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.