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bluebloodsBlue Bloods, the CBS TV series about the New York Police Department starring Tom Selleck, may be the best Christian drama on television.  I know that seems like an odd thing to say, but let me elaborate.

Blue Bloods premiered on CBS in 2010 and has remained a Friday night staple since, with a viewership of 10-13 million weekly.  While there is always the police versus criminal element in the show, much of the drama surrounds the Reagan family, four generations of law enforcement in NYC.

Frank (Tom Selleck) is now the Police commissioner, the Top Cop, of NYC, after serving on the force his entire adult life.  His father Henry (Len Cariou) had also been police commissioner, but is now retired.  Both father and son are widowed.

Frank has three grown children: Danny (Donnie Wahlberg), Erin (Bridget Moynahan), and Jamie (Will Estes). Danny is a top detective though highly volatile. Erin is a rising Assistant District Attorney, and Jamie is a Harvard graduate with a law degree who has given up law to take up the “family business” as a beat cop.  Another son Joe was murdered in the line of duty before the series opened, a loss that is always close to the surface in this very tight-knit family.

Danny is married to Linda (Amy Carlson) and they have two sons. Erin is divorced and is raising teenage daughter Nicky (Sami Gayle), a good girl but very strong-minded, and Jamie is very eligible.

Every Sunday this entire family sits down to dinner together. Every episode includes this often moving, sometimes humorous, and occasionally tense intersection of the family’s personal and professional lives.  And every meal begins with a prayer!

The Reagan family is Irish Catholic, and they are devout, not in the maudlin manner of Christian TV with everyone holding hands in church, but in what I believe is a more realistic way, in a way that affects every minute of their lives. Sure, there are often references at the dinner table about the homily at Mass that day, and sure, their saying grace is sometimes just a simple family ritual—but there is an assumption in this family that their faith is real and that it is an omnipresent, all-encompassing framework for both their private and their public lives.

And that is why I think Blue Bloods might be the best Christian program on TV!

As police officers, all of them face moral dilemmas almost daily.  Does the right outcome justify using any means to achieve it?  Is life fair when the victims of crime lose and the “perps” walk free on legal technicalities?  When does one keep the letter of the law or opt for the spirit of the law?

Last week’s episode was especially interesting, involving a detective who was cleaning up neighborhoods of drugs, but then buying up the drug houses, cleaning them up, and flipping them for a big personal profit.  After being investigated by Internal Affairs, no one could find anything illegal about this cop’s actions, but Frank maintained it was wrong, even if it wasn’t illegal!  His moral point was that the police must use a higher standard than just the criminal code to evaluate themselves. Not everyone agrees with him—and so the ethical and moral debate characteristic of almost every episode begins.

The drama of the debate, the challenges of their lives are brought to the family dinner table each week.  Often it is the two young boys who innocently raise the moral questions:  “So are you going to kill the bad guy who shot the cop?”

Of course, there is family drama as well: Will Danny be tempted to be unfaithful by women he meets in the line of duty?  Will he cross boundaries in trying to get justice?  Erin and Nicky have the usual single Mom versus teenage daughter issues, and Jamie has such a soft heart—the heart of a priest, as they say in one episode—that he is often in conflict with what is right legally and what is compassionate.

These are not perfect people.  All of them make choices that you wish they had not made, but don’t we all!  The show is almost completely free of profanity—almost—which is refreshing. You can actually admire all of the main characters.  The action and drama are absolutely engaging.

Evil is always evil and never good.  That fact sets this show apart from almost all drama in our increasingly amoral culture.

And God has a lead role.  If you have Catholic hang-ups, get over them and be thankful for a TV show that shows serious believers, practicing their faith publically and privately in the real world. Be thankful for people who believe in truth.  Be thankful for people who pray.

Previous seasons of Blue Bloods are available on Netflix and Amazon–maybe others as well.

In Memoriam: Mom

sc00858ca6_face2Two weeks ago today, my mother Daisy Belle (Lyles) Woodward died peacefully in her home.  One week ago today, we buried her in a small country cemetery where her parents, grandparents, and great grandparents are buried—as well as my dad and many of her brothers and sisters.  I just wanted to share with you today the eulogy that I delivered at her funeral.

Today is a day that we always knew would come; today was a day we never thought would come; ultimately, we bow our heads and say, “Today is the day the Lord has made. Rejoice and be glad in it.”

There is much to be happy about today.

  • We the family are happy that you have honored our mother by coming to this service today. Thank you for your kind words, the beautiful memorials, the food you have brought, and for all your expressions of love.
  • We are happy because Mom was taken just as she had always prayed. She died quickly and peacefully in her own bed, not from disease, but from the call of God to her reward.
  • We are happy today because we believe God is faithful, so when He tells us the those who die in the Lord are happy, then we are happy because there is no doubt that Mom was in the Lord
    • Born in 1923, Mom was raised on a farm near Justin. Her’s was a Christian family. In fact, just a few years ago, while we were out with her on a Sunday drive, we drove past the old White’s Chapel cemetery and she told us that she and her father had ridden a wagon from Justin to White’s Chapel—sometime before she was 13 and I’m guessing, shortly after she was baptized at 12—to go to a Brush Arbor meeting on that site. If she grew up like that, it’s no wonder that she made sure we were at church every time the doors were open!sc00721ccf-001
    • Shortly after they married, my dad was immersed. Dad became a Sunday school teacher, a deacon, an elder at Midtown all during their marriage—and I’m pretty confident that Mom’s gentle and quiet spirit had something to do with his spiritual growth.IMAG0129_face0
    • We her children are thankful for what we have learned from her—both as children and as adults.
      • She loved us enough to discipline us: a fly swatter or ping pong paddle was always nearby. Once, I threw a dirt clod and hit Gary in the head and she put me in the closet to pray!!
      • She loved us enough to teach us to work. Mary K reminded me of how Mom would rise early on some summer mornings, wake us up, so we could all go out and pull weeds before it got too hot.
      • She taught us to share—Gary, Mary K, and I all shared a room (Betty, the baby was in Mom and Dad’s room) until I was almost 12. Then we moved out by Fort Worth Christian and had a three bedroom house—finally! But then Kenny was born, then Grandma Lyles came to live with us, then Grandma Woodward, and then a family at church had to move away in their son’s senior year at FWC, so Mom offered to let him stay with us!   We learned to share pretty much everything!
      • Mom taught us about perseverance in adversity. She was raised on a fairly poor farm during the Depression. Her father was killed in a wagon accident when she was 14, one that sent her mother into a depression. Her older brothers went to war, so she went to college (I believe the only one in her family to graduate from college). Mom and Dad had a happy marriage, but after about 20 years and five children, Dad got sick and Mom had to really support the family.  Then Dad died in 1989, so she has been a widow for 25 years—but she continued teaching school, substituting until she was in her 80s (once for the football coach as she loved to tell), and working at Foley’s until then as well. sc00373bf8-002She watched first her 7 brothers, then her two sisters precede her in death—along with all of their spouses, until she was the last of her family.  Mom was strong!
      • We learned to be curious from Mom! I grew up thinking that Mom was the Mom and Dad was the intellectual one in the family! I wasn’t wrong about Dad, but when Mom started at FWC, she was the Home Economics teacher, and they asked her to design the first home economics lab—which she did—without asking Dad…Wow! Then they asked her to teach high school chemistry—because she had had Chemistry in college 20 years earlier—before they had even invented atoms!! Then they asked her to teach Chemistry at the college level!  And she loved it!  Then, one day, they asked her to teach Microbiology the following year, so that summer she took Microbiology at TCU, so she could teach it the following year. I remember clearly her getting up at 4 in the morning and studying the lesson so she could teach it to her students.  /////    She loved taking the Grandkids out to the backyard to look for snakes or frogs or worms.  In fact, even after Dad was gone, we’d come to visit her from Oklahoma and Sherry and I would get up, hoping for the smell of bacon, but rather finding her and our children all out in the backyard doing “experiments” or something.  It wasn’t unusual to find a centipede or something in a bottle of formaldehyde in her pantry—sometime the refrigerator!!  Even in these last couple of years, she learned to use an IPad that Gary gave her. She also kept large medical books near so she could read up on whatever medicine the doctor had just prescribed for her.IMG_0444-001
    • Mom was so curious about God—not in a theological way, but in a very practical way. At the end of her questions, one of her favorite phrases was, “Life is a Mystery!”  Some curious people like Mom choose to turn their back on God because they can’t know everything.  Mom taught us to just believe—especially when you don’t know all the answers.  Mom was not one of those of the older generation who was afraid to die because she might not have done enough!  She may have raised that question occasionally—as all of us do who want to please God more than anything else and fall short!   No, Mom was a doer—even when she couldn’t find the answers to her mysteries.
    • One of our earliest pictures of her as a mother is teaching the toddlers at Sunday school at the old Riverside congregation. She always taught SS at Eastridge. I don’t know how many flannel graph characters I have cut out for her. She did backyard VBS at our tiny house.  She stopped teaching so much at church when she started teaching school, but I suspect all her classes were implicitly Bible classes.  In these last years, she loved going to Mission Printing to prepare literature for mission churches—even bringing it home with her when she couldn’t go.  She was a FriendSpeak worker and had a couple of young women that she helped with their English, but using the Let’s Start Talking material based on the book of Luke to share her faith with them.  She loved going to church—was there two weeks ago—and she and her sweet caretaker Lydell even used her IPad to stream services and sermons when she didn’t feel like going.  They read the Bible and prayed together every day.  Even fact, because they had missed it that morning that Mom lost consciousness, Lydell went in at 2:30am and had her devotional together with her—her last one, just a couple of hours before she died.  Mom loved God. And she wanted her family and friends to love God too.
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    • Have you heard the old joke about God writing a letter to all the good people on earth? Do you know what it said?  What, you didn’t get one!  Mom used to write letters too. I’m quite sure all of us children have had one, some of the grandchildren, and maybe some of you here in the audience as well.  If Mom was worried about you spiritually, then you might very well get a letter from her.  She was not going to confront you and have a long talk. But if she was worried about you, you could be certain she was praying for you and that you might get a letter. In these letters, she would tell you she loved you, that she was praying for you, but that you better get your life right with God!  These letters were not always well-received, but I know they were always well-intentioned, written from  the heart of a woman who loved her family and loved God—and she wanted all of us to share eternity with her!
  • It’s a happy day because Mom loved being with her church family. She tried to never miss any service; she loved the potlucks; she loved Game Night!; she came to Visitation Night;  within the last couple of months, she attended the shower for a young mother from College Hill. Getting old was not an excuse to retire from church. You don’t retire from being family. It was hard for Mom to get to family events this last year or two, but she did not miss anything!!  Christmas dinner this year was quite an ordeal for her, but she told me when I took her home how wonderful it was—how much she enjoyed watching the children—no amount of chaos, no amount of infirmity could steal her joy of being with family.

And this church loved her so well. Until she was about 83, she was still driving and picking up the “old people” for church! But when she needed your help, so many of you were there to help her too. The Wasners were her lifeline to her church family for these last few years! We can’t thank you enough for what you did.

Finally,
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Mom was not perfect! It is not our place to confess her sins, but she would be the first to tell you that she was saved by the tender mercy of Jesus.

“Blessed are the dead in die in the Lord! For they rest from their labor and their works will follow them.  (Rev. 14:13)

Mom is happy. She’s together with Dad; with her 11 brothers and sisters whom she loved dearly, and she’s with the whole church who is singing and praising the glory of God and the mercy of Jesus.  She’s also looking for something she can do to be of service.  Somebody will have to remind her that she can rest!

We her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, her nephews and nieces, her neighbors and church family—we are the good works that follow after her!  She is with God, but her legacy are the lives that we live as a result of her work in us.

God gave her 91 years and she used all of them until she had nothing left!  We will honor her if we do the same with however many years God gives us—that’s what she would want—and if you don’t, she may still figure out a way to send you a letter!

We love you, Mom!  We will see you soon. We know it is well with your soul!Wood28-001

Martin_Luther_King_Jr_St_Paul_Campus_U_MNI can’t remember ever believing that I had absolute freedom to say whatever I wanted to say. 

Terrorists in France attack and kill cartoonists for publishing words and pictures that Muslims find offensive—sometimes even blasphemous.  The world media is appalled at the attack on what many consider a basic human right, that is, freedom of speech.

Most Christians in the United States would stand on the side of freedom of speech, but we are sometimes among the first to want to censor those who oppose what we believe to be true.

Moving out of the world arena and into just a congregational context for a minute, think about how “freedom of speech” is sometimes controlled and/or completely censored among Christians.

I personally know of one congregation where the leadership does not want non-Christian visitors to attend services because they might say something that was not true!  The argument is that if they say something that is not true, then that might lead other people to follow them into untruth.

I know of another congregation where the preacher was instructed never to talk about hell because one of the leaders of the congregation doesn’t believe in hell and nobody wants to offend him.

Some forms of censorship at church are more subtle.  How many of our congregations, for instance, would tolerate the preacher saying anything positive about Obamacare from the pulpit?  Or what about anything negative about the U.S. military establishment? Or something complimentary of Pope Francis?

And it is not just the preacher whose freedom of speech bumps into arbitrary boundaries. I just heard about two congregations who weren’t speaking at all to each other because one of the churches refused to speak out publicly, condemning the use of musical instruments in the assembly.  They were not actually using instruments, but they wouldn’t/didn’t judge others who did. They would not say the right words, so other Christians won’t speak to them!

No one really believes in absolute freedom of speech.  All believe in laws against libel, that is, purposefully publishing damaging remarks about someone which you know are not true.  We Americans don’t believe anyone has the right to threaten the life of the president.

Once we were driving to California when Sherrylee saw a minivan that was splashed with painted slogans all over in 1960s hippie fashion.  The largest words painted on the side which we passed said, “Kill Obama!”  Or so we thought.

She called 911 and reported this to the local police who promised to investigate.  Shortly, thereafter, she got a call on her cell phone from the Secret Service wanting more details, and asking her if it were possible that the painted van said “Kill Osama,” not “Kill Obama,” since they had found and investigated people in an anti-Osama minivan matching her description!  Oops!

God talks a lot about speech—but I don’t think He ever mentions free speech.

Today, at LST we read Ephesians 4, where the Holy Spirit through St. Paul speaks about speech.  These are good words for all of us to hold on to:

          15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. . . .

        Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. . . .

         29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. . . . . 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Something seems to be more important than freedom of speech and that is the truthfulness and the intent of the words, as well as the heart from which the words come.

       “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1)

toilet_2I’m never going to try to fix my own toilet again!  That is not a New Year’s resolution; it is a “why-haven’t-I-learned-this-already” resolution.  I confess: I’ve had the chance to learn this lesson before.

In reality, this last December’s incident was not very dramatic.  The toilet upstairs was just constantly running. That’s an easy fix!  I’ve replaced the little red flapper in toilets many times.  But as I was slipping the corroded flapper-off and the new one on, I broke the arm on the float!

Not to worry! I’ve replaced those too, so off to Home Depot I go in order to fix the damage I’ve caused.  While inside, I succumb to looking at all the gadgets for toilets and make the fatal decision to upgrade the mechanism in the toilet to one without an arm to break.

Resolutely—and proudly confident, I return home and tackle the job, but the line in from the wall spicket does not fit into the new mechanism, so I take the whole tank off the toilet, bend the wall line until it does fit! Brilliant!  I put it all back together, turn the water on, and —  it leaks everywhere!!! Arghhh!

Suddenly it all came back . . . . this minor moment flooded me with flashbacks of my last toilet repair incident fifteen years ago.

That time it was just a cracked toilet tank lid—nothing else, but it was in the small guest bathroom by the front door, so very unimpressive to all of our guests who stopped there to rest.  I told Sherrylee that I’d take care of it. I’m always pretty proud of myself when there is something that I can fix around the house because. . . well, I was an English major, not an engineer—if that explains anything to you.  Nevertheless!  I could do this.

My first minor defeat was learning that you can’t buy just a replacement lid for a toilet tank.  But you can buy just the tank—so I did.

But in spite of my best intentions, the tank did not fit properly, so I took the plunge and bought an entire toilet—not an expensive one. These were extremely tight days for us financially, which is why I was doing all this anyway.

Well, the new toilet looked great—but it did not match the drainage hole in the floor. Oops!

The cracked lid had already cost me $150, so, instead of a plumber, I called a friend to come in and finish this little plumbing job for me–but our house was too old and the toilet was too new, so he got a lot of water on the carpeted floor and worked a long time before he said it was fixed.  Finally!

Except that the old carpet did not fit around the foot of the new stool.  The newly installed toilet sat on bare concrete and frayed carpet edges…not acceptable.

So now we had to go find a new piece of carpet not just to install around the new toilet, but, of course, to cover the whole bathroom. $$$

Laying the carpet and trimming around the toilet was not that difficult to do myself since I have a Ph.D . . . except when it was finished, Sherrylee informed me that the beige in the new carpet no longer matched the beige in the old wallpaper in that bathroom, so the re-carpeting now required that I re-paper that bathroom.

Which I did—and that was the end of that drama! By the final curtain, I had spent three days and more than $300 in order to repair a cracked toilet lid that I had thought would take me one hour and maybe $25.00 at the most!

So I told Sherrylee that I was never going to try to fix the toilet again!  And her reply was, “Good!”

I did have another sobering thought.  I wonder how many people I have tried to fix?

Without the right tools, with embarrassingly  false expectations and unrealistic assumptions, with too little time, and without the necessary knowledge but with the best intentions—I wonder how many people we try to fix?

Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.      Galatians 6:1-3 (NLT)

churchofchristsignI think many Churches of Christ are caught in a dilemma that they don’t even know will have a long-term effect on them.  See if you agree with me.

Prior to the last quarter century, Churches of Christ viewed as part of their core identity their non-denominationalism.  In fact, the earliest roots of the Restoration Movement in the U.S. were a reaction to the fact that denominationalism had become the means of excluding those from one’s fellowship who had different creedal beliefs.  By laying aside all human creeds and denominational organizations, restorationists believed they were more perfectly practicing the unity of the Spirit in the one Body of Christ.

During the 1970s, many in Churches of Christ began to believe that regardless of our theology, our practice had become denominational.  Churches of Christ had in practice adopted a brand that was defined by its own traditions and that brand was used to exclude rather than include.

Whereas in the sixties, we argued over whether to write “church of Christ” with a capital C or not, by the 70s, those debates were over, and we had become totally tolerant of talking about “Church of Christ” preachers, “Church of Christ” colleges, “Church of Christ” elderships, buildings, JOY buses, and when asked about personal membership “Church of Christ” was the only acceptable answer.  The term “Church of Christ” no longer was just a descriptive name borrowed from Romans 16:16, but rather a brand name and trademark of a very particular group of Christians—the very definition of denominationalism.

Interestingly enough, about the same time period, two new developments began to surface in the broader Christian community:  a number of new non-denominational  groups like Calvary Chapel, The Vineyard,  and The Way were started.  Also the whole Bible church and community church movements flourished. These were typically individual congregations very loosely associated with other churches, if at all.

As these independent non-denominational churches became more numerous, they were seen to be taking advantage of growing tolerance among evangelical Christians in particular.  Congregations of mainline denominations, seeing the tide moving away from denominationalism, began changing their congregational names to more generic names.  New names like Harvest Church, Covenant Church, New Life Church, etc., replaced old names and left old denominational identifications to very small fonts in parentheses, if visible at all.  Some of these churches quit their denominational organizations, but most just changed names.

 So as I see it, about the time the Churches of Christ became comfortable about being one among many churches—at least among evangelical churches (although I myself think we are very inconsistent to only identify with evangelical churches),  those same denominations started moving away from that very position and towards the non-denominational position that Churches of Christ were abandoning.

Here are my conclusions for Churches of Christ:

  • Churches of Christ need to return to their roots and recover their non-denominational theology.  What a great opportunity to be what we have historically claimed to be, a unity movement.  What a great time to preach and actively embrace the unity in the Body of Christ.
  • Churches of Christ need to quit trying to imitate “successful” churches and decide who God wants them to be and what He wants them to teach. Turning to market research for our identity has two big drawbacks: It leaves us being a lesser imitation—a knock-off—of an original, and it means we are always catching up to the “latest trends” often after those who established those trends have moved on.
  • The highly autonomous congregational approach to church is robbing Churches of Christ of the power in community, in fellowship, in “many members but one body!”  We must learn to be more collaborative, to look for true fellowship in the work of the Gospel, and to welcome partnerships with other members of the Body.  Isn’t that the only way to be a whole and healthy Body!

Watch for more on this last point later.

marseilleOne month ago today, I started this particular trip through Europe on behalf of Let’s Start Talking. I’ve tried to avoid making the posts during this time simple travel logs, but rather I’ve tried to record reflections as I’ve traveled.

Today is different though!  I have to tell you about the wonderful day Sherrylee and I had yesterday in Marseille, France.

I began the morning scavenging the neighborhood outside our hotel for croissants and coffee for breakfast, trying to beat the $20/person cost of breakfast in the hotel. I found a beautiful little Pattisserie/Chocolateria just about a block away where I got the croissants, but I had to get the coffee in the hotel because none of the little “bars” in the area had takeaway cups for their coffee. Still it was much less expensive this way—and much more interesting.

Craig and Katie Young, missionaries in Marseille for 23 years, picked us up and took us to a little eating place in downtown Marseille. I hardly remember what we ate though because we had the greatest conversation with them!  Of course, we talked about their LST project that they are having this summer, but the talk quickly slipped over to life—as it often does, we find, with missionaries.

It is not really the creature comforts, the lifestyle, or anything material about “home” that missionaries really sacrifice when they move to a foreign country (and most would be embarrassed even using the word sacrifice), it’s the deep relationships with other Christians and opportunities to share with people who have had similar experiences that they miss.

To whom do they turn when they want to talk about what it will be like to have a baby in their new home, to start school with their six-year-old, to face high school years in a country that you have never experienced high school in??

What do you do when your children start leaving home and going off to college in America?  What do you do with elderly parents when you live a continent away?  What do you do when your children are seriously dating people they’ve met, but you’ve never been closer than 5000 miles to the person they are falling in love with?

To whom do they turn when suddenly their body starts slowing down: is this normal, is this allowed for missionaries?  How do they explain that to their sponsoring church?  “I need to do less,” might not go over so well? “I need to come to the States more often to see my children—or my grandchildren!”  Will their supporters go for that? Our mission partners are leaving—now what are we supposed to do? Stay by ourselves? Start over somewhere else?  And who can they talk to about these things?

These are the kinds of conversations Sherrylee and I have with missionaries all over the world, and because we are pretty gray now (although Sherrylee doesn’t show it J), we’ve been through some of it and have talked with others who have been through most of it, God can use us as listening ears and sounding boards for these saints who have served most of their lives abroad.  We had that kind of conversation with Craig and Katie, from which we were blessed and hope they were too.

During that conversation, however, we realized that we had the opportunity to use the afternoon to train the young people in their Christians On Mission program to be used in the LST follow-up, so hastily Craig called them together and Sherrylee and I spent an hour with about six of their students, teaching them that the Word is the Teacher and that they are the Illustration and what the ramifications of those two principles are for working with unbelievers.

Craig and Katie started Christians On Mission for French young people, not as preacher training, but as training to be a strong Christian. Max and Phillippe Dauner also teach in the program. Currently they have students from the US, from Tanzania, and from France.

Immediately following our hour of training, we went to their Children’s hour, where about 20 kids met to sing and hear Miss Katie tell them about Easter eggs—and the real story of Easter.  During the last part of the hour, Miss Sherrylee got to tell them all about LST and getting their parents interested in practicing their English when the American students are here in the summer.

Between the Children’s hour and the Ladies Bible study that Sherrylee was going to speak to, we had 30 minutes.  Sherrylee had accidentally wandered into a neighbor’s house, thinking it was part of the church building. . . . ., but it turned out that this neighbor had been baptized a couple of years ago, so as Craig was explaining to the neighbor why Sherrylee had walked into his house, he invited us in for tea and cookies. Khered (?) is his name and he is Algerian.  He and his wife want to return someday to Algeria, which could be a great opportunity to carry the Good News with him.  He says he is the first Christian in his family in over one thousand years!  Think about that!

Sherrylee talked to the women’s Bible study about LST, then Craig took us to a little hole-in-the-wall kind of “snack bar” named Ishtar!  The owner is Iraqi, an Iraqi Christian—Chaldean Christian.  Where do those words take you?  To Ur, or the Babylonians, or where?

In broken French, a smattering of German, and almost no English we talked with him and his brother-in-law and a couple of other people about the millions of Christians that had been in Iraq and protected under Saddam Hussein, but who were immediately persecuted and killed after the Iraqi War by the Islamic fundamentalist until today there are only a few hundred thousand left, mostly in the north among the Kurds—at least that is the way it was reported last night by these Iraqis to us.

As we ate, one of them led us in prayer and then said the Lord’s Prayer in Aramean—the same language Jesus used.  It was a special moment. With the flat bread and the wine on the table, it felt like communion.

We fell into bed last night, having said goodby to Craig and Katie, but thanking God for them, for the saints here in Marseille, and for the blessings we had received from Algeria and Iraq.

26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.Yet he is actually not far from each one of us. Acts 17:26,27

Do you need to spend ten hours on learning Chinese if you are going to go to China for a two-week missions project?  Do you need to spend five sessions learning about Communism for your mission trip to Albania?  If you are the missions ministry leader at your church or the youth minister in charge of the teen mission trip,  and you believe that everyone who goes on a short-term mission should go equipped—which I hope and pray you do–, how do you determine the best way to equip those workers going out from your church.

Let’s look in the next few posts at some suggestions about the content of training for short-term mission teams.

God first!

Everyone who goes on a short-term mission needs to be prepared spiritually! Just like you get vaccinations and take vitamins before the trip, you need to help your workers bolster their spiritual health before they go.  They need prophylactic preparation to prevent spiritual sickness, they need instruction on managing their spiritual health while they are there, and then they need to know what to do if they get sick.

  • Talk about motivations for going—and be honest because most people have multiple motivations, including adventure, travel, self-improvement, improvement of personal skills, and—of yes, helping someone else to know Jesus!  Preparation should include acknowledgement of these motivations along with a healthy way to prioritize them.  Acknowledging the lesser motivations helps remove any guilt or shame workers might otherwise carry with them. Good preparation will help them know ways to focus their motivations so that their activities will be both appropriate and effective for reaching their higher goals!
  • Talk about the spiritual goals for this trip. It is not enough to just hope that somehow conducting a VBS will make an impact for Christ. How will you know if you have made a difference or not? Do you have short-term and/or long-term goals? Are you planting seeds or harvesting because of what others have done before you?
  • What spiritual challenges might workers meet?  Most short-term mission projects are mountain-top experiences for the workers, but in every mission situation, there are also inherent possibilities for spiritual challenges.  If your workers are prepared for those challenges, they are more likely to overcome them effectively.

                For instance, sometimes workers are confronted by “differentness” at the mission site: different doctrines, different rites, different styles of worship–and it shakes up their spiritual world for a while. Other workers are challenged when they try to verbalize their own faith and fail to do so adequately. Some workers find moral temptations more alluring away from home and are challenged!

I’ve often said that being on a mission field is like being in a pressure cooker and any little crack in your spiritual armor may be put under enough pressure to split wide open and leave you very vulnerable.  Preparation for such challenges before a worker goes should give him/her an opportunity to check for cracks!

  • What role will praise and prayer play? If you will have daily times together for praise and prayer—and I hope you will—then you will need to prepare for those times before you go!  Nothing is more discouraging than haphazardly prepared devotionals with half-baked thoughts and dashed-off prayer to cap it off.  Nothing is more encouraging than good time with God and your fellow workers, when you are giving thanks, praising Him, listening for His instructions for the day, interceding with Him for those people with whom you are working, and asking Him to work powerfully through you.

Putting a spiritually healthy team on the plane, a team prepared for spiritual challenges while on the field, must be one of the highest priorities for your mission preparations.

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