Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Not Accepting Who We Are

a church member's friend recently committed suicide.  he didn't know what to do and called to ask me what i might say to the widow who was feeling very guilty.

suicides leave trails of guilt behind everyone.  i know about that guilt.  when my cousin committed suicide, i felt the weight and the pain of the that guilt.  i couldn't shake it off no matter what i told my self.  i was far away.  i didn't know what was happening.  he didn't come to me and he didn't tell me.  but there were lingering thoughts - but i didn't reach out.  i didn't call.  i didn't tell him that i loved him.  but people around me just told me to let it go, that it wasn't my fault.

the culture around us works the same way.  we carry our guilt around, but the world tells us to accept ourselves with all our guilt.  it tells us not to dwell on our mistakes and our heart problems, but to tell ourselves that we're okay, that we're loved, that we are wonderful.  but if we just pause and think about what we've done and what are hearts are prone to do, i think we'll quickly come to the conclusion that we're not okay.  our hearts are not okay.

what we long for is not self-acceptance, but forgiveness.  the widowed wife of the man who had committed suicide needs forgiveness.  she needs to be told that even though she's not primarily responsible for her husband's death, that lingering guilt, in part, is real.  she could have done more for her husband.

the husband himself needs forgiveness.  what he did was wrong.  even if he felt that there was no way out, this was not the way to go.

we all need to be told the guilt that we carry cannot be ignored or patched over with self-acceptance, but need to be expunged and cleansed.  

what we really need is the gospel.  we're not all okay.  self-acceptance is the best that the world can offer, because it cannot offer forgiveness.  but the gospel can.  and the world longs for it.   


there is this great scene in breaking bad, when jesse questions this idea of self-acceptance.  how he and the world needs the gospel..! 

Jesse: The thing is, if you just do stuff and nothing happens, what's it all mean? What's the point? Oh right, this whole thing is about self-acceptance.
Group Leader: Kicking the hell out of yourself doesn't give meaning to anything.
Jesse: So, I should just stop judging and accept?
Group Leader: It's a start.
Jesse: So, no matter what I do, hooray for me because I'm a great guy? It's all good? No matter how many dogs I kill, I just do an inventory and accept? I mean, you backed your truck over your own kid and you like, accept that? What a load of crap!
Group Leader: Hey, Jesse, I know you're in pain...
Jesse: No you know what. Why I'm here in the first place, is to sell you meth. You're nothing but customers to me. I made you my bitch! You okay with that? You accept?
Group Leader: No.
Jesse: About time.

Friday, December 18, 2015

praying with the bible

m. and i recently came back from a vacation to japan.  we don't normally have time to do 'qt' together, but we did during our holidays.  while discussing the passage and praying, i discovered afresh what it means to pray with the bible open.

for example, when we discussed 2 john, we prayed that we might be people who are able to distinguish true from false teaching.  when reading 3 john, we prayed that we might become people who will be hospitable to gospel workers.  after discussing jude, we prayed that we might be zealous for the gospel, be merciful to those who doubt, and 'snatch' those who are toying with false teaching or immoral lifestyle from the fire.

the point is that if we didn't pray with the bible open, we probably would have never prayed for these things.

jesus told us to pray in 'his name.'  many of us believe that this just means that we end our prayers in his name, as if we're casting a magical spell on our said prayers.  but of course it can't mean that.  prayers are not magic.  it means that we align our prayers to his will, to his priorities and to his thoughts.  his thoughts as revealed in the scripture tells us that we ought to be praying for discernment, to become hospitable and to be kind to those who doubt while being zealous for the gospel.

i know that these prayers will be answered.  these were prayers in his name.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

little changes

i knew my life would change when i got married.  some told me that i would quickly discover how selfish i was.  it's true.  people told me that it's going to be wonderful, but sometimes challenging.  that's also true.  wise people told me that i would grow in holiness.  i hope that has been true.  two becoming one is a big deal, and i'm sure god will change me in significant ways.

but i'm in the midst of attending a conference and i don't have time to go through these big changes.  small changes i've been forced to make - these i can quickly list:
  • i eat better.  m. makes healthy dinners.  (for those of you who will immediately accuse me of being a patriarchal sexist - mary likes cooking and she insists that she de-stress from her day by cooking.)  
  • i sleep earlier.  m. sometimes commands or furrows her eyes.  it's better if i go to bed for everyone.
  • i wake up earlier.  m. wakes up early.  i feel guilty and lazy if i don't get up soon after her.  
  • i entertain more people at home. 
  • i try to do more work in the office since i can't always count on working at home in the evening anymore.  
  • i laugh more.  laughing is usually not a solitary activity.  
over the coming years, i know marriage will change my life in more significant ways.  but these little changes add up.  i'm more disciplined, productive, and healthy.  and i'm thankful.

gotta go.   

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


i'm reading through a book called instruments in the redeemer's hands by paul tripp.  this is my second book by him (the other one was dangerous calling).  one thing that characterizes his writings is anecdotes about personal failures.  he's constantly recalling how he failed as a father, how easily angry he gets, how prideful he is, and how his heart constantly longs for attention.  of course he does all of this so to point us to christ.  but i can't help but to get the impression that he's just a terrible person, unfit for ministry.  with all these stories, i just don't know how godly he is.  it doesn't help that i had briefly met him when he was here in hong kong, and my five minute conversation had confirmed my dislike of him.

then again, i wonder how much of my dislike is caused by me being exactly the same.  but i don't like him, because i try very hard to do the opposite of what he does - to hide my anger, to subdue my longing for attention and to downplay my pride.  he reveals them even as i try so hard to conceal them.  maybe he's just honest.  i'm just too dishonest.

oh lord, have mercy.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Mindset Shift

i don't know how it came about.  slowly over many years, my mind has shifted from viewing ministry primarily as a 'helping' profession to a 'proclaiming/teaching' profession.

that i viewed ministry as a helping profession owes much to growing up in a small church.  the heart of a small church is the relationship.  people come and stay because they give and receive help from each other.  the pastor referees marital fights, provides counseling, and helps the needy.

this function of the church, i think, is intensified in an immigrant church like my church back in the u.s.  the church functioned as a community center.  my dad who is also a pastor counseled people on immigration laws and coached the new arrivals on how to adjust to their new life.  i remember him often picking people up from the airport, helping the elderly to go their dental appointments, as well as proclaiming the gospel.

so as i grew up, i thought being a pastor was about helping people.  my liberal seminary education reinforced this too.  when 'justice' takes the center stage of theology, then bringing people to that justice becomes the primary role of the pastor.

it's a long story of how my mindset started to shift.  i haven't attended an immigrant church since high school.  working in a bigger church had its inevitable effects as well.  in a big church, people cohere together around its common mission rather than the relationship.  there are just too many people to help!

but more than these, i think my paradigm of ministry shifted as i've come to be more and more convicted in the power of god's word.  it is god's word that helps, not me!  i've come to realize that we don't even really know what our problems are until we are steeped in the word of god.  i've come to see that it is not we who heal, but god who heals.  i've come to understand my job as one of a signpost, one who says to the world, 'there is a healer', and 'there is the one true god!'

of course i don't mean to minimize 'my' role or the role of the christian community as doers.  we are god's instruments.  but we are god's instruments insofar as we remind people that god heals, god helps, and god acts in their lives.  our healing is temporary, help is anemic, and our doing ultimately ineffectual unless they point people to the god who does these things.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Buddhist Chants

this summer, i went to bongti, thailand on a mission trip.  there we had the good fortune of seeing catherine, the 'mother' of all the orphans in the bamboo school, honored during the 'mother's day'.  the community selected worthy mothers of the community to come to the school and receive hugs and prizes from the school children.  it was touching to see all the children go up to catherine to show their affection for her.

but thailand is a buddhist country, and the sense of religious tradition was palpable.  it literally filled the air as we arrived at the school, since these buddhist monks were seated in the honored seats and chanted for over two hours.  i asked the people around me what the chants were about.  i was amazed to find out that no one knew!  the children didn't know.  the adults didn't know.  the teachers didn't know what they were chanting about.  apparently they weren't chanting in thai or in karen, but in some traditional language no one understood.

of course the fact that they chanted in a 'traditional' or a 'sacred' language created an aura of mystery.  and it seemed to me that the sense of mystery is precisely what this religion was built on.  it thrived on people's ignorance, rather than true understanding.  engaging the mind was superfluous.  

in contrast to religions that seem to be built on ignorance, christianity is founded on understanding.  yes there is 'faith' but faith always seeks to understand.  yes there is mystery, but the mystery in christianity occurs because our minds are small, not because we've eliminated it.  it grasps as much as it can, but realizes that god is even greater than our minds.  

'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.' 


One persistent worry I have is that my mind is going dull.  I read quite a bit for work, but mostly books and commentaries that echo my own thoughts.  I occasionally read fiction too.  While they're entertaining, most of times the insights found there seem trite.  I can't tell if this is because I've come to know too much that no insight seems profound, or because my mind has gone dull already that I can't see the profundity in these writings.  I want to write, but I'm afraid that all my thoughts will just be shallow.  What needs to be written that hasn't already been written?

but i'm going to try to write.  hopefully writing will help me to think more deeply.