Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Passing of Papi

Over the past two and ½ weeks our family has been together through a sweet, tumultuous, and incredibly challenging time as we said goodbye on earth to Dr. Rafael Zelaya, Alexa’s father.

I am so grateful to the staff, leadership team, and entire family of HPHC who helped us get here and spend nearly three weeks away from our ministry in North Carolina. You will never know what this has meant to us.

We came to Honduras with the understanding that his illness was very serious and that we may have to say goodbye to him. As much as we had prepared our hearts for this, none of us was ready for it to happen. I don’t think you can ever be completely ready for a death.

To say the least, it has been a trip of many ups and downs. There were about two days here when we thought he likely would pull out of this. Then there were many days when it seemed that this hope was not to be.

On Sunday the 11th of June he sat up and talked with us. He wanted to put on his glasses and his watch. He called for all the grandchildren to come and visit with him. All of them that were able to be in Honduras came to his room that day. It was a special day. At the time we didn’t know it would be the last of this kind of day.

On Thursday evening June 21st, we received word that after all of the struggle that the end was near. He had an infection in his lungs that would not respond to treatment and was quickly taking his life.

We spent the entire day and much of the night Friday with him as the final struggle had begun. His oldest son Rafael was on his way to the hospital from the United States and we were praying that he would make it to Tegucigalpa before his father passed. He arrived around 11:30 that evening.

Then around 2:40 AM on Saturday June 23, his heart suddenly stopped beating. And he breathed his last breath with his sons by his side.

We had just left the hospital at midnight to come home and get some rest. At 2:45 my brother in law Guillermo woke me up and told me that Rafael had passed. We decided to let Alexa and her sister sleep until morning and then break the news to them.

About six am I shared the news with Alexa. Through the night Guillermo had made arrangements with the funeral home and prepared for the funeral to be the next day.

We gathered at the funeral home at 10 AM the next day and stayed until midnight greeting family and friends. We played Frank Sinatra music all day long during the visitation. You might think that strange for a funeral, but if you had known my father in law, you would understand that it was perfect.

Around 7 PM we gathered everyone together and had the funeral. A praise band came from their Gaby and Guillermo’s church. Their Pastors preached a beautiful funeral message. Then Alexa’s oldest brother and I shared words about Rafael with everyone there. It was a beautiful service with a tremendously good spirit there.

At the end the pastor called the whole family forward for prayer. I have never in my life had a moment of personal grief like that moment. Holding Alexa and Michael and Daniella as they grieved was one of the most emotional moments I have ever had. I wasn’t prepared for it.

The next day we had a bit of rest and then departed Monday to scatter his ashes at his favorite spot on earth, the beach at Coyolito. We had a small ceremony there at the beach where each of the children and grandchildren sprinkled his ashes into the sea. Then the sons and sons in law and a cousin took a boat out into the harbor to scatter the remaining ashes in the sea that he loved.

That evening and again the next morning we swam in the ocean and pool, ate clams and fish, and had a time at the beach just like we used to do together. I told Alexa that his last gift to us was a day at the beach.

Here is what God has taught me the last two weeks:

1. God’s ministers are everywhere in many forms.

Rafael passed away at the hospital where he had served for the last 18 years. His office was a stone’s throw from the room in which he died. The people he had worked closest with were there to serve him in the final days of his earthly life.

I cannot tell you how blessed I was to see the doctors and nurses that passed through that room. Many of them left with tears in their eyes, for Rafael had been a mentor in their lives. On one of the last nights a doctor took him by the hand and wept.

The hospital janitor especially blessed me. His job was to move things around, clean up, and see to the maintenance of the room. But there was another greater reason he was there. He took Rafael by the hand and prayed with him. He prayed with him to bring assurance that he was ready to leave this world. At the end he brought the family much needed wisdom and counsel. This man was a pastor in that hospital even though his job title was janitor.

2. True friends are among life’s richest jewels.

Rafael had a lifelong friend with him throughout his life and throughout this final earthly journey. This friend’s mother and Rafael's mother had been friends, been pregnant at the same time and said that their babies would be best friends. They were best friends for 76 years. This man came every day and talked with Rafael. In fact Rafael died on this man's 50th wedding anniversary and he was still there with us at the funeral home and traveled with us to the beach for the final ceremony.

I can't tell you how seeing this friendship affected me. It was true friendship to the end. I want to have friends like that at the end of my life.

3. Nothing happens at random.

I mentioned the trip on the boat to scatter the ashes. Along with the sons and sons in law came a cousin Jose Roberto a dentist here in Tegucigalpa.

We each took a turn scattering some of the ashes. When Jose Roberto’s turn came, he scooped up some of the ashes and stopped us and said, “Look at this!” In the ashes was a piece of metal. It was a pin that had held a crown in Rafael’s mouth. The startling fact is that Jose Roberto himself had done this very dental work.

It was no coincidence that he was the one to scoop up this tiny piece of metal. Only he would have recognized it. I don’t know all that God was saying to us in this. But I do know that God was telling us that He was there, and that everything is under His control.

4. Until you are ready to die, you are not ready to live.

In the final moments of his life, my father in law was praying and calling out to God. He had assured us all that he had made complete peace with God in every area of his life. That is the most comforting thing that we can imagine; that because of Christ, our beloved Papi is now in Christ’s glory.

5. True joy is found in serving others.

My father in law was a brilliant doctor. He completed his internship at Harvard University in Boston. After leaving Harvard he had many opportunities to work in the States and in other places in the world. But he chose to come home and serve the people he loved.

He cared for many people without charging them anything. He gave of himself when it didn’t seem to pay off. But his heart was filled with the desire to serve others and to make a difference.

I will always be richer for having known this man.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Facing a Threat?

If you have been in leadership very long, you have faced a time when you faced a real leadership challenge. You probably know what it is to awaken at night and walk around the house wondering what your next move should be. Have you been there?

King Ahab was in a spot like this. An enemy king had threatened to take away everything he had. This was no idle threat; this evil king could back up his promises. Trouble was knocking at the door.

But a prophet came to Ahab and gave him a clear, encouraging word from God. Here is what the prophet said:

1 Kings 20:13-14

13 Suddenly a prophet approached Ahab king of Israel, saying, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Have you seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will deliver it into your hand today, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’”

14 So Ahab said, “By whom?” And he said, “Thus says the Lord: ‘By the young leaders of the provinces.’”

Then he said, “Who will set the battle in order?”
And he answered, “You.”


Here are three words I have for you today from this prophet’s message. Whether you are pastoring a church or leading an organization these words will carry you to victory in those constant seasons of challenge.

1. Trust God Deeply. (Verse 13)

The prophet told Ahab, “Have a look at this great enemy you face.” Why would he say this? Because Ahab needed to know how big his enemy was so that after the battle was won he would know that it was God that delivered him, not his own might.

This is a lesson in trust. Great leaders often face challenges that are way over their heads. The greatest leaders have learned to face every challenge with a deep trust in God’s oversight and provision.

2. Develop Leaders Daily. (Verse 14a)


The prophet said, “Ahab, look at these developing leaders around you. They will help you win the victory!”

You may ask, “Why are you talking about developing leaders when I’m just barely staying afloat here?”

For one thing, as a leader, you need to know that God has put people around you to share the burden of battle. Secondly, it is critical that you develop these people regularly so that when a time of trouble comes you are surrounded with warriors that can face the enemy with you.

3. Establish Order Confidently. (Verse 14b)

The prophet was clear in saying in essence, “Ahab it is your job as the leader to establish order and direction.” There are some things you can delegate. However, setting the direction and culture of your organization is something you must drive yourself.

If you are the leader you must trust your instincts and lead the organization forward through trying times. You cannot afford to flinch.

Ahab came through this battle with God’s help. Mind these three things and you will do the same.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Solomon Had it Going On!

10 When the queen of Sheba heard of Solomon’s fame, which brought honor to the name of the Lord, she came to test him with hard questions. 1 Kings 10:1

Solomon was a famous man to say the least. His fame had spread throughout the world. I see two things in this passage that resulted from his fame:

1. The Lord was exalted.
2. The World was attracted.

Solomon brought honor and exaltation to the Lord while at the same time attracting the attention of none other than the Queen of Sheba. We can exalt the Lord and attract the world at the same time! These two things are not exclusive of the other.

As Solomon glorified God with his wisdom and leadership, the Queen was drawn to come in and ask him questions. I believe that when we live correctly and worship correctly that people will come to us to ask questions.

1 Peter 3:5 says,

"And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. "

This tells me that people should be asking because they see the hope of God in my life!

Lord, help me to worship You in the right way. I believe that this will attract many to Your Kingdom!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What He Says or What You See?

18 Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping—believing that he would become the father of many nations. For God had said to him, “That’s how many descendants you will have!” Romans 4:18

There was no apparent reason for Abraham to have any hope. Everything around him looked hopeless. He was too old to have a child by all human standards. Sarah his wife was also past her child-bearing years. There was simply no way this was going to happen unless God came in and did something that was totally outside their comprehension.

But Abraham kept hoping and kept believing in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. He truly believed what God said to be true in spite of everything that he could see.

That is what faith is. It is believing what God says in spite of what you see with your eyes. Faith simply clings to God's promises and refuses to be discouraged by circumstances that are contrary.

I will read what God says. I will hear what God says. I will cling to what God says. I will not let what I see discourage me from what God says.

Lord, help me to walk by faith and not by sight. Help me to believe what you say above anything that I see.

Friday, February 24, 2012

As Time Goes By

I saw something this morning that I didn't want to see. One of my son's kindergarten classmates was actually driving a car! Now before you panic and call the police, my son is 15. But seeing that sight hurt a little. It is just lately that I have been seeing him as a young man and not the baby we held in our arms just a few short years ago.

I love the song in the musical Fiddler on the Roof that they sing when their oldest daughter is getting married. It says, "Is this the little girl I carried? Is this the little boy at play? I don't remember growing older. When did they?"

All around us there are signs that time is passing. As I grow older I get more aware of the fact that each moment in life is a gift. This motivates me not to waste a moment of it. I read a quote the other day that said, "Life is often squandered in ten minute increments." We cannot let that happen.

Let's not waste a moment. It is going by too quickly.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Day Moses Quit

Have you ever really wanted to quit? I know that I have. We pastors have a joke about Monday morning resignation letters and to be honest I have written a few of those, but have never sent them.

It helps me when I read the Bible and realize that even Moses reached a quitting point. He cried out to God and basically said, “Lord I’m in over my head! I give up!”

God didn't leave him hanging. He responded with specific instructions. Look at what God said:

Numbers 11:16-17
16 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Gather before me seventy men who are recognized as elders and leaders of Israel. Bring them to the Tabernacle to stand there with you. 17 I will come down and talk to you there. I will take some of the Spirit that is upon you, and I will put the Spirit upon them also. They will bear the burden of the people along with you, so you will not have to carry it alone.


Here is what I think God was saying in a nutshell:

1. Find the recognized leaders in your organization.
2. Gather them together before me.
3. I will take the Spirit I have put in you and put it in their hearts.
4. Once that Spirit has been put in their hearts they will share the burden of this work.

Here is what I have to do.

1. I have to continually recognize and raise up leaders to aid in the work. These people cannot just be my friends, but those with a recognized leadership gift.
2. I have to be willing to share the responsibility of ministry and the recognition I get for doing ministry.
3. I must gather with them in God’s presence and share my heart with them. Then I must trust God to birth the same heart in them.
4. I must continually walk with them as a team.

Don't quit, just learn to share the work.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Advice on Bringing Comfort

Last week I went with Detective Sonya Williams of the Henderson County Sheriff's Department to do a death notification. It is so difficult to notify a family that their loved one has died, especially when the loved one has been the victim of a violent crime. Many of us have done this type of thing and it never gets any easier no matter how many times you do it. As has been the case in all my experiences with the Sheriff’s Department I was so impressed with Sonya’s professionalism and concern for this family.

But this event brought to my mind a necessary skill for many of us. It is the skill of bringing comfort to a hurting person. How do you do it? I don’t claim to know it all, but I do have a few quick words of advice that I think will help.

1. Remember when you were hurting.

The Apostle Paul said,

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-­‐4

This verse says that God uses our own pain to help us learn to comfort others. When he comforts us in times of trouble, He calls upon us to pass on that comfort later to someone else who is hurting. Somebody once said that your misery can become your ministry.

2. When you don’t know what to say, don’t talk.

It sounds simple, but so many people don’t follow this advice. They think that as they start talking and keep talking that they will think of something to say. Not always true! Peter once did this in Jesus presence. In Mark 9 it says that Peter starting talking because he didn’t know what to say! Do you know anyone like that?

Peter, the great apostle spoke because he didn’t know what to say! That’s not what you want! The worst thing you can do for a person in crisis is to start throwing out overused and meaningless words.

3. Just be “with” them.

What do all of us do when we are about to deliver bad news or be around people who are devastated? If you are like me you are asking yourself, “What am I going to say? What words can bring them comfort?”

The truth is that hurting people don’t need words very much; words can’t change what they are going through. Many times they just need someone to stand there and hurt with them.

15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15

Note in that verse is doesn’t call us to say anything. The key word is “with.” Just being there while they are hurting and hurting with them means a lot.

I hope you don't have to deliver any bad news any time soon. But if you do, I hope this helps!