Friday, August 28, 2015

Philemon and Marilou: Runaways

Scenario: Chan Siu Fai was led to the Lord and discipled by Pastor Jorge de Ramos. As a result he started a small house church in his home and hired a helper, Marilou from Arrow Employment Services. Marilou was a big help with the house group, but did not return to work from a long holiday. She ran back to Manila, taking with her $5000 cash from the Chan family. While in Manila she ran into Pastor Jorge who recognized her and invited her to coffee. Marilou felt terribly guilty about what she had done and poured out her heart to Jorge and Bolen. They led her to the Lord and began discipling her. Several months went by and Pastor Jorge mentioned Marilou to Sir Allan. Sir Allan checked the records at Arrow and realized that the Chan's never terminated the contract and they hadn't hired another helper. Perhaps there was a chance for reconciliation. Pastor Jorge decided to write a letter to Chan Siu Fai. The letter is below.

From: This letter is from Pastor Jorge De Ramos, Senior Pastor of Capital City Baptist Church, committed to preaching the Good News about Christ Jesus, and from sister Bolen
To: I am writing to Chan Siu Fai, our beloved co-worker, and to our sister Yau Suk Ming, and to our fellow soldier Chan Chi Wing, and to the church that meets in your house.

May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.

I always thank my God when I pray for you, Siu Fai, because I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ. Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people.

That is why I am boldly asking a favor of you. I could demand it in the name of Christ because it is the right thing for you to do. But because of our love, I prefer simply to ask you. Consider this as a request from me—Jorge, an older brother in the Lord and now also a preacher for the sake of Christ Jesus.

I appeal to you to show kindness to my child, Marilou Santos. I became her father in the faith while here in Manila. Marilou  wasn’t much use to you in the past, but now she is very useful to both of us. I am sending her back to you, and with her comes my own heart.

I wanted to keep her here with me while I am struggling here  preaching the Good News, and she would have helped me on your behalf. But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent. I wanted you to help because you were willing, not because you were forced. It seems you lost Marilou for a little while so that you could have her back forever. She is no longer like a domestic servant to you. She is more than a servant, for she is a beloved sister, especially to me. Now she will mean much more to you, both as a helper and as a sister in the Lord.

So if you consider me your partner, welcome her as you would welcome me. If she has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Jorge De Ramos have handwritten this letter so you will know this is my desire. If she owes you anything I will repay it. and I won’t mention that you owe me your very soul!

Yes, my brother, please do me this favor for the Lord’s sake. Give me this encouragement in Christ.
I am confident as I write this letter that you will do what I ask and even more! One more thing—please prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that God will answer your prayers and let me visit  you soon.

Pastor Ron, my fellow co-worker in Christ Jesus, sends you his greetings. So do Bolen,Mark, Pastor Reynaldo, Simon Chan , and Luke, my co-workers.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.


  1. How does Pastor Jorge open his letter to Mr. Chan. Imagine this was written on church letterhead.  
  2. Read the opening prayer carefully. What did he pray for? From what he prays what do you learn about Pastor Jorge's and Mr. Chan's relationship?
  3. What does he ask Mr. Chan to do? How do you think Mr. and Mrs. Chan felt about this request? What would it take for them to take Marilou back? If they were typical employers what actions do you think they might take, IF Marilou returned?
  4. How do you think Marilou felt about going back? What motivation besides wanting a job could she have? What dangers was she facing in deciding to go back?
  5. We are not told the end of the story. What do you think happened? 
  6. In the real letter to Philemon, the actual letter was hand carried by the runaway slave Onesimus. Imagine that scene. How do you think Philemon felt when he saw Onesimus standing in front of him holding out a rolled up letter? How do you think Onesimus felt? 
  7. What is the hardest thing you have ever done simply because you wanted to obey the Lord? 
  8. Is there something hard God is telling you to do, but you  are resisting because it might have bad consequences for you and you are afraid? What do you think Marilou and Onesimus would tell you? What advice would they give you?
NOTE: The above letter is fiction, based on the real letter of Paul to his brother in the faith, Philemon.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Calling for Mighty Men

In 2Samuel 23 there is a record of King David's mightiest warriors. Their exploits are similar to how the Vikings are portrayed on the History Channel mini-series of the same name.  If anyone makes a mini-series on the life of David, then I hope they will include the scenes described here. One warrior kills 800 enemy soldiers. Another stands back to back with David as they fight off an overwhelming number of the enemy.

Imagine the warrior - body covered with blood, surrounded by the dead bodies of his enemy - no longer able to lift his sword or axe, but it's okay, because no enemy is left, not one. They are dead or have run away.

Don't you want to be that man? What battles are we facing today? It seems that my biggest foe is sin. Hebrews 12:4 says "After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin."  Both James and Paul tell us to resist the Devil. He is an awesome warrior and we are not his equal.  Where do I find the strength to say to sin and Satan "You will NOT pass by here while I am alive!"? Who will stand back to back to me in this struggle? I need a band of brothers, some mighty men to fight alongside me. I'm not a great warrior, but I don't want to be listed as "the rest" who ran away in the face of the enemy. I don't have a great history of resisting sin and Satan, but it's time to take up my battle axe.

Lord of the Armies of Heaven,

Teach my arms to wage war. Give me a steadfast brave heart. Provide me with some brave men to stand side by side with me in this battle.  Amen.

2Samuel 23:8-17

8These are the names of David’s mightiest warriors. The first was Jashobeam the Hacmonite, who was leader of the Three—the three mightiest warriors among David’s men. He once used his spear to kill 800 enemy warriors in a single battle.

9Next in rank among the Three was Eleazar son of Dodai, a descendant of Ahoah. Once Eleazar and David stood together against the Philistines when the entire Israelite army had fled. 10He killed Philistines until his hand was too tired to lift his sword, and the lord gave him a great victory that day. The rest of the army did not return until it was time to collect the plunder!

11Next in rank was Shammah son of Agee from Harar. One time the Philistines gathered at Lehi and attacked the Israelites in a field full of lentils. The Israelite army fled, 12but Shammah held his ground in the middle of the field and beat back the Philistines. So the lord brought about a great victory.13Once during the harvest, when David was at the cave of Adullam, the Philistine army was camped in the valley of Rephaim. The Three (who were among the Thirty—an elite group among David’s fighting men) went down to meet him there. 14David was staying in the stronghold at the time, and a Philistine detachment had occupied the town of Bethlehem.

15David remarked longingly to his men, “Oh, how I would love some of that good water from the well by the gate in Bethlehem.” 16So the Three broke through the Philistine lines, drew some water from the well by the gate in Bethlehem, and brought it back to David. But he refused to drink it. Instead, he poured it out as an offering to the lord. 17“The lord forbid that I should drink this!” he exclaimed. “This water is as precious as the blood of these men who risked their lives to bring it to me.” So David did not drink it. These are examples of the exploits of the Three.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Ittai of Gath

Today I read 2 Samuel 18-20 where David wins back the kingdom, but loses his son Absalom who had usurped his throne.

David wanted to go out with his men, but they strongly objected. Was this because the last time he stayed behind he ended up sleeping with Bathsheba? The King, even an old king, should be in the field with the troops. ?? When his son is killed the King mourns loudly and Joab his general strongly rebukes him for not showing loyalty to his troops who have risked their lives for him. Joab was right - David cared more about the rebellious son than the 1000's of men who risked their lives to save the kingdom.

One of David's commanders was a man named Ittai from Gath. Where did David pick up a Philistine? It must have been when he served the Philistines and hid among them while running from King Saul. Chapter 15 introduces Ittai to us. He was the leader of 600 Philistine warriors who decided to follow David. When Absalom staged his coup, Ittai stayed loyal to King David. What kind of man wins the loyalty of a platoon of foreign fighters? In chapter 15, David tells Ittai he shouldn't follow him. He is saying to him "you're a foreigner. You don't have a dog in this fight. Why do you want to get involved?" Ittai answers, "I vow to the Lord and by your own life that I will go wherever my lord the king goes, no matter what happens - whether it means life or death."

"Dear Lord,

King David, your great great great ... grandfather engendered such loyalty among people who were not his people. He failed so miserably at times, yet was so loved. His love for you made him attractive, a man to follow. He was real and vulnerable in his love and his sorrow.  You are the perfect One, the descendant promised to King David, the greater King, the Messiah, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Don't you deserve even greater loyalty? "I will go wherever my Lord goes."  You know my heart, you know the weakness of my flesh, you know everything about me. Help me to be steadfast and loyal to you - whether it means life or death. "  Amen

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Savoring the Joy of forgiveness

I've been thinking about Psalm 32 a lot lately.

1Oh, what joy for those
whose disobedience is forgiven,
whose sin is put out of sight!

My sins are out of your sight, Lord, but some people are "public figures" and our sins once known are never out of the sight of other people. People remember our sins and label us as "that guy" or "that woman". David is often remembered more for Bathsheba than Goliath. It is unnerving to know that people look at me through the lens of past mistakes. 

2Yes, what joy for those
whose record the lord has cleared of guilt,
whose lives are lived in complete honesty!

This is the 2nd time joy is mentioned. Father, why don't I feel that joy? At the prospect of opening up my life to more and more people, all I feel is dread. You have cleared me of guilt and brought me back to a place of honest living, but some of those who hear this news, will not clear me of guilt. My past sin will define me in their eyes. I will always be "that guy who ..."  who what? who sinned? who recovered from a great fall and ended well? Why do I want to write the end of that sentence in a negative way. Perhaps I will be remembered as the one who finished well. It doesn't matter. God says I am the one who sin is forgiven and whose transgression is put far away in the depths of the oceans.

3When I refused to confess my sin,
my body wasted away,
and I groaned all day long.
4Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.
My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.

I love the interlude here. When I went through this experience of refusing to confess my sin, it went on and on and on. It was not over quickly. I did not move quickly from stubborn refusal to willingness to confess. It took countless days under your heavy hand, the threat of incurable cancer, tears, stubbornness, depression, thoughts of suicide and finally I broke. I had to suffer sleepless nights, nights crying myself to sleep next to my wife, hoping she wouldn't notice my sobs. It was not pleasant and it seemed to last forever.

5Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the lord.”
And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.

How many times did I confess my sins to you, Father? You who counts the hairs on my head, you know the count. Was it hundreds? thousands? Yet until I confessed to my wife and others about what I had done, there was no relief. How are confessing to you and confessing to others related? Jesus said "if you are making an offering in the temple and remember your brother has something against you, go first and reconcile with your brother, then come and make your offering." My offering of confession was useless without confessing to those I sinned against. Maybe this is the heart of the matter: I have also sinned against the church and need to make amends to them as well. Perhaps then I will experience the joy of forgiveness you promise. Or perhaps there will be another group, then another, ad nauseum.  "All my guilt is gone. Interlude." Hit the "pause" button, meditate on that. ALL my guilt - GONE. 

As I think about sharing about my past failures and sin, the horror of my sin sinks into my soul. I see myself through the eyes of others. One person told me recently "I wanted to hate you when you told me about this." What I did is hateful in her sight, as it is in your sight. As I begin to realize the horror and darkness of my sin, I hope I will also appreciate more the sacrifice of Jesus to pay for my sin. I hope that confession is part of the healing process, healing from sin and its effects on my life. If there are yet areas where sin has its dark tentacles wrapped around my heart, then perhaps this opening up to others will reveal those areas and break sin's grip. Still, sharing with these sisters of mine is a fearful prospect. 


6Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time,
that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment.

Wrap your mind around this: "let all the godly pray to you while there is still time". Not the ungodly, not the sinners needing repentance and confession, but the godly. The godly need to pray, to repent, to confess, to come to God. Paul said that there is judgement coming and it will start first with the house of God. Those of us who are believers need to pray. We need to repent and confess our sins to one another. Time is short. We could be swept away in typhoon river of judgment, yet there is time to repent. Today, while it is still today, do not harden your heart. (Hebrews 4). There is no time for one last indulgence, one last sin, there is only just enough time to turn around and like the prodigal, trudge back to waiting Father. 

7For you are my hiding place;
you protect me from trouble.
You surround me with songs of victory.

Where else can I hide from my enemies? You are my hiding place. I cannot hide from my sin and my past, but I can hide from my enemies by running to you. You protect me from trouble. You surround me with songs of victory. I wonder at this phrase. What does it mean? Will those I tell my/your story to celebrate the victory you have wrought in my life? Or will they focus only on my failure? I have to believe that at least some will celebrate the victory. Last night I shared with my men's group and they celebrated. I'm not sure how the sisters in church will respond. It doesn't matter. "There is more rejoicing in the presence of God's angels over 1 sinner who repents, than over the 99 who need no repentance." Jesus himself will do the "happy dance" in front of his angels over the sinner who repents. Do the angels wonder at this - the Son of God dancing, whooping and shouting over a sinner who turns around? How does Gabriel feel when Jesus gives him a "high five" or says to Michael the Archangel "down low"? So un deity like, so undignified - it is like an man of wealth and position waiting on his front porch, staring off in the distance, seeing the outline of a weary figure against a setting sun. Could it be? At last - the younger son returning? In a flash he is off the porch, robes flying, sandals clacking, heading up the road as fast as his feet will carry him. The servants are aghast, but finally one has the sense to say "Well, go after him!" and they also run to see what could cause the Master to act in this way. It is his son - filthy, in rags, smelling like pigs, and completely at the end of his rope, the end of his hope. "Father I have sinned" is cut short by a crushing embrace, a bath, shoes for his feet, a robe, a ring and a party.


8The lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.
I will advise you and watch over you.
9Do not be like a senseless horse or mule
that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”

10Many sorrows come to the wicked,
but unfailing love surrounds those who trust the lord.
11So rejoice in the lord and be glad, all you who obey him!
Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!

The offer is renewed. "I will guide you along the best pathway for your life." You made me that offer before, but I rejected it. I thought another pathway would bring me satisfaction and happiness. It brought some sensual enjoyment, but also overwhelming sorrow, the sorrow of the wicked, the sorrow of enslavement, addiction, of being trapped and unwilling to take the only way out. The offer is renewed "I will advise you and watch over you." I accept your offer, Lord. I will not be like a senseless horse or mule. I will obey you. Surround me, as you promised with your unfailing love. I rejoice in you for you have forgiven my sin and cleansed my heart. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." Shout for joy!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

the slave Savior

I am not the right person to write this. I'm from the slave owner class, the employer caste. When it comes to this section of scripture I want to take a pass. Half of the people in Paul's world were slaves, real actual slaves. Someone else owned them. How many of the helpers working in Hong Kong are "debt slaves"?  It's not the master/slave, boss/worker class distinction that bothers me, but rather the instructions to be a "good slave". I run an employment agency for Filipino domestic helpers and every week I hear stories of them living in poor conditions, working long hours, suffering verbal abuse, not receiving enough food. We know one helper who went from 50 to 37 kilos in 6 months. Who am I to tell them "submit to your masters with all respect"?

But these are not my words. They are God's words to us.

1 Peter 2.18-25 
You who are slaves must submit to your masters with all respect. Do what they tell you—not only if they are kind and reasonable, but even if they are cruel. For God is pleased when, conscious of his will, you patiently endure unjust treatment. Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls.

  • Peter is not condoning slavery, nor is he condoning beating of workers who do wrong. That is the world he lived in, and he addresses the issues they faced.  In another letter Paul tells slaves to "get free if you can".
  • Peter's focus in this passage is on suffering. We need a theology of suffering. American Christians like the gospel of wealth, health and happiness, but run from suffering. Suffering is an integral part of Christian discipleship. Jesus and his apostles taught their disciples to expect and embrace suffering. Where is the lesson on suffering in most discipleship materials you buy in the West?
  •  1 Pet 2:24-25 contain some of the NT's richest teaching about the Savior and salvation. This teaching was given in a section of the letter addressed to slaves who often sufered daily at the hands of unjust masters. 
Here is a summary of Peter's instructions to slaves/employees:
  • Submit to your bosses and show respect to them:  "Submit" means to do what they ask you to do. Follow their instructions. "show respect" addresses our attitude. A good servant carries out the wishes of their boss and does so with a good, respectful attitude. 
  • Submitting and showing respect is an act of obedience to God and pleases God. 
  • Suffering for wrongdoing (doing the wrong thing or doing things wrongly) is to be expected. Suffering for doing the right things and doing them rightly is what happened to Jesus, so if it happens to us, we should not complain but trust God who will someday right all wrongs.
  • God calls us to do good, even if it means suffering, so we cannot stop obeying him. Following in the footsteps of Christ will involve suffering. 
  • Jesus' showed us how to suffer: "He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly."
  • Jesus bodily took on our sins on the cross. He physically died for our sins.
  • He died for our sins so we can be dead to sin and live for what is right.
  • His wounds, his physical dying on the cross heals us. Primarily he is speaking about healing us from the effects of sin, NOT physical healing. In fact, physical healing in a paragraph dedicated to suffering would be somewhat of a contradiction. The death of Christ does includ the eventual healing of all creation including new physical bodies (1Cor 15), but scripture does not promise physical healing in this life and those brothers and sisters who die from cancer, heart disease, etc. are not less spiritual because they didn't as some preachers would say "receive their healing". 
  • The focus of healing here is the healing of our wandering heart and soul. "By his wounds you are healed. Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls."
Jesus, Thank you for taking my sin, every bit of it, in your body on the cross. All my filth, my lust, my hate, my brokenness was nailed to the cross, laid on you. And not just my sin, but the sin of billions of people. That must have been far harder to bear than crucifixion. What is crucifixion compared to the blackness of our sin and then God's wrath against that sin? Horrible physical suffering and death, and terrible spiritual death. You endured this so that I could be healed from wandering, from the brokenness of my sin. You are my Shepherd, the Guardian of my soul. "All we like sheep have wandered away", but now my wandering heart has been healed. I am able, even keen to obey. And I have a Shepherd who guards me. Thank you. Honestly, without you, I feel like I will wander away again. I don't want to do that. Guard my heart, guard my soul.   Amen

Monday, May 25, 2015

This is who we are and why we are

Imagine: The ground has been leveled and hardened. On one corner of the foundation sits a large stone, dark gray with specks of green shimmering like emeralds. The cornerstone begins to move and grow. Green tendrils like those of a plant shoot forth. There are leaves and buds. The buds grow rapidly into other stones that take their places as a temple grows toward heaven, one living building, filled with light and life.

"You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor. And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple."

Human forms emerge from the stones, shimmering with the same emerald green as the stones and connected by tendrils that move with them. They offer sacrifices and worship God in the midst of the temple. 

"What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. "

I get the impression that Peter did a word study. Perhaps since Jesus declared that he would no longer be called "small stone" but "large rock" he was drawn to passages in scripture that talked about and prophesied about the "cornerstone." Maybe at first he even thought he might find something out about his own identity and future. He may have, but mostly what he discovered was about Jesus, our cornerstone. He says that "anyone who trusts in him will not be disgraced." 

That encourages me. I have done shameful things in my life, things that I regret and that would bring me disgrace and dishonor. Rightly so. But in the Lord Jesus Christ, there is no dis - grace, only grace. For those who trust him, who follow him there will be no dis-grace, only grace. Jesus bore our disgrace on the cross.

"As the Scriptures say, “I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem, chosen for great honor, and anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him. But for those who reject him, “The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.” And, “He is the stone that makes people stumble, the rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them. "

I am not one of those who rejects the cornerstone, but rather I have obeyed God's Word. Can't really say that with a straight face now can I? I have trusted Christ. I do trust Christ but my obedience is imperfect, and I hope growing. Peter here is not talking about a life of perfect obedience, but of the obedience of faith, trusting Jesus and deciding to be his follower. For those who do so our joint identity is:
- a chosen people
- royal priests
- a holy nation
- God's very own possession.
- those called out of darkness into light
- God's very own people
- those who have received mercy

Our function is:
- show others the goodness of God

I think I can do this!

"But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. “Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.” 

Showing others the goodness of God requires careful living. I need to, we need to "keep away from worldly desires". For me that would include lust, impure thoughts, a desire to be admired and sought after, a desire to impress. We're called to live upstanding lives, lives that bring honor to the name of Jesus. This is not pretend piety or conservative political beliefs, but a genuine testimony filled with love, humility and service of others. Pride has no place here, because we totally did not deserve mercy BUT now we have received the mercy of God. I am special because God says so and because he gives me grace. In and of myself, I am a messed up failure, "not his people" - a nobody, without mercy, outside of his love. Now I have received his love and he calls me to show his goodness to others. 

"Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world."

Father, you have shown us such wonderful kindness. You accepted us as your people, you showed us mercy, made us priests, called US out of darkness into light. We are now your people. Help us today to show others the goodness of God that you have shown us. Help us today to live well among our not yet believing neighbours. Amen

Friday, May 22, 2015


1 Peter 1:23, 1 Peter 2:1-3 NLT
For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God... 
So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.
I was always taught that this instruction "crave the milk"  is for new Christians. I'm 62 and have been a Christian for more than 40 years. For many of those 40 years I struggled with sin, lust, feelings of unworthiness, etc. Sometimes I lived a double life, 1 foot in sin, 1 foot in the church, trying to be good while trapped in a prison of lies and deceptful behavior. 

Peter reminds me that I am a newborn baby. 40 years - what is that? It is like 40 minutes of a newborn's life. "Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal living word of God" ...

"Get rid of"
Peter breaks the analogy here. Babies can't get rid of anything, but we are called to get rid of

  • all evil behavior: you know what your evil behavior is. I certainly know what mine is
  • deceit - no more double life, come into the light
  • hypocrisy - saying one thing, doing the other
  • jealousy - wishing we had someone else's life
  • all unkind speech - but I so dearly love my sarcastic wit 


We have this one short mortal life to prepare for eternity. We have started the journey but we are in the newborn stage. What does a newborn need? His mother's tit, the sustenance, the closeness, the bonding, the milk, pure spiritual milk - not Chinese milk powder - mother's milk. This is why Paul tells Timothy to beware of the false teachers - babies need pure milk. If I drink the pure spiritual milk then I will grow into a "full experience of salvation". 

what if I don't crave pure spiritual milk? It probably means that 1) I haven't got rid of all evil behavior and that behavior is choking off my new life. In the parable of the soils and the seed, some of the seed gets choked out by the weeds. Is that you? me? I need to fully repent and share my darkness with some brothers or sisters, step into the light. OR 2) I'm not born again yet. Stillborn babies don't crave milk. Are you, am I truly born again? If so, we need to "get rid of evil behavior" and "crave the pure milk". Then we need to 

Cry Out: 

Cry out to God, our mother for nourishment. Ask the Holy Spirit to nourish your soul as you sit down to read the Word of God. Study God's Word, sign up for reading plan on or download the Bible app and read. Crave and Cry Out. 

Father God, Mother God (in keeping with the analogy), Show me those things in my life that I need to get rid of. Help me to share them in my small group and bring them into the light. Create in me a craving for your Word. I cry out right now to you. "I'm hungry..Feed me please." Thank you. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Chicken or the Egg, Christ or the Father, who do you trust first?

Chicken or the Egg, Christ or the Father, who do you trust first?
I didn't trust God the Father. Growing up I blamed all my unhappiness on the Father. He was all powerful and he could intervene if he wanted to. I prayed every night to not wet the bed (into early teens, I'm ok now, but that day may be coming again now that I'm getting old) and woke every morning soaked. How could I believe that God the father loved me? Then I read the gospels and met Jesus who said "If you've seen me, you have already seen the Father." Jesus was so incredible. He loved the unlovely. He loved people like me.  Jesus taught me to trust the Father.

1 Peter 1:21-25 NLT
"Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And you have placed your faith and hope in God because he raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory."

Jesus is the reason I trust the Father. 
The Father is the reason I trust Jesus. 

I trust Jesus because the Father raised him from the dead. If Jesus didn't rise from the dead, I would not have trusted him, but the evidence of the resurrection was overwhelming. The Father raised Jesus from the dead, and gave him glory." So I trusted Jesus. Jesus taught me to trust the Father and the Father taught me to trust Jesus. Great teamwork!

" You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart."

Faith is a verb. I was cleansed from my sins when I "obeyed the truth". In the NT that usually took place at baptism. People trusted Christ by obeying the call to repent and be baptised. Faith demands obedience. Jesus never commanded us to raise a hand, fill in a response card, etc. (all good things) but he did say to "Repent and be baptised" and we see this pattern in the NT over and over again. New believers need to start with an act of obedience and baptism is still the best way to do that. 

And then, "Love each other deeply" radically.

"For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God. As the Scriptures say, “People are like grass; their beauty is like a flower in the field. The grass withers and the flower fades. But the word of the Lord remains forever.” And that word is the Good News that was preached to you."

The gospel message is the "eternal, living word of God" that causes a person to be born again. My physical life is going to be really short: 90 years if I'm lucky. But the new creation born in me when I obeyed Jesus is still an embryo. I will live forever. What power the gospel contains! What potential! 

Father, you brought Jesus back from the dead. I trust you and love you. Jesus, you showed me what Father was like. I trust you, I love you. Your Word, the good news that was preached to me has power to create new life, eternal life within us. This week I want to be faithful and bold in sharing the good news. Holy Spirit take the gospel message and use it to impregnate, to engender new life, eternal life in the lives of people around. Amen

Sunday, May 17, 2015


Kidnap and ransom are common in parts of Asia and Africa. Ransom is paid to rescue someone from the threat of death. Recently in HK the heiress of the Bossini fortune was kidnapped. The Bible says that God Almighty ransomed us. If you are God Almighty why would you pay a ransom? You can take what you want by force?

In the OT the idea of ransom seems to be similar to "rescue".
Psalms 25:22 (NLT)  O God, ransom Israel from all its troubles.
Psalms 44:26 (NLT) Rise up! Help us! Ransom us because of your unfailing love.

In the NT the rescue is effected by the payment of a ransom.

"For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but now in these last days he has been revealed for your sake." 1P 1:18-20
"For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45 (NLT) 
For some reason (to satisfy the demands of his righteousness and justice, or to pay a ransom to Satan under whose control we were) God decided in eternity past to ransom us. Before making us He already knew what it would cost him.

Imagine this! A couple with a teenage son are considering adopting a baby. Their son is an incredible young man, perfect in every way: creative, loving, obedient and the joy of the family. The family, the 3 of them all have the same dream that tells them: if they adopt this baby, he/she will grow up and make many wrong choices. He/she will fall in with the wrong people and eventually will need to be ransomed and rescued. The price of the ransom will be the death of the son they already have. What family would decide to go through with the adoption? God the father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit made this choice. Knowing everything I would do to screw up my life. Knowing how much ruin I would bring, they decided to rescue me by paying the ransom, the death of the Son.

The purpose of the ransom was to rescue us from the "empty way of life we inherited from our ancestors."

Jesus rescues us from slavery to sin. He rescues us from "empty living". He brings us into freedom and abundant meaningful living. We are brought/bought from the slave market and brought into the kingdom of his dear Son, where we become children of God.

Lord, this is too much. Before I was born, before the world was even created you decided to make me, to die for me, to ransom me, to rescue me. No more empty living. No more slave market. Kingdom living, freedom, LIFE - these are why you ransomed me. This is what you rescued me for.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Journey towards judgment and eternity

Growing up in a family of 6 kids I felt that my parents had favorites. Dad invested more time in the eldest Stephen and mom doted on Warren the youngest son. Being in the middle I was often overlooked (which sometimes has its advantages). But it was also painful.

My heavenly Father has no favorites. His judgment will not be clouded by sentiment. Judgment (punishment?) or reward will be according to what you do. Can Christians be punished, rebuked, assessed, exposed, etc. If we are shown to be children of God then we won't be punished for sin, but our lives will be exposed and assessed and rewarded or not.

1 Peter 1:17 NLT
And remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time here as “temporary residents.”

What shall I do? I can't change the past so dwelling on my failures or successes is useless. It will all come to light and God will assess the mess.

Today, right now I can live in reverent fear, awe of God, remembering who he is and remembering that life here is a temporary sojourn. I am made for eternity, but what I do now will effect my eternity.

Heavenly Father, I know you will someday assess and judge my life. You created me and have the right to do so. Help me today to fear you, to live in reverent awe. My journey is mostly over. Some of it has been dismal, but I will leave judgment to you. Today help me to live in the light of eternity, to stay in awe of you, intent on experiencing your grace and love, and help me to show rust grace and love to others. Amen.

Monday, May 4, 2015

My life is a soap opera

People love serial dramas. We used to call them "soap operas" because they aired during the daytime supported by the makers of laundry and other soaps. Since the characters are not real, it's not gossip when we talk about the latest romantic interest of the Good Wife or say "OMG, did Madam Secretary's daughter kissed the president's son. Doesn't she know how messed up he is? What is she thinking?" 

I've been reading 1 Peter and wondering if my life is a soap opera. Here is what he says,
This salvation was something even the prophets wanted to know more about when they prophesied about this gracious salvation prepared for you. They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and his great glory afterward. They were told that their messages were not for themselves, but for you. And now this Good News has been announced to you by those who preached in the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen.  1 Peter 1:10-12 NLT
Did you get that? Angels are watching us. Are we their soap opera? In Hebrews 11 we are told that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. There is no secret sin, failure or small act of faithfulness and love that is not witnessed.

Do we live in a fishbowl? I think we do. Our lives and the outcome of our choices deeply matter to the Universe. We're not a curiosity. We place a key role in struggle between good and evil, God and Satan.  The witnesses are not dispassionate, curious and uncaring. They are our teammates, those who want us to win, who want the team to win. They wear the same uniform. They may be on the bench but they are deeply invested in the outcome of our lives. The angels watch intently so that they may learn about God's grace and understand the salvation He has provided for mankind.

I am tempted to think that my small life does not matter at all. My life is of interest to angels and there are witnesses who are cheering for me. My life matters.

New bodies needed

My current body is dying. This morning I will go out and exercise trying to postpone the inevitable, but I am dying. So are you. We are all on a death march where every step takes us closer to the he's grave. Paul says "
"What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever."

That's the bad news. The good news is that God has already prepared a replacement. And some people will not even have to die to get it. The word he uses to describe the process is "transformed".
"But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. "

It won't take long, a blink of an eye only. The transformation will be permanent. Our new bodies will be immortal. Death will be finished.

" Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? ” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ."
"So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. "
Thank you Father that my inheritance includes a new immortal body. Thank you for the gift of victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. Help us to be strong and immovable. Help us to be enthusiastic as we serve you today. Thank you that nothing we do for you is ever useless.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Beyond reach: Will I really inherit eternal life?

God promises us "an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay." (1p 1.4) Jesus said to "store up your treasures in heaven where moth and rust cannot destroy them" (mt 6).

Lord, I'm so grateful for this inheritance, BUT I'm afraid. I'm afraid that it is not only beyond the reach of change and decay, I'm afraid it is beyond my reach too. I stumble and fall, get back up again, then repeat... The treasure is there, the inheritance is there, BUT what about me? Will I be there?

"And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation" (1p1.5)

You have promised to protect me. Right now, at this very moment, you are PROTECTING me by your POWER. You have said you will continue to do so UNTIL I/We receive the SALVATION that will be revealed on the last day. Father, I'm holding you to your word. Keep on protecting me and make sure I receive the final salvation you have promised. I trust you. Help my faith to remain strong through the many trials I have now and that lay ahead. Help me to prepare my mind for action and to exercise self control (1p1.13) and to live a life of obedience. Keep the treasure for me and my brothers and sisters and KEEP US for the treasure. We can't do it without you. Amen

Friday, April 17, 2015

Our inheritance: eternal life; a question of values, what is in your hands?

What is in your hands? What are you holding onto so tightly? Our hands and our hearts are made to hold onto only one thing at a time. Jesus said, "a man cannot serve two masters for he will inevitably hate the one and love the other. You cannot serve both God and Mammon (riches)."

Peter wrote that we have a "priceless inheritance" (1Pet 1:4). God wants to give us something that is wonderful beyond anything we can imagine, but first we need to "let go" of some things so that we can receive it. One day a young rich man comes to ask Jesus how to "inherit eternal life". Here's what happened:

Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question: “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “Only God is truly good.  But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother.’” The man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” When Jesus heard his answer, he said, “There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was very rich.  When Jesus saw this, he said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!  In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” Those who heard this said, “Then who in the world can be saved?” He replied, “What is impossible for people is possible with God.” Peter said, “We’ve left our homes to follow you.” “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God,  will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.”  Luke 18:18-30

This young rich ruler had something in his life that he valued MORE THAN JESUS, more
than the eternal life he wanted Jesus to promise him. His hands and his heart were full of money. He had no room for Jesus. Compare him to Zacchaeus who after meeting Jesus said "I'll give half of all my riches to the poor and repay everyone I have cheated 4 times over." (He probably needed 1/2 his money to repay the people he had overcharged for taxes). Zaccheus valued Jesus above all else. Jesus said "today salvation has come to this house."

Not so, the rich young ruler. He went away sad "for he was very rich". This has to be one of the strangest sentences I have ever heard. Say it outloud 3 times "he became very sad, for he was very rich". It doesn't make sense to us, because we like him value money so highly. We think surely money will make me happy. How can this be? He wanted eternal life. He wanted to follow Jesus, but his hands and his heart were full of the "love of money". To love Jesus he had to stop loving riches.

What's in your hearts? What's in your hands? What are you holding onto that keeps you from loving and following Jesus? It's probably not riches. It might be a relationship that you know is wrong; a grudge you are holding onto, a person you refuse to forgive, a goal that you know is not from God... what is in your heart? Do you value it so much that you will walk away from Jesus, walk away from eternal life, walk away from the priceless inheritance God has prepared for you?

Don't let this sentence describe you: She/he became very sad, for she/he was very (rich/resentful/hurt/addicted to sin/involved in a wrong relationship/________. (you fill in the blank.) Please don't let this happen to you.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

I have an inheritance: how to become an heir of God

What will you leave behind? After you and I have left this world and our children go through the shoeboxes full of knicknacks stored in our closets, what will they have? My mom and dad are in their 90's. Their life savings and probably their house will be eaten up by expenses of providing care for them over the next few years. Our inheritance (there are 6 of us)  from mom and dad won't consist of material goods, but rather in the example of their lives, their 70+ years of marriage, their honesty, integrity and love. As inheritances go - that's a pretty good one. Still sometimes I wonder, what would it be like to be heir to a great fortune, to be royalty.

In 1Peter 1:3-5 Peter says that we have a "priceless inheritance, that is kept in heaven for us". I'm wondering "what's is this inheritance?" I have the feeling that if I understand what this inheritance is, it might change something inside of my heart, so I want to explore the topic.  Here is what Peter wrote:

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see. 1 Peter 1:3-5

How do I become an "heir"?

If you want an inheritance you first have to be an heir. Li Ka Shing is the richest man in Hong Kong, worth billions, but it means nothing to me, because my name is Smith. I'm not his heir. I won't inherit even a dollar from him. Peter starts by saying "It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus from the dead." 

God's inheritance is reserved for those who are "born again" into his family. All of us are born into the family of mankind, but sin has made estranged and separated us from God. Jesus told the religious leader (John 3) "unless you are born again you cannot see the kingdom of God".  When we cry out to Jesus to save us, the Holy Spirit does a mighty work inside of us, igniting us, bringing us to life, causing us to be "born again." We are born into the family of God, the kingdom of God. We become "heirs". When I reached out to God the first time my prayer was something like
"God IF you are there, please please help me. My life is so broken. Jesus I dare to believe that you love me because you died on the cross for my sins and rose again. Please help me."
After that I think I cried and fell asleep. When I woke up, I had the same set of problems that I had the night before, but something in my soul had changed. Out of control areas of my life, like my temper, began to change. I was soooo hungry - I would stay up almost all night filling in Bible Study booklets someone had given me. My family began noticing that I was different.

This new birth is from God. Peter says "it is by his great mercy" that we are born again. You can't earn it or deserve; you can only ask for it, cry out for it. In Romans 10 it says "Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved."  Calling means to "cry out", "scream for help". A drowning man doesn't make long beautiful speechs. Between mouthfuls of water he screams "Help!".  God is merciful. Cry out to him and he WILL save you. I love the song "Turn Around" by Matt Maher. In the song he says,

You don't have to move, love will come to you. All you gotta do is 'turn around'. 
When I turned back to God I had no strength for even one step. I had nothing to offer God. Like the prodigal son, clothed in rags, starving, impoverished - all I could do was turn around. In the story of the prodigal son, it says "his father saw him while he still a long way off and ran to him". You don't have to move, love will come to you. All you have to do is turn around."

Do want to become an heir of God? Turn around. Cry out to him. He will come to you and help you. His Spirit will cause you to be born again. He will forgive ALL your sins, and change you from the inside out. Believe. Cry out! Even if your prayer is only "God IF you are there, please please help me" - He will answer that prayer.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

God GETS me: 1 Peter 1

When I was young (a long long time ago) I learned a song that went like this:
"Nobody likes me. Everybody hates me. Guess I'll go eat some worms."
Sometimes it feels like that, especially when you are a foreigner living in a strange place, especially if you live in the home of someone from a different culture. Sometimes it feels like "nobody GETS me, noone understands me."

Last Sunday was Easter and we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus and Pastor Ruel shared from the first letter Peter wrote (1Peter). Here is how the letter opens.

This letter is from Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. I am writing to God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy
It is easy to imagine he is writing to Filipino brothers and sisters who are living as foreigners in Hong Kong, Saudi, UAE, Malaysia, Singapore, Kuwait, etc. Life as a foreigner is hard: separation from loved ones, feelings of displacement, the stress that comes from day to day living in a foreign land, listening to Cantonese and HK English, dealing with HK culture. Yesterday on the minibus a little boy behind us was talking about the "Kweilos" sitting in front of him. Being a foreigner also means being deprived of the foods you love, not watching silly Pinoy TV shows, and NOT being able to walk down an unpaved road in shorts, a tank top and flip flops. Living as a foreigner can be tough.

The first thing I want you to know is: God GETS it. He understands you. He had Peter write a letter to you, to those of us who "live as foreigners". In fact Peter writes "the Father knew you and chose you long ago" . The Father knows me. He understands exactly what I am going through. He knows how hard it is to live as a foreigner is a strange land. And
           (sound of car tires screeching as we slam on the brakes)
He chose me for this life. God chose you long ago to belong to him, to know him. He knew where you would live and the fact that you ARE where you ARE is part of his plan.

The 2nd thing I want to point out is: living as a foreigner is a choice.  Breaking News: Not all of the "foreigners" Peter wrote to were "foreigners". There is some debate about this, but many scholars think the word "foreigners" might be a reference to followers of Jesus who lived in these areas. Their lifestyles, their outlooks on life, their values and their character were so different from the people around them that seemed like "foreigners." The Christians were persecuted for following Jesus and the society around them saw their devotion to Christ as a threat.

If you or I returned to our country of origin, would our Christian life be so radical that we seemed "foreign"? How can I be "foreign" in a good sense and not a bad sense?

Here is my dilemna: Some Christians seem "foreign" because they are just plain "weird". They can be opinionated, bigoted, judgmental and unloving. They are radical, but not in a beautiful way. Other Christians blend right into the culture so much that you can't recognize them, buying into the culture of trying to look sexy or wealthy or hip. (If you don't what "hip" is - ask your grandmother). God wants you and I to be "foreign"  in the right way, living as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, living rightly and loving people radically.

Heavenly Father, You are behind this "foreign life". You chose us for this life. You understand what it feels like. Jesus, you lived like an OFW for 30+ years and died on the cross so that we could become citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. You rose from the dead so we could experience God's great mercy. Thank you for understanding our dilemna. Help us today to be "foreign" in the right sense of the word; to live lives of radical in integrity and love, to be sacrificial in the service we give others, to be bold in explaining your love to those around us.  Amen.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Jesus: friend of scumbags

( image from David LaChapelle )
Which is better?  a) go to church or b) go to a bar ?

Jesus spent time in church (the synagogue) but he also so much time with people who partied that his enemies called him a "glutton and a drunk". I'm sure that Jesus didn't overeat or get drunk, but he hung out in places where people usually did.

In Matthew 9 Jesus calls a scumbag named Matthew to follow him.
"As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him."

" Follow me and be my disciple"- Be my student, my apprentice, learn from me, learn to do what I do. This was a call to a life of obedience. Matthew immediately got up and followed Jesus. He took his first step of obedience.

When you disciple someone, give them homework. Give them something to do, to obey right away.

Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. 

The first thing Matthew did was to obey and follow Jesus. Then later (later that day? later that week?) Matthew invited Jesus to meet his friends, AND he invited his friends to meet Jesus. He did so in the best way he knew. He threw a party. Jesus called him to "be my disciple" and Matthew begins right away by throwing a dinner party for Jesus & his friends. Matthew's friends weren't just sinners they were "tax collectors and other disreputable sinners." They were in the words of the religious people "scum".

But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum? ” 

I have some exciting news: Jesus loves scum. Scum is what is left in the bowl or pan after you've eaten your dinner. Scum is what is left in the bathtub after you've drained out the dirty water. Scum - it's not a nice word. It is a good description of some of us. We're nothing in the eyes of the world: under-educated, single moms, broken marriages, unloved and unwanted - if we died tonight few people would notice. Jesus would notice, Jesus cares. We don't qualify for high society but Jesus calls to be his disciples, to be part of his family. 

When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” 

If you want to be a disciple of Jesus, then start hanging out with "sick people". Jesus called Matthew to share his heart. Matthew got it. He invited his "sicko friends" to meet Jesus. Who are you inviting to meet Jesus? Do you have any "sick" friends in need of the doctor? If not, get some. If so, throw a party and invite them to meet Jesus and his disciples. Jesus came to help "sick people. When someone is really evil we call them a "sick SOB". If they know it and want to change, then Jesus can heal them. 

Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”  

This last sentence takes me back to my opening question: which is better to go to church or go to a bar? Church is where you go to "offer sacrifices", to do religious activity - sing, worship, donate to the offering, read scripture, etc. Where do you go to show mercy? The hospital, the bar, maybe to the party. You go where sick people are. Reaching out to the hurting people is better than religious activity. Jesus calls us to his mission - reaching the lost, showing mercy to the hurting. We will not find those people at church, but rather in a bar or at a party. 

What do you think?

Above passages is from Matthew 9:9-13 NLT

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Priorities of the Messiah

I use a compass when I go geocaching (look it up). The compass helps me fulfill my mission of locating the hidden cache. Priorities are like a compass. If we follow them we will reach our intended destination. Jesus had clear priorities, but until recently I didn't think about God's priorities for the Messiah. His priorities are evident in the prophecies about the Messiah. 

I've started a reading plan to take me through the Gospels in 30 days. On day 4 I read the following passages. I've highlighted the sections that jumped out at me. Before, when I read the list of prophecies Jesus fulfilled (in Matthew) I thought "O yeah, Jesus fulfilled OT prophecy" but I never thought about the CONTENT of the prophecy. In Mt. 4 the prophecy quoted says that the Savior would be concerned about the Gentiles and have a priority of shining light on those who have not seen the light. 

Matthew 4:12-16 GNT
When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he went away to Galilee.  He did not stay in Nazareth, but went to live in Capernaum, a town by Lake Galilee, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali. This was done to make come true what the prophet Isaiah had said,    “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, on the road to the sea, on the other side of the Jordan, Galilee, land of the Gentiles!  The people who live in darkness will see a great light. On those who live in the dark land of death the light will shine.”

Jesus confirms his commitment to this priority by telling the people that God has chosen Gentiles in the past, and after he prayed, he set out to preach to those who had not yet heard, because "that is what God sent me to do."

Luke 4:25-27, 42-43 GNT
Listen to me: it is true that there were many widows in Israel during the time of Elijah, when there was no rain for three and a half years and a severe famine spread throughout the whole land.  Yet Elijah was not sent to anyone in Israel, but only to a widow living in Zarephath in the territory of Sidon.  And there were many people suffering from a dreaded skin disease who lived in Israel during the time of the prophet Elisha; yet not one of them was healed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”  At daybreak Jesus left the town and went off to a lonely place. The people started looking for him, and when they found him, they tried to keep him from leaving. But he said to them, “I must preach the Good News about the Kingdom of God in other towns also, because that is what God sent me to do.”

In the encounter with the Samaritian woman Jesus brings the good news to a half breed woman of low reputation. And he tells his disciples to wake up, because harvest time is now. Many Samaritans believed. From the beginning, God's plan had a strong focus on non Jewish peoples. Jesus taught and lived those priorities.

John 4:34-42 GNT
“My food,” Jesus said to them, “is to obey the will of the one who sent me and to finish the work he gave me to do. You have a saying, ‘Four more months and then the harvest.’ But I tell you, take a good look at the fields; the crops are now ripe and ready to be harvested! The one who reaps the harvest is being paid and gathers the crops for eternal life; so the one who plants and the one who reaps will be glad together. For the saying is true, ‘Someone plants, someone else reaps.’ I have sent you to reap a harvest in a field where you did not work; others worked there, and you profit from their work.”  Many of the Samaritans in that town believed in Jesus because the woman had said, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they begged him to stay with them, and Jesus stayed there two days.  Many more believed because of his message, and they told the woman, “We believe now, not because of what you said, but because we ourselves have heard him, and we know that he really is the Savior of the world.”

Friday, January 30, 2015

I'm all in.

I'm reading a 7 day Bible reading plan from Francis Chan called "Crazy Love". I like it because it only  gives the scriptures without any accompanying devotional material. All I know is the 7 days is about love. As I read, I try to work out what the theme for the day is. Today I read 
I encourage you to read these 3 passages and write a theme for the day. My theme is "all in". Everything I am, everything I have, everything I've done - the good & the bad. I have to be "all in", "all or nothing". 

In Rev 3 Jesus encourages us to go all in, and come to him for true abundance, right standing with God and healing. Jesus admires and notices the one who goes "all in". How about you? In or out? If "in", now is the time to go "all in."

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Me a Masterpiece! I don't think so.

 "For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus,
so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago."  Eph. 2:10

I'm following a Bible reading plan from and today's reading included Eph 2:10 (above).  This verse jangles my nerves, feels wrong, bothers and challenges me, so I decided to write about it. Here are the problems I struggle with:

#1: I ain't no Mona Lisa. "Masterpiece"? I feel more like a child's first attempt at fingerpainting.  Anyone out there looking at me and saying "Wow, a masterpiece!" I don't think so. Look at my life and most people would say "Oh! What happened?"  So I re-read the verse and guess what - it doesn't say I'm a masterpiece. It says "we" are God's masterpiece, so I quickly read the whole section of scripture (always a good idea) and discovered it is talking about how God brings people from completely different backgrounds and cultures (Gentiles & Jews) into one family where we learn to love each other and glorify God together. Together - we are his masterpiece. Whew! Heat's off. Thanks God.

#2: This is your plan for me?!? "so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago". I'm running a small business, dealing with staff who tell me that I should do things this way or that way, staff who come in late, customers who complain and rarely say "thank you". We serve helpers who scrub toilets, change diapers, toil away in the kitchen, fetch kids, walk dogs.  This was not their childhood dream. They wanted to be nurses, teachers, business owners, movie stars. I wanted to be an astronaut, a football star, a leader of a large company. Instead I'm running a mom and pop business. Is this the plan? Lord, are these the "good things" the good works you planned for us long ago?  


Yes! The answer is "Yes!" Changing diapers, dealing with a complaining customer, loving the children in our care - whether our own or someone else's, wiping away tears, giving a word of encouragement, handling the paperwork on a contract renewal with care, putting the clothes away in the right drawer - not putting mom's undies in sir's drawer, ALL of this qualifies as the "good works" that God himself planned for us long ago. Greatness doesn't lie in doing BIG things, but in doing SMALL things, ordinary things with care and love. 

There is an alley behind BurgerKing in Mong Kok. In that alley, an older man runs a small business. He repairs shoes. With just a stool and a box of tools and supplies, he fixes shoes for people who walk through the alley. The sole of my shoe came loose one day and since I was nearby, I went to look for him. Because I spoke Cantonese he asked me if I was a pastor or missionary. I confessed that I was. He told me that he was a Christian and would not allow me to pay him for fixing my shoe. He glued and stitched it together with loving care and skill. He was doing the good works God planned for him long ago. 

Most of life is ordinary. What makes something "good" is NOT the position or title we hold, but HOW we do our work.  Being the president of a Fortune 500 company is not a "good" job. It is only good if the person leads well and creates value for the people who work there, and the customers they serve. My work, my ordinary life has the same potential as the president of the USA to bring honor to God. 

Today Lord, may we, your children, who are together your masterpiece bring glory to you and blessing to others through doing the good works you long ago planned for us. Amen 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

It rubs off on you

This morning I poured a cup of coffee and sat down on the sofa to read my Bible. Kitty came over and snuggled next to me. When kitty (yeah, that's his name) rubs against my pant's leg or sits on my lap he often leaves behind some cat hair and maybe some cat smell. In the summer I need to be extra careful because I may go to work covered in cat hair (not cool at all).

Whoever you hang out with will "rub off" on you. It could be a cat or a friend or even Jesus.

In Acts 4:13 Peter and John are arrested for healing a man who was crippled since birth. Imagine that! They do something good and pure, a miracle, and they get arrested for it. Life is like that. It was undeniably a miracle, so the Jewish leaders let them go (this time). Notice what v.13 says,
"The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus."
They recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.

If I spend time with Jesus, he will rub off on me. People notice when we spend time with Jesus and when we don't.  In the life of Peter and John the Jewish leaders saw boldness, a deep understanding of scripture, power and confidence.  They saw Jesus.

We all know people who started following Jesus and served him and others with a humble and grateful heart. Then they stopped attending small group and church and began to hang out with people who have ugly demanding attitudes, people who think the world OWES them something. The once kind and gentle person turns into a __________ (fill in the blank). Their friends rubbed off on them, and now they stink with bad attitudes and negative thinking. I usually don't hear about it until their "stinkin thinkin" has cost them their job.

Lord, I want to be like you. Help me to hang out with you, to spend time with you so that your character and goodness will become imbedded into my life and character. Thank you for the positive and good people you've put in my life. Protect me from becoming a negative unhappy person. Make me like you Lord, conform me to your image. Amen