Bangkok is “World’s Best City 2010”

Bangkok is home. With all of the protests this last year, we have had a lot of people wonder how safe we are living in Bangkok. We have always felt safe in Bangkok, even during the protests. (It was violent in some parts of the city, but we stayed away from them and were very safe.)

Today, I ran across a story in the Travel and Leisure Magazine that validated our love for this city. Bangkok was voted as the “World’s Best City” in 2010. Mind you, the vote was completed before the protests began, but it describes the city we live in and desire to reach.

Telling a Story

Narrative drives our culture no matter where we come from. Stories shape how we view the world. Who is the good guy, bad guy, how we resolve conflict, etc. This trip to the US, we realized how we view stories as Americans as we travel and tell and listen to stories to family, friends and churches.

If you begin a story with a girl was sick, our finances ran dry, we were up against it, or George Washington’s troops were tired, sick and on their last leg, how would people expect the story to go? We are drawn in emotionally, but in the back of our mind we expect something to happen in the end. We are taught that a good story must have a conflict and a resolution. An audience holds on and waits for the end as they struggle through the difficult and heart wrenching points of a story.

We have a great story demonstrating the spiritual oppression in the slum communities of Bangkok. We began telling this story to one pastor.  He was curious to know more about the spiritual battle happening in Thailand. We told this story to answer his question. We went into the detail of one of the children struggling with attacks from the spirits in her house. When the girl read her Bible, the spirit attacked her with sickness, dizziness and confusion. Every time she came home from a church meeting, she was upset by the spirit. The solution from her Buddhist mother who believed the girl was upsetting the spirit was to prevent her from participating in the Christian activities any longer. The children’s leader pressed the mom saying, Jesus has the power to overcome this spirit and bring freedom into your home. The leader went on to explain that we don’t have to appease these spirits any longer. The precious girl’s mother declined the offer not willing to risk the turmoil with the spirits living in her house and community.

We rarely tell this story as people receive it poorly. In this incident, we saw his heart sink when the story ended in the reality it held rather than in the victory we hoped for and Americans expect. We know God wins in the end, but we have little patience to wait through the slow moments when God is working. We want to illustrate the spiritual reality we live in, but we know people want stories that end well. After realizing this point, we now tell the story of Ole and ridding her house in the slum of a spirit.

As Americans, we enter a story with a bias. We expect to have a happy ending or for good to triumph evil. We hold onto ancient dualistic ideals of good v. evil with good overcoming evil.

What are your favorite Bible stories? Many of you will say, David and Goliath, the little guy crushing the giant heathen. Maybe others will point to Moses bringing God’s people out of wicked Egypt, Noah, a righteous guy surviving the great flood, Gideon, shy and scared with his little band of men routing the Midianites. Most of our favorite stories encapsulate our view of God conquering evil. Think about your favorite movies. Most of our favorite movies follow a similar formula which brings the hero to a good ending. Our stories tend to end happily ever after. This is changing in the past decade, but the exception to the rule rarely sells well at the box office. The critically acclaimed movie Up in the Air leaves you wishing for a happy ending even if it feels more realistic. We don’t’ listen to a story for realism. We don’t go to the movies to be reminded of the life we live. We want to rally around good, victory, triumph, and the underdog. This is not the case in every culture. Some movies will have a different ending to be shown in other countries.

In these cases, we hold on to these stories for the appropriate times. We hope for God to bring victory at some point, but we know that the world we live in doesn’t always turn up roses.

Seeing With My Heart

Yesterday, on my way into training sessions with our sending agency, Foursquare Missions, in LA, a random man stopped me on the street. I didn’t know who he was or why I was stopped. I knew I had a few minutes before the morning workshop started, so I took a moment to talk with him. He asked if he could pray for me to be healed from blindness. I get asked this question a lot in a variety of settings. Each time I always say yes, because I never know where the healing will come from. He prayed for me with good hope and faith that God would heal, or so I thought. My wife told me later that he had a jacket on for the Dream Center, which identified him as a Christian.

I walked away thinking how cool it was that a stranger, not knowing who I was, stopped me to pray. He had no idea that I was a Christian, much less that we serve in Thailand with Foursquare Missions. He didn’t know we were walking to the Foursquare building. We were on our way to the conference room to work with John and Sonja Decker on “Doing what Jesus Did”. Later that morning, we talked just about that issue of praying for the sick. It is fun knowing people are out there living the gospel and believing God to do what he did in the Bible.

This morning, the man stopped us again. This time we were running late and I knew that if we stopped, we would be late for our meetings. I decided that stopping for people and waiting on God is more important than being on time for our meetings.

The man really wanted to see God move in the miraculous. I did too, so I let him pray again. He had us pray three or four times. He really wanted it to happen at that moment. I told him that God is faithful and will heal me in his timing. His response blew me away. He said that after he left the day before, he realized that he doubted I would be healed. He prayed and asked God what he did wrong. God told him that I don’t see with my eyes, but I see with my heart.

This resonated with me. I am forced to look at people differently since I can’t see their faces. I do look at their hearts. I appreciate God’s affirmation from a stranger on the street.

The Easy Yoke

This weekend, I was in Denver visiting a good friend and sharing about the ministry in Thailand. As I have been convicted this summer of the concept of rest, buffers on the ends of the things we do in order to refresh and reconnect with God, I catch the little things that help me gain perspective on the why and what of life. Sunday, the pastor was preaching on the subject of rest, beginning a new series. I love the title, refreshing our faith and recharging our batteries. He spoke out of a familiar passage, Matthew 11:29, but one thing he said stuck with me from the message.

One of his points was we need to learn from Jesus in order to attain the rest we desire for our soul. In our society this rest is so necessary as we do and do, and even struggle with finding our identity in the doing. I wonder how many pastors struggle with their identity when they are no longer in the pulpit. Anyway, let me get back to his point on learning from Jesus taken from this text. Jesus invites us to put on his yoke. We often get confused at what Jesus is even talking about. Peter said the point is leverage. I loved that idea. Let me explain.

We might instantly think of the picture Jesus was referring to with an ox or oxen strapped into a yoke. They get the yoke in order to pull and till the land. However, there is even a yoke that a man would wear. If he was going into town to pick up water or food, he could hook it to each end of the yoke and carry more than without the yoke. The key was getting a yoke fitted to him. He needed the right size yoke in order to gain that leverage and carry all the more weight. The ox had to be hooked into the right size yoke to pull as much as he could. If you had the right yoke, you could do the work without feeling that much of a pull. This is why we may have read those passages of not yoking an ox with a donkey. You wouldn’t get the same leverage and work accomplished. Secondly, there is the picture of not being unequally yoked with an unbeliever. The right sized yoke is essential in accomplishing the thing Jesus calls us to. More than accomplishing, it is the ability in Jesus way to be the person Jesus wants us to be.

Jesus is not suggesting a new system or program to live our life. This is a way of life with Jesus to grow into the person he wants us to be.

Memories

Memories are built in moments. There are the big, anticipated moments in life that you remember for a lifetime. Graduations, engagements, weddings…you take lots of pictures and then look back over time. Living in a foreign country, we try to be there for the big moments, but often have to miss them and then hear the stories and look at the pictures. It’s just not the same. This year, for our furlough, we have been blessed to be there for family members as they celebrated those milestones. We have attended 2 family graduations, 1 family wedding, and been around when another family member got engaged. We treasure that we get to be there for our family for those special moments. It helps us to feel a part of their lives as we celebrate with them, even though we live thousands of miles away.

But memories are more than just the large celebrations. There are the days when everything is going along normally when something surprising, or fun, or terrible happens and you remember it for a long time. You never know which moments will be remembered with fondness, or with shudders, going into them. It is the absence of these moments that make us feel most separated from our families. When we come to visit and everyone is telling stories and we realize how much we’ve missed in being away. That is why furlough is such a special time. We get to be a part of our families for a short time. We get to make memories in just living, in being around. Last night I got to surprise my niece by joining her pillow fight in her trampoline before having a sleepover there. That is just one example of the fun memories we are creating with our families as we are here.

What have you done to create fun memories with your family?

Thoughts While Sitting on the Freeway

I am writing this blog while parked on the freeway leaving the Bay area. I was traveling along the 101 at a nice pace when all of the sudden the whole freeway stopped. After sitting for a few minutes I put the car in neutral and then park. Well, now the car has been turned off and I even went out to get my laptop from the trunk.  Many emergency vehicles have passed by and I have offered prayers, but now I must just wait. So I thought, why not write a blog post.

It is fun watching the other cars as we all sit and wait. I am listening to some random rappy pop music emanating from the car next to me…let them use up their car battery, I don’t want a dead car when we start going. People are poking heads up from sky windows, sitting on the back of their trunks, and even standing on the side of the road talking.

As I look around at the hills, I am reminded of a comment a friend made recently. Andy and I went to the lake the other day to eat lunch and go for a walk. Trying to help Andy appreciate the surroundings, I was describing the hills and other sites around the lake. To me the hills seemed so dead as they were completely yellow from dead grass with only a little shrubbery to color them. Even the shrubs didn’t add any color as they were a dark green that looked almost black in the sun.

The next day we were talking with our friend about the lake and she said that it is one of her favorite walking places because of its beauty. I was a little surprised. Trying to mask my disbelief, I asked her what she thought was so beautiful. She said that at this time of year, the hills looked like gold. What a change of perspective for me. What I thought looked like dead hills, to another looked like golden hills. Now as I sit and wait for the freeway to open up, I am admiring the golden hills all around me.

I just heard that the reason we are stopped is because of on overturned truck on the freeway. A helicopter just flew low overhead, so maybe that means we will get to go soon. But if not, I will get to enjoy the beauty of this place and wonder about how else my perspective could change.

What Others Think Part II

What does the Bible say about this tension of living in full view of others watching us and with the freedom we find in Christ?

Do not any longer conform to the patterns of this world; Romans 12:2 can be used to say live different than the world around you. The verse goes on to say to be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Therefore, our concern should be with an audience of one.

However, we live in a world full of people. I find that God calls us not to be judged but expects others to judge us. As we grow more mature and live in freedom, we are called to not judge those “weaker in the faith”, but I love how Paul defines that. Either way, the one who judges is the one weaker in the faith, but we are not to put a stumbling block in their way.

We see Paul navigate the rocky terrain of how live this way in I Corinthians 81-10 and again in Romans 14-15.

We are free to eat food sacrificed to idols as long as it doesn’t offend our brothers. The key point and boundary line Paul draws comes in I Cor. 10:23, all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial; all things are permissible, but not all things are constructive.

We often look at this through the lens of Americans eyes. We think is something permissible for me. Paul doesn’t give clear black and white lines for us to follow, ie. This is good and this is bad. He leaves it up to us depending on the merit of the situation. The question should not be is this good or right as opposed to bad or wrong, but we need to ask is this wise or unwise. We are held to a higher standard of thinking. We are not little children who don’t touch the button on the stereo because mommy said so. We use our brain and ask is this wise or unwise.

However, it is not just a question of wise or unwise for our life, period. We need to ask will our behavior or action be beneficial or constructive to the community we live in. How we ill this affect others. This brings us back to the stumbling block Paul talks about. We do not want to cause others to who watch and follow us to stumble and fall. Maybe it is Okay for me to go to that club and enjoy the scene, but it might not be okay to go when others are watching me or not to go at all, because others will find out I did that. The personal permission may shift depending on the culture I live in or the people around me. I need to know how to hear God’s voice as to permission or caution. In Thailand, the way we dress, or the piercings we have will affect how we are perceived. Everything we do should be to aid the gospel and build the kingdom of God. I guess with all of that, we have freedom to live our life fully and express our self in anyway we want, but people are still watching.