The multitude of divine moments is too many to include in this short ranting of a blog post, but I will highlight some of the moments that will be with me forever.
Needing to travel the infamous Balkan roads. I rented a vehicle and traversed the winding paths up and down the beautiful mountains of the Balkans. Past beautiful lakes and medieval castles I traveled to see dear brothers and sisters who love Jesus and people in an inspiring way. My first stop was back to Lake Ohrid, where God plunged me deeper into the understanding of His kindness. The teaching came through the deep compassion of Captain Bobby and his beautiful and more than hospitable wife. I soaked up the sun and crisp waters of that place, receive and gave love, and continued on to Albania.
The moment I crossed the Albanian border it began to rain. I rounded a bend on a very narrow, winding mountain road and the control arm of my right tire snapped. I went into an uncontrollable slide heading toward the edge of the cliff and a very inconvenient fiery death. The Lord had other plans and by a matter of inches I just caught the guardrail and missed the fiery cliff plunge. But I was rolling and I accepted that the small stick shift should soon end up on its back. Again the Lord had other plans and defying gravity and momentum the car landed back upright. The problem was my front end was trashed, my control arm was trashed and two tires were off the ground and held up by my friend the guardrail. Immediately some very kind Albanian men stopped and called for a tow truck. They all stayed with me in the rain and the tow truck had a master genius character manage to secure the car of the rail and onto his tow truck. Every man was amazed and telling me how lucky I was that I did not go off the edge, I pointed up and said its all God. Now please understand that I had been in Albania 5 minutes and spoke zero Albanian. I knew enough Macedonian to get by but no Albanian at this point, which made things interesting. The tow truck driver furiously drove to a small mechanic shop in the border town of Pogradec.
I thought for sure that the massive repairs would take days and I had no idea the cost. As I waited a man walked by speaking English. I asked him to help translate, he said he was from Uganda and loved Jesus and it was instant friendship. He invited me into his home where I met other African brothers. We ate, sang and played praise and worship songs and shared stories of God’s goodness. A few hours later the mechanic told me I must be the luckiest man alive because I cheated death and they found a very difficult part to obtain almost instantly. The car would be ready by that evening, so I went out for coffee with two of my Ugandan friends. The young man had specific questions for me relating to God. Fortunately I had grace filled answers to meet his questions. They were specific things God had been teaching me, and I knew it was a divine appointment. To confirm the supernatural of this meeting the young man Joshua, told me that he had just prayed that God would send someone to answer these deep questions he had weighing on his heart. I heard their stories of abandoning all for Jesus, leaving family and comfort, being healed and rescued by the love of Christ Jesus. It was a great first day in Albania.
I returned to find my vehicle ready to go. It was amazing how quickly those men worked. I left that evening and drove most of the night to Durres. The next day I met with a sweet brother Tani. We prayed together, shared stories and he translated the gospel for me as I shared the gospel shirtless with a local Muslim man (also shirtless). All three of us grabbed lunch and I listened to the hardships of life for the common man in Albania. Work is scarce and hopelessness sits heavy in the people there. Yet they are welcoming and open to receive true hope and love.
Tani rode with me to Tirana, where we met briefly with Seth Carson and his lovely wife. It was encouraging to see a fellow Texan and hear of their wonderful ministry and heart to love. We prayed, drank coffee and prayed some more. Then I headed back to Ohrid. On the drive I listened to some good old country music and drove through some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. On that drive I more deeply realized in my conversations with the Lord, that I absolutely couldn’t do this. I cannot fix myself, support myself, protect myself, or any of it. I don't have enough love, strength, grace, compassion, wisdom, or discipline. I am fearful and weak and I simply cannot do it, I knew I would not make it. The kindness of God met me compassionately with this truth. I saw a man climbing a mountain; his back scarred, cut and bruised. New wounds were present and he was climbing toward a path well light by God’s purpose and love. I thought this man was myself, but I was farther down the mountain. I thought this man was climbing up, but this man was climbing down, down to me. With the realization that I simply cannot climb the mountains in my life I lay beaten and broken down in the valley. The man whose stripes heal picked me up and carried me up the mountain. The thought of anyone carrying me is hard to imagine, but Jesus can. The only thing required is my faith and surrender. The most powerful tool in my life is to wake up and allow Jesus to carry me. He is strong enough, I assure you of that.
The next morning I woke up in a hostel in Ohrid and God was at work again. I was blessed to share the good news of Jesus and it be received by my temporary roommate. I always marvel at the love of God to use me, and the way every gospel presentation is so different. The message is the same, but the delivery is tailored to the audience in a way only the Holy Spirit could do. I left Macedonia encouraged, prayed for, and blessed by so many dear friends and missionaries there. I prayed up and boarded my flight to Tel Aviv Israel.
The great kindness of God has carried me in many ways, and brought me to Israel. The Holy land is so full of “whoa God You are cool” moments. I have been blessed to soak up the knowledge and wisdom of my Father and Mother here. I have met so many dear and sweet people. It feels so familiar and I have been overwhelmed by the strong presence of God. The Holy sites are amazing and as my Dad would say, “If you want your faith to be more real, come to the place where it really happened”. I have been blessed to travel to Israel multiple times, but there is a sea of learning taking place each time.
The most glaring obstacle to the gospel here is the stubborn hateful hearts of the people. On the temple mount Muslim women and children harassed a small group of Jewish people visiting the site while under military escort. They chanted hate and it was sad to watch. That Saturday our taxi was pelted with rocks from orthodox Jews showing their hatred for those who don't keep the Sabbath day “holy” and drive anywhere. I started to become furious with the stupidity of both groups of people who ignorantly cling to prejudice and hate. I love Israel, I love the Jewish people, and Jesus was a Jew! And I love Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims. They all have the same problem. They are truly ignorant of true love. Compassion blotted out my anger and sorrow filled me to know that they do not know the real Jesus. The Jesus that truly saves is all around them and they are ignorant to the goodness of grace. Oh Lord please open the eyes of the blind and save them by Your truth and love. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
Israel has been filled with once in a lifetime opportunities. Yesterday I preached from the passage where Jesus calms the storm on a boat, on the Sea of Galilee. Imagine if the disciples would have had the faith to trust that God was in the boat with them. If they knew Love was in the boat with them, fear would have been gone and they could have stood at the front of that boat and faced an awe-demanding storm with peace. How often I forget that God himself is there with me in the storms. Every day the Lord Jesus builds my faith, it is beautiful. Later that day I shared my testimony knee deep in the Jordan River. My earthly Father was baptizing me again almost 20 later. I shared that many things in my life have been stripped from me or I have given them up. Those things are an old way of thinking, and striving, a fruitful ministry reaching children, a dog, a home, a wife, friends, family, a lucrative job, my pride, my shame, my guilt, my loneliness and my need to perform to earn God’s favor. And I have gained more than I could have ever imagined. I have gained grace, understanding, humility, new ministry, new friends, new family, new passions, new love, renewed purity, new depths of gratitude for those I love and who love me. I am more blessed than ever before, heaps and piles and mountains of blessings overflow my heart and it is overwhelmingly good. God has changed me, and He is still not done! So cool! I want to everyone to know this love. I want everyone to know that purpose is found in being loved by God. My Father dunked me under those sacred waters and I came up giving him a big bear hug. I love my Dad. I would not say it was a steak in the ground, just a continuance of standing as the man God created me to be in front of others.
This trip I have heard heart breaking stories that shatter my perspective of hardship. I have heard of so much pain and loss. Lost loved ones, debilitating sickness, suicide, divorce, and years of pain. And the responses to these hardships are different in their journeys but the same in their conclusions. Each person professes that God is good, and that God is love. Each person wants others to know Jesus and has been touched by the true love of Jesus Christ. They are incredible, believing whole-heartedly that God has purpose for every ounce of pain, and I stand there with them. Today I went to the border of Syria and I saw, heard and felt artillery shells being fired. I couldn't believe just miles away people were dying. I could see the smoke among the buildings. All my life I have never known the fear of hiding in my home not knowing if the next shell would strike my family’s home. I stopped and prayed for those people. Civil war was in front of me and the heart wrenching part is that I am powerless. I wanted to run through the border and tell every child I could that Jesus loves them, died for them, and rose again proving His power to forgive them. I wanted to bring hope to the hopeless and rescue the powerless. But I can’t, I can’t even physically cross the multitudes of land mines to get there. So watching the bombs send smoke and debris into the air I stopped and prayed. I will never underestimate the power of prayer. Prayer has saved me and changed the lives and destinies of many. The prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much and I am righteous because of Jesus. Jesus wrap the innocent in protection and guide them to Your truth and love. Supernaturally save them and lead them to safety. Use every tragedy Lord Jesus, save them in every way! Please Lord!
One constant in the 6 countries I have traveled to so far. Is that in every place there are believers in Jesus with the same Spirit of love, God’s love. In every language I have found myself lost in translation when singing worship. But in every language and every place Hallelujah is sung the same. What beauty that Hallelujah means “God be praised”, truly God be praised! No matter the time, the situation, the pain or the comfort, God be praised. Hallelujah today, tomorrow, and in this moment. No matter who you are, or where you are Jesus has love, peace, and joy for you at this very moment. Praise God and sing with me, sing with every heart in every nation Hallelujah!
Grace leads me,