Monday, April 9, 2012

Praise Report

PRAISING GOD, TODAY, FOR MAKING THE IMPOSSIBLE A REALITY! It was just under a year ago that I was trying to find a way to come home. Today I confirmed a reservation for the end of the summer. Facebook has afforded me the opportunity to make many amazing new friends, and to reconnect with family and friends that I hadn’t seen for a while – some that I hadn’t seen in years. I don’t know how long God will give me for my vacation; but I pray that I will have a chance to visit, worship, and praise with as many of you as I can.

I will arrive in early September, and expect to be Stateside at least five weeks; so … drop me a line, and let’s make arrangements to meet!

Keep the Faith

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Celebration of New Life


It is God’s miracle of life, renewal, and resurrection. The seeds that lie dead in the ground spring forth to life. The dry autumn branches become heavy with new blossoms. The air is full of the sounds and smells of new life.

Spring is a green season. It is the one time of year where new beginnings are taking shape; trees and plants are blossoming and growing, new leaves can be spotted on the trees and everything is given a new lease of life for the year ahead. It is the time when nature paints her beautiful canvas with cherry blossoms, and dahlias, and butterflies, and dazzling hyacinths.

In the springtime the children can run and play; or lay in the grass and count the robins perched in the branches of the trees; or even try to find the crickets, chirping in the bushes, nearby. It is a time for lovers, for taking slow sweet walks in the Sunday sun; or hiring a rowboat to go drifting on a pond.

Spring for Chinese is a time for families to come together and renew their bonds of love – for many will not see their families again until the next time that spring comes around. Springtime brings with it an array of fruits, vegetables and other foods that are in season and perfect to cook; and a fine table spread with so many delicious foods that it spoils the imagination!

He is risen!

Easter Sunday – April 8, 2012

Interesting that God chose the spring for the two most important events in human history: the two events that would represent God’s extraordinary efforts to redeem man to Himself. The first is the Jewish festival of Passover; the second is Easter Sunday – commonly called “Resurrection Sunday,” in the United States, and “Domingo de Resurrección,” in Mexico. It is ironic – almost symbolic, in many ways – that we arrive at this point in the writing at precisely this time. – is a time when we remember and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

"Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen!" (Luke 24:5-6 NKJV)

The Bible says that Jesus died by crucifixion on Friday; and that on Sunday, when His closest friends went to His tomb they found it empty. On several occasions they encountered a person at the tomb who told them unequivocally that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead.

But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.
Dwight L. Moody, one of the great evangelists of the nineteenth century, once said: "You can't find directions in the New Testament on how to conduct a funeral because Jesus broke up every funeral He attended." He did this by resurrecting people from the dead (for example, John 11:1-44). He also resurrected Himself from the dead (John 2:19). Understandably, the resurrection is foundational to the very survival and truth of Christianity.

As my friend Ron Rhodes put it: "It should be clear... that the central miracle of NT religion is the resurrection of Christ. Without this miracle the early church would not have come into being... Indeed, we would probably never have heard of Jesus of Nazareth, who would have been forgotten along with hundreds of other obscure preachers...."

Both friends and enemies of Christianity have long recognized that the resurrection of Christ is the foundation stone of the Christian faith. The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians: "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins" (1 Corinthians 15:17).

Paul realized that the most important truths of Christianity stand or fall on the doctrine of Christ's resurrection. If Christ did not rise from the dead, then Christianity is little more than an interesting museum piece.

Did you know that the timing of the crucifixion and resurrection is significant and meaningful? The resurrection of Jesus is the culmination of all things meaningful, in both faith and fact, in establishing a relationship with God. God used the timing, which occurred just after the “Passover” and during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, to illustrate the ultimate sacrifice He made for sinners. Without this sacrifice and Christ’s death on the cross, Christianity would be an empty religion. Every purpose of Jesus Christ, His atonement for sin, would be unfulfilled and the foundation of Christianity would fall apart.

The Passover commemorates God’s “passing over” the Hebrew people’s homes by the angel of death (Exodus 12:29). By accepting Jesus, we are promised eternal life and we are saved from spiritual death. The Feast of Unleavened Bread begins with unleavened bread (made without yeast) and sacrificing an unblemished, sacrificial lamb. Leavening represents the escape from bondage and sin. Jesus is called the Lamb of God through whom the only escape is possible.

Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are God’s provision for the perfect and final sacrifice for man’s sins. God requires no other payment for sins! With this provision, mankind is granted opportunity for new life by the forgiveness of sin and escape from its bondage. It is ours for the mere acceptance of this gift.
This is the key event in the New Testament where it is proclaimed throughout. All four Gospels report the miraculous event. In Matthew 28:6 the angel declared “He is not here: for he is risen!” Mark 16:6 reports “‘Don’t be alarmed,’ [the angel] said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.’”

In Luke 24:46-48, the risen Jesus gave His disciples a greater understanding of the resurrection when He told them: “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” Jesus also foretells of His resurrection in John 16, then to one of the doubting witnesses, Thomas, He says the following in John 20:29: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” –

Outside my window a gentle breeze is blowing. Birds are talking to each other in the tree branches, a confirmation of the fact that spring has truly arrived. To most people, going about their Sunday routine, it is just another hot sunny day. For me it is in fact another AMAZING Resurrection Sunday – our Passion Week celebrations don’t often align perfectly with the timing of the Jewish Passover; but this year they do.

As I’ve already said, this alignment doesn’t necessarily mean anything -- theologically – but somehow for me it made visualizing the events on this past week in “real time” just a little more vivid. And I thought about how different from my spring it must have been for those soon-to-be pilgrims, hurriedly finishing their Seder, and then anointing their doorposts in preparation for the Lord’s angel – and for those faithful women who woke up early on that hot spring morning to the news that the Lord was gone: “He is not here, but is risen!"

What God Taught Me on Palm Sunday

"These things understood not His disciples at the first; but when Jesus was glorified,” that is, when He had manifested the power of His resurrection, “then remembered they that these things were written of Him, and they had done these things unto Him,” that is, they did nothing else but what had been written concerning Him. In short, mentally comparing with the contents of Scripture what was accomplished both prior to and in the course of our Lord’s passion, they found this also therein, that it was in accordance with the utterance of the prophets that He sat on an ass’s colt. Augustine – NPNF 01:07:51

Spiritual insights don’t always come suddenly –nor, for that matter, as quickly, and with as much certainty, as they should.

Or as we’d like.

Nor are they “proprietary” – not since the days of the New Testament gang – and so we trun to things that others have said or written, to jog our consciousness when we want to say something lasting and memorable to our audience. That is why God gave us commentaries. [smiley face goes here]

Edersheim: “…if proof were required of the more sober, and, may we not add, rational view here advocated, it would be found in this, that not till after His Resurrection did even His own disciples understand the significance of the whole scene which they had witnessed, and in which they had borne such a part.”
And so last Saturday when I sat down at my electronic “pad and pencil” and started to write this homily, thinking about where I wanted to take it led me to blow the dust of some of my old commentaries.

Okay, that’s not what happened. Actually, I have a lot of different commentaries in an application called The Sword Project, sitting on my desktop … so the commentary opening thing was relatively dust-free. I also used the search tools from Blueletter Bible, on my web site.

Shameless plug!

In any event, several interesting things caught my attention, in preparing this homily; some of them perspectives on what we generally call “Christ’s Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem, on the Sunday before Easter.

1. The Chronology: (AD 30 )

Almost from the beginning of my Ministry, when I first discovered and read The Life and Times Of Jesus The Messiah by Alfred Edersheim, I have relied in it as a source of narrative discourse on the subject. It wasn’t until this year that I gave any deep thought about when this so-called “Passion Week” happened. Edersheim and many others put the event in 29 A.D.; but this week I read some interesting commentary by yet another person named Johnson – from around the same time as Edersheim – who dates this at A. D. 30.

It’s not important, theologically; but when I considered the dates in Johnson’s timetable, below, I found it interesting that (1) Johnson’s dates align with our calendar, this year (as do Jamieson, Fausset, & Brown’s) ; and (2) this is one of the few years – since our celebrations never occur on any other day than Sunday – that the dates for Maundy Thursday/Good Friday correspond exactly to the dates for the Jewish Passover.

1 co. 5:7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.

B. W. Johnson: The New Testament Commentary: Vol. III--John (1886)

There is a difference of opinion among scholars whether he arrived at Bethany on the evening of the Sabbath day or the day before. It is well to admit that there is much disagreement concerning the exact date of several of the momentous events of the week, extending from the arrival of the Lord in Bethany until his resurrection. Even the "six days before the passover" has been variously interpreted by the commentators. Andrews, whose chronology I have usually followed, and who is one of the best of authorities on chronological questions, adopts Friday as the date of the arrival at Bethany, and supposes that the Lord left Jericho, eighteen miles from Jerusalem, in the morning, reaching Bethany about sunset, and stopped with his apostles over the Sabbath. In the evening of the next day, the Sabbath, the feast was made at the house of Simon the leper. The events of this most wonderful week in the history of the world are tabulated as follows (Please forgive the white space. It's somethijng with the blogger code):


Nisan 9.

March 31.

Supper at Bethany.


Nisan 10.

April 1.

Entry into Jerusalem.


Nisan 11.

April 2.

Second cleansing of the temple.


Nisan 12.

April 3.

Last visit to the temple.The prophecy of Matthew, chapter XXIV.


Nisan 13.

April 4.

Savior resting at Bethany.


Nisan 14.

April 6.

The Savior eats the Passover; the Lord's Supper instituted.


Nisan 15.

April 6.

The Lord crucified. The Jews eat the Passover.


Nisan 16.

April 7.

The Lord in the tomb.


Nisan 17.

April 8.

The Resurrection.

“While I am sensible that there are certain difficulties in this arrangement [184] I believe that there are fewer than are presented by any other scheme and I shall follow it, not as certain, but as supported by the best authorities and most probable. Reasons will be given, under different heads, for the date assigned to the events considered.

“The arrival in Bethany is placed by John "six days before the Passover" (12:1). Assuming that the public entry into Jerusalem took place on the Sunday, and that the 14th of Nisan fell on the following Thursday, this would lead to the arrival being placed on the Friday or Saturday preceding, according to the mode of reckoning. It is in the highest degree unlikely that Jesus would journey from Jericho on the Jewish Sabbath; hence He may be supposed to have arrived on the Friday evening. The supper at which the anointing by Mary took place would be on the Saturday (Sabbath) evening. Matthew and Mark connect it with events two days before the Passover (Mt 26:2; Mr 14:1), but parenthetically, in a way which leaves the other order open.”
Exodus 12:1 And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying , 2 This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you. 3 Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying , In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house: 4 And if the household be too little for the lamb, let him and his neighbour next unto his house take it according to the number of the souls; every man according to his eating shall make your count for the lamb. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: 6 And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.

At the beginning of the passage, where John describes Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, I found this commentary, from Jamieson, Fausset, & Brown:
“John 12:12. On the next day--the Lord's day, or Sunday (see on JF & B for Joh 12:1); the tenth day of the Jewish month Nisan, on which the paschal lamb was set apart to be "kept up until the fourteenth day of the same month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel were to kill it in the evening" ( Exd 12:3, 6 ). Even so, from the day of this solemn entry into Jerusalem, "Christ our Passover" was virtually set apart to be "sacrificed for us"

Reading this in JF & B, my thoughts reflected back to John 1:29 and 36, where the Baptist exclaimed, “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith , Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!” and now that unblemished Lamb is making His way for the last time into Jerusalem. It would take a whole new homily to exegete John’s exclamation; but for now I suppose it is sufficient to confine our remarks to what has been said by these commentators, above.

2. The zeal of the people to see Him

12:9 Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death ; 11 Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away , and believed on Jesus. 12 On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 13 Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried , Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord …20 And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast: 21 The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying , Sir, we would see Jesus,

John, perhaps more than either of the other Gospels, lays bare the prophetic aspects of Jesus’ Ministry, and simultaneously compels his readers to see the fulfillment of God’s Word in Christ. We simply need to find our way the scriptures to grasp John’s voice as he tells us that in Jesus the Messianic prophecies happen exactly as they were spoken.


It is a phonetic combination of the Hebrew words ‘yasha’ /יָשַׁע to save, be saved, be delivered/ and ‘na’ /נָא to pray/; as expressed in the call-and-response passage at Psalm 118:25-26: “Save now, I beseech thee, O LORD: O LORD, I beseech thee, send now prosperity . Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the LORD: we have blessed you out of the house of the LORD”

We see a convergence of people from divergent and unrelated places: the locals who had heard aout His miracle in raising Lazarus; the pilgrims who were in Jerusalem to attend the Passover; and the Gentiles from Philip’s hometown – the latter would have been enjoined from following Jesus into the Temple, and so seized upon their opportunity to meet Him along the way, All of these having heard the news that Jesus would come determined themselves to be there, when He did.

The shouts from the Jewish crowd reflected the certainty from some that He was indeed the Messiah – the promised King who would deliver them from the oppressive Roman rule – and perhaps the tentative excitement of yet another part of the group who were not necessarily convinced that Jesus was “the One,” but told themselves there’d be nothing to lose in shouting “Save us … long live the King!”

But there is something that even the most zealous follower in the crowd that day hadn’t considered – nor heard, in the many times that Jesus had Himself warned. Augustine, I think puts it most succinctly:

“What a cross of mental suffering must the Jewish rulers have endured when they heard so great a multitude proclaiming Christ as their King! But what honor was it to the Lord to be King of Israel? What great thing was it to the King of eternity to become the King of men? For Christ’s kingship over Israel was not for the purpose of exacting tribute, of putting swords into His soldiers’ hands, of subduing His enemies by open warfare; but He was King of Israel in exercising kingly authority over their inward natures, in consulting for their eternal interests, in bringing into His heavenly kingdom those whose faith, and hope, and love were centred in Himself. Accordingly, for the Son of God, the Father’s equal, the Word by whom all things were made, in His good pleasure to be King of Israel, was an act of condescension and not of promotion; a token of compassion, and not any increase of power. For He who was called on earth the King of the Jews, is in the heavens the Lord of angels.” OpCit, Tract. 51.4

3. His triumphal entry

Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it was written, Fear not, daughter of Zion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass's colt. These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him (Jhn 12:14-16).

“Christ's public Entry into Jerusalem seems so altogether different from - we had almost said, inconsistent with - His previous mode of appearance.

“When we brush aside all the trafficking and bargaining over words, that constitutes so much of modern criticism, which in its care over the lesson so often loses the spirit, there can, at least, be no question that this prophecy was intended to introduce, in contrast to earthly warfare and kingly triumph, another Kingdom, of which the just King would be the Prince of Peace, Who was meek and lowly in His Advent, Who would speak peace to the heathen, and Whose sway would yet extend to earth's utmost bounds.” Edersheim Book V.2

4. The Disciples

Lastly – only because there is so much more in the few verses we are considering here than could fit in a reasonably short commentary – there is John’s confession that even for those who had the privilege to be closest to our Lord, spiritual insights didn’t always come suddenly –nor, for that matter, as quickly, and with as much certainty, as they should.

Or as they would have liked.

I think Chuck Smith, says it beautifully:

“Now, John is very honest and very frank here. He said, "You know, we didn't think about it until after He was glorified, and then we thought, 'Oh, wow, remember how we waved the palm branches and He was riding on a donkey? Isn't that what Zachariah said? "Rejoice greatly, O daughters of Jerusalem, behold thy King cometh unto thee, but he is lowly, he is sitting on a donkey, the foal of an ass." Wow!'"

“In other words, he is saying, "We weren't trying to deliberately set the stage. We didn't say, 'Now what does the Bible say is supposed to have next? Let's work it out this way.'" It wasn't a deliberate conspiracy to set the stage. It was something they just did, and afterwards they realized, "Wow! We were fulfilling prophecy." And the realization came, but not until after Jesus was glorified. So it wasn't a deliberately staged event as far as the disciples were concerned.”

Looking back now I admit that preparing this short homily has been a humbling experience, insofar as it reminds me that, even after nearly forty years in Ministry, there is still much that God wants to tel me from His Word. I was certain that I would be able to put some heartfelt words on this blog, in time for Palm Sunday; but it has taken almost a week for God to give me the complete message. And even in that I am aware that there is so very much more that could have been said. Maybe God is saying that’s a message for next year.

Apostolic Blessingss to you, in the Name of our Christ!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Left without a choice

I have always taken a certain amount of pleasure in self-sufficiency. In keeping with how I was raised, I have often done without rather than ask anyone for anything – a choice which has led to detriment, on more than one occasion. Furthermore, I could usually find a way to figure things out, in difficult times; but 2011 has presented me with challenges of a different stripe

More than once this year I’ve found myself dangling by a spider web-thin thread, without so much as the price of a hamburger in my pocket. As you may by now be aware, this year the financial troubles I’ve been facing have forced me to abandon my lifelong taboo against asking other people to help me; and yet (If you’re not aware, read on below), out of 100 people I reached out to, none helped – except for one person who mentioned my situation to a friend and former co-worker – who hadn’t been among the people I’d asked for help, but who did come through with a gift!

Those have been the times when my wit was not sufficient to fix the problem. Those are the times when I’ve found myself left with no choice but to depend on God.

My visa expired on 11/11/11. Renewing it required a trip to Hong Kong; but I made a tactical mistake. The agency that handles my visa renewals is open Monday-Friday and half a day on Saturday, so I assumed I could come into Hong Kong on Friday, and get my visa on Saturday (I have classes on Wednesday and Thursday, .which is why I chose to wait). As I am just beginning to crawl out of the financial crisis of last spring, I only had enough money for tickets, the visa, and – possibly – one night in a hostel.

On arrival I learned that even though the travel agency is open on Saturday, the Visa Office is not. So I have to wait until Monday to get my visa. Furthermore, the one hostel I could afford for ONE NIGHT had no room. Add to that, I both forgot to charge my phone and to put money onit, before I left (there are no “phone bills,” here – you just put money on the phone, and use it until the money runs out).

What to do? I only know two people in Hong Kong, from over two years ago; and had no recollection of how to reach them.

FIRST: Try to find a phone charger, and a phone book. I go to the one mall I know, but NONE of the electronics stores have a charger. About to give up, I decide to ask about a phone book at the service counter – God’s hand surreptitiously guiding me. There is no such thing as a phone book; but the clerk offers to look up the church on the internet. Success!

Not only that, but they have chargers behind the desk which will give me power in about half an hour.

SECOND: Reach Revival Christian Ministries by phone. Give a synopsis of my situation. Neither of the people I know – the Pastor and his secretary – are in the office: in fact, the Pastor is actually in the States. Can I come by? Maybe you can help me figure out the next steps.

THIRD: I find the church, and explain my dilemma to Chloe, one of the church workers, and Matthew, one of the elders. The church finds a place for me to live for three days.


Fok Ying Tung Hall of Residence is an academic retreat on the Tsing Yi campus of Hong Kong’s Institute of Vocational Education (IVE). The campus overlooks Hong Kong’s most famous cargo docks, and Victoria Harbor. It’s a very serene setting; and I found myself thinking today how blessed it would be to bring a group here for a meeting.

On a walk looking for snacks I notice a church called Crossroads Community Baptist Church. I am amazed at how many children there are, hovering around the outside – as on the Mainland it is illegal to teach children the Gospel. In fact they have some lively music going on inside – which I’ve seldom heard a full complement of church music and instruments in the six years I’ve lived here – with good reason, but that’s another subject.

I was tempted to go to Crossroads this morning, as the stop for the us to Revival is directly outside it; but I’d promised Elder Matthew that I’d come to RCC this morning. God has been ministering to my spirit all weekend. Evangelicals usually don’t much care from Dr. Robert Schuller; but it’s one of the church programs available on TV here in Hong Kong – and I’ve never been one to reject a sound message from the Word, no matter the source.

This morning Dr. Schuller’s daughter, Sheila Schuller Coleman was preaching; but it was a layperson named Debbie Bonilla who testified, “Jesus says in Matthew 11:28: “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” I just want to say not only will He give you rest, He will set you free. You will begin to see the miracles in your life. He’ll give you spiritual eyes so you can see those miracles happen, and you will activate the hand of God in your life. So I just want to encourage you to call out to Him and seek Him with your whole heart.”

Then, Sheila’s sermon continued to minister to me: “Some of you have prayed and you thought you would see it by now but you haven’t and your faith has become a little shaky. I know I’m waiting for our miracle. And the way that God has helped me keep my faith rock solid when it starts to feel a little shaky is to remember the miracles. And that’s what God tells us to do. Remember the miracles. Remember the miracles. Remember the miracles. Because when we remember the miracles, we remember that God did do this, God can do this, and then God will do this because God, who did this, hasn’t changed. He didn’t lose His power between the Old Testament and the New Testament, between the New Testament and today. God didn’t lose His power. God can, God has, and therefore God will. God will do His miracle, and that’s why, as we remember what He’s done, as we remember how powerful He is, as we remember the miracles, we are able to have strong faith while we’re waiting for the miracle.”

In fact I did remember.

Thirty-seven years ago I accepted Christ. Coming from 23 years as a Jehovah’s witness who didn’t believe in miracles, I received the message of the Gospel from a man who testified to me about his own miracle. Over the years I have faced so many impossible situations, and God has been there.

This past spring I came within a few days of being in China illegally, with no money, not very much food, and no one who would help me. Frankly, I had more than one conversation with God, asking Him why He wasn’t helping me. Then the parents of one of my students introduced a new student to me – just enough to get through that month. Today I calculated I have just enough money to pay for the visa tomorrow, but not sure how much for food. With the refund from the plane ticket I should be able to buy a train ticket home; but there are still miles to go before I get home, so I can’t rest easy just yet.

There was a guest pastor at RCC, today. Couldn’t totally follow him, the message was in Cantonese, and the translator didn’t translate the message 100% correctly; but his text was 1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.”

After service I waited for Matthew – who’d been in charge of service, today – to finish ministering to a young woman, so I could thank him for the retreat. In the meantime I met a missionary named Rich, and a family from Sierra Leone. I told the father, Tony, about the visa situation. Chloe passed by and said a few words of encouragement about tomorrow. I responded things were looking promising, but I’ll feel better when I’m at home on Nanchang. Tony responded, it’s done, in Jesus’ Name.

I stood in agreement with him; but in my mind I thought I can only believe God for yet another miracle – I have no other choice!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

It’s just a distraction

This is especially to all of us who have accepted God’s Call; but I believe there are implications for all the Saints, as well.

This morning I realized how much time and attention I’ve needed to give recently to matters affecting my life – in fact my very survival. It occurred to me that every second I must spend worrying about how I’m going to “make it” through the next few days, weeks, months, wastes a whole MINUTE that I should be devoting to Ministry.

Ministry is outward. Our adversary keeps us from ministry by forcing us to turn our attention inward. His strategy is to trick us into being so distracted by our own problems that we can’t pay attention to the work we need to do for God.

The strange thing about what I am about to say is while I was writing the first part of this message – I started because I wanted to send some words of encouragement to a dear friend who was feeling a bit discouraged, today – the Spirit kept whispering the word “martyr” into my spirit. I am not clear on all He wants me to say about this word … but it certainly occurred to me that we who are engaged in ministry on any level often have to sacrifice so much for the Kingdom: I wondered if sometimes some of the things we lack are not by-products of God needing us to focus our attention elsewhere? If so, maybe ministry is a corridor to a sort of martyrdom for many of us.

What is a martyr? It is commonly known that a martyr is somebody who suffers persecution and death for refusing to renounce a belief or cause; but this meaning of the word is more recent. In the original meaning a martus [μάρτυς] conveys a broader meaning, namely to be a witness, to bear witness, i.e. to affirm that one has seen or heard or experienced something, or that he knows it because taught by divine revelation or inspiration. In either event the word conveys the idea of sacrifice, which is why – I think – it comes to mind in this discussion.

All of us who have chosen ministry have either consciously or unconsciously agreed to make huge sacrifices for Christ: time, privacy, adulation and adoration, popularity, even wealth. People who do ministry because it draws attention to themselves are not really doing ministry at all – which is why I am not at all impressed by the burgeoning number of people running around calling themselves “Apostle –this,” or “Evangelist- that” or “Psalmist-theother” -- everybody in the Church now, it seems, has a title in front of their names. But the true ministers of God are identified by what they do, not by what they call themselves; and very often don’t have any kind of title.

And many times they are identified by their suffering.

After all, what is the greatest threat to the kingdom of satan? I would argue that satan is most threatened by a diligent servant of God: the kind of person who most people don’t recognize, because they aren’t trying to draw attention to themselves, and to what they are doing to advance God’s Kingdom – their peers don’ notice them but God does.

Look at Job: satan totally ignored him, until God said: "Have you considered My servant Job …?" (1:8, 2:3) Then, as my sister would say, it was on and poppin’. I reckon that boils from head to toe, all of your children dying, and losing the family farm would paint a clear picture that we are under attack from the Enemy; but I can see satan working against us in more subtle ways as well – especially against someone who would just bunker down harder from a very obvious attack. Instead he hits us in other ways where we are vulnerable: something different for each person: loneliness, depression, debt, homelessness or near-homelessness, sickness, people in the church back-stabbing us – I suspect he even uses the wrongdoings of others in the Body of Christ to get us so focused on that person’s wrong that we can’t pay attention to the work that God needs us to do.

God gave me this message today for anyone “going through” – dealing with something so tedious that it hampers your ability to focus on either your ministry or your ministry gift: be encouraged today, IT’S JUST A DISTRACTON! In Tyler Perry’s movie, “Meet the Browns” there was a woman named Miss Ruby who said something to Brenda that I’d heard hundreds of times before, but it never stuck – but this time it ministered to my spirit when she said “when God lets you go through somethin’ it means you about to get a breakthrough.”

Believe me I know it’s hard to avoid being distracted by the difficulties facing us – took Job an entire 42 chapters before he could finally say, "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You;” and only then could he finally get down to the business of being a blessing to the people around him.

God sent me to you today to give you a message of encouragement: not because I am so profound and wise, but because I am the one “going through” … I am the one needing encouragement; and he knows that as I minister to you I am ministering to myself. His message is simple:

"These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." John 16:33

Sunday, May 22, 2011

When the devil's about to capsize your boat

Pray for THIS Bishop. I am really in a battle to keep my head above the waters of hope – much less faith. I have prayed, cajoled, strategized, and even pleaded, but still no answer from the God I’ve put on front, here in a land where so many question His very existence.

People look to us for comfort, for strength; not realizing that we face struggles every day, too … just like them. Here in China I’ve been the poster child for “Jehovah-jireh” for nearly six years – for helping them to see in my own difficulties how God will part the troubled waters for us. It’s what we preachers do.

We talk a good game, but I can assure you that all of us have those private moments where we wonder if God is really there – really listening to us, or even concerned about us. The disciples had Jesus right in the boat with them, and yet even to them – men who could talk to Him about their problems, face to face – it seemed as if He was oblivious to the tragedy that was confronting them. What chance does a West Side Negro from Detroit have in a place like this, when it looks like the devil is about to capsize his boat?

So let me get to the point. I’ve been trying to get home for over a month, now. at the end of last semester my university made a decision to eliminate all but two foreign teaching positions in the English Department. I’ve managed, with a little help from friends to stay afloat, these five months – even complying with the visa requirement to go out of the Mainland, every 30 days; and forking up the $400 USD in visa fees for renewal. But the money has run out – as has my Chinese friends’ ability to bolster me up. I am literally down to my last $75, and under pressure to move out of the apartment where I’ve been boarding.

Anticipating this day, I started last month to ask for help from acquaintances in America – but to this day, no answer. More to the point, no answer from the few people whom I’ve even felt comfortable enough to ask for help: family, friends, and fellow-laborers in the Cross. I’ve left subtle hints on Facebook; and even asked some people directly, in emails – still no answer.

The one person who said they thought they might be able to get me home VANISHED two weeks ago – not available by phone, not answering emails, hasn’t logged in to Facebook. In the past week I’ve reached out to 3 people whom I’ve never met – on two different continents – still no answer.

And I’ve been in God’s face, asking Him to give me just a glimpse of His plan to get me out of this mess, and bring me home. I’ve spent my whole life as a wanderer, and have never been what anyone could call “homesick,” but right about now I don’t care where my feet land, as long as it’s on American soil!

In Detroit, I could just go to a shelter and ride it out. I did that once before, and a whole world of doors opened up for me: I got hired at Ford; I met my good friend, the late Bishop Jack Wallace; I found a house to rent on terms I could afford; an old beater of a car; and I managed – as a single parent – to get my son as far through high school as he chose to go.

But this is China, and I’m a sojourner here. There are no shelters for me.

Growing up my step-father enjoined us from asking for so much as a glass of water from anyone. In his view, asking for anything – no matter how insignificant – was tantamount to begging. As a young man in the Nation of Islam, it was a slogan we learned, “Do for self.” In the end, I’ve spent a lifetime being totally averse to asking anyone … for anything. So for me to open up to my peers, and even relative and total strangers, and ask for help took all the strength I could muster.

At the end of the day, what I actually needed was not cash, or even a ticket; but SkyMiles. A ticket home on Delta costs 70,000 SkyMiles. I have just over 57,000. So MOST of the people I emailed, I asked them to gift (or lend) me any SkyMiles they could spare, to help me make up the deficit.

But still no answer.

I wrote my brother, a few days ago:

“You remember the old Chinese laundry slogan: "no tickee, no washee?"

“I mean whether I'm in China or in the States, I have to meet recurring expenses for meds. And here I have the added recurring expense of having to go out of the country every 30 days.

Those are not options.

“So whether He keeps me in China or provides a way home, GOD has GOT to provide me with an income ... IMMEDIATELY, or I'm in real trouble!”

Last week I finally saw Tyler Perry’s “Meet the Browns.” In one scene Brenda tells Miss Ruby she’s tried to pray but nothing happens. Miss Ruby tells her, “That just means you’re about to get a breakthrough.”

Maybe I’m about to get a breakthrough.

Perhaps my brother was right in his response, perhaps the lack of communicating is folks’ way of saying they are “tapped out,” themselves; or perhaps God is just trying to say, “Wait a minute …”; or that He hasn’t finished working out the details on where I will live and work. Or maybe He’s telling me there’s still things He wants me to do here.

For as hard as I’ve prayed about this thing, maybe it’s time to just be quiet and listen for what God is trying to tell me. Whatever the case, I’m gonna be in real trouble unless He puts something on the plate, REAL soon!

What can YOU do? Read on ...

When the devil's about to capsize your boat -- pt 2

There’s one more part to this diatribe.

Everybody who responded to me that they had some obstacle that made it impossible to help – even a little – was unanimous in assuring me to just have faith; and everything will be all right. This goes back to the thing I wrote in the second paragraph above.

Everything's gonna be all right. We say that – preachers do – even sing it; but in a world of realities, we now that it’s at least possible that things WON’T be all right.

For years I’ve wanted to preach or at least write an exposition on James 2:26. We love the codicil, “faith without works is dead;” but everybody I’ve ever heard cite this passage ONLY talks about that. It’s such a pervasive thing that I believe it has led to a warped understanding of what James was talking about when he said “works.”

As a former Jehovah’s witness, I have indulged in an apologia against what we call “works-based Salvation;” on the premise that “works” is a code word for good behavior. But if we look at the passage in context – beginning at, say, verse 12; maybe we come away with a different viewpoint.

I like verses 14 - 16, because they nail James’ intent, I think.
New King James Version:

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?

New Living Translation – straight as an arrow to the heart of the matter:

Dear brothers and sisters, what's the use of saying you have faith if you don't prove it by your actions? That kind of faith can't save anyone. Suppose you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, and you say, "Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat well" -- but then you don't give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

James is saying, it’s USELESS to pat a brother on the back and wish him well, and then drive away in your Benz to gorge yourself at P. F. Chang’s. James is saying, God doesn’t want you to wish your brother well, and hope he gets the stuff he needs, God wants you to give him some of yours!

I’m stranded, 7,000 miles from my homeland, with barely enough for a night’s stay at a hotel. While I appreciate anyone’s prayers, what I need is a plane ticket.

I have nearly 2,000 friends on Facebook. Were it not for the aversion to asking people for anything, I’d post a note on my wall asking for 75 cents from each of them – a dollar to be on the safe side. (Actually, if I knew who to call on to handle the influx in an expedient manner, I might do it anyway; but since the only person who’s even answering me right now is in South Africa …)


I’m still gonna be in real trouble unless God puts something on the plate, REAL soon!

I've been trying for the past six weeks to find a way to help get home. (read on, below)

Talking to my brother, a moment ago, he suggested something I hadn't thought of:

You could help me get home by making an offering through my PayPal account: become a Covenant Partner for $10, $25, $100, or you tell me how much.

I realize that times are tough, and so something as large as a whole plane ticket might be out of the question; but with almost 2,000 Facebook friends, you could help me get home for the price of a Happy Meal. C'mon, friends and family, help me keep MY boat from capsizing!
If you'd consider it, email me offline at Keep My Boat Afloat, and I will email you the PayPal method; as well as a small "thank you" gift.

Ask your friends if they'll help
I haven't tried this, yet, so I don't know how well it will work, but let's see!