What Happens When We Give God Space II

As I talked about in my previous post on giving God space to speak to us, when we take time to pause, we will draw close to God and he will draw near to us, James 4:7.

While we give God space to speak and show us what is happening in the spiritual realm, we can be made aware of the spiritual battle coming as we start the church. While our team member, Chris, and I prayed the other week and saw visions of what God wanted to do in this community, I also saw the spiritual realm. I observed the spirits in the area noticing us. Let me explain a little bit.

Thai people say they are Buddhist, but they mixed a lot of animistic practices with their Buddhist worldview. Every street corner and property has a spirit house to give a space for the displaced spirit to dwell. The Thai people burn incense and offer food and drinks to appease the spirits. They walk around in constant fear not wanting to upset any of the spirits around them.

In my spirit, I saw the spirits as if they picked up their gaze quickly to see what was going on with us as we prayed in a coffee shop near our house. They were not afraid, but more unsettled by who we were and what we represented. They didn’t go on the offensive yet, but they took notice and began to prepare.

The spiritual world is alive and well with many spirits opposed to the kingdom of God and his light. They will fight at all costs to prevent God from accomplishing his work in a community. However, we know who wins the battle. We don’t have to be afraid, I John 4:4, because we have Jesus living in us. But we do need to be cautious and not take lightly what we see happening in the spiritual world. My wife reminded me to pray more frequently for protection and victory in the spiritual realm as we push against the status quo in Bangkok’s spiritual climate. As much as we want to see God’s kingdom established in Bangkok, the spirits around here will fight against us.

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What Happens When We Give God Space

Recently we started a time of prayer and observation as we work toward starting a church in Bangkok. We moved to a new community in Bangkok, near several universities (namely Kasetsart University and Central Lat Praew) in order to connect with young people in the city. As we work to connect with students and draw them to know God through friendship , we also want to know what God is doing in this community.

I am now going once a week and walking the neighborhood, making observations and praying to see what God is saying as we begin to plant the church. We want to pray that God moves in the city and opens doors of relationship and ministry in our new community. We also want to see this part of the city they way God sees it. We want to get a sense of what God is saying to us as we minister here.

There is something dynamic about moving in the neighborhood and pausing to hear God’s voice that allows us to be encouraged by God and to realize a bit of the spiritual climate of our location. I was walking with one of our team members, Chris, as we prayed last week when we both were struck by the magnitude of what God is doing and saying in our community. At one point, when we paused to pray and be open to God’s speaking, I felt a vision while Chris was reminded of some of the people he had seen that day and previous times in this neighborhood. He was struck by the spiritual darkness in this community and how unreached the people are by God’s light and love.

In my vision, I saw a tree being planted that grew tall and stretched outward. The tree began to bear fruit, big round juicy fruit that was healthy and delicious like much of the beautiful Thai fruits we love to eat. The tree spoke of something firm and long lasting while the fruit spoke of reproducing ourselves through discipleship into many people around us.

As I told Chris my vision, he resonated with that and said he saw a light shining around the tree. He saw God shining a light out to the darkness in this community from that tree as he established a church here. Chris went on to say that people would be drawn to the light, and we would preach a message they had never heard. That last part caught him as in the west, we are used to preaching a Jesus that is familiar to people. In Thailand, Jesus is unfamiliar to the Thai people.

At another point, we stopped to pray at the corner before our condominium complex. This time Chris had a vision. He saw a gate stretching across the soi (small side street) going into condo. The gate set our home apart from the world around us in a way that brought comfort and safety to those that came to worship and pray with us as we begin the church in our house.

When we pause to wait on the Lord, we will be uplifted by him. Even if we do not hear his voice, we will know his presence or our soul and spirit will be quieted from the concerns of the world. Yet it is in the times and spaces where we are quiet and wait on the Lord that he can most dynamically touch us. When we pray and pause to listen, we can hear a word, see a vision or be moved by his spirit.

As we embark on a mission to start a new church that touches this community with God’s love, we want to get into a groove with what God is doing. We need to hear his voice clearly, so we follow him above following our own good ideas or replicating another person’s vision from God.

Sponsoring our own John Mark’s

Recently, I heard a statistic that 95 percent of academically trained, that is seminary educated, ministers are out of vocational ministry after two years. We could look at the educational process to fix the problem, but I think we need more Barnabases. I know too many people that entered the ministry, got beat up in the rigors of ministry, and now are on the sidelines or in a lesser role. The burdens of ministry can overwhelm and damage the egos of the best of us as we care desperately for people and want God’s best for them. We need more people like Barnabas to help pick up the pieces and sponsor young people to have a second chance to thrive in ministry. Before I get into the story of Barnabas and John Mark, let me give some contemporary examples of what I mean.

I know one person who was close to me in Bible College who upon graduating took a youth pastor role in a church. When expectations and reality don’t line up (from both the young leader and the senior leader) discouragement often happens and the person wants to quit. This person was left beaten up and discouraged. It took another pastor who believed in him to give him that second chance. Another senior leader knew the potential of my friend and offered him a safe place to flourish. Now he is in another ministry context and continuing to follow God’s call on his life in an incredible way.

The problem is most of us don’t hit a homerun in our first attempt at serving in the church. We have unrealistic expectations from our own visionary ideas matched with incredible demands from senior leaders. When our reality fails to match our expectations, we are left discouraged. Often the young leaders are left wounded on the sidelines as senior leaders (and I don’t mean to be unfair to senior leaders as most of them do not intentionally wound their young leaders) look for the next person to fill the void and keep the church moving forward.

Let me come back to the story of John Mark. John, a young emerging leader joined Barnabas and Saul on their first missionary journey. They saw his potential while in Jerusalem on a mission from Antioch to help with the famine in Jerusalem (Acts 11-12). They brought him back to Antioch to help in the ministry there. He then accompanied them to Cypress (Acts 13:1-6). Since he was a cousin of Barnabas, he probably enjoyed going back to visit some of his relatives where Barnabas was from.

When the reality of ministry overwhelmed him, he left them at Perga in Pamphylia, and went back to Jerusalem on the next ship.

When it was time for a second missionary journey, Paul wanted to nothing to do with John Mark, the deserter…we can’t have him leaving us in our time of need he contended. Barnabas knew the potential they first saw in him and said he can make it this time. I love how Luke understates the dispute, saying it was sharp. They fought to the point that they went separate directions. The church planting hero went off to build the kingdom of God while Barnabas continued his ministry of encouragement and sponsored John Mark into maturity. Barnabas left his mark on John Mark in the same way he did on Paul, so that later in Paul’s ministry, he asked Timothy (II Tim 4:11) to send John Mark to him as he was helpful in the ministry.

Scripture leaves us guessing as to how Mark matured from a flaky, young leader into a helpful minister to someone like Paul. However, we can safely assume Barnabas played a crucial role in seeing John Mark grow into a successful and useful minister.

I know a young leader in Bangkok who served with us who but had too much responsibility placed on them. It overwhelmed this person as they weren’t ready for it yet, and then they cracked and left in a huff. The way this person left gave them a bad reputation and not being faithful to the ministry. Sometimes we see great potential in young leaders and place unbearable burdens on them before they are fully ready to bear the full weight of all those responsibilities. When they crash and burn, we can’t just leave them on the sidelines. We need someone who can help pick up the pieces like a Barnabas.

We need someone who still sees that God-given potential in them and helps sponsor them into a second chance. We need more Barnabases to help the John Mark’s in our world reach their potential and be helpful to the ministry.

Awkward Memorable Moments as a Blind Person

People rarely forget the blind guy with an upbeat attitude who often finds himself in awkward situations with his lack of tact.

Anyone who has spent time with me for a while can attest to how I find myself in a variety of funny situations. I am the opposite of shy and often put my foot in my mouth or at the least am willing to try something new for the first time, all with an indomitable smile. I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised that people easily remember me even if they only met me once.  I am reminded of the way I stick in people’s memory when we were talking with our childbirth instructor. We found her online and introduced ourselves after a beginning email. When she saw that we were missionaries and that I was blind, she immediately knew who I was. She said she would never forget the hilarious story from the time she met us.

We were both at the US embassy in Bangkok for passport issues. She was renewing her 5-year-old daughter’s passport while we were getting extra pages in our books. We struck up a cordial conversation as I often do with strangers around me. Her daughter stuck out in our mind as a precocious, bubbly little girl. We walked away remembering them, but totally forgetting the story they remembered us for as things like this happen to me all the time.

Apparently, I struck up a second conversation with an Asian-American (note that I had no idea of his ethnic background) guy sitting next to me. He turned out to be much more forgettable to me since he was not nearly as cordial as the woman and her daughter were. Right off the bat I asked the man sitting next to me where he was from. I thought unwittingly that would be an innocuous question to ask. Don’t we always like to know where people are from to see if we have anything in common…or have seen some of the same sites before? Well, this rare guy to exception to me wanting to know where he came from.

He burst into an intense diatribe. He couldn’t understand why I would be so insensitive to ask where he came from. He loudly (and now the whole room of waiting people have their gaze locked in on us) asked why do I assume that just because he looks different than me I assume he is not from America. Mind you, we are sitting in the US Embassy on the US citizen side of the complex. Everyone in that room is from the US. But to him, he thought I could not except that he is an American and wanted to know where he came from before that. I sat there calmly as he blew up at me in front of a room of people no longer bored as they waited to be helped. He continued to delineate that he is eligible to vote. He made it known that he too was born in the US.

In the middle of his tirade, I responded matter-a-factly, oh, I am blind…I just meant which state are you from. At that moment the air in the room was sucked out as everyone breathed in wondering what he would say next, but what could he say? He just said sorry and stopped talking with me. I resisted the urge to ask who was going to vote for or what he thought about the immigration issue. Everyone else breathed a sigh of relief. Our new friend thought that was the best way to diffuse a crazy situation.

I guess I have these kinds of things happen to me a lot, so I try to take it in stride and avoid making it personal like that guy did. I know we don’t like being codified by some external issue like the color of our skin or the obvious disability of blindness, but we can’t let what others think affect how we respond to them. I know my situation is nothing like the racial prejudices that others have faced over the years, so I don’t mean to make them synonymous in their context, but similar in how we relate to others who create a difficult moment.

I remember another similar but shorter story. I was at a Seattle Mariners game with one of my good friends Jon when a drunken woman in front of us turned around after more than a few drinks and wondered why I was listening to the radio. She started to go off on me thinking I was bored by the game and why wouldn’t I enjoy being in the moment where I was. Before I could muster a funny response, my friend said, he is listening to the headphones, because he is blind. He is listening to the play-by-play. That made her feel awkward, but she turned around and stopped complaining at me. As long as I am nice about it, people usually feel worse at the end for jumping to the wrong conclusion…

I guess these stories have happened to me a handful of times, and I more easily forget them. But those around me think they are memorable and hilarious.

God has Truly Responded

Truly he has answered and changed our lives dramatically as well as answered in all the ways that my wife explained. We have this precious gift of a beautiful daughter who adores us and wants us close. We found that out the first night when I tried putting her back down after calming her down. She calmed down in my arms, but as soon as she realized she was not in my arms, she began crying again. She wanted to be in the arms of one of her parents, nothing less would suffice as she wasn’t hungry and didn’t have a dirty diaper.

We have a new member of our family that melts our heart. My first thoughts beyond the panic of having our baby breech and messing up the plans for a natural birth that Christina had were surreal. I had a hard time grasping the reality of a new little girl entering our life. Yeah, I knew I was going to be a daddy, but I don’t know how better to prepare for something like that. I wondered when it would hit me, the fact that God answered our prayers for a child…

I knew she was coming and all, but when would it seem real since a year ago we felt so far away from every having a child. About a year ago, we finally watched the movie Facing the Giants and I related most directly with Grant’s struggle to have a child. I wished I could just imitate his response and give everything to the Lord the way he did and bingo God answers the prayer. Grant, the head football coach for the little school in Georgia that led his team to an improbable state championship needed God to answer one personal request to have a child as his wife and him tried for years to get pregnant. In a moving moment of the film, he poured his heart out to God saying no matter what happens, he will give God everything. I wished, I could just ask God in the same way to get the answer I wanted even if I knew that isn’t the point of surrendering everything to God.

At that time, we were preparing for our furlough and processing the difficulty of getting pregnant. We decided to take a break from trying, since we were going to travel and stay in undetermined places for the three months of summer. We did not want to add to the burden of fundraising and visiting family and friends the stress of picking the precise times to be intimate in order to have a baby.

One year ago, I thought a daughter or son was a long way off for us. We had exhausted the medical options before IVF and couldn’t contemplate the idea of extra measures yet. Without a miracle, the idea of a child was so distant and unattainable. But when I held her in my arms about 10 minutes after she was born, the reality sunk in that I am the proud father of a special little girl named Eliana Ann Opie. She melted my heart.

Wow, in the matter of a few minutes, I can now say, what a difference a year makes. I feel like the Shunamite woman in II Kings 4:16 when Elisha told her next year at this time, you will have a son. I would have been as shocked as her if I thought that would be me in one year. Don’t fool around with me and offer something that means so much to me without fulfilling your word.

Today, I have a whole new perspective on life. I have a daughter in my arms who depends on her parents for everything now. I am learning to hold her correctly with a little tweak to how I put my arm around her to keep her head supported. I am figuring out how to put her clothes on without disturbing her too much. Tina helps me not roll over on our daughter when she lies between us. And despite my objections, I am learning how to change her dirty diapers. I guess there isn’t anything that says I love you more than wiping poop away from a little baby’s bottom when they are helpless to clean their own bodies.

All I know is this little miracle has forever changed my life and begun to mature me more than I can consciously comprehend.

Eliana: God has Responded

Our first child was born a few days ago. We have been praying for God’s blessing of a child for several years, and now he has responded and given us a beautiful little girl. After much thought and prayer, we decided to name her Eliana, which means the Lord has responded. We are calling her Ellie for short.

God has responded in Eliana’s birth as well. Ellie had been head down in the womb since about 7 months along; but when we went to our check-up for week 36, Ellie had flipped and turned breech (feet down). Now in Thailand, doctors won’t even try to flip a baby, so we looked up some noninvasive things to encourage her to flip. We found that even in the womb babies don’t like cold heads, so you should put an ice pack on the top of the uterus and talk, or play music, to the bottom of the belly. We tried this. Ellie moved a tiny bit, but wasn’t happy and went back breech as we went to bed.

She stayed breech the following day. That night, after a full day of organizing the nursery and shopping for household items and snacks for a planned trip to the beach, my sister and I met Andy at Our Home Chapel for a night session of a multiplying leaders seminar with Ralph Moore. Just when we got to Andy, my water broke (at 6:20pm). We went to a quiet and private place and called our doula, just a little bit panicked. At that moment, we had to assume that we were going to have an emergency C-section that night.

Andy went and called a taxi, I borrowed a towel and then we went to the hospital. On the way to the hospital, we prayed that Eliana would flip back to head down. Ellie was quite active as we bounced along the road. When we got to the hospital, we made a quick game plan for a C-section while we waited for our doctor to arrive.

At 7:45pm our doctor arrived and did a quick ultrasound to check where Ellie was positioned. He found that she had flipped again and was head down. With a sigh of relief from all of us, including the doctor, we went over to the labor and delivery room to check into the hospital. I wasn’t dilated at all but had started contractions, which were weak and about 5 minutes apart. The doctor decided that labor was weak and probably wouldn’t fully start until the morning. He sent me to a private hospital room to rest for the night and he went home to sleep.

After we got to the room, I sat down with Andy and made a list of what to pack for me and the baby. Our doula added the items that we almost forgot, like our passports. Kathy and Andy then left for our home while I tried to rest. When they returned at 11:30pm, contractions had gotten a little stronger but were still very manageable. I ate half a PB&J sandwich and then laid down for a nap. Everyone else laid down also. Not long after, Andy, Kathy, and our doula were sleeping but I couldn’t as contractions just kept coming. I labored peacefully by myself for the next few hours.

At 4:20am, I decided that contractions were pretty intense and we should go down to the labor and delivery room. I woke everyone up and they went to get a nurse and a wheelchair. When we got there I was almost fully dilated and they called the doctor. Just a short time later, Eliana Ann Opie was born at 5:12am.

God answered our prayers for a child and he continues to answer our prayers over her. She is perfect in every way and a beautiful gift from God.

Ralph Moore Conference: Multiplying Leadership Day 1

Today, I am reevaluating my perspective on resources. Ralph Moore gave me good reasons to think differently about what I have from God in order to start a church. He is here for a three-day conference on multiplying leaders. The Hope Chapel movement has now started 700 churches in 7 continents and 70 nations. Ralph began talking about how big things often start from small beginnings. We need to think in the right way about what God has given us in the beginning.

He talked about the building he inherited to start a church in Hermosa Beach, CA that seated 60 people comfortably. They filled that space up with two services with weekly attendance of 200 people. He said, if people came on time, they got to pick their seat, but if you came a little late, you might be sitting on the floor in the aisles. Keep in mind, this is the 1970’s and the Jesus movement with hippies coming in droves. If you came even later, you found yourself sitting outside by the windows listening in.

His point is that we might see a building that seats 60 people and start praying that God might give us a bigger space. We might look at our circumstances or resources and ask for something different if we are really going to make an impact. But God is our provider. If God is providing for us, and we ask for more, we are saying that God doesn’t know what our problems are. We need to trust God with what he has given us and start thinking differently with what we have.

We should take our resources and think if they are not working the way we want them to, what should change with them. How can we think creatively with what we have?

As we begin our church plant, we are looking to have small group meetings at coffee shops and little restaurants. For Thai people, they will think we are all on an equal playing field. No one is more special with their host home, but each one comes to the meeting on equal footing. We are looking to start several meetings in different locations with different leaders in order to be in public places where we will run into friends of friends and draw them to what God is doing.

When I talked with Ralph about this during a break, he told me how they have A philosophy to not allow their mini-churches, or small groups, to meet on the church campus. He said they have 119 different mini-churches, but if you allow them to meet on the church campus, you will limit the number of groups to the maximum number that the church can facilitate. And if you are out at Starbucks or McDonald’s, you can run into friends of each other.

Our goal is to be creative with the resources, because we want the Thai people to see what we do as reproducible. If we can show them they can do what we are doing without money, they won’t feel overwhelmed. They need to see things as basic as possible, so they can see it as doable. We are not trying to wow anyone with what we do, but crate a space for relationship and for God to meet us where we are.