Church in Community

Worship In A Language You Don’t Understand

Have you ever been in a gathering of Jesus-followers expressing worship and celebrating God’s goodness in a language that you do not know or in a tradition that you are not familiar with? And after your visit, did you still come out of that experience with a sense of Divine Presence and a touch of the Spirit of God?

One pastor suggested that every Christian makes it a practice to go and “visit a worship service with a different tradition or style than you are used to” (Calhoun 2015:51). I would even go a little further and encourage everyone to seek out a worship celebration where the gathered ones are using a language you do not understand. (Adele Ahlberg Calhoun. 2015. Rev. edition. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us. IL: IVP Books.)

Our Lectionary Reading for this week (03/12/2023) is from Psalm 95, where the Psalmist is exhorting the readers to make a joyful noise, to come into God’s presence with a grateful heart, and to bow down to the Maker of heaven and earth. On the same breath, the Psalmist reminds everyone to listen to God’s voice and not harden one’s heart—to not follow the example of the people of God.  “Don’t harden your hearts as Israel did at Meribah, as they did at Massah in the wilderness. For there your ancestors tested and tried my patience, even though they saw everything I did. (Psalm 95:8-9 NLT).

I think, going to a Christian celebration where the medium is unfamiliar to you, is a good discipline, an excellent practice of reminding ourselves that worship is all about God. This exercise will force us to listen to the Spirit of God. It will be a perfect time to soften our hearts before the Maker of heaven and earth and remember our life of disobedience and surrender them at the feet of Jesus. In these kinds of experiences, we will find rest for our soul and our joyful noise will come straight from our heart and go directly to the heart of God.

So, go and seek out a “worship service” where the gathered ones are singing in a different language and speaking to each other in a tongue you do not understand. God will be with you there and the Spirit of God will be your Interpreter—your Friend and Counselor.

"Drop everything and listen, listen as He speaks." (Psalm 95:7 MSG)

Missional Questions, Missional Group

Whenever I am here in Asia, I make it a point to visit a Filipino community. There are two questions I ask them. These two become my way of evaluating their missional life and practice. The two questions are: What do you do when you are gathering as a group?v What are you doing to share Jesus to those who do not know Him?

In Auckland, New Zealand, I visited with a group of Presbyterian Filipinos. They gather together from different local churches and meet for a time of fellowship. They eat a meal together with good Filipino dishes. They exchange news of political events from back home. Much of their conversation is in Tagalog.

In Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, I visited with a group of Filipinos hailing from a pentecostal tradition. They worship together in the “charismatic style,” full of lively singing and the spectacular display of the gifts of the Spirit. They share freely, mostly in the Cebuano language, and never mindful of time.

In Malang, Indonesia, I visited with a Filipino family involved with an indigenous group reaching out to the Muslim people in their area. The family connects with the pastor of this indigenous group, who shares the gospel in the group’s tribal language and sensitive to the special needs of the Muslim culture. 

When I asked the second question, the first two groups could not give specific answers to the goal of reaching out to the local people around them. These groups from Auckland and Kinabalu spend most of their time within the circles of their Filipino friends. Filipino food and cultural events among their fellow Christians. Nothing wrong with these cultural expressions, but they take precedence over missional activities. Instead of going to their non-Christian friends, they spend their time and energies on church-defined activities. There is no attempt to go beyond their comfort zones. 

The third group from Indonesia is very missional. They intentionally find time to connect with a work among the local community. They partner with a local pastor who is doing ministry in a Muslim community. They leave their Christian comfort zones and reach out to traditions different than their own. This is a missional group.

Unassuming Ms. Julie

Ten families in five months. The lead pastor told me the story of growth of one of their outreach ministries here in this Asian city. I was amazed at the way God is working here. So, I told the pastor I just have to meet the leader of this group and see for my self.

Ms. Julie (not her real name) is a mother in her mid forties. She leads this work here among the urban poor of City-M. She is a very simple person, ordinary looking and unassuming. But God is using her for the ministry. There is a thriving work among the children in their  neighborhood. You can see from the pictures the excitement they have for this growing family of believers. 

“We want to make her as an example of what God can do in this city of M__n.” The lead pastor, Pastor Paul (not his real name), shared this with me. We prayed together. Truly God can use ordinary people for the Lord’s harvest field.

I am currently in Country-IA visiting our partners here. Pray for God to lead the way. Pray for understanding as I explain to the pastors here the nature of our future partnership between FMWM-Asia and GMMI (the name of this group) of Country-IA. I am so blessed to witness the work of the Spirit of God in this Asian country. To God be the glory!!!

Dancing With a Forgiving God

Have you ever danced with a homeless person? Have you ever sat down and ate a hearty dinner with someone not like you? Have you ever celebrated the Fourth of July or an extravagant birthday party with a person from the street who smells and for obvious reasons does not belong to the joyous occasion? You probably know by now the point of these questions: Being with persons who feel like they do not belong to the moment.

In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, we read of the story of the son who squandered his inheritance and lived an immoral life. When he came to his senses he came back to his father. And in verse 20, we see the “father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” We saw the celebration that later issued because of the home coming. (See, Luke 15:11-32.) Here is a picture of forgiveness.

We need to remember that this parable precipitated because the Pharisees and scribes saw that Jesus was receiving sinners. He was eating and celebrating with them (Luke 15:2). As Dr. Green says: Jesus is inviting the religious person to come, and “not only to drop their concerns about Jesus but, indeed, to replicate his behavior in their own practices” (Joel B. Green. The Gospel of Luke. 1997:569).

Here are some questions for us to ponder: When was the last time you joined a celebration together with persons who are considered outcasts by today’s religious standards? Do you feel joy when you see people, those who do not belong to our church gatherings, when they come to a closer encounter with the Good News of Jesus Christ? Would you be able to embrace someone, no matter how smelly and dirty they are, knowing that God himself have embraced everyone with his forgiving arms?

“Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.” (Psalm 32:1-2. NIV).

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.

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.

An Open Heart

Today, I will share about our desire to open our hearts to God. (This is a 'virtual sermon' I shared this month.) The thought that I want to share is that we need to be willing to come to Jesus and allow him to change our lives. Let me start with an experience that is common to everyone. We all have gone to see a doctor for a physical check-up. When the medical examination reveals something that needs intervention, then we submit to a physician’s expertise. We trust that what they do is for our benefit. If they discover that we have some viral infection that could affect the health of other people, then we follow their instructions, and perhaps we need to isolate ourselves and go on quarantine. Even if it means a temporary suspension of our freedom, if we see that by giving in, we bring in better things or serve the greater good, then we might be willing to stay at home or refrain from travel. At this point, we surrender our will. In our reading for today, we find two people who are willing to submit and give in. They ask Jesus to heal them from a disease. Let us read the biblical story in Matthew chapter 8, verses 1-13.

(Matt. 8:1-13): When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant,‘ Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment. (Matthew. 8:1-13. ESV)

Here, in our text, we see that Jesus waits to see if these two persons are willing for him to heal them. In the first case, the person with leprosy, he outrightly said to Jesus “if you will.” With the centurion, the second case, he appealed to Jesus for healing for his servant who was sick. In another occasion in John 5:6, Jesus asked a sick person the question: “Do you want to be healed?” Jesus waits for people to express their willingness to be healed. He respects a person’s freedom. He gives them the time to think about their decision and then allows them to submit their will to him—their desire to be healed by Jesus. It is at this point that a person’s heart becomes open to Jesus.

The human heart is very mysterious. When one part is opened up, other parts are also exposed. When a person invites another person to come into his life, inside one’s heart, then it is also the time when other doors are opened up that lead to other sections of one’s life. This is why, among friends or between spouses, we often hear one person exclaim with delightful discovery: “I did not know you are like this.” When we enter the room of the human heart, we begin to discover many doors that lead to other spaces in our life.

This is why Jesus, after healing the leper of his physical disease, asked the person to go to his priest for a ceremonial cleansing, so that he can be declared legally healed and cleansed, and start reconnecting with other people in the community. Without the formal declaration from the priest, he will always be a social outcast. But with the legal papers from his priest, he then can start “social healing” or begin sharing with others and talking with his family. The physical healing has now opened up the door to a future relational healing. The healing that Jesus gave to his physical body can continue through a healing in his community; through the renewal of friendships and reconnecting with families. The healing experience is now leading to another part of this person’s life—his social life. So, Jesus asks this healed leper to go and see the priest for his ceremonial cleansing. 

When one part is opened up, other sections of our life are also revealed. For this reason, when you ask God for one thing, then be assured that other parts of your life will also open up and become exposed. Are you ready to surrender your will to God? When we ask God for healing, and He answers that prayer, He will also ask you to heal your broken relationships. You must be willing to obey Him and extend forgiveness to others. When we ask God for financial blessings and He answers our prayers, He will also asks us to be generous to others. We must be willing to open other doors in our lives and invite other people to partake in our blessings. When we open one room of our heart to God, we must be ready to invite our Lord to every part of our life. When God enters one door, other doors will soon follow.

This is exactly what happened to the centurion. He asks Jesus for the healing of his servant. But then, he soon realizes that he needed healing in his own personal faith. I think, at that point, the door to his own life started opening up and he saw himself, a person who needed to trust Jesus more. Let me pause here. Let us revisit the text with a different perspective. If you will allow me to translate freely what the biblical story says of the centurion’s experience, then it would go like this:

“Lord, I am beginning to doubt that you can heal my servant. Please help me in my lack of faith. I am so used to telling people what to do. I tell them where to go and what to do. They do not ask any questions. They obey me completely. Please tell me what to do Lord. You do not have to be physically there with my sick servant. Just say the word and it will be done. Help me Lord. Heal my doubting heart. Open up my heart, my whole life to you. Say words of healing for my servant and for my own self. I am also a man who needs your healing touch.”

And we see in our text that Jesus commended the centurion’s faith and honesty. Jesus entered the centurion’s open heart and answered his prayers, for his servant and for his own personal need for faith. So, in your life, what are you asking God for? What are the things you want Him to give to you? Are you asking for healing, wisdom, restoration of broken relationships, financial help, new employment, a promotion at work, good health, or some other personal stuff in your life? My second question is this: Are you willing to open up your heart? Are you ready for God to lead the way and open up every door in your life?  Will you trust our Lord? Come to Jesus and allow Him to change your life.

Let me end with another story. When my daughter was a toddler, about one and a half years old, we would very often play hide and seek with her. We would take turns hiding. But when it was her turn to hide, she would always end up running to us and saying “You found me!” or some words indicating a form of submission. She is very much willing to disclose her hiding place to us. She wanted us to find her. In a way, she opened up her heart and willingly invited us to herself. 

Jesus is always seeking us out, actively waiting for each one of us to open up our hearts. But we need to be willing to be found—just like my little toddler who would come out running to meet us. Jesus is waiting. Can you become like a child and run to Jesus? But you need to have an open heart. Are you ready for God to lead the way and open up every door in your life? Come and you our Living Lord. Have an open heart.

Your Jotted Notes

And though this Temple is impressive now, all who pass by will be appalled. They will ask, ‘Why did the Lord do such terrible things to this land and to this Temple?’ (2 Chronicles 7:21. NLT.)

There is always a story. When you look at animal tracks on the snow, there is a story behind those tracks. In the same light, we have a story to tell. God’s work is written in the pages of our lives. The question we need to ask ourselves is that: “Is our story full of compassion, forgiveness, and reconciliation? Do we exude with God’s hope and promises?”
Go ahead and tell your story, to your friends and neighbors, on social media or behind closed doors, anytime and especially today. What is the story behind your smile? Do you reflect God's hope in the jotted notes of your social media contraptions?Do you need to humble yourself and repent?
God's warning and promise is this: "If you live in my presence . . . then, I will back you up" (Deuteronomy 7:17-18. MSG). Is the jotted notes of your life telling the story of God's presence?

Social Healing, Anyone?

Jesus, after healing the leper of his physical disease, asked the person to go to his priest for a ceremonial cleansing, so that he can be declared legally healed and cleansed, and start reconnecting with other people in the community. Without the formal declaration from the priest, he will always be a social outcast. But with the legal paper in his hand, he can start “social healing” or begin sharing with others and talking with his family. The physical healing has now opened up the door to a future relational healing. The healing that Jesus gave to his physical body can continue through the process of reconciliation in his community; through the renewal of friendships and reconnecting with families. The healing experience is now leading to another part of this person’s life—his social life. So, Jesus asks this healed leper to go and see the priest for his ceremonial cleansing. (Compare, Matthew 8:1-4, and Mark 1:40-45) Physical healing and social transformation go together in the kingdom of God.

What forms of “social healing” came to your life after God’s answers of physical healing? Are you reconnecting with your friends and sharing the power of Jesus to heal both body and spirit?

Let us not follow the example of the leper who “[but] went out” and did not go to the priest for his legal papers. In the end, he caused more trouble for Jesus. (See, Mark 1:45.) Jesus had difficulty entering a town because of this leper’s disobedience. He did not follow through what Jesus said after receiving the healing from his leprosy. 

Go ahead and ask God for physical healing. But, be aware of the “social healing” that God will demand from you—that is, for you to go out and reconnect with friends and families, and declare God’s transforming power for all peoples.