I haven’t written in my blog since I got home from El Salvador. But I have a new mission trip coming up soon, so its time to dust off the keys on the laptop and put my thoughts on paper…er…whatever.
A little over two years ago, I went on my first out of the country mission trip to Guatemala. It changed me. In more ways than I thought it would. It changed my view of missions, it changed my view of what the Church is meant to do here on earth and most importantly, it changed my view of what God wants out of my life.
When I came back from Guatemala, I started making plans to go back to Guatemala with a small team to serve and love on the people of that amazing country. God had other plans and he put constant roadblocks in my path of going back to Guatemala. Then came a watershed conversation with God.
In early June 2011, I went fishing at my favorite remote creek in east Tennessee. As I stepped onto the trail to walk through the forest to the creek, I just stopped and prayed, out-loud, “God…come fishing with me today.” And He did.
For the next five hours or so, I talked with God and He talked to me. Not some booming voice from the heavens, not some message written in stone and not through a burning bush. But nevertheless, the clearest that I’ve ever heard the voice of God. I asked questions, I laid out my laundry list of complaints with the way things on Earth are going, I asked advice, I confessed sin, I poured myself out. And He answered me every step along the way.
I’ve often used a certain question as an icebreaker question with people, “If you could ask God any question and get a clear answer, what would it be?” Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot of different responses. Most of them involving “Why…?” My one question was always, “Are we doing this whole Christian thing right? Is this what you want?”
So, while fishing in the middle of the Cherokee National Forest, with no one around to hear me except the bears, the trout and the almighty Creator of the universe. I asked, out loud, “God, are we doing this right?” His answer was clear, and it surprised me.
In retrospect, I should have fallen on my face in the middle of the stream and worshipped God for who He is. But the reality is that I argued with His answer.
His answer was just simply, “Just love me.”
“But God, that’s not what I mean…”
“I know exactly what you mean, just love me.”
“No, God, I mean what we do, is it right?”
“Just love me.”
I actually argued more than that, and more vigorously and more passionately and at times probably more violently and stupidly, but you get the idea. I get what I had always wanted this side of Heaven, a chance to ask God my one question and get His answer…and He blew His chance by stupid, non answer. I was a little ticked.
The conversation stopped for about 30 minutes after that…well, I stopped talking anyway. And then later, as I was sitting on a rock eating a snack, I came back to God and said something stupid like, “So, really…are we doing this right?”
“Just love me.”
And then God placed in my mind a scripture that I had taught in my 7th grade Bible class many, many times. Matthew 22:34-40. It goes something like:
34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. 35 One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”
37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
I didn’t have it memorized…still don’t..but I remembered it almost verbatim that day. And so I did what almost anyone would have done. I argued some more.
God showed me His mercy and His grace that day by not calling me out and putting me in my place as He did Job in Job 38-41. But He got my attention. And the message was consistent. “Just love me.”
Once I accepted the Lord’s teaching that day, I then started asking the right questions. “How do I love You more?” “Why do I so often NOT love You?” “Why is my heart so screwed up, that I can argue with You?”
That’s when the conversation got personal, and I won’t share it here. But what came from that conversation was a life changing view of God, His grace, His mercy, His love and His plan for me. And more specifically, His plan for that summer.
What started as a return trip to Guatemala with 5 or 6 people, ended up being a two and a half day retreat with 24 middle school kids, serving and evangelizing in our own backyard. A local mission trip. It changed lives, starting with my own. It changed lives in some mobile home communities, where kids committed their lives to Christ for the first time. It changed lives in a children’s home, where we loved and played and gave our time to be with kids who didn’t have many people who loved or played or gave their time to.
The next summer, the mission retreat grew to 43 middle school kids and we did the same thing. A two day focus of loving, serving and sharing Christ, right here in own backyard. More lives changed, again my own being chief among them.
God has blessed me again this year with the chance to be involved with what has grown officially into the “Liberty Christian School Middle School Summer Mission Retreat.” This year, we’ll have about 40 kids, serving and loving right here in D/FW. We’ll have a worship band come and play for us. We’ll have amazing meals and fun with the kids. But for me, it still goes back to the day on Gee Creek. To my argument with God about whether we’re doing this whole Christian thing right.
It goes back to God opening my eyes. “Just love me.” Because I learned that when I do that…when I just love God, His love flows from Heaven into this broken, screwed up person that I am. And broken as I am, I can’t hold it in.
International missions are important, and I believe that we should be committed to them as a Church. But not at the expense of doing it here. Too many people say, “Well, the way I live my life is a testimony to those around me.” I used to think that. Then I realized that I’m a hypocrite. And that’s what people saw. People see the hypocrite and they don’t want any part of it. But when you talk to them…when you say, “Listen, I’m a hypocrite, I’m broken, I’m sinful…but I love God and He’s working on me. And He’s taking care of me. And He’s changing me, slowly.” That’s when people listen. Its just so hard to do that in our own backyard. We don’t mind doing it in some far away country where we’ll never see the people again. But we don’t want to do it at Walmart or our favorite coffee shop or on the golf course. I can’t let them know that I’m a hypocrite. That I don’t always practice what I preach.
I too often forget or get distracted or just ignore that lesson from the creek. I too often get focused more on “am I following God’s rules?” than just loving Him. Satan likes to make things about checklists or balance sheets. God says, “Just love me.” Because that balance sheet has already been tallied. Christ paid off those debits with more than enough to spare through His perfect work on the cross. Those times that I do just love Him, I am fulfilled, I am joyful, and oddly, I’m WAY more productive in “Kingdom work.”
So, if anyone actually reads this far, please be in prayer as we lead a bunch of kids out to serve. Please pray that as leaders, we will just love God and model that for the kids. Please pray for the kids to have their eyes opened that what we DO isn’t nearly as important as we think and that the condition and direction of their heart is what matters. And through the overflow of that, let lives be changed, let Christ be proclaimed and let God be glorified.