Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | June 24, 2019

Kids Changing the World

A key component of our missions ministry is equipping the next generation to do their part to make our world a better place. This means doing practical things to address urgent needs around the globe and giving others an opportunity to hear about Jesus. We want our kids to understand that they do not have to wait until they grow up to help change the world. God can use them to do so today.

Every summer, we encourage the kids who attend our Vacation Bible School to give a daily offering that we invest in helping kids in need. We also educate our kids to understand the challenges faced by those they are helping. Over the past years our kids have supported initiatives to help kids in Mongolia, India, Cambodia, El Salvador, Honduras, Egypt, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Last year they raised funds to drill six new water wells in poor villages around the world.

This summer we challenged our kids to raise funds to help start construction of a new primary school in the slums of Kawempe, a division of Kampala, Uganda. For the past thirteen years, our missions ministry has had a strategic partnership with Pastor Robert Nabulere and his wife Rose. These valued friends and partners saw a need among children in Kawempe and moved in the direction of that need.

Pastor Robert and Rose were burdened by the numbers of poor children in Kawempe who could not afford to go to school and decided to do something about it. So, they started the Miracle Destiny School with an initial enrollment of 16 kids. Today, they have almost 500 children enrolled in their schools.

The primary school has met in rented facilities from the start. God, however, provided a piece of property on which to construct a new school building for the elementary aged kids. We knew that this was the time for us to help Pastor Robert get this project started and challenged our kids to raise funds to make it happen.

Our missions ministry provided each child who attended VBS with their own Go Beyond Kids Explorers Club kit. Each kit contains information and interactive activities to help our kids learn about Uganda and the need for the new building for Miracle Destiny School. I wrote another kids book to tell the story of the school. Amy Redhair, my intern, did an outstanding job of illustrating the book.

Once again, our kids met the challenge. They exceeded their $15,000 offering goal and, with a matching gift from our missions ministry, raised a total of $32,561.74. These funds will help kickoff construction of a new four-story building in Kawempe to house classrooms for more than 260 elementary school students. We presented our gift to Pastor Robert at all of our services on both campuses on Sunday morning. He was beyond thrilled and grateful.

I am grateful for our kids and all who served in our VBS. We had an outstanding team of volunteers who helped guide and encourage our kids. And, once again, our kids have done something special to make the world better for kids in the slums of Kawempe.

In the words of the Apostle Paul to Timothy, his young protégé, “You are young, but don’t let anyone treat you as if you are not important. Be an example to show the believers how they should live. Show them by what you say, by the way you live, by your love, by your faith, and by your pure life” (1 Timothy 4:12). Thank you, Kingsland kids, for your generous gift and your great example.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | June 13, 2019

With Men I Respect

I have been a fan of western movies for as long as I can remember. So, when the remake of The Magnificent Seven hit the screen, I had to see it. The gist of the story is the same. Denzel Washington plays the role of Sam Chisolm, a bounty hunter hired by the good folks of Rose Creek to save their town from Bartholomew Bogue, the greedy industrialist.

My favorite line in the movie is spoken by the character Jack Horne, a tough frontiersman played by Vincent D’Onofrio. At a critical point in the fight against Bogue, Horne looks at his comrades and says, “To be in the service of others, with men I respect, like you all, I shouldn’t have to ask for more than that.”

Horne’s words pretty much sum up how I feel about my Band of Fathers, the group of men I have met with for the past four years. When I started the group, I invited men interested in becoming better dads to join me. I structured our group around three key components: shared study, shared mission, and shared adventure.

We regularly meet for shared study on Wednesday evenings around a meal. We have studied and discussed top selling Christian books on fatherhood as well as books about epic historical achievements in the realm of adventure and exploration. But we feel strongly that it takes more than shared study to become a better man and a better dad.

We burn off our shared study calories by holding one another accountable for practicing what we study, but also by engaging in shared mission. Serving others is essential to good spiritual formation. We want to move in the direction of people in need and to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

This month, we have spent several days helping a precious lady who is battling cancer. Battling a giant like cancer is bad enough without adding to that some nagging home repairs. So, our guys stepped up to help. We enjoy serving together and the fellowship that comes with working shoulder to shoulder to get a job done.

When our friend saw the great work that our guys had done, she told me that we were an answer to her prayers. I told her that we love being the answer to prayers. There is perhaps no greater privilege than serving God. And, that the God of the universe would allow us to serve Him is indeed a blessing.

Our Band of Fathers also enjoy shared adventure. We have hiked, camped, canoed, and biked together. This week we met for a meal around a campfire with nothing particular on the agenda but to enjoy fellowship. We ate. We laughed. We told stories around the fire. We did some target practice. We left satisfied that we were in good company and grateful to be doing life in community because alone is dangerous.

I am grateful for Kingsland’s Men’s Ministry and for the leadership of Gil Harris, men’s ministry director. Our missions and men’s ministries have collaborated to do some good work in the community. Gil has led our men to reach and mentor boys in the Brookshire Community — an initiative that is making a difference in the lives of many young men.

The best antidote to men being passive and bored is to engage in shared study, shared mission, and shared adventure. When men do life in community with other men, only then do they discover the truth of Jack Horne’s words.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 29, 2019

My Bible Notes Website

Prior to coming to faith in Christ as a teenager, a friend in my Algebra class had given me a copy of the New Testament. I knew absolutely nothing about the Bible or how it was arranged. I only understood that it was an important book. That very night I opened the pages of the New Testament and started to read the Bible for the first time.

What I read about Jesus touched me deeply. I underlined, highlighted, and took notes in the margins of my paperback New Testament. I repeated this ritual every night until I had read through the New Testament — only to be convinced that there was something missing in my life.

A short time later I attended a youth gathering at the high school stadium in my town. Norm Evans, a football player with the Miami Dolphins, was the speaker. He clearly explained why Jesus had come and why we should place our faith in Him for salvation. That night, I did just that and my life has never been the same.

As a new believer, the Bible became very important to me. I made time every day to read and study the Scriptures. I ordered a set of Scripture memory cards from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and learned to memorize Scripture. Since then I have committed many verses and entire chapters of Scripture to memory.

When I started my journey into full time ministry in 1978, leading Bible studies and working with teachers became a key part of my ministry. For the next twenty-seven years, I led weekly faculty meetings to help teachers prepare their lessons for Sunday.

In the mid-1990’s, the late Dr. Tommy Lea, then Dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, introduced me to some of the editors at what was then the Baptist Sunday School Board, later renamed LifeWay Christian Resources. And so began my journey as a writer for LifeWay.

Over the years I was privileged to have more than two-hundred lessons and articles published by LifeWay. Working with LifeWay’s editors was one of the most enriching experiences of my Christian walk. I am grateful for that long season of writing and how God used it to deepen my study and understanding of the Scriptures.

In 2001, a friend encouraged me to start a website for Sunday School teachers and helped me to post my faculty notes on the site. That was the start of my Bible Teaching Notes website where I posted my exegetical research notes, charts, illustrations, and other resources for those who lead small groups.

A few months ago I started the process of moving my notes to a new site and am only a few hundred pages away from finishing that task. I try to add a few pages every night. However, my new site is now up and running. If you teach a small group or just enjoy reading the Scriptures, you should find something on the site to enrich your study.

I hope you will visit and look around my updated Bible Teaching Notes site and visit often. If you don’t find exegetical notes on the passage you are studying, that’s because this is a project that will take me a lifetime to complete. So check back often because I continue to add content every week.

May God bless you in your study of His Word and in taking intentional steps to strengthen your biblical worldview. And remember, we will not graduate from Bible study until we meet the Author face to face.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 27, 2019

On Memorial Day

Today, Americans around the country will visit monuments and cemeteries to honor those who paid the ultimate price for the freedoms we enjoy. Many of us will fire up our barbecue grills, go to parks for family picnics, or simply enjoy a relaxing day off. Whatever you do on Memorial Day, please be sure to set aside some time to help your children and grandchildren understand the reason we observe Memorial Day.

M= Meaning | We observe Memorial Day on the last Monday in May. Teach your children the meaning of Memorial Day — the day we remember those who gave their lives fighting for our freedom.

E = Educate | Teach your children and grandchildren about your personal family military history. Tell them about family members who served in the military and any who lost their lives while serving.

M = Mount | Mount an American flag in your yard or purchase several small American flags and place them on the graves of soldiers at a local cemetery. Buy small flags to give to neighbors.

O = Ownership | Take ownership of Memorial Day even if no one in your family has served in the military. The men and women who gave their lives did so to secure your freedoms. Honor them by observing Memorial Day.

R = Reach | Reach out to a family who lost a loved one in military service. Perhaps you can write a letter to a family who lost a son or daughter or place a flag and flowers upon their grave.

I = Internet | Search the internet for information on Memorial Day. Visit the Vietnam Memorial online or other sites to help your children learn about the sacrifices made by others for our freedom.

A = Ask | Ask God to continue to bless America. Pray for the families of those who have lost loved ones in military service. Pray for those presently serving in our armed forces.

L = Live | Encourage your children to live each day with gratitude and appreciation for the freedoms we enjoy. Purpose that you will not take this precious freedom for granted.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 15, 2019

A Split-Second Decision

The most significant moments of our lives seldom present themselves at a convenient time. We rarely receive any warning that our lives will intersect with a moment so extraordinary or unexpected that it alters the course of our lives — and that of others.

Tuesday, May 7, started out just like any other day for Kendrick Castillo and his friends Joshua Jones and Brendan Bialy. The three friends attend a Denver area STEM school located eight miles from Columbine High School, the site of the 1999 mass shooting that claimed thirteen lives and wounded more than twenty others.

On Tuesday, two other students entered the school with the intention of doing harm. Devon Erickson and Alec McKinney managed to make it deep inside the school without raising any suspicions. One of these shooters entered the classroom where Kendrick and his friends were studying and warned, “Nobody move.”

In a split-second, Kendrick assessed the threat and, without hesitation, moved in the direction of that threat. His friend Brendan and then Joshua immediately followed. According to reports Castillo pushed the shooter against the wall, Jones pulled him to the ground, and Bialy managed to get the gun away from him.

Jones and Castillo both sustained gunshot wounds. Eighteen year-old Castillo, however, died at the scene. Authorities arrested the two shooters. They have been charged with first-degree murder, several counts of attempted murder, and a variety of other charges related to the incident.

Kendrick Castillo was laid to rest today. He was remembered as a kind and selfless young man who consistently thought of others first. And he was acknowledged as a hero. Rightly so! When the moment presented itself, Kendrick unlocked the potential in that moment to do good and, by so doing, helped prevent what might have been a great loss of life.

Don’t expect God to check your calendar before presenting you with a moment packed with the potential to do good. Instead, ask Him for the wisdom to see the potential in that moment, even if you only have a split-second in which to do so. And then do the right thing, even if it means moving in the direction of something frightening.

Kendrick Castillo died in medias res — a Latin term that means in the middle of a story. One day, like Kendrick, each of us will die in medias res. However, our story does not have to end there. Because Kendrick’s actions saved lives, his story is forever a part of the stories of all those saved by his split-second decision.

May we too have the courage to unlock the potential of the ordinary and not so ordinary moments that present themselves to us every day.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 8, 2019

The Fruit of Emptiness

The late Nelson Mandela once said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way it treats its children.” He was right! Children are, after all, among the most vulnerable members of any society — including children in the womb.

God has always been concerned about the weak and vulnerable in society. A child in the womb is more vulnerable and at risk than any other members of society. If I am in danger, I can take steps to seek safety. I can move to a more secure home or neighborhood or community. However, if a child in the womb is in danger, that child cannot move to a safer womb.

Children in the womb have no voice and no choice. They cannot speak for themselves. They cannot appeal to an abortion-minded woman to let them live, to do them no harm, to keep them from being torn limb from limb. They are the weakest of the weak and at the mercy of those who are stronger.

This past week, the voices of those who would seek to destroy life in the womb have spewed some of the most vile rhetoric I have ever heard.

State Representative John Rogers of Alabama voiced his opposition to the abortion ban that was approved in his state. He said, “Some kids are unwanted, so you kill them now or you kill them later. You bring them in the world unwanted, unloved, you send them to the electric chair. So, you kill them now or you kill them later.”

The preborn are always on the losing end of choices made by those who deem they are neither loved nor wanted. Many children are not loved nor wanted because they have come at an inconvenient time (as if the child had anything to do with that). Mother Teresa observed, “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.”

Brian Sims, a Pennsylvania State Representative, recorded himself harassing pro-life women outside the Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania clinic in Philadelphia. His eight minute rant went viral on social media.

Sims viciously scolded these women, telling them that they had no right to tell other women what they can do with their bodies — while he reserved the right to tell other women what they can do with their bodies. He accused Christians of being Bible Bullies, bigots, sexists, and misogynists — while recording his own misogynistic, bullying, and bigoted behavior.

And finally, a Students for Life group at the University of Texas—San Antonio set up a display of crosses to remember the 910 babies Planned Parenthood kills each day. Their peaceful display was interrupted by protestors associated with the Shout Your Abortion movement which encourages young women to proudly proclaim they had an abortion. What followed was recorded on video.

Several young women holding pink “I Stand With Planned Parenthood” signs walked among the display of crosses. One pointed at a cross and boasted, “Look, there’s mine right there!” Another said, “I just love sex and aborting fetuses. That’s my number one kink.”

One girl chanted, “Stop, hey, what’s that sound. All the fetuses are in the ground.” Another responded, “What if we pissed in the fetus graveyard.” These are just some of the things shouted by the protestors.

The one thing all of these individuals have in common is that they lack the bandwidth to see beyond today, to where disregarding the sanctity of life will ultimately lead us as a society. Their vile speech is the fruit of emptiness.

Jeremiah, known as the weeping prophet in the Old Testament, lamented that the people of Judah had strayed far from God. He observed that they had followed emptiness and became empty themselves as a result. Unless they repented, he warned, judgment would come. And indeed judgement came.

God cares about the plight of the weak and the vulnerable, and so should we. We must speak for those who have no voice. Like Jeremiah, we too should weep over what is happening in our society. And we must warn that judgment will come, if not sooner then later.

In the words of Martin Luther King Jr, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Ultimately, no one destroys life with impunity. There will be a reckoning.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 6, 2019

The Act of Dehumanization

Every beneficent and malevolent act committed in the world today is driven by worldview considerations. Whether human rights atrocities or acts of extreme love, every act can be traced back to what an individual believes.

The substance of beliefs is ultimately transmitted by words. That is why words matter. There is power in words.

A children’s rhyme boasts, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” The truth of the matter is that words can hurt us and others — and sometimes hurt in a big way!

The Holocaust is not something that happened overnight. This horrible chapter in our human history can be traced back to words that shaped the thinking of a people. In Mein Kampf, Adolph Hitler referred to the Jews as “parasites upon the nations.” His words paved the way for the final solution.

Last month, a biology professor at the University of California San Diego compared unborn babies to parasites. As part of a lecture, this professor drew “parallels between fetuses and cancers.” A student in his class took a photo of one of the professor’s slides and expressed his shock on social media.

The class title was “biology of disease.” Thus to refer to a pre-born baby as a parasite is essentially to liken pregnancy to a disease for which abortion is the remedy.

The professor described a fetus, or unborn baby, as a “legitimate parasite” that grows rapidly and manipulates the immunity of the mother — just like cancer. Whether wittingly or unwittingly, this professor used words that unquestionably contribute to the dehumanization of a baby in the womb.

Dehumanizing language is indeed dangerous because it suggests that certain human beings (in and out of the womb) are less valuable than others. And, as in the case of the Holocaust, this kind of language can lead to the destruction of life.

Nobody would argue against killing a parasite any more than they would protest killing a roach. Comparing unborn babies to parasites, however, can condition people to think of the preborn in terms of being something less than human. While a parasite does not belong to the human species, a human fetus is a human life — regardless of the stage of development.

Derogatory and dehumanizing language is nothing new to those who advocate for abortion. In her book Pivot of Civilization, Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, used derogatory language to refer to minorities and certain groups of human beings. She referred to those she loathed as “human weeds, reckless breeders” and “human beings who never should have been born.”

We live in dangerous times. When we regard a child in the womb as a parasite, then it will not be long before life outside of the womb is regarded in similar terms — especially children that survive abortion, the aged, and those born with special challenges.

How utterly arrogant and irresponsible for anyone to use language that dehumanizes, devalues, and disregards the sanctity of human life. If we are not careful, this kind of rhetoric will ultimately endanger us all.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | April 30, 2019

Back in Alaska

Alaska is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. No question about it! No matter where I look, the natural beauty of this place just makes my heart smile. It’s the kind of beauty that takes my breath away and leaves me wide-eyed and silent. And the magnificence of Alaska just doesn’t quit. No matter which direction you look, God’s creative signature is everywhere to be seen.

And yet, for all its beauty, there is a darkness in Alaska. Regarded as the least church-attending state in the Union, Alaska has the highest rate of suicide per capita in the country — nearly twice the national average. Suicide is the leading cause of death here for people ages 15 to 24. Beauty is not enough to stave off the despair that leads so many in Alaska to take their own lives.

A few years ago, I connected with Scott Kirby of GraceWorks Alaska. He has an inspiring vision to reach Alaska. If you ask him about GraceWorks, he will tell you why they even exist. “Our goal is nothing less than to literally transform Alaska by winning new believers, growing disciples, and starting new gatherings of believers. We will not be satisfied until we see a remarkable, multiplying, Jesus Movement in our state.” That is a bold vision.

Every summer, GraceWorks hosts hundreds of volunteers each week — students and adults who come here to be the hands and feet of Jesus. These teams help GraceWorks with their outreach in most of the city parks in Anchorage. Teams lead all sorts of fun activities for kids, teach Bible stories, repair bikes, host skateboarding clinics, and so much more.

However, before these teams arrive in Anchorage, there is much work that has to take place. One of the most important things is making sure that GraceWork’s fleet of vehicles are all in good repair and ready to transport teams to and from ministry locations every day. That’s where we come in.

For the past three years, our missions and men’s ministries have collaborated to bring a team of men to service the vehicles that will transport volunteers. GraceWorks has a fleet of 29 vehicles and trailers that must be serviced to ensure the safe transport of teams and supplies. Each vehicle has its respective maintenance record and a punch list of things to service. That’s why we are back in Alaska.

We are off to a good start and making progress. I am grateful for Gil Harris, Kingsland member and owner of Katy Auto Care, for his passion for leading men and serving God. Gil always does a great job of leading our morning devotionals and guiding our team in servicing vehicles. I don’t mind saying that I have learned a lot about car care over the past three years as a result of this annual initiative.

As time allows, and because the sun sets almost at ten at night, we always try to squeeze in an adventure at the end of the day — whether a quick hike or a quick trip to see one of the local sights. The work, the fellowship, the food, and working alongside our friends at GraceWorks all make for a great week. We all enjoy getting our hands dirty because we know that in a few weeks, the teams that come to serve will have a great experience. And we want to make sure that they have a safe experience as well.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | April 22, 2019

Terror in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, a tear-drop shaped island in the Indian Ocean, was rocked by terrorist attacks on Easter Sunday. Three Christian churches, packed with worshipers, and three luxury hotels were targeted by suicide bombers in what can only be regarded as coordinated attacks. The explosions claimed 290 lives and wounded an additional 500 people.

Although no group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, the government has blamed the National Thowheed Jamath, a little-known jihadist group. Authorities also believe that the suicide bombers and their co-conspirators, all Sri Lankan citizens, had international support from other Islamist terrorist groups.

Sri Lanka’s security forces were warned about possible attacks at least ten days before the bombings. However, no one took action and top government officials say the warnings never reached them, indicating a catastrophic intelligence failure. Whatever the reason, the failure to take action resulted in the loss of lives.

The reality, however, is that no matter how vigilant we are, those who seek to kill and destroy will find a way to do it no matter what — even at the expense of their own lives. That is one of the realities that makes terrorism so terrifying. The suicide bombers in Sri Lanka willingly paid the ultimate price in an effort to advance whatever it is they wanted to advance.

Perhaps we will find out more in the coming days. Surely the suicide bombers would want the world to know why they sacrificed their lives and were willing to take the lives of others. Given that 24 people have been arrested in connection with the bombings, it appears the suicide bombers were part of something much bigger than themselves.

The bombings in Sri Lanka are yet one more indication that we live in a world gone mad, a world that is being ripped apart by senseless acts of violence — acts designed to strike terror into the hearts of ordinary people. Terror always leaves death and destruction in its wake. These are just two of the bitter fruits of worldviews that disregard the value of human life.

When you peel back the layers of any terrorist act, or any beneficent act, you eventually get to the heart of the matter — and the heart really is the matter. Jeremiah (17:9) cautioned, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jesus observed, “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil” (Luke 6:45).

At the heart of every oppressive and deadly act of violence is a blatant disregard for or an impoverished understanding of the sanctity of human life. When we do not value human life, then no one and no place is off-limits to those who seek to steal, kill, and destroy — be it in a holy place or the market place.

I am saddened by what happened in Sri Lanka. My heart aches for all who are dealing with the pain of the senseless loss of their loved ones. As a Christ-follower, I choose to bring good treasures out of my heart. I choose to respect life, protect life, and work toward the day when “man who is of the earth may cause terror no more” (Psalm 10:18).

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | April 10, 2019

Pay for Praise

While waiting for my ride to the airport in Kampala last week, I sat in the lobby of the Fairway Hotel and perused a copy of the China Daily. One article in particular intrigued me — “Youths chat or pay their way to adulation.”

Praise, it seems, is in short supply in China — at least among young people who feel the pressure to perform and excel and meet very high family expectations. Dang Jianguo, an associate professor at Fudan Journalism School, observed, “In China, people have been traditionally reluctant to praise others.” That’s unfortunate!

Praise is an essential ingredient of the human emotional food pyramid. If you remove the nutrients that praise can provide then the result is malnourished individuals who, according to Jianguo, are “thirsty for praise.”

This thirst for praise has led to the development of “kuakua” online chat groups. In Chinese, “kua” literally means “to praise.” This new sub-culture platform has become super-popular among Chinese youth. Participants can receive free praise from fellow college students or complete strangers. If they come up short, then they can purchase “compliments.”

Things are really not much different in America or, for that matter, anywhere else in the world. Praise is important to us, too. We tend to measure affirmation by using social media metrics. The more likes, the better we feel. Not sure how we survived in the days before social media gave us access to this kind of instant affirmation. But, somehow, we did.

Sun Jiashan, a researcher at the Chinese National Academy of Arts, is not too worried about the kuakua phenomenon. On the up side, she points out, “many youths have said that by joining the group, they have experienced the joy of praising each other.” That’s a good thing! Maybe when these kids become parents they will be more proactive about praising their kids thus eliminating the need for their kids to purchase praise.

The bottom line is that rejection is a terrible thing. No one likes rejection. Anne Murray spoke for all of us when she sang, “I was born to reject rejection. If only for today, Show me that you want me, Show me that you need me, Send a little love my way” (from her song “Send a Little Love My Way”).

The Bible certainly affirms the significance and worth of all human beings. In Psalm 8, David marveled at the fact that the God who created the universe considers us as more prized than the planets. Jesus also affirmed the worth of people. He spent time with those rejected by society and became known as “a friend of tax-collectors and sinners” (Matt. 11:19).

May we all look for opportunities to offer the kind of genuine and heartfelt praise that will nourish those who are hurting or doubting their self-worth. After all, no one should have to pay for praise.

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