God’s Goal

This is a reflection on the way we view suffering.   Not current news.

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Buddhism. At the core is the attempt to make one’s self moral in order to escape suffering. The Buddha had many moral requirements that practicing Buddhists need to follow in order to reach nirvana. So the goal of Buddhism is to be moral to avoid suffering. In Nirvana the very person disappears since the very self is a delusion so to end suffering – the self must go as well. So the goal is a self-righteousness. Buddhism seeks to love – but the purpose of love is to perfect the moral quality of the person on their journey to nirvana. In other words – love has a basically self-focused goal. Yet, it is interesting that while the goal is to avoid suffering – love always suffers.

What is God’s goal? Why creation in the first place?

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The whole Goal of God is for us to live with him.  Right from the beginning of the Bible we see that  Goal – we are created in the image of God – able to live with him.   God walks with us in the Garden – able to live with him.   Enoch was taken from the world without dying because he walked with God and God took him.   Abram’s promise was that God himself would be his reward.   This theme – that God wants our fellowship – is though the whole story of the Bible.   People worship idols and forsake God. The Israelites escape Egypt through the power of Yahweh and yet, even with his physical presence in the form of a pillar of cloud and fire,  they still rebel against him rejecting both his law and his person. The Ten Commandments begin with “I am Yahweh who brought you out of Egypt out of the house of bondage.”   The ten commandments are the necessary actions of a person who wants to live in the presence of Yahweh, not simply good rules to live by, or even the laws of a nation.  The children of Israel cannot live in Yahweh’s presence and disobey these commands.   Again – the goal is for us to live with HIM.

In Southeast Asia it is a common idea that all suffering is the result of a person’s bad actions.  The ordinary Buddhist understanding of suffering as evidence of wrong – karma – is not accurate.   In fact even the Buddha taught people to love.

God uses the suffering of love to shape our character to be like his own character.  For example, God gives us work to do so that we can be creative and form things in a useful and good way.  Then we reflect the very nature of God who was also creative building on what was good (water) to make something even better (dry land).  This ability to form a new thing by true effort, hard work and creativity makes physical suffering a servant for our character development. We can cooperate with God to use the abilities given us by God to show our love for God and our love for others or we can use those same abilities for selfish self-centered reasons. Our character is both developed and revealed by the work we do.  Love suffers when it helps others.  Suffering comes because it takes effort (suffering) to assist another when they need help.  This is true if the help is in a team working for a goal.  This is true if the help is at work earning a living.  This type of suffering occurs in every human expression of love for another.   Even our love for God requires a form of suffering as we forgive other’s sin against us.

Perhaps one reason that God works through prayer is because it brings a relational connection between a person, God and another person or event.  That is to say that the very idea of prayer is that we are connected to the world and to other people THROUGH God.  This was His goal from the beginning that we would work with him and through him and with others and through others.   Each person being given a set of abilities and circumstances that allow them to be useful in a particular way.   So that in prayer – we are able to help others become more like Jesus Christ God’s son our brother and the captain of our salvation.  We literally touch them in prayer.  This is why the Apostles prayed for all the saints.

In all of Scripture God’s goal is for us to live with Him.  He not trying to make us a good person, or to be moral – to be acceptable against some set of laws or rules.  These are two very different goals and motivations.  To live with someone for a long time we must be compatible.  Our character, our behavior and attitudes will help us toward a close friendship. We don’t have to have similar preferences, these can vary widely.   We don’t have to have similar skills or similar capacities – these can vary widely.   We need to have mutual acceptance, mutual respect and mutual love.   We need a character that can sustain the relationship for the time necessary.  So that for a short relationship or a shallow relationship – not much character is needed.  The longer the relationship and the deeper the relationship the more relational character is needed. This is true in all of life.  I might be cheated in a one time purchase and decide not to return to that store.   The relationship does not build because the seller does not have character.  In the same way, I might receive a service or good and not pay for it.  The seller will not trust me in a future transaction and refuse to do business again.  If I have a girl friend or boyfriend and I insult them they might stay for a short time but if I do this again and again it is not likely we will marry.   

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Every command in Scripture is built on this idea of trust.  Even the strange commands in Leviticus like not having clothing of two kinds shows that the Israelites are Yahweh’s people – HIS people who are not like anyone else in the world.  Many of the commands are designed to make the people of God stand out as a different and unique culture so that those who wanted to join them had much more than circumcision to set them apart – they had a whole different culture and appearance to take on.   Their love relationship with God cost them something – it required a choice to be different than the surrounding nations.   Without this type of choice the actual focus of our love is never revealed.  We must have a special identity in our relationship with someone or we are not truly intimate with that person.  As we conform to or obey the requirements of the relationship we build trust between the parties.   

Long term relationships depend on trust.

How do we build trust with God?   God is Holy – so we must be holy to live with him for an eternity.   “You have eternal life” has to do with the character of the life – the quality of the life.   We now possess the type of life that will carry us through eternity as friends of God – as children of God.   It is not that we possess everlasting existence – that is given to everyone sinner and saint in the resurrection – eternal life is the type of character that will enable us to be intimate friends with God forever.  This is the key to Holiness.  We must become like God to live with him! This is the Goal of God – the focus of Salvation.

The HOPE of the Buddhist is to be a moral person so they can escape the suffering of karma and the cycle of reincarnation.  

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The HOPE of the Christian is to become like Christ so we can live in peaceful joy and satisfaction with HIM forever.   The Bride of Christ! 

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Recovery and Opportunity

It was a long long day.   I left the house at 7 AM after a cup of coffee.   Passing by the Condo office a person ran out with a complementary breakfast for a special promotion they were having.   In the taxi for an hour and I arrived at the Church right on time to eat my breakfast with the pastor.  10 minutes later we were in his truck and on the way to Kong Ki Thailand.   This was my first time to go.   We had a Nazarene Church there with a thriving ministry to 200 children some years ago.  But today, because of a moral failure we were not sure what the situation was at the property.   Nearly 10 years ago the congregation failed and the property was not cared for.   What would we find?

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This was the location of a thriving Nazarene church.

Pastor Lamp and I passed by the construction of a new highway.  “That will cut the time from 4 hours to 2 hours into Esan.”  He told me as we dodged traffic.   About every hour we stopped for a bathroom break and some more coffee.   Finally, we met our friends from Maha Sarakam who were going with us.   We all headed for a restaurant for lunch before going to the property.

It has been so long since anyone had been to this church that we drove around Nong Ki for 30 minutes to find the location.   Finally, we spotted the old sign and turned down the road.  What we saw was both sad and hopeful.   The church building was abandoned.   Sad because it was not being used.   Hopeful because the person who was causing problems was no longer living there.    No one had seen the church for 3 years.

“We can recover this.”  I said.   “Let’s get some teams from our churches to come and help clean this up.  Let’s find a pastor to help start over.”  The rest of the group was hopeful!

Please pray that we find the right families to help us restart this church.

We made one more stop that day and finally made it back to Bangkok at 1:30 AM!

God sees me! Emmanuel!

Joy! Real Joy! He was a really old man, faithful and righteous – a priest. He and his wife had prayed that God would take away their shame and reproach. They had no children. Many nights his wife, Elizabeth, cried in frustration. “Why can’t I have a child!!??” Now in his old age Zacharaias’ pain and shame had settled into a sigh deep in his soul. He had almost forgotten their prayer.

Yet! Today was a day of Joy! The offering of Incense – prayer! He was always glad.

There were too many priests and they cast lots to see who would have the privilege of burning the incense. This year was his turn! Garments on, bells ringing at the bottom as he walked, he pushed his old aching legs to make the climb up the stairs. Swinging the burner that special smell reminded him of prayer. Outside the large crowd was gathered in prayer.

Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. Totally startled and afraid, Zacharias was troubled when he saw him. But the angel said to him, “Don’t be afraid, Zacharias, because your request has been heard, and your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. You will have joy and gladness; and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine nor strong drink. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord, their God. He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to prepare a people prepared for the Lord.”

Is it possible? Was their prayer answered? Zacharias had real faith but he was full of skepticism and doubt that mixed with his faith from a long life of disappointment. His first reaction to anything was doubt. Cynicism is the temptation of old age.

Zacharias said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”

God has a sense of humor and so did Gabriel. The angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God. I was sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news. Look, you will be silent and not able to speak, until the day that these things happen, because you didn’t believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.”

Zacharias could not even reply to the Angel. His work done he walked outside to the crowd. The people were waiting for Zacharias, and they were amazed that he delayed in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them, and they finally understood that he had seen a vision in the temple. He continued making signs to them, and remained mute. Zacharias was encouraged! Each time he could not speak he was reminded of Gabriel’s promise. When the days of his service were fulfilled, he departed to his house.

Just a few days later, Elizabeth, his wife, conceived, and she hid herself for five months, saying to herself, “This is the way the Lord blessed me in these days!  He looked at me, to take away my reproach among men.”

God answers prayer!

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First Sermon

Cheering and laughter mixed with Hallelujah in the Banchalong Bethany Nazarene church this morning. Saya ma Kuhn Jar was excited. The whole group was alive and singing passionately.

As usual they gave Naomi and I the front chairs. This is because they are an honorable group and because the front chairs are metal, less likely to break under me.

We recognized Ruth and a young woman from the Bangkok first church and sitting on the front row. I was surprised because Ruth normally attends the Bangkok first church and this was my first time to see her in the Bethany Church. We didn’t know the young woman with her very well. We had seen her once or twice but didn’t know much about her story.   To my surprise they introduced the young woman as the speaker and Ruth as the translator into Burmese.    The young woman had a written manuscript and Ruth had a duplicate with written translation notes.   They were well prepared.

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a half hour later the sermon was finished.   We took an offering, sung a few more songs and had lunch together.   We had the chance to get to know the young woman named Chadappron Laodee, nicknamed Tun Hong.   Her third year in Bible College, it was her FIRST sermon! She was raised in a Christian family – which is un-usual for the Thai Believers.

Ruth – whose full name is Ruth, Nan Than Sein, Nan Moe Nuu has also been studying to become an ordained minister.

God calls all kinds of people to ministry.  He does not look at ability, popularity, influence, only on the willingness of a person to obey the call.

Cows with Green glasses

The large flip presentation was in our hands.  I was listening closely.  It was a clear gospel presentation yet I was very uncomfortable.   Many of the thoughts were strange to me.  “We must seek the truth with the mind of a child.  The purity and simplicity of a child is needed to find the truth.”

We turned pages and I saw the cow with green sun glasses.

IMG_4309“If you do not have the mind of a child you will be like a cow with Green glasses.”  Bill Kwon listening beside me politely interrupted our friend, “is this your own idea or a part of the local culture?”  “Oh, it is the local culture.  In the dry season there is no green grass for the cows.  The farmer will put green glasses on the cows so that they will eat the brown grass,” our friend replied.  Bill and I looked at each other in amazement.

“So you mean that a person who does not have the mind of a child will eat anything even if it is not good?” I asked.  “Yes, that’s right.  A person who is not simple, will believe anything,” said our friend.

It was an interesting point.   All through the presentation I kept thinking two things.  First, “I would not say it that way.”  Second, “This is what a contextual presentation looks like.”    The next page was a series of evidences of the influence of Christianity in the Buddhist culture.   Like the robe worn at a graduation, the symbol of healing on every hospital, the use of the Christian dating system and the common idea of Saturday and Sunday.   I would never have thought of using these as a way to approach a Buddhist.

That’s the whole point of contextualization.   What reaches a culture is unique.  The message of salvation touches each culture in unique ways.   Jesus died for all of us.  Yet, His relationship with each of us is unique.   It is our own.  In the same way His relationship to each culture is unique and special.   Redemption takes on many kinds of beauty.

Revelation 2:17 WEB He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies. To him who overcomes, to him I will give of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written, which no one knows but he who receives it.

This amazing passage confirms that each of us is unique and has a unique relationship to   Jesus Christ.   Jesus seeks our friendship and love.   The goal of salvation is intimacy with God.  Forgiveness is the door but Eternal life is the very life of God.  That is why we have Eternal life the moment we confess, repent and believe – we are reconciled to God and starting to love him.  His command is that we love him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.  This means our total being.   Our unique self.   Who we really are.   God wants to love us as we truly are.  He is lovingly working to redeem us.

In this life we often hide.   We are hesitant to be truly what we are.  At times, other people criticize us, oppose us, abuse us.  Especially before we come to Christ we are not truly what we should be.   We are warped by our selfishness.   We were created to be in love with God and in love with others to be truly ourselves.

The Gospel is GOOD NEWS!  Eternal LIFE means we will really live!

Hugging in the Street

Here a hug, there a hug, everywhere a hug!  IMG_4260Shams, mother of four, one of our Cambodia team members from Korea strolled down the crowded sidewalks deftly dodging trash, broken concrete, parked bikes and motos. Young mothers lounged in the doorways holding their babies.  Shams hugged every baby in site.   She hugged some of the women greeting them all.

Surrounding a massive market there are small streets – walkways really – lined with IMG_4259hundreds of rooms. A crowded community yet a surprisingly complete one. The bare essential rooms are about 12 feet wide by 25 long with a small bathroom at the back.  Sometimes several families share one room sleeping 5 to 10 people in the small space. Cambodian’s prefer sleeping on mats on a hard surface rather than cushions that can fill with bugs, lice, ants and mice.   We passed dentist offices, a grocery, coffee shops, laundry, barbers and moto repair. Nearly anything needed for a complete community – on the lower economic scale.

It was clear that everyone in the community knew Yacob and Shams.

Yacob and Shams have rented two small rooms to host play and recreation areas for IMG_4262children in one room and teens in the other.   For the children they hired teachers to be present when the children are out of school.  Some children have school in the morning and some in the afternoon.   Rather than run the neighborhood they have a place to learn, play, sing and memorize scripture.   Yacob beamed as he bragged that the children had memorized the Lord’s prayer!

The teen room was basic yet with tables and chairs, guitars and white boards.   Each Sunday the Go’s hold a simple service for the children and teens.   Their goal this year is to baptize ten of the teens.  So far, none have followed Christ.

Prayer

That whole familes will come to Christ this year.

That Yacob and Shams will be wise in developing leadership for this new church

That the children will be a witness to their friends

 

 

Creation thoughts

A bit of Apologetics.  For those of you who do not like science or deep philosophical thinking you can skip this blog.

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About 100 years ago Albert Einstein thought about the world in a new way.  You can read his ideas here.  Actually his book can be read by a high school student with just basic geometry.  It is interesting and written from an everyday level for lay persons by Albert Einstein himself.   He proves the point that if you really understand something you can explain it in ordinary language.

Everyone has heard of the formula…  E-MC²   It is on T-Shirts and Billboards.   People use it as art without thinking much about it.   You may not have thought about it much but today I want to talk about an implication that I don’t hear discussed.   It seems obvious to me but …  my wife says I am weird.

What the formula says is that matter – physical stuff is the same thing as energy.   The clothes you wear = energy.  The dirt you walk on = energy.   Everything you can feel or touch is actually energy!   Weird right?

So what is matter?  What are atoms?   What are electrons and di-lithium crystals??   Wait that’s Star Trek.    But atoms,  what are they?   Basically organized energy.   Atoms are made of smaller parts (Electrons, Neutrons, Protons) and these are made of even smaller parts, which are made of smaller parts.  But all these parts are energy – organized in a special way that allows them to be stable and to do stuff together.  An Atom can exist for the whole history of the universe without changing – unless it is a special class of radioactive atoms.  This is amazing!  The amount of stored energy in matter is MiNd BOggLing.  By the way – the radioactive atoms gave us the clues needed to understand the parts of an atom and proved that Einstein was right!

We know what energy does but we really don’t know what it is.   But whatever energy is… matter is energy in a different form.

Ok, so what? What’s the big deal?

IMG_3245Well it’s just this, matter is incredibly well organized.   There are all kinds of balances in forces to make it work.   Rules and guides that put it together.  There are several balancing forces within an atom and there are balancing forces that group atoms together into molecules.  Any change at all in the strength or type of forces and we would not exist.  The universe would not exist. We don’t really know what a “force” is.   We just see an effect and give that a name like “magnetism.”  We can describe it by showing when it works and when it does not work.   How strong it is, what it effects etc.  So forces are just a type of relationship we can observe and describe.

Matter is relationally organized energy.

Get that?

Matter is energy that has been well organized into a stable form.  It is energy in special relationships to other energy in special relationships that make the energy able to perform a specific function.

So what?

Well, this means that we live in an essentially relational universe.  That at the very bottom of everything we find intelligent structured relationships.  Words.  These relationships cannot be random, because the very concept of random presupposes the current structural patterns. Random itself is a specific type of relationship.  The relational structuring of energy into matter had to happen at the very beginning of creation, when God created the heavens and the earth.   All the relationships had to be defined right at the beginning.   Our Creator is our redeemer, our sanctifier, our brother.

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him. Without him was not anything made that has been made.” (John 1:1-3 WEB).

For this cause, we also, since the day we heard this, don’t cease praying and making requests for you, that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, that you may walk worthily of the Lord, to please him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to the might of his glory, for all endurance and perseverance with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who made us fit to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the Kingdom of the Son of his love; in whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins; who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

For by him all things were created, in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things are held together. He is the head of the body, the assembly, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For all the fullness was pleased to dwell in him; and through him to reconcile all things to himself, by him, whether things on the earth, or things in the heavens, having made peace through the blood of his cross.  (Colossians 1:9-20 WEB)