Peace For The Coming Year

When I was small, I would play make-believe war games with my friends. At different times during the game, we would take a break and declare a time-out. This is a moment when the rules of our fighting are suspended. We could say we had a temporary time of peace, a cessation of our fighting. Our conversation here centers on this idea of peace.

The story of Simeon is a moment when an old “retired” prophet encounters Jesus, the baby at the temple, during the time of the infant’s dedication. His meeting with Jesus has been prophesied. In response, he says he can now “depart in peace” and rest in God’s presence. Luke says: “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:28-32). For our reflection time, let us talk about peace here, peace for the coming year.

Peace is centered in the person of Jesus. The angels proclaimed “peace on earth” when they gave the announcement at that first Christmas day. At many instances, Jesus declared peace to his disciples. In the upper room, before his crucifixion, Jesus said to his disciples: “Peace be unto you.” Peace is central to the Christian faith. Thus, we can say peace equals Jesus.

Let me share five descriptions of peace that we can gather from the example of Simeon’s meeting with Jesus. Peace here is active and not just an end to a struggle or the quietness of a situation. Peace is described as five action words.   Peace is (1) partaking in the person of Jesus, (2) experiencing God’s salvation in tangible ways, (3) anticipating God’s coming or hoping for his visit, (4) celebrating with God’s people, and (5) encountering the Spirit of God. Partake, Experience, Anticipate, Celebrate, Encounter. All first letters of these five words spell out the word PEACE. This is easy to remember, right?

Now let us go to these five descriptions. One is that we partake of God’s peace through the person of Jesus. Our Lord Jesus is the ultimate description and final meaning of the idea of peace in the world. This is certainly the experience of Simeon. He can now rest in peace because he has seen the baby Jesus who has been proclaimed by the angels as the Prince of Peace, when they said: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14). Two is that the experience of peace is through our senses and our daily life. Simeon saw Jesus with his own eyes. It was very personal as well as close to his heart. Thus, he prophesied that Jesus “is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed, so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35). Jesus will move through our whole being, and, in accordance to his prophecy, Jesus will also shake the lives of many. Peace comes to us in tangible ways.

Before we continue on, let me ask you this question: When was the last time you experienced Jesus in a very personal way, almost like he was sitting right next to you?

Let us come to the third description. Three is that peace is an anticipation of the coming of God’s salvation. In Simeon’s life, he waited for a long time to see the baby Savior. He was full of hope to God’s answer to his prayer. His anticipation was based on God’s promise of sending the light of the world, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:32 and Isaiah 42:6, 49:6). Anticipation is now fulfilled in Jesus. Four is that peace is a celebration with God’s people. Because God answers prayers, then we celebrate, we rejoice with others. In Simeon’s experience, he went to the temple to see Jesus in person and to join Mary and Joseph, and perhaps other worshippers, in celebrating the coming of the Savior King through baby Jesus. 

Let me pause here and ask you this question: Who are the people you invite to celebrate God’s many answers to your prayers? Do you share with these friends your excitement and anticipation of God’s coming?

Five and last is that peace means encountering the Spirit of God. In Simeon’s life, the Spirit of God is upon him. The Spirit told him that “he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ.” He came to the temple prompted by the Spirit. We see all of these in Luke 2:25-27.

In our lives today, how are we encountering the Spirit of God? As you face this coming new year, what do you need to do to prepare for your encounter with God’s Spirit?

Partake, Experience, Anticipate, Celebrate, Encounter. PEACE. Jesus is the peace on earth and goodwill for all peoples. Let me leave you with these three questions and you can discuss your answers among yourselves. These are questions of “When,” “Who,” and “How?” Below are the following three questions:

(1) When was the last time you experienced Jesus in a very personal way, almost like he was sitting right next to you? 

(2) Who are the people you invite to celebrate God’s many answers to your prayers? 

(3) As you face this coming new year, how are you encountering the Spirit of God or what do you need to do to prepare for your encounter with God’s Spirit?

Generosity From The Field

Some days I just cannot help but fret about the expenses for a coming missionary trip. I know, I know. I should not be worrying about money. I know God will provide. But sometimes, most especially after opening my online account and seeing that the missionary giving is low, I then start to have second thoughts. I begin to wonder which missionary trips should I cancel. And on this particular travel to Borneo, I thought about cutting my trip short. And this is when I started to worry. But God, in his mercy, rebuked me through the generous giving of an Asian local church. It did not occur to me that our Lord will provide for my needs through the generous gifts from the field. So, here is the shorter version of this long story.

Last month, I went to Borneo to visit an on-going literacy ministry among displaced children located in a small village in this Asian island. Along the way, my friends from Sabah invited me to speak at their local church’s three-day retreat. I accepted the invitation knowing that I still have plenty of time to do my missionary work of helping the children’s literacy activity. After the church retreat, the leaders of the church gifted me with a generous honorarium. They also paid for my hotel stay and chauffeured me around the local district. In the end, I barely dipped into my missionary account, meaning that I did not spend a lot of the money that I brought from the US. God used the generous donations from the field to provide for my needs.

God really provides for his work. He answers our prayers from unexpected places and at surprising moments in time.

Joy In The Mourning

There is joy and hope for those who mourn. (See, Matthew 5:4). "How can we live this way? Many of us are tempted to be relieved of our pain. We want to flee it at all costs. But when we learn to move through suffering, rather than avoid it, then we greet it differently. We become willing to let it teach us. We even begin to see how God can use it for some larger end. Suffering becomes something other than a nuisance or curse to be evaded at all costs, but a way into deeper fulfillment. Ultimately mourning means facing what wounds us in the presence of One who can heal” (Nouwen. 2001:xix)

(Henri Nouwen. 2001. Turn My Morning Into Dancing: Finding Hope During Hard Time. Edited by Timothy Jones. TN: W Publishing)

Giving Generously

“These are for you.” Joe handed me a check and a Bible. I looked at the check and was so taken back at the generous gift. The amount could pay ten days of comfortable hotel stay in most cities in Asia. This gift would certainly be of use for my missionary travels and time of ministry for the coming year, 2024. I said thank you to Joe and we celebrated our friendship, together with his sister, enjoying some light dinner at their home.

Generous gifts given to missionaries are always memorable. At one time, a small church in Michigan gave me a small gift, just enough to pay for a meal or two during my annual travel around Asia and Oceania. The amount was insignificant. The source of the gift was what moved me. It came from a children’s Sunday School class, a group of 2nd and 3rd Graders who invited me to visit their classroom and to share a missionary story. I was blown away by their generous hearts. I often wonder how much of our missionary funds come from kids selling lemonade at their front yard or from a garage sale of a child’s favorite toys, or maybe, donations coming from nickels and dimes taken out of a girl or boy’s piggy bank. I will never know. One thing for sure is that the generosity of God’s children is always amazing.

Going back to Joe and his generous gift… didn’t I mention he also gave me a Bible? It was a beautiful hard-cover The Passion Translation (TPT) New Testament, with Psalms and Proverbs. It was perfect. I told Joe that I just started my personal devotional time with the Book of Proverbs. Now, every time I start my morning with my devotions, I remember Joe and his sister from Illinois, and I join them during my prayer time. I am grateful for people like Joe and the children from a Sunday School class, that they are giving generously for a missionary like me.

Now I Remember

“Remember me?” Rose asks me this question. She is a youth leader from Cambodia. Back then, she was an eight-year old girl when I visited Phnom Penh with a mission team from Taiwan. “My father is Pastor Joseph,” she continues. That is when I remember her. We chat a little bit and we both agree that the 15 years or so went by so fast.

I am in our Better Together Converge 2023, here in Chiang Mai, Thailand. This is a gathering of our leaders from many countries in Asia. Several participants are youth leaders. Rose is one of them. We are gathering for a time of encouragement and revisiting our vision of “influencing a million for Jesus.”

The first day of our BTC23 conference, I was asked the same question by many of the youth leaders. Amos from South Asia, Jacob from Myanmar, Pastor Pen from Thailand, they all came to me and asked me the question. After a few pauses and puzzled look, I remembered.

It is a rewarding time to be here at BTC23. I am seeing God’s work among our Asian churches, especially among the youth. Now, they are the leaders in our communities. God is answering the prayers of His children.

Come Full Circle

I am still amazed at how Nonoy and I have the same interest and passion even at this stage in our lives. We both are committed to helping the children of undocumented families here in Sabah. We find joy in seeing the children of a literacy outreach accomplish small progress in their learning skills. We are comfortable interacting with children from families with challenging circumstances. You could say we have kindred hearts.

You see, Nonoy and I were together in the early 1980s as band members of a youth music group. I played bass for this group. He played lead guitar, and with other band members we would sing at churches, campuses, and other church events. We wrote our songs and sang them at these places of ministry. Back then, we both love music, were passionate about songwriting, and dedicated our time for God’s work through the youth music scene. He left the Philippines in 1985 for Malaysia, and I left the Philippines in 1993 for the USA.

Now, we are here in Sabah volunteering our time and energy towards helping children from undocumented families, being available so that these children will learn reading and writing. You could say our friendship has come full circle.

Laughing With God

God has a great sense of humor. I prepare a talk and at the end, he takes a small portion of my presentation and multiplies it to one person listening to my teaching. Isn’t this funny? After spending hours and hours of study and teaching preparations, one insignificant portion of my talk becomes the turning point to this one person. Has this ever happened to you?

Yesterday, I was in a church retreat here in Borneo. The SIBH church leaders have invited me to speak on the Trinity. I gave a lecture on the “Renewing Ministry of the Spirit.” One portion in my talk was the topic of forgiveness. I learned later, through one of the church leaders that this topic had an impact on a few of the participants. I find this humorous. Long hours of preparations and only a small theme, actually a footnote, found relevance to these few individuals.

Well, it is God’s work. So, I will leave everything to our God to use any portion of my presentation to encourage his people to a life of renewal…, I meant forgiveness. Maybe, next time, I will share about forgiveness.

Side By Side

I am praying for the Light of the World to shine in his life. Faizi is praying to his God. I close my eyes, trying very hard not be distracted by the air turbulence. Faizi is motioning with his hands like he was praying inside a Mosque. We are both on an international flight from Dallas to Doha (Qatar). Faizi and I were getting to know each other until it was time for his prayers as scheduled in the Islamic way. He courteously asked permission from me. I responded with affirmation. Now, we both are praying, side by side, together in the same jet plane, in our own religious ways of prayer. I am still praying that Isa al-Masih, our Lord Jesus Christ, will reveal himself to my brother Faizi.

Taken Away From You

Today, ask yourself this question: Is it possible for Christians to be called by this religious name and yet not bear fruit for the kingdom of God? Jesus said: “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits” (Matt. 21:43)

Our Lectionary Gospel Reading for this week is from Matthew 21:33-46. This text presents to us the "The Parable of the Tenants." Here is another question for you: What must you do to bear fruit for Jesus each new day?

My Debt of Gratitude

Debt of gratitude is a common human value. We usually see this in our families. Children experience a debt of gratitude to their parents for the many sacrifices their parents did for them while they were growing up. To some degree, a parent can demand a debt of gratitude from children. 

However, when it comes to relating to our God Almighty, we can never demand a debt of gratitude for the things we are doing in the name of our religion. Jesus made this clear in the “Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard,” found in Matthew 20:1-16. The workers who worked all day demanded a debt of gratitude from the land owner. They felt that the owner owe them more compensation compared to those workers who have worked for only an hour. The parable basically says that the owner can show generosity to whoever he pleases to give. Jesus then ended the parable with a statement: “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” (Matt. 20:16).

What if we stop demanding gratitude, and simply enter into an attitude of generosity and worship? We still do things in the name of our religion, but we do these with humility and joyful expectation of our Master’s approval. Acts of good works and religious service now become expressions of gratitude to the generosity of the Master. We no longer see ourselves as “first” or “last,” but as brothers and sisters together worshiping the Living God. We merely respond in thankfulness. Humanly speaking, we still experience a sense of debt of gratitude. The only difference is that this debt of gratitude is now directed heaven-ward. We serve others out of a debt of gratitude to our God. Our human gratitude becomes acts of worship. We say: “Thank you Lord for your generosity for all the peoples of the world.”