Early this morning, I received the news that my sister-in-law’s husband had passed away and gone to Heaven. He had been fighting and enduring severe pain due to his cancer for over a year now. His wife and two children also went through a lot this past year, having to take care of and watch their husband and father struggle to fight the cancer. I wish I could be there with them, to grieve with them, to hold them and to comfort them, saying, “Each of you have also been through a lot this past year,” and, “He is resting with our Father God in Heaven.” I can only imagine what they are going through, having sent their husband and father to Heaven, and I feel so sorry knowing that I cannot do any of these things. Even though I cannot be with them together in-person, I sincerely pray that he is finding eternal rest up in Heaven in God and that his wife and two children would be able to experience the indescribable consolation that only God can give.
Consolation is a beautiful word. It means “to be” (con-) “with the lonely one” (solus). To offer consolation is one of the most important ways to care. Life is so full of pain, sadness, and loneliness that we often wonder what we can do to alleviate the immense suffering we see. We can and must offer consolation. We can and must console the mother who lost her child, the young person with AIDS, the family whose house burned down, the soldier who was wounded, the teenager who contemplates suicide, the old man who wonders why he should stay alive. To console does not mean to take away the pain but rather to be there and say, “You are not alone, I am with you. Together we can carry the burden. Don’t be afraid. I am here.” That is consolation. We all need to give it as well as to receive it. (Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey, 42).
I have been watching bits and pieces of the drama, Hospital Playlist, these days. In the drama, they tell the story of a young patient in his 20’s who is undergoing surgery for a brain tumor. In one of the scenes, one of the doctors in the operating room gives an account of his own personal experiences to the patient, a police officer who was disappointed and discouraged because, once he completed this surgery, he would no longer be able to live his life like he had before. Here, the doctor explains how he was once in the military but had no choice but to leave because, at one point, he had a condition in which the cervical vertebrae in his neck started to harden, eventually leading him to experience complete paralysis. However, he also explains that, despite such experiences, he is now fully functioning again and practicing as a doctor—
All this to say that, the patient, too, should not be disappointed or discouraged because, even though he is currently undergoing surgery for a brain tumor, he would be able to live healthily again, once he finished recovery. Because of these stories, the patient, who was hopeless and to the point of giving up, is consoled, gains courage and seems hopeful once again about the future that might be waiting for him, following recovery.
I thought of the phrase, “the wounded healer”, while watching this drama. It refers to a person who empathizes, lifts the spirits of and heals others who are going through similar pains and sufferings by using his or her own past, or even current, similar experiences. In this drama, the doctor was able to heal the patient through the sharing of his own past, similar experiences. It also made me think of a passage in the Bible. It is a passage from Isaiah in the Old Testament, and it foretells the story of Jesus Christ, who would suffer for our sake.
It is from Isaiah 53:2-5, and it says, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” I want to highlight the last portion, which says, “By his wounds we are healed.” Jesus Christ was “the wounded healer” who healed us through his own pains and sufferings. What do you think about holding on to the similar hope that, one day, our past and current pains and sufferings will not be for nothing but might give us empathy, as well as the ability to heal and lift up the spirits of someone who is going through a similar thing as you? If this is true, I believe that we might be able to look at the pains and sufferings that we are going through now in a different light.
Good morning, ANF, let’s take a moment today to remember what it means to be a genuine Christian. First and foremost, we are believers who trust in Jesus Christ and make decisions based on his advice. Second, we are followers who confess that all we need is him and nothing else. Third, we are disciples who learn from and copy everything from his example. Last but not least, we are disciple-makers who produce more and more disciples of Jesus Christ.
Following Sunday Corporate Worship yesterday, nine people sent me their commitments and prayer requests via e-mail and text. I’ve copied their commitments below, in hopes that our ANF family might continue to encourage and motivate one another and be reminded of the message that God has given us yesterday:
“I want to commit to focus my life on Jesus rather than on worldly things.”
“I commit to continue to reach out to my VIPs even during this time of quarantine and live out a life that exemplifies Christ.”
“I commit to serving my VIPs (even when I am afraid of being hurt or rejected) and actively seeking ways to meet their needs.
“I commit to Love God more, Listening to God's voice more, Read the Bible more, Pray more, Trust God more.
“I commit to trust in Him more and become an imitator of Christ in all aspects of my life.”
“I commit in spending time wisely and be active in serving VIPs around me. I commit in writing daily journal consistently in keeping track of my words and actions as a disciple of Jesus Christ.”
“I want to be more of a true Christian. I want to live as a believer, follower, disciple, and disciple maker. I don't want to live for myself or things of this world.”
“I will make a disciple of Jesus Christ in 2020.”
“I commit to God that I want to be a genuine follower of Jesus Christ and I confess that I only need God in my life. I want to listen to God and follow His way. I want to use my time wisely right now and spend it with God and my VIPS.”
“I commit to be Jesus Believer, Jesus Follower, Disciple of Jesus, and Disciple Maker of Jesus. I commit to not be a hearer only but be a doer. I commit to live my life as a Christian not passively but actively. I pray that I will continue to learn from my spiritual leaders and one day lead someone who will be a disciple of Jesus.”
How can we go deeper in our prayer life? Here is an answer:
To pray, I think, does not mean to think about God in contrast to thinking about other things, nor does it mean spending time with God instead of spending time with other people. As soon as we begin to divide our thoughts into thoughts about God and thoughts about other things, like people and events, we separate God from our daily life. At that point God is allocated to a pious little niche in some corner of our lives where we only think pious thoughts and experience pious feelings.
Although it is important and even indispensable for our spiritual lives to set apart time for God and God alone, our prayer can only become unceasing [prayer] when all our thoughts—beautiful or ugly, high or low, proud or shameful, sorrowful or joyful—can be thought in the presence of the One who dwells in us and surrounds us. By trying to do this, our unceasing thinking is converted into unceasing prayer, moving us from a self-centered monologue to a God-centered dialogue. To do this we want to try to convert our thoughts into conversation. The main question, therefore, is not so much what we think, but to whom we present our thoughts. (Henri Nouwen, You Are the Beloved, 125)
In my motherland, May 8th was Parents’ Day. My father is 92 years old, and my mother is 90 years old. In order to celebrate Parents’ Day and commemorate all that they have done for me, I ordered both my parents and my in-laws a package of all different kinds of special and quality meat, a package so expensive that I normally do not purchase it for myself or my family. I was so happy to hear later on that they all were able to have an extra special dinner because of the gift that I had sent them with love and gratitude. Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. Do you have any special plans laid out for her yet? If you do not have anything prepared, you still have some time!
I want to share with you a journal that I believe could encourage you to become an even more caring and loving friend, brother or sister and son or daughter:
Can fathers and mothers become friends of their children? Many children leave their parents to find freedom and independence and return to them only occasionally. When they return they often feel like children again and, therefore, do not want to stay long. Many parents worry about their children’s well-being after they have left home. When their children visit they want to be caring parents again. But a mother can also become the daughter of her daughter and a father the son of his son. A mother can become the daughter of her son and a father the son of his daughter. Father and mother become brother and sister of their own children, and they all can become friends. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it is as beautiful to watch as the dawn of a new day. (Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey, 89)
My wife bought a bag of fertilized soil for her garden a couple of days ago. Occasionally, she says that she hates squirrels because they keep on digging out the seeds that she plants, eating the flowers that grow and otherwise destroying the garden. Despite all of this, however, she continues to replenish the soil, water the garden, pull out the weeds and plant new seeds with great patience, endurance and labor. Because of this, I am able to enjoy seeing beautiful wildflowers of all different colors and heights throughout the garden. If she were to stop taking care of the garden, what would happen? It would either develop further or become completely destroyed. It would not stay in the exact same state. It is, in large part, her efforts to constantly cultivate the garden that make it good and beautiful. It reminds me of a passage in Luke that I read a couple of days ago.
In Luke 8:11-15, Jesus explains the meaning of the parable of the sower to his disciples: “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”
What kind of soil are you? Is the current status of your soil permanent? No! If you continue to cultivate your heart with endurance, patience and labor, you will see the soil of your heart become even more beautiful, fruitful and good. Do not give up!
In Luke 9:23, Jesus asks Peter, “But who do you say I am?” and Peter answers, “the Christ of God.” Following this, Jesus explains to all of his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” By asking this question to Peter, Jesus was not looking to hear some factual information or evaluation about who he was in general. Rather, he was hoping to hear about who Jesus was to Peter personally and what their relationship meant specifically to him. Likewise, by answering “the Christ of God,” Peter was confessing that he wanted to be a follower of Jesus Christ, which is also why Jesus, after hearing Peter’s answer, told all his disciples how they could be true followers of Jesus Christ.
His instructions were simple. “Deny yourself and take up your cross daily and follow me.” How do you think that Peter and the other disciples would have responded to these instructions? In Luke 18:28, you can see them responding, “See, we already denied ourselves, took up our cross, and followed you.” But Jesus says, “I know you did yesterday, but what about today?” Let’s not live in a PAST relationship with Jesus Christ. Let’s live in a PRESENT relationship with him. Paul said it best in Philippians 3:13, “I know that I still have a long way to go. But there is one thing I do: I forget what is in the past and try as hard as I can to reach the goal before me.” Let’s strive to follow Jesus DAILY. What do you think that you can do both personally and practically to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus TODAY?
In Luke 9:18-20, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do the crowds say I am?”, to which they answer, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others... one of the prophets.” Next, Jesus asks them, “But who do you say I am?” Peter answers, “the Christ of God.” Many of you may have heard this story before, as it is a well-known passage in the Bible. Now let’s imagine that you are doing your time of daily devotion with this passage. How do you usually spend your time of daily devotion? What kinds of thoughts usually come to mind? Some of you may try reading the passage one or two more times and automatically conclude that Peter is right, that Jesus is indeed our Christ, our Savior, so you end your time of daily devotion in prayer, acknowledging that Jesus Christ is your Savior.
Consider the following four questions that one may naturally wonder while meditating on this passage: (1) If your closest friends were to choose one word to describe you as a person, what word would they choose? (2) Why is the question, “Who do you say I am?”, so important? (3) Who do people today say Jesus is? What about you? How has your answer to this question changed throughout your life? (4) How can you apply your answer to specific actions in your daily life?
One of the best ways to deepen our time of daily devotion is to ask questions. I want to introduce a version of the Bible that contains all four of the questions above: “Serendipity Bible for Groups - For Personal and Small Group Study”. I am confident that, if you use this Bible and spend some time thinking about the questions that it provides, your devotional time will become much deeper and more meaningful. I miss you, and I love you.
I, too, learn a lot by teaching the Life Bible Studies each semester. Despite having taught these same classes many times before, I still find myself learning new things and reflecting on whether or not I am living out the lessons that I teach, or if I have forgotten anything important. For example, in Assurance Life Bible Study, today’s topic has to do with our two natures as Christians, and how we face many struggles because of our old nature battling our new nature. I find that the key to overcoming such struggles is in our hearts. I want to share with you a journal that highlights the importance of our hearts in our spiritual journeys:
In our milieu the word heart has become a soft word. It refers to the seat of a sentimental life. Expressions such as “heartbroken” and “heartfelt” show that we often think of the heart as the warm place where the emotions are located in contrast to the cool intellect where our thoughts find their home.
But the word heart in the Jewish-Christian tradition refers to the source of all physical, emotional, intellectual, volitional, and moral energies. From the heart arise unknowable impulses as well as conscious feelings, moods, and wishes. The heart, too, has its reasons and is the center of perception and understanding. Finally, the heart is the seat of the will: it makes plans and comes to good decisions. Thus the heart is the central and unifying organ of our personal life. Our heart determines our personality, and is, therefore, not only the place where God dwells but also the place to which Satan directs his fiercest attacks. It is this heart that is the place of prayer. The prayer of the heart is a prayer that directs itself to God from the center of the person and thus affects the whole of our humanness. (Henri Nouwen, You Are the Beloved, 120)
Following Sunday Corporate Worship yesterday, I had a chance to speak further with Hudson and Phoebe, our missionaries from Egypt. It looked to me that they were finally able to unwind a bit and show me more of their radiant smiles. Hudson and Phoebe are not accustomed to speaking in English, so I imagine that the two of them spent the entire day in nervousness and anxiety, practicing saying the things that they had prepared over and over again in English in preparation for Sunday Corporate Worship. It was only then that I realized that, if they had been able to share their life stories in their native tongue, that we might have been able to hear so much more about their lives, which was a bit of a shame.
Hudson and Phoebe are both four years younger than I am. I met them when they were in college, and they were such pure and kind-hearted people, overflowing with passion for God.
I noticed that they were those faithful people who always gave their all to God, no matter the task. It has been almost twenty years since they started living joyfully in the mission field, where the language, environment, culture and food are all different and unfamiliar. Listening to them, I felt as though they were living such good and respectable lives as Christians, and it was so nice to see that. In Genesis, God says, “It is good,” after looking at the earth and the humans that He had created. I felt a similar feeling towards Hudson and Phoebe that day as well. I say this not because they became missionaries out in the mission field but because the purity, kind-heartedness, overflowing passion, love for and faithfulness to God, as well as their hard-working heart, which I had seen in them twenty-five years ago, had not gone away one bit but instead got even more profound.
I hope that our ANF family might also hear from God, and from others, that they are living good and respectable lives as disciples of Christ as well. I pray that each of you may live such lives and hear such words from your wife, husband, children, parents, friends, roommates, in-laws, co-workers, etc. I also pray that you may stay healthy and safe this week and that we may be able to meet again soon in even better, more respectable forms than we did last.