Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Reasons We Go! The Importance of Reaching Out To Far Away Places

In just over a week, if the Lord allows, I will be heading to Guatemala with a  medical/dental team and others who have a heart to serve for a 9-day short-term mission trip.  After that, in late March/early April, I am scheduled to head to the Philippines to follow up with mission work we have supported for a number of years.  A common question one encounters when taking on a short-term mission trip is “Why are you doing this?” It’s a legitimate question. Nevertheless, there are those who come from a more hostile perspective - doubters, nay-sayers and skeptics who often question the validity of journeys such as the one on which we are about to embark on a very suspicious basis. When I first became actively engaged in the Biblical call to global evangelism through short-term missions, a well-meaning relative bombarded me with these challenging questions:

“Why are you going over there? Aren’t there enough problems for you to solve right here at home? What’s going to happen when you leave there? Wouldn't they be better off just dealing with life as it is, rather than to have you give them a false sense of hope for a week or a month, then you leave them? Should you even be meddling with their culture and way of life?” Those are serious questions.

Just why are we heading to distant lands, often with a different cultures, seeking to make an impact that in some ways may seem to just scratch the surface of helping needy people deal with significant problems? The Biblical reasons to be engaged in the work of missions, whatever the length of the assignment, for those who call themselves Christians are straightforward and non-negotiable:

We are duty bound as followers of Jesus Christ to obey all that He teaches and commands. We have no choice, therefore but:

To preach the Gospel:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…”(Matthew 28:19,20).
“…and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

To help those in need:

“For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me’” (Matthew 25:35-41).

To do good:

“Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. 18 Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed” (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. 10 So then, [while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people…” (Galatians 6:9-10).

The Galatians passage is especially helpful to speak to our hearts as we seek to serve. At times, the Task of sharing the Good News can seem so large and daunting, that we give up. Also, in trying to do our best to use our resources wisely we can suffer the “paralysis of analysis” seeking to measure just what good we are doing! Jesus simply commands us to go and to act and to trust Him for results. We must remember that while we will address very real “here and now” problems that warrant some analysis, planning etc., the ultimate problem we are going to address is an eternal one - the Sin problem: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”! That Sin separates us from the Lord. We will address this problem by sharing the Message of the greatest importance - The Message that offers powerful, effective and eternal Hope – Jesus Saves!
Think of it. Though it is true that we may only be able to offer “temporary remedies” to the problems we encounter, we are still called to minister to those problems with practical help as best we can. Better yet, we are called to offer God's permanent solution for the greatest problem anyone will ever face – Separation from God due to sin. In pondering the "temporary” nature of medical missions help, have you ever considered that EVERYONE Jesus healed eventually died physically? Yet knowing that, He took the time to heal them with medical effectiveness and feed them with bountiful physical provision while sending the disciples to travel on short-term outreaches doing the same from town to town and village to village. I repeat, EVERY SINGLE PERSON who received the direct physical benefit from Jesus’ ministry of mercy from "raised-from-the-dead" Lazarus, to the woman with the issue of blood eventually physically died! Does their ultimate physical demise make Jesus’ work meaningless? Was His service of no value because He didn't help them establish businesses, instruct them on how to run a clinic or give them the secret keys to living physically for a thousand years? Of course not! Those who received the Good News that unto us “was born in the city of David, a Savior Who is Christ the Lord” shared that message with others, spreading the Good News and passing on the blessings without relenting until they were called "Home". They are now residing with Him in Glory!

Jesus’ work established credibility for His identity as the Messiah; the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Our good work establishes our identity as His followers and opens the door for us to share the message about Christ – the message that has an impact that lasts for eternity! In line with that impact, consider that others will continue to follow up and follow through with those with whom we have connected through the work, walking with them so that they might become disciples who go on to live powerfully, effectively and victoriously for Jesus Christ!
Will our trip be perfect? No. But just as the boy who spent his summer afternoons throwing starfish back into the sea made a difference for every fish he helped, so we will make an impact on every life the Lord allows us to touch with kindness, service and encouragement. So, we pray for those who may doubt and criticize, answering them with tenderness and kindness while we press on in confidence, knowing that we have been called to make a difference in the time allotted to us both near and far. We will share the love of Jesus in all kinds of ways in all kinds of places with each act of goodness serving as practical testimony of the faith that resides within us. We will also clearly and boldly share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and just plain love on people so that all who draw near may hear! Praise God for the privilege we have to share His indescribable gift! Be of good cheer Brothers and Sisters who are devoted to go where you're called! God is good! These trips are great reflections of His matchless goodness! And so we go to continue doing good until we too are called Home. Until next time...

Sam Jackson

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Time Machine

Dad was beaming. He was surrounded by his grandchildren, his son, his daughter-in-law and his friends and loving every minute of it. The N.C. Veterans Home was doing wonders for him as he had rediscovered his smile and was quick to display a sharp sense of humor, including correcting his son’s gig line and finding small points to correct in military fashion on his overall appearance. Each correction came with a wink, a smile and a pat on the shoulder. It was good to see Dad doing so well!

Luz wanted to show Dad the work she was doing to raise support for the Philippine Mission and pulled out a long faux pearl necklace for Dad to admire. “Wow!” Dad gasped in wonder. Luz teased and winked, “I bet you’d like to give this to your girlfriend wouldn’t you?” Dad smiled widely and said, “I sure would!” Luz stopped smiling. “And who is THAT?” Luz shot back. Dad didn’t hesitate. “Why, Georgia of course!” He again smiled. “She’s the only one for me!” We were all stunned. I thought, “Here we go again. How do we break it to him AGAIN that Mom’s gone?” Luz was a bit wiser and asked another question. “Where is Georgia now?” She asked. “Oh, she’s off to college! Gonna marry her when I go on leave!” Dad proudly reported. In his mind, it was 1962. He was for the moment, 21 year-old SGT Sam Jackson of the “Jumping out of High Performance Aircraft while in Flight” 101st Airborne Division and his FiancĂ©e, Georgia, was a college senior about to graduate who awaited his arrival in Texas to become Mrs. Sam Jackson.

Luz continued, “How did you meet Georgia?” SGT Jackson carried on. “We practically grew up together! Running, wrestling, fighting, talking – she was my best friend! And could she run! Couldn’t a boy in the Gulf touch her – I think she could’ve beat Wilma Rudolph if her Mother hadn’t thought running in a circle was foolishness! I was stronger though!” He explained. “She’s a special girl.” His told a few more tales and his voice trailed off though his smile continued as his look grew distant. In a moment, 21 year-old, hard-charging, SGT Jackson returned to the recesses of my father’s mind and the retired grandpa we knew today returned. He was still happy, having traveled his personal time warp with relative ease and with less pain than I had witnessed in previous visits.

Later during this particular visit, having some time alone, I asked Dad for his current thoughts about Mom. He reminisced from a widower’s perspective about the years he had revisited in his time travel – How Mom LOVED the Screaming Eagles and had to warm up to the 82nd after his return from Vietnam and PCS (Permanent Change of Station) to Fort Bragg. He smiled when he remembered how he had joked with Mom that during his days as a Screaming Eagle, the claim had been that the “AA” on the “All American” Division’s patch really stood for “Almost Airborne”! I suddenly remembered a whimsical smirk on my mother’s face the first time I asked her what the “AA” on Daddy’s shoulder meant? Dad mostly recalled her sweetness and recounted his love for her. It was a healing moment for him and for me. There had been some bumpy times during the last years they shared together with Dad stumbling on the path and Mom patiently enduring strange mental lapses and odd behavior that were warning bells for the condition I was witnessing now.

Whatever had been going on during those troubled times, it appeared to me that in the deepest regions of his heart, his love had never wavered and in the long reel of his life’s story, his true love always was and always would be Georgia Jackson. Amazingly, my father’s malady had offered me a rare glimpse into his mind before I was born and reaffirmed the love I had witnessed during my growing up years but had come to doubt. It further reminded me that I myself was blessed with a wise and loving wife who through her tenderness of heart and love for all that is mine, opened a door I believed to be eternally sealed and in turn sealed my confidence in the prevalence of true love, even beyond the boundaries of time and space. My experience calls to mind the verse that affirms the eternal presence of God’s love whatever our circumstances may communicate:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” Romans 8:38-39.

NOTHING can separate from God’s love! That’s Good News! The resurfacing of my father’s love for my mother, though imperfect, reassures me of the perfect and eternal love of my Heavenly Father has for me no matter how I feel or what challenges I may face in times to come. Who knew that my dad’s dementia would serve as a portal to the testimony to just how powerful love is and just how long it can last! If you’ve given up hope that true love exists, I pray this little story has rekindled your expectations and given you just a little push to trust in the God Who has always loved you and will never stop! Until time brings us together again…