Category Archives: Reflections

Maundy Thurday reflection on Urbana 81

December, 1981.
Urbana 81 student missions conference.
I was a fairly new Christian, yet God enabled me to attend the Urbana 81 student missions conference at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. For all four mornings, the great Scottish Presbyterian Bible expositor, Rev Eric Alexander, eloquently preached from the book of Acts. The attached clip records his final message, which was from Acts chapter 13, where the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me, Paul and Barnabus, for the work to which I have called them.” Rev. Alexander began by leading us in the following prayer:
“We bow our wills before your lordship.
Render us obedient to all you would say.
We lay our affections at your feet.
We pray that you would take them, and that we may be filled today, with zeal for your glory.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

I remember that at some point that week, I was in my dormitory room. I got down on my knees, and surrendered my life to the cause of world missions. That was a holy week, and I prayed on holy ground. Eventually, all that happened that week, steered my life’s course— for the rest of my life. In some ways, just like Elisha the prophet, all the my “plowing tools” were there burned, and made fire for the altar. Choices were made, and I set my face like flint to the great cause I heard that week in December 81. Then like a migrant I was sent off to the world, and it has been that way ever since.

With much thanks to God, this is my Maundy Thursday reflection.

For the world you love
Take our hands Lord;
With the love that nailed Yours to the cross,
Pierce ours to the world You love.

Take our feet Lord;
With the love that set Yours far beyond the city gates,
Set them out to the world You love.

Take our hearts Lord;
With the love that broke Your life on Calvary,
Pour out our lives for the world You love.
Amen.

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Thwarted dreams

Thwarted dreams filled with thwarted efforts, feel like miscarriages. They are dilapidating. They weary our will, and mock the hope we confess and proclaim.

Come Holy Spirit, Lord, Giver of Life—
In valleys of dead bones
Let us hear rattling bones
And smell the scent of flesh restored.
Germinate fallen seed
Heal barren wombs
Let prophesies come to pass
With more than enough in the way of Jesus
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In the Lord we have an altar

In the Lord we have an altar

A refuge that warms our heart

Like a homely hearth that brightly burns.

 

Come to the altar of God.

Come and receive from His heart.

With lives open wide

To His gifts falling down

Oh come, to the altar of God.

 

Come receive at the altar of God.

Come and receive new vision and dreams.

With lives open wide to His kingdom of love

Oh come, to the altar of God.

 

Come to the altar of God.

Come and receive hope from above.

With lives open wide

To His love coming down

Oh come, to the altar of God.

Throughout Scripture and Christian traditions, altar is a constant image.  There are also subtle themes and artworks, which depict God’s heart as an altar.  When described as a homely hearth, we have here a helpful symbol of a sacred place that helps us negotiate experiences of loss, closed doors, and dashed hopes.

At God’s altar we find our place;

A home where we belong.

A refuge that warms our heart

Like a homely hearth that brightly burns.

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I am both and more

I am far more “hetro” than “mono”

I am no more either West or East

Yet a product of both and more

I am Pentecostal and Catholic

Yet can we really be otherwise?

With my whole body

I praise the Lord

Speaking in tongues

Yet love doing so

Through well written litanies.

On the earth I am a stranger

A migrant and foreigner

Yet building altars

On the way

The reasons I am preferentially pro-migrant, pro-refugee, pro-racial minority, pro-cultural/racial diversity, pro-whole world, and very anti-nationalist spirit—

Is that I’ve lived almost half life abroad from my homeland,

Have experienced what it means to be a racial minority,

And am part of a cross-national/racial/cultural marriage.

I thus detest xenophobia (“fear of strangers”) in all its forms.

 

The Bible characters I thus identify most with, are people like

Abraham, Moses, Ruth, Ezekiel, and the apostle Paul.

Like them, I have lived in tents,

Walked the desert paths,

And built altars in many foreign lands.

So the biblical metaphors that describe me are those of

Alien status,

Pilgrimage,

Sojourning,

And foreigner.

 

The biblical practices I value most are

Hospitality,

Breaking bread with others,

And embracing otherness.

 

Yet I believe—

All these themes describe what Christian faith is all about:

Learning to enjoy, learn, and receive from one another,

The many tongues of Pentecost.

This is the mystery of the Gospel:

That we who are different and many, learn through the Spirit of fellowship—

How to embrace one another as one new humanity, on the way to new creation.

 

Perhaps for me, the most formative Pentecostal theologian on me remains, Walter Hollenweger, father of the modern critical Pentecostal theological tradition, and early articulator of the Pentecostal giftedness towards “oral theology and liturgy.” Hollenweger was also a poet. One of my favourite pieces from him, is the “Prayer of the Frog.” For the frog is an “in-between” creature: home in two worlds, yet not fully belonging to either world. Both worlds function as a liminal threshold— to somewhere else, a place better than either, yet built on the best of both worlds.

“Prayer of the Frog,” by Walter Hollenweger.

“Sometimes, I feel like a frog,

Happy in the waterpond—

until I run out of air and creep on land.

Happy in the fresh air,

until my skins hurts in the glaring sun and I plunge back into the water.

O God,

Why did you make me an in-between creature, neither fish nor fowl?

Why am I not a flamingo, or an eagle or a mighty roaring lion?

Just a frog?

You did not ask me whether I wanted to be a frog,

Nor whether I wanted to be at all,

Nor did my parents ask me.

So, I am, what I am, an in-between being.

When I am with the feminists they call me “macho”

because I want to pray “Our Father.”

When I am with the pacifists they call me a war-monger

because I do not believe that the abolishment of the Swiss Army serves world peace.

When I am with the military they call me a pacifist

because I find it a scandal how we treat the conscientious objectors.

When I am with the Christians, they say I am not a Christian

because I find many of their convictions superfluous.
When I am with the Non-Christians the say I am a Christian

because I believe in Jesus Christ.

When I am with the progressives they say I am conservative

because I do not know how to re-organize world trade justly.

When I am with the rich people they say I am a leftist

because I expect them to share their riches.

When I am with the Catholics they say that I am a Protestant

because I do not believe in the infallibility of the pope.

When I am with the Protestants they say I am a Catholic

because I like the Catholic liturgy.

When I am with the Ecumenists they say that I am a Pentecostal

because I would like to see more of the Spirit in the ecumenical movement.

When I am with the Pentecostals they say I am an ecumenist

because I am convinced that they need the ecumenical movement.

When I am with the critical exegetes they call me “pious”

because God sometimes speaks to me in Scripture.

When I with the uncritical Bible readers they say that I do not believe in the Bible

because I do not accept their facile interpretations.

 

O God, you alone know what I am.

Help me to believe that this is enough.

You made me an in-between being so that I can be an evangelist.

But God it is a tough job.

Sometimes I am confused and terrified.

Strengthen my faith so that I am

A cheerful in-between creature, a happy frog.

From Pentecostalism: Origins and Developments Worldwide (1997).

 

Let us give thanks / Ps 95

Let us give thanks before God
Who gives us His kingdom
With increasing fullness
Making glad our hearts
Through His Spirit
In Christ our Lord.
 
Let us kneel before Him
With thanksgiving showing
Ourselves ready to serve Him
In all ways possible and gladly
For He is gracious and kind
To us His servants.
Amen.
 
Reading, reflecting, and responding to Psalms 96-96.