This week, HEARTLIGHT.org celebrates shining the light of Jesus online for twenty-five years. When we began, the web as we know it now barely existed. A quarter of a century later, we continue to share the good news of Jesus all over the world. What God has done with our small beginnings is nothing short of amazing. We hope you are blessed and encouraged by our story and this reminder that God does amazing things through ordinary people who seek to share Jesus with the world.
Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many? (John 6:9).
As a boy, my childlike imagination had no trouble believing in the Lord's miracles. I loved to imagine what it would have been like to have been there and seen them.
We are blessed these days with several outstanding films depicting the life of Christ. They have tried to present Jesus' miracles on the screen for us. Some of their video interpretations are very much like I had imagined. HOWEVER, if I am honest, others come off pretty cheesy — the whole walking on the water story has never been put on film satisfactorily. Many of the video presentations of Jesus' miracles don't quite achieve what my heart saw as a boy when I read the gospel accounts.
I love Mark's account of the four friends lowering their paralyzed buddy down through the roof (Mark 2:1-12). These friends had to dig through the mud, sticks, and fronds on the roof above a packed house of people listening to Jesus. Sweaty, irritated, and bewildered, people were standing shoulder to shoulder. Without warning, hammering overhead dislodged chunks of dirt, bits of straw, and pieces of leaves. This debris rained down on the crowd as the paralyzed man's friends finished their hole in the roof.
Somewhere along the way, the dimly lit room was flooded with sunlight. Dust particles would have danced in the light as a blinding shaft of sunlight blazed through the jagged opening. Squinty, dirt-scratched eyes blinked back the dust as their eyes adjusted to the light. Everyone tried to focus on the crumpled body that the four friends lowered to Jesus. The crowd squeezed more tightly into one another to make room as the friends lowered the man to Jesus, all while people jostled to get a better view. They wanted to see a miracle and hear the Lord's first words that broke the moment's excited tension. No film has adequately captured the emotion, the drama, and the beauty of this moment, at least not for me.
Another miracle that has proved very hard to put into a film is the feeding of the 5,000. I understand the difficulty. Like the filmmakers, I can't get my mind to picture how Jesus accomplished the replication of bread and fish. More than 5,000 weary and hungry people scattered in groups across a hillside. The sun dipped low in the sky. Hungry bellies had been growling for hours. Jesus' apostles were worried. Then, the Lord told them to feed the crowd.
"Whoa, there Jesus," one disciple seems to have been saying, "we can't fix this problem; it is too big for us. Send them away!"
Andrew, who always seemed to be bringing people to Jesus, found a little boy who was willing to share his picnic lunch. Yes, this boy, so much like many little kids today, had no real sense of the logistic difficulties of the moment or the crowd's enormity. Grasping reality was not his strength; loving grace and child-like faith were. So, he shared what he had: a generous heart and child-like trust that Jesus could make a miracle out of a messy moment.
Andrew's words captured the reality of the adult mind but also contained just enough of a hopeful question to leave the door open for Jesus to step through and do something extraordinary:
Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?
We know the answer to Andrew's question. The whole crowd ate, were satisfied, and each of the apostles held a basket of leftovers in his hands (John 6:12-13).
A little over twenty-five years ago, I had just finished taking Communion on the Sunday after Thanksgiving of 1995. With a touch of impertinent frustration, I asked the Lord, "What in the world am I supposed to do now?" I had material that I had written for short radio spots — popular spots that ran in drive time on the station with the largest audience of women ages 29-44, the ones who got families to church. Then, with radio mergers, advertising prices skyrocketed, making air time way too expensive. These radio spots had been called HEARTLIGHT. Had I wasted all that work? Would all that influence be lost?
I sat there reminding myself that Communion is more about resurrection than crucifixion. After all, we share the Lord's Supper on the day Jesus was raised and not the day he died (Acts 20:7). With my impertinent question stuck somewhere between my pew and heaven, the Lord surprised me. He did something I didn't expect.
The Lord spoke to my heart. At least, I guess that's what I'd call it. I didn't hear a voice, but my heart very clearly heard the Father answer:
Isaiah had an overwhelming experience when God called him to serve (Isaiah 6:1-8). Appropriately, I guess, what I received was, "The internet, dummy!" Now the question fell on me just as it had fallen on Isaiah, but would I respond as he did:
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?"
And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"
My heart heard this call from God twice. There was no mistaking the message. My answer was similar to Isaiah's: "Here I am. Send me!" Of course, I didn't have any idea what that commitment meant. Twenty-five years ago, most folks had no idea what the internet was going to be. But I accepted God's call and waited for the Lord to lead me into the details as the Holy Spirit took care of the "big stuff"! In other words, I had no clue what I was pledging to do, only that I was supposed to do it!
Shortly after this message from the Lord, I went to the high-tech folks in my congregation and shared the whole idea with them. Many were excited, but very few knew what to do with the excitement. Then, by the grace of God, I asked to see a video report of a mission trip some of our members took to Guyana. I was worried that it was too long to show in worship, so I asked to see the video.
A young guy freelancing as a graphics artist invited me to his makeshift studio to watch that video. I don't remember anything about it other than the graphic artist who did it: Paul Lee. I told him my story. The Lord put us together. We launched HEARTLIGHT.org a few months later on April 3, 1996. Need I say, we didn't know what we were doing, but the Lord did!
The Lord has led our small HEARTLIGHT.org team on an amazing journey these last twenty-five years. Paul Lee has moved on to new web adventures with his own design studio and marketing group, LeeWay Creative. Paul remains a dear friend and our online family helped raise money for his treatment from a severe case of COVID-19. He has recovered and leading worship in South Africa while still doing his creative online work and serving Jesus.
A Harding University senior to be, Ben Steed, sold us the VerseoftheDay.com website so that he could complete his vocational ministry and business degree. We bought VerseoftheDay.com on the condition that he would intern with us. Ben is now my partner and the future leader of our ministry. He has just completed our major site redesign, and he is the crucial "behind the scenes" guy that handles a wide variety of things that keep our websites and online ministry functioning.
To our amazement, Jesus has multiplied our loaves and fishes into a ministry that reaches hundreds of thousands of different people each day — a half a million, or more, each month across 190 or more countries in 13 languages. Our ministry involves several websites, most social media platforms, includes an app — Heartlight Daily Devotionals in both major app stores — and sends about 225,000 emails per day to people all over the world.
When we began, none of us had such grand expectations. We wanted to help a few missionaries and believers struggling to find resources to live for Jesus. We couldn't imagine that our meager efforts would make much of a dent in the huge needs of the people we wanted to help. Our expectations for our small resources were similar to Andrew's: "[H]ow far will they go among so many?" Repeatedly, through the grace of the Lord and nudges from the Holy Spirit, we have stumbled our way into the things the Lord had long ago prepared for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).
I couldn't imagine how Jesus fed the 5,000, and here the Lord was using our small resources and efforts to touch hundreds of thousands of people each day. To our joyful amazement, the Lord has proved again and again that he can "do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us" (Ephesians 3:20). So, along with Paul, I say, "to him be glory in the church and Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen" (Ephesians 3:21).
Over the years, we have heard from others how HEARTLIGHT.org and VereseoftheDay.com have been friends who dug holes through the roof of their darkness and brought them to Jesus to find light, healing, and comfort.
- In our earliest days, we heard from a missionary in the Philippines who used our resources with businesspeople at an internet cafe to lead a Bible study each week.
- We wept for joy as we learned of three Hawaiian teenagers who had subscribed to Today's Verse from HEARTLIGHT.org (now VerseoftheDay.com). They came to the conclusion they needed to be baptized. So they went to the end of the road on the west side of Kauai and baptized each other into Jesus, confessing Christ as their Lord and Savior as they shared in the death, burial, and resurrection of the Jesus.
- In the early days when money was tight, and inspiration lagged, I received an email about Christian schools in Africa using Today's Verse from HEARTLIGHT.org (now VerseoftheDay.com) to train their middle-school students in how to have a daily quiet time.
- When 9-11 rocked the world, we quickly put together the website we used for resources to help churches and prayer vigils to cope with shock and sorrow. We averaged 125,000 downloads per minute of videos and presentations for over three days and maintained high downloads for six weeks.
- We wept with a profound sense of humility and sadness when we received an email from the husband of a lady who had bone cancer. She had used our resources as her connection to the Christian community and Jesus during his illness. We were there for her during the hard nights of her painful struggle. When she passed from this life, she had Verse of the Day from Heartlight on her laptop screen as she left this world to be with Jesus.
- When Justin Bieber began seeking after Jesus, he found us. Then, he used his one link on Instagram to point his 90 million followers to VerseoftheDay.com with the comment, "Help change the world." — we received tens of thousands of visitors we would never have reached any other way, from this one link.
- We continue to be astounded each week, to hear from people all over the world who have depended upon our DIY virtual worship, ToGather.church during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Late in 2020, an email from a precious sister-in-Christ in Kiribati touched us. She was using our resources to train her family in the Lord. She became the inspiration for our one hour of synchronized prayer for the New Year, the first hour of 2021. We used her time zone to set our hour of synchronized prayer. Thousands of people in 85 countries participated in this event to begin a "New Year with New Hope."
We could share similar stories for hours upon hours. Words cannot capture the emotion we feel at hearing them from people overjoyed to share their experiences with us.
Yes, we are genuinely thankful to the Lord for our journey. We are full of joy at turning twenty-five years old this month. A quarter of a century is a lot of years to be on the internet as a non-profit. Twenty-five years have meant many late nights and a lot of faith that the Lord would see us through. Some years were very tight financially. Some years we operated six servers out of a study in my house. For several years, a leading advertising company provided server space and internet access to us for no charge. God and his people have been so good to us. We are honored and humbled, and amazed.
The best parts of these twenty-five years are the times spent with the Lord's people, developing and deepening relationships, and pursuing new horizons. We have so many friends, most of whom we have never seen face-to-face and likely won't see this side of glory. But, one of these days, we will share the table of the Lord at the great reunion of God's people when Jesus returns. Oh, my! That will be a sweet, sweet reunion with you, God's people, who have helped us answer Andrew's question about our meager resources (John 6:9): "[W]hat good is that with this huge crowd?" And our answer? More than we could ever dare ask or imagine! Praise God. Praise God, indeed!
So, thank you!
Thank you for being a part of our journey.
Thank you for your financial support.
Thank you for including us in your spiritual journey.
Thank you for those notes of encouragement and appreciation.
Thank you to the hundreds who have contributed articles over the last twenty-five years. The gifts of your ideas, faith, and encouragement have kept us going through some hard times.
Thank you especially to the folks who have been partners on this journey:
- Donna Ware, precious wife, and Heartlight partner.
- Partner, developer, friend, and confidant, Ben Steed.
- Original online partner Paul Lee and all his creative genius.
- Go-to techno-geek, Linux guru, and cake chef deluxe, long-time friend, John Kirkland.
- The crazy Italian buddy Roberto Gilleni, who helped those early years.
- Fishing buddy, encourager, and board member, Dan Garrett.
- Long-time friend and supporter, David Culp, a spiritual shepherd and board member.
- Buddy, missions partner, and board member, Barry Alexander.
- Portuguese developer and missions partner, Dennis Downing.
- Donations support partner, Diane Minatra.
- Early supporter, consultant, and encourager, Gary Skidmore.
- New board member, Paula Macon, a spiritual dynamo and encourager.
- Demetrius Collins, invaluable coordinator for music for ToGather.church, and board member.
As we began, Paul Faulkner, Randy Becton, and Eldon Degge shared their content with HEARTLIGHT.org, lending credibility to our launch. Lynn Anderson was also a great encouragement through the years. Others in ministry have also encouraged, supported, and contributed content to our work. I can't thank these brothers enough for their friendship, mentorship, and support.
Thank you to our Verse of the Day translators (whose last names are not shared because several live in places hostile to Christianity): Phyllis, Olexandr, Anchalee, William, Karen, Kitty, Roufi, Miriam, Sara, Diego, Ratan, Prasad, Isaac, Dennis, Fitia, and Sherine. Thank you to our proofreaders and editors, Ray Butts and Ed Holley, for making everything better because of your attention to detail. And thank you to the folks who have forgiven me for leaving them out. There are too many more to list, but I know you are in the Lamb's book of life.
Most of all, thank you, Jesus!
Thank you, Lord, for still doing miracles little boys believe you can do but can't quite figure out how you do them. Thank you for keeping alive the little boy inside this growing-older man who marvels that you would let him experience a grace too big to imagine, yet so wonderful to experience.
Thank you, Lord, for twenty-five years!
We couldn't have begun to do it ourselves. The glory, O Lord, is yours alone!