Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Not a love at first sight

I first encountered Hans when he was preaching in his previous church. Ours was not a love at first sight. I was, however, given "an understanding at first hearing."

I love learning from him then, and I love learning from him now. Hans has a way of explaining complicated things, making them simple and accessible. He is clear and logical and precise, skills that do not come naturally for me. And now that we are married, I have the benefit of knowing that he teaches me because he loves me.

Hans is currently teaching Christian apologetics in his Sunday school class. He kindly gives his wife summaries of his lessons every now and then, because I am usually with the boys when he is teaching.

A few Sundays ago, I asked Hans what is the use of Christian apolegetics. Does it do any lasting good to be able to defend the truth of the Gospel or the reliability of Scripture? All this talk about evidence and presuppositions — do people actually come to faith by being proven that they have been wrong all their lives?

I came across the testimony of Nabeel Qureshi today. Nabeel grew up in the United States, in an extremely devout Muslim home. His mother came from a long line of missionaries of Islam and he was taught to be an ambassador for Islam from a young age. But Christ revealed himself to Nabeel and his life in Christ revives a desire in me to better explain and defend my faith. He reminds me why the Gospel is worth dying for.

In his testimony, Nabeel talks about his best friend David. He was the first person who provided some answers to Nabeel's attacks against Christianity. David's response was unexpected and his friendship was genuine. "From that point on, we did everything together... In that context of friendship, I know that he is going to take a bullet for me if the time ever arises, and I would do the same for him. So when he shares the Gospel with me, and when he tries to tear down my faith, I know he is doing it because he loves me."

Theirs was a love that was truly tolerant.

Tim Keller said in a sermon, “Truth without love is imperious self-righteousness. Love without truth is cowardly self-indulgence.” Christian apologetics is a useful tool, but only when it comes from mouths that speak the truth with love, and from hearts that are ever so aware of the grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Four shining faces

The year was 2005. I was a second year graduate student, and homeless. To make a long story short, the Lord provided a home for me with an international community of missionaries and church leaders on furlough. I am still drinking from the deep well of friendships I was given that year.

In that community lived four Burmese pastors. If you were driving by, you might think these pastors were gardeners, or janitors. They were outside raking leaves in the fall, shoveling snow in the winter, planting flowers in the spring. Digging ditches, anything really. If help was needed — they were there. They inspired (obnoxious) neighbors (me) to throw open their windows and shout out friendly greetings.

In a community of red and yellow, black and white, my Southeast Asian features looked like theirs. Once in a while, my Malaysian accent would even creep up on me when they were around. They spoke to me like a daughter.

One of the perks of community living was our weekly shopping trip together. One Friday, while we were waiting for the others, I asked one of the Burmese pastors about life in Myanmar. Pastor Bo Tha was the oldest, and the tallest, of the four. Dark and thin, he was a quiet man with kind eyes.

He showed me a picture of his family. I counted the children in his photo. With his wife (a.k.a. the Burmese Superwoman), they had three biological children and adopted five more. In addition, his family regularly cared for at least four to five orphans from his tribe whose parents were killed because of the persecution against Christians in Myanmar.

I asked him what was his monthly income (apparently, I was obnoxious when I asked questions as well). He thought for a moment and answered, "Ten dollars." I probably responded with some outrageous exclamation.

Their tribes lived in the mountains, so they mainly traveled on foot. On Sunday mornings, they climbed many hills, some for many hours, in order to gather for worship. Even now, I think of my Burmese brothers and sisters when I sit in my warm car, my children strapped to their carseats, while my husband drives us to church. All the while, we are in no danger of being decimated by fire or gunshots — at least not for our faith.

When I saw them for the last time, the four pastors invited me to their home. They apologized for not being able to attend our wedding. I did not hide my disappointment. I pleaded for them to stay. They needed to go to New York City, they explained, to preach to the Burmese there.

One of them took out a red envelope. I started weeping and shaking my head. They insisted, the way only a father can insist upon his daughter. He placed it firmly in my hand, "For you and Hans, from the four of us."

I was attending divinity school at the time, but my Burmese pastors taught me more about God than some of the professors who held scores of degrees, published books, and read the Bible in several languages. I remember watching them when they sang hymns to the Lord. Somehow, their faces shone. They saw beyond what meets my eyes. They knew their Lord, and walked with him.

John Owen, in Overcoming Sin andTemptation, explains,
The difference between believers and unbelievers as to knowledge is not so much in the matter of their knowledge as in the manner of knowing. Unbelievers, some of them, may know more and be able to say more of God, his perfections, and his will, than many believers; but they know nothing as they ought, nothing in a right manner, nothing spiritually and savingly, nothing with a holy, heavenly light. The excellency of a believer is, not that he has a large apprehension of things, but that what he does apprehend, which perhaps may be very little, he sees it in the light of the Spirit of God, in a saving, soul-transforming light; and this is that which gives us communion with God, and not prying thoughts or curious-raised notions (chapter 12).

I found the red envelope today.

In it, I found all that they placed in my hand, many years ago. It holds their happiness, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, the hope they had for the people of Myanmar, the love they had for the orphans, and their allegiance to their God.

Their $40 feeds us still.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

I did not see this coming

I slouch.

I learned to slouch a long time ago in a land far away, where I was always one of the tallest girls in my grade. Where teachers were required to measure the weight of every student — in front of the entire class. Where I my mom's friends regularly exclaimed, "She is so big. She is so stout. What do you feed her?!"

Little girls do not want to be called burly.

In my daydreams, I was a tiny little thing with long hair down to my waist (I had bowl-cut hair). If I could just hide my height a little, if I could just look a little smaller, a little less stout, perhaps I could be beautiful.

I slouched through my childhood. I slouched through my tween and teens. Even after coming to America, where I was no longer considered tall or burly, I continued to slouch.

I am ready to straighten up.

But my back has been proven to be more stubborn than I expected. After nearly thirty years, my default position is to hunch. The habit has taken root. And roots go deep.

Three young men in the fiery furnace, praying. Catacomb of Priscilla, Rome, 3rd century.

Charles Spurgeon is right: “The first learned is generally the last forgotten.” And I learned to hunch my back very early on. I was five, maybe six?

Hans has kindly and patiently offered his assistance, reminding me to straighten up whenever I slouch — which is all the time. Sometimes, his voice takes me back to some point of my childhood and my teenage years. I can almost feel the blood rushing into my face, the insecurity of that little girl being measured and compared. I can almost sense her fear when her thinner, smaller friends asked how much she weighed. I can almost hear Ma's Indonesian dialect, "Ling, jangan bungkuk!"(Stop slouching!)

I did not see this coming. Un-hunching my back is recalling some old forgotten fears. As it turns out, my posture is not the only thing that needs correcting.

Out of the abundance of the heart the body speaks. Slouching is not merely a bad physical habit, it came from the posture of my soul. I slouched out of fear. Fear of being a burly freak with bowl-cut hair. Fear of people's judgment. So I carried the dead weight of self-consciousness and insecurity on my shoulders.

My hunched back revealed my hunched heart. No amount of confidence can straighten it, because I am not enough, and I will never be.

The earliest representation of the crucifixion. Christ, praying. Santa Sabina, Rome, 430 A.D.

I did not see this coming. Un-hunching my back brings me back once again to the foot of the cross. As it turns out, I can do nothing — not even straightening my back — apart from the Gospel.

I slouch because I forget.

I slouch when I forget his blood that was shed for me, his body bended upon that tree.

He is enough. God in human likeness, he took my guilt and shame. He took the burdens off my shoulders and replaced them with the robe of righteousness. He caused me to stand, and to pray.

Soul, stand rightly.
before the Lord
with hands lifted to the sky,
because Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.

Praise be to God.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

When I can't help it

When Hans walks by my computer and sees pictures of food and recipes, he knows my mental mode: fried. As in, tired out, exhausted. One night, as I was nursing Khesed and mindlessly clicking around, a good friend posted this quote by Oscar Wilde on Facebook:
It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it.

Like a splash of cold water to my sleepy soul. I needed that.

What will I be when I can't help it? This question sent shivers up my spine. What is my soul made of? What am I feeding my mind? When I am old and senile, or when the filter of my brain can no longer filter what comes out of my mouth, what kind of person would I be?

What would I love? What would I live for?

Food, apparently. Perishable and temporary. This is not good.

I quickly closed the food and wine windows on my desktop. Click. Click. Click.

Right then, something caught my eyes. Augustine spoke into my night.
But what do I love when I love my God? . . .
Not the sweet melody of harmony and song;
not the fragrance of flowers, perfumes, and spices;
not manna or honey;
not limbs such as the body delights to embrace.
It is not these that I love when I love my God.
And yet, when I love him, it is true that I love a light of a certain kind, a voice, a perfume, a food, an embrace...

when my soul is bathed in light that is not bound by space;
when it listens to sound that never dies away;
when it breathes fragrance that is not borne away on the wind;
when it tastes food that is never consumed by the eating;
when it clings to an embrace from which it is not severed by fulfillment of desire.
This is what I love when I love my God.
Augustine, Confessions (transl. Pine-Coffin), X, 6.


Like a stream of clear water to a parched soul. I needed that.

That would be nice. To love God when I can't help it.

Please help me, Lord.

Soul, eat food that is never consumed by the eating.

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.
 Paul, Second Letter to the Corinthians, 10:3-5.