Emmanuel- God With Us

This week, a good acquaintance of mine asked this question at a post-Christmas dinner. How do you need God to be Emmanuel in the New Year?

In 2012, I see Emmanuel, God with us, being a driving prayer of mine in Thailand. We want the Thai people to see God as real and accessible. We example Jesus to them in our life, but we want them to have an encounter with God. As I think toward 2012, I cannot help but be captured by the prayer I made when we took over Our Home Chapel, the Foursquare Church in Bangkok, Thailand.

When we stepped in, we found the church in a difficult situation with a lot of moving parts. I began praying with a fervor like never before knowing that there was no way for me to succeed unless Jesus met us in this place and time. I know strategy has its place, but I purposed to clear my mind of ideas or tactics.  I began to ask for nothing but Jesus. I made the Fernando Ortega song, “Give Me Jesus” my theme song as it helped me guide my prayer time. I had no grand ideas of success, but merely wanted us as a church to get back to the basics and cling to Jesus in the midst of everything, including a flood that displaced many including us.

As we look toward 2012, I cherish the sense of how a new year allows us to turn the page on the old. We can open to a new chapter, blank and ready to be written in by the author of our life and all creation. The new beginning brings hope and anticipation for a new future God has for us.

Even in a nation where less than one percent of the Thai people know God, we are hopeful for the good things God will do in and through this church.

We want to see Jesus be Emmanuel with us in drawing this church together to be family. A family centered on Jesus that grows in the way of God together.

We need Jesus to be with us, present in this time to make us renewed and reborn into the church he has designed us to be. We want him present with us in power.

We hope to see miracles of changed lives, healings, and wonders in this city that draws people to know God. We hope to see many more people this year see that God is real.

Finally, we need to see God real in our life regarding the ministry to children in the nearby slum communities. We want to see long term, sustainable help to give these children a hope and a future.

How do you need God to be Emmanuel with you this New Year?

Christmas Leaves a Mark

Every year we hope Christmas leaves a mark in our hearts and the hearts of others. This year Christmas left a mark on me as I see the church in Asia rising up.

The church here loves to seize the opportunity of Christmas to reach into people hearts during this season of tender-heartedness. The Burmese church sees this as a golden opportunity to build toward a climax of outreach. In the villages throughout Myanmar, the Christians go house-to-house singing Christmas carols for at least a week leading up to Christmas. They sing throughout all hours of the night spreading Christmas cheer and bringing a glimpse of the joy that Jesus placed in their hearts when he entered our world.

In Bangkok, the Burmese pastor who works with us used Christmas as an opportunity to follow up on flood relief in an area where many of his members live by the factories outside of the city. His members were a source of mercy and hope to their friends that work in the factories with them. For Christmas, actually an off day for the workers this year as it fell on Sunday, created an opportunity for the people to celebrate together and sing traditional songs and eat yummy Burmese food. So many were touched by the generosity and love shown by the church that they invited them back for a New Year’s celebration.

For the church in Bangkok, the story of Christmas keeps trending upward each year. People are more and more interested in Christmas. We even had a completely unconnected Thai guy come check out the church service to find out what this thing is all about. Churches throughout the city were packed wall-to-wall with newcomers. The conflict of what to do at Christmas with the church service and Sunday meeting at the same time never arose. All the people wanted was more, because the church is the only place Christians can celebrate the story of God coming to our world as a vulnerable baby born in a barn.

Living in Asia, I know Christmas has left an indelible mark on my life and the life of many on this side of the planet.

How has Christmas affected you this year as you reflect a day or two after the hectic celebrations and obligations?

Christmas Is Taking Over the World

Whether by commercial success or quaint traditions, Christmas keeps marching along as it envelopes the world in its grasp.

Every year we are in Thailand, we see more of a Christmas presence here…not so much Christmas presents, but more of that too. I am reminded of Paul’s thoughts toward the gospel…whatever their motivation…as long as the story is told, and people come to Jesus. The booming success of Christmas crosses every barrier and continues to grow in its enormous take on our imagination. Yet with the grand festivities and overwhelming scope of Christmas, we can still use this season as an opportunity to tell the story of Jesus. More and more people are being introduced to the person of Jesus in Thailand every year as Christmas grows in popularity. Christmas is a story that transcends language and culture. No matter whether the ancient era of the Biblical world or the modern era of Twitter and Google, the story still rings true and draws on our heart strings. What an amazing story that God would empty himself of his transcendence and enter our world as a baby boy. And this baby boy would grow up to be our savior and king.

I thought I might share this video this video to help us see another way the story of Christmas can be communicated this year.

Let’s be creative and find ways to let the story of Christmas, the true story of Christmas enter our heart and spill out to others this year.

Christmas Away from Home

How do you know that Christmas is near? Is it the cold winter weather? The festive Christmas decorations everywhere you look? Or is it the crowded malls, with Santa taking pictures, Christmas music in the air, and great deals on potential gifts?

When you live in a tropical country, the weather is warm. Top that off by living in a country where they don’t celebrate Christmas (I think they are just trying to help out Santa as he races around the world delivering presents…), and you can’t tell December apart from November or January.

When we first moved to Thailand, I really struggled with it not feeling like Christmas. I decorated my home and we played lots of Christmas music, but we still wore summer clothing and preferred iced drinks or hot chocolate or cider. This is our fourth Christmas in Thailand (we spent one in the US), and I realized that it feels like Christmas this year. The weather and outside things haven’t changed, but it feels like Christmas.

Why? I have been asking myself that question for a few days, and I think I just figured it out. Traditions. It was as I went about our normal Christmas traditions that made it feel like Christmas. Some are from when I was younger, like baking cookies and making peanut brittle. But others are distinctly here in Thailand, like going to take pictures of the Christmas decorations at one of the big malls.

When we first moved, I did the traditions that I could, but missed many others (big Christmas parties, snuggling in front of the fireplace while sipping hot cider, etc.). Christmas has different traditions when we are in Thailand, and I have come to look forward to them. They are also what helps me know that Christmas is coming.

What traditions do you have that make it feel like Christmas to you? Would it be Christmas if you didn’t do them this year?

The Baby Jesus

I was talking to my daughter, as we like to do at the dinner table. Mind you she is only 9-months, so the conversations are pretty one-sided at this time. But sometimes she looks at me and makes sounds her baby language. Today’s conversation centered around the Christmas story. As a new dad celebrating Christmas with his daughter for the first time, I wondered what she thought about the Baby Jesus.

She is so close to walking on her own now, and determined to figure out how to get moving and on her own. She has places to go and especially people to see. I asked her when she thought Jesus took his first steps. We wondered together if Mary had a book like Ellie’s mommy has to keep track of all of Jesus’ firsts.

When did Jesus get his first tooth?

When did Jesus begin to sit up?

When did Jesus start crawling?

What was Jesus first word?

We took the conversation a bit further too as Ellie does a compromised version of Elimination Communication (or click here). We look for her cues and then take her to go poopy. I asked my daughter if she thought Jesus gave the perfect cues to Mary to let her know when he needed to go.

We were blown away just thinking about how the Son of God, the almighty who was here at the beginning of the universe playing a role in creation also sat on the floor and played like our daughter does. The king of the universe allowed himself to go through all the same processes as any other baby. Talking with my daughter about Christmas helped me get a new perspective of Jesus’ humanity.

How does thinking of Jesus as a baby change how you picture him?

Usually No to Foreigners

The other day I jumped in a taxi and asked if he could take Ellie and me to a certain street. The conversation happened in Thai and the driver said, “Sure, I can take you there.” Once in the taxi, the driver proceeded to tell me his woes with taking foreigners.

Tourists: Don’t know where they are going and don’t speak any Thai.

Many foreigners: Speak some basic Thai, enough to get around. The problem is that they often say street names or numbers just a little bit incorrectly. This man then told me how frustrating it is to drive them as he is uncertain if he will get them to the right place. He doesn’t want the foreigners to get upset at him for driving around aimlessly, or going to the wrong place. So his normal policy is just to tell all foreigners no.

This taxi driver was quite vocal about his opinions regarding transporting foreigners around. I think that I was the first foreigner he was confident to drive for as he clearly understood where I wanted to go. He told me over and over again how good my Thai was and then chatted the entire drive.

This just reminds me that even if we might be afraid of something, like driving foreigners, we should still be open to the opportunity. The taxi driver didn’t just see me and keep driving, instead he stopped and listened before saying no. This opportunity gave him the chance to take me. We all need to keep giving ourselves opportunities to break out of what we normally say no to.

What things do you normally shy away from doing?

Family…A Universal Language

We observed something that blew us away in its simplicity and innocence while sitting in the terminal waiting for our flight from Phuket to Bangkok. We had just spent a few days in Phuket for family time with Christina’s parents and visiting future church planters who moved to the island a few months ago.

As we sat down with our bags, a few guys next to us wanted to take some pictures of our daughter. Our smiley, little, 9-month-old  girl often grabs the attention of strangers wherever we go. This time, she caught their attention and broke the ice for us to talk together. We learned that the three men were on business from Iran and began talking with them until we boarded the plane. Just before boarding, they left to check something. When they came back for their bags, they went out of their way to say goodbye. We commented among ourselves of their graciousness.

Meanwhile, our daughter became bored with the adult talk. She began crawling and looking for new friends to make. She is such an outgoing, people person at this little age. First, she found a Thai woman to talk with, thinking she knows Thai people are friendly. Sadly, the woman was busy on a phone call and missed a chance to play with her.

Next, she spied out a one-year-old Russian boy and crawled to him. Despite the boy’s shyness, his mom helped them play together. Before you knew it she was chasing him around as he kept walking away shy. In two shakes of a rabbit’s tail, the boy’s brother and father joined the commotion in the middle of the waiting area as an eclectic group of tourists waited to head home from a vacation paradise.

As we boarded the plane, we couldn’t help but think how the walls of culture are so easily broken down by the innocence of family. Family is the international language that draws us all together. Everyone has family and understands the love of parents to their children and vice versa.

In an increasingly globalized world, how do children play a role at bringing us together?