Mission Trip Mode

July 28, 2011

We recently returned home from this year’s family mission trip to Mexico. We had a great week with over a hundred different kids show up for the VBS and basketball activities, and lots of families at the evening services too. As far as we know right now, at least 20 people accepted Jesus throughout the week.

The week leading up to the trip, I found myself entering what I call “mission trip mode.” I became more alert and watchful for possible attacks of the enemy. I remained conscious of my attitude and tried my best to maintain a positive one despite any circumstances. I even found myself constantly looking out for opportunities to obey God or step out in faith and minister to someone in some way, whether that was talking to a stranger, praying for someone, or just trying more frequently to hear from Him throughout the day. It is as if, just a few days before leaving the country, I became super-spiritual.

This “mission trip mode” state of being lasted well into the trip itself, but even by the end of the week I could feel myself losing a bit of that alertness, that “always ready” mindset.

This is the fundamental problem with calling these activities “mission trips.” It places missions on a pedestal and implies that if I spend one week of the year on such a trip, the other 51 weeks are “normal life” and somehow I am exempt from, and perhaps unable to sustain, this “super-spiritual” way of living.

As followers of Jesus, the mission of our lives never goes away. It is there 365 days a year. And if during those 365 days you spend seven on a trip in a foreign place, nothing has changed except your location. The mission is always there. We must remember that our daily ventures into our workplaces and coffee shops and supermarkets are our recurring mission trips. We must constantly be aware of what God is trying to do with us, who He wants us to speak to, and that the enemy is always there trying to hinder us.

Faith Is Like A Title Deed

March 7, 2011

I love analogies. They help me understand complex things using a simple (and usually sorta fun) idea.

Today I have a quick analogy to share about faith. Faith is believing something that you cannot see or touch or taste. It is trusting something beyond your five senses. It is like a title deed.

If you own a car or a house, you have a title deed, a little certificate that says “Josh owns this car.” The title deed is proof that you own that thing, even if you can’t see it or touch it right at the moment. I cannot see my car from where I’m sitting, but I have a title deed, I have ownership of it, and so I know that it is parked outside waiting for me to use it whenever I like.

I live my life based on my ownership of that car, not based on whether I can see my car at any given moment. I make plans to get coffee with someone, or to travel to an appointment, because I know I possess a car that can take me there. I have a title deed that gives me that right and that ability.

Faith is your title deed to the wealth of wisdom, authority, and power that God has given us as His children. Faith is living as God intends you to live, knowing that He has already given you everything you need to be fully capable at it.

Faith gives you the ability to speak against sickness and see God heal it, because Jesus died to give us that right. Faith gives you the confidence to do what God has given you to do, knowing that He will give you the words to speak when the time is right. Faith is making plans to go “get coffee” because you own a vehicle that can take you there, even if you can’t see it right at this moment.

Besides ownership, a title deed also indicates responsibility. My title deed tells me that I own my car, but it implies that no one else is going to put air in the tires when they get low. It implies that if I don’t use it, the edges will rust and the battery will die.

Like my car, if I don’t use the faith that I have, it will grow rusty. Slowly it will corrode away, and I will find myself unable to trust God as easily, or become hesitant rather than stepping out – in faith – to do the things He asks me to do.

If I don’t use the faith that I have, what good is it to me or to anyone? If I don’t allow it to change the way I live my life, it’s just a status on my facebook page. It’s just a word. It means nothing.

To put it simply, having faith but not using it is worthless. Or even better, dead – like a corpse. Dead things can’t walk or talk or do jumping jacks. They cannot do anything at all. (a)

So I have to ask myself, what am I doing right now that requires faith?

Faith is assurance about what we do not see.
– Hebrews 11:1

(a) Faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead. . . A person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. – James 2:17, 24

A Little Wet Food

February 27, 2011

Several months ago we got a cat. Her name is Chloe. Despite never once ever planning on being lumped in with this group of people, I’m afraid that I have found myself turned into, how you say, a “cat person.” Sarah and I had talked about someday getting a dog, but after being around dogs more I’ve realized how sort of gross they are (no offense, if you’re a dog lover). They smell, they chew on things that weren’t meant to be chewed on, and you have to take them outside to do their business (even in the freezing, biting cold of winter!). My mind was changed. Never, ever will I own a dog.

We weren’t planning on getting a cat, but one day last May a stray showed up outside our apartment building and kept trying to follow us inside. She must have been hungry. She didn’t have a collar, but she had a line in the hair around her neck where a collar used to be, so we figure someone abandoned her. She was out there for about a week before I told Sarah I wanted to take her to a veterinarian friend of mine to see if she had a chip in her to tell us who the owner was. I did, and she didn’t, and the vet did a checkup and said she was only a year old. And by golly, that little ball of fur hooked her claws in us and we just couldn’t let her go. So here she sits, next to me on the couch. Almost as if she had planned it all along.

Recently we started giving Chloe wet food along with her dry food. Apparently it’s a big deal with cats. They love it. I wake up in the morning and one of the first things I do is give her some wet food. She goes nuts. After only about a week of wet food she had figured out that when I got up it was time to eat. So every morning she whines and cries from the minute my alarm goes off until I’m putting food in front of her. At first it was cute. At first.

Now each morning I hear my alarm and I know the next sound I’ll hear is that dumb cat whining for some wet food. Almost like she’s entitled to it. Like she deserves the stuff.

One morning when this was particularly getting on my nerves it hit me that we’re really the same way with God. We’re perfectly happy to leave Him alone to sleep or do whatever He’s doing, but the minute we want something we start to whine. We complain. We crawl on His chest and scream in His face. We like our wet food, we deserve our wet food. How dare He hold back from giving us a little wet food?

I tell Sarah that Chloe is our little reminder that God is our Provider. She showed up at our door with no home, no food, not even a name. But we brought her in and made her our own. She doesn’t worry about the electric bill or whether food will be in her bowl in the morning. She doesn’t know to worry. She just has everything she needs. She is provided for.

God has provided for us continually. He has blessed us with family and friends and a warm home. He makes sure we are taken care of. He brought us in and gave us a name. But in spite of all this, we somehow think we can just go about our lives, doing what we want to do, and only pay Him any heed if we want something. Almost like we’re entitled to it.

But still He gives, even amidst the whining, because of His great love for us. Because He cares for us. Because every once in a while, He takes great joy from giving us a little wet food.

It’s The Little Things

June 13, 2010

One of the members of our church serves as a missionary in Costa Rica full time. About a year ago she sold everything she owned and followed God’s calling to missions. She’s doing incredible things down there, and tonight she was speaking at church while she’s back in the States for a few weeks.

While she was speaking I felt prompted to help support her ministry in some way, and decided to offer her help with any technically-related needs she may have, since my talents are such. I talked to her after the service about this and she said that it was an answer to prayer.

The point of telling this is not “look at me I’m awesome.” I decided to try to serve in this way because I want to be available. God has not (so far) called me to become a full time missionary, but if He did, would I hear Him?

If I am not willing to do the little things, the easy acts of service that are within my comfort zone and the skills He has blessed me with, how can I expect Him to be able to ask me to do more?

Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.
Matthew 25:21

I encourage you to go find ways you can use the gifts and character qualities He has given you to serve in your church or community, and by doing so, show Him that you are willing to do more as you grow hungry for more of Him.

On Surrender

June 5, 2010

Therefore I’ll reward him extravagantly – the best of everything, the highest honors – because he looked death in the face and didn’t flinch, because he embraced the company of the lowest. He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many, he took up the cause of all the black sheep.
– Isaiah 53:12 MSG

When Jesus died on the cross, God was starting a transaction. He was saying, “I know you have a lot on your shoulders. I know it’s heavy. I know it’s hard. Here, I’m willing to buy it all from you. I’ll buy the pain, the suffering. I’ll buy the difficulty and the heartache. I’ll take all of it. I’ll take it all. You just have to let me.”

Surrendering is completing that transaction, and giving up our life to God.

Now, this is a bit easier when things are tough, when finances are low and friendships are hard and life hurts. That stuff we don’t mind letting go of so much. The thing is, Jesus didn’t just die to take our pain and our bad days and our sin. He bought us in full. He’ll take all that bad stuff, but He wants the rest, too.

You surrender for the first time when you recognize your need for a Savior and begin to follow Jesus. Then you just have to keep doing it over and over. As you recognize areas of your life that you are holding control of or trying to handle on your own, you give them up to Him. That’s the secret to the Christian walk; it’s not hard. You just have to give up everything.

To some this might seem like a prison sentence, giving up everything and living for Jesus. But it’s just the opposite of that. Imagine if you never had to make another major decision in your life. Imagine that every time a big choice came along – like where to work or who to marry or how to spend your money or anything – there was someone you could go to and ask “What do you want me to do?” and you knew that whatever He told you would end up being the best possible choice you could have made. And you would know it’s always the best possible choice because Romans 8 tells us…

We are assured and know that all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose.
– Romans 8:28 AMP

When I was praying about surrender, God led me to Psalm 23 to show me a bit about himself and our relationship with Him. Here is what He showed me through it.

1. The Lord is my Shepherd [to feed, guide, and shield me], I shall not lack.

This is an analogy. If Jesus is our Shepherd, then we are what? We’re all just a bunch of sheep. And sheep can be dumb sometimes. Sheep wouldn’t survive long without the Shepherd. Here’s an example from the very deep and spiritual…BBC News:

Friday, July 8, 2005 – Turkish Sheep Die In “Mass Jump”
Turkish shepherds watched in horror as hundreds of their sheep followed each other over a cliff, say Turkish newspaper reports.
First one sheep went over the cliff edge, only to be followed by the whole flock, according to the reports.
More than 400 sheep died in the 50-foot fall – their bodies cushioning the fall of 1,100 others who followed.

Simply put, we don’t always know what is best for us. Like a flock of sheep, we need to depend on the Shepherd to make it through life. Thankfully He is a Good Shepherd and while He is watching over us we will lack nothing. And if you lack nothing that means that the Shepherd has provided everything you need.

2. He makes me lie down in [fresh, tender] green pastures; He leads me beside the still and restful waters, he refreshes and restores my life.

Jesus doesn’t stop at merely providing for us, but He leads us to where the best will be found. He told us He would do this in John 10:10-11:

I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows). I am the Good Shepherd.

3. He leads me in the paths of righteousness [uprightness and right standing with Him – not for my earning it, but] for His name’s sake.

God is exceedingly good. He provides for our needs, and He does so abundantly, but He doesn’t stop there. He calls us to follow Him, and He doesn’t just point and say “go that way, see you later.” He Himself comes alongside of us as our guide to teach us how we are to follow Him. He shows us how to do even that.

4. Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear or dread no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

Most of the time when we think of the “valley of the shadow of death” we think of tough times life throws at us. But really, it sounds a lot like everyday life to me. We live in a world full of darkness where the enemy is prowling around trying to kill us. But we don’t have to fear him or anything, because we know that God is with us Himself as our guide (verse 3).

Also, it doesn’t say we walk in the valley of death, but the valley of the shadow of death. And we all know a shadow can’t hurt you, stop you, or even slow you down a little. Jesus conquered death a long time ago.

Plus, where there’s a shadow there’s light somewhere.

I always wondered why a “rod” and “staff” would be of comfort to someone. What are they, even? I did some research and found out.

The rod was the shepherd’s weapon, a means of protecting the flock. It was a club he could use to beat or throw at potential enemies like wolves or other animals. The rod is a symbol of protection.

The staff was a long sort of pole. If a sheep began to head in the wrong direction, the shepherd would use it to gently nudge the sheep back onto the right path. It was a means of guidance.

So, although we walk through the valley of a shadow of something that our Shepherd has already conquered, we know that He walks beside us and is more than equipped to protect and guide us.

5. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.

We talked about God’s provision earlier, and are reminded of it here again. He provides for us in the most desperate times, and does so abundantly. When I think of this verse I picture a banquet table, a feast. We’re not talking about Easy Mac on a rickety card table.

In the time and area when this passage would have been written, the climate would have been hot and dry. Athletes would coat their skin in a light layer of oil to cool themselves off and keep themselves from perspiring excessively. It was a way of being better fit for the race they would run.

Oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit whom He has given us. In this way, God has poured His Spirit over us to enable us to more fully engage in the race He is calling us to.

In light of everything we’ve seen here – that God is our abundant provider, our protector, our guide, and that He is leading us and giving us His Spirit – it’s easy to see why verse six gives such a positive outlook on life:

6. Surely only goodness, mercy, and unfailing love will follow me all the days of my life, and through the length of my days the house of the Lord [and His presence] shall be my dwelling place.

Now, how does this all relate to surrendering?

I believe that much of the time we hesitate to surrender because we don’t trust that God will take care of things or provide for us. Instead, we try to handle things on our own.

My people have committed two sins: they have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own wells, broken wells that cannot hold water. – Jer. 2:13

It’s like we look at God and what He is offering us and we say, “Your water isn’t good enough. I’m going to find my own.”

When you think of it, it’s kind of silly of us to think that we can make a better decision than He can.

On the one hand you have me, a mere human who doesn’t know what will happen in 20 minutes, much less tomorrow. And when I think back on all the bad situations I’ve gotten in or the tough times I’ve gone through or negative consequences I’ve seen, most of the time I got there because of a decision I made, or from being selfish, or from doing something that I knew He didn’t want me to do. And as a result I ended up going down a road that God never intended for me to go down.

On the other hand you have God: infinitely wise Creator of the galaxies, who stands outside of Time and sees all our past and all our future, and like Romans 8 says, is working out everything into a plan that is for my good.

So, who would you trust more to make your major life decisions? The sheep or the shepherd?

I believe He led me through Psalm 23 to show us just how capable He is. He will protect us, He will provide abundantly for us, He will lead and guide us. He will take all of our burdens. You’ve just got to want to give them to Him.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
– Matthew 11:28-30

Spiritual Residue

February 1, 2010

You are influenced by the world around you. I think we can all agree on that. So, it’s also safe to assume that each variable of the world around you will either influence you in a good way or a bad way. But let’s look at it using different terminology.

Scripture’s terms for these influential variables are “good fruit” and “bad fruit.” There is no such thing as neutral fruit. It simply isn’t possible. Everything in life eventually produces some kind of fruit, some kind of influence, and this doesn’t just apply to people. The things we do and the hobbies we hold will each pull us in one direction or the other. So how can you judge whether something like a book, a movie, or a song is producing good fruit or bad fruit? It isn’t always obvious.

Let’s look at movies as an example. Each and every time you watch a movie, once it’s thru and the credits begin to roll, you will feel a series of emotions. Maybe you feel motivated to begin working out. Maybe you want to learn how to cook. Perhaps you would like to write more, or go on a trip around the world, or rob a casino (Ocean’s Eleven). Maybe you feel sad, or even romantic. You want to buy flowers, you want to write a note to someone. You want to be in a war and kill some bad dudes and blow up cars. Maybe you want your money back because the movie sucked. One way or another, you feel drawn in some direction. It is unavoidable.

Why is this the case?

While something is being crafted and created, it is covered with the fingerprints of each person who had a hand in it. They’re the ones kneading the dough, so to speak, putting their thoughts and emotions and love (or hate) into it. They leave marks, oil comes off their hands, and part of them is deposited into the thing they create. A spiritual residue is left on this creation forever. The stuff that makes up this residue is what we feel when we see a movie or read a book. We are influenced on some level by the residue that was left on the thing we have just encountered.

I just saw “The Book of Eli” in theaters, and it is a tremendous example of this. The movie centers on a post-apocalyptic story of one man’s journey to protect the last Bible on Earth. At the end of the movie, in spite of the four letter words and blood and violence, when it was over all I wanted to do was be with God, worship Him, and read His Word. It was the residue of the creators that had led me to a place of reverence for Him.

Here is a more straightforward example. You’ve heard the expression, “garbage in, garbage out.” This is essentially what I am talking about, only on a much more subtle level. If you watch a TV show once a day, every day, and that TV show uses a lot of foul language and crude jokes, you will begin to think those words and find those jokes funny. Eventually you will be using them yourself. The residue that was left on the show by its creators was made up of these things, so those are the fingerprints which rubbed off on you.

But these things are not always so obvious. There are no FBI-mandated warnings at the beginning to say, “Please be aware that this film may make you want to curse, look at porn, or start smoking.” You simply have to stay conscious of the fact that there are things in this world that we cannot see or touch or hear, but which may be just as influential as those that are.