Living in South Korea

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azaelas in Gunpo, Seoul

We moved here directly from Germany. We immediately noticed quite a difference. We stayed in Seoul several days before heading to U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys. There were signs of poverty, fairly regular, in both the city and the countryside. The streets were far less clean in places. The crowds were much greater than we had ever experienced (we could not believe how many Koreans would cram into a elevator). But there was beauty, too. The azaleas came out that week.

We appreciated the friendliness of the people and the really different food — though a lot is too hot for me. We’ve learned to really love the people.

Before coming, we wondered how Koreans would react to trouble with the North. Most of the time, I would compare it to people in Central and North Texas being told there was a Tornado warning.  They just said, “OK” and went about their business — just used to it. Tell them a tornado has been sighted 5 miles away and you have their attention.

As I write this, there is more concern. North Korea has had several nuclear tests recently and tests of longer reaching missiles. Couple this with the local political scene being unstable at the moment and a new U.S. President and tensions are high.

Right now I need to check my NEO bag and put it in the car. I need to travel to another base and think I’ll take it with me, this time. It needs to be ready at all times, in case they evacuate non-essential Americans with the military community. It contains a few pieces of clothing, a gas mask, bottled water, snacks, and a lot paper work, which includes my marriage certificate and my last will and testament. The training has prepared us to drop everything and walk, not drive, to the building on base we are to gather in such circumstances and prepare to helicopter out of here. Training even included a thirty minute ride in one of these, a CH-47 Chinook, which turns out to be the fastest of the locally based helicopters. If we ever need it, we’ll appreciate that. CH-47 Chinook

Next post we’ll explore our reactions to dangerous times.

False Trails In Meditation 1

As I am writing about meditation, I feel the need for a warning. I read one of the more popular books on the subject last year, Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton. I took my time going through the book, taking a week or two on each chapter, rereading it a few times. I was appreciating the first third of the book. Then the main point of the book began to be how to empty yourself. Certainly we go through the process of dying to self. And we are to have the same attitude of Jesus, who emptied himself to become truly human.  When we emulate this attitude we are ready to serve others. But for Merton the attitude of emptying himself becomes the central point of his meditation. He moves into chapters on detachment, inward destitution, and renunciation. “If nothing that can be seen can either be God or represent Him to us as He is, then to find God we must pass beyond everything that can be seen and enter into darkness. Since nothing that can be heard is God, to find Him we must enter into silence. Since God cannot be imagined, anything our imagination tells us about Him is ultimately a lie and therefore we cannot know Him as He really is unless we pass beyond everything that can be imagined and enter into an obscurity without images and without the likeness of any created thing.” *

By the end of the book Merton indicates that if you seek this process of self emptying long enough, you will come to a place of complete darkness. “And it is in this darkness, when there is nothing left in us that can please or comfort our own minds, when we seem to be useless and worthy of all contempt, when we seem to have failed, when we seem to be destroyed and devoured, it is then that the deep and secret selfishness that is too close to us for us to identify is stripped away from our souls. It is in this darkness that we find liberty. It is in this abandonment that we are made strong. This is the night which empties us and makes us pure.” **

I thought, “How can this be getting closer to God, for ‘God is light and in him is no darkness at all’?” (1 John 1:5) Much of this clearly goes against scripture — the blood of Christ and the power of the resurrection are what make us pure. The Word and all of creation declare the Glory of God.  These are not lies. Though our understanding is quite incomplete, we can learn much and we are changed. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” The book simply has way too much focus on self. This did not fit the lessons I had already had on contemplation. I learned long ago in my struggle with lust that as long as I was focused on my sin and my weakness, I was stuck. It is only when I began to focus on God’s holiness and his strength that I began to be able to truly overcome. I began losing interest in the book as Merton’s teaching appeared to me to be more Buddhist than Christian and slowed down even more. I only reluctantly finished the book.

Providentially, about the time I began the book, I also started to occasionally look at what articles were being published by The New Yorker. Their take of politics is a good deal different than mine but they are famous for good writing. You can read a few articles a month without a subscription. To my surprise, they had an article entitled “Thomas Merton, the Monk Who Became a Prophet,” December 18th. Many encounters with Hindu and Buddhist monks are referred to. The article includes a quote from Merton’s biographer, Rowan Williams, on how Merton “could give almost equal veneration to Catholic and Buddhist traditions.” It is quite clear where Merton received his teachings on emptying yourself.

Though I enjoyed most of Firstlights by Sue Monk Kidd, I need to warn you that she is a fan of Thomas Merton and includes two references to Zen Buddhism. I wondered where to go next in my reading on contemplation. I was wanting to find more on contemplating the nature of God. I found a few wonderful tidbits in the sermons of Jonathan Edwards. But I was hoping for a book. In checking out a number of books on Amazon, I found some more which are referred to in either the description or the reviews as a marriage between Eastern and Western meditation. And many others who also seem to mainly emphasize emptying yourself. Evidently this theme goes back in Christian meditation literature to at least the 10th Century.

Our enemy, the Devil has long used the tactic of mixing other religions into the worship of Jehovah. Every time the Israelites gave into this it was to their great detriment. He continues to do this today.  Deepak Chopra has written a fiction entitled, Jesus, A Story of Enlightenment. In the book Jesus is guilty of joining a plot to commit murder and fulfilling his lust. He doesn’t really understand his life until he travels to mountains in the east to learn from a Guru. Chopra’s Jesus has nothing to do with the real one. His motives for creating him are clear on the front jacket, “I don’t want the Jesus in this book to be worshiped, much less to push him forward as definitive. The events of the tale are pure fiction. But at a deeper level, the Jesus in this book feels real because we’ve gotten a glimpse into his mind. One flash of insight answers many prayers.” This is pure deception, he simply wants Jesus to be mixed in with his own version of  “spirituality”.

Long we’ve been tempted to mix in a love for worldliness. Now we are tempted with many other religions including Wicca, New Age, fascination with aliens, even the worship of angels. Much of American and European society are currently offended by pure Christianity. The temptation is strong to compromise in this area as it would make us more acceptable to them. I urge you to take care, be sure to worship only the God of the Bible. And make the Father, Son and Holy Spirit the largest focus in your meditation. It will change your life, it certainly has mine.

* Thomas Merton “Seeds of Contemplation”, ch. 19 From Faith to Wisdom, p.102, Anthony Clarke, Wheathampsted, Hertfordshire, April 10, 1961

**Thomas Merton (April, 1961). “Seeds of Contemplation”, ch. 35 Renunciation, pp.200-201, Anthony Clarke, Wheathampsted, Hertfordshire, April 10, 1961

Come with me and rest

Sunday I had the opportunity to preach and spoke on Meditation. I decided yesterday to follow it up with some lessons on walking with God.

This morning I was reading a bit that fits right in this plan from Firstlights by Sue Monk Kidd. She talks of the need to stop in our day for a few moments and be present with God. She then brings up a passage I didn’t remember, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6:31 NIV) This verse is tucked in just before Jesus feeds the five thousand.  The disciples had come back from being sent off two by two to preach repentance, heal, and cast out demons. They no doubt were still pretty excited when they got back. But Jesus could tell they had not even had time to eat. He then invites them to come along with him to rest. They did not really get the chance as the crowd followed them. But they did have a pretty amazing meal.

Mrs. Kidd points out that the difference between nowhere and now here is a small space. We really need to take moments through our day to be truly present, not just rushing through our to do list. We take these moments to recognize God is with us. If we don’t the day will seem a blur. We may miss lessons of the day or God speaking to us in a small voice. God does remind us to “be still and know I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

 

Jesus, light of the World

During the Christmas season I reflected on Jesus coming as the light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5; 12:46). I thought of how many songs and decorations are associated with light. In all the darkness of the world, we need his light.

Today I read a thought connecting theology and science by Andy Walsh in a blog on Jesus Creed called “It Is All Relative”. He points out that there are many principles in science which are constant. One is the speed of light in a  vacuum, about 300 million meters per second. This is true regardless of the relative speed of the one seeing the light. The only objects which can actually move at the speed of light are things without mass, such as protons.

Much of our society today is preaching that all morals and truths are relative. They do not understand how Christians believe in absolutes. That is because they do no know Jesus. He is our absolute, our constant in goodness, truth and morals. Though he was tempted in the same ways we are, he remained sinless (Hebrews 4:15). This makes him the only one who, morally speaking moves at the speed of light (without the weight of sin). Our goal is to “walk in the light as he is in the light” 1 John 1:7.

The Lord is a Warrior

Ex. 15-3

We live in a time of the church being under constant attack. The religious war with Muslims seems to gain new footing every week. More Christians are being persecutioned than any time in history. The political upheaval, in our own country and abroad has us reeling — everything seems to be turning upside down. So many proponents of relativism, “alternative lifestyles”, athiesm, agnosticism and freedom from religion are pointing thier fingers at the church and saying we are the problem. We are loosing our young people at an astounding rate — more churches are closing than ever before — most of us can’t believe all of this is happening in our own time.

Add this to the “normal” strife in the church caused by gossip, backbiting, prideful leadership, unrepentant sin, and lack of respect for the scriptures — it seems the enemy is mostly winning and many are despairing.

But — remember, “The Lord is a warrior,  Yahweh, is his name.” Exodus 15:3 reminds us of of the plagues in Egypt and the Red Sea crashing down on the Egyption army. He has all power in his control, including myriads of angels, a single one of which killed 185,000 men in a single day in 2 Kings 19.

Do not fear! Jehovah will fight for us! Call on his name, seek his face, meditate on his eternal nature, read and remember the many, many examples in scripture of his overcoming overwhelming odds for his people and you will see — it is far from hopeless — not only do we need not despair, we can shout Hallelujah!

On No! What do I do, part 2

  1. Don't panicSit down daily to read the Bible, ask God to lead you to just the right passage for this moment. Sometimes, I have had the Bible fall open to that right passage. Other times I just start looking at the Psalms and find it. Most often, however, the Lord brings to mind just what I need from past reading or study.

 

As you read the passage, ask what it reveals about God’s nature and character.

 

Reflect on God, ask him to show you more of this.

 

Meditate on it. (Psalms 119:15) But, you may ask, how do you meditate

 

  1. Put away the cell phone, the laptop, anything that might distract you. They used to call meditation — musing and a muse was someone wise. Now these have been almost completely replaced with the opposite — amusement.
  2. Spend a significant time just reflecting, listening to what God may be telling you.
  3. If possible, engage your mind’s eye — your imagination
  4. Find pictures, songs, messages to further encourage this thinking. Put these reminders in your day.

 

Ask God if there is any action you need to take to demonstrate what you have learned — to take on his nature yourself. If so, act as soon as possible.  And follow up — see if you’ve been faithful to do God’s will for you in this.

 

Ask God if there is any action you need to take to demonstrate what you have learned — to take on his nature yourself. If so, act as soon as possible.  And follow up — see if you’ve been faithful to do God’s will for you in this.

Oh, No! What do I do?

home alone

 

Last time, we looked at the problem of responding to our concerns with anxiety and how this response does not reflect faith or lead to mental health. So what is the correct response?

 

  1. Realize Christians are not exempt from genuine concerns. Wars or rumors of war, other political concerns, worries over our children, concern for aging parents, health issues, work troubles and money troubles happen to us as well as unbelievers.
  2. Pray — this should always be our default setting, as Christians. Pray for all those involved in our concerns, even our enemies. (Matt. 5:44)

 

  1. Share your concerns with fellow Christians. We recently sang the old hymn, Tell It to Jesus in early morning prayers. The song recommends always going to Jesus with our troubles — which is good. But it also recommends we tell it to Jesus alone. But as Christians, we are also to follow Galatians 6:2. “Bear one another’s burdens and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” We may think we are sparing someone our trouble, if we keep it to ourselves. But actually, we are robbing them of a privilege and an opportunity to show Christ’s love to us. Another thing our silence robs us of — wise counsel. Proverb seek Wise counsel.

 

  1. Pray for strength, courage, and faithfulness through whatever you are going through. (Joshua 1:9; Rev. 2:10) Voice of the Martyrs says this is usually the top prayer request from those facing serious persecution.

 

5. Continually pray for direction on how to handle every situation. This is a discipline that most of us need to learn — to insert quick prayers through out the day or night whenever our thought turn to a concern.

Dreaming about eternal life

New Heaven and Earth mergeIn a recent post, I dealt with resurrection and the powerful prayer in Ephesians 1. The passage makes clear the power of the resurrection working in us brings assurance of our hope in eternal life. But eternal life may not be what you think it will be.

Some people think that going to heaven is mostly about going to a place — seeing the streets of gold and pearly gates. But Jesus says in his wonderful prayer for his followers in John 17:1-3 “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Eternal life is not mostly about going to a place. It is about knowing the Father and the Son — being in greater relationship with them. All the things that distract us from this now will be over.  All the limitations we have now in truly experiencing their glory and understanding them will fade away.

What do you think this will look like in heaven? I hope we can have a conversation about this.