Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Village pt. 2

As we stood at the entrance of the village, our eyes traced the road that curved upward to the left. On each side stood houses with the same distinctive design. They were built on stilts with tightly thatched roofs. There were no windows as we would think of them -- instead of framed glass, the eaves created an overhang with an open space all the way around the house. They looked like drawings I have seen of Noah's ark.

Taking our first steps through the colorful pillars that marked the entrance to the village, we stopped to pray and to identify how we were feeling inside. Were we just nervous and anxious, or were we sensing the spiritual darkness and bondage that was the trademark of this people?

We began praying for discernment and sensitivity to the Spirit of God's leading. This was the first day of our "drops." If we were caught, we would be detained, our visas marked, and we would be shipped back to the U.S on the first available flight. Religious "propaganda" is absolutely forbidden in this country. Our minds also churned over the seriousness of being cut off from the rest of the team scattered throughout the countryside. It could be a couple of days before they figured out what happened.

We started up the gradual incline toward the back of the village; we would start there and distribute the gospel on the way back out. Once past the houses, we came upon acres and acres of terraced rice fields. We stopped and silently took in the simple beauty and the cleverly designed flow of water from one field to another. I also saw my first water buffalo up close and personal! I smiled when I realized his stall would be the first place I would make a drop.

At the back of the village we came across an equal amount of men and women -- about 20 -- working the fields. For the first time in my life I was seeing the unreached ethnic group we had been praying for and had traveled over 10000 miles to bring the message of Christ to.

I can't quite find the words to explain how I felt.

The women were strikingly beautiful, with tiny features -- most were no more than 5 feet tall. They wore leggings, but had bright colored cloth wrapped and draped around them. Many of them had their teeth capped in gold. They were lined up across the flooded fields transplanting rice into neat rows -- backbreaking work -- all the while looking altogether elegant and feminine. As I tried to take a picture, they turned and saw us. As if on cue, they all became playful, motioning us toward them. They were trying to get us to wade into the rice fields and help them plant. In fact, they taunted us! One of them would say something to the others and then they would all laugh.

The men stood silently -- expressionless -- off to our right, leaning on their hoes.

What a contrast between the sexes...

The Village

We got on a bus at 7:30 a.m and began a two and a half hour bus ride to the west. Once we got out of the filth of the city, the scenery was beautiful. The highway snaked up and down hillsides and through valley floors. At times the bus would strain to the top of a rise and we could see for miles. Other times the mountains seemed to form a canopy around us -- visibility was limited to a few yards.

An hour or so outside the city, the bus pulled over and a peasant couple climbed aboard. The woman sat down beside me. I quickly realized that she had not seen a lot of fair skinned people; she sat staring at my white face, legs, and hair for the duration of the ride. I tried to make conversation with the couple. Pointing at my wedding band, I asked if they were married. They laughed and shook their heads in a way that said, "No! No! No!" -- they seemed to understand the significance of a wedding band.

After a couple of hours the bus stopped at a run-down little town at the end of a pothole-filled road. Our next step was to find transportation to the village we were to visit. We found a guy with a three wheel motorcycle called a Tuk-tuk. I pulled out a little notebook with our destinations written in his lanquage and began negotiating the cost of the 8 mile ride. He was a character! First he tried to convince us that our village was too far away. He talked loudly and stabbed the air with a very grimy finger to make his point. We finally agreed on a fare, and started on our way.

After a while, the driver stopped in the middle of the road and tried to convince my partner and me that we were too fat for his Tuk-tuk! We stayed steady -- and eventually prevailed.

Eight miles later we watched our ride head back east. We turned and walked toward the gates of the first village on our trek. We had finally reached our destination -- finally we could begin tossing the seed of the gospel on virgin soil...

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Team

"My prayer for all of them is that they will be one, just as you and I are one...and I give myself entirely to you so they also might be entirely yours." John 17:17, 19

God called us to an adventure into uncharted waters. We had all done mission work, but nothing like this! There were countless details to work out. We were all "achievers" and wanted to succeed. We all had our own opinions as to how we would achieve success. We all began to share them.

The Roadmakers were a very diverse group of men. Diversity can easily turn into disunity -- and we teetered on that edge!

Very early on I began to prevail on God to bring unity to our team -- very early on the Spirit of God showed me these elements in Jesus' prayer for unity: Only God can bring the unity He desires -- God unifies us around His plan through prayer. Jesus prayed for unity out of a unity he already shared with the Father -- he was confident that he was in the Father's will. Jesus could release others to God's providence because he had released himself to His Father's providence.

Just as the Father answered Jesus' prayer, God answered mine. We began to gain confidence that the waters were not uncharted -- God knew every path He had for us. We all recognized the need for a deeper dependence upon God; we could not depend on experience alone. The mission was not ours -- it was God's. He had designed the mission and wanted it to succeed! We could trust God's providence when all the details didn't come together.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Blessed Eyes

The Roadmakers are back home! Since leaving Columbus, Georgia we flew over twenty-one thousand miles, navigated through 3 different countries, and delivered the gospel in over 200 villages. To say it was an adventure would be an understatement -- describing what took place in the hearts of eight men would be impossible!

But I have been trying!

This morning Sandy and I talked for a couple of hours. Our conversation revealed how God worked similarly in both of our lives, though we were out of contact and separated by over 10,000 miles. Later on I went over to my office and met with some of my staff. They have prayed faithfully for me and received me with kindness and enthusiasm. They wanted to hear about the mission. I excitedly blurted out highlights of the trip -- speaking at a rate of about 4000 words per minute with gusts up to 10000!

This afternoon I sat in my backyard under a warm Georgia sun, feeling a little punchy from the 13 hour jet lag and continuing the process of unpacking my soul. I have just gone through an experience with God where I saw and heard things -- things not easily explained or communicated. I went back to Luke 10 (a passage I have spent a lot of time in recently) and read these words --

"Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and hear what you hear but did not hear it." Luke 10:23-24

I know my eyes have been blessed with a special privilege. I know the ears of my soul have heard from God in distinct way. I have been blessed! I want to share it. Over the next few days I will try to express it to you here.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

A Long Walk

"I must walk today, and tomorrow, and the day following...Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord." Luke 13:33, 35

This will be my last blog for a while. I am going on a long, long walk. I must fly thousands of miles first, but then I start walking.

Along with my fellow Roadmakers we will bring the gospel to nearly 200 villages and walk at least 75 miles. Every step of the way at least 100 people will be covering us in intercessory prayer. Every step of the way -- where we are -- the kingdom of God will be at least temporarily established. The Roadmakers may be the only "salt" and "light" among indescribable decay and darkness. To quote the old western show, The Guns of Will Sonnet, "No brag just fact."

Last night the blogger website was down. I kept trying to get on until just before 3:00 a.m. Finally, I read from Psalm 18, wrote in my leather bound journal, and then hit the sack. God gave me some peculiar readings that continued to come back to me -- even as I slept.

"As for God, his way is perfect...it is he that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect. Psalm 18:30, 32

I must remember that -- His way -- makes my way perfect! What an Adventure awaits us!

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Set Apart

"One day...the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart Barnabas and Saul for the special work I have for them...the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way."'

On Sunday eight men called --The Roadmakers -- were "set apart." What does that mean?

It means our church cooperated with the Spirit of God's design for the lives of eight men chosen for a particular mission. Our church formally released the Roadmakers from their current tasks and -- set them apart -- to a particular task. This was done publicly so that all connected to the life of our fellowship would know that the Roadmakers go with their blessing.

I am one of the Roadmakers -- I was released from my current tasks to a particular task.

The Roadmakers and the entire congregation made a spiritual commitment to the mission God has entrusted to us. It was amazing how 800-1000 people in attendance were merged into one heart and mind. Everyone realized we were in this together. It is hard to describe how it felt to see everyone so excited about the privilege we were all sharing.

For the Roadmakers, being commissioned and -- set apart -- will require the spiritual commitment to become a physical commitment. At three-thirty a.m. on 17 March, the Roadmakers will climb into a van and head toward Atlanta. Once there, we will board a plane and fly with the sunrise.
For all of us it became clearer what it means when the Holy Spirit -- sets apart -- people for His purposes. Spiritually we were set apart from all that we love and hold dear. Soon that spiritual setting apart will take on a physical dimension.
The Spirit of God gave us a reminder of what happens when Christ's church cooperates with Him. His spiritual presence becomes visible when He chooses to -- set apart -- people for His purposes.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

The Road Less Traveled

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -- I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference." Robert Frost

Jesus also said that there are two roads. One of the roads is wide and well traveled with passing and break down lanes. Everyone who chooses this road is eventually broken.

There is another road -- it is narrow and less traveled -- very few choose it. Here Frost and Jesus converge in agreement -- taking this road less traveled will make all the difference -- everyone who chooses it will find life!

Does this explain why such disdain for well traveled roads gathers strength in my soul? What do I do with this desire? Do I try to silence this rumor of a possible adventure that borders on a haunting? If I do, what will be the cost? Is the road taken by so many the right one -- are the masses walking with God?

My heart struggles with this tension -- I don't want to be a "thrill seeker" -- I also do not want to kill a desire that may be the finger of God pointing me to the road less traveled.

"Two roads diverge in a wood" -- I must take one or the other. What do I do? I offer up a prayer, "Lord, bless me with discernment and courage to take the right road -- even if it is 'The Road Less Traveled.'"

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

The Password!

Early this morning I left for St. Francis hospital to pray with a man before he went into surgery. The information I received said to be there at 7:30. When I woke up this morning I sensed that I needed to get to the hospital earlier. Sandy and I prayed for each other, then I left to make the visit.

I went to the information desk and asked what time Tom would be arriving. "He is already here," I was told. I asked where to find him and was directed to the fourth floor.

I took the stairs in bounds of 3 steps at a time. At the information station on the fourth floor a very helpful nurse tried to find Tom's name, but couldn't. She diligently searched until she found out where he was. "Come with me." she said. "I will take you to him."

We got to the surgical prep area and I was told, "You can't go in there."

I responded, "Could you tell Tom that I came to pray for him and that I will come back later to check on him? I'm his pastor."

"You're his pastor?" She asked.

"Yes, I am."

She smiled at me and said, "Well, you just spoke the password. Pastors get special treatment. Come with me. I will take you to Tom so that you can pray with him."

"Pastor" was the password. It opened an opportunity that otherwise I would not have. I left the hospital and returned to the church to pray with some friends. It struck me how my position as a pastor is such a privilege and -- in this case -- was like a password that opened a door. I was struck by a greater truth: I minister and pray in the name of One whose Name can open any door -- it is the true Password!

Thursday, March 3, 2005

Final Destiny

Legendary long distance rider Frank Hopkins and his horse Hidalgo entered a 3000 mile race across the Arabian desert. During the race the wild mustang Hidalgo -- once nearly dead from wounds and exhaustion -- mystically rises from the desert sands. The Arabian horses with ancient bloodlines ran well, but their efforts were not enough. Hidalgo won.

The movie switches from the deserts of Arabia back to the wide open plains of the wild west. A large herd of wild mustangs is crunched into a corral. Soldiers are fanning out around them with the order to "Make every shot count!"

Frank and Hidalgo come upon the scene. In Frank's hand is a bill of sale -- he has bought the entire herd and saved them from destruction. They are now his. He can do with them as he pleases. He sets them free -- that was the destiny of the wild mustang.

Throughout the movie it is clear that Hidalgo was never "tamed." Hidalgo ran with Frank and pushed himself for Frank -- they both loved the adventure and thrill of the long distance race.

The last thing you see in the movie is Hidalgo with no saddle or bridle -- Frank has removed them. Hidalgo is watching the freed mustangs dash across the plains. He is free to join them. He is now in a place and at a place where bit and bridle are no longer needed.

As I watched the movie come to an end I said to Sandy and Josh, "That's what heaven's going to be like. No more need for a bit and bridle -- just an unfettered freedom to enjoy the new earth -- our final destiny!

Wednesday, March 2, 2005

All Else Is Secondary

"The Lord appointed seventy two others and sent them out two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go." Luke 10:1

I find it easy to imagine that these seventy-two felt pretty special! They received the same sort of commission Jesus had given to his entourage of twelve (see Luke 9). Is there any doubt they made a bee line to the towns and hamlets that Christ had assigned to them?

Thirty-six pairs traveling light. No fun money, change of clothes, or even an extra pair of sandals. They were moving fast -- the mission was urgent! Their goal was to get to as many people as possible. Why? A day would soon follow when Jesus would show up. "I am sending you in ahead of where I will soon go." Jesus had written their name in heaven -- his intention was to follow up their witness and see others written down.

They went as told, returned, and reported back. Turns out that they were most impressed by the effect they had on the kingdom of darkness. It seems they simply announced that Jesus had sent them and the demons would go scurrying!

Along the way I believe they forgot the main point of the mission.

What impressed them did not impress Jesus at all. His response to their excitement had all the comfort of a wet blanket. He basically said, "You have authority over everything the devil can throw at you. He manipulates poisonous creatures and sends them as assassins against you -- they are powerless -- just trample them. He wields all kinds of power in the heavenlies, but cannot harm you -- he is like lightening that flashes, but never strikes -- he's no big deal!

Its easy to miss something very important in this story. The greatest joy is to have your name written in heaven -- a relationship to the One who sent us.

All else is secondary!

Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Small Things

"Who despises the day of small things?" Zechariah 4:10

Navigating through many different scriptures this morning I ended up in the book of Zechariah. Once I started reading I couldn't put it down. When I got to chapter four the verse above grabbed my attention. I looked down at the footnotes and read, "day of small things. Some thought the work on the temple was insignificant...but God was in the rebuilding program..."

I knew God was going to meet me there.

I have been worrying about small things! Why? Because just about everyone despises them! We all live in a world where results are expected immediately and "mega" is mecca! We don't like small things -- even in the realm of faith. We "despise the day of small things!"

I am headed into an adventure with God. Many others are joining with us and making a huge investment. It is not a significant financial investment, but it is an investment of time, trust, and faith that for us is epic. When God chooses to bless our obedience and start something -- it could be so little -- it may be years before it is visible to the eyes.

Not long from now we will return from our journey, footsore, fatigued, and spiritually bruised. We will have walked many miles praying and nervously looking over our shoulders. Once home, we will wait for reports from "eyes on the ground." In God's time an embryo of spiritual life will struggle forth and thrive in a spiritually hard and barren place!

Never again will we "despise the day of small things"