Write! Because My Life Depends On It

Homeless from Flickr via Wylio
© 2008 Brad Saunders, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

I kept thinking about my friend’s words to me the night before as I was driving toward the intersection of Highway 84 and Decoto Road. He said, “Tim, you should be a writer. You should write a book.” It was not the first time he said such things to me, but like the previous few times, I brushed him off. “I’m a nobody. Why would anyone want to read what I write?”

But I was at a crossroads in my life, just like this intersection that I was driving towards. At the time (which was two weeks ago), I had just submitted my resignation letter to my boss. I didn’t know (and still don’t know) what to do next. I just felt a change is necessary. Pragmatically, I knew I needed to stay home a bit more because my wife had been busy taking care of her dad, who just had a 3rd stroke in the last couple years, let alone recovering from two bouts of cancer. Spiritually, the church we started three years ago went through lots of challenges, and yet we’re seeing God’s hands guiding us to learn to embrace our brokenness and walk a journey of weakness where His strength is all we could rely on. Going through all those storms in life, it’s not been easy. I decided to take a risk by quitting my job, to take some time to sort out why I don’t feel passionate about the same things as I did before. The winds of change is in the air and I’m ready to go for a ride.

I thought and thought about my friend’s words. Did I brush him off too quickly? I used to write in this blog for a long time, in fact from 2005 to 2013 I wrote quite regularly. But after a while, I wasn’t sure why I was writing, or who I was writing to. So I stopped. But recently I was surprised when I heard from a friend that he had a friend who knew about me from this blog, and that he enjoyed my writing. And yeah, I’ve thought about restarting this blog a couple times during the last 4 years. But is that why I should write?

As I drove up to the intersection, out of the corner of my eye I saw someone among the growth of bushes and short trees on my left hand side. Since I was stopped at the red light, I looked to my left, and to my astonishment, I saw a homeless person doing something that I haven’t done seriously in a long time: he was writing some words on a cardboard. It just happened that this intersection was a popular spot for homeless people to panhandle, and I’ve also helped a few fellows before. But I’ve never caught sight of one of them in the act of writing on a cardboard.

As I drove past the intersection, this realization came to me: He was writing because his life depended on it! Not only am I ashamed that he’s written more words than I’ve written in some time, but even more importantly, he’s written much more weightier words than I’ve written in a long long time, because his very survival depended on how he crafted his writing.

That day I’ve decided to restart this blog. I’m not writing to get donations from you (although that would be nice 😀). I’m not necessarily writing to get fans (although any feedback would be welcome and it would encourage me very much!). But because I have a tendency to work out what I believe in writing, almost like I’m engaging in an internal battle of arguments. It was basically the equivalent of “talking to myself” according to what Martyn Lloyd-Jones said in the book “Spiritual Depression”:

The main trouble in this whole matter of spiritual depression in a sense is this, that we allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self. Am I just trying to be deliberately paradoxical? Far from it. This is the very essence of wisdom in this matter. Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problem of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself, ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul?’ he asks. His soul had been repressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says: ‘Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you’. Do you know what I mean? If you do not, you have but little experience.

The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: ‘Why art thou cast down’ — what business have you to be disquieted? You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: ‘Hope thou in God’ — instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do. Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: ‘I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God’.

So I’m writing again, because my life depends on it. I’m writing to allow my inner voice an avenue to worship the God who I trust to continue to guide the journey of my life into something meaningful, just as He’s faithfully guided me all these years.

My wish, also, is that my words will be life-giving, not just for me but for also you, my readers, as well. So I invite you all to come along for this ride! I’m curious for what the coming days, weeks, and months will bring, because I have no idea where God will bring me (and my family), but I trust that wherever we end up, He’s faithful and trustworthy to carry us through.

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Church Is Like Pizza

'Pizza' photo (c) 2010, Molly Elliott - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Church is like pizza
And the secret to great pizza
Lies not in its fanciful toppings
But in having a perfectly chewy or crunchy crust
Likewise the success of a church
Is not in spinning attractional methods and programs
But grounded in the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27)
And its faithfulness in living out the gospel (1 Tim 4:15-16, Gal 2:20)

Church is like pizza
And the process of making a pizza
The dough had to be kneaded and punched down
The pizza had to endure a fiery oven
Likewise the mark of a church
Involves suffering for the kingdom of God (2 Tim 1:8, 2 Thess 1:5, 1 Peter 4:12-19)
And the fruit of a church are changed lives (2 Cor 3:18)
And becoming more and more Christlike (Rom 8:29)

Church is like pizza
And the act of eating pizza
Is an inherently communal experience
Use your fingers! Take a slice or two!
Likewise the mission of a church
Is not in appeasing felt needs of individuals
But living in unity, always looking out for one another (Acts 4:32-35)
And in giving itself for the sake of its community (Matt 5:13-14, Jer 29:7)

Bon appétit!

What is social justice?

“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:17)

'poor' photo (c) 2006, Tinou Bao - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I was reading a touching story on Christianity Today by Russell Jeung in an article entitled Saved By My Refugee Neighbors in which Mr. Jeung and his family moved into a low-income community in Oakland to try to effect social change there. But instead, he was enveloped with kindness by the residents there. It was he who was transformed more than he transforming them. And even though no Bible passage was cited, you cannot help but realize that he’s truly living out Matthew 25:35-36: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”

And in the middle of the story, this sentence stuck with me: “… social justice isn’t about asserting [one’s] rights, but about taking responsibility for others.”

It just happened that I discovered Mr. Jeung’s story a couple days after the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA. Although I do not agree with the ruling (and I’ve clearly written about my opinion on this before), part of me feels the pain of the homosexual community for always wanting to be recognized with equal rights. In addition, I was wary of what kind of response that various groups would give. My prayer was that everyone would respond and communicate in grace.

And then, to my dismay, I read someone who posted this: “I do not support homosexuality or homosexual marriage. …… We have a right to speak what we believe, same as you have a right to speak what you believe.” I was sad after reading that last sentence. Why would anyone have the need to emphasize one’s “rights” to speak what one believes? Why is there (on both sides of the DOMA ruling) such a focus on “rights” for themselves?

Again, Mr. Jeung wrote: “… social justice isn’t about asserting [one’s] rights, but about taking responsibility for others.” Can we stop looking to defend our own rights, and start looking at others’? The mark of true social justice is in taking up other people’s causes, not your own. For example:

“Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:9)

Social justice in the Bible is speaking out for others, not for yourself. And it is more than words, but also in deed and in truth:

“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:17-18)

Social justice is not just a suggestion, but a command. And failing to do social justice is displeasing to God:

“Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. … if you will not obey these words, I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that this house shall become a desolation.” (Jeremiah 22:3,5)

So let me close with Mr. Jeung’s words yet again, and may we take heart: “… social justice isn’t about asserting [one’s] rights, but about taking responsibility for others.”

Stop Asking “What’s In It For Me?”

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While playing with my kids on our street a few weeks ago, my neighbor came over and said hi. “Wow you have four kids!” He exclaimed, paused, and then continued, “I guess it’s better for the future.” “What do you mean?” I asked. “You know, when you’re old, they’ll take care of you.”

I went silent for a while after that because I got a bit angry and I didn’t want to say something I’d regret. I kept thinking, “Is this the reason that you think I have children? That thought never entered my mind!”

But then I realized two things. One, although I never thought about my retirement care, I am still a sinful human being. From time to time I did stuff for my children and I secretly wanted them to appreciate me. In pride I wanted a pat on the back from people that I manage my kids well. Although by God’s grace I’ave learned to have fewer and fewer of those selfish thoughts, yet I still need to admit my propensity toward seeking self comfort and self interests.

And for another, I realize I am an Asian. My neighbor knows Asian culture, and he knows lots of us wish their children would take care of them when they get old. It’s a very typical Asian way of thinking. What he doesn’t realize is that although my primary earthly culture is Chinese, I have learned to live as a citizen of the kingdom of God.

I know this is an unusual story to share on this Father’s Day, but somehow I just felt today that I wanted to urge all my fellow father friends, especially those who are brothers in Christ, to stop asking “What’s in it for me?” when it comes to you being a father and a husband.

This “What’s in it for me?” attitude is what leads to broken families, divorces, fathers leaving children, etc. The sense of entitlement in a marriage, the insatiable need for validation in parenting, are all deadly to healthy family life. You don’t even know whether tomorrow you might die or not, so why do you want your children to serve you when you get old? No, today you should do all you can to pass your faith to the next generation.

Indeed, parenting is an exercise of making disciples for Christ out of your children. And this is the model of the virtuous cycle that God intends for fathers to start: “He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children…” (Psalm 78:5-6)

Growth happens together, not in isolation

'Tree Silhouettes' photo (c) 2009, John Morgan - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

The other day I was talking with some Christians, and someone said that she’s been disappointed in church, but she longs for those times when she “feels close” to God. Then someone else said, “Yeah I understand. And sometimes it’s just easier to grow in faith by yourself, focusing on your own relationship with God.”

As soon as I heard that, I went, “No, I don’t and I can’t agree to that. Let me explain…

“It is tempting to see spirituality as a pursuit that you do by yourself in isolation. Too often we make spiritual formation such a mystical exercise, and we overly uphold the virtues of solitude and meditation. But biblical spirituality is not like that…

“When you read the Bible from start to finish, God’s focus is on building a nation of priests, a people that He calls His own, and raising faith communities that encourage each other and grow together in unity. Think about those times in your past when you experience significant growth in your lives. Invariably, what comes to mind are people who were there, whether they were ones who mentored you, inspired you, walked alongside you, or were served by you. Our periods of intense growth are inevitably marked by the community we belong to (and by “community” I don’t necessarily mean “church” but people who you share your lives with)…

“It’s especially evident when you read the New Testament. Throughout the synoptic gospels and the epistles, most of the time, the reader is presumed to be a community of believers, not individuals.”

Ephesians 4:12-13 says that Christ is “… building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” This process of growth in faith and spiritual knowledge and maturity is meant to happen together. And that is indeed how we usually experience it in our lives.

I’m an introvert myself, so I struggle with this as well. But it’s clear what God wants. I also need to remind myself that I shouldn’t be a lone ranger, thinking I can just grow by myself. “Personal” growth is not necessarily a good goal to have. Don’t think of yourself as more spiritually mature than other people, because as a community, we all need to attain maturity together. We need to share our lives and lives our lives with each other and to grow together. It could be messy, but it’s worth it.

May you have a *Confusing* Easter Sunday

'Why' photo (c) 2011, Ksayer1 - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Millions in this country will be celebrating Easter this Sunday. Either masses of people are delusional for believing a dead person became alive, or it really happened, and the implications are far-reaching. In any case, no one can possibly ignore Easter.

And I hope you experience a “confusing” Easter this Sunday. Let me explain.

Last night we had a worship band practice. During prayer time, someone prayed that God would act in such a way that we cannot attribute the reason to anything else other than God in action. And fellow band member Ted prayed, “God, when we come together to celebrate Easter, please confuse us! Confuse us!”

I loved that prayer. It reminded me that a few weeks ago, a pastor showed this viral video to us to make a point:

The video’s really funny (and I feel bad for those drive-thru workers). And it’s a great illustration for how confusing it could be to see God working — because if the car is moving and no one is driving it, how else can you explain it?

In the same way, I hope this Easter Sunday, you will be confused as well. Not just confused intellectually that someone might have risen from the dead, but also confused how a God could go to this length to rescue us, and confused how God loves us.

May you all have a confusing Easter Sunday.

When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54)

King of California

I’ve been tried explaining to 7-year-old Chase what “government” is. He wants to see “government” so I said one of these days I would take him to Sacramento to visit.

“At Sacramento, will I see a chair for the king there?” Chase asked me earlier today

I said, “Er… you think there’s a king in California?”

Chase: “Yeah.”

I said, “So who’s this King of California? What’s the name of the king?”

Chase replied, “God.”