Saturday, March 27, 2010

Top 10 Rules for International Mission Trips

My daughters are preparing for their first international mission trip sans parents; so in their honor, I'm compiling a list of the lessons I recall from my first international mission trip with Megan several years ago!  And since I don't think I have ten tips to share - jump in - add a comment with your favorite tips and lessons from the mission field!  (In no particular order)
10.   Make the most of it!!  I recall standing amid a group of teenagers who were complaining that their feet hurt, their biological clock thought it was 3 a.m. and they wanted to spend the evening sleeping in their hotel room and stating quite emphatically, "I'm almost 40 years old; I've never been to Prague before and will likely never get to come back; and I am NOT spending my free time in a hotel room - now who's with me?"  This is the opportunity of a lifetime - don't sleep through it or miss a minute of it!
9.  Wear comfortable shoes!!  (See "their feet hurt" above)  Missions work is generally NOT about being a fashion model and 99% of the world does NOT hop in a car in their driveway and arrive at their destination to walk 100 feet from the parking lot to the door!  No matter where you go, there will likely be more walking than you have ever done unless you're in training for a marathon.  Comfy shoes - with SOCKS - don't forget!
8.  If you have food allergies - perhaps international missions aren't for you!  One of our teens was allergic to pork and chicken...and well, anything that wasn't a McDonald's Big Mac.  No, I'm not joking.  We walked several miles seeking the elusive golden arches only to discover another unique thing about Europe - they have rotating signs at the street corners such that if the golden arches don't happen to be pointing in your direction as you walk by - you will miss the turn!  And when Europeans tell you it is "just down the road a bit" - they mean you will walk until you have blisters on your blisters and then will see it glowing dimly in the distance!
7.  If someone DOES have food allergies - don't make them eat it anyway!  After having to spend an afternoon in the hotel room with said allergic-person while they yakked up their lunch; walking 3 miles to the McDonald's didn't seem so bad.  And apparently if something is cooked with chicken broth, picking out the pieces of chicken really isn't quite enough...
6.  Bring snacks!  Apparently, people in other cultures frequently have their biggest meal at lunchtime - which is actually better for you anyway.  But after watching several 6 foot tall, 200+ pound guys scarf down half a dozen sausage-link-size bratwurst and say, "That was great...where's the main course?!"; seems to me having a back-up plan to fill them up would have been a good idea!
5.  Females - keep a couple of guys in your group as you travel.  Cultural norms are different in other countries and females without a male escort can find themselves in a very uncomfortable situation.  I was particularly thankful to have several men in our group when we encountered an inebriated native named George who apparently found me irresistible.
4.  "Be fluid - not flexible" - this was the advice given to us by our hosts upon our arrival in Prague - and it was excellent advice.  Flexibility implies remaining fixed upon a spot while bending to the various forces at work upon you - but being fluid pictures moving and changing to meet the obstacles and opportunities that God presents!  If you are on mission - you are there for God's purposes and not your own.  Be willing to do whatever He leads in that moment, whether prayer-walking a quiet street or playing frisbee in a city park!  (See note above about traveling in mixed groups!)
3. Your past will find you in the most unlikely places.  As we met another mission team (from Scottsdale, Arizona, no less), I ran into someone that I went to high school with 20 years ago!  Although she was gracious, I have no doubt that she was shocked to see me, of all people, on a mission trip.  Remember, the mistakes you make when you're young, may be forgiven by God and forgotten by you - but there will always be someone out there who remembers them!
2.  Be prepared to give a reason for the hope at all times.  Disappointed that the plans 'we' had made to give our testimony had not materialized, we soothed ourselves by shopping for souvenirs for friends and family - only to be presented with an opportunity to witness to a young man working behind the counter of a Swarovski Crystal shop!  It was the only time on the trip that we were able to openly share Christ with someone.
1.  What's your favorite tip?  Add it to the comments below!

Monday, March 22, 2010

More from 1 Chronicles...

I'm in chapter 11 of 1 Chronicles today and finding more nuggets of gold amongst the genealogies and history lessons!  While many of the facts of David's ascent to the throne are familiar from having recently read 1 and 2 Samuel, I found the stories of David's "Mighty Fighting Men" very interesting.  You see, while King Saul was pursuing David and David was hiding in caves and on the run for his life, he was surrounded by a band of heroes.  Fighting men of apparent reknown, these men were apparently somewhat notorious in their heroic exploits.  Verses 16-19 tell about one particular adventure when they stole into the enemy camp to retrieve water from their adversaries' well in order to bring it back for David to drink because he had said he longed for water from that well!  Sounds a little brazen, doesn't it?

Various members of the group are identified as fighting off 300 men, killing a lion in a pit, killing an Egyptian seven-and-a-half feet tall with his own spear, and verse 19 concludes "such were the exploits of the three mighty men."  The Bible states that in addition to the three mighty men, there were thirty chiefs among this group - essentially the inner circle of David's rapidly growing army.  We might liken this group to our Green Berets or Navy Seals.  They were a band of brothers who fought together, lived together and protected one another.  They depended on each other for their very lives.

Interestingly, and I suspect seldom noticed or studied, the chronicler also provides a list of these mighty men, David's inner circle of friends.  The men to whom he owed his very life.  And near the end of the list a familiar name appears:  Uriah the Hittite.

Back in 2 Samuel, chapter 11, we learn that "In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king's men and the entire Israelite Army."  Instead of joining his men on the battlefield,  David stayed home to enjoy the safety and luxury of his palace.  We are told that "he got up from his bed one evening and walked around the roof of his palace."  Why do you suppose he couldn't sleep?  Perhaps the guilt of abandoning his place with his men was nagging at him.  While pacing on the roof, he saw a woman bathing.  The following verses tell us, "The woman was very beautiful, 3 and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, "Isn't this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite?" 4 Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her."  Notice that he found out who she was first - he knew before he ever sent messengers to bring her to him that she was the wife of one of his trusted comrades-in-arms!

You probably know the rest of the story.  Bathsheba becomes pregnant, so David summons Uriah and tries to provide the opportunity for Uriah to be thought the father.  But Uriah is so honorable, that he refuses to spend a night in the comfort of his home, in the arms of his wife, while his brothers remain encamped on the battlefield.  So David devises a plan to ensure that Uriah is killed in battle - he is sent to the frontlines and the rest of the army retreats and leaves him unprotected.  And eventually the son born of David's unfaithfulness dies.

Imagine all the sorrow that arose from that one small decision to remain in his palace.  How often do we find ourselves in sin because we allow ourselves to be somewhere we simply had no business being?  How many tragedies begin with a single, seemingly innocent, poor choice?  Once we have sinned, what additional sins will we heap on in an effort to conceal our guilt instead of confessing and turning away from sin?

It would be so easy to condemn David.  What a wretched man!  How could he do something so horrible?  How could he betray one so close to him?  But I am encouraged that despite all his failures, God's Word tells us he was a man after God's own heart.  Despite all our failures, God stands ready, willing, and able to hear our confession and empower us to repent through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Ding! Time is up!

Sometimes we just don't understand God's sense of timing.  We see the death of a child and think, "How could God let them die so young?  They had so much of life left to experience!"  Or a friend moves away and we think, "It's not fair!  I wanted them here with me longer!"  A prayer is not answered immediately and we wonder, "Why is it taking so long?"

Although it may be beyond our comprehension, God's timing is perfect!  A brief examination of scripture points out how detailed his planning and timing is:
Genesis 15 - God tells Abram that he will have a son - even many descendants.  He even gives him a timeline for his descendants regarding their future enslavement in Egypt - and this no less than 14 years before the prophesied son is born!  In Genesis 18, after Abraham and Sarah have impatiently tried to impose their own solution, God reaffirms that He will give them a son - in just one more year!
Esther 4:14 "...And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?"  God ordained that Esther would be queen at this exact time so that she might be used of God to save the Israelites from annihilation.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 "There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven."
Jesus stated in John 2:4 "My time has not yet come."  There was an appointed time for His ministry to begin - and an appointed time for Him to say, "It is finished."  In the same Gospel, fifteen chapters later, Jesus prayed, "Father, the time has come" shortly before being betrayed and crucified.  Any number of times during his ministry, the Pharisees and Scribes had surrounded him and sought to stone him or arrest him, and he simply walked past them - his time had not yet come.  If God so carefully planned the timing of Jesus' ministry and crucifixion - do we think He has given no thought to the timing of events in our lives? 

There are so many more scriptures that speak of God's timing - but I don't want to get caught up in listing scriptures and fail to make the point:  God's timing is perfect!  God's protection is perfect!  His people do not pass away 'too soon'!  They pass from this life when they have completed every bit of the assignment that He had for them.  They enter His rest, welcomed by a multitude of angels and beam in joy as God declares, "Well done, my good and faithful servant!"  Is that because they were perfect?  Of course not.  It is because God is perfect; and his Holy Spirit is able to perfectly enable us to accomplish His purpose for our lives.

In "Jesus the One and Only" last week, Beth Moore talked about the timing of God in relation to the two witnesses described in Revelation.  She pointed out how they were able to easily repel any attack until the three and a half years they were given elapsed.  When the time was over, they were overcome and killed.  Because their job was done; their time was up!  She makes a radical statement that is worth repeating, "Death cannot come to the obedient children of God until they have finished their testimony."  Be sure to note the phrase 'the OBEDIENT children of God' - we must not look to test God.  But if we are serving Him in obedience, we also must not live in fear!  Look at the life of Paul!  Beaten, shipwrecked (3 times!), stoned, imprisoned...but until his time had come and he had 'finished the race', he was invincible!  The enemy can create trouble for us, that's for sure; but Satan cannot thwart the plans of God.  I would suggest that this does not only apply to thwarting God's plans through our 'premature' death, but also to anything that would end the testimony of an obedient servant of God before God's appointed time. 

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 16:8-9, "But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me."  His time there was not complete.  Though there was opposition; God had not yet released him to move on to Corinth.  We experienced a similar situation in reverse - although we had no clear plan in mind for where God was calling us to go, we had peace that our time in that place was through!  It wasn't due to opposition, trials, or anything else - except that God had said that our time was up!  Of course, we might not have had a plan in mind, but God most certainly did.  And we learned about it on a 'need to know' basis - when we needed to know, He revealed it to us!  Initially, it was a little unsettling to be in ministry on an 'interim' basis.  But I've come to realize that it really is no different.  We are where God has us for as long as He has us there until the work He has planned for us to accomplish is completed - our job is to serve in obedience to the Holy Spirit for whatever time that is!

One final point on God's perfect timing: Before Jesus ascended into heaven after His resurrection, He told the disciples, "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority."  In Matthew 24:36, He told them, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."  There is a time coming when Jesus will return to earth and although we do not know the time, it was carefully planned by God from the foundations of the earth and it is certain.  When it does, it will be as if a timer has rung:  Ding!  Your time is up!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Why are all those long, tedious genealogies in the Bible?

OK, come on, you know you've said it!  No one who has read seemingly endless 'begats' hasn't wondered why the omnipotent, sovereign Lord would have chosen to include such detailed information that appears to be totally irrelevant to our lives today in His inspired Word.

My friends, never doubt that God has a purpose in every word in the Word!

In my quiet time, I've been reading through the Archaelogical Study Bible that Randy gave me for Christmas over a year ago - I'm in 1 Chronicles, which tells you two things - first, I haven't been consistently reading since I got it and second, this Bible isn't a 'read it through in a year' sort of thing.  With extensive footnotes and wonderful photos and articles on various archaelogical finds that uphold the truth of scripture, this Bible provides incredible insights into the culture in which the Bible was written.

To give a little more background (and I promise I AM getting to the point), last fall I was in a Bible study on the book of Ruth with some dear friends and we spent some time really delving into the character of Boaz, as well as Ruth and Naomi.  But we missed a little gem that I found this morning in 1 Chronicles 2:10-12, "Ram was the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab, the father of Nahshon, the leader of the people of Judah.  Nahshon was the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, Boaz the father of Obed and Obed the father of Jesse."  Boaz' grandfather was Nahshon, 'the leader of the people of Judah.'  If you're familiar with the story of Ruth, Boaz rescued her from the destitute life of a widow despite the fact that she was a foreigner from the land of Moab, a historical enemy of Israel.  Boaz' father, Salmon was married to Rahab - the same Rahab who assisted the Israelite spies in Joshua 2.  Although the Bible doesn't give us the names of the two spies, I have to imagine that Salmon was one of them and that he rescued Rahab, who was also a foreigner.  A native of Jericho, Rahab is commonly referred to as a prostitute, although she might have been an innkeeper.  The history of Boaz' father and grandfather is IMPORTANT!  It gives us wonderful human insight into the character of the real man named Boaz.  He was not just a wealthy landowner, he was part of the social elite.  A 'prince' of his tribe, essentially.  And yet he 'humbled himself' to serve as 'kinsman-redeemer' for Ruth.  Isn't that a beautiful picture of Christ?

But wait - the best part is yet to come!  It is delivered in another one of those long lists of genealogies that we so often skim over in our reading.  Found in Matthew 1: 5-16, we see that Rahab, Boaz and Ruth appear again in the genealogy of Joseph.   Again we see a member of this family line marrying a woman who the common wisdom of the day would have rejected.  In fact, they appear again in the genealogy found in Luke 3.  Many scholars believe that this genealogy is that of Mary since it appears to diverge at the point of David's son (one being through his son Solomon and one through his son Nathan, also by Bathsheba according to 1 Chron. 3:5). 

So the next time you're tempted to 'just skip the genealogies' - DON'T!  Take a moment to pray and ask God to show you something new even in these seemingly mundane verses!  You just might be amazed.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Hard Lessons on the Love of Christ

I'm currently involved in a small group study of Beth Moore's "Jesus the One and Only".  Today I'm working hard to catch up before our meeting tomorrow (sh!  don't tell them!  :-))  but I had to stop after 'Day 2' and share some thoughts that God just won't let me breeze on by.  Beth uses Luke 9:51-56 to highlight the disciples' (and consequently, OUR) judgmental attitudes and desires to bring destruction on those who are different.  She ties in verses from Ezekiel 33:10-11, Jonah 4:1-3, 10-11, Lamentations 3:22, and Matthew 7:1-2 - I'll let you play Bible Drill with those, but the bottom line is simply this - there is nothing more tragic than the death of those who do not know Christ.  And no matter what they have done or how horrible they have been, God does not take pleasure in their death because it means that they have not and will not have the eternal life that Christ died to give them.

The Bible is full of stories of those who came bearing what they considered 'good news' involving the death of an enemy - but it is never good news!  God "is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)  As Christians, we are admonished by Christ himself to "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5:44)

This week we learned of a senseless attack on innocent Christians in Pakistan who work through World Vision to help children orphaned and injured in the earthquake that occurred there in 2005.  I confess, my first thoughts were certainly not for those who committed this inexcusable act of violence.  I thought of the children whose needs may not be met now, of the families who have lost a loved one too soon, and of the hindrance such violence is to the spread of the gospel.  But God has reminded me through this lesson today, that the greatest tragedy is not a Christian dying too young - but an unbeliever dying at any age by any means.  Our lives on earth are nothing more than a vapor - but eternity awaits us.

Have you ever wondered what would inspire someone to strap a bomb to themselves and take their own life as they attempt to take the lives of others?  There is only one 'god' which seeks the death of those who disagree with him - and it is NOT the God of the Bible.  It is NOT the God who said, "Father, forgive them," of those who had tortured and nailed him to the cross even as he drew his last breath. 

Those who perpetrate such violence - even in the name of the God of the Bible - are sadly misled by the father of lies.  Still, God does not seek their destruction, but their reconciliation to Him through His Son.

Lord, fill my heart with compassion not only for the victims of these attacks, but for the perpetrators who do not know You.  Help your people to show love and compassion that is so overwhelming to unbelievers that they cannot resist you.