Teaching, TravelsDecember 23, 2018

A Friend 12.25.18

I ask my reader to bear with the length, wordiness, and repetition. My children are helping me to get the whole short-worded blog thing. My next one will be much better. I don’t mean to impose upon you with long-winded truths. I get it. I’m just trying to figure out hos I can give you a tight and edifying word. Thank you for putting up with my ignorance.

A man thought to himself “Why is it every night I feel like I could cry? I am alone. I have no one. I constantly feel sad and fearful. Everywhere I go, I can’t escape myself. Something is wrong with me. If only I had a friend. Someone who understood and loved me. Someone whom I could talk with and could help me battle life.”

People joke about having an invisible friend. This is exactly what God promises. “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness…and he was called the friend of God” (Jm.2:23).

He is Jesus. The hope of my morning.

There is nothing wrong with you my friend. Feeling helpless is human. A person may deny it, but the truth is we all live with hidden pain and chaos. It can be so severe you think you have a personal problem. But God the Father understands and yearns to become your Friend to help, love, forgive, heal and explain how He can bear your burden.

People identify the reason for their pain as a problem with their marriage, divorce or loneliness. Some think it is because of a failure, past experience, present wanting, a personality disorder or a stressful situation.

The truth is difficult issues only exacerbate turmoil that existed long before the incident and will continue long after. It is the strategy of Satan to link your pain directly to some specific thing or person which you can not change. Think about it. It will torment you with helplessness.

It’s time to understand change as revealed in the Word of God.

The Scriptures declare: There is not one man who does good, all have become useless…the human heart is more deceitful than all things and is desperately sick…nothing good dwells in man…I practice the very evil that I do not want…I am not the one doing evil, but sin which dwells in me…I find the principle that a is present in me, the one who wants to do good…I see sin waging war against me… making me a prisoner of sin…who will set me free…Christ Jesus has set me free (Jer.17:9/Rm.3:10, 7:18-8:3).

I know that some people get tired of me writing about sin, again and again. They think they already know it all. Tragically, they remain in the vicious grip of the pride of Satan who is “a murderer” (Jn.8:44,10:10). This is no game, my friend. A Christian image is not cute or sufficient.

Sin is deep darkness within each of us. It casts a thousand shadows. When I was young I was shot in the eye by a little boy across the street. As soon as I screamed he ran away. We never talked. He has no idea how he ruined my life.

Today he is somewhere out there as a man my age. He may not even remember what he did. But he cast a dark shadow on my life by one cruel act. I don’t say this out of revenge, but one day, as all of us, he will answer to God. Think of all the “shadows” we cast on others and others have cast on us without even realizing it. This is the multi-faceted impact of sin.

My life suffered a severe blow that altered my future. But I also did the same to many others. Sin is not defined in a box or by doctrine. We can never take back the consequences of our sin, by deliberate acts or by absent acts of omission.

No one understands sin or can resolve it but Jesus. It causes pain in us and we, in turn, lashed out at others because of it. Sin is an uncontained forest fire. It is a disease that infects men with greed, lust, and gluttony. It is a weed that chokes blooming flowers. It causes regret that breeds confusion and “Christian” hypocrisy. It is rebellion wearing a trillion faces.

The remedy is not trying to obey the 10 commandments (Jn. 1:17). God calls you to come close to Jesus and unite your dark side with His death. Don’t assume that because you may already know these concepts that you actually know the reality. God sees our heart. Is it deep, or it is shallow; token or passionate? He offers friendship to one who honors His call to faith.

Every bad thing you bear He bore in His Son. His Spirit yearns to “seal” (cauterized) your wound with forgiveness (Eph.1:13,4:30). He calls you into personal participation in His saving work (Phil. 3:10). His love can retroactively “reckon” a man His atonement, appeasement, propitiation, redemption and Holy Spirit (Jn.14,16/Rm. 4:3,9,22,6:6). By the wounds of Jesus, you can be healed.

“…He Himself bore (carried up to the cross) our sins in His body on the cross, (“It is finished”) so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Pt.2:24).

All this is not a doctrinal anecdote. God requires fellowship for His work to become activated in you. To truly yoke your sin with His death on the cross requires an act of heart repentance.

It sounds like a no-brainer to say thoughts are the fuel of life. But if all you do every day is recycle human thoughts you will never find traction in a new life. Human thoughts and feelings are boring, routine and cause predictable behavior. Never anything new (Ecc. 1:9).

God says mankind is “shut up under sin”; “Don’t tell me there’s something I don’t know” (Gal.3:22/ Ps. 116:11/ Rm.3:4,19). Ever go to a football game? Ever see massive crowds like clones at a concert or a huge event? It is living proof of the unifying power of human thought; “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die” (1 Cor.15:32). However, there is a dark and hideous face over them all that is not human.

“All like sheep have gone astray, each one has gone to his own way” (Is.53).

It is not politically correct to classify any group of people as “the least” in society but God is not trying to be accepted by society but reveal to society a divine perspective on reality. People think differently and there is a thinking that is the most conducive to God’s thoughts. If you want to be different you must think different.

People rarely consider how thinking directly impact the brain which directly impacts character but this realization is the essence of salvation. The authority of Paul was not just in the thoughts he wrote but in the character he displayed. He defined a humility beyond human capacity.

Paul was highly educated, had performed miracles and actually seen heaven. But instead of succumbing to human pride he said, “I am the least of the apostles” (not fit to be called an apostle)….” and “I am the very least of all saints…” (Eph.3:8/1 Cor.15:9). He was a very intelligent and calculated man rooted in the Scriptures call to be the least. He released the divine anointing of the character of Christ. He says “we have this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Cor. 4:7).

Who will shake off the dust of apathy and procrastination? Yes, it’s hard to think. It’s easy to think you think but not really think. Yes, sometimes it seems impossible to cross the chasm of laziness. But it is not only possible it is inevitable for a man born in the Spirit. It’s just a matter of how long we delay our destined fulfillment. God promises a new kingdom of divine thinking. He cannot lie. A new person awaits us in the enactment of the Scriptures. God offers a divine alternative to human defeat. It just requires our obedience.

“I take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ …transformed by the renewal of my mind ” (2 Cor.10:5/ Rm.12:2). Ever felt “left out”? Ever been the least likely to be selected for some position, recognition or privilege? How about the least desired for a job, or by someone, for a relationship? This experience is not a bad thing. It can help you grasp the humility that leads beyond typical human instincts. God calls us to the cross, to exchange human ways with divine ways, to exchange pride for humility.

It is possible to train our brain. It is a scientific fact that new thoughts create new paths of electrical neurological impulses in our brain. We can create a pattern of either calm-inducing neurons, when fed positive thoughts, or the “fight or flight” instinct, which creates severe anxiety and stress. We can transform impulsive ways into calculated ways. We can replace our instincts. How? A man who is dying has little energy to speak or even think. He remains in a lifeless state. A dead man, well, a dead man is dead. No energy for anxiety even exists.

This is how Paul could take “every thought” captive. Death kept him in a neutral state. Every thought was able to be examined before he acted on it. Death to self gives us the opportunity to stop, think, and believe the redemption of Christ can create an intelligent and edifying response.

The power of faith can reverse anxious thoughts. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything pray (talk to your Friend)…And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil.4:6-7).

Abraham was “stressed out” by facing enormous inner conflict. Yet, “with respect to the promise of God he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith giving glory to God” (Rm.4:20). He made a choice to not only believe God but to praise Him for something he didn’t even have yet. This is faith.

Changing thoughts is not a new concept but replacing them with divine thoughts is a very rare thing to observe in a man. Yet it is the essential teaching of salvation in the New Testament. My hope is to lay out the key component of a supernatural humility. Fat-cat preachers talk about “positive confession” but their basis for enactment is ego so there is no witness to “the least” disposition of Jesus.

Transformation starts when you stop…at the cross. You fully give up yourself to Jesus. You die, He lives. No more excuses. No more human dribble. God became Abraham’s Friend at the very moment Abraham believed God. God was so blessed by Abraham’s faith that He rejoiced to be his Friend. Faith is something that God just loves (2 Chron. 20:7/Is. 41:8).

By it, we learn to replace common reactions with the character of His Son. We become rooted, not in our normal sinful ways, but in the revelation of His Holy Word (Scriptures). Abraham, like other O.T. figures, experienced the anointing of the Christ because his obedience to faith was “Messianic”. This is our call. To reflect Christ to the world.

The apostle Paul learned how to flip the tables of reality (2 Cor.10:3ff). He filtered his pain and heartache through the death and resurrection of Jesus. My children are fluent in Spanish and Portuguese. It would be mind-blowing if we could see the process in their minds of filtering English into Portugues. The brain activity of electrical impulses creating new neurons would be phenomenal. Imagine implanting a divine filter in your mind that could process all feelings of sin into redemptive joy without any long drawn out process. This is not wishful thinking. This is the gospel.

We don’t know the language of God but the Spirit offers to teach us through the groanings of our desperation and humility (Rm.8;26). It does not happen through our strength but through our desperate concession; i.e. “Yes Lord. It is not possible within me, only within You”. As we see ourselves as the least likely, God puts upon us the same anointing Christ had in His freedom from the world (Mt.11:25). Jesus could express abundant creative love because His humility drew Him into profound delight so loved by His Father.

“For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13). 

When I see myself in the light of His holy Word I am humiliated. I fall so far short of God’s ways. Yet it is faith that drives me to never skip a beat in my journey into His love. I see only my wickedness. I feel only my pain. Yet I cling to the life raft of God promise “Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God and I will exalt you” (1 Pt.5:6).

As I identify with Jesus I am lifted up. Today my children can translate documents and carry on sophisticated conversations. It didn’t just happen. They spent years of heartfelt commitment. I too have spent years learning how to discern; how to think from above (Col.3:1-3/Jn.8:23/1 Cor.2:11-14). Jesus has given His cross as the perfect place to dispose of myself. There is no excuse.

One time the apostle Peter chose to eat with a bunch of pagans. As soon as he saw Paul coming he got up and walked away. He cast a shadow of hypocrisy on all who looked up to him. He wanted to appear better than them in the eyes of Paul. Paul realized this and rebuked Peter for “rebuilding” his ego with thoughts of pride (Gal.2:16). Paul knew first hand, that the actual power of God is found in being “crucified with Christ”; being the least amongst men. We are accountable for our thoughts. No one, including God, forces us to think.

The proof of the cross in us like a “birthmark”. It causes us to be the least of all men. And the resurrection is “the seal” that instantly identifies us as a life-giving force of love to the Father and to others as someone united with this work of faith in the Son (Jn. 12:26/Rm.6:6). When we lose our life we find His. We lose “friendship” with ourselves, and the world to find a Friend in the Highest. We go low and He lifts us high.

This is the profile picture of a man holding a machine gun whom we shared Jesus with at length.

Jesus says “for the one who is least among all of you, this is the greatest” (Lk. 10:48). It is the greatest to be the lowest because this is the way of Jesus. We must fully accept accountability for our sin. Full-hearted repentance leads to the abundant joy and wisdom of heartfelt forgiveness. I remember the moment I was forgiven a weight of guilt physically lifted that I never even realized was on me. Such an experience is like an astronaut who ascends into space. The earth shrinks smaller, as does the deep grief fade as we focus on fellowship in Him. Repentance shrinks every burden.

“I dwell on a high and holy place but also with the contrite and lowly of heart” (Isaiah 57:15).

Have you ever found yourself insistent upon wanting something, only to then realize it was not at all what you thought? In fact, as soon as you see the truth of it, you back peddle as fast as you can to get away from it (he, she, or them)? Sin infatuates our empty heart. Every second of every day we walk on the verge of catastrophic failure. David and Paul beg God to protect them from their own sin (Ps.19:13 /Rm. 7:23/1 Cor. 9:27 ).

This body of sin seduces us into a human compromise with God’s divine ways. Then it condemns us for doing so. But faith is the grand mediator. If we are dead to sin there is no place to rationalize or to be condemned. You simply “reckon” what you see in yourself as dead and live by faith in Christ.

David says “my sin is ever before me”. Our head turns on an axle of self-pride. The minute we think that we control our pride it bleeds through in that very thought. We need to “walk in the light as He is in the light”. Jesus says unless we abide in His light we walk in darkness. We can’t be trusted. Paul was able to capture and translate every thought because he was dead to himself. So every effort to live required calculated intelligence, not instinct or emotion.

It is so sad to meet with older people in prison. The other day there was an entire cell full of those in their sixties. They were just so devastated. They had wasted their entire lives paying for listening to the world’s lies.

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you will know… what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance…and the surpassing greatness of His power…in accordance with the working of the strength of His might” (Eph.1:18).

Jesus washed the feet of the least to show all men no one was excluded from His vision of love. Jesus put on the garments of a Servant; “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet (even Judas), you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (Jn. 13: 14). This is our healing power. This is the love of a servant as a remedy for our ongoing pride. To focus on love; on loving the unlovable.

Both Jesus and Paul cherished the Father’s revelation to become the least.  At the very first chance Jesus got to identify Himself to the world, He explained “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me Because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted…to bind up the brokenhearted…to proclaim liberty to the captives…freedom to the prisoners…” (Lk. 4:18/ Mt.11:5/ Isaiah 61:1ff). In other words, the “mission statement” of Jesus was to go to the least desirables. Why?

All His compassions arise to see one of His sheep bear what He bore. He doesn’t reject you for sin. He comes after you with forgiveness and restoration (Lk. 15:4).

We are taught that our purpose in life is to achieve, succeed, to be accepted, to become, to prove ourselves to others. And this carries over into the Christian realm, business realm, friendship realm, family realm. My friend, please, don’t throw away your life. Learn from the living Jesus. Let Him make you a vessel of His Spirit. Could you “wash the feet” of others, without them even knowing you were doing so? It is the Art of Leastness.

In the open courtyard of prisons, the only shade is from desperate hearts.

A few of their comments:
“You guys did more here in one hour than all the churches in the thirty years this prison has been opened” Prison Director.
“I do not have the words to tell me all that you put within me. I was so emotional watching your presentation”.
“To think that God would bring a family from the other side of the world makes me see real love.”

My whole life has been one giant shun by those who possess the world. To the talented, the gifted, and the professionals I can only look on, from a distance, and wonder what it must be like. But I know it is not for me and I am not for it. No group or organization will ever support us and that’s just the way it is. We are totally forgotten no matter what we do for anyone. It’s just the law of leastness. Not unto us oh Lord but unto Thy Name give glory.

I look at “succe$$ful ministry” in American Christianity. I know that I will never have it… and it… will never have me. I take advantage of being “left out” by loving those who will never be loved. We take concerts to those who will never see one. I find the grace to accept and carry His cross. I do not boast in some pious desire for lowliness because it has simply fallen on me. I never chose it.

But maybe, just maybe, I’m on to something. Maybe there is something special about being nothing special. John said ‘He must become greater and I must become lesser’ (Jn. 3:30). Surely, there is no greater joy than to actually witness the glory of Jesus untainted by a man’s glory. We have the divine privilege of constantly seeing the vision of Jesus for the least of this world.

A repentant man is broken by sin. Jesus warns that many who claim to be “Christians” will go to hell.”Many will say to Me on that day. ‘Lord, Lord’, will not enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father…(the will of the Father is to go to the “least of My brethren” Whoever has the world’s goods, and see his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (Mt.7:22/1 Jn.3:6).

Our precious brothers, unknowingly being comforted by the Father’s grace to endure their injustice. We went to explain this grace and His marvelous love for each of them.
A few of the hundreds of texts we receive:
“It is this day that I wish I could relive every day, the day that I met you.”
“I was so moved by what you did. I never saw Jesus in this way. I was amazed at how you could be so happy and give us such incredible peace. It’s hard to accept you were real.”
“We were all talking about you after you left. Your humility stayed with us. We never felt condemned for the things we have done but only filled with a hope for the things we still yet may do”
“I have always stayed away from God. But today you changed my mind. You gave me a New Testament and I’m going to try to understand Jesus.”

The first thought Jesus had to comfort John the Baptist in prison, was to assure him of what they had probably shared many times; that His focus would always be on the least wanted in society (Lk. 7:22). The headlights of Jesus always turned on to His “brothers” along the way. Jesus says “I was hungry…thirsty…a stranger…sick..in prison… and to the extent that you helped any one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me” (Mt.25:40).

This is Jesus….the living Jesus.

Jesus says ” I say to you, among those born of women, there is no one greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Lk.7:28). Jesus was well aware of the phenomenal provision He was about to release through His death and resurrection. He noted the extreme nobility of commitment seen in John. Yet He proclaimed anyone who would be born again through His work would be equipped with far more than John.

Just think for a moment about something that you would consider the least desirable amongst various options. For example cars, food, clothes, places to be, people to be around, etc. Something is “the least” because you think it offers you the least. What I want you to see is the process of evaluation. It exposes your values. It reveals your heart. Likewise, our process to choose to be the least shows the work in our hearts. Sometimes we associate with people only because they offer us something we can gain from them. So if they offer us nothing they become the least. But what if the least offers you the most? Be careful. Don’t miss it…Him.

Recently, while we were in the middle of a large inside event, a ‘crazy woman’ walked in from outside. She was ranting and raving. The crowd was alarmed. It was very awkward and the people became silent. My beautiful son Joshua just calmly walked up to her and opened his arms and totally comforted her. It is not about “Our event” but about His Presence. Similar things often happen in these kinds of outdoor venues in which we choose to minister. You just always have to be ready, never knowing how or when Jesus will walk in on you.

Jesus teaches selfless love, in which we find no gain. He says to give expecting nothing in return. He is waiting to see a character of His love…to the least of My brethren…that you do unto Me”. He says “It is in giving that we receive…”.

Sometimes Jesus comes to us, in the least apparent way. If we are not sensitive we can easily miss His subtle glory.

Children are often considered the least likely to grasp the “deep” things of God. His disciples sent them away and Jesus rebuked them for doing so. In His eyes, they are a priority because they have not yet been tainted and can receive life-lasting first impressions. Have you ever seen how “blindly” a child loves the rejected of this world? They are “the least” and thus are sensitive to “the least”. The children here in Brazil are remarkable in their comprehension. The conversations we have grip us with a realization that we must take seriously. Children matter!

Elizabeth shared with a woman downtown and got this text: “Today for the first time I thought about God when I was shopping. It was a new experience for me. I never imagined that one day I would stop and think about God all on my own. Do you realize this?”

Jesus has a special affinity to such places because He Himself lived in such places. He knew such poverty. He grew up in living conditions we can never imagine living in.

Imagine coming home one night and seeing a guy sleeping on the side of a road. Imagine it to be Jesus. My dear friend, we must go there. We must be there. Because it is where He was AND where He is. This is the Jesus of the Scriptures; not of America. He is not welcome in the fancy buildings, ear-tickling rhetoric and rolling laughter of sermon modulation, prestige, and ego. I know. I’ve been there. I went to the best seminary. He wasn’t there. It is nothing like here.

As we were leaving a certain ghetto, late one night, a soldier pointing a machine gun at our windshield appeared up ahead. Abraham abruptly slammed on the brakes, gripped by anxiety facing a gun pointed directly at his head. Two weeks earlier the police shot up a car that wouldn’t stop in a place we often drive. “All of you get out of the car and put your hands up against that wall” the masked soldier shouted.

Everywhere you drive in this city is controlled by military police. They are beautiful men with no evil intent. Just doing their job. But they work in fear of hostile gangs. Abraham has a warning on his phone that beeps every time there is a shooting in a specific block. It is constantly going off.

“Thank you for the event in the battalion in the Military Prison. When I arrived to visit my son I was apprehensive of the Americans. But you made me examine my life. I am so grateful. You told our families to find salvation in Christ. No organization. I didn’t get a chance to smile at you but I left with my heart full of hope for my son and for love from God …thank you much, beautiful family”.

mother of prisoner Raphael


So how’s this for a little culture shock here in Brazil? We are walking along this small canal on our way to a store. The green swamp-like stream reeks. As we look more closely, amidst its floating trash, we shockingly spot a crocodile. A man sees our amazement and yells out “You should have seen last week when one of them ate another”. Oh. Ya. Wow. Thanks for that. How interesting.

It is quite obvious in these cities of Brazil, through the mass amount of gangs, corruption, poverty, and murder they are ruled by powers of hell. We know Satan does not want us to bring the living Jesus to the multitudes of The Least. Things should be opening up for us like never before because the new President is bringing in a government contrary to the socialistic garbage that has ruled for so long.

“…the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you: and you shall be My witnesses…even to the remotest (least) part of the earth” (Lk.3:22/Acts 1:8).

The heat here is unimaginable. Heat stroke has hit Abraham, David and I several times in this one hundred degrees temperature ministering in the no-shade sun for hours. The other day David got a concussion and Abraham broke his nose. We are still trying to find a hospital that can set it.

We went to a Military Prison in which the Governor of the city was sent for embezzling over six million dollars. This is the second time we preached here. There was a soldier we met the first time who was wrongly accused of a crime. He couldn’t stop crying. He was so broken and terrified for a twenty-year sentence. We shared with him at length and prayed for him.

Upon our arrival this time he joyfully greeted us as we drove into the prison. He came up to us and told us God heard our prayers and he was going to be released. It was amazing. His face was full. He opened his life to Jesus for the first time. The joy he communicated was palpable. It is the reward for which we work. Jesus described it as a meal (Jn.4: 32). I imagine I feel the same joy that Jesus felt as He stood up and cried out

“If anyone is thirsty let him come unto Me out of his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water” (Jn.7:37ff).

King David was the least of his brothers, yet chosen by God to fight Goliath (1 Samual 16). It was an attitude seen throughout his life. He always considered himself least among men. Paul says “Consider your calling brethren…not many wise…noble…strong….but God has chosen the weak…the despised…the things that are not (the least)” (1 Cor.1:27). He chooses the least to go to the least because they know what it is to be the least.


Can you give all you got and watch everyone turn their backs?
When you feel like crying can you make someone laugh?
Can you travel without shoes and still give away your staff?
Can you choose shame over glory
keep silent when accused falsely,
nod softly when spoken of wrongly?
Can you freeze frame the most special day and leave without anyone knowing your name?
Could you speak the truth knowing you’d be called a liar?
Could you risk falling to stoop and lift the broken higher?
Could you surrender your greatest possessions and have another receive the attention?
Could you spare your knowledge to salvage your brother’s courage?
Could you be so full as to empty yourself,
And make obscurity the home in which you dwell?
Can you hold loyal to the cost of your own hurt
foreseeing the anguish and not divert?
Can you fill your chest with an invisible treasure,
over the greater would you choose the lesser?
In a reward invisible would you dare to believe
could you claim the identity to become less than the least of these?
Could the state of no reputation be what you would pursue,
do you realize without hesitation this is what Jesus did for you?

by Elizabeth Faith Shalom

“Dance on, beloved, dance on!”