Thursday, September 15, 2011

For God so Loved...

I love this picture of Grace and I walking to the plane.  I am not sure where this is, but I think its in Pisa Italy for our return flight to Sevilla Spain.  Look at Grace and her little pink backpack.  I love it.  My two kids have been amazing as they have flown around the world with me.  If you prayed, thank you.  I couldn’t be prouder of them as they fly the friendly skies.

Why does this picture bring so much joy?  This may seem strange, or I may seem a little soft right now, but one of my biggest fears, or perceived sacrifices leaving the Navy after 12 years was that I would never travel again.  I grew up flying with my dad and I love traveling, but it is expensive and it doesn’t happen easily.  So I literally thought going into the ministry would be the end of my traveling.  I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

I am so thankful that God has given me the opportunity to travel as a pastor.  In the last year or so, my passport has been stamped big time: Mexico, Mongolia, Israel, Italy, and now Spain.  The Navy trained me well to function cross culturally and I believe God is allowing me to use this training for His purposes.  He has been so gracious to me.

Okay, I was supposed to answer the question:  Why does this picture of Grace bring me so much joy? I want my children to have a global perspective of God’s love from a young age.  I’ll be honest—it’s scary taking my children into Mexico, Spain, and Italy, but it is more important to me that they come to see that God is God of all nations and loves all people.  So seeing that little girl in her pink backpack is so much more than an adorable little world traveler (she is adorable of course!), but it is a picture of me overcoming my fears and trusting God to shape her into a Christ-like young lady with a love for all peoples.

About ten years ago, I read Paul words in Phil. 3:20 that says, “For our citizenship is in heaven…” and God convicted me that I had placed my patriotism over being a follower of Christ.  I think many American Christians struggle like I did. We read John 3:16 as “For God so loved Americans that He gave…” Now this may sound harsh, but I think American Christians are apt to miss the global perspective of God’s mission to reach all people.   We miss seeing His love and character three-dimensionally and only experience a shallow perspective of who He is.   It is profound to truly ponder that God loves all nations and Jesus died for all people.  Paul, likewise states, “Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh…” (2 Cor. 5:16) meaning we should see all people through God’s eyes, not our own.  I am thankful for Valley Baptist Church and their love for the world.  I pray we continue to grow in this area and help others to gain a love for all people, and it should begin with my example as the pastor.

When we first arrived in Spain we found a playground by our condo.  The kids loved it and we love it because there was free wifi.  Seriously, Americans should take note of this geniusness!  While playing, Grace blurted out, “I hate Spain!  I want to go back to MY country!”  Oh boy, we were very embarrassed and a little dismayed at this statement.  But we did understand the difficulty of adjusting to another culture.  The next day we flew to Italy where the missionary family had some girls her age who spoke both English and Italian.  I think this helped her adjust culturally by the time we hit church on Sunday.  There are not words to express the feelings Anna and I felt as we worshiped in Italian with our girls.  After the music time, Grace zipped out to Sunday School with no hesitation in Italian.  It was awesome to see her jump in.

But the best part happened tonight at the park—we are back in Spain.  We were at the awesome playground and there were about five Spanish kids playing and my two daughters.  They were all sort of checking each other out, but not talking.  Eventually someone made first contact.  I missed it, but when I looked up all the kids were comingled and chatting away.  Of course it was LOUDER Spanish and LOUDER English which we all know helps when trying to speak to someone that doesn’t speak your language—it is a human thing.  Grace ran up to us and said, “I am going to teach them how to play Duck, Duck, Goose!”  I couldn’t help but to laugh and say, “Okay!”

I looked up five minutes later to see all of the kids in a circle.  Initially there was some confusion, but then a ton of laughter in Spanish while a Spanish girl ran around the circle saying “Duck (touching one kid on the head), duck (and another), duck (and another)…”  I couldn’t believe it.  Here were a bunch of kids, different languages, different cultures, and different religious views.  I was so touched when Grace said, “Adios!” and her new friend replied, “Hast luego!” 

I am having difficulty landing this post.  The playground was sort of a microcosm of the world.  We are all people that God loved and created, yet the Gospel (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-4 and Eph. 1:13) hasn’t made it around the world.  God has called us as believers to share the good news to the world.  It breaks my heart that there isn’t any sound church in this neighborhood.  This isn’t because people haven’t tried.  Anna’s dad and others have served here for many years, but the soil is hard.  I pray that God will raise up others who are willing to come with the good news and a heart that sees Spaniards as people for whom Christ died.  I am looking forward to seeing my seminary’s extension campus in Sevilla that is equipping Spanish believers for ministry!

This picture is shot of the Spanish girl playing Duck, Duck Goose!  I am so proud of my little girl.  Please pray for Spain and those who are serving Christ here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Not All That Glitters is Gold

Some things are so pretty at first glance, but often it is only just skin-deep.  Florence Italy is one of these places.  I just came from there where I spent days with missionaries Valley Baptist Church supports.  Firenze (Florence) is a beautiful city with history that is hard for Americans to truly appreciate.  America is 200+ years old while Italy—the buildings, culture, and traditions exceed 2,000 years.

After leaving the city, some things stuck out to me about Firenze that I would like to share about—specifically relating to why we as a church support missionaries in Italy.  I mean isn’t Italy a Christian country?

The definition of a Christian country.  Yes, the Roman Catholic Church is headquartered in Rome.  If you consider the Roman Catholic Church to be Christian, you would be dismayed at the sharp decrease of the church.  I was raised Roman Catholic.  I love Catholics.  So I say this next part with sensitivity.  I don’t think the Vatican’s teaching is in alignment with the Bible.  The Catholic Church in the United States is VERY different from Catholic Churches in the rest of the world.  I was shocked to see the Catholic Church in Europe for the first time after being raised one—this is not the church I grew up in.  The Gospel of Christ (i.e. 1 Cor. 15:1-4) is not clearly taught in the Catholic Church.  Period.  Most Catholics have not come to a saving knowledge of Christ as described in Ephesians 1:13-14.   But this is a moot point, as people in Europe do not care about God or a relationship with Him at all.  In meeting with the family the mom quoted one of their kids while on furlough in the United States this summer.  She asked her mom, “Why can’t we just stay here where all the Christians are.  I don’t like being the only Christians at home” (or something to this effect).

Safety is an allusion.  What would you answer if I asked you this question:  “Which country would you feel safest: Mongolia, Mexico, or Italy?”  Well if you are like me, I would have answered in this order: Italy, Mexico, Mongolia.  Boy, was a wrong.  Italy was by far the most troublesome place I have visited.  Mongolia and Mexico were easy in comparison.  Sure, you can visit Italy and stay in a hotel and not feel true Italy, but in staying with our missionaries we were able to get a feel over what is really going on.  The police in Italy are a joke.  They don’t exist for all practical purposes.  The same goes for medical care.  On a side bar, Americans who think Europeans are in love with their system are living under false allusions.  In addition to these two factors, there is a huge influx of foreigners from northern Africa and Eastern Europe who cannot get work so they rob and terrorize people with no worries of consequence.  The Giorgi’s were violently robbed a couple of years ago and both of their neighbors had been violently robbed—I am talking beatings and being tied down while men ransack your house.  They light up the outside of their houses, have loud alarms that sound if people enter the perimeter of the home.  I think there was only one night where we did not hear alarms and go outside to assist neighbors whose alarms started going off.  Seriously, it was a worrisome reality of life in Florence.

Why we support Andrea and Susan Giorgi.  There is a huge need for the Gospel in Italy.  It is huge.  It is an unreached country by all standards a less than 1% of the population is Evangelical Christian.  When I look at a church planter I look for a couple of things.  In addition to calling, training, etc, I look at their ability to fit into their culture.  Italians are resistant to outsiders coming in.  Andrea is born and raised in Florence.  Hi is a Florentine inside and out.  He knows the culture and the people inside and out and God is using his background in reaching Italians for Christ and is making disciples through the church and seminary.  In addition to this, Andrea’s English is spot on.  His theological training is solid—of course we met at seminary J.  But Andrea is totally game for others coming here and helping him reach his country for Christ.  He works with and trains missionaries who are coming here to plant churches.  I can’t tell you how huge this is to the young missionaries coming here.  He has been a huge asset for Campus Crusade here in Italy and has to leadership as he assists them.

Please pray Andrea, Susan, Grace, Goia, and Eva as they serve Christ in Italy as a family!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Wisdom from Proverbs

When I first became a Christian, I was taught a great way to gain wisdom for life.  It is quite simple and I recommend it to you.  Read the corresponding Proverb for today's date.  For example today is September 12 so I read Proverbs chapter 12.

A couple nuggets of wisdom stood out to me, in no particular order, that I would like to share. 

The first is Proverbs 12:11, "He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, but he who pursues worthless things lacks sense."  This one reminds me to evaluate how I use my time.  I work a lot and I am not convicted to do more because of this proverb, but rather to spend my time well.

The second that stood out to me is Proverbs 12:27, "A lazy man does not roast his prey, but the precious man is diligence."  I liked this one because it sort of emphasized the importance of barbequing your meat...there is a right way and a wrong way! :)

The next one that jumped out at me was Proverbs 12:10, "A righteous man has regard for the life of his animal, but even the compassion of the wicked is cruel."  I am not a vegetarian, nor do I think the Bible promotes this.  But the Bible does teach stewardship of animals and the earth.  It troubles me, and I think there is something really wrong with people who are cruel to animals.

Proverbs 12:22, "Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who deal faithfully are His delight."  I want to delight the LORD, period.

Finally, one of my favorites Proverbs 12:1, "Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid."  This one is pretty bold, but is so true.  I love the person who corrects me in love and wisdom.  They are doing me a huge favor by helping me become a better person.  The Bible is pretty blunt and not politically correct by saying the one who can't take correction is "stupid."  So true, so true!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Pray for Your Pastor and Your Church!

I am currently in Florence Italy visiting missionaries that Valley Baptist Church supports. It is Saturday. Church is tomorrow and I am not preaching. It is so nice just vegging. I am just a fly on the wall trying to give some space so Andrea can get ready to preach. There is a crisis brewing and I am cracking up--praying for them of course, but totally cracking up because I am seeing a crisis develop that I have been through.

What is the crisis? The whole worship team is on vacation. What will he do? At this point, the plan is for him to lead the worship and to preach. I think he is going to call his wife, Susan, in for backup even though she is losing her voice. I have been there, but I think he is a little more gifted musically than I am so he should be fine. But in the midst of this, I am reminded of an important lesson concerning worship.

Traveling away from my home church and especially overseas always challenges me concerning the heart of worship. For the sake of this blog, "worship" is limited to the the time of music during the Sunday worship service. I really love the worship time at Valley Baptist Church, but this hasn't always been true.

Worship time is a fascinating dynamic in church. Seriously, we start by singing...almost a concert sort. I am a teacher, but what teacher is required to provide a concert of sorts before they start a class? People totally judge churches based on their worship. I have been guilty of rating worship week to week by comments like "worship was really great today" or "Man, I didn't feel like the worship was very worshipful today." For more on a Biblical concept of worship, I recommend this recent post on Cross Connection titled "Toddler Worship." This is in my own culture. But, tomorrow I am going to church in Italian and next week in Spanish. I won't have a clue what is being sung or said during church, but I have every intention of worshiping God. How, if I don't speak the language? I am convinced that God grades our worship based on the condition of our hearts, not the skill of our instruments or voices...and I can worship God regardless of the language or style of music that I am exposed to in the next two weeks.

I don't think people who attend church have any idea of the massive amount of effort that pastors go through to help you worship and to grow in your relationship with God. I would ask you to pray for your church, your pastor, and for all those who serve at your church. Pray all the time, but realize Saturday, Sunday, and Monday are particularly stressful days for pastors....but not for me the next two weeks! But I find myself praying for VBC and all the churches I have relationship with!