Porridge with Jesús

Drive south through Rosarito, stay on the highway for another fifteen or so minutes, and then drive up and up and up into the desert hills of the Baja Peninsula. You may not be able to see the road well, as not much distinguishes the road from the side of the road, except for the odd house, pile of garbage, or cliff. After 20 minutes of climbing the dusty roads, you’ll come to The Ranch, a rehabilitation centre for men who are recovering from drug addictions. Some of these men have only been there for a matter of days – one gentleman I met was on day fifteen as of Tuesday. Many of these men are new believers. As they detox, they spend a good portion of their days reading the Bible. For the last three weeks, the Titus Project has been visiting the men at The Ranch on Tuesdays, teaching from 7pm until 8pm. The first week Paula taught on Identity in Christ. The second week Vivi taught on replacing lies with the Truth of God’s Word. This week was my (Helen’s) turn. The men are hungry for the Word of God – they want to know how to study it, and how they can see transformation in their lives. Over the next several weeks the Titus Project team will be teaching them to use the Inductive Bible Study method through the book of Philemon. This letter is only 25 verses long – only one page in your Bible – but it is incredibly impactful, and I can’t wait to hear the stories of what these men get out Philemon as they apply its message to their lives.

At The Ranch, I had the opportunity to teach the Inductive Method Overview, which starts with showing people the need to study the Word. Only 10% of Christians around the world have read through the entire Bible. That statistic shocked the men at The Ranch, many of whom think that they are not “spiritual enough” because they think that all “good Christians” have read through the Bible. I invited them to commit to reading through the entire Bible, joining that 10% – maybe even increasing that percentage to 11%! I explained how the Bible has impacted my life, how after recovering from an eating disorder, I had the opportunity to study the Word of God, from beginning to end, and how God used that time to replace the lies of the enemy in my life, with words of Truth – the Truth about who He is, and who I am in Him. After sharing with them about the impact of the Word of God in my life, we read from 2 Timothy 3:16-17, showing them that the Bible isn’t only profitable in my life, but in the lives of all people. I took them through the steps of Observation, Historical Background, Interpretation, and Application, showing them an overview of how to study the Word in context, before applying it to our own lives, so that we can be rooted in the author’s original intent for the text. At the end of the evening, the men clapped and then rushed to the front of the room, wanting to take mental pictures of illustrations I had used – some even copying them down from the board in their notebooks.

After the time of teaching, we – my translator, evaluator, fellow Titus participant, and I – joined the men for their evening snack of “porridge” and bread. The porridge was soupy, like sweet milky water with the occasional oat in the mix. I sat with five men, one named Jesús. They shared with me their names, asked questions about what they would be learning next, wanting to know if I would be back next week. I told them that I’d be in Ensenada, but that someone else from our teaching team would be back to teach them the step of Observation through the book of Philemon. They asked me repeatedly to come back. After talking with them for about twenty minutes, one man, who spoke fairly fluent English said, “Helen, would you do me a favour?” I nervously said, “Yes.” I didn’t want to commit to something I couldn’t follow through on. He went on, “Whenever you think of me, would you pray for me?” The man sitting on the other side of me piped up, “Me too!” I told them I would pray for them, and they told me they would always be praying for me.

Teaching at The Ranch is quite possibly my favourite time on Titus so far. These men were hungry for the Word of God – eager to replace the lies in their lives with the Truth. I had heard such amazing things about this group of men from the people who had taught at The Ranch before, but I didn’t know what to expect from a group of recovering drug addicts. Despite any doubts I might have had, in them I found the most interested, engaged audience I have ever had the privilege of teaching.

Pray for Us as We Teach

Week 3 of outreach begins on Monday, and the pace is picking up as we get into a routine of teaching as a group. The first two weeks involved a lot of working out the kinks – teaching times randomly changing, accidentally teaching a group of Grade Ones rather than the Grade Threes that we were supposed to teach (let me tell you, there is a big difference!), and having to turn down some teaching opportunities because our schedule is just too crazy. As we begin Week 3, we’d love for you to be praying for us, so here’s a little schedule of when/what we’ll be teaching!

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 6.35.07 PMIn addition to all these teaching opportunities, Michael and I will be preparing to teach Luke the following week in Ensenada, a city that is about an hour and fifteen minutes south of where we are, on the Baja peninsula. We’ll be there for most of Week 4 of our Titus outreach, and will be team-teaching this book. Neither of us has taught it before, so it will be a challenge to prepare while we’re teaching so much throughout Week 3. We’d appreciate your prayers as we teach and as we study for future teachings!

Obedience

On Monday I (Helen) had the opportunity to teach on the topic of “Obedience” for EN VIA, the discipleship program for community members in the San Antonio del Mar area. You might remember that Michael taught on “Hearing God’s Voice” to this same group a week and a half ago. In a lot of ways, EN VIA is like a “mini DTS” for people in the community who wouldn’t be able to participate in YWAM’s Discipleship Training School. Obedience is a topic that many DTSs cover, but I can’t say I’ve ever heard a teaching on this topic (at least, not that I remember), so it was a challenge to prepare. In addition to never having heard this topic taught, I had preached the day before, and taught on the Character of God in a Grade 6 class and in a High School class that morning, so I was really relying on God to come through for this teaching, and I’m so thankful He did. He is faithful.

As I prepared for this teaching, the idea God kept highlighting to me is that obedience is an act of trust and love. When we are young children and our parents ask us to do/not do something, we’re obedient (some of the time!) because we trust and love our parents. We believe they know more than we do, that they have greater wisdom and life experience, and we know they have our best interests at heart – we know their character, so we obey because we trust and love them. For us to be obedient to the things God asks of us, it is so helpful to know His character. What is especially helpful to know is that God is omnipotent (Luke 1:37), omniscient (Psalm 139:1-6), and omnipresent (Psalm 139:7-12), or all-powerful, all-knowing, and everywhere at all times. Knowing these aspects of His character should help us trust Him, because everything is within His control, nothing surprises Him about the future, and He is always with us. He has a plan for each one of us, but He also knows exactly how His Kingdom is coming, and He is working all things for His purposes to be accomplished. God is a good and loving Father, and we can trust Him when He calls us to obey Him, even when we don’t understand the “why” of what He is calling us to do.

Many believe that obeying God will lead to earthly blessings – that as a result of obedience, we’re guaranteed health, wealth, and an easy life – and that those who are disobedient will receive punishment. But this is simply not the case. There are so many examples in the Bible that show us obedience to God does not necessarily equal prosperity. Look at the prophets – Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah – all were obedient to the Lord, and they had extraordinarily difficult lives as a result. In Kings and Chronicles, when we look at the examples of the kings that reigned in Israel and Judah, we see many kings were wicked, but God was merciful to them and to their kingdoms (look at Jeroboam II, for example). In the New Testament, we read of Stephen, a man who shared the Gospel with boldness and was used powerfully by God; as a result of his obedience, he was killed (Acts 6-7). And of course, think of Jesus. He is the only Person who has ever succeeded in being perfectly obedient to God, and He was crucified. The New Testament never promises an easy life as a reward for obedience; in fact, in Mark 10:29-30, Jesus is recorded as saying we can expect persecution in our lifetime as we commit to following Him.

So if we don’t get earthly blessings from obeying God, why obey? Our obedience to God should not be out of a heart of “what’s-in-it-for-me,” because we are not guaranteed an easy life when we obey God. We might be disappointed if we obey out of selfish motivations. Rather, we need to understand that by obeying God, even when it means our lives become more difficult, we get to participate in what He is doing in His Kingdom. We may never understand why He asks us to do all of the things He wants us to do, but we have to trust in His character – that He knows the big picture, and that what He asks of us is for the good of His Kingdom. It is a privilege to obey God. It is a privilege to participate in His Kingdom.

While Mark 10:29-30 promises we can expect persecutions in our walk with God in this world, it also promises eternal life. In the thick of life, it can seem a pat answer to say “look forward to eternity,” but when we experience hardship despite our continued obedience to God, this is our hope! In addition, as we are obedient to God, our faith grows as a result. In Numbers 13, for example, we read of the spies being sent into Canaan. Were they obedient to God’s directions? No! They were told to spy out a small portion of the land (the hill country), but because they were disobedient and surveyed well beyond the part they were instructed to spy out, the spies (save Caleb and Joshua) didn’t believe they could take the land. Had they been obedient to God’s instructions, their faith would have been greater, as they would have had more hope in their ability to enter the Promised Land victoriously.

In what ways is God calling you to obey Him? Maybe He’s asking you to end an ungodly relationship. Maybe He’s asking you to reexamine your business practices, and to change how you participate in the world of commerce. Maybe He’s asking you to be generous in a way that will be stretching and self-sacrificing. It might not be easy, and it might not contribute to your grasp of the “dream life,” but in your obeying God, you get to trust and love Him with your life, and you get to participate in His Kingdom. I haven’t always been perfectly obedient to the Lord, but I can promise you, the times when I have been obedient have been worth it, no matter the cost, and nothing in this world is worth disobeying Him.

Hearing God’s Voice

Recently I was given the great privilege of teaching in a school here in Mexico called “EN VIA.” The school is run by YWAM San Diego/Baja for locals who can’t do a DTS. The program is held in the evening, so those attending come after they’re finished work, and some even bring their kids along with them. As I thought about the effort they were making to grow in their faith by attending this school after their busy days, I was completely overwhelmed with the responsibility of teaching this group.

I was asked to teach on the topic of hearing God’s voice, which is a common topic for a DTS, but new ground for me after three years working in SBS. Initially I was excited to share, but after thinking about the topic, I became pretty intimidated. Helen and I had actually been wrestling with hearing God over whether we should go to Chiapas during outreach, so I felt there was a certain level of irony in my teaching on a topic that I was personally struggling with. It shouldn’t be a surprise that God would make the experience real for me by showing me that humility is the first step in teaching anything! In the end, God gave me something to share, and I wanted to share it with you here also. I offer this not as an expert, but as someone always learning.

The first and most important point to make is that we serve a God who wants to speak to us. We see evidence of this in the preservation of His Word – the Bible. Also, the Bible gives many examples of God speaking to His people. This goes against many religious philosophies that would have God at a distance, looking in on the world, but only getting involved when we are in need of a miracle. It can be tempting to see God as a therapeutic vending machine, but our God is a God who speaks to us and desires to be close and to be known. This is most apparent in the incarnation, God taking on flesh and dwelling among us. The closeness the disciples had with Jesus is still available to us today through the infilling of the Holy Spirit.

When we seek to hear God’s voice, it is about more than guidance – it is about relationship. The Bible promises us that if we come to God needing guidance or wisdom, He will speak, but a God who speaks is a God of relationship. We bear the image of God and part of that image-bearing is our desire for relationship. We all know that relationships are built on more than one person coming and asking for things from the other. Relationship requires dialogue on a number of things, and sometimes on nothing at all. Jesus had relationship with people that went beyond simply teaching them all the time – He must have listened to the small talk of the people he ate with, traveled with, and did life with. Now I am not trying to trivialize hearing God’s voice, but I would encourage you that it is first and foremost about knowing God more and drawing closer to him. This means learning to hear God’s voice is about learning to know and trust God more.

If you google the topic “hearing God’s voice,” you’ll find a lot of practical tips out there (they mostly boil down to the same thing), but I would encourage you that God is not going to expect you to change who He has made you to be, in order to hear Him speak. For example, I am a verbal processor. If you have been around me longer than an hour, you can probably figure that out! Often I have said that something I believe is not “real” for me until I say it out loud. This means I often have to process with others what I hear God saying to me before I am certain of what I am hearing. Others might be visual, and God will show them pictures as His way of “speaking” to them. Others may be more intensely visual and kinesthetic, and God will speak to them in visions. The key is to not compare – how God speaks to one person is not necessarily the way He will speak to you.

The book of Hebrews shows us that through Jesus we can have boldness to come to God:

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).

In Jesus a way has been made for us to return to the relationship that existed in the garden in Genesis. When Adam and Eve sinned, their shame and guilt led to a break in their relationship with God. Now, through Christ, that brokenness has been made whole, and as we wait for the fullness of the Kingdom to come, we can enjoy fellowship with God through the Holy Spirit. John 10:27 says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me;” we are able to hear and know the voice of God. The difficulty is that there are so many voices begging for our attention. There are our own voices – the desires both of our hearts and remnants of our sin nature. There is the voice of the enemy, which desires to have us believe lies as truth. Then there is the bombardment, both good and bad, of the many voices around us: parents, friends, teachers, social media, etc. Often God’s voice is drowned out by all the noise. This is why it may take spiritual discipline to quiet one’s self enough to hear God through it all. Fortunately, though God can speak in a soft voice at times, He can speak loud enough to be heard over the noise.

If you are looking for a place in Scripture to understand the ways in which God speaks, I would encourage you to look at Acts. When I was struggling to know where to start in my own study for teaching this topic, starting in Acts was suggested to me by a member of our staff in Turner Valley, Jenn Adams (I wanted to make sure credit went where it was due). The book of Acts shows God speaking to people in a myriad of ways, from Scripture, to blinding visions. I would encourage you to make a list of the times God speaks in the book of Acts (this can be started by searching the words “speak” or “spoke” in an online Bible) and then ask the following questions of the passage:

How did God speak?
To whom did God speak?
What did God say to them?
What was their response to hearing God speak?
What part of the character of God is revealed by what was spoken?
How might I apply this to my life?

As we come to hearing God for ourselves, commit to doing what God says. In so many of the cases of God speaking to people in the book of Acts, their response is obedience. Search your heart for anything that might be grieving the Holy Spirit and hindering you from hearing the Spirit speak. Surrender to God not only your own ideas of how He might speak, but also any burdens that you come to Him with. Finally, in faith receive what God says, whether in a word, picture, impression, passage of Scripture, or even a vision. I would encourage you to record what you feel God has spoken (especially if it’s in the area of direction), so you can bring what you heard to a trusted Christian friend to test the word.

You can test what you think you heard God say by seeing if it contradicts the Bible. God will not contradict the ideas He has recorded in Scripture. Jesus will never be denied by a word from God, but glorified. Even if the word challenges your own ideas, it should bring a deeper peace to your soul. Finally, you can test what you’re hearing by seeking the godly counsel of a brother or sister in Christ.

As I write out some of these more practical steps, I am immediately aware of my experience of God, which is that as soon as you try to put Him in a box, His glory will tear that box open. My hope is that as you ask God to speak to you, you will be encouraged in your journey of discipleship, and that you will grow in deeper relationship with God as you hear Him and come to know Him more.

Out We Go in Mexico!

Happy Thanksgiving weekend to our friends and family in Canada! We hope this holiday finds you with plenty to be thankful for. Eat some turkey and pumpkin pie for us! It’s hard to believe, but Michael and I have finished three weeks of teaching training, and are ready to start two months of outreach here in Mexico. We have lots of different teaching opportunities, including teaching at orphanages, various churches, an evening discipleship program for believers in the community, and a Christian school. It looks like we’ll be teaching a lot of Bible overview to start, taking groups through God’s plan for redemption, as described from Genesis to Revelation. Once our students have a grasp of the big picture of the Bible, we’ll be teaching them to study the Bible for themselves, using the inductive method of Bible study. This will equip them to know God’s Word and study it long after we’ve left Mexico!

The last three weeks have been challenging and growing, both in the classroom and outside of it. If you received our newsletter from about two weeks ago, you’ll know Michael and I were given the opportunity to go on outreach to the most southern state of Mexico, Chiapas, where Christians are persecuted, and many believers are illiterate. Michael and I really wrestled with our decision as to whether we were called to go to Chiapas; when we first heard about the opportunity to go, our hearts were immediately captured with the possibility. When we prayed about it, however, we just didn’t have peace, and didn’t feel that we were getting a clear “yes” from the Lord. We’ve decided to not go to Chiapas, as we feel that if God wanted us to go, it would be clear. This means that we’ll be staying on the Baja peninsula, teaching largely in the Tijuana area. There is a possibility of spending a few days teaching in Ensenada, a city a little over an hour south of where we are now, but as far as we know, for the most part we’ll be involved with local ministry. We’re a little sad that we won’t be going to Chiapas, but we’re trusting God has a reason for not giving us peace about going, and we believe He has great opportunities for us here.

Michael has already had the opportunity to give his first “outreach” teaching – last night he taught on hearing God’s voice for EN VIA. EN VIA is an evening discipleship program for people in the community, who cannot afford to do DTS, and who work during the day. In a typical DTS, students would focus on the topic of hearing God’s voice for a whole week, but Michael had only 2.5 hours to teach, and was being translated. At the end of class, Michael gave the students time to ask God for words for each other – to practice hearing God’s voice, asking Him what He wanted to say to their fellow classmates. It was an incredible time, and the Holy Spirit was really moving, as the students hugged and cried as they shared what God was saying to them. These students work all day, have families to care for and commitments to keep, but they come three times a week to the YWAM campus from 6:30pm to 9pm, because they are hungry to know God more, and to grow in Him. It was really a humbling privilege for Michael to teach this eager group of students.

Please be praying for us as we continue to teach over the next two months. We don’t have a teaching schedule yet, so please pray we will be preparing the right things so we’re ready when opportunities come up. There are plenty of teaching opportunities here, but we’re still in the dark about a lot of the details, which makes preparation challenging. We want to use the time we have to study effectively, but rely on the Holy Spirit – we’re often told to “prepare as though 100% depended on you, and pray as though 100% relies on God!”

We so value your prayers and support; we couldn’t be here without your partnership with us as we study and teach “…for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness” (Titus 1:1).

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Staff & Participants of Titus Mexico 2014

Learning how to teach the steps of the Plan of Redemption to oral communicators.

Learning how to teach the steps of the Plan of Redemption to oral communicators.

Michael teaching EN VIA students about hearing God's voice.

Michael teaching EN VIA students about hearing God’s voice.