Travel Light

“He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.” – Mark 6:7-9

I love packing for trips. There is something exciting about choosing clothes and other items to take with you. The expert packer thinks through all possible activities and destinations as he or she fills the suitcase, and these thoughts build anticipation for the trip.

Yet, packing is also very stressful. At no time was this more true than when I packed my bags for my trip to Zimbabwe in 2012. I was limited to a carry-on weighing no more than 15 pounds, and a small personal item such as a backpack or purse. Leaving for 5 ½ weeks with only 15 pounds of clothes is a difficult task, especially when we knew our frequent travel around the country would make laundering clothes difficult.

So there I was, laboring for hours over a small duffell bag and a backpack trying to figure out what was essential and what could stay at home. These were difficult decisions, but in the end, my bags had only clothes, toiletries, a camera, a few books, and gifts for my host family. The cell phone, iPad, and other items essential to my every day life at home were quickly deemed unnecessary for a trip across Zimbabwe.

As I began lamenting the difficult packing restrictions, I thought about how Jesus sent the disciples out for ministry with even less. At least I had 2 bags, even if they were small. At least I was allowed some money, whereas they weren’t. My final cut was a second sweatshirt (a decision that would later haunt me, given the cold nights in Mutare). “Do not put on two tunics,” I thought to myself as I removed this final item from my bag to bring it under the weight limit.

As disciples, we often want to take our big bags and second tunics. But Jesus instructions call for simplicity of possessions, so we will focus instead on the things that cannot be packed into a bag: life, relationships, joy, memories, and most of all the kingdom of God.

Prayer: Lord, you send us out in your name, and sometimes with nothing more than the clothes on our backs. As we go, help us to rely not on material things, but only on the strength of your Spirit, for that is truly all that we need. Amen.

— Pastor Erik

Be Yourself

When I was in high school, our youth group went on a mission trip to St. Lucia. On the last night of the trip, we headed to the beach for some relaxation. One of our pastors, Rev. Eric Park, led us in worship on the beach, including a reaffirmation of our baptismal covenants and the celebration of Holy Communion. I will never forget that service, particularly because of the way the sacrament of communion was served.

Imagine the sight of 80 senior high youth and adult leaders, worshipping on a Caribbean beach. Now imagine Eric, a bowling ball of a man, leading the service while standing knee deep in the ocean, holding the elements of bread and wine in his outstretched arms and inviting us to the Lord’s Supper. Imagine further that Eric is wearing athletic shorts, a Scooby Doo cut-off t-shirt, and a bandana on his head. This is the scene of one of the most memorable and comical experiences of communion in my life.

Before then, I had received communion countless times. But until that night, I had never seen it administered by someone wearing sleeveless Scooby Doo vestments. Then again, Eric is the type of guy who, as an adult, still reads comic books and watches cartoons, so none of us were in any way surprised at his attire.

Eric Park has been a mentor and friend of mine for 20 years. Of the many things Eric has taught me, one very important lesson came on that warm summer night on the beach in St. Lucia. That night, as a high school senior, I learned that being a Christian – or a pastor, for that matter – does not mean one must sacrifice his or her identity. Eric surely knows when wearing the image of a cartoon dog is acceptable, and when a clergy robe is more appropriate for administration of sacraments. But he also knows it’s appropriate to allow our personalities shine.

Scripture reminds us that we are “wonderfully made” by God (Psalm 139:14), and that “we are what he has made us” (Eph. 2:10). We have different identities, personalities, physical features, interests, and beliefs. Yet we are all created by God, made wonderfully just as we are.

So be yourself today. Don’t let others keep your personality and identity from shining through. It’s exactly the way God made you!

— Pastor Erik

“I’ll Pray For You”

“I’ll pray for you.”

We say that to each other all the time, don’t we? It’s a nice thing to say to someone who’s just poured out their heart to you, but sometimes what’s where it ends. Whether we intend to or not, we fail to follow through on our promise to pray. Every time we do, “I’ll pray for you” becomes a bit more empty of meaning.

Sometimes people say they’ll pray for me, but I know they won’t. I can tell by the way they say it. Sometimes I tell people I’ll pray for them, but then I forget. I feel awful when that happens – so why do I still let it happen?

What if we stopped saying, “I’ll pray for you”, and starting praying with people? What if we became willing to drop whatever we’re doing at work, at the grocery store, or on the phone, to pray with someone who needs it? We’ve already stopped to have a conversation that gave way to a prayer request. We might as well pray together on the spot. That way, the person knows we mean what we say, and we make sure to fulfill what we promise?

Imagine the difference if all Christians did this every time we said, “I’ll pray for you.” People would be praying together publicly all the time, in all kinds of places! What a witness that would be to the world: the church is a group of people who will stop whatever they’re doing, wherever they are, to pray with whoever needs it!

The next time you’re tempted to say, “I’ll pray for you”, don’t. Instead, ask, “Would you mind if I prayed with you here and now?” If they say no, that’s okay – you can still pray for them later. But if they say yes, then seize the opportunity to make a spiritual connection over prayer. Try it this week, and let me know how it goes!

— Pastor Erik