Seminary Life 101

(The following is a letter I sent to a retired university professor who is a good friend of mine and a passionate supporter of God's work here in Asia.)

Dear Dr. R,

Greetings! Thank you so much for your prayers and support.

Your gift at the end of this year is another confirmation of God’s call in our lives. I am so thankful to our Lord for friends like you who are committed to partner with us here in Asia.

We just finished our first semester two weeks ago. Several of the students came to me to show their appreciation for my time with them. They specifically mentioned the “devotions” time, the 15 minutes period I spend on reflection from God’s word and drawing personal application for the students on issues of spirituality. This 15-minute period sets the tone for the next three hours of lectures, group discussions, and course assignments.

You know of course that there is a broad line between head knowledge and life learning, between understanding and application. I am sure you have seen this with your time of teaching in a university setting. The students who know so much and are performing well academically may not be prepared to deal with practical things (such as loving their spouses), or at worst, they may be living an immoral life. There is a great need to bring classroom lessons to a level where they engage everyday life and practical problems of the day.

Last year, one professor recounted a story of a seminary student. At that seminary, it was discovered that one of its graduates had been caught in an adulterous relationship. What was sad about the news was that during the time of his immoral dealings, he was registered with that same seminary. It was devastating. This student was living a lie, right in front of all the seminary family.

Of course, we at the faculty can only do so much. The students can still decide to live a life apart from all our teachings. But when I heard that story of one seminary student who was living a double standard life, I resolved to use my time in the classroom as a time both for gaining knowledge and practicing spiritual truths. And so, this is the reason why I spend my first few minutes in the classroom, before I give my lectures, to a time of reflection from God’s word. I challenge each student with biblical truths that are meaningful to one’s family relationships, relevant to current ethical issues, and helpful to solving social problems of the day.

As you pray for us here in Asia, pray that I will have the wisdom from God to prepare lessons that will ready our students for future time of service and missionary work. At the same time, pray that our Lord will give me discernment as I lead students to a time of deep spiritual reflection from God’s word. Pray that I will teach in the power of His Spirit (2 Tim. 1:7 & 1 Cor. 2:4). Thank you for all your prayers.

 


Family Reunion: God Is Ever So Good

Six siblings. Six out of eleven came for our 2016 Family Reunion. Three days of fun with all 33 of us, including one-year old babies Caleb and Sky. Fun at the beach and laughter at the table. It was sweet to watch my children reconnect with their cousins and cousins' children close to their ages. Many of the kids were calling my 12-year old son, Jacob, "Uncle Jacob." Carmen had a blast playing card games with her young adult cousins, who are mostly in their mid thirties. The last time we were in the Philippines was in 2011. This reunion is a good time to create new memories and strengthen fellowship with relatives and families.

The hardest part for me is seeing my brother battle cancer. Even at this family gathering, we all could see his fight to stay with us, and enjoy the short time with love ones. I remember waking up to his guitar music and him singing praises to our God in the early hours of the morning. "When I sing songs to our God, I feel the pain leave me and sense God's visitation in my life," he shared to us siblings at one of our chat time. It was hard for me to watch, but God is ever so good. He is bringing restoration and healing in my brother's life. 

So, we continue to play on the ocean and enjoy our food and time together. My brother comes and joins us whenever he is able. One of the most memorable photo we have is of my brother lying in bed and looking over his side towards one of the children blowing soap bubbles in the air. We shared stories. We told jokes. We made fun of our little quirks and what-not. In all of these, God is ever so good. He is transforming our lives, and for my brother, our Lord is demonstrating His love in and through my brother's struggle with cancer. God is faithful.


Do You Know Mary?

When people look at Mary, what do they see? Do they see a helpless teenager pregnant with a child she believes is divinely conceived? Or do they see a struggling mother-to-be making sense of her life as a chosen one?

In the text, we see Mary receiving her blessings (Luke 1:48). People will call her “blessed” for many years to come. And yet, we still have to answer the first question: What do they see in Mary? I have some suggestions that relate to the whole Christmas narrative.

When people look at Mary, they see God’s inclusion of everyone in the Lord’s plan of salvation. When a derelict teenager or a woman with a child that is conceived out of wedlock hear Mary’s story, they say to themselves: “God is calling me to Himself. I am included in God’s plan despite my questionable situation.” When a poor man, who is struggling with providing for his family, sees God’s work in Mary life, he will understand that God will use the poor and destitute people of this world for His plan of salvation. He will say, “I am included in God’s plan.” When outsiders come to Mary, the foreigners, the non-Jews, and the unschooled in the ways of the Jewish religion, they will feel God’s inclusion. They will say: “If God can use a young woman who is not schooled in the Rabbinic religious ways, then He can also use me, an outsider to the traditions of the Jews.” All of them will perceive God’s inclusion because they see Mary demonstrating God’s salvation in her life.

When people see Jesus, they see him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). They see Jesus as the Light for all the nations, for all cultures and tribes (Isaiah 42:6). Everyone is included. When people look at Mary, they see the same inclusion. Everyone can be blessed, just like Mary. God’s blessing is flowing through Mary, the blessing that started with Abraham, is now available for everyone who comes to God in humility and trust (see Luke 1:55 and Genesis 12:1-3). God is including every person.

Some questions for you: When people look at you, do they feel included in God’s plan of salvation? Are they drawn closer to God? When they see you, do they hear God saying: “Come to me all of you. I am including you in my plan of salvation for the whole world, despite your situation and regardless of who you are.”


Wedding Anniversary: 21 Songs Later

In the book SABBATICAL JOURNEY, the author writes of a homily he shared on a wedding. "Your love for each other comes from God's first love. Keep claiming that love. Your love for each other is a forgiving love. Keep talking to each other, pardoning each other's shortcomings, and praising each other's gifts. Your love for each other is for others, your children, your guests, the poor. Keep your attention focused on those who need to be nurtured by your love." (Henri Nouwen, 1998:63-64).

Today is our twenty-first wedding anniversary. Sarah and I are grateful to our Creator-God for sustaining us throughout the years. Nouwen shares from his book, Sabbatical Journey: The Diary of His Final Year, a quote from his homily of the son of a friend's wedding that happened on December 9th, the day of our wedding anniversary. I share this quote with you now (above), because it speaks of the same sentiment that my wife and I have for our lives. We want to be of service to our King, the Lord of the Universe, and be available for His work among the poor, the disenfranchised, and the people who are powerless and who need God's love. 

Our "wedding verse" has been 1 John 4:12. "No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us." (ESV) It is always our prayer that we will be an avenue, an instrument, a source of blessing to mediate God's love to others. We are not perfect, but God is. Our hope is that our friends will see God through us. And then, we all can sing the song, "I have friends who say that we are perfect together."


Being Thankful on Thanksgiving Day

I am thankful for many things. Good health. At my age, (Please do not ask me how old I am.) I can still play basketball with the boys and girls from my daughter’s varsity team. Thank God. Although after every practice, my aching bones are reminding me that I need to slow down. (Please do not remind me that I am in my mid 50s.) Maybe, I should consult the “Higher Powers” of basketball. Where is Michael Jordan when I need him?

I am thankful for a sturdy roof in our house. I truly appreciate it, most especially when a typhoon comes in and pays a visit to the island. I know my friends and family in North America will be dealing with snow and ice. What are Holidays for without the snow, right? We can trade. You can send me your turkey, pumpkin pie, and other good stuff, and I will send you warm rain and good weather. Is that a deal?

I am thankful for a good school for my children. Morrison Academy of Kaohsiung (MAK) is a missionary school that also serves the national business community by giving quality education to local business family, as well as diplomats and other international people living in the city. Jacob is able to play middle school baseball with children from Japan, Korea, and other nearby Asian countries. While we are on the subject of baseball, when you send your turkey, please wrap it in a Chicago Cubs jersey shirt. I heard that Thanksgiving meat taste better when wrap together with a Kris Bryant jersey or a Rizzo shirt. I am sure you know I am a very serious guy, right? After 108 years, Thanksgiving turkey should taste better this 2016.

I am thankful for Holy Light Theological Seminary (HLTS). I am so privileged to be a part of the team here. The students are very engaging. They bless me with their stories. We have been exchanging family histories. I tell them my descendants are Spanish pilgrims from Mexico, and in return they tell me their history of moving from China to Taiwan. I tell them about Sarah’s grandmother. (She is a good Christian and a dedicated Chicago Cubs fan, and who is now happy in heaven after the Cubs won the 2016 World Series.)  I recount many other stories, and the students respond with their own stories of coming to God and receiving His salvation through the witness of family and friends. Praise God! By the way, most of these students have never experienced American Thanksgiving Day. So, when you send those turkey and corn bread, I will definitely share it with them. Please, do not forget to wrap them in a Kris Bryant baseball jersey shirt, okay? Did I mention the turkey will taste better?

I am thankful for my family. To my extended family from the Philippines, I am so amazed at your patience with me, and my October ramblings on social media about the Chicago Cubs. To my in-laws in Illinois, I will certainly miss the holiday gathering for the big Thursday meal. To my children, Carmen and Jacob, I thank God for you both. You make parenting work a fun and creative journey for me. And to my wife, Sarah, Happy Thanksgiving! All it takes is for you to walk in the living room, and I find myself smiling and being grateful for everything. God gifted me with you. I am thankful.

To all our supporters and intercessors from Illinois, Michigan, and California, you are very much appreciated. Thank you for all your donations and commitments that you are giving to God’s work here in Asia. Thank you for your prayers. And to some of you, I thank you for those long-distance phone calls and your emails replying to our newsletter. You make this missionary work full of joy and surprises. Happy Thanksgiving!


Going Through Pain and Suffering

“I can’t stand the pain.” Most of us have probably said these words at some point in our lives. The degree of pain would vary from person to person depending on the nature of situation. Discomfort. Grief. Regrets. Sorrow. Anger. You get the idea, right? When pain comes to our lives, it comes with a lot of other things. We spend more time and energy dealing with the other stuff. At best, we relegate pain to a point of secondary importance. At worst, we forget about the pain.

“There will be no more pain, nor sorrow; no grief and death.” (Revelation 21:4) One of my friends quoted this verse in the context of a love one going through chemotherapy. I would have ignored the comment, but you see, the person going through chemo was my brother. I got the feeling that the family members are ignoring the pain. Why shouldn’t they, right? We do not want to revel on our pain. Well, for one, it is painful. Secondly, it is much easier to not talk about it. It is always helpful to simply talk about the weather or focus on the good food in front of you. You get the idea, right? Pain is not welcome anywhere.

The Book of Revelation mentions pain as a direct result of sin. We do away with pain because it reminds us of our evil ways and fallen creation. It does not refer to pain as an avenue for spiritual encounter. Many Bible scholars view pain with its instrumental properties. What do you get when you go through pain? How does pain make you a better person? These are some of the questions coming out of an instrumentalist view of a painful experience. What I am going to suggest here is that there is a better way of looking at pain as a spiritual instrument. I am suggesting we look at pain and suffering through the cross of Jesus.

Henri Nouwen, a Christian author and theologian, speaks of experiencing the depths of God’s Presence in the midst of a painful encounter. In his book, Here and Now, he speaks of a life where “pain can be embraced, not out of a desire to suffer, but in the knowledge that something new will be born in the pain” (Nouwen 1994:39). Jesus says we need to die like a grain of wheat, for “unless the grain of wheat dies, it cannot bear fruit” (John 12:24). Whoever loses one’s life for Jesus, whoever embraces pain by way of the cross, will keep one’s self, one’s being for eternal life.

“Why is God allowing this to happen to me?” My friend shares this to our group. We are on a mission trip and our host pastor, my friend, is sharing with us a recent situation in his family. His only son is in the hospital. Blood clot in the brain. Early morning hours at the hospital surgery. Probability of paralysis. Chances of memory loss after surgery are high. I am sure you can now picture what my friend is going through. I am surprised my pastor friend is still able to play his part of hosting us, driving our group around the city, and asking our team members questions about the mission trip. If that were me, I would have dropped everything. I would have said: “This is unfair.” I would have raised my voice and started blaming God. “Where is your love, now.” Anger. Fear. Rage.

Grief, pain, and sorrow are real issues in a Christian’s life. In all these situations, the common thread is the experience of suffering. Paul writes of filling up what is lacking in Christ’s suffering (Colossians 1:24). Paul is not saying God’s atoning sacrifice is not enough for the remission of our sins and the redemption of the world. Paul is simply saying we continue Christ’s ministry of suffering through our grief, pain, and sorrow. Our pain and human location is not only an instrument to a greater futuristic heavenly good. Our pain is also the place where God meets us. In a mysterious way, pain and suffering become agents of God’s grace, healing, and transformation. Henri Nouwen says: “Jesus shows, both in his teachings and in his life, that true joy often is hidden in the midst of our sorrow, and that the dance of life finds its beginnings in grief” (1994:38). We share in the suffering of Jesus (Philippians 3:10). We become more like Him. Our suffering becomes the glory of our brothers and sisters (Ephesians 3:13). We continue the ministry of Jesus. We take up the cross of Jesus in our daily walk (Luke 9:23-24). Jesus is in the pain and suffering.

Someday, there will be no more pain. There will be no more sorrow. This is correct. There at the end of times, we no longer need an experience with suffering and pain to facilitate deeper spiritual encounter. God’s presence will be with us in His fullness and for all eternity. Meanwhile, we are still here on earth needing help with everything. We drink from the cup that Jesus offers us. “We need to remind each other that the cup of sorrow is also the cup of joy, that precisely what causes us sadness can become the fertile ground for gladness” (Nouwen. Can You Drink the Cup. 1996:51). The way of the cross is the path of fruitfulness. And the ultimate fruit we are looking for is a deeper encounter with our God, an experience of healing and transformation that only His presence can bring.


My Cubs Family

It is history of course. The Chicago Cubs is the World Series 2016 Champions! After 108 years, we are here. It is past now. The world knows. There is no need to repeat what everyone is talking about, what the world media is covering. We are here. I am so happy! I am grateful to be a big part of this historical event in USA history.

I came to America as a foreign student and married into an Illinois family with deep roots in Chicago Cubs culture. I heard my wife's grandmother, Grandma Addie, say: "I want to see my Cubbies in the World Series before I die." She almost made it. She passed a few years back. I am sure she is smiling in heaven watching all of us go crazy over a baseball game.

  Clemente Family

Oh the joy of being a Cubs fan !


Christine's Testimony: I Can See What God Wants From Me

(Christine Liao is a student at Holy Light Theological Seminary, here in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. She shares here her testimony of God’s guidance in her life. Together with her husband, Sean, they are registered with our Free Methodist school in Taiwan, Holy Light Theological Seminary.)

Today, I am going to share with you about my sweet moments at Holy Light seminary. Sean and I made a big decision in 2014. We decided to resign (from our work) and come to Holy Light seminary to study for our MDiv degrees. For me, this is the grace of God. When I was young, my parents taught me to work hard, earn a lot of money, and get a good reputation. These became the goals that I was pursuing. But after I achieved all these goals, my heart felt empty and lonely. I encountered a difficult situation at my work place, so I did not get promoted during that time. I have been reading the Bible everyday. When I read a passage in Luke 18:22: “When Jesus heard this, He said to him: one thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” At that moment, God spoke to me. God said: let go of whatever you are holding on to right now and come back to me. After struggling for a while, I finally gave up all of my worldly desires. God has always been in control.

In the first year at Holy Light seminary, I met many teachers and classmates. During one semester, I started to know what my weaknesses were. It was the pride inside my heart.  After realizing this, I was really ashamed of who I was. God wanted me to change. He refocused my vision. This is the precious lesson that I have learned in my first year at school. Also, in my first year at seminary, I learned to put down everything so that I can see what God wants from me. The best lesson of all is the lesson of being humble before Him.

Time flies. The second year at Holy Light, I gradually learned of God’s calling in my life, and that is, to be a good pastor’s wife. I never thought about it and has been avoiding it. How do I deal with this problem? I have no talent and don't know how to sing, how to play piano, even simple songs of worship and praise. Influenced by many churches in Taiwan, the tradition of being a good pastor’s wife has become a difficult role to fulfill. Meanwhile, Sean and I have been doing youth ministry in the churches. At first, I’m not used to getting along with teenagers. But the weird thing is, I like to listen to them share about what happened in their schools, families and personal lives. It made me feel closer to them. And they also enjoy sharing with me. God gave me a warm heart to care about people. Fortunately, the teachers and classmates continued to give support and pray for me. I can glorify God with the gift of listening and caring. In the second year at Holy Light, I learned to be brave and face difficulties. The most important thing is I learned obedience.

In my third year at seminary, I know God will give me a whole new lesson. I have no idea what difficult situation I will meet. But I know one true fact, that is, God will always be by my side and He will protect me. The Bible says: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

By: Christine Liao, 2016


Missions and Small Things

She touches my face. She smiles and giggles. I try to coach her to follow me as I pat the table with my open hand. She imitates my moves. She laughs whenever she hears the sound of her hand hitting the table surface. We all laugh with her. Our one-year old visitor is visiting us for a day, and all four of us are delighted with her every move. Lucy is here with our family to take a day off from staying at a local orphanage home. We take turns cuddling with her. We cherish our short moment with Lucy and hope her day with us will help her prepare for her future family.

I support this orphanage ministry. Sarah is volunteering at this orphanage every so often and brings a child to our home for fellowship and social interactions. I do my part by helping Sarah. Carmen and Jacob are also engaged. They totally enjoy spending time with little ones like Lucy. We do this orphan-care as a family.

Little contributions are small. In most cases, they are so insignificant. However, we want to be faithful to both the small and big things that come to our lives. The Bible reminds us that if we are not faithful with little things, then we will not be entrusted with big things (Luke 16:10-13).

This past week, I also went to hang out with Sam, a Filipino migrant worker. Sam works at a local factory here in the south. This is his second year here in Taiwan. We went for lunch and talked about his family back home, his home church, and a few other mundane events. We did not have any earth-shaking conversation or deep profound theological dialogue. We just talked about ordinary things in life. I really wanted to get to know Sam. He is a new friend. This is only my third time to see him. I am still seeking God’s direction on where our friendship will lead us. I still do not know why our Creator has orchestrated both of us to meet up here in Taiwan. Meanwhile, as I wait for God’s answer to my petition, I hang out with Sam. We are thinking maybe sometime next month, when the weather permits and Sam has a day off from work, we can go hiking up on some Miaolin mountains. I want to be faithful to God in all circumstances, whether it is giving theological lectures to a big crowd or chatting with a person from a nearby factory.

This week is the start of our seminary classes. I am teaching two courses. Last Monday, I went to the school library to do some lesson preparations. Christine, one of our senior students, shared to me her dreams for a missionary work among the Chinese people of Asia. Our sharing time was a chance encounter, but I took that as God’s providential way of saying “meet with this student.” And so I listened to her story. I did my small part of encouragement.  As we parted, I said: “Let us continue this conversation.” We made plans to continue our sharing time. Nothing grandiose. Just little sharing time with another seminary student thinking about her future missionary work. I do my small part. Because one never knows if that small part might be a turning point to God’s grand design for something. I want to be faithful with little things. God will do the rest.


Missions and Travel in Asia

“What are we good at?” Professor Naoto asks the chapel participants. “Koreans are good at prayer. Taiwanese are good at singing,” he continues. “We, Japanese, are good at thinking.” Everyone at the seminary chapel laughs. I give out a big smile of approval. I am guessing this group of Japanese Christians is making fun of themselves. Everyone seems to take the joke well.

Last month of June, 2016, I was in Japan, around the areas of Osaka city and Kobe city. I went with a music team from Kaohsiung, Taiwan, for a mission trip, to visit different Free Methodist churches and two seminaries. Most of us were there for two weeks. At the Kansai Biblical Seminary in Kobe, we visited the chapel service where I spoke on “Seeing the Lord’s Harvest” and shared about some ways to prepare for the harvest happening around the world. Professor Naoto is the current Dean of this small seminary. After the service, our team had a good time of fellowship with the seminary students. We made promises of hosting them when they come to Taiwan. Professor Naoto also expressed his desire to visit our seminary, Holy Light Theological Seminary, in Kaohsiung. We ended our meeting with a renewed commitment to be future partners in the Lord’s work.

On another day, we visited Osaka Bible College and shared at its chapel service. I spoke on the same topic about the Lord’s harvest in missions. Again, I heard the joke about Japanese people being good at thinking. Come to think of it! This was the reason why I came to Japan. I wanted to help local Christians think about the Lord’s harvest around the world. Prayer and singing would naturally come whenever we as Christians come together. However, thinking would need a little help, the assistance of an outsider, like myself, to come and challenge national leaders to seriously think about missions and global issues.

Next month, August 2016, I will be in Cambodia for a time of teaching. I will participate in the YLMC (Young Leaders Mission Congress) of APFMMA (Asia Pacific Free Methodist Missions Association), an FM ministry. I will speak on the topic: “A Biblical Theology of Mission.” Most of the participants will be young leaders and pastors who have a passion for missions work among our Asia FM ministries. At this congress, I hope to see participants thinking about God’s work, to seriously consider their role in the Lord’s harvest around the world and to examine missional concepts from Scriptures so that they can be informed. We will pray. We will sing. And we will be thinking about God’s work in the world.Miss