Friday, June 18, 2010

Local Mission "Trip": Day 5

We crossed the finish line strong on the fifth and final day of the Saint Matthew Lutheran Church local mission "trip."

We divided into two groups.

One prepared the church's fellowship hall for tomorrow's Italian Dinner, the proceeds from which will help to support the servanthood and youth ministries--like the mission trip--of the congregation.

Another group put stain onto the two decks of Betty's house. The latter job, which, at first we thought would take about a half-hour, ended up being a two-and-a-half hour task, but looked great when completed. The sun not only seemed to dry the stain in a hurry, but did a fairly good job of baking us, too!

Our morning devotional period was built around 1 Timothy 6:11-12. 1 Timothy is one of two letters written by the apostle Paul to a young pastor. Paul gives all sorts of good advice to Timothy in these letters. Earlier in this particular letter, Paul talks about some the wrong paths that churches and Christians can go down--spiritual conceit, envy, argumentativeness, slander, suspiciousness, and believing that having more money means that one is better than others. Then, Paul writes:
But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 
"Fight the good fight" were words that one of my mentors and spiritual heroes, Pastor Bruce Schein, lived by. He wrote them on his messages to my fellow students and me when we were studying to become pastors at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus.

But these were more than mere words to Pastor Schein. They reflected his own commitment to living completely for Jesus, as well as being an exhortation to all who bear Jesus' Name through their Baptism to do the same.

Pastor Schein had a doctorate in New Testament from Yale University. But faith was more than head-knowledge for him. As a young man, he learned that he was suffering from Parkinson's Disease. He decided not to marry, but to use his considerable gifts as both a scholar and a pastor in total service to God and others. For twelve years, he served as pastor of a Lutheran congregation in Jerusalem, where most of his parishioners were Palestinians. It was a challenging ministry that, each day, called him to renew his commitment to service in Jesus' Name. At the same time, he would hike all over the Near Eastern countryside, introducing students from Saint Olaf College and other institutions to the geography, history, culture, and archeology of the Old and New Testaments. Later, he was called stateside to serve as professor at Trinity.

He was a challenging professor, expecting us to come to class each day prepared, ready to answer questions and to be pulled and stretched in our faith. Once, aware that others were critical of his interrogative style of teaching, I told him that I appreciated it, feeling as though all my faith muscles were being challenged by the process over which he presided. "Mr. Daniels," he told me, "we're out to make spiritual Charles Atlases of all of you!"

Shortly after I graduated from seminary and had taken my first call as a pastor, Pastor Schein became seriously ill, nearly dying. I spoke with him later. "I was in the throne room, Mr. Daniels," he said. "I put in a good word for you." He was still fighting the good fight of faith in Jesus until the end. He died several months later, at the age of 42, offering more service in Jesus' Name than most of us are likely to offer in lifetimes twice as long.

The idea behind Christian service such as we've rendered during this week's mission trip, isn't to call attention to ourselves, but to glorify the One Who gives everlasting life to all who believe in Him, Who empowers us to live in love for God and neighbor, and Who gives us the great privilege of being His ambassadors in the world.

To all our young people and adults who served this week, I pray that we all will keep fighting the good fight...keep serving and loving in Jesus' Name! Our Savior is worthy of all our honor, effort, sweat, and sacrifice and can use it to bring His love, goodness, and everlasting kingdom to the people we serve each day.

Throughout the week, I've been thanking our dedicated young people and our adult supervisors, and I thank them again. But today, I also want to thank those who allowed us to serve.

We human beings can sometimes be too proud to ask for help, interpreting such requests as a sign of weakness or personal inadequacy. Often, such reticence exemplifies our sinful natures trumping God's intentions for us as human beings. God made us, after all, to live in relationships of mutual dependence and accountability. The Ten Commandments demonstrate that God's will for humanity is that we live in relationships of love that include love of God and love of neighbor. Jesus later summarized these two tables of the Ten Commandments into what's known as the Great Commandment: to love God and to love others.

It's our failure to love that we typically confess each Sunday when we worship together, and it's for the power of the Holy Spirit to live in such love that we pray. But loving others isn't only impeded by our tendency to turn in on ourselves. In Galatians 6, Christians are told, "Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."

The only way that can happen is when we are willing to make ourselves vulnerable enough to admit, "I could use some help." When the community of love is activated in this way and Jesus' servants act, not for themselves, but to the glory of Jesus, then something blessed and special happens. So, thank you to all those who allowed our young people to serve them this week!

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