My pastor became unexpectedly transparent Sunday morning as he preached. I was so moved by what he said that I emailed him that afternoon expressing my gratitude for his transparency. He replied and told me that he had no plans to be that transparent or even to share what he shared. He said it just happened in the moment.
As I prayed this morning, a painful memory resurfaced that transpired more than 13 years ago. I tried praying through it but it was difficult then I thought of my pastor, who has only been my pastor for less than a year now. In honor of his example from Sunday, I decided to write out my memory, or pieces of it, because maybe someone needs to hear it.
Greetings from South Asia (at least as I am writing this). I have had a very busy week so I’m taking a few hours to relax and write. I am writing this post at a fairly new Chili’s Bar & Grill (yes Chili’s, the American restaurant) enjoying a buffalo burger. I may not be able to find or (legally) eat beef in this country but buffalo is fair game.
I love people-watching so my vantage point is wonderful. I have the perfect seat to observe all walks of life strolling by or sitting near by. The contrast from person to person can be vast. As such, I am reminded once again of the vast socioeconomic differences that span this city. From the extreme poverty in the slum, where the clinic is taking place right now, to the very modern and much cleaner city south of the airport (where I visited yesterday) to the city center where I find myself at this moment where both extremes collide. The differences are stark.
Just outside the restaurant is a gentleman. It is evident that the man is either homeless or living in poverty. While his condition is material in nature, his condition reminds me of a greater problem overshadowing his country.
Hillsong United has a song called You Are Here. In it, there is a powerful line - The same power that conquered the grave lives in me. That single lyric is beautiful. It’s powerful and is an important truth that all Christians need to wrap their minds and hearts around.
Two weeks ago, I found myself in South Asia, a land flowing with idols made by human hands. Anyone can buy one. I’m told that Hinduism hosts approximately 300+ million gods of all shapes and sizes. Those who buy them generally fixate them in their homes or whoever they desire to have a place for personal idol worship.
Thomas and I are close friends. He is from an Asian country while I am from America. I consider us more than friends. We are also mutual mentors to one another, a brotherhood that began in 2010.
Back then, Thomas was gaining a heart for a certain unreached Buddhist people group. When I met him, he needed help learning how to serve this people group so I began to walk alongside him to mentor him in cross-cultural ministry.
Beyond just the cross-cultural ministry side of our relationship, I watched Thomas closely. I watched how he served this unreached people group. I witnessed how he sacrificed monetarily out of his poverty. I saw how he persevered through difficult circumstances. To say the least, I was learning a lot from Thomas and still do.
It is Sunday July 22 and I am in Sweden as I write this. I am teaching at a Chinese Discipleship Camp for Chinese for those living in Scandinavian countries. It has been a wonderful week interacting with all these precious people.
I walked in only knowing two people while having never met the other 74. After just one day, I felt like I was around family that I had known my whole life. While I had no idea what I was going to encounter here, it has been more than a wonderful experience. It is an experience I will never forget.
Today, a group of Afghan and Iranian refugees joined us for our Sunday worship service. Some of them are followers of Jesus while others are a mixture of other beliefs. Said (pronounced: Saeed), originally from Iran, is a brother serving these refugees in the city nearby. Talking with him today, I learned of an incredible thing God is doing here in Sweden through these refugees.
Juan is my father-n-law. He is from Puerto Rico and 89 years old. He is a retired school teacher that will retire from his second career later this year, as a pastor of a small Hispanic church in Central Florida. As I write this, I am sitting in his hospital room spending the night to help him.
A few days ago, we arrived in Florida so my wife could spend time with her parents as I jet off to Sweden to teach at a Chinese discipleship retreat. Yet, the day we arrived, my father-n-law was taken to the hospital. While going to the hospital at anytime has a level of stress, this day made it especially stressful for us.
The day we arrived, the day Juan entered the hospital, was the first anniversary of my sister-n-laws unexpected death. The day she died, my family and I were 1.5 hours away from arriving at in-law’s home. We had planned to spend three weeks with them and relax. Yet with only 1.5 hours from arriving, we received the dreaded phone call that my sister-n-law was rushed to the hospital, where she died before we arrived. The pain of that day together with the phone call about Juan being taken to the hospital caused a lot of fear and stress.
I have been consumed this week by the sermon Richard Smith gave last Sunday at his church, Hope Point Church (Richard's Sermon). His sermon was centralized on John 12:23-26. It was one of those sermons that felt like I had been hit right between the eyes. And, it was a great hit at that.
All week, I have thought about dying. Not dying in the physical sense but dying to self. It is the kind of death that actually leads to life. That life is the kind of life I want to live.
I have heard a number of sermons and teachings on the Great Commission and the two Greatest Commandments. What I do not often hear much of is how the three work in tandem and how they are inseparable with one another. Sure, some talk about it but I do not find it taking place as much as one might think, at least not from my perspective. And yes, I am guilty of this thing.
At many mission conferences, the Great Commission is the central theme, and I get it. Believers come together to learn about and share how God is working among the nations. We talk about the need to send more missionaries to the farthest corners of the globe. We tend to focus on some of the famous Great Commission verses like Matthew 18:19-20, Mark 16:15, Acts 1:8, and Matthew 24:14. If we do not use one of these passages, some use Genesis 12 where God called Abram to go to a land he did not know.
This past Sunday, I had the privilege of sitting and listening to a brother in Christ give his testimony. He appeared relaxed before he spoke but was clearly nervous as he spoke. But, he did not need to be nervous. His testimony is a beautiful masterpiece displaying the amazing work of God’s love, grace & mercy working in tandem.
Some fellow believers might say that some backgrounds are worse than others but we all need God’s salvation. Untrue! Every sin we commit is equal in our betrayal against God. Every sin might have a different consequence on this earth but no sin has a different consequence in eternity. And, that is what matters most.
“Persecution is a good thing”, said Tom. Tom is a house church pastor in Asia that I have known since 2009. Tom was referring to a new law that recently went into effect in his country. In essence, this new law increases restrictions and punishments for those involved in unsanctioned religious activities (aka: house churches). In all fairness, it does not strictly target Christians, but they do have a giant bulls eye on their back.