Church in Community

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.

The "Transforming Ray" of Jesus

“On the cross Jesus absorbed and died for all the wounding and sin of the world. In him all pain can be transformed into something redemptive. The light of the presence of Jesus is a transforming ray that can radiate cancerous wounds of the soul. Prayer for inner healing rests on this reality. There is hope that even now we can begin to taste the wholeness that awaits us in heaven.” (Adele A. Calhoun. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us. Rev. Edition. 2015:256)
Just like the person in John 5:6-9, I also say to Jesus, "I want to get well, Lord." More than just a wish for myself, but also a longing for restoration for my many friends who are hurting and in despair. Covid 19 have brought a lot of anxiety and suffering to my friends. The January 6th event and the violence and hate we see on television, they all create a spirit of distrust and aggression against the other person. I pray that we all will be forgiven and converted by the transforming "ray" of Jesus' presence. 

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.

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)

Don't Invite Me To Your Church (By: Janette Buhl)

Don’t invite me to your church,

If belonging to a certain political party is a sign of faithfulness.

Don’t send me a link to the church livestream,

Then call me a coward for respecting the risks of a pandemic.

Don’t refer me to your food pantry,

Then call me lazy.

Don’t send the Visitation Pastor to my hospital bed,

If care of the sick is only for the employed.

Don’t tell me of the love of Jesus,

When it is conditional . . . on how I behave, speak, look, or love.

Don’t invite me to your confidential Bible study,

But hit share on social media before gossip and misleading information is vetted. 

Don’t tell me of God’s passion for all nations,

While supporting using unaccompanied children of other nations as pawns in our security.

Don’t ask for my story,

If only the narratives that fit your worldview can be true.

Don’t ask me to choose,

Between the born and unborn

Don’t pray for my healing,

And refuse to prevent the illness.

Don’t tell me my color or gender does not matter,

When life experiences of racial insensitivity, fear, and gender platitudes abound.

Don’t preach the importance transformative lives,

When the end justifies the means is the rallying cry.

Don’t invite me to your church,

Until you are the Church.

(Janette Buhl. 2020 October. Facebook)

Being Alone With God : An Easter Message

(This is a sermon I shared at a church on Easter Day, 2020.)

      Good morning everyone. Christ is risen! And your response is: “He is risen indeed.” Let us do that one more time. I say, Christ is risen. And your response is . . . . Today is Resurrection Sunday. We will talk about the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and talk about the depth of our “knowing” him. How much do you know Jesus?

      Let me start with a question. Pick a family member, a good friend, or a love one whom you know very well. Here is the question: Would you recognize your love one if he or she comes to you in an “alien” form? You know, an E.T. (extra-terrestrial) form. Now, if your answer is no, why do you think you would not recognize them? If your answer is yes, tell us what things the ET form would do to help you recognize them? Maybe, a facial expression? Or, some words that are known to only you and your love one? This activity really brings us back to the question: How much do you know a person?

      Right now, turn to your seat mates or the person next to you and say: “I know you.” If you truly know this person, then these words will sound natural. But, if you don’t, then you have a problem. You need to know that person better.

      At this point, let us look at the resurrection story and see how Jesus and the disciples know each other deeply. Let us open our Bibles to John 20:11-18. As you read, ask yourself the question: How much do they know each other? Let us read now.

(John 20:11-18) But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ’I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her. (John 20:11-18 ESV)

      Let us pray and ask God to help us understand his words for us today. “Dear God, send your Holy Spirit to help us receive your words for us today, on this Resurrection Sunday. In the name of Jesus, amen.”

      In this resurrection story, John narrates to us the first encounter of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. She is the first person to whom Jesus revealed himself after he rose from the dead. As we continue studying this story, let us ask ourselves the question: How much do the disciples know Jesus? To answer this question, let me suggest three levels of “knowing” Jesus. First is the level of acceptance. Second is the level of admiration. Third is the level of intimacy and recognition, or what I will be calling a heart-to-heart knowledge of a person. Let us now go to the story.

      First level is when the disciples saw the empty tomb and they believed. If we look at verses 8-9, we see that Peter and John believe, but they still did not “understand the Scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead.” (See, John 20:8-9.) This is the level of acceptance. They saw and believed. They did not fully understand what is going on, but their hearts tell them it is okay to accept this new reality. The body is not there. Something is happening, something that they cannot yet fully understand. But, they know Jesus—know him enough to believe this new event of the empty tomb is God’s work. And so, they respond with acceptance.

      Second level is when Mary stayed in the garden and asked the “gardener” where to find the body of Jesus. Mary goes beyond the first level. She continues and comes to the second level, the level of admiration. This is the point in time when she is talking to the angels. She believes and partially understands. In another narration, in Luke 24:8, Mary is described as remembering Jesus’ words. She sees the empty tomb. She believes. She remembers. She knows in her partial understanding that Jesus was going to be resurrected. She just does not know the timeline, not yet. In still another narration, Mary is described as seeking Jesus. We find in Matthew 28:5 that one of the angels said: “I know that you seek Jesus.” Mary does not stop in this experience of belief and remembrance of Jesus’ words. She keeps seeking and asking the gardener for more information. She continues by searching for the body in hope that, maybe, she could be there when Jesus rises from being dead. She knows there is a better possibility. And so, she responds with admiration.

      The third level is when Mary recognizes the person whom she is talking with. He is not really the gardener, but Jesus himself. Perhaps, she felt her heart move when he called her name. Maybe, it was something in his facial expression or the tone of his voice. Whatever happened at the moment when he called her name, the story is clear that she recognizes Jesus. There is a level of intimacy, a heart-to-heart connection. Mary responds in recognition and worship.

      At this point, Mary is ready to connect with Jesus. Henri Nouwen, in his book Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life (1974), describes the readiness of a person in entering into fellowship with other people. “Those who can sit in silence with their [fellow] not knowing what to say but knowing that they should be there, can bring new life in a dying heart. Those who are not afraid to hold a hand of gratitude, to shed tears in grief, and to let a sigh of distress arise straight from the heart, can break through paralyzing boundaries and witness the birth of a new fellowship, the fellowship of the broken” (1974:40-41). This is a good description of Mary’s heart. What about you? Are you ready to connect “heart-to-heart” with others? At this time, please turn to your seat mates or the person next to you and say: “I am ready to know you.” Also, in the same breath, say to yourself, say it from the depths of your heart: “I am ready to know Jesus deeper.”

      Jesus wanted to reveal his resurrected self to all the disciples. He wanted to call each one of them by their names. However, all of them, except for Mary (and maybe a few of the women disciples), were still on the first and second levels. They are accepting and believing without understanding. They are admiring without intimate knowledge of the risen Lord. They are remembering and are seeking. And even if Jesus would appear to them, they still would not be able to recognize Jesus. Mary was ready to recognize Jesus and receive him as the resurrected Lord.

      We need to go back to our original question: How much do we know Jesus? We need to ask this question to ourselves in this present generation. Attendant to this question are the following questions for reflection. Do you know Jesus in an intimate way, just like Mary Magdalene? Are you ready to receive our resurrected Lord and Savior? Would you recognize him if he comes today in your life and in this generation? What are the ways or means of grace that would help us become ready to receive Jesus in an intimate way? This last question is what I want to spend time on at the continuation of this sharing time. We can have a better heart-to-heart level of knowing Jesus.

      Let me suggest the discipline of solitude as a means of grace or a way of preparing our hearts to connect with Jesus in an intimate manner. What is solitude? Simply said, solitude is being alone with God. Jesus himself demonstrated this in his life. During his time of earthly ministry and the busyness of the life of a Rabbi, he found time to be alone with God. At several occasions, he forsook ministry and people so that he can spend moments of solitude and a time of prayer with God the Father. So, it is not surprising that Jesus had a heart-to-heart connection with Mary Magdalene at that moment when she was alone and seeking solitude. They both had a shared experience—a heart in solitude with God.

      We need to practice the discipline of solitude so that we can connect with God in an intimate way. On this Resurrection Sunday, let us start the practice of this spiritual discipline. This is most appropriate, especially in this time of global crisis, when the Covid19 pandemic is forcing many of us to isolation and seclusion. We can continue to pray for God’s healing and comfort for many who are affected by this virus. We can pray for protection for our health care workers and other volunteers who are keeping our communities going. Moreover, we can also pray for a vaccine to be soon produced and distributed to everyone. After saying all of these prayers, then we can continue in this practice of being alone with God. Set your heart and focus on God alone.

      How do we practice being alone with God? How do we start? Actually, these questions are not the right questions. They are important, but not the correct ones to begin practicing the discipline of solitude. Rather, the question should be: Where do we start? This question is not about a location or a physical place, but rather, the condition of a person’s heart and an inner self that one brings to his or her meeting place with God. We are not saying human conditions dictate the nature of our meeting with God. On the contrary, every outcome of this meeting is borne out of the grace of God. We respond to God because he first reaches out to us. Jesus longs to reveal himself to us. He loves to talk with us and share his resurrected life with every Christian. Thus, we respond by practicing the discipline of solitude.

      So, when we ask the question, Where do we start?, we really are opening our hearts to God. We simply are responding in faith and love to our resurrected Lord. Just like with Mary Magdalene, there are conditions for the practice of solitude and these conditions will prepare us to meet God and to hear his intimate voice calling our name.  What then, are the conditions for this discipline? I am suggesting the conditions of surrender and silence.

      One. The condition of surrender is a person’s total abandon to God’s guidance and leading. One of the ways surrender shows up is in the area of our thought life. This is a moment when we can think of nothing else except being in the presence of God. Mary and the other disciples were certainly caught up in the aftermath of the death of Jesus. All they could think of is when they can see the body of Jesus. All their thoughts were for their friend, their Teacher, their Lord Jesus. It is in this state of abandon that Jesus reveals himself to them.

      Two. The condition of silence is a person’s acceptance of the ways of God. There is quietness and stillness, maybe, not all the time. Sometimes, there is an exchange of words or gesture. Here, the stance of the person is an attitude of trust. The main thing is that the person is not distracted by one’s emotions or any outside circumstances. Silence gives focus to the person’s solitude. Mary’s silence brought her to a conversation with the two angels, and finally to the “gardener,” who turns out to be Jesus. Her heart was silent before God. When Jesus called her name, her solitude allowed her to listen in and from the depths of her inner soul.  It is here when Jesus reveals his resurrected self to Mary.

      Henri Nouwen asks this question: “Is God present or is he absent?” In the midst of one’s sadness and search for meaning one can find God’s presence. “And that in the middle of our longings we discover the footprints of the one who has created them.” (See, Out Of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life. 1974:61). Mary Magdalene’s silence and surrender bring her to a time and place of solitude. In turn, this solitude opens her heart to hear Jesus’ call and receive the gift of the presence of God. Now, turn to your seat mates or the person next to you and say: “Jesus is calling you.”

      In our present time, Jesus is searching for people who have silence and surrender in their walk with God. Jesus desires from us to enter into solitude, to be alone with him. When you are in prayer, meditating in God’s word, or spending time in fellowship with your brothers and sisters, take time to be alone with Jesus. He loves you so much. Find a place to be in solitude. Ask yourself these questions: Am I silent before God? Am I ready to hear him call my name? Am I in total surrender to God’s control? Do I have the desire to enter into a deeper level of intimacy with Jesus? Jesus wants to have a heart-to-heart connection with you. Our Lord is inviting you to enter into solitude with him. Ask yourself: “Will I accept Jesus’ invitation to know him deeply?”

      On this Resurrection Sunday, my prayer is that everyone will have a deeper heart-to-heart knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. To conclude this sharing time, let me tell you the true story of an experiment regarding a mother’s voice and how it could help little children in times of emergencies.

      (The following is an excerpt of a news article from the New York Times.) Researchers recruited 176 five- to twelve-year-olds to test smoke alarms. They taught the children a simulated escape procedure: Get out of bed at the alarm, walk to the door , and leave the room. They monitored the children (connected to a machine) with EEG electrodes until they entered a deep stage of sleep. Then they set off either a standard tone alarm or one of three versions of the mother’s recorded voice shouting instructions and the child’s name. The study found that the standard tone (smoke) alarm woke the children about 50 percent of the time, and it took them an average of nearly five minutes to get out of the room.

      With the mother’s voice—shouting names, instructions, or both—almost 90 percent of the children awoke and were out of the room in an average of under 30 seconds.  A mother’s recorded voice will wake a child and get him out the room much faster than a standard smoke alarm. (See, New York Times. Oct. 28, 2018). The value of this story is that a mother’s voice represents to a child a person whom the child has a deep and heart-to-heart connection. The child can truly say to his or her mother: “I know you.” They are connected.

      Jesus wants to have a heart-to-heart connection with you. Our Lord is inviting you to enter into solitude with him. Come and accept Jesus’ invitation to draw close to him in an intimate way. Be alone with God.

(This sermon was shared to members of the Higher Ground International Fellowship, in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, last April 12, 2020.)

Meeting At Home

Due to the government restrictions on meetings consisting of big groups of people, our local churches here in Taiwan have cancelled our Sunday church services. This change of plans is the direct result of the Covid19 pandemic. We at Higher Ground International Fellowship (HGIF), a Filipino and Chinese congregation I am helping with, are doing online services. We are recording everything and posting our services on live stream media. God is good. Church is still going on.

One challenge is the practice of serving the Lord’s Supper. Because of this restriction and lockdown we choose to meet at our homes and serve communion there. It has been a meaningful experience. It feels like the New Testament times when the church were meeting at the people’s homes. God is good. Church is still going on.


Another challenge is the practice of praying with members of the church. The pastors of this congregation (HGIF) are very committed. Pastor Tessa and Pastor Aying are visiting the church members at their homes, during their small group gatherings, and on a one-on-one basis for a time of prayer and sharing. God is so good. Church is still going on.

“Looking and Believing” : (An Easter Message)

(This is sermon shared at a church in 2019.)

Good morning! Today is Easter, or what we call Resurrection Sunday. We greet each other by saying: “He is risen!” And your response is: “He is risen, indeed!” Let us look at the biblical story of the first encounter with the resurrection of Jesus. We will reflect on the experiences of John and Mary Magdalene, and their responses to that first day of the week, the first day when they learned Jesus has risen from the dead. Let us read John 20:3-10:

“So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.” (ESV)

I was in first grade when I learned that butterflies came from caterpillars. The first time I heard about this, I said: “I do not believe this.” It took a lot of explanation from the teacher to get my attention. The final act that turned me around was when I saw it for myself. Right there in our little garden in front of our house, I saw with my own eyes the emerging of a butterfly from its cocoon. For a young boy, it was a moving experience. It is so true, right? How can a beautiful creature like a butterfly come out of an ugly looking worm-like caterpillar? It is one of those things you would probably say: “I have to see it for myself before I will believe it to be true.”

In that first Easter Sunday, the disciples had a hard time believing the resurrection of Jesus. Earlier, they saw signs that Jesus has risen from the dead. The women believed. (We see this in Luke 24 and Matthew 28.) In verse 8, we see that John believed. But in the following verse, the text tells us that “they did not understand.” In another narration, we know that Peter (and the other disciples) had a hard time understanding and believing. (Compare, Luke 24:11-12.) So, what exactly did John see that made him believe? What were the signs of Jesus resurrection that helped John’s belief?

The text says that John saw the cloth folded neatly. John 20:7 states “. . . and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.” We do not know exactly what John was thinking. Perhaps, being the brother of Jesus, growing up with him, he knew what the sign of the folded face cloth meant. Those of you who grew up with siblings, sharing a room with them, seeing them everyday, you know your brother or sister better than anyone. I think John here saw a sign of his brother (Jesus) showing him that he is alive. Maybe, the folded cloth told him that it was his brother who did this.

The Bible says that the same resurrection power that raised Jesus from the dead is the same power that is working in us. (See, Ephesians 1:19-20.) Do you believe this? John did. He looked at the empty tomb and he believed. Perhaps, he remembered the stories of the mustered seed or the springs of living water. Maybe, he thought about Jesus’ teaching on the temple and “in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). We really cannot know what John was thinking. However, the biblical text tells us that he saw and he believed.

It is easy to say “I believe” when things are doing well in your life. However, when one is experiencing a crisis in one’s life, then this question of belief becomes challenging. Do you believe in the resurrection power even if you are going through the experience of having a dying family member in your life? What about financial problems that seem to be impossible to solve? Can you still say, “I believe the resurrection power will bring a solution to my problems.” It is hard when these things are happening, or when your marriage is failing, or relationships are broken. It looks almost impossible when past failures come back or depressing memories haunt you. How can we say with Paul “As God raised the Lord from the dead, he will also raise me up from my situation?” (See, 1 Corinthians 6:14.) Do you believe?

Jesus knew this is going to be difficult. That is why, he came and visited with Mary Magdalene, to remind her that his resurrection power is also for everyone. He came to see each disciple. He reminded Thomas, who was struggling with doubt. He asked his disciples to remind each other of his resurrection power. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29) With Mary, Jesus’ reminded her in a very engaging and personal way. He called out her name. (John 20:16)

Somewhere in Illinois, there is a halfway house where ladies who have been abused and have suffered from violence are cared for. Some of them have been forced into prostitution. And now, they are living a new life and learning new skills that will help them live a normal life. For these women, the reality of a new life is a great challenge. How can we say “He is Risen!” to these women? How can they face life after going through the experience of being sold like a slave and treated like an animal? How can the resurrection experience be true to their lives?

Mary Magdalene, went through the same experience. She came out of a past life forced to live as a prostitute and being used by violent men. Jesus rescued her. She received God’s salvation and renewal. Although she talked to an angel about Jesus’ resurrection, she still needed Jesus to visit her personally to remind her that Jesus is risen indeed from the grave. (Read, John 20:11-18.) She might have hesitated at first, but at the end she received God’s salvation. She did not recognize the “gardener” at first, but later she saw the resurrected Lord. She saw and believed.

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Disciplines For a Difficult Time: “Weakness in God”

      (This is a sermon I shared last February 9, 2020.)

      There is a common greeting we often use in the Christian circles. It says: “I thank God for you.” Whenever you remember a friend who has prayed for you, or a pastor who has mentored you to Christian maturity, you can thank them for their help. Let us be thankful today that we are able to worship God as a community. Please turn to your seat mates and say “I thank God for you.”

      Paul uses this sentence in his opening remarks in his letter to the Corinthians. If we read 1 Corinthians 1:4-9, we will see that Paul mentions the reason why he is thankful. God will “keep you steadfast in the faith to the end.” (Phillips) God is faithful. He will take us to the end, to the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

      Today, we will talk about some ways a Christian can stay “steadfast” or remain faithful as we wait for the end, for the revealing of Christ. Imagine a straight line, and we are here. We need to be there. So, we encourage each other as we walk towards “there” and we say: I thank God for you.

      Where do we start? Let us start with Paul. He says: “I was with you in weakness.” Let us start with Paul’s understanding of this idea of weakness. Please read, 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (ESV)

      Imagine a straight line. We are here. We need to be there, in the fullness of the presence of God. We start, together with Paul, in a life that is live everyday in our “weakness in God.” What is this weakness? It is not the opposite of power. It is based on a faith that rests in the power of God. We cannot be boastful. We continue walking this straight line knowing that our strength comes from the power of God alone. In the end, all we need to hear are the words: “I thank God for you.”

      Paul explains to us what happens when we have the “weakness in God.” In verse one, he states that we proclaim the testimony of God. Weakness in God is not quiet or lonely. It is full of proclamation of God’s goodness. Maybe it comes in simple words or ordinary speech, but it always speaks of God’s power and glory. What is Paul’s experience? Paul narrates a “thorn in the flesh” that humbles him in many ways.  Experts say this is an eye ailment that makes him unpleasant to look at. Whatever this “thorn” might be, it brings Paul to his knees in prayer and humble submission. In the end, he can declare God’s power and strength. He says: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (See, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Today, we benefit so much from Paul’s ministry. So, if Paul was here, we can tell him, I thank God for you.

      Paul also describes this weakness in God as demonstrating the power of the Spirit. (See, 1 Corinthians 2:4-5.) Let me suggest three ways we can demonstrate the power of the Spirit of God. I am suggesting that these three ways will help us be steadfast in our faith, until the end, the revelation of our Lord. I am also suggesting that we do these three ways together as a community, as a church. So, if we imagine a straight line, these three ways will keep us focused and help bring us there. And every time we practice these three ways, we say to our brothers and sisters: “I thank God for you.”

      The first way is the way of living a simple life. The second way is the way of generous giving. The third is the way of prayer. Imagine a straight line to our goal to be with Jesus. These three ways will help us stay on course, to follow the line towards our goal. Of course, there are many other ways or practices, but these three help us understand the idea of “weakness in God” as Paul explains in this book of Corinthians.

      So, let us start with the first way of simple living. This is a life that is live in simplicity and frugality. Simplicity could mean doing things to reflect our “weakness in God.” Maybe, we can be “weak” for God by volunteering for simple chores, such as cooking or cleaning, and without the fanfare or the public recognition that people nowadays expect from public service. Simple living could also mean saying “no” and practicing abstinence, such as not buying the latest smart phone or avoiding spending lavishly on an expensive dinner for a special person. What are other things you can refrain from doing or buying to be consistent in living a simple life? Maybe, choosing a simplier vacation for your family instead of an expensive trip to Disneyland. There are many ways of expressing this discipline of simple living.

      How do we know if a Christian is practicing this spiritual discipline of simplicity. Pastor Denny Wayman suggests that we see the practice together with the fruit of the Spirit of God. He mentions that these persons practicing the way of living a simple life is full of joy and contentment. They are not concerned with what other people would say about their lifestyle. I would say, they are weak in people’s eyes, but strong with the power of God in their lives. They are also full of the spiritual fruit of self-control. They know God is in control of their money, time, and gifts. The fruit of the Spirit of joy and self-control is abundant in the lives of these Christians. (Compare, Denny Wayman. 2019. Discipleship Ecosystem: Developing the Fruit of the Spirit by the Presence of God.)

      Do you know of anyone who is living a simple life? Is there anyone in your congregation who chooses to live a frugal life that translates  into laughter, joy, and contentment? When you see your brother or sister practicing the simple lifestyle, make sure you encourage him or her, and say: “I thank God for you.”

      Paul also experienced this simple living. In 1 Corinthians 9:8-18, he tells the Corinthian members that he is not claiming his right to a good salary as a Christian worker. He earned his living as a tent maker (Acts 18:3). He leaves behind all the privileges of an apostle for the sake of the gospel. What then should we say to Paul? We say: “I thank God for you.”

      The second way is being a generous giver. This means giving money, giving our time, or giving our services to God for other people. In 1 Corinthians 13:3, it states: “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” The people who practice this discipline of generous giving are full of the fruit of love from the Spirit of God. Do you know anyone who is giving sacrificially to God? Please take the time to thank them. Go up to them and say: “I thank God for you.”

      Another fruit of the Spirit that is present among Christians who are practicing the discipline of generous giving is the fruit of patience. When you have more time, please read 2 Corinthians 9:11-15. Paul is describing here of the generosity of the Corinthian believers. He reminds them that “God is able to make all grace abound” in all things (verse 8). This means that it is God’s job to multiply our gifts and offerings, to make them grow. For us, our job is to give with a generous and loving spirit. This attitude requires a lot of patience. Because, in this day and age, we are so conditioned to always look for results and financial gain to our investments. When we give money, our brain is wired to ask the question: “How much return can I get for my gift?” We need to be patient. God is in control. He will bring in the increase in his own time.

      In the eyes of the world, generous giving is a weak thing. But in God’s eyes, this “weakness in God” will be rewarded. God will multiply your gifts (2 Corinthians 9:10-11). Do you know of people who are generous in their giving? Please take the time to talk to them and say to them: “I thank God for you.”

      The third way is the discipline of prayer. Prayer is simply talking to God. As a discipline, it draws us closer to God and keeps us focused on walking the straight line to our goal of being with God forever. We can exercise this discipline better when we apply it to our daily life, more specifically to our moment to moment breathing. When we breathe in, think of God’s goodness, love, and all the fruit of the Spirit entering your body. When you breathe out, imagine all the bad thoughts, the unwholesome habits, and other unhealthy ways coming out of your body. There are many other methods of applying this discipline. You can however, start with prayer as the way of breathing in God’s presence into your life. Every time you remember something good and lovely in your life, breathe in and say: “I thank God for these things.”

      Persons who practice this discipline of prayer are full of the fruit of the Spirit of faithfulness. They trust in God in all circumstances. Here is a practical way of applying this discipline. Close your eyes and enter into prayer. Think of a very difficult situation in your life. Imagine the pain and struggle you are going through. Now, while you are in the midst of this difficulty, listen to what Jesus said to Paul. In the middle of Paul’s thorn in the flesh, or his trials and tribulations, he hears his Lord say: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV) You can trust in Jesus. God will be with you. Breathe in his presence in your life. Say with me: “I thank God.”

      We can practice these three ways of simplicity, generosity, and prayer, and live out a life of “weakness in God” that helps us become steadfast in our faith. So, if we imagine a straight line, these three ways will keep us focused, move us forward, and bring us there in the fullness of the presence of God.

      How do we make this sharing time on the “weakness of God” relevant to our everyday life? I am going to suggest that we ask ourselves three questions: (a) Am I living a simple and joyful life?; Am I living a generous and loving life?; and (c) Is my prayer bringing me closer to God? Even much better is for you to meet up with your prayer partners and share with them these questions. Give them permission to ask you these questions. Make yourselves accountable to each other. Spend time with these friends. And as you go on your ways, make sure you thank your prayer partners for allowing you to practice the “weakness in God” through your friendships. Say to them: “I thank God for you.”

(This was a sermon shared at Higher Ground International Fellowship, in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, 2020 February.)

OFW Connections

Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) are here in Taiwan. The group I am familiar with is Higher Ground International Fellowship (HGIF). This is a group of OFWs who are working in the electronics sector here in the city of Kaohsiung. Some of its members are married to Taiwanese families. Zen, Edz, and Aying are three OFWs who are actively involved with the Filipino community here. They are also connected to our Creator-Savior through different church activities by helping other Filipinos located in the vicinity of HGIF, which is somewhere in Nandzi, north of Kaohsiung. OFW connection means Filipinos reaching out to each other in meaningful ways.

Zen, Edz, and Aying are stepping up to the microphone, so to speak. They are answering the call to leadership, by leading Bible studies, sharing a sermon, and facilitating group events with OFWs living and working in the city. Their pastor, Tessa, is doing such an excellent job. I try to help a little bit by preaching some Sundays and also leading some workshops for these three ladies. These next two months, I am leading a workshop on Inductive Bible Study Method (IBSM), and Zen, Edz, and Aying are there in attendance. Just my little way of thanking our Creator-Savior by helping these three ladies become proficient in their leadership skills. At the end of this workshop, I am hoping that these three can teach other OFWs in the ways of IBSM and help other Filipinos become connected with our Creator-Savior. OFW connection means Filipinos loving each other with the love of Jesus.

I do my small part. God will do the rest. “. . . what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men [and women] who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2 ESV)

OFWs ladies