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Wit and Wisdom of Gateway Church Athens GA

As we begin our new church life … so too a new blog!

Category Archives: Testimony

Matthew 6:19-21 (ESV)

19  “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

I am on a business trip at the home office.  The meeting is all day Thursday and part day on Friday.  Last night we had a meeting at a local restaurant that I’ve eaten at numerous times in the last 15 years.  It’s in a really nice section of town.  We were finishing up dinner when one of my coworkers received a phone call.  “Hey it’s you” he said and gave me the phone.  I picked up the phone and listened but there was nothing there.  They asked me why my phone would be calling him.  I told them android phones do that at times, just ask my wife!

We get ready to leave and I saw it.  Someone had taken a bat and broken my passenger side window and stole my phone.  It was like my phone was calling the guy across the table and asking for someone to save it.  Of course, no one did!

I asked the Lord for help.  A plan came to mind and I pursued it including getting a replacement phone.  I borrowed my bosses phone and called Julia first thing.  We had what I would call a vigorous discussion about my leaving the phone in the car.  She has warned me repeatedly about it.  I wasn’t worried about it though.  I knew right where it was.  It was right by my ipod.  Oh by the way, did I mention that I can’t find my ipod either?  She was right and I was wrong.  That’s not the issue here.  The issue is she is my God given partner in life.   By divine right She has a say in my life.  The Lord speaks to her just as surely as He does me.  He just speaks to her differently than me. 

As I worked through the evening issues with insurance, and car window repairs many thoughts came to mind.  Forgiveness was one.  So I asked the Lord to forgive the little tattooed, skin headed weasel that stole my stuff.  Before I said amen, I asked the Lord for painful boils, razor burn on his head and infected tattoo’s and other physical afflictions as well.  I wanted to make sure I did the “Christian” thing and forgave the little thief!

As I am prone to do, I asked the Lord what was the lesson here?  What is there for me to learn through this?  There are a number of obvious lessons.

First of all, stuff doesn’t matter.  I am a stuff’s kinda guy.  I have a lot of stuff, although not as much as I had when I left home yesterday.  The scriptures tell us not to put our trust in rust (my version).

The second lesson is forgiveness.  Clearly I understand that (see my above prayer for forgiveness).

The next question was a bit more complicated.  “Where was the protection we prayed about before I left home?”  I truly wasn’t upset, but I thought it was a legitimate question.  Well the Lord protected me by not allowing me to go outside and catch him.  I would have gone after him.  I know I would have.  Then the Lord spoke to my heart about being 60, being overweight with a bad shoulder and arm and attacking a 25 year old thief that just used a baseball bat to break into my car.  I got the picture!  (Thanks Lord.)

Part of that question was why didn’t you warn me?  Well the answer is simple.  He did warn me.  Many times through Julia he warned me.  I chose to ignore it.  I will not ignore her again!

Through God’s mercy and grace I’m simply out a phone and an ipod that my insurance will most likely cover.  But I am also a much wiser man.

Lord: Thank you so much for your grace and mercy.

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I want to give you the outline of the book.  There are 11 very interesting chapters.  I plan on following the order of the chapters, but I will supplement many of the ideas in the chapters with other author’s material.  Authors such as CS Lewis, Brady Boyd, Joni Ericson Tada and many others have a lot to say on the subject of suffering and I want to get every one’s perspective.

The 11 chapter headings are:

1.    Tragic Choices: Determining the origins of Evil and Suffering
2.    What’s wrong? I am: Accepting the reality of inherited sin
3.    Alternative Answers: Examining Explanations for Evil and Suffering
4.    A Clash of Worldviews: Investigating relativism, atheism, and the "problem" of goodness
5.    The Great Drama: Reviewing the roles of evil and suffering in Christ’s redemptive work
6.    Why so much evil?: Questioning why God allows Evil and delay’s justice
7.    God’s control and our freedom: Discovering how God rules despite our choices
8.    Are we promised prosperity?: recovering a Biblical view of health and wealth
9.    The World we long for: Exploring God’s eternal solution to evil and suffering
10.    Wanting more clarity: wrestling with the reasons for our suffering
11.    What we can do: Finding perspective in our suffering
   
Today we start on chapter 1, "Tragic Choices".

The book begins with a story we are all familiar with.  Somebody’s child is killed in a car accident.  The father (who is a pastor) rants and raves at God asking the understandable question: “Why?”  Then he makes a statement I found insightful.  He states:
    “In the silence I began to hear the voice of God … then, without any announcement, when I became silent, God spoke to my soul.  He had an answer for each of my three questions.”

When it comes to asking why, I think I must move to the head of the line.  Why is my middle name!  In one of our recent adult classes, the teacher mentioned that she had asked God this question: “Where were you when the sexual abuse was going on?”  I asked God the same question.  Where were you?  I found what the pastor said was true.  When I became silent, God gave me some very specific answers to my question.

When it comes to suffering and all of the associated pain and grief that goes with it, it’s ok to ask questions.  I think this pastor’s brief testimony brings out some excellent points we should remember.

1.    You have to cultivate the ability to hear God.
2.    It’s ok to ask questions.  God will answer you, He wants to communicate with you.
3.    It is hard to hear God in the middle of a storm.

Elijah is a good example of hearing God.

1 Kin 19:11-13 NASB ¶ So He said, "Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD." And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; {but} the LORD {was} not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, {but} the LORD {was} not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, {but} the LORD {was} not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard {it,} he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice {came} to him and said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"

I think this speaks of God’s presence in the middle of the storms we face.  With all of the noise and tumult we experience when we are in a storm, we must remember to listen for the small voice, the quiet voice.  That is the voice we want to follow.

Jesus spoke of hearing God’s voice:

John 10:3-5 NASB "To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. "When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. "A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers."

Hearing from God has two immediate benefits that I can see.

1.    You can hear him concerning comfort.  When you are in the middle of a muddle, you need comfort.  That’s the Holy Spirit’s job description.
2.    You can hear him for directions.  Obviously, when you are in serious difficult situations you need to have guidance and understanding of how to proceed.  Again, this is what the Holy Spirit does, provide guidance as well as comfort.

John 16:13-14 "But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. "He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose {it} to you.

As I write this, I learned one of my favorite athletic personalities just revealed she has the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.  Pat Summitt has been a model of leadership in the world of women’s athletics.  She is a fine Christian woman and a strong leader.  I am sure she would agree she find’s herself in a difficult situation.  She probably was caught off guard by this.  Yet her response is indicative of her strong faith.  I pray for her and hope you will too.  This statement from the Tennessee athletic department speaks for the impact of Pat Summit’s life:

For Pat to stand-up and share her health news is just a continuing example of her courage. Life is an unknown and none of us have a crystal ball. But I do have a record of knowing what Pat Summitt stands for; excellence, strength, honesty and courage.

He is right when he says life is an unknown.  This fact alone is why it is important for us to prepare for life’s unknown elements as much as we can by studying God’s word and developing an intimate relationship with Him.

It seems like this is becoming a habit lately.

I was at the home office for a week’s meeting. I stayed until Thursday and while I normally would leave early in the morning (6-8 AM) I was unable to get out of town until around noon. I was planning to make the entire drive that day and it would have put me in Athens around 10:30 PM. But it didn’t work out that way. It was hot and I was in my business attire rather than my "travel" attire, so I was uncomfortable for the drive. Lexington is only 3 hours down the road, but I was so hot and tired I simply couldn’t make it past there comfortably. So I stayed in Lexington.

Later I got a call from the pastor indicating his lovely wife’s niece’s husband was in the hospital in Lexington after suffering brain surgery. Would I go see him? Sure I said so I get the particulars of the situation and away I go. I decided to ask for directions rather than GPS the address. It took 45 minutes to find something I could have GPS’ ed in 10 minutes. I wasn’t in a hurry and I decided against the technological answer. (This is actually key to the story!)

I arrived and met with the patient and had a wonderful 20 minutes or so of fellowship. I prayed and left. As I got on the elevator, a rather haggard looking woman got on with me. She looked really beat down. As I closed the door I asked her if she was ok, because she looked like she had a rough day.

She told me it had a been a horrible week. She came to do a brief visit with her dad and he had a stroke while she was there. There were some rather serious complications that developed and they had to put him in the hospital. His wife was in bed at home with severe depression. To top it off, her husband was at home and not available to help her. I told her I was just passing through and my pastor had asked me to stop and pray for someone. "Oh, are you a pastor?" I assured her I wasn’t but I was the lay leader of my church and I asked her if I could pray with her when she got to her car. At that she started to choke up and she said that would be a wonderful idea.

As we got to the car, I prayed using a model given to us at our last prayer training. I don’t remember exactly what I prayed but I do know I asked God to bless her and give her encouragement. She smiled at me and said she had asked the Lord that morning for some encouragement today and that I was it!

I smiled and as I left I thought about being an answer to someone’s prayer. What happened was a real encouragement for me in several ways:

First of all it tells me God is using the everyday elements of my life and speaking to me through them. I don’t normally get tired yet this time I was so tired I decided to stop at Lexington for the evening. Then when the pastor called, I was willing to go pray. I decided to take my time for once and skipped the whole technological thing and did the old "manual GPS" methodology we used in 70’s and 80’s. I asked directions and plowed my way through town to the hospital.

The folks I went to see are strong Christians and as such were armed with faith and gratitude for God’s goodness. While I was there several people came to see him and they too were strong in faith. As the crowd started to grow we held hands and prayed and I excused myself.

I assumed the people I was there to pray for was the purpose of my trip, but I don’t think it was. Meeting the lady on the elevator was the real reason. God is so meticulous about His timing, that he had me bag my GPS equipment and pursue a course that took just enough time for me to be there when the lady got on the elevator. Had I used the GPS I would have missed her.

We don’t know what impact a simple decision may have on others lives. My decision to stay in Lexington and my decision to go to the hospital and my decision to pray for a lady I had never met all came together in God’s timing to bless someone that so desperately needed it.

Isn’t God good!

I had an experience yesterday that I find to be utterly amazing. I’m not at all surprised about God’s part in it, I’m just surprised He used me.

Tuesday as I was eating dinner, two Muslim women cut in front of me in line. They were fully garbed in Muslim dress and I just stood there. As I think back on it, I am sure I was glaring. As I “glared” at them, I had the most horrible series of thoughts go through my mind. The thoughts were simply right out of the pit of hell. I immediately told the Lord I was sorry, I hated the fact I thought those thoughts and worse, that they represented what I actually thought inside. I repented but I don’t think I asked for anything. I was really too ashamed to ask for anything. I just shook my head and moved on.

Fast forward to yesterday. I am on my way home and buzzing through Atlanta traffic. I had just talked to a friend for quite a while concerning prayer and a number of other church related issues. I hadn’t eaten and thought I would stop at one of my favorite restaurants to eat. I jumped off 85 and went there to eat. As I walked in, two Muslim women were in front of me in line. I stood there looking at them, not really thinking about anything. The taller of the two looked at me, smiled and told me to go ahead. I did and as I went by them, I sensed something about them that was stirring my spirit. I didn’t know what, but something. I ordered and as I walked down the line and started to pay, I looked back at them and I immediately saw a $20 bill flash in my mind. I was shocked and looked back at my tray and paid. I looked back at them again (thinking I might get a 10 or two 5’s) and again the $20 bill was there. I turned to the little Chinese lady running the cash register and gave her a twenty and told her to apply it to those ladies bill. She smiled and nodded.

I grabbed my food and split as fast as I could because I wanted to get out of line to avoid the ladies. I didn’t think it would be prudent to be there. I went to the farthest part of the dinning and room and sat purposely behind a post so they couldn’t see me. I made sure they couldn’t see me. I thanked the Lord for what He did, although I wasn’t sure of what He did. I looked up from my prayer and there was the little Chinese lady standing in front of me waving a 20 and pointing towards the cash register where two clearly confused Muslim women were standing and looking directly at me. The Chinese lady asked me if those two ladies were who I was talking about and then pointed directly at the two women. I was mortified but I said “Yes, that’s them”. She said (honestly she did) “Okray Dokrey” and smiled and walked off. The next thing I knew a very tall Muslim woman was standing beside me and said (with a huge smile) “Thank you”. I told her she was welcome and turned to finish lunch. I then heard as clear as a bell “Tell them you did that because you are a Christian”. At this point, I realize I haven’t eaten much because I lost my appetite about 5 minutes ago. So I got up, went over to their table and pulled out a chair and sat down. I had no clue what I was going to say. But as I opened my mouth here is what I told them: “I am a Christian and I wanted you to know that not all Christians hate Muslims. I believe the Lord told me to buy your lunch to let you know that He Loves you.” I don’t have words to describe their smiles. I asked their names. “I am Esra said the tall lady” “I am Wreeim” said the shorter lady. I asked her where she was from, she smiled a smile that was one of the most engaging smiles I’ve ever seen, “I’m, from Jerusalem!” Oh really I said. You know Bethlehem is close by don’t you. Her face kinda scrunched up with a bit of a confused look and Esra put her hand on my arm and said “I will explain to her” with a big smile. I smiled back and left.

Isn’t God good!!!!!!

Tom called me the other day and told me he wasn’t going to be able to be in class on Sunday. We talked about going over the last chapter of the book but he basically told me to do whatever the Lord and I decided on. So I’ve been thinking about it and mulling over Sunday and suddenly, a thought came dancing across the fertile fields of my mind. Get people’s input and feedback on the class by giving them a couple of questions to ponder.

Good idea Lord, bet you wish you would have thought of it first huh?

So I have some questions for you to ponder. The goal here is to pick one and plan on sharing on Sunday your answers.

  1. How has your life been touched by the class?
  2. How has your life been changed by the class?
  3. Were there any tough places the class touched in your life? (Did the Lord touch some really sore areas)
  4. What is the one thing you took away from the class that you will remember the most?

I personally am going to answer question 4. I thought about doing it here, but I’m going to wait until Sunday. In order for this to work, we all need to be there and start on time. If you are late, come in anyway, you are among friends! I plan on starting at exactly 09:30, give or take 15 minutes. That will ensure we have time for all to speak. For example, let’s say there are 15 people there. Then each would get about 3 minutes. We all know it won’t be this structured, but humor me and let me think it will until Sunday.

Personally, I want to thank Tom Crane for his faithfulness in teaching this class. He has been a faithful friend and servant of the Lord whose heart reflects the Love of Jesus and a desire to be the best he can be for Christ. It was a wonderful class full of challenges and the love of Christ.

I will see you all on Sunday!

The Lay Leader

On Feb 6th I was the guest speaker at Mision Latina in Athens.  My good friend Roque and my “should-have-been-my-daughter” Claire came along for the ride.

The entire experience was enchanted.  From the moment I walked into the building I was warmly greeted and I felt as if I belonged there.  A little more than 22 years ago was the first day I stepped into this ancient edifice.

Sunday represented a full circle for me, and I might add a very emotional one.  Mision Latina has taken this building and done about all they can with it.  As my good friend Joseph Slife once said, “It’s hard to do 21st century ministry in a 19th century building”.  Yet, Mision Latina is doing just that.  As the service opened, there were testimonies of God’s faithfulness and love.  One particular testimony stood out to me.  (I will get back to this testimony in a little bit.)

As the singing opened, the Holy Spirit touched my heart and I simply drank in the love and worship these brothers and sisters in the Lord offered to God.  The more they sang, the deeper I was drawn into their lives.  Since I don’t understand Spanish and I don’t sing well I was able to enjoy the worship time in a special way.  I closed my eyes and began to sing in the spirit.  It sounded a bit like Spanish, so I blended right in.  As they progressed through the songs I watched each participant as they played their instruments and they danced and worshiped and sang to the Lord.  I was so overwhelmed by the love and mercy of God that I understood why Peter said at the Mount of Transfiguration, “Let’s just build a house and stay here.”  It was that good.

When it came time for me to speak, Haydee introduced me and Efrain was the translator.  While I don’t speak Spanish fluently, the 4 years of Spanish 1 I flunked in school has left its mark on me.  I can read Spanish and not do too bad a job of pronunciation.  Using Google translator, I developed some phrases that spoke of the desire of my heart.  We prayed and I launched into my talk.

I spoke of Mark 4:35-41 and Acts 12:1-8.  The term that developed from this talk was “La Pista de la vida” or the “Life track”.  Basically the idea is in the book of Mark, Peter saw Jesus asleep in the back of the boat during a life threatening storm.  In the book of Acts Peter had learned how to be peaceful in the eye of the storm as he slept soundly the night before he was to be executed.  I wanted them to experience this type of peace in the storms of life they face.

I told them how there were issues we needed to deal with up-front.   They are my born again brothers and sisters in the Lord and they have documentation problems.   How do we deal with it?  Not all of them have documentation problems, but many do.  So the question is what do we do as Christians to walk in God’s love and help one another?  I saw how these dear friends live in constant fear because of these problems.  What do we do?  I told them I didn’t care what the democrats say or what the republicans say.  I want to know what God says about it.

One of the basic elements of the Christian faith is to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.  When I do that, I see things in a completely different light.  As I said earlier, one man spoke of how he came to the United States.  He was from El Salvador.  He was working there and making $270 a month.  He wanted to send his kids to college and needed a better job, so he came to the United States.  When I heard his testimony I was cut to the quick.  He was making $270 a MONTH!  I reflected to the Lord quietly my shame.  I am quite capable of going into Best Buy and blowing $270 on some electronic gizmo I don’t need simply to have a “new and improved” version, and to my eternal shame, I wouldn’t think twice about it.  Oh God forgive me please!

1st Samuel 18:1 As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. 

This is what has happened to me.  Efrain Diaz is as Jonathan unto me.  I love this man and I thank God daily for bringing him into my life.  I thank God for bringing the plight of my Hispanic/Latino brothers and sisters in Christ into my heart.  There is nothing I can do at this time more important than to help them alleviate fear and walk in peace.  This will be a tough road though, yet I am in the boat with them.  Where their boat goes I go.  Their storms are my storms.  Their victories are my victories.

Lord: I have no answers to the difficult questions we need to answer, but you do.  Help me to listen oh so carefully as we move forward.  Give me courage to act on what you tell me to do and go where you tell me to go.  Bring across our paths the resources and ideas you want us to pursue.  Help my brothers and sisters in Christ and use me anyway you want to help them Lord.

As I began my trip this week I am flying for the first time in many years.  I don’t like flying anymore for a number of reasons, but this week, I fly.  So while I was at the Atlanta airport I prayed and asked the Lord to show me someone today I could minister to or pray with.  Fast forward to Houston airport.

I was wandering around waiting on my connection when I walked past a shoe shine place.  My shoes needed a shine so I saw a guy on the end and went over to his chair.  He didn’t say a word and immediately left.  A young lady was taking his place and I asked her if she could do these shoes.  “Sure, please sit down.”  So I did.  I noticed she had a smile from here to there and I was immediately caught by her joyful personality.  Then I looked down and saw a small, leather Bible.  I asked her if this was her’s and she said it was.  I opened it and noticed a ton of underlining in it.  I also noticed she was a big reader of the prophets, Samuel, David and old testament history.  I asked her about her reading and what was her favorite scripture.  At that point God took over and I simply sat there transfixed as I believe God spoke to me while He shined my shoes!

Her name is Tina and she is from Nigeria.  She told me her favorite Scripture was John 5, the story of the beggar being healed at the pool of Bethesda.  Then she told me of her journey to the US.  She and her husband went to Nigerian embassy to get Visa’s to come to US in 2003.  They were rejected for no reason, but she told me when they stamped her application rejected, it was a final action, there was no appeal.  Her husband was crushed, but not Tina.  Tina told her husband that they were not rejected until God said they were rejected.  She pointed out to me that as she read John 5, the Lord showed her that she and the beggar and been rejected because the process had broken down.  The process for healing the beggar broke down because people would not take him to the pool when the water stirred.  Jesus bypassed the process there and He would bypass this process too.  She told her husband who immediately told her she was nuts.  She told him she was not nuts and they were going to an Assembly of God camp in the mountains to pray.  They went to this camp for 5 days and prayed about this and read scriptures.  When they came back it was new years eve 2003 and she had not looked at e-mail for a long period of time so she checked her e-mail.  There was an email from a person she didn’t know but when she opened it there was a letter she was to print out and take to the embassy giving her authorization for a Visa.  What did Tina do?  She grabbed her husband and went back to the Assembly of God camp for a full week of fasting and prayer over this letter before she took it to the embassy.  She told me they didn’t even drink water until 6 pm in the evening.  She went back to the embassy with the letter and was sent to the exact person that had rejected her the first time.  She gave him the letter and (as much as is possible for a Nigerian) his face turned “white” and he started mumbling about “why didn’t you tell me you knew this person”.  She was given a Visa and is now an American citizen as is her husband.  She is in school to be a teacher and as she told me this, they called my flight and I stood up.  She looked at me with a smile only God could give and said “Andy, with God NOTHING is impossible!”  I was overcome with the emotion of the moment and as I started to leave I asked her if I could pray with her.  She said yes and I prayed with her and I left assured of God’s wonderful provision.

There is a lesson here for both Gateway churches.  Our’s in Athens and our sister ship in Shreveport.  That is the overwhelming importance of prayer.   This little lady just grabbed God and said I need a Visa and God said “Well ok, you’ll get one!”  As we move forward under the Gateway team leadership, we will see God do miracle after miracle if we dedicate ourselves to prayer.  Steve Brown’s book “Approaching God” has given me some real encouragement about how to be a person of prayer and I hope to finish the book while I am on this trip so I can get the information down on paper for us to review.

God answered my simple prayer to provide me someone to pray with.  He answered Tina’s prayer by providing a way for her to get a Visa.  He will answer our prayers for souls for the kingdom as well.  We simply have to make it a priority above all things.  He’s just waiting on us.

Lord: Give us the courage and perseverance Tina showed as she waded through her Visa application “process”.  Thank you for her and her husband coming to America and I pray for her schooling and ask you to bless her studies and her faith.  Give us a heart to pray for those who like Tina want to come to America but are blocked by the process.  Show us how we can help those you lead to us understand that “with God, NOTHING is impossible”.