“The saying that is written [has] come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
1 Corinthians 15:54-58
|Ron and Tracy Harding – Ministry Leaders of the Portland International Christian Church!|
Death touches every single one of us – it stings! Death’s power penetrates into the deepest regions of our hearts and our souls. Bottom-line, it brings us to our knees in an instant! None of us will escape the inevitability of facing this overwhelming force. For those who are lost, death often brings complete paralysis. But, for those of us who are saved, it’s the very vessel by which we enter the heavenly realms and the conduit God uses to show the hero that lies within the heart of each and every disciple!
In 16 years as a Christian, I have rarely been as inspired as I was by the Portland Church this past week. With the deaths of Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Steve McNair looming over the country, we in the Portland International Christian Church have also been hit by the “sting of death.” This past Sunday, three dear couples in our Latin Ministry showed us God’s glory in the victory over death.
This past week began with the news that Chris Williams’ mother had suffered a massive heart attack. She appeared to be stabilizing the first day. However, her condition worsened day by day. At this same time, Rojelio and Soraya Olvia experienced the joy of having a baby, only to have the baby suffer extreme complications, leaving the baby in critical condition. On Friday, the entire Latin Ministry – including Chris, his wife Alba, Rojelio and Soraya – came together to baptize a young woman named Griselda into Christ! Though somewhat shaken by the challenges of the Williams and Olvias, every disciple in the Latin Ministry gathered to witness God’s miracle – a lost soul who through the waters of baptism was saved! Throughout these two crises, the Latin Ministry did what most people would either call impossible or just refuse to do. They still went to work; they still took care of one another’s needs; they still visited everyone in the hospital; and they continued to “give themselves fully to the work of the Lord!” By Saturday, the doctors determined that there was no brain activity in Chris’ mother and the family made the difficult decision to remove her from life support on Sunday afternoon. Within a few hours, Marcos Lopez – the leader of the Latin Ministry – got a call that his father in Mexico only had a week to live. He received a second call, that Rojelio and Soraya’s baby was being removed from life support. Marcos’ response to all of this terrible news was first to pray, then to go to the hospital to be with the Olvias, as they spent the evening saying their goodbyes to their newborn child.
This is the essence of what Paul is addressing when he wrote, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)
|Riggo and Monica of the Portland Latin Ministry baptize their teenage son, Javier, in the Willamette River!|
On Sunday morning having had no sleep, but with the simple heart of a sold-out disciple, Marcos got ready for Sunday Worship Service and headed for church. Chris also was on his way to church, taking with him his sister, who was in Portland to see her dying mother. Chris was trying to make sure that his sister was also going to see the Kingdom of God! Forty-five minutes before church, Chris got a call that the doctors were going to begin the process of removing his mother from life support. Although disappointed that he couldn’t bring his sister to see the Portland Church, Chris went to be by his family’s side – lending strength to his extended family as a true follower of Christ. Thirty minutes before church, Marcos received the call that his father would not make it through the day. His response – to hearing the heart-breaking news about his father – was to rally the Latin Ministry by preaching a moving sermon from the Word, making this an unforgettable service! We know that Marcos’ father would be just as proud of Marcos, as his Father in heaven is!
The English Ministry came together in the same park. With our largest attendance ever, we sang songs, and prayed about the hardships of our Latin brothers and sisters. I preached a message from John 21:15-19, where Jesus told Peter that he was going to die. I simply entitled the sermon, The Sting of Death. My three points were: 1) Do You Truly Love Me? 2) Feed My Lambs and 3) Stretch Out Your Hands. This passage called the congregation to a fuller understanding of death – dying to ourselves every day by laying down our lives for one another and the lost. Every day in every way, as disciples we are to “always give [ourselves] fully to the work of the Lord, because we know that [our] labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
|Omari and Martha are fired-up about their baptisms!|
There were many tears, as I told the story of how Marcos was valiantly leading the Latin Ministry. The most intense moment of the service was when I spoke of laying down our lives for one another and posed the question, “When people speak of you after you die, who will come forward and say that they are going to heaven because of your life? Certainly, Michael Jackson touched many of our lives in some way. But, who has come forward to say that they are going to heaven, because he laid down his life for them?
After the service, knowing the challenges of the week, our English Ministry sang to the Latin Ministry We Love You With The Love Of The Lord as we walked down to the Willamette River to see the Latin Ministry’s second baptism of the weekend! As God intended, we experienced the whole range of emotions as disciples cried together over the loss of loved ones, yet encouraged one another because of the joy in seeing the Avalos family being united in Christ! Filled with emotion, Riggo and Monica baptized their teenage son, Javier, in the brisk waters of the Willamette River! Marcos and I embraced and wept together as I told him that many people around the world would become disciples, because of his phenomenal example during these trying times.
|The Pre-Teen Camp led by Lance Underhill at Big Bear Lake!|
Being the minister of the Portland International Christian Church has been one of the greatest joys that I’ve had in my life. I’m honored to be able to witness God work so powerfully through a few ordinary people, who just eight months ago were without vision and without hope. During this period, the Lord has used the original 13 hurting disciples of the Portland International Christian Church to baptize 23, help 15 people get restored, and inspire 35 disciples to place membership! This is a modern day miracle of the Holy Spirit displaying God’s glory and power through our sorrows and weaknesses! The Lord is making us into a truly vibrant, growing and selfless church in the City of Roses! Paul’s words ring in my ears, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6)
|Kaitlyn and Liliana rejoice after they baptized Becky at Manhattan Beach!|
While so many in this world are paralyzed with loss and mourning from the death of family members and the dying of our former movement, we in the Portland Church are standing firm in the grace of God, humbly proclaiming, “Where O death is your sting?” We give thanks to God and celebrate with one another, for “death has been swallowed up in victory!” During this past week, average ordinary men in our congregation became mighty heroes through God’s mercy, conquering one of the most powerful forces on earth – death! And to God be all the glory!