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

 

Go(ing to the) Army

•June 16, 2013 • Leave a Comment

It just became Sunday so… tonight(!) I will be heading to a hotel in downtown SJ, sleeping probably not very many hours, waking up and going to the MEPS to wait in lines in order to wait in other lines (ad infinitum), and eventually I will get bused over to the airport the fly to South Carolina, where the dry, cool, breezy southern spring weather will welcome me to Army Basic Combat Training.

For those who know me, but don’t know me well enough to know that I’ve joined the Army (yes I said the words, “I, Justin Hong, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend…”), this will come as somewhat of a surprise. In fact, even for myself, the possibility was unthinkable even just two years ago. But, alas, it is done and I am going. And what’s more, I’m excited! I don’t really have any idea what it will be like, or where I will be headed in six months, but I’m excited, and I’m confident and happy to be doing something that will inevitably teach me new things about myself and the world, whether I like it or not.

I am excited because I know that, while I may not necessarily need God more than I need Him now (when I’m comfortable I tend to forget), I will definitely know more and more often that I need Him, and I pray that my faith will grow in equal (or greater) measure as the uncertainty and difficulty with which I am faced.

I thank God that he has humbled me over the years, and though I wish he was done, that I was cured of that sickly pride once and for all, I know he isn’t finished. I know God made men to be far better and stronger and kinder and more loving that I am in my current state. And I am glad of that.

I thank God that he has kept me healthy, that he has made me strong, that over the years he has put me in places and with people who have helped me to run better, to love people better, to become a bit more self aware, to see my strengths and my struggles with more clarity, and in all things to prepare me for what was next.

And this time, what is next is the military.

I am excited because someone will be waking me up every morning, they will cook my meals, plan my workouts, teach me things whether I like it or not and tell me when to go to sleep. I am excited because being in the Army will be like high school all over again.

I am excited because I can already feel a deep and growing interest when I think about the men I may lead, and the men who may lead me. I want to meet them and know where they come from, who they are, why they became soldiers and what they want from life. I want to lead the men over whom I am placed with excellence and expertise, to earn their respect because I have come to earn my own. I am also fearful that I might fail them. That in my own impatience or pride I might close doors that God would have me keep open (as I have done so many times before), and sometimes the weight of it is difficult to bear, and I push the thoughts away, toward the future.

I am excited to serve my Country. When people ask why I joined this is the reason that is hardest to speak. I’m not sure why. Maybe because it’s cliche. Maybe because I’m not sure if I really believe it. But I think I do. I know in my heart and in my head that the Kingdom of God is what is Best. I know that our world will never be free of sin as long as men are free and God is patient. But I also believe that America is great. I believe that I owe my country a debt not easily repaid for the opportunities that it granted my family as well as the opportunities it continues to grant to me. I am sad that in a place so well known for tolerance it seems that one of the few things we are not allowed to say is that our country is great. I don’t think we do everything right, no one in their right mind believes that. But I love living here and I thank God for placing me where he has.

And even as I am excited, confident and happy, I am also sad to be leaving my home. I know as I leave, I am leaving behind a time and a place that will never exist in the same way again. I am already grieving what will be lost, in community, in jokes, in milkshake and in n out runs, in circuit and BDYG, in life in general (as an innumerable number of things are lost whenever a choice is made). And I get excited to the point that it makes my heart beat a bit faster just thinking about how good it will be when I come back to visit. Pray for me!

Friends, thank you for everything.

A patch of shade

•June 2, 2013 • 1 Comment

I am convinced that all most of us truly desire is a patch of shade near a grassy field in which to love our family, eat with friends, warm ourselves at the fire and sing into the night.

That a good man can (and will) do good work and not fulfill this heart’s desire, is a shame and a crime. Are not sky and ground in abundance? And God made trees to grow with seed and water, and nothing else. What have we done? Where did we go astray? As the song goes, why do we work so hard, for things we do not want?