A connected spirituality in Asia

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Steps to Temple of the Emerald Buddha at The Grand Palace, Bangkok

Bangkok and Thailand is filled with many temples, including some mosques and churches.  It’s a religious and multi-religious society with a connected spirituality.  Initially, I couldn’t put my finger on it; but I couldn’t find words to explain why I felt the people of Thailand and S.E. Asia were “nice”.  “Nice” doesn’t accurately describe the people’s calm, kind and compassionate demeanor.  After some reflection, I think I’ve got it.  Their culture has been influenced through their Buddhist religion and spirituality that teaches and espouses values of kindness and compassion.

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Ratchaprasong District, Bangkok, Thailand

Notice this public map at the Skytrain station in a very busy district of Bangkok.  Thousands of people pass by it everyday to seek direction.  It says: “Eat, Pray, Shop.” The surprising thing is “Pray” is highlighted and “Eat” and “Shop” are grayed out.  No need to hide their spirituality, but rather, it emphasizes it.  I really like that.  They are openly spiritual people and recognize the need to “Pray”.  That’s something we can learn from.

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White Temple, Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai

Yes, here in the west we may be multicultural but it doesn’t mean we have to hide our spiritual or religious differences by wiping them away.  To wipe away and hide our religious and spiritual heritages is to deplete ourselves of a blessing that it has nourished and enriched western society. I “pray” that we don’t do that and destroy God’s blessings that the Holy Spirit through Christ’s teachings have provided us (e.g.,, things like kindness, love and compassion and the fruits of the Spirit).  The Apostle Paul reminded the Church in the Epistles to the Galatians 5:22-23 (Holy Bible) of these things I hope we continue to practice:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

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Appreciating missionary work and thankful for missionaries

The Kwoks (two on left) minister with Bethel Bible Institute, and Operation Dawn (Drug rehab centres), N. Thailand

Do you remember when you spent blood, sweat, and tears into doing something for someone and never had the pleasure of being recognized or appreciated for your efforts?  And perhaps not even a “Thank you”? You might have had the thought: “I really don’t want to do this for them again!” This is likely how missionaries feel when they return for home assignment.

We’ve just spent about two weeks in Cambodia and Thailand and witnessed the pastoral care in missionary work of our friends. We came with the intention of spending time with our friends.

Mrs Kwok (left), Bethel Bible Institute, Thailand

In week 1: In Chiang Rai, Thailand, we were with friends Rev. Conrad and Fiona Kwok (and a former co-worker in pastoral ministry) who are Global Field Staff missionaries with Canadian Baptist Ministries (CBM) who teaches at Bethel Bible Institute and preaches at Operation Dawn.
In week 2: In Phnom Penh, Cambodia, we were with our friends Pastor Taka & Christina Miyano who are missionaries to Gateway Home for Children (i.e., orphanage).

We were with both missionary families as they ministered and they showed us first hand what they do. Having been present with them, I appreciate the heart they put into their work for the Lord.  They serve the local indigenous peoples in (Thailand and Cambodia) respectively, also known as “mountain tribes people” or “ethnic minorities”), and ethnic Chinese for the Kwoks.

With the Miyano family, Cambodia

What I say about missionaries in general might also be representative of others around the world. Missionary work can be a thankless work.  In general, most of us probably do not show them enough appreciation for their work.  Their efforts and fruits are not directly visible to members of their supporting churches back home. Missionary work is not like running a church organization, a business, or a personal venture, where results might be visibly seen quickly. It is a hidden ministry that happens out of sight. When it’s out-of-sight, then also easily out-of-mind. They get very little attention when they return from abroad to their supporting congregations. However, that’s probably expected when it comes to the work of missionaries.

However, the work does have an impact upon the local churches where it

At the Gateway Home, Cambodia

can take years, or even a whole generation, until one sees fruit. When one’s work does come to fruition, it might never result in any recognition back home. There are no rewards of victory or glory; and at worst, perhaps some criticisms or even demands for results. The latter can be very hurtful.

Then why would anyone want to become a missionary? They do it because they genuinely want to serve the Lord and further the kingdom of God, even if it’s hidden from sight. Churches and congregations back home usually have no idea about what is happening here–unless they come and see it for themselves.

Rev & Mrs Kwok (far left), ourselves, and Op Dawn co-workers (right & rear). N. Thailand

As a family, we have been very blessed by the ministry and presence of Rev. Conrad and Fiona, and Pastor Taka and Christina. God is present in their lives and their ministry. We felt their love and their care for the local people. “Thank you for your service to the Lord and the people you lovingly serve.”  I have learned so much from you. (Note: I might post a few more times on my experiences from this trip).

May God bless them and pour out His blessings upon their lives and family. May they be rewarded through the riches in God’s kingdom.

The post-resurrected Jesus

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Picture depicts a post-resurrected Jesus with nail scars still on his hand.

When most of us think of Easter, it’s usually a simple one. Jesus rose from the dead, then ascended into heaven.  What we don’t hear much about is what happened just after Jesus resurrected.

Some dismiss or try to explain away the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection, saying that he was only a spirit-being (like a ghost).  Jesus rising as a spirit-being does not qualify as a resurrection. That’s a Star Wars myth like what we see in Obi-Wan Kenobi (New Hope) or Luke Skywalker (Last Jedi).  To be resurrected in a physical form is much harder to believe.  A resurrection is a bona fide miracle.

After Jesus had resurrected from the dead, left the tomb, he walked and talked with people in a physical form as a real human being. A week after Jesus had resurrected, we know the bible says he was still around before his ascension.  The resurrected Jesus walked around, made himself known to a lot of people, and he showed himself to people.  He was not hiding himself.

Furthermore, he wasn’t just a spirit-being floating around in ethereal space somewhere.  He actually had life in physical form. It was not the same physical body that we have today but it was a resurrected body.

In the bible, the word used for “spirit” is pneuma, but in 1 Cor. 15:44, Paul used the words: soma pneuma (“σωμα πνευματικον”) which means “spiritual body”.  This is the type of body that we, as believers in Jesus, will also be raised with.

Here are some places in the bible where the post-resurrected Jesus showed himself to his disciples in that “spiritual body”:

John 20:19-23  Enters locked room
John 20:24-29  Doubting Thomas
John 21:1-14  Another big catch
Luke 24:13-35  Road to Emmaus
Matthew 28; Mark 16:9   Women
1 Cor. 15:6    500 followers
1 Cor. 15:8    Apostle Paul

Think about it.  First Corinithians 15:6 said that Jesus appeared to over 500 of his followers!  Jesus became a legendary figure.    Witnesses testified they had been with the real live walking-and-talking Jesus.  Their testimonies would have been very hard to dispute.  No wonder the church grew.

Northern Thailand: its transformation from opium to coffee

From the mountains of Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand.

This moment, I’m enjoying a cup of cappuccino in front of this amazing view here in the mountains of Chiang Rai in Northern Thailand.  As one relishes in the beauty of this fantastic mountainview of Chiang Rai, one would never connect this place with opium. Ching Rai and Chiang Mai used to be known as a region where they grew poppies, not for flowers, but for opium production. Today, they have diversied their farming to coffee beans, amongst other things.

It has spread the blessings of something that people around the world can enjoy without the guilt of addiction (…that’s if you don’t include coffee in the category of addictions). The local tribes people have diversified their farming to grow other things that are not linked with drugs, giving more families the opportunity to do something unrelated to the narcotics trade. It frees them from the guilt that was prevalent about 30-40 years ago which caused heartache and pain around the world, especially China.

China’s widespread drug addiction to opium destroyed its people, society, and nation in the 1800s. Millions of Chinese people were addicted to opium. History recounts this figure at 13-14 million people in China (out of a total population of 400 million). It rendered many men and women useless–useless to the responsibilies of work, education, and raising family, and even resulted in its loss of the territories of Hong Kong and Macau to Britain.

The Apostle Paul discouraged many practices, included were drug addictions. Paul used the word “sorcery” or “witchcraft” (English translation) in Galatians 5:19-20,

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

After China’s devastating period of opium addiction, I hope our society here in the west may take away lessons from its history of drug addiction. We must never forget. I pray that we may be able to have the self-discipline to stay away from such ill practices because all it brings is more pain. Short term pleasures of the moment are fleeting and deceiving. God desires from us the purity of our hearts, minds and bodies.

The good news or gospel in all of this addiction is that God has the power to bring us healing if we have, or are in the middle of addiction. Our God in the Heavenly Father, Jesus, and The Holy Spirit is forever merciful and his love endures forever, even for the most heavily addicted man or woman who cannot escape it themselves. Trust in the God who is faithful forever toward his children who call out to Him. The Lord God will reach down to rescue us from the deepest powers of darkness.  Then he fills us with His Spirit to give us his everlasting peace and joy (which drugs can never bring).

Jesus fulfills prophecy eight centuries after Isaiah

After 1261. Pinacoteca Civica, San Gimignano.

Back in the day, capital punishment by crucifixion was actually a common method.  Roman society saw this as justice for committing capital crimes.  Today, it might a simple lethal injection, or the electric chair.  Many criminals worthy of punishment died on the Road to Delarosa.  Along this road were numerous crosses and on them hung crucified criminals.  It was a way to deter criminals from committing capital crimes such as murder and treason against the Roman Empire.

From Spartacus

What makes Jesus’ crucifixion special was that he overcame death by rising from death the third day after he died. His resurrection from death was a miracle that was unseen in the history of humankind. His resurrection from death means that our sins, and our eternal death, have been also defeated.

Isaiah 53:5-6, 11-12, is from the passage on the suffering servant. For the Jewish faithful, it speaks of Isaiah as the suffering servant; but for us as Christian believers, Jesus is the fulfillment of this prophecy.  He is our holy and anointed Messiah who came to save us from our sin.  It was prophesied eight centuries before Jesus was born.

“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.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all….

After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.”

Isaiah said of God’s servant that he bore the sins of many and made intercession for the transgressors. When Jesus came eight centuries later, he came to carry our sins to his unjust death on a cross.  The resurrection fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy of God’s righteous servant who justifies many people.  Our faith in this miraculous resurrection is why we are cleansed of our sins and transgressions.

The new hope and promise for all humankind is that whoever will place their trust in Jesus and in his resurrection, will also receive God’s blessing of being made right with God.  Our sins, evil and death in the eternal realm has been defeated.

First Experience in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Me at one of the king’s palace buildings in Phnom Penh.

I’m in the city of Phnom Penh in Cambodia.  My family came to visit friends (of my wife) who are former classmates who now live here for ministry reasons.

It’s a more rustic but beautiful country where the people are “nice” (Note: I’m actually looking for words to more accurately describe the heart of Cambodian & S.E. Asian people). Perhaps another post will touch upon this).  The weather here is warm, high 20s C. or 80s F.  As soon as we stepped off the plane into the airport, we could feel the humid air. This is normal so air conditioning A/C is a must here. As westerners, we cannot

Jars of Clay, scooter parking at front (typical transport in Asia).

survive or sleep without A/C. It’s early mid- to late-March now and it’s definitely hot already but I hear it gets hotter and more humid in July. As September rolls around, it becomes super humid with monsoon season in South East and East Asia. My wife is from Taiwan and she recommends coming around December or Christmastime when the temperature is around high teens or 20 C or 70 F.

Our awesome & friendly server at Jars of Clay.

Ex-pats living here seem to be a common sight in this area where we are living. Our friends recommended us to stay in this area near the Russian market called the Tuol Tom Poung area near 163 Street.

A hard to spot signage.

The first place we were brought to eat at after arriving in Phnom Penh is the local eatery Jars of Clay. I highly recommend it for good local food (and some western stuff too) but with western style service. Yes, the lovely server speaks English and there are most of their customers seem are westerners (98%). There are some western style coffee shops like a Starbucks close by but it’s very pricey even by western standards.  And of course, there are many other places that you can explore all over the city.

There are many places we’ve yet to see so there are more posts to come.

 

God’s supernatural love poured out for us

In my previous post, I revealed that I find myself falling short of being able to love my enemies and those I don’t like. But there is hope because God has provided us an answer to this problem of anger, bitterness, and hatred toward those we might find to be unlikable.

I want to talk more about what scripture calls agape love.  Agape is used in the original written language in scripture.  Our English translation for love in the bible doesn’t express the depth of the original meaning of Greek.

Agape love has a much deeper meaning.  It is more than “being nice,” which is from human effort or power.  We might tell our kids to “play nice.” We might put on a happy face when we are feeling angry inside and try to be nice.  This is not agape love.  First John 4:16 says:

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”

The words “God is love” goes far deeper in meaning than what we might see on the surface.   It cannot be contrived or manufactured. That’s the stuff of romance dramas, movies, or pop songs.  God’s agape love doesn’t come from us but it’s a “God thing.”  It originates from God alone.  It is what we need from God in order to love our enemies and those we find hard to love.

In my discovery of my own short-comings, I’ve realized that I need God’s agape love working in my life everyday to be able to love the unlikable.  God’s agape love is a supernatural love that’s given to us if we openly receive it from God first.  John taught us that we can love others because God has poured out his own supernatural love upon us first.  1 John 4 18-21 continues saying,

The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  We love because he first loved us.  Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.  And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

Personally, when I find people making it hard for me to like to like them, I need God’s agape love to make up for what I lack.  I need to remind myself that God wants to shower his tender grace and mercy upon me (and you too), and pour out his love upon me (and you) to love the unlovable.  All things are possible with God.

 

Impossible task to love my neighbor

Think of a person you dislike or love to hate… either in your workplace, office, your ex-, family member, or whomever or wherever.  Maybe they’ve done something against you and you just hate them for it, or you can’t get along due to unresolvable personality conflicts.  Whatever it may be causing you to dislike or hate each other so much that you cannot say to him/her face, “My dear friend, how are you really doing today?  I really do care and would like to hear how you are doing?”

We may try to pretend to like them, but deep inside, you know you can’t.  As good Christ-followers with honest-to-God intentions, we end up feeling like failures because we cannot pull ourselves together to love them.  Yes, even the best of us Christ-followers may try to love but when it comes down to it, we eventually fail when we are face-to-face with our arch-enemy.   I’m sure all of us reading this blog-post might honestly admit that when faced with our enemy, we will find it impossible to love our enemy.

This is why some people would prefer to walk across the street just to avoid them, or to hide somewhere where we will never see our nemesis. Out-of-sight…out-of-mind, right?  After realizing how truly difficult it is to swallow the pill of being unable to love those who are unlikable, we might admit and confess to the Lord God that “I have failed to love my neighbor as I would like others to love me.”

1 John 4 is John’s love chapter.  First John 4:7-9 says:

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” 

When I look at Christ’s command to love, I am confronted with my own weakness and failure.  I might think to myself, either, I am not Christlike enough, or have failed to obey his command to love.  Shall I be fatalistic and say that: I can never totally love like only Christ can love?  Or shall I fall down before God and confess that this is truly an impossible task to love my neighbor? And that I don’t know God as I ought to know him.

Today, I can honestly answer: “Yes, yes, and yes,” to all the above, and I freely confess: “I have not loved you with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbors as myself. I am truly sorry and I humbly repent…”