From Death to Life

17 years ago I was a healthy kid who liked math, and liked to have fun. I planned to be a doctor when I grew up. School was interesting, and I liked playing sports and games with my friends and family. I wanted to enjoy life, succeed, and help people.

Then, one weekend in 2000, that life stopped. I awoke with an excruciating headache. Pain shot through my eyes, face, and the top of my head. I was dizzy, and wanted to throw up. Light hurt my eyes, and sounds were irritating. Trying to sleep was the one thing I could do. I rested all day, sure that I could sleep it off and wake up the next day to return to life as usual.

The next morning the headache remained, as strong as the day before. I was shocked. Pain was not supposed to last that long! The pain was gone on the third day, but it came back within a few days. Over the next weeks and months the headaches lasted longer and longer. Soon, they lasted for more than a month without stopping.

I felt constant pain, which sucked the fun out of my days. I felt worthless, like a broken toy, becoming a doctor and succeeding in life now seemed so far away. I felt stupid, the words I would form in my mouth sounded idiotic when I actually said them. I felt alone – no one I knew could understand what I was going through. I felt hopeless, that there was no help for me. Somewhere in the next year, at around 11 years old, I lost the desire to fight. If this was life, I did not want to live anymore. Death seemed like the best escape. So I waited for what had taken my health to hopefully take my life.

Why did I not kill myself? Because I believed two things: there is a God, and killing myself would bring me from the frying pan into the fire. So I asked God to end my life for me. Somehow getting better seemed to be impossible, and I would die someday, so why not sooner, before I had to suffer any longer?

Several years went by. The thing that stood between me and death was my belief in God. One day, as I stood in my parent’s garage, I had a clear thought pop into my head, “There is no God.” Just as soon as I thought it, I felt God say to me, “You know that there is a God. You know I am real.” I had to agree. I had seen and heard so many things that convinced me of His existence.

Seven years after the headaches started, something new happened. A wise friend taught me about knowing God as a close friend. I felt God tell me, “I love you.” I learned there is great joy in helping others. I gave up the control of my life to God, and gave up the things in my life that I knew He hated. I felt God’s presence, and that finally, someone – Jesus – understood what I was going through. I felt Him there with me in my pain.

A week or so before my 18th birthday, I was praying, and I felt God say to me, “I do not want you to die and go to heaven yet. I have things for you to do, and things for you to learn.” I said “Ok.” Something changed in my heart that day. I no longer wanted to die. I had a new desire to live. Even in the pain, I was so happy.

Almost 10 years later, my headache is less intense, but still there. From that moment until writing this post, every waking moment has included the pain of a headache. Yet I am still so very thankful to be alive. Every day is a gift. Each day filled with pain is also full of life and love. God is with me in the pain, and gives me the strength for each day, and a hope that one day it will be gone. I was broken, but God is putting me back together. I was alone, but the One who suffered more than anyone else is with me. He helps me understand and comfort others who suffer – which makes my suffering worth it. He lifts me up, He gives me worth, He gives life.

This is just one of the many ways that the gospel of Jesus Christ has brought me from death to life.

Not Alone

Be, Not Do

Last weekend, when I was supposed to have posted this, I was at a young adult retreat out in the middle of nowhere. No signal, no wi-fi — only massive bugs that bit like none other. On my 4-hour drive down, I could see messages flashing on my phone – questions, comments, and concerns from students, their parents, and school staff. Because the retreat occurred over a long weekend, I was unable to work for almost 4 days, and it bothered me so badly that I sometimes found it difficult to focus on the sermons and enjoy “free time” with the other attendees.

So now I’m one week late in writing my VOICE blog post, it’s 5:20am, and I’m at the airport on half an hour of sleep. After a few more legs of flight, I’ll be in China for a two-week mission trip, teaching English in universities as a means to build relationships for Christ.

Six years ago, on the same mission trip, our missionary contact shared three words that I have since spoken to others and myself countless times: “be, not ‘do’.”

Be, not do.

This phrase may very well summarize my greatest struggle. My life has been about “doing” for as long as I can remember, and for anyone like me, society calls for a relatively-conservative, performance-based, Asian, female Christian to be nothing less.

This spring, after months of sleepless nights and early mornings and “almost-sick” and “still sick” and being stricken with deep fear to the point where I could only sit and think of how scared I was of every day, I took a week for recuperation. (Granted, it was Spring Break, so my break was mandatory, but.)

During that time, I pushed aside the majority of work waiting for me, read a few chapters from Shauna Neiquist’s “Present Over Perfect,” and went to a different church to escape “being” and to simply hear and be. And I heard. God knew what I needed to hear from Him because the pastor spoke on how fear is a result of pride, pride the child of a lack of humility, and humility only gained when we allow God to take complete control of our lives through daily surrender, basking in His word, and choosing to let go of any incidence that causes me to bristle in defense.

It’s been better, since. Better, but a far cry from the complete surrender I want in Christ.

Yet the more I see my human incapacity to let go of all the tangled threads I’m clinging to, the more I know that God does not call me to do anything by myself.

A snippet from one of the messages at the retreat reads: “Godly character finds its identity solely in the Lord your God.” My frazzled doing, if it fully believed that all my worth rested in what God has done, is doing, and will do for me, would morph into a trusting being.

In Christ, we are both called to strive 100% to complete the tasks He has given us and to allow God to take 100% control of all circumstances.

We are human beings, not human doings.

And so six years after the words “be, not do” were spoken into my life, I’m encouraged to know that in my constant struggle to surrender my fear and pride and idolization of control, God is slowly but surely working His will into my life. I have been called to complete the good works in Him that He ordained for me before creation, but I have been saved in grace and faith, and it. Is. Not. My. Own. Doing.

Shining on the Evil and the Good

We often ask why bad things happen to us, but have you ever stopped to ask why so many good things have happened to you? I have recently found myself asking, “Why have I received so many blessings?” 

In the Bible, I found Matthew 5:45b, which says, “For [God] makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Even for those who are evil, God still gives the blessings of rain and sunshine. If we read all of Matthew 5:43-45, He tells us to do the same. ‘“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”’

So why has God blessed me or other followers of Christ? So that we may bless others, even if they are evil and unjust. In other places God says that a judgement is coming. Therefore, if they do not repent, the blessings given to evil people do not last forever. However, our part in this life, as God’s adopted children, is to bless. 

If you do not follow Christ, then the idea of God blessing the just and the unjust should be scary, yet give you hope at the same time. Why? Because it means that if life is going well it does not automatically mean that God is pleased with you. The hope that it gives is this, that just as God has been merciful in giving you life, provisions, and many blessings in this life in spite of the wrong that you have done (according to God’s law we have all done wrong), that He will give you grace and mercy that lasts forever if you believe in His Son Jesus Christ. 

Sun on Evil and Good

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.”

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.

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.

photo-1452626038306-9aae5e071dd3-min-min__1472392066_123.241.48.214

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.

The Sourness of “Cherry Picking”

I admit, lately I’ve been having a hard time not getting really frustrated by “Christian” society/culture. Before I tell you why, let me say that I know I am deeply flawed. I have so many things that I need to let God change in my life. I’m not denying that. Still…

I wonder if you’ve noticed the same situation too? It’s when so-called Christians “zero in” on one sin, and treat it worse than others.

cherries-1503974_1920In English, doing something like this [i.e. talking about or choosing only what you want and disregarding the rest] can be called “cherry picking”.

This kind of cherry picking gives unbelievers the wrong impression! They think all Christians believe we’re better, or without sin. But, if we are serious disciples, we know that the Bible condemns such ideas as hypocritical and prideful.

Moreover, others won’t be able to see God’s TRUE JUSTICE if we only tell them that God judges the sins that we consider bad, while pretending that He ignores the ones we want to hide! That’s deceptive (and ignorant).


Often, recently, I’ve had to explain to several people that “No… homosexuality is not the only sin God hates. Any sexual activity that is not between a husband and wife who are in a committed, lifelong marriage-covenant-relationship (ex. having an affair, sex before marriage, incest, polygamy, etc.) is all against His perfect design… AND, in fact, lying, gossip, anger (uh-oh) :(, cheating, gluttony, lust, and a bunch of other things are also sins. ……
……
BUT FURTHERMORE, because of Christ, all of these things can be forgiven!
Washed clean, forever.


I should add that, sometimes the problem is that we Christians ADD things to the list that God never said were sins… legalism. — Nevertheless, whether we “add sins” or take them away, others can’t see God’s TRUE GRACE if we pretend like our “goodness” has anything to do with our salvation.

Either Jesus’ blood washes ALL of our sins, or NONE of them.

*sigh*

I don’t think that this problem will ever go away. I think it’s one of Satan’s tactics.
But it just seems like it’s so hard to share the gospel with people when almost everything they ever hear about Christianity is false, flawed, only half true, or told by people who only half-follow Christ…

Do you ever feel this way too?

Who’s in Control?

Jesus asked his followers a startling question one day: “Why do you call me ‘Lord’ and not do the things that I say?” Jesus was essentially saying, “Why do you insinuate that I am your king but don’t do what I’ve asked you?”

This question should pierce the heart of everyone who calls themselves a disciple of Jesus. Who is Jesus to you? Is He real? Is He someone you turn to only when times are hard, or merely someone that you look to because you had parents that steered you in the direction of Christianity? There is no way that we can declare He is real, and the Lord of our life, and still consistently withhold a portion of the control of our lives.

Jesus wants a relationship with you so bad that He was willing to die to get it. But living up to the greatest potential of that relationship requires a shift on your part. A shift in your thinking and in your doing – living your life as though it isn’t yours at all. Realizing that your life belongs to Jesus and He is in control. The Lord is a friend to those who fear Him – shifting your entire life to be a faithful follower of the only One worth following.

lord

Recently I had the privilege of getting to know a Christian man who had lived under an oppressive communist regime in Europe for many years. He shared many harrowing stories with me about various hardships and how he smuggled Bibles without the authorities catching him. Although communism has since dissipated in that country and everyone living there has experienced freedom for many years, he said something that really hit me. He stated how he has realized that the hardest thing for any Christian is to just be faithful to Jesus. The temptation is always there to take control of our own lives, but our responsibility as a follower of Christ is to be faithful in our freedom or in persecution.

Let it be said of us
That the Lord was our passion
That with gladness we bore
Every cross we were given
That we fought the good fight
That we finished our course
Knowing within us the power of the risen Lord

Let the cross be our glory
And the Lord be our song
By mercy made holy
By the Spirit made strong

Let the cross be our glory
And the Lord be our song
‘Till the likeness of Jesus
Be through us made known
Let the cross be our glory
And the Lord be our song

(Steve Fry)

I Need Help

When considering what I would write about, I had a small internal crisis. What can I write about that is actually me being authentic, not just writing a fluff piece about something slightly deep that’s safe to share? You see, I have a problem that’s actually skewing my perspective on the community of Christ and causing me to question anything anybody says about Christianity. I go to church and sing the songs and listen to the message and the whole time, I’m constantly condemning others based on my paranoid assumptions. 

I do the following:

  • View every Christian leader with suspicion, especially if they sound confident. (Because confidence is fake)
  • Hear a happy song and instantly assume the singer is a fake.
  • Think people are fake when they’re crying during worship.
  • Don’t give my money to charity, because I’m worried that it’s fake.
  • Read a church sign and instantly jump to conclusions about the church.
  • Assume I’m part of the spiritual elite because I’m better than that other fake person.
  • Think, that person clearly does not understand _______. But I do. (Because I’m not a fake)

And I realize, I’m not really loving people. I’m using the many examples of public Christian failure to bolster my condemnation of people I don’t even know. It’s causing me to miss out on the beauty of Christian community.

It’s like the dwarfs in C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle who refuse to see the new Narnia because of their paranoia and unbelief.

dwarfs_stable

[The dwarfs] will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.”

Part of the beauty of the Christian community is that we all come together at the foot of the cross. We have all sinned, and we are all loved by the same Savior. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

Some ways that I’m going to try to deal with my condemning paranoia (not in order of importance):

  1. Write this blog post. Say the words “I don’t know. I’m struggling. I need help.” Especially because I don’t want to admit those things. I want to be independent and fix my own problems, thank you very much. But I’m sick of staying caught inside my own head trying to sort this all out… The second one is closely related, and better, because it involves community.
  2. Go talk to people in real life about this problem. Even though I’m certain that nobody can understand me the way I understand myself! Oh wait, I don’t understand myself either.
  3. I don’t know! I’m struggling! I need help! But the confusion is less having written this.