Explore the Bible: Celebration

The Explore the Bible lesson for March 14 focuses on Luke 15:20-32.

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  • The Explore the Bible lesson for March 14 focuses on Luke 15:20-32.

More than 16 years ago, my wife Nancy and I traveled with a mission team of people from our church and several other churches, led by an incredible team from Buckner International. We journeyed to Latvia, one of three Baltic states, and later to St. Petersburg, Russia, to minister to orphans. It turned out to be something totally different than what I had expected. Years later, I learned that we traveled on the same rails out of Riga the Nazis used to take Jews and others to death camps in World War II.

Again, we went there ostensibly to minister to orphans, of which there are too many to count in Eastern Europe. Most of the orphans are social orphans, which means they have living parents who are incapable of caring for their children. Most of the parents were alcoholics. Vodka flows like tap water in Eastern Europe. It’s as easily available in grocery stores as soda is here in the States.

I had no idea what it means to “minister to orphans.” At our first orphanage, the children clung to Nancy like monkeys on a tree, while I sat on a bench trying to figure out what I was doing there.

She literally had at least four or five children, starved for human touch and attention, hanging off of her wherever they could get a grip. When she saw me on the bench, she peeled off one orphan, dumped her in my lap and said, “Get with the program, Schmucker!”

I carried that little girl, about 2 years old and wearing nothing but a diaper, all over the playground. Eventually, sporting an already well-used diaper, she peed all over my left arm. A worker took her away quickly to clean and change her, leaving me to figure it out on my own. First discovery, a little pee never hurt anyone. I actually chuckled and moved on.

‘It’s not about me’

When we were planning and praying for the trip, I remember thinking how wonderful it would be to “take Jesus” to Latvia and Russia. I discovered instead that Jesus already was there long before we were born.

The people who were believers put my faith to shame. I grew up in a place where your social identity was in large part defined by where you worshipped. In Latvia, a nation that lost one-half of its 4 million people to battle in World War II, in deportations and in death camps, faith was defined more radically.

It wasn’t until we got home that I discovered the true meaning of the trip. We hadn’t taken Jesus to those dear people. Their witness of faith brought Jesus to us.

When we came home, we no longer could see our community of first-generation, poverty-level Hispanics the same way we had before we saw what Jesus has been up to in places we’ve never been. That, I believe, is the real value of “mission” trips. They transform the way we see the world.

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That transformation created a new mantra for Nancy and me, “It’s not about me.”

There are very few days those words don’t come to us and influence the decisions we make.

‘What’s in it for me?’

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, that truth all but grabs me by the throat. The older son simply could not bear the thought that his renegade brother would be honored for simply coming home, the home he never left. Or, so he thought.

Read the text closely again and see how he interprets his whole world, even his family, through the lens of how it affects him. His mantra could well have been, “What’s in it for me?”

It is stunning and heartbreaking to see how that mantra has become the cultural norm. We are worried about who will be greatest. Jesus actually answered that question.

Jesus said that, he (or she) who would be greatest among you will become the servant of all, (Matthew 23:11). Jesus put his mouth where his words landed, in the garden just before his arrest and even on the cross.

The point being is that, the kingdom of God has a different dictionary than that of the unredeemed world. Greatness happens when we say, “It’s not about me,” and then begin discovering and meeting the needs of others.

If we want to be great, in God’s kingdom, we seek what is best for others and let God keep score.

Glen Schmucker is a writer and blogger. He has served as a Texas Baptist pastor and as a hospice chaplain.  

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