This is my Sunday morning prayer for my soul and for ANF family ...
O my Savior,
I am pained by my graceless heart,
my prayerless days,
my poverty of love,
my sloth in the heavenly race,
my sullied conscience,
my wasted hours,
my unspent opportunities.
I am blind while light shines around me:
take the scales from my eyes,
grind to dust the evil heart of unbelief,
As I have a position in the world,
keep me from making the world my position;
may I never seek in the creature
what can be found only in the Creator;
Grant me grace to distinguish
between the genuine and the false,
and to rest in you who is all love.
(Puritan’s prayer, 334-5)
Many times, what hinders us from a deeper, more intimate and more genuine relationship with Jesus Christ is our spiritual blindness. Spiritual blindness keeps us from truly seeing, and thus admitting, not only who Jesus Christ is, but also who we are, which, in turn, leads to arrogance. I have emphasized this topic in several of my sermons and daily journals as of recently. I hope that this journal could be a reminder of what you have heard:
Jesus Makes Our Deepest Self Known:
Our heart is at the center of our being human. There our deepest thoughts, intuitions, emotions, and decisions find their source. But it’s also there that we are often most alienated from ourselves. We know little or nothing of our own heart. We keep our distance, as though we were afraid of it. What is most intimate is also what frightens us most. Where we are most ourselves, we are often strangers to ourselves. That is the painful part of our being human.
We fail to know our hidden center; and so we live and die often without knowing who we really are. If we ask ourselves why we think, feel, and act in such and such a way, we often have no answer, thus proving to be strangers in our own house. The mystery of the spiritual life is that Jesus desires to meet us in the seclusion of our own heart, to make his love known to us there, to free us from our fears, and to make our own deepest self known to us. In the privacy of our heart, therefore, we can learn not only to know Jesus but, through Jesus, ourselves as well.
(From Henri Nouwen, You Are the Beloved, 119)
I have been preparing for the Youth Bible Study this entire week. It starts tonight, and I chose “Follow Me” by David Platt as the textbook. In this book, Platt talks about the radical transformation of the average American’s understanding of Christianity, and I agree with his explanation. I still remember the Bible study that I took when I was in high school. It dramatically changed my life. I am currently teaching four Bible study classes, and now I am starting a fifth. If I’m being honest, I sometimes feel overwhelmed. However, even though I am beyond my capacity, I feel encouraged whenever I think about our youth possibly experiencing a turning point in their lives through this Bible study, much like I did. Make sure to keep growing in your faith because they are catching up to you hahaha (lol). I want to share with you one story from this book, so that you can see how radical it really is:
Imagine a woman named Ayan. Ayan is part of a people who pride themselves on being 100% Muslim. Ayan’s identity, familial honor, relational standing, and social status are all linked with Islam. Simply put, if Ayan ever leaves her faith, she will lose her life. Now imagine having a conversation with Ayan about Jesus. You start by telling her how God loves her so much that He sent His only Son to die on the cross for her sins as her Savior. As you speak, you can sense her heart softening toward what you are saying. At the same time, though, you can feel her spirit trembling as she contemplates what it would cost for her to follow Christ. With fear in her eyes and faith in her heart, she looks at you and asks, “How do I become a Christian?”
You have two options. One, you can tell her how easy it is to become a Christians. All you have to do is assent to certain truths, you might say. If Ayan will simply repeat a prayer, she can be saved. Your second option is to tell Ayan the truth. You can tell Ayan that in the gospel, God is calling her to dies. Literally, to die to her life; to die to her friends; to die to her family; to die to her future. And in dying, to love. To live in Jesus. Ayan is not imaginary. She’s a real woman I once met who made a real choice one day to become a Christian – to die to herself and to live in Christ, no matter what it cost. (Follow Me, Student Bible Study, 12)
Last night, after Assurance Life Bible Study, I spent some time with my oldest daughter on her bed, hanging out and having a conversation with her. She told me that she was very spiritually weak and that she sometimes felt as though she did not want to do anything spiritually. I told her that, when she was younger and sick, I made her take medicine, regardless of whether she wanted to or not, because that was what she needed for her own good. I told her, with a smile, that Jesus Christ is what she needs most in her life. It then made me remember this journal, which I want to share with you:
God is Not a Feeling:
Just as God cannot be “caught” or “comprehended” in any specific idea, concept, opinion, or conviction, he cannot be defined by any specific feeling or emotion either.
God cannot be identified with a good affectionate feeling toward our neighbor, or with a sweet emotion of the heart or with ecstasies, movements of the body, or handling of snakes. God is not just our good inclinations, our fervor, our generosity, or our love. All these experiences of the heart may remind us of God’s presence, but their absence does not prove God’s absence. God is not only greater than our mind; he is also greater than our heart, and just as we have to avoid the temptation of adapting God to our small concepts we also have to avoid adapting him to our small feelings. (Henri Nouwen, You Are the Beloved, 117).
In Luke 7:33-34, Jesus says to the people of the unrepentant generation, “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon,’” which loosely translates to “He is crazy.” He continues, Jesus Christ, “the Son of Man, has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” Many people rejected their God-given opportunities to repent and change the course of their lives. Instead, they condemned people like John the Baptist and Jesus Christ, considering themselves always in the right and having nothing to change. It is sad to see how blind they were to themselves because of their own self-centeredness.
It reminds me of the passage before it, Luke 6:41-42, which says, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye.” Instead of being so quick to condemn others, let’s try and see ourselves for who we truly are first and repent. Instead of asking others to change, let’s try and change ourselves first.
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Reading Ephesians 4:15-16, I was a bit confused by the words, “makes the body grow”. In the original Greek text, verses 11-16 are one long sentence, which can make it even more difficult for readers to understand. English Bibles thus translate it a bit differently, with a slightly different emphasis. However, in all translations, it is made clear that, the growth of “the body”, or the church, is directly linked to “each part,” or each member of the church, “working properly.”
How then can each member of the church work together properly? I encourage you to discover your spiritual gifts so that you can use them to build up the church together in love. I have pasted two links below, which will guide you to a couple of spiritual gift assessment tools. I encourage you to give it a try now. It will not take very long. It may not be 100 percent accurate, but it is a good place to start. My assessments from today told me that my spiritual gifts are wisdom, knowledge, administration, faith, shepherding and discernment. It also says that I am less spiritually gifted in artistry and skilled craft (lol). (1) https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/spiritual-gifts-inventory (2) https://www.elca.org/our-work/congregations-and-synods/faith-practices/spiritual-renewal/assessment-tools
Sunday Corporate Worship yesterday with our Kombai House Church missionaries, Sungkyu and Jisuk, was very special and meaningful. It has been about twenty-five years since I first met them in 1996, and they were around your age at that time. I was so glad to hear about their long and faithful journey with Christ. Our spiritual journeys with Christ are not sprints but marathons. All Nations Fellowship officially launched in December 2018. I wonder where you will be in your journey with Christ twenty-five years from now. I pray that, on that day, I can say that you also have walked long and faithfully with Christ as well.
Following Sunday Corporate Worship yesterday, three people sent me their commitments and prayer requests via e-mail and text. I’ve copied their commitments below, in hopes that our ANF family might continue to encourage and motivate one another and be reminded of the message that God had given us yesterday:
- Pastor Daniel, praise God for this brilliant idea! I didn't think it was going to be as good as it was to be honest, but I was pleasantly surprised lol! They were so sweet and funny and I can tell that they really love and know the Lord. It was encouraging to hear their stories and see God's goodness and faithfulness woven through out them. I want Jesus to be my jewel, my prize. I want to commit to trusting God more, I don't know how though :/
- Where is the voice of my heart coming from? I want to spend more time this week with this question.
- I commit to not rely on my feelings and seek God in dealing with my emotions.
Here is a devotional journal that I want to share with you all today from one of my all-time favorite books:
Can You Come Down from the Mountain?
We all have moments when we feel better than ever before, and we say, “I feel fit for anything; if only I could always be like this!” We are not meant to be. Those moments are moments of insight which we have to live up to even when we do not feel like it. Many of us are no good for the everyday world when we are not on the mountaintop. Yet we must bring our everyday life up to the standard revealed to us on the mountaintop when we were there. Never allow a feeling that was awakened in you on the mountaintop to evaporate. Don’t place yourself on the shelf by thinking, “How great to be in such a wonderful state of mind!” Act immediately—do something, even if your only reason to act is that you would rather not.
If, during a prayer meeting, God shows you something to do, don’t say, “I’ll do it”—just do it! Pick yourself up by the back of the neck and shake off your fleshly laziness. Laziness can always be seen in our cravings for a mountaintop experience; all we talk about is our planning for our time on the mountain. We must learn to live in the ordinary “gray” day according to what we saw on the mountain. Don’t give up because you have been blocked and confused once—go after it again. Burn your bridges behind you, and stand committed to God by an act of your own will. Never change your decisions, but be sure to make your decisions in the light of what you saw and learned on the mountain.
(From Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest)
I was praying this week for our church and house church missionaries, when God gave me the brilliant idea to invite our house church missionaries to be guest speakers for Sunday Corporate Worship. On a normal day, it would be nearly impossible for them to come and speak to our congregation because it would require them to leave their ministries for a long time, get on a thirty-hour flight twice, arrange numerous things, etc. However, this unexpected situation opened up a door for us to connect with them another way, virtually. I am grateful that God gave me this thought and for our missionaries also wanting to see us too. I am so excited to see their faces and hear their stories. Sungkyu and Jisuk Choi from West Papua in Indonesia will speak this week and Hudson and Phoebe from Egypt will speak next week. I hope that you all can participate in Sunday Corporate Worship tomorrow with great excitement and expectation.
Kombai House Church has been supporting Sungkyu and Jisuk for the past eight years, since it was in the Korean Speaking Congregation. I appreciate Sean and Jamie, as well as all of the Kombai House Church members, for faithfully supporting them both financially and in prayer all this time. My wife and I met Sungkyu and Jisuk in 1996 before we all got married. Sungkyu and Jisuk have two sons, Jonghyun and Jongwoo, and both of them are cute and handsome. It has been more than fifteen years since they first became missionaries, almost twenty years if you include the time that they began training.
In addition to their other ministries, they have been translating the Bible for the Kombai tribe and, because the Kombai tribe does not have their own written language, also developing a written language for them, while helping to improve their literacy rates. Sungkyu and Jisuk are great examples of faith, commitment, patience, goodness and compassion. I am grateful for the privilege to have them as our guest speakers. I pray that you could learn a lot from them, not only about their ministries but also, and more importantly, about their lifestyles.
Recently in Assurance Life Bible Study, I explained to students that meditating on the Bible is like reading a book a hundred times. Instead of moving quickly through the text onto other things, meditation requires you to read slowly, dwell on the same subject, think about the passage constantly from different perspectives, absorb its meaning fully and practically live out the message in your daily life. Meditation is the door through which we can enter into deeper spirituality. This morning, I looked at the books on my bookshelf in my church office and tried to find those books that I had read repeatedly, or more than twice, besides the Bible. I found a few. I feel as though they have become my friends.
I want to encourage you all to read the Bible a hundred times before you die (lol) and find one other book that you could read a hundred times as well. People often fail to meditate on the Bible because they think of it as one other thing that they have to do, accomplish, achieve or prove quickly, just like everything else in their lives. For many people, Monday is the most stressful day and Friday is the least stressful day. For me, it is opposite (lol). Today, I am telling myself, “Daniel, you don’t have to do many things, just do one thing properly at a time.”