Tuesday, May 31, 2016

How Much Does God Care?

Within the span of a week, I heard three people say three different things that got me thinking about God’s involvement in my life.
Person one said that he didn’t know if God actually cares about what we do, and that He may not be particularly interested in the choices we make beyond accepting salvation, especially the less important ones.
Person two said that he believed that God only intervenes in our lives after we have done all we can to find His will—that He expects us to exhaust all available means before He will intervene.
Person three expressed the point of view that when God made the world, He was like a clockmaker who assembled and wound up the clock and then left it to run on its own. God designed the laws of nature that would govern and perpetuate His creation, but from that point on, He has let things run themselves without His intervention.
Each of these outlooks disturbed me, and in the days that followed, I reflected on them. Something inside me rebelled against the thought that either God didn’t care enough to be involved in my life, or I had to work as hard as I possibly could before He would give me His attention.
If any of those three concepts were true, what could I count on God for, besides forgiveness for my mistakes and sins? What good was He? In times of tumult, I need help and direction, not to be worried about whether He cares enough to help or whether things have gotten bad enough for Him to get involved.
When I mulled over those three points of view, I was reminded of three proofs that stood in direct contradiction to them.

1. Personal experience
God has intervened in my life on several occasions in ways that made it clear He was interested in the decisions I made.
Once, years ago, I had a dream that gave me an answer before I even knew the question. A few days after the dream, I was offered two jobs. The dream had made it very clear which offer to take, and doing so put me on the path that led me to the work I have been doing for the past 15 years. I hadn’t done anything to find that answer, let alone exhausted all the means at my disposal.
On numerous occasions when I have sought the Lord’s guidance in prayer and have received direction from Him. I’ve asked Him to give me answers and He has—in meditation, by speaking to my heart, through my reading His Word, by relaying His wisdom through others, and through circumstances. He’s given me clear counsel and direction that, when followed, has worked. I know from personal experience that God cares, is interested in me, and will participate in my life when I am open to Him.

2. God’s Word
In both the Old Testament and the New, there are many examples of God’s interaction with man—His intervention in events, and His giving guidance or warning.
There are also plenty of examples of God’s involvement in the decision-making process of His followers, but there is an especially good one in the book of Acts:
“Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
God clearly had preferences as to where they should and shouldn’t go, and He made those known to them.
The Bible explicitly states that we should look to God for guidance as part of our decision-making process, and that if we do, He will give us direction: “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye.”
In the book of Psalms, David clearly showed that he believed in God’s guidance when he prayed, “Cause me to know the way in which I should walk, for I lift up my soul to You.”
Jesus said that when we have needs, we should look to God and expect Him to meet those needs. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”
Jesus believed His Father would guide Him in making decisions, as evidenced when He selected the apostles from among His disciples: “He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles.”
It’s evident from Scripture that God wants to and will interact with us if we want Him to.

3. The Holy Spirit
Along with personal experience and examples found within the Word, I thought about how Jesus promised that once He physically left our world, the Father would send the Holy Spirit to dwell in believers. He said that the Holy Spirit would live in us.
“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you. On that day you will realize that I am in My Father, and you are in Me, and I am in you.”
If God was going to send His Spirit to dwell within me forever, then it stands to reason that He is interested not only in me as an individual, but also in what I do and the decisions I make. I would even make the case that He’s not merely interested, but involved.
In various English translations the Greek word parakletos, which is used to describe the Holy Spirit, is rendered “Counselor,” “Helper,” “Intercessor,” “Comforter” or “Advocate.” I like those images—God’s Spirit being all those things to me. I love it that God is active in my life, that He is interested in me, in who I am and what I do.
I see plenty of evidence that God wants to be part of my life, to play an interactive role. He and I are working together. His Spirit—dwelling within me, guiding my decision making—helps me in my journey through life. I’m so grateful that He didn’t just wind me up and walk away, but instead gave me the means to interact with Him through His Word and His Spirit.
Psalms 121:3 NASV – He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber.
Psalms 23:1 NASV – The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
Matthew 10:30-31 NASV – But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. “So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Escaping Quicksand

Long before a giant shark attacked its first victim in Jaws, before Indiana Jones stumbled onto his first booby trap, and before computer graphics breathed new life into zombies, one of the most terrifying scenes on the big screen was when someone stepped into quicksand. No Tarzan movie was complete until he had rescued some innocent soul from certain death in that awful ooze or the villain’s final breath had gurgled to the surface.
Like that quicksand, problems sometimes threaten to suck us under. The harder we struggle, the deeper we sink. But things are rarely as bad as they seem. Laws of physics make it nearly impossible for a person to sink more than about waist deep in real-life quicksand. It may be difficult and take awhile to get unstuck, but the person won’t go all the way under. Likewise, those who have a working faith in God can only sink so low or stay so long entangled in their problems.
Google “how to escape from quicksand,” and you will find a few pointers that together form a basic plan. Adapted to the faith approach to problems in general, those points go something like this:
• Don’t panic. That will cause you to sink deeper. Try to relax. Control your spirit, and trust that God is in control of the rest.
• Pray. God always has a better plan than you can come up with on your own.
• Shed unnecessary weights. Problems have a way of putting lesser things in perspective.
• Spread your weight. Lean on God. “Underneath are the everlasting arms.”
• Be patient. Slow, deliberate actions produce better results than frantic activity.
• Rest periodically. Clear your mind and refresh your spirit by meditating on positive, faith-building thoughts from God’s Word.
John 14:1 ESV – Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.
John 16:33 ESV – I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.
2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV – Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Vanessa’s Angels

The sun was slipping below the horizon as I drove up the narrow two-lane road in central Mexico. I glanced at my wife, Amber, sleeping next to me. In the rearview mirror I could see our three daughters—Tory, the brilliant four-year-old; Shelly, who had just turned two and hardly seemed to stop talking; and baby Vanessa. All were also fast asleep. I considered stopping for coffee, but decided against it. Stopping would surely wake everyone up. Plus we were in a race against time. I didn’t mind driving in the evening, when the children were asleep and the vehicle was cool. It also gave me time to think. I needed that. It had been a long year!
My mind took me back to when Amber was pregnant with Vanessa. We had traveled to the U.S. West Coast to visit Amber’s family, then to the East Coast to visit mine. Eventually we had joined a mission center in the south of Mexico, arriving just three weeks before Amber’s due date. She had been having premonitions that something wasn’t right with the baby. I told her that she worried too much. But Amber was right. Shortly after Vanessa was born, we were told that Vanessa had a heart condition that would require surgery. The full extent of her condition was not clear, but her doctors urged us to return to the U.S. for better medical care. Some friends in Dallas, Texas, agreed to take us in for a month. That’s where we were headed now.
We arrived at our friends’ house in the wee hours of the morning, to a beautifully prepared room. The girls were delighted to find two little beds, just their size. “Mommy, how long can we stay in this hotel?” Tory asked in wonder.
Our first trip to a cardiologist ended with an ambulance ride to the Intensive Care Unit of the Children’s Medical Center. Vanessa spent over two months there, her tiny body struggling to cope with heart surgery, weak lungs, intubations, and strep infections. Amber and I took turns staying with Vanessa at the hospital, one of us by her side around the clock. And all the while these wonderful friends took care of our girls, cooked our meals, washed our laundry, loaned us a car when ours broke down, and even paid our highway tolls so we could take a shorter route to and from the hospital.
When we were finally able to take little Vanessa home to recover, they gave us their own bedroom, where there was more room for all the medical equipment that was needed for Vanessa’s care. All that time, they never breathed a word about how much this was costing them.
Six weeks later, Vanessa slipped into a coma and was rushed back to the hospital. Over the next three months, a team of doctors continued to try to diagnose the problem. As the test results came back one by one, we were overwhelmed. Her brain was damaged. She was deaf and blind. Her heart condition would require multiple surgeries. Her condition was deemed terminal. The doctors gave her a year—perhaps two—and released her into our care.
For months our friends had shared their all, asking nothing in return. We were sure that there was no way they could continue to support us. We found a small apartment close to the hospital and prepared to move there.
Then our friends did something we never expected. They asked us to stay. Had they considered what they were getting themselves into? Did they realize that Amber and I would need to take shifts with the baby 24/7? That Vanessa would need constant medical attention, weekly visits from nurses? It would turn their home upside down. And we were not sure how much we would be able to contribute, financially or otherwise. Did they realize that this could go on for years?
They did understand and quietly replied, “Whatever you need, for as long as you need it, we are here for you.”
A few months later, while quietly resting, Vanessa passed from her mother’s arms into Jesus’. That was eight years ago. To this day, our friends’ actions remain the most vivid example of sacrificial giving I have ever seen—true unconditional love and kindness, love that gives until it hurts and then some, even when it knows that that those on the receiving end can never repay. Our friends didn’t merely say they wanted to follow Christ’s example, they did so!
Hebrews 13:16 ESV- Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
Romans 12:1-2 ESV – I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Hosea 6:6 ESV – For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

Prayer Points.

1. Please intercede for corps family:
Bro Lim Kim Aun, Sis Jasinta, Bro Jonathan and Bro Joshua.

2. Please intercede for the ongoing ministry of every corps, center, home and community programmes.

3. Please intercede for the ongoing Flag Day and upcoming Open Day fundraising projects in Penang.

4. Please intercede for your self to unwarp the gift of the promise of the Holy Spirit to work in and through you for the glory of God.

5. Please continue intercede one another as family united in Christ Jesus and growing spiritual.

6. Please intercede for Malaysia Youth Camp, for the speakers, leaders and campers.

7. Please intercede for our leaders, Colonels Lyndon and Bronwyn for God wisdom and blessing on their leadership.

Announcement

1. Helping Hand Project (April - June)
For Melaka Outpost & Myanmar. For more information please refer to Corps noticeboard.
Penang Corps Women's and Sport Ministries team is organizing a walkathon in support for this project fund raising. Please refer to notice board for more information.

2. Malaysia Youth Camp 2016
Date: 3-6 June 2016 (Fri-Mon)
Venue: MBS Recreation and Training Center
Speaker: Majors Bo and Christina
(Regional Officer of Myanmar)

3. United Celebration Service
Date: 3 July 2016 (Sunday)
Time: 3pm
Venue: Singapore Centre Corps Auditorium
Featuring official welcome to our new Chief Secretary and Territorial Secretary for Women's Ministries Lieut-Colonels Edward and Shelly Hill. And official welcome to Cadets of the Messengers of the Gospel Session, led by Colonels Lydon and Brownyn Buckingham Territorial Leaders.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Extravagant Generosity

By Robert Schnase, United Methodist Church bishop and author.
Giving puts us in a healthier relationship with our possessions and with the material world in which we live.We like making money, but we enjoy other things as well, such as the love of our family, belonging to community, a sense of meaning, accomplishment, contribution, and service. We enjoy making a positive difference in the lives of other people. But how do we maintain balance and perspective? How can we appropriately secure the basic needs of food, shelter, education, and health while also living with purpose? How do we avoid too much preoccupation with the things that do not ultimately satisfy, and cultivate those things that do? The intentional practice of generosity helps us keep our priorities straight.
Giving reflects the nature of God. We give because we are made in the image of God, whose essential nature is giving. We are created with God’s nature imprinted on our souls; we are hardwired to be social, compassionate, connected, loving, and generous. God’s extravagant generosity is part of our essential nature as well. But we are anxious and fearful, influenced by a culture that makes us believe we never have enough. God sent Jesus Christ to bring us back to ourselves, and back to God. As we “have in us the mind of Christ Jesus,”1 we become free. Growing in the grace of giving is part of the Christian journey of faith, a response Christian disciples offer to God’s call to make a difference in the world.
Ecclesiastes 5:10 NIV – Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.
2 Corinthians 9:7 NIV – Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Malachi 3:8 NIV – Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ In tithes and offerings.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Put Yourself at the Peak

A group of aging friends spend their summer vacations climbing small mountain ranges. They delight in conquering each peak in turn—no mean feat considering back problems and other ailments that sometimes come with age. It’s a strenuous activity, but glorious vistas make up for aching muscles and exhaustion. If you ask them why they don’t spend their vacations relaxing on a warm beach instead, they will dismiss the idea. They would rather go on their mountain climbs, despite the effort. They say there is nothing like the satisfaction of reaching another summit.
For this exercise, visualize a mountain range. Focus on a picture, or use your imagination. Tag each peak as one of the problems in your life—one might be upcoming bills, another is the promotion or better job you’re hoping for, another is a long-term ailment, another is a task you can’t seem to complete, and so on. Have you groaned and worried as these difficulties loomed large on your horizon? It’s time for a change in your perspective!
Choose one of the peaks and picture yourself climbing it. It’s somewhat of a struggle getting up the rocky slopes, but you are not climbing alone. A strong, experienced, and capable mountain guide accompanies you. The Lord promises, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you.”1 He offers a helping hand as you clamber over rocks. He guides you in a safe path. Together you can make this climb. You’re cheerful, even eager, as you anticipate reaching the summit. Remember, this is an exciting challenge, not a drudgery. Now, picture you and Jesus celebrating together at the summit. You’ve reached your goal!
“If the conquest of a great peak brings moments of exultation and bliss, which in the monotonous, materialistic existence of modern times nothing else can approach, it also presents great dangers. It is not the goal of grand alpinism to face peril, but it is one of the tests one must undergo to deserve the joy of rising for an instant above the state of crawling grubs. On this proud and beautiful mountain we have lived hours of fraternal, warm, and exalting nobility. Here for a few days we have ceased to be slaves and have really been men. It is hard to return to servitude.”
—Lionel Terray (1921–1965), French mountaineer
Philippians 4:13 ESV – I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Proverbs 16:3 ESV – Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.
Matthew 16:26 ESV – For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

5 Pillars of Financial Success

One thing that makes life stressful and even worrisome at times is a lack of money.That’s when it’s important to remember that God is the source of financial supply. “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.” It’s His to give, and He’s happy to give it. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” But no matter how much God wants to help you out, if your financial “house” is missing some of the main pillars, it won’t stand. You need to believe God is able to supply, and then ask and take action. That’s where knowledge, good business sense, and planning come in. Thankfully, God has given an abundance of practical advice on how to put yourself in the best position to receive His financial blessings.
1. Put in the work.
This may seem obvious, but many people don’t do it and then wonder what went wrong. To be successful in business or even to hold a good job, you must work hard and put in the necessary hours. It doesn’t matter how smart, educated, or skilled you may be, if you don’t put in the work, God likely won’t be able to bless you as much as He would like. “He who has a slack hand becomes poor, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.” “The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty.” “A hard worker has plenty of food, but a person who chases fantasies has no sense.”
2. Appreciate and preserve God’s blessings.
God is a wise investor. He gives the most to those who are thankful for what He’s already given them and show their appreciation by being good stewards of His material blessings, by being thrifty, and by not taking His generosity for granted. Don’t be negligent or wasteful. “He who is faithful in whatis least is faithful also in much.”
3. Give to those in need.
God sees the plight of the poor and wants to come to their aid, but very often He chooses to do so through earthly agents, like you and me. Why? So He can bless both the giver and the receiver. “Blessed is he who considers the poor.” “The generous soul will be made rich, and he who waters will also be watered himself.” “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” “Let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.”
4. Ask for the right things.
God says, “Ask and it will be given,” but He also says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss.” God loves to see us happy, but He also sees the big picture, which we often don’t. He says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” He knows what will be the best for us and everyone else concerned in the long run, and He answers prayer accordingly. That’s why we must pray not only for God to supply our needs, but also for ourselves to be in step with Him—to pray for what He knows is best, rather than what we want or think is best. “This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.”
5. Have a healthy perspective on wealth.
There are much more valuable things in life than money. “Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness!” Keep your spiritual life and relationship with God strong, and try to be a good example of an honest and upright follower of Christ. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” “All these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God.” “If they obey and serve Him, they shall spend their days in prosperity.” “No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.”
Deuteronomy 8:18 ESV – You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
Proverbs 3:9-10 ESV – Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.
Matthew 6:33 ESV – But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Zarephath

A retelling of 1 Kings 17:8–16
“Have you something for me to eat, something to drink?” the unassuming stranger asked. “I’m weak from hunger and weary from my journey. Please, I beg you.”
My heart reached out to him. I felt the same hunger pains. Zarephath, where I lived, was like wherever this man had come from—in the grip of famine. I too was weak and weary. I too needed someone to rescue me before I perished.
I had almost nothing, and he was asking me to give him what little I had. If I had had only myself to look after, I would have given him my last morsel without a second thought. I had given God plenty of reasons to turn His back on me. I didn’t deserve to live, but what about my little boy, the light of my life, whom I adored?
“Come. … Of course, come in,” I answered haltingly. “But, you see, I have nothing to give you. I have only enough flour and oil to prepare one last meal for my son and myself before we die. We were gathering sticks for the fire when you came up the path.”
He was a handsome child, but gaunt now from having eaten very little for several weeks. A smile lightened his lips. He always had a smile. “Mother, I have found some sticks, too. The wind caused them to fall in the night. They will make a nice fire.”
The man looked deep into the child’s eyes. “Surely, the Lord has led me here,” he said.
I looked over at my boy, his curly brown hair tousled by the stiff breeze. His eyes were fixed on me, the way small children look at their mothers with expectancy and trust.
“Do not fear,” the man said. “Make me a small cake first, and then make some for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord God, ‘The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth.’”
I went to the shelf and took down the oil jar. It was light in my hands, nearly empty. Why was I doing this for a stranger? It didn’t make sense.
“Light the fire, my son, while I make the bread.”
I took the sack of flour from its bin. It too was nearly gone. As I kneaded the dough, a strange thing happened. Energy returned to my hands. My feet felt light as I took it to the oven. There was something different about this bread.
I struggled to ignore my hunger pangs as the room began to smell of freshly baked bread, and I avoided my son’s attentive gaze.
The man reached for the bread as I offered it to him. He held it up to God and said, “Lord, bless this food You have provided, and bless these hands that have prepared it.” He turned to me and smiled. “Now make for yourself and your son.”
“But I have just used the last…” I hesitated. His eyes told me that I should just do as he said.
“Son, hand me the flour and the oil.”
The boy’s eyes were filled with wonder as he handed me the flour. The sack was heavier than it had been in days. Then he passed me the oil jar, and as he did, oil splashed on our hands. Our hearts, like the jar of oil, were full to overflowing.
And God was true to His word. What had once been only a handful of flour and a few drops of oil kept the three of us alive for nearly three years, until the famine had passed.
1 Kings 17:8-16 – 8 Then the word of the Lord came to him, 9 “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” 10 So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.” 11 And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” 12 And she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” 13 And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. 14 For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” 15 And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. 16 The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.