday morning and Thursday night as she didn’t even hesitate to step up on those platforms. (I feel compelled to say I did not put her up to any of this. A dear friend of hers invited her to share at a women’s gathering and even offered to have an interpreter there to translate. I only found out about it when she told me what she had committed to.)
And all by herself, she went to that place deep inside of her being, where Jesus must have a steel mill churning, and she found the strength to step up. And she has made the long line of ancestors, those darling and petite women who have iron as bone marrow, applaud from the grandstands of heaven.
It is the moments when I look at my wife and think “who is this women?” that I fall madly in love all over again and burn with a desire to chase her down, get her cell phone number, and get to know her all over again.
Stephanie, let the world take note that you are the person on planet earth that inspires me most. Most will never have the fly-on-the-wall view of all the sacrifices, the life-adjustments, the investments, and the risks you take to make our life the only one I’d want to live.
Stephanie, thank you once again for encarnating what trust in God looks like. Thank you for taking Jesus’ hand and showing me how beautiful a brave act can be.
You have my heart.
Being engaged is a way of doing life, a way of living and loving. It’s about going to the extremes and expressing the bright hope that life offers us, a hope that makes us brave and expels darkness with light. -Bob Goff
This morning on our daddy-daughter-date, my two daughters and I discussed the pressing things in life over servings of McDonald’s hotcakes. Namely, we focused on the kinds of super powers we’d like to possess so we could protect ourselves from enemies.
Before choosing, my youngest suggested we make a list of potential super powers so we could consider them all.
The perennials of course made the list. Like invisibility, and flying, and running super super fast, and climbing things with your bare hands, and super karate chops.
Some new powers I had never considered before were also suggested… like Puppies. (When asked what was meant by that, I was only greeted by the look a non-preteen has as they rehearse becoming a preteen, that loudly suggests you’re missing the blazingly obvious. So, unfortunately, I am unable to elaborate on the “Puppies” super power.)
Then another super power I had never conceived of was announced, and surprisingly adopted immediately before any further discussion could be had.
It consists of the great power a hero has to extend her hand to build buildings, and houses, and restaurants so that people can work and live and eat. These places would appear immediately.
Dang. I wish I would have thought of that one first. But even though I didn’t, I let this suggestion open up a whole new genre of super power – the kind that does not focus on an enemy from a defensive position, but instead focuses on a problem from a proactive position.
So in that spirit, I decided I’d be Bushel Bro! The guy who extends his hands and forms bushels of barley, corn, brown rice, quinoa, carrots, beans, and all kinds of good and healthy foods. The power would also contain the ability to quickly, in Flash-Gordon style, whip the said bushels of food into buffet banquets for entire cities.
The three of us would make a darn good team. Houses and jobs and healthy food….and puppies.
I shared a quote by Abraham Lincoln that I had read earlier in the week with them as we finished our hotcakes.
“I destroy my enemies, by making them my friends.”
We decided Abraham Lincoln would like our new super powers.
I know we all face people who don’t like us in ministry, at work, in extended families, and our social circles. It’s inevitable. But perhaps the response we have as Christians should be rooted in what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12 after he begs us to live as living sacrifices who have first, and ONLY then, considered the mercies of God in our own lives.
“Bless those who persecute you. DON’T CURSE THEM; pray that God will bless them.” (Rom 12:14) And how much more should we bless if we feel the one who is persecuting us is a Christian brother or sister? In fact, scripture makes clear that you can’t curse something that God has not cursed (Numbers 23:8), and more over, we can’t curse someone that God has proactively and out of his unending mercies and undeserved grace, already blessed in Christ Jesus.
“NEVER pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. DO ALL THAT YOU CAN to live in peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:17-18)
Looks to me like Abraham Lincoln had it right. Enemies are best destroyed by doing all we can to make them friends.
And the ability needed to do so can most certainly be considered a super power. The question then becomes; do we realize we have this super power already at our disposal? Because it’s called Love.
(Important Disclaimer: Puppies may or may not be a demonstration of love. Use MUCH discernment with that manifestation. That’s all.)
I have a decent stack of random pieces of paper, napkins, margins of flyers and bulletins, all with notes of ideas leading up to this “first-year” blog post. I wanted nothing less then for this particular post to be epic; a glorious depiction of this first year of our mission to Peru. I wished for these words to be a perfect blend of the deep struggle, the indwelling passion, and the powerful insights we’ve stumbled upon here.
I figured I’d weave in how awesome our two daughters have done, the thrill of serving alongside my parents, and the warmth of the community that has embraced us. I thought I’d weave in the new friends God has given us, and our thankfulness for the tangible provision God has made for us through the love and support of our family and friends back home.
But as I reflect on this first year, I simply can’t shake how flat-out, through and through, bowled over and steam rolled I am with a red-hot effervescent love I’ve re-discovered for my beautiful wife Stephanie. (For those shocked I didn’t say Jesus. No worries, I love him tons too.)
I have always been a fool for her, but something happened in the process of dispossessing ourselves of stuff, and taking this step hand-in-hand. Something happened in the starting afresh that has captured my attention for who I’ve always regarded as the most fascinating person alive.
In the 12 years we’ve been married, and all the challenges those years represent I have never seen her shine as she has this past year. And the brilliance of it all has me babbling for words to describe what it has done for me.
Trust me. The family times, church-work, ministry opportunities, the grace retreats, baptisms, conference speaking, the God-connections, spiritual guidance, pre-marriage counseling, and the conversations with some of the wisest men in ministry today, have all been an overwhelming ignition of purpose for me. God has used it all.
But the sum of it all does not approach the effectiveness of how Jesus has used my best friend to love me through difficult times, uncertainties, weariness, frustrations, and all the jagged edges that still make me a completely loved, forgiven, and accepted work in progress.
Her love makes me want to love. Her love makes me want to be strong. Her love makes me want to reach farther. Her love is the deep that calls unto the deep things God has put in me.
I realize I should do the typical missionary thing and give a report of all we’ve done for others. But love is not typical. This past year has been anything but typical. And this past year is best told through what God has done for us through the opportunity he has given us to love others. My wife’s determination to live that out with me has been the most close-to-home demonstration of love leading us on, pulling us through, and lighting the way.
I love my wife. I love my family. I love my savior. And I’m thankful they’ve worked so seamlessly in tandem this past year to remind me that love is not a payment in return for production, high-yields, accolades, or perfection.
True love is a merritless gift.
“This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.”
-I John 4:10
Follow our family’s mission to Peru at GsOverseas.org
I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I was surprised when God showed up this Sunday. His strong presence came precisely where I expected it least and overwhelmed me to the point of tears while trying to transition our service from our worship set to the announcements.
I hate crying while public speaking. It’s awkward for everyone. But I couldn’t help it because I opened my eyes and was reminded again of a love so great, and a faithfulness so true. The immensity of my Father’s goodness could not be fought with.
You see, up until that precise moment that the tears started welling up and the fight for composure started, I had my eyes closed shut...tight. The week prior I found myself in a position of having to make an immediate critical decision for the church. The kind of big decision that has deep reprecussions, massive implications, and the very real potential to set back a lot of gains made over the last nine months.
Some call these moments sink-or-swim or make-it-or-break-it. It certainly felt like this.
The situation required someone to simply make abundantly clear that the status quo would no longer be an option. That even if the next step required great risk, that it would be worth taking if for no other reason than to make clear that our righteous cause would not be sidetracked by church politics, traditions, or dead-set attitudes.
It was sometime during the week that my eyes started to fade and shut. I began to withdraw into myself searching for a hope that I had enough… relational capital, leadership savy, moral high ground, persuasive skills, strategic reflex, sparkling smile, or whatever was needed to pull it off. It became about me. And the more I looked the less I found myself adequate. The more I took my eyes off the One calling the shots, the more I feared and the more I squeezed my eyes shut.
The ironic thing is we’re church planters. God has already steered my wife and I through some of the most harrowing situations, personally and ministerially. Our life story is ripe with unorthodox moves. We’ve already experienced the moments where we felt we were to steer our life ship straight into what seemed to be a wall…and then asked to pick up speed. And the closer we’d get to that obstacle the more we’d squint and hold our breath in anticipation. And a million questions and potential outcomes and images of eject buttons and irrational fears and freak outs would flash right in our mind’s eye….only to be silenced by the still small voice that would utter a simple question somewhere in our gut and heard in every corner of our spirits…
“Do you trust me?”
It’s the question our very faith is founded on. Can Jesus be trusted? Is he who he says he is? Can he be trusted with my salvation? Can he be trusted with my future? Do we trust Jesus? And we’ve come through storm and fiery furnace by his love, strength, faithfulness, and grace alone with the simplest response of faith on our lips…
“Yes, yes we do.”
But this Sunday was different. I kept saying the right things. I kept cheering. But I hadn’t yet uttered the simple response. I was somehow convinced it was the beginning of the end. I really thought the wall was real this time and that impact would be heard far and wide. So when I closed my physical eyes in worship on Sunday, the eyes of my spirit opened, and there he was…patient and kind, determined and strong.
This weekend with my eyes closed shut, my God, Jesus, made a way where there seemed to be none. Grace made a way of it’s own. And love prevailed.
“If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is.” - 2 Timothy 2:13
I feel like I’m surrounded by Bible characters. Living breathing people whose stories of redemption and grace amaze me like the stories of old do.
I have some friends who just had a baby boy a few days ago. And that might sound routine and quite common if it weren’t for the backdrop of their incredible story of beauty from ashes. The story is theirs to tell, but suffice it to say that this was not how conventional wisdom would have wagered it would end.
This marvelous event has me thinking about the characters of old. And I wonder if they are watching from heaven. Here we are inspired by what God did in their lives, and there they are inspired by watching what God is doing in ours.
I used to think we’d get to heaven and find the “giants” of the faith sitting behind product tables like celebrities do at the mall’s media store, signing portraits of their Biblical feats for those who were new to the block.
But now I wonder if it will be more like a greeting of mutual delight, like a tweet-up where twitter friends get together for the first time. A reunion of friends who feel connected even though they’ve never met in person.
I wonder if they watch our lives like we watch suspense. Generous portions of butter popcorn in hand, watching attentively as you go through that low point in life, that disillusionment, that tragedy that kicked your teeth out.
Urging us in soft whispers, “Hang in their buddy.” …”Don’t let go.”… “Just look up, He is right there.”
I wonder if they, too, throw their hands up in their air and cheer loudly when the night turns into dawn and they see the Liberator, the Savior, our Hero, Jesus revealed yet again, and his grace having been manifest as sufficient, his love being declared unending. I wonder if the most macho among them tries to hide the tears when a tough story ends in the arms of Life.
Perhaps they have better things to do, but then again we might say the same thing about us. But an inspiring story is a sticky thing and always hard to look away from.
And like I said, I feel like I’m surrounded by inspiring stories.
When my friends Mitch and Annie arrive in heaven, I wonder if they’ll be shocked. I wonder if they’ll get asked, “Will you sign my toga?” by some of the greats of old.
“I was rooting for Jesus as I was cheering you on!”
“I caught a glimpse when no one on earth could see you – when you were tired, burnt-out, alone, and afraid. I saw when you found the strength to give up and allow him to become your champion, when you opened your heart up to Grace and began to believe in his love.”
And I wonder if, as my friends say, “I’ve been longing to meet you, Apostle Paul,” that they’ll be surprised when he says back, “The feeling is quite mutual.”
I said goodbye to my friend Bruce this morning at the Lima airport. He was wearing the same red jacket he wore most of his month long stay with my family.
Two nights ago we all went out to eat dinner with Bruce at a steakhouse. As we all enjoyed food (and it’s worth noting that Bruce has become quite proficient at enjoying food) we went around the table to share our favorite memory of Bruce’s visit. My dad started by speaking in some code language that Vietnam vets all recognize and they both busted out laughing. They both connected with their war stories and became good buds on the trip.
My mom remembered the time they went to buy flowers and plants to spruce up the backyard for a day long retreat we were hosting. Bruce picked out a spectacular selection and had a good time gardening. It was undeniable after he was done that his effort made everything more beautiful. My daughters had their memories of “Grandpa Bruce” and how he made them laugh and my wife, Stephanie, remembered the night we surprised him with a dinner in honor of his life.
And my favorite memory is frozen in this picture. Sitting at a restaurant by the ocean enjoying some excellent food with my friend Bruce. This was his fourth plate…and this coming from a person who says he doesn’t eat much! The moment was one of those insulated moments when nothing important was being said, but something near magical was happening.
I witnessed Bruce thoroughly enjoying his life.
All of this is significant to me because the reigning memory of Bruce for me prior to this one was him laying in a hospital bed. He had reach the end of a life-long struggle with alcoholism and was completely spent, disoriented, and pretty much gone. Doctors had him sign a non-resuscitate because his condition was that bad.
I remember a very thin man, deep sunken eyes, who seemed to be slipping away with each passing moment. I remember asking his family to leave the room. Then I crawled up into his bed, got three inches from his face, and told him this is not how it has to end.
His life was NOT spent.
His life was NOT worthless.
His life was valuable, and above all he was loved, by his family and by God. And though circumstance, and life, and his past, and his present, and religion, and his condition wanted to suggest that there was nothing left to salvage, the truth was that he was loved.
And a life that is loved, is a life that is worth living.
Bruce has been sober for over two years now. At one point, he had to walk around with a cane. In the last month I witnessed him carry heavy furniture down a steep flight of steps to help set up new children’s ministry classes. At one point, he was not able to do simple math, and on this trip I witnessed him outline and deliver two lessons to our children’s ministry. At one point, he was not able to do simple things, and now he is in transit flying home from an international destination.
Bruce is a hero, battle-tested on the fields of life, and almost left for dead by all but his loving and dedicated family.
I’ll always remember crawling up into his hospital bed to tell him there was more to life. But now, and far more vibrantly, I’ll always remember him crawling up into our life for a month to show us how true that really was.
Thank you, Bruce. Your life has enriched ours.
“No man is useless who has a friend, and if we are loved we are indispensable.” ~ Robert L. Stevenson