New Life From a Dream

In my trip to Malaysia in March, I met many amazing people. Sometimes you unexpectedly meet someone that is just a gem, a story worth sharing everywhere. It is all about being ready and open to hear people’s stories. This wonderful, humble man’s name is Luke, and his life was changed by a dream.

Luke, a Nepali man, works as a security guard 7 days-a-week, 12 hours-a-day to support his family back in Nepal. My Malaysians friends couldn’t stop talking about what hard workers the Nepali people are. Yeah, that is quite hard working I would say. And they clarify by saying these security guards don’t fall asleep. That should go without saying, but I know some that routinely fell asleep at our apartment building in Bangkok. Luke, the dedicated guard, is also preparing to begin a Nepali church here in KL. Why? Because he has been impacted by Jesus in a real way.

He came to know Jesus nearly 30 years ago when his mother was deathly ill with TB. Luke’s family spent 9 months and the family’s life savings working to find help. After all of that time in the hospital and money spent, his mom was sicker than ever. At this point, she began to prepare for Luke and his siblings to be taken care of by other people after she left. Luke’s mom began having dreams that caused her to think death was coming to get her. She saw a man in white reaching out to grab her. To her, this certainly meant her time was short.

Luke did not know what to do. When Luke told his teacher, the only Christian in the village, what was happening, the teacher asked more about this dream. Luke’s mom said the man was reaching out to take her hand and calling her to come with. The man in white said, “Come with me and you will never die”.

The teacher immediately knew the man in the dream was Jesus. The teacher explained to Luke that Jesus wanted her to live. The teacher went to find her pastor and an elder in the church from another village away. The three of them went with Luke to visit his mom. When they talked to Luke’s mom, she said she wanted Jesus. And more than that, Jesus fulfilled the message in that dream as he healed Luke’s mom completely.  . The TB was gone with no side effects. She is still living today in her 80s. I love these stories where God shows himself real. In a place like Nepal where the Buddhism has prevented people from knowing Jesus, he is still reaching down and intersecting their world.

I am reminded of the More Than Dreams series and love that God speaks to people in dreams, including people in the Buddhist world.

What dreams have you had that you know came from or maybe wonder if they came from God?

Life is Fragile

The frailty of life catches off guard, even when we see it plane in front of us. I was reminded of this reality once again as I attended a funeral this weekend.

Thailand’s national leader for Foursquare, Pastor John invited us to join with him as we remembered his father who passed at the age of 80. Yet this time, more than most, I realized how different a death can be. In the US, we presume Christianity on most and rarely wrestle with the questions of eternity. At least we do not outwardly struggle with the question of where someone is. At the least we hope to see them again on the other side.

On the other hand, In Thailand, the Christians in the church agonize over the never so subtle reality of where their relatives go. For the most part, they know their family is or is not Christian. Perhaps the abstract became concrete on Friday when we asked the church to pray for Pastor John and his family before I went north. The girl leading the announcements asked me if Pastor John’s dad was a Christian. When I responded that he was, she quickly replied, Oh good. That makes for a very different kind of prayer. The Christian faith which he found near the end of his life made for a different kind of ceremony too.

In the West, we avoid these questions of truth not wanting to cause excess grief. In a predominately nonChristian society, the truth smacks them square on the nose.

The gnawing feeling of death’s finality kept scratching away at my soul this weekend. So now what?

· I want to redouble my efforts to get the story out of what Jesus can do for people willing to turn their loves over to him.

· I want to maintain strong ties with my father, and extended family.

· I want to impart as much as I can into my daughter while I can.

· Finally, I want to live each day like it is my last.

How does death shape your attitude toward life today?

Prunes, and Pruning

Do prunes grow from a tree that is pruned? I don’t know but prunes help get the junk out just like pruning a tree helps keep things healthy in a tree.

I am no tree doctor, but I do know that trees need to be cut back from time to time to create opportunities for further growth, healthier growth. Sometimes, we just want growth, so we neglect sharpening our blades, and pulling out the clippers to trim back a few bad branches.

Still in further cases, we let sickness go unchecked so long that a tree needs to be cut back further and further.

A pruned tree and I am not so sure why I want to say prune as much as I do in this post, but it sounds pretty cool, can give off false perceptions. To an untrained or unattentive eye, a pruned tree looks awfully dead. Perhaps a parallel analogy could come from the winter season when a tree loses all of its leaves. Seasons come and go, but as long as the tree stays rooted in the right place, the fruit will come in the right season.

What is the point of all this pruning and season mumbo jumbo you ask?

Well, Jesus promised us that the father would prune us. Sometimes that gets interpreted individually. Yet, can I daresay that the passage in John 15 could also apply to the community of faith in a collective us as the people of God issue.

Sometimes, the church will go through season when God prunes and cuts out the branches that should not be there. And no matter what, as one who has led a church through a pruning from God…it is not comfortable. However, I am looking forward to the further fruitfulness this church and all others that hold onto as God shapes them into the healthy trees that he wants them to be will have.

Are there spirits all around?

A lady came rushing up to me needing help. She wanted someone with spiritual power to pray against the demonic.

The spiritual world is wreaking havoc on our little neighborhood in the eyes of this woman. As Westerners, we neglect the spiritual realm as affecting our physical world. In Thailand, people believe spirits are in play with everything. If they are not appeased through spirit houses, offerings and other traditional rituals, the spirits can bring turmoil into this world…thus people in Thailand live in fear.

The fear was all over this woman. Here is how the story went.

I was taking our puppy for her morning walk when this Thai lady came up to me saying, pastor, pastor. This was a twist to my morning ritual. I should say my rather new morning ritual the past couple months. Laguna, our Golden Retriever, helps motivate me up early for some strong prayer time. Oh boy, she loves to get up early.

I have begun using these walks to pray over our street. The morning walks give me an opportunity to pray for the church members who live on this street as well as those on this street that God is drawing to know him. The middle-aged, Thai lady came to me noticeably concerned. I thought, how does she know I am a pastor? Thailand never ceases to amaze me.

She told me that things have been difficult on this street and implored me to pray for the people. I told her that I was praying, but she insisted that I pray more. As she explained, I felt God confirming in me that he is watching over the street. To summarize, the concerned woman wanted me to know that basically, the happiness index of the street had gone down, jobs were not as good, problems in the lives of the people and so on. All of this was due to the evil spirits, she explained.

I stopped with her right there at that moment and prayed intentionally that god would be present with us in power.

The spiritual strongholds fighting to maintain their ground and prevent God’s kingdom from coming in are persistent. But God will win. I believe God wants to unleash his kingdom power on this city, beginning with our street in Bangkok in the near future. I continue to pray for an outpouring of his Holy Spirit.

When you observe problems in your community, do you blame evil spirits or circumstances…or something else?

My Father is Bigger than Your Father

If any of us did anything as children, we believed that our dad was a superhero with super powers. My dad could beat up your dad.

Now, as an adult, I am comforted to know my father in heaven can beat up anybody. I don’t have to cower in fear before evil spirits, overwhelming circumstances, or difficult situations. My God is a great Father, and I love being his child.

The Bible draws several word pictures of what the church is, or rather who the church is. The church is the bride of Christ, the church is the body of Christ, Again, Peter tells us how the church is living stones, Paul teaches Timothy, and the church is the household or family of God. Businesses, a common ministry model for church today, are not great at producing disciples. They produce products pretty well, but families, bodies, living stones, intimate connections with Jesus produce real disciples.

More importantly, family creates an identity of who we are. When we know who we are as the children of God, and that we belong to the house of God, we know what we can become. I love how Ephesians 2:19 puts it. We are no longer strangers, or aliens as Paul pulls on the former verses that say how we formerly were far from God. Jesus changed everything when he came to bring peace to us. We belong to the family of God not because of anything we do or how the family feels about it, but because of what Jesus did. I love belonging to God’s family. I know he will take care of me, watch over me, and lead me in his path.

We have the ultimate Godfather.

How does knowing your identity shape your behavior?

What I Learned From My Mom

It is Mother’s Day in Thailand today. As I prepared for the special sermon for today, I got to thinking about how special my mom was, and what I learned from her.

First and foremost, the perseverance of my mom jumps to mind. I learned how to overcome obstacles and barriers in life from watching my mom’s dogged determination. I can remember hearing her say to friends, “some call it stubborn, but I like to think of it as determined.” She just wouldn’t give up or give in when life knocked her down. And she got knocked down plenty.

A single mother for a few years, she found a second chance with my dad. Well, years before he was my dad. Their love story is well worth another blog series. But as young people serving in ministry, their marriage got rocked, not once, not twice, but many times. Their tragic circumstances started when their first daughter, Angela came down with severe brain damage as a baby. Around eight month-old, Angela no longer could do anything for herself. She lived in this state until she was six when mercifully, God took her to heaven. I still hold faint memories of playing with her when I was around Ellie’s age, 1-2 years-old.

While their world was still upside-down, my parents were graced with their second daughter, Melinda. But, the celebration lasted only a short time as she was born with a heart defect. The doctors did what they could with the medicine of the day, but she only lived about 40 days. Who would blame this family for crying out and cursing God? They were serving in ministry, and this is what reward they get. It just is not right. But they did none of that. They clung to God through it all. Rather than running from God, they rallied their faith and pressed closer to him. Sometimes numb to the world, they knew the only place they needed to be was in the church with God’s people. Here they were touched as they worshipped. The clung to each other as they held onto God with all them had. One memory pops out to me from when I was a teenager running the sound board at the church we attended. The other guy up there with me looked down at my mom and dad, arm-in-arm with their opposite arms raised high in worship, and told me how fortunate I was to have parents that loved Jesus like that. My mom knew how to love God, because he met her through so much.

So much that seemingly never let up. Now a few years after Angela passed away, George, her second son, came down with Leber’s Optic Neuropathy which led to him losing his sight at the age of 17. How much calamity can one family take? It makes me think of John Wesley’s mother who had 19 children, but only 9 who reached adulthood. Yet my mom kept loving her family and giving each of these circumstances to God.

When I went to my mom at 19 years-old to tell her that my eyesight was going the same as George’s did, she burst out in tears. Tears of love and compassion. I still contend to this day that my mom took it harder than I did. She loved so much and cared so deeply.

She always wanted the best for her family, and never gave up on that. She kept putting her obstacles before God. I learned from my mom to persevere and push on.

The Reluctant Missionary

I get asked many times, how did you get to Thailand.

My story as a reluctant missionary begins with a girl. A cute girl came into my life and started me in a whole new direction, or if you read the previous post, onto the correct path meant for me all along.

Since I totally rationalized away the calling God put on my life to be a missionary to my people, I avoided the things that could get me entangled in overseas stuff. Namely, I kept clear of girls in Bible College who told me that had a calling for missions. Ironically, I am in missions now, and am not sure how many of those girls are. I did great to stay away from the girls planning a life in another culture. I made it four years through Bible College, not getting caught in any of their traps. So what happened?

When I moved to South Orange County to lead the student ministries at New Life Christian Fellowship in Laguna Niguel, a cute yet reserved girl caught my attention. Even though she started to fall for me, she kept rock solid in her life goals. She did not want any guy…no matter how cute, to sidetrack her from her calling. That is why she sat me down early on in the relationship to say that she was called to missions. She said, we had three options.

  1. We could date while she served for 1-2 years overseas.
  2. We could get married and serve for a short time together before coming back to pursue my calling in church planting.
  3. Or we could break up.

Did I say, she was determined, firm in her way, strong, oh yes, I did say that.

Well, fast forward to getting married, and going overseas, choosing option 2. After we begin sending back updates and photos, people that went to youth group with me responded with excitement. They were beyond thrilled to see me fulfill my calling. Wait a minute, my calling? Maybe they did not understand, I was following Tina’s calling. Well, they explained more. They told of how I stood up at camp. They still had the pictures of the group of us from our church that stood at the camp together. There were 14, and I was the only one doing it, they said. Finally, finally…it all flooded back to me. I was following God’s calling too…

Wow, talk about a realization that completely blows your mind.

Now, I see the faithfulness of God. Even when we forget our calling, as long as we keep following God, he will get us where he wants us to be. Pretty awesome.