Lenses- Part 3

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lenses 10

Adult & Teen Discussion Guide

All of us were born with a “me” – shaped lens, a world view where the our values and decisions are based on our physical urges, desires, and what benefits us. When we come to God, we get access to a new way of looking at things – a “God” – lens, where our values and decisions are subjected to His ways and His plans. The trouble is, the “me” lens doesn’t just go quietly…

1. Discussion 

Romans 8:6-7 [NLT]  “So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will.”

The “me” lens, our default sinful-nature view, will always push for dominance. Through the Spirit’s power, we have to choose God’s view in every situation in life.

Q. What areas do you think people in today’s culture have the hardest time choosing God’s lens in?

Q. What area(s) do you have the hardest time choosing God’s lens in?

2. Challenge

Romans 6:1-2 [NLT]  “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

Serving God is a constant series of choices to use His lens instead of ours. Every new topic is a new battleground, but the longer we fight, the better we get at choosing God’s way.

Q. What’s an area that used to be a me vs. God lens struggle for you, but has improved?

Q. What’s an area that’s still a contested battle? God doesn’t expect perfection, but He does expect persistence. Don’t give up! Keep fighting to use God’s perspective!

3. Prayer Focus

Take a few minutes as a family: thank God for redeeming your Spirit and giving you access to a better way to see the world. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the strength to choose His way in every situation in life.

Family with Small Children Discussion Guide

Helping Others

1. Power Verse

Psalms 82:3-4  “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

What’s Up: “God wants us to share His love, and help others in every way we can!”

In this week’s lesson we learned that God loved us so much, that He gave His son Jesus to die for us.  He wants us to do everything we can to share His love all around the world.  One of the ways we can do that is by giving to BGMC, (Boys and Girls Missionary Challenge.)

2. Discussion

Q. In what ways has God blessed our family?

Q. What are some ways that we can share the things He has given us?

Q. Why is it important that we try to help others?

God has blessed us with many things, like a great church, a wonderful family, a home, food, and so much more.  We have a lot of friends and family that could help us out if we needed something. He expects us to help boys, girls, and families that don’t have friends to help out.  

3. Challenge

The kids at our church are working with BGMC to help boys and girls at a school in Thailand.  

Q. What can you tell me about these kids and their school?

Q. What are 3 things that we can do together this week, to help meet our kids church missions giving goal?

4. Prayer Focus

Pray for the children at the Shang Rai Christian School in the mountains of Thailand.  Ask God to keep them safe and that the missionaries and teachers would be a great blessing to them.  Pray that our kids would be excited about giving to missions, and God would give them creative and fun ideas to meet our BGMC goal to pay for all the kids to attend the school for one year.

Heading Home

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Today is January 29th and currently it is early in the morning.  Our bags are packed and we are about to head over to the airport here in Panama for our return home.  This is the fourteenth time I have faced this departure morning and I feel once again the unsettling duality in my emotions.  There is a part of me that can’t wait to get home to my wife, children, and church family.  But there is also a very real sadness that always accompanies this departure.  I know that I speak for the whole team when I say that every year we leave a little more of our hearts here in Panama.

Every year we learn more about the people that God has blessed us to know here.  This year was a huge step in that direction for me as it was the first year that I could really communicate with many of them without the help of an interpreter.  I spent most of this past year studying Spanish at a nearby community college and practicing with Spanish speaking friends in my church and via Skype.  This ability to finally communicate has given me a much greater understanding of the Ngobo people as well as my Panamanian friends.  While that is a wonderful reality, that familiarity heightens my sadness at leaving them.

I have attempted through these Panama blogs to give you some sense of what it’s like to be here and the things that the team has been experiencing but there is so much that can’t be communicated.  There are Holy Spirit moments of connection and revelation that always accompany this trip for me that I just don’t have words to communicate them.  There are people and faces and places that have deeply affected who and what I am and every time we depart it’s hard.

Before I sound as if despair is overcoming me, which it can’t, there is also a deep sense of both gratitude and awe at God’s direction and guidance.  Last night, I was thinking about all of the intersections that God orchestrated to bring me to Panama.  From the first time I met Kenton Moody on a flight to Amsterdam, to my friendships with Kirk & Yvonne Jones and Julio Valdez, God has been steering me deeper and deeper into this work.  My life has been greatly enriched by these days every year here and already I’m making plans for next year’s trip.

In the meantime, there are an abundance of the unsaved in the river bend.  We have a goal of baptizing a thousand new converts this year at our two campuses!  There is more Spanish to learn, people to disciple, staff to develop, classes to teach, and buildings to build.  The 350 days or so until we come again will fly by and soon we’ll be on our way back.  Next year, I’m excited to bring my ten year old son for the first time so that this can start to get in his blood as well.

Until then…  Te amo Panama.  Voy a regresar en el tiempo de Dios.

Hey if I learned it, so can you!  Look it up.


Quite an Adventure

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Note:  This post was written on Sunday, January 26.

It’s Sunday morning and just about the time that most of you are rising for your day, we will be meeting with the children and families from the school in Soloy.  We are an hour ahead of you and the day here doesn’t move with the clock but with the sun.  In other words, things start early here.  We’ve been here at the school for the past two days.

This morning I have once again been amazed at how quickly our North American thinking and standards adjust to a different way of living.  While we were at the conference, we had no running water, building, and nothing but dirt for a floor and the sky for a ceiling.  Now that we are at the school we have buildings to sleep in, concrete floors, and electric lights as long as we have gasoline for the generator.  There is a pump that fills a tank from the River and we have running water.

What’s amazing is to hear our team’s comments about having a little room with a drain in the floor, a bucket full of water that they ran from a plastic pipe, and a plastic bowl that all serves as our shower.  I actually had a conversation with one of the teens who is with us about how great this system is!  Please understand that you can’t drink this water, there’s no light in the “shower” room, and this water is really cold!  What’s amazing is that just a few days ago, all of this was a hardship, now a five gallon bucket of water and a plastic bowl is luxury!

The first night we were here, the team sort of laughed at me for setting up the inside screen part of my tent in one of the classrooms and putting my cot inside it to sleep.  When the laughter and screams started about midnight because of the half dozen bats flying around over their heads, suddenly every room had tents.  However, after just one night you would have thought they slept with bats in their room every night.

I love watching the growing sense of thanksgiving and gratitude for the blessings of home, family, health, and opportunity.   I pray that we would all live in the knowledge of Gods blessings and allow that sense to regulate how we express care and grace to the world around us.

We will however enjoy a warm shower in a few days!


Heading to Soloy

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As I write this we are moving from San Felix to Soloy.  Many of you sponsor children at the school that is in Soloy.  For the next three nights the team and I will be staying in the classrooms of the school and working on a few projects to make it easier for the teachers to care for the students of the school.  Our biggest project will be to build a wood-burning cook stove for meal preparation.  You see, for almost all of the 150 students that attend the school the only meal that they will receive will be the one that they get while at school.  For that reason, the teachers not only teach but also fix food for all of the students.

Many of you sponsor children at the school.  Your support supplies the school, pays the teachers, as well as purchases food for the children each day.  I cannot encourage you too strongly to sponsor a child.  On Sunday we will have the great privilege of seeing many of the students that we sponsor.  Even though school is out for their summer break right now, the students and some of their families are coming to spend part of the day with us on Sunday.  This reunion is a highlight of our trip each year.  Once again, if you are not sponsoring a child please consider doing so.  95% of the money that you give goes directly towards the care of the child, (Latin American Child Care deducts 5% for administrative costs) and should you desire, you can come with us next year and actually meet the child whose life you have blessed.  (Click here to learn more.)

The team is doing great with no sickness.  We are tired but our hearts are both full and saddened.  We are saddened because this afternoon we had to leave all of our friends at the conference and come up to the school.  We only see these dear people once a year and it is always very difficult to leave them.  We are already anticipating seeing them again next year.

On a very sad note, a young lady drowned in the river last evening.  While she was not one of those attending our meeting, it is always a shock to hear something like this. She and a group of Seventh Day Adventist were camping just down from us.  Life and death are very different here.  There are no ambulances or EMT’s that come when something like this happens.  There’s no coroner to call.  They simply took the young girl out of the water, wrapped her body in a sheet, and carried her up out of the river valley to an awaiting truck that took her body to her mother and father.  Somehow it seems much more personal here.  While life feels pretty cheap here, it also feels like the people are more in touch with their lives.  Births take place at home as does death.  Funerals are in the yard next to the house and often there is no coffin or preparation.  Just the deceased, a favorite blanket, and family and friends.

Once again, Panama and the Ngobo people keep teaching us.  This place is like a window to your soul.


Why Panama?

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rice and beans

I’m writing this blog next to the San Felix River 10 miles North of the Pan-American Highway surrounded by the Ngobo people of Panama.  Just 30 years ago they were a predominately unreached people group until a great friend of mine, Pastor Julio Valdez was called by God to reach them with the Gospel.  Julio began many different works including a yearly conference in which the Ngobo people come together for a week of evening church services, daily classes, and times of prayer.  While small in it’s beginnings, this work has grown to include some ninety churches with pastors, buildings, schools, and annually thousands now come together for the conference.  I’ve had the great privilege of being here the past thirteen years.  It’s not your normal missions trip.  There are no hotels, running water, or bathrooms as you know them.  We sleep in tents, bathe in the river, and well… you can imagine the rest!  Those of us who come annually can’t imagine missing it.

Pastor Julio passed away two years ago and his daughter Waquiria directs the ministries now.  This mother of two leaves her young children on Sunday afternoon, catches a bus in Panama City for a ten hour bus ride to where she catches a truck ride up the mountain to Soloy where the school she directs is located.  She normally stays there two weeks and leaves there on Friday morning to repeat that trip in reverse back to Panama City to see her family.  She spends the weekend at home before returning for another two weeks.  I never cease to be amazed at her commitment to the children the Lord has placed under her care.

It would be a fair question to ask why I come every year.  It’s a hard question for me to answer.  While we do work on projects and I usually preach at the conference, others could do these.  I think I come not because of what I do here, but rather what being here does to me.  You see, it’s impossible to spend any time here and then come home and complain.  Said succinctly, we have everything.  We are blessed so greatly that we have no sense of the degree of that blessing.  Not only in things, but also in freedom, privilege, access, and opportunities.  In every area of our lives God has poured out his blessings in such great measure that I can’t think of a word that describes it.  In fact, I don’t have a word or phrase that can create in your mind the degree to which our lives are blessed.

You and I owe a huge debt!  We have everything and yet we want more.  Every morning, afternoon, and evening here we sit and eat our meals with literally hundreds of eyes on us….

I was just interrupted in my writing by a Ngobo brother who brought me these bags of beans and rice that he had grown in his garden.  He grows and harvests the rice by hand June through December.  His total harvest this year was 70 pounds.  He feeds his family with this.  This bag that he gave me has at least 7 pounds of rice in it.  That’s ten percent of his total harvest.  He said it was a gift because of what we do here.  He thinks that that we are here to teach him…I know better.  He’s teaching us.  There it is.  That’s why I keep coming back.  This place resets my entitlement meter to zero and refills my reservoir of thankfulness.  This place makes me want to serve again and reveals once again the heart of Jesus.

We’ve got to come again next year.  I promised the brother who gave me the rice and beans, some pumpkin seeds!