Death

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words. When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. (Luke 24:1-9)

This past Palm Sunday, as many Christians took up olive branches and went out into the streets, a spirit passed out of its mortal flesh and away from this life.

She wasn’t tall. Her body was petite but her laugh was very clear and resounding, so you never had to worry about how to find her in a large crowd. She had a blunt personality. If you said something wrong, she would be sure to loudly correct you right away. If she was angry she would loudly announce her dissatisfaction. She was a simple yet sensitive person. Her hair and her eyebrows were jet-black which contrasted with her fair skin. She had a set of piercing, pitch-black eyes and she could speak with those eyes. One look into her eyes and you could tell exactly what she was thinking, whether she was sad or perplexed or perhaps just joking with you. The very first time I saw her I said to her, “You’re so beautiful!” She replied, “Me? No, I’m not.” She never discovered how truly beautiful she was.

Those beautiful eyes closed in the midst of charcoal fumes, closed forever. I think she was so selfish. How could she decide it was her time to go? How could she leave behind those of us that loved her? But none of us can understand the pain she carried. None of us can judge. We only know that her fear of living was greater than her dread of death. People had scheduled meals together with her, but whether or not those meals will happen, that we must leave up to the Supreme Judge for an answer.

At her memorial service on the morning of April 15th, I thought about what happened to her lively spirit, fun-loving yet full of hurt and suffering. What happened to it? As I watched her body being pushed into the little room my own spirit felt heavy. The spirit. It’s a heavy thing, unique and precious. How can we bear something so heavy?

I thought of a Body with a spirit inside which carried the weight of all things and all time on the day that heaven and earth were changed…it must have been extremely heavy. Exhausted, parched, misunderstood; He seemed to be voluntarily moving, slowly but steadily, towards His own death. One step, one fall, one lash of the whip, one tear, one nail, one sigh…the end. His eyes, closed forever. People moved His body but they knew He wasn’t inside anymore. The next day they knew He was gone, remaining only in memory.

But then I saw, on the day after that, His eyes opened forever. He is the only one able to bear the heavy weight of the spirit, and without one broken bone!  He is the only one who has experienced death and yet the poisonous, evil power of death could not harm Him! My friend’s coffin bears the weight of her corpse, sad and decaying, but Jesus’ grave is empty! “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5b) We no longer need to be a witness to death in this dark world. We just ask that when He walks with us and guides us we will be able to recognize when He comes. (Luke 24:13-34)

Some say that the situation Christians are in now is like the Saturday of the first Easter weekend. Jesus has already died on Friday and Sunday is on its way when we’ll get to see Jesus’ resurrection manifest before our eyes. Even though we’re in this “already but no yet” stage, we still need to encourage each other and remind each other not to forget our true hope. To put it simply, even though we still need to go to work, even though we can’t skip class, even though our heads might still hurt, we still should be reminding each other of God’s love, remembering Jesus in daily life, talking with Jesus, loving Him and receiving His tender care. Remember, He came to put an end to the anguish of suffering. He came to put Death to death. He came so that one day His people can be reunited with His beloved Father. Together. Sitting down for the feast that we have longed for for so long.

My friend is gone and I don’t know if I’ll ever see her again, but I know my Jesus is still alive. He knows all things and He’s in charge of all things.

 

Death, be not proud

by John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

 

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

Striving

“What are you striving for?” a guest speaker at my church asked.

Frankly, I’m a little surprised I even heard him. I often zone out, get distracted thinking about all the things I need to prepare for work on Monday, or am too busy critiquing what is being said to actually let my heart listen. But I heard him this time and my mind made the connection that he had been pushing towards throughout the entire sermon while at the same time my heart told me this was something I needed to hear. We all are striving for something. We’re all spending effort chasing after something. It could be entertainment, parties, friendships, romantic relationships, money, power, prestige…it could be all of those things.

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I know what I currently AM striving for, but what SHOULD I be striving for?

The thing that hit me while sitting in church that Sunday was this: the things I’m striving for, they might not be bad things, but they’re not the most important thing. The most important thing is knowing God and knowing He knows me, personally. Everything else comes second. Am I striving to know God? Do I spend effort, actual effort, to know God more?

So yeah, God is helping me readjust how I think about my time and effort and what’s important. To be honest, I will probably need God to adjust my thinking again, soon. And again soon after that, and again after that.

Realign, refocus, renew, restore, redeem.

“What sort of tale have we fallen into?”

In this world full of wounds and desolation, we can only hobble forward, like in The Lord of the Rings when Sam miserably asks Frodo: “What sort of tale have we fallen into?”.

Just look at all the “wounds and desolation”:
2001: The September 11 attacks, USA
2002: Bombing incidents, India
2003: Bombing incidents, Iraq
2004: Madrid train bombings, Spain
2005: London subway bombings, England
2006: Mumbai train bombings, India
2007: Bombing attacks, Pakistan
2012: Houla massacre, Syria
2013: Westgate shopping mall attack, Kenya
2014: School attack, Nigeria
2015: Paris attacks, France

Perhaps you are already used to it—you get up one morning to find that some corner of the world has changed forever. They are weeping, they are helpless, they are caught in the middle of an uncertain struggle.

Perhaps you are already used to it—trying your best not to think about the possibility of this kind of tragedy happen to you. If something did happen, what could you really do about it, anyway?

Perhaps you are already used to it—you think about it sometimes when you’re alone: Where can we escape to? Everywhere we look is full of the unknown, it has all grown wild and there’s no feeling of security anywhere.

We angrily shake our fists. We talk about how much those people deserve to die because they have no kindness in them. We hate the terrorists. We fear them. We hope that someone would just wipe them out. And then one day we hear a different voice. A voice that seems to awaken something within us…but it’s unclear exactly what that something is.

“Bad guys are not very nice. And…we have to be careful…we have to change houses.”
“Oh no, don’t worry. We don’t need to move. France is our home”
“But there’s bud guys, daddy!”
“Yes, but there’s bad guys everywhere.”
“They have guns. They can shoot us!”
“It’s ok. They might have guns, but we have flowers.”
“The flowers and the candles are here to protect us.” (Interview after Paris attacks)

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Isn’t it this same way in our relationships? When we’re hurt we instinctively choose to run away, whether it’s in our hearts or with our actions. We try to build a wall—we try to disguise ourselves. We don’t want a sincere apology and we don’t want complete reconciliation in the relationship. We just want to pretend nothing ever happened. Sometimes, when we see that person, the harsh words they used to sting us come flashing back and our heart cowers for a moment—yet on the outside we’re calm and collected. Our conversations and laughter lacks a genuine care, replaced by a hint of passive aggression.

What does our faith say about this? When the whole world had picked up stones, ready to hurl them at each other, Someone laid a hand on my shoulder and said, “Child, neither do I condemn you”. My angry fist slowly loosens and I turn to face my Jesus, only to discover He is already beaten and bruised. And yet, He’s still smiling with His arms open wide…waiting for me. When the voices of popular opinion are all promoting the use of mass violence to conquer the world, my Lord stands there behind Pilate. He’s wearing a crown of thorns. His shoulders are draped with a purple robe. As mankind moves back and forth in a cycle of revenge, Jesus is being nailed to the cross. His arms spread wide, just like my mom would do when she would say, “I love you this much!”.

When I think of this, I know my heart has already been conquered by the love of Jesus and it is hidden away in my Lord. Therefore, I have the ability to learn to embrace those around me, even though I know I’m giving them the power to hurt me. When faced with incidents of terrorism, I choose not to let myself be filled with hate. They will not win my heart. When my heart is hidden with my Lord, they cannot take it away.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” ~ John 10:10

In this world full of wounds and desolation, we can only hobble forward, like in The Lord of the Rings when Sam miserably asks Frodo: “What sort of tale have we fallen into?”.

But when I look at my Lord, my heart knows this is going to be a beautiful story.

What is beauty?
Beauty is flower-like weakness
It’s the fragrance shed after being crushed

Beauty is the silent forming of a scab after injury
It’s an irresistible embrace, even before the scab has finished forming
It’s coming from the embrace bloodied and bruised, yet blessed

Beauty, a quiet collection of tears
The expunging of anger that ought to be
The sifting of scalding criticism
Morphing it into profound perspective

What is beauty?
Beauty is a lamb-like innocence
It’s being transformed while still bearing scars

Author: Esther Lee

Translator: Ethan Feig

(in)security

Wow. It’s been a while since I have been honored to share my thoughts on the VOICE blog. Last time I wrote about love. Since my last post I have felt God’s work in my life in some very profound ways. I’ll share a little about it now. Don’t worry though, I’ll keep it short because, you know…modern attention spans.

First, history. I have always been pretty insecure. In the past I have tried to conceal my own insecurities with a façade of mystery, activity, humor, or bravado designed to direction people’s attention away from what I felt were my glaring deficiencies. I think pride and fear are the base elements of insecurity. Pride hindered me from admitting my faults and needs and fear of rejection paralyzed me from reaching out for help. This, of course, meant I couldn’t let others in too close. Not allowing other people to get close sucks, but at least you don’t get rejected and hurt. That was my thinking.

Anyway, eventually and inevitably something happened that poked my insecurity in the face, making it flare up and out of control. My pride and fear drove me away from Christian community. I stopped going to church, fellowship groups and Bible studies. I lived as numbly as I could, knowing change was needed, but not knowing what or how.

Alone

Then, this summer. After my last VOICE blog post about love, God began to remove the calluses on my heart and shower my life with love. First at home, then at VOICE 2015. (If you weren’t there, you should have been. It was awesome.) At pivotal moments throughout the summer, God used His people in my life to show how powerful applied Christianity can be and how healing the love of God is to a tired soul. God used the love, acceptance, forgiveness, and understanding of my family and friends to show me my need to open up to the love, acceptance, forgiveness, and understanding that He was continuously, graciously offering me.

After VOICE I moved back to Taiwan and began a new job. I have been shocked at how God has been faithful to calm, comfort and inspire me, even when dealing with new situations and regularly feeling like I’m in over my head. He is teaching me that I don’t need to live in insecurity but instead I can live in the security of Christ’s redemption and love.

That’s what God has been teaching me.

Love

June 26, 2015 will become known as a very historic day in American history. As I’m sure everyone has heard, the United States Supreme Court passed a ruling making gay marriage legal in all 50 states. For the past few years living in Taiwan I have intentionally ignored much of the political news coming from the U.S. However, when I arrived in the States on the 24th for a nearly two month visit I was almost unavoidably thrown back into the very polarized environment that is the American political culture. On one hand, I am enjoying discussing hot topics and hashing out my own beliefs. On the other hand, I was disappointed and somewhat disheartened to see much of the response coming from Christian circles to the government’s ruling. In contrast to the gay marriage debate, I also attended the wedding of VOICE’s very own Matthew and Cami last weekend (6/28). In addition, my sister is getting married this weekend (7/4). (The craziness of weddings and wedding prep is partially why this blog post is so late!)  All of these things have set me off thinking deeply about love.

Love

Throughout the gay marriage discussion the importance of love is trumpeted by both sides despite having very differing ideas on the actual meaning of love. So what is love? Wedding ceremonies often have someone read 1st Corinthians 13 which is a very popular Bible passage about love. It is a beautiful summary of why love is so important and what love looks like. It also applies to the kind of love we should show one another every day and not just the love inside a marriage. I’d encourage you to read it and think about your interactions with people you disagree with. Are you patient? Are you kind? Are you acting out of arrogance, envy or pride? Are you irritable? Easily angered? Do you get excited about truth? Those are the things we should be thinking about when addressing not only gay marriage but also in our general, everyday encounters with Christians and non-Christians alike. Love is so important here.

Love has won

The LGBT community loves the word ‘love’ and so do I. “Love has won” was chanted by a crowd of people immediately following the announcement of the decision in favor of gay marriage. I agree with the phrase but not for the reasons they were chanting it. Love has won because Christ offered himself for our sins. My sins. Your sins. Straight sins. Gay sins. All sins. Love has won because there is hope for redemption. Love wins when Christ-followers show Christ’s love to everyone around them.

A Lesson I Haven’t Learned

I hurt my knee recently. It wasn’t serious; I just bruised it slightly playing football. However, to give it time to heal I stopped running for a few days and favored that leg until it felt fine to walk on it again.

On an unrelated note, the idea of ‘community’ has been a recent trending topic in Christian circles. I’ve certainly talked about it a lot in the past few years and have read blog posts, heard sermons, and been a part of Bible studies that have discussed what Christian community should look like.

Christian community has many different aspects including encouraging each other, providing for each other, guiding each other, warning each other and building each other up in the love of Christ, but hurting my leg got me thinking about another part of Christian community talked about in Galatians 6.

 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2, ESV).

We’re told to look out for each other in difficult times. In addition to providing encouragement and spiritual companionship, the idea of community also has a very active component to it. When I hurt my knee I had to rely on my other leg more while the hurt one healed. In the same way, as members of the Body of Christ, when one of us is hurting, overwhelmed, scared or frustrated God asks the rest of us to step up. Take on some of that hardship. Help a brother out.

Photo by Creativity103

From what I can see, sharing burdens requires two things. First, it requires Christians who are willing to reach out to their fellow believers in love, compassion and often forgiveness. Now for what I haven’t learned yet. The second thing this requires is people who are willing to admit they are scared, hurt, confused, frustrated and unable. It require people to admit they need help. It requires believers to admit that they can’t handle their problems on their own.

It requires me to admit that I’m weak and incapable. I have to admit that God has put other weak and incapable people around me to help me, that I need them. It requires humility.

Are you willing to be someone’s Christian community?

Or do you need a helping hand?

Can you admit your need?