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December 27, 2017

Gospel for Asia (GFA) News, Wills Point, Texas

I never knew worship like what I experienced at GFA’s School of Discipleship (SD).

Before coming to SD in 2015, I had a pretty small vision of what worship was. I saw it as only singing and maybe some instruments playing, and it had to be a certain way mainly on Sundays.

During my time in SD, I learned a variety of ways to worship with the community at Gospel for Asia. Whether it’s singing, playing instruments, doing lawn work, preparing food, serving in campus work days, listening to others’ struggles, or cleaning up after roommates, I learning to bring Christ into everything.

I Can Wash Dishes as an Act of Worship - KP Yohannan - Gospel for AsiaBrother KP often refers to a little booklet written by Brother Lawrence called “Practicing the Presence of God” and how important it is to invite God into everything and live your life for Him. Throughout my two years in the SD program, I learned that everything I do in my life can be an act of worship unto God. I could experience His presence not only in corporate times of worship, but also in private times, and throughout my day. He became more real to me as He showed me that I could wash dishes unto Him as an act of worship.

I found my heart longing to draw near to Him constantly. I read the book during my first year and have read it again every year since.

“Think about God as often as you can, day and night, in everything you do. He is always with you. Just as you would be rude if you deserted a friend who was visiting you, why would you be disrespectful of God by abandoning His presence?” Brother Lawrence

I love the many ways I got to join with my classmates and the GFA staff in worshiping Christ. It was amazing to not only be a part of it, but to help lead worship and bring others into the Lord’s presence. Every time of worship was a little different, it was beautiful to see different elements of worship through these gatherings:

Prayer meetings: The staff and students on GFA’s campus all come together for morning prayer three times a week, Tuesday nights from 7-9, and once a month for all-night, five-hour prayer vigil on Friday night. These times of worship are wonderful opportunities to get our eyes fixed on how great God is (both before and during our times of intercession). We get distracted so easily, I learned to train your heart to keep my eyes on Him. Even just letting the words of the songs sink in and really thinking about them instead of just mindlessly singing them was huge for me.

Prayer meetings - KP Yohannan - Gospel for Asia

“Prone to wander Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart Lord take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above”

Kyrie Eleison: Once a month many students and staff gather together for this service of worship. It is a very intimate and sweet time to meet with the Lord. The chapel is lit with candles only and we get to have a scaled back time of worship. We will often start off by watching a worship service from the field. Seeing our brothers and sisters in Asia worshiping the same God we serve is beautiful. Some of the songs are in their native language and it reminds me of how large the body of Christ is. We end it with live but quiet music.

Praise Time: Students often gather together to worship and praise God. The focus is on praising the Lord through Scripture, song, prayer and testimony. This birthed a great heart of thankfulness. Who is God that He does all this for a sinner like me? Seeing Him show up not only in my life, but in the lives of everyone around me is truly amazing.

Brother Lawrence says, “What could please God more than for us to leave the cares of the world temporarily in order to worship Him in our spirits?”

 

Worship in the Fellowship Hall - KP Yohannan - Gospel for Asia

Worship in the Fellowship Hall: My favorite thing to do as a student during my second year was to join with other musicians in a room inside the fellowship hall on campus where the acoustics sound fantastic. There were so many different instruments as classes came and went. Acoustic guitars, a mandolin, violins, an upright bass, and a cajon were the ones that were consistent. Most Tuesdays between work and prayer we’d gather together and just lay aside the burdens all of us were carrying that day.

“We cannot show our loyalty to God more than by renouncing our worldly selves as much as a thousand times a day to enjoy even a single moment with Him.” Brother Lawrence

I found much joy in running to Him often as I went through the SD program and even today as I serve on staff. He is continuing to show me what it means to worship Him with every aspect of my life.

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December 20, 2017

Almost every year for the last 14 years, I have offered a 24-hour Advent retreat of silence during the first week of December. Advent, on the liturgical calendar, is the beginning of the church year that follows the life of Christ for 12 months. This retreat felt like a perfect way to begin centering the minds of Christ-followers and provide a decent antidote, if taken, to protect against the consumerism, the commercialism and the secularism of the world that surrounds us. It’s easy to be sucked into all that, if we’re not careful.

For me, the Advent retreat is always a gift of love. I generally come home after it ends, physically blasted from hauling and designing and interacting. Nothing in my home speaks of Christmas, and often, by early December here in Chicago, some early snow and dropping temperatures mean that the barrel by the mailbox, which I always decorate, including some message for passersby, will be frozen. This fall, corn shocks and wild grasses, dried allium heads and pumpkins and gourds and three signs proclaiming “Count Your Blessings” and “Give Thanks” adorned the barrel beneath the postal box. As I anticipated, two snowfalls have come this year, and the weather is 10 degrees outside. Everything is frozen, and I will have to carry buckets of boiling water across the street in order to dislodge the now rather sad-looking arrangement.

Retreat_praying - KP Yohannan - Gospel for Asia

This year, we held four (four!—what were we thinking?) 8-hour Advent retreats of silence in the 1920s restored barn-house of my daughter and son-in-law, Melissa and Doug Timberlake. Something about this place embraces people. It has been beautifully decorated with garage-sale finds. The high lofts (which are great for people to tuck into and to go deeply into silence) lift the eyes. There are all kinds of nooks and crannies where people can sit and be still, where they can follow the guided instructions we work hard to create, where they can pray and listen in the silence.

However, it takes about a month to hang Christmas decorations in this huge place. Since we are not going to a retreat center with paid staff—crews that set up and tear down and clean up after the retreatants leave—we are the ones on whom all this work lands (and more so, on my daughter, Melissa, and her family, since this is their home).

For our recent retreats, treats needed to be prepared and arranged on two coffee-and-tea bars, and a hot-chocolate center in the basement needed to be readied with homemade cookies (everything gluten-free due to guests’ dietary constraints), carafes to hold hot milk, and various kinds of powered chocolate to make the drinks.

The barn needed to be cleaned, stalls mucked—one horse and three sheep and a stall full of chickens all contributing to the task. Due to guests’ allergies, cats were stored in a room in the basement, and two Great Danes and an aging shih tzu named Supreme were temporarily kenneled at our home, some 50 minutes away, while two young-adult Timberlake grandchildren supervised this arrangement for the four days, two Thursdays and two Saturdays early in December.

Why go to all this trouble? (May I also mention that the fees for the retreat just barely covered the expenses.) It is worth the effort and the resulting fatigue when, as a retreat leader, you feel that movement of silence settle on the house and on those who are inhabiting it for eight hours, when people ooh-and-ahh about being quiet with so much surrounding beauty, when tears come due to the persuasion of the Holy Spirit and the power of the Scriptures and the chosen theme, and the reality settles in that we have so little time to simply be because of the cacophony and hurriedness of our modern living.

I went home after the first two retreats, sent the dogs back for four days before they returned again before the second stage of retreats, fought off a cold, slept for nine hours one night and took naps during the days but still felt that warm glow, which some have designated “helper’s high,” that I have felt after every Advent retreat I’ve ever offered. We may be tired from the effort, weary to the bone, but knowing that people have met with God, have heard Him speak, have faced some of their own personal dilemmas with a little more honesty due to the opportunity of uninterrupted self-reflection—that makes it all worth the time and energy and expense.

An interesting thing happened this year (perhaps it happens every year and I just noticed it more this year): I personally was deeply impacted by the Advent theme Melissa and I chose and our husbands, Doug and David, helped us develop. The theme was “Taking the High Road: The Courage to Choose Goodness in a Challenging World.” We had the opportunity to meditate on the meaning of goodness through August, September, October and November. David and I realized that we, in all our 57 years of marriage, had never heard a sermon series on the topic of what it means to be good or to serve a good God.

Our guided retreat program included quotes from religious thinkers. This one from Billy Graham struck me: “Man has two great spiritual needs. One is for forgiveness. The other is for goodness.” I deeply agree. And I have thought about this through these months.

The morning time of quiet began with a series of questions that encouraged an hour and a half of self-reflection. The theme Scripture started us: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:9–10, niv). Two pages of scriptures with the concept of good or goodness were provided for all to examine. We asked the retreatants to look back over their lives and think about the people who had impacted them with goodness and what, in particular, it was that those people had done. We provided them with two pages of synonyms for “good”: a list of adverbs (acceptability, adequately, all right, decently, nicely, satisfactorily, etc.); a list of nouns (benediction, benefit, boon, felicity, godsend, blessing, grace, mercy, favor, kindness, comfort, consolation, etc.); a list of adjectives (right, decent, ethical, honest, honorable, just, moral, righteous, straight, true, upright, virtuous, etc.). We gave them time to debrief as the group gathered together what thoughts had come to them, what the Holy Spirit might have whispered to them, what kept them from doing good, being good. We asked them to set goals to become people who thought good, spoke good and determined to be good. We gave them things to do in the afternoon—activities, but still conducted in silence.

We ate our meal in silence, together, but not talking. A small poem at each plate further focused our minds on the meaning of goodness. A handmade bookmark contained different Scripture verses, and a collage of dried leaves from Turtle Creek Acres, the name of the Timberlake barn-house with some 15 acres of protected marshland surrounding it, was an individual gift for all.

We included this intriguing poem puzzle. Read it slowly down the page, and when you are finished, read it slowly up the page.

Today is the absolute worst day ever
And don’t try to convince me that
There’s something good in everyday
Because, when you take a closer look,
This world is a pretty evil place.
Even if
Some goodness does shine through once in a while
Satisfaction and happiness don’t last.
And it’s not true that
It’s all in the mind and heart
Because
True happiness can be obtained
Only if one’s surroundings are good
It’s not true that good exists
I’m sure you can agree that
The reality
Creates
My attitude
It’s all beyond my control
And you’ll never in a million years hear me say that
Today was a good day.

By the time of our whole eight-hour day—arriving at 9 a.m., eating at 12:30, gathering at 4:00 for our last time of group debriefing, then concluding with an ending ceremony at 4:30, and saying goodbye at 5:00—we’d all had a full day. (“All of us” includes 44 retreatants, 4 leaders, 2 marvelous helpers and 1 musician—51 in all).

And most importantly, all of us, as testified by remarks at the door, left with minds surfeited with thoughts of goodness—its meanings, its capacities to work wholeness and health and beauty and reconciliation and redemption in the world. David has been writing letters to those people from our past life who influenced us in major ways for the good. We have a stack of red envelopes, some 30 of them, self-addressed by retreat guests, waiting for stamps: This an exercise of writing out those words we believe God might say to us—an assignment to help us experience “The Goodness of a Letter from God.” We will mail these back to the authors the week before Christmas.

We played the gospel-music song “Good, Good Father.”

David and I laid hands on each person at the end of the retreat and pronounced a blessing, “This is what your good, good Father says to you: ‘You are my beloved daughter [or son], in whom I am well pleased.’” People were powerfully moved. Tears flowed. We knew many of us had met with a good and loving God.

The last Advent retreat for 2017 was three days ago. I’ve slept and done the minimal things I need to do. Not one Christmas display has been put up in my house. The dining-room table with the white bisque angels set has not been laid with the holiday dishes. The lovely nativity I picked up in Alcala, Spain, has not taken its rightful place on the sideboard. The shepherd hooks will need to be pounded into the frozen ground so that lanterns will light the Christmas Eve path leading to our front door.

Nevertheless, I am celebrating Christmas in my heart. I have a good, good Father who teaches me to be good, instructs me when I forget to do good, inspires me by the example of others who are good, who sent His Son into the world—gave this extraordinary gift—so that we would know what good looks like and become like that good. As a gift, for the last 15 years, we’ve mounted an Advent retreat of Silence. And that’s a good thing. Because of all this inner work, we are going to have a good (perhaps undecorated) Christmas.

Remarkably, when I returned home, InterVarsity Press had sent me one of their just-released books as a Christmas gift, The Magnificent Story: Uncovering a Gospel of Beauty, Goodness & Truth by James Bryan Smith. One paragraph pierced my fatigue and the temptation to crankiness that accompanies the effects of overdoing: “‘Beauty,’ said Dallas Willard, ‘is goodness made manifest to our senses.’ What is goodness?  Goodness is that which works for the benefit or betterment of another. If, as [Thomas] Aquinas said, beauty is that which, when seen, pleases, then goodness is that which, when experienced, benefits. That which is good makes us better, heals us, restores us, improves us, strengthens us, and makes us right, perhaps when we were wrong.”

All through this 2017 season of offering Advent retreats, I had been receiving text messages from a high school friend I hadn’t seen in 30 years. Traditionally, one of the satisfactory acts for me at this time of year is to provide gifts for others in real need. There is so much abundance in our lives—just living together as a loving married couple; just being privileged to serve our God in full-time ministry—that David and I don’t give gifts to each other, but we try to be aware of those around us who have little, who have had losses they still grieve and who struggle to make it through the days. However, this Advent season, I was tight financially myself and admittedly dubious about the concerns my long-ago friend was texting to me.

For years she had served as a missionary to Romania, and she returned home to the States to retire, bringing a young teenager she had adopted while in her late 60’s. Some of the young men she had once mentored in faith were now encountering dreadful circumstances, were ill and destitute, had been beaten by bullies . . . Her texts indicated how frantic she had become for them.

Finally, a royalty check came my way, and I attempted to send an electronic gift per my friend’s instructions to me. The woman at the fund transfer counter was skeptical:  Did I know these people? she asked. No, I didn’t. She actually didn’t want to wire it; there were so many scams perpetrated by overseas hoaxes, particularly at this time of year. Not only was she practically refusing to service me, but this fund transfer group would not take my check, only a debit card, which David and I do not use. I had prayed about this need and was still confused about the legitimacy of the ask. But because I had told my friend I would wire funds—the whole of my small royalty—I procured her checking account numbers, went to a bank branch and sent the money on its way.

Word came back. A hospital bill was paid; medicine to combat pneumonia was procured; wood was purchased to heat a little cottage that had been made available; and a debt to a loan shark was paid off. Then another royalty check, a surprise, came in the mail, and I forwarded it, rescuing small children who had been taken as earnest against the loan shark’s loan. (Do these things really happen in the world? Apparently they do.)  The two little children were released. I went to bed for a couple of days (or at least dragged around the house).

But—with Advent in our hearts, and charity (one of those synonyms for the word good) activated, despite not one Christmas decoration being in place outside or inside, we are already having a good, good Christmas. (“Really, really, really,” as my five-year-old granddaughter says.)  Really. He is a good, good Father.

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December 17, 2017

Sunday, Dec. 17, is the third of four Advent Sundays preceding Christmas. It is a time on the liturgical church calendar that is set aside to pause, to reflect, to conduct self-examination and to ready oneself for the coming Christmas celebration. This week, I have been spending some reflective time considering what my attitude should be toward the poor among us. Why are there so many? And what can one person do to help?

What Truly Meaningful Gifts Can I Give to the Poor This Christmas - KP Yohannan - Gospel for Asia

Scripture clearly highlights God’s heart toward those whose lives are lived out in grinding poverty. It also, in many passages, defines clear expectations as to how God’s people are to regard the poor. These words from Isaiah struck me years ago, and I re-read them frequently, particularly during the Christmas season:

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. —Isaiah 58:6–11

The words from Isaiah ring true for all. Everyone needs to heed these instructions:

-Loose the chains of injustice
-Untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke
-Share your food with the hungry
-Provide the poor wanderer with shelter
-Clothe the naked
-Don’t turn away from your own flesh and blood
-Do away with the yoke of oppression
-Do away with the pointing finger and malicious talk
-Spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
-Satisfy the needs of the oppressed

My Advent suggestion is this, whether you are wealthy or have limited means, to consider these words from the prophet Isaiah. Go down the list above, line by line, and ask yourself, “Am I involved in any of these actions? Do I simply hold sentimental feelings in my heart, agreeing that we people of faith should be more active in obeying these instructions? But not really doing much of anything? What truly meaningful gifts can I give this Christmas that will capture the intent of these above points?”

Then pray, as I am praying, that God will capture your heart with his compassion. Then, let us light the Advent candle, sit quietly and consider these words of Christ and ask the Holy Spirit to teach us what it means: “Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’” —Mark 10:21

Light break froth like dawn - KP Yohannan - Gospel for Asia

Go back to the Isaiah passage quoted above and begin to list the benefits that come when we are obedient to what God desires of us in relationship to the poor. List those promises.

Then your light will break forth like the dawn.

And your healing will quickly appear.

Finish the list yourself. The promises are mighty. The personal returns on your investments in helping the poor are more than any charitable entrepreneur could expect to receive. Link your head to your heart during this coming Christmas season—and for the rest of the year. Make experiments in giving.

See what happens.

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For practical gifts to give to the poor, review our Christmas Gift Catalog.

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December 9, 2017

Last week, our pastor preached a sermon on the topic of King David bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. Sitting there as part of the congregation, I had a sudden stunning understanding about this passage from 2 Samuel chapter 6 that I’d never had before—an understanding so fraught with meaning that I’ve been thinking about it all week.

Karen Mains - KP Yohannan - Gospel for Asia
Karen Mains reflects on 2 Samuel 6 in preparation for the season of Advent.

Being a child raised in evangelicalism, my spiritual journey into adult faith has been grounded and formed by Scripture. As a youth, I memorized seven books from the Bible perfectly. I married an ordained minister, who himself preached a series on this topic in an inter-racial church we planted in the inner city of Chicago. Most preachers emphasize in some way or another that David, who had only recently assumed the appointment as king of Israel, stripped down to his linen ephod and danced before the procession, bringing the Ark back to the city. Few preachers avoid drawing an obvious parallel that the king was basically leaping and dancing around in his underwear.

Perhaps it’s because of the conversations I had while sitting around in Bible study groups as I traveled in Africa that the Old Testament stories come alive in new ways. Listening to Africans in Kenya, all modern and educated and wise, talk about their particular understanding of Bible stories made me realize there were nuances I just had simply never understood because of my American background, because of privilege, because of limited exposure to the world.

Take the story of Abigail and David as an example. Abigail, with her beauty, wisdom and insight, saves David from slaughtering in angry outrage her whole little village. She prepares food for his band of outliers, assuages David’s outrage, then tells her husband Nabal (whose name means “fool”) how his death has been avoided. Out of shock, he dies anyway, and Abigail immediately marries the leader of this renegade resistance movement, David (see 1 Samuel 25). I’ve often thought, Why did she marry him right away—or at least what appears from a surface reading as “right away”?

However, the Kenyan women sitting in our Bible discussion circle understood instantly. I gained insight when each described how her own tribe treated widows, not just in the past but in the present. Abigail, as a widow had no rights. She would not inherit her husband’s wealth; that would legally go to the nearest male relative. Widows are often outcasts in communities around the world, even today, having lost position gained through a husband. Suddenly, listening to my African friends, I got it and thought: This really is not an American story, is it?

The picture that came to my mind as my pastor spoke last Sunday was of a young man, “ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to,” deliberately stripping himself of all kingly regalia down to the kind of garments a working man might wear while breaking rock, or hauling grain from the field, or pushing felled and stripped logs toward a construction site.

Michal, David’s wife (also the daughter of King Saul, recently slaughtered in battle along with his sons), sees her husband dancing wildly in the streets and despises him. Commentators are often not kind to Michal—but her story is one of tragedy and agonizing family dysfunction. Remember, she had been torn from David and given to another man name Phalti, who followed her weeping when she was re-joined again to her first husband, now the king (see 2 Samuel 3:15–16).

I think Michal was a young woman corroded by depths of grief and shock. And there’s David, dancing in the streets before the crowd of joyful and ecstatic Israelites, bringing the Ark of the Covenant that had been stolen by Israel’s archenemies, the Philistines, back to the capital city (accompanied by some 30,000 able-bodied young men). Quite a picture.

The account in 2 Samuel tells us Michal despised David in her heart and says to him when he returns to bless his household, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would do!” There’s nothing like the sarcasm of a wounded woman. In other words, “I’m the daughter of a real king who knows how a real king should behave.”

Advent - KP Yohannan - Gospel for AsiaI wondered what would have happened if the young David (and remember, a handsome and athletic man) hadn’t stripped down to the work garments of the common laborer. I wondered if he hadn’t led the people into worship as a man among men, a herder of sheep, a slaughterer of giants with nothing but a stone and a slingshot as weapons. I wondered if the people wouldn’t have entered fully into worship, rejoicing and thanksgiving if their young king hadn’t brought the Ark of the Covenant—a symbol of the Presence of God—to Jerusalem as one of them, simply as a man among men.

David responds to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor” (see 2 Samuel 6:21–22).

How extraordinary: Young women, torn from their families due to war or raids, utterly subservient to the will of arbitrary masters and mistresses, vulnerable and without position of any kind, powerless as virtual slaves—these understand what David was doing.

If I have any insight into this passage, think of what it must have felt for them to see King David divest himself of the symbols of kingly authority, strip down to the garments of a common working laborer (like all those groaning throngs in Hollywood historical films showing the building of the pyramids, for instance). This act of David’s, if there is any truth into my flash of insight, said to them, “I am just a man like any other. All are welcome to enter into exuberant worship, not just the high or the mighty or the wealthy or the well-placed. The God of Israel is the God of all, even of the lowly, the humble, the abandoned, the ordinary. Come dance and worship along with me and let us together extol the King of Heaven.”

If I had been a lowly slave girl that day, I too would have held this young man in honor.

We are in the season of Advent. These are the four Sundays before Christmas that the liturgical church has set aside to get ready to celebrate the coming of Christ, the King. He too divested himself of His kingly glory and authority, took on human form (a common fleshly garment, if you will) and was born among a people enslaved in multitudes of ways. He came among us to show us how to live and how to love. He invites us into a holy dance of delightful obedience alongside Him that is always centered in a worship of the Presence of God, the Father.

His earthly life ends when, as a young man wearing only what some might call a linen ephod or at least the undergarments of a common laborer, He gives up His life on a cross so that we, slaves as we were, might enter completely with Him into what early church theologians have termed the perichoresis koinonia—an image of the Holy Three dancing in unending and harmonious relationship.

karen-mains-advent-1The church my husband and I attend is an inner-city church thronged with eager and spiritually hungry millennials. It’s worship is vibrant (and loud). Baptismal services are held frequently. Some 56 new believers were baptized on the recent Sunday set aside for this. But it is not a liturgical church; we probably will not observe Advent this December 10. But the Holy Spirit (or perhaps some stray imagining of my own) or the memory of the Scriptural insights from my African friends, or simply looking at a familiar Scripture (2 Samuel 6) with a little fresh understanding is making this Advent Sunday deep with meaning. I am thinking of a young man, stripped, dancing before his people.

And this week, I am practicing waiting. The Advent wreath I purchased the Friday after Thanksgiving stayed cool for a few days in the trunk of the car. But now it has taken its place on our coffee table. The fall arrangements with gourds and pumpkins have been changed with greens, a small Christmas tree and artificial vines of red poinsettias to set the Christmas mood. A nativity scene, handmade from rusted metal, will be placed on the planting table on the front patio next week. Red, battery-powered lanterns will light the sidewalk on Christmas Eve. I’ve purchased tickets to take my family to hear the concerto The Messiah.

These are preparations for the Christmas Day that is coming, but none are so powerful as the inward preparation I am making. I am waiting for the celebration of the young King who has come and is coming and will come again and who has divested Himself of royalty and taken on the humble garments of human flesh—so that we might learn to dance with Him one day in the unending celebration of the Kingdom of His Father.

“David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with castanets, harps, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals. … Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.” —2 Samuel 6:5, 14–15

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December 3, 2017

Gospel for Asia (GFA) Advent Essay, Wills Point, Texas

Raju looked confused by my question, and his response revealed it: “What do you mean by Christmas tradition?”

I had served the Lord in Asia with Raju off-and-on for over a year. He was a first-generation, Asian believer with a tall, slim build and a heartwarming smile. He loved Jesus and was excited about the upcoming seasons of Advent and Christmas.

I tried to explain what I was asking to my bewildered brother in Christ, “Do you and your family have anything that you do every year to celebrate Christmas?”

I had come from a family that had been either devoted or nominal Christians for every generation that we knew of. Having immigrated from Eastern Europe to America in the beginning of the 20th century, many of the traditional ways we celebrated Christmas stretched back to before my forefathers left Europe. It never occurred to me that it may take two generations of believers to form a tradition.

Raju then went on to explain the different things his family did to celebrate Christmas, most of which actually occurred before Christmas. He told me about how they took part in different Christmas programs at his local church, how they sang Christmas carols, how they helped the poor, and how they spent Christmas Day with the Christian community.

Some of his traditions were similar to mine, some were different.

As I asked other Asian brothers and sisters about their Christmas traditions, their answers were very similar to Raju’s, though they were from different cultures and had different mother tongues. Their “traditions”—though they didn’t identify them as that—were more about what they shared with other Christians within Believers Eastern Church and the rest of the church worldwide, rather than what was passed down to them by their parents. Their Christmas and Advent traditions were truly “church” traditions, not family traditions like mine.

Believers Eastern Church in Wills Point, Texas
Gospel for Asia’s chapel in Wills Point, Texas

The Season Leading Up to Christmas: Advent

The season of Advent is an important part of preparing for Christmas. Our Asian brothers and sisters follow the traditional church calendar that has been handed down through the centuries and is followed by believers throughout the world. Their “Christian year” always starts the fourth Sunday before Christmas, which this year falls on December 3 (so Happy New Year!)

This first season of the church calendar, referred to as Advent, is a season to build our expectation for the coming of Christ, which we celebrate on Christmas. Advent literally means “coming,” referring to the coming of Christ. It’s approximately four weeks long but varies because Christmas always falls on a different day of the week.

However, it always has four Sundays and each of these Sundays has a different theme:

  1. Hope: The first Sunday of Advent helps to stir up a hope and longing for the coming of Christ, much like the nation of Israel had at the time of Jesus’ birth.
  2. Love: The second Sunday of Advent reminds us about the great love that God and Jesus have for us, and we are encouraged to love others as a result.
  3. Joy: The third Sunday reminds us of the excitement the angel shared with the shepherds on the night Jesus was born: “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be for all people” (Luke 2:10). That joy is now ours in Christ!
  4. Peace: The last Sunday of Advent reminds us of the peace we have with God as a result of Christ’s coming.

These themes are carried out throughout the week and are highlighted in the Scripture readings that are read in all of their churches.

Since the theme for this Sunday is hope, the Scripture readings are from Isaiah 64:1–9; Psalm 80:1–7,17–19; 1 Corinthians 1:3–9; and Mark 13:24–37. These Scripture passages are being read in every church led by a Gospel for Asia-supported pastor—and throughout the rest of the world—this Sunday. In more than 300 languages, messages of hope will be spoken by GFA-supported missionaries, and millions of hearts will be directed to the coming of Christ.

In fact, if you want to read the exact same Scripture passages that our fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord will be reading, you can sign up for our daily Advent readings and prayers to help keep your heart directed toward Christ this season in the Advent.

Christian Traditions, not Cultural or Family

As I thought about how our Asian brothers and sisters described how they celebrate Christ’s coming, three things stuck out:

  1. Most of their traditions were in the Advent season, not on Christmas Day.
  2. Their traditions, though new to them, were similar to what had been practiced for centuries by Christians around the world.
  3. Their traditions centered on the Gospel and sharing the hope, love and joy of Christ with others in the hope that they, too, would find the peace that only Christ can give.

The amazing thing about what Raju and other Asian believers shared is that—even though they were first-generation believers—their traditions provide us with a blueprint of Christmas celebrations without the blemish of American materialism, which has, unfortunately, enraptured the Church. These Christ-centered practices are ancient in origin yet expressed in a way that is totally within the context of their Asian culture.

Centering Our Year on Jesus Christ

Celebrations, especially on holy days or holidays, form an important part of every culture, whether religious or secular. As the Church has grown throughout the ages, the Church calendar, with its season and holy days, has helped shape a Christ-centered Church that is consistent regardless of its surrounding culture or the era in which the Church finds itself. The Church traditions of Advent and Christmas can also help believers fend off counter-Christian practices of the surrounding cultures and unite believers around the world.

For most of the Church throughout history, Christmas has always been a holy day in the liturgical church calendar. The church calendar creates seasons that are shaped by the life of Jesus and His Church. It provides an alternative rhythm to our year that seeks to make each season centered on Christ. Following the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, it encourages us every year to remember all He did for us while on earth. This rhythm help us to enter into the Scriptures in a unique way.

Longing for the Advent of the Christ

Prior to John the Baptist showing up on the scene, there were “four hundred years of silence.” The last passages of the Old Testament were delivered by the prophet Malachi around 400 B.C. and there had been no new, God-given revelation since then. With the Roman occupation and oppression in Judea, hearts and nation were longing for the coming Messiah (that is Christ) to deliver them. The coming of the Christ was the hope of the nation.

In the first pages of the New Testament, when the silence is broken, it does not begin with telling us that Jesus was born but starts with building the expectation for His advent. The Apostle Matthew traces Jesus’ lineage back to Adam, showing that based on the generations, it was time for the Messiah to come. Luke starts with the angel Gabriel appearing to Zechariah. The coming of the Messiah is at the door! Any time now!

Next, Gabriel appears to an unsuspecting virgin in Nazareth, by the name of Mary. The tension increases as we see that she’s betrothed to a man named Joseph who could easily dismiss and shame her. But he doesn’t. Instead, they make the long trip to Bethlehem, and the Messiah’s birth is heralded by the host of heaven!

The church calendar follows this same pattern. Advent provides a space for us in which our expectation of Christmas is built. The Scriptures that are read, the sermons that are preached and the familiarity of the season remind us to look expectantly to Christmas, to the coming of Christ. But it also, encourages us to look for His second coming now.

Sharing the Love

Gospel for Asia-supported missionaries and believers in 14 Asian countries are busy preparing for all the different programs they will have leading up to Christmas. These programs start this week, and their primary focus will be sharing the hope that we, as believers, have in Jesus. Raju and other believers are preparing Christmas carols, Scripture readings about the Christmas story, and cultural dances done to Christian songs that visually help tell the story about Jesus. Every program will have a clear presentation of the love and salvation that is in Jesus Christ. In many places, these celebrations will often include Christmas gifts to the poor to help them escape the cycle of poverty—a tangible expression of Christ’s love and what He has done for us spiritually.

The main thrust of these programs will be to take the love and hope of Christ to those in the surrounding cultures. For many, this will be the first time they’ve heard the good news of Jesus, and as a result, this Christmas will be the first Christmas many celebrate as believers!

As I prepared to celebrate Christmas with Raju and my other Asian brothers and sisters, I was trying not to be agitated about how different their celebration was compared to my own. No one bought me a present. There was none of the familiar traditional American food. No Christmas tree. I wasn’t even invited into a family’s home. Instead, we gathered as a church; we celebrated, as a Christ-centered community, the Savior who had come into the world to make us one.

Once I was able to let go of my cross-cultural shock, I was actually captivated by how appropriate a way this is to celebrate Christmas. A common meal was being shared by believers in congregations throughout Asia. For many people joining the celebration, they had never even heard of Jesus this time last year, and through the faithful witness of the believers—and for some, because of the Advent programs—they were now celebrating their first Christmas.

Old Dogs Learning New Tricks

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because we have generations and generations of Christmas tradition that we have it right compared to our first-generation brothers and sisters. But as I listened to dozens of Asian believers tell me their Advent and Christmas traditions, I was reminded how “on-fire” new believers often seem compared to us in the faith who have known Jesus and have maybe left our first love (Rev. 2:4-5).

I realized that most of my family’s Christmas and Advent traditions growing up didn’t really center on Christ. Except for going to a Christmas service, they were family traditions, not church traditions. Even the Advent calendars I opened every year had little to do with Jesus, but became a countdown to opening presents.

These new believers practice many of the historic traditions of the Church, but they—like the angels in the Gospel of Luke—are using them to proclaim Christ’s coming to the world. Their traditions make Christ known and help them to love those who won’t love them back. Because of this, Christ will be born into the hearts of many people this Advent.

Maybe if we learn from our Asian brothers and sisters, we can recapture Christmas by revamping some of our holiday traditions. We can use the Advent season to kindle our first love for Jesus and share the hope, love, joy and peace we have in Him with those who don’t know Him.

We can use GFA’s Christmas Gift Catalog to give to “the least of these” and escape the materialist traditions of the season. Share the Forgotten Christmas video during Advent Sunday services. Consider organizing Christmas caroling, and hand out gospel tracts and hot chocolate to your neighbors.

However you celebrate, we can listen to John the Baptist’s admonition to “Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight. … And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” —Luke 3:4 & 6

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November 23, 2017

He Deserves my Heartfelt Thanks - KP Yohannan - Gospel for Asia

Recently my wonderful daughter-in-law Angela asked if I could pick up her children, ages 8 and 10, from school when their classes were dismissed. Later in the afternoon she would drop off the third child, age 5, by the house.

Angela is the widow of our son Jeremy, who died several years back from aggressive lymphoma, or cancer. She has her hands full. Not only does she work full-time, she is also close to getting her doctorate in adult learning. So I am always happy to help out.

At the appointed time, Eliana and Nehemiah tossed their book bags in the car, hopped in themselves and promptly announced they were hungry. “Tell me what you want and Papa (that’s me) will get it for you,” I replied.

Eliana, the oldest, had a hankering for a cinnamon pretzel. There’s a shop that sells them a few blocks from the school, and what she wanted looked huge in the glass case. I should have given the price tag of $4.00! Nehemiah’s request was for a Blue Ice. “Where do I get that?” I asked. “My friend got one over by the Steak and Shake,” he answered.

“Which Steak and Shake?” I asked. “There are more than one.”

“The one over by the place where they sell the Blue Ices!”

I need to learn to ask better questions!

While Eliana worked her way through the monster cinnamon-pretzel and decided she was now also thirsty, I said that we could get her something to drink at the Blue Ice place that was near the Steak and Shake where I was headed … and luckily, I chose the right one.

The Blue Ice turned out to be a half a cup of shaved ice with some kind of blue syrup (?) for $2.50. That plus a drink for Eliana made me aware that the $10 bill I had started out with was now close to being gone.

As we started toward home, maybe it was thinking about the money that prompted me to say, “I think you both forgot to say something!”

“We both got what we wanted. What did we forget?”

[LONG PAUSE]

“When Papa buys you what you want, aren’t you supposed to say something?”

“Ohthankyou”—two voices in unison and said very quickly, but with almost no feeling whatsoever.

Later, when Anelise was dropped off she discovered to her dismay that she had missed out on a Blue Ice. That’s what she now wanted more than anything else in the whole world. And there went the last of my $10, plus all the loose change in my pocket. But Anelise didn’t say “Thank you, Papa” either.

Now, I know for a fact that Angela is a very good mother, and that she has taught her children to say thank you, and they often display the results of exceptional parenting. But somehow the thank-you lesson had temporarily escaped them!

As my three youngest grandchildren grow into adulthood, will they in time learn to be truly grateful? Probably. I certainly hope so. But if they are at all like I am, they will constantly have to work at it. That’s because my experience tells me that it is easier to take for granted what we have, and to gripe about what we don’t, than it is to live in a constant attitude of gratitude.

Prompted by this experience with my grandchildren, this Thanksgiving week I woke early one morning and instead of my normal prayer time, I decided to make a list of reasons I should be thankful. It was a most meaningful experience. Here is some of what I wrote down.

pablo (9)Thank you God for…

  • Being born in America
  • Good parents who were sincere believers
  • A quality brother and sister
  • My Christian upbringing
  • Having a pleasant appearance
  • Living my life in a place of peace
  • Relatively good health
  • Coming early to an awareness of salvation
  • A good education
  • The chance to develop specific skills
  • Being called by Jesus into ministry
  • Finding an exceptional wife
  • 4 wonderful children
  • 9 terrific grandchildren
  • Essentials like house, car, clothes, food, etc.
  • No major debts / the money we need to live comfortably
  • Extensive world travel
  • Keeping my flaws hidden for the most part
  • Enough honors and successes
  • A lifetime of rich experiences
  • Many strong friendships
  • A good reputation
  • A no-guilt life / God’s forgiveness when I sin
  • The Scriptures available
  • A great church
  • Lifetime supporters
  • Understanding and embracing the concept of mystery
  • Great memories
  • 81-plus years of life and counting

For the most part that was my list. It could have been longer, but what I wrote was enough to make me aware that the Lord has been incredibly good to me, and He deserves my heartfelt thanks, not only at this time of year, but all the time.

One item I didn’t include takes a bit more than one line to explain. All my adult life I have been interested in the topic of spiritual revivals. By that I mean those times when God has poured out His Spirit in a most remarkable way on a given location, be it a church, a school, a city, or even a country. These have occurred throughout history in various places around the world.

I have studied these awakenings and for some decades have prayed for such a movement of His Spirit to once again mark the United States. This has not happened in my lifetime. However, I have been able to witness firsthand the incredible movement of the Holy Spirit taking place in the Believers Eastern Church throughout India and other parts of Asia.

In what I see as a divine personal favor, the opportunity opened for me to become a member of the Board of Directors of Gospel For Asia / USA. In many ways you could say that the work of the Gospel for Asia (GFA) Board / USA is to be supportive of the amazing movement of God presently taking place throughout much of Asia.

It is true that Gospel for Asia (GFA) is involved in a spiritual battle more intense than what most of us on the Board have previously faced. But I take this to be a privilege rather than a hardship.

A driving force that propels Gospel for Asia (GFA)/USA is the regular practice of giving thanks in all circumstances. So I must add to my earlier list the privilege of seeing God active in a most remarkable way in the revival movement taking place throughout India and beyond. Although the devil fights dirty and the battle remains intense, this is one of the great joys of my life, and I will always be grateful to the Lord for granting me this special blessing.

So Lord, don’t let me as an adult be a “thankyouLord” quick-thank-you person, because you had to prompt me … someone who every so often tosses you a yearly grunt of gratitude. Not only would that be spiritually immature, it would be wrong. You have been incredibly kind to me in ever so many ways, and I am grateful … and if you don’t mind, I wanted to spell that out in detail!

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November 11, 2017

For Veteran’s Day, Lynn C., Gospel for Asia staff and 20-year U.S. military veteran, shares her thoughts about serving in the Navy and now her Lord with GFA.

Let’s face it — I cry whenever I hear the song “Proud to be an American” by Lee Greenwood, and I get choked up when I sing the National Anthem.

As a retired Chief Petty Officer of the United States Navy (September 1977–September 1997), I’ve served with some of the finest men and women our country had at the time.

Having served then, I understand the tremendous sacrifice that our military men and women and their families currently make to protect the interests of the United States, both foreign and domestic. Families make do with only one parent taking care of all the responsibilities, while the other is off on deployment in the middle of the desert or the mountains, serving as an Embassy guard or sitting watch at 3 in the morning.

Loyal, dedicated men and women who spend months at a time off on deployment, missing their families and important milestone events, working hard to ensure the interest of the United States and the safety of her people.

I Was Proud to Do Whatever to Protect the Interests of the United States - KP Yohannan - Gospel for Asia

I’ve been in this boat having served in the Navy alongside my husband. While he was serving on board ship while Desert Shield and Desert Storm was taking place, I was serving in a shore capacity in the San Diego area.

It wasn’t always glamorous; in fact, sometimes it was downright dirty. I remember back, as a young seaman during my first tour of duty, when I was assigned to do some document destruction for a deployed unit. Little did I know that these documents consisted of literally reams upon reams of stacked perforated paper, the kind that ran through the old dot-matrix printers. I had many black trash bags filled with these documents to destroy. And I couldn’t use our host force’s document shredder and pulper unit. Oh no—I had to make do with the furnace.

I had to burn all that material…to ash. I don’t even think I got a lunch break. I had to stay with the material for the entire length of my shift and make sure it was completely destroyed. For those of you in the know, it’s like a chain of custody type thing. I couldn’t leave the material unsupervised. If I remember correctly, someone brought me several sodas to drink while I chucked chunk after chunk of page print into that behemoth furnace, while constantly stirring the burning paper with a long metal pole.

Consider this: What does someone look like after eight hours in front of a fire with ash floating all around? (I laugh just thinking about this.) When I finished my shift, I chanced to look in the mirror and gasped. My face was totally ash covered except the little point where my garrison cap covered my forehead and where my glasses protected my eyes. There was a black ring around my mouth from drinking the soda that I was given. I smelled like I’d been sitting around the campfire for days, and my uniform was covered in ash! I’m afraid I don’t have a picture of that day, since it was almost 39 years ago and cameras were not allowed in my work area, but I remember this event very well.

It was probably one of the most unglamorous jobs that I’ve had while serving. Don’t get me wrong, I was proud to do it because I knew that whatever I did contributed to protecting the interests of the United States.

Nowadays, I serve my LORD and Savior Jesus Christ as an IT Professional (more like IT Jack of All Trades) at Gospel for Asia. I do a little bit of this, a little bit of that and a whole lot of everything else.

My husband and I have been on staff since 1999. We brought with us that military can-do attitude, understanding the Scripture: “No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Tim. 2:4).

veterans day - KP Yohannan - Gospel for Asia

Just as our concentration and effort as members of the United States Navy was to support and defend the U.S. Constitution against all enemies, both foreign and domestic, our focus now is helping people in Asia know and understand the message of Jesus Christ and His sacrificial love.

We haven’t got much time. Just look at the news: wars and rumors of wars, violence, hatred…

The window we have to share the Good News is closing, and I believe we don’t have much time left.

“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.” —Matthew 24:6–7

But it’s not doom and gloom at the ministry. We are trying to make every last minute we have count.

I totally enjoy what I do. Sometimes it’s not glamorous, flashy stuff (actually, most of the time it’s not flashy, glamorous stuff). Let’s face it, I work behind the scenes, so you won’t physically see what I do online or in print. I’m kind of like the conveyor belt at the assembly factory, enabling goods and services to flow through the factory, touching but not changing the end product, if you get my drift.

But I’m still “proud” to do what I do and serve my brothers and sisters here at the ministry to the best of my abilities. Sometimes I’m not the brightest bulb in the bunch, or I’m having an Oscar-the-Grouch kind of day where I’m off center, but with the love, encouragement and prayers of fellow Gospel for Asia staff, I’m brought back to a sense of peace and the knowledge that what I’m doing here is full of Kingdom purpose.

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October 31, 2017

Gospel for Asia, Wills Point, Texas, USA

A couple of years ago, I was at a missions conference where we came together to discuss what was happening in the missions world around the globe. One of my friends there asked me, “How are things going at Gospel for Asia? What’s going on these days?” We were going through some challenging situations on the field at the time, and I remember telling him, “It’s a good time to be alive. It’s a good opportunity to walk by faith.” Which was completely true!

We don’t always have great opportunities in front of us where we get to walk by faith, trusting God day by day, but trials and difficulties allow us those opportunities.

In the first chapter of James we are told, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”

In his letter, James is talking to brothers and sisters who were going through more trials, temptations and difficulties than most of us will ever experience. Right off the bat, he tells them to consider all those things as joy and to see the purposes of God in all they were going through, whether good or bad.

We don’t always know what is going to happen tomorrow. We plan things out, we have ideas, we see all the lists on our calendars that we know we need to get to, but we don’t actually know what God is going to bring us through tomorrow. It is only when you look back on your life, even from just last week or last month, that you can see God’s faithfulness in leading you. We get to be a little like the disciples as they walked with Christ, not knowing where He was leading them day by day. In the same way, we are given opportunities once in a while in our own lives to experience what it means to trust God and walk by faith.

A good time to be Alive - KP Yohannan - Gospel for Asia

When we can’t see the road in front of us, how do we press forward? Is it by guessing what’s going to happen tomorrow or by the assurance of what God has already brought us through? You see everything that we go through in our personal lives, or as a family, or in marriage or in our jobs can build our faith. There is no other way for me or for you to grow in spiritual maturity apart from God allowing things in our lives! And through it all, there’s always hope because He’s right there with us.

God is so faithful to us during these times. He doesn’t just throw something into our path and say, “Good luck.” That would be completely opposite of His nature. Rather, He gives us His Word to keep our hearts full of faith; He gives us the Holy Spirit to remind us to look at Christ and to empower us; He gives us others to be an encouragement to us; He gives us music to lift our spirits; He gives us nature to reveal His glory. He says to us, “Let Me walk with you through this.” In fact, Jesus has already walked ahead of us through everything, so now He can walk alongside us and help us through.

Whatever we are going through, James tells us, “Listen, when you face something in your life, even if you don’t feel like it, the proper response is to count it all joy.”

Earlier in scripture, Paul encourages us to, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (see 1 Thessalonians 5:18).

In Philippians, Paul instructs the believers to, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” This is what our first response should always be. He goes on to say, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (see Philippians 4:4-7).

Our proper response in any situation is to rejoice. No matter what we are facing, we can say “Lord, I thank you for whatever You’re doing.” We bring the situation to God in prayer and leave it with Him. How do we do that? It’s a choice we make, and if we sometimes find that we have to make that choice 50 times a day then we need to do it 50 times a day. Bringing the same thing back to the Lord over and over and over again doesn’t mean you’re failing, it means you’re drawing closer to the Lord 50 times more than before.

In the passage we read at the beginning, James is essentially telling us, “If we don’t know what God is doing, ask for wisdom.” He is saying, “If you can’t see where God’s hand is in your life, don’t give up. Ask God for wisdom and He will give it. Just don’t lose faith and start to doubt.”

One of my favorite chapters in the Bible is Psalm 139 where the Psalmist describes how intimately God made us and knows us. He knows our insides as much as our outsides. He knows every day of our lives, even before we were born! As you read through that chapter—and I encourage you to do so if you haven’t recently—you can hear God saying, “Trust Me because I know your life. Don’t trust in yourself.” That’s what the world does—the world worries about things they have no control over.

It’s foolish for us as believers to worry about things that we have to leave in God’s hands. Yet too often we find ourselves spending so much time, emotion, worry and anxiety on things that should be simply left in God’s hands. When we realize this, we are able to take a step back and say, “Praise God. He’ll take care of it.”

Its a good time to be alive - KP Yohannan - Gospel for Asia

In Luke’s Gospel chapter 12, Jesus is talking to His disciples and He tells them, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing.” He goes on to say, “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” Rather than worrying, Jesus encouraged His disciples to, “seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you” (see Luke 12:22-31).

What is Jesus telling His disciples? He’s saying, “Listen guys, as long as you follow Me, you don’t have to worry about the normal things that people who don’t know God worry about.” All of us will go through the normal difficulties of life. At some point, we will all get sick, we will all have headaches, we will all have struggles and difficulties, but as believers we have the Lord on our side to help us go through those things.

My brothers and sisters, it is a good time to be alive, and it is a very good time to grow in knowing the Lord as we walk with Him by faith. This should cause us to say, “Lord, You are absolutely faithful, and I will depend on myself less and I will trust in You more. Not because I know what will happen, but because I know You.” We will never survive in life thinking that the Christian life is somehow us figuring out how to make things work in our own lives.

Someone asked me the other day, “How does God’s will actually work in my life? How does God actually change my life?” And we talked about how it’s kind of funny because many times we read something in Scripture and we’re convicted by it, we’re encouraged by it, we pray about it, we seek God for it, we fail at it, we seek God about it again, we try again, we fail at it again and finally we forget about it. God then allows a few weeks, or months, or years to go by when all of a sudden we are faced with a similar situation and we find we respond correctly. We look back and think, “Why did I respond the right way this time? When did that happen?” And we’re surprised because so often God does His greatest work when we’re not even paying attention. It is through this that He Himself receives all the glory.

When we’re trying to make life work in our own way and trying to feel faith and courage and all those admirable qualities, we find that it just doesn’t work. It’s in those moments when God says, “Okay, now it’s My turn to do the work.” And a lot of times that’s what faith is. We grow in our faith when we don’t even realize it, because God is absolutely faithful. All He is asking us to do is let go and let Him be God.

Maybe right now you have something in your life that’s causing you to have worry and anxiety, which we all experience from time to time. If that is true for you, then right now is the perfect time to just take a minute and say, “Lord, I want to leave this situation before You.” And you will be amazed by the peace that comes from that. This is a good time to be alive and to walk by faith.

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October 12, 2017

It was George Washington who issued the first presidential pardon way back in 1795. His action freed two rebels, who had led what history calls the Whiskey Rebellion, from the death sentence that the courts had handed down against them.

Following our Civil War, Abraham Lincoln pardoned all but the very top Southern leaders, including thousands upon thousands of Confederate troops.

In 1971 Richard Nixon used his pardon powers to grant clemency to the Teamsters’ president Jimmy Hoffa, who was serving a 15-year sentence for fraud and jury tampering.

Study American history and you will find any number of pardons being granted by our chief executives. The total of 213 during the eight years in office by Barack Obama was one of the lowest sums on record.

To be considered for a pardon, an offender needs to make a formal request to the Office of the Pardon Attorney, who serves under the U.S. Justice Department. That petition is then evaluated and possibly passed along.

It must be a great relief to be granted a presidential pardon. It’s like the past charge has been totally erased. Never again can the offender be tried for that given wrong.

A believer praying - KP Yohannan - Gospel for Asia

In Scripture, God is presented as the great judge before whom all must someday stand and give an account of how they lived. Unfortunately for us, this all-knowing God has the complete facts about our lives at His disposal. Nothing has escaped His attention. So the prospect of being judged by Him is frightening. All of us know only too well our many shortcomings.

In that regard, how good it is to remember verses like these from the Old Testament:

If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins,

O Lord, who could stand?

But with you there is forgiveness;

therefore you are feared.

—Psalm 130:3-4

Let the wicked forsake his way

and the evil man his thoughts.

Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him,

and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

—Isaiah 55:7

Who is a God like you,

who pardons sin and forgives the transgression

of the remnant of his inheritance?

You do not stay angry forever

but delight to show mercy.

—Micah 7:18

The fullness of that forgiveness and mercy and pardon is found in the New Testament. There we see Jesus, God’s Son, taking upon Himself the death sentence we deserved.

The Apostle Peter wrote these words in his first of two New Testament letters:

“He (Jesus) committed no sin.” —1 Peter 2:22

Then Peter continues“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree (or the cross), so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” 1 Peter 2:24-25.

Micah 17:18 - KP Yohannan - Gospel for Asia

This is the Apostle Paul writing in 2 Corinthians 5:21:

God made him who had no sin [that’s Jesus] to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

This marvelous message of pardon is what motivates Gospel for Asia (GFA) in all our many activities. More specifically, it is this good news about an unexpected pardon for offenses, a pardon from a being infinitely greater than that of any U.S. president.

All this is from the Lord Himself, who has made it possible for people like us to stand before Him forgiven of any and all offenses, strictly because of the amazing love and sacrifice of Jesus, God’s one and only Son.

This divine personal pardon is key to what impels us to be involved in the many acts of Christ-like love our people perform in ever so many places around the world. It is also a foundational truth preached repeatedly in the thousands of churches we have had a part in beginning.

Excuse us if we seem to be overly excited about this personal pardon God offers. But it’s not just granted to a select few with connections of some kind to a national leader. God’s invitation of pardon is extended to everyone—the rich, yes, but also to the poor. It’s offered to the supposedly important people to the supposedly unimportant as well. The old can take the Lord up on it, the young can too. The educated and uneducated. All races can ask for it … no one is excluded.

On top of that, the pardon is not restricted to just one given crime. This divine pardon is for every last sin ever committed. Imagine the joy that comes when someone is made aware that he or she is cleansed of every transgression—even the ones no longer remembered!

“Is there a catch to this offer?” you ask. “I mean, there must be a reason more people don’t take advantage of this opportunity for divine forgiveness.”

Well, for God’s pardon to be put into effect, the person making the request must admit that he or she has sinned. Basically, the offender has trespassed the two great commands of loving God and loving others. But once an individual understands the gravity of these actions and states a sincere intent to change with God’s help, and to live from now on in obedience to these two great spiritual commands, they are ready to say, “Forgive me, Jesus, I am truly guilty. The pain found in my world has to some degree been because of my own actions. I confess this. I am not innocent. Would You please pardon me, and by Your Spirit enter me and grant me a new start toward living in Your way of love?”

Such an attitude is what opens the door to freedom and joy and peace with God and others… not because you are deserving, but because God is marked by mercy more than He is by judgment. And this is wonderful news!

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September 20, 2017

Gospel for Asia, Wills Point, TX, USA

The majority of Americans living in the U.S. today have never experienced firsthand the massive destructive power of modern-day warfare. Many of us who haven’t served in the military don’t know what it’s like to be shot at or to have to scramble to find a place of safety when enemy artillery is unleashed or bombs start falling. Fortunately for us, the recent wars in which our nation has been involved in have been fought in places far away from our homeland.

Therefore, even though peace is something we value as a people, the word probably doesn’t have the same emotional feel that it has for those who have experienced the peace in their homeland being shattered by armed conflict.

September 21, is International Day of Peace, as declared each year by the 193 member-states of the United Nations. The unique emphasis in 2017 is to show special support for refugees and migrants.

Refugees are persons who have fled their homes and homelands to seek peace and refuge elsewhere. Last year the International Rescue Committee estimated there were more than 65 million such people worldwide who have been displaced by military conflicts, and that doesn’t count the additional 30 million or so who have looked for new countries because of famine and climate issues.

Migrants are individuals who move from place to place always seeking essentials and work of some kind. Today there are massive movements of human beings like this searching for a better life in locations that appear to provide more positive opportunities. Though their homeland may not be at war, the possibilities of knowing a better standard of living and a brighter future are quite limited for such people. Restated, that elusive, sought-after place of peace all too often remains next to impossible to find.

John 14:27Scripture is a different matter. The prospect of finding peace is found throughout many parts of the Bible. Often such passages refer to an individual’s inner peace. An example of this would be where Jesus comforts His disciples with these words, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. … Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).

Just as often, however, one finds passages referring to societal peace. An Old Testament example would be Leviticus 26:6, where the Lord informs Israel what the nation will experience if it follows His decrees: “I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid.”

In a more restricted sense, New Testament believers are instructed by the Apostle Paul to pray for their governmental leaders so Christians “may live quiet and peaceable life” (1 Timothy 2:2). He sees this as an advantage in regards to the spreading the message of Jesus Christ. It is similar to Peter’s comment in his first epistle where he writes in chapter 3, verses 10 and 11, “He who would love life and see good days, … let him seek peace and pursue it.”

In a well-known Old Testament prophetic passage about Jesus, Isaiah refers to our Lord as “the Prince of Peace.” Mature believers know the world will never know lasting peace until the return and reign of Christ. Nevertheless, the followers of Jesus should still seek to presently promote peace in all their relationships. This includes not only the freedom from war, but also from any public disorder or disturbances. A Christ follower should be peaceable and not quarrelsome. More specifically, a peacemaker is an individual who seeks to help settle disputes, disagreements, quarrels and such. After all, didn’t our revered leader say that “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Gospel for Asia takes these words of Jesus quite seriously. Those who visit our U.S. campus often comment on the love and prayer they see demonstrated by our staff. Anyone fortunate enough to travel with us to countries throughout Asia are routinely impressed by the concern shown for the poor and powerless. It is no secret that Asia has many individuals who struggle just to make ends meet. Hopefully, we are known to be a people who reach out in love to such underprivileged individuals. We sincerely want to play a part in making our beloved homeland a nation marked by compassion for all, and especially for those who, for whatever reason, have been marginalized.

The believers on the field are regularly reminded of this command Jesus gave: to love others, even as He Himself did. Those who know the sacred Scriptures well are aware of how, time and again, in His day, Jesus reached out to those who had no other such champion.

All this is to write that we identify strongly with this year’s International Day of Peace and with its 2017 emphasis on the plight of refugees and migrants. It is an understanding that, like the United Nations’ website states, “…ultimately the day is about bringing people together and reminding them of their common humanity.” (To see one of the ways our field partners in the Believers Church are reaching out to help migrants on this day, go here.)

Let us add that we also believe that human beings are not just a product of time and chance, but of an infinite God’s creative genius. Therefore, they are of great value and should all be treated with dignity and respect. And those of us who bow before Christ gladly join hands with all who espouse such values.

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Click here, to read more blogs on Patheos from Gospel for Asia.

Go here to know more about Gospel for Asia: GFA.net | GFA Wiki | GFA Flickr




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