Thoughts from a New Father II

My first Father’s Day flooded me with many thoughts as I prepared to write a blog post. The musings I had overwhelmed the space for one post, so I wanted to take some of the other thoughts and break them out over a few weeks.

When I think of my dad, and his dad, one character trait that runs through is that of telling corny jokes. Already Ellie is learning to roll her eyes from her mom at the silly jokes I make. Yet I love that she grows more and more familiar with me as her dad and reacts when I come close.

As I reflected on the ways we interact, I found one overarching essential role I have as her father. I have the privilege to instill into my daughter a spiritual life that can carry her for the rest of her life. She will have her first glimpses of God through watching me live my life and teach her. She will likely refine me as I notice things I do that are less than worthy of her father. She will be a great mirror for me on my life as I aim to reflect the light of Jesus in my life to her.

Ellie already enjoys fixing her eyes on every move I make. I imagine she wonders what goofy thing will daddy do next, or how will he try to make me laugh now. When I have the opportunity to preach, she never takes her eyes off of me…well unless her stomach gets the best of her and she asks mommy for some milk. She watches me everyday.

Therefore, I want to set a godly example for my daughter. I know I won’t be perfect, so I hope to always be open and honest and ask for forgiveness. I desire that she sees a man who earnestly seeks after God. In the passions of my life and zest to enjoy life to the fullest, I want her to see a father who has passion for God above all. I am less concerned that she sees me do great things and more concerned that she sees me do things with great integrity.

As I look to imprint on her a life with God, we get to have times of prayer together every morning and evening. When she first came home from the hospital I enjoyed getting to listen to spring training baseball in the middle of the night as I held her or helped her fall back to sleep. Now, as she wakes up at a more regular routine each morning around 6 am, I take advantage of those quiet mornings and spend time praying with her. As we walk around the house, after changing her diapers and getting her dressed, we sing songs and pray for those that are close to us. As she wakes up and plays next to me, I take time to read scripture each day.

With Ellie, I am waking up with a purpose and delight as we press in to be with God together. I enjoy her smiles and the quiet times we have with God together.

A Conversation that Changed my Perspective

Attitude and perspective change everything. My attitude and perspective were changed this week on a bus ride while conversing with a Thai student about her summer work.

Who is it that says that expectations and reality effect happiness? If our expectations exceed reality, our happiness becomes diminished. Yet, on the other hand, when our reality meets or exceeds our expectations our happiness increases.

I have heard the analogy drawn out to sports. If you expect your football team, let’s say the Chicago Bears for argument’s sake, to win 6 games in a season, and they win 9 games…for a fan, you are happy.  However, if you expect them to win 12 games, and they win 9 games, you as a fan feel like the season was a disappointment.

Let me draw this analogy out to the service industry in the United States. As Americans we have a certain expectation when taking on employment. We may never explicitly say a job is beneath us, but a wide variety of jobs likely don’t pay the wages to draw our interest. I’ll give one example…a maid at a hotel.

Meanwhile, many people living in the rest of the world such as Thailand might see this as an amazing opportunity to work and live in America. What we think of as menial labor, young people around the world see as an opportunity from the “Land of Opportunity”.

Yesterday, I was riding the bus back from Kasetsart University after spending some time at the university building relationships with the students. I stood next to numerous students packed in on the free bus. As I talked with one girl asking if she could help tell me when my bus stop came, she discovered I was from America. She excitedly told me that she recently returned from three months in the state of Virginia as part of the work and travel program.

Work and Travel allows university students to work for nearly three months in the US and travel for almost two weeks at the tail end of their trip over the summer holiday in Thailand. This girl worked for three months as a maid in a hotel, changing dirty bed linens, washing bathrooms, vacuuming, and a host of other dirty tasks. Yet this third-year student loved the opportunity to have this job. She was willing to save a large amount of money for the plane ticket and fee to enter the program, so she could have the opportunity to work at minimum wage in a less than desirable job for most Westerners. She was thrilled to roll up her sleeves and clean hotels in order to have an opportunity to visit the US and put this on her future resume.

Finally, this student attends one of the top three schools in Thailand. It is not like housemaid is the only job she could dream of having in the future. She will likely have a killer job one day in Thailand, but for one summer she has an incredible memory of working in the US and traveling to another country, even if that work was a dirty job.

How often do we put misplaced expectations on the work before us? Whether we work in the marketplace or the ministry…God has designed us for a purpose. First he desires we do all things with a godly attitude, Col 3:17:“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”   Everything we do, we do unto Jesus. We offer all of our work to him. I remember, Lou Holtz, former national championship coach of Notre Dame giving a talk and saying that he tells his players to do everything with their best effort. He tells them that if one day they are a garbage collector to be the best garbage collector they can be. Don’t ever settle for second best he says. I believe in the same way, we should give that effort unto Christ.

Secondly, God has created us as his workmanship, or masterpiece to accomplish his work in this world, Eph 2:10. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” God has made us special for a reason. If we see the things we do in our mundane life as designed by God or as part of what God is using to shape us into his special design, we might have a new attitude. Perspective is everything.

Thoughts from a New Father

The wait was well worth it. After seven years of marriage, I finally get to celebrate Father’s Day with an amazing daughter, Eliana. Good things come to those that wait…and now I get the rare privilege of choosing what I want to do with my daughter.

I never imagined how quickly and intensely my little Sweet Pea could wrap me around her heart. She took me from the first moments and continues to capture my heart from the way she grabs my finger to leaning back in my arms and staring at my face only. Now we have our special moments of daddy and daughter time.

In the evenings, I help Ellie go to sleep with a story and a good amount of holding and take her in the morning, while Tina handles takes care of the middle of the night feedings. In the mornings, we practice a modified approach to Elimination Communication. This means she gets an opportunity each morning to go potty in the bathroom like a big girl. One day when I was on the phone with my parents halfway around the world and not able to take her to the bathroom, Christina told me how Ellie was looking longingly at the bathroom while awake in my arms. She enjoys her time of natural potty breaks, and I love helping her as well.

However, here is where the tension for this new father begins to tug on his heart. I wish I could see those looks on her face and know what she wanted or see her contently playing in the pool with me. The mornings after a good sleep are some of her most alert and happy moments of the day. She usually wakes up around 6:30 am and after the bathroom and changing routine plays for a while. She knows right away when this dad gets distracted by checking email in the morning and lets me know. The fun cooing and noises she makes dissipate if I get distracted with anything on the computer, so we instead focus on having lots of fun together.  I know she smiles up at me, especially when I feel her pudgy cheeks. That’s when I tell Christina to take as many pictures as possible, so I can see our daughter one day when I am healed. Each day that we get to spend moments like this together Ellie pulls my heart closer to hers as she lets me know how pleased she is to have a dad that likes to be near her.

I might not always see her reactions, but I am learning to tell when she is happy and smiling. Other times, I easily sense her mood change into that of gratitude when she was upset and crying before that. She says in no particular verbal way, thank you for taking me to the changing table…this messy diaper has been touching my baby bottom for long enough.

I love when she reaches her little hand across my shoulder and lays her head in my chest to go to sleep. It is as though she says daddy has me and everything will be okay. Even if I has some physical areas of deficiency, the real stuff she wants is a dad that holds her close and spends time with her.

I know this deficiency is just on my end. She will find new ways to catch my attention and make me react to her. She doesn’t love me for what I can or cannot do, but for who I am and how I love her.

Changing Times, Changing Names

The world we live in is constantly changing. We constantly have new gadgets and technology to make our lives easier. I can remember going on the internet for the first time with my family and getting a cell phone for emergency usage when I was in college. These were all firsts, and yet my daughter will always know and use these things. Not only is technology changing our lives, but more people are traveling around the world and encountering different beliefs.  What do you do when you believe something will happen if you do something and then you go to another country and they are doing that and nothing happened?

A generation ago in Thailand, and still in the provinces, people believed that plumeria plants and trees were sacred. There is a famous story about a woman killing herself by hanging herself on a branch of the tree. Her despondent spirit is said to haunt plumeria trees and make them sacred. Thus, plumeria trees could only be at a temple, graveyard, or other special places. Whenever you saw a plumeria tree, you had to wai (a sign of greeting and respect) it. If you didn’t wai the tree, it would wither and die. You also couldn’t have the tree or plant at your home as it could grow well there.

Then the Thai people started traveling to different countries. As they made their way to Hawaii there were genuinely confused. They saw plumeria flowers everywhere, even at people’s homes. How could this be, they wondered. Their belief didn’t match reality. What would they do about it?

The Queen of Thailand decided that the name of the plumeria plant should be changed. It no longer would be called luntom, a constant memory of the dead woman, but now it would have a new and beautiful name, leelawadee. This was not the first name change for the plumeria. It was originally called mykaam, but was changed after the woman took her life on this tree and made it sacred.

Now people can have plumeria trees and plants at their home. There are 2 names of plumerias. If you call it luntom, then it is sacred, but if you call it leelawadee, then some people are brave enough to have it at their home…just don’t mention the name of luntom to them…

A Compassionate God Part 3

Let me conclude this series on God’s story with Elijah as we show God present with us in our most desperate condition. In this three week series, we have seen the Compassionate God through provision and power to draw people to know him. This story climaxes with how God is present with us. In this post, I will focus on the moment when God came close to Elijah in his most desperate moment.

God is present with us at all times even when we don’t deserve having him close with us. We see this drawn out in Elijah’s life in I Kings 19.

Elijah recently returned home after an epic victory on Mt. Carmel. The villain of the story, Ahab, too returns home. I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes when he reports to his wife what happened at one of her sacred places on Mt. Carmel. I imagine, a bit of honey, I am home sheepishly squeaking out with his defeated voice. Not a conversation I want to have with the high priestess of Baal, a god just defeated in a cosmic showdown. After Jezebel heard the terrible news about her god and 850 priests, she twirled into a rage with Elijah as the target of her venom.

When Elijah received the message that Jezebel intended to enact the same fate on him that he inflicted on her priests, Elijah acted in a completely different way than the reader expects. We have seen this heroic moment and journey in his life fulfilled, and now he decides to run in fear and depression. Hasn’t God taken care of him through this entire ordeal of three plus years? But more than that, Elijah did what many of us do when our view of success is held in the wrong place. God did exactly what he was supposed to do, and Elijah saw a great victory. The covenant that was broken and led to a drought when the people abandoned their relationship with God was restored on Mt. Carmel when the people turned back to God. The rain clouds once again were released to water the land of Samaria. But the people of influence still hated Elijah. We often feel the same way when those of important stature don’t come around to what we say, or the one or two people we really want to come and follow Jesus reject him. We throw our hands up in the air feeling like we have failed. Our focus is placed on the wrong thing.

Elijah finds himself in utter despair as if all his hard work is now unraveling before his eyes. Now he leaves his servant, a guy that travels everywhere with him, and heads out one day’s journey into the wilderness. At this point, tired, hungry and most of all depressed, Elijah cries out to God to take his life. He says it is all useless, nobody cares. How many times have any of us felt that way in ministry or on our journey with God. It is all useless, nobody cares. Here is where Stuart Smalley would jump in and remind us to say, I am good enough, I am smart enough, and gosh darnit people like me.

I imagine Elijah sprawled out on the earthen ground of the wilderness with a rock for a pillow preparing to go to sleep and hoping to never wake up again.

To his utter surprise he stirs in the middle of the night as an Angel taps him on the shoulder. Note: Angels in the Bible don’t look like our cartoon images…they are fierce creatures. Likely in the foggy state of waking up, Elijah must have thought this was God’s answer and his ticket out of this depraved world where he was the only one who served God.

Elijah must have been beyond shocked, flabbergasted even when the angel of the Lord directed his attention to freshly baked bread and water on the next rock to his left. When Elijah asked for death, God answered with life. God showed one of the defining characteristics of who he is—the God who is present.

God came close to Elijah in his moment of distress not with what Elijah asked for, but with what Elijah needed. The depressed prophet wandered into the desert without supplies thinking I am not coming back. Like many of us who don’t eat when we are sullen, Elijah didn’t plan on eating again, yet God in his compassion came close and provided the nourishment Elijah needed. I know I like to eat in God’s bakery. I can see the sign on the window; this bread is out of this world.

Shocking to me as the reader, God didn’t council with Elijah as we love to do with our depressed friends. God didn’t scold Elijah. God didn’t say anything except to eat the bread and drink the water. God simply came alongside a hurting person and spent intimate time with him.

After eating a good meal, Elijah did what I love to do after a big lunch…he went back to sleep.

A second time, the angel came and woke him up to eat bread. This time the angel said, get up and eat for the journey is too much for you. I love that God comes close to us at all points of the journey knowing before we do that we cannot sojourn without him. He again provided bread and water. This time the bread must have had some magical ingredients besides being magically delicious. This bread sustained Elijah for a 40 day walk into the desert to the Mountain of God (Mt. Horeb). This was the scene of the burning bush and the 10 commandments, and now an incredible moment where we learn that God speaks in a still small voice.

 

God comes close to us at all points of our life as we journey with him.

Hillsong United in Concert in Bangkok

The night with Hillsong United began as we waited longer than usual for the concert in Bangkok to start. Thai time even affected the Aftermath world tour…

That’s when we found out the delay came due to a major electrical problem. The heat of the day was overloading the electricity in the area, especially the arena, leading to surges and malfunctions. Apparently, Simon (one of the members of the band) got electrocuted 6 times. The stage even set fire twice prompting the tour manager to make an announcement to the fans waiting in anticipation outside the convention center doors. He told us the concert likely was cancelled to protect the safety of the fans and the team. They had been working hard for 5-6 hours to get things right…but they would give it another 45 minutes. At this point we almost waited two hours past the scheduled time for doors to open, which was 6:30 pm on June 8 at the Tamasat Convention Center.

We decided why go after making the trip out to see them. We can stick around, even if one guy in our group had to wake up at 4:30 am to get ready for work. My first reaction was a bit of sarcasm, saying to our friends, God surely will protect us if we are worshipping him…but remembering sad tragic events where Christian leaders died while performing baptisms or preparing to deliver a Sunday morning message negated my over eagerness to risk our safety for an experience with Hillsong United. Cause, how often will they be in Bangkok…this is the first time. Second, I initiated our group to pray at the same time groups throughout the crowd of showgoers began to do the same.

After the moment of prayer, people began spontaneously singing worship songs, mostly from the Hillsong catalog, but worship rose up from the mouths of patient concert goers waiting for an incredible moment inside. As they waited, a powerful encounter happened right with us as we worshipped. One person from the audience shouted out, nothing can stop us from worshipping our God.

At that point the mood of many picked up, and optimism picked up as we heard various loud sounds from inside as they began running a sound check. We might actually get a concert, I thought.

And we did.

The concert began (approximately 3 hours after the doors originally were to open) with their signature Aftermath video that begins their show in every city…which led into the big sound and ecstatic energy of the new song off their new album, Aftermath. Thai Christians, missionaries, students, NGO workers and people from a wide variety of countries entered into exuberant worship during the energetic songs and passionate praise during Hillsong’s signature worship ballads. The group played some of their all-time great songs such as “From the Inside Out”, “Mighty to Save”, and “Hosanna” along with a selection of songs from their new album. At times the room filled with the noise of crunching electrical guitars and pounding drums while at other moments the moody notes of the keyboard led the audience in contemplative worship. The band concluded a late night with a crazy and frenetic rendition of “One Way” igniting a room of jumping fans into a frenzied exclamation to a great night of worship inside and outside of the arena.

Above all the music and emotion of the night, we felt the presence of God heavy in the room…

I know I want to see something incredible unleashed as God moves in this city and nation…perhaps this helped loosen up some of the strongholds…not just as the crowd of people sang their hearts out in worship, but as  concert promoters and workers called their friends in prayer meetings to have them pray that this event might still happen. This morning after less than ideal sleep, my Thai teacher asked me how the concert went….with the electrical problems and all. I said, how did you know. She answered with a smile, saying her friend called their prayer group and asked them to intercede. More people in Bangkok praying together have to be a good thing.

A Compassionate God Part 2

I want to continue our look at Elijah. In the second part of our story we come to the showdown on Mt. Carmel. God expresses himself as real in this epic encounter.

Elijah comes out of hiding to meet Ahab only to be called a trouble maker. Living in a land with a king today, I can’t believe anyone would have the intestinal fortitude to say this. Elijah, speaking on behalf of YWHW says, nae nae, King Ahab, you are the trouble maker. You and your family, rejected God and now follow Baal. Jezebel, the princess from Phoenicia and quite possibly a high priestess brought the worship of Baal to Israel when she married Ahab.

This is the context in which Elijah faces Ahab and requests a showdown between the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the god of rain and lightning (Baal). Here is where we love to read the story as one of power, which it is, but this story also contains a big look into the compassionate nature of God. All the while he is setting up an opportunity to reveal himself as real, he is turning the hearts of his people back to him, I Kings 18:36, 37.

When God acts in power, it is to draw people to know him. Charles Kraft talks about three encounters that people have in conversion.

  1. Truth encounter
  2. Allegiance encounter
  3. Power encounter

When God acts in power, it is to draw people to know him. He constantly desires relationship with us and all peoples. I am reminded of the moving story of Watchman Nee when God acted in power to bring rain on a small island of the coast of Southern China. Watchman Nee was an evangelist in China after his conversion in 1927 until his imprisonment under the Mao regime.

Nee and a band of Christians entered the island to share the wonderful story of God with its inhabitants. However, the islanders who worshipped a false god didn’t open their hearts to the story of God. During one conversation with one of Nee’s disciples’ the islanders told how their god provided clear days during a special ceremony each year. When finding out the day of the ceremony, Nee’s group challenged the islanders to see if God was real. They promised on the day of their ceremony God would send the rain. It hadn’t rained in over 200 years on this ceremony. Nee and his group realized the severity of their proposal and began to pray fervently. When the prescribed day came, God sent heavy rains. The islanders baulked and changed the day of the festival, to which God sent rain on that day as well. The residents of the island then abandoned their former worship and came to believe in God due to the power encounter they witnessed.

Back to Elijah, He finds himself confronting 850 priests on Mt. Carmel, a range bordering Phoenicia and Israel near the modern power city of Hiva. He throws down the gauntlet asking each sided to prepare an offering. He leaves one caveat…no fire. Each must call on their god to send fire. The god who sends fire would be real. Here in v. 18, he echoes the call of Joshua to the people of God watching in anticipation of what will happen. He says essentially, choose today who you will serve. He even allows the group of priests to go first, since there is so many of them. How kind of him.

After they begin the shouts and pleas with no response, the humor of the story begins. Elijah taunts them, saying maybe their god is busy, deep in thought, away or even sleeping. These all contrast the nature of God who is everywhere at all times. They pull out swords and knifes to slash themselves as per their customary worship. I am glad that we don’t worship like that today. Now, I love what the narrative says next. There was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.

Elijah stepped forward and said it is my turn.

He put the altar of the Lord back together as it likely was torn down under Jezebel’s command. He then asked for four large containers of water. Hmmm, in a drought, but this mountain  happened to be the location of a fresh spring of water, so Elijah used that to soak the dry wood not wanting any doubt in the minds of this attentive audience. He soaked the sacrifice three times with all the water as it filled up the trench he dug around the altar.

Now Elijah prayed an awesome prayer and saw God answer with fire…fire that licked up all the water and burnt the sacrifice.

God answered in power, turning the hearts of his people back to him. God’s power has always been a real way to show himself to people. Paul said as much in I Corinthians 22:1-5 saying that he came not with eloquence  or human wisdom, but with a demonstration of power and of the spirit that the Corinthians would put their hope in God and not human wisdom. God is a real God, and Christianity is not a mere philosophy.

I am reminded of incredible stories in Thailand of God showing his power. One story is that of a woman I met in Had Yai during a celebration of the church there. This woman was being baptized with about a dozen other people who recently came to know God. Her story stood out as she came to find God when he showed up in power. She had been divorced after her husband who contracted AIDS from a prostitute gave it to her. Now she was left in a culture that overlooks widows to care for her children and fight a devastating disease. As her body withered, and she lay in the hospital, one of her friends kept coming to comfort her. Her friend was a member of this church. Finally, she was ready to allow her friend to pray for her. God healed her of AIDS right there in the hospital room. Now she is walking with God as the church came alongside of her to help her care for her children as well.

We see the compassion of God as he moves in power to draw us to know him.