A Different Christmas Experience

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It is long overdue for a post, sorry. Life has been pretty crazy getting ready for the new year, and for the new addition to the family! Thanksgiving felt like just last week, how is it Christmas already??

This year, Priscilla and I wanted to do something different for Christmas. Since we already have so much, we decided not to give each other gifts. Not that we are against gifts, but we wanted to try to recapture at least a little bit of what Christmas is about by not making it all about us. After all, we are celebrating the birth of our Savior Jesus, who, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Phil 2:6-7).

For Jesus, Christmas is about emptying Himself for the sake of others, ultimately dying for our sins. Obviously there is nothing we can do that can come even remotely close to that, but we wanted to take the time to bless someone else as Christ has blessed us. There’s a homeless man that I drive by almost daily on my way to work that God had been prompting me on more than one occasion to talk to, but I never mustered up the courage to obey. We decided to make a simple care package and share breakfast with him.

It was a really cool time just chatting with him and learning a part of his story as we ate some Jack-in-the-Box breakfast. He has been on the streets for three years ever since the factory he was working at shut down. We didn’t spend a long time together, but enough for me to realize that it is much easier to ignore someone in need when you don’t know anything about him.

I write this not to say we did some amazing thing; it really wasn’t much. It took a major Christian holiday to get me to do something Christians really should be doing on a regular basis. But I write this as a reminder to myself of how much more I still need to grow to love others as Christ loves.

Charles Spurgeon writes, “Immanuel-God with us in our nature, in our sorrow, in our daily work, in our punishment, in our death, and now with us, or rather we with Him, in resurrection, ascension, triumph, and Second Advent splendor” (Morning and Evening). Just as Christ left all the comforts of heaven and entered into our world to give us hope, we are called to step out of our comfort zones and enter into the lives of those around us to be God’s hands and feet to point to the living hope.

Merry Christ to all, and I pray this new year can challenge us and grow us to love as God loves.

Beat my Swing Coptors score?

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Ok it’s not that high but I am pretty darn proud of it. It took many bathroom sessions to accomplish this.

Sorry I haven’t posted for quite a while. It is kind of sad that the first post on return is about an app game, but I think I just need something to get the creative juices flowing again.

From the maker of Flappy Birds comes another instrument of torture, Swing Coptors! I must say that this is quite the infuriating game. I haven’t gotten this worked up over losing since Mario Kart and Street Fighter 2 Turbo on the SNES. I usually don’t get into these app crazes, but this game is strangely addictive.

If you haven’t played, you control this little guy wearing a beanie coptor hat, and with each tap he switches directions. It sounds and looks easy, but it gets tricky because the further he goes in one direction, his momemtum makes it harder to get him to straighten out. Those swinging hammer things don’t help either. The game was so hard that an update was created to make it easier.

Given how much time I have already wasted on this game, I should try to redeem that by drawing out some spiritual insights. The most frustrating part of the game is trying to get the guy to go the direction you want. Once he gets going towards one direction, if you are too slow, then it’s almost impossible to get him to switch back without crashing into the wall.

Trying to fly this guy through these little openings brought to my mind Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7:13: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.”

This verse is a reminder that the Christian walk isn’t easy, that yes salvation is found through faith and grace alone, but after one enters into faith, there’s a lifestyle of godliness that accompanies genuine faith that we are to grow into as the Holy Spirit gradually sanctifies us.

Even with a regenerate heart, our sinful tendencies still pull us to one side and the other, and to make things worse, Satan throws in those swinging hammers from time to time to knock us down. But praise be to God that we don’t have to do life on our own power, that there is the Holy Spirit that lives in us to call us back to the straight and narrow.

Just as it got easier to control the little guy the more I played, the more we practice walking in step with the Spirit, the easier it will be to turn quickly from sin and remain on the right path. And for those who stray and get knocked down, my prayer is that you (and me) will get back up and start again, each and every time.

“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whateveryou want… Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5:16-25

By the way, I think the maker got the idea for this game from me. I’ve been drawing “Beanie Man” since Junior High.

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Revival

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Our church started Exodus, a mentorship program, years ago where we would take some of the youth on a camping/backpacking trip. The program consisted of an overnight backpacking hike and a shorter day hike, with a sharing at night from the Word followed by some one-on-one time with each youth paired with a leader. We just got back from I think the fourth trip, this time spending four nights at Yosemite national park.

This actually was my first trip since I was busy with either medical school or residency. What an amazing time we had these past couple of days. We went on the backpacking trip first, making our way up to the top of Yosemite Falls. The hike was only about 3.5 mi one way, but it utterly destroyed my quads. We basically climbed stairs for about 5 hours carrying 40 lb packs.

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We spent the night there and explored the river feeding the falls the next day before hiking back down. Going down was easier, but again quads-destroying going down those steps. We made it in about three hours.

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For our day hike, we made our way to Vernal Falls. The original plan was to continue on to the next waterfall, but we cut short the hike since most of us were out of commission. I was pretty happy about that.

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I prayed for this trip that God would work tangibly in our group and that we would come away with an unmistakable experience of His presence. I wanted to see revival happen in our church, starting with these guys and in myself. God certainly answered.

When we think revival, the picture we conjure up often is fire coming down from heaven Acts 2 style and miracles starting to be performed. That didn’t happen, but there were some close fire encounters back at camp with the lighter fluid…

I read something by Tim Keller recently that I really liked. He writes that revival is not necessarily seeing crazy miracles, but “is an intensification of the normal operations of the Spirit (conviction of sin, regeneration, sanctification, assurance of grace) through the ordinary means of grace (preaching the Word, prayer, and the sacraments)” (Center Church, loc 1253). Through the conversations on the hike, interacting with the messages shared, and one-on-one times, we saw hearts soften, sins confessed, relational issues confronted, and a deepening dependence on what Christ has done for us.

For myself, the Spirit convicted me again of my pride (and of course that would be the case since the topic I shared on was pride), from my silly pride in my thighs to again bringing to mind my strong tendency to depend on myself. Being in such close fellowship with the brothers made me realize again how independently I was living in all aspects of my life.

As a church leader I think the temptation is to always be in serving mode and it is difficult to open yourself up to be ministered to. There is a pressure to live a certain way, to have an image that I have everything figured out spiritually, and to have to keep that up is not just exhausting, but so stifling to my spiritual growth and what I can offer to others. We see this kind of dynamic in medicine as well, with doctors always having to do the caring while neglecting their self-care.

One brother made the comment that if he had to do the hike up to Yosemite Falls by himself wearing the pack, he wouldn’t have made it. I have to agree; I was already having second thoughts after the third switch-back five minutes in. We need one another, but it is so easy to isolate ourselves because of either shame or condescension, thinking ourselves better. The cross takes care of both of those, reminding us that we are all sinners on equal standing before God, but that in Christ we can be fully accepted through forgiveness of sins.

To all the guys that made it to the trip, I’m so thankful for the experiences shared. I pray that God would continue what He started, and that we will continue to grow as a church in dependence on God, and interdependence on one another.

Check out my Facebook page for more pictures! And if you are bored, there’s a silly game for a chance to win this!

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Sushi and Service: Combating the Monday Work Blues

A bunch of us had some fun over this weekend playing sushi chef. The result?

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For those who haven’t seen Jiro Dreams of Sushi, it’s a great documentary about Jiro, a sushi chef who has dedicated his life to his craft. Even if you aren’t interested in sushi, it’s a worthwhile watch and has a lot of lessons on dedication, handwork, and the pursuit of excellence. At one point Jiro says, “Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success.”

I think many of us are envious of someone who is able to view his or her job in that way. Oftentimes, even if we are in fields that we enjoy, work can become tedious and mundane. I just read a great book, Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller, about how sin has affected not just our view of work, but our experience of work as well. As God’s image bearers, we are created for purpose, to do work that matters, but sin has brought frustration both in the results of work, and also our motivations to work. Instead of working to fulfill our role to image God throughout creation, we are tempted to find our significance in our accomplishments, making work another idol that replaces God in our lives.

I’ll probably write another post about the book when I have processed it more, but for now, I was just encouraged to remember that yes we should strive for excellence in our work, but not simply as an end goal. We strive for excellence because of the God that we do our work for. As one retreat speaker used to say, we should pursue excellence for His Excellency. This goes out to all who are feeling the Monday work blues.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:23-24

I Love Choco Pies!

Yes I love those little chocoloate covered, marshmellowy delights. Apparently they are a huge hit in North Korea, and according to this article, they are selling for up to ten bucks each on the black markets of North Korea. It is crazy to me that I can just pick up as many boxes of these as my car can hold on my way back from work while there are people who are searching these out on the black markets.

Also, in Taiwan, I came across this crazy scene of people lining up for a newly open store:

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This picture doesn’t really do it justice, but here were people lining up as far as the eyes can see, and it actually wraps around the building more at the end. It’s about a two hour wait, can you guess for what? Krispy Kreme! Yeah, right? Who eats Krispy Kreme nowadays? Not that I have anything against them, but that was so 1990s.

These are reminders for me of the ridiculus excess we enjoy here in America, to a point where things highly coveted by others are simply afterthoughts for us. And unfortunately this carries over to our faith as well. How do we view our Bibles? Most homes probably have at least one, and most of us have more than one. I can think of eight that I own right now, and not to mention those we can pull up on our phones and computers.

We have access to so much, but sadly appreciate it so little. It’s a sobering thought that there are believers who are willing to be arrested or even killed for owning a Bible while I have several simply collecting dust. This is not meant to illicit guilt, although we can get there pretty quick if we extend this line of thinking to so many other things that we freely enjoy.

We do have a God who gives good gifts, so I am not saying we need to give all our things away. But I hope at the very least I can engender some appreciation of the things that really are of worth, and perhaps get us to pick up that Bible that’s been just lying around. Not because we feel guilty, but because we see it as the invaluable treasure that it is: the very words of God.

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:4

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resolution Time!

Not my favorite time, but alas, it must be done! As an old retreat speaker used to frequently say, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” If we don’t want to stay the same, we need goals to work towards. And of course as Christians, our ultimate goal is to be united with Christ in our heavenly home as Paul proclaims in Philippians 3:13-14: “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

We really ought to be making goals not just once a year, but throughout the year. But we can’t just make goals and expect change to come about. Why is it so hard to change? Related to that, why is it so hard even for Christians to change even though we have the Holy Spirit and we are a new creation? I did a series last year based on a Talbot class I took last year, but the short of it is that while we have a renewed heart, or a will to want to obey, we have already developed an engrained pattern of living. And so not only do we need a regenerate heart, we need to unlearn old habits and replace new ones.

That process, which really is the process of sanctification, unfortunately takes time, and more unfortunately, takes effort. Of course we want to recognize that ultimately no change is possible without the grace of God in our lives and the power of the Holy Spirit. But, we can’t just will changes to come, we have to come alongside of and participate in what the Holy Spirit is doing for change to come about. What are some things that can be helpful in that process?

1. Make a plan: Envision what changes you would like to see, and ask yourself what will it take to get there. Do you need to rearrange your schedule? People you need to take to? Things you need to get rid of? Be specific (and I would add, be realistic) and write it down.

2. Get accountability: Ideally, find someone who wants to do something similar and make your plan together. But even if no one wants to do it with you, asking to be kept accountable will help.

3. Do it! There really isn’t any short cut in forming new habits except by doing them. How many days does it take for new habits to form? Not sure, but if you do something everyday it’ll probably become a habit =).

My resolutions?

1. Read more: Not just the Bible, but just books in general. Time to utilize my Goodreads app! Some books I would love to get through this year: Martin Llyod-Jones’ Preaching and Preachers (currently reading), Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections, Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz. I want to aim for one book a month if I’m not in school.

By the way, if you want to read more this year too, here’s my unbiased recommendation. I heard it’s good =). If you have Goodreads, you can enter for free giveaway!

2. Pray more: This makes the list every single year. Especially praying with my wife.

3. Maintain my weight: Forget getting cut or buff. I will be happy if I gain no more weight this coming year. My plan? Julian Michaels, rollerblading, and basketball.

I need to work out a better plan for 2 and 3.

Happy New Year everyone!

Merry Christmas!!!

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Merry Christmas from Taiwan!

How is it that Christmas is on the same day every year and every time it comes around I still get surprised. One day it’s turkey dinner and black Friday shopping, and all of a sudden it’s Christmas lights, caroling, and nativity scenes (although seems like there are less of those around these days). It’s such a great time: the air is festive, people are nicer, and we look forward to vacation and presents.

As I read through the account of the birth and early life of Jesus this morning, I was struck by how Matthew paints such a different picture than what we see all around us. Or rather, a more complete picture. I’m sure there were cute animals around and Jesus must have been an adorable cherub of a baby, but missing from the peaceful and happy scenes we see on Christmas cards and church displays is the every real and immediate evil that sought to kill the Savior of the world.

Matthew tells us that the ruler of the region, King Herod, “was disturbed” (Matthew 2:3) when he heard that the Magi were looking for a king. Herod sends them on their way and asks that they report to him when they find Jesus, pretending to want to worship as well. But, in reality Herod  intended to eliminate anyone who would be a threat to his reign.

In 2:13, an angel appears to Joseph with this warning: “Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” And sure enough, when Herod realizes that the Magi tricked hm, he orders the execution of all the boys in and near Bethlehem two years and younger (v16). This reminds me of those old Chinese movies where assassins are sent to kill the baby emperor, and he has to be protected until he is old enough to rule.

The Bible is unapologetic in its description of human evil, even that seen in the heroes of the faith. And of course, that is why Jesus entered into this world, to overcome evil and open the way to salvation. Why God didn’t just surround Jesus with a host of angels at all times, or just do away with all evil in one instance, I don’t think we will ever understand fully in this life. But we do have the hope that our God entered into the sufferings of this world, not as one immune and untouched, but as a helpless and utterly dependent baby who was fully affected by the darkness of this world.

Yes, Christmas is a time of joy. But not (simply) because of presents, days off, and potlucks. It is a time of joy because we have hope in what God has done for us, which was foretold long ago. Genesis 3:15 says, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” The birth of Jesus happened as God had said. We can trust that His return and ultimate victory over evil will unfold according to the Scriptures as well.

“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20-21