Having Compassion On Oneself

Shared at Fri. Gathering, Mar. 2, 2018.

I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have know the distress of my soul, and you have no delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place. -Psalms 31:7-8

Junior year has been the most difficult one yet--mental health is not commonly or openly talked about in the church, especially in the Korean church. I have been wrestling with depression this school year--I experienced glimpses of it since freshman year but didn’t think to seek professional help for it. I woke up every morning feeling no purpose in my school work as well as my value as a person. Every day seemed to blend with the previous and next, a constant cycle that never seemed to end.

Along with learning about my depression, I also realized that I do not practice compassion for myself, or really, for others. I felt weak because of my mental health, and felt that it was something that I just had to suck up and get over. I was unkind and impatient with myself; like an empty cup trying to fill up another empty cup, I realized how little I was doing for myself and how little I was able to provide for those around me. I cannot imagine how much more God suffered, seeing the way that I treated and viewed myself. Now, I am learning to lean on community and accept that this is who I am and what I struggle with, that this is not something I brought upon myself, and that God is patiently walking through this with me.

Compassion means “to recognize the suffering of others, then take action help.” I concluded that the overarching theme of my junior year revolves around compassion. Self-compassion does not mean softening up my sins to make myself feel better, rather, it is to realize God’s compassion for me and those around me in Jesus Christ' death and resurrection. It is to accept the fact that God’s grace comes down and meets me at my lowest points, when I am in hiding. Compassion is not boastful or selfish; it is healing and vulnerable. I realized that I needed to acknowledge how sinful and broken I am in order to fully accept God’s grace and love for me--I am still in the process of doing so now. “God loves me” is not something that will make me feel better but it is the truth and no matter how I feel at any given moment, this truth will live and exist for eternity.

THIS is the grace of God. This is compassion. His love reminds me that I do not need to be perfect and that nothing that I do will ever earn or deserve what He has given me. Like a mother’s first time holding her newborn baby, I imagine God doing the same for each one of us, so full of love and light regardless of how sinful and broken we may be.

Moving forward, I hope that RUF can continue to grow together in faith, practicing compassion, especially in the midst of hectic school schedules and difficult seasons. I see RUF growing in so many ways now, and I am so blessed to witness God moving so vastly Providence. I hope that His light can be known and reach the darkest corners of each campus, His compassion bringing joy to those who are mourning and struggling to find value and love in themselves. His love is so pure and just, absolutely perfect--much more than we deserve.

Waiting Patiently For God

Michelle Lu (RISD Graphic Design '19); Shared at Fri Gathering, Mar. 2, 2018.

For this week’s devotion, I want to focus on subject of patience. Lately, there have been a lot of things that have tested me in my patience and made me feel very vulnerable. I’ve been seeking comfort in the Bible, refuge in prayer, and hope in change. And, it’s helped me look forward.

We should seek patience in prayer. While talking to God, we can give time to ourselves to evaluate and reflect on the things that we’re doing. It can be long-term, short-term, or even things that we’ve done in the past 24 hours. Individual prayer in a quiet setting has helped me smooth out some worries of things to come while group prayer reinforced that I had a community to help as well.

On prayer, I remember my pastor explaining that God does answer all prayers if we seek for answers. Of course, there’s the straightforward, “Yes,” and then there’s, “No.” But I believe there’s also a third option: “Wait.” It’s an open response—a little like a maybe—that will eventually result in either “Yes” or “No”. It’s a call for patience to dwell on our problems and seek Him to lead us to the right answer. It can span from days to weeks to years. It can be something you’re searching for your whole life. Or something, in retrospect, you realized solved itself.

As some of you may know, I’ve lived abroad before coming back to the States. For a while, I lived in Shanghai for middle school after my Dad transferred. When I was living in Shanghai, I prayed constantly, if not unconsciously, to move me away from that place. While, on the one hand, I was totally a fish out of water because I wasn’t used to international student life, I also didn’t feel like I fit in there. Although it was a Christian international school, I couldn’t have felt more alienated. Granted, middle-schoolers are quite vicious, but at certain points, it felt like it was my entire homeroom against me. God called me to wait patiently.

For sure, it was a trying time, but I managed to get through it. [I learned to wait patiently on God through times of difficult and suffering.] Now that I’m back in the States for college, I can look back and appreciate the opportunity God created for me to grow in the way that I did and to have that intercultural experience. Fundamentally I would not be who I am, if not for that experience. The period of time helped me solidify my faith in God and trust in Him through adversity.

Eventually, I found myself in Singapore, a chance to start over and rebuild, and living in Singapore revealed to me that God had a plan for me that I couldn’t yet see. You know Prince of Egypt? It’s most known for its song, “When You Believe.” But, there’s another song in there called “Through Heaven’s Eyes.” Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, explained how we are like a single thread, and could not see the beauty of a tapestry’s design unless we viewed it from Heaven’s/God’s eyes. He is a Father in heaven who loves us so much and who also knows how we fit in best.

Patience for change does come at the expense of the limited amount of time we have on Earth. But while we exchange time for an answer, we gain eternal life with Him, even after we pass away. I know we can be sure that when we look back, it’ll all make sense. Psalm 40:1 says “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.” This was written by David, a lifelong follower of Christ. Even the privileged ruler of Israel had his rough moments, but he pursued God till the end of his days.

On a final note, I want to end with Romans 8:22-25 on having hope and patience in the midst of suffering.

22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

These verses talk about the assurance we have in God’s love through Jesus’ sacrifice, and that the Holy Spirit will help us in weakness. Thanks be to God!

 

Finding Quiet In the Constant Noise Of Life

Abbey slater (uri '18); shared at fri gathering, Jan. 26, 2018.

What I have to share with you tonight is a reflection about being quiet before God. No Little People by Francis Schaeffer is a book that I started over break, and it really emphasizes the need for quiet. I’m finding that I really want this, but in a world of wanderers in which we are pilgrims far from home, we are faced with a constant noise. There is always someone talking, a car horn blaring, a baby crying, a keyboard clacking, music, timers, alarms…a clamor in every corner. Quiet is harder and harder to come by. How are we to commune with God in the midst of all this noise? Why are we so busy? Why do we hate to be still?

Schaeffer suggests that our busy-ness is merely an escapism. As we try to avoid confronting ourselves we will do almost anything to keep our minds full. He says, “there is a place for proper entertainment but we are not to be caught up in ceaseless motion which prevents us from ever being quiet. Rather we are to put everything second so we can be alive to the voice of God and allow him to speak to us and confront us.” (61).

Why is this such a hard word? Why do I squirm when I think of a God that confronts me? When I think of confronting myself, what am I afraid of? I think, as I tried to deal with this question honestly, I see that I am afraid of the self-condemnation that lurks in my heart. As I fail again and again, I despair of being all I expect I should be. My pride is in tatters when I truly face my sin and I’m left desperate. If this is the real me, the me that not everyone sees, do I really want God to see this? Why would he want to be near me?

Is this how Jesus responded to the fleshliness of the people that followed him? To the woman who was caught in adultery in John 8, scorned by her community, an outcast, Jesus simply said, “neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” Jesus never once wagged his finger or clicked his tongue; he never employed the “d” word, heaping on the shame, telling his disciples how “disappointed” he was with them. No, instead, when Peter denied him no less than 3 times, Jesus loved him and Jesus restored him. In John 21, Jesus gives him the chance to testify of his love 3 times, a parallel to his denials and eventually Peter cries out, “yes Lord you know that I love you.” We can’t help but hear the prayer of the centurion as Peter makes this confession, “Lord I believe help my unbelief.” This is Peter: he has shown himself to be faithless in Jesus’ darkest hour, but Jesus does not shame him or ridicule him, he does not mock his weak faith, rather he embraces him as a brother and a friend.              

Francis Schaeffer goes on to say, “The realism of the Bible is that God does not excuse sin, but neither is He finished with us when He finds sin in us.”

What do I think I will find if I really cast my cares on Jesus? If I am fully honest before God? Will I be rejected? Let down? Will I be told I am a failure and shown the door? The God who made me has called me his friend and he demonstrates his love in the most tangible way possible – by giving his beloved son. As I grapple with the invitation to be still before God, I must therefore realize: there is only one reason why I CAN be still in the presence of an almighty God, only one reason why I don’t have to tremble with dread or hold my head in shame. Because a restitution has been made. The Lamb was led to the slaughter, so that I would no longer wear my shame. I’m wearing His righteousness. Jesus was quiet before his accusers; he said nothing in his own defense because there was nothing he could say in mine.

And so when I come to my Father, I can sit at his feet, crawl in his lap and be soothed by his voice. I can face my weakness and failure that runs far deeper than I ever dared imagine, knowing that Christ bore the cross and the rejection so I never will. Jesus gave me his birthright in exchange for mine. I can be quiet. I can be still. And I can commune with my Creator, knowing I already belong to him, I have been bought by him, fully and finally. And I’ll end with just one more Schaeffer quote: “We are not to be people of escape, The Christian is to be the realist. To face reality as born again and indwelt by the Holy Spirit is the Christian’s calling” (62).

Everyone Has Something To Contribute!

Kion You (Brown '20); shared at fri gathering, Nov. 10, 2017.

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. 1 Corinthians 14:26

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! Psalms 133:1

This year i’ve been going through the Corinthians and Psalms, and these two verses I think have stuck with me as an overarching theme for this season. These two verses have been critical in shaping how I started viewing christian fellowship at Brown this year. 

It might be selfish, but unity and community have been things I have been craving this school year so much. My freshman year was undeniably tough—tough to adjust to college, but more importantly, tough to adjust spiritually. I went to church and RUF, but I had little connection with God outside of that. The summer was even worse—I was interning, then working as a camp counselor, then traveling, and I went to church but had no community to hold me in, no friends to pray for me and with me. To be honest, working alone in a big city as a transient was probably the lowest few months of my life. Trust is a big thing for me and hard for me to do, and as this year has progressed, I have begun to trust people in this fellowship so much more, and as a result, have felt more and more unity and grace each day. I’m so thankful that I began to do that.

I strongly, strongly believe that everyone in this room has something to contribute. This isn’t asking for any big demands, all its saying is a “hymn” or a “word of instruction.”  And the Bible is straightforward in saying that this isn’t an option, but that “everything must be done” for the church to be strong in Christ. And this isn’t just something we’re doing for the sake of doing works and appearing Christian. The psalmist says “how good and pleasant it is” when we perform these acts together.

I want to encourage everyone, and myself of course, to be proactive in sharing the grace of God. Text your friends bible verses, or ask them for prayer requests. The strength and encouragement from Christian friends is at times the only thing carrying me through. People don’t really have any gusto or energy left by this time of the year, but God’s love and power is overflowing for us. Draw from that, and make Jesus a little bit more apparent each day in your social circles. Freshman, reach out to other freshman, but also reach out to upperclassmen, we need your help too. If you’re doing well, check up on other people. I’m so thankful for the people who have encouraged me in Christ this year, and I want to continue to encourage y’all to help me and help everyone else.

Spring Break Mission Trip: The Dominican Republic

carmen hung, brown '15 (community health, pre-dental); shared fri. gathering, apr. 4, 2015------------

For those who may not know, last week during the Spring Break, I was in the Dominican Republic on a mission trip with Alana and Dany. This was my third time going on one (I went to Chicago last year and Guatemala the year before), and although I hadn’t really set any expectations for what I hoped to do or see during those trips, I feel like this time I found myself to be even more conscious of trying to be observant and open. And during my week in the DR, I do feel that God spoke to me in many ways—through the quiet times we had every morning; through conversations with my site leader and people from other teams; and through serving and observing in the ministry sites.

During one of our debriefing meetings, we were asked to share about how we saw God working in the ministry sites we were working at. And this was something that did not really require much thought for me. Throughout the week, I had seen God working at my site through my site leader, Vanesa, who was one of the dentists in the community. Everything in her work was grounded in her faith and in the Word of God, and I think it was especially encouraging because seeing how someone can be a reflection of Christ in their work being demonstrated to me, is much more real than when we just talk about it. For example, on the first day at the dental clinic, I was really overwhelmed because she put us straight to work setting up the dental chairs, sterilizing the instruments, setting up the trays, and then preparing the patients to be seen by her. Once we were done with that, we had to be ready to assist her with the tools and materials as she operated on her patients. For me, it was especially nerve-wracking because I don’t have any formal training and she expected us to know what all these things were and also to follow the correct procedures for each treatment. However, as she taught us, she reminded us of the passage in Matthew that talks about the importance of doing to others as we would have them do to us, to put in all our effort into doing the best work that we could, as if the preparations were for ourselves. I didn’t expect the work to be so physical, tiring, and busy—we were standing for hours on end and kept working as patient after patient was being seen. At first, a part of me wished that I had more personal interactions with the patients, but my Spanish is not that great, and during a dental visit, it’s not like they are there to talk. However, through Vanesa’s encouragement and also seeing her work, I was reminded me that everything we do should be meant for God’s glory, whether it is considered “spiritual” or not, and meeting people’s physical needs is also a very important thing that we are called to do. Sometimes when we cannot see how God is working or forget that God is always working, we need to just be faithful in what we are doing. We never know the impact our actions can have nor do we know how he will end up touching people’s lives.

During our second to last day at the clinic, God allowed me to see that with one of the patients. There was a 10-year old girl named Stacy who came in and as she sat in the dental chair waiting for Vanesa, she held a report card in her hand. As we helped her at the chair side, Vanesa told us her story. Stacy was growing up in a broken home. Her father was currently with another woman and she and her siblings and had just recently been sent to live with another family. Before that, she would often be found standing outside of her house past midnight while her parents were fighting. When her teeth were being examined, I could see that a lot of her teeth were decayed and that a lot of her permanent teeth had already been extracted. She wasn’t able to pay for her treatments, so Vanesa had actually made a deal with her. As long as she brought good grades at each dental visit, Vanesa would continue to work on her teeth. Vanesa took this as an opportunity to allow her work to be used to build a long-term relationship and to share the Gospel and the love of Christ with one of her patients. And as she was working she also made sure to let us know that although she is very capable of working on her own, she still considers our help very important because it is an opportunity for us to partner together in God’s mission. We are all part of and working as one body of Christ. Although our contributions may not seem grand for that one week we are at her clinic, God uses them collectively for his plan. Even when we go home, we will still be with them as part of the mission as we pray for her, the other workers, and the people, such as Stacy, who visit the clinic. She also reminded us that we aren’t necessarily called to drop our studies and everything else we are doing to be missionaries in a foreign country. In Proverbs 3:5-6 it says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.” We are to remain faithful in the things God has placed in our life because we never know how they may be used for God’s greater purpose. For Vanesa, there was a time when she considered not studying dentistry anymore, but now she is able to see why God has led her to where she is now.

For this mission trip, we partnered with an organization called Students International, whose mission is “Bringing students and the poor together cross-culturally to encounter God, share the Good News, disciple and serve others in occupational ministries.” Not only did I see this shine through, but God also allowed for my time in the DR to be one for teaching and reminding me of many things that I lose sight of so often and so easily. The experiences I had in the DR are a small piece of my life that God has placed with me, a small glimpse of how God is working in all places within the bigger picture he is continually painting.

This sharing is necessary for me, as much as I hope it is helpful for you, to hear. Just coming back from the trip, I already find myself being so easily roped back into the “busyness” of college life and the tendency to place my focus on myself and on achieving my goals. I am reminded of my own need for Christ’s mercy and grace every day of my life. I shouldn’t be living my life out for my own purposes, seeking approval or blessings from other people, but I should be sharing with other people what God has given me. I need to remember my life is a gift from God, be mindful of what motivates me in my work, and think about how whether my actions are honoring God.

Why do I need to be in a fellowship? Isn't prayer and personal faith enough?

lucy duan, brown '16 (chem. engineering); shared fri. gathering, Mar. 20, 2015------------

Although personal faith and prayer is “enough,” and yes, of course God is enough and all you need, being in a fellowship or community of Christ is beneficial to our faith. Fellowship comes from the Greek word, koinonia, which means “communion, joint participation, the share which one has in anything, participation, a gift jointly contributed, a collection” (according to Wikipedia). In a fellowship, we are in interdependent relationships with one another; we share and grow in our faith in Jesus Christ. Other Christians help us grow, become stronger, and point us in the right direction when we stumble. It’s a mutual relationship!

The world and people in it are sinful, and it is often easier to be led astray rather than to be a good influence. Of course we should also be friends with non-Christians, but when it comes to certain advice, Christian brothers and sisters and pastors are wonderful sources of knowledge and wisdom.  Our Christian brothers and sisters can encourage us when our faith is wavering, point out our mistakes lovingly, and give a different perspective in hard times.

As Christians, we should be so filled with love and grace from God that we want to share that love with others. Being in a fellowship is one way to show our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Especially with brothers and sisters that we don’t necessarily get along, or don’t “click” as well, we are called to show our love to one another. Being in a fellowship is an opportunity to learn how to love one another, to show patience and kindness even when it is difficult.

Each of us has many gifts given to us from God that are meant to be used to serve Him. Being and participating in a fellowship also helps facilitate that. A fellowship also provides opportunities for us to serve, whether it is in administration, design, worship, bible study discussions, etc.

RUF for me has been a place of loving brothers and sisters who send me encouraging bible verses and articles filled with wisdom randomly when I seem to need them the most and when I have the least faith in God. Brothers and sisters who take care of me when I’m sick or burning out from the stress of life by cooking for me, visiting me, listening to my insecurities. Brothers and sisters who encourage me with their faith and passion for God. Brothers and sisters who encourage me to step out of my comfort zone, have difficult conversations, and love those who I find difficult to love. I am very thankful to be a part of this fellowship and I feel that I have definitely grown closer to people here and as well as to God. Of course no fellowship is perfect, but I think that RUF strives to create a loving and Godly community.

A fellowship mimics the body of Christ; even Jesus had a community of disciples with Him during his time on earth. This is beyond an inner acknowledgement of the relationship, but also leads to action: sharing, participating, serving. Although a fellowship is unlike any other student groups on campus because we have a common goal of doing God’s will. Without that goal, we are just a group of students from various schools who gather, sing songs, and listen to a message. Whether you an introvert, or extravert, or anything in between, we all have a place in aiming toward doing God’s will. We are all members of Christ’s body! J In Thessalonians 5:11 it says: Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

What's the point of Leviticus?

Ashley wu, brown '16 (neuroscience); shared fri. gathering, feb. 6, 2015------------

Hi everyone, I’m Ashley. Most of you probably know me. I’m a junior studying neuroscience at Brown. We’re going to start gathering now with the Weekly Question. This is something new we’re starting this year—every week, you can submit whatever faith-related question you want to an online form. You can find the form in the weekly newsletter or on our Faceobok group. Each week at gathering, one of the leaders will pick one of the questions and come up with an answer.

You can submit whatever question you want, but keep in mind that a student is going to answer—not a theologian, not a pastor. So if it’s a controversial or otherwise difficult topic, we might not be able to talk about it. But feel free to ask personal questions. For example, what’s your favorite parable? Or what was your home church like, if you had one? How were you baptized?

The question I’m talking about this week is, “What is the point of Leviticus?”

I’m just a student, so my answer won’t be a waterproof argument. But this is just my take on it, and I hope it’ll be interesting to you.

First of all, why even ask this question? If you have ever read Leviticus, you might know—it is a 27 chapter-long set of instructions about sacrifices, ceremonial cleanness, feasts and holy days, and other aspects of religious life. It can be very, very difficult to read. And what’s the point? We don’t make these sacrifices or follow these rites anymore. They’re an Old Testament thing.

Indeed, they are an Old Testament thing. When Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected, he wiped out the need for these rituals. All of the goats, bulls, and other sacrifices were to help the Israelites attain holiness, as God’s holy people. Sacrifices had to be made for all sorts of things: eating the wrong animal, celebrating different feasts, even giving birth. Sometimes I imagine if I had to do all this now, and I know that it would be too much. I could never remember to do all that God required of the Israelites, even if I had goats and bulls to begin with.

Just because Jesus came doesn’t mean that the need for these sacrifices has evaporated. Rather, Jesus is the sacrifice: the countless animals, the grain, the oil, the cedarwood. He makes his followers holy forever.

For me, reading Leviticus feels very tedious. But that small experience of tedium that I have when I read this book is tiny compared to what it must have felt like to live under the law of Leviticus. So for me, Leviticus is there to remind me what price Jesus has paid for me and to remind me of how good and precious the freedom I have now is.

Describe a recent conversation you had with a non-Christian about your faith.

Matt Tso, RISD '15 (Furniture Design); shared fri. gathering, Jan. 30, 2015------------

During planning retreat [last Jan. 2015], the leaders thought it would enrich the RUF gathering experience if we as leaders talked more during the gathering to augment Eddie’s teaching.

So, we were thinking of setting up a collection form online for questions that you would like to ask RUF leaders. We would then curate and prepare short answers for the beginning of each gathering.

So, I’ll start off this new thing with an answer to the question: when was the last time you talked to a non-Christian about your own faith?

Well, only a minority of the people I talk to about Christianity seem to declare their faith in Christ during the time that I am with them. So it’s not always a neat and happy ending.

But to answer the question:

The last time I had a conversation with a non-Christian about my faith was last fall. We had an exchange student from Germany stay at our house for the semester. She was a grad student in Architecture.

Growing up, she often moved from place to place; which I think contributed to an open and curious mind.

From the beginning, she seemed interested in experiencing a mix of culture, and would leave pieces of German words around our house. She also showed an interest in religions and mentioned once or twice a desire to observe a church service. In fact, she came to RUF once, I was able to lure her with the promise of food.

Our conversation about Christianity happened one late evening a couple weeks before finals. It started off with how we were both doing in the weeks leading up to finals and eventually led to my Christian faith.

I didn’t really keep a physical record of our conversation, so I only have my own recollection of the experience.

I don’t remember what started the topic, but I remember explaining the gospel to her in steps:
That God made us in the beginning as perfect in His eyes.

Man’s fall into sin and need for salvation.

Jesus’s death on the cross and resurrection.

And how it was by God’s grace that we are saved through Jesus’ sacrifice.

It was when I tried to give a more practical application of what it means to be a Christian where I feel like I went wrong. I don’t remember the example that I gave, but I do remember the conclusion that she drew. She said: “So it’s a glorified way of ‘not leaving people behind’.”

It may have been the point of my story or it may have been the interpretation of my story. Either way, I took it that her conclusion was the extent of my story’s effectiveness. I was at a loss as to what to say in response.

I can only trust that Jesus will continue to work in her life.