Monday, April 26, 2010

The Children, a Hail Storm & the Power of God

Last Saturday morning I was asked to teach Sunday School which takes place on Saturday afternoon. As I prayed about what I should teach, I felt led to Luke 4:31-41 which tells the story of Jesus’ power over demons, sickness, and disease, and as always the display of his power is a display of his love. Once I formulated the idea that I would set before the children, I spent some time praying for them and as I did I got the sense that the Lord was going to manifest his power among us. I didn’t know if that meant he would heal or cast out a demon or what, but I couldn’t escape the sense that I had.

So, when the time came we all walked down to the fellowship hall, sang some songs, and when the time was right I began teaching. About two-thirds of the way into the lesson we heard the first crack of thunder. It was quite loud. Then it began to rain, mixed with small bits of hail. The roof on the fellowship hall is tin so it was quite loud and hard to teach. I actually wondered at one point if the Lord was silencing me because I was being quite bold with unbelievers in the room but then the hail subsided.

When I had finished my thoughts on the power of Jesus and how that’s manifested—sometimes in acts of power, sometimes in sustaining us in our weakness—the hail began to fall again, only this time it grew from pea-sized hail into larger than golf-ball-sized hail! In America, the children, and adults for that matter, would hide from the storm but to my surprise the children of India ran right out into it. They were picking up all the pieces of hail they could find, and the bigger the better. We adults of course were making sure no one was getting hurt but I must say that I had so much fun watching the children enjoy the hail as they did.

They were at times shouting in exaltation, “Ice, ice, God has given us ice!” Even some of the adults joined in the fun and were running around gathering up as many pieces as possible.

As I stood under the porch of the fellowship hall watching the children, and entering into their joy, it occurred to me that God had fulfilled the sense I had in prayer. He had done it in a way I did not expect but he did it. The children later told me that they had never seen hail that large, and I told them to think about what they had seen. In the storm, God had graciously displayed his power. He didn’t allow us to think about his power only, he allowed us to see it. And, I told the children, he will use that power in our lives if we will only believe. Sometimes he will chase away our enemies, sometimes he will heal our diseases, sometimes he will sustain us and display his power through our weakness. But at all times through Christ he will work his great power in us if we only believe.

As Paul prayed for the Ephesians, “that you may know…what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might, that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Eph 1:19-21).

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Dream our Children Will Probably Never Have

A couple of days ago a ten-year-old girl at Beracha House came up to me and said, “Pastor Charlie, I had a dream.” “Really,” I replied, “what was your dream?”

She responded, “I dreamed that sometime after you left the Muslims came and attacked Beracha House. There were lots and lots of them but we ran, and we were able to get away. Then the police came and chased after those bad men and they killed lots of them. I saw many Muslims lying dead on the streets, but I was giving thanks to the Lord because he kept us safe.”

I was a bit taken back by this and concerned for her soul, so I asked, “Honey, how are you doing, how are you feeling about your dream?” She replied without a moment of hesitation, “Oh, I’m fine, Pastor Charlie, the Lord kept us safe.” Wow, that’s a dream our children will probably never have, and an attitude I can only pray that they would have.

I don’t know if her dream was prophetic or a symptom of life in a persecuted context, but one way or the other I thank God for the simple faith of this child. May we all become as little children.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Last night was very special. After dinner I normally say goodnight to the children, go up stairs, and prepare all the teaching material I will need for the next day. But last night I was delayed a bit and as the teenagers finished their nightly chores they came and sat near me. They began to ask me questions about a number of things, Christianity, life in America, what it’s like to fly on a plane or ride in a boat, my family, the church, all kinds of things.

And they opened up to me as well. They shared some of their thoughts and dreams with me, some of their silly stories, and some of their exploits here at Beracha House. As I listened to them open up their hearts and just be kids with me, I was so thankful to God. I came to love them all the more. They are cherished in the sight of God for he has a special place in his heart for the orphans and the widows. I can’t tell you how privileged I felt to be part of their lives, it seemed that I was standing on holy ground.

Two of the stories they told me will, I’m sure, stick in my mind for some time to come. The first has to do with when they were building up Beracha House. One of the boys was working with the hired men all of whom were Hindus, and one of those men began to say that the leader of Beracha House was British and intended to come in here and steal all the land. He told this boy that she was only showing love to deceive them and that they should leave right away. But this boy, far from being persuaded, began telling the man that he was wrong. The man pushed harder but this boy raised his voice and rebuked the man strongly! Get the picture in your mind: a ten or eleven year old boy rebuking a full grown man for telling lies! Wow, that was the power of God pulsing through him.

The Hindu man was never persuaded and neither was the boy, so the boy just walked away and told what had happened. Later a local pastor spoke with this man and assured him that the leader was, first of all, not British, and second of all, not interested in taking everyone’s land. To this the man replied, “I was only trying to test the boy’s love for the leader.” Yeah, right!

I cannot tell you how deeply the faith of this young man, now thirteen, touched me. As I said before I left, I came here to love and protect and serve these children but I knew then, and I certainly know now, that they will teach me just as much if not more.

The second story had to do with a time when everyone had to evacuate the property for their safety. Some people in a nearby church wanted to stir up trouble for Beracha House and so they made some threats and the leader of that church thought it best to have everyone leave. And so all of the children, from eighteen to two years old, along with a couple of escorts took taxis to the train station and then rode the train for several hours to stay with a pastor in the north. The leader of the ministry went to Thailand.

I asked the children, “Was that pastor nice to you,” and immediately they shook their heads no. No one even met them at the train station. Over twenty children with just a couple of adults had to wait there for quite sometime and finally they came. When the pastor found out that they arrived he said, “Oh, you came.” They put the children in a new building which looked nice but was filthy dirty. They gave them sheets and such that were horribly soiled and not fit for use. They provided them with meager food which they had to prepare for themselves and dishes which had never been cleaned from the last meal at which they were used.

So, how did the children of Beracha House act, our children? Just like Jesus Christ, in fact, it’s bringing tears to my eyes as I write. They did not complain. They gave thanks to the pastor and his helpers, and they began to clean. They cleaned everything. Windows, walls, floors, bathrooms, dishes, sheets, pillows, the porch, and the exterior of the building. They found wildflowers growing in the area and so they carefully removed them from the ground and planted them around the building. They did many things to both clean and beautify the place, and every day they gave thanks to God and the pastor for the little food and water they received.

At the end of two weeks, they offered their thanks again to the pastor and made the ten hour journey back to Beracha House because it was then safe. And not only that, they invited the pastor and his people to visit Beracha House sometime.

They told me, “Pastor Charlie, if they come here, we will treat them very kindly. We will give them the best places to sleep and make them good food and much tea.” Oh Beloved, this touched me SO DEEPLY, to see Christ living in these precious, chosen ones and so humbly displaying his love to those who were far less than kind to them.

How I praise God for these children, and for the leader of this ministry who has nurtured this kind of faith and love in them. The Beracha House is indeed a house of blessing and I’m so grateful to be here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"Delhi Belly" & the Grace of God in Christ

The Sunday before I left for India I preached as usual, and then some of the people from the church gathered around and prayed for me. My good friend Greg Chaffin spoke a word over me that I knew was from the Lord, the main part of which was 2 Cor 12:9. Paul writes, “But he [the Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

Then when the service was over a woman approached me to say that the Lord had shown her I was going to get sick while I was here, and that I should know that this was part of his plan. She said that the way I reacted was going to be very important. I really took this to heart because my stomach didn’t do so well last time I was here and I just knew that same kind of thing was going to happen again.

And sure enough it did. I don’t mean to be disgusting, but I literally used the bathroom more than 50 times before lunch yesterday. On the one hand, this became rather painful and, on the other, it led me near to the edge of more serious issues. So I spoke with my friend Seiji about this and we decided to go into the local pharmacist and get some medication, after which I spent some time resting.

Later, as I came downstairs for dinner, one of the children asked, “Pastor Charlie, are you feeling better, yeah?” “No,” I replied, “but I’m happy because God is with me.” I really meant that. My ailment was not fun, believe me, but I was feeling such joy because it was a small entrance into the suffering of Christ for the sake of these people who I have come to love. And so, with faith and hope in God we bowed in prayer together and asked for his help.

Praise be to his Name, I was able to sleep through the night without any problems and my issue has almost completely gone away. Seiji has insisted that I eat different food and I have listened to him and I think this is helping as well. God has used the combination of a pharmacist, the prayers of his chosen children, and the kindness and wisdom of a new friend in Christ to bring healing into my body.

I was supposed to begin a series of devotionals today from the book of Ephesians. For those of you from Glory of Christ Fellowship, this will come as no surprise to you! But instead of beginning that journey I took the children and staff to 2 Cor 12:9 and told them the story of how God had spoken to me about my weakness and illness before I even left for India, and what a grace this was from God. They were, as I was, touched by the hand of God moving in such a seemingly fleshly situation.

And the main point I tried to make to them was that whether in weakness or strength, sickness or health, God is the God of all the earth and he is worthy to be praised. Although our bodies are wasting away and enduring all kinds of ailments and worse, our inner nature is being renewed day by day as God the Father so powerfully works his might in us through Christ. The question is, do we have eyes to see?

I am so thankful for the grace of God that’s been manifested in this “Delhi belly” of mine!

Monday, April 19, 2010

"Delhi Belly" & the Suffering of Christ

As I was preparing to leave for India a friend of mine said, “Don’t get Delhi belly!” I laughed at this phrase of course but I did take him seriously, and yet somehow I knew that I would contract this pesky ailment no matter how careful I was. And indeed I have done just that.

For those of you who don’t know what “Delhi belly” is, let’s just say I’ve gone through 1.5 super-size rolls of toilet paper in three days. Get the picture? Sorry to have provided you with it but I do actually have a reason for doing so!

In order to share in the resurrection power of Christ we must also partake of his sufferings. We must count all things as loss that we, by whatever means possible, might attain the resurrection from the dead (Phil 3:7-11). And not only that, we must be willing to suffer minor inconveniences and serious ailments and persecution unto death that some from every tribe and tongue and nation might come to know the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Now, some of you may wonder if something like “Delhi belly” really qualifies to be included in the sufferings of Christ, and I would answer by saying of course it does. There’s only one reason I have this ailment: I have left the comforts of my homeland, I have not considered American life something to be grasped, but instead I have made my abode among the poor for one month, part of which means I’m eating their food. Their food is what is making me sick but, by the grace of God, I have counted my physical and cultural comfort as nothing that both they and I might know Christ Jesus and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings.

We Americans are so comfortable, in fact, we’ve made a god of our comfort. Anything that threatens our comfort must either be avoided or destroyed. But this is not the way of Christ. Christ himself left unimaginable comfort to take on the form of a servant and be obedient all the way to death on a cross, and now he commands those who believe in him to willingly do the same from the heart.

“21 And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, 22 saying, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.’ 23 And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels’” (Luke 9:21-26).

So whether it’s Delhi belly or disease or imprisonment or even death, may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ give us the strength to become like Christ in his death that we might also share in his resurrection.

Internet Access Intermitent and SLOW

Just a quick note to let you know that I’ll continue trying to blog when I can but it’s been much harder than expected. I have not had access to the net in three days now. But I trust the Lord and when he opens the door I will post what I can.

Your prayers are much appreciated!

Arrived at Beracha House

It’s Saturday morning in India and I have been at Beracha House for about 18 hours now. Pastor Paul, Sejji, and four of the children greeted me at the airport. They were such a welcome sight. When I was here in January I felt a fair amount of culture shock because life here is quite different from life at home, but after only ten days I settled into the culture and to my surprise I still felt that settled sense yesterday. In some ways it felt as though I never left.

When I first arrived at the Beracha House the children were actually a bit tentative with me. We really connected last time I was here, and I’ve been writing them pastoral-type notes every Saturday evening or Sunday morning, so their tentativeness surprised me a bit. I think they had the feeling like, “Is this man for real? Does he really love us so much?” They are, after all, orphans and they’re still getting used to being loved.

So, we all gathered on the porch and at first they just stared at me—they didn’t say a word, they just stared. I asked them one question and then another, but all I got was one or two word responses so I decided to take some time and pray with them. I gave thanks to the Lord for such a smooth journey, and for seeing fit to send me again to this blessed place. After that we sang a number of songs together and two of the children quoted Scripture to me.

Rachel, who is only five years old, quoted Phil 2:1-10 without missing a beat and then Elizabeth, who is 8 or 10 years old, finished off the entire chapter. It was very touching. This time of worship and sharing began to break the ice but what really melted it all the way was when I said I’d like to play soccer with them again.

Oh they were so excited! They grabbed the ball, escorted me out to the “soccer field,” we chose teams and played for two hours. It was such a wonderful and bonding time, and I’m grateful to the Lord for it.

After that we sat in the dining area and just spent some time together. They asked me to sing my infamous rendition of “how do you solve a problem like Maria,” and then they asked me to tell them a story which I did. We finished up the night by looking at a world map together, praying, and eating dinner. By then I was completely wiped out and went to bed!

It’s hot this morning, at least for this Minnesota boy. The children tell me it’s quite cool which frightens me because I already feel like I’m living in a sauna. I don’t like the heat, but the Lord will help me. I count it a real privilege to enter into the way of life here at Beracha House, including the difficulty and discomfort.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Quick Video from India

Pray for West Bengal

The friends I'm here to visit in India live in a state called West Bengal. I just heard the news that a terrible storm has swept through the state, although south of my friends, killing hundreds and destroying tens of thousands of homes which left over 250,000 people homeless. Please join me in praying for them.

Arrogance & Humility at 38,000 Feet

I was feeling rather uncomfortable in seat 2B because I’m not used to life in first-class. In fact, the last time I flew in that part of the plane I was too young to understand what that meant! I was also fairly brain-dead after three or four sixteen-hour-days in a row and so it was a little harder than usual to orient myself to a foreign environment.

My neighbor to the left—yes, the seats and surrounding areas are so large that I’m actually thinking of my fellow passenger as a neighbor—he wasn’t struggling with the first-class thing at all. Quite the opposite. He was a forty-something businessman of some sort who seemed to think the world revolved around him. He barked commands at the flight attendants and didn’t even say thank you until about seven hours into the flight, and even then it was a bit forced. He seemed to envision his “neighbors” as necessary nuisances rather fellow travelers or anything close to equals. At one point he began singing out loud to some song, and I don’t mean muttering under his breath, I mean singing. “We’re going down, yeah, yeah, we’re going down!”

Okay, I’m not the most sensitive guy in the world but we’re flying at 38,000-feet above a frozen tundra which will ensure the death of any survivors if the plane should happen to crash, and this forty-something teenager is singing, “We’re going down, yeah, yeah, we’re going down!”

I felt more pity than disdain for him but I must admit that I did feel a bit of the latter. It seems that in the solar system of his self-conception he is the sun and the planets and everything in between, and I long for him to know God and see how small he really is.

As I pray silently for him and read my book, the flight attendant brings the first of what turns out to be a four-course meal. It’s as good as any meal I’ve eaten this year and given the fact that it’s being served on an airplane it impresses me all the more. The meal did not impress my neighbor. In fact, nothing on the flight did. The one thing he said to me in eight hours was, “I’m really disappointed in this flight. The seats are so small and there’s so little space, it’s like going back in time.” Honestly, I didn’t know what to say and I’m so tired that I can’t remember what I did say.

As I reclined my seat into the “sleeping” position and tried to get some rest, I asked the Lord, “Father, why did you have me sit next to this man? What are you trying to teach me?”

After some meditation, I came to see that the rightful disdain I felt toward this man’s brash arrogance was but a dim reflection of God’s feelings when he sees any amount of arrogance in our hearts. And he sees plenty of it because he looks on the inward things and not on the outward appearances. He sees arrogance when we feign humility. He sees arrogance when we serve others so that we can be recognized for our service. He sees arrogance when we worship or pray or preach in such a way as to draw attention to ourselves rather than to the one who has been so gracious to us. He sees arrogance when we denigrate ourselves and seem so humble but are in fact consumed with thoughts of ourselves.

God sees arrogance in many deep and profound ways, and it grieves him to the core. It is the most powerful God-repellent in the world, and we sinners are full of it. This is why both James and Peter quote that text from Proverbs 3:34 which says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” It’s a powerful thing to say that God opposes anything, but with a little thought you can see that he must oppose the proud. Why? Because at the heart of pride is false-worship, idolatry, and self-exaltation.

As I have processed this experience, I’ve come to be so thankful to God for this fellow traveler because he helped me to see something of my own pride and how repulsive it is to God. May our kind and gracious God reveal us to ourselves that we may die and Christ may live! May he give us the desire and strength to obey the command of 1 Peter 5:5 which says, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another.” For humility, in stark contrast to arrogance, is exceedingly attractive to God, indeed, he loves to shower his blessings on the humble of heart.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Gaining a Proper View of Ourselves: Part II

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been writing about ways in which we can come to a more proper assessment of ourselves in light of others so that we can grow in humility and succeed in what John Calvin calls self-denial. So far I’ve addressed four ways we can do this which I will simply list below and then add four more with some brief comments.

1.      Contemplate ourselves in the light of the being God.
2.      Contemplate ourselves in the light of creation.
3.      Contemplate our sins and short-comings.
4.      Contemplate the brevity of life and our utter powerlessness over death.

5.      Contemplate the fact that everything we have is by grace. Paul said in 1 Tim 6:7, “we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.” Everything we have comes to us by the grace of God: strength, talents, abilities, resources, personality, looks, difficulties, challenges, sufferings and so on. Since this is the case, we should neither take credit for our accomplishments nor turn obsessively inward in our difficulties. In all things God and his grace should be at the center of our thoughts. This will take us a long way down the road of humility and self-denial.

6.      Contemplate the image of God in others. One of the most powerful ways to humble ourselves before others is to contemplate the fact that they are image bearers of Almighty God. No matter what a person appears to be on the outside, or how off-putting they are to us, we must learn to assign eternal value to them because they are eternally valuable. A particular person may be condemnable in God’s sight, but we are not allowed to look upon others as God does because we are more like them than him! So may we humble ourselves before all people and learn to see and value them for what they are: beacons of the being of God. They may be good beacons or bad but they are beacons indeed.

7.      Contemplate the fact that “love does not seek the things of itself.” In recent days this phrase has ministered so deeply to my soul and helped me to act more like Christ in a variety of situations. It’s taken literally from the Greek text of 1 Cor 13:5 and it means that true love looks upward to God and outward to others. True love knows that its own needs will be met as it dies to itself and lives to the purposes of God. True love knows that its joy will be found in seeking the “good of the whole” rather than the advancement of self.

8.      Contemplate the clear command of God to love our neighbor as ourselves, or as Jesus put it, to love one another as he has loved us. God has commanded us to look outside of ourselves and care, truly care, for the needs of others. He’s done this for his glory, the good of others, and the joy of our souls but at the end of the day we must come to grips with the fact that he’s done it. He’s issued a command and we who love him must obey. So if nothing else, we are compelled to deny ourselves and value others because the one who has loved us with an everlasting love in Christ has commanded us to do so.

In Luke 9:23, Jesus commanded his disciples to take up their crosses and follow him. There is no other way to progress as a child of God but death to self. Therefore, I pray that God will use the eight insights I’ve shared over the last couple of weeks to teach us how to do this in a very practical way. May God give us life in Christ as we choose the death of self by his power at work within us.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Gaining a Proper View of Ourselves

Last week I wrote about the relationship between what John Calvin calls self-denial and the love of others, and I pointed out that the main problem with this is that we have too high an assessment of ourselves. Some of us are bold and audacious, others of us seem humble but we basically only think about ourselves. Both of these, and every shade in between, are arrogant and self-centered.

So how are we to deny ourselves so that we can love others as we ought? Last week I listed eight things, this week I want to say just a word or two about the first four of them and then next week I’ll say a word or two about the rest: 

1.      Contemplate ourselves in the light of the being God. The best way to get a proper view of ourselves is to grow in our view of God. The bigger he becomes in our minds, the smaller we become in our minds. The more he takes his rightful place in our hearts, the more we take our rightful place in our hearts. So contemplate the being and character of God often for the fountain of humility is found here.

2.      Contemplate ourselves in the light of creation. Creation is massive and the more one thinks about this fact the more he or she is humbled in the light of it. So go to the Hubble Telescope’s website, look at the moon and stars, think about lakes and trees and oceans, contemplate the extent and variety of life on the earth. The more we contemplate how small we are in light of all these things, the more we will properly assess ourselves.

3.      Contemplate our sins and short-comings. One of the best ways to kill pride is to think deeply about our sin. Our hearts are hopelessly wicked and we are ever sinning! So take some time and list your shortcomings. Ask God to help you. Remember that everything that is not done in faith is sin, so that whatever you do without regard to God is sin. If this is the standard how often do you sin, and how deep is your sin? Always and very! Contemplating our hopeless brokenness will help us tremendously.

4.      Contemplate the brevity of life and our utter powerlessness over death. At times life seems so long but it is truly just a vapor. It seems like only yesterday I was 20 years old and now I’m in my mid-40s. Where did the time go? I don’t know but I do know that I will come to the end of my days more quickly than I think and I will be completely powerless over my own death. Life and death are greater than me. They are not in my hands, rather I am in their hands. More properly speaking, I am in God’s hands but the point is that the most basic elements of life are beyond my control and this should seriously humble me. 

As we long to die to ourselves that we might live to God and others, let us contemplate these things with the help of God. And as we do may he give us insight, grace, and power to live in him.