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What Have We Come To?
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February 17, 2009                          


                   What Have We Come to?


When I first began following the Lord I knew almost immediately that my life’s work would be helping the poor, primarily on overseas mission trips.  However, it’s been 5-years since I’ve been on one.  Even so, my life has been coming together nicely lately.

In the last 6-months I’ve been on pilgrimages to Italy and Turkey.  I was elected co-president of an environmental organization at the first general meeting I attended.  In fact, I went just to vote for the person I serve with.  It appears that my Holy Spirit inspired urge to grow vegetables and participate in a movement to promote widespread urban farming is beginning to come to fruition.  Furthermore, a recent article on “intentional communities” has really got me juiced up (“A Not So Simple Life;Washington Post Magazine; 1/25/09).

So, it was only natural for me to assume that a mission trip was in the offing after trying to learn patience (among other things) for the last several years.

Sunday began with a stirring sermon at a church that I attend intermittently.  The message was that God alone should be sufficient in our lives.  We should simply pursue Him, and despite the pain and tribulations, eventually He will probably use you to make a significant impact.  This was precisely the message God has been giving me.  However, this also should have been my first clue that perhaps I was expecting one blessing too many.  But during the service my heart was moved by the prospect of a trip to Uganda to help build a school.  A few hours later I went to the meeting.

The first thing I noticed with the handouts that were passed around was the contract we were expected to sign.  Secondly, I saw that the proposed payment schedule for the $3000 trip was frontloaded.  This created a problem for me because I am not working.  I am already down to about $1100 for the next 4-months. 

However, I knew that I would definitely be receiving money at the beginning of July, over 3-weeks before we were to leave.  I also knew that I would be getting enough to go on three or four mission trips.  I even anticipated donating $1000 extra for the construction costs of the trip.

The third problem I had about the way the meeting started was that we didn’t begin in prayer.  “How do you start a meeting about a mission trip without prayer”, I thought.  Anyone can make a mistake.  I kept my mouth shut.  I was doing enough praying to myself for several people anyway.  And, the leader did make a strong prayer at the conclusion of the meeting.

With trepidation, I approached the team leader about my financial problem.  I told him that the Spirit has led me to become a missionary for the rest of my life.  I told him that I’ve been studying the bible for years and volunteering. I told him that I knew for sure that I would be getting the money by July 1st—this is income from a trust that my father set up or me before he died.

My heart sunk as he told me that the church had to have enough money to buy the tickets early to get a good rate.  He had already said during the meeting that the church doesn’t like to pay for the tickets up front.  And, in a way I understood the policy: what happens if 20 people back out of a mission trip?  Furthermore, I am not necessarily well known at the church.

But I had a problem with him not asking me about my volunteer work.  I had a problem with him not asking me about my spiritual journey with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  I had a problem with him not making inquiries with those who did know me.

True, he said they could help me write letters to raise the money.  And he said that I should pray about it.  But, I don’t need to raise money—I know I have five figures coming no later than July 1st.  Why wasn’t he willing to pray about it?  I wasn’t feeling warm and fuzzy anymore.  I began wondering if the Holy Spirit was really active within him.  I was even questioning whether or not I even wanted to go on a trip led by him.

I don’t want to sound bitter.  The whole upshot of the experience was that it was not the Lord’s will that I go on this trip.  It was only for a week, and I have up to 3 vegetable gardens that I may be supervising this summer, not to mention the 40-hours of volunteer work that I am required to do to become a certified master gardener.  Moreover, I wanted to follow Paul’s admonition against going to sleep on your anger (Ephesians 4:26).  I wanted to be patient, understanding and forgiving.  But, when I was at the gym the next day (the membership that I will be freezing again for 4-months), the thing kept coming back.

And don’t get me wrong…I could have gone on the trip.  To me, the whole thing about walking with the Lord is to be willing to sacrifice material possessions, even your life.  I could have written the letters.  I could have pawned or sold some things.  There was “some” flexibility in the payment timing. 

To be honest, my grandmother recently died and I think that she left me some money and property.  I haven’t even investigated it.  But Lent is coming up—I’ve already begun a 6-week fast with no meat.  Besides, unlike when I was younger I don’t like to take money I didn’t earn.  The least I can do is wait until the money is really needed or perhaps I can do some real good with it.  I take it as a badge of courage to go without between now and July (see Philippians 3:7).  That’s the way God planned it; and it’s really not that long.

The whole encounter just got me to wondering, though.  And, of course it’s possible that my only previous mission trip has “ruined” me.  I was led by a woman, not a big organization.  The Lord had laid on her heart the “Lost Boys of Sudan.”  After two trips by herself to the UN Refugee Camp in Kakuma, Kenya she led her husband and a small group to follow in her steps. 

She arranged some of the details through a small missionary group and World Vision, but most of it she put together with contacts she had made on the ground during previous trips.  We were on a wing and a prayer the whole time.  We built mud brick homes at the camp.  The sincerity and intimacy of the relationships that she had formed were real.  The purity of her sacrifice left a deep impression on me.

I’m all about the Spirit.  Too much planning can be a bad thing.  When I went to Turkey last month, I went from concept to on the ground in Istanbul in 9-days.  I had only a vague idea of where I’d go, when and how.  Even when I did form an itinerary (after I arrived), the Lord often turned these plans upside down.  This takes even more commitment and faith than planning five months in advance.

That being said, there were some other things that irked me about what I saw at that informational meeting on Sunday.  The thing was; since I’ve been walking with the Lord I have visited a lot of churches, on three continents.  This church is hands-down one of the maybe three best ministries that I’ve seen.  The lead pastor is without doubt Spirit-filled with a tremendous anointing.  I admire him a lot; and have prayed for him a lot.

First, we were informed that unlike most trips we already knew what we were going to do when we got there.  Huh?  How can you go on any mission trip without an idea about how you’re going to help poor people and/or preach the gospel?  Such a trip would essentially be a useless waste of time.  Is this the kind of trip all of those evangelical youth groups are going on?  I see, it’s OK to go on “make work” mission trips but creating make work “street sweeper” jobs for the poor at home is wrong.

I can see moving to a place in the Spirit with little planning, or a long trip maybe; but not a short-term “mission trip.”

I was bothered that an overriding concern was scheduling the trip around the work concerns of the participants—that’s why it was only for a week.  But, one of the main points about doing mission work (even short-term) is to immerse yourself in the culture you are visiting (see Galatians 4:12, 1 Corinthians 9:22).  Basically, at a minimum you have to feel almost as if you are living in that place to get at what Paul was doing.  Not to mention the fact that he was out in the middle of nowhere, sometimes virtually by himself in a hostile environment, often exposed to the elements, with absolutely no modern conveniences.  I don’t see how you can begin to scratch the surface in anything less than two-weeks.

Those who attended the meeting were stroked and told how great a sacrifice it was to give up their vacation time.  One person inquired about the weather.  Another asked about the security situation in Uganda.  I could have misread the questions. 

We were told how nice the accommodations were, and that we’d have a guide.  Then there was the safari trip.  It was hard for me not to think of us as a group of disaster tourists who just also have praise and worship.

I mean, what part of the New Testament and the Gospel of Jesus Christ says, “Follow the Lord, only when it’s convenient, safe, and you’re sure you won’t have to pay any extra money because a couple of people backed out of a trip?”  What kind of sacrifice is this?  How is this embracing the kind of pain and change that the pastor so eloquently spoke of only a few hours earlier?

And what about the contract and the payment rules?  Making a commitment and having some stability is good.  But, the only rules I have are love the Lord with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength; and love your neighbor as you love yourself!  Is faith really about a bunch of rules?  Do we really need all of the “stuff” that goes along with modern church?  Almost 2 billion Christians were created without it. 

Indeed, isn’t the whole essence of the New Testament an attack on religious legalism?  Isn’t the whole thing about faith the emulation of the Lord’s grace?  If we are to be like him we must extend grace to others.  Right? 

Why can’t it be like Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No, ‘No’ (Matthew 5:37).  The Lord’s half-brother James later echoes the same thing (James 5:12). 

Saying, you are just being good stewards of church finances is quite frankly, a weak excuse and on shaky ground biblically.  If you get burned; so what?  It’s not as if you were jailed or went to the cross!  This is all part of learning sacrifice, patience, disappointment and forgiveness.  Not to mention trust, and to “not be conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2; cf. the Parable of the Dishonest Servant from Luke chapter 16, and remember Jesus and the ten lepers at Luke 17:12-19).

Contracts, statements of beliefs, 20th century self-help techniques, behavioral tests to assess spiritual gifts, and human resources/professional development mumbo jumbo.  Are you kidding me?  What happened to the Holy Spirit and just following Scripture?

It wouldn’t be so bad if this wasn’t the top percentile of ALL churches.  Is this the way we’re supposed to be doing church?  I don’t think so.  The whole feel is: go on a mission trip because it’s expected, punch your ticket, and collect your chit.  Then go back to your life and your job so you can focus on being master of the universe. 

What happened to surrendering all to Christ?  Maybe we shouldn’t be patting ourselves on the back before we’ve really sacrificed something.  Is it necessary to coddle people with low expectations and to encourage the thought that taking one short-term mission trip is enough?  It would be better to have one person willing to go all out than ten who really don’t want to change their lives.

Some might think I’m setting my own standards too low or making too much of this.  Well, what about all the people who really can’t raise the money—ever?  Is this what the body of Christ is supposed to look like?  This is a good place to start, but if this is all there is, we’ve got a long wait before the revival and the second coming.

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