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 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 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
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 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.