You Got What You Got

In my final installment of teachings from the Foursquare Thailand Convention, I want to share something that spoke deeply to me. You got what you got. Sometimes, we think we need something else or some outside resource, but in God’s economy, he takes what we’ve got and makes it work. We don’t need anything more than what we already have at our disposal to allow God to do great things in our life. Mike Kai, pastor of Hope Chapel West Oahu used a great story from the Old Testament to illustrate this lesson.

He took us back to the days of Elisha, a tough prophet during the days of the northern kingdom of Israel. Remember, Elisha received a double portion from that of Elijah his mentor. In this story, Elisha meets a widow, perhaps the wife of Obadiah (we know he was one of the sons of the prophets who feared God). She comes to Elisha concerned that the creditor will come and take her two sons to become slaves. She is at her wits end. Mike helped place us in the shoes of this widow. We usually think of widows as old ladies, but this woman has two young sons, likely she is a young woman. We started to feel her pain of recently losing her husband, a good man. Now she is destitute and has no way to take care of her family.

This distressed woman came to Elisha, likely a father figure to her. When she had a problem, she went to the right place. When we have a problem, don’t we do that? We go to God and say, we love you, please help us.

Upon hearing her problem, Elisha asked what she had in the house. Huh? How will that help? See, Elisha did not give the answer, but pointed her toward the solution. Think about this woman now. She probably had stock of her house memorized. She had no more money to go to the grocery store and purchase more items. She knew what little she had left as it dwindled down and down. She answered Elisha by saying, “I have just a little bit of oil left.” Isn’t that how we respond in times of crisis?

God knows what we need. We already possess it. That is what I mean by you got what you got. Sometimes we overlook what we really need. Mike went on to explain how they started their church with not very much. He was taken to Zechariah 4 and reminded not to despise the day of small beginnings. God loves to see things begin. God turned to Moses and asked what that is in your hand? Jesus asked a boy in a large crowd, what do you have? God rescued his people from Egypt with Moses and his staff; Jesus fed thousands with a boy’s lunch.

Now, Elisha told the widow and her boys to gather up jars from the neighborhood. Mike imagined these boys running throughout the neighborhood trying to pick up as many jars as they could as they raced up and down the streets and asking their neighbors for help. When they came back with all the jars in the house, God began to work with the little oil that the widow had. She needed more vessels, because the thing God was going to do could not be contained. Sometimes we dream too little. We need to dream bigger. God can do a lot with a little bit…little people, little churches, little villages, little…

Elisha says shut the door…shut the door to negativity, doubt, to someone else’s opinion of what you are going to do, the lies of the enemy who will tell you that you can’t do it/ you are nobody…what God will do, not everyone will understand.

She gathers her boys together and gathers all the jars. She has only a little bit of oil when she prays with her boys…as God must do something…represents everything she has left. She begins pouring the oil…fills one jar, oil keeps pouring, keeps pouring oil…keeps filling…every jar is filled…then the oil stopped. What if they had brought more jars? What would have happened then? But he asked, and he got it. If she had more jars, more jars would have been filled.

Don’t go half way. What God can do is more than we can imagine.

Are you willing to obey the word of the Lord? God wants to do something awesome in our churches and in our lives. We need to pour out what we have left, and then God will bless it and do more with it.

What is your dream?

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?

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?

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.

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.

The God of Compassion

Does the Old Testament paint a different picture of God than the God we worship today? I am starting a series on the story of God as seen in Elijah, so we can see the character of God and how he acts towards his people. The more I read the Old Testament; I see the love, compassion and grace of God evident.

Many think the two testaments contain two different Gods. In the New Testament, we see the God of grace, but in the Old Testament we see the God of wrath. I say nae nae to that. Some people see a capricious God who punishes people who don’t follow him. These people are not looking at the whole of the Bible to get a proper perspective of the God of the Bible.

In the Old Testament, God extends grace far longer than any of us would ever extend grace. Let’s look at the story of Elijah and Ahab.

Here we have a wicked king…a guy who aims at outdoing his predecessors when it comes to wickedness. He shot for the moon as he led the worship of Baal and other gods in the northern kingdom of Israel. Ahab and his wife Jezebel to this day remain some of the most infamous leaders of God’s people…and I don’t mean “in” famous, more than famous. They led the Kingdom of Israel further and further from God. At this point the king who led the people in the natural sense and the prophets who led the people spiritually peaked in their contention.

It is here that Elijah pops onto the scene and we see God’s character of compassion and presence with his people. In this story, we see a God of provision who cares for his people. Elijah’s introductory bio gives little detail as to his background, but we quickly get a sense of his character and fearlessness as he goes to Ahab to pronounce God’s discipline on the wicked northern kingdom. God will now withhold rain for an unknown and extended amount of time bringing back to mind the promises he laid out for his people before they entered the land flowing with milk and honey. God promised ongoing blessings to his people if they followed his way, but curses on those who rejected him. His patient waiting for the northern kingdom to return to God came to an end when he brought discipline through the drought he warned of in Deuteronomy 28:22-24.

It is as though God says to Ahab and his wife from the land of Sidon that I am going to stop the rain in this beautiful land for the first time in your people’s history, and there is nothing your beloved Baal (the god of rain and lightning) can do about it.

After that, Elijah fled for the barren area of the river. At Elijah hid amongst the rocks and crags as God sent ravens to him carrying meat in the mornings and evenings. God always takes care of our needs. His provision isn’t such to make us rich or bless our socks off, but a provision to meet us where we are and take care of us. I am reminded of another simple man of prayer, George Mueller. This German missionary to London, England took care of orphans, 10,000 over 60 years. Early in his ministry he determined to let God be his source of provision and refused to take a salary as a pastor. Out of this simple faith, he resolved to allow God provide for the children as he prayed daily for them. He said that if the children ever missed a meal that would be evidence that God wanted him to stop the orphanage. They never missed a meal over the six decades of his care. God takes care of us.

If you are reading this and find yourself in a point of struggle, know that God knows where you are and wants to meet your needs.

The Story of Christmas

The Christmas story evokes so many emotions and thoughts as we ponder the idea of God becoming one of us. As we are three months away from having our first daughter, I pause continually to think of how God allowed himself to become like us through the process of becoming an infant. He entered the world the same as all of us in order to bring salvation to all who want to return to God.

The Christmas story is rich with God acting and moving on our behalf, but one thing I noticed this year is how God announced his story to all people. He was not a respecter of persons when it came to telling the good news that a savior is born in Bethlehem. When I stopped to think on the Christmas narrative this year, I noticed the people that the gospel writers highlighted to show who God chose to share the incredible message of Christmas with.

1.       The first people we see in Luke 2 that heard something amazing happened were shepherds in the fields. The angel appeared in the night sky to proclaim the good news, and those who heard were the working class of society. These people were not the educated elite, or people of renowned, but unspectacular fellows making it day-to-day by watching someone else’s animals. Upon hearing the good news of great joy, these shepherds rushed to find Jesus without stopping to clean up. Still carrying the smell of sheep and dirty fields, the shepherds discovered the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger just as the angels said. They returned to their work celebrating what they saw and glorifying God.

2.       Next, we see God using the heavens to proclaim his story to the Magi, a people we know little about. Likely they came from Persia following a star or rare convergence of planets telling them that something earthshattering was happening in Jerusalem. Here God gave his message to the learned of society, those who sought knowledge and truth. Through the star in the sky, God proclaimed Jesus’ birth to everyone in the world if they were looking at the sky and interpreting the signs. They found the one who encompassed all truth when they arrived in Bethlehem baring gifts.

3.       The wise men crossed paths with a third kind of person God, royalty and the Jewish religious leaders who were told that he now entered the world as king. The wise men came to King Herod asking for directions to the newborn king. Herod, surprised by the foreign visitors, asked his scribes to verify what the Magi said. They found in the ancient writings of the prophets that a king would be born in Bethlehem as the wise men thought. Herod did not respond like the first two groups of men. Wishing to eliminate any threat to his rule, he looked for a way to kill the new born baby before he could grow up.

4.       The devote man and women of prayer makes up the final set of people I want to look at in the Christmas story. An old man named Simeon, who devoted his life to prayer and the service of God knew God was going to come before the end of his life. Led by the Spirit, he went to the temple in order to see the dedication of Jesus. He prayed this prayer over the son of God. Luke 29-32 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.  For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” Also, Anna, a woman of prayer, also waited to see God’s redemption come in the form of a baby.  They each thanked God for his goodness and prayed prophetically over the child.

We can see in the Christmas narrative swathe of people from various social standing and cultures who God wanted to be in on the wonderful happenings beginning for humankind in a little manger not too far outside Jerusalem. God reached out for many more to hear as the Angels were not shy to sing out loud for all to hear and bring the Christmas spirit to as many as would respond. We only know about the shepherds and those they quickly told after seeing Jesus. The movement in the heavens likely caught the attention of more than the Magi, but we only know of those that came to worship Jesus in response to what they saw. King Herod was confronted by the new as if he heard it on Fox News or CNN, but responded quite differently than the others. Those tuned into what God was saying and doing waited patiently for God to manifest himself at the appropriate time. God wanted the message out there and gave many people the opportunity to be in on the ground floor of his redemptive plan for mankind. He did not select an elite few to bear the news to all. What we should see from the Christmas story is the heart of God to get his message out to all.

The story of Christmas offers all people from any background a chance to respond to God. The hope is that they respond with humble hearts in worship, thanksgiving and glorify God.

What is it about the Christmas story that causes so many from various places to stop everything in order to worship God for what he did in the Christmas story?