Thursday, August 28, 2014

Why do you ask a question when you already know the answer?

Great teachers use questions. 

"Where are you Adam?"  Do you really  think that God didn't know he was hiding in the bushes with Eve?

"Do you have a right to be upset Jonah?" (after God spared Ninevah)

"Which person acted liked a neighbor?" Jesus of Nazareth

In his letter to the Philippians Paul asks a rhetorical question

"So then, as Christians, do you have any encouragement? Do you have any comfort from love? Do you have any spiritual relationships? Do you have any sympathy and compassion? " (2:1)
Well, duh! Yes, of course, God and others have encouraged me. Yes people and the Lord have comforted and loved me MANY TIMES. Yes I have some precious brothers and sisters. Yesterday I spent time with my friend Billy. We had real fellowship, sharing of lives. Have I received sympathy and compassion? Many times more than I deserve - grace upon grace upon grace.

So we all know Paul's next word "THEN". Since ..... Then. If .... THEN.  OK, the "then" is coming but it would be a mistake to jump ahead. The rhetorical question, the "IF" is supposed to make us think. When someone asked a question we will often drift off in our minds searching for the answer. So don't rush, stop and think about the question. Who has encouraged you? comforted you? loved you? What spiritual relationships are you grateful for? What sympathy and compassion have you experienced?

This week my daughter Colleen wrote a card to Ione and I telling us how much she appreciated and admired us. We were so encouraged. A pastor spent time with me and said "I still need you to pastor me." He knows me, knows my sins and failures, and still he said that to me. My friend Billy sought me out to talk. I was greatly encouraged and I hope I offered him some comfort too.

Questions should make us pause and think, adjust our attitudes - increase our gratitude.

"Father God, thank you for asking questions. Thank you for slowing me down. Thank you for the encouragement, comfort, fellowship, sympathy and love that I have experienced through your people, your family. I am wowed! Thank you."

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Much much much better

"If I live, it will be for Christ, and if I die, I will gain even more. I don't know what to choose. I could keep on living and doing something useful. It is a hard choice to make. I want to die and be with Christ, because this would be much better." Philippines 1:21-24
I would like to interview Paul. I have some questions I'm dying to ask him:

"Paul, you said 'I want to die'. The only people I know who say that are in intense emotional or physical pain, i.e., suicidal. I can tell from your writings that you are NOT in great distress, rather you sound joyful, so explain to me - "Why do you have a death wish?"

"Is dying and being with Christ REALLY "gain", really "much better"? You seem to believe that with every ounce of your being. What is the "gain"? What is "much better"? Maybe if I understood more about what is waiting for us then I would be more eager to get there. "

You said in another letter you wrote that you had an experience of being caught up into heaven where you saw amazing and wonderful things. I haven't had that experience. I've only experienced the joys of life here on earth, in this body. I'm taking it on faith that it is "much better". In fact, I want to use bad grammar and say "much much much better".

Paul, you wrote "I don't know what to choose." I don't get that - did you have a choice? Unless you were thinking of suicide, what choice did you have? If the Romans are going to kill you, then they are going to kill you, right? OR, was your relationship with Christ so close, that He gave you a choice? Did Jesus say to you "Paul, if you want to come home now I'll arrange it"? What if Jesus said that to me? What if he gave me a glimpse of heaven to sweeten the offer? In that case choosing to "keep on living and doing something useful" is a hard choice.

Okay. Since I'm going to keep on living for the time being (it seems), then I need to do something useful. The only way I can do something truly useful is to live for Christ. Today Father help me to live for Christ and his kingdom. In the mundane things of my job and family life, help me to serve and love like Jesus. Fill me with your Holy Spirit so I will have the servant heart of Jesus, the power and love of Jesus. Someday I'll be in that "much much much better place" but today help me to be useful, to build up others and glorify you. Amen

Thursday, August 14, 2014


"I honestly expect and hope I will never do anything to be ashamed of. Whether I live or die, I always want to be as brave as I am now and bring honor to Christ. If I live, it will be for Christ, and if I die, I will gain even more. I don't know what to choose. I could keep on living and doing something useful. It is a hard choice to make. I want to die and be with Christ, because this would be much better. But I know that all of you still need me. This is why I am sure I will stay on to help you grow and be happy in your faith. Then, when I visit you again, you will have good reason to take great pride in Christ Jesus because of me."  Paul to the Christians at Philippi (Php 1:20-26)

Courage. When I have lived courageously I have not felt ashamed, but when I sinned and covered it up out of fear I felt great shame. Are courage and shame opposites? It takes courage to live in the light, to tell others that you are struggling or have fallen down. It takes courage to say "I need help, will you help me?" It takes courage to tell the truth about ourselves, who we are, what we have done, where we struggle. "I want always to be as brave as I am now and bring honor to Christ." Being brave brings  honor to Christ. Hiding the truth and living in shame hurts us and dishonors him. Be brave. Tell the truth.

Sometimes my thinking grows twisted and I convince myself that if I tell the truth about who I am, then people will say "OMG, pastor Smith is like that! How awful! Christians should never be that way." They are probably right, we should never be "that way" but the truth is we sometimes are (whatever "that way" is: greedy, lustful, angry, spiteful, addictive behavior, etc.). If I fear what others will think about me, then I will hide the truth and live in the dark, pretending to be something, someone I am not. The truth is: I am a sinful man, saved by the grace of God, who is learning to live in the light, learning to admit weakness, struggle and sin, learning to live courageously. 

Ione once told me "the old Allan" wasn't afraid of anything. Where did that guy go?" That guy got deceived into thinking that truth would wreak destruction, but instead it brought healing. Light has power to heal. Living in the light, telling truth about our struggles and sin is essential to healing. Hiding and pretending only brings shame and pain. "I want always to be as brave as I am now." 

Living courageously is to embrace life. Paul's courageous decision is not to die and be with Christ - that was the easy way out for him - so tempting. No more beatings, no more chains, no more hungry sleepless nights, just the wonderful presence of Jesus - that would be FAR better. Not yet - the Christians still needed Paul so he needed courage to stay on, to live, to serve, to build them up in the Lord. 

When I was sick with the preliminary diagnosis of aggressive untreatable cancer, I didn't want to die. I also didn't want to tell the truth about my struggles. I told myself over and over, I would die first, before telling the truth about what I had done, what I was struggling with. I knew my illness was from God, but I was stubborn, so stubborn. "God just take me home. I am NOT going to tell Ione and others about my struggle and sin. You can kill me now." I didn't want to die. I was just afraid of the light and what it would do. Turns out: light heals. Truth liberates. Courage brings honor to Jesus.  Be brave.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Today I listened to the Pirate Monk podcast (a podcast for men) and the guest was Jim Ramos founder of the men's ministry "the great hunt for God".  It is an intentional ministry discipling men and training them to go about:

  1. protecting their integrity
  2. fighting apathy
  3. pursuing God passionately
  4. leading courageously
  5. finishing strong
He shared that 1-3 are ascending the summit activities and 4-5 are on the way down activities. He mentioned that most deaths on Mt. Everest occur on the way down the mountain. 

Souunds like a wonderful ministry. I'm praying that I can start a Samson Society here in Hong Kong, but currently waiting for God to give me one or two partners.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Are you, are your children safe?

My son in law works in Afghanistan. My youngest daughter works in Beijing, and travels around China serving Americans in trouble. Her next assignment for the State Dept. will be in an Islamic country. Every day I pray "Keep them safe". But what is "safe"? Paul writes to the Christians at Philippi these startling words:
"because I know that your prayers and the help that comes from the Spirit of Christ Jesus will keep me safe. I honestly expect and hope I will never do anything to be ashamed of. Whether I live or die, I always want to be as brave as I am now and bring honor to Christ." Philippians 1:19
Paul says he knows he will be safe, but then goes on to say "live or die I will never do anything to be ashamed of". (Play rewind sound here). In Paul's mind, being safe doesn't have anything to do with physical safety. Safety is all about doing the will of God. "I will never do anything to be ashamed of." Did someone pray that for me? I wish more people had prayed that prayer for me. I would love to say "I have never done anything to be ashamed of", but I cannot. That is the past. Now is now. Paul goes on and says "Whether I live or die, I always want to be as brave as I am now and bring honor to Christ." Wow!

Paul sounds surprised, as if he didn't know he could be this brave. The Spirit of Christ surprised him with bravery he didn't know he had. Therefore he is "safe."

Wait a minute!!! Brave & Safe: these words don't belong together. Brave usually means you are taking risks, doing something that "safe" people don't do. Brave means higher insurance premiums and parental stress. My child, stay away from brave! But if I don't live bravely I won't be safe.

"Lord, please keep me safe today. Live or die, may I bring honor to you today. Please keep Ione, Jennifer, Colleen, Ethan, Edward and Joss safe today. May they, live or die, not do anything to be ashamed of, but rather bring honor to you through their choices today. Lord, I want to live safely, safely in the center of your will. Live or die, that is the only safe place to be. Amen"

Friday, August 8, 2014

my work or "our" work or "his work"

"All of you have helped in the work God has given me, as I defend the good news and tell about it here in jail."  Paul to the Christians at Philippi (Php. 1:7b)

It's strange that God often calls us to do something that we cannot do by ourselves. Paul was given a job to do but he needed help to accomplish it. The Philippians helped him.

Lord, is there something I am to do? Is there someone I should be helping finish the work you have them to do? Give me eyes to see and ears to hear your voice. Thanks. Allan

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

How smart is your love?

"How deep is your love?" Beegees 1977

"How smart is your love?" the Apostle Paul, A.D. 60? Philippians 1:9-11

Maybe if Paul had had a catchy tune this would have caught on big time.  In the letter to the Christians at Philippi Paul wrote
"I pray that your love will keep on growing and your will fully know and understand how to make the right choices. Then you will still be pure and innocent when Christ returns. And until that day, Jesus Christ will keep you busy doing good deeds that bring glory and praise to God." CEV 
We are supposed to grow wiser with age, right? As time goes on, I should be a better lover. Love is better with knowledge and understanding. The more I know and understand my wife, the better I can love her. Knowledge and understanding of others, of life in general should help me love better. The heart and the head need each other. Sometimes my heart (sometimes it is just my hormones) want to push me a direction that isn't at all wise. Sometimes I mean well but my actions hurt rather than heal, because I don't understand the situation. If I give money to a begging drug addict or a loan to someone who wastes it on gambling, am I helping or hurting them? My heart might be in the right place, but without the head it really screws things up. Likewise if I only use my head and don't care, I will rationalise and not do anything. My head says "that lady is probably a professional beggar, don't give her any money" and I walk on by. Maybe if the heart and head were working together they would come up with some alternative actions that might be helpful. Maybe.

If my love keeps growing smarter then I will make better decisions, "right choices" Paul says. That will lead to better character "pure and innocent". Wow! Haven't thought of myself as pure and innocent since, well, EVER! Wouldn't it be wonderful to be "pure and innocent" by the time Jesus comes back? It must be possible, because Paul prays that God will accomplish this. Lord, if smart love can lead to a pure and innocent life, then I want it. Please give me smart love.

"And that's not all!" People with smart love that leads to good decisions that leads to good character do good deeds.  You "will keep busy doing good deeds that bring glory and praise to God."

Now I'm hungry for it. Lord, please give me smart love. Please give my loved ones smart loves. Give the brothers and sisters at JIFF smart love. We all desperately need the smart love that leads to wise decisions that leads to good character that leads to good deeds that lead to glory and honor for you. Since you taught us to pray for this, I'm confident you'll answer this prayer. Thank you. Amen

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

I am sure that God is working in you

"And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."

The Philippians must have felt pretty good when they read this sentence from Paul. He's saying "I can see that you are the real deal." He saw their partnership in the gospel and it assured him that God was indeed active and working in and among them.  

Paul didn't say this to all the churches. He told the Corinthians to test themselves to see if they were in the faith. He worried that the Galatians were being led away from the pure faith in Jesus. Not so the Philippians, they were 100% genuine work of God. 

Seeing God at work in the lives of disciples is what cranks the engine of a missionary/apostle. Americans (I'm raising my hand) almost always take this as a personal promise, and maybe that's okay, but I'm pretty sure that Paul meant it as an observation of what he saw God doing in the whole church at Philippi. They together were the real deal. He could see the evidence of the work of God among them. They were the good soil that produces fruit 30, 60, 100 fold. I am not talking numbers, though numbers may be part of it, I'm talkin "life", the life of Jesus being reproduced inside people. 

When I look at our church, Jubilee Int'l Filipino Fellowship, I see the "real deal". God has done an amazing work. Like the church at Philippi the preachers may have had mixed motives (Paul says some preach out of envy or just to tweak his nose while he was in jail).  My life has been so mixed up at times that only God could possibly sort out my motives to know what really drove me. Others like Pastors Jorge, Bolen and Ruel were much more single minded and God used them to establish a work of God that is growing from faith to faith.  It doesn't matter who planted or cultivated - God gave the growth. The life of the church comes from God; it is a work of God. AND he will finish what he started. God had a plan, a purpose for Philippi and the surrounding area and He always finishes what he starts. My desk has piles of 1/2 finished projects. Some of them I will finish and others I will finally put in the dustbin. God only starts projects that He intends to finish. He is almighty, lives outside of time, and is really really stubborn (determined). He does not take "No" for an answer.   I'm confidence that God is doing something special in JIFF. I can see the evidence of good soil. I'm not sure what the end game is, but I'm excited to watch his plan unfold.

On the micro, individual level, I see God working in my own life. There were many times when, if I were God, I would have given up and abandoned this project called "Allan". I would have wadded up the paper and thrown it into the bin. Sometimes I feel like God put me together, then said "no, wait a minute" then He completely disassembled me and put me back together again. I'm like a "factory refurbished machine". There were some (huge understatement) defects in my build, so he has dis-assembled me, to deal with the problems and is in the process of putting me back together. That's okay with me. I just want him to keep working and finish what he started. Lord, don't give up on me. Thanks.