Made Me Think

“Your talk today made me think of my neighbor, and how I can find ways to share the gospel with her,” Mary J. shares with me at the hallway right after church. “She says she is a Christian but she also believes in some Eastern religions and does different pseudo spiritual practices.”

Last week, I was in an Illinois church sharing about God’s work in Asia and preaching a sermon on “becoming a source of God’s comfort to the people around us.” From time to time, people like Mary J. would come and give some feedback. I appreciate these few times when I would hear God’s people expressing their Christian faith and engaging with the missional principles I am sharing during my sermon. That Sunday, I paused and made sure of thanking Mary J. for sharing her thoughts about my sermon. God’s word is alive. I always look forward to the day when every community of faith brings God’s words out to the streets and into the world, making God’s love alive in every word we say and every step we take.

At the conclusion of my chat with Mary J., I suggested to her to focus on sharing with her neighbor on the life and teachings of Jesus. I told her that these usually bring people in and engage them in honest and relevant dialogue. She agreed with me. I left that church with a greater sense of fulfillment, not only as a missionary, but also as a teacher of the Word of God. 

Joyful Children Versus Sad Rich Man

When Jesus said in Mark 10:14, “Let the children come to me,” I sometimes imagine what the children were saying to each other. Maybe they said: “Let us jump on his lap.” Or one could have said: “Let us show him the grasshopper that we caught today.” (Please read Mark 10:13-16, Matthew 19:13-15, and Luke 18:15-17).

“Please Jesus, bless my toy.” “Would you come and play Minecraft with me?” I often wonder what today’s children are saying to Jesus when they are in his presence. In the same breath, did you ever wonder what the children said to Jesus when he invited them to come forward to meet him? Maybe they were saying the same things as that of the modern child. Perhaps one child said: “Jesus, please take my pet sparrow and use it for whatever you want my pet to do.” Or another said: “Please Jesus, take these two pieces of fish and some bread that I have and give it to another child on your way to another village.” Whatever happened that day, one thing was evident. The children received Jesus’ blessing. (Mark 10:16). They went back to their homes joyful and secured in their entrance to the kingdom of God. (Luke 18:17).

In the following story in Mark 10:17-22, we see a contrast between the children and that of a rich man. This rich young man went away sorrowful and with a heavy burden, the very opposite of the joyful children. He could not let go of his riches. He could not give these to Jesus, or do what Jesus asked him to do; to sell everything, give his riches to the poor, and come and follow him.

It is noteworthy that in the three instances (or versions) of the same story, from all three Gospel narrations, Matthew chapter 19, Mark chapter 10, and Luke chapter 18, they place the two stories together—the story of Jesus blessing the children first and the the story of this rich young man next. I think the intention of the three Gospel writers here is to paint two contrasting pictures. One picture shows children going away joyful, and the other shows a rich man leaving with a heavy heart and full of sorrow.

So, in line with our attempt to contrast these two groups of persons, that of the children versus the rich young man, I would say it is fair to creatively ask the question: What did the children give to Jesus? And the answer is that they gave themselves to Jesus with no hesitation and no strings attached—with much freedom and trust in the moment.

And so, here are some questions for you: What are you bringing to Jesus? Or perhaps, a better question is “Which part of your self are you ‘selling and giving to the poor’ so that you are able to come to Jesus and follow him as your Lord and Savior?”

The Problem of the Rich Young Man

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus, at one time, replies to a rich man’s comment, and the way this man calls him good. (Mark 10:17-22 and Luke 18:18-30) Jesus knew that this man has a problem. What is his problem?

One is that he has problem with confidence and trust. He puts his confidence on his wealth. When Jesus asked him to leave everything, including his riches, we see in Matthew 19:22, that he “went away grieved” because he could not forsake his earthly belongings. He is attached to his life of ease and comfort.

Two is that he has a control problem. He called Jesus “good” as a way to direct the conversation to his favor; in other words, to manipulate the dialogue. Joel Green says that there is a “common theology that posits a causal relationship between divine blessing and the possession of power, privilege, and material possessions” (Gospel of Luke. Page 657). This rich man is really, in a subtle way, demanding that eternal life to be given to him. Jesus answers him by showing the way of generosity and compassion for the poor—the meaning of following Jesus. Which brings us to the next problem.

Three is that this rich young man has a problem with conformity. He does want to be a follower of Jesus. He does not want to conform his life to what Jesus wants, a life of humility, sacrifice, and the promise of the Lord’s resurrection, of him rising again on the third day. This is one reason why in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), this “Rich Young Man” story is narrated with three other stories, woven together within the narrative.  All three Gospels mention the encounter with the children, the healing of a blind person, and Jesus reminding his disciples of the Jerusalem event—the event that he will be facing persecution and death, and resurrection. All three stories illustrate to the readers an extreme contrast to the failure of this rich young man. In other words, he failed because he does not have humility like a child, he does not trust in Jesus like the blind person, and he does not welcome the promised resurrected life and generous living.

To be fair to this rich man, we also need to mention that the disciples themselves had a hard time understanding this life of confidence, loss of control, and conformity to Jesus’ way of life. In Mark 10:26, they responded with confusion by saying “Who then can be saved?” In Luke 18:34, the disciples could not comprehend the meaning of all that Jesus was saying. They also have problems. The only difference is that they are following Jesus in spite of their confusion and lack of spiritual depth. Whereas the rich man went away grieving and not obeying Jesus.

“And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’“ (Luke 18:22)

Do not just say “God is good” but continue to a life of humility and generosity. Let us follow Jesus and conform to God’s will. Put God first in everything that you do and in all your aspirations. God is first in our lives.

Community Kids

“We love them for who they are.” One Free Methodist lady from Illinois tells me her story of loving the kids from their community. “They are a handful, but we love them just the same,” she continues her sharing with me. This month of October, I visited several churches and shared about God’s work in Asia. At many times during my visit, I would sit down with the pastor and a few church leaders over a Sunday church potluck dinner lunch and we would visit. I would hear stories of God’s work in their locality. For example, Wednesday evening becomes a time for inviting children from the church’s neighborhood. Sunday school times are also moments when the children hear lessons from the Bible. I hear the same kind of Christian witness wherever I go.

In the same manner, when I visit Free Methodist friends from Michigan, they would recount a similar story—stories of loving community kids and accepting them for who they are. There are many challenges, but these do not stop the Christian love from overflowing. One pastor even told me that he accepted the part-time work of being a school bus driver so that he can get to know the children from the school. “I make sure the school children know and call me Pastor Chip,” he shared with me. There is an intentional effort to go out there and become a witness to the kids of the local community.

At many times, I would stop talking and just listen to what our Free Methodist friends are sharing. God is working here in Illinois and Michigan — the same God who is working in Asia. I am grateful that I am serving our God who loves the children of the world.

From the Outside, and Included

    What are the ways we are receiving outsiders into our circle of fellowship?

    At one time when an “outsider” and non-follower was seen casting out demons in Jesus name, Jesus told his disciples: “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.” (See, Luke 9:49-50.) The first few times I read these verses, I thought about several questions: Who is this guy, this non-follower? What kind of preaching is he saying if he does not follow along with the disciples of Jesus? What really happens when he “cast demons in Jesus name” as the biblical text tells us? Is he speaking of the salvation that comes from God?

    In later years, as I learned more about the kingdom of God that Jesus shares in the gospel story, my queries shifted and focused more on Jesus’ statement. I started asking the following questions: If this person is a non-follower of the disciples (of Jesus), could he still be a practitioner of the values of the kingdom of God? When Jesus said “do not stop him,” could this also mean encouraging the person to continue his brand of ministry or promote his pursuit of God’s kingdom values? How could this person be an outsider, a non-follower, when he is doing work in Jesus name?

    Let me revisit the first question I shared at the start: What are the ways we are receiving outsiders into our circle of fellowship? Should we listen to them? My answer is in the affirmative. This “yes” answer is even more clear when we consider another group of people that Jesus mentioned as included in God’s kingdom—children. In the preceding verses of the same chapter, Jesus rebuked the disciples for their obsession with greatness by citing the role of children in God’s kingdom. Jesus said in verse eight: “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me,” (Luke 9:48a). In the eyes of the Jews, children were considered outsiders in the hierarchy of religious prestige. However, according to Jesus, including children into our circles of religious practice or thinking means welcoming Jesus himself. Outsiders are included. 

    Should we listen to these outsiders? Yes. Should we include them in our Christian talk? Yes. Should we re-evaluate all our church practices so that outsiders are able to hear and understand the gospel of the kingdom of God. Yes.

    In these times of difficulties, of people struggling with this global pandemic, let us remember that God’s heart beats for the people of the world. When we welcome outsiders and receive them into our lives, we are also receiving the heart of God—receiving the kingdom of God in our midst.

Connection Here And There

What a joy to reconnect with fellow Free Methodists. In most of the church communities I have visited so far, a significant number of members do not know me personally as their missionary. And this is a good thing. It just shows that these local churches are growing, and new members are being added to their communities. I praise God that the Spirit of our Lord is alive in our local churches.

At one church I visited, I noticed that two of the guitar players in the worship team are still learning how to play the guitars. And yet, they are there playing and willing to serve God in the music ministry. At another church, a person with an obvious stuttering problem is up front reading Scriptures during the church service. Still in another, a young man is fixing cars to be sold in behalf of the church so that the proceeds of the sale can go towards supporting local missions work. These local churches are growing and members are actively participating.

What a joy to connect God’s work in Asia with what God is doing among our local churches here in Michigan and Illinois.  God is good.

God's Working Wonders: Pastor Ek's Story of Sita

    One time I was asked the question: "Why is it that the churches in Asia are growing fruitfully?" My answer is simply because Jesus is very real to Asian people. He lives in their daily lives. He meets all their human needs. Jesus brings healing, restoration of broken relationships, answers to financial problems, and fulfillment in their spiritual longings. To illustrate this reality among our Asian brothers and sisters, I am sharing here a story that was shared to me by one of our pastors. (Also, I have shared this in our Clemente Newsletter, June 2021.) Here is the story "God's Working Wonders" I have copied for your reading below:

    When she saw the bloody face, she felt an inner peace, a sense that, starting today, everything is going to get better. This was the story of Sita (not her real name), and her encounter with Jesus and the healing that came as a result of this encounter. This story was shared to me (David) by one of our pastors from South Asia,  Pastor Ek, early this year.

    One day in January 2021, Pastor Ek got a call from from one of his relatives whose mother, Sita, was sick and in need of healing. Pastor Ek prayed over her and, by God’s grace, she got healed. He shared the gospel story of Jesus and Sita accepted Jesus’ gift of salvation.

    At this point, Sita shared her story to Pastor Ek. She had been sick with some unknown ailment the last 12 years. On this particular January day, the sickness was so severe that eventually she was taken to the hospital. But the hospital’s medical examination indicated that she was okay. So she returned home and decided to rest at her house. After a few minutes of being home, her symptoms got worse. She fell down on the floor and was hyperventilating and gasping for air. Being a devout Buddhist, she asked someone to call her Buddhist priests for a time of prayer and incantation. They came and said their prayers. On previous visits, her priests and Buddha Master would pray and she would feel some kind of relief. On that day, however, they could not do anything. Instead of helping her, they also fell down on the floor and could not get up on their own. It was during this position of helplessness that a vision of a bloody face appeared to her by her left side. She was confused because she knew that the Buddha usually appears in yellow color or the “35 colors as taught by the Buddhist masters.” She started to doubt her religion. In her dilemma, she begun to ask: “So, whose face does this bloody face belong to?”

    In the middle of this quandary, Sita received a deep sense of peace and calmness in her being. From within her thoughts, she heard the bloody face speak to her, telling her to ask Pastor Ek to come and visit with her. And this was the day when Pastor Ek came and shared the gospel to her, and God’s healing came over Sita in a miraculous way. 

    A few days later, Sita sat with Pastor Ek for a time of fellowship with some other brothers and sisters. The group was watching the movie The Passion of Christ. Sita told everyone that the bloody face in her vision was the same as the bloody face of Jesus in the movie.

God's Breath of New Life

Good morning. Today, I will share about the new life that the Spirit of God gives to us. This Sunday’s talk is a focus on the work and person of the Holy Spirit. This is most appropriate as we celebrate the Pentecost Week and today’s Trinity Sunday. Our scripture texts are found in Romans 8 and Psalm 29. Let us read:

Romans 8:15-16. “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”

Psalm 29:9-11. “The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth and strips the forests bare, and in his temple all cry, ‘Glory!’ The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever. May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!”

Let me start with a personal story. 1993 was the year when I first came to the US for my time of study at Asbury Seminary. The following year, I experienced a terrible case of culture shock. I was missing home and was overcome with loneliness. I started to doubt God’s call in my life. I said to myself: “How can I serve God as a missionary in the future when right here right now I cannot even deal with my loneliness and depression.” Many people encouraged me and the counsel of my friends were very helpful. And yet, I still felt the need to hear God’s voice in a new way; to receive a “breath of new life” from our God.

One time my friends and I were hiking at Red River Gorge enjoying the Autumn colors and soaking in the beauty of God’s creation. We were taking a break from school work and went out for a long weekend to the forest of central Kentucky. All my friends were going in groups to different places. I felt the need to be alone with my God. So I asked my leave from the group and went out by myself to the edge of a cliff overlooking a valley of the Red River Gorge. And there on top of the cliff, God spoke to me. I don’t know how, but my heart felt warmed and I sensed God’s presence. He gave me strength in a very personal way. I went back to our school with a refreshed spirit and a “breath of new life” that encouraged me to keep on serving our God.

Our Lord, the God of the heavens, desires to visit with us and to leave His mark on our lives, that is, the mark of new life. God wants to bring new life in our being and as a result, we receive God’s intimacy and we experience renewal in our lives.

Our readings from Psalm 29 speaks of God’s glory as thundering voice. And yet, as we see in verse 9, it is also described as helping a deer give birth. God’s glory is displayed in splendor and also received in tender ways. Many of the Psalm speaks of the high and low revelation. Psalm 8:2 describes God’s strength is established out of the mouths of infants. This is low revelation indicating intimacy and everyday experiences. The glory of the moon and the stars are presented in majesty and splendor. This is high revelation showing grandeur and glory from spectacular events. Both reveal new life from God’s Spirit. Both can bring a person to an intimate encounter with God and to an experience of renewal that is deep and refreshing. In the end we are able to call Him our Father.

Let me share with you the story of Premika Tamang, a lady leader of one of our Free Methodist communities in the mountains of Country-NP. She is a farmer by trade, but she has responded to God’s call for her to be a prayer coordinator for their local church. This call came with trials and suffering, in the form of the death of her second son. It was at this point in her grief that she started doubting God’s call. But God came to her in a very intimate and personal manner. She heard God say: “Daughter, why are you so worried? Why are you crying? I have your son. You will meet him later. Don't worry too much.” She was encouraged and renewed with these words revealed to her.

Some Christians have similar encounters of God’s visit. These are very intimate and results in enriching renewal. It is almost like the first breath of life at the Garden of Eden. Remember the story? We find this in Genesis 2:7. God reaches down from heaven and breathe life into the first human. The wind from God becomes the air they are breathing. God wants to bring new life in our being and to mark us with His presence.

There are two things resulting from this “Wind of God” visiting our lives and inner being. One is that this new life results in receiving the gift of intimacy from God. Two is that this new life results in an experience of renewal. Let me share some more from each of these results.

One result is that we receive the gift of God’s intimacy. Paul speaks of the encounter of adoption. In Romans 8:15-16, the Spirit enables us to call God the Father our very own Abba Father. This is a very intimate way of calling God, describing our personal relationship with our Creator. Most of the times, this reception of God’s intimacy happens at particular times and places. 

A month ago, sometime in April, I was a bit discouraged in my work. Maybe it was brought about by this Covid. Perhaps it was because I could not travel to Asia to see my friends. I was feeling down and wanted to see the results of our church work in Country-NP. God rebuked me in this time of discouragement. He lifted me up and used a moment when I was out in the woods walking and hiking. At that particular time, I hiked to the top of a hill and read my devotional readings for the day. God impressed in my heart that I will not see the fruit of my labor in Asia Just like the prophets in the Old Testament who never saw the promised salvation in Jesus, I will also not see these results in the Asia work. I needed to be content with what God is giving me now and stay focused in serving our loving God.

God wants to meet with us. He appoints special places for this meeting. He wants us to receive His gift of intimacy. These are places when we say to our God, “Abba Father!” Remember our reading from Romans 8:15? In the life of Isaiah, God gave His gift of intimacy when he was in the temple worshipping. We see this in Isaiah 6:1-8. In the case of Elijah, God met with him in a most personal way when he was by the side of a mountain. We see this in 1 Kings 19:9-18. Remember that story? God revealed himself, gave His gift of intimacy to Elijah, not through the mighty storm, nor the powerful earthquake, nor the consuming fire. God met him through the gentle sound of a whisper by the side of a mountain. Tell your friend or seat mate, “I am going to meet God.”

Of course, we know that intimacy is more than just a place. Intimacy is an encounter of the heart. And this brings us to the second point, the renewal of our inner being. God wants to bring new life in our being and as a result we experience renewal in our lives.

Result number two is that we experience the renewal of our spirit that comes from God. It is an encounter that is deep within our soul. In Romans 8:23, Paul speaks of the groaning of our hearts as we wait for the final results of our adoption. At times, this groaning experience or deep prayer of the our soul is not expressed in words. It is simply a breathing, an expression that comes out from our inner being.

I told you the story of Premika Tamang from Country-NP. What she would do is gather some women from her local church and they would hike for a day or two to another village and stay there for four days, and sometimes as long as a week. They would gather in a friend’s house and do nothing but pray. When the local people come and ask questions, then they share the gospel. When the sick come for prayer, then they ask God for healing. Their focus is on God. They wait for God to move first and then they follow.

Premika was tested in her obedience to God. In the same year of his son’s death, her mother in-law became ill and eventually died.  It was in one of these prayer ministry that she received word that her mother in-law passed away. She had to cut short her ministry time so she can go back home to her village. In her grief and weakness, she started questioning God’s calling in her life. But God comforted her. She said: “In my sorrow, the Holy Spirit came to me saying that only by struggling with God in this situation can I be rescued. At the same time, this is the way I may be able to encourage my sisters.” Until now, she continues to serve God in that small village in the mountains of South Asia.

Most of us have similar experiences where we are confronted with our weaknesses. In Romans 8:26-27, Paul speaks of the Spirit helping us in our weaknesses and interceding on our behalf, so that we are renewed and we meet with our God and call Him Abba Father. God wants to bring new life in our being and in the end, we receive God’s intimacy and we experience renewal in our lives. Tell your friend or seat mate, “This week, I am going to meet God.”

Let me end this sharing time with a personal story. I mentioned earlier my spiritual encouragement that came when I was out hiking in the hills of Kentucky in 1994. God lifted me up from my time of brokenness. It was there at the edge of the cliff that God met with me. I was watching the valley below and enjoying the Fall colors. It was a particularly calm morning, with no wind at all. All the trees stood still. To my right was a small tree. And I noticed a leaf falling off that tree and slowly “parachuting” down to the valley below. I followed that falling leaf as it swayed back and forth to the valley below until it was out of my sight. And at that moment, I heard God speak to me in the quietness of my heart. He said: “David, before the creation of the world, I thought about forming this Red River Gorge valley so that we can meet up here. And here, at the edge of the cliff, I planted this tree so that someday, you will come and hear my voice. I appointed this time for the leaf to fall because I know that you will gaze at it when it falls down to the valley below. I want you to feel me reach out to you in a very special way. I love you my child. Do not be discouraged. Trust in me, and I will take care of the rest.” I came down from that hill encouraged and marked with a new life from our God. 

Our Lord, the God of the heavens, desires to visit with us and to leave His mark on our lives, that is, the mark of new life. God wants to bring new life in our being and as a result, we receive God’s intimacy and we experience renewal in our lives. Will you say with me? “I am ready to invite God’s Spirit in my life today.” Amen!!!

Say with me: “I am ready to meet our God and receive the breath of new life from our God.”

(This is a sermon I shared for Trinity Sunday, May 30, 2021, here in Illinois, USA.)

Psalm 8 (God's Sweet Visit)

One of my missionary friend told me of his experience with God’s visit. He saw God’s miracles and power in the missionary field. But, he experiences the intimate visit of God when he is out scuba diving and going under the waters watching creatures from the ocean. Another missionary friend told me that he experiences God’s sweet presence when he is taking a break and doing carpentry in his shop or work room. He imagines Jesus working with him doing wood work. Both of these friends are seeing the majesty of the Spirit of God in an intimate and renewing way.

Psalm chapter eight speaks of the majesty of God in three ways. One is that we see God’s strength from children and helpless babies. Two is that we see God’s glory from the stars and beautiful sceneries. Three is that we see God’s beauty through human efforts and people’s art work. In all these, we respond to God saying: “Oh Lord, how majestic You are!” We experience the sweet visit of the Spirit of God.

Mother's Day 2021

This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad that He has given me a wife and life-partner who is a wonderful mother and a great person to be with. I am honored to walk life with her. I am sure my own mother from heaven is smiling and looking down on us with so much delight and admiration.

Happy Mother's Day to Sarah!. Happy Mother's Day to all the women, the sisters, the significant others, whom we can honor and we all love. We rejoice that God has made you and allowed us to grow with you.