The Important Things in Life

This past Monday one of my uncles died. He had been sick for some time, so it was not a big surprise, but it was still a shock to me. Somehow I was expecting to have more time to say “goodbye,” and “I love you” again. Thinking about his death has caused me to think hard about life, and what I am doing with mine. His death is a reminder not to let the unimportant, or even the important, get in the way of doing the essential.

When we think about death, the Gospel is a game-changer, completely changing the way we look at it. Death looses its sting when you believe the good news that Christ has defeated death and given eternal life to those who are in Him. What I am thinking about this afternoon was way that the gospel effects life here on earth. What is essential if the Gospel is true?

This led me to two scriptures. The first is Luke 10:27:

“…You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

The second is John 15:5:

“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit [Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control], for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

As I reflect, I am reminded that it is essential to spend time with God, learning to love as He does, and then letting that love fill my life and change it.

worthy.

When I was pretty young, I came across a play that had a quote that I’ve always really liked. In that play, one of the characters commented on how a friend would sign her mail with her address and then add “United States of America; Continent of North America; Western Hemisphere; the Earth; the Solar System; the Universe; the Mind of God“. I thought it was so fascinating how you could simultaneously be the most insignificant thing in the universe and yet still reside in the thoughts of God, which is the most significant place you can ever be.

This summer when I was at VOICE, one thing I was really wrestling with was understanding my state of worthiness. On one hand, I could see all the sin and shortcomings of my life, and I would feel the conviction of my sin and failings. It chipped away at my pride and showed me just how much the sin of my flesh made me unworthy. I was a sinner, and worthless. But on the other hand, I would read my Bible and hear God talking to me, and I felt like God was telling me that I was precious, loved, and utterly and totally significant and important in His eyes. That I was worthy.

At Northwoods, I would go out almost every night and look at the stars, and this is one of my favorite things to do. But even as I would be filled with awe and wonder, I could also feel the weight of my insignificance. My God made that universe with His words. All of that was right in front of me, and here I was, just one tiny human lying on an airplane tarmac. Who was I to demand anything of that God? Who was I to ask Him for His love and forgiveness? I truly was deserving of nothing.

Slowly I began to understand that I *was* both worthless and worthy at the same time, and that paradox is what makes Christ’s work on the cross so powerful. Yes, *I* am worthless. But when Christ died for me, and came into my heart and took up residence, He transformed me. I did not transform myself or become better, but became changed by the pure being living inside of me. When God looks at me, He doesn’t see my worthless, sinful self…all He sees is the holiness and worthiness of His Son. And He declares me worthy.

The God of the universe not only spoke the world into existence but also sent His son to die so humanity could be redeemed and made worthy, and calls me by name and says I am His beloved daughter. And that, to me, is more beautiful than any star in the sky. ❤️

Photos: Tracy Chang

The Mind of Christ

For a lot of the holidays we celebrate, people usually have several regular traditions. For example, on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day we will make a special effort to show our gratitude to our parents. On Thanksgiving we take the opportunity to thank those around us and also give thanks to God. On Christmas we gather at church and celebrate that Jesus Christ came to Earth. For New Year’s, it’s a time where we can set new goals for a new year.

As I was think about how to celebrate Christmas this year, God gave me this passage: Philippians 2:5-11.

5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,

6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,

7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.

8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name,

10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth,

11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The “form” that is mentioned in v. 6-7 is referring to the fact that Jesus has the status of God with power and authority. “Likeness” in v. 7 is referring to His physical appearance while on Earth. “Made Himself of no reputation” means that He emptied Himself and took on complete submission born out of humility. V. 6-8 talk about Christ’s coming and the reasons for it. V. 9-11 talks about God’s exaltation of Jesus Christ. Therefore, God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name (for He will save the people from their sins).

Many times when I have a lot on my mind I will think of my dear little brother. That was the case while I was thinking about this passage. In the midst of the pain of my brother’s passing there was one thing that God helped me understand and brought comfort to me. That thing is our dear Heavenly Father is also a Father who has lost His Son. And because of that loss He can completely understand my feelings and comfort me. It’s hard to imagine how God must have felt watching His Son come to Earth. It’s also hard to imagine how much God loves us that He would give us His only Son so that those who believe in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.

Jesus Christ was willing to take upon his shoulders this huge and weighty mission by humbling Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. He died on the cross for our sins, to save us from the power of sin and death. The love Jesus showed for the Father is what we should be emulating. A love that is fully aware of the Father’s love for the world. A heart that was willing to empty itself for the sake of the Father. He was willing to humble Himself. He was willing to submit. This passage’s most important line is right there at the beginning:  Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.

This Christmas is a great opportunity for me to think about God’s love for me. To think about whether or not I’m willing to follow Jesus Christ’s example of humility. To follow His example of submission. To follow the example of intense, deep love that our Prince gives to us. To follow the example of Jesus Christ and let that heart be in me which was also in Christ Jesus.

On the flight back to Taiwan I saw a movie where a girl became crazily infatuated with a boy to the point where she was willing to try anything to make him happy. One day the boy asked her “Do you love me enough to die for me?”. After the girl said she would be willing to die for him the boy immediately posed a second question “No, dying is too easy. Are you willing to live for me?”

We should often be considering whether or not we love God to the point where we are eager to live for Him. We are carrying His death with us and we should let the Life of Jesus Christ also be evident in our lives. By having the mind of Jesus Christ we let Him become our living navigation system, our Google Map, a mobile battery pack that never runs out, fresh water on a sunny day or a warm coat in the middle of winter.

Jesus Christ’s gift of salvation is already there in front of us, but if we’re not willing to open the gift, it will never really be ours. And if I open the gift but don’t appreciate it then I’ll never understand its beauty. I’m willing to open this wonderful gift, enjoy its beauty, and practice throughout this new year how to have the mind of Jesus Christ.

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Author: Uria Hsiung

Translation: Ethan Feig

life after VOICE

So a common question that my VOICE friends have asked since this summer’s conference is “What’s your life like now?”

Good question. Mostly, I am learning what it looks like to be a stay-at-home mom—with no other competing priorities. “That is the most rewarding work—you won’t regret it,” others tell me. And I know that.

But at the same time, VOICE was my first “baby.” I didn’t just work on it—I dreamt about what it could become. Now that I’ve stepped down, there’s a big empty hole in my heart, like part of me has died. Most days I’m too busy doing the next thing to notice, but when I try to articulate how I feel, the tears come.

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Back before I had little kids underfoot, I joined everyone for the faith challenges at the Northwoods. That first year, I crossed the log without batting an eye. When I faced the log in 2006, however, my knees started shaking uncontrollably. I tried blocking out the well-meaning cheers coming from different sides of the pond (which meant that more and more people were watching). I inhaled deeply and coached myself with the words I’d used to coach dozens of others—”Don’t think about falling. Focus on the opposite end of the log.” I didn’t fall, but I couldn’t walk—so I ended up scooching awkwardly on my bottom.

Leaving VOICE has felt a little like that. Realizing that God was calling me out of VOICE was like taking that first step onto the log. Following Him out of VOICE—saying good-bye to something I loved so dearly, redefining my identity apart from it, and learning to live ordinary life for Him—has been hard.

But friends, this I know—Jesus gave up everything to make me His, and He deserves nothing less from me. I may no longer be the VOICE Conference Coordinator or the V2 instructor, but I am a child of God, and that will never change! Whether you are running, walking, or scooching in your Christian life, remember—we are not defined by what we do but by what He has done for us.

“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15 ESV)

Brotherly Love in Bible Lab

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)

In recent years, one of the greatest things that I am thankful for is being a part of Bible Lab. What is Bible Lab, you might ask? Bible Lab was started by my sister Karen originally as a time for her and another VOICE student to study the Bible together in English, and they came up with the term “Bible Lab”. I decided I would start doing the same thing, and so I and another VOICE student (who just happened to also be the younger brother of the first VOICE student) began to meet as well. Though at first I wanted a different name for the boy’s Bible study, the name Bible Lab name stuck.

Over the years, the people who make up Bible Lab have changed a lot. At times, the change can be sudden and difficult to adjust to. I remember back in 2011, when many students from that year’s VOICE joined Bible Lab, and suddenly, Bible Lab felt very different. At first, it was tempting to look back and wish that things could remain the way that they once were, to look down on the new students as immature strangers intruding in our close-knit group. At that moment, us older Bible Lab members had a choice: would we love and accept these new people as a part of us?

I am so thankful that together, we chose to love, and through that choice, God’s love became more real to me, and to all the people who attend Bible Lab. Because of that conscious choice, we have set a pattern where we continue to choose to accept anyone who comes to join, no matter what their age is, even if they haven’t been to VOICE. Currently, the people who come regularly to Bible Lab come from a variety of different years of VOICE— and even some who haven’t ever gone. We come from different churches, we are all different ages. What unites us is our love for God, our love for each other, and our desire to grow closer to Him.

While Bible Lab may only be in Taipei, remember, the body of Christ is all around the world. Don’t worry if you start small, because God’s love is contagious. Make the conscious choice to open your heart to others, and see how God’s love transforms your life and the lives of those around you.

Oh, and if you’re in Taipei? Let us know. You’re welcome to come to Bible Lab!

Bible Lab Thanksgiving 2014

Post-Election Peace?

electoral-collegeThe first thing I wrote was partisan and bit self-righteous, so I’m trying again. I believe it’s important to work to mend the divide that has become apparent in this election. To me, it seems that Christians have been the most divided by this election than any other in my memory. In my Facebook news-feed alone, there were radical supporters of both candidates, sharing both rational debates and illogical fake news.

One late night show host, Stephen Colbert, said this about the divide:

By every metric, we are more divided than ever as a nation…. How did our politics get so poisonous? I think it’s because we overdosed, especially this year. We drank too much of the poison. You take a little bit of it so you can hate the other side and it tastes kind of good and you like how it feels and there’s a gentle high to the condemnation.

I know I overdosed. It helped me feel good about myself. It still helps me feel good, until I realize the hypocrisy and self-righteousness in my own heart. One of the main problems with the poison is that it isolates me from people who think differently than myself. I call myself a tolerant person, but I become intolerant when people tell me their reasoning for acting/voting differently than I think they should. But I want to be able to love. How do I?

On Thursday night, I had the words of Handel’s Messiah running through my head “and He shall reign forever and forever.” So I started listening to the complete Handel’s Messiah and I now recommend it as an antidote for believers who are experiencing fear of the future. If you take my advice, don’t miss the solos, which often are in minor keys but end on a major chord. Unto Us A Child is Born especially struck a chord with me, with the lyrics “and He shall be called wonderful counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of peace.

As Christians, we have more that brings us together than divides us. We have a King who is known as wonderful counselor and the prince of peace.

We believe these things about Jesus, that He:

  • Became a man, entered our dark world, and suffered with us.
  • Was rejected by the majority, unjustly accused, and sentenced to death.
  • Arose from the dead, defeating the final enemy–death.
  • Hears the prayers of the downtrodden.
  • Calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
  • And much, much more…

Since this is a post-election follow-up to Luke’s post, I would like to quote him: “Very concerning things are happening, but because of that, God will make all things well.” I am concerned, but when I am, I think about our King Jesus, who is a wonderful counselor and Prince of peace, and try to live like it.

All Manner of Thing…Even Trump or Clinton

julianAccording to Wikipedia, Julian of Norwich was the first woman to write a book in the English language. She said that she had a vision of Jesus in which he comforted her with a phrase that has become famous:

“In my folly, before this time I often wondered why, by the great foreseeing wisdom of God, the onset of sin was not prevented: for then, I thought, all should have been well. This impulse [of thought] was much to be avoided, but nevertheless I mourned and sorrowed because of it, without reason and discretion.
“But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.‘”

I’m not sure what to say about the legitimacy of this story. But granting for the moment that this is God’s perspective on things, I’m tempted to wonder why Jesus speaks in the future tense. If things are not well now, how could they become well? Even a future heaven will no doubt include our memories of sadness and sin, and of course the wounds upon the Divine Person – by any account a shocking reflection of our sin against God. The usual answer is that those things, while reflections of sin, are also reflections of love. When, in heaven, we remember our sadness and sin, we will remember how desperately we needed Christ’s love and how undeserving of it we were. And when Christ displays his wounds, he displays the depth of his love for us. But if that’s all true, then why not go all the way and say the same things about the bad things in the world right now? Why not say with Alexander Pope  that these wrongs are “well” because they display God’s love?

I think the genius of Julian’s quotation is just that it holds back from such a justification of the wrong in the world. The bad things that happen really are bad. Jesus’ suffering was bad. But the world will be well partly because of that – the depth of Jesus’ love will not be revealed unless bad things are done to him. That doesn’t make the bad things good, because his love isn’t revealed unless they are bad. This means that the future “well” is not merely what people have called “pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by.” It’s not just that God steps in and makes it all better, it’s that the pain now is part of the happiness then. And there is pain right now – right now, things are not well.

trumpsclintonsSometimes we can’t avoid bad things. In a few days, America will elect a president who many people fear will bring complete catastrophe. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton – both have large groups of opponents who fear the worst if they are elected. No matter which is elected, we have a very contentious and upsetting next four years to look forward to. Things are not well in American politics. One way to trust in God’s sovereignty is like this: “God is in control, so there’s nothing to be concerned about.” But that’s not what Julian of Norwich would recommend. I think her advice, and the more correct and realistic way to trust in God’s sovereignty is more like this: “Very concerning things are happening, but because of that, God will make all things well.”

A Life of Worship

What does it look like to worship God? Is worship restricted to a song set on Sundays, to volunteer work with your small groups, and to reading your Bible?

When I began teaching 9th grade English at a Texan public high school, one of my greatest fears was to cross legal boundaries. As a university student, there were no rules against inviting my classmates to fellowship gatherings, no eyebrows raised were I to wish my professor the joy of Christ on a Christmas card. A country’s education system, however, is often its most politically charged and micromanaging organization, so as a first-year teacher, I wondered how I could live my life in worship within the classroom.

Aw man, I thought when I read the educator’s handbook warning against religious music and decorations, how can I show my kids the love of Christ when my 48 daily minutes are devoted to grammar and state-mandated tests?

Oh dear, I muttered when I saw my schedule, I have barely enough time to microwave my food, let alone pray conspicuously over lunch in the Teacher’s Lounge.

Aha, I said to God when I met my 130 kids, they need exactly what only You can offer, so I’ll be the best channel I know how to be.

For each person, a life of worship looks different. For me, it means taking extra time and resources to care for children falling through the cracks. It means knowing these kids’ names, their needs, their likes, their dislikes. It means stopping to listen when there’s only time for me to speak. When students ask the same question for the 7th time, it means taking deep breaths and choosing to be patient.

Is it easy? Oh, goodness, no. When my students steal my supplies, try to physically intimidate me, talk back in class, skip my course, and blow up in my room, I sense a redness within me that I’ve rarely felt before. That, however, is when I must faithfully be an ambassador of Christ.

It is not “our job” to make people come to Christ. We are called, no matter where we are, to be a mirror of Jesus Christ. And there is no law against beaming his love, grace, and mercy into the lives I meet.

I fail often, no doubt about that, but it is my desire that my entire life gives glory to God, government-restricted job or not.

Is your life a representation of Jesus Christ? Do your actions and words speak Who you belong to?

Pray about what God has for you, specifically. As friends, children, parents, mentors, mentees, co-workers, leaders, employees, and employers, we are to be faithful where He has called us to be. He is worthy of our worship. Are you living it out?

God is real. Die like it.

“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” –John 17:3

Life. This is life –to know Him.

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Our VOICE motto is “God is real. Live like it.” I read it often in the mirror when I wear one of my VOICE t-shirts. I look at the logo of the heartbeat beginning with a cross and I realize that true life starts with Christ. Isn’t it interesting that it is a symbol of death by which we, as believers, are recognized?

The cross is a symbol of a terribly cruel and painful death, yet we decorate our homes and buy diamond studded jewelry of it. I think perhaps many have grown a little too accustomed to seeing it, a little too familiar with its shape. So, lest it be trite and meaningless in our eyes, let’s take a moment to recognize what it means again.

Would you climb with me up to Golgotha, the hill on which Christ died? Let’s stand at his broken, bloodied feet. Let’s look up and see a dying Savior, bearing all the sin –all our sin. And, let’s hear him speak these words: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)

Do you want to have eternal life? You must know Him. Do you want to know Him? You must die.

The words Jesus spoke in Matthew 16 are significant. He said “take up your cross”. Don’t just wear a symbol of His death –take up YOUR cross! It’s time to die, if you would like to live.

“Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone: but if it die, it brings forth much fruit. He that loves his life shall lose it; and he that hates his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.” –John 12:24-25

I’m not talking about a future physical death. Right now, you can have eternal life flowing through you like a spring of water that cannot be stopped. How?

  1. We must stop trying to do “right” things; we must stop living out the goodness of our own hearts. We cannot live for ourselves and also have eternal life.
  2. We MUST let His Words abide in us and kill off the thoughts of self. We must quit thinking our own thoughts and let His Spirit speak His thoughts in us.

Will you die with me today? More importantly, will you die with Christ, and live?

Looking Down or Looking Up

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

In the past few years, I have dealt with a number of people who I felt were doing their jobs wrong. When I looked at the actions they took, I thought of many different ways that they could act and think differently. By differently, I meant “better”. I looked down on those people because they did not think or act as I thought they should. I lost sight of the people themselves because of the “glasses” of arrogance that I wore. My pride told me I was better. That pride led to anger. Frustrated, I would ask myself why they did not do things as they should be done (as I would do them.) I began to despise them. Whole groups of people became no more than targets of my distain.

This morning I was reminded of Proverbs 6 verses 16-19, which says:

There are six things that the Lord hates,seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.

In my arrogance I looked on my neighbors with haughty eyes. I spoke of them in pride and anger, and not as God sees them, so I spoke with a lying tongue. I was angry without cause, which is the same as shedding innocent blood. Looking at the rest of the 7, I realized that in my arrogance, I acted out each of these 7 abominations to God. That is not a good place to be. It is a scary place to be. God made it pretty clear that I am not lining up my life with the gospel.

I want my life to reflect the gospel. And what does the gospel say? “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” —Isaiah 53.6 “They” are not the ones who are messed up and worthy of judgement, it is “we”, or, me. I am just as deserving of judgement and distain as those I looked down upon. I am more deserving of judgement if Jesus’ treatment of the Pharisees is any indication. Thankfully, judgement is not where the gospel leaves us. Even as my actions have been an abomination to God, Christ has taken my iniquity upon himself. 

Wow. That is pretty cool to think over. Again, God has chosen to lift me out of the pit of my own slime, take the slime on himself, and clean me.

With this renewed perspective, how do I go forward? Micah 6.8 sums it up very nicely:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

This is what God showed me in the mirror of these verses. Take a look for yourself.