Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Fighting the urge to hide

The gay rights and gay pride movement gave us the phrase "coming out" to indicate that a person is going to live publicly, no longer hiding a secret. People "come out of the closet" with the desire to be known for who they really are and with the hope that they will be accepted for who they are.

We (all of us) have been hiding since the garden of Eden (Gen 3). This urge to hide what we've done and who we are is part of the Fall of man. It's destructive and harmful.

In Psalm 139:1-6 the song writer says this about God: "you know". You know when I get up in the morning, what I'm going to say before I say it, you know everything about me, you know ... you know... Then he says this:

"I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence!" Ps 139:7

It sounds like the writer wants to run away, to hide from God, but finds that wherever he goes, God is already there.

I want to be known by God and others, but I also want to hide who I am and what I've done. Isn't that weird? Why am I frightened by God's knowledge of me? Shame. In Eden, Adam told God "we were ashamed" so we hid". I'm ashamed about my sin, my failures, about myself - who I am. How can that be? "I am fearfully and wonderfully made" (also in Ps 139). God knows everything! EVERYTHING! And he still loves me. Jesus died for my sin and removed my shame. Why am I still hiding?

It is time to stop hiding. If you have a "deep dark secret" - tell someone. God knows already, you can't hide from him. Some time back, I told a dark secret to my friends. I expected judgement and harsh words. I thought I would hear "Oh Allan, how could you?".  Later some of my friends  shared their anger and hurt about what I had done, but initially all I heard was "thank you for sharing that. How can I help?"

Don't spend another day hiding in shame. If you have a secret that is causing you pain and shame, tell someone. Talk to a trusted friend, a sister in the Lord, your pastor - do not spend another day hiding. Walk in the light.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Mary KNEW: maybe NOT everything, but she knew

Mary responded, “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me. He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him. His mighty arm has done tremendous things! He has scattered the proud and haughty ones. He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands. He has helped his servant Israel and remembered to be merciful. For he made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever.”  Luke 1:46-55

Praise comes naturally to people who have their eyes on the big picture of what God is doing.  Mary responds to Elizabeth with "Oh how my soul praises... how my spirit rejoices". People rarely start sentences with "Oh" or "how". In my family it would be "Oh what a baby you are..." or "How sick is that?" When "Oh" and "how" are used positively it is really a big deal. "Oh, how" doesn't add to the meaning, it is totally unnecessary AND completely needed. It is pure emotion - a groan, a gasp of joy. And I am surprised.

I thought Mary would be caught up in her single mother angst, but not at all. She is like a person who just won the lottery, beside herself with excitement. Mary is a God centered person, so her response focuses on God:
  • God my Savior - the mother of the Savior also needs a Savior
  • he took notice - my grandson Ethan thinks the grown-ups in his life don't notice him. We do. When God "takes notice" or "remembers" it always implies "takes action". It is more than focusing attention, it is doing something to change the situation. 
  • the Mighty One is holy - Can you imagine if the Mighty One were NOT holy or loving or just? It would be like having the head of ISIS in charge of the universe. 
  • He has done great things for me - Mary has an eternal, long term perspective. It has been 1000's of years since the Lord made promises to Abraham, but Mary knows those promises and believes they are being fulfilled. She's not worried about the next 6 months or 5 years, she is part of God' unfolding plan of redemption. 
  • He has scattered the proud... brought down princes, exalted the humble, filled the hungry, sent away the rich, helped his servant Israel. Mary sees all the promises of the ages coming together "in the fullness of time, God sent his Son, born of woman" (Galatians) 
  • For He made this promise to our ancestors and to Abraham - The seed of Gen 12:3 has sprouted in Mary's womb. Destiny is unfolding before her eyes and she has a role to play. 
Lord, what is my role in this sacred plan? When did I last get so excited about what you're doing that I cried out "Oh God!"  You took notice of Mary. Do you take notice of me? remember me? It is incredible that the unfolding of your eternal plan of salvation included a lowly girl named Mary. It is even more incredible that it includes a flawed man named Allan. I have a role to play too. "Go and make disciples" Jesus said. Thank you Lord for giving my life meaning and significance. Amen

Monday, December 15, 2014

Single mothers are not "alone mothers"

I know lots of single mothers. I'm beginning to think that the name "single mother" is a misnomer.  Sure single mom's don't have the father around to help, but they are not "alone moms". They usually have parents, and often even support from the "in-laws" of the MIA outlaw dad.  My daughter was a "single mother".  We walked with her through the pregnancy and birth of our grandson, and for the first 10 years of his life we lived together. My daughter is incredibly courageous and a great mom, but she didn't have to do it all by herself.

I'm thinking about single moms because I've been reading the Christmas story. Today I read some more about Mary's reaction to the news that she was going to have a baby. When I first read this story I was wearing my personal and cultural glasses: I filtered the story through my own experience. That's a dangerous thing to do. I assumed that Mary was a frightened teenage mother, who runs to her auntie Elizabeth because she has nowhere else to go. The angel told her that tidbit of gossip about Elizabeth being pregnant. (Sorry Gabriel, okay its not gossip. When you're 6 months along, everyone knows. Except Mary). It's wonderful that God gave her one person who would understand her situation and be there for her if needed. Why did Mary go to see Elizabeth? Was she frightened, excited, worried, wondering how to tell Joseph her fiance? Probably all of the above.

"Why?" questions are somewhat dangerous when studying the Bible because often the motives & purposes are not explicitly stated. If they are then great. "For God so loved the world" is pretty clear about his motive for giving his son, but often scripture doesn't tell us why people or God do what they do. If the scripture doesn't say clearly, then it's best to not ascribe motives. The truth is: we don't always know.

I assumed that Mary went to see Elizabeth because she is frightened, upset and worried about being pregnant in a culture where being a single mom would have meant a death sentence if the Romans overlords had allowed it. I want to read Mary's story through the filter of my modern life story, but that is a mistake. We need to read the story with fresh eyes, laying aside our cultural and personal biases. Let it say what it says. Being aware of your personal "filters" and laying them aside will help you hear God's voice when you read scripture. Part of Rest in Bible Study is to become aware of yourself and your own biases and emotional landscape.

Read & Reflect
"A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.” Mary responded, “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord."  Luke 1.39-46
Nothing is this passage or the following song of praise indicates that Mary was frightened or worried. On the contrary, she seems excited and joyful about being chosen by God to give birth to the Savior. There is not a hint of fear or worry in this story. I want to put them there because of my family's experience, but that would putting something into the story that is not there.

If Mary was looking for reassurance from Elizabeth, then she was not disappointed. 3 times she uses the word "blessed", says she is "honored" to have Mary, the mother of her Lord, there in her home. Whatever doubts Mary may have had, Elizabeth's reaction would have reassured her greatly.


Lord, thank you that you gave Mary someone to talk to about her pregnancy and the extraordinary things you were doing in her life. Thank you that you've provided people to help and support single moms and their kids. Please help the many Arrow ladies who are single moms. Thank you for the family members who are helping care for their children while they provide for the family. Encourage and help them today. Protect the children and help them to know that they are loved and treasured. It's comforting to know that even the Virgin Mary needed someone to talk to. You're so gracious to provide us with friends and family who can help us when we don't know what to do or where to turn.  Amen

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Scarry angels, overturned life, Son of God?

Angels are scary beings. After saying "Hello" the 2nd thing out of their mouths is almost always "don't be afraid". I think they must be scary looking like some awesome sci-fi ninja warrior, but it's not only that. When an angel shows up, kiss "life as you know it" goodbye. Whatever they have to say is going to turn your life upside down, or rightside up, depending on how you look at it.

In the Bible most people when they see an angel do the following:

  1. pee their pants out of pure terror
  2. fall on the ground and cower in fear
  3. listen very carefully to what the angels say
  4. tell the angels "you've got the wrong person. I think you came to the wrong address. Can I see your work order? Yep. That's my address, but ...." 
  5. finally do as instructed
Mary was told by the angel that she, still a teenager, was going to be a mommy. For the record, Mary didn't pee her pants, cower or try to pass the buck to someone else. She said "Yes Lord!" Faced with being a single mom in a society where you get stoned to death for that, she said "Yes." The angel obviously didn't go to the wrong address. Read the story yourself:

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you! ” Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. For the word of God will never fail. ” Mary responded, “I am the  servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her. Luke 1.26-38
In our class on the 4 R's of reading the Bible we learned to look for

  • action words: verbs & commands
  • hinge words like "then, however, but, etc. 
  • emotion words: words that convey or bring out emotions 
  • God words: talk & descriptions about God
Today, I want to challenge you to read this passage of scripture and list what it says about Jesus. Please leave your observations in the comments. Its okay to write questions. I'll start:

  1. God shows favor to people. Not sure what that means, but Mary "found favor" with God. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Mountain leveling, valley filling, life changing good news

I gave up on the Daily Bread Christmas devotion because their scripture selection had nothing to do with Christmas. I have no idea why they called their devotion a "Christmas devotional". It was totally random. Changed to a 5 day Advent plan, which I'm sure will stretch into 10+ days.


"Slow down, you move too fast. You've got to make the morning last.." 

It doesn't take a lot of time to slow down, just a conscious decision to quiet your heart. Sometimes when my heart and mind race it helps me to write down the things I'm thinking about. I jot them down, so I can rest assured that I won't forget them, then I lay them aside. "This time is for me and God." 

It's okay to have fun as you relax.

Read & Reflect

Today's reading from the Advent devotion is from Isaiah 40 

“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Tell her that her sad days are gone and her sins are pardoned. Yes, the lord has punished her twice over for all her sins." 

  1. Comfort: "Prophets of doom" is a phrase in the English language. Prophets are known for pronouncing judgement and calling people to "Repent!" This section begins with a command to "comfort". If I were the prophet Isaiah I would breathe a huge sigh of relief. "Thank you Lord!"  
  2. When was the last time you delivered "good news" to someone? Isn't sharing the goodnews about Jesus the same as telling someone "your sad days are gone. your sins are pardoned"?
  3. "punished her twice" - I think this is just an expression to say "the days of discipline are over." If God punished me for all my sin even once, all that would be left would be a pile of ash. 

"Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting, “Clear the way through the wilderness for the lord ! Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God! Fill in the valleys, and level the mountains and hills. Straighten the curves, and smooth out the rough places. Then the glory of the lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. The lord has spoken!” 

  1. Listen! - Someone is shouting and God still needs to say to us "listen". OMG, turn off your phone. Shut your mouth. Quiet your heart and listen. Why does God have to shout at us? Because we are so "thick-headed", dumb, Low SQ (spiritual quotient). Thank you God for being so patient. Thank you for shouting. I need it.
  2. Clear the way, make a straight highway, fill in, level, straighten, smooth out - Wow, I have some roadwork to do. 
  3. Why do I have to do anything? I thought salvation is 100% God. What is my part? 
  4. How am I supposed to do this? Am I to reform my life before I can know God? I don't think so. I know this passage is a prophecy about the coming of John the Baptist. He told people to "repent". 
  5. OMG - Repent. Think about how powerful repentance is: mountain leveling, valley filling, curve straightening, Lord preparing! When you repent - you simply turn around and face the Lord. That is what the word means. I'm heading one way and I realize my mistake, turn around, face the Lord, and say "from now on, I'm following you and walking your path".
  6. "Then" - this is just too much. When I am prepared - THEN the glory of the Lord will be revealed." 
  7. Before the birth of Christ, God sent John to "SHOUT" at them and to tell them to get ready. Some of them repented and got ready. How about me? How about you? Are you ready for some glory in your life? 

"A voice said, “Shout!” I asked, “What should I shout?” “Shout that people are like the grass. Their beauty fades as quickly as the flowers in a field. The grass withers and the flowers fade beneath the breath of the lord . And so it is with people. The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.” 

  1. "grass" - I'm like grass. Well at least he didn't call me a weed. You're right. My life is already mostly over. It went soooooo fast. In another 30 years no one will remember me. I'll be a faded picture on my kid's bookshelf. That is really depressing, sobering, unless there is some eternal hope for us. 
  2. I remember scripture says that "it is appointed for man to die once, then comes judgement." What hope is there for us? Only this - Jesus died for my sins and rose again. He promises that the one who trusts in him will have eternal life and not perish.  

"O Zion, messenger of good news, shout from the mountaintops! Shout it louder, O Jerusalem. Shout, and do not be afraid. Tell the towns of Judah, “Your God is coming!” Yes, the Sovereign lord is coming in power. He will rule with a powerful arm. See, he brings his reward with him as he comes. He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. "Isaiah 40:1-11

  1.  "the sovereign Lord is coming in power" - When Jesus came at Christmas 2000 years ago, he didn't come in power. This sounds like it refers to his 2nd coming when he will come as ruler and King. I can understand how the people of Jerusalem and Judah were confused by the events of Christmas. There was no mistaking John the Baptist as the prophet who would come to prepare for the Lord. They all agreed on that even though they didn't repent and get ready. Then Jesus, this carpenter's son came, gentle like a shepherd, teaching, healing, restoring. They expected, they wanted a conquering king to throw off the yoke of the Romans. 
  2. "carry lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart" - such gentleness. Angry men from the middle east, don't want that. They want a God who will tell them to strap on bombs and kill their enemies. They want jihad, not a gentle shepherd. So they crucified Jesus. What would I have done? It was my sins that put him there, not their anger.


Lord, thank you for "shouting" the good news to me. Thank you for showing me what a "wasteland" my life was and bringing me to a place of repentance.  Life is so very short. Thank you for the gift of eternal life. Thank you for the hope of eternity. Jesus, thank you for your gentleness towards us. I know you will come again as a conquering ruler with a powerful arm, yet you will always treat your children with gentleness and love. Give me boldness to "shout" the good news of Christmas to those around me. Amen

Friday, December 5, 2014

Christmas 3: the 4 R's: Do you want God to treat you as a baby or a grown child of God? part two Reflection on Gal 3:26-27

Do you want God to treat you as a baby or a grown child of God?

In his letter to Christians at Galatia Paul says "you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus." In the NLT version there was a footnote that said "sons", i.e., the word they translated as children means "sons" in the original Greek. In my last post I wrote a few questions:

  • What is the difference between "son" and "child"? 
  • "united with Christ in baptism" - What is the role of baptism in my union with Jesus? It sounds like baptism is where I take off the old me and put on Jesus, where I take on my new identity in Christ and become one with other Christians. 
  • "true children (sons) of Abraham: What is a true son of Abraham? a false son?
  • What does any of this have to do with Christmas? Why did the Daily Bread include this in their Christmas devotional? (not an important question)
When you write questions you are beginning to Reflect on what you've read. Asking questions is the BEST way to Reflect on scripture. 

Today I want to try and answer at least the first question. How do you find answers to questions like this? 
  • Poll the audience?
  • Call a lifeline? 
  • 50/50? 
There are commentaries and Bible dictionaries that you can access online. You could wait til Sunday and ask your pastor, Rev. Knows Everything Abot the Bible, or you could try reading around. I like to search for the answer myself by reading around the paragraph to better understand what was going on. Then if I'm not sure about my conclusions I can read some online commentaries, dictionaries to see if anyone else agrees with my thinking. 

There is no way to answer most of these questions without reading around. Read the paragraphs before and after this passage. What if I don't have time? Then slow down, save it for tomorrow. Let the question cook like "long soup". Pray about it off and on during the day and at the next opportunity read around to find the answer. 
Here is what I found when I began reading around  Galatians 3:26-27. Verses 23-24 say

Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed. Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith.
"For you are all children  of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes.    There is no longer Jew or Gentile,  slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children  of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you."  Galatians 3:26-27
The paragraph that follows 3:26-27 says this:
Think of it this way. If a father dies and leaves an inheritance for his young children, those children (babes) are not much better off than slaves until they grow up, even though they actually own everything their father had. They have to obey their guardians until they reach whatever age their father set. And that’s the way it was with us before Christ came. We were like children; we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world. But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children (sons), God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child (son). And since you are his child (son), God has made you his heir.
 Paul talks about children of God in two different ways: young children and grown-up children. He's angry at the Christians in Galatia because they have gone backwards. They are trying to follow the law, but the law was meant as a guardian or nanny, a child-minder. Until Jesus came, Paul says that people needed a nanny, a guardian, a child-minder to keep us in line, but now that Jesus has come Christians have the Holy Spirit inside them to guide them. Now we are treated as adult children of God, not babies.

So when I cry out "Abba Father" it is not the whining cry of a little child "Taytay", but the cry of a grown man, "Dad, Father!" The old movie Ben Hur depicts the ceremony of adopting a full grown man as one's son. BTW, the word son can refer to a female. The meaning is referring to an adult child vs. a minor child. Here is a clip:

So what? I'm American, so I'm thinking "Can I have the car keys please?" Grown children have a whole different set of responsibilities and privileges. If I am a grown child of God, then I don't need bedtimes, curfews, rules and regulations, etc. If the Spirit of God inside of me can help me say "Abba, Father" then he can also lead me to walk in the way of Jesus. 

So what does any of this have to do with Christmas? I can't claim to know what was in the mind of the Daily Bread editors when they included this in their Christmas devotion, but 4:4 says,
But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. 
The right time: the first Christmas was the right time. I have all the privileges and responsibilities of an adult heir of God, child of God, because Jesus was born of Mary. He came to earth, lived under the law, and through his death on the cross, freed me from the child-minder, and adopted me as an adult son. I can now access my inheritance. The Spirit lives within me and will lead me in the way everlasting. That's what I call freedom. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Christmas 2: the 4 R's: Galatians 3:26-27 little kid or grown up child of God?

Child of God is Child of God, right? Not so fast. Turns out that adult children have more privileges than young children. What about you?

I'm following the Daily Bread's 10 day devotional for Christmas. If you are using the Daily Bread for your devotions please READ the scriptures they suggest. The Daily Bread's 
devotional material is well written and helpful, but it is NO substitute for the Word of God. If you have to choose, then spend your time reading the suggested Scripture passage and bypass the devotional.

REST: Take a few minutes and quiet your heart before God. Prepare yourself to hear from him. Here are some rain sounds to help you relax. If you live in HK or the Philippines, you can open your window a bit and you'll have a good chance of hearing rain. :-)

READ: Today's reading is Galatians 3:26-27
"For you are all children  of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes.    There is no longer Jew or Gentile,  slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children  of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you."  Galatians 3:26-27
In my version there was a footnote icon next to the words "children", so I clicked on it. It said "Greek  'sons'". That means that in the original the writer used the word "sons" instead of "children. So one of my questions is:
  • What is the difference between "son" and "child"? 
  • "united with Christ in baptism" - What is the role of baptism in my union with Jesus? It sounds like baptism is where I take off the old me and put on Jesus, where I take on my new identity in Christ and become one with other Christians. 
  • "true children (sons) of Abraham: What is a true son of Abraham? a false son?
  • What does any of this have to do with Christmas? Why did the Daily Bread include this in their Christmas devotional? (not an important question)
There is no way to answer most of these questions without reading around. Read the paragraphs before and after this passage. What if I don't have time? Then slow down, save it for tomorrow. Let the question cook like "long soup". Pray about it off and on during the day and at the next opportunity read around to find the answer. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Christmas 1: Practicing 4Rs: meet the first evangelists

Yesterday, we had our first class on how to read the Bible. Most of those attending struggle with Bible reading. We live in a day when people don't read in depth, instead we skim read. Our fingers flick through facebook posts, looking the next interesting cat video to watch. We rarely read slowly. The Bible is meant to be read slowly. It is like an expensive chocolate. Rochere chocolates are a favorite in Hong Kong. Grocery stores have stacks of them and during Chinese New Year thousands and thousands of them are purchased to be given away as gifts. Hong Kong people know how to eat a good chocolate. They peel back the golden aluminum wrapper carefully and slowly nibble on the chocolate. They can make one piece of chocolate last for 1/2 hour. I'm American. I unwrap the chocolate, pop the whole thing in my mouth and reach for another one before I've even finished the first. I've got it wrong. You don't treat a good chocolate that way. You shouldn't read the Bible that way either. 

Most of those who attended the class on how to read the Bible use the Daily Bread as their devotional guide, so I thought I would follow the Daily Bread's Advent reading plan. You can find it on bible.com. It has 10 days of reading to help you get prepared for Christmas. I'll probably stretch it into 20 days. If you use Bible.com Bible app on your cell phone it has a useful "catch me up" feature for when you fall behind. It will move the readings forward giving you a fresh start.

Before you read, REST. Quiet your heart before God. Listen to a Christmas carol if that will help you settle your heart and prepare to hear from God.

"Lord, help me discover anew the Christ of Christmas. I want to remember and experience again the wonder of Immanuel, God in the midst of us. Here I am. I'm listening." 

READ: Here is the reading for Day 1, part A: Luke 2.8-14

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” 
Reading this takes less than 30 secs, so you can read and re-read it and still have time to savor the richness.

Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What were the shepherds doing? Imagine the scene. Are they awake? sleeping? 
  • How does the angel show up? 
  • How did they react?
  • What do you think the angel looked like?
  • What does he say to them?
  • When do the other angels show up? What do they do? How are they described?
  • How do armies sound?
  • What is the announcement?
  • What words does the angel use to describe Jesus?
  • Where & how can the shepherds find him? 
  • What is the message "shouted" out by the army of angel warriors?
One of practices we learned was to "Read around". The Daily Bread doesn't include the end of the story. Here it is:

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.  After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.  All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished,  but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.  The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.
  • If the the shepherds were terrified by the appearance of 1 angel, how do you think they reacted to the appearance of an army of angels?
  • After recovering from their "shock" what did the Shepherds do? List their actions. 
  • What was their manner or attitude as they did the things they did? 
  • What do the shepherds actions reveal about their heart attitudes?
  • How did Mary, Jesus' mother respond to the story of the Shepherds?
  • Think about the titles and words used to describe this newborn baby. Who is he? What does "Savior" mean? "Messiah"? 
  • What purposes did the angel army say God was achieving? When you read the end of the story, do you think that these goals, glory to God, & peace to men were achieved in the lives of the shepherds?
  • Who is this baby to you? Still a baby in a manger? Savior? Ruler (Messiah)? Lord?
  • When the Shepherds heard about Jesus what did they experience? What did they do? How has meeting Jesus effected you? How will it effect your work and attitude today?
  • Write a prayer. Below is mine.
"Lord, you are so amazing. A baby born in a cattle shed is Savior, Messiah, Lord of all. Wrapped in scraps of cloth and put in a feeding trough to keep him warm - could you find a more humble way to enter our world? I don't think so. Who would suspect that this child would be King of Kings and Lord of Lords? The army of angels that appeared to the Shepherds were his to command. Lord, this is crazy and wonderful. You are amazing. No wonder the shepherds went away glorify and praising God for all they had experienced. These first evangelists preached a message of praise to you. It flowed out of the joy and wonder they had experienced. Lord, I want to be like them - to share the story of Jesus from a heart of praise and wonder. I know some people will be "astonished" - doesn't say if they believed or not, but at least they heard the good news that brings great joy to all peoples. I want to be part of that. Praise God!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

SOAP part 4: Top Secret

I've been practicing the SOAP Bible study method. The more I use this, the more I prefer the 3'Rs of the American Bible Society: Read, Reflect, Respond. Simpler and still they contain all the essentials. As I walked this a.m. I listened the NLT version of Colossians. It really surprised me. The S of SOAP stands for Scripture. READ the Bible.

S(or Read): Read and re-read the text you are studying. This is essential.
  1. Read the text
  2. Read it again
  3. Read it outloud.
  4. Read the immediate context, the full paragraph or section around it
  5. Read the bigger context at one time. i.e. read the whole book at one sitting.
Today I listened to the whole book as I walked up some hills not far from my home. What impressed me so much was this section of Colossians 1. (15-22). I've imagined that this is a "Top Secret" 1st century document redacted by the Roman Empire's CIA. Redacting means to edit out information you don't want others to see or know. If you want to know what the missing information says, then I challenge you to look up Colossians 1:15-23 and discover what was "redacted". I warn you, however, the information is mind blowing. If you understand the contents of this section, you will be a very dangerous person.

Now think about this question. How does 1:15-23 relate to the first sentence of 3:16:
"Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives."

This blogpost will self-destruct in 15 seconds.

Drat. This is the internet where everything lives forever.

Monday, November 24, 2014

SOAP Part 3: Filling is for everyone

I'm spending some time using the SOAP method of Bible Study and devotion. The American Bible Society has something similar. They ask you to Pray and quiet your heart first. Then Read scripture slowly, noting intriguing words & phrases followed by Reflecting on what hits you as your read and finally Responding to what you've read in prayer and obedience. If the the 3 Rs are easier to remember, then use them.

Scripture: I've been interacting with Colossians 3:16-17.

"Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father."  Col.3.16-17 
I want to make a habit of starting out by "being still" so that I can know that Yahweh is God. Here is a video to help quiet our hearts.
 As I watch and listen to this video, I feel peaceful. It is almost impossible for me to think about all the STUFF I have to do today. Youtube is filled with videos like this. Instead of watching cat videos, quiet your heart before God and prepare to listen to him.

Observation & Application: The words that stand out to me today are "your" and "each other". It is not enough that the message about Christ fill the leader's life. God intends that this message fill each of us. Immediately I begin to think "but how?" As a leader what can I do to "fill" peoples lives with the message. I'm missing the point. The verb of the sentence is "Let". I can't fill myself or anyone else. I allow myself to be filled, that's all. "But the Holy Spirit will come upon you and give you power. Then you will tell everyone about me in Jerusalem, in all Judea, in Samaria and everywhere in the world." Acts 1:8

"Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives." The church is a community where we teach & counsel each other with God's wisdom. If we are being filled with the message of Christ in all its richness, then one of the natural outcomes is that we will build up each other with that message.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us. We have strayed so very far from this. Our community life is focused too much on asking one person, our pastor to teach and counsel us. In our outreaches members teach and counsel each other, but not so much in our YMT group. Lord, I want you to fill with me with message of Christ in all its richness. I want you to fill each of the believers in JIFF with your message. Help us to wait on you, to listen to your message through the Word, and to yield to you, allowing you to fill us. Move us in the direction of becoming a community where everyone is filled with the message about Christ and can teach and counsel each other. We're on the way: EV2 & Kairos have helped us so much. Thank you for them. But Father, give us more. I don't know what that will look like, and I'm sure you want to do something beyond what I can imagine. Lord, we are here. Fill us and use us.  Amen

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Learning to listen to God using the SOAP method, part 2

I'm practicing the SOAP method of Bible Study and listening to God. We Christians have turned Bible Study into such an academic scientific thing - it's a bit scary. I'm assuming the acronym SOAP is also meant to convey that by spending time listening to God and conversing with him, we will also wash and refresh our souls - like a good shower. I woke up grumpy today. Too much pressure in preparing for our anniversary celebration at Arrow. I need some time to be quiet, listen to my own heart and then to listen to God. I'm sure he'll help me align my heart to his. I hope so. To review, SOAP stands for:
  • Scripture: Choose a passage of scripture to read. Read the sections before and after the scripture to be sure you understand the context. Read and Reread it over and over slowly. Read it outloud. 
  • Observe: Notice what is going on? Look carefully at the words used. Write down any questions and observations you have? Notice things like repetitions, emotion words, action words, etc.
  • Apply: Ask God "How does this apply to me? In this step you need to allow the Holy Spirit apply the truth to your life. Don't be a hearer only, who goes away unchanged by the truth.
  • Prayer: Talk to God about what He just said to you. 

Here is a long youtube video to help you quiet your heart. You don't have to watch the whole thing. Just watch it long enough until your heart begins to quiet down. You might also want to play it at night and fall asleep to it. Before you read the Bible, prepare your heart to listen.

"Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father." Col.3.16-17 

S - For my SOAP practice I am going to use Col 3:16-17. I will return to this scripture everyday for a while and I believe God will speak to me.

O-A: Today I notice that there is an order to these commands (admonitions?). He first says "Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives" THEN he says "teach and counsel each other". For many years I taught others, but the message about Christ did not fill my life. I wasn't full of the message, I was full of self .  As my wife would say "let's just call it what it is."  I cannot count the times when I prayed to God for a message to share with others. I was like the man has guests arrive in the middle of the night and has no food to feed them. I banged on God's door crying out "this congregration is hungry and I have nothing to feed them, please help me." He did, but I was sharing truth that I wasn't experiencing. What a shame!

"in all its richness" - Wow. I love that phrase - richness. God wants to fill me with all the richness of the message about Christ. If I am filled with ALL the richness of this message then I will be prepared to teach and counsel others. That teaching will flow from an abundant life. It will have power because I am experiencing and living that which I tell others.

"Let" - that seems a bit passive. Let, allow, permit.

P- Father, I want the message of Christ, in all its richness, to fill me today. I offer myself to you - please fill me with the message. I actively yield to you. I trust you, by your Holy Spirit, to fill me with the richness of the message, the good news about Jesus. Forgive me for the many times I have tried to teach others without first experiencing your touch and filling.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

SOAP Intro

"Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father."  Col.3.16-17 
 I'm going to spend some time practicing the SOAP method of Bible Study. Last week Pastor Jorge reminded me of this tool (thank you, Pastor Jorge) and it will be a good tool for those who want to learn to study, live and teach the Word to others. SOAP stands for:

  • Scripture: Choose a passage of scripture to read. Read the sections before and after the scripture to be sure you understand the context. Read and Reread it over and over slowly. Read it outloud. 
  • Observe: Notice what is going on? Look carefully at the words used. Write down any questions and observations you have? Notice things like repetitions, emotion words, action words, etc.
  • Apply: Ask God "How does this apply to me? In this step you need to allow the Holy Spirit apply the truth to your life. Don't be a hearer only, who goes away unchanged by the truth.
  • Prayer: Talk to God about what He just said to you. 

Before you open your Bible: Before you open your Bible you need to quiet your heart. Sit quietly or take a walk. Take off your headset, turn your phone onto silent and be still. Listen to your breathing and your heart beat. What tapes are playing over and over in your mind? What are you worrying about? What are you feeling? What are you afraid of? You've stayed busy and avoided these things, but you can't run or hide from them. Name the things that are screaming for your attention, write them down "I am afraid that ... " . Put a name on it. "I am feeling angry, lonely, hateful toward, happy, relieved, etc." Acknowledge what is going on in your soul. God already knows. You are the one avoiding facing this inner reality. Face your "ghosts" and then decide to focus on God. Below is a good video to help you get started. Do not be afraid of silence and stillness. God usually speaks in a "still small voice". 

If you would like to participate, and practice this method together, please leave your comments below so we can learn from each other.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Do you need a bodyguard?

You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!  Ps. 139:5-6
Only the rich and famous have body guards. Right? Wrong. According to Psalm 139 I have a body guard too. At least it sounds that way to me - "you go before me and follow me". I know that the writer is talking about the fact that God is everywhere at the same time, but this wording, well, it sounds like a bodyguard. Life is full of danger - disease, accidents, enemies. Sometimes my enemies are within - memories and regrets that haunt and hunt me. I need protection. I think I'm tough, but I'm not. I imagine I'm a badass like Manny Pacquiao, but the truth is - I'm over the hill, and even in my best days, I'm no match for what this life can throw at me. I need protection. I need you Lord, to go before and follow me. Thank you for surrounding me with your presence.

Presence - not protection. Have I reduced God to a bodyguard? Lord, you offer me your presence and I want to settle for your protection. What's wrong with me? You go before me and follow me. I can experience your presence, your companionship, your comfort, your love, your leading - I don't want a bodyguard, sunglasses and earpiece, silently watching for danger. I want to experience your presence today.

"You place your hand of blessing on my head". Last week I read the story where Jacob blessed Joseph's two sons, but he switched his hands so that the younger child got the better blessing. Jacob's right hand rested on the head of the younger child. Joseph tried to correct his father, but Jacob told him "No, this is the way it is - the younger will be greater than the elder". Lord, after all I've done I usually think "Just to be in your presence will be enough. I don't expect any rewards or crowns in heaven. I just want to be there with you. It is mind blowing, numbing - to think that your right hand of blessing rests on my head. How can it be?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Frustrated with the government of the Philippines

Somedays I feel so frustrated dealing with the governmental institutions in the Philippines. They seem so arbitrary and unreasonable. They allow corruption and then treat everyone doing business as if they are criminals. They pass laws to "protect" workers and end up hurting them. Once a law is passed, no one seems to have the sense to say "this was a bad law, let's rescind it. Instead they pass new laws on top of it and make matters worse. Years ago they passed a law saying that workers after 6 months under contract should receive such and such benefits. Now so many companies won't give contracts to people for more than 5 months 29 days. People change jobs every 6 months. How is that helpful? It may sound good, but if it doesn't work, rescind it. The objectives are often good, but the methods backfire.

I can fly from Manila to Tuguegerao in 50 mins., but a bus ride takes 14 hours. If a farmer wants to ship his crop to Manila from Cagayan Valley how long and how much will it cost him? Why doesn't the government invest in a good highway or rail system? They praise the OFWs as the heros of the nation, but what are they doing with the money they send home and the taxes they pay? Instead of over regulation the government should make sure there is clean water, good roads, a rail system for commerce, etc.

Now it is said that the former Labor Attache in HK gave out 70 new agency licenses over the last few years. Everyone presumes he did it for money, and he is under investigation. Eight years ago when we opened Arrow we couldn't get a license, but rather had to purchase another agency and then go through the all the procedures to change the name to Arrow. It was a lot of trouble. By far the biggest difficulty has been dealing with the changing regulatory rules in the Philippines. It doesn't feel safe to do business there.

I'm a businessman. Tell me the rules, enforce them fairly for everyone and then I can do what it takes to win the game, but if you don't enforce the rules, or change the rules in the middle of the game, then good businesses will take their companies to a more stable place. This is exactly what has happened to the Philippines. Companies set up in Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China, Taiwan instead of the Philippines. They would rather set up in the Philippines because there is a good hardworking English speaking workforce there, but the government is anti-business, so they go other places.

Psalm 11.3 says "When the foundations are destroyed, what can the godly accomplish?”

We pray for President Aquino and hope that he will win the fight against corruption, but somedays, like today, I feel rather hopeless.

Psalm 11 ends like this: "Certainly the Lord is just; he rewards godly deeds; the upright will experience his favor."

Doing business in the Philippines is a struggle, but God is good and we have experienced his undeserved favor for 8 years. I'm grateful for that.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Courage, risk, faith and a whisper soft touch

" Just then a woman who had hemorrhaged for twelve years slipped in from behind and lightly touched his robe. She was thinking to herself, “If I can just put a finger on his robe, I’ll get well.” Jesus turned—caught her at it. Then he reassured her: “Courage, daughter. You took a risk of faith, and now you’re well.” The woman was well from then on." Matthew 9:20-22  Bible.com/app
The slightest touch, the touch of the introvert,  the touch of one who would never say I'll go to the front of the line, I'll sit in the front row,  "what's his email? I'll contact him directly". It took every ounce of courage and faith that this woman had to touch Jesus with even the lightest of touches.
"Jesus caught her at it " Jesus are you lying in wait to catch me exercising  even the slightest faith? What kind of Savior wants to catch people having courage and faith?
Where does desperation end and faith begin? When I confessed my sin to my brother was it desperation or faith? 9 parts desperation 1 part faith, and Jesus commends "courage daughter, you took a risk of faith and now you're well."
"the woman was well from then on " - this was not some partial gradual Mamby pamby healing. This was the real deal - one and done.
What about me? Does healing from sin work the same way? Or do I need to have Jesus spit, make mud, then go wash in some pool? Imagine sending a blind man off to find the pool on his own. You could have accompanied him there. I think I'm like the blind man. My willingness to obey the master needs to be tested. I need to grope my way to complete healing.
I wish it were easier. I like the idea of one and done. I think Jesus says the same to both of us, the woman and me - "courage, you took a risk of faith and now you're well." I'll hold onto that as I stumble to the pool to wash.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The disconnected life, stop living like a zombie

I'm so connected that I'm disconnected. On my walk this morning there were birds singing all around me, but I didn't hear them because I was listening to my "walk" playlist via my cell phone. Everyone I passed had their face glued to a 3.5 or 4.5 in. screen. A helper was taking a 6-7 year old girl to school. The girl was tugging at her hand, trying to get her attention and talk to her, but the helpers face was glued to her cell phone. Walking next to her was one of the wonders of the world, a bundle of energy and curiosity wrapped in a school uniform and decked with black shiny hair and all the helper could see was her phone. No wonder movies and tv shows about Zombies are so popular. We're surrounded by zombies and live like zombies day in and day out, never seeing what is right in front of us.

Why do we live this way? For some us we have disconnected from our families and home cultures to live and work in HK. I want to know what the score of the Seattle Seahawks game was, or check on the weather in my home town. It makes me feel connected to my family and home country. Others want to see the latest FB update from their kids, spouses, siblings or friends. We have good reasons, but in our desparation to stay connected - we disconnect.

Today I want to stay connected, not to my phone or computer, but to the God of the past, present and future. Oddly enough that means I need to live in the NOW. "Today is the day that the Lord has made. I will be glad and rejoice in it." "Today, if you hear his voice, don't be stubborn.." Jesus speaks to us in the present "Come and follow me."

Today, I choose to focus on Jesus and on those he has put in my path. I will listen for his soft whisper and follow his instructions. I will stay connected to Jesus and live in the now. I will live here in HK and when it is time I will connect as fully as possible with my family overseas. Lord, thank you for my sister Margaret and her husband Stephen who are taking care of mom and dad, enabling us to work in HK. Thank you for my older brother, Dr. Stephen who gives them medical care and for the support they get from Barbara, and Warren and Connie. Lord, help them to live and love the moments in time they inhabit, as we do the same - here, living for you in the now, loving those you place in our path in the here and now.  Amen.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Psalm 8: Strength from babies?

Go to images.google.com and search for strong babies. I guarantee you will smile, maybe even giggle. It's such a ridiculous idea that it makes us smile. And yet, God, the creator of the universe has chosen babies to confound his enemies. Here is what Psalm 8 says: 

O Lord , our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O Lord , our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
If I were put in charge of editing the book of Psalms, I would leave out the sentence about babes, foes, enemies and avengers. It seems like it doesn't fit and breaks up the beauty of the Psalm. It is much more majestic without that sentence. Without that sentence God is majestic and man looks pretty good too, just a little lower than the angels and crowned with glory and honor. I like that. So why this odd verse about babies and infants? And who are these foes, enemies, and who is the avenger?

The foes are called "your foes", so the enemies are God's enemies. God has enemies. The creator of the universe, the One who put the stars and moon in place, who scattered the galaxies, this God has enemies, foes. There seems to be one in particular that the Psalmist calls "the Avenger". He sounds like a pretty badass dude. If you have a name like "the Avenger" it seems to shout "Don't mess with me!".

So how does God, the creator deal with his enemies? Does he choose his strongest warrior angel and send him out as a champion to cut down his foes and the Avenger? Does he send a batallion of elite angel warriors, clothed in battle armor, swords clashing? No. He sends out babies and infants. Who are these babies and infants? We are the babies! Mankind is the new kid on the block, the babies of the universe. We've only been around for approximately 340,000 years. The universe is millions of years old. There are beings and powers in the universe, ancient and oh so very powerful. Some of them hate God.

So what does the ALL Powerful God do to defeat his enemies? He chooses the weakest of beings, mankind to show off his strength, to show off his glory. He chooses us.

But God chose what the world considers nonsense to put wise people to shame. God chose what the world considers weak to put what is strong to shame.   God chose what the world considers ordinary and what it despises—what it considers to be nothing—in order to destroy what it considers to be something.   As a result, no one can brag in God’s presence. I Corinthians 1 
Lord, you are so majestic that you can use the weakest beings in the universe to bring down your foes. You don't need to call on the armies of angels, you chose babies, the weak to show off your strength and defeat your enemies. And in an even stranger twist, you yourself became one of these weak human beings and through this incarnation you have reconciled the entire universe to yourself. O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth, in ALL the universe.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Psalm 6: tears, trouble and redemption.

Psalm 6:1-10 ESV
"O Lord , rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath.  Be gracious to me, O Lord , for I am languishing; heal me, O Lord , for my bones are troubled.  My soul also is greatly troubled."
Father, I remember when this was me. I fully deserved the discipline I endured. The sickness of soul and body - wanting healing without repentance - expecting death despite repentance - amazed that you didn't pour your anger and wrath on me. Grateful but not really surprised. You already poured out your wrath on Jesus, so that you could show grace to me.
"But you, O Lord —how long?  Turn, O Lord , deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love.  For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise? "
You saved me not for my sake, or my family's sake, but so that you could display your steadfast love and receive the praise due to your name.

"I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.  My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes. " 
At that time tears were my nightly food. So much pain! So much regret! Then finally repentance, confession, forgiveness and restoration. Years of weariness till I finally came to my senses. How much pig food did I eat before thinking "my father's servants have food to eat. Let me return and become a servant."  I didn't expect a robe, a ring or sandals for my feet.  I didn't expect a party. Even now I know that some Christians here will shun me if they learn of my past sins. Who would throw a party for a repentant Christian leader? We are supposed to be above fault. Only you Lord would do such a thing, because to you I am not leader, pastor, missionary but only "child, son".

"Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.  The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord accepts my prayer.  All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled; they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment."
The powers of darkness that struggled for my soul have been put to flight. God has freed me and answered my cry for help. Thank you Lord for wiping away my tears, washing away my sin and giving me a hope and a future.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Psalm 5: groans, enemies and grace

"O  Lord , hear me as I pray; pay attention to my groaning. Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for I pray to no one but you. Listen to my voice in the morning,  lord . Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly. "

It is easy to pray when I am in pain, when the waves look like mountains and my problems surround me like a gang of bullies getting ready to beat me down; or just afterwards when I lack even the strength to stand back up.  When that happens prayers come out as groans. Face down in the dirt, I don't even know what to ask you for Lord. All I can do is groan and hope you listen. At those times I'm not even sure it is me groaning. Perhaps it is the Holy Spirit groaning in me (Romans 8:26). Sometimes my groaning isn't for me, but for a loved one I wish I could help. They need you, but they don't acknowledge their need. They can't see how lost they are, and they don't have the faith to cry out to you. Today my groaning is for them, my King and my God. Listen to me. Listen to me. Listen to me as I wait expectantly for you. 

"O God, you take no pleasure in wickedness; you cannot tolerate the sins of the wicked. Therefore, the proud may not stand in your presence, for you hate all who do evil. You will destroy those who tell lies. The  lord  detests murderers and deceivers. "
"Some of you were once like that ..." 1 Cor 6:11 I was like that, Lord. I was totally UNqualified to even think of coming into your presence. I was like the man standing far off from the temple, not even daring to go near, beating my breast and praying "Lord be merciful to me, THE sinner." Lord you are holy, perfectly good. There is no shadow in you, so how can I know you? How can I approach you?
"Because of your unfailing love, I can enter your house; I will worship at your Temple with deepest awe. Lead me in the right path, O   lord , or my enemies will conquer me. Make your way plain for me to follow."
Grace - grace is my only hope. "Unfailing love" - because of your grace demonstrated in Jesus my Lord, I can enter your house. I can worship in your temple with awe.  Because Jesus died for me, I have the right to enter your presence. That's awesome, Lord!

"Lead me in the right path. Make your way plain for me to follow." I'm not the brightest lightbulb in the pack, Father. I can be easily misled and deceived. I need you to lead me, to make your path easy to find and follow. Show me the way Lord. I will follow you.

 "My enemies cannot speak a truthful word. Their deepest desire is to destroy others. Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave. Their tongues are filled with flattery. O God, declare them guilty. Let them be caught in their own traps. Drive them away because of their many sins, for they have rebelled against you."
 Lord, I don't have a lot of enemies. When I read the Psalms I have a hard time understanding all the talk of enemies. I know David had a lot of enemies, but my enemies are within. I know their names: lust, envy, self-hate, fear. They also tell me lies, deceive me and seek to destroy me and those around me. I long for the day when you have banished them forever and all that is left is the new man, the new creation. 

"But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them sing joyful praises forever. Spread your protection over them, that all who love your name may be filled with joy. For you bless the godly, O   lord ; you surround them with your shield of love."  
This is a good conclusion to a prayer that begins with groaning. Lord, may my loved ones take refuge in you. Give them the gift of faith. Help them to run to you for help and safety. Spread your protection over them. Lord you know their names. I can't write them down here, but they are written on my heart and on your heart. Fill them with the joy of the forgiven, the joy of the children of God. May they join the rank of the family of God, those who wear white because they are washed clean by the death of Jesus. Surround them with love. Love as a shield - what an odd thought, what a powerful shield. What can penetrate the love of God surrounding me, surrounding us? What can separate us from that love? (Romans 8:31ff.) I run to you, Lord. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Psalm 4: Tremble but don't sin

I want to learn to pray, so I'm reading the Psalms and praying through them. This is what I read in Psalm 4 this morning.

"Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness. You have freed me from my troubles. Have pity on me, and hear my prayer!  You important people, how long are you going to insult my honor? How long are you going to love what is empty and seek what is a lie?  Selah  Know that the L ord  singles out godly people for himself. The L ord  hears me when I call to him.  Tremble and do not sin. Think about this on your bed and remain quiet.  Selah  Offer the sacrifices of righteousness by trusting the Lord .  Many are saying, “Who can show us anything good?” Let the light of your presence shine on us, O L ord .  You put more joy in my heart than when their grain and new wine increase.  I fall asleep in peace the moment I lie down because you alone, O L ord , enable me to live securely." Psalm 4
Lord, you are my righteousness. I have no righteousness of my own, only what you have given me in Christ Jesus. You have freed me from my troubles, yet I still desperately need you to show me mercy and hear my prayers. Unlike David, I don't have any important people insulting or attacking me. Thank you for that. And you know that I don't feel like I have a lot of "honor" to be insulted. If someone were to insult and attack me, I would probably deserve it. It is sad that so many of the world's important people are chasing that which is empty (fame, fortune, gratification of their urges). They have believed a lie. Lord, please wake them up to your reality.

Lord, you single out the godly for yourself. That sounds like the NT phrase "set apart" that is the root of the word "holy". The struggle I have is with the word "godly" because if I heard someone say "you who are godly please stand up", I would stay seated. I am not godly... or am I? I know that you chose me to be "holy and righteous before you" (Eph 1), so there must be some sense in which I am godly (god-like). When I look at myself I see all the ways I am not like Jesus, but hopefully there are some parts of my character that are Christlike, godly. Because I am your child, your "saint" you hear me when I call. I should call out to you more often.

"Tremble and do not sin." Thank you for this reminder Lord. When I feel stressed and worried that is when I fall into old patterns and sin. There are "triggers" that tempt me to sin. High stress and uncertainty is one of them. I need to learn better how to handle these negative emotions without falling into old patterns of sin. Instead of sinning I need to meditate and be quiet. Nighttime is a good time to do a little introspection. Negative emotions can also trigger me to call on you, to examine my heart, to allow you to "search me and know me and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."

Through trust in you I can offer you a good and acceptable sacrifice. Today Lord I offer my body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to you. So many are pessimistic. When I watch the news I feel like carrying a sign "Repent, the end is near." What I need is to experience your presence - may the light of your presence shine on me today. May it shine on our office, our workers, customers and the ladies we serve. Lord, you give me a joy that is beyond anything material goods can give, beyond any accolades that worldly accomplishments can offer. I fall asleep at night in peace knowing that you are my security. Wow! You give me your presence, your joy, your peace, your security and your righteousness. All of these are mine through my Lord Jesus. Thank you Father. Today I want to experience your presence. Thank you! Amen

Friday, October 17, 2014

Teamwork: Dealing with Conflict (Part 2)

"If you're not fighting, you're not trying hard enough."

I have met couples who claim to have never had a fight. Usually the woman is gushing about how wonderful her man is, as he stands silent nearby. I've known the woman for less than 1 minute and already she is driving me crazy, and I wonder "How does he stand this?" I don't believe it. The lack of conflict doesn't represent true happiness (the present of constant conflict doesn't either).  The truth is: Every couple, every team has conflict. Handling conflict well is a skill that we all should learn. There are times when even mature Christians need help resolving conflicts. Godly skillful marriage counsellors have been a great blessing to my wife and I. They helped us deal with hurts and issues that we didn't know how to handle. 

When I read Paul's letter to the Christians at Philippi I was surprised that he mentioned an interpersonal conflict between 2 church members. Can you imagine Pastor Jorge writing a letter to Jubilee Church, a letter that will be read out loud to the whole congregration, and near the end of the letter, the person who is reading the letter stops. Their face turns red, they clear their throat several times, then continue "Please tell Shirley and Ailyn to stop fighting." What would you think? Yet that is what Paul does. Here is what he said:

"So then, my brothers and sisters, dear friends whom I long to see, my joy and crown, stand in the Lord in this way, my dear friends! I appeal to Euodia and to Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I say also to you, true companion, help them. They have struggled together in the gospel ministry along with me and Clement and my other coworkers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice! Let everyone see your gentleness. The Lord is near! Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you." Philippians 4:1-9
I'm not sure I would have wanted Paul for my marriage counselor, but his letter to Philippi gives some valuable advice on helping people resolve conflicts. Notice how he handles things:

  1. He AFFIRMS the VALUE of those involved in conflict calling them "my joy and crown", "dear friends", "coworkers, whose names are in the book of life." Paul reminds them of their true identity as children of God and of their destiny - eternal life in the kingdom of God.

    Conflicts often arise because one party or the other feels "slighted" or "de-valued". It is almost always unintentional, but is often the root of many conflicts. If you're called to be a mediator, it might be good to start by affirming both parties.
  2. He brings in a MEDIATOR. Paul recruits a 3rd party to counsel and help these two sisters. When we get stuck, we need someone to help us get unstuck. Assuming that these ladies would like to experience healing in their relationship, a 3rd party can help. BTW, I would be willing to bet that they were, at one time, best friends.
  3. He REMINDS them of their GOOD PAST. They had a history and much of it was good. At one time in the past they had beautiful teamwork and along with Paul helped start the church at Philippi. Remember the good times. Remember that vacation when we drove our little car hundreds of miles into the wilderness looking for hot springs. We drove down roads that were closed for the winter and when we finally  arrived we found the hot springs were closed for the winter too. To stay warm we huddled under thin blankets together and drove back the next morning, joyful and laughing at how crazy we were. The car was covered in mud from tire to top, we were exhausted, yet happy. Remember those times... Good memories help bring healing.
  4. He ROOTS them in JESUS. "Rejoice in the LORD." It's a command, not a suggestion. My life is to be so rooted in Christ, that whatever slight I think life has thrown my way, it doesn't matter. I rejoice in the Lord. "The Lord is near!" - Many take this as a reference to the 2nd coming of Christ, but it can just as easily mean "the Lord is here. He is with you. He will supply all you needs and give you grace and help. Call on him!" When I have a conflict with another person, I am not helpless, I am not a victim. I have the resources of my heavenly Father to help me. When I no longer have love or patience to deal with a difficult person or situation, God will supply me with the love and patience I need. 

  5. He tells them to PRAY. When I'm angry at someone, I DO NOT want to pray. I want to stay angry, so I want to stay away from God. I don't want to talk to them, and I don't want to talk to God. I know if I talk to God, that if I listen to God then He will tell me to talk to them. So I hide. Paul challenges them to pray. If you begin talking to God about the conflict, then God will show you what to do. If you obey you will experience personal peace in your soul, and interpersonal peace in your relationship. It might take time for the other party to forgive you and reconcile with you, but you will be at peace.
  6. Finally he tells them to FOCUS on the POSITIVE.
    whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things.
    When someone makes us angry we focus solely on their weaknesses and overlook all their good points. "My employer called me "stupid" when I ruined her favorite dress, so i want to resign." "Oh, okay. Does she make you work on your days off? "Oh no, I get every holiday off with pay and every Sunday too." Oh, okay. Does she cheat you on your pay? "Oh no, she pays more than the minimum and at Chinese New Year they gave me a big bonus." Oh, okay. Is she usually unkind? "Oh no. She has given me clothes and presents for my kids. She let me go home for my daughter's graduation." So you still want to resign? "Well she called me 'stupid' and I can't stand that."

    The person you are angry with is probably has some good points also. Instead of focusing on their flaws and weaknesses, why not focus on their strengths? Focusing on their strengths instead of their flaws and your heart attitudes toward them will begin to change. You will begin seeing their value and God given uniqueness.  

Conflict is messy. It brings out the worst in us and in the ones we love. It can also help us deal with our sins and weakness and grow stronger as Christians. Strong teams know how to fight well. It's a skill we all we need to learn.