Waiting for an Invitation

A Christian is one who follows Jesus as his Lord.  Instead of serving our own desires and conforming to what our surroundings tell us to be and do, we have found the freedom and life found in Jesus alone! How wonderful it is to follow our Master, for he is loving and His burden is light.  I never realized what a load I had been carrying until I came to Jesus and found strength and rest.  But what about the many people around us who have not yet learned of Christ and the hope and strength He offers?  Sure, we know God has told us to share the truth with them, but what if they think we’re weird?  Surely if they want to know what faith in Jesus is, they’ll just ask?  No.

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A Needed Invitation

Though you may not believe it at first, there are many people all around you who want to know spiritual truth.  They would gladly converse with you on the subject and even come to your church with you to see what it’s all about.  But guess what, they’re not going to tell you that!  And you can’t identify them by just looking.

What Do the Numbers Say?

According to a Scott McConnell of LifeWay Research “…many would respond to an invitation from a friend or acquaintance (41 percent), their children (25 percent) or an adult family member (25 percent).”  (Read these stats in detail here.)  The difficult part for many Christians about asking a friend or acquaintance to church is this:  what if they say no???  Allow me to let you in on a little secret.  Most will say no.  Gasp!  😀

Collecting No’s

The stats are going to vary greatly for any specific person and set of circumstances, so for simplicity let’s just assume that 20% of friends you invite via personal invitation will actually attend church with you.  Of those who attend, some will never return, some will return a few times, and some will be radically changed and become followers of Christ.  How many people will say no to your invitation in order for you to find one person who will hear the Holy Spirit’s voice and turn from sin to faith in Jesus?  Ten?  Sixty?  Two thousand?

Does it matter?  Is it worth it to bring one lost soul to the feet of your loving Savior, so that he may taste the love and salvation of Jesus as you have?  Can you imagine yourself standing before your Lord at the end of your life saying, “Jesus, I would have told people about you, but I just didn’t want to hear anyone tell me no.  It felt awkward.”

Ambassadors

We Christians need to trust God that He has people out there He is going to save.  He has put us where we are in our lives in order that we would take His Word to these people, to be the means by which they hear the gospel.  Christ died for sinners, and anyone who will place their faith in Him will be washed clean and declared righteous.

Go Get More of Both

Instead of viewing negatively an answer of, “no,” to our invitation to come and see Jesus, we should view it as a victory—that’s one more person in the denominator.  For every 100 friends you ask, some percent of them are just waiting to be asked, to come and hear, and to find rest and peace for their souls.  It is God’s plan that they will be saved.  And it is God’s plan that a Christian would share the good news with them.  Will you be that Christian?  Or will God use someone obedient?  Embrace the no’s, they are part of the process.  The more invitations, the more no’s, and naturally, the more yeses.  Let’s be the church we are called to be: let us come together for equipping and encouragement to take the gospel out to the very ends of the earth.  Lord Jesus, lead us on, show us how, and may your will be done.

A Life Well Lived

Mildred Timmerman, a beloved mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother said goodbye to this mortal world earlier this week, and is now in the presence of her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  We who knew her were blessed for the time we shared with her here, and she left an indelible impression on so many who had the privilege of spending time with this wonderful lady.  What did she have that caused her to live the way she did?  From what source did she draw for her seemingly infinite patience, love, and wisdom?

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She Lit Up the Room

Grandma Millie was a person who instantly lit up a room simply by walking into it.  Her face was ever-smiling and her disposition ever-encouraging.  At the same time, she was a woman who stood for something.  I can remember times when grandma would catch word that I my grades were falling in one class or another, and she would react in such a way as to indicate she knew I was capable of better.  She knew it was wrong of me to misuse my gifts, but she didn’t seek to motivate me through guilt or nagging.  She simply exuded wordlessly:  “Chris, you were created by God for a purpose.  He has given you a great many blessings, and you ought to be developing and using them in serving Him.”

When I did well, grandma was lavish with praise.  She appreciated the important things in life—time with family, the love we show to each other and importance of nurturing unity.  She would always brush away the peripheral and unimportant matters that brought conflict, and without being forceful, her words carried weight.

A Living Demonstration of Real Love

The more I think of the person grandma Millie was, the more I appreciate her and the more I realize how incredible a model of godliness she really was.  I can think of no better way to express it than by quoting her Lord, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:16).  Millie truly lived this way—she loved people, really loved them well, and brightened their lives when she was around them.  At the same time, she stood for truth and devoted her life to her Lord and Savior.  She would build relationships, deep and meaningful relationships with people around her, and in those moments when our ears were open to her advice, she would speak the truth into our lives.

Millie’s Source

Oh that we each would learn from this godly woman’s example and follow her path.  She was loving and good because she followed One who is the source of all love and goodness.  She wasn’t perfect, and she is righteous not because of her own morality but because her sin has been washed clean.  Christ died for sinners, among whom Millie was one; when He died on the cross He willingly took the punishment she deserved.  Jesus was without sin, and his suffering atoned for all those who place their faith in Him.  His resurrection on the third day demonstrates his dominion over death, and it is in His power that we rest and know that death has not overcome Mildred Timmerman.  Through her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, Grandma Millie is righteous and without spot or blemish.  Her mortal hindrances are now no more, and she stands in the presence of the Lord Jesus right now, in this very moment!  We await with joy the day that we too will leave this mortal body of death and join Millie in the throne room of Jesus, to worship Him forever beside her!  Will you be there too?

Turn and Follow

Jesus calls any who will come to draw near to Him in faith and find cleansing.  Give up on living your own way and for yourself—do as Millie has done and turn from your own path, turn to His path.  He will take you as you are and give you a new nature, a nature like His, and you, like Millie, will begin to grow more like Him each day.  The Savior is calling, come to Him today!

Two Archers

“What is truth?”  These words, uttered to Christ by Pontius Pilate during the trial of Jesus are an old-world example of a “new” and popular view in our culture today.  It goes like this:  “what’s good for me is good for me; what’s good for you if good for you.  There’s no real standard, we just make it up ourselves.”  Sounds nice, doesn’t it?  What could be wrong with such a friendly and tolerant worldview??

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A Story of Two Men

Two men entered an archery contest. In the first year of competition, both men missed the bull’s-eye with every shot. A few shots missed the target entirely. In the year that followed, one man learned of a master archer, one who’s arrows had never missed the bull’s-eye. The man then heard that the master’s score and the purse associated with winning the contest were available to him for free, should he submit himself to the master’s instruction. He immediately discarded his former ideas on archery and went to live with the master and learn from him.

The other man spurned the master, caring nothing for his instruction. Instead, he told himself that the target in the contest was incorrectly placed, and much too small. He sought to convince others to ignore the standards of the archery contest, and introduced different targets of his own making.

The first man spent his year training from the master. Though he did not hit the bull’s-eye very often, He never denied that the target was real. His shots improved week to week to week, and he came to resemble the master more and more. The second man continued his delusion for the entire year, and led many who followed him astray.

The Day Comes

When the contest came, the folly of the second man was evident. For all his smooth arguments and denial of the standards, the target was indeed real. The second man was incapable of hitting the bulls-eye, and went away dejected. The first man was also incapable of hitting the bull’s-eye. The master stepped up and hit the bulls-eye with every arrow, and when he received the prize, he gave it to the first man, as he had originally promised to do. The first man’s arrows had not hit the bulls-eye, yet he received the prize based upon the work of the master. He did not earn the prize; he simply submitted himself to the master and devoted himself his teaching and received the prize as a gift.

Our Holy and Awesome Maker

God is perfect, He his love.  He is truthful and compassionate, caring and just.  His very person is the root of all goodness and truth.  He shows us in His Word what He is like, and sin is defined as anything that is against God, or runs contrary to his character.

Our Need

We are all sinners. By our nature, we desire to live in rebellion against God and do what we want. We don’t love His commands or His Word, we want nothing to do with them. In this state, we will never seek God, and we certainly do not desire to spend eternity worshiping Him.

God’s Solution

And yet, while we were sinners, God acted. God humbled Himself to become a human, even taking the humility of being born in a stable, as we just finished celebrating. Jesus lived the life we were incapable of living, perfectly keeping the Law. He was then tortured and killed, taking on our punishment and taking our place. If anyone will place his faith in Christ, his sin is washed away. Our debt of sin is paid, and we are free!

Your Choice

Faced with this truth, the gospel, we have two choices. Embrace the Lord Jesus Christ, love Him, and live His way, or reject Him. He will either be our Lord and Savior or not. When we die, God allows us to keep our choice for eternity. I choose to follow Christ, to have faith in Him, and do all I can to share this truth with my neighbors and my family. Will you this day turn from living your own way and trust Him? He is gentle and humble of heart, and in Him you will find rest for your soul.  The Master invites you, will you follow Him?

Respond or react?

What do you do when you negative things come your way?  When a friend disagrees with you and puts you down, do you lash out?  When your brother cancels your poker game at the last minute for the third time in a row, do you yell at him for being so irresponsible and unreliable?  What about when a coworker belittles your ideas and makes you feel small?  Do you react by gossiping about her behind her back?

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Your Choice

When people are unkind to us, we have two choices.  We can respond or we can react.  Reacting means doing what we naturally feel and allowing our emotions to choose our words.  In contrast, when we choose to respond to a negative situation, we use our mind and heart to overrule our emotions.

Is It Even About Me?

Often, when we are wronged, we incorrectly take the negative actions of another personally.  People are sometimes rude and inconsiderate, but many times this has nothing to do with you.  First off, if they are habitually rude, that has everything to do with them, and little to do with you.  In other instances, a person may not be habitually negative, but something negative has just happened in their life and they let their disappointment get the best of them.  In a few instances people are truly mean to you because they want to be.  But even in these cases, the right road is to respond, not react.

Forgive First

Each one of us has shortcomings, and as such we are bound to rub each other the wrong way.  When someone hurts you, can get mad and let your feelings boil over into harsh words against the wrongdoer.  Or you can choose to forgive them.  You can forgive, assuming they meant no offense; you can forgive assuming they let their emotions get the best of them, and you can even forgive in cases where it’s clear they were intentionally malicious.  You need not wait for their apology—forgive anyway.  If an apology comes, great!  If not, no big deal.

Create an Opportunity

If you will make the choice to live this way, and act with your will, mind, and heart rather than your emotions, your reward will be peace unknown to the masses who fail to respond and allow themselves to react.  Not only that, but those around you will notice your unusual behavior. They may even ask you why  you live so differently.  Can you think of a better opportunity to share the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Who’s your Neighbor?

Do you consider yourself to be a friendly person?  Would the people who see you, whether at work, as you leave your house, or at the supermarket, speak of how you sought them out in friendship and treated them great?  Do you routinely smile and greet those you pass on the street or in the hall, or is your daily focus primarily on yourself?

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Two Ignore, One Helps

Jesus was once asked by religious leaders who he considered to be his neighbor.  He responded with a familiar parable, the story of the Good Samaritan.  In this parable, we learn of a man who is beaten and robbed.  A few of his countrymen see his helpless condition, yet pass by on the other side of the road.  In contrast, a Samaritan, who is naturally an enemy to the Jewish victim, yet seeks him out, takes him to a doctor, and even covers the expenses for the man’s care.

We often hear this parable as a nice story, meant simply to induce us to be kind.  But remember back to what question Jesus was actually responding to when He told this story.  He was asked who his neighbor was.  Understanding this context gives a deeper meaning to the story than the simple truth that we are to be kind.

Look for Needs

The people of Jesus’ day, much like most people in our day, tended to happily exist in their own small sphere of influence, engaging with people who were like them and who they were familiar with.  Through this parable, Jesus shows clearly that we are to intentionally seek out others, others who may not be very much like us, in order to meet their needs.

The Greatest Need

What is the greatest need which many of our neighbors have?  For any who do not know Christ personally, who have not been washed and cleansed through faith in Christ, their greatest need is salvation of their soul.  Without atonement, mankind is separated from God’s good presence, and any who perish without Jesus will face eternity without Him.  The need for salvation is so widespread, little recognized, and of utmost importance that, if we are looking, we will see it everywhere.

This is the condition of many people we see and walk by each day.  The strangers who we’re ignoring are desperately in need of the truth, the truth that we know.  But someone needs to tell them.  Not only that, but most people aren’t particularly receptive to ideas unfamiliar to them being expressed by strangers.  So what can we do?  We share the gospel with them as a friend.

Be a Friend

Friendship doesn’t come instantaneously, but it can be cultivated in a relatively short period of time.  Start simply by adopting the habit of greeting and smiling at the people who cross your path each day.  You’ll quickly find that a great many people are eager to engage with you, particularly if you’ll ask them open-ended questions about themselves.

As you cultivate friendships with your neighbors, be listening for what they value.  Do they desire wisdom? Or perhaps peace and something solid to rely on?  Or maybe they’re contemplating what happens after death because of a recent loss in their family.  Remember that when you have Jesus, you have the truth and the life that our world desperately needs.  Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, share the truth, and let Jesus call out to the people in your life using you as His mouthpiece.  To God be the glory!

True Spirituality

What does it mean to be spiritual?  Does a person with a strong spiritual life simply keep all the rules?  And what’s the point of living in true spirituality anyway, when it seems like all you get for your sacrifices is some undefined goody-goody feeling?  Today we’ll explore these questions and more, and learn what the world’s greatest teacher had to say on the subject.

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Actions Speaking Louder

Many of us have had less than positive experiences growing up around Christian people.  Even within the church, it’s all too common to see people talk about all kinds of good things, but then when we see how they live, the disparity is enormous.  What good is it to talk about the right things one ought to do, and then go out and live completely the opposite?  Seeing people living this way can make us jettison the whole idea of Christianity:  who wants to follow a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites?!!

Not Based in Duty or Behavior

Jesus’ picture of spirituality, as contrasted with the heresy described in the previous paragraph, has nothing to do with activity.  Rather, true spirituality is walking in a loving relationship with our Father God.  You see, while we were sinners, alienated from our Creator because of our sin, God sent his son Jesus to come, live a perfect life, and die the death we deserved.  When we respond to this truth and turn from our sin and to Christ as Lord, God grants us new life. Just as God saw our sin placed on Christ at the cross, He now sees Christ’s perfection in us.  No longer are we estranged from our Creator – we are His sons and daughters!

Living in Response to What He Has Done

True spirituality, then, is living in response to this truth, to this great gift of salvation we have received.  When we understand what Christ has done for us, we respond in the only way possible—by loving Him, loving what He loves, and desiring His will.  How do we know what He loved?  In the Scriptures we hear from God who He is, what He has done, and how He desires we live.  Christ taught us that the first commandment is to love God above all else.  The second commandment is to love our neighbors. On these two commandments hang all the teachings of the Law, and if you think about it, sole direction one needs to live as a blessing to those around him.  Though living this way is not easy, and even as followers of Christ we often fall short and sin, this is the way to true spirituality and eternal life:  accept the gift of salvation Christ offers, and devote your life to following Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  He is gentle and humble of heart, and will lead you, protect you, and invite you into His heavenly kingdom.

Trusting Though Surrounded

Do you expect that following God’s way will make life easier?  If you study the Scripture and seek to keep all its precepts, will your circumstances be easy and smooth?  While our loving Heavenly Father promises many good things to us, His children, a life of comfort and ease isn’t one of them!

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Psalm 3 (New Living Translation)

1O LORD, I have so many enemies;

so many are against me.

2So many are saying,

“God will never rescue him!”

3But you, O LORD, are a shield around me;

you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.

4I cried out to the LORD,

and he answered me from his holy mountain.

5I lay down and slept,

yet I woke up in safety,

for the LORD was watching over me.

6I am not afraid of ten thousand enemies

who surround me on every side.

7Arise, O LORD!

Rescue me, my God!

Slap all my enemies in the face!

Shatter the teeth of the wicked!

8Victory comes from you, O LORD.

May you bless your people.

How Can the Wicked Prosper?

Certainly in our society today, we find many people opposed to God and His Word.  As in David’s time, there are many mockers and slanderers of God’s followers.  Sometimes we may think that God should tear down these people directly with His mighty right hand, or at least give us victory over them so they will see the truth in what we speak.  But, God’s ways are not our ways—no, his are much higher.  In His good pleasure, God often holds back his wrath and judgment from those who break his Law and oppose His people.

For a time, we find ourselves surrounded by a mighty army of enemies.  Christians around the world today face physical violence from groups who oppose the gospel, and every day men and women are beaten and even killed for following Jesus.  And God continues to give life and breath to even those who harm and kill His people.  How can God do this??  Why does he allow His people to be surrounded?

He’s Longsuffering with Us, Should He Not Be with Others?

God’s mercy is very great.  His grace, or unmerited favor, is lavished on all of mankind, even those who actively oppose Him.  And while we may desire comfort and ease in our lives by following Him, God knows better.  Often these trials and tests produce greater faith and dependence upon God.  See in the Psalm how David exudes confidence in God and His power during the time when he’s surrounded.  This is the faith that moves mountains—trust in God even in the times when it appears that God’s enemies will triumph.

While There Is Time

The good and bad news is that a day is coming when God’s patience with sinners will end.  When Christ comes to judge all the earth, all who are not covered by His blood will be cast out of His presence for all eternity.  Jesus referred to this hell as a place of weeping and knashing of teeth, and all who oppose God will find themselves there.  Yet while we live and breathe there is yet time.  Have you repented of your sin and unbelief and turned to Christ?  Have you asked Him to wash you clean and adopt you into His family?  Do not let the sun go down today without finding hope and rest in the Lord Christ Jesus.  Call on Him now, and watch as He transforms you into the person you were meant to be!

The Intimidated Witness?

Caught Red-Handed

Imagine you walked into a grocery store just in time to see a young man slip an item off the shelf and into his pocket.  As he turns toward the exit, a security guard grabs his arm, saying, “Come with me, sir.”  The man ends up being arrested, and you are called as a witness to the court.

What would you feel like, being asked to honestly tell your story to the court?  Would you be hesitant, or would you share clearly and confidently the plain facts of the day?  Would you tell your friends and coworkers what had happened?

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The Medicine You Need

Or, take a more positive example:  let’s say you came down with a terrible disease.  You began losing function in your fingers and toes, and doctors told you that you only had a few months to live.  Then one day, a bottle of medicine is sitting on your kitchen table, marked simply, “drink me and live.” You drink it, and are immediately and completely healed!  Would you tell people your story?  Would you seek out others with the same disease in order to help them be healed as well?

These stories and questions seem so obvious:  of course we’d want to tell people!  Even though some of us would be intimidated to stand before a court, we’d want the truth to come out, and we’d certainly tell our friends and neighbors the story.  If we were healed from a terminal disease, of course we’d want to share our happiness with others, and find people who are sick too in order to help them.  But do you know that there’s something many of us have that is infinitely more important than any medicine, and concerns a court case much more significant than petty theft?

Something that Matters Much More

This truth is of the most vital importance, and will have lasting consequences.  It is this:  all people are estranged from God.  This all-powerful and holy being who gave us life also gave us a choice.  We could follow Him and live His way, or reject His love and rebel against His commands.  Our parents Adam and Eve chose rebellion, and we have been a sin-stained race ever since.  God requires perfect obedience to every statute in His Word, and to trespass once is to be guilty before Him.  How many lies do you have to tell to be a liar?  Only one.  And God will let no liars into His eternal Kingdom.

This is the disease that you and I have.  It truly is terminal, for if we die in this state of sin, we will spend eternity apart from our Creator.  One day, we will stand in judgment before the Lord of all, and on our own, there is no hope for any verdict but guilty.

Hope for the Hopeless

The gospel is the good news that there is hope for us.  While we were still sinners, God became a man, the man Jesus Christ, and came to the earth to live the perfect life we couldn’t.  When He died on the cross, he took your punishment and mine, and rising from the grave on the third day demonstrated His power and authority over death.  Any who will turn from sin, turn to Christ, and place their exclusive faith in Him will be saved.  Jesus’ blood will wash us white as snow.

Follow Your Heart?

In many of today’s movies and TV shows, the lesson is put forth that we should follow our hearts above all else.  From Disney cartoons to adult-rated dramas, the idea that what is best for us is to look deep within ourselves and do that which we inwardly desire.  But will this philosophy really bring blessing to our lives?

Hidden Assumptions

Oftentimes, ideas that seem pleasant on their surface carry along with them disastrous and erroneous assumptions which are not readily apparent.  When we are not vigilant to test the truth claims of the society around us, we can mistakenly believe some of these pleasant-sounding lies, right along with the errors contained in them.

In this case, the assumption that lies within the “follow your heart” advice is this:  your inner self is perfect and righteous.  This claim lies in stark opposition to Scripture, which teaches us the following:

The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?
(Jeremiah 17:9)

 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.
(Romans 7:21-22)

The Corruption of Our Wills

We know that God created us in His image, and that our earthly father Adam was initially without sin.  Yet when Adam rebelled against God in the Garden, he shattered the perfect nature he was given.  Because of his sin, we, his children, have been born corrupted, bent away from the will of God and inclined toward selfishness and self-centered living.

When we look to our inner selves for direction and purpose, we will find nothing but emptiness and ruin.  How many men have abandoned their wives and families because their hearts told them to pursue a fling with a woman at the office?  How many youths have traded their bright future for a life of addiction because their first hit felt like heaven?  Perhaps your own experiences have been less drastic than these examples, but have they not left you empty and unsatisfied?

The Way to Life

There is a better way to live.  Jesus came to give us life, and that abundantly—His atoning death on the cross bought us peace on this earth and with our Father in heaven.  Because He died to take the penalty of your sin and mine, we can be washed clean by placing our faith in Him as Savior and Lord.  He rose from the grave to demonstrate His power over death, and sits now at the right hand of God the Father.

As Christians, we live not to follow our own inner desires, but rather to serve our Lord and Giver of Life.  Living each day to bring God glory will not only fill the emptiness in a way “following your heart” never could, but your life will bring a smile to the face of the Lord Jesus Christ—on the day He welcomes you into His paradise with those wonderful words, “well done, my good and faithful servant!”

 

What a Trip!

I had the incredible privilege a few weeks ago to travel with a group from my church, Calvary Baptist, to Indiahoma, Oklahoma. We partnered with a local church in that area, Post Oak Mennonite Brethren, to host a Vacation Bible School for the kids and reach out to the community through fun events and worship services. Today, I’ll share some of the great experiences we shared together as we proclaimed the gospel of Christ with these wonderful brothers and sisters.

 

First off, let me take a moment to express a heartfelt thank you to all of you who purchased products from our store during the month of July. All proceeds from these sales went to support our team, covering expenses associated with the trip. Your prayers and financial support were instrumental in the success the Lord gave us, and we are deeply grateful.

Our trip began early Wednesday morning, when we crammed 16 people into two vehicles: a 15-passenger van with virtually NO storage space for luggage and our leader Eric’s Highlander. Eric and Brian were our gracious drivers on the 10.5-hour trip (including a few stops!) We all had lots of fun playing catch phrase, telling jokes and stories, and listening to Lydia practice her ABCs.

Lydia singing

We arrived around dinnertime, and met our fabulous host, Victor. Several families had offered to open their homes to us, so we split off into groups of 3-5 to unpack our stuff and get settled in for the night. A small group of us headed for Walmart at 9:00 pm to load up on food and supplies. We filled four carts with food for the week, and after a rousing round of the Price is Right, Travis came away victorious by guessing closest to the $400 total price without going over! 🙂

We decided to swing by Sonic on the way home to pick up drinks for everyone and a second dinner for me (the running joke of the trip was how I was seemingly eating constantly… Sue me—I like food!! 😉 but noticed as we pulled up that there was only one minute until closing time! Thankfully, a voice answered when we pushed the button, “Did you have a call-in order?” “No,” we replied. “Oh, well then we’re closed!” Bummer!! Thankfully, I had some snap peas, bananas, and mixed nuts from our shopping trip, so I tore into those…

The next morning we all met at 7:00 am for a quick continental breakfast and devotional. I shared a lesson from the book of John, encouraging our group to thank and trust our Lord Jesus Christ, who has equipped us to share his Gospel with the world. To learn more about this devotional, see the TotalThriver post from two weeks ago.

After our lesson, we headed over to the church to prepare for VBS. Brian manned the registration table, recording each child’s info and giving them a name tag. Brian was our emcee and storyteller, and poured so much energy and enthusiasm into his role that no one could keep from laughing and learning! One of his favorite things to do to get the kids’ attention was to scream, “Feet!!” to which all of us pounded our feet on the ground. Then, “Hands!!” and we would follow with thunderous applause. Next, “Mouth” and we would all hoot and holler. And finally, “Quiet!” and believe it or not, quiet swept over the room. Pretty good trick, huh?

Our theme for the week was Psalm 100. We all practiced saying it together, and all our stories and lessons were related to this theme. Psalm 100 is as follows:

1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
2 Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
3 Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
5 For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

The first day, we heard the story of Paul and Barnabas in Lystra from the book of Acts. The people there worshiped false gods such as Zeus and Poseidon, and had a legend that the gods would come in their midst incognito. When Paul and Barnabas performed miracles through the power of Christ, the people began to worship them as gods! Paul and Barnabas were insistent that they were not gods, rather they were simply servants of the one true God. The people then turned on them and sought to stone them to death. Paul was left for dead, yet survived, and Paul and Barnabas left the city rejoicing that they had been able to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the city.

The story was a hit and we all shuffled off to our individual classes to practice the memory verse and discuss the story. The kids were all very sharp and asked such great and transparent questions, as only kids can do. We followed class time with games (capture the Frisbee) and crafts. Finally, we all came back together in the sanctuary for music and closing time. Michelle and I lead the music, which ended up being a mix of classic hymns like “Are you washed in the blood,” contemporary choruses like, “praise ye the Lord, hallelujah,” and fun and silly songs like, “Hip-hip-hip-hippopotamus!” My chords on the guitar were nowhere near clean and perfect, but either no one noticed or they were to kind to let on!

After a nice lunch at the church and a short nap for the kids, we headed off to climb Mount Scott in the Witchita mountain range. Before you’re too impressed though, we climbed to the top using our 15-passenger van. That’s right, it was paved the whole way! But, in true TotalThriver fashion, I did take the opportunity to free-climb down the 80-degree or so slope. Coming back up was actually easier than going down—I think because I knew what to expect, and had fewer fears of sliding down to my demise… 🙂

For dinner that night, we had a special night out at a historical local restaurant. Meers Store and Restaurant has been in business since 1901!  I ordered the steak and the waitress brought out a delicious-looking slab of raw meat and a knife. I chose how thick a cut I wanted and began the cut, then she took it back to the kitchen where they finished the cut and cooked it to a perfect medium-rare. I’m not much of one for restaurant steaks, as I prefer the charcoal grill on my back deck, but I’ll tell you what—that was in the top five restaurant steaks I’ve had in my life! We left the restaurant that night stuffed full and content from a glorious day!

Our second day of VBS centered around the story of Creation. We talked about how Genesis tells us that God spoke the universe into existence. He is the one true God because He is the One who created all things. On days one, two and three, we learned that God made the places for his creation: (1) separating light from darkness, (2) separating the waters above from the waters below, and (3) separating the land from the seas. On the next three days, he filled those places with: (4) the moon and stars, (5) the birds and fish, and (6) animals and man.

The highlight of our class time that day was a fierce battle, boys vs. girls, answering questions about the story. I held yarn of various lengths in my hand, and every time your team got a question right, you drew a piece of yarn and added it to your line. Whoever string went farthest was the winner, and those boys managed to swipe the win in the closing seconds! It was a blast for everyone!

After the kids went home, our team split into the guys and the ladies. The ladies took to the kitchen to organize and clean from top to bottom. The men headed up the block to an old gymnasium belonging to the church. Unfortunately, this gym had burned down recently, so there were piles of beams and roof material in piles around the concrete pad. It was our job to load everything into a trailer and haul it away. Our gracious host Victor allowed us to use his SUV and trailer. Eric pulled the vehicle around and parked near the piles, then ran off to do something. I noticed that he’d left quite a bit of space between the trailer and the piles, so I told Travis to back it up closer. “No way!” he replied, “I don’t know how to back up a trailer.” “So what,” I replied, “neither do I; how had could it be?” In I hopped, and jammed the car into reverse. I then noticed that no matter which way I turned the wheel, I couldn’t get the trailer to move in the direction I wanted. “Crunch,” went the trailer into the back headlight of the SUV. “Oh man! Apparently this is tricky!” Well, needles to say, I learned how to back up a trailer the hard way. I told Victor vehemently many times that I was paying for the headlight replacement, but he would have none of it. “You all don’t get country folk—we slap a band-aid on it and keep going. No big deal.” I have half a mind to send him a check anyway—if I can figure out how to do it without making him mad!

You might think that the most dangerous part of moving piles of wood that have been sitting out for months would have been the snakes, spiders, and scorpions who make these piles their happy home. Or, perhaps you’d think that the most dangerous moment was when Travis and I constructed a fulcrum in order to break the long boards in half to fit in the trailer and were precariously balanced each on one side of the lever, bouncing up and down. But no, none of this led to trouble—it was Brian looking up while walking that resulted in a nail penetrating his shoe, sock, and toe, driving clear out the top of his big toe! Ouch! He pulled it out and headed for the bathtub for some serious scrubbing. Thankfully, his latest tetanus shot was a few weeks ago! Pray for his healthy recovery!

That night, we led a special worship service for the town. Michelle and I led music, with the church’s pianist playing for us. Our first song that evening was sung in the language of the people of the church. It was very beautiful, and we did our best to keep up. Eric gave the message, discussing the sacred union of a man and wife in marriage. We learned how marriage is a dramatic picture of Christ and the church, and that we men are to love our wives as Christ loves the church, and gave himself up for her. We were all encouraged and moved by this excellent sermon, and it was very clear that the members of the church were deeply touched as well.

Our third and final day of VBS, we learned the most important story of all: Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We talked about how, because of Adam’s sin, we are all born in rebellion against God. Because God is Holy, he cannot allow us in His presence. And because God is just, He cannot overlook our sin as if it simply did not exist. Jesus came to the earth, took on the form of a man, and lived a perfect and sinless life. At Calvary, He took our sin upon Himself and endured the punishment we deserved. When he breathed His last, the curtain separating God from His people was torn in two, and on the third day, Christ rose again to demonstrate His power over death, hallelujah!! As I’ve experienced in the past, I was amazed how children can grasp such complex ideas and communicate them back so simply. One girl in our class shared with us, “to be saved, you just need to know your ABCs—Admit you’re a sinner, Believe in Jesus, and Confess Jesus as your Lord.” Wow! This must be what our Lord meant when He spoke of the faith of a child being the only kind of faith that saves!

That afternoon we went to the nearby Army base with several families from the church. There was a beautiful lake with a sandy beach for the kids to play on, and the view of the nearby mountain range was spectacular. The sun was hot but the water was cool, and we even got to go down a big water slide! Lydia and Nathan loved it, and even managed to avoid a sunburn somehow!

As usual, our loving Calvary ladies took care of the kids at the beach. Cheryl and Chrysti were so kind and gracious to watch the kids and both Lydia and Nathan formed a deep bond with all these loving ladies. As seems always to be the case on these trips, we sought out to bless another church on this trip, but found our own community blessed more than anything else. We were so thankful for the time we spent together and the closeness we found as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Sunday morning after the church service, we said our sad goodbyes. Lord willing, we will return again to Indiahoma to see our friends again, but the day we really look forward to is the one coming soon when we will all praise out Lord Jesus Christ together in heaven. Father, hasten that day!!