The People of Egypt (Pt. 1)

Finally, I’m done editing the over 5,000 pictures I took on our trip to Egypt and Italy in April! It only took 4 weeks! So, in the coming days, I’ll be posting some of my favorites.

I probably won’t post many scenery shots – although I took a lot of those. My primary focus when traveling internationally is to capture pictures of people – being people. So, enjoy these first few pictures of the people of Egypt. You can click on each picture to make them bigger.

Remembering and Celebrating Auline Platt

Sunday, March 26, 2017 was a day of remembering and celebrating the life of Auline Platt in Albuquerque, NM. It started with a church service at Foothills Fellowship where her family gathered for worship. Songs of mourning and hope were sung, the church gathered around the family for a time of prayer, and Pastor Jesse Harden of New Creation ABQ (the church Foothills planted and the church the Platts attended) preached a powerful and comforting sermon from Romans 5.

At 3PM, some 600 people gathered to remember and celebrate Auline. It lasted 2 1/2 hours with one person after another coming forward to share about how Auline had touched their lives. There were lots of tears…but probably more laughs!

Below are links to everything that happened that day. May you be encouraged as you listen and watch, and may your heart be ministered to as you hear of all that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, did for and through Auline. To God be the glory!

MEMORIAL SERVICE VIDEO

MEMORIAL SERVICE AUDIO

SERMON AT FOOTHILLS FELLOWSHIP BY JESSE HARDEN

A very special thank you to the several brothers and sisters from Foothills Fellowship who worked hard behind the scenes to make this day special for the Platt family, the Foothills family, and the many in-town and out-of-town guests.

Making Sense of This

I can’t. I can’t make any sense of this. My dear friend, Auline Platt, died yesterday. She leaves behind her faithful husband, Mike, who is a good man. And 11 children.

Michelle and I met Mike and Auline in 1994. I remember it like it was yesterday. The church I was serving as youth pastor in Dayton, OH was growing fast. My youth group was growing fast too. 8 kids at my first youth group meeting had turned into 50 in one year – and 150 in five years. I needed help. I got a phone call one evening from a guy named Mike. He told me that he and his wife were in the military and would only be in Dayton for a year. They had decided to attend my church and wanted to know if they could serve as youth leaders. I had just attended a seminar at a National Youth Workers Convention that had scared me straight about the potential risks of volunteer youth workers. In the seminar, I learned a 10-step process for vetting potential volunteers. I told Mike that night that he and Auline would have to go through all 10 steps. They were the only ones I made do this because after I put them through it, I saw how ridiculous it was. To this day, I laugh when I look at all the paperwork I made them fill out. So do they. I kept it all.

The first night Mike and Auline attended a youth group meeting back in 1994, we let our then 3 year old daughter, Emily, ride with them alone to a restaurant afterwards. We didn’t know them from Adam, but they had passed my 10-step vetting process, so I guess I felt like I could trust them – strangers – with my daughter. Auline reminded me of this often…and laughed. That night began what would become a lifelong friendship – a bond – that would stand the test of time and the test of miles. The Platts moved to Albuquerque in 1996. We had only a bit more than a year with them in Dayton, but our friendship had been solidified. They fell in love with our children there and became dear, dear friends.

A few years later, Mike called me and said that he had put my name in for the open youth pastor position at Foothills Fellowship – the church they were attending in Albuquerque. When he told me this, I told him that he was a jerk for doing it. I was happy in Dayton. Why in the world would he do such a thing? But over the next 13 months, God moved my heart and placed a calling on me and Michelle to take the position. So, by faith – and knowing that we would be reunited with our dear friends, the Platts – we left Dayton for Albuquerque in 1999…and had another year with them. Then they left – this time for multiple overseas military assignments. But our friendship grew nonetheless.

All this time, Mike and Auline loved on our children (and many others) while trying to have children of their own. Even back then, they talked of someday having a lot of children – biologically and through adoption. Ironically, for years, they couldn’t have children. And then along came Seth. And then precious Maggie – who passed away after only a few days on this earth. And then sweet Ava. Then, they set their minds and hearts on adoption, and along came 4 adopted children. And then, foster care…and 5 more children. 11 in all.

They returned to Albuquerque a few years ago specifically to be a part of our church plant in the International District of Albuquerque. They could have gone anywhere. They made deep friendships all over the world, but they decided to return here to move into one of the poorest areas of the city so they could minister to and live among poor and hurting people. They moved their entire family into an area of town that many people try to move out of.

In December of 2016, my church commissioned them and a few other families to begin a new church there – a church made up of people who had sacrificed much to move into one of the poorest and most dangerous parts of our city to bring the Kingdom of God there, and Auline was a key piece of this new ministry. Her ability to connect with and love people – regardless of who they are or what they had done – was unparalleled.

And yesterday, Auline died. And I can’t make any sense of this. And I may never…

It’s in times like these that I must enact my faith – regardless of how I feel or of what I understand or don’t understand. The Scriptures make it clear that God’s ways are higher than mine. It also makes it clear that death is not part of the ultimate and perfect plan of God. Death is part of the curse of sin that Jesus came to defeat. And He did. God’s Kingdom broke through on this earth at the coming of Jesus, but sadly, it’s not here yet in all its glory and perfection. Already but not yet – and as long as the not yet is not yet, we will suffer and we will die.

As Auline’s husband, Mike, walked through these last days with his precious wife, his faith astounded and encouraged me. He led his family in prayer a couple of different times, and through his tears, he proclaimed his faith to the Lord by saying things like, “Lord, even though we don’t understand this, what we do know is that you are good.” This is where I choose to be too. Confused, devastated, incredibly sad…yet still clinging to what I know of the Lord – that He is loving and good.

Will everything be ok? I don’t know. Would it have been better if Auline had not died? I sure do think so, but I’m not all-knowing. Are all of her precious children going to make it through this tragedy ok? I don’t know, but I pray so. Is our church plant in its infant stage going to be as effective in reaching their community with her gone? I can’t see how, but I HAVE to trust the Lord and believe that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

I truly believe that for Auline, all things are better now. No more struggling with the curse of sin and the brokenness of this sin-stained world. I also truly believe that Mike will be ok too because He loves God and is one who is called according to His purpose. And our church plant will be ok too, because the birth of this church is an obvious call of the Lord.

I can’t make any sense of this, but I have no choice but to trust in the God who knows all, loves His people, and works in mysterious ways. My heart is broken, but my faith is strong. May yours be too.

Ash Wednesday Thoughts…

 
Because I’m on sabbatical, this is the first time in years that I won’t be administering the ashes on the foreheads of my church family. I’m glad to be on sabbatical, but I’m sad to miss this. It’s one of the most intimate and meaningful things I do with my church family. Look each of them in the eye, remind them that they are dust, and exhort them to repent and follow Jesus.

My Ash Wednesday observance today consisted of – among other things – listening to a sermon on Romans 1 by the late Mark Ashton, Vicar of St. Andrew the Great in England. He died of cancer on Easter morning in 2010. Maybe in another post I’ll share some of his words about receiving a terminal cancer prognosis. They’re profound and moving. But today, I want to share some of my notes from his sermon on Romans 1. They’re profound too and helped me once again see the significance of observing days like Ash Wednesday. The notes are raw – I didn’t edit them for this post. So, please bear with me. I hope their significance will hit you like they did me today.

THE GOSPEL: Romans 1:16-17 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

The Gospel shows us a right/righteous God acting rightly/righteously to make us right/righteous before Him.

How could God be just in declaring human beings innocent when human beings are guilty? This was exactly what unjust judges did and do in the courts. Taking bribes and declaring guilty people innocent. Is God like that? NO! In the cross, God paid the full penalty by putting Christ on the cross. So, his holiness, righteousness, and justice remain intact.

The quote from Habakkuk in verse 17 reminds us that God has ALWAYS dealt like this with His people. In the OT and NT, the man who would be right with God has had to rely solely on God to grant him that relationship of rightness. By faith from first to last.

GOD’S WRATH: Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

The Gospel is necessary because there is such a thing as the wrath of God. This is “God’s wrath poured out from heaven.” It’s not just some impersonal cosmic process of cause and effect – like karma. God is not some morally neutral spectator of some moral process. It’s nonsense to say that God hates the sin but loves the sinner. Sin has no separate existence except as an act of rebellion carried out by rebels (human beings). And how does a rebellion get quashed…by removing or changing the rebels. Sin has no existence except by the thoughts, words and deeds of a sinner. Psalms repeatedly says that God hates sinners. There is no such things as a rebellion as an abstract thing. There are only rebels who rebel. There is no sin for God to hate; there are only sinners. Remove us from the universe, and you have removed evil. That’s why the Bible is so vague about where sin (beginning with the serpent) came from – so that you and I don’t pass the buck. Where does evil come from? Our hearts.

This is why the Gospel is so necessary – and those of us who have it are obligated to share it. Because people aren’t indifferent to God in their sin. They are rebellious and objects of God’s wrath. Without faith in Christ and the receiving of God’s grace thru Christ, we are enemies of God…and God is our enemy. An in all irony, God is also our only hope.

The Big Island

Michelle and I just returned from a week on the Big Island of Hawaii. Michelle had never been to the Hawaiian Islands before. I had 2 layovers in O’Ahu on my way to and from Guam 25 years ago when I spent the summer on Guam doing my college communications internship with Trans World Radio. My layover in Honolulu on the way out consisted of a night in a hotel and an attempted trip to Pearl Harbor that landed me at the gate of the military base and not the tourist site. Never saw it. On the way back, I went to Waikiki Beach for a few hours, accidentally fell asleep on the beach, and flew home horribly sun burnt. So, my Hawaiian experiences thus far have not been good! This trip was different.

 
First of all, I was there with my wife. That’s always a good thing as I remember being 21 years old on Waikiki Beach and feeling horribly alone as I watched young couples enjoying their romance in tropical paradise.

Secondly, this was a vacation – not a layover, so we had a chance to really explore the beauty of the island. (You can click on each picture for a better look.)

 
Our resort was located in Kona, which is on the west side of the island where the sun shines 350 days a year and the average temperature year-round is 85 degrees. That was nice! Here is the view from our balcony on the 4th floor.

 
On one of the days, we drove across the island (about 75 miles) to Hilo – where it rains a lot. And it did. All day. But, the moisture produces incredible waterfalls and plush green forests, and on our way there, we drove under a 13,000+ ft. mountain peak that was snow covered. Here are a few pictures of our day in Hilo – including visiting an active volcano, that when the clouds lifted, volcanic fire and lava could be seen.

 
One of the things we were really excited to do there was zip-line. There is a zip-line course on the north end of the island that takes you through a dense forest anywhere from 65 to 110 feet high. Michelle was really stoked to do this, and I was very encouraging of her stokedness…but inside, I was pretty apprehensive. Don’t get me wrong, I love the thrill of a good zip-line, but it’s standing on the small and packed tree stands that get me. Our group had 7 zippers and 2 guides, so at times, there were 9 of us standing on each small tree stand. We were securely fastened to the line at all times, but standing on the edge of these stands looking 100 feet down was a bit of a challenge for me. I survived – yea even thrived – but some of the high parts were really high! Here are some pictures.

 
And of course, it wouldn’t be Hawaii without the beaches. On the Big Island, there are some very diverse beaches – from rocky, lava beaches to soft sandy beaches. We spent time at both. The lava beaches were not as good for swimming, but the scenery and wildlife there were amazing. And the sandy beaches were incredible for swimming and boogie boarding, but the waves were pretty wicked at times. Take a look.

Lava Beach

 
Sandy Beach

 
There was a luau almost every night at our resort, and even though Michelle and I didn’t splurge to do the meal before (too expensive) we did get to see the show afterward – and it was pretty amazing. We could see (and hear) it from our balcony, and other than a few trees in the way, we had a great seat.

 
And finally, perhaps our favorite thing of all about our Hawaiian experience was watching the sunset every night. At our resort, we had a front row seat to the beauty. We actually made sure to be back at the resort each evening to see it. Pictures don’t do it justice, but this was the best I could do.

Grandbabies, More Food, and Politics (Sort of…)

My day today began with my grandson. A perk of my sabbatical is that I’m able to spend more time with my family – especially my grandbabies. Romeo is grandbaby #3 (of 4 with Danae due in May), and his mama had an appointment, so she brought him to me. I don’t think there’s anything better than grandbabies, and Romeo is a really good one!  We had a great time together.

 
I did some more cooking today, and this dish was better than the one I did on Monday. Garlic parmesan chicken was my next experiment, and Michelle agreed – it was really good! Here’s the recipe, but even more important…here’s the picture!

 
I plan to do a lot of reading on my sabbatical, and I decided to begin with one of my favorite pastors – a mentor of mine from the late 1800’s, Charles Spurgeon. I’m reading An All-Around Ministry, which is a book of the chapel addresses he gave to his pastoral students at the college he founded for future pastors in England. Ironically, I read this on the day that I watched Donald Trump give his first press conference as President-elect. I have no plans of getting political on you, but Spurgeon’s words to pastors back then hit a resounding cord with me today.

“Politically, we have come back to a condition in which there will be a respect for righteousness, justice, and truth rather than for self-assertion, national gain, and conquest. We shall, I trust, no longer be steered by a false idea of British interests, and the policy which comes of it; but by the great principles of righteousness, justice, and humanity. This is all I want to see: parties, as such, are nothing to us nor individual statesmen, except so far as they represent right principles. We are for those who are on the side of justice, peace, and love.”

Yes!

My day ended with a bit of an emotional hit…and a victory. First, the emotional hit.

 
My dad passed away in 2013. He was unexpectedly diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in the fall of 2012 and was gone by early 2013. I still feel the pain and the loss to this day. My sister posted this picture on Facebook this evening – a picture I hadn’t seen in years – and it sent me down memory lane. I don’t remember this specific day, but I vividly remember the night before. It was Christmas Eve 1975 (I think), and I was 5 years old. I must have been pretty excited about Christmas, because I remember waking up and walking out to the family room to discover my mom putting presents under the tree. I remember seeing the Yogi the Bear doll under the tree before my mom frustratingly sent me back to bed. I don’t remember if I was upset or if my mom was upset about the way she sent me back to bed. All I remember is that she came into my room a bit later and gave me Yogi to sleep with that night. I slept with him every night for many years after that.

And this is the victory…

 
Max and newcomer Vido sleeping together on the same pallet! Vido arrived a month ago as a birthday gift for Michelle from me and the kids, and Max was none too happy. However, over the last few weeks, Max has warmed up a bit, and for the first time tonight, he allowed Vido to share his coveted pallet next to my desk in my home office. I think this is going to work!

Retreating, Eating, and Confessing

Michelle and I just returned from a wonderful weekend at Desert Harbor Retreat. We’ve been there a few times now, and each time we go, we are blessed, refreshed, and encouraged. The location is breathtaking, the accommodations are perfect, the food is incredible, and the wise counsel we receive from Raymond and Wesley Jo Linam is invaluable. Desert Harbor is open to anyone, and Michelle and I can’t recommend it to you enough. Take some time to get away to reflect on God’s goodness and be renewed by booking a stay there. Here are a few pictures that you click for a better look.

 
We were given much to consider, pray about, and work toward while we were there. Among many other things we were counseled to consider doing during my sabbatical, we were encouraged by Raymond and Wesley Jo to cook together. They are such good cooks, and the meals they provide their guests are very healthy and VERY delicious. Unfortunately, Michelle had to return to work today, so I took up the cooking challenge myself. We will be cooking together in the coming days, but I just couldn’t wait. Last night, we discussed 3 new meals we’d like to try, and I hit the grocery. Took me over an hour to find everything we needed, but it was so worth it. I made Quinoa Risotto with Carrots and Asparagus – a crock pot meal that was very easy to make and VERY easy to eat! I’m a novice, so I needed to start with the crock pot! You can find the recipe for it here. If you have a healthy meal you love, please send me the recipe at mpotter7088@gmail.com.

 
As the delicious smell of the meal slowly poured out of the crock pot, I spent some good time in the Word and in prayer. Part of my devotional rhythm consists of a time of confession.  There’s a prayer of confession I often pray from an old puritan book called The Valley of Vision. It is such a thorough and powerful prayer that encompasses so much of what I want to and need to confess to the Lord regularly. I want to share it with you in hopes that you will make this a regular prayer of confession too.

Holy Lord, I have sinned times without number, and been guilty of pride and unbelief, of failure to find Your mind in Your Word, of neglect to seek You in my daily life. My transgressions and short-comings present me with a list of accusations, but I bless You that they will not stand against me, for all have been laid on Christ. Go on to subdue my corruptions, and grant me grace to live above them. Let not the passions of the flesh nor lustings of the mind bring my spirit into subjection, but rule over me in liberty and power.

I thank You that many of my prayers have been refused. I have asked amiss and do not have, I have prayed from lusts and been rejected, I have longed for Egypt and been given a wilderness. Go on with Your patient work, answering ‘no’ to my wrongful prayers, and fitting me to accept it. Purge me from every false desire, every base aspiration, everything contrary to Your rule. I thank You for Your wisdom and Your love, for all the acts of discipline to which I am subject, for sometimes putting me into the furnace to refine my gold and remove my dross.

No trial is so hard to bear as a sense of sin. If You should give me choice to live in pleasure and keep my sins, or to have them burnt away with trial, give me sanctified affliction. Deliver me from every evil habit, every accretion of former sins, everything that dims the brightness of Your grace in me, everything that prevents me taking delight in You. Then I shall bless You, God, for helping me to be upright.

On life, learning, love, and laughter.