What Tribe Do You Belong To?

I hope you’ve purchased your copy of my newest book RESILIENT: Bouncing Back Stronger, No Matter What Knocks You Down. If you haven’t, you can take care of that today right here on this site!

I wrote RESILIENT for every Christian who has been sent reeling as a result of a difficult life crisis—and I know that has happened to a great many of us.

Without a doubt, life can be extremely difficult at times. But God didn’t create us just to struggle and flail in our faith. So when difficult times come our way, one of the first things we need to do is remember Who we belong to… to remember that we are part of the Tribe of Judah and that the Lion of Judah is our leader!

As part of His tribe, we learn to discern the difference between the “roar of heaven” and the “roar of the imposter.” We were created to be fierce in our faith. We must persevere in the mission we’ve been given, just as the faithful who came before us, and to be a strong witness for those who will come after us.

So we have to make a choice when challenging times come our way. We can wither and run and hide, or we can choose to see difficulties as times that discipline us and strengthen our faith, making us more resilient.

Please notice that I’m using the word discipline and not punishment! I’m talking about the discipline of working out physically or the discipline of running a race. These challenging events get us in spiritual condition to endure. Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves and complaining about our pain or misfortune, we can step up and endure the difficulty with grace knowing that it will cause us to grow spiritually. Nobody EVER grew spiritually by whining and complaining nonstop.

Becoming spiritually resilient is not about how great we are. It’s about how mighty God is! The Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:7–11:

“We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.”

Look, Paul’s not saying that these experiences were painless… or that they didn’t make him weep. He’s saying he endured them with the help of Jesus who lives within Him!

This is your hope and it’s my hope in Christ Jesus—that we can endure life’s trials and hardships with the help of Jesus who lives within us! This is our battle cry: Christ in me, the hope of glory!

Jesus wants to develop in the heart of every follower a warrior’s spirit! Jesus is the Lion of the tribe of Judah. He is tough. He is fierce. And He is looking for us to grow a backbone, and to hate and resist the devil.

The devil wants so badly to be like the Lion of Judah that he goes around growling and trying to frighten us but he is an imposter. 1 Peter, 5:8 tells us: “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

Without being trained and equipped in our faith, we could be easily intimidated by the imposter. We might hear his roar and forget whose tribe we belong to.

But we are called to confront this “lion” and to defeat him, and it’s the Lion of the tribe of Judah, Jesus, who can train us to do that. We have to learn to take pain, to grow strong, to be strategic, and to be on guard, prepared to protect ourselves and our families from this world.

This will not happen by accident. We must follow the lead of Christ and as it says in James 4:7, “to hate sin, love what is true, and resist the devil so he will flee.”

Jesus pursues you relentlessly.

Part of our training and instruction as followers is understanding how loved and valued we are by Jesus Christ. You are being relentlessly pursued by Christ.

But this is a two-way relationship. Are you relentlessly pursuing Him? Are you spending time with Him? Is something holding you back from pursuing Him with your whole heart?

The resilient are relentless, too! We choose each day to say, “I’m going to pursue You, Lord, with all that I am and have. By reading, praying, and listening, I will fill myself with Your truth. Then I know You will fill me with Yourself. Your joy will give me the strength to be resilient.”

None of us are capable of the perfect pursuit of God. We can easily get distracted. Things happen that get us off track. But God is both gracious and merciful. All we need to do is to be honest about the struggle, and ask for His help, and He is waiting to help us!

Aren’t you glad that we follow the great Lion of Judah?

I hope God’s been speaking to you these past few weeks through this blog and through the message I share in RESLIENT. God wants YOU to have resilient faith—to be able to bounce back no matter what life throws at you! I hope that’s something you truly desire. No follower should want to live a complacent, self-satisfied, or defeated life.

When life circumstances come along and threaten to blow you off the road, you can do more than just survive. You can learn to endure and to grow stronger and more resilient in your faith!

If your heart longs to be more resilient…

If you hunger to relentlessly pursue Christ…

If you want to learn to endure the discipline and training of tough times…

I hope you’ll purchase a copy of RESILIENT and start reading it today!  Share it with your friends. You can purchase it by clicking here! 

I encourage you to take a moment and read some of the encouraging words and endorsements that today’s Christian leaders have to say about RESILIENT and how they believe it will bless your life on the page linked above.

You can be an extra blessing to Teen Mania International by making a gift of $100 or more to the ministry. When you do, we will send you a signed copy of RESILIENT as our way of saying, “thank you” for helping us reach today’s young generation for the glory of Jesus Christ! Together we can “Reach The Youth and Change The Nations.”

Today’s the day to grow more resilient for the glory of Jesus Christ!

God bless you for standing with Teen Mania International. Together we can “Reach The Youth. Change The Nations.”

Thoughts from “Resilient” – Part 3

I’m so glad you come coming back to my blog to learn more about my book RESILIENT: Bouncing Back Stronger, No Matter What Knocks You Down. The book is now available and I pray that it will be a tremendous blessing to you!

You can purchase the book through our website. And for a limited time, if you make a special gift to Teen Mania International, we will send you a signed edition! I’ll explain more at the end of this blog.

Resilient living requires training!

It’s not enough just to understand that we need resilience. It’s like marathon runners who set their sights on running a certain race. They can’t just buy the right shoes and think they are all set. They do all kinds of physical and mental training because they know what the marathon course is going to be like; there will be challenges ahead.

In this same way, you can only run an effective spiritual race by preparing for it! In John 13:33: Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart. I have overcome the world” (NIV).

You see, Jesus is telling us that we will face difficulties in life. But the good news is that He has made it possible for us to go through these tribulations victoriously. We can learn to endure and to go through some of the hardest things that life brings our way with our hearts and minds intact.

The secret is keeping ourselves spiritually prepared and trained so when life’s difficulties do come along they don’t just blow us off the map. To run your race to win, you have to prepare your whole person from head to heart to toe. Runners call it building endurance.

The writer of the book of Hebrews gives us tremendous insight on how to build resilient faith for resilient living. Remember, no one finishes a marathon by accident! Take a look at Hebrews 12: 1-2:

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

What are the encumbrances and sins that you need to lay aside in order to run your race? The more we lay aside, the stronger we grow spiritually, and the better we will endure life’s hardships.

Spiritual Training Disciplines

Imagine if a man went to the gym and just watched people workout and then blamed the gym for his poor results. He might say: “That gym membership is not helping me a bit! I get there, people are sweating and working hard, and I’m watching them and trying to get into it, but when I leave I’m not any stronger at all. It’s a stupid gym! I’m not going back!”

Just joining a gym is not enough. Unless you lift the weights yourself and train your muscles yourself, you will not get stronger!

This is exactly what too many people do at church on Sundays. They go to church and watch other people workout. They watch their pastor, their youth pastor, the worship leader “pumping iron,” as it were, talking about their faith and what God has been speaking to them, but they don’t do any work of their own. Then one day they say, “I don’t know about that church. It just doesn’t seem to help me.”

There are spiritual exercises you need to do if you’re going to run a successful, lifelong spiritual race. In my book RESILIENT I go into some depth on the array of disciplines we need to practice to develop resiliency in our faith.
A couple of well known disciplines that every follower of Christ needs to exercise are the disciplines of prayer and Bible reading. These are essential and there are others besides that I describe in the book, such as the disciplines of silence, service, fasting, solitude, reflection, and Scripture memorization. These disciplines have been given to us by God for growth and the more we exercise them the more spiritually resilient we will grow.

Focus on the Finish Line

Marathoners will tell you that you can have your muscles trained, you can have great nutrition, you can be disciplined, but if you’re not determined to finish, you probably won’t!

This man collapsed 100 yards before the finish line, but after these people helped him, he stood on his own feet to cross the finish line. What determination!

The Apostle Paul makes a similar reference in Philippians 3:13–14, “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

It’s time to take stock of your spiritual life and the spiritual race you’re running.
Remember, no one but you can run your race! It’s yours and yours alone.

What’s competing for your attention? What’s causing you to wander off course?
Are you training intentionally for the race you’re called to run?
Are you practicing the disciplines of your faith?
Are you keeping your eye on the finish line; determined to finish strong?

I wrote RESILIENT for this very reason—to help you run your life race TO WIN! You can purchase a copy of the book by clicking here!  Also, please scroll down on the RESILIENT book page and read the Endorsements to see what today’s ministry leaders have to say about the book. It will encourage you!

Please consider being an extra blessing to Teen Mania International by making a gift of $100 or more to the ministry. When you do, we will send you a signed copy of RESILIENT as our way of saying, “thank you” for helping us teach teens in America and around the world to start living resilient lives for Jesus Christ.

May God help you to grow more resilient with each day! Together we can “Reach The Youth. Change The Nations.”

Thoughts from “Resilient” – Part 2

I’m so happy to share with you again this week some thoughts with about my new book RESILENT: Bouncing Back Stronger, No Matter What Knocks You Down. The book, published by Charisma House, will be available on September 2nd! But you can get your copy through this blog. I’ll tell you how in a moment!

Please pray with me that this book will be a blessing to many across the Body of Christ! I believe the message is so important for each of us to hear and understand. God wants us each to have a resilient faith that can sustain us for a lifetime.

This kind of faith remains strong regardless of what life brings our way. Resilient faith holds up when hit by life’s setbacks and curve balls. It chooses to follow the Savior no matter what.

Whether our experiences feel good, support our theology, complete our plans, or make sense to our natural minds, resilient faith holds steady. It is the kind of faith Jesus always meant for us to have.

This flower is remaining strong despite all the difficulties around it

But here’s something that’s vital to understand—we don’t develop resilient faith just by knowing we should, and certainly not by accident. It comes through relationship and following Jesus.

Taking that first step of “followership” is a step in the right direction, but it is only the first step. There is another step to take the next day and more steps the days after that. The adventure Christ has for us unfolds day by day, step by step. We keep walking with Christ and living with Him, and being like Him.

Following Jesus is what we all want to do, it’s what we hope to do, but things don’t always work out that way. What’s standing between you and a resilient faith?

You’re probably familiar with the word dysfunction. It’s a popular topic these days. There may be a little dysfunction in every family these days—even in the family of God there are children who are in a dysfunctional relationship with their Heavenly Father.

This kind of dysfunction goes way back, and started the moment Adam and Eve, the first children in the family God created, attempted to live without Him. Since that time, children of God have suffered all types of dysfunctions.

One of these dysfunction is the “Failure to Thrive Syndrome.” In a human sense, we see this syndrome a lot in orphanages where the workers don’t have time to pick up, hold, and love the babies. After months of not being interacted with enough, these children stop eating, stop growing, and stop smiling—simply from not being loved.

Many Christians fail to thrive, too. They fail to realize how much God loves them. They feel like they have to earn God’s love and provision rather than just basking in it and loving Him in return.

Have you seen Christians who don’t smile, who aren’t full of joy? There’s a good chance that they are not thriving. Maybe they’re not eating spiritually; they may be drying up inside, just like an unloved baby.

In RESILIENT, I provide insights into a number of dysfunctions that can prevent us from growing in our faith. It will give you insights into your own life and spiritual growth, as well as those you care about most.

Resiliency stems from our relationship with Christ. We are called to a new kind of relationship!

Dysfunctions have the power to keep us self-directed and complacent in our faith. They cause us to make weak choices. We say things like, “I’ll follow Jesus only if this happens … or that happens,” instead of “I’ll follow Jesus, even if this or that happens.” When we lay everything down and follow Jesus, we can start making bold resilient life choices! Do you see the difference?

Remember the Sunday School lesson in the book of Daniel about three Hebrews who were on trial for their faith? The king threatened to kill them in a fiery oven! In Chapter 3 verse 18, they made an important statement during their trial. They said our God “will deliver us from the king’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (v. 18, emphasis added).

Isn’t that amazing? They walked through the fire with “even if” faith—even if everything came apart at the seams, even if they ended up in the fiery furnace, and even if they didn’t understand, they would not bow down. And the Scriptures tell us that when the three men were put in the furnace, four people could be seen in the oven! God was with them and they came out unharmed.

Talk about resilient faith!

Friends, this is the kind of faith God wants to give us as His children. Following Him is not simply choosing to obey a bunch of rules; it is submitting yourself to His authority.

If you’ve had a hard time following Jesus because something in your life doesn’t make sense or doesn’t line up with your theology, I encourage you to choose to trust anyway.

Pray now and tell Jesus you want a new relationship. Surrender your logic and understanding to Him. Put your confidence in Him. He will not fail you!

Want to know more about developing a resilient faith? You can purchase a copy of RESILIENT by clicking here!

If you like, you can see what some of today’s best-known Christian leaders have to say about RESILIENT by scrolling down the RESILIENT Book Page.

Also, please consider being an extra blessing to Teen Mania International by making a gift of $100 or more to the ministry. When you do, we will send you a signed copy of RESILIENT as our way of saying, “thank you” for helping us “Reach The Youth and Change The Nations!”

God bless you and may He help you to grow increasingly resilient with each passing day! Together we can “Reach The Youth. Change The Nations.”

Thoughts from “Resilient” – Part 1

Over the next few weeks, I want to share with you some thoughts from my new book that will be released on September 2nd. It’s called, RESILIENT: Bouncing Back Stronger, No Matter What Knocks You Down.
What does it meant to be truly resilient?

In a practical sense, we can see examples of resiliency around us. We see it in all kinds of sports, don’t we? Football players expect to get tackled when they try to advance the ball toward a goal. Sometimes they get thrown for a terrible loss of yardage, but they get back up and keep going with the next play. That is resilience in action.

Resilience in Action

The world of sports offers countless examples of resilience. Athletes train to become increasingly resilient day by day, and in a similar way, God wants us, as believers, to grow more resilient day by day, as well.

Read carefully how the Apostle Paul describes a resilient faith in 2 Corinthians 6:3-10.

“We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless night and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

Clearly, Paul was well acquainted with the concept of resiliency, having endured extraordinary hardships for the cause of Christ. Is it possible that we, as fellow followers of Christ, can have this same kind of resilient faith?

Yes! Not only is it possible, we should pursue it with everything we have!

This is the very heart of my book RESILIENT. Christ wants to equip us with the ability to bounce back from life’s difficult challenges and horrible experiences.

Here’s the problem—too often believers have a complacent faith.

It’s a human tendency to focus on what culture tells us is important rather than on what we really need and what’s best for us. This results in a passive, weak, or complacent faith.

In fact, some Christians get so tuned-in to pop culture that they end up being more like the world than like Jesus. Then, when tough times come along, they are completely thrown for a loop! They wonder, “Where did Jesus go? Why did He let this happen?”
When this happens, it’s an indication that our faith roots are underdeveloped. When our roots are not firmly in Christ or His Word we’re going to be easily bowled over, and we’ll be at the mercy of our feelings and emotions.

But Christ offers us such a better way to live!

We don’t have to be blown away by life’s circumstances. Through a relationship with Christ, we can become the resilient believers He created us to be. We can remain strong even after going through something that almost breaks us!

I urge you to take a moment and ask yourself a few questions:

  • Am I complacent in my faith?
  • Am I truly a resilient believer?
  • Do I think of Jesus as someone just added to my life, rather than the one transforming my life?
  • Am I overcome by life’s events and circumstances?
  • Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a backbone of steel that would enable me to endure the toughest times?

If you answered Yes to any of these questions, I pray you’ll read RESILIENT. I believe it will answer many of the “why” questions you—and others you know and love—may have. It will help you take active and intentional steps toward developing a resilient faith that cannot easily be shaken!

You can purchase a copy of RESILIENT by clicking here.  Scroll down on the “Resilient” book page to see what today’s Christian leaders are saying about the book.

If you wish, you may also be an extra blessing to Teen Mania International by making a gift of $100 or more to the ministry. When you do, we will send you a signed copy of RESILIENT as our way of saying, “thank you” for helping us reach today’s young generation for the glory of Jesus Christ!

Let’s not let another day go by without endeavoring to grow more resilient in Christ! God bless you for helping us “Reach The Youth. Change The Nations.”

Teen Mania Alumni Weekend!

What an amazing and refreshing time we had with hundreds of our alumni that returned this past week for what was the last reunion that will be held on the East Texas campus. Future reunions will be held near our newly rented headquarters in the Dallas/Fort Worth area!

Katie and I were deeply moved that so many people came from all over the country, as well as from Mexico. Alums drove 10, 15, 18, and some over 20 hours to attend! They brought their spouses and children, and what a beautiful time it was. We actually had representation from every single class of interns all the way from the first class in Texas!

We were very encouraged to see that so many alums are serving the Lord; I am so proud of the marriages and families they’re building and those who are leveraging their lives for the Gospel. We heard from a number of interns who are currently living on the mission field who sent us special videos encouraging their fellow intern alums from around the world. It was moving to hear so many stories of what God did in their life as interns and what they’re doing now as a result.

It was amazing to hear over and over again how alums and their families were blessed by attending the weekend event. Alums would embrace me and tell me the story of what brought them to the Teen Mania weekend, and then described in detail the life-changing infusion from heaven that they experienced through one of the retreats, teachings, or as a result of a relationship they’d built.

Spouses who had been “adopted” into the Teen Mania family often chimed into the conversation saying, “The teaching you did really helped us. My spouse had me listen to it or shared the notes,” or “It’s because they went up Pike’s Peak that they’ve been able to deal with or overcome challenges in their marriage.” It was beautiful to see the families playing around the pool when they came over to Katie’s and my home for a cookout, picnic, and water fun.

Alumni BBQ

I was honestly overwhelmed to see the response of the alumni as I shared my heart Saturday and Sunday night about the past, present, and future of Teen Mania. So many expressed their excitement for the future that God has called us to as we explore creative ways to minister to the 1.8 billion teens around the world.

Because of their longstanding relationship with the ministry, I shared information with them that I hadn’t shared online or through social media. I spoke personally and frankly about our shared past and our vision for the future, because the ministry and I need their prayers; we need their tremendous capacity for virtuous dialog.

At our first session together, I invited these alumni family members to share on a slip of paper their insights and suggestions about the future of the ministry. I invited any questions that they might have so that we could address them.

The loving embrace and overwhelming positive response regarding our future was more than words can express. The most moving time was during our final moments together when someone from the crowd spontaneously stood up and asked for everyone to join in prayer over Katie and me. We felt so loved and encouraged and truly ministered to by this alumni body.

Throughout the course of the two days staff and alums alike experienced the resolution of misunderstandings and joyous tears of forgiveness. We saw hope and encouragement renewed. There were stories shared by alumni of how they’d experienced failure in an area of their lives and, with God’s help, were putting their lives back together.

God is so good! Amen!

Katie and I wish that each of you could have been here for this beautiful weekend. We want to stay in regular communication with you.

I’ve attached the Saturday and Sunday night sessions and have included the Q&A for you so that you can watch at your convenience. I encourage you to listen and watch and I’d love to hear any thoughts you might have. E-mail me at partners@teenmania.org regarding any of the information that I shared.

Saturday Night Session

Sunday Night Session

One idea that was suggested that I want to share with you now was for an Alumni Marriage Retreat—open to Teen Mania alums and their spouses. We had one such marriage session during the Alumni Weekend and it was very encouraging. We all need to strengthen our marriages. If you’d be interested in this possibility, please respond by clicking this  link  so we can gauge alumni interest.

Also, Katie and I are seeking to build a Personal Prayer List of friends with whom we can share the specific needs of Teen Mania. We are grateful for the number of alums this past weekend who agreed to pray with us regularly. If you’d like to join us, please let us know by clicking on the link provided.

I hope each of you will join when we gather for the  next Teen Mania Alumni Weekend. Be sure to stay in touch so that we can send you an invitation!

We love you and appreciate you. God Bless You!

One Last Thought on Cuba

When I was in Cuba a few weeks ago, I heard a statement that I hadn’t heard before in my whole life!  A Cuban pastor told me, “All the churches in Cuba are growing!”

I’m quite certain I’ve never heard this phrase before about any other nation, not even about a group of churches in any nation.  My face probably looked shocked or surprised at the least, because the pastor went on to say, “Yes, there is this one region alone that has 75 churches and we’re planting 100 new ones!”

That astounded me!  I couldn’t help but wonder out loud how they do this in a country where they receive no financial support from the outside.   He informed me that they start the churches in little house churches. And that’s just one region of Cuba.

But it’s not just the churches that are thriving, the Christians are thriving, too! I had the opportunity to speak at a gathering. During the worship, there was a tremendous time of celebration. Half the church members came to the front of the room and they were dancing and celebrating and worshipping.

There was so much joy in the faces of these people, and as I told you in my last blog, these dear people live in the midst of horrible economic oppression—and yet their hearts and faith are thriving, and their churches are growing.

We can find similar signs of joyous revival again and again in the persecuted church, in China, for example.  It also happened in the Early Church. Persecution brings about sincere love for Jesus, a passion for God, and as a result, the churches grow.

As I think back on what I saw in Cuba, I can’t help but think about how many American pastors struggle and wish their church would grow… they wish their church would catch on fire for Jesus… they wish their young people would turn to Jesus and serve Him, but they’re not.

It makes you think. Who are the people with real wealth? Who is the rich man, the pastor whose church and people are thriving, or the pastor who has all kinds of money, but whose people are spiritually poor and empty.

Given this comparison, I can completely understand why the Cuban pastor visiting America would say, “I’ve got to get back to Cuba. I’m going where the ‘real riches’ are.”

My friends, the church in Cuba has something that we desperately need in American churches.

Here in America, we don’t know which direction our country is going. It may be that we are on the path to becoming a communist country where Christians, more and more, are alienated and persecuted. There are some terrible things happening to Christians and churches even now in America, things that are allowed within the legal system.

Please pray for revival in America, that the church and its people here at home will rise from its complacency. Sometimes in the past God has used difficult times to awaken the soul of our nation, to start waves of revival that caused many to grow spiritually and have a more resilient faith.  Almost every single recorded time when there’s persecution in the church, there is an outbreak of revival. God certainly stirred the hearts of His people when 9/11 happened.

Persecution separates the sheep from the goats, the boys from the men, and people who are serious about serving Christ from the Sunday “whatever” Christians.

Please pray for Cuba, for the pastors who are serving the Body of Christ in that nation. And pray that America would experience the “true riches” of faith, the virtue of sacrifice and of laying our lives down for the glory of the Lord. Pray that we won’t be sidetracked by the things that look like blessings, but that distract us from truly following Jesus.

May we truly experience the joy that I witnessed in the lives of the young and old alike in Cuba as the gospel is preached in America.

 

P.S.

Next week, I’m going to be sharing with you from my new book,  RESILIENT! I want to show you how you can have the kind of faith that can stand up to life’s most challenging situations! 

Coming in September: “Resilient”

Resilient Book Cover

My Recent Trip to Cuba

I love this simple little verse, Proverbs 24:32 - “I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw.” Isn’t that a good word?

Sometimes, with so much going on around us, it can be very easy to just blast through life and never process what we are seeing around us. That’s why the writer of Proverbs exhorts us to be observant and to learn. Important things are happening all around us. We just have to keep our eyes open and let God speak to us about what we are seeing and hearing.

As you might imagine, in my ministry travels, I’ve been blessed with many such opportunities to see and to learn, and I want to share with you some observations from a trip I made just a couple of weeks ago to Cuba.

This happened to be my second trip to this island nation; the first trip was 20-plus years ago when the ministry was still located in Tulsa. I have to tell you, Cuba still looked much the same. In fact, if you’ve seen photos of Cuba, it looks much the way it did 60 years or 70 years. It’s fascinating. The cars you see are all 1940s and 1950s cars. They are everywhere, hundreds, thousands of them, as well as Russian cars in shapes and sizes you’ve never seen before, and they are all old.

The first observation I want to share is about the economy. Nearly everyone works for the government- between 95-98% of the population. Cuba is a communist country and every business is owned by the government. Every hotel is owned by the government. Everything is owned by the government. So if you have a job, you work for the government. What you will immediately understand is that the government pays badly and people are very poor.

Public transportation is virtually nonexistent. The most popular public transportation is hitchhiking. One of the pastors told me that he hitchhikes everywhere. He doesn’t own a car. If he’s traveling a short distance he rides a bike, but if he’s going far he hitchhikes—and so does everyone else. Taxis, by the way, are horse-drawn carriages. You will see horse-drawn carriages carrying eight people at a time to work.

In such a culture, hardship and misery abound. Naturally, there is no air conditioning. People stand outside their homes seeking respite from the tropical island heat. But there’s nowhere to cool off, there’s nothing to do, there’s no escape from the misery.

Now let me share with you some of the processing I did—and what God showed me.

First, the conditions in Cuba are the fruit of godless ideology. Before the revolution, Cuba was basically a Catholic country, and though they tried they couldn’t wipe out all of the “God influence.” Most of the cities are named after something in the Bible. They couldn’t change the whole identity of the country, but this godless ideology destroys the worth of human beings. It destroys the human spirit all the while saying, “Humans are the most important things on earth; we don’t need God.”

Second, in the midst of the misery, there is joy. I saw parents walking with their children, holding their hands on the way to school, or carrying them to school. There are things you simply can’t take away from people—such as the love of a parent for a child. I watched a couple who were either married or romantically involved walking hand-in-hand, whispering sweet nothings as they walked through the midst of misery. They still had a sense of joy.

I couldn’t help but think about how easily distracted we can be with the challenges of our lives here at home. We all know people facing hardships. Families and friends have financial issues. There can be ministry challenges. But really, friends, compared to our brothers and sisters in Cuba, we have NO PROBLEMS! Even in Cuba the people have found ways to have joy. It reminds me of what Paul wrote in Philippians 4:12, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation….”

My third and final observation for now: God has a plan for Cuba. I met a number of pastors in Cuba. I had met our host pastor before and he’s been to the states a couple of times. Some pastors get a special kind of visa where they can come to the states and preach, and then they have to go back. Not surprisingly, many of these pastors have been offered pastorates here in the U.S. because they are great preachers; they are full of life and passion.

This particular pastor told us that he had been offered churches in America of 1,000-2,000 people, but that he refused them because he knows that God has a plan for his nation and he wants to be there when God’s plan unfolds. Isn’t that amazing? I love that!

Just think-this man lives in a small house he built with his own hands and with the help of a few members of his church. It has a little kitchen area, a little front room area, and they built a little upstairs area for their kids. They have no car, because even a used beat up old car costs about $30,000 U.S. dollars! And he’s willingly chosen—like so many other Cuban pastors— to stay there!

This makes me think of Mother Theresa who said: “It’s impossible to love without sacrifice.” As followers of Christ, we are called to choose to sacrifice.

I hope you’ll take time to meditate on these words as you observe your world. If you let Him, God will teach you priceless lessons to live by!

Honor to the Unsung Heroes of Teen Mania

An unsung hero is “a person who makes a substantive yet unrecognized contribution.”

I would like to take a moment to remember those faithful individuals who have served tirelessly so that others would know Jesus and the abundance of His blessings and favor on their lives.

For more years than I would like to admit (actually since I was a teenager myself!), I have made mention of the hundreds of thousands of teenagers we have succeeded in reaching for Christ.  God has been with us and we have seen His amazing, transforming power touch continual generations of lives.

Today, I want to highlight a few faithful unsung heroes, true servants who have diligently dedicated countless years of their lives behind the scenes of ministry to ensure that no one would be lost through the cracks but would truly know their purpose in God.

Thank you for laying down your lives in the service of others.  Heaven is your reward. 

1993 1994 TM Staff

1993-94 Teen Mania Staff and Volunteers as found in the yearbook

I am reminded of Hebrews 11, of the many faithful ones who were sure of what they hoped for yet at times without seeing, who believed, worked and carried the burden in prayer for days on end and year after year laboring beside me, but more often than not, from behind a desk, computer or telephone loving teens into the Kingdom.

Yes, this is written in tribute to the unsung heroes of Teen Mania who may have experienced a set of mundane circumstances so that others could climb on their shoulders and go on to change the world from perhaps more glorious surroundings of serving God from higher heights and well known places.

They know who they are but it would certainly be amiss of me not take the time to “show respect and to give honor to whom honor is due.” Romans 13:7

Over the years, God has saw fit to form faithful  dynamic teams among the Staff, perhaps for a season of  years to carry out the vision of training up young World Changers.  These individuals truly listened, cared, and helped mold thousands of young teens that were trained to “CHANGE THE WORLD.”

The Staff at Teen Mania do not work a typical 8-5 job, but serve diligently many nights, weekends and holidays to make sure individuals’ needs were met, mission trips ran smoothly, each class was taught with excellence and the day in and day out routines included life lessons of forgiveness and breakthrough for young people to develop trustworthy relationships and to live by faith.

I have compiled a few short emails just over the past year or so…emails that were difficult to read at first when they began, “Today is my last day…”  I am in your debt.  Below is a portion of Scripture that was included with one of those emails.

Number 4:24-26  “This is the service of the Gershonite clans as they work and carry burdens:  They are to carry the curtains of the tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, its covering and the outer covering of hides of sea cows, the curtains for the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, the curtains of the courtyard surrounding the tabernacle and altar, the curtain for the entrance, the ropes and all the equipment used in its service, whether carrying or doing other work is to be done under the direction of Aaron and his sons.  You shall assign to them as their responsibility all they are to carry.”

. . .

Danielle former staff

Hey Team,

I just wanted to let you know that I will be transitioning out of Teen Mania on June 5th. Next Tuesday will be my last day in the office.  I will be headed home to Boston to spend time with family and reconnect with friends before heading to college hopefully.  I am not sure what the Lord has in store this next season but I know that it is going to be good.

I just wanted to thank you so much for all your hard work and for giving me the privilege to work alongside you. I have enjoyed all of our encounters and conversations, even in the midst of the busiest times. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to work alongside and to share life with for the past six years. I have learned so much from all of you and look forward to learning even more. You have been such a blessing and have enriched my life in more ways than one. Thank you for serving the KING! I love you all.  God bless you!

~Danielle

 . . .

Tabitha and BrendanBeloved TM Family,

As many of you already know, my time at Teen Mania has come to an end. In preparation of this new season, I have already started a new job in Tyler.

It It has been an honor to serve alongside each of you to advance the cause of Christ. Some days were easier to recognize this than others, but what a blessing it has been for each of us to make an eternal impact while serving here.

Thank you all for your hard work, your sacrificial love, your time spent and your love for God. It has impacted countless interns and staff, me included. My life will be forever impacted by the work of this ministry.

Please keep Brendon and I in your prayers as we start this new journey, and know that we will continue to love, support and pray for the ministry.  Goodbye my friends!  God bless you!!!

~Tabitha

 

Friends,

Today marks my last day serving at Teen Mania.  It has been an amazing 6 years!  I have been privileged to serve alongside such wonderful individuals, from the time I was an intern until now.  I continue to pray for you all constantly, and I strongly support the work of the Lord through Teen Mania.   Tabitha and I both stand behind Ron and Katie, and all the staff serving here.  Thank you for your constant support, encouragement, challenging, mentoring, facilitating, coaching, leading, etc.  I will greatly miss you all!

Thanks again, and God bless!

~Brendon

 . . .

Otis Ray

Dear Friends,

Today I am announcing my departure from Teen Mania. I will be moving on to a company in Tyler called Aramark. I will be a service technician working on all their trucks and commercial vehicles. This will be my last and final week here which is crazy to write because so many great things have happened here! But beyond all the memories were just all the great people I have gotten to meet and serve with, and watch grow into amazing people of God!  Thanks for such a great time and great memories over the years; it was a heck of a ride! I hope all of you the best and look forward to keeping in contact with you in the future. I wish you all the best in your service of the Lord. Keep Fighting the Good Fight, for it’s the only one worth living and dying for.

~Otis

 . . .

Jeff Pruett

Today marks 5 years that I have served at Teen Mania Ministries!  What an awesome journey it has been thus far.  I am humbled and amazed to have consistently seen the love and power of God demonstrated in immeasurable ways…eternity will tell!  “5 years never meant so much” It’s truly been my honor to serve these young World Changers. 

~Jeff,  Facebook post, Dec. 18, 2013

An intern’s response:  You are so appreciated!  Your heart is seen by many and by your vulnerability these young hearts know you are the real thing!  Thank you for taking time to meet with interns during meals.  Thank you for being a great example of a selfless leader.

You have made all of the difference if you have made a difference in the life of just one.

“He is the God who sees you.”  Genesis 16:13

Featuring: An HA Alumni Blog- Michael Mistretta

If there is one goal in life I have aspired to in the Lord is to call teenagers into a relationship with Christ. 

Through 3 generations, advancements in media, Internet, travel, entertainment and many shifts in American culture both politically and spiritually, we have bridged many seasons of life!

Today I want to honor one such teenager who definitely grew in wisdom and stature and was among our ranks for 5 years as an Intern, Alumni and Staff member, but who first went on a mission trip as a teen and caught a vision for his life through Teen Mania Ministries. 

Michael is just one of many faithful people who has understood the purpose of God on his life, has served faithfully and God has continued to equip him for his future.   We are so proud that he is one of our own.

Read below two emails I received from Michael in April and July, as he transitioned out of Teen Mania and headed to another mission field pursuing the call of God on his life.

Mistretta with Camel

 

APRIL 2014

Dear friends,

As most of you know, God laid it on my heart over four years ago to move to Israel. And at last, that is actually becoming a reality. Tomorrow will be my last day working at Teen Mania before I pack up and begin my journey to Zion.

I will be spending some time with friends and family over the next month and will be booking a one-way ticket to Israel at the end of May. When in Israel, I will be living in Jerusalem producing media & videos for King of Kings Church as well as teaching at their Kings School of Media, started by former Teen Mania & CCM staff member.

Working production by day, I will be learning Hebrew & studying by night. God has given me a larger long-term vision for the future of the Jewish people and the Church that I will actively be pursuing.

The last five years of my life at Teen Mania have been the absolute best years of my life. It’s here that I encountered God, fell in love with the Bible, matured in my faith, and made lifelong friends that have made the most excellent peers & co-workers. I have been blessed to know and serve alongside each of you. For those of you moving with Teen Mania to Dallas know that I am praying for you and continue to feel connected to the work you are doing for the Kingdom.

I would love to stay in touch.  Shalom!           -Michael

 

JULY 2014

Ron,

Even though I’ve been gone from Teen Mania for two months now, I want you to know that you all are in my thoughts & prayers as you transition to Dallas. I know it’s a big move and transitions aren’t always fun, but I am confident that you are being led by God and am excited to see the fruit of your labors over this past year.

I’ve told you in the past how much Teen Mania has personally impacted my life. I never would have thought when I went on my first mission trip with Global Expeditions that just 8 years later I would be living full-time in Israel (hopefully) for the rest of my life. I can see now how all of those seeds sown over the years have perfectly led me to the place I am right now.

You have been so gracious and generous with my family throughout the years and I wanted to say thank you! The impact you have made is truly lasting.

 Consumed by the same call from Jerusalem           – Michael