George Washington’s Vision at Valley Forge

Easter Sunday: Jesus rose victorious

The Resurrection of Christ, 1700 (oil on canvas) by Noel Coypel (1628-1707)

We have good news today. Jesus came out of the empty tomb.  He was resurrected in bodily form on the Third Day, and rose to live again in the flesh.  He is victorious over death. This is huge. 

Coronavirus or no coronavirus. If death could not hold Jesus in the tomb, then death will not be able to hold us down in the grave either. 

Death is one of the biggest fears of humankind, especially now when COVID-19 is happening before us.  If God in Christ Jesus defeated death on Easter, we also have hope of eternal life with God forever. We have something to celebrate on Easter this Sunday.

I’m super stoked to recite the Apostles Creed out loud (even if I’m in isolation):

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

Peace overcomes pain

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.

Psalm 22:1-2, Bible

This psalm from chapter 22 is often read on Good Friday. Christians have associated this text to the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus on the cross. Jesus quoted this in part while on hung on the cross to die.

The Book of Psalm contains many complaints. For this reason, it wasn’t one of my favorite books of the bible. There are many joyful psalms of praise and celebration which I prefer; and then there are many sad and depressing psalms of lament, which I dislike (especially if I’m not in the mood to read it).

The good bishop, N.T. Wright, recently wrote in Time:

“Yes, these poems often come out into the light by the end, with a fresh sense of God’s presence and hope, not to explain the trouble but to provide reassurance within it.”…. “It is no part of the Christian vocation, then, to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead. As the Spirit laments within us, so we become, even in our self-isolation, small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell.”

https://time.com/5808495/coronavirus-christianity/

When the psalmist could not see any relief in sight, all he had was pain. He doubted God. If you haven’t read from the bible of the numerous chapters of people feeling sorry for themselves, open up to the book of Psalm. It’s full of it. This is why so many people can relate to the psalms. These writers complained about their pain and they accused God of forgetting and for not caring. Job’s friends came up with invalid reasons for his extreme sufferings (read about it in depressing book of Job). They blamed his sufferings on his past sins. How inconsiderate. If I had friends like Job, I’d tell them where to go.

If one were to contract COVID-19 (or any other sickness for that matter), we might want a spiritual explanation as to why we contracted the disease. There is no good “spiritual” reason why a person contracted COVID-19 or any other disease. No, I’m not talking about a clinical reason, but rather, a spiritual reason. Spiritualizing it doesn’t improve a person’s emotional agony or discomfort. It doesn’t do a person any good.

God wants us to put ourselves in a proper place and be subordinate to the will of God. That is to humble ourselves. It gives room for God to come into our lives and give us peace–a true peace that is beyond all human understanding.

This is the same realization Jesus might have had on the cross as he suffered in pain. He experienced the love and peace of the Holy Spirit while he writhed in pain at Golgotha. I know. Sounds wierd and ironic that peace and pain can go together. Peace and pain can co-exist. This is the irony that so many people find so difficult to understand.

As Christians, and as non-religious folks, we all want answers to our problems, and we want them now. Our natural human desire is to alleviate our pain. We hate pain. We want it to disappear.

One direction people take is to doubt the existence of God. When we witness or hear of so much pain in the world, we begin to rationalize: “How can there be such a cruel God? Who would allow human beings to be put into cruel and painful circumstances? Such an inhumane or merciless God simply cannot exist!”

Another way our mind can wander is to wrongly attribute cruelty toward a loving and merciful God. We begin to doubt God’s goodness, and that God is truly good. We lose faith in a good God. We walk away from the Church. Emotionally and intellectually, it easier to doubt that a loving God can allow injustice and suffering. As a result, we push God out of our lives.

Another way our minds will rationalize a seemingly irrantional God of peace and pain is to find reasons why we might be deserving of pain and suffering.

Examples:

“I have done something very bad and sinful, so now it’s payback time… God is getting even with me now and that’s why I’m suffering.”

“I hurt that rotten person years ago, and that’s why God took away my son or daughter, my father or mother.”

“I’m such an evil person. That’s why God gave me cancer,” or “That’s why God sent the Coronavirus… to wipe out this evil world of evil doers.”

When we demand answers for which there isn’t an answer it’s a vain attempt to spiritualize our pain away. Our human capacity to accept uncertainty is limited, so we prefer to limit God by putting Him in a box. We relentlessly search for a rational answer. We set limits on ourselves as humans beings, and we end up pushing God further away.

Why do we do this? We want to put God where it makes more sense to us. We want to set God in his place. We prefer to think, “that if there truly is a God, then this is who God is. This is what God is like; and so this is how I can be stronger.”

We prefer to own our own problems. By setting God in a place where we want him to be, we think we can garner more control over our lives. We come up with our own solutions to our own problems.

Our goal for a human solution is empty and vain. It is not where God is found. God likely has a totally different solution. God’s knowledge is infinite and All-knowing. If we really knew the mind of God, what God already knows might actually surprise us.

It is not our job to rationalize God. God does not want to be included in our human equation. In God’s mind, there is no such thing as a human equation. Our job is not to put God where we think He ought to be. That is to falsify God and take God’s name in vain.

Our place is to be subordinate to God and become willing vessels of God’s will. When God has His rightful place in your life, it is then that you will have peace. When God feels welcomed in your life, it is then that you will have joy and hope.

What God wants more than anything is to wrap his big arms around you and tell you that He loves you. He desires to be with you. His presence surrounds you and protects you like a mother hen who guards her chicks. The love and mercy of God is greater than what we can imagine.

God wants to come to you in the midst of all your suffering… even in the midst of your chaos, your pain, sadness, sickness and disease. The capacity of the love of God is much greater than our human capacity. God’s love is deeper, wider, and higher.

Our own human capacity to love is extremely limited. We do not have the patience, the courage or the kindness to love like God can. That’s why we prefer to push aside a God who allows suffering. But God is much bigger than our vain human imaginations.

If God the Father absorbed all the pain that Jesus suffered on the cross, God can certainly live in us with all our pain and suffering. How so? God is God, and we are not. God can come into your life, filled with pain and chaos, filled with burdens that you cannot bear, and then fill it with God’s own peace.

Millions of Christians in the world today have experienced the overwhelming love and mercy of God. Christians in the world today currently suffering are experiencing God in the midst of their sickness and pain, in their wars and violence, in their persecutions and personal troubles. Millions more will enter into the Compassionate heart of this Triune God. He is calling out to each individual person, and that person might be you today.

I admit, the idea of a suffering God is not popular in Christian circles. The suffering Christ was once nailed to the cross. The crucified Christ was nailed on Friday. Well, we call it Friday but we really don’t know what day it was. We also like to call it “Good Friday”. It was not a good thing that happened but we call it “good” anyway. Behind this, there is an extremely important truth. It is a “Good Friday” because we already know there is hope coming on the third day. Jesus would soon rise again from the dead. We know the ultimate outcome is renewed life–a resurrection from the dead.

When we invite guests to come over to our house, we want to make sure we have it cleaned up, spotless and all tidy. We do this not for their sake, but we do it for our own sake. We take pride in our own perfection.

In God’s economy, God is not like this at all. God’s way is like this. As we welcome God to enter our lives and live within our pain and suffering, the Holy Spirit will fill us with peace, joy and hope. This is why we can invite God to come into our hearts and homes while we are still a mess. Yes, from our human point-of-view, this sounds unconventional and very different to what we think ought to be normal.

The good news of Christ is not that God came to wave a magic wand to banish away all our pain and problems. The good news of Christ Jesus is that God vanished from the empty tomb and resurrected in bodily form on the Third Day, and rose to live again in the flesh. He conquered and defeated death. If death could not hold Jesus in the tomb, then death will not be able to hold us down in the grave. This is why we celebrate Easter this Sunday.

Death is one of the biggest fears of humankind. If God in Christ Jesus defeated death on Easter, we also have hope of eternal life with God forever. May all praise, honor and glory be to God our Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Coronavirus ignition to a spiritual awakening

What I’m about to say in this blogpost will sound very spiritual so you’ve got to hold on. I’ve been blogging lots on our current situation with this Coronavirus pandemic. It has affected every single person. As long as you haven’t been living under a rock, I’m sure it’s affected you in some way too. This virus has brought us to a new level, at least within my lifetime and possibly yours too.  I don’t remember having ever experienced such a devastating event.

[ In China, the real number of deaths due to Covid-19 is far higher than what’s been reported. People in China no longer trust the Communist CCP government to tell the truth. They have blatantly lied and covered up the real numbers of deaths to the people and the world. Countries suffering from this epidemic today are left to deal with China’s dishonesty. People can no longer trust their governments, nor their health care systems, nor their savings, economies, nor markets to save them. People are now questioning everything about society’s protectorates. They have now been awakened to seek for truth outside established sources. ]

The spiritual landscape today

Spiritually-speaking, there will be a spiritual awakening in the midst of the Coronavirus. It will not be the cause of it but a sort of triggering point. This event will cause many people to seek deeper to look for answers in their lives. I have had this feeling inside me during the last week that there will be a sort of renewal in faith, spirituality, and religion in general.

If you’ve noticed that in the last ten years, the larger part of western society has turned away from established forms of religion (like the church). In doing so people and families have lost their religious traditions including their spiritual roots. We have become a very secular society, which irreligious society and it has removed and numbed our sense of spirituality.

In the east, namely China, the CCP has tried to control the Christian church. This will no longer be possible. God the Holy Spirit will start a sovereign move to breakout of its shell. Chinese people in the mainland have lost faith in the integrity of their once beloved CCP government. They will be seeking outside the regime to a higher power for salvation. The Christian church in China will begin to rise to become that Christian nation it is destined to become.

The spiritual landscape has been very dry, such that even a spark can ignite a fire. To use this analogy, it will be like a fire that cleanses and renews us–almost like a purification. To use another analogy like a dry parched land, rains will be coming down upon us.

I don’t believe this is merely coincidence. An opinion piece from the Wall Street Journal also spoke about such a spiritual revival: “A Coronavirus Great Awakening?” (article here). The author’s point was that sometimes the most important ingredient for spiritual renewal is a cataclysmic event. Another article I came across was from First Things. Pope Francis is calling for repentance (article here).

A coming awakening of spirituality

The heart of God has been hurting and saddened in our neglect of him. Can God feel hurt? I think so. Like the prodigal son who has run away from home, his parents are reaching out him to calling him to return home. God will be calling us to turn our hearts back home–even during this Coronovirus pandemic.

The Holy Spirit will begin moving to renew societies and cultures worldwide.  What is coming in the future will be a spiritual revival of hearts, minds and lives like we have never seen before. From God’s perspective, God can take a bad situation and turn it into something good.

Those whose hearts had been cold toward God will return to him again. People you might have never expected will begin to seek after spiritual things. There will be a big return back to God. The Holy Spirit will be calling people into repentance and return to God, to come to Jesus the Savior, and experience peace.

This pandemic has shown us that control over the events of the world does not rest in our own human power. It is not our call and it never was. We might be rich, powerful, strong, healthy, smart and intelligent, funny, beautiful, but ultimately we are all the same like everyone else who are not these things. Human power will not be enough to overcome the evils that have impacted our world today.  As peoples and nations, it will be a humbling thing to come to this realization. It is what God wants us to realize.

A spiritual revival or renewal is on the horizon. It will bring a spiritual peace to entire societies and cultures around the world. At last, people will be free to live for God again, so get ready.

Get ready for God’s sovereign move

1/ There is still hope. This hope will not be found in ourselves. This hope rests solely in the love of God.  The peace of God will be freely given.  The gifts of God will be poured out into your life and cover all your disgraces, all your poverty, your losses, and yes, even the sins you have been keeping disclosed.  That is the amazing love of God that Jesus came to give us. 

2/ Another thing we can do is to pray to God and ask Him for forgiveness and be reconciled with God again.  Christ the Lord will come into your life and give you His peace.  The Holy Spirit will live with your family and give your spouse and children a peace that cannot be found anywhere else. Jesus is about love, peace and joy. So pray.

3/ This is just the start, but God is moving in this world to change, renew, and align our hearts and minds to that of God’s heart and mind (God’s will) . A new wave of revival will cause our cold and hardened hearts to return to God. This will be a sovereign move of God’s Spirit to soften our hearts, renew us and ultimately, renew society and culture. Then we will have hope of liberty and freedom to live in unity with God.

4/ Each of us, each of our families, each of our places of worship, will do well by preparing our hearts for this future coming. Be open to what God is about to do in our lives. Jesus Christ may be looking at you and desiring to have your heart and spirit re-awakened and re-aligned to be in tune with God’s Holy Spirit. If so, get ready. It’s starting soon.

Hope exists – even in our suffering

We might be asking ourselves, when is this Covid-19 pandemic going to end? We might be bored out of wit’s end and stuck in our home in isolation but around the world there are other negative events happening this week.

A Kenyan farmer tried to dispel desert locusts in a village east of Nairobi last week. The infestation in Kenya is the worst in 70 years.
  • Pestilence of biblical proportions in eastern Africa and Middle East: Massive swarms of 500 billion locusts are devouring entire swaths of vegetation in eastern Africa, i.e., Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, and others, and now the Arabian Gulf. The likes of this has not been seen in 70 years. One swath measured 60 km long by 40 km wide. Over 20 millions people are in danger of starvation due to food shortage.
  • War and terrorism in western Africa: terrorists group, Boko Haram, is mercilessly murdering men, women and children and inflicting harm upon innocent people in Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Cameroon.

We might be able to mitigate some evils but we cannot control all the bad and evil things happening in the world today.  The wise teacher from the book of Ecclesiastes speaks of equal and common treatment toward all humanity. 

“This, too, I carefully explored: Even though the actions of godly and wise people are in God’s hands, no one knows whether God will show them favor. The same destiny ultimately awaits everyone, whether righteous or wicked, good or bad, ceremonially clean or unclean, religious or irreligious. Good people receive the same treatment as sinners, and people who make promises to God are treated like people who don’t.”

Ecclesiastes 9:1-2 (NLT)

Regardless of whether we’ve been a good person, or done lots of bad things, this Covid-19 pandemic has affected all of us in some way. 

This shows that control over the events in the world is not in our own human hands.  We might be rich, powerful, strong, healthy, smart and intelligent, funny, beautiful, weak, poor, ill, good or evil.  We do not have as much control as we might have thought we had.  Ultimately the destiny of our world is not in our hands.

The good news is that there is still hope. Hope is in the love of God.  There are things we can do to experience hope.

  1. Be teachable and listen for God’s soft voice during self-isolation/quarantine/lock-down. 
  2. Take this time alone to focus and pray to God. Ask yourself: what is God’s will in my own life.
  3. Enjoy the good gifts that God has already given to you. There’s always something.
  4. Pray to God for joy and hope, even in my own suffering, anxiety, sadness (or even boredom).

What is the Corona/Covid-19 virus really teaching us?

Someone has written a series of very reflective thoughts. Some have mistakenly attributed it to Bill Gates says the Independent newspaper (UK). Any way, it’s still quite good and I’m sharing it here.

I’m a strong believer that there is a spiritual purpose behind everything that happens, whether that is what we perceive as being good or being bad. As I meditate upon this, I want to share with you what I feel the Corona/ Covid-19 virus is really doing to us:

1) It is reminding us that we are all equal, regardless of our culture, religion, occupation, financial situation or how famous we are. This disease treats us all equally, perhaps we should to. If you don’t believe me, just ask Tom Hanks.

2) It is reminding us that we are all connected and something that affects one person has an effect on another. It is reminding us that the false borders that we have put up have little value as this virus does not need a passport. It is reminding us, by oppressing us for a short time, of those in this world whose whole life is spent in oppression.

3) It is reminding us of how precious our health is and how we have moved to neglect it through eating nutrient poor manufactured food and drinking water that is contaminated with chemicals upon chemicals. If we don’t look after our health, we will, of course, get sick.

4) It is reminding us of the shortness of life and of what is most important for us to do, which is to help each other, especially those who are old or sick. Our purpose is not to buy toilet roll.

5) It is reminding us of how materialistic our society has become and how, when in times of difficulty, we remember that it’s the essentials that we need (food, water, medicine) as opposed to the luxuries that we sometimes unnecessarily give value to.

6) It is reminding us of how important our family and home life is and how much we have neglected this. It is forcing us back into our houses so we can rebuild them into our home and to strengthen our family unit.

7) It is reminding us that our true work is not our job, that is what we do, not what we were created to do. Our true work is to look after each other, to protect each other and to be of benefit to one another.

8) It is reminding us to keep our egos in check. It is reminding us that no matter how great we think we are or how great others think we are, a virus can bring our world to a standstill.

9) It is reminding us that the power of freewill is in our hands. We can choose to cooperate and help each other, to share, to give, to help and to support each other or we can choose to be selfish, to hoard, to look after only our self. Indeed, it is difficulties that bring out our true colors.

10) It is reminding us that we can be patient, or we can panic. We can either understand that this type of situation has happened many times before in history and will pass, or we can panic and see it as the end of the world and, consequently, cause ourselves more harm than good.

11) It is reminding us that this can either be an end or a new beginning. This can be a time of reflection and understanding, where we learn from our mistakes, or it can be the start of a cycle which will continue until we finally learn the lesson we are meant to.

12) It is reminding us that this Earth is sick. It is reminding us that we need to look at the rate of deforestation just as urgently as we look at the speed at which toilet rolls are disappearing off of shelves. We are sick because our home is sick.

13) It is reminding us that after every difficulty, there is always ease. Life is cyclical, and this is just a phase in this great cycle. We do not need to panic; this too shall pass.

14) Whereas many see the Corona/ Covid-19 virus as a great disaster, I prefer to see it as a *great corrector* It is sent to remind us of the important lessons that we seem to have forgotten and it is up to us if we will learn them or not.

A prayer for those who have died

In the news, I heard a story about a spouse who could not leave the house to plan for her husband’s funeral.  There was also a doctor who worked in the same hospital where his father had died. The sad thing was she could not be with him due to mandatory quarantine so he died while apart. For those who recently lost loved ones, here is my prayer for them, and for us, and you may also make this a prayer for yourself too.

Dear God, guide us as people on earth from nations
to support and care for one another during this pandemic.
May your healing wings rest upon us
and cover us with your protection.

Show us the reason and purpose for our lives
so that we may live with hope
which is in God, in life, in death
and in life beyond death.

Loving God, by the peace of Your abiding Presence,
give us your peace and comfort us
through the support of our family and friends,
though we may be in imposed quarantine or in isolation.

Merciful God, You created us all in your image
Continue to hold us in your arms through these trying times.
Thank you for the gift of your servants
who have recently passed from this world,
for the gift of their life,
and for the love and mercy they received from you,

Holy God, we entrust all your people who have passed
into your tender care and everlasting arms.
Amen.

My refuge from disease

The one who lives under the protection of the Most High
dwells in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
He Himself will deliver you from the hunter’s net,
from the destructive plague.
He will cover you with His feathers;
you will take refuge under His wings.
His faithfulness will be a protective shield.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
the arrow that flies by day,
the plague that stalks in darkness,
or the pestilence that ravages at noon.
Though a thousand fall at your side
and ten thousand at your right hand,
the pestilence will not reach you.
You will only see it with your eyes
and witness the punishment of the wicked.
Because you have made the Lord — my refuge,
the Most High — your dwelling place,
no harm will come to you;
no plague will come near your tent.

Psalm 91:1-10

When enough-ness is never enough

I came across an article from a book. When is enough enough? In our life of busyness, we deeply want to be busy or at least have others think that we are busy. Somehow, it adds value to ourselves and the work we do–or at least we perceive that it does. The writer, David Zahl, writes:

What about you? Maybe the reason you can’t stop scrolling through your social media feed is because it confirms how right(eous) your opinions are about others or yourself. Or maybe, on some level that you can barely admit to yourself, you believe that if your latest post on Facebook gets enough likes, you will finally like yourself.

While enoughness may not be a direct synonym for righteousness, it’s not far off. After all, enough only makes sense if there’s some kind of line demarcating it from not enough. It implies a standard of some kind. Yet we avoid the word righteousness because it sounds too religious, too old-fashioned, too judgmental, too close to self-righteous—and we know we don’t like thatRighteous sounds ominously absolute and therefore authoritarian, as though it could impinge on the lives of those around us. Enough, on the other hand, has a more subjective and therefore less threatening connotation.

In practice, there’s very little difference. Those dogged by a sense of not-enoughness know all too well that “I’ll know enough when I see/feel it” isn’t any lighter a burden than “reach [X, Y or Z] objective standard.” Both are classic spiritual treadmills, and the former may even be more taxing due to its slipperiness. Whatever the case, the problem of self-justification is not a linguistic one.

A major problem for those of us with “righteous minds” comes when our conception of righteousness differs from that of our neighbors, or when we feel they are standing in the way of our attainment of it. Innocuous-seeming differences in perspective balloon overnight into showdowns over good versus evil. And nothing allows us to more easily excuse ruthlessness than when we’ve painted our neighbor as an adversary to all that is true and holy.

There’s a deep irony at work here: enoughness is a universal human longing. The yearning for it binds us together across party, country, gender, race, and age. It provides the glue that holds our most altruistic movements together. Yet, the specific expression of this obsession in each person’s life is often what alienates us from others. The tighter the in-group, the larger the out-group will be. Depending on the content of the righteousness in question, this drive can spark our most dehumanizing judgments of other people and inspire us, sometimes unconsciously, to conceive of the world in terms of us versus them.

(read full article here...)

I feel convicted by this. It is true. Absolutely true of myself. Perhaps you might feel the same too.

Busyness and rest

Busyness is seen as a good thing–rest, not so much.  Some people forfeit their vacation-time for work.  Fast-paced societies see it as a sign of working hard, productivity and diligence. 

We keep ourselves busy with work, business, work in the community.  Keeping up with sports, music and other recreational activities.  It can leave one feeling drained when it goes on and on without time to rest.

Expectations mount.  There’s pressure to be a good spouse, a good son or daughter, a good father or mother, a good friend and community leader.  A good everything.  Been there before? 

It wears down the soul–not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually.  Afterward, it leaves one’s soul feeling lifeless with nothing to give.  You might come to a point where you feel like calling it quits.

When is it okay for one to admit that you need rest.  Rest for the soul is like a deer that craves for water by streams of water.

Rest.  No more errands to attend to.  No more trips to the grocery store to pick-up for the week or day.  No more driving to and from places.  No more work around the house. The list of things-to-do at the house, family, church, can be long.  You long for this to come to an end.

When does one realize that it’s okay to rest?  Rest is a spiritual time to rejuvenate one’s life.  That’s why rest can also be called “re-creation”, but instead, we add recreation to our busyness.  At rest, one can finally be relieved from busyness and be allowed to sigh, to breathe, and to shed tears from tiredness.  Finally, gaining energy, once again, to give.

.

Empathy and resilience: shaped by suffering

If you remember back in grade school standing in line waiting to be chosen by the assigned team captains for a team in sports. Almost every time, I would be picked last for a team. Because I was the skinniest and one of the shortest boys, I was almost always the last one chosen. I was nicknamed Conan (from movie Conan the Barbarian, the god with a great muscular physique).  I hated that I was skinny and short.  I hated all the slight comments I heard spoken about me from other kids, intentional or not. Gym class was never fun for me. Being singled-out last place can affect how a person views oneself.  I developed a less-than-ideal view of myself.  I endured this all throughout my elementary and even into my high school years.   I didn’t enjoy grade school. I did develop some empathy for other kids with lower views of themselves or who were picked on. 

I know others have suffered much more than I have but I want to relate this to what I’m about to share here. There are Christians (and other religious minorities) who suffer due to their faith within anti-Christian societies. People languish in prisons, sometimes unjustly, like political and religious prisoners. Women have been abused, raped and used in sex trafficking People, including children are inflicted as innocent victims of wars, bombings, and ethnic-cleansing, and boys are forced into becoming soldiers. People suffer in silence with bouts of depression, mental illness, and thoughts of suicide. There is serious suffering happening in the world today much more severe than tauntings in school yards, but nevertheless, words can intensely hurt too and adolescent teens know this.

I have learned throughout the latter years of my life that suffering shapes a person. It can shape us in a bad way; and it can also shape us in a good way.  Either way, the shaping of a person can always result in something good.  There is always something we can be grateful for.

As we experience healing from our life’s hurts, and allow God to use us, the suffering we have experienced can become a blessing to others.  Little do others know that the person who has suffered can become a giver of empathy and understanding to another who is experiencing suffering in one’s life.

As a stone has been shaped by water and heat and pressure, one’s own suffering through the pressures of this life can shape us to increase our capacity to have more empathy for others.  In order for God to use a person, we must allow God to heal us and rebuild us from the inside so that over time, we can develop an inner resilience. As we mature and find healing and strength, God will shape us into vessels that God may find useful. This will then enable us to journey with them and enter into their loneliness and desolation. To do this, requires healing from one’s own past hurts. This is inner spiritual resilience.

People who have not gone through the pressure of being shaped by suffering, and experience healing will find it difficult to empathize and understand the pain and hurts of others.  Lashing back at others and those who hurt us will still be a natural reaction from our past hurts. But if you have suffered, you can consider it a part of the joy you receive when you can offer of yourself empathy and understanding to the person who is suffering.

Today, I work as a chaplain and minister to others who are hurting. In looking back, I realize today that God used my suffering and increased my capacity to empathize with people’s pain. Bringing a small measure of empathy and understanding into people’s lives is what gives me some consolation. Pressure and heat shapes a stone. So pressure and suffering shapes a person’s capacity to bring empathy into other people’s lives.

Why I don’t feel enough compassion

It was a dark and rainy Friday evening in downtown Victoria. I felt like having a burger after watching a series of short IMAX films. I drove to a fast food burger joint close by, ordered a couple burgers, and sat down. After a few bites into my burger, I couldn’t help but notice this lady who came in.   She looked decrepit and hungry. She was either homeless or was living in less-desirable conditions. Her facial expression looked desperate.  She looked as if she had been aged prematurely either by drugs or alcohol.  I saw her rummage through the trash in the restaurant; and as I watched, my heart sank.  She was desperate and hungry.

Usually, I ignore transient people on the streets; but tonight, sitting right in front of me was a person opening the trash to look for scraps of food.  Though I wanted to ignore her I could not.  It was extremely challenging to enjoy eating my Whopper while watching her dig through the trash bin.  It was getting quite uncomfortable.  My heart was sinking.  I also couldn’t ignore what I was feeling. Sadness and sympathy.  I hadn’t felt this way in a while. Normally, I would assume store policy would prohibit people from coming in to search the trash bins. Store was likely under-staffed.

 

I was also feeling a heavy sense of guilt weighing down on my heart. Part of this guilt was due to some of my dark and uncompassionate thoughts.  “Why did I have come into this burger joint tonight?  Why couldn’t it have been on another night? Why did I have to sit myself down here in this spot.”  I had chosen this spot because I wanted some privacy.

I had ordered two burgers.  One was in my hand; and the other was still in the bag—still unwrapped and untouched.  I thought for a moment, “I should give her one of mine. I really should. I had two anyway.”  

My other thought was, “I’m still hungry myself too.  I could just gulp it down quickly and walk out of here fast.  My mind and heart were battling between these two alternate thoughts. Something within me refused to follow through with this latter thought—on this evening anyway.

I stood up, walked up to her and said: “Ma’am, have my other burger in this bag.” I handed her the bag, then returned to my seat, and finished my burger. This discomforting feeling didn’t go away.  

She continued to rummage through the other trash bins in the restaurant.  A minute later, she returned and told me: “Thank you.”  I nodded back in acknowledgement.

After I did this, it felt a little better—but not much better.  I asked myself afterward, “Did I truly do this for her, or was it for myself?”  Maybe a bit of both.  What do I mean by, “for myself”? I discomfortable seeing her dig through the trash to look for scraps was unbearable.  I could get rid myself of this discomfort by simply giving her my burger. Instantly, my guilt would be gone. But that would be for my own sake. What about her? She still had a hungry tummy to fill or she’d be going to bed without dinner.

This lady was desperate–desperate enough to dig through the trash in the restaurant with the eyes of customers looking at her. She obviously had nothing to lose by doing this.  She could care less if others saw her digging through the litter. The person who was most self-conscious was probably myself—not her. I’m the one with the problem. The moral and ethical issue was duelling within me.

After I finished my burger, I was still hungry. I decided to walk up to the front to order a second one.  I still had a sense of guilt mixed with a sense of satisfaction of having done something good.  But was it really “good” or was it something any decent human being would have done?   I have a job that pays a reasonable salary.  Can’t complain.  She couldn’t afford a simple burger.  

After I placed my order for a second burger, this same lady came up to me and thanked me again a second time.  I asked her if she would like another burger.  She didn’t tell me either yes or no.  I would have given her another one if she said “Yes.”  I probably should have given her a second burger anyway—even without an affirmative “Yes.”

She began sharing with me that she was living in a hostel close by on $10 per night.  Then she pulled out some change and placed it on a counter-ledge next to me.  It couldn’t have been more than a dollar. Not sure why she did that.  Was she trying to pay me back a little something?  I certainly didn’t expect anything.  She then put her change back in her pocket and walked away.  

I admit it. It was an uncomfortable situation for me.  I wasn’t sure what to make of this brief interaction.  Not sure why she share this bit of herself with me.  Was she wanting to share with me more of her life story?  Or was she probing if I would be willing to give her some money?  I didn’t know.  I just had all kinds of questions but was afraid to ask further.

I was feeling a little too uncomfortable to know what to ask or do. My heart was preoccupied with this moral and ethical duel within myself. I feared more for myself than for her. I feared that I didn’t have enough compassion to bear the load required to love another human being.

Anyway, after picking up my second order, I decided to take it to-go in a bag. I wanted to eat in my car. I was parked on the 4th floor of the Johnson Street parking garage.  Weird thing to be eating a meal in a such sterile environment—facing the grey concrete walls of a parking garage. As I was chomping down on my burgers, I was running through some thoughts in my mind. 

“What was her past life like?  Was she always like this or did she once have a better life? Perhaps, she could be a divorced mother with kids who were sent to foster homes? How did she end up in such impoverished conditions ravaged with substance abuse?  What if she had lost a good job, had fallen on hard times, and had somehow gotten trapped in depression and mental illness?  Might she have been taken advantage of by crooked men who forced her into a state of dependency?  All these “What ifs” were running through my head.  And what if I were in her position or circumstance?  How would I feel?  And what would I to do?”

 

I also realized something else.  People who regularly donate their pocket change to others on the streets see them as brothers and sisters in need. They are actually far more compassionate than me.  They are far more willing to lend a helping hand. By their standards, I would consider myself a heartless and uncompassionate person. Such a weird thing to think about myself in this way.

This evening revealed something of myself.  I don’t feel enough compassionate for the poor and hungry. Others with more compassion are more willing to give. Why so? They might be people who knows what it feels like to have fallen into hard times.  At one point in their lives, they might have been in dire straits themselves and have received grace. This is why they know how to say, “Thank you and God bless.”  

I don’t feel enough compassionate for the poor and hungry.

I’ve been a poor student in my young bachelor days.  My life nowadays is too comfortable. Today, I don’t feel the compassion I used to feel.  Considering that I’m a Christian, isn’t a Christian supposed to be as compassionate as Jesus?  Yes, but…

I hadn’t felt this uncomfortable in a long time; but this wasn’t the first time I had seen people digging through the trash looking for scraps of food.  I had seen this almost every time I walk through downtown, but why today?

Days before this incident, I had been thinking to myself, that perhaps I should be giving more of my time and of myself to serve the poor in downtown.  Not sure why I’ve been having these thoughts.   Was God speaking to me through this event? Was God showing me that I ought to do something more for others?   Helping others in abject poverty has been a neglected part of my life for many years.  Was this just coincidence, or was God trying to tell to me something?

A person’s shoes: Where have they walked in them?

One of the things I am most grateful for in my work and ministry is being able to walk with people in their struggles in life.  It might be marital problems, health problems in their own lives or in one of their family members. It might be a work-related issue.  Issues can vary far and wide.  I am also grateful when I can be a vehicle who enables consolation in their hearts.  When they show appreciation, I am grateful.  One of the things that I’m least grateful for is not being appreciated and verbally devalued (can be either by colleagues or bosses). For me, this places me in a desolate place.

Think about shoes–yes, ordinary dirty pairs of shoes–and to ponder on where each person’s shoes might have taken them. We don’t know where a person might have walked.  They might have walked in places thousands of miles away and we would have no idea of what their experiences were like.  The person is potentially a storehouse of valuable insights but we fail to ask them to share with us from their experiences of what they have learned. We don’t take the time, and we don’t care to.

This is also an area where I have failed, as well.  I have failed to ask more about the experiences of my friends, family, acquaintances and colleagues.  I have failed to take the time to ask and sit down and listen.  I am needing to learn and to become a vessel to which they can pour into. For these things I confess. In Prayers of Boundless Compassion (p.12), Rupp writes as a prayer with which I pray along:

Holy One of the Burning Bush, like Moses we take off our shoes.  We are in awe of your presence, not in a fiery bush but in the heart of each human being.  Deepen our respect for one another’s history of experience, the unique personality and diverse giftedness.  Heal us of quick judgments that are often untrue.  In our relationship with all people may we approach them with respect and a sincere desire to hallow their sacred journey.  Together we stand before you, Holy One aflame in our hearts.  May we walk in peace with each person who comes our way.”

A broken and imperfect people

Do people view Christians as imperfect people? Yes, we Christians are imperfect; and we don’t need to hide this fact. And I’m one of these imperfect ones. I’m not ashamed to admit that I am imperfect. I have known some who put on a facade–like a make-over to look like that “perfect and righteous Christian.” Nothing can be more phoney. Pastors, elders, deacons can be pressured to put on a facade because of fear of not looking like that good example. This can be true of any church.

Our younger generation are totally not into this “old school” hypocrisy of “fake it till you make it.” They want people to be real, genuine and true to themselves. They want this of themselves. I don’t mean that we show off our sin like a peacock. By this I really mean that we ought to trust in God’s forgiveness with boldness and courage. Without a true understanding and experience of God’s grace, the freedom to do this is impossible.

This generation has been raised in a non-religious society but it realizes its need for God and spirituality. I see the rise of two cultures clashing. One culture realizes the imperfections we all have and rebel against the injustices of our society’s leaders, including our political, business and religious leaders. It wants to fix this broken culture.

The other culture realizes our own need for a savior because we have seen our hopelessness of trying to fix ourselves and our society. This savior has been revealed to us, and He is the one who saves us from having to rebel and fight (not that we don’t strive to improve society). This second culture is the Christian or Jesus culture.

I have been a broken person and see my own imperfections more than anyone else. I just try not to show it or make it too obvious. If this is how you feel too, then you’ll understand it is why we need a God who loves us despite our imperfections. We don’t need a god to make us feel better about ourselves. We need a savior who loves us despite our brokenness. This is what grace is. This is the most liberating way to live.

This understanding of righteousness and setting God’s righteousness above our own human righteous is how Christ built the Church from nothing. A personal spiritual revelation of God’s grace is the only thing that can revive the Church today. I see a new generation of Christians rising up today that is full of faith and a new found sense of spirituality. This gives me new hope in the Church.

Everything about me has been and is going back to God’s grace. It’s amazing. Yes, it’s God’s grace that’s amazing. It truly is. When I listen to the song: Broken Vessels (Amazing Grace) by Hillsong, I’m amazed by the words of the lyrics. It goes like:

All these pieces
Broken and shattered
In mercy gathered
Mended and whole
Empty handed
But not forsaken
I've been set free
I've been set free ….
You take our failure
You take our weakness
You set Your treasure
In jars of clay
So take this heart Lord
I'll be your vessel
The world to see
Your life in me….

Then the amazing part goes like this:

Oh I can see You now
Oh I can see the love in Your eyes
Laying Yourself down
Raising up the broken to life

After I realize God’s love despite my broken and shattered life,
Despite my need to be mended and be made whole,
Despite my failures, weaknesses,
God still wants to make me into a vessel of his to be used by him.

This is why I can see God more clearly today. I have looked into God’s loving eyes who gave himself up for my broken life. Now I’m set free. Set free from having to hide my imperfections. Set free from human performance. This is true freedom.

Yes, Snoopy needs God’s grace too.

Examen: Learning to be grateful

I’ve recently learned about two very useful questions to ask of myself.  

1/ For what moment today am I most grateful?
2/ For what moment today am I least grateful?

These two questions of St Ignatius’ examen is a practical tool for daily inner reflection.  I’m going to answer these two here today and share my answer with you.

1/  On my spiritual retreat last week, I took some time to examine and reflect on my own life.  It was a time of spiritual rejuvenation.  

I was most grateful this week for the opportunity to return to listening to praise and worship music. I hadn’t taken the time to sit down and listen to the new music from recent artists and groups like Hillsong. I didn’t know the new stuff that was being played in our contemporary evangelical churches. Anyone else out there been through periods of not having listened to new worship songs but do appreciate the music?  It’s been a dry period for me in the past. But now I’ve been refreshed through new music.  I took the opportunity to reflect on the words of numerous worship songs and was really blessed and nourished by them.  For this precious time, I was most grateful.

2/ For what I was least grateful that day was having my wife go through surgery.  She had go fly to Taiwan in order to get surgery that otherwise, would’ve taken a very long time to receive here in Canada. She already had to wait for many months. We have a broken health care system and my fear is that it will get worse in the future as the population ages.  Anyway, through my self-reflection and self-examination, I realized I still had much to be thankful for.  Her mother, and her sister in Taiwan took some time off work to care for her during and after surgery.  This is very big help. I’m thankful for this. So in what I had thought I was least grateful, I realized that I still had things for which to be grateful.

Reflecting on these two questions helped me realize that I had more to be thankful for than I had thought.  Thank you God for your grace, mercy, and blessings.
___________________________

Recently at my spiritual retreat I came across another book entitled, Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life, by Dennis, Sheila and Matthew Linn (Paulist Press, 1995). A good brief book that explained to me how and why the Examen helps. I add this below as added reference.