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November 2016

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 !