This is my first summer since 2004 without VOICE. Even without VOICE this year, many of us past VOICE staff gathered in Saint Louis for a wonderful reunion hosted by Luke and Karen. Part of each day was spent sharing about the lessons God has been teaching us, and through it, I noticed a surprising common denominator: the shadow of a little friend lurking, nagging for our attention, gnawing away at our emotions. You may not yet be aware of it’s presence, but trust me, it can creep upon you in surprising ways.
Author Archives: Tim Chen
You’ve Got a Friend in Me
Last time I wrote on the VOICE blog, it was about the beauty of friendships in Bible Lab. (You can read about it here). In addition to Bible Lab, God has given me some of my best friends through serving in the Children’s Institute. However, this year, God had something a little different — even better than friends — prepared for me. Continue reading
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!
A Chicken Broth Lifestyle
I sipped the steaming chicken broth, and nodded with satisfaction. It was both warming and relaxing, with the perfect balance of flavors. It was rich, but not too heavy. It was a salty savory, but with an undertaste of sweetness. Most importantly, the broth I made tasted just like the broth my mother makes.
For the past few weeks, my mother has been in the US helping Karen with her kids, having just given birth to her third child, Elliot. Drinking chicken broth while my mother is away helped me to appreciate what she does even more, because even though the chicken broth tasted wonderful, there was one critical way where my broth couldn’t compare to my mother’s chicken broth.
You see, chicken broth is a trademark of my mother’s cooking. Comprised of chicken bones, herbs, random bits of meat to add extra flavor, and hours of cooking time, my Mom always has a batch either on the stove or in the fridge. That way, whenever my Mom is cooking, chicken broth is ready to replace water in many a recipe for added flavor and nutrition.
For this to be possible, stewing chicken broth isn’t just something my mom does occasionally: it is a lifestyle of love, requiring a regular investment of time and energy. That’s not an easy thing to do. For me, I only want to show love when it’s convenient. Going out of my way to be ready to show love to others? Why bother? Stewing chicken broth regularly? How inconvenient.
Obviously, that is not a loving attitude, but what can you do when you’re exhausted, when you’re under appreciated, when you’re lazy, and just don’t want to take the time and energy to show love to others?
The funny thing is, my Mom has often said she doesn’t enjoy cooking. Why would she spend so much time doing something she doesn’t enjoy? Because she has learned to use her cooking as a way to serve and love whomever God brings into her path, and in turn, show her love for God. God has done so much for her, so she in turn is willing to do whatever necessary to show love to God. Even through something as little as cooking chicken broth.
“And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[a] you did it to me.” –Matthew 25:40
A Tale of Two Composers
Imagine two different 28-year-olds.
One is a New York Broadway lyricist and composer. His first musical on Broadway has just received the prestigious Tony award (the Oscar award for Broadway musicals). His future is bright, full of exciting opportunities.
The other was born in New York, but has lived in Taiwan for the past 20 years. He works at the VOICE Conference, and every year, he writes a musical for the conference attendees to perform. His future is uncertain, with nothing exciting planned.
You can probably guess that the second 28-year-old is me. Several years ago, I remember watching with admiration at a clip of a new, young composer named Lin-Manuel Miranda rapping his acceptance speech upon receiving a Tony Award. In my heart, I thought “When I’m 28, I want to be just as successful.”
Now that I’m the same age, I’m faced with the reality that I haven’t accomplished what I hoped to. I can’t help wondering, does it mean I’m not talented enough? Am I not hard-working enough?
More to the point, am I… a failure?”
Recently, I’ve gained a new appreciation for Psalm 42. The Psalmist is experiencing great, unsatisfied longings within his heart. “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul…”
Now, the Psalmist could try to convince himself he wasn’t thirsty. “You know, I actually have a pretty good life. I should be grateful with what I have.” Or what if he tried to solve the problems on his own? “If only I had chosen differently, I wouldn’t be thirsty now. If I work really hard, then everything will be okay.”
The key point is he knows what can truly satisfy. “…So panteth my soul after Thee, O God.” Though a thirsty hart may enjoy grass, hay, and corn, only water will do. And while I would like to be famous and successful, none of those things will satisfy. Only God will do.
So what does the Psalmist do? He acknowledges his desires, and looks to the only one who can satisfy them. “Why art thou downcast, O my soul? and Why are thou disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.”
The point isn’t whether or not I am a failure. The point is, am I putting my hope in God? Is He MY God?
Look at me!
“Look at me! Look at me! Uncle, look!” My nephew latches onto my finger, and tugs at me to join him. I can’t help but set aside whatever I’m doing to appreciate his newest discovery: a paper kite, a new acrobatic move, his little sister’s amusing antics, a laundry hamper transformed into a fort, a new monster formed out of Mr. Potato head parts… even the most commonplace things are magical. Being only three years old, everything is new and exciting to my nephew. However, my nephew can’t completely enjoy his discoveries unless he shares it with a friend or family member. And if you are the one he is sharing with, you can’t help but be charmed by his sense of joy and wonder. Though it’s true his obsession with sharing everything with everyone seems a little extreme, at the same time, I realized that all humans, to some degree, are like my nephew. God created humans in his image, and God is a relational God. He has a relationship with Himself within the Trinity, and with us as His children. We are the same way, and an important part of enjoyment and pleasure is being able to share something that you enjoy with someone that you love, and the one you love in turn gets to experience something with you. So that means, if we truly love God, then when something brings us joy and delight, we should naturally also want to share it with God. When you are entertained by a movie, you should tell God about, and see how he feels about it. “Hey God, wasn’t that movie really cool? The script was written so well!” When you complete a difficult task, you can show it off to God. “Hey God, look at this musical that I finished!” One of the most special times that I had with God this past year was during a typhoon in the spring. I love running in the rain, and the sheets of rain crashing from the sky were both wild and refreshing. As I splashed through inch deep puddles around the track, I basked in the power of the storm, and in the presence of the Lord. The coolest thing about it? I think God enjoyed that time, too. Today, why don’t you pick something that you love, and take the time to enjoy it with God together? “Hey, God, look at me! God, look!”
“Be angry and do not sin.” (Ephesians 4:26)
I’ve often prided myself on how I rarely become angry. Others have praised my gentleness, how I rarely lose my temper. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never really understood this verse. Somehow, my mind automatically translated the verse into saying, “If you ever have the misfortune of being angry, make sure you do not sin.” However, this verse is actually an imperative statement; a command, pure, but by no means simple: “BE ANGRY.” Was Paul mistaken in telling us this? Or was it a translation error? After all, isn’t it a sin to be angry?
In some ways, it is helpful to think of anger as being similar to physical pain. Just like our body experiences pain when it is hurt, we experience anger when something – or someone – we love is hurt or destroyed.
So what does “do not sin” mean? Just as we should take steps to treat the reasons for physical pain, we should “…not let the sun go down not on [our] anger” and instead, take quick action to resolve it. Of course, anger is complicated, but the following are a few of the main reasons and ways to respond to it.
- Your love is misplaced.
When we love something we shouldn’t, or we love something MORE than we should, we will become wrongfully angry. It is a sign our priorities need to be adjusted, and that we need to love what God wants us to love.
- Something you love is in pain.
When other people get hurt, do we ignore it? Or do we allow ourselves to become invested in their situation? Do we weep with those who weep?
- Something you love has hurt you.
Love makes us vulnerable. When loved ones hurt us, we should not shut them out, but speak the truth in love.
The problem is, doing this is emotionally draining. I often avoid the inconvenience of anger and confrontation by choosing to not care as much as I should. This is a dangerous attitude: just like lepers will accidentally mutilate themselves without realizing it, people who try to protect themselves from pain can end up allowing terrible things to happen around them.
Contrast this attitude with how God responded to us. He loved mankind with an all consuming love. When we rejected God, God burned with a terrible anger against us. If God had not loved us as much as he did, he could have avoided much pain and anguish. What did he do instead? He took drastic measures to reconcile with us. He sent Jesus to die for our sins, so that we could be reconciled with him again.
In the same way, we shouldn’t wallow in our anger, but should “…be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
This resurrection Sunday, let us remember God’s great love, and thus great anger, and thus great forgiveness.
“And on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied.
For every sin on him was laid.
Here in the death of Christ I’ll live.”
(In Christ Alone, Stuart Townend)
As my sisters tell it, I was quite the bossy little boy. I knew I was always right, and that God was on my side. When others DARED to disagree with me, I would ask them in a shocked, nasally sing-song voice, “You don’t listen to God?!”
This attitude may be amusing in a child, but to my horror, I’ve found it still prevalent in my life, and in the lives of fellow Christians. We think our understanding of God is infallible, shaking our heads, pointing our fingers, presuming to speak on His behalf.
As a Christian born in America, I subconsciously believed my political party was a part of my identity as a Christian. I never realized that I held this belief, or came to question it until 2001.
One Sunday during the aftermath of 9/11, I attended a service in Taiwan where a pastor criticized the American government for seeking revenge, and emphasized the importance of forgiveness. I was disturbed for two reasons. One, how could a Christian disagree with the decisions of my political party in America? Two, why didn’t I understand enough about politics to defend my country’s actions as right and moral?
God created the world, so evolution must be wrong. How can people believe in Jesus and the Bible without knowing the truth?
One year at VOICE, someone on my team disagreed with creationism. I tried to convince him that his science textbooks taught him lies, but in the end, his belief in evolution – and lack of belief in God – remained unchanged.
When I shared my experience with my pastor, he told me something that has slowly transformed my way of thinking over the past ten years.
“We must not allow secondary issues to distract us from what is most important: whether or not they will accept Jesus as Lord.”
But you might ask, what about the verse in I Peter 3:15 that tells us, “…always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you…”?
Exactly. The hope that is within us, that is what we must defend. In all other areas, we must be open to the possibility of our fallibility, or else we will be like Christians joining a murderous crusade to the Holy land, the Catholic church condemning the scientific discoveries of Galileo, or like a self-righteous little boy who has still so much to learn about God.
Ashes of the Past
“What once was beautiful–
Enthroned in light–
Has withered into ash.
Now bliss is blight.”
The Taiwan CI (Children’s Institute) ministry reached its height back in 2001. The Taipei seminar was filled to capacity: 450 children, with even more turned away at the door, it was almost more than the teachers could handle. As an interpreter that week, I personally had a blast, especially once I discovered that my team leader and I had the largest small group.
Two teachers. Twenty-seven children. Ultimate bragging rights!
Little did I know that not only was it the biggest team that week, there would never again be a team of that size. From that point onward, the CIs in Taiwan entered a slow but steady decline, until finally, twelve years later, they hit the low point at the 2013 Hualien seminar.
Twenty-three teachers. Twenty-seven children. How times have changed.
For the past fifteen years, I have been involved with the Taiwanese CIs in practically every way possible. I first participated as a child, progressed to passing out materials, interpreting, teaching, and telling stories, and eventually became the director in 2007. As my responsibilities have grown, so has this once-thriving ministry withered. Despite doing my best to lead the ragged remainders, it gets rather discouraging.
“Why am I STILL doing this?” I ask myself. “Others have moved on with their lives – isn’t there something more important for me to do?”
Then guilt comes along. “Is it MY fault that the CIs have come to this? I should just give up; face it, the glory days of CI are over.”
The Israelites returning from captivity in Babylon faced a similar situation when rebuilding the temple, a legendary structure from the glorious reign of King Solomon. Upon the completion of the foundation, those who remembered the original structure burst into tears. The barely-begun temple clearly could never compare to the original. Why even bother continuing?
In the midst of their despair, God comforted them with these words, which in turn comfort me as I continue to serve in the CIs.
“Does anyone remember how glorious this temple used to be? Now it looks like nothing. But cheer up! Because I, the Lord All-Powerful, will be here to help you with the work, just as I promised your ancestors when I brought them out of Egypt. Don’t worry. My Spirit is right here with you.” (Haggai 2:3-5, CEV)
Although it would be too complicated to detail how this year’s seminars went, suffice it to say that God WAS still with us, and He still helped us to finish the work, just like He did back in 2001. You want to know more? You’ll have to ask me to find out, or better yet, join the CI some time as a teacher.
Unspoken, or Forgotten?
“So, Tim, why are you doing this?”
I was telling my Mom about some of the ideas I had for the short musical contest that I had signed up for, when she turned around to look at me to ask the question. It was a simple enough question, and yet I found it a little irritating. To me, it implied that she thought something was wrong, that I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.
“Well, on the one hand, I’m following the advice that another composer gave me: I need to write more often, give myself more deadlines. Also, doing this will give me experience writing a short musical in Chinese, and I’ll be able to get in contact with other people in Taiwan who are interested in musicals, so more people can find out about my work. Why are you asking?”
Mom raised her eyebrows and replied, “I just thought that the main purpose should be to glorify God.”
I flushed, slightly embarrassed that I forgot to mention something so important, but I quickly defended myself, “Oh, of course that’s the main reason! I just took it for granted that you would know it’s the unspoken reason for why I’m writing this musical, so I didn’t even bother mentioning it.”
As I turned back to work on the musical, the question continued to gnaw away at me. Was I really doing it for the glory of God? Or had I become completely focused on writing this musical for my own potential gain and benefit?
A few hundred years ago, the term “Soli Deo gloria” was written by composers such as Bach and Handel on many of their music compositions. It is the Latin phrase meaning “Glory to God alone.” It was a reminder for themselves – and everyone in the future who would read their manuscripts – that the purpose of their music was to bring glory to God. I’m also discovering the importance of constantly reminding myself that the purpose of my work should be to glorify God.
Practically speaking, what does it look like when a musical is written with the purpose of glorifying God? I’m still learning, but one thing I know: often I am focused on just the final product, when God should be glorified throughout the entire process. That means constantly reminding myself and everyone I’m working with WHY we’re doing what we’re doing.
Most importantly, God should be glorified not only through the musical, but in EVERYTHING that I do.
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
I Corinthians 10:31