Wednesday, January 30, 2013

a lesson in contrasts and a matter of balance

I was helping out a friend this weekend who works at a Catholic school here in Taiwan, as she was asked to undertake the difficult task of translating legal/doctrinal statements from English into Chinese. To make matters worse, they were originally written in Italian! But the interesting thing about it was how the document was relating the vow of poverty that nuns take to the financial administration of an institution. The idea is that if our own Savior emptied himself and took on the nature of a servant, if he had no place to lay his head, and if the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, shouldn't followers of Christ also choose to live a certain kind of lifestyle? To our modern way of thinking the idea of renouncing your rights and/or possessions, much less committing to never acquiring anything except as you plan to offer it for the good of the community, well it seems outdated, impossible, and maybe even crazy! 

The next morning I went to a church where the speaker spent a great part of the sermon expounding on how much God wants to bless his followers with health and....prosperity. And this is something I've been hearing a LOT in the churches I've visited recently. God wants to bless your business. God is a God of abundance; ask you and you will receive. None of this is wrong...right? Yet somehow it doesn't always sit well with me. It's really easy for me to write a church or preacher off as "health and wealth" and not want to listen to anything else they have to say. 

I worry that in our desperation to get people into church, we want to make promises that God himself never did. A reading of the gospel seems to show that Jesus wasn't nearly as eager to attract followers if they were half-hearted, even turning away people who had seemingly reasonable excuses for delayed commitment (I'm just going to go say goodbye to my family, then I'll come follow you....). I worry that those hearing this prosperity gospel are the very embodiment of the seed that falls among the thorns, who receive the message with joy (who doesn't want the God of the universe on their side? Healing their illness, helping them find good parking spots, etc....), but are soon choked out by the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth... I want to see true discipleship happening instead. 

The Jesus we are called to follow is the Jesus who said this:

Mark 8:34“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. 35 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.36 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? 37 Is anything worth more than your soul?

In contrast to today's church, He typically didn't have a lot of good things to say about wealth:

Mark 10:17 As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good. 19 But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.’”
20 “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.”
21 Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!”24 This amazed them. But Jesus said again, “Dear children, it is very hard to enter the Kingdom of God.25 In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”
26 The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.
27 Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.”

So does that mean we should all be taking vows of poverty? Are the promises of riches only for heaven? Can't we use wealth to bless others? In my reaction against the seemingly false teaching of the prosperity gospel, I didn't finish reading the passage, I'll underline the part that gave me pause:

28 Then Peter began to speak up. “We’ve given up everything to follow you,” he said.
29 “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, 30 will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life. 31 But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.”

In other translations it is even clearer - a hundred times more blessing in this present age (along with persecution lest we forget), and in the age to come, eternal life. The book of Proverbs and many other parts of the Old Testament are also clear that on principle, those who follow God's way are likely to be rewarded, whether it is the logical outcome of living wisely, or as blessings in response to obedience. 

A student in my bible study shared what I think is a profound truth: all of the things we long for to provide us security in life (money, power, friends etc) things we NEED to ensure we have a comfortable life are actually an attempt to fill a deeper need for eternal life. 
So where does that leave us? Are we to pursue blessings? Are we to expect them? 
BUT we don't want to be like ungrateful children at Christmastime. We should never let our desire for these things outweigh our desire for the Giver. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Things I would have tweeted last week if I used Twitter #newpost

I have a few friends in my social media network who never fail to impress me with their prolific use of #hashtags and I can admit to googling them and one point and trying to figure out why on earth I was suddenly seeing these weird metasubliminal messages on peoples' posts.... so on my way to embracing the hashtag, here are a few thoughts:

Monday: Spent 20 minutes at the acupuncturist with 8 needles stuck in my legs. #ouch #notreally #justpsychological #didntlook

Tuesday: Bought new socks from a truck on the side of the road. #myglamouroustaiwanlife

Wednesday: Took off my sweater only to realize my shirt was on inside out.
#adultlifefail #gettingold

Thursday: Had homemade oatmeal with peanut butter chips and craisins for breakfast. And lunch.
#comfortfood #yummy

Friday: Reading Isaiah, I suddenly want to rename my bible study class "Okes of Righteousness." #inspiration #suchanerd

Thursday, January 17, 2013

New exercises

Check this out if you're looking for a low-impact but still sweat-inducing (for me at least) workout. The lady who is leading it is in her mid-40s and I believe the mother of 2. She looks great! The workout is all in Korean, but that doesn't really matter, since it's easy enough to follow, plus they count everything in English. Nice for cold rainy days when I don't want to go out for my walk but still want to get moving!
It's also been nice this week since I hurt my foot after falling on a slippery Taipei sidewalk last weekend. I got acupuncture on Monday (yes, me...who is notoriously needle-phobic, I just made sure not to look at them, meaning my eyes were closed the whole time....), and it did help a lot. Cost me about $5 dollars for the consult, acupuncture session, and some herbal medicine. Awesome.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

New flavours

I'm a fan of afternoon tea, and in these rainy winter days, it's especially nice to spend an afternoon inside with good company and good tea! Recently the shop Smith and Hsu was recommended to me, and I decided to try it out.
One of the most enjoyable parts of the experience was when we arrived at the shop. We were presented  with a tray full of all of the available teas to smell so we could decide which one to order. There was everything from black and green tea to fruit teas, rooibos and oolong. It was a tough choice but I decided on #81 fruit blend vanilla cream. I also got a sandwich and fresh scones with clotted cream and lemon curd. Everything was wonderful (though not cheap...)
I definitely recommend it though. They have a number of shops around Taipei, and the one we were at wasn't too crowded, but we did make a reservation. They also sell their tea, pots, cups, jams and other things there. There are so many dear friends far away I thought of while I was there, who I would love to share an afternoon and a pot of tea with. But this picture will have to suffice.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

New music choices!

If you're ever wondering what to get as a gift for someone living overseas, iTunes credit is always a good choice. Thanks one such lovely gift from my parents, I've been listening to some new music this week. I downloaded three albums:

Mumford and Sons - Babel: I love their sound and literary lyrics, though I'm not sure if I like this album better than their first one.

Ben Cantelon - Everything in Colour:  Canadian artist (note the correct spelling of colour) who I checked out this summer but almost forgot about. Pretty good, but my least favourite of these three albums. Maybe it will grow on me. Kudos for great album artwork though.

Daniel Bashta: The Sounds of Daniel Bashta: Cannot get enough of this album, nice blend of worshipful moments and just good music, which at times reminds me of Our Lady Peace, The Killers, or Third Day. Check him out!

Another awesome music source is Songza. If you live in North America and have a smartphone GET THIS APP! It is kind of a mix of radio and music on demand. My friend recommended it for Christmas music, and I listened to different playlists such as "Rockin' Christmas, Christmas for the Faithful, and Choral Christmas". I love the concierge feature where you can select your mood, activities, or even the time of day to create your soundtrack for life. I've discovered that post-modern trance music gives me a headache, I know the words to a lot of classic rock songs, and I'm decidedly Indie in my musical taste. Who knew?
Some of my favorite playlists on Songza: Music for waking up happy, Rainy day indie, and Acoustic music for working

P.S. Since I just deleted a ton of spam from my comments, I've had to add an extra step if you want to comment...but don't let that stop you ;)

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Little word: big difference

It's a new year, and just like last year, I wanted to ask God to give me word for the new year, to guide me, to inspire me, and to be a theme for me. I've been thinking about this for a couple of weeks, and the word freedom popped into my head one day as I was walking, but it didn't seem quite right...too easy almost... so I kept thinking, then I started sharing with people that I was looking for a word, and the pressure was on, I knew they would ask me what I chose...or what chose me! As I went through a fun long weekend and an enjoyable New Year's Eve with friends, I still didn't really have a word... just before bed, I read a verse from Streams in the Desert which came from Deuteronomy 11, here set on the background of my view of Taipei 101 on new year's eve:

It kind of inspired me to remember that God is there among all the beginnings and endings. In fact, 2012 was a year of many endings for me. The end of my 20s, the completion of my master's degree, and a lot of changes in other areas. And all through the year, the words Ask and Wisdom were with me. I have found that God does answer, and that he is willing to make our paths straight when we trust in him. When I woke up this morning, my bible was still in Deuteronomy, and so I read the whole chapter. It begins with an admonition to share God with others as one who has experienced Him first hand. I did not just hear about God, I know him. I am in relationship with him. And I have seen him work miracles in my life. Then, toward the end of the chapter, there is a verse (v. 26) which is found in similar words often throughout Deuteronomy. “Look, today I am giving you the choice between a blessing and a curse!"

And there it was. My word. Choice. Freedom leads to choice. It offers choices but also the responsibility to choose. But my word is not choose, it's choice... as I looked deeper, here are a few things I've found.

  • Choice is an option, and an opportunity
  • Choice requires the right or power to choose
  • Choice also implies an abundance or variety of things to choose from
  • Choice as an adjective refers to the best or most preferable part of something
That's encouraging right? Suddenly a year of hope and abundance opens up before me. But that is only one part. A quick search of bible references shows that the word "choice" was often used to describe the offerings we are required to give to God. He wants the "choicest" parts of us, and in return, he promises to open the floodgates of heaven and pour out a blessing of abundance. Whenever we give to God, we never come away empty. So that's the choice I want to make for 2013.

It will be a challenge. If you know me well, you know I tend toward being choosing the path or least resistance, or doing what I think will make others happy. So I think it will be hard to me to make some choices in the next year. But maybe that's why God's given me a whole year to work on it.

To read more about the word choices others are making, visit this blog.