Prayer

Are You Moving With God?

When we see a ship, we think of the ocean. When we view a paddle and a canoe, we cannot help but think of the many adventures we will be facing. We look forward to traversing rivers and going to new places. Adventures galore!

In the same breath, when we see God in his holy temple, we also think of the oceans of people scattered in the world. We cannot help but think of global cultures, of people who need to hear the gospel. We long to share God’s love and holiness to everyone out there. This is why when we hear our Lord ask the question: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” then, we respond with Isaiah by saying “Here am I!” (Isaiah 6:8). We move because God is out there, just as much as he is here with us.

Are you moving with God, just as a ship is moving with the wind and the ocean? Is your faith stuck, not moving with the river? (Ezekiel 47:9) Do you long to move with God?

You might have noticed that I did not use the word “going.” Going is for those who will cross cultures and jump from one area to another. Moving is for everyone who is willing to hear God’s challenge and respond in obedience. When Jesus said to his disciples: “Don't be afraid; from now on you will be catching people,” he is also saying this to everyone who wants to follow him (Luke 5:10. GNB). Movement is an integral part of our Christian faith. When we walk with Jesus in a life of obedience, this means we take a journey with him, similar to sailing the vast uncharted parts of the ocean. One thing for sure is that our Lord is sailing with us.

Seeing our God move in the world means coming to a state of readiness to move with him. So, the next time you open your Bible and read of God’s movement, pray this short prayer: “Help me Lord to move with you.” And then take a step of faith and be with the people who needs to receive the river of life, who needs to experience the ocean of God’s love.


Resurrection Sunday's Reflection

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). — (John 20:15-16)

      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 to 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 out our name.  What then, are the conditions for this discipline? I am suggesting the conditions of surrender and silence.

       One is surrender. 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 is silence. 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.

      Mary Magdalene’s silence and her 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. 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. He wants to reveal Himself to you. Find a place to be in solitude with Jesus. 

Have a blessed Resurrection Sunday, 2021 !!!


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. 

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 Justice (2017-2020)

I am praying for a country, where there is "justice for the fatherless and the widow, and love [for] the sojourners, giving them food and clothing" (Deut. 10:18 ESV). I am praying for its President 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 Tim. 2:2 PHILLIPS). I am praying for the citizens of the land to "be generous to the poor, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim freedom to prisoners," even those in bondage to addiction and those who are blinded by racial discrimination (See Matt. 11:5; Luke 4:18-20; and Luke 11:41 NIV). I am praying like Jesus did, with the "Spirit on him; he’ll proclaim justice to the nations" (Matt. 12:18, and Isaiah 42:1 NIV). I am praying 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). I am praying. Please pray with me. (DWC, Sept. 2017)


A Tree of Comfort : STREAM Prayer

Let me start with a story about a tree that gives comfort. When I was growing up in the Philippines as a young boy of twelve, I lived in a place that is very remote and accessible only by hours of walking. My cousins and I would hike to the nearby barrio for hours just to buy some food supplies, such as sugar, cooking oil, or bags of rice. On this particular hiking trail, we would often stop at one point under a huge mango tree. This is the mango variety where the fruit is fibrous and small, but extremely sweet. You know how we eat this mango? We peel off the outer skin and suck the sweet juice but not eat the fruit-meat. (You really can’t eat the mango fruit because it is all fiber.) We always look forward to stopping at this mango tree. The nearby “atabay” or water well provides us with water to quench our thirst. The shade of the huge tree gives us a cool resting place from our journey. A makeshift old tire swing invites us to a time of break and fun. I remember that mango tree was a source of joy and fellowship with other kids in the area, and rest and relaxation from our arduous hike. That tree became a symbol of comfort from our weary journey. The question for us here is: “Do we become a source of comfort and rest to the people around us?”

Jesus shares with us a parable that describes a tree and its invitation of comfort to the birds in the area. Let us read a parable of the kingdom of God. This is found in Matthew 13:31-32:  “He put another parable before them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’”

The question I pose here is: “Do we become a source of comfort and rest to the people around us?” And, our answer should be: Yes, the Lord is my Helper. Or your answer could be: Yes, God is working in me.

Here are some practical suggestions to help us become a source of comfort to others. We can call this as STREAM Prayer. (I have adopted this from another pastor’s sermon.) The acronym means “being still” for S, “giving thanks” for T, “reflection” for RE, “asking for God’s grace” for A, and “meditating in God’s hope” for M. These are five parts of the same prayer discipline. Imagine a stream coming from a mountain and providing us with thirst-quenching water and refreshing our tired bodies with its cool and healing touch. This STREAM Prayer can be source of god’s comfort and rest for our souls as well as for the people around us.

Let us now look at the explanations of these parts of STREAM Prayer. One is being still. This means acknowledging God is our Creator and Savior. He is the Almighty Lord and he is in control of everything. Let us practice the breathing prayer. As you breathe in and inhale, say to God: “I receive your Lordship in my life.” He is in control. Breathe in his power and majesty. As you breathe out and exhale, say to God: “I go forth to obey you in all my ways.” He will guide you in everything. Submit to the Lord’s direction and be still. Surrender your thoughts, your emotions, your whole being to God. Keep repeating this form of prayer. Breathe in and breathe out until you sense God is near you. Be still and know he is God.

Two is giving thanks to God for everything. Think of all the good things you have and praise God. Look around you and appreciate the beauty you see. Give thanks for even the little things. Thank God for the air we breath, the taste of good coffee or tea, the noise of happy children, the shelter we have from the house we live in, the provisions we received from our jobs, or the smiles you see when you go to your favorite convenience store.

Three is reflection.  We take note of our emotions. Reflect on what the Holy Spirit is telling you and ask his help as you name the emotions you are feeling. Then move forward and give each emotion to the Lord. Invite him into those emotions. Redirect your feelings to his will. You can also ask yourself here, “Did I choose the way of Jesus in that situation?” If you did then rejoice. If not, examine your heart for any sin and surrender this to God. You make things right by confessing to Jesus and pray: “Yes Lord, you will be my helper.”

Four is pray and ask God’s grace for a need you are currently experiencing. Choose one need you see in your day. Give it to the Lord, completely. Focus on this day and the need for today. God’s grace is sweeter when applied to our daily life. Take one day at a time. Ask God to transform your life and meet your need so that others will find comfort in our Lord. Pray and say: “Yes God, you are still working in me.”

Five (and last) is meditating in God’s hope and trusting in him with all your being. Tell the Lord that you hope in him for the next hours ahead. Face the day and move forward expectating that God’s grace will be displayed in your life. Anticipate his will to be done in your life. Pray “Let your kingdom come, let your will be done. Grant me joy and peace as I humbly trust you with the outcome of my life and my day.” End with trust. Direct your thoughts to a life of trusting in our Almighty loving Father. 

Practicing the STREAM Prayer means being still, thanking God, reflecting on one’s life, asking for God’s grace, and meditating on God’s hope. STREAM Prayer will prepare us and bring us closer to God so that we can become a source of comfort and rest to the people around us. This is my prayer for each of us.


Lord Have Mercy

(Below is a prayer and response to today’s turmoil happening in the city streets of the USA.)

      Our Father in heaven, your word says we must agree “wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” We must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. (Philippians 2:2-5 NLT).

      We have failed you dear Father. We have lost the ability to look beyond the color of our skin and cannot see street protests as the expressions of our brother and sisters’ pain. We have accepted violence as the tool of the powerful and silence as the default response to our despair. We have relied on our religious meetings and public image as the only ways to measure spirituality. You have said a long time ago what you want, Father. The prophet said: “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 MSG). We have failed you dear heavenly Father!

      “Listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people. I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses.” (Nehemiah 1:6-7 NLT).

      To Moses, you said: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:17-18 ESV).

      We have sinned against you. We have not loved our neighbor and have not listened to their hurting and grieving voices. We have failed to raise up a generation of people who are able to uphold justice and practice mercy. Many moons ago, you have called me to be a teacher among your people. You have said: “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28.20 ESV). I have failed you my Lord. Please be with me all the days of my life. Forgive me.

      “Be merciful to me, O God, because of your constant love. Because of your great mercy wipe away my sins! Wash away all my evil and make me clean from my sin!” (Psalm 51:1-2 GNT). Declare to me your will for my life. Say to me again: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (Jeremiah 31:33-34 ESV).


Praying For Healing: Premika Tamang

(Premika Tamang of South Asia shares her journey of God’s healing in her life.)

        In August of 2012, we, the sisters and women of the church, started a ministry, a Prayer Fellowship. I was asked to lead in the area of healing and prayer. Although the vision seemed very good at first, I had no idea how to speak about healing. It was very difficult for me to speak in front of many people. Besides, I never had such an amazing healing in my own life. I was very worried.  I thought it would be easier for me to speak about healing if there was such a healing in my life. But, nothing here in my life.

        While serving at this Prayer Fellowship, we had to travel to many places during this time of ministry. It was during one of our ministry trips to the Nuwakot District, I received word from back home that my mother-in-law was ill. Two days later after I returned, she passed away. She slept in the Lord. I was very sad. I had to speak words of healing to the members of our Prayer Fellowship. But after such an incident happening in my own house, I started asking God how to speak his words of healing. I became even more sad thinking about this. I cried to the Lord.

        Within a year of my mother-in-law's death, I lost my middle son whom I love more than anything. While I was continuing with the women’s Prayer Fellowship these two incidents devastated me. I prayed to God and asked why I was suffering so much. I cried. In the middle of my disappointment, God did not give Satan a chance to win. In my sorrow, the Holy Spirit came to me saying that only by struggling with God in this situation can I be rescued. At the same time, this is the way I may be able to encourage my sisters.

        About a month after my son died, God sent me to a village called Ree Tajimrang (a nearby village) to share his word. I asked God, Lord, why should I go? How can I share the word among these people that “there is healing in God” when I cannot even save my own son? My heart was pounding at the thought of how to speak. I was kind of blind. But before I spoke, I received a prophetic word. When I was praising, God said: “Daughter, why are you so worried? Why are you crying? I have your son. You will meet him later. Don't worry too much.” These words from God encouraged me so much. I was very happy to know that I will meet my son someday, at the end of my life. No matter how much I have to suffer now, I have the courage to share the word with our sisters who are suffering and worried like me. Also, that day, I learned that there should not be much concern for the dead, because they are alive in God.

        I continued in the women’s ministry through this Prayer Fellowship. And yet, problems in my home kept happening.  At one time, our youngest son got ill. I prayed to God with repentance. I humbly prayed that what had happened before, would not be repeated in my house. God miraculously healed my youngest son. Later on, my father-in-law also got sick. I was still in pain from the death of my mother-in-law and my middle son. After their deaths, there are now only seven members in the family. I begged God from the bottom of my heart. Oh Lord, I prayed with faith that my father-in-law would be spared. My husband and I prayed for him day and night. But his condition became more and more critical. Since I was meeting with many leaders and believers during this women’s Prayer Fellowship, I kept requesting them to pray for my father in-law. God healed my father-in-law. He was in a critical condition, and now he goes to church and serves God. He went on to live a full life for four more years, before passing on in 2017. He is also now sleeping in God’s rest.

        When God unexpected healed my father-in-law and kept him alive on this earth for four years, I was encouraged. I became more and more convinced that God was listening to my prayers for intercession. I believe that my father-in-law was healed and his life was extended because of our prayers. No matter how many failures we have, God is there to bless us. Until we experience healing in our lives, we are not really able to share these things with others. God has blessed me so much even to this day.

        I am very happy in God now. At present, there are six of us in our family. A few months ago, my mother got sick. She was taken to the Teaching Hospital (one of the biggest government hospital in country) where we admitted her. The doctor said she would not live for a week. She was diagnosed with lung cancer. We brought her back to the village. The only hope for her now is in God. Our family and brothers, all of us fasted and prayed for eight days. God answered our prayers for healing. My mother is with us until now. This is made possible by the grace of God.

        Because of these similar incidents of healing that have happened in my life, I am encouraged to move forward in this women’s ministry, this Prayer Fellowship. With this enthusiasm, I want the sisters of this region to be enthusiastic for the Lord, even among those who are busy with housework and farm chores. Most of the women here have not received any formal (educational) training. Only men are receiving such training. (Please take this in positive way.) And still, our belief in God is never a backward experience. Moreover, our prayer services have awakened us more and more, in our churches and especially among the women. You should understand that if you have learned how to pray and there is a quarrel with someone, you should immediately forgive and ask for forgiveness. (Because of God’s healing I have seen in my life, I want the women of this region to be enthusiastic for the Lord.)

        Personally, I have come to understand that it is easier for me to share from what I have experienced in my life. Now, wherever I go, I go to pray and share the word of God. Sisters and brothers have full faith in the power of prayer and the healing that comes through prayer.

(Premika Tamang now serves as a prayer coordinator for a Free Methodist Church here in the mountains of South Asia. She has two adult children and a pre-teen son. She works as a farmer, while her husband, John, works as a church planter for Beer-jet FMC. This interview was translated to English by a friend, Resham Tamang.)


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.)


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.)