Let There Be Light

The most transformative expression in the history of the world was the moment “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”[1] A prophetic shot in the dark, unformed canvas—concealed of any plan or hope for a future. The Author of creation gazed through the darkness, illuminating the world with a reflection of His heart. A ray of hope. A desire to know the unknown.

God had every liberty to manufacture His creation for His pleasure and to His liking. Rather than ruling in coercive power, He led in vulnerability and sacrifice by creating a world that would host a peculiar creature made in His own image; a carrier of His presence. He then empowered people to have dominion and the choice of living in the light or concealed in darkness.

His creation would carry the light for a time, but ultimately chose a pseudo-light, hiding in the shadow of guilt and separated from their Maker. This rebellion would prove to be a true test of God’s leadership and character. He knew that the only way to reignite the flame was to send the light once more through a tangible manifestation of His presence in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus became the archetype of light in creation, illuminating a world in despair and crying out for a single spark in the midst of ashes.

“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” [2]

This image of light is portrayed through all of creation and expressed by the way Jesus loves people. Jesus came to give authority to all those who believed in His testimony, fulfilling God’s prophetic utterance: “Let there be light.” Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”[3] The Church has the responsibility to carry this light of knowing Christ to the ends of the earth.

I see a world in desperation, crying out for hope, treading the darkness in search for the light. Whatever shadow covered yesterday, today holds a new ray of mercy. May we carry a passion to see our world illuminated with the love of Jesus. May we not be satisfied until all know the Light.

If God could transform my heart, I know He can do it for you.  I see the hope of a generation engaged in God’s global mission, taking the light of the Gospel to the world, until all know Jesus.

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Sources Cited:

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016.

[1] Genesis 1:3.

[2] John 1:9-13.

[3] John 8:12.

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Father in the Waiting

To the Father in the Waiting,
I know it seems easier not to feel, not to talk about it, and allow another painful holiday to pass. My hope is that this year would be different; that you would allow yourself to be vulnerable with your feelings this weekend. Don’t hide behind your doubt. Put it all on the table with someone you trust. I give you permission to share my story, but someone needs to hear your story. Last year, I wrote a blog entry entitled, No Less a Father for the purpose of encouraging men to not view themselves in the hope that one day, they will be a father; rather, that they are already marked in the image of God in faith as a father, and to view themselves as no less than a father. We announced our 7th pregnancy early (at 10 weeks in), and only by the grace of God we are holding our son a year later. As incredible as “the other side” of the miracle is, we will never forget the pain of losing our six previous children to miscarriage.
With his permission to share, a distant friend of mine reached out to me last week with this message:
I just need to get out a thought and get it out to someone far from me but someone I think could empathize. Tonight, I’m laying in bed staring up at the ceiling looking for a reason, searching God for a reason. Feeling less than. Feeling like I’m not a man. Feeling like a failure. I’m up asking God, why the miscarriage. Why have we not gotten pregnant again? We’re healthy. We’re trying. We’re faithful. We are pouring ourselves out and into others and into one another. Families all around us are moving forward. Everyone is having kids. Even those who don’t want any. And I just want to start, start with one. I get he’s faithful and his timing is perfect. But I’m hurting in this waiting room, in this waiting season. Just hurting. You ever felt anything like this? Again, you really don’t have to respond. I just needed a space.
I felt compelled to share my response publicly in the hope that it might encourage you in your pain; in your waiting room. He said, “I want to be BRAVE and cheer on this effort of you sharing what you sent me. I hope it helps others and I hope it brings more awareness for men who have and are going through this experience.”
Here is that message, and my prayer for every father in the waiting:
Man, my heart just breaks as I read this. I’m so glad you did get this thought out and that you are real with how you feel. Your feelings are valid, and yes… I have felt like and can identify with your feelings. I think back to last year right after we had our last miscarriage. I felt isolated, abandoned in my prayers, confused in my understanding of God’s heart, and questioning how He is good in my life. I thought of how clear it was to see He was good in others’ lives, but not my own. 
 
I kept “doing ministry” and grinding in my faith in a biblical understanding that God is good, but still not feeling in a personal understanding that God is good. 
 
I had been in a season of hope, believing God for a new thing and a new season when we found out a few months before that time that we were pregnant (our sixth). It was much easier to say, “The best is yet to come,” when my wife was carrying my child with a healthy heartbeat, but that heart beat stopped, and the pregnancy was no longer “viable” for the sixth time. 
 
We truly were at a loss for words and a loss of hope. I still had speaking engagements coming up with the plan to preach about hope and new beginnings. I kept my scheduled trip to India, where I went to visit orphanages, an HIV/AIDS hospice, elderly home, and leprosy camps. Each place we went, the missionary asked the people in their desperate situation to tell us “Americans” how God is good in their lives. Let’s just say, I got the hint that God was trying to speak to me. If they could articulate how God was good, surely I could find a way to thank God for the blessings He’s given me. 
 
Still not having the answers, and with nothing changing in my circumstance, I felt God was giving me a new perspective. My disadvantage became my new vantage point, seeing God from a place of my brokenness and dependence on Him alone to define my value as a man, husband, and Father. Instead of waiting on God to get where I wanted to be, I had to take steps of faith in meeting Him where He already was in my life. That meant for me to mentally gear my mind and control my thoughts to claim the promises of God and speak life. 
 
I began to think about who He says I am, and that got me thinking about my image as a man being shaped by His image in me. We always preach that we are created in the image of God. Well, if He is a good Father, then I am marked with His image to be a good father. Although I may not see the evidence of holding my own kids in that moment, that made me no less a father than any other man. I’m not sure if you read my blog post last year on Father’s Day, but I have been thinking about that quite a bit as Father’s Day approaches.
 
Honestly, I’m processing as I type this out and being as gut-level honest as you have been with me. As much as my heart weighs heavy for you, I know God sees you in this moment as you read this. Just as your heart longs for a child to call your son or daughter, He longs to call you His and desires to be with you. 
 
I never really thought deeply about how God must long for me until I was away from my son for the first extended amount of time a few weeks after he was born. The pictures my wife would send me wouldn’t do justice. I needed video. Video wouldn’t cut it. I needed to FaceTime with him. I was missing important milestones like his first laugh, the first time he rolled over, all these new expressions… I just wanted to be with him. 
 
I think God is very much aware of your desire, and what it truly is your heart longs for. That longing is what He placed there as He marks you with His image and His likeness. I don’t have the perfect answer for you, and I wish I did. But maybe the reason is that, ultimately, a right answer from me isn’t what would satisfy your longing heart. My prayer for you as Father’s Day approaches is that you would get a glimpse of the Father’s heart for you. That you would see that just as your heart longs for a child to hold, He’s longing to hold you now and give you the peace that only comes from knowing Him. I pray you would never feel less than a father because you know the Father, and He knows you. 
 
Much love my friend! Keep your head up. You are right where God wants you.
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Same Hope

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” – Hebrews 6:19a

Seven years ago today, my wife said yes to my marriage proposal. She said yes to unforeseeable future events that would rip most families apart. She said yes to our joys, pains, trials, and errors. She said yes to the 2,555 consecutive days that would bring us to where we are today. The words strength, grace, fortitude, and courage have never been more relevant than they are now.

The following is a glimpse of some of the “less sensitive” major events that we would experience in our family and that I have permission to share, not particularly in order.

– We worked seven part-time jobs between the two of us to make ends meet in low-income housing our first two years of marriage, saying “yes” together to the call of ministry.

– Moved to Arizona to serve as the Youth Director for the Arizona Ministry Network of the Assemblies of God (a challenging, yet incredible privilege in our early twenties.)

– I was hospitalized for a week with a severe infection that nearly took my life, but God spared me.

– Bethany would have six miscarriages/early pregnancy losses, which involved three trips to the ER.

– I was diagnosed with an aggressive case of Hashimotos (auto-immune disease).

– My sister-in-law divorced my brother and walked away from her faith.

– My college roommate died serving our country in Afghanistan.

– Bethany’s father had his thyroid removed due to cancer, followed by three additional emergency surgeries.

– Both of Bethany’s maternal grandparents died months apart.

– My step-dad and mom lost their home and engineering business due to bankruptcy following the recession.

– My step-dad had a procedure to remove cancer, and my mom was also diagnosed with Hashimotos.

– Bethany’s sister had a miscarriage at 18 weeks.

– Bethany’s mom had surgery to remove her thyroid due to cancer.

– My other sister-in-law left my other brother and filed for divorce.

If we were to take just two or three of these events, that would be challenging enough. We realize the culmination of these events is not your typical family drama. We know our Redeemer lives, He’s still on the throne, and He has proven to be good in our lives. Our “yes” to His call is constant and more confident now than ever.

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A New Year brings new possibilities, new goals, and new challenges. No matter how your 2016 looked, you can be sure that 2017 will be different in one way or another. Bethany is now 38 weeks pregnant with our healthy, miracle baby boy! The irony is, with all this tragedy, our hope is not in 2017, nor is our hope in the blessing of our son. Our hope is in the only begotten Son, the author and finisher of every chapter in our story.

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For the follower of Jesus Christ, one thing does not change. We have the same hope; that is Jesus. Whatever 2017 may bring, may we keep proclaiming this hope we’ve found in Jesus to yet another generation.

Thank you for following our story. May every nation and every generation find this same hope we have in Christ our Savior.

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*Pictures by Erica Torgeson Photography

Health Update

God answers prayer. His timing is perfect. His grace is sufficient.

We finally found a doctor who was able to discover a bacterial infection in my liver, which is most likely the cause of my under-active thyroid. Since my severe illness in 2013, I’ve continued to suffer with chronic fatigue. Not until my annual checkup did the doctors discover my thyroid levels were 3x higher than the normal range, diagnosing me with hypothyroidism and prescribing me a lifetime medication.

I wasn’t content with that answer. I’m 25, healthy, and active. I shouldn’t be having these kind of health issues at this stage in my life, and I’m hesitant to take any medication the rest of my life if I can avoid it. We decided to research alternative treatments for hypothyroidism, and we came across Dr. Kan in Gilbert, AZ. Our first appointment with Dr. Kan confirmed that God had directed us to him. He said, “Most thyroid problems are not thyroid problems,” and he began to list off all the possible root causes to thyroid symptoms. When he began to talk about how the liver is responsible for 60% of the hormones converted in the thyroid, I immediately made the connection with my illness in 2013, where my liver enzyme count rose over 600. He said infections can go into remission for years, and that I could still have an infection in my body. I may have had over 40 tests, but I haven’t had every test. (That will preach!)

Today, I went in for Bio-Resonance Testing combined with Field Control Therapy. Feel free to look it up, but it’s basically a thorough test where the doctor reads the body’s reaction to different vials. He was able to discover that my liver still has a bacterial infection, but it’s masked by biofilm. I will be taking supplements that will break up the biofilm and remedies that will fight this infection for good. That’s my prayer at least. I thank God for giving doctors the knowledge and medicine we have today!

If you’re reading this far, thank you for your interest. I’d ask that you join me in prayer for complete healing and for strength and energy in my body. Also, please pray for Bethany as she has been my rock through all of this. God knew I needed her as my bride. She is gracious!

I’ll keep you posted as God answers prayer.

God’s On the Move

Four years ago, God revealed to me that He was going to move in Arizona and that somehow I would be a part of it. Last October, while I was fighting for my life in the hospital, I was completely helpless and dependent on God. He healed me there and reminded me that it was this posture of humility in which He would move and that it’s only in Him that we live and move and have our being. 

 

Our prayer for camps this summer was for God to move in us and through us — move in a way we’ve never seen before and take us to a place we’ve never been. Here’s a preview of how God moved in our four weeks of youth camps this summer. Behind every number is a person and a story for God’s glory.

 

Decisions for Christ: 497 

Baptized in the Holy Spirit: 386 

Heard God’s call on their lives: 557 

Received divine healing: 331 

STL offering: Over $10k

 

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Photo Credit: Bethany K. McGrath

 

God is on the move in Arizona and awakening young people around the world. Would you pray with me for God’s kingdom to advance as students share their faith and demonstrate the gospel around the world? I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to leave a comment and share how God is moving in your life.

Undiagnosed

Almost a year has passed since the day I was appointed to become the next District Youth Director in Arizona and that my wife and I would be packing up to venture out to the desert. I’m humbled to reflect and be a part of what God has done already in and through Arizona Youth Ministries in 2013. There have been moments of stress, fear, and anxiety, but they’ve all been overcome by God’s grace, strength, and peace. When my faith is weak, He proves Himself faithful. Where I’ve lacked, He has supplied. He has allowed me to bear the responsibility of leadership, but He loves me enough to not let me do it alone.
 
 
Last month, I came down with an extremely high fever, followed by flu-like symptoms. I’m rarely sick, so I thought whatever ‘bug’ I had would just pass. My symptoms became worse over the next four days, and I finally went into urgent care. From there, they sent me to the emergency room for further testing. After an EKG, spinal tap, chest x-rays, and multiple blood cultures, they ruled out meningitis and sent me home to follow up with a hematologist because my blood platelet level was extremely low. They said it was just some virus and I should start to feel better.
 
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That night, I had another 104 degree fever, and all of my symptoms became worse (severe migraine, body aches, joint pain, stiff neck, leg cramps, rash). I had to cancel a speaking engagement the next day and go into the ER again. This time, they were more serious about my symptoms and admitted me to the hospital right away to put me on an IV and start me on antibiotics and morphine. The Infectious Disease and Internal Medicine Doctors were concerned I had a tick born illness such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever because of my recent travel to South Carolina. A disease such as this can be fatal if not treated within two weeks from the time of infection. After only a couple days on the antibiotics, I was taken off of them because my liver enzyme levels were dangerously high. (An average range is 7-55, and my levels were up to 460.)
 
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If you’ve ever been hospitalized, you know all too well how difficult it is to get rest with the nurses waking you up every couple hours to draw your blood or change out your IV. I was blessed from all the prayers and support we received during this uncertain time. Bethany won the wife of the year award just for sleeping on that tiny hospital bed in the corner of the room for a week. Her strength and faith through this situation was miraculous, and I’m so grateful for her love for me.
 
After a week of blood tests, ultrasounds/x-rays/CT scans/MRI, and too many hospital meals, my liver enzyme levels dropped enough for the doctors to consider me stable and ready to be discharged. Although my symptoms persisted and I had not received a diagnosis, I was able to go home with pain medication and referrals for outpatient testing and appointments with five different specialists. This was a frustrating and painful process, but I was glad to be home. Bethany doesn’t like driving, but she drove me around to all my appointments.
 
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Although I still do not have a diagnosis to this day, my symptoms have improved greatly, and I am back at work. There is a lot of uncertainty in this whole situation, but I recognized quickly that this was an attack from Satan on my life. I’m not one to call a demon behind every bush, but I know this was spiritual warfare, and the enemy wanted me dead. Many people were praying with us during this time, and I believe God answered those prayers. I believe God has healed my body, and He allowed me to go through this for a purpose.
 
I may not know all that God is doing in this season of my life, but I do know He did not leave my side. The Great Physician had the answers when the other physicians had none. He gave me peace and comforted my family through this trial. Though I may have had trouble standing, I know His Word did not. His promises are true, and I held on to every one of them. As I read the Bible in the hospital bed, God reminded me that Jesus took on all my infirmities and healed every disease when He died on the cross. 
I’ve learned a lot through this illness, and I understand to a greater measure when Paul says he rejoices through suffering. God doesn’t grow us when we’re on the mountain. He takes us through valleys and wants to stretch our faith and trust Him to not take us out of it, but through it.
 
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I’m grateful for God’s physical healing, but I’m even more grateful for Him saving me from the depths of sin and that my hope goes far beyond what is mortal. Whatever circumstance or trial we may face in this life, we have the hope of eternity through Jesus Christ our Savior. I’m ready embrace the next season God takes me into because He’s going with me. God is doing a mighty work in Arizona, and I’m humbled to be a part of His great and wonderful plan. 

What I’m Believing in Prayer for Arizona Youth

After the first few months of being in Arizona, I’ve made it a priority to ask a lot of questions. When people ask about my vision for the youth of Arizona, I honestly tell them that I don’t know. This early on, it would be ignorant for me to believe I have all the answers or should ever expect that I will.

 

Not having a clear vision will not hinder me from seeking God and addressing the burdens He’s compelled me with. I am keeping my ear to the ground, listening to each conversation with a sensitivity to what the Holy Spirit is speaking.

 

I’m encouraged by the quality our leaders, leaving each conversation thankful that we have leaders who sincerely care about their students and desire to honor God. When God works, He operates in unity. God is already working and stirring hearts of students in the presence of God. I’ve seen a thirst for revival in the Church and a much-needed awakening of this generation.

 

With much opportunity comes much opposition. My heart breaks for three key issues in the Arizona youth culture, but I offer three focused prayers that I’m inviting those reading this to pray with me. I’m careful to note that before I share my concerns, I’m not writing out of fear, but a conviction in my spirit of what I feel God is showing me. I write in broad generalities within our district and not to any specific leader or church in mind. I’m writing with the understanding that what disheartens us today can become tomorrow’s greatest opportunity. God is building His Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18 paraphrased)

 

1. This generation is biblically illiterate. 

A recent study showed that Phoenix was the 8th-worst “Bible-minded” city in the country, and only 17 percent of residents know their Bible well. A seasoned theology professor at one of our Assemblies of God universities said he’s concerned each year by the biblical ignorance of incoming freshmen. We’re living in a day when God’s Word is unfamiliar, much like that before the reign of Saul. 1 Samuel 3:1b “And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.” When God spoke to Samuel, as a young man, it was Eli that taught him God’s voice. We need more Eli’s in Arizona. Despite his weakness as a leader, God used Eli to point a young man in a direction that would change the course of history. I pray for leaders who commit to preach God’s Word and live it out with integrity. 

 

2. Satan has the largest youth ministry.

I’m reminded of Jesus in Matthew 9, when He sees the crowds. His heart is filled with compassion, seeing they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus says to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, therefore, pray for to the Lord of the harvest, for Him to send out workers to the harvest field.” (v. 38) Today, Assemblies of God churches have 25% paid youth leaders, 50% volunteer youth leaders, and 25% have no youth leaders at all. Is it fair to say we need to raise up more leaders? Please pray with me for God to send more workers.

 

3. We’re running out of time.

Though we do not know the hour of Christ’s return, we know creation and culture is revealing signs of the end times. Jesus is coming back for His Church, and we must have a sense of urgency and passion for the mission of seeing lost people saved. Our prayer should model that of Paul in Romans 10:1, “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.” It is God’s will that none should perish, but people perish every day without hearing the gospel message of Christ’s love and plan for salvation. 

 

We are stronger together as the body of Christ to accomplish His mission. If we are to see revival happen in our churches and communities, then we must commit to serve together. You will hear me say my life calling more than once, but I’m compelled with a vision to activate disciples. I desire to serve the youth leaders of Arizona so that we can continue to build upon the rich legacy we have. This is why I’m passionate about Fine Arts: helping students discover, develop, and deploy their ministry gifts. This is why I’m passionate about camp and convention: giving students opportunities to encounter their Heavenly Father with friends. And this is why I’m passionate about giving to Speed the Light and sending students on AIM trips: challenging students to impact eternity by serving the heart of God in His global mission. This is a cause-driven generation, and we need to equip them with the cause of Christ, raising up the next generation of missionaries.

 

I believe in transparent, authentic leadership. I hesitated sharing this at first, but I feel in my heart I need to be transparent with what Bethany and I are giving to Speed the Light this year. We feel compelled by God to step out in faith as we challenge and encourage you and your students to give generously and sacrificially to Speed the Light. I say this with humility and faith that we pledge to personally give $10,000 in 2013 to get the gospel where it needs to go through Speed the Light. This will not be easy for us, but we believe in what God is doing through our missionaries and we are excited to celebrate in offering our fish and loaves to the King and watch in awe as He works wonders in our midst. He is faithful every time.

 

We’re praying and believing God for creative ideas and divine obedience. We felt God wants us to set an ambitious goal of $300,000 as a district in 2013. Our missionaries need the youth of Arizona to rise to the challenge and believe God for big things. I believe, with God’s help, we will equip our missionaries to preach the Gospel to a lost and hurting world. 

 

Will you pray with me and join this challenge to equip our missionaries whom God’s entrusted to us?

 

Romans 10:14-15 “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news.'”