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.”

Who Would Come Here?

There was a brief hesitation from Byaecelela Lusema. He was not sure if anyone from the US would come and visit them. They felt isolated here in the state of Western Australia (WA). They could not imagine an “umbrella group” would come and partner with them. However, the group from FMWM did come and visited with them.

Lusema is the pastor of Perth Free Methodist Church, an African and Congolese congregation here in the city of Perth, Australia. Most of its members are refugees from central Africa. They have reach out to our home office of FMCUSA, and our Area Director has sent me last year, and several team members this year, to establish stronger ties with this FM local congregation. So, we are here and we are waiting on our Lord. There are other things we need to do strengthen our partnership, such as agree on ministry goals and enter into an MOU, Memorandum of Understanding, that would outline some of our expectations as partners in God’s work here in Australia.

Now, we can definitely say: “We are here.” Let us keep working together, praying for each other, and finding new ways of becoming better together in the Lord’s work in Australia.

An Open Book: God is Leading the Way

Joy shares her life story. And in-between tears and stories of healing, she testifies of God’s transformation in her life. My colleagues (Darin and Jill) and I just listen to her recount her life story, moving from the Philippines to New Zealand, from one marriage to another. She shares of God’s grace leading her to Phil, her current husband. With joyful tears she recounts the love and support she gets from Phil.

Joy is our leader in our FM work here in New Zealand. We rejoice with her and the way God is leading the way. We wait on God as He prepares our partners for the growing work that is coming to the Free Methodist Church in the Oceania region. We trust in our Lord.

Already, God Is Here

I came to Fiji four days ago, and already, I witnessed three ceremonies involving the traditional Fijian ways and customs. Two were the traditional Kava ceremony of welcoming visitors. These involved words of gratitude and greetings, as well as the ceremonial Kava grass presented to the host. The third ceremony was the celebration of life of a family who passed away. Usually, this is done at the 50-days or one year death anniversary. Last Saturday, I was invited to a one-year death anniversary of a family member, the village chief. It was such a privilege to be present at these important occasions. I am so honored to have witnessed these cultural events.

And of course, the food was good. We had a lot of taro, cassava, and greens. Fresh water eel and shrimps cooked in coconut cream. Lamb meat and chicken prepared with curry. The cassava cake was a hit. We had good conversations and a full belly.

In a few days from now, I will join our leaders of the Fiji Free Methodist Church in a week-long church retreat and leadership training. Pastors and members from three different locations will come and participate. Already, I sense God’s preparations for everyone to receive our time in the word of God. I look forward to celebrating God’s presence in our midst. He is God with us.

Canceled But Not Rejected

Canceled but not irrelevant. Abandoned but not destroyed. Yesterday, one of my speaking engagement at a local church was canceled. When I got the call, I felt a sense of loss and disconnect. I thought to myself this is a waste of time and resources. I traveled half way around the globe and for nothing.

I am here in Fiji visiting our church planters with the Fiji Free Methodist Church. I came two days ago. I was supposed to visit a church service yesterday but my contact told me he was not feeling well and could not come to my hotel. Initially, I felt rejected. But something stirred in my heart, like someone whispering deep within, that everything will turn out okay. And it did.

The following day, I got a call and an invitation to a community meeting. An NGO is in town doing a survey on ways to stop violence against girls and women. The tribal leaders were there, together with the workers of this NGO. I witnessed the local village come alive. Mothers sharing about their experiences. Tribal elders explaining the ways of their tribal traditions. Young people eagerly participating in the survey, answering questions. At that moment, I felt the stirring in my heart getting stronger. The deep whispers reassuring me that this is the reason why I am here. I need to see this community bursts with activity and interact passionately in the protection of their children. I need to understand where the people are coming from. I need to learn. I need this encounter to inform my decisions, my ways of helping our church planters become relevant to this local Fijian community.

Canceled but not irrelevant, and definitely not destroyed, because God is the One who is taking charge and leading the way. The stirring in my heart is slowly speaking  a message of hope. There is a promise of God’s presence among us, ordering our plans for a church plant here in this village in Fiji. God is with us.

Your Faith's Anchor

Jesus, at the start, did not answer her prayers. (See Matt. 15:23). He even ignored her. Here is a question for you: What happens when Jesus does not answer your prayers? What is your response?
Our Lectionary Gospel Reading, for this week, is from Matthew 15:21-28, regarding the faith of a foreigner in the land of Israel. This foreigner persisted although Jesus “pushed” her away. Her response is an affirmation of the person of Jesus. To paraphrase her answer in verse 27, she said: “Yes Lord, you are the Master, and you can decide whatever pleases you. You do not need to answer my prayers. All I ask of you is to be close by me and be my Helper.” In other words, her faith is anchored in the person of Jesus, not on the answers to her prayers or the “faithfulness” of her prayers.
Where is your faith anchored on?

Asians In New Zealand

Forty percent of immigrants to New Zealand are from Asia, mainly South Koreans, Chinese, Filipinos, Malaysians, and South Asians. A majority of these live in Auckland. “In 2013, people of Asian ethnicity constituted 23% of the city’s population…. A significant proportion of them were believers: in 2013, 28.5% of those identifying as Asian also identified as Christians” (Troughton. 2021:136). Pray for the FM work in Auckland, New Zealand.

(Troughton, Geoffrey. 2021. “New Zealand.” In CHRISTIANITY IN OCEANIA. K. R. Ross, K. Tahaafe-Williams, and T. M. Johnson, eds. Pp. 125-.137 UK: Edinburgh University Press.)

Center Yourself In God

What does it look like then, when we respond in hope? I think the answer to this is that “a hopeful response is engaged with God and the world.” A person full of hope participates with life passionately. They join in with local activities and contributes to the care of creation. These are people who are loving people and loving God in concrete and real ways. 

Paul mentions in Romans chapter 8 that we are groaning with creation. We hope for the coming of God’s renewal of the world together with all of creation. Furthermore, Paul says that the Holy Spirit is there with us. Here is a practical way for us to “groan with the Spirit” or to affirm the Spirit’s ministry in our life. (See, Rom. 8:26). We can practice one Christian discipline, the practice of centering prayer.

Centering prayer is a form of contemplative prayer where the prayer seeks to quiet scattered thoughts and desires in the still center of Christ’s presence. (Adele A. Calhoun. 2015). We use Scripture and sometimes we visit a quiet place close to nature to direct our time of prayer and to help us meditate in God’s presence in our lives.

Here is where you can use your “holy imagination” as you pray. Think of a weakness you have and come to the presence of God the Father and surrender that weakness. Picture yourself sitting together with Jesus. Visualize your weakness in your hands and giving it to him. Remember the Holy Spirit is there praying with you.

Then, as you go through your day use Spirit-inspired imagination to center yourself in God. As you wash the dishes, walk to the grocery store, or sit at the desk at your workplace, think of the Spirit of God groaning in your behalf. Center your heart and pray with the Spirit. Give up all your weaknesses to our Father in heaven. Call out to him and say: Abba Father.

Center your heart so that you can see clearly. Even if there are no answers yet to your prayer. God’s nearness is enough. The Spirit is here with you. There is hope because he prays with you. There is hope because we are able to call God the Father, our very own Abba Father. 

(Read, Romans 8:12-30)

A Wish And A Prayer

In Romans 8:26, Paul prays: “I have great sorrow for my people, my own flesh and blood! For their sake I could wish that I myself were under God's curse and separated from Christ” (Rom. 9:2-3 GNB). Such was the compassion Paul has for his friends.

For this first week of August, our Lectionary New Testament Reading is from Romans 9:1-5 and Gospel Reading is from Matthew 14:13-21. Here is a question for all of us: “When was the last time you prayed for your friends, the way Paul prayed for his?”

Jesus said: “Bring them here to me.”(Matthew 14:18)

Spirit Is Moving

In Romans 8:26, Paul explains: “And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.” (See, Rom. 8:26 NLT). In the midst of a disciple’s weaknesses, the Spirit comes and moves among them. When the heart of a Jesus follower is in total surrender, then it becomes the starting point of the movement of the Spirit. Our obedience to Jesus is the place where the Spirit speaks and acts.

Our Lectionary Reading for this last week of July is from Romans 8:26-39. Verse 26 speaks of the Spirit interceding for us with groaning. These “groanings” function as an invitation for us to share in the divine. Ajith Fernando describes the help of the Spirit in Romans 8:26 to mean that the Spirit is sharing in our weaknesses. He cites the Greek word, sunantilambanetai, to mean “to take share in” or to fully identify with us. The idea is that the Holy Spirit moves in our weaknesses “by coming alongside us and taking his share of our burden.” (See, 2000:228). The work of God by the Spirit becomes our very own, truly real and tangible in our everyday life. We surrender our lives because we know God will lead the way. The Spirit is with us and he invites us to share in his work for the world.

Here is a question for you: “Is the Spirit of God moving in your weaknesses?”

(Fernando, Ajith. “The Holy Spirit: The Divine Implement of Mission.” Pp. 223-238. William D. Taylor, ed. 2000. Global Missiology for the 21st Century: The Iguassu Dialogue. MI: Baker Academic.)