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June 2014

Quiet My Heart

“I pray that You, oh Lord, will quiet my heart.” (I wonder how the World Cup USA team is doing in its game against Germany.) “Grant me Your mercy as I continue to serve You and obey You all the days of my life.” (Did I lock the doors of the house before leaving? I am sure I left enough food and water for our dog, Emmy, before heading out of the city.)

I find it hard to stay focused whenever I say my prayers. I find myself thinking of mundane things that clutter my thoughts and distract my heart from communing with my God. I have come to this Personal Prayer Retreat to de-clutter and sharpen my focus during times of prayer and meditation. I started this four-day Retreat by reading Richard J. Foster’s Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey Into Meditative Prayer. Foster mentions that most people use icons or music to help them stay focused during their time of prayer and meditation. For me, what usually works is a close encounter with nature. I take long walks in the woods, spend an afternoon on long hikes on a mountain trail, or sit beside a beach by myself and watch the ocean come and go with its rising and falling tide. Nothing brings me closer to God Almighty better than a visceral experience with His creation. In Foster’s book, he calls these prayer activities as “Beholding the Lord” or in the language of other Christian mystics and prayer practitioners, these are times of Recollection or Practicing the Presence of the Holy Spirit. Whatever terms we use and however we describe these they help us stay focus in our prayers to our God.

I decide on Sun Moon Lake as the place for this four-day Retreat. I stay at a friend’s house inside Chi Nan National University, and take daily half-hour bus rides to Sun Moon Lake. I explore different nature trails around the lake, visit some mountain pagodas and temples, or sit on a bench overlooking the lake and watch the boats come and go. At random locations I open my Bible and read Psalms 63 to Psalms 69. I read God’s Word out loud and pray with the Scriptures. I soak in the beauty of God’s creation and ponder the reading of the Psalms.

"So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your steadfast power and glory" (Psalms 63:2). (How I wished I was inside a church cathedral gazing at beautiful stained glass icons of Jesus or at majestic steeples and captivating architectures.) As I was reading this chapter of the Bible in front of a Buddhist temple, it suddenly dawned on me that God is the Lord of the universe and God of all the earth. This mountain, this lake and all that is around it is God's sanctuary. I paused before the God of all creation, and quieted my heart. Even inside this Buddhist temple, God's glory is present because He is Lord of all. Every part of this earth is God's sanctuary. Glory to His name!

"I cried to Him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue" (Psalms 66:17). I was reading this verse on top of Ci En Pagoda, a 46-meter high pagoda located on a mountain overlooking the Sun Moon Lake. I yelled at the top of my voice, praising God and emoting with all my being all the adoration our God deserves. "Come and see what God has done" (Psalms 66:5). I wanted all my friends in Taiwan to hear me. I wanted all the people of Taiwan, even those foreigners who are living in this island, to see me praise God and glorify Him because He is God Almighty and worthy of all honor.

I need to quiet down. I need to realize that there is only that much I can share from my personal prayer retreat. My 4-day time in Sun Moon Lake is my time with God, with Him alone. I must remind myself that blogging about this experience will never capture the most intimate and intense communion I had with the God of this universe. Holy is His name!

Longing For Healing

Pray for Jimmy. He is in the hospital going through chemotherapy for his cancer. It is on its stage four, and doctors are finding some complications. His kidneys are failing, and he is experiencing some internal bleeding. Pray for God's healing to come to Jimmy.

Yesterday, I went to see Jimmy in the hospital. His brother, Randy was there watching over him. We prayed. We shared about their families back home. Jimmy and Randy are Filipino migrant workers working in an assembly plant here in Pingtung, Taiwan (about an hour and a half away from Kaohsiung). We expressed our gratefulness for Taiwan's excellent medical care, and the wonderful National Health Insurance that Jimmy is enjoying. Furthermore, Jimmy and Randy's employer, who is a Christian, is giving Randy some time off work so he can take care of his brother. Despite the disease and struggle of being bed-ridden for days, we are all thankful for the blessings we have.

Yesterday, Jimmy's boss was there with another Christian co-worker. We laid our hands over Jimmy. We prayed. Four people from three different denominations, from Taiwan, Philippines, and USA, all united and praying for Jimmy's restoration. Join us and pray for total healing.

Everyday Deeds of Ordinary Folk

Sitting in a living room with thirteen young people. Reminds me of Bilbo Baggins and the thirteen dwarves dining in his house. Do you remember the movie, The Hobbit? The dwarves were there because they were on a quest to reclaim their home. Oh well, I am not writing about J. R. R. Tolkien's novel. I am here reflecting about my time with these thirteen young men and women in their mid-twenties. Michael Chen, a student at the seminary, invited me to join this Friday fellowship of group leaders. Michael is leading a church planting work among students and young adults. These thirteen are his small group leaders. They meet every other Friday for prayer, fellowship, and consultation. He and his wife, Cindy, encourage these youth leaders to make a difference for Jesus.

"How do you know if God is calling you to be a pastor?" Jay asked me. "What should I do if my parents are going to disown me because I am a Christian?" Catherine shared with me her family situation. "How does one adjust to a new environment, especially one that is different from our own culture?" These were some of the questions that I tried to answer that Friday evening. I differed all the answers to Michael and Cindy. As far as I am concerned, Michael is the "Gandalf of the group," the leader of this group.

Many of the questions reminded me of my time in the Philippines in the early 1980s. That time I was involved in a church planting movement in Manila and some other areas in the island of Luzon. This movement grew miraculously. We started in 1979 with three congregations. In ten years, we multiplied to about 20 local churches and a couple thousand members. God was leading the way. That time, I was one of the youth leaders. Later, I received my ordination credentials under the new Annual Conference organized by the Philippine Free Methodist Church. It was an amazing decade. 

Now, I am seeing the church planting situation as a seminary professor. Michael's group has that same passion we had back in the Philippines. They need a lot of encouragement, especially because Taiwan church culture is so clergy-centered. This particular cultural background is not helpful to any church planting movement. Lay people need to see the urgency to share the gospel among their friends and families. They cannot wait on their local pastors to lead the way. These thirteen group leaders should be encouraged to continue the work. I am so glad that Michael is leading the way. He is one Taiwanese church planter who is not hampered by the clergy-centered culture of Taiwan.

What does the Bible say about everyday deeds of ordinary folks? In John chapter four, Jesus talked to a Samaritan woman. After she believed in Jesus, she became an instrument leading others to God's salvation. Many believed because of her testimony (John 4:39). She was not seminary-trained. She was never ordained. She was a "new" convert of Jesus. But still, God used her. A movement leading to the multiplication of many congregations will only happen when we empower "new believers" to start testifying and witnessing for Jesus. We should not wait for them to be "properly trained" before they can share the love of God to their friends and families. God loves to show the world His glory and salvation through the everyday deeds of simple people such as this Samaritan woman.

When I shared to Michael and Cindy's group of young leaders, I told them many stories of God's empowering simple people, using even the most difficult situations. One story I narrated to them was the story of Olga, a 92-year old grandmother from Michigan. Despite her age and lack of experience in traditional theological training, God used her to be a blessing to many young people in her locality in Michigan. God showed her the wonders of cross cultural ministry. God gave her the wonderful experience of worshipping with people of different background in a church among Haitians living in a city in Pennsylvania. "Now I know what cross cultural missions means," Olga concluded. The experiences of ordinary grandmothers became a source of empowerment.

Back to the movie, The Hobbit. There is one scene that always stays with me. This is the conversation between Lady Galadriel and Gandalf. Lady Galadriel asks Gandalf why he chose a Hobbit for this quest. Gandalf replies: "I do not know. Saruman believes that it is only great power that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I have found. I found it is the small things of everyday deeds of ordinary folk, that keeps the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I am afraid, and he gives me courage." (From the movie THE HOBBIT)

May we find courage from God's work among the ordinary people among us, the grandmothers and young students in our midst, and the many "Bilbo Baggins" of our generation.