Friday, February 29, 2008

Prodigal sons and daughters come home

“My adopted son rejected the Christian faith and my world was collapsing before me.” Dr. Paul Kooistra shared about his pain before an audience of 80 people. I sat there in the sanctuary listening to his story with transfixed eyes. His son’s open rebellion brought shame to Dr. Paul and he did not know where to hide his face. Isn’t the pastor supposed to be a role model for the congregation? Does that mean he has to leave the pastorate because he could not manage his family well? During the period of her son waywardness, Dr. Paul’s wife demonstrated unconditional love by persistently and consistently through actions and words affirming her son that ‘there is nothing he does that will stop her from loving him.’ He never ceased to be their son even when he turned his back on them. Eventually the ‘prodigal son’ came home. In Dr. Paul’s words, God’s covenantal love reached out to his son.

Another heart wrenching story was told by Dr. Paul that gripped my heart. He told a true story of a pastor whose daughter rebelled against her parents. The story was written into a book entitles “Come Back, Barbara.” “Mom, Dad, I don’t want your rules and morals. I don’t want to act like a Christian anymore! And I am not going to,” Barbara barked at her father at age 18. As her father desperately tried every possible ways to win her heart, Barbara grew more resentful, choosing a path of immorality that only deepened her parents’ pain. Barbara dropped out from school and lived with a man. Eventually they got married but the relationship was short lived. She then married a drug trafficker who was wealthy. “Everyone was horrified. I had left Tom and moved in with a drug dealer who carried money in his briefcase and a gun in his belt.” Her father could only watch in silence and at a distance completely helpless. During those dark periods, he became to talk less but prayed more. Barbara could never understand the agony, the frustration, the wounded feeling of her father. As a pastor he had to preach, to council and to provide pastoral care for the hurting ones in his church and yet he had to hide his tears from the crowd. He carried the wound silently in his heart. Sadly Barbara lived in luxury oblivious to the pain of her parents. However, the opulent lifestyle did not bring happiness to her. Finally she moved out of that relationship and drifted into another one. Her father’s faith was tested to the limit. The more he prayed, it seemed the further she moved away from God and from the family.

For parents, the pain of watching their children move in wrong directions, knowing that no word of rebuke or drastic action will reach and change them, can be overwhelming. Barbara’s story is not uncommon.

Pastor John Miller and his wife persevered in their belief of the faithfulness of God. They continued to trust in the covenant keeping God who is sovereign and who is working out his purpose for Barbara. Their persistent love and unconditional love finally won Barbara over. Barbara remarried and together with her husband, Angelo, went to study in Bible seminary. Barbara is a Bible teacher, editor, and conference speaker. They founded the youth ministry at New Life Presbyterian Church. Who would have thought that Barbara would reconcile with her family and renew her relationship with God? Not even pastor John Miller! When the fog seemed thick, the cloud was dense and dark, a pilot has to believe that the aviation instruments are working and reliable. In the darkest hour, one has to place his hand into the hand of the loving God who is wise and powerful and walks in faith.

I think of many friends I know whose children have become wayward. My heart goes out to them. As I heard the story and read the book, I know the prodigal sons and daughters will surely come home one day. It’s just a matter of time.

"When the prodigal son finally came to his he returned home to his father..." (Luke 15:11-32)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Man unfazed with materialistic lifestyle

When Ian came in his Volkswagen to take me around Charlotte, he pulled over his car in front of my American host’s bungalow, his ‘old junk’ stood in great contrast with the expensive modern vehicles parked there. Judging from the look of the car, I seriously doubt its reliability. But the Germans are noted for manufacturing solid tankers.

Ian drove his Volkswagen as if it is a Ferrari. He even overtook several bigger cars along the high way. All along the journey my left foot was stepping on the imagery brakes. Ian is a huge American. He looks like Francis Schaeffer, the great philosopher and theologian whom I admire. Ian was completely contented with his ancient machine. He was unfazed with materialism. I find his attitude towards money refreshing.

Ian spent a few days taking me around Charlotte. He was most generous even though he wasn’t rich at all. Being a missionary kid, he grew up unlike most American kids who have more things than they ever need in their lifetime. He has very little and yet possesses much. He has a big heart and kind. When he insisted paying the bill for the pullover I bought at Billy Graham Center, I could not fight with him. His size dwarfed me.

This is a man who chose not to go to University and yet had written 3 books. He once worked in the Hollywood’s studio and is gifted in literary, video shooting. His gift will enrich my church when he comes to us.

His wife Darlene sings like an angel. Darlene is a Sundanese and also a missionary kid. They have 3 lovely children. They live a simple lifestyle. It’s such a joy to know this family who are committed to serve God wherever He calls.

Jesus’ sermon on birds of the air and lilies of the field was fleshed out in their lives.
“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field… So do not worry…but seek first his kingdom and his righteousness…”

It is often said that we will not be judged by how much we possess (hoard) but by how much we gave away to be a blessing to others, and yet many have bought in the materialistic culture lock, stock and barrel.

We save our lives, we will lose them. We hoard our possession, we will lose them. In giving away, paradoxically we find them and possess them in return.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Serving God and being faithful in spite of illness

In a Christian culture where people flock to healing rally expecting their diseases and illnesses to be healed, I find this one woman to be unique. She does not make a fuss about her condition when she was diagnosed to have stage 1-2 Parkinson disease. Her shoulder is stiff and tense after a day of hard work in the office. Her mobility and motor activity has slowed down considerable and noticeably. Doctors who are her friends spotted her Parkinson-like movement and advised her to see neurologist. She is too young to suffer from Parkinson disease. But a specialist confirmed it and she is being treated with medication.

She works twice as hard.
Like the Proverbs 31 woman, she is wise. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. Her wisdom is sought after by many particularly those who work under her. She is perceptive and insightful. I often wonder why she is so wise even though she did not have a degree in counseling.

She is industrious.
First to arise in the house and she makes sure that everything is done for the family. Literally she gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls (Prov. 31:15). She sleeps only 4 to 5 hours a day. I have known her to be a woman of strength both physical and mental. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. Everything she does, she gives her all. Her colleagues commented that she is a ‘super woman.’ This may have to do with her mother’s upbringing. Her mother is a tough woman herself.

She has entrepreneur’s blood running in her vein.
She could have been a CEO running a big company. But she chooses to marry a pastor and give her time serving God. Not unlike the Proverbs 31 woman, she sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers (Prov. 31:18-19). She works hard to make sure that her business is built upon biblical values. Today she runs an education business with 3 other partners and the center has a reputation that provides excellent and quality education for the children.

She is compassionate.
She employs a woman who once was struggling with her life both financially and spiritually. She took her into her center and made her to cook for the children and the staff. She helps her to be strong and to get on with her life.

Recently this ‘super woman’ decided to take in an aborigine girl to her education center to train her. I was thinking how she is going to train an illiterate young girl. “I would train her for 10 weeks so that she could go back to her village and to teach other children. And from time to time she could come back to the center to be trained. This is one way we could help the Orang Asli (Aborigines). Ramla could also stay in my house during the period of training.” This is neither the first time nor the last that she has shown mercy to the marginalized and the destitute. She opens her arm to the poor and extends her hands to the needy (Prov. 31:20). She has a heart of gold.

She dresses in style.
She is clothed in fine linen and purple (Prov. 31:22). Her dress sense and taste is far better than her husband. Always elegantly dressed for work, she exudes grace and poise. Now I know why her daughter is crazy over purple color. She is the chip of the old block.

She makes her husband looks good.
She is as theologically trained as her husband. She has 2 master degrees but hardly anyone in the church knows about it. She does not know how to brag at all! She serves in the Sunday school, sourcing books and devising curriculum and teaches a class regularly for 7 years since the founding of the church until now. Many would have been burned out by now. Not a word of complaint found in her lips.

The best-kept secret is that she is a better preacher and communicator than her preacher husband. Many think so highly of her husband but not many know that she is the better half. She is the source of his strength. Every time when he is deflated when discouragement of ministry sets in, she is always there listening, cajoling, spurring him to move on. Her husband grew from strength to strength. She is the woman behind his every success. Today her husband is respected at the church gate where he takes his seat among the bishops of the land (Prov. 31:23). She makes her man looks good.

This is the woman who is suffering from Parkinson disease. Does she yearn for divine healing? In quiet confidence, she looks to her God for mercy, grace and strength. Despite illness, she goes about quietly serving God, loving others. She watches over the affairs of her household, she watches over the affairs of God’s household, she watches over the affairs of her business. She does not allow her ‘immobility’ to immobilize her. She may be slow in her movement; she is fast in her thinking and in doing good to others.

How do I know so much about his ‘super woman’? She happens to be the wife of noble character that God gifted me.

Sarah and Sam arise to and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.

“Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”