Refuge

I sit here clothed but feel naked and vulnerable.  A sense of physical and spiritual poverty, a feeling of being stripped down to nothing and scorched by the sun.  Broken, lonely, and weak, I am distressed, troubled and endangered.  My oppressors seek my destruction, and the flood waters threaten to pull me under.  My mind becomes consumed with problem solving tactics.  I can run from this loneliness. I can fix this brokenness and sooth this pain.  I can build security and create peace.  I can strengthen my feeble body.  I can find shade and arrive at refuge.  Then a voice calls my name.  A voice of a shepherd calling his sheep.  I know his voice because I am his sheep, and I am reminded to follow him.  Thus, I cry out,

God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing. You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from. True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction. Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I’m not afraid when you walk at my side. Your trusty shepherd’s crook makes me feel secure. You serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies. You revive my drooping head; my cup brims with blessing. Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I’m back home in the house of God for the rest of my life.(Psalms 23 from The Message)

 God is my refuge in times of trouble. I run to him with my loneliness. I am secure in God’s everlasting arms and as a result, my soul can find rest. Therefore, when I awake in the morning and retire at night, I sing of his love and strength. When I am scorched by the sun, he is my shade and shelter.  The flood waters will not drown me because God is my rock in which I stand.  I do not need to say “ ‘peace, peace’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14) because God gives me his peace which exceeds anything I can understand, and his peace will guard my heart and mind. (Philippians 4:7) God is my king, who shields me from my oppressors.  He is a mighty fortress and strong tower, and my enemies cower before him. 

God is my everlasting refuge and nothing will ever separate me from him.  No one will ever snatch me out of his embrace.  I will dwell securely in the holy city living unafraid, fully clothed in righteousness and restoration.  No longer feeling vulnerable.  No longer a sense of poverty.  No longer a refugee. 

Bachelor Father to the Fatherless

I’m a bachelor with no children.  Now that I got my relationship and family status out there let me assure you that this is not a “Hey I’m single…wink, wink” kind of post. This is a post about being a never married, no biological children kind of guy, but find myself nevertheless sort of a father.  As a result, I strive to cultivate a father’s heart patterned after God’s heart.  

Throughout the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, God is named as Father.  In fact, he is described as the one, heavenly, eternal Father.  He is the Father who created humanity and is over all His children.  The Father who is tender and compassionate giving good gifts and providing for His children.  He disciplines but also protects his children.  He is the father to the fatherless defending, protecting and adopting orphans.   This is the type of father I want to be.

Looking back on my life, I wanted to be married and have kids.  I thought I could be a good father, but that dream and desire has never become a reality.  However, as I reflect, I see that God has used me in my singleness as a father figure to the fatherless. There has been many times in my career in social services that I have met troubled youth without a father in their lives, and I was there to provide compassion, mentoring and support.  I have provided fatherly support to kids experiencing autism conditions because many parents with kids with special needs end up divorcing due to the stress on the relationship.  There was the time when I was a live-in father figure to a 56 year old man with developmentally disabilities.  He had grown up with a father, but the father passed away leaving a man functioning at a child level, to live on his own. Presently, I lead a hospitality house for refugee young men who are transitioning into independent living.  They arrived in the U.S. several years ago unaccompanied, meaning that they were not with their parents for whatever reason.  Thus, they don’t have parents, and at this stage in their lives, they need parental support and mentoring in order to learn how to live independently. 

All those years, I was focused on the loneliness and frustration of not being a father and all the while God was using my fatherly heart and desire, as a father to the fatherless. I may never have children of my own, but there will be children who look to me as a father figure. I trust my heavenly Father will teach, lead and grow me in fatherhood, even if it is as a bachelor father to the broken, lost, poor, needy or fatherless.  Whatever our life status, may we be open and available to our heavenly Father and how He may develop our hearts to be more like His.

Thanksgiving: Part 5

It is Thanksgiving weekend and there is much parading.  We have the annual Macy’s Parade and the Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Both filled with charming floral floats, sky towering balloons, jazzy marching bands, powerful horses and light flashing fire and police mobiles.  Thousands of people gathering in celebration.  All under the banner of American Thanksgiving Day.

My favorite is the parading of dogs at the annual Thanksgiving Day National Dog Show.  I enjoy watching the breeds strut around the arena with such discipline, strength, beauty and character.  I certainly watch for the boxer in the competition and find myself comparing it to my sister’s wonderful boxer, named Emerald.  The dogs and owners have worked hard in hopes of winning the title of “Best of Show.”  All under the banner of America is thankful for man’s best friend and that dogs are still superior to cats.

There are the processions that kick off the holiday shopping season.  The ones that take place outside the shopping malls, electronic outlets and toy stores.  Hundreds of people camping out in line in order to blitz the store racks the moment the doors open.  I am surprised more people don’t get injured by being trampled.  Something to be thankful for I suppose.  All under the banner of holiday gift shopping deals.

Americans have perfected the art of parading and it is not just isolated to Thanksgiving weekend; nevertheless, after witnessing the parading events of this weekend, I was reminded of the apostle Paul’s joyful exclamation of thanksgiving when he writes, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.”  (2 Corinthians 2:14)

Prior to this statement the apostle Paul explains many hardships that he has experienced while traveling and preaching the good news of Jesus Christ.  At this point, he changes his focus and attitude in order to give his readers a more positive perspective.  Paul is essentially saying that despite all the difficulties, “thanks be to God.”  He then continues by explaining why he gives thanks with the help of imagery.

When the apostle Paul writes about Christ leading in triumphal procession, he is using an image of a Roman triumphal procession.  In the ancient Roman context, Roman conquerors would return from battle with victorious celebration.  The commander’s chariot would lead the winning soldiers in procession while incense was burnt to the Greek gods and fragrant flowers were strewn along the way.  The defeated captives were shamed and paraded around in humiliation.  The Romans knew how to have a victorious parade.

With the use of this Roman triumphal procession imagery, the apostle Paul presents a more glorious triumphal procession led by Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is the victor over the enemies of darkness who become the captives to be shamed and paraded around in humiliation. He has conquered over the consequences of sin by means of his death and resurrection. Christ followers are the winning soldiers who celebrate in triumphal procession and thanksgiving.  Thus, in the apostle Paul’s contextual situation, he is thankful that he is a victorious soldier in Jesus Christ. Although the apostle Paul faced many challenges, Jesus Christ ensures the fragrant spread and effectiveness of his preaching of the good news.

Christ followers have a lot to be thankful for and regardless of the challenges or hardship individuals face this Thanksgiving weekend, they can be reminded that Christ always leads them in a triumphal parade.  Early church father,  Ignatius of Antioch, said in the first century “Our Lord was nailed on the cross so that through his resurrection he might set up a banner of victory throughout all ages.”

Thanksgiving: Part 4

People often reflect on the reasons to be thankful, but at what point are they persuaded to give thanks. Does something happen? A certain amount of needs met? A sense of emotional stability? A feeling of relational fulfillment? What if people view their circumstances, emotions, relationships, etc; and find it difficult to say, “thank you.” What if they would rather shake their fist in the air and say, “What is there to be thankful about?” What if no amount of persuasion could convince them to be thankful? What would it take for a person, a nation, a world to live with thanksgiving?
If there is one thanksgiving persuasion, I suggest a consideration of Saint Paul’s persuasion, “For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(Rom 8:38-39) Start with a love persuasion which will cultivate a thanksgiving persuasion.

Thanksgiving: Part 3

We have so much to be thankful for, not only for the visible things (i.e. food, clothing, homes, etc.) but also for the invisible things (i.e. love, forgiveness, peace, etc.) While it is important to give thanks for the visible things, the ultimate form of thanksgiving is for that which is invisible. This type of thanksgiving is not based on our circumstances, but rather beyond to the very center of our being; the place where God moves, transforms and breathes new life. Thus, we give thanks to God for wrapping us in his marvelous love, filling us with his perfect peace and securing us with his glorious salvation. Whatever we are facing in our lives today, we can give thanks for God’s presence and our ability to experience his goodness and greatness. Let us express our thankfulness to God.

Whether rich or poor, Let us give thanks to God! Let us sing! Today is the day to get your sing on.

Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:19-20

Whether healthy or sick, Let us give thanks to God! Let us make music! Today is the day to get your music on.

It is good to give thanks to the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High, to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night, to the music of the ten stringed lyre and the melody of the harp. Psalms. 93:1-3

Whether full or hungry, Let us give thanks to God! Let us pray! Today is the day to get your prayer on.

Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened towards Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God. Daniel 6:10

Whether home or homeless, Let us give thanks to God! Let us dance! Today is the day to get your dance on.

Let us praise his name with dancing. Psalms 149:3

Thanksgiving: Part 2

I am thankful for God’s goodness.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.  For the LORD is good; his loving kindness is everlasting and his faithfulness to all generations. Psalms 100:4-5

God loves me.  In fact, he loves me more that I could ever comprehend.  He declares and expresses his loving thoughts towards me through creation, scripture and the lives of others.  God’s love is unconditional, so although I my feel unlovable at times, he leans into me with a comforting, passionate love. He is faithful to love me with a love that is everlasting; thus, he will never withhold his love from me because he always has my best interest in mind and desires to continuously bless me all my days.  God fills me with his love, so that I may loves others with a pure love. I may fall short when it comes to love, but he is devoted to teaching me and maturing me.  Thank you God for your goodness!

I am thankful for God’s salvation.

For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:53-57

God saves me.  Sin separates me from God causing a devastating reality of physical and spiritual death.  My life and eternal condition was once dreary, dark and demolished.  Sin temporarily conquered and ruled over me.  I was defeated and funeral plans were being arranged by the evil one.  But God with his great love for me sent Jesus Christ to the earth in order to die for my sins.  Jesus Christ died for me, a sinful one.  The righteous died for the unrighteous; the unblemished for the blemished.  Through his sacrifice the power of sin is defeated .  Death is overcome;  love and life wins out.  I accept God’s most excellent gift of salvation and my sins are washed away.  My life is transformed.  Thanks be to God!

I am thankful for God’s provision.

Directing the people to sit down on the grass, Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, he blessed the food, and breaking the loaves he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds, and they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets. There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children. Matthew 14:19-21

God provides for me.  Throughout my life, God has given me all I need.  This has been evident the last few months during a significant life transition.  God has guided me into new jobs where I can use my gifts, talents and skills; and a new place to live where I can experience peace and rest. All this in a new city that I can adventurously explore.  I am experiencing God’s provision, and I am satisfied.

I am thankful for others.

I urge, then first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people. 1 Timothy 2:1

God is relational and created human community; thus, he has established other people in my life.  My family is a blessing from God, and I love them.  I thank my family for all their love and support, especially during my latest transition. I thank God for friends, who are always there to reflect the love of Christ into my life.  Their dedication and compassion inspire me.  The people and children whom I serve teach me and humble me, and I thank God for them and the opportunity to be a part of their lives.

Thank you God for who you are and all that you do.

Thanksgiving: Part 1

A voice calls out to a nation, to a people who turn their backs on God.  They forsake him, shutting the doors of their hearts, extinguishing the lamps of their lives.  Lips refusing to offer prayers and worship before the creator.  Hands neglecting to serve the almighty.
A voice saying, dedicate yourself to God and follow his divine enlightenment.  Return to his loving embrace and do not be stiff necked.  He has chosen you to be his beloved people, the recipients of his manifold blessings.  Worship the Lord, offer yourselves, present your thank offerings of praise. Thanksgiving!

A voice cries from the depths saying, I am banished from the sight of God.  The waves of distress swept me under.  The muck of the world chokes me.  Evil swirls all around me, threatening destruction.  From the pit, I look to the holy heavens, asking God for help.  He listens to my cry and answers me by bringing my life up from the abyss.  He plants me firmly on strong ground and covers me with his mercy and grace; therefore, I sing a song of thanksgiving to the God of my salvation.

A divine voice declares that a place that was once a desolate waste will again generate the sounds of joy, gladness and celebration.  My people will bring me renown and honor before the world.  The nations will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for my children.  I will do great things for them, and they will bring thanksgiving saying, “Give thanks to the Lord almighty for the Lord is good his love endures forever.”