Who Do You Trust?

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LORD, how they have increased who trouble me! Many are they who rise up against me. Many are they who say of me, “There is no help for him in God.” Selah But You, O LORD, are a shield for me, My glory and the One who lifts up my head. I cried to the LORD with my voice, And He heard me from His holy hill. Selah I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the LORD sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people Who have set themselves against me all around. Arise, O LORD; Save me, O my God! For You have struck all my enemies on the cheekbone; You have broken the teeth of the ungodly. Salvation belongs to the LORD. Your blessing is upon Your people. Selah (Psalms 3:1-8, NKJV).

Enemies come in many forms. They may be various difficulties that we have in our life. They may be things we internalize; preventing ourselves from our goals. They may be real live enemies set against us. Either way, one tactic seems common: the accusation that there is no help for you in the Lord. Our enemies (be it ourselves or otherwise) always want to tell us that there is no point in asking God for help. We are prone to think that God helps those who help themselves and He certainly won’t help us. But Salvation belongs to the LORD! It is not ours, it is not our enemies, it is His and His alone.

I don’t think your enemy wants you to know that! The bottom line today is this: will I trust my enemy who is set against me, or the Lord who alone has the power of Salvation?

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Why We Do It (El Salvador Wrap-Up)

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It takes a lot for the little church of First Baptist Birch Tree to go to El Salvador. It takes money; more than we usually spend on one thing. It takes time. Most that go must take a week of vacation or miss classes to do so. Its stressful. The idea of us going into a country that is often teetering on instability is unnerving to many of our friends and family. And for each of us, we over-extend, and step way out of our comfort zone. I preached 5 times, presented the Gospel in 6 classrooms, and visited with about 30 different homes and two bus stops. It was exhausting.

So why do we do it?

Are poor and needy people in Birch Tree? Yes, our county is among the most impoverished in the nation. Do people need to hear the Gospel in Birch Tree? Yes, they do. So why all the time and effort put in El Salvador?

First, our excitement over El Salvador doesn’t mean we don’t care for folks or preach the Gospel right here in Birch Tree. We do. Could we do more? Yes, we can always do more and we are always looking for ways to do just that. I am actively involved in many ministries and agencies that reach out to folks in our local area. We also have several people trained in Southern Baptist Disaster Relief so we can minister throughout the state or nation. And, we have a partnership with the New Jerusalem Baptist Church in El Salvador.

Doesn’t charity “begin at home?” Not according to the book we live by.

The call of Christ is global. We are told to go locally as well as to the very ends of the Earth. Its not, “or” but “and” so we must do it all. Sounds a bit big for a little church, doesn’t it? That’s because God is big. He’s bigger than we can imagine, so our service to Him will be bigger than we can imagine too. So that’s why we include El Salvador as much as we include Birch Tree.

However, if you really want to know why we go to El Salvador, here it is:

On Friday, one woman came to me and said this:
“I am always thanking God for you. Through your work, my husband knows Christ. In my home, I see the fruit from the seeds you plant.”

Yep, that’s why we go.

Ah! Gringos!

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Today began with an early breakfast so that we could take some time to make plans for the day. Before we went to the church, we quickly stopped by the coffee factory in Chalchuapa and picked up some fresh bags of coffee. It was kind of strange setting to buy coffee. It wasn’t a store, but rather an office in which I presume people normally order mass quantities. They didn’t seem to mind at all, and we all left with plenty of coffee.

We then went to the church where we met up with the pastor and he lead us to another church member’s home to have lunch. It was great. We had a lot of fun visiting with that family. Afterward we went to a local school. We went class to class with our Gospel soccer balls and spoke to the kids. After visiting four classes, the school had a 20 minute break so we were asked to stop and take a break. Within seconds it seemed I was surrounded by kids wanting to talk to me. They wanted to see if they could speak English. After the break, we visited two more classes and left. Of course, we left behind the soccer balls which excited all the kids…it looked like the school needed them.

In the evening we had another worship service when I preached. I feel like my voice is going after all the classroom visits today but I’m sure I’ll be ready tomorrow. We are supposed to go to the border tomorrow and walk in to Guatemala. Also, the church is making pupusas for us tomorrow…I’m a little worried at how many they expect me to eat.

Today, I have realized that the struggle people face on a mission trip is the tendency to ask “What’s in it for me?” A trip’s success is often determined by some great feeling or experience when the question that needs to be asked is “Am I glorifying God?” Of course, that’s the challenge we face in church back home and if we can learn to seek God’s glory rather than ourselves, we’ll see a whole new kind of “success.”

They’ve Gone Bananas! (El Salvador Day 4)

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This morning we did a little souvenir shopping in Santa Ana. Santa Ana is the second largest city in El Salvador and gives us a glimpse of urban life here. After the little alleyway booths had all of our money, we walked around the city square. We could not see the theater this time because a show was in progress but we did look inside the cathedral. In the square, James stopped for a boot-shine. His boots have never looked better, and he got a great chance to interact with the shoe shine man.

Lunch today was another great meal in a church members home then we were out for more visits. One thing we have begun to see is how our visiting has progressed from year to year. That’s a good reminder of our role here: to share.

This evening I helped Sam and Kacey with the children’s class. It was a lot of fun. The kids really enjoyed singing their loud songs and answering questions as I talked. It made me think that we really lack joy in our churches back home sometimes. I hope we aren’t making worship another chore for our kids, when it should be a time of celebration.

We have been invited to visit a local school tomorrow. I’m really excited about that. What is most exciting to me is seeing how God is using those on our teams and how they are growing through the mission trip experience. It seems that every day we learn something new. I hope as we go home we will also be open to all that the Lord does around us and grow daily in Him.

They Turned Van Into A Little Fighting Chicken (El Salvador Day 3)

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Today began with a little sight-seeing. Our hotel is four blocks from the Tazmal Archeological Site. Its a Mayan pyramid; the most significant archeological find in El Salvador. We always try to take some time to see it. A walk down the road gives us some good interaction with people as well. Afterword, we had lunch in a church member’s home which was great as always. I have been eating many tortillas; getting ready for the pupusa challenge that surely awaits.

After lunch, we set out to visit homes in the community. We’ve noticed that we are being invited back to homes we’ve visited in the past. Its great to see how the Gospel has taken root in homes in this village. We had a few firsts too. Ever eaten a coffee bean right from the tree? I have! Ever tried to share the Gospel with two soldiers packing AR-15’s? Jamie has! Ever spent 15 cents to buy a sweet roll only to find that it tastes like dirt? Let’s leave it at that.

After a great afternoon, we had our evening service where James preached. He preached a great message and I am real proud of him. Samantha taught the children and they all seem to love her…of course. An interesting thing happened at the end of the service: the power went out. It was pitch-black throughout the church and everyone was up and trying to find a flashlight or something. Over that commotion we could hear the children screaming in the back room. I noticed several men walking back there to pick up their little ones and calm them down. That made me think about how we often are about our circumstances. When the lights go out and we are stuck in the midst of the unknown, we scream. Even in the unknown though, our heavenly Father knows where we are and how to find us. He can calm our fears. It was a good lesson for me today…especially when I learned why we met soldiers on the road. Don’t worry, we’re quite safe and all is well, but if I had known last week what I know now, I might have expressed a little fear. The Father knows best though, so we are best to be right in the middle of His will. So, don’t worry and trust the Father even if the lights go out.

Hey Loca-Dia, that’s Tang! (El Salvador Day 2)

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This morning, I read a chapter of 9 Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever. The particular chapter dealt with the Gospel and how too often we fail to present the Gospel as part of life. To often we separate the Gospel from everything else to the point that it comes across muddled and confused. It was timely reading, since the purpose of this trip is to share the Gospel. I tried to keep this in mind today as we shared the Gospel in different ways.

After breakfast we visited a park in Chalchuapa and had a few conversations with people about the Gospel. This afternoon, we visited homes again discussing the Gospel with people in the community of San Vincent. Tonight, I preached on the reality of our guilt and how that points to the greatness of grace.

The Good News is magnified in light of the bad news. Our salvation is all the more amazing when we are aware of our depravity. That’s the context in which I think we need to share. The good news intertwines into everyday life at the point of the bad news. This is what is missing so often in ready-made evangelistic methods.

This became very obvious today when I visited a home I first visited 4 years ago. During my first trip to El Salvador, I visited a woman near the church who was in the midst of crisis. Her husband had been in an car accident near their home in which one of their sons lost his life. Unable to handle the grief and guilt, the husband found escape in the United States. Though he supports his family financially, He left them with the burden of grief and day to day struggles. These burdens fell on the shoulders of his two remaining sons. I remembered well how they stood at a distance, unwilling to talk to us, as their mother shared this tragic story. I never forgot how broken they looked and I’ve prayed for them many times in the past four years. Today, we visited the home again and I sat down with the oldest of those sons, William. There isn’t an evangelistic method that addresses that situation. Instead we talked about doubt and struggle and we prayed for peace. I pray that the Holy Spirit continues in that home.

This is my hope for this trip, that we are able to meet people where they live, and from their share the Gospel of Christ. I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn this, as its what we need to do back home too.

Speaking of life, we’re certainly living the adventure that has become our El Salvador mission trips. We’ve had great home-cooked meals (though its been chicken every time), good tortillas, taunted a very angry snake, baffled Kacey at all the nicknames we can invent for her, and had a great little arm wrestling tournament between Jamie and several teenage boys at the church.

Milkshakes and Train Rides (El Salvador Day 1)

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In the movie That Thing You Do, just before the one-hit “Wonders” make their live television debut, one character asks, “How did we get here?” The reply comes from the star of the movie, “I lead you here, sir.”

Yesterday, we made the now familiar trek to El Salvador. Since this is my fourth trip, things have gotten very familiar. Getting through the San Salvador airport is fairly simple, customs is no problem, and once we were outside, I quickly found old friends waiting for us. Now I wish I could report that we immediately experienced some great Salvadoran food, but our dinner was also familiar: Wendy’s. Yes, its just like Wendy’s anywhere else. After that, we made the van ride out to Chalchuapa and checked in at the familiar hotel. The pirates are gone, but the rooms are the same.

This morning, we had a good breakfast of eggs, bread, black beans and coffee. That’s good stuff. Then we made our way to the church. I really enjoy preaching and it was great to preach about the Lord’s Supper and then lead the church as we partook. It really put the week in perspective for us. Afterward, we visited with several church members and enjoyed lunch in the church parsonage. After a siesta, we began to visit homes in the community. We enjoyed meeting several people, and checking in on some we’ve met before. We returned in time to enjoy some fried plantains that one church member prepared for us.

As I sat in the worship service this evening, waiting to preach again, I couldn’t help to wonder, “How did I get here?” I think I wonder that every year. No matter how familiar this mission trip goes, I still find it someone overwhelming to be here. Christians are called globally which can really be tough to comprehend sometimes. It seems odd that and insignificant pastor like me can somehow find myself in the back country of El Salvador preaching in a packed-out cinder block church. Despite language and cultural barriers, there is true fellowship; evidence of the Holy Spirit. So how did I get here? The Lord’s answer is, I lead you here.

As the week continues, I’ll certainly update more about our adventures. As for the blog title, that’s an inside joke; the kind that comes about on a mission trip and is never as funny once explained.

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