Monday, August 30, 2010

"Sacred Week" in Hong Kong, pt. 1

“It took us 2 ½ years to get Gary here, but we’ve got him.”

With those words, pastor Tobin Miller welcomed Lisa and me to the Island Evangelical Community Church in Hong Kong on Sunday, for the beginning of what they are calling “Sacred Week.”

Lisa and I arrived late Saturday, picked up at the airport by Tobin and his wife Christina. Tobin had told me by email that due to the pressures of working in one of the world’s largest financial centers, Hong Kong families are perhaps “the most dysfunctional families” in the world. “It’s not uncommon when I’m doing a funeral to find out that a businessman had two other families that the first wife didn’t know about. And I’ve had Christian men do the same.”

The long hours at work, the tendency to have domestic help raise the kids, and the large amount of time spent apart all contribute to a sense of marital and family isolation. “I rarely find a single individual who tells me they want the marriage their parents had,” Tobin said.

On the trip from the airport, Tobin shared how, as a pastor who wants to reach Hong Kong, one of his greatest difficulties is that even Christians “use Hong Kong” instead of having a heart for it. “They’re here to make their millions in a few years and then move on. Hong Kong is something they use, not something they feel compelled to reach.”

After a fitful night of sleep, I woke early on Sunday and was the first customer at the Fit Fort Hong Kong Starbucks (doing my part to keep the international economy moving forward). Lisa and I visited the 11:30 service at IECC, and discovered that, apparently, worship songs are known around the world. Out of the six sang, we knew five of them by heart.

After church and lunch with the Millers, Lisa and I took a tram through the streets of Hong Kong, and then walked through Victoria Park. It was crammed with young women and virtually no men. About half of them had head coverings. Most laid out a piece of plastic on the ground, and gathered in groups, laughing and talking and lying around.

What struck both of us was the level of joy in that park. By and large, we were sobered by the somber mood that covers Hong Kong. People rarely acknowledge you, almost never seem to be smiling, and when I asked Tobin about it, he admitted that studies show the “happiness quotient” is about as low in Hong Kong as anywhere in the world. Since happiness has been directly connected to one’s personal relationships, it’s not a surprise that “the most dysfunctional families in the world” produce such somber people.

So why the smiles in Victoria Park?

“Those are the domestic helpers from Indonesia, enjoying their one day off a week.”

Domestic helpers are considered as having it worse than the families who hire them. Because they live with the families they work for, many will never marry, and most send all but their living expenses home to support relatives. Yet the level of joy in that park was off the charts compared to the people who hired them.

On Monday morning, Lisa and I went up above the city, to a trailhead at the top of Braymer Hill Road, where we found an amazing trail with some spectacular views of the city. I ran while Lisa walked, and we met back up about an hour later. The humidity level was high, but the climate felt much more conducive to running than anything I’ve experienced in Houston over the past month.

It has been a long summer, so today is meant to be an unusually slow day, getting ready for the teaching load that runs straight through from Wednesday through Sunday.

I so appreciate the many prayers that have already been offered on our behalf--ultimately, on behalf of the people of Hong Kong. Here's the schedule: (Hong Kong time, by the way, is 12 hours ahead of EST)

Wednesday evening: Sacred Influence (talking to wives)
Thursday evening: Sacred Parenting
Fri-Saturday: Sacred Marriage
Sunday: Pure Pleasure

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Joy of Serving with an Inexhaustible God

Ministry for God can be exhausting and frustrating. Ministry with God is one of the most energizing experiences we will ever know. The apostle Paul gives us a glimpse of this distinction when he writes, “To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” (Colossians 1:29)

This is good news for pastors who feel like they have run out of sermon ideas; great news for those who are trying to love difficult spouses, children, or parents and who feel like they have run out of love; wonderful news for anyone called to any ministry at all. If we learn to be dependent on, and draw from, God, we never need to fear running out of ideas, love, or energy, for God offers to become an inexhaustible source for all.

Jean-Pierre de Caussade was a French Jesuit spiritual director who lived in the early eighteenth century. He left behind a “late blooming” classic entitled Abandonment to Divine Providence that wasn’t popularly discovered or widely disseminated until long after he died. In it, de Caussade captures dependence on the divine like few other authors I have ever read. Speaking of God he writes:

“Your inexhaustible action is the infinite source of new thoughts, new sufferings, new actions, new patriarchs, new prophets, new apostles, new saints. [We] do not need to copy each other’s lives and writing, but simply live in a perpetual abandonment to your secret operations.”

In other words, while we have much to learn from the great examples of successful parents and ministers, we shouldn’t feel the need to slavishly follow their methods. God, by his own power and inspiration, is raising up “new patriarchs, new prophets, new apostles, new saints.” While we would be foolish not to draw deeply from the wisdom of those who have gone before us, we also need to be careful about talking about the “old times”—even the very recent “old times”—as if they occurred with a different God at the helm or one who has lost his zeal for what is happening today.

De Caussade again: “We hear perpetually of the ‘early centuries’ and ‘the times of the saints.’ What a way to talk! Are not all times the successive effects of the divine activity that pours itself forth on all the instants of time, filling them, sanctifying them, and elevating them all?”

The same God who raised up Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Martin Luther, John Wesley and Charles Spurgeon, today has raised up Rick Warren, Beth Moore, Ed Young, and Mark Driscoll. The same God raised them all, and He is neither limited nor tired nor running out of creative energy. Just because he has blessed Rick, Beth, Ed and Mark doesn’t mean he is spent, taking a break, or has inspired his “best sermon.” He’s got plenty more where that came from—the inexhaustible well of divine energy, provision, wisdom, love, and gifting.

Let’s rest in God—in whatever ministry we find ourselves in. If we are truly relying on him, we can’t grow weary, we can’t run out of ideas, we can’t be incapable of serving, because no matter how naturally gifted Rick, Beth, Ed or Mark might be, none of them can even approach the creative genius, never-ending mercy, and ever-flowing love of God.

De Caussade counsels, “Had the saints of the first days any other secret than that of becoming moment by moment what the divine action wished to make of them? And will that divine action fail to shed its glory until the end of the world on those who abandon themselves to it without reserve?”

If your church is 50 strong; there’s nothing holding it back from becoming 500 strong. Even if your church is already 25,000 strong, there’s nothing holding it back from becoming 50,000 strong. You might have preached your best stuff, but God has more. You might have already launched the most effective evangelistic methods you’ve ever employed—God has newer and better ones. You might have tried everything you can think of to repair your marriage or reach out to a rebellious child or kick an addiction. God’s not done, He’s not retired and He's not even weary. On the contrary, He is an inexhaustible source, just waiting for dependent souls to tap into his love, wisdom and enabling power.