Thursday, February 28, 2013

 

Notes from a Mission Trip in 1993

I was reading one of my old journals today, and I came across an entry for July 30, 1993 (almost 20 years ago).  I was on the way to Siberia with a team from Athletes in Action.  We were going to Ulan Ude and Irkutsk to support a church plant by doing evangelism and discipleship programs in a youth camp using American sports as a tool to share God's Word.  I miss Russia, to be honest, and I want you to know that this particular trip forever changed my view of the call to evangelize or the call to missions.  At any rate, I wanted to share the words from that journal entry; the words of a single 33 year old PhD candidate who was on the adventure of a life time!  This is what I wrote on that day:

Russia--Inconvenience really seems to be the name of the game here.  After a rough start Wednesday, KLM airlines was delayed, and we had to reroute to Frankfurt from Amsterdam in order to catch a Lufthansa flight to Moscow.  As a result we missed our Aeroflot flight to Ulan Ude (Bill and Steve are even now negotiating a new flight schedule for the team), but nonetheless we are finally here in Moscow!

We spent a rough first night in Russia.  Some of our team ended up in a room next to a very rowdy party and got little sleep.  We spent the night in a "hotel" near Moscow--actually "hotel" may be too nice of a word.  It was really more like spending the night in an old cabin left for several years in disrepair.  Few of the toilets had seats, and none of them had toilet paper!  The showers were nothing but a bare pipe out of the wall pouring out cold water in a steady, wakening stream of "refreshing" Russian water!  We found it a bit harder to wash than we expected, but we found a way.

One of our Russian contacts (Sasha) really came through for us!  He met us at the airport like a knight in shining armor.  He had a great attitude, especially considering the fact that he had been at the airport since 3:00 p.m. and our flight did not arrive until almost midnight.  He arranged a better place for us to stay as well as making the necessary arrangements for our flight to Siberia. 

Some interesting encounters and conversations have come our way on this trip!  I got to talk briefly to a Saudi student on the KLM flight from Houston.  We've had the privilege of sharing the story of Jesus in several major airports (e.g., Houston, Amsterdam, Frankfurt).  On the Lufthansa flight we were privileged to meet a young woman named Olga, a Russian living in Dublin.  Her hometown is Irkutsk, and she will actually be there when we are doing our camps.  She was thrilled when we told her our plans for the youth camp and the support of the church plant there. 

We also met some young ladies from Ireland.  They were striking women who seemed determined to drain the marrow out of life.  The shared stories of their home and sang beautiful songs about Ireland while accompanied by a flute.  The old Irish folk songs were matched by our singing, although instead of folk songs we regaled them with TV theme songs and commercial jingles (yeah, we actually did that!).  The flight attendants came back and "shushed" us with the reminder that some folks were actually trying to sleep!  What fun on Lufthansa! 

It is now morning, and I am waiting for good news about our trip to Ulan Ude.  The Lord has blessed us with endurance and encouragement this far, and we have found ourselves driven to pray for and to love the Russian people.  How I long to get to Siberia!  A 13 year dream soon to come true!

I'm beginning to realize that many of us in the West are spoiled and selfish.  We are fools to think that God's light of salvation will come to any land without our commitment to go.  Unless we commit our lives to be witnesses, to bear the story of grace to them, how can we expect them to hear?  Is it inconvenient?  Yes!  But it is worth it!  Jesus died for us, how can we offer him less than our very lives?  How can we give him less than he gave us?

How can I begin to compare the "comforts" of this life with the beauty of Jesus and his kingdom?  How can I deny ANY person that beauty?

Lord, forgive us for our selfishness.  Teach us to swallow our pride and to be willing to face any inconvenience to advance the message of your salvation.  Use us to advance your kingdom against the kingdom of our enemy Satan.  May this trip be used to bring many souls to a knowledge of God through Christ!  May many souls be snatched out of the dragon's mouth and out of the fire in the next few weeks.  Help us, Lord, to stand firm on your Word and to set our faces like flint to go to Siberia!  Amen.

There you have it.  The ramblings of a so-called missionary on his first major trip!  I will tell you that the trip succeeded beyond our expectations, and we were blessed to have the privilege of leading many to salvation by God's grace and the help of his Spirit. Of course, those are stories for another day.  For now, let me thank you for your patience, dear reader, and wish you blessings!

Thanks for reading!  

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

 

God's Inescapable Stare: Some Musings on a Song from Kansas

I posted this note originally about 5 years ago, but reading through my journal tonight (in celebration of my birthday) I found this note especially poignant.  I loved the music of Kansas as a teenager, and I have several of their albums on vinyl (records, for those old enough to remember).  Listening to their music reminds me of my youth and my "quests" for truth and purpose in life.  This song had a special influence on me, but I'll let you read to see why.  So, without any further ado, here it is for your perusal!

For those of you too young to remember the great classic rock group Kansas, let me just say that their music defined my generation during our high school years as much as any 70s to 80s rock band could. Their songs were majestic in scope and tenor, they were classic tales sung to the tune of an amazing mixture of solid rock and roll, church organs, and violins. In some ways they were the U2 of my generation. Here is a song that I love from a 1979 album. Kerry Livgren wrote the song. It is entitled "A Glimpse of Home." Here are the lyrics:

When I was very young so many songs were sung
So much wasted time on an uphill climb
But you where always there, a feeling in the air
There was nothing to fear you were so near
Now you are here once again
As I stand in your presence
I can feel the quiet patience of your gaze
Like an old superstition
You are haunting all my dreams and waking days

(Chorus)
All my life I knew you were waiting, revelation anticipating
All is well, the search is over, let the truth be known
Let it be shown (give me a glimpse of home)

There's no resisting you among the chosen few
It's hard to be sure, it's hard to endure
And when I hear your voice
I know I have the choice
To pursue an ideal, something so real
Now I've got nothing to lose
As I see your reflection
All the answers I desire become so clear
Like a page that is turning
I can look into the future without fear

(Chorus)

You're in my rock and roll, you're in my very soul
Though it's heavy to bear, it's a feeling so rare
And it's a mystery, the way it's meant to be
Can we ever know, we're moving so slow
There ain't enough time in the world
As I reach up the ladder
There is something ever higher to perceive
Like a fire that is burning
In my heart I know I surely must believe

(Chorus)

As a young Christian looking for a music to define his spiritual journey, this song became a kind of "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" milestone for me. I can't be sure, but when I heard the lyrics above, I had the distinct impression that Livgren was talking about God/Jesus.

You see, though raised in a good Baptist home and church, I had in my youth become something of a doubter and skeptic. I tried to find reasons to ignore or overlook God in many ways around me, and I often came up with my own explanations as to why things happened as they did.

Yet even in my most skeptical moments, Jesus was there, "like an old superstition," haunting my days and my dreams.

I couldn't shake it. I couldn't shake him.

His patience and merciful stare seemed to follow me on matter where I went. His benevolent hand of mercy shielded me, protected me, even promoted me without my request.

He was there, a "revelation anticipating" my gaze, my faith.

One day I surrendered. Realizing that I was surrounded and enveloped by God, I gave in. I said, "Enough! I can't shake you, so I'll join you."

He kindly let me in. He also let me think it was my idea (grin).

This song defined that moment for me--the moment when I came face-to-face with God. He didn't blink. He opened his arms. He hugged me. He accepted me. He wanted me. He took me as I was.

His love has overwhelmed me ever since.

My search is over, I have found home. It is in the loving gaze of Jesus.

I love this song. Thank God for music!

Thanks for reading!

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Sunday, February 03, 2013

 

God is Faithful (even in hard times)

1 Thess 5:23-25

23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.
25 Brethren, pray for us. NASU

Job 5:17-27

17 "Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves,
So do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.
18 "For He inflicts pain, and gives relief;
He wounds, and His hands also heal.
19 " From six troubles He will deliver you,
Even in seven evil will not touch you. . .
27 "Behold this; we have investigated it, and so it is.
Hear it, and know for yourself." NASU

Faithful--God is faithful to finish what he starts.

Faithful--God is faithful to stand with us in our hour of desperation.

Faithful--God will not fail, he will not give up.

Faithful--if God has called us, he will complete that calling in us. He finishes what he starts (see Isaiah 66:9).

Think of Adam & Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Gideon, Samson, Deborah, Barak, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Habakkuk, Jonah, Amos, Hosea, the apostles, James, John, Peter, and Paul.

Think of poor young Timothy--his spiritual "father" Paul just died--he had his head removed by the Romans for preaching Christ. And there sits Timothy. He arrived at the prison, the final home of Paul, but Timothy arrived just a bit too late. "Come before winter" Paul requested. Timothy hurried to Rome with parchments and supplies, only he arrived too late. Paul was dead.

We might be tempted to ask Timothy--"Is God really faithful? Does God finish what he starts?"

Tear stained eyes look up at us. A smile shows on a face that was just a moment ago contorted with grief.

"Is God faithful?" Timothy responds with an incredulous grin. He looks at us like we had three heads. "Of course God is faithful!" the disciple of Paul exclaims.

But, we might ask, you just lost your friend, your spiritual father. He is dead, gone, his life ingloriously snuffed out by the mad man Nero. Where is God's faithfulness in all of that?

Remember, dear reader, that God's constant faithfulness is not a guarantee against harm or even hard times. Paul knew that, and he knew the risks. But Paul was confident that God would empower him for the task at hand. He even wrote to dear Timothy--"If we are faithless, God is faithful" (2 Timothy 2:13).

Why is God faithful? Paul tells us it is because God cannot deny himself! God is always true to his own character.

Paul also reminded his disciple that hard times would come since "those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Timothy 3:2). In the midst of the storm, God is unable to deny his own essential nature of covenant love, of covenant fidelity, of faithfulness.

If God suddenly became unfaithful, the universe would literally fly apart at the seams, the world would cease spinning, the moon would crash into the ocean, life would cease, the sun would be snuffed out, the universe would cease its almost infinite growth. God can no more be unfaithful than a human can sprout wings or develop gills. God IS faithful because he is God! God does not change!

So, friend, what trial of darkness are we experiencing? Is it one of our own making, the result of mistakes and missteps in life? Is it an accident, simply the ebb and flow of life? Is it the result of righteousness?

I'll tell you a secret--it doesn't matter where the trial originated--God is faithful still! Romans 8:28 is still in effect. God has not ceased to be God!

Have we blown it? Hundreds of times no doubt! We need to make things right and remember--God works all things together for good.

Have you been treated badly for some good thing you've done? Be glad and remember that all things work together for good. Your present circumstances do not hinder God's faithfulness. God does not falter because your situation is too BIG.

GOD IS FAITHFUL!

For God to be unfaithful, he would have to deny himself. And that, dear friend, will never happen.

Thank you, God, for your steady commitment to us. Thank you for being constant and unmoving in your love for us. Thank you for your kindness that leads us to repent and for your faithfulness that calls us to faithful obedience. Thank you for the life and example of Jesus. Teach us to live as he lived.  Teach us to walk in your faithfulness.

Thank you, dear reader, for reading!

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