Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Monday, September 22, 2008
By Ramone & Timothy - September 17, 2008
I broke open some new kids' ink colors for my son Timothy to play with, and we scribbled on a few pads. I did the "heart" in this one and he added stuff to it too, but I can't tell you which is which! Hehe.
No "deep" meaning or prophetic message to this one. But then again, it is after all what He's called us to, right? Having the pure heart of a child? And such a heart is soooo colorful! Thank You, Lord!
It's fun to do this kind of thing. Especially with your son. I can't wait to do this more as He gets older.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Leaving Egypt Behind
By Ramone - September 19, 2008
Pyramids, Sphinx, achievements, seductions, old dreams, old hopes, old life... leaving them all behind, and now going forward to a new life, a place & way that I can't see what's ahead... Some old skills will be used, some or many won't. For me, let my old dreams go. Forget the former things.
Behold, You do a new thing. A new life. A promised "land".
See also: "Keep Walking" (Heart For Adventists link)
Friday, September 12, 2008
By Ramone - September 11, 2008
"Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous... Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."It was probably in June that I was watching baseball on TV, and the Hanshin Tigers looked unstoppable in the Central League. As I talked with God (yes, while watching baseball!), I heard Him say that the church was like the Tigers this season.
- Joshua 1:6,9
It was a strange thing to hear, and I shelved it, not wanting to think I'd heard some prediction of who'd win the baseball season. And indeed, it wasn't two months later that the Tigers began to slide, taking several tough losses, injuries, and setbacks. A new star player (Arai) who went to the Olympic team over-extended himself and is out for the rest of the season. And their arch-rivals, the Yomiuri Giants, began closing in on the Tigers very fast, winning game after game. Like many Japanese sports teams, when the Tigers begin to lose, they lose motivation and spirit, and it just gets worse from there.
On the evening of the 11th when I did this picture, I was again watching a game (which the Tigers would go onto win in a walk-off victory in the bottom of the 9th). The Tigers are still in first place, barely, and are doing better than last month. As I watched them play, I remembered how they looked three years ago when they won the Central League pennant. They had an energy, a zest, a zeal. You could see it in the way they lead off from bases and were ready to run. Ready to catch. Ready to hit.
I knew that when they want it, nothing can stop these Tigers!
And God said, "That is just like you!"
I am a tiger in God! He has made me a ferocious tiger!
He tells me,
"Don't forget who you are! Don't be intimidated by the 'Giants' behind you, the old adversaries that lately have come and annoyed you. But instead TAKE HEART and BE COURAGEOUS! For the victory is won! Press on to the finish and stay strong. Learn from your losses and be encouraged and filled with the Spirit!"I remembered the Tigers' slogan during its many last-place years in the '90s: "Never, Never, Never Surrender!" We never need fear or surrender, because He will never leave us!
Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down (nor relax My hold on you)! [Assuredly not!]In the years since becoming stronger (the 2002 and 2003 seasons), the Tigers changed their slogan to: "Be the Best for the Fans!" As I remembered this, I heard God say to me, "I am your #1 fan!"
- Hebrews 13:5 (Amplified Bible)
So yeah, this has been fun and unusual for me! It's not about the baseball team, by the way! It's not about whatever turns out for them this season. Instead He let me know that I am a tiger! and not to forget it. That's who I am in Him, and never surrender to forgetting it. I think it's true of all of us, too!
The words in the picture say,
By Ramone - September 11, 2008 (part one of two)
"Come, take up the cross, and follow Me."
- Mark 10:21This is the cross to be carried, that we carry. It's rough and uncomfortable. Every splinter, crack and crevice is made just for me -- to hurt what I do not need, and build up my strength for what I do need. It's made especially for me, with every rough part tailored to prick each part of me in just the wrong way (that is, the right way).
Our cross is meant to crush the very life out of us, just as hanging on the cross made breathing difficult for the one being crucified. Christ hung there, being crushed under the weight of crucifixion (but more by our sins) until He voluntarily surrendered His Spirit to His Father and breathed His last.
Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.
- Hebrews 5:8In a similar way, although our cross is not made for atoning for our sins, our cross is made to be "heavy" for our flesh to bear, so that we have no other way to go on but by giving our breath & very life to the Father in surrender to Him. He gives us our cross to bring us to voluntary submission to Him, and in His strength we will be able to go on, finish the course, and drink the cup He sets before us, hallelu Yah! He will give our sufferings to us as a crown... He will redeem them and bring life out of them. And the "marks" on us will speak of life, of His life!
And He was saying to them all, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the good news, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself... his soul?"
- Luke 9:23-25 & Mark 8:34-36"And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it."
- Matthew 10:38
Monday, September 08, 2008
Is This Right?
By Ramone - September 7, 2008
Last Christmastime when I was at Jesus Family Center's special Christmas service, I sketched this on the program bulletin. I thought of how pristine we usually envision Christ's "humble" birth in contrast to how utterly difficult it must have been for Joseph and Mary.
Jesus wasn't what everyone expected... a conquering-by-force military leader to assume the national throne. Probably everyone expected that kind of Messiah in some degree. Even after hearing and seeing God put His Spirit on Christ as His own Son, John the Baptist later was unsure whether or not Jesus was really the Expected One.
In fact, John's question to Christ says a lot: "Should we expect someone else?" In many ways everyone actually was expecting "someone else", someone who would act differently and restore "the former glory". Maybe John's question shows that he was arriving at a point of asking God about his own expectations. Having heard God's leadings so clearly, John arrived at a place where he needed to let go of his expectations. "God, are we expecting right?"
In a way we run into the same situation whenever we follow God. We naturally have a lot of "glorious" expecatations, and when He begins to do His stuff it almost always disappoints the image we had made with our hopes and expectations. It's a lot more humble. A lot more anti-climactic. In fact, often when His fulfillment is happening in our lives, we don't even realize it until afterward. Right in the heat of the moment, we are faced with the choice to believe and have faith, or to just walk away.
Joseph & Mary likewise probably had a lot of their expectations shattered as soon as they arrived in Bethelehem. The journey there from Nazareth had to be very difficult, especially for a young woman who was pregnant and near to giving birth! Then upon arriving they find that there is no room at the hotels. Even the most faithful here will think, "God will make a way"... expecting that suddenly someone will cancel, leave their room, or a house will be available, or someone will see our situation and help us, etc.
The last thing they would've expected was a stable.
It was a lot more humble (humiliating?) than they expected. Mary had sung of His glory, but now her understanding of that glory would undergo a difficult change. Before the shepherds arrived, I wonder what kind of lullaby she sang baby Jesus? Maybe she sang it through tears. I wonder how hard it must've been to do that in a stable, to sing in such conditions! Even to give birth in a stable! But then to lay down there... to let go of her baby and put Him where the animals fed... and Joseph having to watch and feel powerless to do anything about this situation, in his ancestral hometown but not his own home. No welcome there among distant relatives. No charitable people to open their home to them... even to a pregnant mother no less!
I can't help but think that they had to be thinking, "Is this right? Did we do something wrong? Did we hear You right, Lord? How could You let this happen?" And for Mary it was probably not easy to let go and put her new baby into a dirty feeding trough for animals. I think they couldn't help but feel that something had gone wrong.
But they trusted God. Or the just hung in there. Probably both. When the shepherds came it probably gave them a measure of some much-needed relief. Not completely (it had to be cold there, by the way) but it was enough confirmation to let them know that Yes, this was right. This was where they were supposed to be. This was where it was supposed to happen. God knew about this and was in control. It wouldn't take away the remaining difficulties, but it would give them a glimmer of relief and faith that because God had planned this, He would make a way out.
Listen, brother, sister, friend: I think this is the way God leads all of us. When fulfillment is upon us, it will most often not look or feel like we expected. Sometimes it will, but most of the time it won't. His ways are more humble than our ways -- and yet they are higher. Somehow in breaking our expectations (even our hopes sometimes), He makes us into a bigger jar and fills us with more of His glory. Our expectations and the way we envision His glory is actually too small. His picture is much, much bigger. More loving. More awesome. He has to break our image of the expected so that He can show us His glory.
When He leads you into fulfillment of something He's promised or shown you, don't despair if there are no trumpets accompanying it. Don't doubt His voice if the fulfillment comes in a way that is more humble and less glamorous than you'd expected. He will get the glory, and He will be lifted up somehow. Trust Him and stay faithful to His voice, His word and His Spirit. Don't doubt, but walk on, and He will confirm that you're where you need to be in His perfect time. Just like He did for Joseph & Mary when He was born as one of us.
Thank You, God! Bless You, Father! In Jesus' name, amen.
I re-posted this for Christmas 2008 with a shorter message.
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
Be Prepared to Stand
By Ramone - September 2, 2008
Though an army besiege me,Recently I read a book entitled, "The Two Empires of Japan", which describes the history of the clash between Christianity and Japan religion. The author specifically focuses on the sixty years prior to World War II, when through successive compromises, the church in Japan bent to the government's pressure.
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then will I be confident.
One thing I ask of the Lord,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to seek Him in His temple.
- Psalm 27:2-3
By the end of the war churches had been joined into a single, national "united" church, and had followed the nation in bowing down at Shinto shrines, putting "god shelves" in their homes, worshiping the emperor, reporting their organizational decisions to the sun goddess (Amaterasu) at Ise Shrine, altered their hymns and creeds to eliminate phrases that would suggest Christ was above the emperor, and more.
Evangelized Unprepared to Stand
The author summarized some of the reasons the church was able to "compromise with apostasy" to such an incredible degree by looking at how Christianity was taught and spread in the years leading up to the government's pressure:
There was a common, erroneous appeal to accept Christianity for its superior fruits in a better civilization for Japan, rather than the preaching of the whole counsel of God. Further, the mistaken policy was also all too common of refraining from preaching the claims of Christ forthrightly over against those of the ancestral idolatry, the falsely optimistic view being held that the latter would fall off later since the people seemed to be so ready to accept Christianity. Finally, there was the failure adequately to take into account that the persistent demands for "independence" and "non-denominationalism" were all too frequently motivated primarily from a desire to adapt Christianity to the requirements of the Japanese nationalistic spirit.Wanting to accomodate the people and not offend them, many missionaries (and later Japanese leaders who'd learned from them) sought to spread the Gospel this way, unaware of a strong cultic spirit underneath and what was being orchestrated beneath the surface in their day. But attempting to approach evangelization in this way had the effect of raising up Christians who were not prepared to withstand pressure to compromise, and finally who were not even able to consider that enduring persecution for Christ's sake was the witness God was calling them to.
More than ever, as I read the book, I was impressed that God is calling us to a life of martyrdom -- whether it ever means physically being persecuted or not, He is calling us to "martyrdom" every day. There are times that we will be afraid of how "faith" will look. There are times that we are afraid speaking of Him will be "offensive". There are times when we worry that speaking His truth will make someone less "open" to the truth, and so we think maybe perhaps if we hold back on the truth, that the person will come to it eventually...
But what happened to Christianity in Japan in the years running up to WWII screams in a haunting lesson of painful contrast, and I hear the Spirit crying out,
"No! No! Learn NOW, be prepared to stand NOW! Don't be afraid of following Me NOW. You don't know what's coming tomorrow or in the coming years. Stand for Me NOW!"He's calling us to "die" (be martyrs) to our embarassment about Him, to "die" to our desire to please people and not look strange. He's calling us to be martyrs in this way. If we don't do it today, then we will not be able to stand when more difficult times come upon us.
He's calling us today to stand for Him, His truth and His love. If we shy from these today, we may not realize that we are weakening not only our own foundation, but the foundation of those we evangelize to. We know that as much as we love people we are ministering to, that God loves them even more than we do. Telling them His whole truth is not a "risk" to His gospel nor to His love. Telling them who He really is, and that other things are simply not Him, not the real thing, telling them this is not going to jeapordize "what could've been".
In light of what happened in Japanese history, we owe it to our 'spiritual children' (those we minister to and raise up in Him) to give them the whole Lamb. We owe it to them to not hold back because we fear offending them. God didn't hold back from putting some "difficult" things in the Bible because He knew that somewhere in our lives we would need these things. He is God, and we can't fully understand Him, but we trust that He is love. We need to give Him that same trust and respect when we present Him to people whom we love and whom we want to be saved.
As I reeled at the painful lesson of Japanese history, I got this picture in the Spirit of being surrounded and standing for Christ and for Love. The imagery comes from a Zhang Yimou film entitled, "To Live", which tells the story of one Chinese family going through the many major social upheavals in Chinese history. At one point in the film, during the Chinese civil war, a father (who owns a puppet troupe) is snatched away from his job by the Nationalist Army and put in their ranks to fight against the Communists. He makes friends with another man like himself who is not caught up in the "cause" of the Nationalists, nor in the cause of the Communists.
After one cold night while on retreat, he and his friend wake up to find that the rest of the company of soldiers has fled on without them, leaving only the dead behind. As they forage among the dead bodies for warmer clothing and food, they suddenly realize the Communist Army is coming and they try to run away. The camera pulls back to a wide-shot as the great numbers of Communist soldiers surround the two surrendering Nationalist soldiers.
They are not executed or treated badly, but are rather taken into the Communist Army and are now on that "side". The father entertains the other Communist soldiers by putting on puppet shows for them. When the war ends (with the Communists victorious), the father goes home to his family with a certificate of how he helped the Communist Army during the "revolution".
The nation is unified, and people work hard under great hope that things will get better and better. But the Communist system is totalitarian, and one by one the family goes through personal heartaches and observes control, paranoia, and all the painful fruits of authoritarian rule in this system that was supposed to bring them a continually improving life.
Perhaps the title of the film, "To Live", speaks of the lesson I believe God is calling us to understand, "to live" -- so that we may truly live in Him. In Jesus' words:
"Whoever finds His life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it."Discerning and Our Call to Stand
- Matthew 10:39
In the same way, during Japan's march to WWII, it seemed as if things were getting "better and better" progress-wise in the nation. Social improvements were being made and many other apparent "fruits" of great progress. The future seemed to hold great promise. Christian writers such as William Axling wrote glowing reports and books of how rapidly Christianity was being embraced by the Japanese (I have one of his books from 1923, and it is eerie to hold).
A generation of Japanese Christian children were raised by Christian parents and missionaries who did not want to confront certain items in the nationalistic spirit -- a pride in the nation's "uniqueness", a clinging to Shinto, emperor-devotion, and "cultural" habits like praying to dead ancestors, etc. Because of this the spiritual 'children' were raised not seeing any great problem with compromising the gospel.
Like the two men being surrounded by the army in To Live, these Japanese Christians soon found the church being "surrounded" by government and societal pressure to compromise, to change sides. Because they were not raised knowing their foundation well, they easily compromised. Like the two men in To Live, these spiritual children did not completely understand the "cause" of their "army" and their "side". It was no big issue then for them to switch sides when pressure came and when surrounded.
I believe God is calling us to learn from history so that we do not repeat it. Both in Japan, in America, in our churches, and everywhere and anywhere. We need to not be ashamed of the Gospel. We need to not be ashamed to say that the Gospel is real and something else is simply false -- not the real, living God. We also need not be ashamed of our failures in history, but understand that in Him we find redemption. We need not fear proclaiming what we did in the past was simply wrong, so that today we may learn from it. We needn't fear holding up His whole truth, even if it makes our history look bad -- if we "decrease" in the eyes of others, He may still increase! We have nothing to fear in looking bad. If the Light shows our darkness, let's let the Light shine clearly so that all people can see Him!
This is a picture of that, of us standing, bruised and dirty, surrounded and "outnumbered", but holding the banner of Christ and His love. He calls us to stand for both -- for who He is, and for His love for all people. We need to remember both. If we lose our agape calling, we will end up attacking the very people Christ has died for to save. If we compromise the truth of who He is, our testimony of "love" will be corrupted and will ultimately lead us to enlist in the ranks of the attacking army (we'll end up helping the other side). We must trust that God is love, and stand firm with Him, not compromising on Him, nor compromising on His love for our enemies.
Lord, help us learn from the past! Give us eyes to see clearly and strength to stand, Lord, in Jesus' name, amen.
Bless you in Jesus!
Monday, September 01, 2008
Hesed (Abraham & Isaac)
By Ramone - September 1, 2008
I felt the Spirit moving in me with an ancient-sounding song, and I pulled out a song that I'd written awhile ago (I got it from Him really) and worshiped in His presence. As I did so, I began to want to picture it. There is so much in that word, "hesed", and the song describes some of the depth of its many Hebrew meanings:
Hesed — lovingkindness,The picture I got was of Abraham and Isaac. I can't tell if they are going "up" the mountain before the sacrifice or "down" afterwards. But I was and am touched by Father's heart, His love, and His Son's love.
Faithfulness, enduring love
Hesed sought me out
Hesed, my rest
Hesed — steadfast love,
Undeserved mercy, unfailing devotion
Hesed bound Himself to me
Covenant ever-new, made in eternity-past
Your pledge, my God, Your hesed is my rest
Hesed will never leave me
Never forget me, nor let me go
Hesed is my home
Hesed, my rest
I think that just as He called Abraham to his journey, He is calling us into this "journey", a journey into hesed—into His heart of lovingkindness revealed to us in the cross and what it means. A journey into Father's broken heart and the love between Him and His Son. He's calling us to share in the eternal song of His hesed for the sake of the nations He loves so much that He gave His Son for...
How did God change Abraham's heart and make it apostolic? I believe it began when He asked Abraham to offer up his only son, the son of promise that he dearly loved, as a burnt offering. Even though Abraham didn't understand why God was requesting the sacrifice of his beloved son of promise, he trusted Him and obeyed.
We all know the rest of the story. God stopped Abraham from offering his son. Why? Because God didn't want Abraham's son—He wanted Abraham's heart. Through this experience God put into Abraham the heart of a Father who had lost His Son! Abraham could never have understood what the apostolic calling on his life was about unless God had put him through that test. As a result, I feel certain that Abraham began to find the deepest and most precious things in the heart of God. He began to lay aside his own problems and share God's problems.
What were God's problems? God wanted the nations to return to Him. I believe apostolic movements in these end times will not fulfill the plans God has for them unless the hearts of the people become apostolic. The apostolic call that God wants to place upon our lives is not about a great ministry, a large church, or having a famous name. No. The Lord is calling us so that we may come to know and share His heart for the nations.
- Hazel Holland, Receiving the Father's Heart