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).

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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…”

Secret of being content

Having experienced some of life’s difficult times in my last 25 or so years, I’ve learned some lessons of life the hard way. I have experienced heart-felt losses in my life. I have also learned to live life with less. When I look back, I was still satisfied with life even though it may have been dissatisfying.

I am still glad to learn some life-lessons along the way.  Sometimes, failure is the best way to learn. Mistakes that come our way can be good teachers if we stay humble, but it is impossible to learn if we are stubborn and prideful.

St. Paul the Apostle said in Philippians 4:12-13,

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

When we lack things like the basic necessities of life, we learn to appreciate even what little we may have…like food, clothes, transportation, work, or a roof over our head. When I reflect to look upon my life today and see the small things, I thank God that he’s given me these things to enjoy, and also so that I may share them with others who have less.

It really is a blessing to be able to give to those who are in need. Giving can be easy for some, and hard for others, but it is something we can learn to do. It can also be a hard lesson to learn when we are in the middle of poverty but it depends on the attitude we carry throughout life.

God can empower us to live life to the fullest when we give to those with less.  May God  grant us wisdom to learn these. After all, you can do all thing through Christ who gives you strength.

Remembrance Day – We will not forget

November 11th is Remembrance Day in Canada (also Veterans Day in the USA), which is also like Memorial Day in the USA.  We honor the brave Canadian military personnel who died for our freedoms.  We should not and will not forget the sacrifices our soldiers, sailors and airmen and airwomen have made to protect our freedoms.

I love what the late Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker said about the freedoms our armed forces fought to defend.

“I am a Canadian.  Free to speak without fear.  Free to worship in my own way.  Free to stand for what I think is right.  Free to oppose what is wrong.  Free to choose those who govern my country.  This heritage of freedom  pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.”

This Remembrance Day in Canada, let us remember and recognize those who made this sacrifice for our freedoms and democracy that we share in common.  God bless.

 

Restoring a broken world: via God’s strength in human weakness

In 1 Corinthians 4:9-13, St. Paul the Apostle shared with the Christians and the Church in Rome about how he was mistreated and suffered persecution. He was comparing his suffering with the Christians who gloried in their power and strength. It’s a very stark comparison.

For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings.
We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ!
We are weak, but you are strong!
You are honored, we are dishonored!
To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands.
When we are cursed, we bless;
when we are persecuted, we endure it;
when we are slandered, we answer kindly.
We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.

What ought to be the norm in Christianity? Is it suffering or is it strength?  In Paul’s days, it was suffering and persecution. Today in the west, the norm is to choose vain human glory and power as if it were a human right. Today, in places like the Middle East, Christians are suffering greater persecution at the hands of radical Muslim terrorists like ISIL, Al Qaeda, etc.

How do we reconcile the injustice inflicted upon the millions of Christians this century?  We cannot ignore the injustice.  We must deal with it in the right way, otherwise, we could end-up with another catastrophic world war, or chemical/nuclear self-annihilation via Mutual Assured Destruction.  Decades ago, it was the Cold War. Today, it’s radical Jihadist Islam bent on creating a worldwide caliphate vs the non-Islamic world that will never relent to an Islamic caliphate.  Is human rights and justice the true answer?

A rights-oriented society likes to talk about justice in terms of human rights. However, did St. Paul the apostle ever once talk about human rights? I do not recall this ever mentioned in his epistles. Rights was not in his religious vocabulary. Rights, as we know it today, is actually a recent human invention since the Enlightenment Period. It has been engraved with human words in the constitutional frameworks of American and French political lawmakers (e.g., U.S. Bill of Rights and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens).

The downside and weakness of trying to fight for justice using a framework of human rights is that it can be abused. Human beings have the potential to argue for unlimited types and levels of rights and still consequentially end-up with the likes of Stalin, Pol Pot, Darth Vadar, and The Punisher.

Example: 1) animal rights rather than the utilitarian good of humankind; 2) economic rights for human subsistence, which leads to Marxism/Communism with its horrific ideological means to an end-type of destruction; 3) rights of women for control over their bodies to decide whether to abort unborn babies; 4) rights of persons to choose to suicide; and the list can go on.

What does the bible say about these issues?  Just for starters, Genesis speaks of created world where we care for God’s creation within God’s dominion rather than environmental justice. Jesus and the New Testament speak of sharing and giving to the poor and less-privileged rather than Marxism/Communism. The bible throughout speaks of the sanctity of human life rather than taking away life.

The Gospel of Christ shows the church and the world that God desires to redeem what we have destroyed and twisted. Humanity has a way of manipulating love to seek out one’s selfish interests in the name of caring for one another. However, the Gospel, whether in the Old or New Testaments, show us God’s redemption of a sin-filled world.

Hope is not lost. God still has the ability and power to turn our evil into good but in order for this to happen, we need to confess our sins and seek reconciliation.  We fear confession because there are repercussions to revealing our human wrongs, which may cause even more repercussions (e.g., in Canada, we have harmed the First Nations peoples. In the U.S., we have abused African-Americans through slavery. In our established churches, we have sexually-abused children).  We want to avoid opening up a can of worms for fear of being levied even greater penalties for our past sins.  Denominations, businesses, and nations can go bankrupt from paying endless penalties due to retributive and distributive justice in the courts’ justice system. We need to get past this fear because in God’s love, we have no fear.

There is still good news for all people; however, it’s too bad the world is not able to see this. It is seen with spiritual eyes because God’s redemption comes in a form of weakness. It is far from glorious according to the world’s standards. It is hidden in the form of our suffering and our weakness, but behind it, is God’s power to restore the nations.

The Apostle Paul exemplified this in his above statement to the Roman Christians here in 1 Corinthians 4. Paul’s way of the cross is not worldly but it is deeply spiritual.  Paul’s theology and spirituality is not the most popular because it is contrarian.  Our human temptation is to trust in our own power and strength to destroy or over-power our opposition or weaker party.

Paul’s theology and spirituality is to trust in God’s power to redeem and restore what was lost due to our human evil and sin. It takes faith and trust, and also patience to wait-out and see the results. This is why I stated that this can only be seen with spiritual eyes; in other words, it happens in God’s timing using God’s means and methods–rather than our human timing, means and methods.

May our world come to a deeper spiritual understanding of how God works in this world. May we be truly enlightened by God’s Holy Spirit and words to follow a path shown by God’s love in his one and only Son, Jesus Christ. It is a path towards God’s righteousness and true justice.

A Father’s Letter to His Daughters…

Here is a blog post from Brandon Andress about his love for his daughters. It is beautifully written so I repost it here. It is found at: https://brandonandress.com/2013/02/11/a-fathers-letter-to-his-daughters/

brandon andress

I have been thinking a lot lately.

I have been thinking about all of our mornings at Starbucks and the conversations we have had about God and life.

I have been thinking about all the nights we laid in your bed and asked questions and talked about all of your dreams.

I have been thinking about all the hikes we have taken and how we talked about beauty and peace and contentment and joy.

Those are the most amazing moments I have ever had in my life.

I will never forget them as long as I live.

But while we have shared in so many special moments and had so many amazing conversations, in too many ways, I have been the stereotypical man, unable to fully open up and express my heart and my feelings to you.

So first let me say that, even though I tell you every night…

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United Airlines disrespectfully kicked passenger off flight

Yesterday, we returned from Taiwan back to Canada on EVA Airlines (a Taiwanese airline).  I am glad to say that we received great customer service from their stewardesses and customer service reps on the ground. I was impressed with how EVA Airlines took care of us and treated us with respect.  I would fly EVA again and recommend them to anyone flying international. They even offered to change the date/time of our return flight free-of-charge (provided their were available seats due to cancellation), and by the way, the food was good too.


I just saw in the news today about a passenger who had a disastrous experience with United Airlines.  It was all over the news and on YouTube videos gone-viral. This paying passenger was violently forced off flight 3411 because they overbooked.

United Airlines needed to fly four of their own employees and needed passengers to give up their seats. No one volunteered when they offered $400 hotel voucher, which was then increased to $800 and still no one volunteered.  Then they randomly picked four passengers to remove from the flight. This last one refused to leave.  The passenger hadn’t done anything wrong but they treated him in an unbelievably disrespectful way.

United Airlines failed to plan, and handled this in a very disastrous way. First, this is not a criminal matter. It was their own fault of failing planning but yet, they brought in police who used force to remove a customer off the plane.  Unbelievable!  This customer was not a criminal.  Police should only be involved if it’s a criminal matter.  A very bad move by United Airlines. It showed disrespect toward this passenger who was a doctor and had patients to see the next day.

Second, they should have used persuasion.  Customers can be persuaded to volunteer to give-up their seat.  If they had offered a $1,500-2,000 cash credit for a flight of their choice to be used in the future, someone would have offered to volunteer… heck, I might even be tempted to. After this disaster, I think United Airlines will be losing millions of dollars in customer revenue–not just hundreds.  I certainly would not fly United Airlines and I foresee many thousands will not be choosing to fly with United in the future. No one should be treated in this abhorrently disrespectful manner.  Even if UA had a right to decline a passenger their flight, it should never treat any customer in such disrespectful manner.

Years ago, Air Canada messed up a flight my wife and I were on but I will always remember.  The airline asked the entire plane who leave due to engine problems, and it happened twice in the same evening.  It was way past midnight.  The only thing Air Canada offered us later was a $250 voucher off a future flight, without an offer for hotel over night. It was a joke, and I was furious and chose not fly Air Canada for many years after that horrible incident.