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Archive for March 2010

"Who" do you see?

Hugues de Montalembert lost his sight 30 years ago when he burst in on two theives trashing his apartment. One of them threw paint remover in his face. The next morning, he was totally blind.

Cathleen McGuigan wrote an insightful review of “Invisible” Montalembert’s memoir in a recent Newsweek article.

Cathleen wrote,
“De Montalembert is clear about the good fortune in his life. “The fact that I lost my sight is very spectacular,” he says, “but there are things which are much more terrible.” Hugues wears a cool-looking, custom-made steel mask in the shape of aviator glasses to cover his damaged eyes. In Paris one day, a Cambodian taxi driver extended his sympathy for de Montalembert’s obvious plight. The author thanked him but remarked that there were “peopole much more wounded than me.” The cabbie was silent and then said that his wife and children had been killed before his eyes in Cambodia. “So there he was,” de Montalembert writes, “driving his cab in Paris with this huge wound that nobody could see. ”

Cathleen insightfully closes her article with, “except, of course, for the man who was blind.”

It is my prayer that we\me can slow down, ask questions and listen to others. Maybe then can we/me see those wounded around us.

Levels of Heaven?

Yesterday in Gathering, one of our guests raised the question about levels in heaven. Will people who have been more faithful as followers of Jesus on earth reside in “higher” levels of heaven? Are there degrees of rewards in heaven?

Here’s a little insight I’ll throw out there for you today. Let me know if you have any thoughts about it.

The idea of levels of heaven was not a distinctively first century, Christian idea. Paul hints at levels of heaven when he writes this to the Corinthians:

2 Corinthians 12:2-5 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know- God knows. And I know that this man- whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows- was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses.

Paul clearly means that “third heaven” is heaven itself. The “first heaven” in antiquity commonly meant the skies or the earth’s atmosphere. The “middle heaven” if you will would be where the moon, stars, planets, etc traveled about. This doesn’t really imply levels in heaven itself. It just means that heaven would somehow have to reside above the earth, above the skies, above outer space.

Later in church history, early fathers such as Justin Martyr, developed an entire cosmological system in response to Gnostic thinking about the universe, Satan, demons, angels and heaven. The diagram above represents some of the thinking on the part of early church apologists. Note the various levels and how they are grouped in a hierarchy starting with Hell building all the way to heaven. This is perhaps where we get ideas of levels.

Scripture itself never talks about levels IN heaven. The focus is on a place created by God in which God and his people will dwell eternally. There may be varying degrees of reward for the kinds of things people have done to serve God in their life-times. The bible speaks of crowns. Paul mentions our works being judged and found to be of varying qualities of significance (some will burn up, other will be refined like gold, silver, etc). No really “good seats” in heaven for really good Christians like Mark Ashton and the rest of us get so-so seating! In fact if it is a graded experience in any sense we might actually be surprised to find out what “the first shall be last and the last shall be first” is really all about.

Let me know what you think! In my next post, I’ll give you a little more on Early Church Father cosmology….

update from El Salvador short-term team

On March 20th a team of 5 people from CCC traveled to El Salvador to share the gospel in public schools and they are also visiting an orphanage. This team is working with CCC missionaries Lance & Karina Grush and will return to Omaha on March 27th.

Below is an update from the team which consists of Billy Huber, Kelley Leidenthal, Maria Weaver, Jamie Sell, and Alejandro Duran.

Written by Kelley Leidenthal

I suppose I should start by saying that I have never in my ENTIRE life been on the receiving end of so many kisses. El Salvador is a country that loves to touch, or at least the El Salvadorians that I have met thus far.

El Salvador is also a very hot country so when I say that people love to touch, what I am really saying is that people love to swap sweat. When I am pressing my face into some kids cheek though, the last thing on my mind is why my lips are now wet. I just feel the love.

Its funny how kids don’t have the defenses that we get as adults. Whether I am at the orphanage or doing ministry in schools, kids just crawl their way into your arms, and consequently into your heart.

Touch is one of those things; sometimes you like it and sometimes you don’t. I am not normally big on public displays of affection, but here I think touch means something different.

Its a universal language that our Father has given us. A hug can mean welcome or it can mean God loves you.

As soon as we got out of the car at the Orphanage on Tuesday, mobs of kids were just hugging me: Abrazos and besos and manos y manos. At one point, while I was sitting in the shade, a little girl crawled into my lap and I wrapped my arms around her. She sat like that, like a baby, until she was too hot or maybe until she had enough. I couldnt help but think that this girl needed touch.

I think I needed to be touched too. Its moments like that, when you are cradling someone elses child where you feel most like a child yourself. I suppose its because in order to hold an orphan and feel strong, you have to be held by God.

Our time in El Salvador has been wonderful. Going in and out of schools and to the orphanage has been such a blessing. I really feel the power of God here. There have been numerous professions of faith and I believe that God is moving. God really is with us, working through our efforts.

But of course, that’s what it says in the Bible. That God will not leave us as orphans. He promises to touch.

Trinity Unity

Many of you know that the mid to late 1970s were some of the darkest years for CCC. There was controversy and dissent around the use of Spiritual gifts. This dissent led to huge amounts of pain, gossip, infighting, and eventually to a church split.

The people who stayed were the Omaha Gospel Tabernacle (later, Christ Community Church). The people who left became Trinity Interdenominational Church. In the wake of this split was sin, and pain, and hurt on both sides.

The good news is that now, over 30 years later, there has been reconciliation. Real, deep, institutional reconciliation between the elders/people of Trinity and the elders/people of Christ Community.

This kind of extremely mature healing is very rare (unfortunately) in my Christian experience and in the church in general. We experienced an evening in December of 2008, then again just this last Tuesday, that I will not soon forget. It was amazing and I pray that it will make ripples all over the city and in the church in general.

If you’d like to see it, check out this link to see Les Beauchamp (Trinity’s Pastor) and me in this amazing moment.

for my deliverance

“Yes, and I will continue to rejoice because I know that through your prayers and the help given me by the spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened will turn out for my deliverance.”

This was our opening verse for the message this morning and I encouraged you all to pray because your prayers can impact real life matters on the other side of the globe. Now, here is an opportunity… Dusty and Julia Reynolds are starting a T-Shirt company in Mali, with the idea that it will create jobs, economic justice, and an environment to introduce workers to Christ.

They need a building…and thought they had one. But they are hitting some bumps. Below is a post from their blog.

“If you knew that Mali is in the beginning of hot season, you might think that this post is about the heat. But its not. Its been rough lately as many of you may have gather through the emails and updates. Since the landlord of Sababu’s future building site died, his sons had a family friend come in to deal with all his businesses and lands. Mr. Sylla was very wealthy and had a lot of land, businesses and deals to work through. He had drawn up the contract himself that was for Sababu and we were about to sign it when he died. Well the family friend that is here now came in and said that the money stated in the contract was not enough and is asking $600 more a month. We can’t afford that. So we are back to square one…and we are starting to be open to other ideas. We don’t know what the Lord has in store for us. We are finding its just too expensive to rent, and we don’t have the start up capital to build. So we aren’t sure what will happen but that means we are behind in production. Our container is supposed to arrive in Dakar in 12 days, and we don’t know where we will put it now that we don’t have the building. And the electronics can’t get hot. So its been a lot of praying, a lot of meetings and of course faith.

We aren’t doubting our call here, but this is definitely the biggest bump in the road we’ve come across so far. So we are asking you to pray. Pray that the enemy is pushed away and that Sababu can indeed be a light in Mali. Pray for wisdom and peace for Dusty and the managers as they try to process all this. We know our God is bigger than any obstacles we might encounter.”

Would you pray for them and watch God work on their behalf?! I’ll bring you updates when the prayers are answered!

God's work in Mali – Part 1

Ok, I know I promised to blog while I was in Mali these last few weeks, but I ended up having very little time and the Internet was not working reliably. Such is life in Africa. God has so much going on in Mali, so I want to spend my next few blog posts sharing about things that perhaps will be new to most of you.

I will start with the Women and Children’s Hospital in Koutiala. This hospital has been the heart of CCC’s involement in Mali over the last 4 years so it was huge blessing to see it myself for the first time. So what were my initial impressions?

The hospital is a way bigger deal than anyone ever planned for.

Talking with doctors and nurses and administrators who have been at the hospital since it opened, they will all tell you nobody had any idea it was going to be this big. God gave a few people the vision to build a hospital for women to safely deliver babies, but only God knew how big and amazing He planned to make it.

I’m not talking big just in size, I’m talking big in miracles. They are saving lives literally every day at this hospital, but many times its God who does the saving. The doctors can share story after story of people and situations that seem hopeless, only to see God redeem the situation after they pray over patients.

Mali is a country where the average woman will have 8 children, and they would typically expect to lose 2 or 3 of those either in child birth or before they reach the age of 5. I was told that parents try to not get too attached to their children until the reach 5, knowing that so many of them die. This hospital is having an impact on these horrible statistics.

The hospital reminds me of a M.A.S.H. unit.

This is not like an American hospital where they can get medicine from their pharmacy anytime they need it. This is not like an American hospital where they can just go to their blood bank and always know they have blood to use. They are literally depending on God to provide donated medicine, blood from hospital workers, and so much more every day.

Here is an example. While we at the hospital in a meeting with the administrators, a doctor knocked on the door asking if anyone in the room has O- blood. One of the guys on our team had it (pictured here) and so he immediately gave a pint of blood which was immediately given to a woman who had recently had a C section.

They simply make due with what they have…with what God has given them.

The Kingdom impact of the hospital is significant.

In a country that is 99% Muslim, you win lives 1 at a time. The reputation of this Christian hospital and the love and care they provide is spreading further and further all the time. The hospital is a bright, bright light for the Kingdom that shows the Malian people the love of Jesus Christ. As one of the men on our team put it, “The hospital ministry is softening the soil for the work of Jesus in this country.”

In the near future here at CCC we will be talking more and more about the work going on in Mali in conjunction with the hospital, but there is no doubt that God is using this hospital in mighty ways and will continue to do so in the future, Lord willing.

CCC’s involvement is more significant than I imagined.

Since I did not have a helicopter to go up in to take a picture of the entire compound, this picture is the best I could come up with. The tan buildings to the right are where the inpatient and outpatient care happen today. Its astounding to see how much they are getting done with so little space. They literally deliver 1700 babies a year in a room the size of a small sunday school classroom here at CCC. They can have up to 3 women at one time in that room, and if they have more they have to be on the floor.

What I want you to see in this picture are the three new buildings, labeled 1, 2, and 3. Those are the buildings that CCC funded. Its hard to tell from this perspective but these buildings are huge. When they move into these buildings, their capacity will increase by 400%.

They will move into building 1 in April, building 2 sometime this summer, and building 3 later in the fall. I can’t help but think of the lyrics in a Chris Tomlin song that say “Greater things are yet to come, greater things are still to be done”.

Ginormas God!

It has been a month since blogging. In the past four weeks I’ve read a book on Apollo 11, tried to help several marriages that are on the brink of divorce, meet with men who are struggling with life, pastor a multi-site, and attempt to have balance and margin in my life and marriage.

Can’t say that I did a good job in any area except I did finish the book on Apollo 11. The other book I’m half way through reading is “God, as He longs for you to see Him” by Chip Ingram

That brings me to what is going on in my brain.

Did you know that there was only three computers on Apollo 11? Each weighed 17.5 pounds and had 36K of memory. We have more memory and computing “power” in our cell phones than what those men used to land on the moon! I’m impressed that NASA even sent men to the moon, and shocked that they did it with such limited computer power!

Thankfully, God is never limited. Chip Ingram states in his book that God is without equal or limitations. He quotes A.W. Tozer from “The Knowledge of the Holy.”

“God’s sovereignty is the attribute by which He rules His entire creation, and to be sovereign God must be all-knowing, all-powerful, and absolutely free. Were there even one datum of knowledge, however small, unknown to God, His rule would break down at that point. To be Lord over all creation, He must possess all knowledge. And were God lacking one infinitesimal modicum of power, that lack would end His reign and undo His kingdom; that one stray atom of power would belong to someone else and God would be limited ruler and hence not sovereign.

Furthermore, His sovereignty requires that He be absolutely free, which means simply that He must be free to do whatever He wills to do anywhere at any time to carry out His eternal purpose in every single detail without interference. Were He less than free, He must be less than sovereign.

Wow, may I be more impressed knowing that God is limitless and sovereign than realizing how limited and puny we were in getting a man on the moon.

Spiritual Challenge in Omaha Tonight

Hey Church-

Here is the truth – with the heart of a pastor, I really want you to grow. I want you to blow past the barriers that have kept you in spiritual neutral for weeks, months, years. I want you to know the fullness of God in all his power. I want for you to have the opportunity to experience his might and strength, so that he can bless you with life abundant and deep/lasting change for your soul. I am looking forward to what God will do in me over the next couple of days.

So here’s a last minute reminder about the Conference tonight and tomorrow night with Peter Scazerro, Alliance Pastor and author of “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.” It is not just two nights of messages. It will actually kick off a whole set of challenges and bring huge resources to open you up to the power of God to change deep places in your life. You might choose to read a book, select certain issues to work on, go through a workbook, or change the way you spend time with God. Each of these has the potential to move you steps closer to the LIFE in Christ. I hope you come, hear what he has to say, hear from God and grow.

Here are the details:
• Tonight at 7pm, subject: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality
• Tuesday at 7pm, subject: Going Deeper with God.
• You can do one night, but I’d recommend both
• We will experience worship together as well
• It is all totally free, but has huge life value

May God make us all more emotionally healthy and spiritually mature.

Thanks to share

Hey Friends- Many of you know that we gave about 136,000 for earthquake relief last month. Here is a word of thanks from the recipients!
Dear Pastor Ashton, Thank you for your congregation’s very generous gift to CAMA for Haiti relief. We have been very encouraged by the outpouring of aid for earthquake victims. Phil Skellie, president of CAMA, recently returned from a trip to Haiti in order to assess damage done to several Alliance affiliated churches in the Port-au-Prince area. CAMA plans to partner with these churches to help them rebuild their church structures three of which are completely leveled. CAMA also plans to assist church and community members with rebuilding their homes. Thank you for your partnership in bringing Christ’s love and compassion to Haiti.

Off to Mali!

One of the best parts of my position at CCC is that I occasionally get to visit a mission field. There is nothing quite like seeing first hand the amazing ministries that God is using around the world, and the people He is doing that ministry through.

On Saturday, March 6th, Nick Kelly, our Communications Director at CCC, and I will be joining a small team of Alliance Pastor’s in Mali, West Africa, for a 10-day vision trip. If you have been at CCC for very long then you probably know that CCC has wrapped its heart around the country of Mali over the last 5 years.

Most of CCC’s investment of time and people has been centered around the work at the Hospital for Women and Children in Koutiala, Mali. We will be spending a few days at the hospital strategizing with the team there about the future and how CCC can be involved. In addition to that we will also get to view several other growing ministries in Mali. Ministries such as the Bethal Bible College that is training Malian Pastors and the Rahab ministry that focuses on rescuing teenage girls from prostitution. We will also visit a prison ministry and of course we will get to see first hand the work of Sababu Manufacturing (a business built by our own Dusty & Julia Reynolds).

There are actually several more ministries we will visit, and I expect to report back on our trip through this blog. So keep an eye on this blog over the next 10 days as I hope to send several updates.


Craig Walter
Global Outreach Pastor