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Sunday, December 8: Day 230 – The Gift

Rob was up in the night getting sick so he did not come with me to church. He sent me on my way. It was a safe route. I had my financial offering in my pocket.

The walk was 25 minutes and they were finishing up a marathon that was run earlier in the day. Running a marathon is hard enough but at 3am? I saw three runners with bibs and tried to encourage them by clapping.

I arrived at Nakham Evangelical Church.

I located this church through Facebook. I love the information given about the founder and its products.

Churches must be approved by the government. The only protestant approved church is Laos Evangelical Church (LEC). Its headquarters is in the church that I attended.

I was ushered up to the third floor where several pews were labelled English. There were headsets for English speakers. In front of me were three pews of headset-wearing Chinese. Translation would begin when the service starts.

I looked behind me to see Debra Freeman from Luang Prabang who was in town to cross the river into Thailand in order to renew her visa. Where else would we be but in our Father’s house!!!

The sanctuary was decorated for Christmas with a Christmas tree being the focal point. There were five pastors on the podium wearing Western style suits. Small flags were scattered all around the pews, and sometimes attendees would pick up a flag and wave it when we sang. The colors were pink, orange, white, and blue.

A songleader was teaching the congregation a Christmas carol: “O Come All ye Faithful” in the Lao language. This made me wonder if they had any Lao Christmas carols. Certainly, the early church carols were in Aramaic or Greek, etc. Why would they be learning western Christmas carols?

Previously, I had learned that the early Christians made a bigger deal out of the resurrection and not as much about the birth of Christ.

Christmas carols are based on scripture and Christmas songs are not. Both are traditions are sung at Christmas.

I wondered further about Christmas carols. The ones that we think of as traditional were written less than 200 years ago. Surely there were other carols. Here is an article that I found interesting.

Oldest Christmas Carol

A choir of 20 microphoned singers was accompanied by two electric guitars and drums.

Confession

There was a call to confession asking God to clean us up so that he could see us as righteous and hear our prayers.

The pastor referenced John 9:31.
We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him.

This most certainly refers to believers who are sinning. Do not ask anything of God if you knowingly sin. He won’t listen. God is not mocked.

Or possibly the unbeliever who prays for things thinking that God will answer.

But we KNOW that God hears the sinner who cries out to God in need of a Savior. Sometimes it is called the sinners prayer. It goes something like this:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior.

Prayer

The following prayer illuminated a topic on the screen and the pastor elaborated on that topic in this corporate prayer.

“We have come together to worship the King of Kings. We thank you for all circumstances and for giving us food to eat. Bring us from sin, from the dark into the light. Protect us and provide our needs. We pray for each other. We ask that the Holy Spirit be present with us in joy and peace and that we take it back to our lives. We pray for the pastors and servants who are spreading the good news throughout the country. We ask that You give our government leaders wisdom and knowledge to release our country from poverty. Annoint the preacher and give him power to change lives with his message.”

And he ended with Mark 11:24

Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.

And then we sang the Doxology with hands turned upward.

Scripture Learning and Memorization

1 Cor 15:17

and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.

First the men were asked to stand and quote this memory verse that had been assigned last week. After they were done, the congregation applauded, and then the women got up and recited this scripture followed by applause. Next the youth, then the Chinese, and then the handful of we English speakers. Then we all stood and said it in unison in our own language. It was powerful.

Next week’s verse: Phil 2:10

A special song was sung by a men’s choir. Some of the pastors were part of the group.

Christmas Announcements

Local pastors are busy in their churches during the Christmas season. This is what is happening here:

December 23 – There will be a children’s program followed by fellowship and gift giving. The program starts at 6pm. There will be a Christian drama 8pm.

December 24 – There will be a special worship to prepare us at 7:30pm.

December 25 – At 8:30am, there will be an official reading of he Christmas story from the Bible with a government leader in attendance to bless the Christians.

There will be an exchange of gifts in the afternoon. Please prepare a gift for less than 10,000 kips. ($1.13)

A youth party is scheduled at 6:30. Please invite friends. There will be gifts, singing, and dancing. If you feel young, you can come.

Baptism will take place on December 21st. Register with an elder. It might be cold, but we will make sure that the water is warm.

We will have a special Christmas offering as over 1,000 people will join us for this celebration.


Annoucements

Their Sunday service lasts from 8:30-11:30am. From 8:30 to 9:15 we have Sunday School. They serve lunch from 1:00-2:30. (I wondered what happens between 11:30-1.)

On Thursday, they have prayers from 7:30-9:30.

There was a call for flower donation for the church service. It was suggested that one could give flowers to celebrate a milestone in their life.

A medical service will take place after this one for those in need of healing. That would have been interesting to attend but our tour guide was picking us up at the church at 11:00.

Food donations were requested for the lunch that is provided after the service.

Next Saturday is the big cleaning of the church. All are asked to participate.

The pastor asked for non-Christians or first time visitors who are not Christians to stand up. (I was uncomfortable that he called them out like that. I wondered how many would stand.) Seven young adults stood up and everyone clapped as there are here to learn more about Christ. They were invited to lunch where they could talk with others and learn more. That’s cool.

One pastor was celebrating 10 years of serving the church. The family of four came to the stage and a special song was sung for the family followed by a heartfelt prayer which started with the words “Hello Father”.


Offering: I Surrender All

Two bags of different colors were passed around. The red bag was for the church and its activities and the blue bag was for outreach and missions. I divided my offering between the two.

There was a heartfelt loud prayer and then the bags were sent around again. I guess that it wasn’t enough and people weren’t listening to the words: I Surrender All!! I had given all that I was planning to give but many people dug even deeper and contributed even more. I wasn’t sure if this was the last time or not.

The pastor asked the seven people who were non-believers to come forward. He had a gift for each one. All came forward to receive the gift. (They had already been called out earlier so this step seemed easier and who doesn’t want a gift?)

Here is a summary of what he said: We are glad that you came to church today. It is a miracle. It is not an accident. You came up here to receive a special gift. That gift is Jesus. He is the gift for everyone. He is the gift that lasts forever. Heaven is the ultimate gift. The Holy Spirit gives power over evil spirits. Do you want to receive this gift?

(At this point, I was wondering if anyone would decline in order to wait and ask questions over lunch for this important decision…or maybe their hearts weren’t ready.)

Everyone said that they wanted this gift. He told them to close their eyes and basically repeat the words of the sinners prayer. At the end, the pastor said that their names (unknown to him but known to the Lord) are recorded in book of Life. There was much clapping as they returned to their seats.

I was uncomfortable with this pre-altar call but have assurance that God knows their hearts and maybe they actually were ready to receive the greatest gift ever.

Debra had the opposite view as she leaned over to say how cool it was that they came forward and were prayed for publicially.


Next came more singing with lots of choreography. I wondered if the girl waving the Jesus flag felt extra special. She seemed to be the leader. Watch this lovely video:

So much praying, singing and announcements occurred that the preacher didn’t start to deliver his message until 10:40. It was difficult to follow the scriptures since the books references were in Lao but the chapter and verse were in Arabic numbers. The translator did his best to inform us.

Here was the main scripture: Acts 1:1-9. The pastor read the first verse and the congregaton read the second, etc.


Sermon

Disciples are to go out from this room and receive all the promises of God. We are also called to be His witnesses.

These are the last words of Christ so they are very important for his followers.

Power and authority comes from Jesus on earth and in heaven.

Prophecy in the Old Testament calls for the annointing hand of God. The sacrifice to God must be clean and holy as well as the one who sacrifices. Jesus is the holy sacrifice. He is the sacrifice for humankind.

He resides at the right hand of Father. Jesus prepared a place for us. Our names are recorded in the Book of Life. We are family. We have a reservation. When we die on earth, our names will be no more.

The gift of the Christian faith is to receive eternal life. This world is not stable. When we join with God, there is stability.

Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to the world. Jesus performed human signs and miracles. He went everywhere. When he said that he must leave, the disciples didn’t want Him to go. Do you blame them? It is a human feeling to want to be together. Jesus said that it would be better if He goes. Then the miracle happened!!! We have the Holy Spirit in our lives. Our life belongs to God. He is our owner.

The pastor raised his voice to a loud crescendo and shook his fist when he was driving a point home. The congregation responded with an AMEN.

Jesus asks us to witness and go everywhere to share His good news. There will be a fight with the spirit of this world. One can’t fight alone. Only with the Holy Spirit can one overcome.

Many people want to scare the Christians. The Holy Spirit was given to us for the power to protect us.

Some people watch scary or violent movies. Ghost movies are scary. Fighter movie are scary. When we turn on the TV, an evil spirit comes out. We see the news. I want to watch a specific program, but something else comes on instead and before you know it, you have watched something that you didn’t intend to watch. The smart phone is even worse in affecting lives. Pray for the Holy Spirit to take this intrusion in our lives away. (I can relate to that. I go to look something up on my phone and before I know it, I am sucked into a LONG article explaining why Princess Charlotte wears dresses. It isn’t evil per se but a time waster which means a lifetime waster. I plan to be more intentional.)

The Holy Spirit is a benefit to believers. Proclaim His victory. Laos belongs to Jesus Christ.

Pray for those who pray to idols. Many people go the wrong way. Even though they put up Christmas trees, play Christmas songs, they don’t even know the meaning of Christmas.

Pray everywhere. Proclaim the word of God. Grow and walk with God.

I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.

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