The Surrender of Thanksgiving

Grabbed by Gratitude

It stopped me in my tracks. Twice. In the same morning even. What was it? Thankfulness. The first time, a song provoked it, and the second time, a story in an upcoming film about a changed life connected to my heart. I felt genuinely thankful, particularly for my wife and children. Lyrics and stories have a way of moving and stirring our emotions.

Hooray for Word Studies: Εὐχαριστέω

Bible readers find the theme of thankfulness throughout the pages of Scripture. In the New Testament, the verb εὐχαριστέω primarily conveys the act of expressing

. . . appreciation for benefits or blessings, give thanks, express thanks, render/return thanks (BDAG).

It is used 37 times in the New Testament. The occasions for these usages vary: (1) regarding provisions from God (Matt. 15:36), (2) in the Lord’s Supper (Mark 14:23; Luke 22:19), (3) in reference to answered prayer (Luke 17:16; John 11:41), (4) obligatory thanksgiving (Luke 18:11; Rom. 16:4), (5) thanksgiving for NOT participating in something (1 Cor. 1:14), but most often, (6) it communicates thankfulness about the fellowship of believers (Eph. 1:16; Phil. 1:3; 1 Thess. 1:2).

Spontaneous or Deliberate Thankfulness?

However, the Apostle Paul fashioned the word in a unique way in 1 Thessalonians 5:18. He issued it as a command:

. . . give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

This is the one and only use in the New Testament of the imperative form—εὐχαριστεῖτε. “Give thanks; appreciate; surrender thanksgiving.” But isn’t thankfulness better when it’s spontaneous? Is thankfulness genuinely thankfulness when it is commanded? I mean how many “You-should-be-thankful-s” are chronicled in the history of parenthood, right?!?! Our experience of the feeling of thankfulness is often unplanned, which may cause one to ask, “How does one get better at such a command? Do I simply try harder to feel thankful?”

This command is interesting to me, especially in light of the holiday anticipation building as we enter Thanksgiving season. As I experienced a surge of thankfulness this morning about my family, provoked by song and story and genuinely enjoying how I felt, I wondered if there is yet a deeper experience of thankfulness available . . . something more consistent, longer-lasting, sustainable, solid. Is thankfulness something that must come from outside of me; is it out of my control; a dormant emotion only stirred by some kind of external stimulus? Or is it something to which I have constant access, an affection internal and awake, and able to be wielded, controlled, surrendered, and given? If the latter, then where may I find such an endless reservoir of gratitude?

The Surrender of Thanksgiving: Exposition of 1 Thessalonians 5:18

In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, God reveals some things to us about giving thanks that cause pause. First, he qualifies the command “Give thanks” with a prepositional phrase that describes the circumstances during which we should obey it—in all circumstances. Wait, what? Literally, the translation is “give thanks in any and every, or in every respect or way.” Most Bible translations have adapted the English to read, “in all circumstances.” We are commanded to give thanks for any one circumstance that may come at us from the sum total of all circumstances. In other words, E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. Yikes.

Thanksgiving Commanded by God

Remember, a command implies that God has or is able to supply you with the necessary resources to obey the command. Notice also that the circumstances are not commanded to make people thankful, which would be worded like, “Circumstances, go and cause thankfulness among the people.” Rather, the readers (like you and me) are commanded to give thanks while living under varied circumstances. The command implies that the believer is in possession of thankfulness and then must choose to give it. Now, I think all of us can easily imagine turning over thanks for the joyous moments—straight A’s, making the team, winning the game (Go Lady Norsemen, btw), graduating, getting married, having the baby, going on vacation, church growth, career advancement, and the list could go on and on.

However, are we really to turn over thanks when we fail the class, when we don’t make the team, when we lose the big game, when circumstances delay graduation, when the boyfriend/girlfriend bails, when finances crumble, when the consequences of one bad decision keep piling up, when a child or a parent gets sick or dies, when the marriage fails, when the church splits, when the career tanks, and on and on? Does God really expect me to give him thanks in all circumstances?

Yes. Maybe the surrender of our thanks looks a little broken sometimes, but this is the command. He wants our thanks in any and every circumstance. Biblical thanksgiving seems to be the turning over of something that is both provoked and supplied by God again and again, rather than some uncontrollable emotion that suddenly sweeps over you by positive, external, spontaneous provocation. The giving of thanks is a matter of relationship between you and God. You can choose to give it or not to give it to God.

Thanksgiving in the Fullness of God

Back to the Bible in 1 Thessalonians 5:18. The next sentence offers an explanation for the command to give thanks in all circumstances, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” A similar statement follows Paul’s command to be filled or controlled by the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18–20,

. . . giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In that passage, the giving of thanks is evidenced in the life of the believer who is yielding to the Spirit’s control. There again, as in 1 Thessalonians, the circumstances in which we give thanks are broad—always and for everything. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul explains that this always-giving-thanks-in-all-circumstances is God’s will. Comparing this to Ephesians 5:18, we may say that it is the Spirit’s aim.

I see here both the external motivation and the internal capability—both provided by God. The command to give thanks is the external word that comes from God to us, and that word is met in the believer with the aim of the Spirit, who dwells within and who aims to transform the believer into one who turns over thanks to God in all circumstances—making him or her thankful. In this way, the Christian is prompted both externally and internally to give thanks. The uniqueness of the Christian understanding of thanksgiving is that seemingly random circumstances are not in the driver’s seat, but rather our experience and relationship with God while living under a variety of circumstances.

Thanksgiving Under the Influence of Christ

Finally, the phrase “the will of God” is modified by two prepositional phrases: (1) in Christ Jesus and (2) for you all. What do these mean? Paul commonly employs the phrase “in Christ” or “in Christ Jesus,” and what he seems to mean by it is the idea of “under the control of, under the influence of, or in close association with” (BDAG, 327–28).

Let me expand that a bit. We are commanded to give thanks in all circumstances because this is the will of God for people under the influence of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Something so influential, at the soul-level, has happened in Jesus Christ for believers rendering them capable of fulfilling God’s will and command to give thanks in all circumstances. What happened? His death and resurrection happened. In other words, Christ’s gospel is the key to your ability to obey the will of God by giving thanks in all circumstances—good or bad, hopeful or despairing. You function in every circumstance with death-defeating, eternally-securing, resurrection-powered love.

Thanksgiving Surrendered to God

Now, let’s get real for a minute. The influence of the resurrection of Christ moves the believer to give thanks to God in painful circumstances. It is truly a surrender of thanks. These surrenders surface on the battlefield of the soul against the sinful nature that longs to withhold thanks from God. This is why Romans 8:26 says,

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

Later on during the same day that I felt thankful for my family, I received a call from a friend that makes a pastor’s heart shudder and ask, “Why God?” And I, of course, don’t have that answer. Yet, I know that the greatest power and love on heaven and earth is available to those who call on the name of Jesus. When you or I see the hurting person give thanks in all circumstances, we witness that power and love on display. We witness firsthand the external command of God and the internal working of the gospel by the Spirit uniting to produce a thankful believer.

 

Advance the Indispensability of Jesus Together

The Surprising Dispensability of the Leader

The 2014 NCAA Football season for the Ohio State Buckeyes had as many twists and turns as your favorite roller coaster ride. On two occasions, injuries threatened to undo their successful run. As a fan of the Buckeyes, I remember watching the quarterback situation unfold, and after each injury thinking—“That guy is indispensable; the season’s over.” Each time, the next guy who stepped in proved me wrong.

In August, starting quarterback, Braxton Miller, was injured and out for the remainder of the season. Second-string quarterback, J. T. Barrett, replaced Miller, and he continued the Buckeyes success on the field. However, in November of that same season, Barrett was injured and would miss the remaining games, including any Bowl games or Championship attempt.

The weight of the season fell upon third-string, red shirt sophomore Cardale Jones. The first start of his college career took place in the Big Ten Championship against the Wisconsin Badgers. Jones led the Buckeyes to a 59–0 blowout victory. Next, he started in the Allstate Sugar Bowl against the number one ranked, the dreaded Alabama Crimson Tide. Jones led the Buckeyes to a Sugar Bowl victory, 42–35. Then, it was onto the National Championship Game against the Oregon Ducks. Jones’ success continued and delivered a 42–20 win against the Ducks and a 2014 National Championship to the Buckeyes.

Over the years, I’ve had similar, personal experiences when I’ve had the privilege to work with young, pastoral interns. I am convinced that most if not all of them will accomplish far more than I ever will for the kingdom if they continue to follow our Lord faithfully. They will soon catch up and surpass me in the things that once made me their superior (i.e., the one leading the internship). Be it education, tech savvy, experience, networking, or ability; I am confident (and hopeful) that they will go far beyond whatever reach I may have in my lifetime for the gospel.

Which means this: I am dispensable.

The Dispensable Steward of the Indispensable Promise

In our study of Genesis, we are finishing up the Abrahamic story. He’s a pivotal figure in the unfolding of the program of God—his calling, his faith, his experience. Yet, he dies. He dies while the promises of God are barely realized. We can’t help but feel that the Patriarch of the patriarchs drew his last breath before his time—even if he was 175 years old.

Concerning Abraham’s death, Allen Ross writes in his commentary on Genesis entitled Creation & Blessing,

The message in this part is straightforward: believers will die, and so they must ensure that the work begun in them by God will continue as God desires. It may be through their children, children in the faith, or by some other means; but no one may personalize the program so that no thought is given to the next generation . . . Even though faithful believers die, the program of God to bless the world continues . . . We’re part of something much bigger than ourselves . . . No one is indispensable in God’s program. Good people die (some when they’re young and some when they’re old), and others take up the task to continue God’s program.

So, the question begs, “If I am dispensable (and I am), then what indispensable thing can I hand off to the next generation?” What thing of lasting, eternal substance and weight can I pass on that will endure — come what may in the world?

Think back to Abraham’s journey of faith. The longer he walked in the light of God’s promise, the more singular and pure his faith and devotion became to that promise. The major turning point happens in chapter 22, when he has to offer up Isaac. The writer of Hebrews gives us divine commentary on the event:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac. He had received the promises, yet he was ready to offer up his only son. God had told him, “Through Isaac descendants will carry on your name,” and he reasoned that God could even raise him from the dead, and in a sense he received him back from there (11:17–19).

Whether it was his belief that God could raise Isaac from the dead, his actions to secure a burial site at the Cave of Machpelah in Canaan, or his efforts to select Isaac as his sole heir, all these things reveal that Abraham had finally captured what was truly indispensable — it was the promise. He realized that the promise was much bigger than him. Abraham may have been the initial partner in the bilateral agreement; he didn’t view himself as the sole owner and beneficiary of the blessings. The patriarch came to realize his role as the dispensable steward of the indispensable promise.

Now, don’t misunderstand. By saying that Abraham was dispensable, I’m not implying that he didn’t have worth as a person or that he wasn’t important to God — obviously he was and is. However, as the biblical story demonstrates, even he was replaceable. His own life and position was not superior to the program of God. Think of the links in a chain. Every link is important, and every link has to steward the weight that bears upon it for the whole chain to complete its purpose and job. Yet, we also recognize that a link in a chain can be replaced by the one who created it and gave it purpose.

Stewarding the Indispensable

As Abraham’s faith matured, he understood his stewardship better and his actions aligned accordingly. Here are three ways his mature faith strengthened his stewardship of the promise:

  1. He sacrificially stewarded the promise. His faith in the promise of God led him to believe in the power of God to raise the dead.
  2. He securely stewarded the promise. His faith in the promise of God caused him to make decisions that aligned with the details of God’s promise, regarding its location in Canaan.
  3. He selectively stewarded the promise. His faith in the promise of God brought a singular focus on God’s selection of Isaac.

Today, we are charged with being the dispensable stewards of the indispensable promise of God in Jesus Christ. In what way has the story of Abraham challenged you to mature in your faith and stewardship of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

The power of God in the resurrection of Jesus Christ—I believe—provides us with incredible room and liberty to steward the gospel sacrificially. Having demonstrated that he can raise the dead, what sacrifice is there that should cause us hesitation or doubt? At the end of Paul’s famous chapter on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, he writes, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” The reality of the resurrection frees us to sacrificially steward the gospel for the next generation. Here’s the list of sacrifices mentioned in the New Testament, enabled by the power of the resurrection:

  • The Sacrifice of Our Bodily Activities for the Benefit of Others and the Glory of God (Rom. 12:1).
  • The Sacrifice of Selfless Love (Eph. 5:2).
  • The Sacrifice of Pouring Out Your Life for the Community (Phil. 2:17).
  • The Sacrifice of Generosity with Money (Phil. 4:18).
  • The Sacrifice of Praise, Good Deeds, and Sharing/Fellowship (Heb. 13:15–16).
  • The Sacrifice of a Spiritual Life (1 Pet. 2:5 and following).

When Abraham purchased the field and burial plot in Machpelah, he sent a clear message—“I believe the promise, and I’m not turning back.” What decisions do you need to make in order to prepare and position the next generation to receive and pass on the gospel?

I think one of the most important ways we can securely steward the gospel to the next generation is by making clear decisions that allow young people to see the unique value and power of the gospel in our lives. When they look at your bank statement, do they see a clear commitment to the gospel? Do they see the clear priority of the gospel in your family calendar? When they watch your marriage, do they see mom and dad clearly yielding to the Spirit in their dying to sin and raising to a new and better way? Do they see grandma and grandpa’s clear decision not to ever retire from ministry and service, even though they’ve retired from their vocations?

In Abraham’s day, Isaac was God’s clear choice. He was selective—he did not choose Ishmael or the sons of Keturah. The program of blessing selectively continued through Isaac. Today, God’s selection to continue his program of blessing is Jesus Christ, his beloved Son. Therefore, I believe that we selectively steward the gospel by making Christ visible to a watching world. “Throw some paint on the Invisible Man”; through our words and deeds, let’s give shape to Jesus and the announcement of his good news. Convict the world of sin; convince them of God’s love; and call them to the truth.

We learn from the apostles’ example in the book of Acts that the best way to help people “see Jesus” is to get out where they are with our works and message. While this may imply “leaving the building” so to speak, it may also mean employing the building and its programs or ministries to meet people where they are in life. So, if you believe that God has selected to continue his program of blessing through Jesus Christ alone, what are you doing to help paint this picture for people? How are you stewarding God’s selection of Jesus?

Blessing Beyond Our Lifetime

If we steward the gospel of Jesus sacrificially, securely, and selectively, then we will pass on that which is indispensable to the next generation. We’ll build momentum that will last beyond our lifetime. We will effectively be the dispensable stewards of the indispensable promise. 

In the epic story of The Lord of the Rings there is only one truth, one promise that was indispensable — the ring of power had to be destroyed in the fire of Mount Doom. Before they destroyed the ring, everyone believed the fulfillment of the promise depended upon someone bearing the ring to the fire. After the fulfillment, everyone believed it to be the key event that ushered in an era of blessing.

Along the journey the team members who joined the fellowship to destroy the ring proved dispensable stewards of the indispensable promise. They sacrificed for it, secured it, and devoted to this promise with a singular aim. They advanced the cause together and experienced the blessings of the finished work together. By mature faith in the promise, they passed on blessing that would last far beyond their lifetime. Before us today is the opportunity to advance the indispensability of Jesus together. I pray that we’ll steward it well.

REACHing to Serve in Tennessee

By now, I am sure that you’ve heard that our REACH team made it to Crossville, TN, and work is underway on the homes of their neighbors. The journey there wasn’t without a little action, as the trailer blew a tire, but those guys had it up and running again in no time.

By this time, they have put in a good two days’ work on their respective projects. From the pictures, it looks like there’s plenty of painting and some roofing work being done among many other jobs.

After work, the team had some free time yesterday and made it to the Ozone Falls in the Cumberland Mountain State Park.

Kelly Friestad writes,

The team is making connections with their crews and other groups and are working hard. Please pray for us to finish our work and to stay safe on the jobs and on our way home. Many of the homeowners are so thankful and have been around most of the time we’ve been at their homes. We’ve had opportunities to talk with them about the Lord. Today, we went to a 100+ foot waterfall that was awesome! Going to the lake tomorrow for our free time.

So, keep praying for our REACH team as they share the good news of Jesus in word and deed with these homeowners in Crossville, TN. Praise God for all that he is doing in and through our church family this summer.

In Christ,

Pastor Rex

Jesus Is . . .

There are so many ways a person could finish the title of this post. This week at Casa Berea while working with Juventud Para Cristo (Youth for Christ – Spain), we learned that  Jesus is our teacher; he is love; he is our shepherd; our life; and our friend. As we “searched the globe” for Jesus, we met people each day who had encountered Christ in each of these ways. As the children opened up their lives to us and to the Holy Spirit, they encountered Christ and many lives were changed.

Our daily schedule began at 8am with a leaders’ meeting, which involved a time of Bible study and prayer—Nate, Seth, and I led three of the week’s devotions. We focused on a theme—Faithful Faith Foresees Fruit . . . (1) for the Father’s Fame (Life of Abram,), (2) from the Finished (Life of David), and (3) in the Face of Foes (Life of Nehemiah). The Father is faithful to the glory of his reputation, and when we trust him and participate in his plan to bless, he will be faithful to the glory of his name. He will provide all that we need. We experienced so many provisions on this trip: the funding that provided travel, supplies, decorations, and physical resources; the addition of Cole Manschot to the trip who was an excellent American, Spanish-speaker from Wheaton, plenty of beds, plenty of working cars for transportation, the perfect combination of gifted leaders from West Lisbon and on the Spanish team, words to pray over sick, scared, and sorrow-filled kids, fellowship, the Holy Spirit to go beyond our limitations, rest and recovery from sickness when we needed it.

But there’s even more, we could see how God worked in our past — from the things that he has faithfully finished — in order to supply us with what we needed for this past week at camp. I have been amazed for years at how God has used four years of High School Spanish in my life. How could I have known that God used my teacher at Wheelersburg High School to create a love for language, teach me how to learn a language, give me liberty and courage to “Try it,” and a foundation that has served me pastoral ministry and multiple mission projects. God is in the details of our past, planting seeds, creating experiences, that I believe he will use at a later time. Just like David’s experience as a shepherd boy. God used his experience with the sheep, to prepare him as a soldier and as a king.

Whenever a person or team of people set out to participate in God’s mission, there is always opposition. Nehemiah knew this well. Multiple times throughout the book that bears his name, he faced radical rivalry and opposition to his building project. Nehemiah demonstrated a faith that faithfully saw beyond the opposition to the fruit that would eventually come when the building was finished. God helped me to keep my mind and vision on the people of Spain this week, and what he could possibly do in the future in Spain because of one week spent with 5–11 year olds in the name of Jesus. We faced clear spiritual opposition at times, but God helped us to see the potential fruit, and our minds were fixed on the power of the gospel. On the final day at breakfast, the camp director asked for a showing of hands from the kids who had made any kind of spiritual decision with regard to following Jesus during the week. I personally knew of several, but when we watched so many little hands ascend into the air, it was one of the most memorable moments of my life. God is so amazingly faithful.

After our leaders’ meeting, we had breakfast; then, we cleaned our rooms. After that, we had praise and worship, which included a theater piece that developed throughout each morning and night as we searched to know Jesus. Nate and the team also provided music that drew the children into desiring God. Next, the schedule would vary day-by-day. We may go to crafts, workshops, games, or pool time. At around 2pm each day, we ate lunch, which was our largest meal of the day, and it was the meal prior to which we decorated. AND WE WENT ALL OUT WITH THE DECORATIONS! It was awesome, and the kids loved it. After lunch, we had devotions and siesta in our rooms until 4pm, which was followed typically by pool time. After pool time, we either had crafts, games, or special team competitions. Some free time was mixed in before dinner, during which we talked with kids, played basketball or soccer, or perhaps started some kind of spontaneous game on the patio. Dinner and showers preceded our final evening event. On the last night of the week, the children dressed in formal clothing and participated in a talent show — very talented and brave kiddos! It seems that most night we made it to bed around 12:30am.

There are three things that I am taking with me back to the States. First, it was confirmed by the Lord again, that no matter what the differences are that are sprinkled throughout his people across the globe, Jesus’ gospel and the presence of the Holy Spirit in us are the things that we share in common. I’ve met Christians all over the world, and you know when you meet someone who has the Spirit and knows the gospel. I am returning home refreshed by experiencing yet again this powerful unity of the fellowship of the Spirit of God. Second, I am coming back with some amazing new relationships—with the Spanish JPC team, with Cole Manschot, who’s just a hop-skip-and-a-jump away in Wheaton, and with the boys from my group.

Lastly, I am returning with a new and bigger vision for partnering with our West Lisbon missionaries. I can’t put into words how impressed I am with Mark and Stephanie Dodrill. The impact of the ministry that the Lord has built through them is immeasurable. For me, this was most obvious in the quality of the 20-something leaders on the Spanish team. The camp, the youth center, the obvious connections, the trust that parents put in Mark and Stephanie – God has truly blessed their work. The Spirit of Christ is so evident in them and in their vision for the youth of Barcelona.

I am so excited at all of the potential, future ways that we can continue to partner with Mark and Stephanie and Juventud Para Cristo. Mark and I talked multiple times about future opportunities in which we (West Lisbon) can continue to deepen our partnership and continue to watch God do amazing things among the youth of Spain. I’m literally bursting with vision! My hope and prayer is that God will lead us into specifics, and continue to allow us to be a part of what he is doing in Barcelona. I can also sense this kind of vision and excitement from our whole team. We all miss our families and are excited for our return; at the same time, we are all coming back sensing that there is more work to do with our friends in Spain.

We can’t wait to tell you more. We’re currently in the air over the Atlantic now, with about 1,500 miles left to fly. Thank you for your prayers, for your amazing generosity, and again for supporting this summer projects over the last three years. God is doing something special among us.

In Christ,

Pastor Rex

Loving, Learning, & Leaving

After this trip, I should never again complain about being “too tired.” I know God works miracles, because I was somehow at all of the counselor meetings every day at 8 a.m. Let me just say that jet lag is something I’m glad I don’t have to experience every day of my life. This trip was my first time traveling out of the country and while I am very ready to be home with my family, there is also a part of me that wishes I could stay in Barcelona with the kids from the JPC camp.

These kids came from all different socioeconomic groups and backgrounds and family situations. God allowed me this week to get a glimpse of the stories of all the kids at the camp. To my surprise, many of us formed friendships with the kids despite the language barrier. The kids at the camp were intrigued by us Americans and often found our lack of ability to speak Spanish confusing, yet funny.

One of the things our team quickly discovered was that music, singing, laughing, and playing games together allowed us to form relationships with the kids at the camp. The first day of camp we taught some of the kids a game called Ninja, and later during the week I saw multiple groups of kids playing Ninja with each other. Another time we really connected with the kids was through our morning worship time. Every day Nate led everyone in a fun song called “Every Move I Make.” There were motions to go along with the lyrics and doing these motions with the kids gave everyone a good laugh. It was so amazing to hear the kids singing the worship songs on the way to the pool later in the day or while they worked on their crafts in the afternoon.

God showed me the importance of love and the willingness to serve this past week. The tiredness I spoke of experiencing earlier never went away. Even as I write this, I feel the lack of sleep weighing on me. But through the exhaustion, I am content knowing I was part of something incredible for the past week. Our American team and the Spanish counselors were able to witness God working in the hearts of so many kids that came to Christ at the end of the week.

If someone had asked me at the beginning of the week if I thought I was going to enjoy my week with about 70 seven to eleven year olds, most of whom don’t speak any English, I would have said you were crazy. I didn’t see a place for myself at that camp, and I was extremely homesick. But as we all know, God works in funny ways sometimes. Our day was loaded with different activities and tasks that distracted me from missing my family and friends at home. I asked God to help me to not think about the things I wanted and rather focus on the things He wanted me to do over the course of the week. While at some moments it was hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel (i.e. picking lice out of a six-year-olds beautiful, long hair for an hour), I am realizing that every single thing that happened was meant to teach us something, whether it was patience, love, or even just moments meant to remind us that some people need the love of Christ but are blind to it because of materialistic things obscuring their view of the true love of Jesus.

So as we’re about to leave for the airport, I cannot help but feel so incredibly thankful and blessed to have been able to love on the Spanish kids. We learned things from them, and they learned things from us. As we said “adios” yesterday, kids came up to all of us saying, “We will miss you.” This didn’t make leaving any easier, but it was proof that we really impacted the lives of the kids during the week we spent with them. I know for many of us this week gave us a reason to return to Spain, and I cannot wait to see how the Youth for Christ organization continues to change lives.

By Emma Nelson

Serving

Right now is siesta time and that means a little down time for the staff members. With 62 kids, ages 4-12, there is very little time to have any quiet. Even late into the night there is noise. That is something that takes a lot to get used to. In order to keep the kids engaged, we have activity after activity from the time they wake up until the time they go to bed. (11:30pm!)

There have been many challenges this week. Some physical, some emotional, many spiritual. One of the staff members at dinner last night said to me over the excruciating decibels of clanking dishes and children laughing and chanting a silly song, “Could you imagine this camp without your team here?” I didn’t really think of our being here like it was helping the staff… I was only thinking about the children.

We are now on our second to last day of camp, and I can see the exhaustion on the faces of the campers and on the faces of the staff. We are all drained. There was a point when I felt as though I had nothing left, emotionally or physically. I looked at my phone to check the time and there was a message from my mom. “When Christ was tired of the crowds, he would always escape to spend time in prayer with His Father. That is where you will find your strength.” I replied “Your words from the Lord where a long drink to a weary worker.” I immediately turned in scripture to Matthew 14, just after Jesus feeds the 5000. Verse 22, he must have been so tired after serving so many people. Yet still he gave his disciples rest before himself. He stayed back to dismiss the crowd. He knew he needed to renew his strength by prayer to his Father. So he went to the mountain by himself to pray.

There is no doubt in my mind that we are here at Casa Berea for a purpose. There are 13 Spanish team members to 62 kids! If anything, us doing the dirty work of dishes and helping the little kids shower is a relief for these team members. Before coming here I thought we were here to love on the kids, but I have come to realize we are not here only to serve the kids, we are here to serve the Spanish team, so they can share the gospel and do their job of caring for these children. Yes, we play games with them, draw with them, or just laugh and try to talk to them in broken Spanish. But more importantly we work behind the scenes so the Spanish team  can share the gospel.

As we finish this week my prayer is that we remember Jesus’ sacrifice in his service of his people. He did not come to be served, but to serve (Matt. 20:28)

post by Rebecca Parini

 

 

The Torch Race

Lampadedromia

I had the privilege to spend 3 weeks in Athens, Greece last summer as part of a team whose task was to digitize thousands of pages of ancient manuscripts at the National Library in Athens. I was also able to find some time to visit many of the ancient ruins in Athens. I am reminded today of one ancient contest that was popular throughout Greece. You’ll think of the Olympic torch that we continue to watch today in the summer Olympics. Our modern ceremonial (rather than competitive) adaptation, ironically enough, began in the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin under Adolf Hitler, who had a fascination with ancient empires and their activities. In ancient times, the torch carrying was actually a ceremony and a competition between the 10 Athenian tribes. Contestants would race with a torch in one hand and many times a shield in the other, from one sacred site to another, at night, as the main event of various festivals. A contestant  or team of contestants, in some cases, won the race by arriving first at the designated finish with the torch still aflame. If the flame were to ever extinguish, then the runner or team disqualified itself. Hence, this is why some of the runners carried a shield—to guard the flame from opposing forces that may extinguish it. By ancient accounts, it was a daring, race. I read in one place that it could be a distance up to two miles. In Greek, the race was called the λαμπαδηδρομία or the “Torch Race.” Lampa meaning torch and dromia from the word for a race circuit or course. So, to win the Torch Race, you had to run hard; you had to run smart; you had to run together; and you had to run to finish.

The Race of Life

One ancient author reflecting near the end of his life wrote, “I have struggled/fought the good/worthy struggle; I have finished the race course; I have guarded the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). This particular writer saw himself as a servant to his particular God, and in the previous context, he wrote that his life was like a drink offering, being poured out in service. Seeing that only drops of life remained, he reflected on his struggle, his race, and his faith. He described his struggle or fight as good, excellent, or useful. Opposition is implied. According to the University of Penn, another fascinating feature of the Torch Race is that if those who had lost the flame of their torch could overtake a runner who still possessed his torch, the torch would have to be surrendered to the prevailing runner. For these runners, the struggle was real. It took great skill and fight to endure.
Author Irving Stone has spent a lifetime studying greatness, writing novelized biographies of such men as Michelangelo and Vincent van Gogh. Stone was once asked if he had found a thread that runs through the lives of these exceptional people. He said,
I write about people who sometime in their life. . . have a vision or dream of something that should be accomplished . . . and they go to work. They are beaten over the head, knocked down, vilified and for years they get nowhere. But every time they’re knocked down they stand up. You cannot destroy these people. And at the end of their lives they’ve accomplished some modest part of what they set out to do. (Crossroads, Issue No. 7, p. 18.)
The author next states that he had finished his race course. It’s interesting to me that he didn’t use any of the possible Greek words that mean “to win” or “to gain victory.” This author demonstrates knowledge of such vocabulary in his other writings, but here he chooses the verb “to finish.” Perhaps, he chooses this word to maintain the metaphor of pouring out his life in service. Winning doesn’t quite fit as well as finishing or completing.
Two men among several traveled 674 miles from Nenana to Nome, Alaska in the 1925 serum run known as the Great Race of Mercy. They aimed to deliver medicine to a large diphtheria epidemic. Leonhard Seppala and his lead dog Togo covered the most hazardous and longest stretch of 91 miles, and the Norwegian, Gunnar Kaasen, and his lead dog Balto arrived on Front Street in Nome on February 2 at 5:30 a.m., just five and a half days later. These teams were trying to finish their race in service to others.
Lastly, the author writes that he has guarded the faith. The Torch Race image of the runner using his shield to guard and protect the flame of his torch. Without a lit torch at the end, a runner could not complete the Torch Race. The faith for this particular author referred to the total body of belief that he held concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The faith that he guarded was his most precious, most valuable possession.
He believed that his fight, his race, and his aflame faith would receive a crown from the one who had the true worth and authority to reward contestants. At the end of the Torch Race, the victor received a major award. I read one account where I believe the victor received one bull and 100 drachma ($2500).

Season of Accomplishment

In all seriousness, my hope is that this graduation season encourages you on to more and greater things. No doubt you have fought to get here, and I hope that the struggle has proved useful for the next arena. Many of you reading this have finished and completed several years of school and coursework, and as someone who has spent many years in school, that is always something worth celebrating! I hope too that you have guarded something in your finishing. Like this ancient author, I hope that you too have kept the integrity of your faith aflame. Regardless of your background, I think that we can all agree that there are precious things, like faith, integrity, honesty, hope, peace, and so on, that must accompany us to the finished line in order to make the finish line all that it is meant to be.
So, I pray now that you will endure the struggle ahead—looking for the meaning and the profit of the struggle, determine to finish your race, and figure out the most precious things in life and guard those things as you go. And as you pour out your life, may your reward be blessed.