Today is the first Sunday of Advent—four weeks before Christmas.  Time flies, doesn’t it?  Well, to prepare our hearts and minds to celebrate the birth of Jesus Our Lord, I’m planning to preach a brief series which I titled, The Joy of Mary, on the first three Sundays of December. You see, from the first day she learned that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit till the day she gave birth to this baby Jesus, there was no other emotion that burst out of her soul but joy. 

Before Mary, no women have ever been and after Mary, no women will ever be given the responsibility to bear the Son of God and the Savior of the world.  Such a huge understanding yet Mary was able to rise to the challenge and accepted the task with joy.  There was neither complaint nor self-pity, just pure joy, through and through.  It is then imperative that we learn from the mother of Our Lord how to accept God’s appointment not only obediently, but also with joy.

This coming Thursday, God’s willing, we will bury Danny, the son of our brother Robby and our sister Susy.  While we are on this side of heaven, we can never wrap our heads around this puzzle, “Why did God call him home at a relatively young age?”  We do not have the answer to it, but we have the faith for it.  We know that God has a plan, and His plan is ultimately good and will bring glory to Him. 

Like Mary the mother of Jesus, Danny also rose to the challenge and accepted God’s appointment for him.  Neither did he complain nor slump into self-pity; he faced death boldly because he had securely placed his faith in the Almighty God though Jesus His Son.  Leaving behind his young children must be hard for him but he knew that they would be safe in the arms of Jesus, his loving Savior.  Losing a son must also be difficult for our brother Robby and our sister Susy but they know this is not a goodbye.  It’s a “See you again, Danny.”

Pastor Paul

The other day our daughter called to tell us that one of her sons told her that in this world the one person he loved more than her was me, his “kung-kung.” Well, I, then, responded in kind by saying this to our grandson, “Me, too!  I love you more than I love your mama.”  Hearing this, our other grandson right away assured his mom by saying, “But Mama, I love you and Kung-Kung the same!”  😊

On this Thanksgiving Day we would like to count our blessings and give thanks to God.  Perhaps we want to thank God for the strength that He gave us to carry on despite the many challenges we faced. Perhaps we want to thank God for a new addition to our family or for healing us.  Or perhaps we want to thank God for providing us with a job or a place to live.  I’m sure we do have a lot to thank Him, but I’d like to remind you to thank God for those closest to us—our family.  They may not be perfect, but they have been there for us.

There is another group of people that we should thank God for—our friends.  Proverbs 18:24 tells us, “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”  In the good will of God, He brings into our path friends who care for us so deeply that by virtue of their love, they are like brothers or sisters to us.  Not only do they give their precious time, but they also give their money to us.  Not only do they tell us that they will pray for us, but they also come and lend us a hand.  Good and faithful friends are truly God’s precious gifts.

When C. S. Lewis first joined Oxford as a junior professor, there was no office available. J.R.R. Tolkien, his senior at Oxford, famous for his books such as The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring, invited Lewis to share his office.  Thus began a friendship that lasted long and fruitful; and under the influence of Tolkien, Lewis, an atheist, placed his faith in God.  A good and godly friend is truly a gift.    

Pastor Paul

C. S. Lewis gives us a sobering reminder, “There’s nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against God.  God wants men to be concerned with what they do; the enemy’s business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.” 

I cannot agree more!  Our enemy, the devil, loves to see us worried; hence, he keeps feeding us with these simple yet powerful words, “What if?”  The more we ask, “What if?” the more worried we will be; and the more worried we are, the less we will think of God.

Recently Santy and I received news that a friend in ministry might have to face an uphill battle against cancer.  The doctor found a mass on her bone and as a result, she has suffered bone loss.  In the beginning the doctor cleared her based on a negative biopsy.  But now the doctor is not sure and requiring her to undergo more tests.  When asked how she was doing, she answered, “I have thought of the worst; and I am ready.”  She did not ask, “What if?” instead, she accepted and dealt with the worst possibility. It is what it is.

When Paul embarked on a voyage to Rome, he had no inkling what would happen to him.  He certainly did not expect to be caught in the strong winds and be drifted aimlessly for miles.  As a normal human being, he must have thought of the worst—that he would perish in the sea—until God assured him that he’d be alright.  We know the rest of the story.  He landed in Malta and by God’s grace, healed the governor’s father.  Three months later when he left, there was already a church in Malta.  God wanted him there. 

Not only did Jesus want Paul to be in Malta, but He also wanted him to be in the sea for fourteen days, and in the shipwreck. Jesus also wants us to be where we are.  We might be here due to human’s mistakes, but there’s no mistake.  It is Jesus who wants us here.

Pastor Paul

We don’t typically respect, much less, care for the weak.  We exalt the strong and the winner.  But that is not the way God wants us to be.  He wants us to consider the weak and lend our hands to them.  John C. Maxwell, one of the leadership gurus in America, tells the story of Lou Whittaker, who led the first all-American team to the summit of Mt. Everest in 1984.  Five members of his team managed to reach the final campsite at twenty-seven thousand feet; another two thousand feet they would reach the top.

It was, then, that Lou had to make a difficult decision as to whom he would assign to go to the summit—a dream that everyone shared. In the end Lou decided to send his two strongest climbers down the mountain to get the supplies.  This was a tough job because they’d have to carry these supplies back up.  And after loading and carrying these supplies, they would be in no condition to climb up to the top. 

Subsequently Lou sent his two weaker members to climb up to the summit while he himself stayed at the camp.  These two received the glory of standing on the highest point on earth while the rest of the team rejoiced in their glory. When asked why he didn’t assign himself to go to the top, he humbly answered, “My job was to put other people on top.”  What a servant, what a leader!

Many aspire to become leaders because they want recognition and respect, along with power and influence to command people.  In other words, they want to be on top, to be the ones who receive the glory.  But that’s not the kind of leader that God wants us to be.  During the crisis, despite his status as a prisoner, Paul became a de facto leader, not the centurion or the captain of the ship.  He led by God-given wisdom, by the Spirit’s blessed presence, and by Christ-indwelt love.  By example he put others first and himself last. 

Pastor Paul

The other day I received an email from somebody who apologized to me for saying hurtful things to me.  I was of course touched by the kind gesture and amazed by the Holy Spirit’s work in the lives of the believers.  It must have been the Spirit’s work because that incident supposedly took place more than twenty years ago.  The only problem is that I have no recollection of the incident at all.  I don’t even remember the context or the nature of the interaction. 

I feel sorry for that person because for the past twenty years that incident had lodged in the memory, causing internal discomfort.  While on my end, I felt nothing and have lived in peace because I don’t even remember it.  I can only surmise that the reason I no longer have any recollection of it is because I did not take those words to heart. And if I was indeed hurt, I would have dispensed my forgiveness, then, and not harbored it in my heart these 20 years.

Now I have a better understanding as to why Jesus taught us to pray, “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Not only is forgiving one of the natures and acts of God toward us—which we should inherit—but it is also a blessing for us—it gives us freedom.  When we forgive, we are no longer bound by what someone else has done to us.  We are free.

Not only are free not to hate those who hurt us, but we are also free to wish them well. In his book, Forgive & Forget, Lewis Smedes explains, “You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.”  Smedes concludes, “Forgiving, then, is a new vision and a new feeling that is given to the person who forgives.”  When we forgive, we see life—and those who hurt us—in a new light and with a new feeling.  It’s no longer bitter, blurry or dark; it’s now clear, bright, and light.

Pastor Paul

We don’t always understand why God does what He does such as, why to those who live rightly He allows bad things to happen to them or worse yet, He gives something that is hard to bear.  In his book, The Contemplative Pastor, Eugene H. Peterson shares about Ruthie and Dave, a deeply spiritual Christian couple. After they got married, God blessed them with a baby girl—a blind baby girl! Upon hearing the news, Eugene and his wife Jan were very sad because they had known Ruthie since she was a teenager. Their first reaction was to ask God, “How could this happen to Dave and Ruthie?”

But Ruthi and Dave did not wallow in grief and disappointment. Instead, they chose to see their baby as a gift from God and took what’s been given to them and turned it into “the life of grace and redemption.”  This was what Ruthi said, “I’ve had a lot of great experiences in my life, but nothing has been as great as being a mother.”  She told the Petersons that her husband Dave had been climbing mountains—with their baby!  No sadness, just pure joy.

Today we are celebrating our church’s 42nd anniversary.  Many of you have had your shares of tribulations, both personally and as a body of Christ. But you have remained steadfast; and instead of drowning in grief and bitterness, you chose to rise and creatively turned your grief into joy.  You saw God’s hands in every pain you experienced; consequently, you saw hope and received strength. You made the best out of difficult and sometimes painful situations.

Quoting from Bernanos’ Diary of a Country Priest, Eugene Peterson, concludes, “Grace is everywhere.”  Yes, God’s grace is everywhere: It is here as we worship; it is at home in our relationships with our family members; it is at work as we do our jobs and relate with our coworkers; it is in our pleasant and unpleasant circumstances. 

Pastor Paul

The other day when Santy and I were babysitting our grandchildren, I happened to hear the conversation that took place between our eldest and youngest grandchildren.  Apparently the youngest got a hold of a toy that the eldest wanted.  Instead of taking it by force, the eldest, then, said this to the youngest, “It is not your toy, so you will have to share it.”  The youngest one, of course, answered, “No, it is mine.” There went the argument back and forth between them.

I think we are like little children, too.  Whenever others possess something that we want—and don’t have—we demand that they share it with us.  But if we happen to be the one who has what they want—and don’t have—we refuse to share it because “It is mine.”  Or, whenever others have something that we want—and don’t have—we want them to share because it belongs to God.  However, if we happen to have something that they want—and don’t have—we refuse to share it because, “God has given it to me.”  Kids!

As I shared it in our Bible Study the other day, this really happened to not only adults but also ministers of the Gospel.  Somebody gave an expensive jewelry to one of the members of a ministry team.  The rest, then, demanded that he share it with the team because it belonged to the team, but the person who received it refused.  He said, “It is mine.”  As a result, the team of five, then, split.  Kids!

Jesus Our Lord wants us to be like little children; listen to what He said to His disciples, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).  The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to us who are like little children—whose trust, obedience, and honesty are like those of little children, not whose selfishness, temper tantrum, and attention-seeking behavior are like those of little children.

Pastor Paul

How do we measure godliness?  What is the chief characteristic of godly people? It is not by how much we know the Bible or how many Bible verses we memorize.  It is not by how long we can fast and pray; and it is not by how eloquent we preach.  We measure godliness by how much of God’s characteristics and wills are in us.

I see that quality in Billy Graham, God’s faithful servant.

Many decades ago, just when Billy Graham’s ministry began to grow, one of the wealthiest men in America offered to underwrite all his ministry’s expenses.  For that he gave a good reason, so that Billy Graham could put all his time and energy into ministry and not to worry about finances.  Billy Graham’s answer was clear and quick, “I can’t accept that.  My work is spiritual work.  We are getting about fifteen to twenty thousand letters a week.  Most of these letters will have little money in them, maybe $1, maybe $5.  But every one of those letters is saying, ‘We’re praying for you.’  If they know there’s a rich man underwriting my work, they’ll stop praying, and my work will take a nosedive.  So, I can’t accept it.” 

Billy Graham never regretted that decision he made.  And he’s right; the ministry grew and to this day God has faithfully supplied their needs. Billy Graham had the characteristics and wills of God in him; and these characteristics and wills were shown not by his preaching or writing or organizational skills but rather by what he did when faced with this kind of tempting situations.  Not only did he preach, “My God shall supply all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19), but he also believed it and lived it.

Sometimes we think that Christian life is hard and complicated.  The truth is, it’s not.  God does not have a lot of requirements and His requirements are not complex.  Just believe and live what He says.

Pastor Paul

One of the great preachers the world has ever known is Charles Haddon Spurgeon of England, who was known to preach directly from the Bible.  One Sunday morning he began his message by saying this, “Some have found fault with me, contending that I am too old-fashioned.  I am always quoting the Bible and do not say enough about science.  Well, there’s a poor widow here who has lost her only son.  She wants to know if she will ever see him again.  Let’s turn to science for the answer: Will she see him again?  Where is he?  Does death end all?”  After repeating the question two more times and hearing no response, Spurgeon said, “Nothing to say?  Then we’ll turn to the Book!”  With that, he opened the Bible and started preaching about the assurance that Christians had in Jesus.

Science provides us with knowledge about nature, but it does not give us answers about life.  Religion offers us answers about life.  Christianity gives us not only answers about life and what happened before life began and what happens after life ends, but also the assurance of being with God in heaven after life on earth ends.  Only by and through Jesus and His death on the cross will we receive the gift of salvation.  Death no longer terrifies us.

The last book that Dr. Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, wrote was The Journey Home: Finishing with Joy.  He wrote the book after he was diagnosed with a terminal disease.  In it he offered this recipe to facing life: (a) Thanking God demonstrates faith; (b) Obeying God demonstrates love; and (c) Praising God demonstrates joy.  We thank God because we trust in His unfailing love and power.  We obey God because we love Him who has first loved us and died for us.  We praise God because of the joy and strength He brings to our lives.  So, whatever the situation is, do not forget this simple recipe: Thank Him.  Obey Him. Praise Him.

Pastor Paul

A couple of days before I left Indonesia for America, my mother threw a farewell party for me.  Present among the guests were two missionaries. After giving his message, my pastor turned to the missionaries and asked if they had a message for me.  One of them, who happened to be a Baptist missionary, stood up and shared this message, “Paul, you will be going to America to start a new life where you will meet many people and encounter many situations.  Take heed because God will use these people and situations to shape you.  So, be teachable.”  A brief message but an important and useful one.  To this day, 44 years later, I still keep it.

God never stops using people and situations we encounter to speak to us, to shape us, and to teach us about something. We are usually ready to learn something from them as long as they are good and worthy of respect.  But what about situations and people that are not good or unworthy of respect?  It is not that easy!  We typically refuse to listen to them, much less learn from them.  But God does use unfavorable situations and undesirable people to speak to us, to shape us, and to teach us about something.  Even in the worst circumstance, God has something to say and to teach us.

The worst situation in my life was the period in which I was out of job for eight months and our children rebelled against God. But as Charles Dickens says, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”  It was the period in which I learned to walk and to love by faith and not by sight.  It was the period in which I learned that to shape one’s soul, one must be crushed first.  And it was the period in which I learned that even in the worst possible circumstance, God’s best plan was at work and His presence was never far.

Pastor Paul