Thursday, July 31, 2014

Crap serves God's purposes

Americans have a lot of crude sayings like "S**t happens" or "holy crap" to describe how we feel when things don't go the way we planned.

As I was walking and listening to the Paul's letter to the Philippians (1/2 the time I write Philippines) the phrase "I want you to know brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel".  Paul was in prison for preaching Christ. They took away his pulpit and his audience and still he says that as far as the advance of the gospel is concerned, things have never been better.  I'm stunned.  Hundreds maybe thousands of people are praying for Paul's release. Some Christians are starting to read Revelation (well, they would have if John had written it sooner) and talk about it being the "last days".  Some have defected; others have gotten tattoos "martyred for Jesus" just to get ready for the end.  And Paul says, "things are great! Never been better."

Lord, I'm amazed, and I have a question, "Paul was a hero of the faith. He pretty much did everything right. Me - I've pretty much made a mess out of a lot of the things in my life. Do you work things out for the advance of your gospel in the lives of "screw ups" as well as in the lives of great men of faith? Is it possible that my greatest failures might also be used by you for the advance of your kingdom?

It is starting to become fashionable to show slide shows at funerals, highlighting the life of the loved one who has just passed on. What if my slideshow showed my greatest failures instead of my greatest hits?  I'm not trying to endorse sin and failure, but rather wondering how far your sovereignty extends. I want to be able to share the good, the bad and the ugly things in my life and say "I want you to know, friends, that what has happened to me, has served to advance the gospel."

I know you are at work in my life and my world and that somehow you will weave all of this together for my good and your glory, even my darkest failures will be redeemed for your purposes. I'm looking forward to seeing how that goes.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Thank you Father

"Every time I think of you I thank my God" Philippians 1:3 

Father, thank you for your forgiveness and grace towards me. Thank you for the putting in me both desire and strength to go on, to continue following you. Thank you for your love and acceptance. Thank you for my family, my loving wife, my wonderful daughters, my precocious grandson. Thank you for my mother and father, and my brothers and sisters. They have been a wonderful gift to me and I'm grateful for their love and encouragement. Thank you for my friends like Dennis Ahern, Steve Taylor, Ben Wong, Samuel Chan, and Kevin who know all about me and love me still.

Thank you for my church, JIFF, for the sisters who faithfully follow and serve you in this foreign land. Thank you for helping them to adjust to this completely weird DH lifestyle. Thank you that although they are treated as servants, sometimes slaves, you constantly remind them that they are princesses, children of the King. Thank you for Pastor Jorge and Pastor Ruel. Thank you for their faithful leadership and service. Thank you for watching over them and their families. Thank you helping PJ recently to recover from the infection he had. Thank you for continuing to provide for Pastor Ruel and the ministry of JIFF. Thank you for our leadership team, both the formal and the many informal leaders. Thank you for continuing to work in and through them. Thank you for the newcomers we meet every week. Thank you that the older sisters are reaching out to the newly arrived ladies to wrap your loving arms around them as they adjust to HK.

Thank you for Arrow. Thank you for providing customers for us to serve. Thank you for our staff who serve out of love for you and others. Thank you for the joy we feel in serving together and for the fun we have in the midst of what is sometimes very stressful. Thank you for our partner MRH and the faithful team they have there. Thank you for Ma'am Nely and Rowena. Thank you that you are using them to love and serve these ladies who hope to come to Hong Kong. Thank you for providing jobs for the applicants, and a livelihood for their families.

Thank you Father that you include such weak ordinary people as us in your kingdom work. Thank you that you are working in our lives, our family, our ministry to bring about your own good purposes. Thank you that I can trust you to both will and work your good pleasure in my life. Thank you that you began a good work in us and that you won't stop working before it is complete. Thank you for your faithfulness. Great is thy faithfulness.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Affection of Christ

"For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ." Paul the apostle to the Christians at Philippi.

I am a physically affectionate person. I like to touch and be touched. I'm not so good at other kinds of affection, like verbal affection. It is hard for me to share how I feel with others.

As I was walking and listening to the Bible this morning I was struck by Paul's expression of affection. He uses the word "yearn" which means to "long for", "strongly desire". It is like the love sick couple who have been separated by circumstances outside their control. All they can do is express their longing for each other.

I guess what impresses me about this is that Christ feels affection toward me. He longs for me; he wants to spend time with me. In spite of my sin, my failings, my sometimes very cold heart, he feels affection toward me.

I like to lead with my mind. I love intellectual arguments and the dicing of doctrine. Paul had more degrees and was way smarter than I am. He led with affection, with heart. He personally experienced the love of Christ, and he loved others with Christ's love. Christ's heart touched and controlled Paul's heart. Later on in the letter he says "let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus" but he doesn't lead off with that. He leads off with affection.

If I want to have maximum impact on the lives of others I need to care for them with the affection of Jesus. I need to experience that love from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet and I need to love others with the love of Christ.  Lead with heart not head.

Lord Jesus, today I want to experience the same love that you and the Father share with each other. I want your holy Spirit to fill me with that love, and it is my prayer that it would overflow to my family, my team of co-workers and to everyone I come in contact with today. Amen

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Tell me what you really think about me?

After 60+ years I still struggle with feelings of being unacceptable, not good enough, of having failed (and I have in many ways).  After 60+ years I know that I will never measure up to my own standards, let alone God's. That is why reading scripture like Philippians 1:1-2 still amazes me.

"Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ"

I have spent weeks writing a Bible study guide on the book of Philippians for our church. Now I am reading Philippians again, only this time for myself and I am writing here my personal reflections. This time I write for me.

"all the saints" - the holy ones, the ones called by God into a special relationship with God himself.

I am a saint, a holy one, a called one - how can this be? I'm not saintly or holy. I struggle with temptation. I get angry and sin. I forget you Lord all the time. How is it you call me "Saint"? I'm not worried so much about not being qualified to be an overseer or deacon, or like Paul and Timothy - a servant of Christ Jesus. They seem like ranks above that of "saint" and I'm not qualified for that so how I be qualified for these other titles? And yet...

You proclaim that I am, that we are "saints in Christ Jesus". I am wrapped in Jesus, my life is in Jesus. You don't see me as separate from Jesus, but as part of Jesus. Any saintliness I have is "in Christ Jesus" and derives from Christ Jesus.

I dare not call you liar, so I have to accept that I am a saint. If God is for me, who can be against me? I dare not deny God, so I have to deny my feelings of inadequacy. I am not qualified in and of myself, but in Christ Jesus I am a saint. I am a recipient of grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I have received grace. I have peace with God. I am "saint Allan".

Lord, help my unbelief.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


My grandson walked up next to me yesterday and said "Grandpa, your shirt has perma-stink." Permastink is that nasty sweat smell that permeates the clothes of anyone who exercises (or sweats) regularly. You can wash the clothes and they will smell clean, UNTIL you wear them. The minute you start to sweat the whole garment begins to stink.  At this point, you have 2 choices: 1) live with it or 2) throw away the garment.  My T-shirt is 8 years old. The cloth has warn thin and it is the perfect exercise shirt, except for the perma-stink.  It is time to retire my shirt to the rag drawer. 

The idea of Perma-stink got me thinking: Are there areas of my life, my character, my habits or my thinking that might qualify as "Perma-stink"? Ouch!  A bad habit, a bad temper, a constantly angry disposition, a habit of laziness, only doing the minimum to get by, greed, lust, busyness, envying others, etc.  If we habitually think a certain way or act a certain way, that way of thinking or acting, if unhealthy, becomes a "Perma-stink". We may not notice it, but others certainly will. Want to know if there is any "perma-stink" in your life? Ask those around you. If they hesitate in their answer, then the answer is probably "yes." 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Chinese Only, No Whites Allowed

Yesterday I was visited by a very nice Chinese Christian woman who is the founder and CEO of an organization that ministers to and encourages Christian business people. The purpose of her business was, it seemed, to apologize and explain why they wouldn't allow me to attend their weekly morning prayer meeting.  The reason was "I am not Chinese". I speak and read Chinese so they didn't need to have any special accomodation to allow me to attend. The problem was my skin. If I had been an American born Chinese I would have been accepted, but I'm not. I'm an American Born Caucasian. 

She told me that their main focus of ministry was Chinese business people. I told her that I thought that was good. Having one Westerner among the 100's and 1000's who belong to her organization couldn't possibly change that.  Then she told me that their more educated entrepreneurs could accept me but that she thought the less educated ones might feel intimidated. I asked her if anyone from the group I visited had actually expressed discomfort with my presence or was this only a few leaders imagining problems when there were in reality no complaints. She didn't answer me. 

She told me she wanted to maintain a homogeneous group. I told her that scripture says there is "no Greek or Hebrew, male or female, slave or free", but we are one in Christ. I told her that, it would impossible for me to dilute their group since we live in China. If every Western businessman in Hong Kong joined, it still wouldn't make a dent. I am but a drop of water in the ocean.

She asked what I thought. I told her I thought she was wrong, but it was, after all, her organization. Her card says "founder and CEO", so she has the "say so". A great humorist once joked "I wouldn't want to join any organization that would accept ME." Well I guess I feel the opposite "I wouldn't want to join any organization that would NOT accept me." Sad though, that Christians can be this way. Of course, American Christians have had a terrible history of segregation and discrimination. It is said that the most segregated hour in America is 11:00 a.m. Sunday morning, the time when Christians worship. I should not then be surprised that some Chinese Christians struggle with the same prejudice.  This kind of thinking and behavior is not scriptural and doesn't please God. 

It makes sense to have homogeneous groups around culture and language. Our Filipino church worships in Tagalog and the pastor teaches in Tagalog. This is what our members need. That is a far cry from coming and telling someone who doesn't speak Tagalog "you are not welcome". When I attend our Filipino church I am welcomed and valued. I am someone to be cared for, not a potential problem to get rid of. When I attend Chinese churches it is the same way. If I didn't speak the language they might even try and sit someone next to me to help translate. I would be treated with dignity and love AND invited back.

I believe this decision is probably from the CEO and founder, the woman who visited me. She's the boss. I don't believe it is the members. I was actually invited by members and encouraged to attend. I hope the Lord will continue to use this organization and that someday the CEO will lead them in a direction more akin to God's heart.