And nothing will be impossible

•January 29, 2015 • 1 Comment

For the sake, as he sees it, of the ones he preaches to, the preacher is apt to preach the Gospel with the high magic taken out, the deep mystery reduced to a manageable size. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place, and it will be moved and nothing will be impossible to you” (Matt. 17:20). “Come, O blessed of my Father, and inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 35:24). “He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). The wild and joyful promise of the Gospel is reduced to promises more easily kept. The peace that passeth all understanding is reduced to peace that anybody can understand. The faith that can move mountains and raise the dead becomes faith that can help make life bearable until death ends it. Eternal life becomes a metaphor for the way the good a man does lives after him. “Blessed is he who takes no offense at me” (Matt. 11:6), Jesus says, and the preacher is apt to seek to remove the offense by removing from the Gospel all that he believes we find offensive. You cannot blame him because up to a point, of course, he is right. With part of ourselves we are offended as he thinks by what is too much for us to believe. We weren’t born yesterday. We are from Missouri.

– From Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale by Frederick Buechner

I don’t know why or how I met him. Maybe we were on one of our well-meaning outreaches and I gave him food; or maybe he asked me for money and I, being the sheltered product of an Asian American upbringing, a confused faith and suburban childhood, didn’t have the heart (or balls?) to ignore him. But he was sitting on a low wall on Channing, it was sunny, I know because even now I can see the light filtering down through the trees above us. He was ragged and dirty, in the way of Berkeley homeless who aren’t just kids who don’t want to live at home anymore, and I thought he was crazy. I must have told him I was a Christian, or he asked because I looked the part, and so he was going on and on about how he’d been in ministry and what he believed. Then he said, “It’s true, you know, about faith. I used to pray, I could pray right now, and that tree there, would bend over and touch the tips of its branches to the ground.”

Maybe he was crazy, but I’ve never quite been able to shake the feeling I had then. I thought of mustard seed sized faith and mountains. And I thought of my own faith, that was more like the kind that gets tossed to and fro by the waves, than the kind that lets you walk on them.

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Should Have

•January 20, 2015 • 2 Comments

I heard in a sermon the other day that “Jesus died the death we should have died”. I think it makes more sense to say “the death we should die”, since we haven’t died yet, but that’s besides the point.

Jesus died the death we should die.

I thought about this and realized it works two ways. Jesus died the death we deserve, for our sins, in order to bring us back to God. That’s the classic sense. The other sense is this: Jesus died the death that, in our new life and with the motive power of God’s grace, we should choose to die. To die for others, to die for the sake of mankind.

I had the thought: What if everyone on earth were willing to lay down their life for another, in both daily life and in the ultimate act? The possibilities would be endless.

Distance

•January 10, 2015 • 1 Comment

(This post is adapted from a quick pre-worship set spiel I wrote while listening to Stefan’s sermon a couple Sunday’s ago, and reflecting on Matthew 2:1-12)

Who came the farthest?

The Magi were not Christians, but they were aware and alert and acted on their knowledge. They “fell down and worshiped” a child that hadn’t yet grown to a man who would die for the sake of the world. They journeyed far and “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.”

But Jesus came pretty far too. He made two trips. When he was born he made the inaccessible accessible, what was infinite was now tangible. God breathed and cried and laughed.

The physical distance between one side of the Holy of Holies and the other was the mere thickness of the curtain. But the spiritual, the Real, distance was a yawning, gaping wound. A divide caused by our sin, infinite and unbridgeable. A chasm Jesus crossed to carry us Home. His second journey.

The Magi paid in energy, in money, in time, in physical danger to see a newborn child, and to worship. What did they know of the Lord? How much could they? They knew he was special, they knew with his coming that now, everything was different. But compared to us, they knew nothing. The God of the Universe became a man, his spirit breathed wisdom into written words, deep mysteries, hidden wisdom laid bare for the taking.

And yet, and yet… sinful and slovenly as I am, I cannot bother to fall down and worship of my own accord. I don’t discipline myself to read the word, to dig deeper into the costly truth of free grace. Jesus you bridged the gap. You closed the divide, and sometimes I still can’t reach you.

Saturday thoughts on Good Friday

•April 19, 2014 • 3 Comments

Behold the man upon a cross,
My sin upon his shoulders.

The cross is heavy. It wasn’t so long ago, he remembers, that he could do anything. Back when he was home, he could literally do anything. With a mere thought he created, with the slightest movement he lifted and threw, molded and destroyed. But now the cross is heavy. The whip had drained him. His muscles are torn and unresponsive. He will stumble soon, he sees it coming. When he was dispatched into the world he had been stripped. That stripping was far more depleting than the one he’d just received. He knew limits now, his body tired and hungered and was vulnerable to injury. For a time he knew that strength that resides in a young man. He learned (but had already known?) the joy of eating, of making with hands from things already created, the deep satisfaction of singing and laughing, vibrations in physical vocal cords. And now even that is being taken from him. With each step the cross grows heavier. The rugged, unwieldy cross. Made no less heavy by the knowledge that the true test, the true horror comes at the end of this journey. Even now he knows his Father sees and watches him. But what will it be like, to be unseen by the all seeing One? Take this cup from me.

We were on a punishment ruck march heading to the town where we’d be running missions the rest of the week. It was only 4.5 miles but this was the first march we’d ever done with our body armor (IBA) on, in addition to our rucks and weapons. From the beginning I could tell this was going to be bad. The IBA made it so the ruck didn’t fit correctly on my shoulders. With the M240B hanging on my ruck frame even just standing there was painful. As the march progressed I could feel my traps being crushed by the armor straps, my deltoids by the ruck straps and my arms start to fall asleep. The squeezing pressure pulling me down and back was getting more painful by the minute. After about two miles one of the LTs started vomiting, so CPT B. called a short halt so the soldier could recover and move to the front next to him. We weren’t allowed to “ruck flop” (sit down on the road resting on our rucks) so I took a knee, then another. I was in a prayer position, kneeling, with my arms and head resting on the ground, allowing my back to decompress and the ruck weight to shift so it wasn’t pulling down on my shoulders. But too soon we were up again. After maybe another mile my lower back started hurting and I could feel a hot spot on the ball of my left foot beginning to become a blister. This had never happened to me before during a ruck and it worried me. We halted again maybe half a mile short of our objective and I eagerly resumed my prayerful position, likely actually praying for equal portions of strength and relief. Shoulders, upper back, lower back, hips, calves, feet, so much pain.

I wonder what was harder. To be whipped, or to see the man who whipped you do violence. To see malice (if he was hateful) or sadness (if there was sadness) in his heart? Was it more difficult to not be believed or to see the ugliness of the people who falsely accused you? I think I may know the answer to these questions, but sinner that I am, my selfish thoughts always prioritize my own pain, my own suffering. How heavy was my sin upon your shoulders? I confess I often feel it heavy on my own, I have yet to learn to how to fully lay the burden down. Did you always feel it, from the moment you became a man? Or was most intense it as you approached the cross? Why do we call it Good Friday? Is it because that one Friday was so bad, that we can call all the rest of them Good?

 

The whole of the tremendous debt was put upon his shoulders; the whole weight of the sins of all his people was placed upon him. Once he seemed to stagger under it: “Father, if it be possible.” But again he stood upright: “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.” The whole of the punishment of his people was distilled into one cup; no mortal lip might give it so much as a solitary sip. When he put it to his own lips, it was so bitter, he well nigh spurned it—”Let this cup pass from me.” But his love for his people was so strong, that he took the cup in both his hands, and

“At one tremendous draught of love
He drank damnation dry,”

for all his people. He drank it all, he endured all, he suffered all; so that now for ever there are no flames of hell for them, no racks of torment; they have no eternal woes; Christ hath suffered all they ought to have suffered, and they must, they shall go free. – Rev. C. H. Spurgeon

Holy Saturday

•April 19, 2014 • Leave a Comment

The worst day in history.
The one day when he,
was neither alive to die,
nor prepared to rise,
and set us free. 

Oh, Saturday,
Emmanuel, not with us–
Holy Saturday,
the darkest day.

Both easy and not

•March 23, 2014 • 1 Comment

Nine weeks into IBOLC and the list of ways that God has been good to me continues to grow. More than ever I am encouraged by how ready I was for all of this. When I was home I often felt confused and stuck in place. Why was I always drawn to random things? Why did I always feel like I needed to leave, even though I loved where I was? Now it seems to make sense (as much as anything makes sense in this life). The Army is a random and uncomfortable place; like a farm in Canada, or like Oakland, California. You have to be able to run and do pull ups, like you do when you hang out with Nate and Andrew and go to circuit. It’s full of white people who dip, like an ambulance company in Concord, CA. It requires patience in the face of often confusing and irrational behavior/orders, like dealing with the homeless or a certain old lady. If anything, the Army is less messy and confusing than the existence of an upper-middle class, educated Asian-American in a place like Oakland. Right time, right place, right uniform. That’s all it really takes to be successful here. And they literally give you all the answers to every test…

And yet, I find myself getting sucked into the culture in unhealthy ways. The Army is judgmental and competitive by design. Order of Merit lists, class ranks, standardized PT tests all appeal to my proud and competitive nature. If I am not careful I easily fall into the military’s view of people and judge them accordingly. Everyone is either better or worse than I am, and I forget that people are different, with intrinsic value that cannot be measured by their APFT score, special skill patches/tabs, or place in the OML. Needless to say, this view undercuts my ability to minister to others, and often even my ability to see others as people worthy of my time and effort.

I wonder if maybe I am less prepared than I think? That maybe my pride only flares up because I am insecure in this new environment? Maybe I feel the need to perform at a high level because I am trying to prove something, rather than seeking an excellence (in spirit as well as in actions) that glorifies the one who frees me from worldly expectation and sent me here in the first place. I want to be the one that lifts up and encourages, not the one that judges and discourages, that puts others down and basks in the smug comfort of relative superiority (as I’m afraid I often have since I’ve been here.)

There’s a line in OCMS’s “Big Time in the Jungle” that goes: the Army moves slow, hurry up and wait, don’t sleep late, you learn to hate your brother, before you hate your foe.

That rings much too true, especially for a “band of brothers” who are supposed to trust each other with our lives. God help me to be strong, to be pierced daily by the beauty of your Gospel, to trust you and remember you in the dark, the cold, the field, the confusion and the clamor.

Cậu Thái

•January 12, 2014 • 7 Comments

When I heard the news I was on my way out the door. A stormy Saturday, strangely fitting. I stood, staring at the dead leaves on the trees that line the edge of our apartment community, the rain falling steadily, just staring and wondering. I wondered how a simple text could change how the entire world looked. How the passing of one human being, thousands of miles away could render the air both emptier and yet pregnant with meaning, at the same time.

trees

You loved us well. You taught us that we could love without the weight of responsibility. You were the fun young uncle. It is funny and sad that in most of my memories of you, my behavior was terrible. I was so angry at Ryan when he got scared during the TNMT movie and we had to leave, I was such a brat at the Giants game that we had to leave early, never appreciative and always demanding. You brought KFC to every family gathering and we loved you for it. You lived with us when you were the age I am now, and you were more generous and caring than I could ever imagine being with my young cousins, or future nephews and nieces. We were so happy that you found love at last. You married Co Jen and had four beautiful girls. You found God and a love for Christ, and I am so sad and so happy and so jealous that you get to be with them now.

It’s hard Cậu Thái. I wish I could have seen you again before you left. I find myself feeling guilty for not trying harder to visit you, and then feeling guilty for how selfish that thought is. You are in a better place now, hopefully a less confusing (and yet more mysterious and wonderful) place, and that leaves us here. I hope we can find it in ourselves to love your wife and daughters the way you loved us. That somehow we will find our family closer and happier that we were before. Rest in peace and so much more.

 

Cau Thai