I hope you like to read because this entry is LONG!

So I’m contemplating how to properly write this post because there are several things I want to write about. And since my Internet connection is still not set up at work and I have limited work that I CAN do in the month of January in France, I’m going to carefully reflect upon my thoughts and try to put together a decently thorough entry. It may be sufficiently long to distract you from working (procrastination ftw?) teehee 😀

1 – Epiphanies in the last week

I’m actually in disbelief that it’s been almost a month since I kidnapped PhD to Belgium, haha! Sorry, you KNEW I just had to mention him, didn’t you? It’s funny to think that a month ago I would never have imagined that things turned out the way they are now, and it’s amazing how God worked within all of our hearts during this period of time. All stories aside, I just wanted to reflect upon the thing that I told you the other day, how I think my first lesson of 2012 is forgiveness.

It began in the café and continued in the cathedral that afternoon, when I was trying so hard to pray and to put down everything that had been bothering me. And then it hit me. It just hit me. Words from the Bible seemed to come to life. God was talking to me, and the following verses really struck me hard.

那時彼得進來,對耶穌說,主啊,我弟兄得罪我,我當饒恕他幾次呢。到七次可以麼。耶穌說,我對你說,不是到七次,乃是到七十七次。– 馬太福音 18:21-22

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” — Matthews 18:21-22

你們不要論斷人,免得你們被論斷。因為你們怎樣論斷人,也必怎樣被論斷。– 馬太福音 7:1-2

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged.” — Matthews 7:1-2

You know how in the song “Affirmation” by Savage Garden, they say “I believe forgiveness is the key to your unhappiness”? I used to think that I am a person who is very willing to forgive and that I can let go of personal offenses very easily. Well apparently not, when the hurt reaches deep within and punches you straight through your core. After receiving that text message, I was so shocked, so unbelievably defeated. And it was a double strike after I found out what could have provoked the message. I felt like I’ve lost two of the people I treasured the most. I felt like I could never trust anyone again. I felt like it would make me feel so much better if I never forgave them.

I saw a painting of Jesus on the cross, in the cathedral, and all of a sudden it all became clear to me. Forgiveness. That’s all God HAD been doing for us, forgiving, and He wants us to do the same. It’s even in the Lord’s prayer: “Forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors.” And to think how heavy OUR sins are, that we have the privilege to ask God for HIS forgiveness! It’s not just a matter of being forgiven, but the mere fact that Jesus DIED on the cross for us SO THAT we can receive this forgiveness. Unconditional forgiveness. God promised that if we open up to Him, admit our sins, and repent, then any sin will be forgiven. How, then, can I even have the shameless audacity to dare to NOT forgive anyone who has offended me, when I myself have received such a grace that I don’t deserve? It makes the mere thought of holding a grudge against anyone for any reason seem childish and arrogant.

Then in that one moment, those negative thoughts were set free. No longer was forgiveness a mission impossible – it was as if a boulder on my back had been released or a curse had been lifted, simple as that. And all glory goes to God because there was no way I could have done this on my own without the magnificent love of God.

I am also thankful that PhD made that phone call that night that set things straight…sort of. I had feared that the friendship had broken beyond the point of repair, and I was already willing to let it go. Seeing the way PhD handled the entire situation, I did not expect him to be the first to call, especially after what he sent me. To me, though, it meant that he still cherished the friendship, he still had 誠意, and it touched me greatly. Now, if this was BEFORE the grand epiphanies, I probably would have reacted much more differently, but all I could think of during that conversation was how thankful I was to God, and to PhD as well. I admit I still harboured a bit of spite but who could hold a grudge anymore after hearing that voice? Ugh, I am so soft-hearted. And really, it must have been God’s test for me, a test of endurance, a test of obedience, a test of forgiveness; I hope I passed it.

Just a little anecdote to end off this section: Last night I went over to a friend’s house for dinner. She was going through a troubled time due to work and relationship issues, and we exchanged experiences and advice. I shared with her my situation VERY VAGUELY – I was very careful about what to disclose, saying no names and referring to no events or circumstances – though I was very specific about my FEELINGS. As soon as she started to 罵 PhD, or “that jerk” (那個混蛋) as she calls him (‘cause she doesn’t know who it was that caused me to be so depressed) I began to think of any excuses possible to defend PhD. I told her he’s not as bad a person as she imagined him to be and really a lot of it is my fault too, blah blah blah. Then I remember that I would defend “that jerk” in the same way in front of you, and you’d tell me, “You don’t have to 說好話 for him, a jerk is a jerk.” Ha! She said the same thing, “你不用幫他說好話,混蛋就是混蛋。” How amusing.

2 – Read the Bible, no matter how little each day

This ties in with the previous point. That story about forgiving 77 times, I’m sure you’ve heard it many times before. Some stories and passages in the Bible are so well-known and so often cited that we take them for granted, as if we totally know what they’re talking about, as if we are acting on them. Yeah right. You may know a Bible verse but you never truly understand its essence and meaning until you’ve experienced something that makes you apply it in your life. This whole forgiveness thing, I mean seriously it’s hard enough forgiving ONCE, let alone 77 times. Then you truly begin to see how amazing God is for forgiving us well…infinitely.

We often complain that we can’t hear God’s voice but something someone told me once made a lot of sense. “The Bible is God’s way of talking to us; if you don’t even read it and try to understand it, then how is God supposed to communicate with you in critical times?” It’s like God is TRYING to get to you, but you don’t even know what He’s trying to tell you because you are not familiar with His voice and His words! And we blame God for not being crystal clear while we are the ones in the lazy department. GG.

I went to our English Sunday service last week and we talked about Romans 12:1 – Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. It seemed like an ordinary verse when you first read it, something that you’d probably forget right away, but when you examine it deeply, it can apply so profoundly in your life, as the pastor has put it. During my quiet time in the cafe, that particular verse also spoke to me loudly, telling me that I am a LIVING SACRIFICE for God, and that I have no right to abuse my heart and my mind and my BODY, since everything was given to me by God. I have to sacrifice the very best, and if I see myself as that sacrifice, I will live truthfully and fully, FOR God, in everything I do. Every word I say, every step I take, every shoelace I tie, every dish I wash…I do it for God, the one who gave me life. No more being upset. No more being bitter. No more torturing myself with the past. And that was why I put up a quote on Facebook the other day (which I thought up in the café): 獻上自己的身體作為活祭,為著主耶穌而活。不再糾結,不再沮喪,不再逃避,把時間,身軀,心思意念,都交給神。破碎的心,你必醫治。迷失的靈,你必尋回。

See how awesome it is when you CAN hear God’s voice speaking to you? Pick up the Bible today and read! (Sounds like such a cliché advertisement LOL.)

3 – What it means to “become” a Christian

I don’t know if you’ve ever gotten the feeling that you’ve been “tricked” into this whole Christianity thing, or as I’d like to put it, 上了賊船. The problem never occurred with me because my journey began at a young age and was a very continuous one, so I never struggled much with the concept of “becoming” a Christian. However, I often wonder, for the people who decided, at one point in their lives, to “become” a Christian – how did that feel? Was there one moment where they just…believed? How drastic was the transformation? How did they stick to it?

I’ll give you a few examples of my curiosity. I think some people become Christians based on the fact that all you have to do is “believe” in God and his salvation, and you’d be going to heaven. I doubt many new believers would know about what the life of a true Christian is like until they go through it themselves. I mean, how would they know it’s the responsibility of a Christian to offer 1/10 of their earnings? Or to spread the gospel? Or to go to church and fellowship? You aren’t told these things when you make your 决志禱告 as far as I know, and I wonder how many new Christians have this thought: “Hey, I thought all I had to do was believe, and now you’re telling me that I have to do this and do that?” Do people stop being Christians because of this?

I guess that sort of explains the phenomenon of our society today, how so many people CLAIM that they’re Christians but don’t live like one at all. That was probably me before coming to France – yeah I admit I’m a Christian alright, but did I really know what it meant? Probably not. The sad thing is that there are people who think that if you’ve prayed that one prayer once in your life, or if you’re baptized, then you’re definitely saved. Now I’m not saying I know for sure who will be saved or not, and it is something that also boggles my mind. Do we really know we’re saved? If I know I’m going to die today, can I die with the confidence knowing that I will stand in front of God and be brought into the gates of heaven? Is faith really enough?

Of course, we can take a look at Romans and James, where it talks about faith. Romans says that we are 因信稱義 (“Justified through faith”, Romans 5:1) while James says 沒有行為的信心是死的 (“Faith without deeds is useless”, James 2:20). Perhaps what’s important here is the order – no one can be saved solely by their actions. We believe first, and BECAUSE we believe, we carry out what we believe, in action. Then the question becomes, what do we BELIEVE, as Christians, and in turn, what are the appropriate ACTIONS? When I think about these things deeply they mess with my head and I get so weary, but they’re important questions. Do you understand what I’m trying to get at?

4 – Does it matter?

So clearly I’ve come to the realization that Christianity is…complicated. As mentioned before, you don’t just “believe” anymore, and it always comes back to the question, “Is simply believing ENOUGH?”

This question arose after watching a few video clips by Stephen Tong (唐崇榮), who is probably the most famous Chinese-speaking pastor in the world, and Paul Washer, whose sermon I sent you once. Let me focus on Stephen Tong. He preaches what is known as “Reformed Theology” (歸正神學), and to be honest till now I don’t really get what “reformed” mean. They say it means “linking everything back to the Bible” but I thought…isn’t the entirety of Christianity supposed to link everything back to the Bible? Then I wondered why there are so many “branches” and types of churches…reformed, Presbyterian, Baptist, Evangelical, Methodist, etc.. And then there are schools of thought…Lutheran, Calvinist, and whatever else there is. If what Stephen Tong said stands true, does that mean all other forms of Christianity…don’t follow the Bible strictly? I’m totally confused.

The way one of his sermons puts it, we have to be active in reformation, passionate about true, Biblical theology, and fervent in the Christian revolution. Somehow this bothered me. I mean…I just want to be an ordinary Christian, believing in my God and being in a personal relationship with Him. I don’t have the time and energy and GIFT to go so deeply into everything about theology, to worry about Christian reformation, to be a full-time preacher – not everyone has that calling. Yet it puts doubt into my mind – by not doing this, does that make me less “Christian” than someone who does indeed have the fervor for such endeavors? Somehow it feels like being a Christian isn’t just about a personal relationship with God anymore, and the more I dwell on this subject, the more confused I get.

One guy in fellowship mentioned one thing recently. “I think that the Bordeaux fellowship should develop into a reformist church, and not a purely evangelical one.” This provoked a few unsaid reactions from me. First of all, as I’ve eluded to before, I still don’t know the difference between all of these “branches” or “schools of thought”, and truth be told, I don’t think many of us in the fellowship truly understand it. Does that mean we haven’t gained a solid foundation in our faith? When someone becomes a Christian, he doesn’t CHOOSE to be a reformist or a Calvinist or a Lutheran or whatever…or at least I don’t think so. While I believe that the current case of our fellowship is an intricate one, I will also be blunt and say we’re pretty far from becoming an independent church, what with the lack of resources and all that, so…whether our future church is a reformed church or an evangelical church or whatever, is NOT an immediate concern at the moment.

So, the reason why the title of this section is “Does it matter?” links back to the very original question: “Is simply believing ENOUGH?” I don’t like the word 教 so whenever anyone says 基督教 I shiver a little bit. I always liked to say that I believe a God, not a religion or an institution (信神,不是信教), but all the technicality indeed makes our entire belief seem so “religionified”. I have no right to say whether this is the way it’s supposed to be, but it just bothers me a lot.

5 – Passion and love for God

After watching another video clip from Paul Washer, this topic came up. Do I have a passion for God? Do I love God? Do I desire God? We sing it in songs, we say it in prayers, we THINK we love God. It’s so easy to say, “I love You, God” but really? Do I?

It’s an interesting comparison when you look at the way you love a person and the way you love God. During a seminar about love and marriage, one missionary said, “在你能擁有浪漫且成熟的戀愛之前,你必須先瘋狂地愛上神。” Hmm. Pretty extreme usage of wording there. Now imagine the person you love the most, and imagine loving God 128301 times more. I dunno about you but I find it pretty hard to imagine. It’s not a matter of whether I should or I would, but whether I COULD love God that much.

Another interesting thing mentioned in one of the sermons – do I love God, or do I love what God can give me? This is how weak we are, as human beings. We are so consumed with earthly pleasures that we lose sight of GOD Himself, and we end up loving the world more than we love God. If I could give up my belongings and my pride for a PERSON that I love, can I do the same for GOD? At this stage, my honest answer would be no, I cannot. Sometimes I don’t even have the guts to pray before I eat in a group, or testify about God to a friend, or say “praise the Lord” in public – how can I lie and say I LOVE God? What does it take to reach that 1337 level when you can truly love God for God?

6 – Some miscellaneous stuff, mainly things discussed on the train with Dragon that day

I think I told you that during the trip back to Bordeaux from Paris, I booked my trip on the same train as Dragon (even though he was going back to his own city, but Bordeaux was on the way so it worked out). I sat beside him during the entire trip and for 3.5 hours we had some quite insightful sharing time. I don’t think I ever went into detail, so here we go (this can probably qualify as its own entry…lol).

Ever since getting to know Dragon a lot better during the summer, I’ve looked up to him as a spiritual buddy and “guide” of some sort. Though in my eyes, he already has a very intimate relationship with God, he always strives to do better and draw closer to God at every opportunity, and I truly respect him for that. He shared with me the story of how he became a Christian – and how funny, it was PhD who brought the gospel to him, haha! – and how he was thankful that God gave him a heart of 飢渴慕義 (“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled”, Matthews 5:6), something I certainly don’t have. He said he was instantly interested in the Bible and the word of the true God, and he’d always dig up good sermons to watch whenever he had a chance. Dragon’s famous quote, everyone in the fellowship knows, is “回到聖經”, so in everything he does, he sticks closely to Biblical principles. And he loves Stephen Tong’s sermons, a reformist, I see.

I told him that for me, I am not a person that asks a lot of questions, at least not about the Bible. Whenever I read something in the Bible, no matter now confusing it is, I’ll take it as it is and believe what it says (maybe after reading it a few times). I said, “我的問題就是我沒有問題!” Does that mean I’m not keen enough? How come everyone else asks a thousand questions and I just sit there and nod? When I told him this, he said that it is a blessing, because I purely BELIEVE – actually that’s the same thing you told me awhile ago, if you remember!

So then we started talking about our thoughts on the year 2011, and he asked me to begin. SOMEHOW I started with how I was amazed by the change of heart and it obviously led to the whole PhD thing. No I did not mention any names or any specific event. I was speaking in very broken, cryptic sentences with scattered thoughts and lots of pauses – the things I said were so specific to me yet so VAGUE to him at the same time! I could see question marks rising out of Dragon’s head…poor guy LOL! Well he was very patient and he listened without interrupting and let me finish what I was saying, though he clearly noticed that I was in distress as I recounted some of the feelings that I had undergone. I don’t quite remember how my part ended, but I felt a little bad afterwards simply because I confused the poor guy so much, haha!

Anyway, we also talked a lot about the whole concept of “worship” and what it meant to truly worship God. Although I have begun to lead worship, I felt like I had never truly gotten “into” the heart of worship even when I led. At times I wonder whether I lead true worship, or it’s just a singing fest. Then I said, “I should learn true worship,” and Dragon replied with something that I still think about constantly today. He said, “你覺得敬拜是學會的嗎?” At that moment I was quite stunned and I was literally at a loss of words because I think he hit a critical point. “神要的是我們心靈和誠實的敬拜,” he also said (John 4:23-24). What is a heart of worship? Are we worshipping because we have to, or because we want to?

We also touched a bit upon musical worship. Dragon is the type of person who enjoys classical music and is much more inclined towards traditional hymns than modern worship songs. As such, he wasn’t too pleased to have heard a lot of Chinese worship songs with popular tunes at the gospel camp, nor did he find it appropriate to get hyped up and jump up and down on the stage. “沒有平安,” he said, and I could see where he is coming from. A lot of modern worship songs catch our attention with a cool melody and as we immerse ourselves in singing, we forget to pay attention to the words we’re singing. As for traditional hymns, yeah they might not be so attractive to today’s young generation, but as I’ve heard from a few people, older songs are so much more “theologically enriched” while modern songs lack that Biblical insight. Consequently I’ve started to like – in terms of Chinese worship songs at least – slower and “holy-er” songs more than fast, popular songs.

As Dragon was heading back to Tarbes and spending the New Year’s by himself, we thought we’d count our blessings during the past year while we could, on the train. Rather strange, we didn’t end up doing too much counting, but instead we smiled a whole lot. “想起這麼多的恩典,就有一種甘甜的感覺,” he said. It was like reminiscing the sweet, sweet times of the past – words weren’t needed, but the unsaid feelings of joy and thankfulness filled both of our hearts, and one smile encompassed all the words that could have been said.

Epilogue: FINALLY THE END

Well I wrote a book. I don’t know if you read it all, but I truly enjoyed writing this post because it gave me so much time to THINK. I’m sure there are a lot of details and other things I could have noted but then you’d be reading for 923084302 days. I apologize for the random Chinese/English switch at times that made things seem a little inconsistent, but some things just had to be expressed in Chinese in its originally quoted format. This thing is 7 pages in MS Word and over 4000 words – I impress myself 😀

P.S. I forgot one point, and I’m not going to go back and add another section, but…did Judas repent? If he did, did Jesus forgive him?

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