Saturday, December 31, 2011

My 2011.

It's New Year's Eve, and suffice it to say this has been one of the most interesting years of my life. It's been a really LONG time since I've been this happy to see a year end. 

Professionally, this has been one of the best years I've ever had. I have been amazed countless times at the great things God is doing through Del Sol Church, Youth for Christ El Paso, and The Encounter Movement. I have seen God transform people in amazing ways, I've seen Him lead people to great generosity with their time and money, and I've seen grace in action more than ever before. I've seen the absolute pain, horror, and devastation that sin causes, but I've also seen how God's grace and forgiveness is stronger.

I've also seen how God can heal and restore, and that's been indescribably beautiful to see. I know that what God has done is just the tip of the iceberg, and I am so excited to see the greater things that He will do next year. When it comes to ministry in El Paso, I truly believe 2012 will be a year of blessing, prosperity, and breakthroughs like we have never seen before. I feel tremendously humbled and privileged to be a part of that. 

Personally, 2011 was one of the worst years I've ever had. I started out the year struggling with a depression that was affecting my life in a bad way. I wrote about that here. I went through months of counseling and finally experienced God's deliverance from that. Then I enjoyed a short time of good circumstances during the spring - and then came summer. 

At the beginning of summer I got hit with a bad case of bronchitis. That was terrible, and I hope it never happens again. I also met a very lovely young lady and we began to kindle a relationship. It was very nice, very innocent and pure, and a lot of fun. She's a very wise, Godly young woman and I was excited at the potential for a long-term relationship. By the end of summer, she had to leave to go back and finish her last year of college.

We talked about what would happen next, and agreed that it would be best to wait until after she graduated to look into the possibility of a serious relationship. Shortly after that, she met another guy at school and they began a relationship. So as difficult as it was, I prayed for them, blessed them, and left that all in God's hand. I don't understand what happened, I don't know why things turned out the way they did, and I don't know if I'll ever have closure about that. I probably will after awhile, but it sure doesn't feel like it right now. 

Around the same time, I also found out about a sinful situation some people I love were involved in and because of the circumstances, had to immediately intervene. That turned out to be pretty messy and I'm still helping them through the restoration process with that.

By this time, it was fall and I was getting pretty worn down by life. I hoped things would be a little calmer in life, but boy was I wrong! On Thanksgiving morning, I was heading to the parade Downtown and got rear ended by a lady in a big truck driving full-speed on the freeway. After waiting on the side of the freeway for  nearly an hour, help arrived. The ambulance took one of the girls to the hospital and the rest of us went on our own and spent most of the day in the hospital. Since then we've been dealing with a long, painful, slow recovery from our injuries.

A little while after that I was asked to intervene in another messy, sinful situation. That was really painful to get involved in, and I'm also still involved in helping in that restoration process.

Then came Christmastime. One of my brothers wasn't able to make it home, making this the second year in a row my family was incomplete at Christmas. We made it through Christmas and ended up having a blessed time, and then a couple days after that I began to get sick. Turns out I have strep throat. I went to the clinic, got a couple shots, and passed out from the pain. After awhile, I was able to go home and since then I've been trying to heal up. As of today, I'm still feeling pretty lousy. 

So can see it's been a very difficult year for me. I have experienced physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual pain like I never thought I would. And you can see why I'm glad this year is over. 

But - I'm optimistic and hopeful about 2012. Hardly anything has changed. Seems like things have gotten worse, actually - yet I believe next year will be a good year. Today, Steven Furtick, pastor of Elevation Church, posted this on twitter: "The difficulty of the trial you survived indicates the depth of blessing that's ahead. God tests you to promote you."

I fully agree with that. I believe that everything I've been through will be a launch pad for greater things. Why? Because God is good. Not everything that happens is good - but God is good. 

Psalm 107:1 NIV says: "Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever". Even through all the pain I've had, I can still confidently tell you that's true! God is good.

In John 10:10 CEV, Jesus said "The thief comes only to rob, kill, and destroy. I came so that everyone would have life, and have it in its fullest". I LOVE that Scripture. I know that stupid satan tried to destroy me in 2011, but he failed like he always will. More importantly, I know that Jesus wants me to have life in its fullest, in Him.

So my goal for 2012: live life to the fullest by living it in Him. 2012 will be a great year because in good and bad - I will be living it with my Lord Jesus. And He is enough for me.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Gifts That Make A Difference

Still looking for some Christmas gifts? Don't know what to get for someone? Why not give a gift that will last longer than a gift card, a fruitcake, or clothes? Here are some GREAT organizations to buy a gift from:

- International Justice Mission. This is my FAVORITE organization of all. If you're reading this, you will never be owned by someone else. You will never be property. Sad to say, not everyone in the world has the same freedom. You can buy the gift of freedom for someone in our world. Check out IJM by clicking here.

- charity: water. My next favorite organization. Did you know almost 1 billion people in our world don't have access to clean water? That to turn on a kitchen faucet and have clean water come out would be a miracle to nearly 1 BILLION people on earth? And did you know that just $20 provides clean water for one person for 20 years? Give the gift of water. You can buy gifts here or donate in someone else's name here.

- Compassion International. This is a phenomenal organization that is hugely respected across the world. You can help Compassion release children from poverty in Jesus' Name. There are so many ways to do that, you'll just have to go here to see all the gift options.

- World Vision. A few years ago I gave my three brothers a goat for Christmas. Yes, really - a goat. Somewhere in a developing nation, a family received a goat, which provides milk and cheese for food, manure for crops, and wool for clothes. There are lot of other giving options here.

- The A21 campaign. Last but certainly not least is A21 - an organization working to abolish justice in the 21st century. You can write a Christmas card to a survivor of human trafficking, or give a financial donation that will be used to fight human trafficking through legal fees, as well as costs related to healthcare and housing for victims. Check out A21 here.

I hope this Christmas you'll consider giving a gift that will make a difference.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

My thoughts on current politics.

Disclaimer: these are my personal thoughts and opinions on current politics. My personal opinions are not at all related to or connected any non-profit organization with which I am affiliated.

Ok now that we’re clear about that, here are some miscellaneous thoughts about current politics in El Paso and beyond:

- I get very excited about politics and elections. I think the voting process is a huge privilege, and it’s the best way to make your voice known. Voting is much more effective than protesting like the ridiculously selfish & socialist “Occupy” groups are doing. But that’s another post for another day …

- Today in Texas we voted on 10 important constitutional amendments. I voted against the one that directly affected El Paso because I don’t think El Paso needs another taxing entity. We already pay enough taxes to enough entities.

-  I’m glad that the city of Socorro, Texas elected Trini Lopez to be mayor again. He seems to really care about the community, unlike most other Socorro politicians. I like him.

- I think my city representative, Dr. Michiel Noe, is doing a fantastic job on city council. For once in a long time, I feel like I am actually being represented in city government.

- The only El Paso politicians I trust are Dr. Noe, city reps Acosta, Robinson, and Niland, county commissioner Dan Haggerty, county judge Veronica Escobar, and state representatives Dee Margo and Joe Pickett.

- Though we don’t totally align philosophically, I highly value the opinion of former YISD board member Liza Montelongo. I hope she runs for elected office again soon.

- I used to think anyone but Congressman Silvestre Reyes would be better for El Paso – until Beto O’Rourke joined the race. He is definitely not better than Reyes.

- I think Governor Perry is exactly right for Texas, but I don’t think he would be a good President of the United States.

- I really like Herman Cain, and I don’t believe the accusations about sexual harassment. I like that he is a businessman and outsider to politics, yet he knows about government since he worked with the Federal Reserve.

- Although I like Mr. Cain, I don’t think he’s ready to President this time around. He just doesn’t have the experience needed and I don’t think that the Presidency is a good place for on-the-job learning. I think he should be a Vice President in 2012, and then run for President in 2016 or 2020.

- I would love to see New Mexico’s governor Susanna Martinez become President in 2016 or 2020. I like her – a LOT!

- I believe President Obama really thinks his policies are best for America, but in my opinion – they are not. We are far worse off than we were before he was elected, and almost everything he has done has been very harmful to our great nation. It’s time for a real change.

You probably don’t agree with me on some of these things, but those are my opinions. Take ‘em or leave ‘em.

Friday, September 16, 2011


Around the beginning of this summer a friend of mine mentioned something that I had always been favorable towards but never really thought about: adoption. They told me that they really want to adopt a child when they get married. They also asked me what I thought about adoption, and since then I've been thinking about it a lot.

Honestly, I had never really thought of it that much - but I have never felt negative or turned off to it at all. As a matter of fact when I was growing up, my parents frequently talked about their desire to adopt a little girl - so adoption has always been seen as a realistic, desirable thing in my family. So when my friend asked what I thought about adoption, I told them I wouldn't mind adoption at all. As a matter of fact, I might even want to adopt someday if I get married.

So ever since my friend rekindled that thought in my mind, I've been thinking about it ...a lot. And then a couple of Sundays ago I saw a story on the front page of the El Paso Times about the difficulties of adoption in Mexico. I believe it was on September 4th, now that I think of it. So the article was chronicling the story of an American family who has been trying for years to adopt a Mexican girl. They've spent thousands of dollars on administrative costs and court costs, and in making trips to Juarez to go see her over the years. They've basically watched her grow up and even though the Mexican government is making it nearly impossible for them, they still have hope that she will soon be part of their family.

The article also talked about many other kids who are in that orphanage waiting for a forever family and it showed several photos of the kids - some of them teenagers - playing at the orphanage. I looked at those photos of the little kids and thought maybe someday I'll adopt a child like them. I looked at the photos of the teenagers and wanted to be an older brother to them.

Honestly, it's really bothered me since then that SO many of these kids have been waiting for SO long, and that the Mexican government is making it so difficult for the adoptions to be finalized. It just doesn't make sense to me.

So ...adoption. It's a beautiful thing and it's an amazing, visible picture of God's love for us. Someday if I ever get married, I think I'd like to look into adoption. I pray and hope my wife will be open to that, because I think adoption is a really great thing.

What about you - have you ever thought about adoption? Would you be open to adopting a child?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Pray for Youth for Christ El Paso.

Tomorrow morning, we as the board of Youth for Christ El Paso will gather together at 8:00 am to pray for the new school year of ministry with YFC. I want to invite you to join with us in prayer wherever you're at. Below are the things we'll pray about and even if it's after 8:00 am tomorrow, please pray for these things anyway. I believe this will be one of the greatest ministry years ever of YFC, so thanks for your prayers.

Prayer Requests:

1. That God would open any unopened doors in every and all areas of YFC: financial areas, churches, and campuses.

2. That this year we would be able to reach even more young people for Christ. That there would be a 10-fold multiplication of what God is already doing on YFC campuses in El Paso. That many more campuses and churches be added.

3. That through the planning of upcoming banquet, God would open even more doors in financial areas that perhaps we have never tapped into.

4. That as a Board we would begin to intercede frequently, and not only pray during our board meetings.

5. That the banquet would be 100% sponsored through business donors in this city.

6. For all our families. 

7. For Rick (YFC's executive director), as he has to deal with various pressures from different people in different areas. That God would pour more and more of Him as he continues to walk in faith with the vision that God has given him in this city for YFC and Ft. Bliss. 

8. That as a Board, we would be so united and stand together in times of battle and discouragement.

9. For Tara (our campus director) and her family: provision and strength to manage tasks that God has placed in their lap.

10. For Rosemary and Zach (YFC staffers): for greater leadership and greater abilities to manage responsibilities. That God would open contracting positions at Ft. Bliss so that they can continue to help with YFC.

12. For our jobs and ministries that each of us is doing. That God would prosper the work of our hands and give us greater favor. 

13. For continued passion of each YFC chapter.

14. That this year, God has marked it as a year of great increase for YFC, and that we would hold on to that promise with all we got!

We pray based on God’s Word:

Psalm 91:15
They will call to me, and I will answer them.
I will be with them in trouble;

I will rescue them and honor them.

1 Corinthians 15:58

So my dear brothers and sisters, stand strong. Do not let anything move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your work in the Lord is never wasted.
Colossians 1:10
... so that you will live the kind of life that honors and pleases the Lord in every way. You will produce fruit in every good work and grow in the knowledge of God.
Hebrews 6:10-11
God is fair; he will not forget the work you did and the love you showed for him by helping his people. And he will remember that you are still helping them. We want each of you to go on with the same hard work all your lives so you will surely get what you hope for.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I love my wife.

I don't know if I've met her yet or not, but I love her. With all my heart! I think about her everyday and I pray for her constantly. I ask the Lord to protect her heart, her mind, her emotions, her finances, and her body. I ask God to prosper her and bless her, to make her wise, and to give her a heart that will be compatible with mine.

There's a big difference between loving someone and being in love with them, but I love her and I'm in love with her. I love her as my friend and partner in ministry, and I'm in love with her as my romantic partner and soul mate.

To love is to serve, so I'm preparing myself right now to serve her. As a matter of fact, serving her for the rest of my life is one of the things I'm looking forward to the most about being married to her. I know it will be work, I know it'll be frustrating, I know it'll challenge me and will require an enormous amount of self-sacrifice, but I want to do it for her. She's worth it all to me.

I've been working hard for a couple of years now to become physically fit and healthy for her. I know that heart disease and diabetes run in my family, so I want to do what I can now to avoid getting sick later so that she doesn't have to deal with that. I've also been working hard and sacrificing a lot to pay off my school debt so that when we meet, I won't be bringing any debt into the marriage. That will be especially important if she has debt that we'll need to take on together. Since money problems is one of the biggest causes of marriage problems and divorce, I want to do everything I can now to avoid that stuff in the future.

In the Bible, Ephesians 5:22 says "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." Wow, what a big challenge to men. I want to know how to do that. Even though I'm not married, I'm trying hard to learn exactly what that means and how to do that for her. I know it'll take a lifetime to know how to love her like that but that's ok, because I've already given her the rest of my life anyway.

I know many people say that the romance fades and you just get used to each other after awhile. Call me naive, but I don't ever want that to happen to us. Perhaps they're the exception to the rule but I've seen a few couples who have been married for decades and they're still affectionate and in love like they were in the beginning. I want to do everything I can to always romance my wife so that even after 20 years of marriage, we're still in love. Even after years of marriage, I still want to hold her hand while we drive together or while we watch movies together.

I don't ever want to stop dating her. And I won't ever get used to her. I know that'll keep me on my toes and will stretch my creativity, but she's worth it.

Even though we're not married, and I don't even know if I know who she is yet - I love my wife. I really, really do - with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. I just hope and pray - oh how I pray so much - that God will continue shaping me into the kind of man she needs me to be.

Because she's worth it.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Intentional Encouragement.

I've never been a fan of "random acts of kindness"; honestly, I think that's a dumb concept. I believe we should be intentional about our kindness, not random. By "intentional", I don't mean we should be kind to some and not to others, and I also don't mean we should have some hidden motive behind our kindness. I just think that we should choose to intentionally be kind to everyone we meet, rather that just randomly picking someone out.

That's about as silly as when people open up the Bible to some random page, point their finger down on some random verse, and then expect God to speak to them through that. That's just playing games with God and disrespecting the Bible. But, that's a different topic to write about ...

I truly believe our kindness should be intentional. And what's more, I think our encouragement should also be intentional. Too often I think we encourage people for what they do, not for who they are. We encourage people when they make the team or do well on a project, but how often do we encourage them just for the sake of encouraging them?

Here's how this came about: yesterday I was talking with a friend and the topic of notes of encouragement came up. This friend mentioned that they frequently have notes given to them or left on their car, and I mentioned that aside from Minister's Appreciation month, my birthday, or at Christmas, I don't really get any notes or cards. I actually don't remember the last time someone gave me a note of encouragement just to encourage me.

(Don't feel bad for me; I'm not throwing a pity party. And please don't feel like you have to give me a note or a word of encouragement after reading this post)

But that got me thinking: my friend must feel special every time someone gives them a note "just because". And on the rare occasion that someone has encouraged me "just because", it's felt like a booster shot to my soul. So this morning, I woke up and decided that I would try, in some small way, to encourage everyone I saw today. At home I gave my mom a hug and told her I loved her.

Then later on I ran into someone at work and decided to encourage that person. I told them how they have such a kind, caring disposition which makes people feel at peace, and that they are doing a great job at the church office. 

When I told them that, I saw this person's eyes well up with tears. This person was shocked and they stammered out how they had been struggling with feelings about their inadequacy and shortcomings, and that I made their day by telling them that. I took a moment to pray and ask God to encourage them, gave them a hug, and then went back to my office to work.

I sat down and was just floored. This person is always so nice and seems to always be smiling, so I was humbled and honored that they would open up with me and let me pray for them. If I hadn't been intentional about encouraging them, I probably never would have had the chance to minister to this person and speak life into them.

So I want to challenge you: be an intentional encourager. Make a decision to encourage at least one person a day - and try to encourage them for who they are, not what they do. Send someone a card once a week to let them know that you appreciate and respect them. Whatever you do, figure out some way to intentionally encourage others.

Is it more work to live that way? Yes. Do you have to really look beyond yourself and be considerate of others? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes. Proverbs 11:25 NLT says "The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed." Today was one of many instances in my life where I can tell you that this verse is very, very true. It's worth it to intentionally encourage, and the Bible promises that God will bless you for it

Don't be a random encourager; be an intentional encourager. You never know whose day you might make.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


The month of July 2011 was ....indescribable. In both a good and a bad way. Honestly, I still don't even know how to describe it. It's so surreal to have experienced such sheer happiness and joy, while at the same time experiencing such shocking betrayal and pain. I feel like I've experienced every extreme emotion imaginable, all within the span of a few short weeks. I wish I could elaborate more, but I can't. I still feel a little numb to it all.

I can honestly say that the third week of July was the most difficult and painful week of all my years in ministry, and one of the worst weeks of my life as a whole. Something horrible happened that I still can hardly even believe - and yet I'm grateful that through it all, the Lord blessed me in tremendous ways with courage, wisdom, and clarity of mind that I can only say came from God. Again, such a paradox: I experienced emotional trauma like I have never felt before yet at the same time, I experienced joy and peace from God like I can't even describe.

In the middle of dealing with some intensely personal stuff, I also had the privilege of helping several people from both campuses of my church work through some really difficult stuff. I went to bat so many times for them through prayer and through serving for them in practical ways, even when I was feeling totally drained myself and was the one needing to be ministered to.

And through it all, I kept remembering one thing: this IS ministry.

Ministry is not a program for an hour a week on Wednesday or Sunday. Ministry is not being in a small group Bible study. Ministry is not serving the community. Ministry is not teaching people the Bible. Ministry is not evangelism. Yes, those are all important components of ministry, but they are NOT ministry. Ministry is about caring for the one.

Ministry is ALL about the one.

The one person who is in the hospital, feeling uncomfortable because of their illness and wishing they could just be at home.

The one person who was in a dangerous situation and needs your help.

The one person who is living their life, doing whatever they want, hurting themselves and hurting others because they know they're looking for something but they don't even know what that is.

The one person who needs help moving. Or cleaning their house. Or mowing their lawn.

The one person who feels overwhelmed and needs someone to help them keep their head above water.

The one person who was betrayed and feels like they can never trust again, so they need someone to show them through Christ's love that they WILL find healing and WILL be able to fully trust again soon.

The one person whose life is going well, but is still living life without Christ and is heading to a Christ-less eternity.

The one person who can't pay their bills and needs a church family to rally around them, not as a charity case but because they are family, and families take care of their own.

The one who just really needs a hug. They don't need to you fix everything, they don't need your advice - they just need a hug.

Ministry is all about the one. And the high privilege and calling a minister is to minister to the one. Even when he's tired. Even when he'd rather do other things. Even when it's easier to let someone else do it.

Ministry is all about the one, and the minister needs to know - REALLY know - the people he ministers to in order to best minister to them. Proverbs 27:23 NLT puts it this way: "Know the state of your flocks, and put your heart into caring for your herds."

In Luke 15:3-7, Jesus talks about the importance of leaving the group of 99 sheep to go find and bring back the ONE sheep who was lost. Ministry is all about the one.

So now it's August. I feel like I've been through the wringer. I feel like I've been hit by a Mack truck. I feel like I've poured myself out to the last drop for others. It's been tough and I've never experienced anything like this before, but I still count it a high privilege. It is an honor - an HONOR - to stand alongside people in their most difficult times and help them keep their eyes fixed on the hope of God.

As indescribable and difficult as July was, I wouldn't trade it for the world. It was a great month of ministering to people at a time.

Friday, July 29, 2011


As I've worked to overcome depression the last 6 months or so, I have listened to one certain song over and over again and it's really ministered to my heart and helped me heal. It's called "You Love Me Anyway" by the group Sidewalk Prophets. You can watch the video here. In that song, there's a powerful refrain that goes like this:

"I am the thorn in Your crown, but You love me anyway. I am the sweat from Your brow, but You love me anyway. I am the nail in Your wrist, but You love me anyway. I am Judas’ kiss, but You love me anyway."

I don't know about you but many, many times I've felt like the nail in Christ's wrist and I've felt like Judas' kiss of betrayal. I've chosen to sin, I've chosen to rebel, I've chosen to settle for less than God's best and have done what I wanted or what felt good in the moment - but when you do whatever feels good, it doesn't feel good for long. And pretty soon, I feel like I personally betrayed God. And in a sense, anytime we sin, we actually do personally betray the Lord.

Yet the majesty of grace is that even if I had literally driven a nail into Christ's wrist or if I had literally betrayed Jesus with a kiss on the cheek, He would love me anyway. It's amazing how Jesus welcomed back and restored Peter after he had betrayed Jesus. Based on that, although I have no Biblical basis to prove it, I really do think Jesus would welcomed back and restored Judas if Judas hadn't committed suicide.

You see, that's the power and the beauty of grace. Whether we directly betray God like Judas did or we indirectly betray Him like Peter did, Jesus welcomes us back with open arms. In the same way that the rainbow is a reminder from God that He will never again flood the whole earth, the cross stands forever as a reminder that no matter what, God will always take us back. The cross is an everlasting reminder of God's grace no matter what we do - past, present, or future.

I have been the nail in His wrist. I have been Judas' kiss. And He loves me anyway.

Now that's grace - the grace of God.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Bring a mop.

"A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out." - Isaiah 42:3 NIV

This verse came alive to me in a very personal way this weekend. I was listening to a talk from a church planting conference and the speaker mentioned this verse as part of the introduction to his message, but it hit me like a Mack truck.

Read that verse again. Really ...go read it again right now. Do you see the mind-blowing, wonderful, amazingly indescribable grace of God in that verse?

To think that God would see a bruised and bent life and not break it; to think that God would see one little lingering flick where there should be a smoldering fire and He would not extinguish it that's grace.

Last week I heard a pastor who had committed adultery, was restored, and has now started a new church talk about how Christianity should not be about shooting our wounded, but how we should just "get a mop" and, with the power of Christ, help them clean up the mess they've made of their lives.

Hrmm. Seems to me Isaiah 42:3 is basically saying that God is in the business of getting a mop. That when He could rightfully come across a bruised reed and break it, He doesn't. That when He sees a smoldering wick, He doesn't blow it out. That God loves to redeem and renew. That God is in the business of raising the dead. Wow. Now that's grace!

Are you tired? Are you feeling worn out? Do you feel like you can't go on anymore? You just really need a break right now? If life too much for you to handle right now? If you feel like that, you're probably a bruised reed or a smoldering wick. Honestly, I've felt that way a lot in recent weeks.

But isn't it overwhelmingly wonderful to know that even though God sees our mess, our brokenness, our sin, and our failures, He doesn't break us or condemn us - He just gets a mop? That's the grace of God right there.

And if God sees our mess and gets a mop, then when we see another Christian make a mess of their lives, we should just go alongside them and get a mop. That does not mean we ignore or downplay what they did and that does not mean they they are exempt from discipline or from the consequences of their sin. There is a place and time for discipline and consequences; those are a very important part of redemption.

But instead of just throwing them under the bus, our first reaction should be to go alongside those bruised reeds and smoldering wicks and bring a mop. I think that's what God would do.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

She takes my breath away.

The very first time I saw her, I told myself that I'm in love with her. She takes my breath away whenever I see her. I get goose bumps whenever I think of her.

She turns heads, she is so beautiful. I admire her so much because she stands for all that's good. 

I love the way she moves so freely, yet she's so strong. The colors she wears will never go out of style. I made a promise to protect her with my life. 

That's the way I feel about Old Glory whenever I see her flying freely above our free skies.

- Ramon Valenzuela, El Paso, TX

Monday, June 13, 2011

God is not through with Juarez.

Yesterday I was reading through the El Paso Times and an article really struck a chord with me. It was an interview with new police chief in Juarez, Julian Leyzaola. You can read the article by clicking here.

About Chief Leyzaola the article said that "he has taken on the enormous challenge of reining in crime in one of the most violent cities in Mexico. It is a daunting job, but he comes with experience. Leyzaola gained international prominence for helping reduce violence in Tijuana, cleaning up the city's police force and openly challenging drug organizations."

About the drug cartels - especially the powerful Zetas - Chief Leyzaola says "Am I supposed to tremble when the Zetas are mentioned or what? I think it is them who should tremble when they talk about the authorities."

Think about the power of that quote for a moment. Let it sink in.

This police chief - in one of the most violent cities in the world, where thousands are killed every year in the drug violence and where the police force is riddled with corruption and kickbacks - he believes that the drug cartels should be afraid of the authorities. 

I agree with him. And I hope and pray, oh I pray so much, that the authorities will get the upper hand in this war because I believe at the core of my heart that God is not through with Juarez.

At the end of the interview, Chief Leyzaola said he still believes that he can change the country. This is a man who recognizes that God-given right for the government to provide order and security, and it seems to me that he recognizes the fact that good MUST triumph over evil. The police MUST triumph over the cartels and criminals in Juarez. They simply must.

And the good news is, God is on their side:

"Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God ...For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer." - Romans 13:1 & 4 NIV

Natalie Grant has a powerful new song out called "Your Great Name" and in the first verse she sings "Every fear; has no place; at the sound of Your great Name. The enemy; he has to leave; at the sound of Your great Name." How true are those words! The real source of this chaos in Juarez is satan. His mission is to steal, kill, and destroy - but he HAS to run away like a little girl when God steps into the picture. And according to the Bible, Chief Leyzaola is a man who is literally on a mission from God to clean up Juarez. Judging from the article in The Times, I think he will succeed.

He thinks that some semblance of order will be restored to Juarez within a year and a half. I hope and pray so. The enemy, which in this case is the drug cartels and other criminals, must flee because God is on the side of Chief Leyzaola and his police force.

So for those of us who are followers of Christ, we have a responsibility to pray for Juarez. This is not a light responsibility; we must be on our knees, praying faithfully and passionately for God to restore peace to Juarez. The fact is, God is not through with Juarez. That city's greatest days are ahead of her, and as her neighbors to the north, we must pray for and support them. 

Here are a couple of Scriptures you can pray over Juarez:

"O righteous God, who searches minds and hearts, bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure." - Psalm 7:9 NIV

"Confuse them, Lord, and frustrate their plans, for I see violence and conflict in the city." - Psalm 55:9 NLT

When you hear about the violence and senseless killings in Juarez, pray. Pray and remember that the enemy has to leave at the sound of our great God's Name. Pray and claim peace over Juarez in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Pray and remember that God is not through with Juarez.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Opening Up.

I am one of about 10-15% of Americans.

I have depression. 

In my early teenage years I struggled with depression for a couple of years and I thought that was all behind me, but then in December it came back and by the beginning of March, it was back with a vengeance. It was beginning to seriously affect my life and was stealing my happiness away from me. All I wanted to do was eat and sleep and eat some more. The things that I used to take pleasure in, I no longer enjoyed.

You know the commercials for depression pills where the people have to wind up the little figurines of themselves? That's how I felt - like I had to wind myself up just to get out of bed each morning. At my lowest point, I experienced something that totally opened my eyes to how others feel: I didn't want to live anymore.

It's not that I was suicidal. I didn't want to kill myself; I just wanted to cease existing. It was so strange to experience that, and that was when I knew I needed help. So after 3 months of keeping this intensely personal battle a secret, I made one of the toughest decisions I've ever had to make: I told someone about my depression.

Doing that was one of the most TERRIFYING things I've ever done.Honestly, I was worried that it would cause me to carry a stigma. I was worried that people would think of me differently and would behave differently around me. And you know what? Some people did. But that's ok.

Going public with my depression has been one of the greatest and most humbling things I've ever done. I prayed about it for awhile and decided that I needed to be on display with my depression because I believed God would glorify Himself through it. So I decided that if I was gonna gonna go in, I was gonna go ALL in. I cannonballed into the water by telling my parents, my fellow staff members, my GrowGroup family, and a few others as I felt necessary about my battle. 

By being open about it, God has opened up so many opportunities for me to minister to other. I can't tell you how many times I was transparent with someone about my depression and I saw their disposition totally change. It was like new life was breathed into them as they realized they weren't the only ones. Every time I told someone about my depression and saw how God used it to bring healing to them, I also felt healed a bit.

As treatment for my depression, I started counseling. Let me say, I have always had massive respect for our counseling team at Del Sol but it wasn't until I actually started going to counseling with Justin that I fully understood and appreciated what God does through our amazing counseling team. They have so many great resources that can really help you find healing in God and be transformed as you put into action the plan they give you. I am amazingly grateful to our counseling team for helping me through this.

So now, 4 and a half months into this ordeal, I'm at a point where I feel better because I am transformed. I don't know if I'll ever be "healed", but honestly I don't know if that's even the point. But I do know that Romans 12 talks about being transformed by the renewing of your mind, and I know that 2 Corinthians 1:4 says that God comforts us in our troubles so that we can comfort others with the same comfort God gives us.

In other words, my depression can be a ministry. So if I'm never healed, but God can use my pain to minister to others ...I'm ok with that.

Psalm 3:3 says that God will lift up my head. I can't even count how many times since December I have asked the Lord to be the lifter of my head and restore to me my joy. He has answered my prayer because there is incredible power in prayer.

So now that you know about my struggle, will you pray for me?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

My thoughts on Osama bin Laden

Three days ago it was announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed. Sadly, right away it seems that Christians were divided about this into two groups: the group who celebrated justice being served and the group that mourned the death of a man who is now spending an eternity without Christ. Some quoted a verse from Ezekiel which says that God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked. Others - myself included - quoted verses talking about the justice and righteousness of God triumphing over evil.

Let me just say to start that I should have thought before I posted anything. I learned a big lesson from all this.

Now a few days after the fact, having had plenty of time to think about it and listening to the perspective of Christians I respect who stand on opposing sides of the issue, here are my conclusions.

The death.

First, I don't think anyone would argue that his death was just and was not murder. That being said, as Christians I believe we should do two things with equal energy:

1. We should mourn the death of a wicked man who has now entered a Christ-less eternity. If you have even the slightest idea of what a horrible place hell is like, you would understand why there should be absolutely no pleasure in knowing that OBL is there. Hell is a terrible place, horrible beyond description, and we should take no pleasure in even someone as depraved and wicked as OBL or Hitler being there. Anyone - ANYone - being in hell is a terribly sad thing which we should mourn.

2. We should celebrate the fact that justice has been done. We should not celebrate the death, but we should celebrate the fact that good triumphed over evil and justice was served. The Bible is very clear that the primary role of government is to protect its people. Romans 13 reminds us that the government "bears a sword" for a reason, and the job of government is to bring justice swiftly and fairly. So the fact that an enemy of the State was found out and eliminated as a threat to our nation is right and just because it is a triumph, and that is something to celebrate. There's nothing wrong with rejoicing in the triumph of good over evil, and we should all be tremendously proud of our soldiers for a job very well done.

To embrace one of these viewpoints without the other is (in my opinion) wrong, shortsighted, and shows a lack of a proper understanding of the Bible. Honestly when I first heard the news I embraced #2 without embracing #1 and that was wrong. When it comes to OBL's death, I would encourage you to ask if you are responding to this in a Godly way and repent if necessary, like I've done.

The photos.

Today the President announced that the government would not release the photo of Bin Laden's corpse. He was quoted as saying "We don't trot out this stuff as trophies". When I first heard this, I didn't know how to feel about it. My first instinct was that the government should release the photo so that every American who wants to can see it, as was done with the corpse of Saddam Hussein.

But after a little more thought, I've come to realize there are some good arguments for both releasing and not releasing the photos. One of the arguments against releasing the image is that it will incite muslim terrorists to attack. I think that's a pretty weak argument because terrorists are gonna attack either way. They're gonna be angry about the news alone and releasing a photo won't really do much more to incite them.

I think the best argument I've heard for not releasing the photos is that we should take the higher ground that muslim terrorists and not stoop down to their level of parading these kinds of things around. That seems to be the approach our President is taking and I see some validity to it.

The other argument I've heard is that the government owes it to the citizens of America to prove that our number one enemy had been eliminated. That to dispel rumors and conspiracy theories, the government should be open and honest and show the proof that justice has been served, again, like they did with Hussein.

As a Christian, I agree that we should take the higher ground. But our government is not a theocracy. This is a secular government and because of that, they should release the photos and the video of the burial at sea. There will always be conspiracy theories, but the average American citizen has the right to know the truth and the best way to prove what has been done is through photos and videos.

What do you think about all this? Do you agree or disagree with my conclusions?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Why I don't believe the tragedy in Japan is God's judgment.

Every time a massive tragedy happens - be it 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, or the recent tragedy in Japan - some presumably "well meaning" Christian says it was the judgment of God on those people. Just today, KVIA reported that a candidate for a city council position claimed this was God's curse on Japan. 

Apparently this man, not the Bible (which is the Word of God), is the spokesperson for God!

All sarcasm aside, I disagree with him and I think it's vile, merciless, and plain stupid to say that - especially while Japan is still in crisis. I mean, even China - one of Japan's enemies - is putting aside their animosity for awhile to provide help to Japan. Seems that even a horrible, ungodly government like China's is showing more grace to Japan than some Christians. 

I think there are some major flaws with the notion that every time something horrific happens, like the aforementioned events, they are God's judgment on evildoers. 

First, not EVERYONE in New Orleans (Katrina), Washington, New York City, and the United States (9/11) or Japan are vile, evil sinners worshiping false pagan gods. Many of them were regular, normal people living good lives. Sinners living apart from Christ, sure - but nothing blatantly anti-God, nothing outright blasphemous.

Second, what about all the Christians in those places? In the Old Testament, didn't God spare Israel from judgment at least because of the remnant of faithful God-followers? Since the Bible says God never changes, shouldn't we expect that He would at least offer mercy because of a faithful few?

Third, the Bible is very clear throughout the Old Testament and especially in the New Testament about God's grace - that He is being patient and restraining His judgment (see 2 Peter 3:9). And Romans 2:4 says it is God's KINDNESS that leads people to repentance. So if God wanted people to turn from their wicked ways, it would be in keeping with what the Bible says for Him to draw people to repentance through His kindness, not harsh judgment.

Fourth, if these are God's judgment, you have to ask - where was the forewarning? Throughout the Bible God always gave people a chance to repent before bringing judgment and destruction; Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Jonah are great examples of that. When did the people of Japan and New Orleans - as a whole, not just as individuals - receive a warning to repent? For God to bring punishment without first bringing a chance to repent seems very out of character for God; it would make it seem like God is a schizophrenic.

So could these events be God's judgment? Yes, that's possible. God is sovereign and is good and right and just in everything He does. If He were using these events to bring judgment, because He is God He has every right to do that and we cannot accuse Him of being unfair or unjust. BUT - from what the Bible says about how God chooses to relate to us right now in the age of grace and in the new covenant because of Jesus - I would say these things are probably not God's judgment.

So why do these things happen? Because we live in a broken, messed up world under the curse of sin where although Jesus is King over all, stupid satan still has some power as the prince of darkness. So I would attribute these horrible events to what Romans 8:19-22 says: these are the tragic effects of sin being played out in creation, but probably not the judgment of God.

As Christians, as followers of Christ - yes we need to speak the truth without compromise - but I think we need to be smart about it and be sensitive. Right now is simply not the time to pronounce God's judgment - not when they're still counting bodies.

What do you think?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Today is Global Human Trafficking Awareness Day. I’ve heard many different statistics about human trafficking and how prevalent it is. One estimate I saw yesterday is that one in four victims trafficked to the United States travels along I-10 – the main highway that runs right through my beloved city of El Paso. That’s roughly 17,000 victims a year.

That is simply unacceptable. Words cannot describe how unacceptable that is. Just one person being trafficked in our country – or in our world for that matter – is one person way too many.

Injustice is something that really bothers me. It messes with my heart and sometimes overwhelms me to the point of tears. I hate injustice. I hate it! I don’t even know how to describe the anger and pain that I’m filled with when I think of injustice.

Injustice cannot continue. NOT ON MY WATCH.

I will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. I will devote the rest of my life and whatever financial resources I can to help bring an end to injustice in our world, whether it’s slavery, forced prostitution, lack of clean water, or any other situation where basic human rights and dignity are stolen away.

In November I went to the Catalyst One Day event in Phoenix, and one of the singers there sang an updated version of the old hymn “It Is Well”. As he sang that song, it hit me: I can rightfully sing this song. All things considered, it really is well with my soul. But how many millions of people in our world today, how many people we see face to face every day in El Paso cannot sing that song because it is NOT well with their soul?

How many beautiful young girls do we see at the store and we don’t even know that they’re forced into prostitution and are screaming “it is NOT well!”? How many men are forced into manual labor with no hope of escape and they can only sing “it is not well”?

This simply cannot continue any longer. Not on my watch.

That’s why I’m a huge supporter of two organizations whose missions are to bring an end to injustice. International Justice Mission specifically addresses injustices like slavery and the sex trade. Charity: water addresses the injustice of people in developing nations not having clean water to drink.

If you’re like me and you say “not on my watch”, then do something to help. Donate to IJM and charity: water, and tell everyone you know about them. Also, you can be at the “Save the Brave” concert tonight from 6:00 – 9:00 pm at the BSM (101 E. University, at Mesa & University next to Whataburger).

Join with me today and for the rest of our lives in crying out “NOT ON MY WATCH!”

Sunday, January 2, 2011

No resolutions, just values.

So every New Year, people talk about turning over a new leaf, changing their ways, and making resolutions. New Year's resolutions are big, and it seems like they're impossible to keep.

I don't make New Year's resolutions. If I'm gonna do something or change somehow, I just do it - regardless of the time of year.

However, I've gotten a bit off base in life. I haven't been living in total, unconditional surrender to God, and I've been missing out on living in His best for me - so I need to realign my life. To do that, I'm not making resolutions but I am realigning my values.

This year, these are the things I want to value in life:

- Being in love with God. Too often last year I loved God and was obedient to Him - but I wasn't crazy in love with Him. Far too often I was living more out of duty and commitment to Him than out of love. My prayer is to love God more than I love anyone or anything else, so I am making some big changes in my life. I don't want to just settle for loving God; I want to be passionately, recklessly, totally, hopelessly IN LOVE with God. Nothing less than that will do and nothing else will matter as much as that. That will be my ultimate value this year.

- People. Last year reminded me in so many ways that aside from God, nothing matters more than people. NOTHING. Seriously - nothing. No amount of money, no amount of ministry work, no project, no task, no technology, no TV show, no video game - nothing. Period. And yet, I so often seem to forget that and behave like projects matter more than people, rather than the opposite. But this year, I am choosing to value people above all else, save God. I will prioritize people even at the cost of personal productivity. People matter to God, so they better matter to me.

- Making reading a priority. I really suck at reading. I mean, I know how to read but I hardly ever make time to do it. I tend to see it more as a "if I have some spare time to do it" kind of thing instead of a "this should be a priority because leaders are readers" thing. I have a stack of about 20 books I've bought that I want to read, and about 50 more on my Amazon wish list, so I really gotta get to work on this one!

- Communicating over talking. I talked way too much last year, and didn't communicate enough. I failed epicly when it comes to communication. I assumed that people understood what I meant and even though I said I wanted to over-communicate, I didn't. I definitely under-communicated. This year I will strive to be concise, clear, and to the point. I will also value simply having more conversation just for the sake of conversation. I really enjoy having conversation with people, and I want to do more of that.

- Getting dirty. My life has been too clean, to "American Dream". I haven't gone hungry, I haven't gone thirsty, and I haven't gone without anything I need - or want, for that matter. Yet millions of people throughout the world, and hundreds of people in my El Paso have. I don't think I crossed paths with anyone who was truly in need last year; I don't think I did enough in the Name of Jesus Christ to meet real needs and address injustice around me. That is not cool. I will value addressing injustice around me, and I will be intentional about doing so. The Bible says that to whom much is given, much is demanded. It says I am blessed to be a blessing, so I must get grimy, I must get in the gutter, I must get dirty this year.

What will you choose to value more this year?