God Sees and Cares

Bangkok has been under the threat of major flooding for a few weeks now. Over and over again we here that the floods are coming tomorrow or this weekend. We have been warned that the flooding might last for a while, up to a month, and everyone should have food stocked up. That sounds great until you realize that around 15 million people live in Bnagkok. With everyone stockpiling goods that can be kept and prepared without electricity, the stores have been very empty.

I have found that the best way to keep my home ready is to go shopping regularly and buy what they have in stock at the moment. That means that one week we have eggs and tuna and then the next week we have potatoes and pork. I just keep buying a little more than we need for the week. If we are stuck in our home without electricity, we should have plenty of food for 3 weeks.

This past week Ellie and I went shopping to pick up some boxed UHT milk, potatoes, pork, and diapers among some smaller items. Everything was going great until we went to leave. As I looked up at the sky, I realized that it was about to start pouring rain. I went to the taxi stand and waited behind some people for more than 10 minutes and only 1 taxi came. This is unusual in that there are normally many taxis here but many people have gotten out of town in preparation for the major flooring predicted for the weekend, or simply parked their car on a bridge or overpass to protect it.

As I assessed the situation, I realized that I couldn’t keep waiting for a taxi that wasn’t coming. So I grabbed all my bags and headed to the main street and found even more people waiting for the nonexisist taxis. At this moment I started to feel a little desperate and decided to cross over the bridge and try from the other side of the street, all to no avail.

As the rain started to splash down, I made the decision to just walk home with my 10 bags of groceries. It’s only a 10 minute walk I figured. So I started walking. We were quite the sight, a mom wearing a baby and carrying lots of groceries. It didn’t matter, walking was better than getting caught out in a major rain storm.

About half way home, I had to put down the bags and try to redistribute the weight. My hands just couldn’t keep holding them any longer. As I’m struggling to pick them back up, I Thai family came walking up to me. They recognized Ellie and I and knew where we lived. They then offered to help me carry the groceries home.

God held off the downpour and sent a family to help me get home. As I walked in my home, all I could do was thank God for watching out for me and helping me.

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How has God watched over you?

Hiding in a Winepress

I wanted to continue to share some of the teaching from this year’s Thailand Foursquare Convention. Mike Kai, pastor at Hope Chapel West Oahu and leader of the annual Equip and Inspire Conferences, brought several powerful messages to the national church in Thailand. I believe the churches left equipped and inspired to get after the ministry that God has before them. In this post, I want to share Mike’s message on Gideon with great application to our daily life.

Let’s remember this guy Gideon. He came around during the age of the Judges. The people of God entered the Promised Land with Joshua and Caleb, but when the Joshua and Caleb generation passed away, the people began to follow their own way and turn their backs on God. This began a vicious cycle. The Joshua and Caleb generation did not pass on their values to the next generation. Thus, the younger generation did not honor the Lord and no longer remembered what he did for them.

The cycle went like this. They followed God, but slowly turned away. Things began to get bad for them. Enemies invaded the land. Things got worse the more they turned from God and followed their own path. Finally, they cried out to God for deliverance. He rescued them through the hands of the Judges. Then the cycle began all over again.

Two themes seen early in the Gideon story found in Judges 6 include ‘the Israelites did evil in the sight of the Lord’, and ‘everyone did what was right in their own eyes’. The cycle begins again. Have you ever been in a cycle like that?

In this case, the Midianites, a band of marauders, entered the land and took the crops, destroyed everything and sent widespread panic throughout the people. The Israelites went running for the hills and hid in caves. This went on for seven years before they began to cry out to God for deliverance. At the end of their rope, the Israelites cry out to God. And God hears. God is always listening. God is merciful and compassionate. If we cry out to God, He will hear us.

The angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon at the tree of Orpha.

Now, we find Gideon hiding out in a winepress threshing wheat. Umm, what is wrong with this picture? The winepress is the complete wrong place to thresh wheat.

Ordinarily wheat gets threshed at the top of a hill. The worker takes his pitchfork and tosses the wheat up in the air allowing the wind to blow the chaff away. However, in a dark, damp underground winepress, there is no breeze to blow the chaff away. Gideon did not work here for convenience, but to hide the food and livelihood of his family from the evil Midianites. He worked hard and long sweaty hours to thresh the wheat. Gideon didn’t want to be seen on the top of the hill, so he was in a musty old winepress with sticky floors. A complete wrong place, a little weird if you think about it. But you do what you have to do.

Gideon was doing a right thing but in a wrong place.

A winepress can represent a limited vision or limited perspective. Sometimes we work really hard but get frustrated with limited results. Things are not going the way we want them to go. Now we are in a sticky mess.

What Mike knows about winepresses…

  1. You are headed toward one.
  2. You are headed out of one.
  3. You are currently in one.

All of a sudden an angel can come and meet you, and you won’t even know it as you have been in the winepress too long.

The angel comes to Gideon and says, “Mighty warrior, the Lord is with you.” But Gideon responds like any of us would if we were in the winepress for so long. We often start to decorate our winepress and make it look comfortable. We start to get accustomed to the winepress. Then we talk back to God like Gideon did. God, if you were here, then why did you let all these bad things happen? Gideon, said, God look at this situation.

Don’t allow your current circumstances to limit your vision. God said to Gideon, go up with the strength you have for I am with you. God starts off by talking to him by saying, Mighty warrior. If he is so mighty, then what is he doing hiding out in a winepress?

What is so awesome about this is that God doesn’t see us for who we are or according to our situation. God sees us for who we can be. (I Cor. 1:27), God chooses the weak things of the world to shame the strong, and the foolish things to shame the wise.

God is like a sculptor seeing us for who we can become. Mike told the story of Michelangelo. When he worked on his masterpiece, David, it was said that he called David forth from the rock. We see the rock, others see the rock, but the sculptor sees the masterpiece. God sees us as his masterpiece.

At this point, Gideon does what any of would do. He starts complaining. He lists his qualifications for not being capable of this mission. He says, I am from the smallest tribe, and the least significant clan, and smallest family. I am a nothing he says. But God says, go in the strength you have, and I will be with you. God will be with us when he calls us to something. We can be the mighty warrior he wants us to be. He can lead us out of the life we are in and into a wonderful place of promise with him.

You might think you have nothing to offer. When someone comes into your life and says mighty warrior, you might not believe them, but God will make up the difference.

Have you been stuck in a winepress before? What is God saying to you?

Thailand Foursquare Convention 1

Today concluded the three-day Thailand Foursquare Convention in Chiang Mai Thailand. We had people gather from the villages, hill-tribes and cities in Thailand to worship God, hear from God and fellowship together. In the next few posts, I want to share some of the overarching themes from speaker Mike Kai, pastor of Hope Chapel West Oahu.

One topic Mike covered came out of his experience in pastoring and thoughts from Philippians on how to have a healthy church. He gave several principles to what it means to have a strong church no matter one’s size or location. Whether the church is in a village or a city, these principles are easily applied to how to be a strong church. Underneath it all or before we even get into the principles, you have to love your church. No matter who you are in the church, you have to love your church. Loving your church will change everything.

Creating an environment for a great church (greatness has nothing to do with size).

  1. Loving the harvest: Phil. 1:5 calls the Philippians partners in the harvest. You have to constantly be reaching out to people in your neighborhoods, villages, and everywhere. The church that stops having new people grows stagnant. The fruit of a Christian is another believer. This is the most important reason the church was left on the earth. If God did not want new people, he would have taken us all a long time ago. We are fisher’s of men and not caretakers of the aquarium. Sometimes in the church, we spend our time discipling the same people over and over again. The truest sign of a disciple is making another disciple.
  2. Honor: Today, honor is a lost art. The church that is being perfected is an honoring church. Paul commended the Philippians to show Epaphroditus the honor he was due. We need to honor upwards, side-to-side and downwards. Jesus talked about honor in Mark 6, saying a prophet is shown honor everywhere except his hometown. When we become an honoring environment, God will do amazing things. When there is not honor in our church, we need to repent and ask God for forgiveness. Mike gave a great example of a pastor who left to start a church that left in a less than honorable way. It took him four years before he realized his mistake, but when he did he worked hard to make it right and it made the difference in his relationships with the other churches in his church as well.
  3. Unity: In Philippians 2, Paul exhorts the believers to be unified and of one heart. Unity is so important to God. Everyone in the church and churches should work hard to be in unity with one another. Mike talked about the story of Hawaii and the unspoken competition among two groups of churches within Foursquare. God still worked within the fractured church, but how much more would have worked if the churches worked together for the same purpose. Today, the churches work in a greater deal of harmony, but that came as the disciples of the founding pastors planted churches and began working together and bringing unity. The devil loves to stir disunity, and we need to fight against that. We need to sow seeds of unity within our churches by allowing people to speak and to be heard. On the smaller scale, we must follow the principles of Matthew 18:15 and work for restoration and forgiveness when unity begins to be broken. Disunity comes from hell. We need to protect unity with everything we have. Healthy confrontation can bring about peace.
  4. Generosity: Mike wanted to pastor a church that was generous. Don’t wait until you are big or have the means to be generous. They began looking for ways to be generous from the very beginning. The heard about a need and prayed for a way to meet the need. They began to be generous to the churches in their area, missionaries and in every way possible. They determined to be a river and not a reservoir. They wanted to be a conduit of God’s blessing. They were not only generous with money but with praises and complements to others. The world of the generous gets larger and larger while the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller, according to the Message translation of Proverbs.
  5. Tenacious: Don’t give up but persevere. Be people who say what if. One of my favorite people, Mike said, is Caleb. Remember Caleb, one of the 12 spies who went into the Promised Land. He came out saying we can do this with God. Later when he and Joshua along with the new generation went into the Promised Land, Caleb at 85 years old went to Joshua. He found him while Joshua was divvying out the land and asked for his portion saying remember how we spied out the land. Remember, God said we had a different spirit. Caleb was fine with a plot in the hills, in less than desirable land. He said, I can teach these young bucks something. Dream big, and don’t give up. Ask what if, what if we purchase this plot of land, what if we feed these children, what if we serve in this country, and what if…
  6. Life giving: Be a life giving church. Look for ways to speak life into people. Remove stumbling blocks from one another. If I am the cause for my brother to stumble, I need to go and make things right. We can have discipline in the church, but do so in such a way that brings life and restoration. Discipline in love.
  7. Releasing. Be a church that sends people out. The church in Philippi sent Epaphroditus. We need to send out our best. The real test comes when our greatest disciples are called to plant a church or go overseas. It is easy to send out our good people, but what about our great people. We need to have a heart to let them go do what God has called them to do. Mike talked about this test in his church when two of his top people went to plant a church in Manila, Philippines. He needed to release them to go even though it was difficult.

We could have stayed for days talking about important principles for an environment within the church, but we left with these seven. We did not talk about being Spirit-filled, or preaching the word as these are non-negotiables.

What point stands out to you as one often overlooked by the church today? What further principle would we need to add to make this list more complete?

Blind Vs. Deaf

Some things just do not mix, water and oil, cats and dogs, and the list goes on…but I have a brand new example for this list.

A deaf taxi driver with a blind passenger.

The other day, in the midst of heavy rains and potential flooding, I entered a taxi heading to the church building for an evening meeting. The driver agreed to take me where I wanted to go, and that was the end of our ability to communicate.

I knew something was wrong when I tried to give clear directions as to the way I wanted to travel. He started responding to my Thai with English, broken English. Uh oh…I thought. Something was not right. My first thought was that my driver came from another country and couldn’t understand English or Thai. I just hoped that I would still get to the place I wanted. My hope began to wane when I felt the car taking unexpected turns. Uggg, now what?…I cannot confirm where I am, much less where I am going…

What could I do? If he didn’t understand me, how could he understand my Thai friends any better?

With the pouring rain beating down on the car, I had no inclination to get out and attempt to grab another taxi. When it rains, the taxis fill up fast, leaving me with a slim to slimmest chance of getting another taxi. In addition to this, I had been suffering all day the foul affects of eating something wrong the night before. All I could stomach eating was 2 pieces of toast, for the entire day. I felt weak and trapped in a taxi with a driver I could not communicate with. He kept telling me to write the road and street number down, and I kept trying to tell him that I cannot write…that is I cannot see to write what you want me to write.

At that point, I called one of my Thai friends at the meeting to let them know I was coming but slowly with the rain, traffic and a confused driver. I tried to get him to talk with my friend, but he handed me his phone instead. My friend called back, and this time the driver answered on the speaker phone. I hid the shock on my face as well as I could when I heard him speaking Thai to my friend. He didn’t listen for a response but just kept blasting out what he wanted from my friend along with his difficulty of having a blind foreigner in his taxi. He wanted my friend to send him an SMS with what I wanted. Click, the light bulb went on in my head as I realized he couldn’t hear anything, no matter how loud and clear I spoke. Well, I think he could hear a little, little itsy bit, but he didn’t expect for me to speak in Thai, so he didn’t try to listen to me.

Now he knew where to go, but the rain and confusion sent him a long way around to my destination made for an expensive taxi ride, but a hilarious story I will never forget.

What do you do when something ordinary seems to be going completely wrong?

Not Overlooking Any Possible Solution (A look at traditional religion)

As the heavy rains pounded Thailand this year causing abnormally high water levels, each person in government has done what they can to help the affected areas. However, in Bangkok, the governor has come under some criticism as the people of Bangkok think he is not doing enough.

As the waters continue to slowly flow downhill toward the basin of the nation, which happens to be the capitol city, people keep wondering why the governor did what he did last week. Last week, he performed an ancient ceremony to appease the spirits of water. He came out to sacrifice the food and offerings to the spirit to ask for protection and help in this time of crisis. In his mind, this ceremony would prevent his city from the calamity coming its way. This same calamity has already hit the ancient capitol of Thailand, Ayutaya, with its ancient temples now collapsing. (On a side note: The water levels in Ayutaya just north of Bangkok have yet to recede, and the broken ancient temples bring into question the worldview of many in Thailand. The flood has caused new cracks within the Thai identity.)

No crack stands out more than the Bangkok governor performing a ceremony to prevent the water from coming. One of my Thai friends told me that this is a 100 year-old ceremony that is outdated and unnecessary. He went on to say, the people in Bangkok were frustrated with the governor for performing the ceremony since we have technology in Thailand now.

The Thai people, rich in their history with spirit worship and appeasing the unseen forces of nature, have collided with the forces of science and reason. They are frustrated that their leadership takes steps to appease the spirits rather than measures to reinforce flood barriers and work with the agencies that are channeling the water around the city.

As we minister in Thailand, we need to be aware of the shift in their culture…but for now, in the midst of this crisis, we simply pray for the people and show them authentically the love of God.

How would you react if your government started their response to a natural disaster with an ancient animistic ceremony?

Gift Giving: A Family Tale

When I was thinking about teaching about spiritual gifts, I remembered a hilarious story relating to my wife’s great grandfather. He took gift giving to a whole new level. When the time to exchange Christmas gifts rolled around, he made sure all of his presents were wrapped nice. He picked out each present for those in his family with the utmost care and concern for them. However, he did one thing almost anyone else would never think to do. He took off the price tags as typically is done but added a little twist. He pulled out his own price tags and replaced the former price tag with a new more expensive tag. When everyone opened their present, they were shocked at how much was spent on them…or at least they pretended to be shocked as everyone knew that this was happening.

Free Gift

Nothing sounds better to the ear than the sound of someone saying this is free, and even better than that is free food.

This week, we were talking about spiritual gifts with the church in Bangkok. These gifts could literally be called grace gifts. That is God graces us with the gifts of the Spirit (I Cor. 12). We do nothing to deserve the gifts that God bestows on us…we simply receive them as an expression of his love for his people. How awesome is it that we do nothing to get the gifts but simply have them from our loving, heavenly Father. Gifts are awesome…

Gifts usually come our way on birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmas, among other events like house warming parties, weddings, baby showers and retirement. Well, that is in America…

In Thailand, the culture has even more of a foundation for giving and receiving gifts. People give gifts not at birthdays and Christmas (since Christmas doesn’t really exist in Thailand). Often gifts will be given at certain turning points in one’s life, or if a friend goes on a trip, they will bring back a small gift for their close friends. Underneath the giving and receiving of gifts lies the glue that holds Thai culture together, Grain Jai. This understanding has no good word in English. Essentially Grain jai means the feeling we have to keep things even. A person doesn’t want to impose on another person or take too much than is legitimately expected. There is a give and take, and when you receive something, you look for a way to return the favor or gift. This is one of the reasons that our Thai friends have no qualms in asking how much we pay for our condo, or a new shirt, or sandals, or anything else we buy. In Thailand, you just learn to not be offended when someone asks you how much something cost. This way everyone knows the general value of everything and can repay their friends and keep grain jai at an even level.

The beautiful thing with God is that he gives us gifts more valuable than we know, and there is nothing we ever did to deserve it. The only way we repay him is by using our gifts to the best of our ability and motivated by love (I Cor. 13).

What do you think about when you realize the gifts we get from God come without merit on our end?