The View From My Neighbor’s Shoes

Isn’t is a wonder that it doesn’t take 20/20 vision, glasses, or contact lenses to notice the tiny faults in other people? Out of all the faults ever existed in the universe, the hardest ones to see are my own.

boots

There’s this really wise saying that asks a cute question, Why do you worry at the speck in your friend’s eye, while there’s a log in your own eye? It’s a good question, wouldn’t you say? Consider the irony of the person who has the log in his eye offering help to remove the speck in the other person’s eye. (Sounds familiar, anyone?) Naturally, the counsel goes something like this, Why don’t you first remove the log in your eye, then you can see clearer to deal with the speck. (Duh!)

A story was told of a king, a generally good one, who did something terrible. (Yes, normal, good people can do terrible things.) He got hooked on a lady, and he took her to his chamber. Problem was, she was married. To one of his captains no less.

To make matters worse, she got pregnant. So to hide his deeds, the king called the captain home from the battlefield and told him to rest and go home to his wife. But the good man refused, because he felt wrong being home while his compatriots fought in war. So the king arranged that the captain returned to the forefront of the battle, to essentially ensure his death. Terrible, I know.

In came a trusted advisor of the king, the Rebuker. He told the king a tale of a rich man and a poor man. The rich man owned many sheep and cattle, but the poor one, only a little lamb, which he took care tenderly over the years. One day the rich man decided to party, and instead of taking one of his flocks, he went to the poor man, took his lamb, and killed it for his feast.

The king was outraged by this injustice. He said, “That rich man deserved to die!”

The Rebuker’s next words must be really piercing. He said to the king, “You are that man.”

At the end of the story, the king was in horror when he realized what he did, who he was. But the interesting thing was his end was better than the ending he would have given to the rich man in the story; he was ready to kill the rich man.

Isn’t it a wonder that we can be harsher to others’ faults when we are blinded by our own? It really is a good idea to remove the log in our eyes first, before we deal with others’ specks. Perhaps a few of us really need to be good surgeons to help remove those specks. But what likely would happen is, when we remove the log in our eyes, the specks disappear too.

GYC 2012: What I Could Give

I’ve been an attendee. I’ve been a volunteer. Now I reflect on another role: a seminar presenter.

But before that, some other highlights from GYC:

Star struck… by Dr. Hasel | Adam Ramdin’s Sabbath sermon – simply awesome | David Shin’s last evening devotion – de-romanticizing revolution | Sam Bonello’s plenary session – Sam and Katie have got to live one of the most interesting lives in present-day Adventism | Team Revolution’s 5k | Networking with Adventist engineers.

1. Size Matters

I had never in my life felt so short as when I stood in front of a long and full room for my first seminar. Some 230+ people came, most likely because of Adam Ramdin’s—with whom I co-presented the seminar—fantastic sermon earlier that day (but they saw me instead, ha!). Perhaps also, the topic of the seminar—Knowing and Living God’s Will for My Life—simply scratched where it itched, especially for this teenagers-to-young-adults age group.

I felt a little overwhelmed during the first session, since I imagined there would only be a few rows of people. I prepared materials for that audience size, which was what I was used to with ANEW or other ministry events. It ended up being more serious than I thought it would be, and upon reflection that day, I had to change certain things for the 2nd and 3rd seminars to make them more conversational.

I couldn’t really articulate why, but basically with the size of the audience and the layout of the room, I, as a speaker, needed to adjust the content of my presentation, delivery, posture, and voice, to engage the audience effectively (measured somewhat by gut feeling). I don’t think I could’ve realized that had I not been in this situation. Lesson learned.

offering

2. A Piece of Me

I was debating whether or not to include a personal life experience for the last seminar to illustrate a point. I did, and I think it helped make the point. I learned that as a speaker, it wasn’t enough to present materials; I had to give something of myself to the presentation.

The personal touch, the personal signature, is something that makes a presentation different because it is person A who gives it instead of person B. It’s not a matter of originality or of the vanity of being different, but it’s a matter of God’s individualized calling: there’s a reason why God calls A for a specific task.

The giving of oneself is a hard thing to do. It takes vulnerability, a little courage, and lots of prayer. But ministry is about being vulnerable, and I love this quote:

Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it… Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 190.

3. Give What You Can Give

I’m not a seasoned speaker. I didn’t have much material that I could pull out from to talk about following God’s will. In fact I had never spoken on the subject before. Preparing a 3-part seminar was already a stretch, and I recycled some materials too.

It’s hard to answer the question, How did the seminars go? I honestly don’t know. I hope they helped some. I hope that the seminars provided a venue where the Holy Spirit could speak to people. It was not so much what I said, but how the Holy Spirit made application to the hearts.

Coming out of the last seminar, I had this thought: I gave what I could give. It’s up to God what He would do with it, but I offered these presentations as my offering to Him.

The Person Inside

This Is My Story, part 3: How a Quiet Girl Found Her Voice.

When God came into my life, He liberated me from me.

If you had known me when I was a teenager, spanning the time I was in middle school, high school, and early college, you would’ve known me as a quiet and very inhibited person (unless I was very comfortable with you). During my freshman year, I was basically very close to mute. If anyone wants to fact-check me, I can refer you to a list of people who can attest to this. I would hang out, eat, and laugh with everyone, but I wouldn’t actually say much, or anything.

It was not because I didn’t want to say anything. It was because I didn’t have anything to say.

In fact, I still abide by this personal rule. I don’t feel like I have to say something if I don’t have anything to say that is of consequence. But regardless, I still didn’t like the fact that I was quiet. I felt trapped in a body, hidden behind a sealed mouth. And thus the story began.

The beginning of my personality transformation coincided with the beginning of my conversion. During my first year in college, the time when I realized how hard it was for me to get comfortable in new situations was about the same time I realized that my faith lacked substance. I grew up a Seventh-day Adventist and had a real experience with Jesus when I was baptized at 14, but most things I knew were hearsays, second hand knowledge. Other people told me and I believed them. By the time I got to college, I had never studied the Bible. I had read the Bible, but I never studied it.

Which was why when I came across a group of young people who studied the Bible—as in not reading it cursorily, but squeezing every essence of the words—I was blown away. I still remember the first Bible study I had in my life, once upon a Friday night in a classroom at Boston University, led by the ever-so-awesome Jen Song. It was on Daniel 1, about young Daniel at the University of Babylon, standing true to principle. What a timely message for this new freshman. I was amazed at how relevant the Bible could be: These words could actually speak to me!

If I had missed a precious lesson in a familiar passage, what else could I have missed? A whole lot, as it turned out. And so for that entire year, I devoured all kinds of books, resources, and sermons to answer the question, What is Adventism and why am I a Seventh-day Adventist? Most importantly, I started learning how to meditate on the Bible. I read the Desire of Ages in a month. My hunger for spiritual things was deep and I took hold on anything I could.

It was at this hungry stage that messages from GYC 2003 came to me. Some people from the Boston Korean Church went and brought back tapes from the conference (yes, they were tapes back then). I listened to them, and let’s just say I was never the same again. Talk about being blown away. The theme, Higher Than The Highest, taken from the quote in Education, p. 18, “Higher than the highest human thought can reach is God’s ideal for His children” especially struck me. What?! You mean God has ambitions for me that are even higher than my school, my parents? I thought MIT was pretty good.

So even though I was quiet on the outside, in reality my mind was buzzing and loud on the inside. I was especially quiet in church settings because I felt spiritually lacking and didn’t have anything to give. But in my quietness, I was absorbing and soaking up everything that everyone said in Bible studies, discussions, and sermons like a dry sponge. I was like an empty cup, and God started filling me.

As God filled my soul with understanding, experiences with Him, knowledge of who He is and how He deals with His children, my cup began to be filled and eventually overflowed. And with that overflowing, came my voice.

Now I could share insights and not feel like a fake. I could testify what God had taught me in real life experiences. I spent 10 weeks going door-to-door the summer after my junior year, and nothing cured shyness like canvassing could. I kept receiving and kept giving. Now I had something to say; God had put words in my mouth.

The crazy thing was that it didn’t stop there, since God not only gave me a voice in spiritual settings, but also in secular and social settings. These days, I’m hardly shy or quiet, except in special circumstances.

Once Jesus said to a woman, “But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:14) To me, that fountain is my voice.

In Obscurity

In the life of a tree, at one point it breaks through the soil and shows the first visible evidence of its existence. It would then move on to grow into a massive, gargantuan tree, soaring up into the sky, sturdy and unmovable. But even the oaks, sycamores, and the Redwoods have their beginnings, and these beginnings do not happen when they emerge to the terrestrial surface; they happen long before that, in the depths of the earth.

There in the secrets of the dark underground, the seed lies in silence, dormant at first. Moisture then diffuses in, the chemistry of life kicks in, and then, un-witnessed by any human eye, the seed germinates and becomes a tree.

Talking about faith, Heschel writes:

Men have often tried to give itemized accounts of why they must believe that God exists. Such accounts are like ripe wheat we harvest upon the surface of the earth. Yet it is beyond all reasons, beneath the ground, where a seed turns to be a tree, where the act of faith takes place. Man is Not Alone, p. 87.

The display of faith, whether seemingly great or small, that’s visible to the public eyes all begins in the same mysterious place deep inside the soil of the heart. Somehow, a seed is planted there, dormant at first, then infused with life. It is in this secret place that a Christian is born, and born again.

Men may marvel at the greatness of a tree that’s displayed above ground. That is all what they can marvel at. But the strength of a giant tree lies in the depth of its roots, the part that is unseen. So is with the Christian life. It is from a secret place, no witnesses, no flattery or ridicule, that the nourishment and refreshment come. The mysterious reactions in the heart, in obscurity, always precede the public persona, both in the life story of a Christian and in his daily life.

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. Psalm 1:1-3

Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit. Jeremiah 17:7-8

The question then is, in my secret place where only God can access, am I truly a Christian? Forget the fronts, the displays, and profession, when it comes to the greatest victories that I can gain, the ones in the audience chamber with God, are these my experience?

There are many who have given themselves to Christ, yet who see no opportunity of doing a large work or making great sacrifices in His service. These may find comfort in the thought that it is not necessarily the martyr’s self-surrender which is most acceptable to God; it may not be the missionary who has daily faced danger and death that stands highest in heaven’s records. The Christian who is such in his private life, in the daily surrender of self, in sincerity of purpose and purity of thought, in meekness under provocation, in faith and piety, in fidelity in that which is least, the one who in the home life represents the character of Christ—such a one may in the sight of God be more precious than even the world-renowned missionary or martyr. Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 403.

Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart.

My Scrapblog: The Smitten Rock

“He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers.” Psalm 78:16

From the smitten rock in Horeb first flowed the living stream that refreshed Israel in the desert. During all their wanderings, wherever the need existed, they were supplied with water by a miracle of God’s mercy. The water did not, however, continue to flow from Horeb. Wherever in their journeyings they wanted water, there from the clefts of the rock it gushed out beside their encampment.

It was Christ, by the power of His word, that caused the refreshing stream to flow for Israel. “They drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” 1 Corinthians 10:4. He was the source of all temporal as well as spiritual blessings. Christ, the true Rock, was with them in all their wanderings. “They thirsted not when He led them through the deserts: He caused the waters to flow out of the rock for them; He clave the rock also, and the waters gushed out.” “They ran in the dry places like a river.” Isaiah 48:21; Psalm 105:41.

The smitten rock was a figure of Christ, and through this symbol the most precious spiritual truths are taught. As the life-giving waters flowed from the smitten rock, so from Christ, “smitten of God,” “wounded for our transgressions,” “bruised for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:4, 5), the stream of salvation flows for a lost race. As the rock had been once smitten, so Christ was to be “once offered to bear the sins of many.” Hebrews 9:28. (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 411)

Scrapblog point #7: No well of the soul needs ever to run dry.

Nature’s Song

An ecosystem of ministry…

In the beginning, God was revealed in all the works of creation. It was Christ that spread the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth. It was His hand that hung the worlds in space, and fashioned the flowers of the field. “His strength setteth fast the mountains.” “The sea is His, and He made it.” (Psalm 65:6; 95:5). It was He that filled the earth with beauty, and the air with song. And upon all things in earth, and air, and sky, He wrote the message of the Father’s love.

Now sin has marred God’s perfect work, yet that handwriting remains. Even now all created things declare the glory of His excellence. There is nothing, save the selfish heart of man, that lives unto itself. No bird that cleaves the air, no animal that moves upon the ground, but ministers to some other life. There is no leaf of the forest, or lowly blade of grass, but has its ministry. Every tree and shrub and leaf pours forth that element of life without which neither man nor animal could live; and man and animal, in turn, minister to the life of tree and shrub and leaf. The flowers breathe fragrance and unfold their beauty in blessing to the world. The sun sheds its light to gladden a thousand worlds. The ocean, itself the source of all our springs and fountains, receives the streams from every land, but takes to give. The mists ascending from its bosom fall in showers to water the earth, that it may bring forth and bud. Desire of Ages, p. 20.

Versatile Design

When you observe the things of nature, certain principles of existence just emerge out of the system. I’ve been spending some time being wondered by nature and natural systems through various means – different reading materials, documentaries, other montage of pictures, photo journals, actually being outdoors, etc. – and it’s been very instructive. I highly recommend the activity.

One of the striking things that, to me, is ubiquitous in nature is the multiplicity of function of any single entity or living being. The natural system is so intricately and intelligently designed that any one aspect in the bio-network serves more than one purpose. The trees in the forest are not just carbon sinks and oxygen suppliers for the earth, they also serve as water retainer, participating in the natural water purification system, as bird sanctuaries, as food, as soil stabilizer – physically and chemically, among many others that I’m still not aware of.

When one portion is removed, the equilibrium is disrupted and you end up with an imbalanced system. So when a species is endangered because of human activity, for example, a whole ecological web is in actuality imperiled because others depend on that species as food source or supplier of other services (e.g., cleaning, leftovers, etc). The natural system is so elegantly integrated that often, we only learn the truth about seemingly unconnected things after we disrupt them. The good news is that nature is so robust that it can tolerate a certain degree of disruptions, both natural and human – I’ll reflect on nature’s robustness in another entry. Yet when it comes to humans, foolish extremes are not an impossibility.

This type of integrated, versatile design, stands in stark contrast with some human designs. A lot of the times, humans are so one-tracked minded that when we design things, the product only serves one goal. Usually that single track purpose is commercial (read: money). The problems with this kind of mindset are the following: one, it is highly inefficient/wasteful, since the opportunity costs to this mindset are products that could actually serve multiple purposes, and two, it is usually extremely disruptive since it pushes for this one (economic) goal at the expense of all other ‘unimportant’ factors.

A classic example is plastic. In nature, things work in cycles. When the cycle is complete, there will essentially be no or little waste. Only humans can design something that is once-through and disposable like plastic. It is basically a one-way conversion from resource to waste, with no large-scale mechanism in place to convert the waste back into a resource. Yes, there’s some recycling with plastic these days, but the portion of recycled plastic is very, very small compared to the waste. In fact, it’s not a true recycle anyway because plastic degrades, meaning that when you re-process plastic, what you end up is a lower level plastic; you don’t get the same plastic quality with the original materials (unlike glass). These wastes get shipped to some islands in third world countries somewhere, and these days many fishes and birds swallow plastic bits into their bellies. It turns out that plastic does break down, not in a way that biomaterials disintegrate, but into smaller pieces. These bits can be imperceptibly small (but still plastic), and when they enter the animals’ digestive system, they chemically react and release toxins that kill the animals.

Our lives now revolve around plastic – it’s hard to imagine life without it. But here’s the thing – our need for plastic is artificial. Life existed before plastic, but plastic changed the world. It turns out though, that the design, even with all the uses of plastic today, is not versatile enough. Apparently the inventor(s) who no doubt earned a lot of money, was not enough of a global thinker to think of non-human members of the earth, or of the earth itself.

But not all human designs are bad. Coincidentally there are those who come up with brilliant ideas to use resources sustainably, because they try to work with nature. I’m a big fan of the Veta la Palma story (read here) <– must read!

As an engineer in training, I want my design to be more like the nature story than the plastic story. There’s just simple brilliance with this versatility and integration that I wish we as human beings would imitate more, to be wide-minded and arrive at far more efficient and creative designs. I want to imitate the works of the ultimate Designer.