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November 2020

A "Thanksgiving" Story

I fell from about 20 feet down to the hard concrete side of the swimming pool. I remembered the jarring motion of my whole body, but could not recall the pain or what transpired after that. I passed out. This was October 1986. We were on a school retreat somewhere in Nagcarlan, Laguna, Philippines. Everyone was enjoying the pool and a few of us braved the “flying fox” contraption, a cable with a sliding bar that went over the pool. The idea was to hang on to the bar and let go right at the middle of the body of water. But, I got too excited and went over, and the accident happened. The next thing I remembered was being carried to a cabin and eventually to the San Pablo Hospital ER, for an operation on my leg and my chin. 

All throughout the ordeal, I  kept hearing this song: “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” From the cabin to the hospital, the song kept ringing inside my ears. 

“O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation! // All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near; // Praise Him in glad adoration.”

Do you know the song? This is an old hymn, not too familiar with many Free Methodist. I asked the American missionary who brought me to the ER to sing it for me. He was a little embarrassed because he did not know the song. Or maybe because I was making the request while I was on a wheelchair. There I was, with a swollen jaw, a broken elbow, and a lacerated left leg, not to mention the blood all over my clothes, asking him to sing a song of praise. It is a little bit awkward, right? But, I insisted. And eventually he obliged with some humming and mumbling some of the words to the song. I followed along, as best as my swollen mouth would allow me. 

“Praise to the Lord, who o’er all things so wondrously reigneth, // Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth // Hast thou not seen how thy desires e’er have been // Granted in what He ordaineth?”

Well, we did not really finish the first verse. The surgeon came and we headed out to the operating room. The following day, I was brought to the Medical City General Hospital for the operation on my left elbow. The rest is history.

On this Thanksgiving Day 2020, I thank God for giving me another life. I am grateful that He is the King of creation.

Start in the Fear of God

I am finishing up my devotional study of the Book of Proverbs for the months of October and November. One theme that clearly stands out is the phrase “fear of the Lord.” What is the meaning of this phrase? Proverbs 1:7 states that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (See also in Proverbs 9:10 ESV.) The phrase is repeated 15 times throughout the book. There is not enough space here to give justice to an explanation to the meaning of this theme: “fear of the Lord.” So, let me suggest a different approach to help us with a short overview study of the Book of Proverbs.

I suggest asking the question: “When does the fear of the Lord happen in a person’s life?” Here are four instances when this theme occurs. One is when a person comes to God in worship. Prayers become acceptable before His presence (15:8). Worship becomes a life of obedience. “Whoever walks in uprightness fears the Lord” (14:2). The fear of the Lord is real when the people’s posture is that of praise and life of discipleship. Proverbs 21:3 states: “Clean living before God and justice with our neighbors mean far more to God than religious performance.” (See Prov. 21:3. MSG). Together as a community, we come into a position of worship.

Two is the reception one gets when practicing the theme of the fear of the Lord. Verse seven of chapter 16 says: “When a person’s ways please the Lord, He makes even one’s enemies to be at peace with that person” (Proverbs 16:7 ESV). He receives the respect of outsiders. Isn’t this verse reassuring? Respect is a social evidence of the fear of the Lord in a community. This is an act of God. We receive it as a gift from our Creator, and we continue in our life of obedience and worship in the fear of the Lord.

Three is the action of people living out the fear of the Lord in their lives. The whole book overflows with practical instances of God’s wisdom. The fear of the Lord expresses itself in everyday life and the ethical actions of the people. For example, there is a reference to an insect, the ant, regarding the practical teaching on working hard. (See Proverbs 6:6) Many other admonitions refer to children listening to the advice of their parents and to life teachings on honesty in our business dealings. The whole book speaks of various acts of good works. Action happens when one is practicing the biblical theme of the fear of the Lord.

Last is when the people experience the fear of the Lord, they yearn for a celebrate that is grounded in the early beginnings of God’s creation. Chapter 3 and 8 have plenty of reference to creation story in Genesis. Wisdom is described as present at creation, at the beginning of time. (See Proverbs 8:22-31 and 3:19-20.) The practice of this theme of “fear of the Lord” brings a longing for creation, the hope that this world will be brought back to order similar to the creation order. In a manner of speaking, this theme ushers in the intent of the Jubilee Year, a renewal for everyone. For example, we find in Proverbs 2:21 that a time will come when we will be “inhabiting the land,” a reference to the “Year of Jubilee” festival. The writer of this book speaks of creation metaphors in many other places. People yearn for the time of God’s visitation, just like His visit in creation. 

In summary, these four instances of position of worship, reception from outside, action in life, and yearning for creation, give us an overview of the Book of Proverbs. If we take the first letter the word of each of the four instances, we come with the acronym P.R.A.Y. In so many ways, prayer is a good way of summarizing the theme of the “fear of the Lord” that we find in the Book of Proverbs.

Pray then, in the “fear of the Lord,” and our prayers will move from a ritualistic exercise to a communal worship, from an isolated spirituality to an inclusive faith, from mere words to an engaging discipleship, and from the present to a hopeful yearning of God’s creation order. “Skilled living gets its start in the Fear-of-God, insight into life from knowing a Holy God” (Prov. 9:10 MSG). Pray in the fear of God.

Prayer for Our Nation (Re-posted)

We are all praying for our nation. We are praying for every country, where there is "justice for the fatherless and the widow, and love [for] the sojourners, giving them food and clothing" (Deuteronomy 10:18 ESV). This is the least we could do.

We are praying for our Presidents, Senators, Governors, and "for kings and rulers in positions of responsibility, so that our common life may be lived in peace and quiet, with a proper sense of God and of our responsibility to him for what we do with our lives" (1 Timothy 2:2 PHILLIPS). This is expected of us.

We are praying for the citizens of the land to "be generous to the poor, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim freedom to prisoners," even for those in bondage to addiction and those who are blinded by racial discrimination (See Matthew 11:5; Luke 4:18-20; and Luke 11:41 NIV). This is the right thing to do.

Let us pray, together with Jesus, with the "Spirit on Him; He will proclaim justice to the nations" (Matthew 12:18, and Isaiah 42:1 NIV). Pray with me for "justice [to] roll down like waters; and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." (Amos 5:24 NASB). Let us humbly pray and seek God's face so that healing will come to our nations (See 1 Chronicles 7:14). Are you praying? Please pray with me. This is something we could do together.

A Fourth-Grader Remembers

“I can’t remember what it was, but it must have been important to a fourth-grade boy. I took it home with me and posted it to my bedroom’s wall. I remember very well your visit to our church and our Sunday school group.” Sean recounts to me his memory of our visit to Evart Free Methodist Church from our early years, maybe 2005 or 2009. I stand here at the fellowship hall of this church after speaking at the morning church service, greeting the people and chatting with some old friends. It is good to hear from Sean, and to know that our early visit was a meaningful experience for him. I am happy that he is still connected with this Evart Christian community.

Visiting local churches during the Covid pandemic is very challenging. We do all the required things, wearing face masks, watching our physical distance, and washing our hands. I have been selective of which churches to visit. I just feel the need to limit my visits mainly as my way of precaution. Last month, I visited Evart FMC. The next few months, I will be visiting other churches in Michigan and Illinois. I am grateful that a Covid-19 vaccine will soon come out and be available to the public. Praise God. Meanwhile, visiting local churches and sharing the news of what God is doing in Asia continues. I am thankful that churches are still open to receive a missionary visit, and I have the capacity to travel and share in person. God is good.

God Draws Near Me

“The living God draws near me, in such a way as to draw me near to Himself, to draw me into the circle of His knowing of Himself.” (Experiencing the Trinity. Darrell w. Johnson. Chapter 3) Johnson continues in his book describing God drawing us to Himself in such a way that the Holy Trinity Himself draws us “into the inner relatedness” of the divine relationship. (Johnson is actually quoting the work of Thomas Torrance, from Trinitarian Perspectives.) The living God, Father, Son, and Spirit, grants us entry to His inner fellowship, into His very own presence. Johnson also quotes Galatians 4:4-6 describing redemption (God’s salvation and our adoption into God’s family) as the work of the Trinity. We are “co-lovers of God.” Even this description is another quote from James Torrance’s Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace.

There is so much treasure in this little book. One thought that stood out for me is Johnson’s application of the Trinity in the area of Christian love. With so much simplicity (and profound truth), he explains our love for each other as founded in the Trinity. He quotes 1 John 1:3 that our fellowship is first with God and second only to each other. He continues. “I am to love you not as much as He loves, but with Him as He loves you.” (Emphasis mine.)  This simply means that we love the brothers and sisters as we participate in God’s love. He explains that this is what is meant by “co-lovers of God” and the implications of our friendship with the Trinity. 

Simple, right? And yet, it is theologically deep. As the Triune God moves and acts in this world, we also move with Him. Not moving the way God moves, but moving with God in this world. Not acting like God, but participating in God’s action in our communities and through this world. 

Saying a Blessing from our Core

Henri Nouwen shares a blessing he gave to Janet, a member of his Christian community. He states: “Janet, I want you to know that you are God’s beloved daughter. You are precious in God’s eyes. Your beautiful smile, your kindness to the people in your house, and all the good things you do show us what a beautiful human being you are. I know you feel a little low these days and that there is some sadness in your heart, but I want you to remember who you are: a very special person, deeply loved by God and all the people who are here with you” (Discernment. 2013:134).

Currently, I am finishing a three-volume set of Nouwen’s work: Spiritual Direction, Spiritual Formation, and this book, Discernment. I am not doing book reviews here. I just wanted to highlight the call to our identity as God’s children, which permeates through Nouwen’s writings. The above quote is a simple yet beautiful blessing one could give to a brother, sister, or a friend. 

Currently, I am working on an opportunity to say this blessing to a dear brother of mine. I definitely need to reword the quoted blessing above, so that it comes out natural and personal to the person. I still have not gathered my courage to speak this blessing. Praying that it will come soon.

As children of God, “our core identity is secure in the memory of God” (Nouwen. 2013:135). What an amazing reminder of God’s love for everyone. 

Not Listen To Noisy Hymns

We are praying. As the Bible says: “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31). We pray that in any political victory, God will intervene and bring His kingdom and victory here on earth. No more lies, disrespecting women, stoking fear and supporting racism, and no more endorsing political gain at the expense of the poor, the powerless, and the disenfranchised. God’s justice takes precedence over all our actions.

God says: “I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. Away with your noisy hymns of praise! I will not listen to the music of your harps. Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want.” (Amos 5:21-24. MSG, NLT)

So, my brothers and sisters, let us pray for our nation, our leaders, and our political institutions. However, most of all, let us pray for God’s kingdom to come and His love and justice to visit each person in our neighborhoods.

Kat's Connection (By: Kat Anderson-Wolff)

Kat’s Connection (Used With Permission)

My current ESL class is composed of four women from Mexico and one man from Kenya. I'm aware of how easy it is for the class content to reflect the majority experience: ideas related to the Spanish language, Catholic holidays, and big families emerge in our conversations every day. But it's important to me to make our space inclusive and diverse, not based on the headcount but on what languages and cultures are present in any number.

Two weeks ago we added the words mosque, synagogue and temple to a lesson that only mentioned "church," and as a class we looked online for other names for places of worship. Last week, when Christmas and Easter came up again and again in a lesson about prepositions of time (e.g. "at Easter" or "on Christmas Day"), I wondered aloud which preposition we should use for Ramadan, which lasts for a month. My Mexican students weren't familiar with that holiday, so I described it a little and then asked Hamad to give us more details. He had never heard a white American teacher say anything about Ramadan before. He was so pleased I knew a little, and was more than happy to tell us more.

For today's class I made a simple change to the materials, replacing "Mexico" with "Syria" in one example sentence. Hamad saw it, read it aloud and smiled, saying, "Syria? That is in the Middle East! I think now God is in this class." I can't attest to that personally, but we say God is love, and God is in the details, and I very much want to demonstrate love for my students by attending to the details. 

The icing on the cake, though, was when we got to talking about pronouns today. I had a box of my favorite tea nearby, so I held it up as an example of when you might say the sentence "It is from Syria" (an object, not a person). Hamad burst out laughing, ran to his own kitchen, and brought back the very same box of tea. He was beaming, and the whole class was amazed that we had this in common. Connection is my highest aim in every class I teach. Today I knocked it out of the park. 

(By: Kat Anderson-Wolff. 2020)