May 17, 2014

Gideon Moments: The Mission and Ministry in Saipan

I took this photo while working on my Sabbath morning sermon--on Sabbath morning!  In place of my missing journal I wrote down my sermon notes in some empty pages of my planner.  God really blessed because the message of that sermon--about trusting God when you don't see away forward has become so fitting to my life, particularly in the weeks since we've returned from Saipan.

From what would have been my paper and pen journal--only if I'd had my paper and pen journal I would not have written much of what you see here.  This was typed on my laptop during the Chicago to Narita leg of our 27.5 hour journey to Saipan.

Friday, April 11, 2014, in the air en route to Narita, Japan. (12:42 A.M. EST)
I've begun this epic journey, the return to the touchstone of our adult lives, this mission to Saipan as off balance and emotionally disoriented as it’s possible to feel. 

[What followed was a lengthy reflection on some recent events  in my professional life, including some key events that had taken place just the three days prior to our departure.  A lot was weighing on my mind.  After unpacking all that I continued as follows] 

To add to this unsettled feeling is that fact that I’m typing this journal entry.  Typing because I have nothing to write in because I lost my journal on the flight from Columbus to Chicago today.  The journal contained all my notes for my week of prayer talks next week (not to mention the irreplaceable documentation of my life for the last six months or so).  Suddenly I have nothing ready for my main responsibility in Saipan this coming week.  Apparently God has seen fit for me to completely rely on Him for what He’s called me to do.  And right now I don’t even know what that means.  Should I be spending these precious hours now that boys are finally asleep frantically (or more spiritually, solemnly) reading the Bible and praying so that God can give me a new message.  Or do I just go forward and believe that when the time comes I’ll be given the words.  One feels like manipulation, the other like presumption.  Not only do I no longer have the materials I prepared but I don’t even know how to trust God to get me through.
The trip I had planned is not the one that I’m having, at least so far.  And right now I’m not quite sure what that means.  If what I had planned can be so easily taken from me, it makes me wonder if I dare plan anything at all.  And to go into this week with little or no plan is depressing to me.  I take literal joy in planning.  It’s the planning itself, that is so rewarding to me, even more so than whether the plan pans out.  So I plan.  It’s what I do.  But I commit to keeping it loose, being open to the Spirit.
The story of Gideon is on my mind a lot right now.  I think it will be the focus of my talk for the church youth group tomorrow evening at their post-hike vespers.  In Gideon we have the story of a man who struggled to really trust and believe God, a man who thought he knew how God was going to work through Him and found that what he had in mind and what God had in mind were totally different things.

What’s the plan?  When do you do when you think you now what God is doing and find out—repeatedly-that His plan is more audacious and more risky than anything you could have imagined?

By the time we landed on Saipan I had re-sketched out on my laptop as best I could recall the outline of the topics I would speak about. The theme for the week was "Jesus Cares" and each day had a topic (chosen with the help of one of my more challenging students at CAA, who several weeks earlier, while sitting with me in a teacher-enforced timeout, shared with me the four things that really mattered to him--basketball, school, family, and his future.  They became my topics for each day of the Week of Prayer.  I figured that what really mattered to this young man might matter to a lot of other kids as well.)  The message was that Jesus cares about us, and thus, about each of the those things that matter to us.  Each day's talk had a story, a message, and a scripture.  Storytelling is one of my strengths so that was the centerpiece of each day, with the idea that the story would drive home the message.  There were substantial holes still though--I had no story for Wednesday or Thursday, no scripture for Monday, a hazy message for Tuesday.  I also had a message theme for the sermon on Sabbath, "Trusting in God when the Lights Go Out" but no sermon notes yet.  What I did have was a pretty clear idea of what I would say--thanks to my missing journal--for the Sabbath evening vespers just 14 hours or so from our arrival on Saipan.  
Sunday morning,  April 13 Babs and I met up Sharon Nguyen, the principal of the Saipan SDA School and she took us on a lovely tour of the school property and campus, ending here in the auditorium where I would be speaking throughout the coming week.  I only just now noticed perfectly appropriate banner posted above me.

Here's a selection from my typed-out journal from Monday morning, April 14:

Here am I.  Monday morning, the first day of the reason I’m here.  To be the vessel through which God reaches down and touches the hearts of these kids and brings them into a real and meaningful relationship with Him.  The thought that has kept running through my head during this time of preparation is “What do I need to do to ensure that I receive the message from God.”  Prayer is obvious. . .but did I pray enough?  Should I have my own personal devotions first….after all how can God use me if I haven’t even bothered to spend time with Him for my own personal growth and connection but instead am just using the time to get what I need for my talk today.  But then, if I’m having personal devotions just so that I can be in the right place to receive what He has for me, then it isn't really the same as not having devotions—except worse because I am being disingenuous about it?  There is the temptation to try to make God work for me and I realize that right now He is calling me simply to trust.  He brought me out here,  He chose not to bring back my journal, He will work it out.  There is no need to put Him to the test, or go through the  motions to “get Him” to do what I need Him to do.

And after the service was over:

So it went well.  My only downside was that I completely forgot the theme scripture which is such a crucial part of the meeting.  How can you have a Week of Prayer and not even mention God’s Word?  But then again, I asked the Holy Spirit to be there.  I trust that He was and that He did what was needed.  The story was well received. And the skit Elijah and I did went quite well.  So I’m grateful.

And that was how things would go for the remainder of our week in Saipan--God would give me the details just before each day's talk, and His grace was always more than sufficient.

The outline for the Saipan SDA School Week of Prayer (and other speaking engagements). It would have been great to say I had this outline done in advance, and I guess I sort of did before my journal was lost, but the truth is I built this whole outline today, as part of preparing this blog entry.

Sabbath, April 12, 2014:
Sundown Vespers
Gideon Moments.  The Story: Losing my Journal/Gideon's Battle against the Midianites.  
The Message: Trusting in God when the plan keeps changing and the new plan seems impossible. 
The Scripture: Judges 7
Talking to the AY group for vespers after our hike to the Second Grotto

Monday, April 14, 2014: 
Week of Prayer Talk: 
Basketball.  The Story: The Sarah Season (the big reveal at the end of this inspiring story of a five-man basketball team that went all the way to the league championships motivated by the one of their schoolmates who'd died suddenly during the school year was that the team was from my audience's own school, Saipan SDA School and that the championship game had been played right on their own campus--though at the time, the campus belonged to another school!).  Read the full story, with pictures here in a blog entry I wrote just after we moved away from Saipan.
The Message:  Does Jesus care who wins a basketball game?  Maybe not but he cares about the people who play--on both teams, and he cares about everything that matters to us from something small like a basketball game to something huge like the loss of a loved one.  
Scripture (which I forgot to use on the first day!): Psalm 139, the theme scripture for the week.

Delivering the message. The first day of Week of Prayer, Monday, April 14.

Pre-school Storytime (Skit with Elijah)
Story: Noah's Ark (Elijah played the Voice of God, Noah's son Shem, and various animals entering the ark; I played Noah)
Message: Jesus is with us when we are scared
At the end of the story the kids got to take turns acting out different animals and we would guess what they were.  The lion was a very popular choice.
Elijah and I acting out Noah's Ark: Here Noah directs one of the animals on to the ark

The elephant!

The lion! Very scary!  The kids loved it and when it was their turn they all wanted to be lions!

Scared on the ark.  We did each story twice each day, once for the toddler class pictured above and again for the preschool class.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Week of Prayer Talk
School.  The Story: Alpo (I warned the audience at the start that this story did not have a happy ending. It's a hard-hitting true story of one of the more shameful chapters in my life--my class's harsh treatment of a new student who came to our school when I was in the eighth grade.  He was admittedly difficult--he wanted to be friends, he just didn't know how.  And we--well, especially me-- used that as excuse enough to gang up on him. He lasted just a few months before transferring to another school and I never saw him again.  I ended up with this school-themed retelling of the sheep and the goats (inspired by the great Keith Green's own retelling).  
The Message: Jesus cares about our experiences in school and He especially cares about those who are struggling in their school experience--and we should too.
The Scripture:  Matthew 25:31-46

Pre-school Storytime (Skit with Elijah)
Story: Joshua and the Battle of Jericho (I played the voice of God and the wall, Elijah played Joshua. Kids from the audience joined as members of the army marching around the wall)
Message: Jesus helps us to be patient and wait

Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Week of Prayer Talk
Family.  The Story:  Lucky/Team Hoyt (I talked about my mom and the childish gripes I had when I was a kid/teenager and how in hindsight the very things I griped about were blessings.  I then segued into the story of Dick and Rick Hoyt, culimanting in the powerful I Can video about this amazing father-son racing team).
The Message: Jesus cares about what we are going through in our families whether we feel lucky or not. And no matter what our family situation is, we all have a Father who cares and who will carry us through.
Scripture: Isaiah 40:28-31

Pre-school Storytime (Skit with Elijah)
Story: Jonah and the Fish (I played the Voice of God and the great fish, Elijah played Jonah, and audience volunteers were the sailors that threw Jonah overboard
Message:  Jesus is always willing to give us a a second chance when we do wrong

Jonah and the sailors on the ship to Tarshish

Here comes the storm!

Jonah gets thrown overboard

The fish chases Jonah.  When I caught him, placed the black cardboard over Elijah to represent him being inside the fish.

Thursday, April 17, 2014
Week of Prayer Talk
The Future.  The Story: Lost ( I told the story of my friend Grant and I getting lost in the wilds of the Saipan boonies, augmented a PowerPoint slide show of photos from the actual adventure.  In hindsight, I would maybe not have used the PowerPoint as I felt like it interrupted the flow of the storytelling. It would have been better to show the pictures after the story was over.  But it still went fine. I just really don't believe in PowerPoint as a sermon tool, like, ever.) You can read my original telling of this adventure on this blog back in 2006 here.
Message: Jesus cares about our futures and if we follow Him we'll never get lost.
Scripture: Jeremiah 29:11

Thursday,  April 17, my last Week of Prayer talk.  I spent the rest of the school day subbing in the classroom for a teacher that was out that day.

Pre-school Storytime (Skit with Elijah, Babs, and Ezra)
Story: The Birth of Jesus (Elijah played the angel, I played Joseph, Babs played Mary and Ezra played Baby Jesus).
Message: Just as Jesus came as a small baby, Jesus can help us live for Him even if we are very small

Friday, April 18, 2014
TGIS Vespers Worship Thought:  
Is It Well With You?
Message:  Gatherings like this are what life is all about.  If we would have more gatherings like this we need to keep Jesus number one in our lives.  
Scripture: 1 Timothy 6: 6-18

TGIS worship at the apartment where we were staying.  Hoping to meet with this group again if not on the temporal paradise of Saipan, then in the Eternal Paradise to come.

Sabbath, April 19, 2014
Sermon at Saipan Central Seventh-day Adventist Church
Message Title:  Trusting in God when the lights go out.  The message was you don't know Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.  I wish I'd seen that great quote posted on Facebook before my sermon.  It said so eloquently what I tried to say in my sermon.
Scripture: Isaiah 43:2

Sabbath morning sermon.  April 19, 2014

Evening Vespers at Mt. Tapochau
Barbara took the speaking duties this time and shared from the heart about her journey with God in moving the school to a new campus and the miracles he worked to bring her dream to reality after we left Saipan.  It was a truly moving testimony!  Read the miraculous account here.

Babs and I on Mt. Tapochau just before her beautiful testimony of God's leading for sundown worship on our last day in Saipan, Sabbath, April 19, 2014.

The mountaintop.  Mt. Tapochau, Sabbath evening, April 19 at the end of a week of what was by God's grace fruitful ministry. It didn't happen the way I planned, but I trust that it happened the way He planned.

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