Saying “Yes” to Jesus…

Saying yes to Jesus

One of many favorite things about the church I serve at is that we have certain Sundays we call “Wild Card Sundays”.  These are the Sundays in which we are encouraged to visit other churches and see how God’s body worships Him elsewhere.  On one of these recent “Wild Card” Sundays, I randomly decided to visit a local young Asian American Church that is close to my house.  In many ways, this place was similar to our church, but in many ways completely different as well; I guess that’s how faith communities are and how God makes each community unique so as to better minister to the diverse world out here.  What was crazy was that my mentor and former Pastor/boss whom I shall call “Captain” was guest-speaking at the church and I was in for a blessed treat as I got to listen to him preach God’s Word.

Anyways, since this message was a few months ago, I believe that the essential main point was the importance of continuing to stay connected to God’s mission.  In life often, it is easy to be excited for God and continue to be fresh… but as time progresses we become comfortable and as a result, it’s easy to simply get into a place of no life or power as we become stagnant or even rigid because we haven’t moved or continued to lubricate our joints.  I liken this frozen-ness/woodenness to old age (those that I see that tend to be less flexible)… but is often an affliction that affects many believers of all ages and experiences as we start to become comfortable with where we are at in our lives.

Captain pointed out that because we are on God’s mission to this world… that we are as a body or church existing for the purpose of His work.  As a result… when we miss out on this mission, we miss out on God’s work.  He reminded me of this call by quoting John 20:21 … when Jesus said to His disciples: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  So what is this mission of God?  The mission of God is the kingdom of God touching & renewing everything and everyone in our world through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is in joining with this wholesome message of grace that we are a part of His Missio Dei … and as a result it changes us and fills us.

Using John 4, and referencing Jesus’ interaction with the Woman of Samaria, he continued to talk about how this lady had learned to drink of the living water.  This living water nourishes and satisfies in such a complete and perfect way… and truly, if one was to simply live like that, it’d be fine, but at the same time, this lady left everything and proceeded to go forth and share in Jesus’ mission… that is the witness to her whole village despite her low social status.

The way of Jesus then can be seen in John 4:27-34.  When the disciples returned back with food for Jesus, they saw him talking to the woman and they wanted to ask him questions; no one did of course.  So after she left, they offered Him something to eat, and Jesus goes into Yoda-mode and basically replied “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” Can you imagine how that must’ve felt if you were his disciple and Jesus said that to you?  What did you possibly eat?!  You see, Jesus was operating on a whole different level of thinking from His disciples… rather than seeing the tangible realities of hunger and feeding, Jesus was saying was that what fills His soul truly was to be doing God’s will and His work.  Basically, He was being satisfied by being in harmony with God’s mission.  Have you ever felt or experienced that?  What was that moment when you were able to be in so harmony with God’s mission in your life?

I think we all encounter such moments throughout our lives.  Perhaps it is a time when we respond to the tugging by the Holy Spirit to speak to someone.  Perhaps it was the speaking to someone that God had put a burden on our hearts.  It could even be the simple small gestures of love towards another that may mean so little to others, but meant the world to the person you loved.  Truly, it is totally satisfying and fills you in a completely satisfying way.  More often than not, we eat of this wonderful fulfilling feast in God when we coincide… when we harmonize with God’s melody… which usually is directed towards the helpless… the poor, the oppressed, the orphans… the widows… and those lacking others to be there for them.  This is the joy of mission!  It is the ability to feast and partake in that infinitely satisfying goodness of God.

Captain then pointed out that we often don’t hear from God… because we aren’t listening to God and doing what He wants.  Rather we desire to hear and determine that tone/frequency or melody of God in our lives… but more so than not… God’s audible frequency is completely different and so much harder than what we dare or want to commit to.  Rather, we would like to be comfortable or self-reliant. It is in these times that we become more “wooden” or less flexible; we become less stretchable.  It’s only when you get out of the ruts of our lives… the comfortably cozy places that we can be stretched and to have opportunities to have a child-like faith.  This child-like faith is those places where we can’t rely on our own experiences and abilities but where we really have no confidence and strength in our own abilities.  God wants to stretch us, but more often than not… it requires us to count the cost and to consider and turn away from the comfort and safety of what we understand and know so well.

So what does this look like to be more on mission and in tune with God?  I think the one little quote I wrote down that made so much sense is this: “A life of obedience and faith is a life of saying ‘yes!’ to Jesus.”  It is learning to take not 1 HUGE step, but learning to simply take small steps of obedience and faith.  It is after taking these steps that perhaps prepares us to take big steps… but more often than not… when we look back… looks like some huge fantastic steps.  It is in learning to say “yes” to God that I think we grow and continue to be refreshed and to drink from that living water that rejuvenates and keeps us flexible.  It is also in the midst of these times of saying yes, that we see that the road that lies ahead.

One final thought I jotted down as I was listening to my mentor’s sermon was this… what are the dreams we live for?  Do we live for our dreams… imperfect and flawed… or do we allow God’s dreams which are infinitely better/perfect/complete… to be our dreams?  I think God wants us to dream His dream… to dream His story… He wants our hopes and all that we are… to be after that perfect dream… and it is in doing so that we become a part of His mission.  How will you say “yes” to Him today?

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Reflections on Missions

Since my return to the States from two weeks of short-term missions, the most common question I’ve been getting is “How was it?”

It is a question that I find impossible to answer.

I could talk about how my experience this time differed from past trips; but this trip isn’t about me.

I could talk about how God was faithful to provide for our every need; but this trip isn’t strictly about the team.

I could talk about the kids who accepted Christ. Yes, that seems to strike closer to the heart of things. But how do I talk about those who were saved without also talking about who they are? Beyond saying x number of people received Christ, what can I do except tell their story? And to tell their story…where does one even begin?

Thus, for the time being, I’ve decided to refrain from talking about the specifics of the trip. Instead, I will offer the general reflections I’ve had as a result of these past two weeks.

During the trip, I read through several of the minor prophets. A major theme that cuts through most (all?) of them is the promised restoration of suffering Israel. But restoration to what? Restoration in order that God’s holiness and righteousness might be vindicated among the nations:

“It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” – Isaiah 2:2-3.

“Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the LORD, I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it.” – Ezekiel 36:36

“Then the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.” – Ezekiel 37:28

“So I will show my greatness and my holiness and make myself known in the eyes of many nations. Then they will know that I am the LORD.” – Ezekiel 38:23

“For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the LORD and serve him with one accord.” – Zephaniah 3:9

“Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the LORD” – Zechariah 8:22

These passages and many like them all talk about God’s promise to restore Israel and draw all the nations to Himself. That is His plan for the world. The crazy thing is that in 2 Corinthians 1:20, Paul writes, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him [Jesus].” That means that we are really living in the thick of things. For Jesus Messiah is the faithful Israelite; He is the recipient of God’s promise (see Gal 3:16). He is the one who suffered and died; He is the one whom God restored (resurrected). It is in Him that we are justified before God and our sins forgiven. It is in Him that the nations see the glory, “glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). And He is the guarantee, the assurance that God is faithful to carry out His Word to the very end.

The 15 or so students who received Christ during this trip are the first-fruits of a nation that God is drawing to Himself through Jesus Messiah. God is fulfilling His promise to a nation, to the entire world, and all of us are in the midst of it. We, everyone, are all caught up in the action. This is the big picture, the meta-narrative of what missions is all about.

For most of my life, I’ve subconsciously ignored the significance of missions. To me, it was something we’re supposed to do because Jesus said so in the Great Commission. Or we’re supposed to do it because we love people or we love Jesus, or something like that. I thought of missions as another thing to tack onto my Christian to-do list. During this trip, God humbled me in that respect, showing me that missions is about the great story of what He is doing. The bigger story is what God is doing in the world; the smaller story (far smaller) is what God is doing in me. If I think of missions as the cool summer project that God is doing in the life of Tim Ip, then in my mind, I’ve diminished it into a secondary issue, whereas I’ve made myself the primary issue.

But if missions is really the meta-narrative of what God is doing, then I ought to structure my life around missions, to find my place within the story. Not vice-versa. I should not be structuring missions around my agenda and desires. Once again, God is asserting His supremacy over and against what I’ve made my life about (namely, myself).

At the end of the day, to make our lives about missions (whether at home or abroad) is to live and breath the Gospel. This is not because of anything we do, but because missions, by its very nature, is participation in the work of God, and what is the Gospel except the good news of God’s saving work? In this sense, we didn’t bring the Gospel to a foreign land; rather, the Gospel brought us deeper into a place where God is working.

So, I apologize. In a way, I’ve told you nothing of what the trip was about. I left out many particulars; I didn’t even say where we went.* Maybe one day, I will find the words to do justice to what actually happened during these past two weeks. As of now, my best answer to the question “How was it?” is “It was good.” Horrible answer, I know, and I’m sorry.

In another way, though, I’ve tried, to the best of my ability, to tell you what the trip was actually about. I can’t say that it’s the most accurate retelling, or even that other members of the team will agree with me. All I can say is that God (once again) came crashing into the world like a wrecking ball, and this is what remains. This is what has moved me to make my life about missions.

As a final request, please pray for kids who received Christ, for their continued growth in Him, and for His guidance and protection in their lives.

Adieu.

*Part of this is intentional, since we were in a country that isn’t friendly to the Gospel. Given that the Internet is a place where anyone can find anything, I decided to leave out as many details as possible.

My Poverty

I just came back from a weekend with my Youth Group, the Rock!  serving those in need and the poor in the SF/Oakland urban areas.  We stayed in the basement of a church building, and  visited various local ministries through the weekend.  Our team was split in two groups of ten with each group doing separate projects and visiting separate areas on different days.  We helped at CityTeam Oakland cleaning up the basement (years of junk and garbage), St. Vincent  DePaul (helped serve and clean at the soup kitchen), did a prayer tour through many of the struggling urban areas of San Francisco and spent time with the homeless in areas such as the Tenderloin, Haight-Asbury, and the Mission.  We also visited the Civic Center, the SF Main Library, St. Anthony’s church/kitchen, and even walked ½ of the Golden Gate Bridge while we prayed for the city, and helped pack over 30,000 lbs. of pinto beans for the SF Food Bank.  I feel compelled to write this blog today because I want to be able to capture some of the memories and the lessons that God revealed to me during this time.

This whole trip was called a STILT, or Short-term Immersion Learning Trip, and was meant to raise awareness and help to change the perspectives of our youth kids and how they viewed others.  I prayed and hoped that their hearts would be changed by this trip, and that the result would be that they would be a people that would not only know the love of Jesus Christ, but that they would be actively loving like Jesus would love.   Through the whole trip, I was deeply moved as I watched the kids come out of their comfort zones and engage the people we meet.  Each kid grew as God worked in them and stretched them.  For them it was not only just giving away socks and blankets while we traversed through the City in the rain and cold, but actually hearing and touching the people we were talking to… that hit them hard.

Little did these homeless people know, but we were deeply touched by their stories and lives.  During our time out in the windy, freezing rain, I never heard one complaint from our kids as we froze and trembled in the cold.  The realization that at least 13,000 people in the City were experiencing the same thing as us, and having to live in these conditions broke our hearts.  Hearing their stories made these people real to us… ultimately, they were human and were made in God’s image.  It was not about even feeling good ‘cuz were helping them out, but it was simply being in harmony with God’s love for the people in this world that are so often ignored and overlooked.  It is in these times that my lil sis Katrina best put it when she said to me as we left the Haight area: “…it is ultimately about God and not about glory for us. Not for our pride, because it’s not our work”… that made me realize just how right she was about everything.  This was all God’s and He was at work… we were blessed to even be a part of His work.

My lil bro Joshua during our prayer walk on the Golden Gate Bridge then shared this insight with me that knocked me over… he shared: “no longer are these people part of the landscape, but they are characters in God’s  story.” Isn’t that just so true?  So easily have I made a person a part of the background of my life… the landscape that they have been de-humanized… and it is again being reminded of this indifference that I remember Cornell West’s quote that “Indifference is the essence of inhumanity.” Yet it was my fellow staffers’ insights during our post-trip time of reflection/sharing/prayer that really hit me.  My friend shared his personal experience after hearing the testimony of a homeless brother in Christ named Tom… that “sometimes you don’t realize you’re dying inside until you meet someone who’s really alive.” This impacted us tremendously and made us realize just how truly poor we are.  This is the reason for my title of this blog.

I wanted to share about my poverty because after this weekend, I realized just how poor that I truly am.  Certain Scriptures became more real to me than ever and they were humbling.  The question to consider is this… if Jesus were here today, do you think he would be hanging out with me in the nice areas of SF, or he would be with the poor in the Tenderloin? When I visualize this, I realized he would probably be among the people at St. Boniface rather than with me at Starbucks in Fremont.  Not only that, but this verse pierced my soul during the weekend… “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20).  My Savior, My King, My Salvation… himself was “homeless” and did not even have many of the comforts I had. So why do all these things matter to me?  I think it is in the midst of this realization and my friend’s words that I realized that those that often have so very little, have ALSO very little that could distract them and to hinder them from an unadulterated trust, passion and relationship with God.

I am so rich in my resources, my security, my comforts, my ambitions, my dreams, my hopes, my appetites … but I am so poor when it comes to what truly matters… love, hope, joy, faith, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience and many more things that are God’s.  You see these things are all about me and yet in the ultimate cosmic scheme of life and reality, they are just not that important!  Maybe to me they are important, but in God’s story… most of this stuff is but dross and of no useful purpose but to merely satisfy a selfish need to feel like something of worth… to quantify my existence.  Ultimately, what I feel as I consider the Gospel is that truly, I am poor because these things rather than bringing me completeness and security… have merely only brought me hunger and dissatisfaction.  I am poor because rather than having God, I only have these temporary things.  To be rich then is to have the infinite… that which never perishes… that which completely satisfies… which is only mine through the grace of God through the work of Jesus Christ and confirmed in my life by the Spirit.

As I reflect, I know I am so rich because of God’s love for me through Jesus Christ, but the more I get to know Jesus and have a relationship with Him, the more I realize that my life needs to be more attuned to His frequency… to resonate with His heart and love for this world and the brokenness in it.  Till I find this comfort in Him, I will never feel at home… I will always be homeless.  I leave with this quote… may it find you and your heart… and may you find our true “home”.

“We carry inside us a vision of wholeness that we sense is our true home and that beckons us (110).

Joy is home, and I believe that the tears that came to our eyes were more than anything else homesick tears (128).

Woe to us indeed if we forget the homeless ones who have no vote, no power, nobody to lobby for them, and who might as well have no faces even, the way we try to avoid the troubling sight of them in the streets of the cities where they roam like stray cats.  And as we listen each night to the news of what happened in our lives that day, woe to us if we forget our own homelessness (104).

To be homeless the way people like you and me are apt to be homeless is to have homes all over the place but not to be really at home in any of them.  To be really at home is to be really at peace, and our lives are so intricately interwoven that there can be no real peace for any of us until there is peace for all of us (140).”

–          The Longing for Home: Recollections and Reflections – Frederick Buechner

To read more of our reflections during our trip, check out our Trip Blog:

https://sites.google.com/site/therockgcf/stilt2011/trip-blog/day2reflections

“…Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well…”

Inspired by a few things (a book & Thailand), I wanted to write about a subject that has been on my mind over the past years, but which has not felt like being placed on paper till now.  It began one day a few years ago… while driving through an area with many trees and bushes (I think on Cathedral Oaks Rd. in Goleta) that I came to realize that there was so many varieties of green in the leaves all around me.  Then the realization hit me that God, the Creator, has a unique name for each of these colors.  I was so awestruck by this thought and realization that I could not help but start to praise Him for His pure awesomeness.  His amazing creativity, knowledge, and wisdom just overwhelmed me… and the following Scripture verse made so much more sense: “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made…” (Romans 7:20).  It is funny, but this insight still comes to my mind randomly over the years, and it always brings me into awe and adoration of Him.

At this moment, I want to ask you, the reader… about your thoughts and your experiences.  Have you ever been captivated by His creation?  His artistry? His creativity?  Whether it is the colors, the sounds, the smells, the touch, or the feel… have you ever noticed how the world has such a great elegance and precise design?

I thought of this question and wrote down some things that amaze me in His creation.  You should try it too!

– The swirl of colors during a sunrise as the sun seems to rise out of the horizon like a performer coming onto the stage, and the light bouncing off different things like a captivated audience seeing a performance for the first time.

– The slow diminishing of colors from bright to dark as the sun sets like a performer exiting the stage, and the collective sigh and darkness arises all around as the curtain falls.

– The vibrance, vividness, texture, crispness of a flower and its petals?  I was at an orchid farm in Thailand and saw so many different beautiful types of orchids and I just wanted to capture everything with my camera, but I could not.

– The fantastic uniqueness, creativity, order, function and form of different animals and plants as they operate and organically live all around me interacting with the rest of His creation.

God’s excellency, wisdom, purity and love appear in all things… and all of this sometimes reveal a glimpse of the truly Perfect.  Whether it is excellence, perfection, beauty, exquisiteness, magnificence, glory, richness, depth, magnitude, harmony, melody, joy, and/or happiness… all these things point to an amazing Creator.  As the Jonathan Edwards devotional points out, “one cannot logically identify a scene of beauty and leave it disconnected from the character of its designer.”

We have all heard the cliché that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”  How true it seems, and yet how false it really is!  Each person finds one thing to be more beautiful than another, and this difference shows our relative uniqueness.  Yet there are different things that we all find beautiful, and a part of our heart tugs and even yearns when we see them (I suppose the Grand Canyon is one of those things).  Yet what is scary is that as much as our uniqueness is shown in our opinions of beauty… our sinfulness/depravity/fallen ness is also manifested!  It is in these moments that our unique history, our preconceived notions, our biasness, our social programming, our hatreds, our dislikes, our doubts, our brokenness and many other things show just how much we are affected and blinded to the pure awesome beauty that is Him.  Beauty is not defined by our perspective, but by His perfect artistry/creativity/omniscient perspective.  Ultimately, beauty is not separate from God, but the very essence of God.  “You don’t need to squint to see truth; one has only to open one’s eyes.”  It is when we do this that we realize that all that is wonderful show something amazing about Him!

So this brings me to the title of this post…“…Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well…” It is actually a part of Psalm 139, verse 14, and it captured my attention because it echoes that feeling I felt when I saw those greens that one day.  It echoes all the times I have stopped and simply noticed Him… and it is in those moments that He has captivated me… sometimes even to the point of a loss of breath.

You see, nature is a love song from the Creator to mankind. Yet do we notice? Have we truly seen?  Have we paused to admire, to look, to listen, to taste, to touch, or to experience?  Do we even notice this beauty around us?  So take a moment today amidst the busyness of our lives… the weight/burdens we impose upon ourselves, and be captivated… get lost… fall in love once again with Him.  Check out Psalm 104 as David did the same.

We’re All Winners

During an English teaching mission trip to China, my teammates Robin, Julie, and I taught the youngest class. They were ages twelve to fourteen. Every morning, at the beginning of class, we wrote up a daily journal topic. At the end of the first week, the topic was to write a letter to one or all of three of the teachers. One student wrote me a short but heartfelt narrative:

Dear Jane,

These days I am very happy. Because you teach us many things. I like English camp much. I remember you say Everyone Is A Winner. This make me feel very happy and appreciate, because other teachers don’t say this. I hope you like Teng Chong. Please write me!

At first, after reading this letter, I was a little confused. When did I say “Everyone is a winner?” Why would I say something so cheesy? And how could such a lame line inspire a student so much? Then I finally remembered. It was during the first few days of the English program, when we were playing a game of some kind. At the end I had casually said something like, “Don’t worry guys, everyone’s a winner!”

I was surprised that a line so trite and trivial, at least to me, could have had such an impression on a student. The student had kept an offhand comment like that so close to her memory that she wrote about it at the end of the week! From a few simple lines written in choppy English, I have learned so much about the impact of encouraging, which is to say, showing God’s love. I thought this must be one of those small miracles that God sometimes slips us to remind us of Him.  To remind us of His everlasting love that resounds through the simplest gestures, like smiling at my students. Listening when they speak. Telling them they’re winners. So let me tell you. You are a winner!