We're all needing the same thing…

Yesterday I finally got a chance to go to the Grand Palace (which has a famous buddhist temple there on the grounds) and another famous buddhist temple in Asia. Right here in Bangkok. The one at the Grand Palace is famous because it contains an emerald buddha. It has 3 outfits made of pure gold, which are changed every season. The other temple, Wat Pho, is famous because it contains a massive image of a reclining buddha. The Reclining Buddha is 46 metres long and 15 metres high, decorated with gold plating on his body and mother of pearl on his eyes and the soles of his feet.

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I’ve been to a huge temple up in Chiang Mai, where thousands of people come every day to worship. I’d never seen anything like it. That was 5 years ago. This temple was different because it wasn’t so much full of Thai people who came to worship, but full of tourists who have flocked here from all over the world to see these images. They wanted pictures of the ‘gods’ (demons). It was a different kind of worship going on.

And the famous image made of emerald. All I could think was, ‘What does it matter what it’s made of? It’s a rock.” I’ve never been much for costly stones anyhow. To me, they are just rocks. But that’s aside from the point. In the shrine of the emerald buddha, if you wanted to sit anywhere, you had to kneel on the carpet before the images.

The streets outside the temples were literally flooded with all kinds of images, amulets, and idols. It’s where you go in Bangkok to get one. I’d never seen so many on a sidewalk before. I’d never been in the midst of so many people searching for a god like this. Then I thought about America, where I’m from. And I thought, how different is this sidewalk from one in America lines with people searching to buy their ‘god’. We all have the same need- God. We all have the same void within. And anything we try to shove into that void is only an idol in His sight anyway.

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I’ll never forget standing on the sidewalk literally lined with tables and tables of idols and images. Some images that I cannot even mention on my blog. Images representing those ‘secret things done in darkness’. I stood there, watching the people with their microscopes (literally), picking up various amulets and examining them. Choosing a god to buy. The table I was watching, well, those gods were only 50 baht ($1.50). Something in me broke on that street corner. I’m sure it was my heart. And while the Thai are choosing a god to wear around their neck, I think of the multitudes of teens in the U.S., at the “table”, so to say, of the idol buffet, in their own search for something to fulfill the void.

Except, the table in the U.S. would look different. It wouldn’t be full of images or statues made of gold or silver. It would be covered with images of guys and girls, many pornographic. It would be covered with namebrand clothes, various dollar bills, nice restraunts, fast cars, stereo systems, alcholic drinks, various drugs, cutting utensils… anything to fill the void. A ‘god’ to be the answer to the longing.

We all want the same thing. And it breaks my heart that as we shop at these tables of idols, Jesus stands beside us, waiting for us to notice.

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"A religion that does not affirm that God is hidden is not true" -Pascal

What do you think of that? Doesn’t it go against the religious culture of this day? Even the Christian culture? A God who hides Himself? Yes. And simultaneously a God who reveals Himself by what He has made (Romans 1.20). While men have an excuse (“But you’re hiding!”), they have no excuse (“men are without excuse”). What a paradox.

This paradox has always fluttered around inside my head through the cobwebs and cubbies. Even more so now that I have my hands on an authentic classic, When Heaven is Silent by Ron Dunn. No matter what kind of church you were taught in, what kind of family you were brought up in, or what kind of education you’ve received in regard to theology, nothing can prepare you for when heaven is silent. And it will be. The divine whispers from above pause, you can’t feel the Father’s hand resting on your head in favor, the hum drum of this earthly life fades because nothing on earth matters more to you than hearing from heaven, and that’s the one thing you can’t get. When heaven is silent.

For me, the silence from heaven first made me feel rejected, then isolated, then lonely, then angry, then bitter. Silence from heaven? Seriously? Not too long ago I was feeling short-changed by God. As if He owed me something. I mean, look at what I’ve done for You! Look at all I’m doing for You! I’ve given it all up, everything! And you don’t owe me an answer for the silence?! Then I saw (I mean, really saw) the Doxology (Romans 11.33-36). What really got me was,

“Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?
For from him and through him and to him are all things!”

There it is. No one has ever, or will ever, give enough to God that God should oblige to pay him back. It was as if the question were turned around to me then, “WHY have you given all this to Me? To get something back, or just because I am?” I’ve been thinking about that for a while now. About two months.  I was angry for about a month until I thought about why I was angry. It all came back to feeling like God owed me something.

That’s what Job is all about. It’s not about why bad things happen to good people (though they do). It’s not about how the enemy is out to destroy us (though he is). The enemy didn’t bring up Job’s name, God did. In a way, God bragged about his ‘favorite’, you could say. The enemy’s reply? “Does Job fear God for nothing?” That’s the point of the whole book. The word “nothing” means ‘devoid of cost, reason, or advantage’. In other words, the enemy believed Job feared God because of a motive that had nothing to do with who God was, but what Job could get out of it. In Dunn’s words, “the theme of the book is not ‘Why do the righteous suffer?’ It is, ‘Why do the righteous serve God?'” And to take it a step further, what if you weren’t promised rewards? What if you weren’t promised heaven? Would you serve God just because He is and He is worthy? Just a thought I’ve been chewing on… asking Him to strip every other motive away from my heart.

Ever thought about the silence of God in the midst of what Job was experiencing? The theology of Job’s day taught that God blessed the righteous and punished the wicked. And leprosy, well, it was a sure sign of divine displeasure. Everyone knew that. Job’s entire life and concept of God was turned upside down. Disequilabrized. Everything he thought he understood about life and God, collapsed in one day. Nothing but silence from heaven. Ever wonder why God didn’t say a word to him during his turmoil (until the very end, which no one knows how long that lasted). He just watched, testing the quality of Job’s heart. And even when He did speak, He still never told Job what the whole thing was about… namely, to show every created being in the heavenly realms that it is possible for a human to fear and worship God ‘for nothing’.  Will I remain faithful to God when it appears God is no longer faithful to me? All of the supernatural realm may be watching.

And so I find myself in Job’s words, “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.” Job knew there was a purpose. He trusted and feared God enough to know it wouldn’t be for nothing, even if he never knew what for. Somehow, there is a peace that passes understanding when you believe there is a purpose in it. Dunn writes, “I like to imagine that myabe someday God could point to me and say to satan, “See, I told you he would serve Me for nothing.”

When God hides Himself…

“Who among you fears the LORD

and obeys the word of his servant?

Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light,

trust in the name of the LORD

and rely on his God.”
(Is 50.10)

The King is coming! Prepare the way!

I had a new experience this evening. I need to journal about it. You can read if you’d like, but it’s more for me.

So I’m sitting at a makeshift noodle restaurant outside at the end of my lane. I like the woman who always greets me with a smile. Sometimes I walk down the lane to have dinner– noodle soup. It’s special because the broth isn’t bland, but instead, made with liver and chicken feet. And it only costs about sixty cents. I have this habit of often wondering what someone’s life is like. For example, the woman who makes my chicken feet noodle soup. She’s there every night without fail. So faithful. She always greets me with a smile. Sometimes I think of what life would be like if that were my lot in life. What if I had to make chicken feet noodle soup every night for years upon end? I wonder about her family. I wonder about her past. I wonder why she is always at the end of my lane working the job she works. I wonder.

So tonight I was sitting there at a makeshift table on the sidewalk, and I notice policemen lined up a good distance from one another. Well, in Thailand, that means someone from the royal family is coming through so the roads have to be cleared. I’ve experienced traffic jams due to royalty coming through. I’ve experienced the frustration of everything coming to a halt and having it take twice as long to get somewhere because royalty is coming through to get somewhere. But tonight, well I’ve never experienced anything like tonight.

My lane is on a busy street. It’s always noisy, no matter what of day or night. It is always bustling. As I sat eating my noodle soup, I noticed a radical silence. I heard the policeman on the corner tell a man “The king is coming”. Traffic stopped. People stopped. Everything stopped. The policeman yelled something. I watched as everyone within eyeshot literally lined up on the curb, watching, waiting. I stopped eating my noodle soup and stood on the curb with them. It was like time stopped… nothing and nobody moved. As far as I could see on both sides of the street, everything was still, waiting. Standing at attention. The way was prepared for this king to come through. And he came. And no one said a word. Just gave the honor and respect due him as he passed through. I was struck by the unity and solemness and quietness of that moment.

As we waited and excitement drew near, the words of Psalm 24 echoed in my head:

“Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up you ancient doors,
That the King of Glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD strong and might, the LORD mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O  you gates; lift them up you ancient doors,
That the King of Glory may come in.
Who is He, this King of glory?
The LORD Almighty- he is the King of glory.”

This is my vision for Thailand. Even if I never see those ancient doors lifted up, I will give my life to fall into the ground as a tiny mortal seed, if it will grow to be something strong to push up those ancient doors. And one day… one day in this country, the Thais will stop all activity, silence their mouths and hearts, line up on the curb, awaiting the King of glory! Except this time, He won’t just pass by. He will stop, get out, call them by name, and take them with Him. jesuscoming-1