Monday, December 28, 2009

Love is Always In Season

Some things ought to follow a cycle but some don't.  The famous passages in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 talk about there being a right season for everything.  But when it comes to loving, the time is always right.  Jesus cursed the fig tree when it did not have fruit to feed Him when he was hungry (Matthew 21:18-19). 

The following song says of how we should make love a non-seasonal thing.   Love is always in season.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Christmas Star

Parol made of capiz shells. (Photo by Eugene Alvin Villar, 2007)

Reading:  Matthew 2
Christmas lantern in the shape of a star, known as parol is the most common symbol of Christmas spirit in the Philippines.  Every Filipino child knows what it is and they are taught how to make one.  The parol symbolizes the star that appeared in the east when Jesus was born which guided the three wise men to Bethlehem.   That same star also symbolizes the power of the light over darkness.  Probably the lights that we hang around Christmas time also came from the same basic idea.

The second chapter of Matthew talks about the appearance of the star in the east.   He came as the light of the world (John 8:12) and promised those who would follow him that they will not walk in darkness. 

Not everyone saw the star.  It was written all over the scriptures that a Messiah would come and to the Jews this is a hope that came down from generation to generation starting from Abraham (Genesis 18:18) to Isaiah (Isaiah 7:14) and to David.  This hope and expectation has been part of the Jewish tradition as their forefathers did.  They were looking for the arrival of the Messiah when God will restore their position with Him. 

Then Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  There were fireworks... and parades... and parties... and houses were was a holiday because this is the fulfillment of what they've been waiting for.   Right?  Not really.  Other than Joseph and Mary, their relatives like Elizabeth and Zechariah, and the shepherds whom the angels talked to, no one knew about the birth of a king.  Not even the owner of the barn where he was born knew.

One day, as described in Matthew 2:1-2, some foreign philosophers, called Magi, arrive in Jerusalem and claimed to have been brought there by the star of the new-born Jewish King.  They saw the light from the star and followed it.  They came to pay homage to the new king of the Jews, never mind that they are not Jews.   So we see that Jesus did not arrive secretly.  There was enough sign for anyone to see.  However, not everyone saw the light.  Not everyone welcome him the way we would expect a royalty was to be treated.

Even now, the Good News is delivered everywhere for everyone to hear it so that everyone would receive Him.  Just like the first star in the east, it was there, shining brightly but only those whose hearts are open will see recognize Him.  Not only will some not recognize Him, some will feel threatened at the mention of His name.  Herod, instead of acknowledging Jesus as the new king, planned to destroy Him (Matthew 2:13) 

God takes care of those who seek Him.  In the second chapter of the book of Matthew, we see a demonstration of God's protection to those who are on his side.  The Magi did not know what was in Herod's mind but God already knew and was busy planning their detour before Herod could do anything.  The same thing is true with Joseph.  He was unaware of the developing trouble around Jesus, but God warned him in a dream.

Jesus came to this world as our Savior.  He came so everyone would believe and follow Him.  He planned for us to follow Him so that we can spend eternity with Him.  This, however, did not mean that our life will all be beds of roses.  In fact, to follow Him requires that we deny ourselves and take up your cross (Luke 9:23).  To follow Him is not freedom from trouble.  But when we are on His side, we have His protection as He carries out His plans.  It would have been easier for the Magi to send their presents by FedEx but the knowledge that was revealed to them was so compelling that they had to do what had to be done.  This was no ordinary king, this is the King of kings.  Joseph likewise was yielded to his dreams and moved his family several times.  He beleived.  Action is the expression of what we believe. 
God involves us in His Work to Strengthen our Faith.  When I first believed, there were questions that I desperately needed to be answered but could not.  Such questions were making me doubt from time to time.  Back in chapter one, Joseph had doubts about Mary and the baby that she was carrying until the angel of the Lord spoke to him.  Then God involved Joseph in His works so that he would see the miracles with his own eyes.  God asked him to name the baby Jesus.  He asked Joseph to bring Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape Herod.  He also told him later on to return to Israel when it was safe to go back.  By putting Joseph in the middle of all the events that are going on, God allowed Joseph to see the way God works.  Joseph at this point is by no means doubtful anymore. 

Do you feel that you are isolated and not know what's going on?  Look for the star, find out where God is.  Then join God in His parade.  Get involved and see the miracles happen.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The First Christmas

When I was working for the Department of Agriculture in the Philippines, one of the projects that I was involved in was the introduction of a new corn variety to the farmers of Alcala, Cagayan.  One of the identified causes of poverty in that farming area was the use of an old corn variety.  The old variety is poor yielding and susceptible to a lot of pest and diseases.  Farming families who relied on their harvest for their food and some cash that they need did had difficulty making ends meet.  The goal of our project was for them to adopt the new variety which had the following characteristics: high-yielding, pest-resistant and higher-nutritional value.  This way they would have higher yields and lower loses through pest and disease problems, thus increasing their income.  Well, on would think that it is very simple.  On the contrary, it was very challenging for us.  The farmers in that area liked the taste of their old corn variety and feared that the new one would not taste as good.  They did not realize that they are losing anything through pest infestation.  They believed that they are good just they way they are.  They did not see their own problem.  They did not want to change anything.  There is comfort in tradition.

So how is this related to the first Christmas?  The birth of Jesus Christ was an explosion of events that broke Jewish traditions.  So it started with two normal people, Joseph and Mary, who were engaged to be married.  Just like any couple planning a life together, they had hopes and dreams to have family of their own and raise children in accordance with tradition.  Jesus, however, was different from his very beginning.  From the very start of his human existence He was already showing the world that status quo can be improved by breaking out from tradition.  The world by tradition is worldly.  He came to show us that there is another way.

The verses from 18-24 of chapter one describes the encounter of the angel of God with Joseph.  I believe that those events exemplify what God wants us to do to adopt the new life that he came to introduce.

A call to Trust
Joseph's betrothed is pregnant.  Of all his thoughts, one would have been "Who is the vile man?"   "I love her but to raise this child is just beyond me."  And in the midst of this confusion...Jesus Christ was announced for the first time to Joseph.  "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."  This did not make things easier for him to understand.  He has heard readings from the scriptures about the coming of a messiah before...but it could not be now?  Let's assume that Joseph decided to trust and believe the angel about the Messiah.  Nonetheless, things are not settled in his guts.  Of all women, why his fiancĂ©e?  There are other women more mature who could be mother to the son of God.   This just makes things difficult for him.  Alright, Mary is the chosen girl, but why should it be happening now before the wedding?  So he shakes his head and accepts the fact that this is all God's timing that he could not question.   But that does not settle everything.  If the child is really the Son of God, why should it come to my future family?  How can I, a carpenter, raise God?  So many questions might have come to his

In the end, Joseph trusted the angel of the Lord who spoke to him.  He believed that Mary has conceived through the Holy Spirit and that was a virgin, still.  He trusted God that to go on with the wedding is the right thing to do, never mind that it is against tradition. He believed that Mary now carries the promised Messiah.

A Call to Give Up Pride
Joseph chose the best girl that he could have with the hope that he would be the only one in her life.  But even before the wedding, a terrible evidence of unfaithfulness comes out.  Mary is pregnant.  Based on tradition there is no obvious reason to stick with her, she is a disgrace to him and his father's household.  As one who is righteous, in this current age maybe he'd be considered Christian, he decided to be kind to Mary by ending their relationship without any fuss.  In the old Jewish tradition, the bride should be a virgin before marriage.  It would cost too much shame to marry her.  But the angel of the Lord told him to marry her anyway.

When Joseph believed what the angel of the Lord had spoken, he was willing to give up his pride in pursuit of what he was called to do.

A Call to Obey

The angel of the Lord made a revelation to Joseph that the Son of God is coming.  This revelation came not only with the information that he needed to know but it came with a call to obey.
  • Regarding traditions he was instructed, "Do not be afraid".  God knew that it was not easy for a tradition-abiding man like Joseph to brave the criticism and judgment that awaits him from deviating from what his forefathers had done and passed down to his generation.  He understood Joseph's emotions so told him to calm down and trust God instead.  Joseph ignored his fears and started to follow the rest of God's instructions to him.
  • Regarding Mary, "...take Mary home as your wife."  Joseph's intentions concerning Mary were pure and vice versa.  The marriage would be a fine one except for the fear that surged from his heart.  He thought that things are not right anymore.  Everything now seems against all sensibilities.  By the angel telling him to take her as his wife God is saying it is okay.  Everything may seem wrong in your eyes, but in God's eyes things are in order.  Joseph obeyed; he took Mary as his wife.
  • Regarding the baby in Mary's womb, "... give him the name Jesus."  The name Jesus means that "the Lord saves."  Names are very important in the Jewish tradition.  The idea that a baby's name should be meaningful is central.   The name honors their forefather or parents.  Sometimes the name indicates who the parents are, what the parents' emotional state was at the time of the birth or conception of the baby.  In the case of Jesus, the name expressed the plan of God and the purpose of the child in Mary's womb.  Joseph gave up his right to name the first born of his wife and obeyed God instead.  In so doing, he also was agreeing that the child is the Messiah, the savior of the world.
More than two thousand years later, here we are commemorating that event that happened in Bethlehem when the angel of the Lord spoke to Joseph.  Do we still remember the true meaning of the occasion or have we replaced it with something completely different?  I believe that that the message of our celebrations should still reflect the relational exercise between God, as represented by the angel of the Lord and mankind, as played by Joseph, during the first Christmas.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

His Bloodline

Currently, I am doing a personal study on the book of  Matthew.  This is the first of a series of narratives that I'll write based on my study.

Matthew 1:1-17

Men of Faith
The book starts by describing the genealogy of "Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham."  It is important to mention that his lineage leads to these two significant people in history.  David was a king, a great king during his time.  He was also the one whom God described as man after His own heart (Acts 13:22).  To mention that Jesus Christ came from David is to say that He came from a royal blood not only in man's eyes but God's as well.  Then if we go back fourteen generations before David, there was Abraham who was labeled by God as righteous when, in faith, he obeyed God on things that were not obvious.   These two men are men of faith, and they are the trunk of Jesus' family tree.  We can say they are the best of the best and yet they were not perfect.  The scriptures have recorded poor choices that these men made.  However, by grace, it was their relationship with God that determined who they were.

The Women
It was customary in those old Jewish days to put in writing a record of who begat whom.  Such records, however, normally only included names of men...fathers and sons.   Matthew, the author of the book of Matthew, included the names of four girls or women in Jesus' genealogy.  That must have created horror among the readers and hearers of the book.  Everyone must have posted it on Facebook.   They are getting 200 comments per post.  Everyone tweeting everyone about this unusual inclusion of women in this highly masculine tradition of genealogy.   What's more...three of the four women are all of questionable reputation. 
  • Tamar.  Let's begin with Tamar.  Who is she?  It's a long story (Genesis 38).   God intended for the Son of Man (Jesus) to come from Judah (Revelation 5:5).  However, Judah's first born, Er, was wicked and God, probably, thought that he did not qualify to be listed later in the genealogy of Jesus, so he zapped him.  Onan, Er's brother, was supposed to marry Tamar to give a child to Er, but he refused the idea and made God angry.  Guess what happens?  God zapped Onan.  So you see, Judah's chance to be in the list is getting very slim...he has only his youngest son left.  Then she made a poor choice, disguising herself as a prostitute and luring her father-in-law to bed. But God even used her poor choice to make things happen.
  • Rahab.  Rahab's story is more straight-forward...she was a prostitute from Jericho (Joshua 2:1).  She helped the Jews take over Jericho because believed their God. Later on she lived with them and ended up marrying one of them.  She eventually became the mother of Boaz.
  • Ruth.  Probably Ruth, the Moabitess, is better than the first two, you might say.  The Moabites were Semitic, descended from Abraham's nephew Lot through incest (Genesis 19:30-31).  There was a long history of tension between Moab and Israel through history. Ruth would appear suspect because her background. But she chose wisely when she had an opportunity to do so.  She then became the wife of Boaz.
  • Bathsheba.  The mother of Solomon didn't even get her name mentioned, but every reader would have understood the story. David takes advantage of her husbands' absence and impregnates her, then, after her husband is killed by David, becomes his wife.

Just Like You and Me
Connections make or unmake a person.  To those whose predecessors already had them, honor and glory comes easily, although there is no assurance that they remain.  Mrs. Bucket in the TV show, "Keeping Up Appearances" is always trying to hide her undesirable connections.  She covers up the fact that she is related to Daisy and Onslo (poor sister and brother-in law), and Rose her wild sister.  She likes to brags about her rich sister Violet but not about Violet's husband who dresses up like a girl.  In this culture, we tend to associate our reputation with who we are associated with.  We show our value based on our origins and we discriminate those whose roots we consider inferior by our standards.  Jesus Christ became man in spite of his deity.  He was born in a humble stable in spite of his royal descent.  He was born to poor parents instead of to a prince and princess.  He came to live among His people and lived like one of them.  He is perfect and yet He came with some blemished background just like all of us. 

Our Hope
Why is His genealogy written as such?  First of all, it is to show us that God carries out His promise no matter how long it may take.  When God called Abraham, He made a promise to bless him and that the whole world would be blessed through him (Genesis 12:1-2).  How many generations did it take before His plan of salvation came to the first hint of fruition?  God is faithful to his promises. 

Secondly, it is to show us that what we were is not what matters but it is what we choose when it comes to our relationship with God that matters.  When we choose to obey God He honors us.  He confirms His connection with us just like the way He did with Abraham and David.  When we decide to follow Him He reverses our destiny from shame and condemnation to honor and value just like He did with Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth. 

Therefore, the next time you read the genealogy of Jesus Christ, consider it beyond a list of hard-to-pronounce names.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Weekend of Fellowship

This weekend was well spent in spite of being away from home and family!  It's been my first at the famous Arco Arena, my first at the Women of Faith, my first to spend an extended time with some Cornerstone Women, and many more that I won't list here.

Fellowship and Friendship
Best of all getting to know some of the girls in church is really special.  We tailgated in the cold and dark parking lot of Arco Arena.  Gayle was very kind to prepare yummy food for us all.  Unlike the traditional fattening tailgating foods like hotdogs, hamburgers and chips, we had healthy chicken salad and huge cookies.  Unlike your normal carefree tailgating, we had every thing a lady needed from flower-printed napkins to brightly colored cloth lap covers.  We actually looked funny.  We stayed inside the Kris and Sue's vehicles with the heaters on till the arena opened for the evening sessions.  

We were together for a long time without any agenda in mind.  We were free to talk about anything and discuss about what we've been getting and enjoying from the conference.  These ladies (Nancy Wroblewski, Carol Kay, Bernadette Cranmer, Christine Church, Sue Ogrey, Kris Morphew, Shirley Horne, Chris Matassa, Gayle McKenzie, Ellie Retallack) are very nice and there's a lot of learn from each of them.  We also got to see one Superstar in the big screen that made us so proud...Denise Danberg!  She was there with her sister in a different section of the arena.  Paula Armor was also there with her daughter.  Bernadette also came with her mom-in-law and Shirley came with her sister during the second day.  It was really a time to fellowship and reconnect.

I must say that I am culturally uninformed.  This conference contributed to my cultural education to some extent.  For example, everyone knew who Mandisa was but I didn't.  She was there and performed for us.  I thought that she not only is a great singer she also has a tremendous potential as a speaker.  She spoke more smoothly and with a clearer and more direct point than some of the featured speakers.  She has a story to tell.  That night, she said, was the realization of a dream that she held onto for a long time since she was a little girl growing up in Citrus Heights.  I liked her because she seemed humble!

I knew the song "My Redeemer", but I did not know who sang it originally.  Nicole C. Mullen was there on both days rocking the whole Arco arena but I didn't know anything about her.  I was impressed by her but it wasn't until the emcee, Mary Graham, commented that she writes all the songs she sings that I became curious about her.  I came home shared my stories with my family and my son, Brahms, showed me all the albums that we own of NCM.  I was so embarrassed...but I don't pay attention to music if I don't like it.  Don't get me wrong.  I enjoyed all the songs they sang in the conference but not all of them would be the music that I choose to listen to.

For the other ladies, this conference had the reverse-culture lesson.  World Vision for some reasons was highly advertised in this event.  WV is an organization that helps children in need all over the world through individuals from the US sponsoring one child at a time.  The condition of these children in those poor countries is a very vivid picture for me, having come from one of those countries.  My friend Norma's cousin was a recipient of WV support.  I've seen it with my own eyes.  What little amount given to someone in need is a tremendous help.  A lot of the women there were motivated to sponsor a child.  Gayle, being a new child sponsor, was telling me that the support that she gave would be equivalent to one meal for two at McDonald's per month.   That would be sufficient to feed, clothe and send a child to school.  In my own heart, I praise God for those ladies who made a commitment to help some unfortunate children somewhere.

Intended Lessons
If I come to analyze the whole thing, the conference was intended to help women individually to get out of their own bondages.  It's focused on transformation.  The speeches and stories of the different speakers were intended to bring awareness and hope to each woman.  They are not alone in their plight.  Others have come out victorious and thus they too can.  Different stories: rape; lost childhood; addiction; loneliness; threat of death; failed marriage; finances; etc. were represented by the stories of the speakers and performers.  I was not extremely appreciative of most of the stories.  On the other hand, I was just glad that World Vision was introduced there.  It provided an opportunity to be generous or to think of other's much greater predicament.  Otherwise, the whole thing would have been all focused inward.  My problem.  My problem.  My problem.  I believe that the root-cause to a lot of our problems is self-centeredness and selfishness.  Do you want to get out of your personal problems?  Then look away and see what you can do to make someone experience a more beautiful life.  Look away and see what you can do to make the world better.  Stop brooding over your own.  Begin to be generous.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Women of Faith or Not?

Tomorrow is Women of Faith conference at Arco Arena.  It's my first time to go to one.   What do I expect to get from this two-day conference?  I'm not sure.  My friend Sue says she likes it.

From my experience, conferences like this one are generally a lot rah-rah to the speakers.  Women, especially, go to conferences like this because they've heard of the speaker before.  We've read the books or the bible studies the speaker has written.  Never mind that the study was not that good as long as it made us laugh.  I'm kind of hesitant to get excited because in these conferences, the speakers are celebrities.  They are promoted like stars of a movie event.  And we, the women, are like the fans.  God forgive me... but sometimes it makes me cringe to see how women adore them.  Don't assume that I am so righteous that I haven't fallen into the same trap.  I've been and maybe will be there again. 

The speakers teach us about God and the bible, they even tell you to worship God instead of them but some women forget that.  Johnny Depp, for example,  is not a pirate but in my house we call him Captain Jack Sparrow.  Johnnye Depp was only acting as pirate Captain Jack Sparrow.  The speakers in conferences and authors of books are sometimes perceived as what they write about.   I also think, although I can't be sure, that in a situation where there are several speakers in on conference, there is a hidden competition among them.   There's the pressure to be the best.  The one who made the crowd laugh or cry more is the one who will sell a book better.

Advantages to going to Women of Faith conference:
1.  Fellowship and renewed friendship among those who are going.  We will be tailgating for dinner- and we will have a lot of free time just doing what girls do together.
2.  Learning together - We'll all have the same experience although internalization will vary.  When we will talk about what we heard and not who said it then we will be in the right track.

After the conference, maybe I'll be in a better position to list more advantages since, after all, this is going to be my first time to go.  Everything that I've written therefore is based on my own previous experiences with similar events and my speculation.

If you have been to one before, then may I ask you help me complete the list.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

On A Mission

My family and I have been to a far away land for a purpose that we thought was right.  Nevertheless, we did not tell anybody about it until we were already back.  If I told you where we were going and what our purpose was, you would even have supported us.  In this world cultures are varied.  Cultures vary in their interpretation of mannerisms, actions, and even simple words.  What is good or right with one culture may be perceived as detestable in another.  Sometimes, the mere fact that we come from one country, we could be considered as an enemy by default. There were specific words that we were advised not to say.  The clothes we wore had to be those that respected the culture.  We talked and looked at the people in that country in a regulated manner.  So with all consciousness we tried to avoid saying or doing certain things.  Not that we allowed ourselves to be controlled by fear but we did not want to attract unnecessary attention to ourselves at the wrong time.   There is some work yet to be done and to try to protect our own right and comfort would have done injustice to our purpose.  For the same reason, I will not mention names of people or places in this post.

Here are the people of our church who recently left go to a far away land  and those who sent them.  I trust the Lord that He will protect them from evil and that He will do His work through their strengths and abilities while they are there and even more so when they come back.

Mothers sent their children whom they protected so carefully.  Wives sent their husbands who they share their lives with. A husband sent his beloved wife.  Such an expression of faith and of trust.   There is a equivalent sacrifice between those going and those left behind.

The team is made up of a diverse ages and status.  They all are now part of one team who will work together as one so that they will please the One they seek to serve.  They will be watched by everyone, Christians and non-Christians alike.  I pray that the the Holy Spirit will surround them so that they will shine with the love that they have been empowered with.

There is power in diversity.

There are many women who lost their husbands in this place where they are now.  Many children lost their fathers.  They lost their houses.  When almost everything that says "home" is gone, hope seem so far away.  May the love and service that this team show, bring hope to those who have lost a lot.

The people that they seek to minister to are believers.  Knowing the adversity that these believers have to undergo in such culture, we can say that they are persistent in their faith.  However, even Job, King David, and Solomon have had times when they needed a boost in their spirits.  May the lives and examples of those who went revive the believers there like water to a wilting plant.

"If you carefully observe all these commands... No man will be able to stand against you. The LORD your God, as he promised you, will put the terror and fear of you on the whole land, wherever you go." ~Deuteronomy 11:22...25

Experiencing a different culture when you are young is a lot easier than when you are older.  I gathered this from watching my children's reactions compared with mine.  They are almost always more accommodating of the differences in the way things ought to be done. They are willing to try new things.  The younger members of the team are fortunate and will have a good chance of straightening stereotypes.

Young and old they all will have a clearer understanding of the way the other half of the world live.  Young and old they will all come home will gratefulness for the freedom and abundance that we all enjoy on this of the globe.  May the Lord give us all the humility to praise Him for all the good things He has made available for us.

We all hope to see them back safe after Thanksgiving.  

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Missionaries in This World

Last Sunday at AWANA, we asked the children what they know about a missionary.  One of them answered,  "Someone who goes to another country to tell about Jesus."  From a six-year old, that's very good and even cute.  Today, eleven people from our church left to go to a far away land to serve.  We know that God approves of any deed that helps those who are in need.  To celebrate this occasion I was inspired to read the first book of Thessalonians.  With or without a plane tickets, as followers of Christ, we are missionaries  in this world.  We are citizens of a another kingdom (Philippians 3:20).  We all are here temporarily for a purpose.  We are in this world as an agents of change before our Savior comes.  First Thessalonians 1:2-10 reads:

We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. --1 Thessalonians 1:2-10
This is a part of Paul's letter to the church in Thessalonica.  Paul describes how the church served as bearer of God's message not only in Macedonia and Achaia but everywhere.  Paul was the missionary who went live with them.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Thessalonians got the message.  The church then had to sow the seed that they received. They lived where they were as missionaries to those who did not know God.  The passages describe the characteristics of the Christians in Thessalonica.

1.  Remembered and prayed before God
      --Your work produced by faith
      --Your labor promted by love
      --Your endurance inspired by hope in the Lord Jesus Christ
2.  Powered by the Holy Spirit
3.  Loved and chosen by God
4.  Imitators of the Lord
5.  Received the message inspite of severe suffering
6.  Model to all believers

"Let our lives ring out the Lord's message right here and then everywhere." 

"They will know we are Christians by our love."  Let our lives reflect the one we serve - the living and true God.

as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Thanksgiving At Cornerstone

Roast Turkey
Mashed Potatoes
Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Green Bean Casserole
Cranberry Sauce
Cranberry Jello
Strawberry Lemonade (very colorful)
Pies (different types)
Decaffeinated Coffee

There was an abundance of food.  My plate was full or it looked full because I had salad underneath the mashed potatoes and stuffing.  My coffee came with a slice of pumpkin pie. 

There was good music.  People can really sing well after eating a lot of food.  Or maybe I was just deceived because I go to the morning service where there are very few voices contributing to the sound of music.

There were thanksgiving speeches.  Most of them were very well thought of.   There were also unplanned speeches.  They were all good.  I am a strong believer of telling stories that re-tell about the goodness of God.  Others get encouraged to re-think about their own experiences with God.   I've heard amazing stories tonight.  I appreciate all the people who shared.  There was some hint of emotion...and yet they were able to convey their messages.

I was determined not to speak because it is a very dangerous thing to do and I am aware of my lack of finesse in my speech.  There is a very fine line between sharing to glorify God and that of sharing to glorify my own.

Other than the fellowship there was a purpose for all these... to encourage and be encouraged.  To be encouraged to do what we are supposed to do as part of a body.  To be encouraged to participate in the operations of the body and not to be content as a spectator.  To be encouraged to become part of the "source" and not the "sink" of resources that maintain the body.  We have responsibilities to perform.  If one of member refuses to do his part, by default, the rest will have to take on more of the burden.  We need unity to accomplish the work that God has planned for us in a reasonable speed.

Give.  Give because you have been given. 

Friday, November 6, 2009

Who Wants To Be Great?

Taken in Edinburgh, Scotland

...whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  ~ Mark 10:43-44

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Characteristics of Generosity and Giving

"For the true giver, giving is an end."

Generosity, is a virtue.  It is achieved by a select group of people who possess some resources and decide to give a portion or all to someone else.  We all have something.  We all have been given resources, some of which we didn't even work or ask for.  Therefore, we have what it requires to be generous. 

Why isn't everyone generous?  Because the other requirement is still missing.  Generosity is not related to the availability of resources as much as the beating of the heart that drives us to open our hands.  The will to give transforms giving into generosity.  For the true giver, giving is an end.  Generous people make life happen more beautifully for others.  Not expecting anything in return, the reward is in the giving.

Adding other required results to our giving is Pharisee-like. For example, if I'd say, "I'll give to the church so that God will bless me."  Who, really, is the intended recipient of your gift? "I'll give a flower to my friend so that she will always be nice to me."  Who is the intended benificiary of those flowers, if not you?  Evaluate those motives carefully because, knowingly or unknowingly, we try to give as if throwing a boomerang. 

To give with the expectation of winning or getting recognition in the end is anti-generous. 

What to give?
Give Goods To Satisfy What's Lacking.  Whenever I think of the word generosity, I imagine checks, money, and the equivalent value of material things.  But true generosity can be expressed in so many ways, because God has blessed us in so many ways. Meet a specific need.  Give money if you have money.  If garden herbs are all you have, then give those herbs as long as it will aid somebody. 

Jesus Christ referred to himself as the bread of life (John 6:35).  He gave himself to satisfy the hungry.  He said he is the living water for the thirsty to drink.  He said he is the light to guide the lost (John 8:12).  He said he is the life for those who are dying (John 11:25).  He gave for a reason.  Loving led to giving. Loving serves the needs of the beloved. 

We were on a Mission trip to Belize and one of the things that we did was clean a storage room where hundreds of nice thick socks were stored.  Those socks came from Texas as a gift from people who wanted to be generous.  Belize, however, is hot throughout the year and Belizeans don't need thick winter socks.  Those who gave had good intentions to help but their generosity was directed to the wrong recipient.  Instead of being useful, the socks became a burden because My Refuge had to pay customs fees and now to provide storage (In a world where there is not a lot of material things, no one will decide to just throw those socks away.  There is this hope that time will come when they will become useful).

Give Yourself.  It is not enough to give my tithes and offerring to the church.  My money is not a license to exempt myself of the services that I could be doing.  We've all been gifted to serve.  While my money helps, I think that my heart will be more willing to give accurately if I get involved.  God sent His Son to come live among us sinners, leaving his privileges of deity behind.  We needed a Savior. He provided us with the only One who could. 

Why Give
Giving is Honoring to God. To give is to participate in someone else's cause or agenda.   God gave us the things we have and all our lives because he wants us to enjoy this life with Him. 
So when we give, we give out of gratitude and of trust in God. It is honoring to God when we give to the right cause.
This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! ~ 2 Cor. 9:12-15
How To give?
Jesus Christ Is Our Example   Jesus Christ gave the most significant gift ever given in the history of humanity. He gave his life, his wisdom, his time, his strength, his emotions, and he also gave wine, bread and fish and water.  Salvation through the gift of his life was an extension of an attitude he exhibited throughout his entire life. He lived to give.  He showed up. He was not an absentee giver.

Give From Your Heart. The bible clearly states that a cheerful giver gets God's approval and the goodwill of man.
Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. ~2 Cor. 9:7
To Whom?
Give To Those In Need.  Who do we give to? Tithe, Offering... It seems to me that if we want to give back to God we give to those who are in need.  When we give to an organization or a group of believers, we know that these should be used to minister to the "least of these brothers of mine". 
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'  ~ Matthew 25:31-46
Give To A Cause.  The church as an entity should be the zone zero for ministries where its members exercise loving, giving, serving, and to reach out. This is a worthy cause. We then give ourselves, and resources to make this happen. It is meaningless to give when we don't understand the reason. It is difficult to be generous to an abstract cause.

These are just my thoughts in trying to understand the theology of giving and generosity.   After all there is an ongoing giving-campaign at Cornerstone.  So I try to put down what He is pointing out to me.
...Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. ~ Ephesians 5:25b

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Providence Magnified by Peripety

One new word that I learned today from bible study (Esther 6:1-14) is peripety; it means a sudden and unexpected change of fortune or a sudden reversal of circumstances or destiny.  It is a literary devise to make the story more interesting.  I guess it is a devise that is intended to extract a reaction and response from the reader.  The sixth chapter of Esther shows an example of peripety when Mordecai the Jew, scheduled to be the first victim of the newly built top-of -the line gallows, is now going to be honored.  He is supposed to wear the king's robe and crown and will have to be paraded throughout the land on the king's horse.  That is a sudden shift in destiny.  Haman on the other hand, assuming that he would be the only one who deserves to be honored by the king, made very generous recommendations on what should be done to the one His Highness wants to honor.  It turned out that Haman's worst nightmare Mordecai qualified above him to receive all the things he recommended.  Not only did Haman miss the rewards he was also assigned to coordinate the details in order for it to happen as he recommended.  Peripety indeed, but this is not the last shift in circumstances in the chapter.  Haman, who is all consumed to kill, annihilate and destroy the Jews, is going to be consumed in the gallows he had ordered to be constructed for Mordecai, the Jew.  Haman's plan was to end his enemy but before he could accomplish it, he ran out of time.  Events have shifted allowing the unexpected to prevail. 

I will digress here a little bit just to justify myself from feeling disappointed about some things. We can look at a story as literary piece.  We dissect it based on the manner it was written and we appreciate the style and tools that were used by the author.  Beth Moore was led to this direction when she delivered her talk on the sixth chapter of Esther.  She discussed about the chiastic structure and the peripety encountered in the book.  There seem to have been very little reason to brood over these matters when the chapter is filled with interesting events.  It is packed with excitement and yet here we were learning about chiasm and peripety as literary tools.  These are good topics for discussion but the timing is a little bit out of place.  I was a little bit disappointed.  One gal in my group even said that BM must have given her long talk just so she could read a quote from a book that mentioned "peripety".  I thought that was an accurate observation.  Should I call this a mini peripety?  If so, then there must be a bigger plan (God's plan) above my head that I cannot see.  One benefit for me is improvement of my vocabulary.  That is a good thing I must admit.

The peripeties that take place throughout the book of Esther is what I call God's providence.   Providence means that God is watching his creation carefully, he is working within and around the lives of his people carrying out His plans that he laid before the beginning of time.  Stories of the bible are loaded with messages that are intended for us to catch.  Sometimes we get distracted into focusing our attention to the "packaging" and eventually miss what's inside.  God is the author of the Holy Scriptures.  Literary style and structure which He varied depending on whose hand and brains he used to write, is a medium He used to deliver such messages.  It is a mechanism that encapsulates the message so that its intended force or efficacy is achieved.  In the story of Esther, peripety is therefore the magnifying glass that exposes the providence of God in a clarity that we could not miss.

Monday, October 12, 2009

True Fasting

"Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?"
~ Isaiah 58:7

Sometimes in the deep of our sleep we are awakend by an unusual sound.  Sometimes in the midst of our busy-ness we are disturbed by a strange sound - a sound that does not fit with the noise around us.  This noise does not have to be loud to get our attention because the magnitude does not count as much as the uniqueness of  the sound.

 It has been my obsevation that whenever I am awakened by an unusual sound, there are three things that happen after I open my eyes: 1.  Find out where I am,  2. In my blurred vision, I figure out what's going on around me, 3. Then decide what I should do next.  Most of the time I never get to the third step - I just go back to sleep.  More often than not I wake up with a headache. 

Last night,  I've heard that unusual sound (that keeps coming every once in my life) when my family watched a video of Harvey Carey [Leadership Summit 2009].  In his talk he articulated the need for christians to "break up from their huddles and start to play the game", stop collecting binders from numerous seminars and get to action, and avoid being in the state of "paralysis by analysis".  Instead of counting out your financial resources for a ministry get busy figuring out what our Almighty God can do and depend on that. "You need to learn how to just go and do what Jesus said to go and do." 

This morning John Hamm talked about his story in meeting Pastor Naha and eventually starting "My Brother's Burden".   He underscored the unusual voice from God that rang in his ear time after time.  God's voice came to John through the the passages in Isaiah 58:10 - "if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday."

   'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'
~ Matthew 25:45

We are very comfortable here in America.  In fact this is the very best place to live.  We hardly ever know what real suffering means.  We mistake simple inconveniences for true tribulations.  When our peace and quiet is disturbed by a news that some people somewhere need help,  it is easy to close our eyes and go back to sleep.  We see and hear about sufferings around us and our pious response is to close our eyes in prayer and skip a couple of meals in fasting.  We know that God is pleased with us when we pray and fast.  Nevertheless, we need not forget that praying and fasting are means to an end.  They are intended to prepare us mentally and spiritually to join God in His agenda.  Isaiah 58 describes what true fasting is all about.  God did not create us to be a bucket but a well.  A bucket collects but a well gives.

I believe that God meant for us to help those in need not only in our abundance but give to the point of being in need.  God's grace is sufficient for us.  He does not want us to rely on the things that He gave us but on Him. 


Monday, October 5, 2009

We Thank God for Our Pastor

When was the last time you thanked God about your pastor? When was the last time that you told him you appreciate him?  I asked myself the same question and it was embarrassing to find out that I never really sat down and thought about the things that I like about him.   As a family we pray for our pastor every Sunday right before we turn on the car engine to go to church.  We pray that God would help him deliver a good message.  Do you see what's wrong with that?  It is so selfish.  It has not occurred to me that I was praying for something that I would get from him. There is more about your pastor than the sermon that he delivers every Sunday.

"Take time to sit down and reflect kindly about your very own pastor."

It is October 2009.  It is clergy appreciation month.  Take time to sit down and reflect kindly about your very own pastor. Then let him know about it.  True joy comes when we give up a part of our life (including our pride) to bring blessings to someone.  As inspired by Beth Moore, I asked everyone in my family to think of something they like about Pastor Dave Henry.  This is what we came up with, I'm sure your list can be different. 

Dear Pastor,  we appreciate you because:
1.  You are a good listener. 
2.  You have a happy attitude.
3.  You take time to know everyone's name in your congregation
4.  You are passionate about evangelism.
5.  You show your love for your wife, Keisha.

"The LORD bless you and keep you;  the LORD make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace." 
- Numbers 6:24-2

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

If Your Feet Are Still Dry...Pray

TIME (Mike Alquinto / AP Photo)

Please pray for the millions of Filipinos who have been affected by the tropical storm Ketsana:
1. Pray for those who are incharge (civil defence authorities)- that appropriate decisions and action made in a timely manner.
2.  Pray for provision for the victims - food, clean water, shelter.
3.  Pray for protection for the people from sickness.
4.  Pray for salvation - that the lost souls would find their way to God through this calamity.
5.  Praise God for we know that He has a purpose in this crisis.

O LORD, I call to you; come quickly to me.
Hear my voice when I call to you.
May my prayer be set before you like incense;
may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.
Psalm 141:1-3

Thank you and may God our Lord look upon you with pleasure. 

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Whose Favor Matters*

"... Esther won the favor of everybody who saw her". Esther 2:15

Favor, the preferential treatment or approval from others, is something that humans all long to have. Regardless of personality differences, every person aspire to have the approval of someone for various reasons. It could be of an employer, neighbor, relative, acquaintance, classmate, churchmate or even an enemy. There are two questions that are worth asking regarding this matter: 1) Is favor free? 2) Who gets it?

It appears that favor is a prize that is bestowed to someone who deserves it. How one deserves favor is totally dependent on the one who gives the favor. The requirements or criteria are completely under the control of the giver. It hangs above the head of everyone and it remains suspended until the one who holds it decides to grant it. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, one could say that favor rests in the heart of the giver. A number of stories are based around this same basic idea. Cinderella won the favor of the prince but how much effort did she invest to gain such profit?
Often times people work hard to gain favor. On the other hand, favor that has been previously granted can be revoked without prior notice. We see it all the time in all sorts of relationships, like in marriages ending in divorce and friendships in break-ups. Couples who are so in love see each others characters and then decide to be with each other all the time. They even go to the extent of spending a lot of money in order for them to celebrate a promise that they give to each other (called wedding). This promise basically says, "You will have my favor above anyone else no matter what!" Very touching! However, there is one problem. People change and often the original basis of approval is gone. This commodity called favor is very volatile. It dissipates in the air and the promise is nullified and forgotten. All too painful.

"Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ." Galatians 1:10

Seeking the approval of men seems like a difficult job and yet there is no assurance of keeping that favor. God's favor is based on His character not ours. He loves us because He is love. To rely on that love is to please Him and to please Him is obey Him. Esther could not have done anything to win the favor of King Xerxes and the people of Persia. If he was looking for a trophy wife, Queen Vashti was The beauty Queen! Esther, however, choose to win the favor of God. She was not afraid of the consequences to break the King's orders in favor of doing what is right. She said, "If I die, then I die." In the end, everything falls into place according to God's good plans for her and her people.

A life that is focussed on chasing the aproval of men is a stressful life. A life that seeks to win the favor of God is a life worth living.
*This is adapted from an older post in my other blog - Helen's blog.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Calaveras Big Trees

Every young child wished they were older so that they would partake in the privileges of the grown-ups.  Days go on and they reach the maturity that they once dreamt.  Yes, the ideal age of beauty, freedom and vigour.  Absent from the dream are the pressure and stresses in life as one garners independence and survival.  Before they know it, these children begin to age - age beyond the ideal.  Vigour, beauty, and independence are running away.  Then the ugly and unnecessary battle against ageing begins. 

Life on this earth can be meaningless, a chasing after the wind (Ecclesiastes 2).  We need to learn to appreaciate the power and grace of our Creator more than the things that we can do.  Our works and efforts to change the value of our life is all meaningless, a chasing after the wind.  God is the ultimate source of our happiness and the determiner of the kind of life we all have.

I'd like to digress and point out the relationship between plants and the gardener.  Plants come in different kinds.  Potentially, some live to last two months, a year, two years, and still some 200 years.  All of which has the chance to get eaten by a worm when they are still a young succulent seedling, a chance to be infested with a virus that would distort their appearance, a chance to be trampled, and a chance to be shaded by a competing weed.  Beyond all the mechanisms that a plant can do to fight for its survival and success, however, the gardener will decide whether to protect,  water,  prune, or rogue his plants.  

  "Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these". - Luke 12:27

Song -  "Grandmother" by Rebecca Pidgeon,

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Beauty in Being Different

She was different.  She did not conform.  She broke tradition.  Esther was not like any of the candidates who competed for the throne to be queen to King Xerxes.  In a world where excess was equalled to accomplishment, she presented herself as a minimalist.  After a year of beauty treatment, right when it was her turn to be presented to the king, she could have all the jewelry to adorn her.  Instead she relied on her inherent beauty that shows well regardless of treatments or decorations.  The scripture says that Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her and later on captured the heart of the King.   For someone to capture the approval of both the king and the masses,  I can only imagine that she combined superiority and humility in one person. 

In our modern society, superiority are often measured by the things that are visible.  We are carried away by the lie that beauty comes with the cosmetics that we layer on our faces.  We enslave ourselves to the lie that class is synonymous with expensive clothing, that our image is stamped with the insignia on the car we drive.  Furthermore, we believe that we gain the favor of everyone when we are all this made up. 

Real beauty comes from within.  Complexion eventually changes it's name to Wrinkles but the beauty that comes from the heart is forever beautiful and superior in the eyes of God.  Real beauty is clothed in humility while the beauty that fades sports pride.  If you are truly beautiful you proclaim to the rest of the world, "You matter" (instead of "I matter").  Only then will you win the favor of everyone who sees you.  It seems simple but it involves a change of heart.

Esther was different...beautifully different.  She changed the world around her because she was willing to be different.

Video:  Think Different by Apple Computer Inc.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Calling all Beth Moore Fans

Beth Moore maintains a blog where she along with her daughters collectively feed it.  Here you will find cute, crazy, and beautiful pictures.  You will get tidbits of information about her family including grandchildren, their trips, food they eat, toilet paper they buy, and just about everything everyday-mundane stuff.  The one thing that she does not include there are serious matters like answering your deepest question about God.  I think she saves those ideas for her next book.

Check out her blog, she might inspire you!  She already inspired me to make her Beth Moore's Texas Sheet Cake.  Nancy Bagdanov saw it first and she copied the recipe onto my FB.  I'll let you know what happens today when I try it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Opening the Megillah

Today our study of the Megillah began.  In Hebrew, megillah means a scroll containing religious writings.  To the Jews it refers to the biblical narrative of the book of Esther which is read publicly in its entirety during the festival of Purim.  Still colloquially, megillah means a long, boring tediously detailed or embroidered account.

We listened to Beth Moore (BM) give the introductory spiel.  Basically she described the uniqueness of the book compared to the other books in the bible. 

1) absence of any reference to God   The entire book of Esther make no mention of God.  BM spent a big chunk of the hour trying to make her point that there are times in someone's life (herself as example) when God is absent.  BM seemed to indicate that when God came back to her she was all energized and bouncing again.  The fact that God is not mentioned in the book does not mean that God was not present. He was standing from a distance waiting for the right time to intervene.  Mother Theresa once described a time of "spiritual dryness" in her own life, when God seemed distant.  It is interesting to find out that she only had a brief period when she felt that God was always very close to her yet she carried out all her ministries just the same till she died. 

2) title bears a woman's name   BM contrasted Esther with the book of Ruth by the type of cross-cultural marriage in the story.  Ruth was a Moabitess (gentile) who married a Boaz, who was a Jew.  The case of Esther was the other way around.  Esther was a Jew,  who lived incognito in Persia, married to Xerxes, a Persian king.  In this section, BM talked or joked a lot about "hormones, and "estrogen" (which I didn't particularly appreciate).  I wished that she emphasized the roles of the male characters in the story in bringing out the true character of the woman Esther.  There was Mordecai, Xerxes, Memucan(Haman) who made all the drama in the story.  Esther did what she did, not because of her fluctuating hormones but because she was triggered by the evil deeds of one man (Haman).  She was placed in high position not because of her estrogen level but due to the pride of another man (Xerxes).  She choose to risk her life because she trusted her wise guardian (Mordecai) and she cared for her own people.  I guess BM will discuss all of these during the course of the study. 

3) God-ordained emphasis on human responsibility  I didn't seem get a lot from her third point.  BM was quoting the Word Biblical Commentary a lot that she lost me.

I look forward to doing this bible study and listening to BM some more.  She indicated that "we are going to be dangerous women for the kingdom of God" by the time we're done with this megillah.  Hmmm... I wonder what she means.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Xerxes and Memucan

Inspite of his great anger and fury regarding Queen Vashti's insubordination, King Xerxes followed the proper protocol which is to consult his advisers. His advisory board is composed of the seven greatest nobles of Persia and Mede. 

He asked a direct question "According to the law, what should be done to Queen Vashti?"  He also described the action accurately, "She has not obeyed the command of King Xerxes that the eunuchs have taken to her." On all parameters, King Xerxes was politically correct. 

 Although it is not explicitely stated in the bible, it is generally accepted that Memucan is the same as Haman.  Memucan, who appeared to be the voice of the advisory board, did not match the directness of the question with his answer.  Instead he came back with his interpretation of Vashti's action. "Queen Vashti has done wrong, not only against the king but also against all the nobles and the peoples of all the provinces of King Xerxes." He also extrapolated his own interpretation. "For the queen's conduct will become known to all the women, and so they will despise their husbands... This very day the Persian and Median women of the nobility who have heard about the queen's conduct will respond to all the king's nobles in the same way.  There will be no end of disrespect and discord."   Can you say he's politicizing? This statements definitely aggrevates any attitude that was there originally.  This did not only add insult to injury but he also tried to get the vote of all the nobles in the advisory board and the sympathy of men in the land towards the proposal that he is about to state. 

Sometimes we get into the shoes of King Xerxes.  When things are not going right, we consult our trusted friends or family.  We go to them for advise, clarity, and confirmation on things that we already have thought.  Other times we are in distress that we just need someone to listen to us and not give us any advise.  Just like King Xerxes, instead of feeling better, we come out from that session with our ears and nostrils fuming with smoke.  When we feel helpless it is much better to seek God for guidance.  Later in the book when Queen Esther appeared in his presence without invitation, he did not ask Memucan (Haman) what to do.  Instead he trusted his own judgement and did what he believed was right. 

Sometimes we are Memucan.  The one who would dispense the elixir to our friend's problems.  In our desire to make our friend feel better we fuel their anger.  We feel as though we need to say something when in fact "Xerxes" just need to download.  I've thought about this and I came to the conclusion that the best way to help "Xerxes" is to alleviate his own emotions towards the problem.  He has control over his attitude and a friend can help.  The rest of the matter will be better resolved when anger is no longer part of the issue.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Xerxes & Vashti

King Xerxes and Queen Vashti were the royal couple of the land that stretched from India to Ethiopia (486-465 BC). He was king and military leader.  For a wife he had the most beautiful girl in the land. Vashti herself was of royal descent, being the daughter of Belchazzar, the last king of Babylon.  She was a young princess when Darius captured her during the Persians and Mede invasion of Babylon.  Darius later presented her to Xerxes, his son, to marry.
Excessive Wealth and Generosity  His empire was undoubtedly wealthy, or perhaps, doubtfully wealthy, since he felt the need to show off.  It took him about six months.  This must be a stressful exercise, always on display, knowing that there is always a chance for guests to see something that needs improvement.  Xerxes was probably extremely insecure, since it seems he had to prove his greatness.  

 "For a full 180 days he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty.  When these days were over, the king gave a banquet, lasting seven days, in the enclosed garden of the king's palace, for all the people from the least to the greatest, who were in the citadel of Susa.  The garden had hangings of white and blue linen, fastened with cords of white linen and purple material to silver rings on marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and other costly stones. Wine was served in goblets of gold, each one different from the other, and the royal wine was abundant, in keeping with the king's liberality. By the king's command each guest was allowed to drink in his own way, for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished."

After a long display of his wealth and glory, Xerxes opened a  week-long banguet in the garden.  This was not the time to go on a diet!  Every guest was allowed to have what ever he desired.  At the end of this period of royal partying, Xerxes decided to surprise his guests with his grand finale.  Vashti, his beautiful wife, was not in the mood to cooperate with him.  It was a humilition that Xerxes was not going to bear.

"On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him—Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Carcas- to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at.  But when the attendants delivered the king's command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Then the king became furious and burned with anger."

Vashti refused the king of the land, her husband. Kings ought to be honored by their subjects and husbands by their spouses. Vashi is doubly guilty.  No one knows the reason for Vashti's refusal to obey Xerxes. There is only speculation.  The Veggie Tales movie, "Esther, the Girl Who Became Queen,"  indicates that he asked her to make a sandwich in the middle of the night.  The movie, "One Night with the King" suggest that she is anti-war and he is pro-war.  What was the real reason?  Could it be that Vashti has always been an arrogant and strong-willed girl? Since this is happening during the third year of his reign as king, they must have been married about five to seven years.  If Xerxes has managed to survive living with her all those years then something changed. Could it also be that Xerxes has always been an unreasonable husband?  If so then Vashti must have been a patient and devoted wife.  But why did she ignore his order now?  Or, if Xerxes was a good husband and king, why did he make an unexpectedly unreasonable order this time? 

Vashti: Wife  From a marital point of view, she should have obeyed him and went out to present herself to the most enthusiastic and intoxicated audience. Wives are admonished to submit to their husbands out of respect.

 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5:22-24)

What went wrong?  Vashti, being a king's daughter, is no doubt educated and proper.  It would be right to assume that her choices were carefully considered before she would make them public.  She would know not to publicly show any hint of disrespect to Xerxes.

Xerxes: Husband  Along with his guests, he was in high spirits - in other words, severely drunk.  Some scholars think that he actually asked Vashti to come out with nothing but the royal crown!  Surely, he was the head of the marriage but such action do not show love.  Husbands are called to love the wife as they love themselves and to present their wives without imperfection and shame.  If the speculation is accurate, then Xerxes can take the blame for his wife's refusal. 

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself." (Ephesians 5:25-28)

The Real Authority 

Vashti, just like Esther, was faced with a decision to follow the exception.  They both had to face the consequences of such decision. Queen Vashti’s story was not as fortunate as Esther’s but I believe that both stories were part of God's plan.  
Xerxes was the authority that was placed above Vashti.  He was also the one who should love and lay his own life for her welfare.  There is an authority that rules above and beyond the authority of a husband or king--the King of Kings, who rules with love and justice. When forced to choose--when authorities are in conflict--we are called to choose and respond so that the name of this Great King will not be stained. 

Friday, September 4, 2009

Sticky Ideas

Duct tape on a book cover? Tim Lewis, my husband, was reading "Made to Stick" by Chip Heath and Dan Heath and he commented later that it was an interesting book. I asked him to write a brief summary of the book for this blog. Tim writes the following as he brings home some grains from the book:
"A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on." Charles Spurgeon on[1]
Why is it that "lies, urban legends, conspiracy theories and bogus public-health scares circulate effortlessly" while important ideas seem to struggle?
To what reason do we attribute the difference in the spread of the two types of messages? Is it the message it self? Is it the speaker ? Is it the hearer? Chip and Dave Heath in their book, "Made to Stick" [2], analyze the reasons for certain ideas, and more specifically, reasons for presentation of certain ideas make them more likely to "stick" in our minds. They give several explanations and examples to demonstrate those reasons. In summary, they identify six key characteristics of such ideas and they dedicated a chapter to each of these.

1. Simple This is finding the core of our idea which means "stripping an idea down to its most critical essence." How long do you have to speak before they get your idea?

2. Unexpected How do you generate curiosity and interest? When your idea is predictable you will loose their interest before you get your idea across. “The most basic way to get someone’s attention is this: Break a pattern. Humans adapt incredibly quickly to consistent patterns. Our brain is designed to be keenly aware of changes." (pp. 64, 65)

3. Concrete Make your ideas clear. Use concrete images when describing your idea like a flat-screen television, red rose, oak table, or a real person with a name. Our brains remember those things. Concepts that are already established are more readily remembered than those that are abstract.

4. Credible Make your ideas believable. Very few people will entertain ideas that are not accurate. “How do we get people to believe our ideas? We’ve got to find a source of credibility to draw on. A person’s knowledge of details is often a good proxy for her expertise. Think of how a history buff can quickly establish her credibility by telling an interesting Civil War anecdote. But concrete details don’t just lend credibility to the authorities who provide them; they lend credibility to the idea itself.” (pp. 138, 163)

5. Emotional Get people to care about you ideas. Make them feel something. Bridge the gap between your idea and the things that they already are passionate or care about. These are "strategies for making people care: using associations (or avoiding associations, as the case may be), appealing to self-interest, and appealing to identity. All three strategies can be effective but we've got to watch out for our old nemesis, The Curse of Knowledge, which interferes with our ability to implement them." (p. 199) Once we know something so well, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. So we tend to talk in ways that assume that the other person has already taken all of the mental steps that we have taken.

Imagine tapping out the rhythm of a song with your fingers on a table and trying to get someone else guess what song you are tapping? It is extremely frustrating because you can already hear the song in your head, but the other person just can't seem to get it. That is the "Curse of Knowledge". Scientists for example, spend so much time working and discussing with fellow scholars about a subject matter that they can't imagine an audience that doesn't know. Frustrating for them! Frustrating for the audience!

My wife Helen was coached, when presenting her research work to "assume that they don't know what you know." Listeners need to take the journey from where they are now to where they need to be.

Pastors may also fall into this trap when preparing a sermon. They spend hours and hours poring over the text and thinking about the deep ideas. Then, on Sunday morning, they are confronted with the congregation and they must now help those folks make the same journey. But because the pastor has been changed by his study and meditations, he can easily forget how it is for those listening. This is "The Curse of Knowledge" and generates blank stares, boredom, and doodling.

6. Stories Convey your idea through a story. "Stories have the amazing dual power to simulate and inspire." (p.237) Jesus told many stories to convey spiritual realities, because the drama inherent in the story pulled people towards the conclusion Jesus wanted them to read.

To test "stickiness", go back to the gospels and watch Jesus in his parables. Take the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10). It had one simple point: Who is your neighbor? It was unexpected: The Samaritan, the "undesirable", is the good guy! It was concrete: the road to Jericho, the bandits, the coins, the salve-they were everyday items. It was credible: people recognized Jesus as rabbi and the situation was plausible. It was emotional: the traveler's plight. And, of course, it was a great story. It was sticky.

Now try a more recent story: Susan Boyle, the surprising voice talent. But look at her story and how it invaded a household that never turns on an "Idol" or "Talent" TV show. I heard about Susan Boyle two days after her performance through an email sent by a church mate which prompted me to check out a YouTube clip. The story was simple - local woman hits it big. Her performance was unexpected because she didn't fit the stereotype of the silky voiced diva; flummoxing Simon Cowell who is normally so quick to snipe at contestants. The emotion of the underdog who surprises a nation. That story drew many of us in for a few weeks as we watched the drama to see if this Cinderella story could last.

We are ambassadors of the gospel. But it is tossed like junk mail when we take the message of God and hide the significance by the way we talk. Paul even killed someone with his preaching (Acts 20:7-11) and God had to perform a miracle. That's why he prayed: "Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me.." (Ephesians 6:19) How to make the gospel stick? Knowing and idea is half, but showing is the other half.

Make your ideas stick for God.

[1] Sermon preached April 1st, 1855.
[2] "Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die", Chip Heath and Dan Heath (Random House, 2007)