Haiti, December 2018

This past week Becky and I were at the Joy House in Gressier, 12 miles from Port au Prince, with a wonderful team of people among a wonderful group of people.

There were 11 of us in the group.

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In the front row are Candace and Andy Riner, Samuel Wisinger, Logan McCourtney, Barry Godwin and Shelby Godwin.  In the second row are Brad Ault, John Wisinger, Elizabeth Wisinger, myself and Becky Austin.  That’s Roland Mathe standing in the background.  He’s the Haitian leader of the JoyHouse.

We had a great team, working and laughing together.  Even when things were discombobulated on Tuesday morning, everyone showed great flexibility and faithfulness.

For example, Becky was supposed to teach the pastor’s wives on Thursday, because on Tuesday morning she was supposed to teach Beauty Boot Camp.  Well, the ladies showed up Tuesday morning, instead of Thursday.  She did a great job and taught two sessions of Beauty Boot Camp (on Ruth) in the afternoon.

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Logan had the opportunity to teach the pastors all this week.  He had a blast.

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So what did we do in Haiti this time?  After arriving on Friday, we spent Saturday unpacking and repacking items for different events.

In the early afternoon we accompanied the ladies of the Dorcas Ministry to visit people who had not been to church in awhile, either because of medical or financial or other problems.

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After returning bagged food to distribute rice, flour, beans and oil to people from the Great Commission Church.

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On Sunday morning I preached a message for the men of the Great Commission Church, “Act Like Men,” from 1 Corinthians 16:13-14.  I felt great freedom and several men indicated how helpful it was to them.

After church we distributed the food.  They would allow 8-12 people into the Joy House compound at a time to receive their food.

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That evening we began a series of “prayer meetings,” which involved each of us pastors preaching.  Logan preached Sunday night from Matthew 24, Barry on Monday night from 1 Thessalonians 4, John on Tuesday night from 1 Thessalonians 5 and Brad wrapped it up with an evangelistic message on Wednesday from Luke 7.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, 55 young ladies were taught manners, formal place settings, posture and lessons from the book of Ruth.  This is called the Beauty Boot Camp.  They do this with girls in Mena as well.

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This year we got the guys involved in a Boys Boot Camp.  We taught them how to be a gentleman from Boaz’ example, how to remain sexually pure from Genesis 2, Joseph’s example, and the tragedy of Amnon and Tamar.  Not a man stood up to protect her!

Barry even taught the guys how to shave and take a bath out of a helmet.

Brad knew going down that he would take a look at the water system there at the Joy House, but God opened up several opportunities for him to use his past training in hydrology and water systems.  Andy’s brother has been pestered Andy for years to bring a microscope to Haiti, even though Andy didn’t know how to use it.  Brad did.  He showed the Haitians what was in the water and helped them see the necessity of clean water.

Our last day we took Christmas presents to the orphans at Forieur de enfants du Jesus.  Here is a picture with some of them opening their gifts.

Orphans opening their Christmas gifts 2

Then we took them to the beach, where we swam, had cupcakes, games and a pinata.

Me in the water with Benet and Malora

We had a great trip.  Thanks to everyone who prayed for us, and supported our fund raising.  If you would like to give a gift that will go to food distribution, the water system, or resources for the pastors, just send a check to Barnabas Partnership, 2805 Midland Drive, Mena, Arkansas, 71953.

Your Pastor, Prayed For or Preyed Upon

Lamar Austin, November 8, 2018

How the mighty have fallen.  Over the past several years a number of big-name pastors have fallen and are no longer in ministry or have changed ministries.  All of us pastors are susceptible to moral improprieties, abusive power, lack of self-control, burnout and all the struggles which come from being set upon a pedestal.

Sometimes pastors quit the ministry because they have been chewed up and spit out by a congregation of people who were supposed to love, support and pray for him.

So pastors fail and congregations fail.  One of the best ways to keep either from happening is by praying for one another.

Several years ago Terry Tekyl wrote a book entitled Prayer For or Preyed Upon.  In it he asks the question, “Could the pastor be the least prayed for person in the
local church today?”

In Luke 22 Jesus tells Peter:

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you,that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Jesus begins by warning Peter that he is much more vulnerable to Satan than he knew.  Jesus clues us in to this as a rebuke of Peter by using his former name, “Simon, Simon.”

The word “behold” can mean “pay attention” or “watch out.”  The reason he needed to watch out is that Satan was on the prowl and wanted to “sift you like wheat.”  Sifting is part of the agricultural process that began with plowing of the land,  sowing/planting of the grain; reaping and threshing or trampling of the stalks of grain.

It is the threshing stage that is being referred to here.  After reaping the corn or wheat, stalks would be placed into threshing floors constructed in the fields.

Animals then drug threshing equipment over the stalks of corn or wheat in order to separate the grain from the husks/chaff.  The husks and grain would then winnowed by tossing into the air to allow the wind to blow away the husks/chaff.

The grain would then remain, but it would be mixed with  stones and lumps of soil which clung to the roots when it was reaped.   A sifter or sieve would be used to separate the grain from the stones. The grain would be tossed into the air during this process.

Sift like wheat

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What Jesus is saying is that Satan wanted to agitate and throw him around violently.

John Piper illustrates:

We can imagine a picture like this: Satan has a big sieve with jagged-edged wires forming a mesh with holes shaped like faithless men and women.  What he aims to do is throw people into this sieve and shake them around over these jagged edges until they are so torn and weak and desperate that they let go of their faith and fall through the sieve as faithless people, right into Satan’s company.  Faith cannot fall through the mesh.  It’s the wrong shape.  And so as long as the disciples hold to their faith, trusting the power and goodness of God for their hope, then they will not fall through the mesh into Satan’s hands. (The Sifting of Simon Peter, April 26, 1981)

We get a clue what Satan was attacking by looking at Jesus’ prayer “that your faith will not fail.”  What Satan wants to destroy is Peter’s faith.

However, the good news for Peter (and for us, Romans 8:34) is that Jesus was praying for him, actually had been praying for him.  And that made all the difference for Peter and will for us as well.

Peter did not realize how valuable he was to Jesus.  Jesus had been praying for him that his faith will not fail and that after he returned he would strengthen his brothers (would retain his leadership position).

And Jesus’ prayer was answered.  Peter did fail, but his faith did not.  Earlier that night we see Peter’s bravado and self-confidence on display when he would say in response to Jesus..

“Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33)

It’s almost as if Jesus was saying, “I don’t need your prayers.  I’m perfectly capable of standing with you to the end.”

Years later, when Peter would look back on God’s work in his life, he wrote in chapter 1 of his first epistle:

6 In this [ultimate salvation] you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

“The tested genuineness of your faith” is what Peter experienced that night.  His bravado and self-confidence were shot to pieces, much dross was eliminated, but what was left was “more precious than gold,” real faith, true faith.

What causes Peter’s faith to be refined instead of destroyed and what ultimately made his leadership stronger?  Undoubtedly the pray of Jesus Christ.

Your pastor (me included) seldom realizes how vulnerable he is to Satan or how valuable he is to Jesus.  Won’t you join Jesus in praying for your pastor?  His very life and leadership depend upon it.  Your pastor needs prayer partners.  Tell him you will be one.

I’m 60 Today. Yikes!

Lamar Austin, November 8, 2018

Most birthdays come and go without much fanfare.  Thank God!  But this year I was reminded time and time again that I would be turning 60 today.  That’s because my wonderful church, Grace Bible Church, threw a church-wide 60th birthday party for me on October 28 and it was amazing.

Every quarter our Fellowship Committee comes up with creative and entertaining events and activities which help us laugh with and love one another.  This Fall they chose to celebrate my birthday.

I thought for the sake of some who weren’t able to attend, I would share some pictures and videos to give you a taste of that night.

Around the room, were 11 x 17 photos of me from infancy to high school graduation.  People gathered around tables and were able to watch a slide show of other pictures throughout my life.

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A life-sized Lamar the Sequel was made for people to take pictures with, if they wanted to.  Wigs, hats and other paraphernalia were available to “dress up.”

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After we ate pie and chili, the Lamarettes got up and sang this song:

GBC Lamar song 2018

Then we had a video, A Day in the Life of Pastor Lamar, which was hilarious. You can also find this on YouTube.

The highlight of the evening, however, was the sharing time.  People stood up and said some nice things about me, but the one that meant the most was from my daughter Allison.

Thanks to everyone who attended, for the kindness and affection shown throughout the evening and the work that went into making this an fantastic birthday.

Psalm 133:1 (ESV)

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!

The Book of Hosea

Hosea is one of my favorite books of the Old Testament.  Of course, so is Isaiah, Psalms, Genesis…

Hosea is a love story, a tragic love story between God and Israel.  God is the faithful and sacrificial lover, while Israel is the adulterer.  God uses Hosea, the author, to symbolize His faithful love, and Gomer, Hosea’s faithless wife, to illustrate Israel’s adultery.

Hosea had a difficult job (as most prophets did).  God told Hosea to marry Gomer and he hoped, like any husband, that they would be able to have a joyful, intimate marriage.  But his wife wouldn’t give up her profession (prostitution) and thus we have the tragic love story (so beautifully pictured in Francine River’s book Redeeming Love).

This narrative has application on two levels for us:  First, Jesus Christ is our bridegroom.  He has been nothing but a faithful and sacrificial lover towards us.  What about our love for Him?  Surely, like the Psalmist, we need to pray for an “undivided heart” (Psalm 86:11b).  Second, this story stresses for us, as married couples, our need to remain faithful and sacrificial in our love for one another.  This is what Paul calls us to in Ephesians 5:22-33.

Below is a video from The Bible Project, which will enable you to get the big picture overview of Hosea.  All their videos are excellent, as well as their curriculum.

Here is Chuck Swindoll’s book chart on the book of Hosea

Book Chart of Hosea, Swindoll

Hosea prophesied to the northern kingdom of Israel in the latter half of the eighth century B.C. (c. 753–722 B.C.), immediately before the fall of Israel to Assyria in 722 B.C.  This map is from the ESV Study Bible.

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Pastoral Appreciation

October is Pastor Appreciation Month.  Most pastors know that and I hope every congregation does as well.  It is important to honor those who work hard in the ministry.

This past month I as Senior Pastor and Jeff Neufeld as our worship pastor, were overwhelmed by the love and kindness and generosity shown to us through the loving people of Grace Bible Church in Mena, Arkansas.

It started out with a candy gram, presented to each of us by the youth group.  Here is a picture of Jeff with his candy gram.  Unfortunately, I gave my candy away to our Sunday night group before I took a picture.

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During the next couple of weeks, almost every day we received gift baskets with breads, s’mores, soup and chocolates (I’m especially fond of dark chocolate) to eat as well as gift certificates for restaurants here in Mena.

The next Sunday Souled Out, our children’s ministry, presented a video they had put together.  These wonderful children said some pretty cute and funny things, answering questions like, “What is our pastor’s name?” “How old is he?” “How tall is he?” “What is his wife’s name?”  and “What does he like to eat.”  You can see in the video below how they answered, and no, I’m not a polygamist!

[That video will be in tomorrow’s post.]

Plus, they gave us some cards.  Here are two of them..

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This past Sunday two men got up in front of the congregation and gave a tribute to each of us pastors.  While we were at church, some of the youth planted signs in our yard that said…

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Someone also waxed poetic and came up with this little ditty and put it in our newsletter:

Just think, my friends how blessed we are

To have two good men like Jeff and Lamar.

God gave them to us to shepherd our souls

Through music and teaching and setting of goals.

And you’ve gotta admit, folks, they each did a great job

Finding sweet precious wives [amen to that!] to help manage our mob.

In some previous years money was collected throughout the month and given to us in early November, and one year the children gave me this special card…

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There are many ways that you can say “thank you” and “we appreciate you” to your pastor.  One thing I realized this year, that all the love that was poured out upon us, was spearheaded by one person who did the lion’s share of planning and making sure things happened, my sister, Lauren Herod.  Probably someone in your church will have to take charge to cause this to happen.

For several years I have asked our church, “What kind of church do we want to be?” And the answer is, “An I love you church.”  My hope is that we’ve grown to the point where I can ask, “What kind of church are we?”  And the answer will be the same.  Hopefully we’ve moved beyond aspiration to action.  I believe this past month has proven that.  And I’ve heard stories that love is not only being shown to us pastors, but there is love being shown throughout the congregation.

As I said last Sunday, we are truly blessed to have a congregation that is unified and loves one another deeply from the heart.  Not every congregation is blessed so.  But my hope is that more and more gospel-preaching, life-giving churches will.