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.

The Hardest Thing About Medicine

     If you ever wonder about a patient’s prognosis, you can make use of the “Niceness” test. Is your patient a really sweet lady with a breast lump who has young kids and volunteers in her free time? It probably is a malignant cancer. Is your patient a selfish jerk who has made poor decisions resulting in a decline of his health? He’ll probably be fine for awhile. It seems like more often than not, the nicer your patient is, the poorer his or her outcome will be.
     Obviously I’m being facetious, but there’s an element of truth in that jest that hits a little too close to home. You don’t have to go to medical school to be hit with the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” You’ll just get it a lot during your training. Sure residency is physically challenging with the ungodly work hours, but I actually think the hardest thing about being a doctor is the emotional toll of seeing suffering firsthand day after day.
     And if you believe in God, nothing shakes your faith more than struggling personally with suffering. Sadly, many have walked away from their faith because they are not able to reconcile the idea of a loving God with the existence of evil. It’s hard to tell someone that God loves them when they just found out they had cancer, or when their loved one passed away. But God does love us, and His existence actually gives meaning to suffering. If God doesn’t exist, the reality is that suffering still does, and hardships that come would then just be a matter of bad luck. [1]
     I don’t know why some people get better, but some people die from their illness. I don’t know why kids are born with disabilities, or why some don’t make it at all. But I do know that if God did not exist, that all the suffering I see from day to day is the result of random chance, then I wouldn’t want to be a doctor.
     The promise of the resurrection is that there is more to this life than random chance and bad luck. There is a God who is sovereign over all evil and even uses it ultimately for the good of those who love Him. There is a God who entered into our suffering in order to restore our relationship with Him so that one day we can enjoy life as it was intended, without tears, pain, shame, sin, and death. Happy Easter everyone!
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3-5


[1] For a great treatment of the problem of evil, see this article by Stand to Reason.

 

Why God is Not Against Vaccines

I’ve been seeing a lot of news about vaccines lately in the social media headlines so I figured I would throw in my however much these thoughts are worth. A frustrating situation is when patients refuse medical treatment because they believe in God. But wait, I believe in God too, and I don’t remember the Bible ever saying we shouldn’t use medicine. The reasoning, I think, goes something like this: God is the all-powerful healer who holds our lives in His hands, and so if it’s His will that I get sick, then I’ll just get sick because if it’s His will to heal me, He can, and He will if I have enough faith in Him (and if I take medications, this would mean I don’t have enough faith).

While I do agree that God is the all-powerful healer who hold our lives in His hands who allows sickness in this world as a result of sin, and that if He wanted to, He could miraculously heal anyone of any disease, I do believe that medicine and faith are not mutually exclusive. God can do miracles, but usually God works through natural processes and the creative abilities and intellect that He has given to human beings, His image bearers. Those who would trust exclusively on God for medical needs probably would have no problem going down to the local store to buy food, or the mall to buy clothes. Even though God is fully capable of supernaturally providing food and clothing (manna for the Israelites and coverings for Adam and Even), He has chosen to meet those needs through people who He has given the knowledge and ability to harvest food and make clothing.

In the same way, God has given people the capacity to understand the workings of the human body, and the ability to do research to come up with ways in which to combat sickness. Yes, Jesus came and healed a lot of people of disease. But there were tons more who were not healed, because healing wasn’t the main purpose of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus came not to simply relieve physical suffering, but to usher in the kingdom of God. Jesus’ miraculous healings not only authenticated His claims to be the Messiah sent by God, but also pointed to the future reality of God’s kingdom that is without sickness, sin, or death. And so medicine is a means in which to bring creation back closer to how it was intended before sin entered the world.

In the Bible you don’t read anywhere a prohibition to use medicine. Paul even tells his fellow laborer in Christ Timothy to “use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Timothy 5:23), and not just pray for healing. The Gospel writer Luke, a traveling companion of Paul, was a doctor, and we don’t see Paul telling Luke to quit his job. Are there misuses of medicine? Of course, as there are misuses of everything else that is good because we live in a world of sin. We certainly can trust in what our hands can provide rather than God, but that can happen not just with healing, but with anything else (e.g., provision of food and future security). It’s a daily discipline to come before God in dependence even as we are active in using our gifts that God has given us for our provision.

All this is to say, the development of vaccines is an example of the grace of God given to us to combat the corruption of the natural order due to sin. Vaccines and antibiotics are probably two of the greatest medical discoveries in terms of lives saved and illness prevented. Are there side effects to vaccines? Sure. Is autism one of them? I can’t imagine the fear a parent would have hearing about the reports of children manifesting autism after routine vaccinations. I want to acknowledge those fears, but the vast bulk of scientific evidence would say no. 

Christ came to deal with sin in this world. And that means not just taking away the penalty of our sins against God by dying on the cross, but also ushering in a kingdom (that will come in full when He returns) that is how things were intended to be: no more tears, no more sickness, and no more death. In the meantime, let us use everything that God has given us to stay healthy so that we are best equipped to carry out the kingdom work.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He willdwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. 5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:1-5

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Medical Hypocrisy

Wow, it’s been quite awhile since I last posted. After taking a little break over the holidays, it’s been hard to overcome the vacation inertia to start writing again. That’s a spiritual lesson in and of itself.

I read Medscape’s Family Physician Lifestyle Report 2014 this morning and I found it quite interesting. I’m not sure where they got the numbers, but in this study, 48% of family physicians reported being overweight, with a BMI >25. This is second only to surgeons, who came in at 49%. If you are curious, dermatologists were the least heavy at 23%.

Whatever the specialty, it does seem like not many doctors (or any healthcare provider for that matter) lead the healthy lifestyle that they preach to patients day in and day out. It’s always funny (and sad at the same time) to see cardiologists taking smoking breaks between doing caths and stress tests. Most people know I have quite the sweet tooth.

Dr. Nick always talked about how he was practicing medical hypocrisy, promoting health when he himself weighed more than 400 lbs. If you haven’t taken the time to watch this short clip of his testimony, it’s an encouragement. By the way, happy belated birthday Dr. Nick.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QqnOnMUT6cU

Our patients are better served when our lives are congruent with the healthy living that we are promoting. In the same way, as Christians, our testimonies are more powerful when our lives line up with what the Bible teaches. Unfortuantely, many are turned away because of the hypocrisy that they see in the church and in professing Christians.

How are we doing? Do our outward actions match our inward convictions and the truth of Scripture? For the legalists among us (myself included), do our outward “good” actions come out of a transformed heart? Or are we doing things simply out of duty because it is what “good” Christians do.

Obviously all of us are not where we should be, and we need the grace of God not just to save us, but to sustain us as we seek to obey Him. But my prayer is that we would not just do loving things, but become loving people as we grow more in Christlikeness so that we are transformed both inside and out.

 

 

 

Thankstaking!

I saw over the weekend someone jokingly called Thanksgiving “Thankstaking” on their Facebook status. I laughed, but then realized that I had spent most of the break looking for deals on stuff for myself. And with Cyber Monday in full swing, that hasn’t gotten any better.

It’s a bit disturbing how just “browsing around” can tempt me so hugely to buy something. Even if I don’t really want it, seeing it on sale, looking at the pictures, and reading the reviews make me think, “Ooo, I need that.” I almost bought a box of ramen this morning online.

And what’s worse is seeing it in person because someone else has it. A friend just got a new tablet, and even though my Ipad is perfectly fine, I totally coveted his. (Not too long ago, I thought about selling mine to upgrade only to remember that it was a wedding gift and it has our names engraved on the back…)

We just had a sermon yesterday about how envy hinders true relationships from building because it causes us to judge or be judged by others. And it doesn’t apply to just material things, but we so often covet things or look down on one another because of status, ability, looks, and so many more.

The way out of this is understanding that our identity is not found in our possessions, accomplishments, or physical appearance. As Christians, our identity and our significance are found in our relationship with God. In Christ, we are God’s children, completely loved and fully accepted.

It is more than ironic that the season to give thanks and to celebrate the birth of our Savior has become instead an endless pursuit of finding significance apart from God. It is the work of Satan to tempt us into finding our identities in what we can accomplish and buy.

The following is a prayer exercise that I have found helpful to remind myself of who I am and where my identity lies. Even though we are back in school or work, I encourage you to find sometime this week to re-center ourselves onto Christ.

Prayer of Recollection

1. Present yourself to God and open your heart to the Lord and intend to learn from Him. (~1-2min)

2. Consider as loss all things that you are tempted to find gain in outside of Christ. Consider all these things as loss compared to Jesus Christ. Ask God to help you identify potential idols in your heart, whether they be good or bad things that you are tempted to find your identity in. This is an opportunity to confess and detach from those things (Phil 3:7-8) (~10-min)

3. Affirm to your soul and the Lord your true identity in Christ, that through faith and union in Christ, you are no no longer condemned but accepted completely by God. (Phil 3:9-11), (~10min)

4. Resolve to keep your heart and mind attentive to the Lord. Be receptive, silent, and still. (1-2min)

Adapted from Dr. John Coe, Intro to Spiritual Formations

Church Retreat Recap!

Our church just spent an amazing 4th of July weekend together up in Cedar Lake Camp in Big Bear. I can’t think of a better way to have celebrated this holiday than to worship freely with the church body. Highlights of the retreat for me:

  • Great talks from Pastor Steve Jin.
  • Competitions in our first annual Kairo Olympics: Only our church can make shoe flipping and cookie eating this intense. Also, don’t mess with Eudora in an eating contest.
  • Getting to know better those who came for the first time.
  • Playing Bible heads-up with worship songs.
  • Campfire sharing: One of the most honest, raw, and powerful times of sharing I have experienced. Thank you for all who shared so openly.

Aside from all the fun, I was reminded by our speaker that all that we do has to come back to God’s ultimate purpose for this world to come to know and glorify Him (God’s world order), and Jesus’ unique, compassionate love for us that prompted Him to step down from majesty to die in our place. I was challenged to reflect on all the different aspects of my life and to ask myself if I am living for God’s purposes and if I am motivated by God’s love for the lost in every area, whether it is my family, church, work, or recreational life.

Pastor Steve reminded us that to be Christ-like is not just to read our Bible, pray, or to do any of the other disciplines. To be Christ-like starts with having a heart that Jesus has for the lost. Jesus is the only access to God, and we as His followers, are to point others to Jesus, the way, truth, and the life. Just as I care about those who do not have access to physical health because of a lack of insurance or being under-insured, I am to have a greater concern for those without access to true spiritual health.

Thanks be to God for all the ways He worked this weekend. I pray that we will continue to reflect on what we learned so that it will transfer from our heads to our hearts and not be snatched way. Thanks to all those who helped to make the retreat possible and for all who came.

“This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.” 1 Timothy 4:9-10

How did God speak to you during the retreat?

True Freedom

As we look forward to the long weekend, hopefully we are reminded of the great freedoms that we have here in America as we celebrate our nation’s independence. Christians in America should doubly rejoice, not just because of our religious freedoms, but also because of our spiritual liberation from death in Christ. Jesus says in John 8:32 “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” But yet, the sad reality is that many see Christianity not as freedom, but slavery because of all the rules that we have to obey.

The great deception is the belief that we are free when we can live however we want. You think about the abortion movement, the killing of a baby is advanced under the banner of “pro-choice.” Many are rejoicing because of the recent court ruling allowing same-sex marriage to be legal because people are now free to marry whoever they love. The world says true freedom is being able to live however we want to.

Now that might sound good, tolerant, even loving, but this worldview falls apart when our desires come in conflict with our wellbeing, and the wellbeing of others. Just as an example, no one likes traffic laws, and our initial reaction when we see a cop is, unfortuantely, usually negative. But would we really want to live in a society without any traffic rules? Without policemen? Enforceable laws? No, ideally, laws are made to protect our true freedoms by giving us fullness of life.

I’ve seen so many patients working with the homeless who in the name of choice and freedom are very much slaves to their own passions and desires. I have those who don’t have enough money even for food because they use every penny to get drugs. And of course their decisions don’t just impact themselves, but have consequences on the people in their lives. It is such a sad situation, particularly if there are children involved.

But the thing is, you and I really are not much better. The “drugs” we seek after and give ourselves over to just look different: money, fame, pleasure, or maybe security. Ultimately, our pursuit of anything apart from God enslaves every one of us because living apart from God results in death. Freedom is not getting to do what we desire to do, because the truth is that we have sinful desires sometimes. True freedom is knowing how God intended us to live and having the power to live that out. The great news of the gospel is that in Christ, because of His work on the cross and the empowering of the Holy Spirit, that becomes a reality.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  John 8:32

Happy 4th of July week everyone. No post this coming Thursday because of our church retreat!

 

 

Sermon Feedback/Discusson – Reasons to Rejoice

Hi Church family! Here’s a recap of the sermon on Sunday. I encourage you to read through the passage again, there’s some great truths and reasons for us to rejoice. As always, feel free to let me know your feedback or how you interacted with the sermon!

Reasons to Rejoice

Romans 5:1-11

We can rejoice because of:

1. What God has done for us in the past: We are justified through the blood of Christ. As a result, we have peace with God and stand in grace.  (v1-2a, 11)

2. What God will do for us in the future: We will be glorified with God when God’s glory is fully revealed. (v2b, 9-10)

3. What God is doing for us now: We are being sanctified, perfected through the trials of our lives. (v3-4)

  • We can rejoice in our sufferings because it matures us and strengthens our hope in God.
  • Our hope in God is sure because it is based on God’s unfailing love. (v5)
  • We can be sure of God’s unfailing love because of
    • The subjective, continued ministry of the Holy Spirit, reminding us of God’s love and our adoption as His children (v5, 8:16);
    • The objective, historical ministry of Jesus Christ, demonstrating God’s amazing and unique love that He would pay the ultimate cost (His Son) to redeem a most undeserving people (v6-8)

Applications:

  • Be reminded of our future glory as we go through present difficulties knowing that God who took care of the eternal can take care of our day to day struggles.
  • God can use all trials, big or small, to reveal areas of growth in our lives, so be prayerful as we go through even inconveniences or disappointments to see how God can refine our character.
  • Rejoice!

For those who couldn’t make it today, we miss you! In a couple of days, the sermon podcast should be uploaded here. Have a great week!

To all the Graduates!

It’s graduation season! Tonight is my alma mater’s (high school) graduation. Every time this day rolls around, I always think thoughts like: Wow, has 13 years really gone by? I wonder what people are up to? Why wasn’t I invited to my 10 year reunion? Shouldn’t it be easy to find me online nowadays?? Am I still not cool enough??!

Ahem…my thoughts digress; certainly no unresolved issues here. Well, to all the graduates, here’s a little pep talk I gave to our high schoolers at our church’s grad night last week. I thought I would share it again since it applies not just to high schoolers and I also saw some of you sleeping.

Grad night is always a bittersweet time. It is of course a time of celebration as you look forward to your next chapter of life and we are excited to see how God is going to use you. But it is also sad for both your parents and the church to see you leave. Maybe some of the parents are happy about this, I don’t know.

But we are sad to see you go, and our prayer is that as you go, you will find success in your academic pursuits. But much more than that, our more fervent prayer is that you will continue to grow in your walk with Christ and hold strong to your faith despite the attacks of the evil one. And so as you prepare yourselves for college, I want to leave you with this encouragement from the Word. Turn to John 15.

Here is the secret of having a vibrant, healthy, and growing spiritual life, and it’s really not that big of a secret: remain in Christ. Jesus says in verse 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”

You want to have success in your spiritual life? Remain in Christ. Notice it is a choice you have to intentionally make. It’s not an automatic thing. Now what does it mean to remain in Christ? We can talk about a lot of different things, and from this chapter we can talk about making sure we are taking in Scripture, or making sure we are spending time in prayer. I hope from your time at SBECC you have learned the importance of reading the Word and praying.

Here Jesus says He is the vine and you are a branch on that vine. Tonight, I want to remind you that there’s not just one branch on the vine. All believers are branches connected to the vine, and we are connected to one another through Christ. Jesus here paints a picture of the family of God, and this image illustrates the importance of remaining in this community of believers.

And in fact, our knowledge of the Bible is to be lived out in our relationships with one another. Jesus goes on in verse 9-12: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love…12my command is this: love each other as I have loved you.”

In the last decade of youth ministry we as the church leaders have had the joy of hearing from people who have gone off to college who are now graduated and doing well in their spiritual walk, being used by God in great ways like. But we have also experienced the sadness of hearing about people who have gone through our youth group who aren’t walking with God anymore.

Thinking over these experiences, we have noticed that those who are doing well spiritually over time are those who make fellowship with other believers a priority. Our spiritual life is not just a private matter. When we were saved, we are saved into this new family of God where we can grow, be encouraged, held accountable, and protected from the attacks of the evil one.

Most of you who are graduating have grown up in the church. You have come to church week in and week out and heard countless sermons. There will be a temptation to “take a break” from church when you enter college. No one will be there forcing to go to church anymore and there will be many more fun activities you can do Friday nights or on Sundays.

Wherever you end up for college, whether just a couple of hours away, or thousands of miles away, our prayer is that you will make finding a new church home a priority. This Christian life isn’t meant to be lived alone. Those who have a vibrant individual spiritual life have a vibrant spiritual community life. There will be plenty of new things to figure out when you get to college. Please figure out your spiritual home first.

Remain in Christ by remaining in the body of Christ. Surround yourselves with godly brothers and sisters who will continue to encourage you and keep you on the right path. Please know that wherever you end up, you will always have a home here at SBECC so please visit often. We will miss all of you very much.

To all the graduates, congratulations. Soon you’ll be wondering how 13 years have passed by and why you didn’t get invited to your high school reunion.