A Week on the Plains and Plain Truth about Reservations

Last week, fourteen high school students loaded up a van and drove across Montana with three leaders – including myself  –  for a week putting on VBS’s on a distant Native American reservation. It was our second annual mission to this site. We went with God preparing the way ahead, his glory as our rear guard, and the fervent prayer and support of our congregation going up to him.

I did miss the opportunity to spend the week blasting Audio Adrenaline’s “Blitz” with its refrain “Fourteen kids in an old church van”, but que sera sera.

(For those who don’t know our church, we’ve long run a tiered youth mission program intended to get students out of their middle-class comfort zone and set before them the struggles of impoverished and unchurched corners of our world. Tier 1 trips are our shortest, most in-culture and structured. This was a Tier 2, remaining on continent but removing students further from cultural norms and controlled conditions, demanding more work and initiative. Tier 3 is off-continent; Tier 4 is long-term.

The program has availed much. So many testimonies of youth setting hammer to nail, shovel to dirt, or Windex to window in a darkened battleground somewhere, returning home with their worldview flipped on its head, and finishing growing up that way. It spurs gospel and generosity, loosens their love of their material bubble. It’s one of my favorite features about my church.)

TLDR for those wondering how their prayer and money was used: the trip was terrific. Fruitful, providential, and foundational for the future.

peckGod had clearly positioned us for this mission. Just weeks prior, huge, potentially deal-breaking questions had loomed about manning and housing. They were all solved, albeit in that on-the-run fashion that God so often favors. In fact, some of God’s answers turned out to be improvements on last year’s situations.

The students did top-notch work planning and executing their VBS curriculum and activities. Several were visibly stretched, and welcomed it. Our team was solid and fairly inclusive; no real problems regarding unity.

The unpredictability so inherent to this kind of mission trip showed up for sure, given the tendency of reservation life to start at noon and the fact that we were running separate VBS’s in towns 45 miles apart. Schedules and key information were blurred and juggled. The students met it all with a deft willingness to pivot and adapt, to jump to unexpected tasks and fill in shifting vacancies. Few complaints. It was eye-opening to watch them embrace the whirlwind as a cost of doing business.

I heard some students, veterans of last year’s trip, remarking to their parents about how God was maturing and deepening their understanding of reservation life – the challenges of poverty, the darkness of abuse and addiction, the complex way in which social ills beget other social ills, the lack of easy solutions. There were moments that silenced them. Prayers were not skimped upon. You could see their resolve growing.

The team’s adult leaders got a chance to dream and pitch ideas with the local pastors. That was exciting. There are actionable possibilities to return and grow our partnership.

The work will not be easy. Satan holds these grounds and the barriers are considerable.

But there is progress. The local churches have secured small teams of workers, prayer warriors with rough stories of their own, who are building inroads in these communities. Thanks to the tougher moments, we have clear strategies in our pocket. Most of all, we know that God’s Word does not kneel or fade but accomplishes what he intends for it – and that he intends much.

For those who prayed and supported us, God used it. Thank you so much.

You Shall Be My Witnesses in Jerusalem, and Judea and…What, There?

browningThere’s a saying you often hear in my part of the world: “Don’t stop in Browning.”

Browning is the county seat of the closest Indian reservation, on which I taught for three years. There’s always the stories circulating around, stories of bad things that happen to white people when they stay too long. Thus the old canard, “don’t stop in Browning”.

It’s also a saying that my pastor likes to repudiate fiercely whenever the chance arises.

I love it. Thump that pulpit.

It’s a crap catchphrase, for two reasons. One, because it isn’t true. I’d know. I frequented that town for three years, stepped inside its gas stations, supermarkets, fast-food places. Nothing happened. Didn’t get ripped off, didn’t get pushed around. It’s just normal folk looking to live a normal life (without a lot of success). Maybe more people would know that if they stopped.

The second reason is, it’s not a very Great Commission saying.

Jesus didn’t place limits on our destinations for that “ends of the earth” thing. He told us to make disciples of all nations, which usually involves making friends first. And if there were safety concerns…

…well, you weren’t likely to argue with a guy who’d just had his hands and feet pierced bringing light to places that didn’t want it. Especially once he’d risen from the dead.

I’d run into my share of panhandlers and homeless in a town like that (even on the forty-second parallel). If you offered to buy them food, there was about a fifty-fifty chance. Some would accept, grinning happily through a sub sandwich and telling you their life story. The other half would quickly decline and shuffle off. They were obviously after something else.

The point is, by offering, you helped half. All it took was a little resourcefulness, a little brain-pushing, which we often don’t even do. We complain about systems and institutions and government. Is it just a cover for not wanting to lose five bucks? Who knows what eternal doors could be opened through those five bucks?

We’ve got so many poisonous attitudes clouding our evangelistic vision. The only way to vent them is often simply by walking right into them, and doing what we’re supposed to do.

How can you do so today?

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

 

 

What If Jesus Announced That He Would Return On…

calendarThe following scenario will not happen. “Now concerning that day and hour no one knows – neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son — except the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).

I don’t anticipate the Lord going back on such long-laid plans. After all, the prior verse says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away” (v. 35).

But humor me for a moment, and consider this hypothetical exchange:

Church: “Lord, we faint. We long for your presence. Please, please tell us when you’re coming back.”

Jesus: “Oh, very well. The Father has relented and authorized me to tell you. I will be returning on…”

Global bated breath. People in every village, city, region, and nation await the next words. One of the most significant, weighty questions ever pondered on earth is about to be answered.

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The One Cure for Your Great Commission Hesitation

planeWhen I was called to teach on a remote Indian reservation, I didn’t think too hard about it.

The sign appeared, a couple priceless prophetic words came through friends to confirm, and that was that. God was wise enough to tell me NOT to think too much before I stepped out. Otherwise, I would have  talked myself out of it.

That’s how it might need to be for you.

There’s one cure for Great Commission hesitation: go. That’s it. That’s the prescription, the regimen, the chemotherapy. Prayer is essential and cannot be recommended enough, but it doesn’t move your legs. At some point, once the details are clear, we must go.

It’s not a question of whether you’re called; the calling is right there in Matthew 28:20. “Go and make disciples of all nations.” The only question is where and when. It doesn’t need to be permanent; in fact, some missions work better without foreigners’ constant presence. Maybe it’s only a couple weeks.

But it needs to be us. Instead of searching for reasons we can’t go, we should be asking how soon we can board the plane.

Worried that “God can’t use you”? The problem with that quote is the first two words. Trust me, if God can wield a moron like myself, he can use you.

You say America is a mission field now and the Great Commission can be performed right here. You’re not wrong. But is it said as an excuse to avoid stepping on the tarmac?

You say you lack time or money. Your checkbook and calendar are not your savior. God alone decides your availability. And you will be blown away at how he can provide. (I can attest that he loves to flaunt his resources in these matters.)

Maybe you’re in a truly rough season (I’ll pray for relief!) and just don’t see a way. It’s definitely between you and God. Maybe now’s not the time. But – if you will suffer me to impose just a little – at least decide that from a position of surrender. Others around the world are suffering in far greater darkness than you and I – the darkness of no God.

No matter who you are, what church you’re currently in, or what season currently defines your life, you’re eligible. Every obstacle is surmountable for the one who believes. Allow no excuse to stop you.

Thousands plunge into hell every day.

And God can show you amazing things, if only you will go.

We Must Stop Living Like We’re Home

tentFolks are binge-watching multiple seasons of “Game of Thrones” while Satan does his best Night King impression on the hearts of everyone around us.

That show is less of a fiction than we think. Imagine Jon Snow sitting in a castle somewhere, endlessly munching mutton by a roaring fire, perusing books of philosophy as Westeros falls apart around him. I’m afraid that picture is all too close to our daily lives. (I hope my GoT metaphors aren’t too far off – I’ve never seen the show.)

Last night, my students spoke keenly of the ease of staying “on task” on the mission field versus at home, about how easy it is to tell others about Jesus, spot service opportunities, or just take time out of the day to sit with a lonely person, when you’re on a mission field – compared to being back “home” doing our everyday lives.

I’ve run into this. I love mission trips, and one reason I love them is because you’re in an altered frame. Distractions are refreshingly absent. When you’re at home, that’s not the case. Schedules, classes, work projects, home projects, and family life rush back onto center stage.

It was my students’ words that helped me put my finger on my problem.

We’re not at home.

Indeed, we groan while we are in this tent, burdened we are, because we do not want to be unclothed but clothed, so that mortality may be swallowed up by life. And the One who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a down payment.

So, we are always confident and know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:4-6)

It’s when we reach God for good that we’ll finally be home. Until then…

Being “in the field” – in another city or country, or perhaps simply a local mission for the evening – is a refreshing exercise in focus. You’re removed from television, chores, work, maybe even your phone, free to just do what God calls us to do.

But get back to whatever earthly tent we’re paying rent for, and it’s back to the distractions.

The United States is one of the world’s biggest mission fields now. We get into political bickerings to fight for our comfort zone and forget that we’re not home yet in the first place.

Given that our true destiny awaits at Jesus’ side, how much of our sense of “being at home” is just an illusion? How much of it can be cast aside simply by treating our technology and hobbies as we would if we were across the ocean? It might be as simple as a mental exercise.

Paul tells us that our current address is a tent. Perhaps we’d do well to live as restlessly as one would in a tent. May we do so for the sake of those around us.

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

3 Funny Things About Judging Others (That Might Help Us Get It Right)

lucyIn the Gospels, Jesus imposes strong conditions around our tendency to judge others:

Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a log in your eye? Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

It’s not that we’re never supposed to identify sin. What often flies under the radar in this passage – especially to those who misappropriate it to justify a permissive lifestyle – is the final verse, numero cinco. It says the goal is to help the brother remove his speck. If we’re not allowed to address each other’s sin, a primary mechanism of church health (as identified throughout Paul’s letters) is taken away from us.

Here are three things I’ve noticed about judging (yes, because I’ve done it):

 

1. We don’t always realize we’re doing it.

Judgment is not always a burning, eye-twitching hate that consumes our entire being. It’s more a sidelong, glancing thought, or a steady but subtle buzz like a program running in the background. That’s why we get away with it.

Catching our minds in the act of judgment requires an active monitoring of our thoughts that few of us want to be bothered with. It’s a little like Lucy and Ethel on their assembly line of chocolate candies, with the speed cranked up to Red Bull Cheetah Space Warp. But it’s necessary if we want to be holy.

 

2. We’re sometimes right.

Oftentimes, when we’re judging someone, we’re correct. When you look at a friend and go “Man, he just has to make everything about himself”, you might be right. When you hear someone talking about another behind their back yet again and go “she is such a gossip”, well, you’re not wrong. Some people are kind enough to make judgment obvious. That’s another reason we get away with it.

But Jesus’ commands in Matthew 7 don’t assume we’re wrong. The “log in the eye” parable grants the speck in your brother’s eye. Jesus never denies it. He just says, “knock it off until you have a better attitude”. If we’re to help a brother concerning sin, Jesus says, then we’re to do so from a profound awareness of our own. It changes our entire demeanor.

 

3. We judge those we love and know the most.

We don’t just judge already-disliked people in our D-lists or outer circles. We judge our closest friends and family and get away with it because of #2 – all the while loving and admiring them to pieces simultaneously. Isn’t this stuff weird?

 

By the grace of God, I’m praying for deliverance from these habits. It starts with remembering my own sin before I ponder others’. An unpleasant expedition, but worth it. May we all follow the Spirit’s leading in these things.

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

 

It’s Never Too Late to Come Back

waitingI have regrets.

So I cannot approach you with judgment in my heart.

Instead, I can relay this story.

‘I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired hands.  So he got up and went to his father. But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father told his slaves, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:18-24)

Take in the gladness of this moment. The father doesn’t sit down forbiddingly, list his son’s errors one by one, or even let him finish his apology. He runs to him. You can see a weight lifted off his shoulders, months (years?) spent grieving over his son’s absence, perhaps waiting with dread for news of his death, evaporating in an instant. His relief and delight are unrestrained, bountiful, fierce.

And when the older brother would bring up the returner’s past (could we insert your own experience with bad churches here?), he is gently rebuked – and invited into the celebration.

But he replied to his father, ‘Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’

“‘Son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (v. 29-31)

May God spare me from being the older brother. If I ever have, I repent of it. For Jesus also crafted whole stories to rebuke such a heart (read Matthew 18:23-35 for that), to shield the returning from the condemnation of those already at home.

Instead, may I be an older brother who invites you home. Who marshals the servants. Who helps find the robe, unshelf the ring, dust off the sandals, grill the steaks, and lead the household in a toast of gratitude.

This Father waits for you as well.

What if there is only relief and reconciliation waiting on the other side of admitting our past to God? What if God has decreed that no black record can restrain his love?

Test the story. Come home to God today and find rest for your soul.