Saturday, May 18, 2013

Cruise ship lessons

My wife and I recently returned from a two-week cruise to Hawaii. We wanted some warm weather and I had never been to the islands. We saved our money and off we went. Prior to departure we decided to hit the tanning salon so we wouldn't burn and thus ruin the rest of the warm weather experience.

Well... we had 2.5 days of sun and warm weather, so we succeeded in goal number one which was not to get burnt! The second goal was to enjoy the trip and rest and relax. We succeeded in that also.

One of the great things that happened on this cruise was an informal no-host Bible study. We read about it in the ship's daily information sheet and decided to go. One of the passengers decided it would be a great thing to meet other Christians and have some fellowship time. We had between 10 and 14 people that would meet regularly about 8 a.m.on the "sea days" (no island excursions to distract us). We had nine such sea days and it was simply great.

We met folks from varying Christian backgrounds, one who was involved in a "cult" and later moved on to start his own group with others proselytizing. We had two ordained ministers, one from a Texas Baptist background and another who was part of an eldership leadership team. We had charismatics, evangelicals and folks who attended liturgical churches. It was Christian pot luck! While we came from different denominational backgrounds, we had two things in common-- a relationship with Jesus Christ and the written word of God. Nothing else mattered.

We shared scripture, portions of our life story and how God was using and changing us where we lived. It reminded me so much of southeast Idaho in the mid-1970s when we met on Friday nights with other Christians of varying backgrounds. We were in Mormon country-- 80 percent-- so Christians were not plentiful and pastors were jealous and worried about who their sheep were seeing.

What I saw and experienced in those wonderful days of the mid-1970s is what we experienced on the cruise ship nearly 40 years later. Jesus was the center and God still answers prayer.

One gentleman in the group was 89 years old and didn't say a word until the second to last day. The lady who was assisting him shared that the man had liver cancer. My wife shared about her cousin who has so far lived four years longer than the doctors said she would. The Baptist minister then asked my wife to pray for this gentleman . We gathered around him, laid hands on him and my wife prayed and spoke the written word of God to him.

The quite man then hugged everybody and could hardly stop talking. He came to get prayer but didn't know how to ask or was leery of asking.

My wife then took a short restroom break. She had been disappointed over the lack of warm weather and asked the Lord  why and couldn't she have just a little sunshine. It was pretty dreary outside at the time. The Lord quietly told her that He was providing all the sunshine she needed in the group setting and that if the weather had been great, we wouldn't have been spending the time with Him or developing these new important relationships.

When she shared that with the group, it reminded me of the word our church received couple years ago-- Expect an Encounter. Well the encounter we had with God was not the one we had anticipated (warm weather and enjoying his creation in the way we wanted) but it was the one He wanted us to have. We wouldn't have traded it for anything.

We have all exchanged email addresses and are keeping in contact,  including a couple of folks from the ship who get little time to fellowship with other believers. One group member was struggling on whether to remain in her church, while another was struggling over how to reach and witness to their non-married pregnant daughter who once believed in Jesus but who had converted and was now going to marry a Muslim.

The main lessons learned were:

  • God still loves us and is concerned about us
  • Jesus-centered Bible-based fellowship is still critical
  • God hears and answers our prayers despite our denominational differences
  • Christian relationships are vital
  • listening to what God says is more important than our own agendas
  • God is still in control no matter what the situation and His peace rules
At the end of the day, it is still all about Jesus.  It isn't what you know or what training you think you have or  how many times you have done something.  It's about knowing Jesus personally and what He has for you on this day, at this time and in this place. 

Nothing else matters.