Texas Mission

Last week we were down in Texas. I did not attend a medical conference. It was not for a vacation or leisure trip either. I was there for some very serious work.

My family and I volunteered to join Your Best Pathway To Health (YBPTH), a non-profit organization that provides a free mobile mega clinic. There were medical, surgical, optical, and dental services offered, all free of charge to patients. There were also mental health, physical therapy, massage therapy, haircuts, financial planning, and lifestyle counseling among other services provided in that event. (See their Facebook page here.)

It was our first time to join this organization’s humanitarian mission, though they have already served in many other cities in the past, like Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Antonio, and Phoenix. This year it was held in Fort Worth, Texas. The free services were offered to people who could not afford medical care or had no medical insurance.

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photo credit: CBS news

In this event, people started lining up outside the building even the night before the clinic opened. I felt bad for the people who lined up for many hours, only to be told that they have to come back the next day as we were already full for the day.

Though if one clinic was full, for example the dental clinic, which appeared to be the service that most people lined up for, then we suggested to them that they go to the medical or vision clinic instead. Yet, there were still some, that sadly to say, we had to turn away completely, for we just could not accommodate them all. The mere number of people who lined up and were willing to wait several hours in line substantiates that there is a great need for these kind of services.

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photo source: YBPTH Facebook

The event was held at the Will Rogers Auditorium in downtown Fort Worth, which was converted into a mini-hospital, complete with operating suites. Minor surgeries and even cataract surgeries were performed here too.

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photo source: YBPTH Facebook

There were dentists, optometrists, ophthalmologists, internists, family practitioners, pediatricians, OB-GYNs, an ENT, orthopedists, podiatrists, a cardiologist, and a GI doctor present. I was the lone pulmonogist in the team. Below is a photo of my own cubicle.

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Since consultation to the Pulmonary Department was not that overwhelming, I assisted also in the Primary Care Clinic, as they were swamped with many patients there. Afterall, I am an Internist still. I probably have done more breast exams (for patients with breast lump complaints) and rectal exams (for patients with rectal bleeding complaints) in that 3 days alone than what I have done in the past 10 years of my practice now as a lung specialist. I declined to do PAP smears though and referred those patients to Women’s Health, as I have not performed that since I was in residency 20 years ago.

At the end of the event, in my estimation, I was able to see 100 to 120 patients. It was tiring to say the least, yet it was fulfilling.

We knew that there would be no monetary payment when we joined this mission. The only thing we got for free was lunch, which by the way was also provided to all the hundreds of patients seen. We even had to pay for our own airfare and hotel, and use our own vacation time to join this event. But the smile, or the simple “thank you” from the patients, and the satisfaction that we helped somebody was enough for our reward.

Yet to say that I did not receive any payment at all would not be true. There was one patient who gave me a large bar of chocolate as a present, and another one gave me a freshly home-baked loaf of bread. Those simple gifts were more valuable than my professional fee.

My wife was assigned in the Vision Department, assisting in the Optical services, and they were even busier than the medical department. My son, who is 15 years old, was in the Patient Assistance and Transport Department, and he probably was the busiest among us three, as he was walking and accompanying patients into the different clinics the entire duration of the event.

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photo source: YBPTH Facebook

The clinic ran for two and a half days, and at the conclusion of the event, the final report was that we had seen a total of 6,805 patients. That was an impressive number of people served.

Many local news media covered this event, so we were instructed on how to answer questions in case we were interviewed. As you know, health care is a hot political issue in this country, and an overzealous reporter might drag us into answering a touchy subject.

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A doctor being interviewed. (Photo source: YBPTH Facebook)

We were directed that we should avoid any political statements, and that when we were asked why we had volunteered and why we were giving all these medical services for free, our answer should be: Because we wanted to be the hands and feet of our Lord Jesus. Nothing else.

In truth, that was really the very reason we volunteered. To God be the glory!

Of Pigs and Demons

(The following is a discourse I gave in a local congregation.) 

On June 8, 2015, a major highway in Ohio was shut down for 8 long hours. The reason? There were several hundred pigs running wildly on the road. According to the news, a trailer truck carrying 2200 piglets crashed and tipped over. Even though a couple hundred pigs died in the accident, the majority survived, but were set loose. People in the neighborhood took several hours corralling the piglets. About 1500 piglets were recaptured, but a few hundred were not, as they had escaped into the nearby forest. I’m not sure if there are still sightings of pigs running freely in that part of Ohio even today.

Our Bible story today is also about 2000 pigs running wildly. Let’s read Mark 5:1-20.

Crossing To The Other Side

The story opens when Jesus was getting off the boat, but I would like to go several verses back to what leads to this story, Mark 4:35-36.

After a long and tiring day of teaching, Jesus told his disciples, “Let’s go to the other side.” They were on the sea of Galilee, and Jesus told his disciples to cross to the other side.

This other side is not just the other side of the lake, but for the Jews during that day, it was really known as the “other side,” referring to a Gentile territory, a place to avoid. The whole region was known as Decapolis as it was composed of 10 cities. But in Jewish tradition it was also referred to as the “land of the seven,” pertaining to the 7 pagan nations that were driven out of the land of Canaan during Joshua’s conquest.

But why go to the other side? Because Jesus wanted to minister there too. Because the other side needed a Savior too.

What is the other side for us today? The other side of the world? It does not need to be, for it could be the other side of the fence. Or the other side of the street. Or the other side of a room. Hostile or not, someone on that other side needs to hear the message too.

The Sea of Galilee is not really a sea. It is a lake. It measures 64 square miles, nearly the size of Washington D.C. The lake is 700 feet below sea level with semi-tropical weather around its coasts. The lake is bounded by high mountains with snowy peaks especially on the east side. So the rising warm air from the lake can collide with the rushing cold air from the surrounding mountains, causing large temperature and pressure changes and giving rise to sudden violent storms.

Jesus and his disciples encountered such a strong storm as they were crossing it, that the disciples, most of whom were experienced fisherman who knew the lake like the back of their hand, were terrified that they would not see land again. They feared that they would perish. They cried to Jesus for help.

Jesus commanded, “Peace be still.” And all was quiet again.

Some of us may be going through some storms of life right now. Just remember, the Prince of Peace is on our boat. There’s nothing to be afraid of.

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A hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee

My Name is Legion

As Jesus and his disciples reached the other side, they got out of the water and were immediately met with another stormy situation.

In Mark 5:3-5 it is described how terrifying yet pitiful the condition of this man. He was alive yet he lived among the dead – in the graves and tombs. People tried to bind his hands and feet but he was so wild and strong that he broke the chains. He would shout and the people would hear his blood curling cries every day and every night. He cut himself with stones. He was naked, only covered with dirt, mud, and blood. What a terrible condition!

Jesus was still far off when this demon-possessed man came running to him. The disciples might have run in the other direction, but Jesus was ready to meet this man. The man fell on his knees in front of Jesus.

Did this man come to Jesus on his own volition despite under the power of the demons?Perhaps this man knew despite his cloudy mind that Jesus was his only hope. Maybe he knew that the only one that could free him from the slavery of the devil and has come to deliver him.

Then the demon within the man spoke to Jesus, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!”

Even the demons knew who Jesus was. But whether they acknowledged or were subservient to that authority, is another story.

In the background of this, there is an ancient superstition that you can have spiritual power over another if you knew or said their exact name. This is why the unclean spirits addressed Jesus with His full title: Jesus, Son of the Most High God, not as a confession of Jesus’ authority, but a desperate attempt to gain control over him.

Jesus asked, “What is your name?” Now Jesus was not playing to that ancient superstition. In reality, Jesus knew each demon, their name and their rank. So when the demons answered “My name is Legion,” they were not giving their exact name. Yet Jesus still had power over them.

Legion is a Roman military unit that is about 6000 men. Whether this man has really 6000 demons, is not clear. What we know is that they were many. And so when the demons answered, “My name is Legion,” they were saying we are many and outnumber you. Were they trying to intimidate Jesus?

This is what I know, with Jesus on our side, we are never outnumbered. Even if its you against the world, with Jesus on your side, you always have the advantage.

Because Jesus was more powerful than the demons, He commanded them, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!” Then the man was free.

Dark Encounter

It was a Friday night. We were attending a prayer meeting in our church in the Philippines and I was about 12 years old at that time. My father was out-of-town for a conference, so it was just my mother and us kids that went to church that night.

My mother had a part in the service. She gave the opening prayer, so she was sitting in front. The speaker was a lay person and was just starting his sermon when suddenly, a young lady a few pews in front of where I was sitting, started screaming in a voice that sounded non-human. She stood up and ran wildly to the pulpit and tried to attack the speaker.

The church members realized what was happening and sprang into action. Strong men in our church tried to hold down the lady who was acting strangely. It took at least 7 or more of them to control her. It was clear her strength was more than human.

But you know what? When she attacked the speaker who was a small man, the speaker, with one swiping motion, sent the lady sprawling to the floor. I want to believe that power was not coming from a human too.

They took her to a room at the back of the pulpit, the Pastor’s room, and there several members of our church tried to drive the devil out of her. You need faith to be inside that room. I was not one of them, for I may have been too young then, but more so, I was too afraid.

Even though I was not in that room, I heard what happened inside that room as it was relayed to us by those who were inside. They said that the demon-possessed woman was looking fiercely at everyone inside the room, and that was the most intimidating situation they had ever been in. But I want to believe that when the woman looked around her, it was her who was intimidated, as what she saw was not the frightened brethren, but the angels of God surrounding the brethren.

She also uttered that it was too bright in that room, and that she hated the “blinding” light. I would like to believe that it was not the 100W bulb that she was pertaining to, but it was the truth that our church had that she hated, for the devil is the prince of darkness. I am sure as well, that the blinding light was not coming from the light bulb, but from the presence of the Most High.

After some time of intense prayer, the devil left. Interestingly, when the demon left the woman, the door banged three times. Were there 3 demons in her? We don’t know. What we know was it left her.

After that event, there was a spiritual awakening in our church. The members became more active. For one we realized that since the devil was attacking the church, we must have the truth, and that angers him. The other thing was we realized that with God’s power, we can defeat the devil.

Deviled Pigs

Back to Jesus’ story, the demons requested that they would not be sent outside of the city but to the pigs instead (verse 12).

Nearby was a herd of 2000 pigs. As I’ve said, this was Gentile territory, that’s why they had pigs, as Jews would not raise pigs, for they were unclean. This story is full of the ritual of uncleanliness: the place of Decapolis – a pagan territory, the man living in graves, having an unclean spirit, and then the unclean herd of swine. But God can make even the most unclean clean. “Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow,” Isaiah 1:18.

So the legion of demons were sent to the pigs. If there were 6000 demons, they went to 2000 pigs, so there were more demons than pigs. That’s the real “deviled ham.” So the pigs ran to the cliff and made a swine dive into the lake and drowned.

Iowa has the most pigs in all the US, so we could be considered experts. Every pig farmer would tell you that pigs can swim. Pigs may not fly, but they can swim. In fact, they are good swimmers for short distances.

Then why did those pigs drown? I don’t know, but perhaps the lesson for us is that even if we think we’re strong and can swim against the tide of temptation, if we allow the devil to take hold of us, we will drown.

Can you imagine the horror of the pig herders? The horror of the owners of those pigs? Losing 2000 pigs, that’s a lost livelihood!

When the town people came, the man was seen sitting, clothed, calm and on his right mind. The people, when they saw what had happened to the man, were afraid (verse 15). Were they more afraid now that the man was calm and on his right mind than when he was wild and fierce?

Then the saddest thing happened in this story: the people asked Jesus to leave their town (verse 17). Were they more concerned of their lost material possession or their lost livelihood? Or were they afraid of Jesus’ power and what He could do to them and their town, and they don’t want any part of that? What a more pitiful state they were in, than the demon-possessed, for they rejected Christ.

The most tragic state to be in is to believe that we don’t need a Savior.

The 13th Disciple

That term “sitting” is significant (verse 15). In Luke 8:35 it tells the “man is sitting at the feet of Jesus”  – a term usually used to picture somebody taking a posture of a disciple. What the gospel writers are saying is that this man became a disciple of Jesus. Thus I consider him the 13th disciple.

In fact he wanted to come with Jesus (verse 18), but Jesus said no. This is one instance that Jesus said ‘no’ to a request. To some disciples he said, “Come, follow me.” Not to this disciple.

Instead he was sent out and given a commission: “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (verse 19). Besides being the 13th disciple, he was also the 1st missionary that was sent by Jesus.

Is there something that the Lord has done for us? Has He shown us mercy? Should we also tell our family and friends?

I can just imagine the people from this man’s hometown who saw him before like a wild beast and helped chain him down, now seeing him sane but on fire for the Lord. Those who have heard his wild cries in the night, were now hearing his wonderful story of redemption. Those people who were afraid and were running away from him before, were now drawn to this unusual bearer of good news. They must all be wondering, “Was this the same man?” And as the scripture said (verse 20), they were amazed. Amazed of how Jesus transformed this man.

When Jesus came back to this territory of Decapolis perhaps some months later (Mark chapters 7-8), the people were ready to listen. They even brought their sick for him to heal. We read that there was a multitude of people who gathered that after being with Jesus for 3 days, they refused to leave. This was when Jesus fed 4,000 people.

Why had this part of town become more receptive? I would like to believe that some of those people had heard the testimony of this 13th disciple, the man Jesus freed from the Legion, and they wanted that same transforming and saving power too.

When Jesus met this man, he did not see a demoniac. Beyond his frightful appearance Jesus saw a man who needed to be saved. He saw a man who would be his next disciple. He saw a man who would be a missionary for Him.

If Jesus can transform this demon-possessed man, He can transform you and me.

For One Lost Soul

We always heard, “Let’s come to Jesus and live.” But the truth of the matter is, we don’t come to Jesus. Jesus comes to us. He’s always the one initiating to meet us. He’s always the one searching for us.

As in this story, Jesus came all the way across the lake to meet this man. When Jesus made that trip, He foreknew that it would take all night to cross the lake. He foreknew that He’ll even encounter a storm. He also foreknew that the people on the other side of the lake were not ready to receive Him and He would be sent away.

But Jesus made the trip anyway. Why? Because there is one wretched man on that other side that needs salvation. He ministered to no other person on the other side of the lake, except for one man. He made the trip and crossed the lake for just one man.

I believe that if there was only one man who had fallen into sin, and if that was me, Jesus would leave heaven and die on the cross just for me. If it were you, He would do it for you.

That’s the God we serve. He’s searching for you and me. He’s coming to this part of town to meet us. Be ready to meet Him. This is my prayer.

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Waiting by the Sea of Galilee

(*photos taken last year)

Rolling Stone

(The following is an excerpt of a discourse I gave in a local congregation last month.)

We’ll be discussing rock and roll, and rolling stone, but in a way different subject matter the popular world knows today.

Mark 16: 1-3: When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

It was Sunday morning, and the women, the two Marys and Salome, were on their way to Jesus’ tomb. Their hearts were broken, yet they would like to show their devotion to their fallen leader by anointing his dead body with fragrances.

It was the custom of the Jews to anoint the dead. We may ask, was Jesus’ body not given proper burial rights before being buried? Let’s read:

John 19: 38-40: After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury.

One hundred pounds of spices. That’s a lot of spices! Twenty pounds of spices was the usual burial custom in those days. Forty pounds was for the rich. So 100 pounds was really extravagant. I read that it is estimated that the cost of 100 pounds of this mixture of myrrh and aloes would cost about $150,000 in today’s market. Those men, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, gave Jesus a burial fit for a king.

Then why did the women have to go? Do they think that Jesus’ body was not anointed properly that they have to do it again? Who can relate here, that what you have done is not enough? The dishes were not done right. The kitchen was not sparkling enough when you cleaned it.

I am not taking a swipe on the women. For I don’t think these women thought that the anointing of Jesus’ body was not done right or not enough, but rather they only wanted to show honor and respect to their fallen Savior, in their own little way. They wanted to show their love too.

The anointing of perfume was not to do mummification, but to put spice and fragrances to cancel the bad smell of decomposition. One of Jesus’ gifts when He was born was myrrh, a spice to anoint a dead body. Do you see the theme here? Jesus was a baby destined to die.

Back to our story. While the women were on their way, they asked: Who will roll away the stone? This implies that they alone cannot roll away this stone.

Archeologist have found many tombs around Palestine that they believe were first century tombs. Most of the time the opening of the tomb was blocked by a stone. It could be a large mill-like stone, though some experts say that it could also be a square rock that can slide. Though to me when the women said “roll” away, original Greek word apokylio, it must be circular that it can roll like a wheel.

The books of Mathew and Mark said that it was “very large.” If we say it should cover 4 to 5 feet of tomb entrance, then a disc stone would have a diameter of at least 6 feet. That rock could weigh 1.5 to 2 tons. That weight alone even though it can roll like a wheel, would be hard to move.

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me and a large stone in the Holy Land

But there’s another factor that was found by archeological diggings: usually the groove where the stone rolls is in an incline or has a deep ditch where it will drop. Meaning, it may be much easier to close it, but a lot harder to open it, as you have to roll it against an incline or lift it out of a deep rut, and put a wedge to keep it open. In a conservative estimate, you need more than 10 strong men at the least, to roll away the stone.

One more factor, according to Matt 27:66, it was closed with a Roman seal and thus cannot be opened without the permission of the Roman authority. Besides, there were Roman soldiers guarding the tomb. A usual Roman guard unit is 4-16 men, most of the time 4 men stay on guard while the rest sleeps, and they change shifts every few hours, to keep them fresh.

Despite all these factors, these women came to the tomb, and expect that they can somehow open the tomb. Do we have the determination and dedication of these women? Their faith may be imperfect as they did not expect that Jesus will be alive as He told them He will. But they were determined to go. They know that there would be barriers to do their mission, but they still continue.

Sometimes we feel unsure with our plans or mission. Should we carry it out anyway and hope that everything will work out fine? Just like those women did.

So they asked, “Who will roll away the stone?”

But when they came to the site, what did they see? The stone was already rolled away! How? Let’s read:

Matthew 28: 2-4: There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

No need for ten strong men, one angel is enough. No need to put a wedge on the stone, for the angel sat on it. No need to contend with the Roman guards for they became like dead men. Only one angel, can be such a powerful force to contend with, how much more if God would send ten thousand of them!

The women seeing that the stone was rolled away, came in to the tomb, and the angel told them that the Jesus they were looking for was not inside the tomb, for He is alive!

Yes my friends, we serve a risen Savior. Our God is alive! The tomb is empty. That stone blocking the entrance of a tomb was rolled away!

I believe that the rock at the entrance of the tomb was not rolled away so Jesus can come out. What? Before you accuse me of teaching heresy, just hear me out first.

Remember when He appeared to the disciples when they were inside a house with closed-door? Let’s read:

John 20:19: On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Doors were locked, yet suddenly Jesus stood among them. He came through the walls! I believe Jesus when He was resurrected, can verily come out of the tomb even with the stone locked in!

But why was the stone rolled away? It was not that Jesus can come out. It was for the women and His disciples to come in inside the grave, and see that the tomb was empty. The stone was not rolled away for Jesus. It was rolled away for us, so we can believe.

Are we still asking the same question right now? Who will roll away the stone? The stone of our failing health and illnesses. The stone of our broken relationships. The stone of our financial difficulties. The stone of our addiction. The stone of our day-to-day struggles in life. The stone of our unbelief.

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If we are asking the question “Who will roll away the stone?” we are asking the wrong question. The answer is already clear.

The question for us, is: “Are we going to allow God to roll away our stone?” A large two-ton stone is nothing to God. It should be nothing for us as well.

For God have told us in Matthew 17:20, Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.

God equipped us to move mountains. We should not be asking anymore, “Who will roll away the stone.”

(*photos taken in the Holy Land)

 

No Chance Encounter

(The following is an excerpt from a discourse I gave in a local congregation. Thoughts were inspired after standing in a spot pictured below.)

Simon, after an 800-mile long travel, in a dream journey of a lifetime, finally arrived in Jerusalem.

He was warned of the large crowd especially during Passover time. But that day, he saw a different event. Even though the streets were crowded with lots of people they were making way for this unusual procession. There were no wailing sirens or flashing lights to warn people to make way, but there were Roman soldiers shouting with their glistening swords that part the crowd like the Red Sea.

Then Simon saw a man, so bloodied in his face, head, and back, carrying a beam of a cross, being led by the soldiers. Simon realized, he was witnessing a man being led to his death by crucifixion.

Crucifixion was not invented by the Romans, but they perfected it. Crucifixion was a punishment mostly reserved for those sentenced with insurrection or rebellion. Mostly people crucified were people subjugated by the Romans.

The weight of the whole cross was about 300 pounds. But usually the one being crucified carry only the cross beam, which in itself weighs about 100 pounds. They carry this to the place where they will be executed.

But even that weight of the cross beam was too heavy for this man condemned to die, as Simon witnessed. Perhaps he was weakened from all the lashes he received in his back. Perhaps he was already too weak from the blood loss from the wounds in his head and body.

Simon saw that the man carrying the cross fell under the weight and cannot stand anymore. Next thing Simon knew was that he was being ordered to carry that man’s cross.

But why was Simon chosen? Was it really random or by chance that he was picked? Romans will not let a Roman citizen carry the cross. They only let Jews or a foreigner do it. And Simon looked like a foreigner. He stood out of the crowd. He definitely looked like a stranger in Jerusalem. Was it the way he dressed? Or was it something more obvious?

Simon was most probably dark-skinned. In a more blunt way of saying, he was black.

First of all he was from Cyrene, a country in North Africa. We know that these people were descendants of Ham, the third son of Noah, who was believed to be the ancestral father of black people. The name Ham, many scholars believe meant “black.” This is supported by the Hebrew and Arabic evidences, in which the word “chamam” means “to be black.”

Another support is in Acts 13:1, it mentioned a man named Simeon (Simon) who was called the black man, who was one of the teachers in Antioch. Whether this was the same Simon from Cyrene who carried Jesus’ cross is hard to prove. What we know though, is that Acts 11:19-21 mentioned that the first Christians who preached in Antioch were from Cyprus and Cyrene.

In all likelihood, Simon was picked because he looked different. Discrimination is not something that we only have today. Even in those times it already existed.

But Simon was not pick by chance. I believe God has destined him to carry the cross for a special reason. Same thing that God picked those who were being discriminated and ostracized during those times: the Samaritans, the tax-collectors, the Publicans, the lepers, the sinners. God chose those who the world see as unwanted, and use them in a special purpose for his divine plan.

If God does not discriminate, who are we to discriminate people whom we think are different from us?

Back to Simon, when he was picked by the Roman soldiers, he was reluctant. The Bible said in Matt 27:32, he was “forced” or “compelled.” Meaning, he did not volunteer. Most likely he even refused!

But can you refuse the Romans? There was a Roman law called lex angeria stating that if a Roman soldier tells you to carry his pack or a load, you must carry it for 1000 paces (1 pace=2 steps), which is really close to our current mile. After 1 mile, you can bring down the load and you can go on your business.

But Jesus in his teaching in Matthew 5:41, said that if a soldier demands you to carry his pack for 1 mile (pertaining to lex angeria law), carry it for 2 miles instead. That was Jesus said! So if someone ask you a favor, do it beyond what you are being asked. Not out of duty, but do it out of love.

I am not sure Simon heard of this Jesus’ teaching, that he would be willing to carry the cross for more than a mile.

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Station V, Via Dolorosa: spot where Simon carried the cross

But I get it, not just because the cross was heavy, and it was not even his cross to carry, Simon has other reasons to be reluctant. One is that if he carry that bloodied cross, he would contaminate himself with blood and he would be deemed ceremoniously unclean by Jewish law. He then would not be able to participate in the Passover feast, which was the very reason he came to Jerusalem in the first place.

Sometimes we have our own plans, and all of a sudden we are being diverted to do something we don’t want to do. Just like Simon. But God has a plan for us. We just have to trust Him.

The other reason, why I think Simon was reluctant to carry the cross was, can you imagine the humiliation of carrying the cross of somebody you don’t even know? The humiliation of being associated to somebody condemned to die.

Simon’s experience was: from dream to nightmare, from holy to horrific, from going to the place of worship to going to a place of execution.

But as Simon followed Jesus carrying the cross and being led by the Roman soldiers, something happened to him. It changed him.

Simon have looked into the bloodied face of this man and their eyes met. The look that peered through his soul. The look of love and forgiveness, despite him being led to his death. Surely, Simon thought, this Man was different.

As he was following Jesus with the cross, he have heard him speak as recorded in Luke 23:28 “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves and your children.” Surely, Simon thought, this Man was different.

Something changed the heart of Simon. I believe that after they came to Calvary and he was told by the soldiers that he can bring down the cross and was free to go, he stayed in the crowd and watched what would happen to the Man whose cross he carried.

Simon witnessed of how this Man forgave those who were crucifying him, praying “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” He saw this Man die and how He cried “It is finished,” and how he uttered “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” Surely, Simon thought, this Man was different.

From an unwilling cross bearer, Simon became a willing faithful follower.

Simon realized the fact that his hands and his shoulders and his body that were stained by this Man’s blood did not make him unclean, but rather that very blood cleansed him of his sins. Simon can claim that he was literally washed by the blood of the Lamb.

How sure are we that Simon became a follower of Christ?

In Mark 15:21 it mentioned Simon’s sons, Alexander and Rufus. The book of Mark was written about 25-30 years after Jesus died. The fact that Mark mentioned the names of his sons, implied that his sons became known to the early Christian church. That means they became pillars of the church, because their converted father introduced them to the Savior whose cross he carried.

Also in Acts 11:19-21, which mentioned those early Christians from Cyrene, and we may wonder, why were the earliest Christians from a place 800 miles away from Jerusalem? I want to believe that those were converted by Simon when he returned home to Cyrene. Even Paul in Romans 16:13 greeted Rufus, Simon’s son, whom Paul said was ‘picked by God to be his very own son.’

Yes, Simon was not picked by the Romans by chance, but rather God picked Simon. And it was not a chance encounter, but it was a destined encounter.

May the story of Simon, inspire us for our own fateful encounter.

(*photo taken in Jerusalem)

 

Looking at the Horizon: A New Year’s Message 2018

(This message was delivered during a local church’s gathering on New Year’s Eve.)

In a few hours, we will be saying goodbye to this year and we’ll be embarking on a new year. Happy New Year!

The month of January is named after the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings and of endings, and transitions. He is usually depicted as having two faces, facing back to back, one looking at the past and the other one looking at the future.

At this particular crossroad of time – the end of the old year, and the beginning of the new year – perhaps that’s what we ought to do: to look and evaluate the past, but also look and plan for the future.

Earlier this year, we were blessed with a trip to the Holy Land. We visited a place called Mount Nebo, which is located near Madaba, Jordan, or in Biblical times it is known as the land of the Moabites. The mountain is pretty high that it provides a panoramic view of the surrounding areas around it, including the land known as the Biblical Canaan.

As we were enjoying the view, the tour guide was giving insights and explaining the significance of this place to our group, while another group near us was having a devotional and they were singing the hymn “I am bound for the Promised Land.”

Where we were, is the place where Moses stood. And while Moses was looking at this same horizon that we were viewing, perhaps he was looking back at his life. But God also let him see the future and showed him the entire Promised Land, and the specific areas where certain tribes of Israel would settle. Since he was able to see details (recorded in Deuteronomy 34) that can only be seen with powerful binoculars, I believe God miraculously let him see Canaan with an assisted vision.

Yet the irony of this is, Moses never set foot in that land, for he died and was buried there in Mount Nebo.

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Moses, the chosen liberator of Israel, who led his people out of Egypt, and who dedicated his life leading the Israelites to enter Canaan, was not allowed to enter it. So unlike the song, Moses was not bound for the Promised Land.

Was Moses a failure then? Not at all!

Sometimes when we look at our past, we may feel that we are a failure, for we were not able to accomplish what we were supposed to accomplish. We may feel that we are losers for we are not where we wanted to be. Sometimes we feel like a disappointment for we started something but was not able to complete it.

Perhaps you’re thinking that you should have graduated from college by now, but instead you still have a couple of semesters to go since you shifted course. Or perhaps you’re thinking that you should have that high-paying dream job that you always wanted, but instead you’re stuck in a job you don’t really want. We may have started to work on a project, and now, it is still a project!

Friends, what we fail to understand, is that God may have some other plans for us. That God has a different destination for us, and we have just not realized it yet. Or God could have appointed you to begin that task, and He appointed somebody else to finish it. Just like in the case of Moses, where Joshua took over for him.

More importantly, when Moses stood there in Mount Nebo, while looking at the Promised Land from afar, he did not complain on why he was not allowed to enter the land that is promised to his ancestors, a land that was described as “flowing with milk and honey,” a destination I’m sure Moses wanted to be a part of. Instead, he humbly accepted God’s plan for him.

Moses may have not entered the Promised Land here on earth, yet God took him to a far better place, which is in heaven.

Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (NIV)

As we stand here in the Mount Nebo of the year 2017, and as we look at the horizon to the year 2018, I pray that it will be prosperous for each one of us. I hope that it will be flowing with milk and honey. And for the lactose-intolerant, flowing with soy milk and honey.

As we set our goals for the coming year, may we not forget that all our plans here on earth are just temporary, for our ultimate destination is the Promised Land, the heavenly Canaan.

God bless us all, and again Happy New Year!

Christmas 2017

Some parts of the United States have seen significant snowfall early this season. Even in places that rarely see snow, like Atlanta Georgia and Texas had some snow this December.

But not here in Iowa. We have been dry the whole month of December. Though 2 days ago we had some dusting of snow. The snow fall was so little that they melted few hours later. I thought we missed our chance of having a white Christmas this year.

Then this Christmas eve, snow came to our area. We’ll have another white Christmas after all!

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Like the anticipated snow fall here, the coming of the Messiah was long-awaited by his people some two thousand years ago. Yet when he came, they missed it! Only the unsuspecting shepherds came and some wise men from far away foreign land.

Today, I hope we don’t miss the reason for this season. And it’s not the snow.

Merry Christmas every one!

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Bethlehem Hills and Herod’s Mountain: A Christmas Reflection

It is mid-December, and in a few days it will be Christmas. It’s a season for celebration, yet it is well-known that the holiday season can be a cause of stress and depression for some people. Perhaps we should let go of that long Christmas shopping list of ours.

Even if the whole world celebrate Christmas in December, it is likely that Jesus was not born in the winter. Based on Biblical narrative, shepherds were watching their flocks in the fields at night during that time, and December nights in Judaea can be too cold for the shepherds to sleep outside in the fields.

Many scholars believe that it was probably spring time when Jesus was born, so December 25th is unlikely to be the exact date of Jesus’ birth. What I am saying is that the date may be off, yet I am not saying that we should not remember or celebrate Jesus’ birth. That’s another subject of discussion and debate.

Earlier this year, we were blessed with a visit to the Holy Land, including a trip to the city of Bethlehem.

IMG_4282.jpgBethlehem is about 10 kilometers away from Jerusalem. Today it is a Palestinian territory. So our guide who was an Israeli national and who was touring us in Jerusalem, boarded off our charted bus just before we entered Bethlehem, and another tour guide whom I assumed was a Palestinian, hopped in our bus after we entered the city and cleared the checkpoint. They must have some specific rules and arrangement.

We went to visit the Church of Nativity, the site believed where Jesus was born. This Byzantine basilica was built on top of a cave. So at the cellar of this church was a grotto (photo below), marked as the traditional site of Jesus’ birth.

img_4306Though the exact location is hard to prove accurately with archeological support, for me, it is enough that the city of Bethlehem exists to believe that Jesus was born. It does not matter where the exact spot is, as long as it was recorded that it was in Bethlehem, the city of David.

“For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”(Luke 2:11). What a reassuring thought, that our Lord and Savior came to this earth, and that should not be a cause of stress and depression, but instead of joy and hope.

While on the bus, I observed that the terrain around Bethlehem was hilly. In fact, Bethlehem sits on top of a hill rising about 3,500 feet above the desert valley. It must have been difficult for Mary who was fully pregnant and about to give birth to climb those hills.

IMG_4290We passed through some hills that were full of houses and buildings today (photo above). It was probably in one of those hills, two thousand years ago, where shepherds were watching their sheep when suddenly they saw a bright light and then the angels appeared to them announcing the birth of the Messiah. It must have been a marvelous experience to be on those hills that glorious night.

The tour guide asked us to look beyond Bethlehem hills and direct our sight to a strange-looking mountain in the distance. It was truncated and cone-shaped. I enlarged the section of the photo above to feature the mountain. (Sorry I was not able to get a better picture.)

IMG_4290It was a strange-looking mountain because it was man-made. The mountain was named Herodium, a fortress that Herod the Great constructed, about 5 kilometers southeast of Bethlehem. This was the same King Herod that tried to kill Jesus by slaughtering all the male infants in the region.

As history recorded it, when Herod the Great, was searching for a place to build his home and fortress, there was not a mountain high enough for him to build this structure. Instead there were two hills near each other at the site where he wanted it.

So what did Herod do? He cut down one hill and with an army of laborers he placed the pared hill on top of the other hill to make it higher, one bucket of dirt and rocks at a time. He literally moved a mountain.

When Jesus and his disciples were having discussion about faith, they were probably looking at this Herod’s mountain, which was hard to miss in the Judaean desert. Its dominating presence was a constant reminder of an oppressive regime. It was a common knowledge of that time how Herod moved a mountain.

However, what Jesus was telling his disciples is that faith, is much more powerful than what Herod can do. With faith they can be mightier than the mightiest ruler of their time.

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

Yes, we can move mountains. Though not by our own power but by the mighty power of God.

What mountains are we facing? What giant challenges are gripping our hearts with fear? Let’s put our faith in the King of Bethlehem hills, and He will move our mountains.

May we all have a meaningful Christmas.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Of Hawks and Turkeys

Last Saturday was gray, damp and cold. It was windy too with strong wind gusts all day. It was a dreary day. I hope Thanksgiving would be a better day as it may be hard to be in a thankful spirit when you’re freezing, fighting fierce winds and just trying to hold on to your hat.

As we were going out, I noticed a large bird hovering high above a field. It could be an eagle as we have eagles in Iowa, though rare. But I believe it was a hawk, as they are so many here in our area. Hawks and strong gusts of wind are what we have in abundance here in Iowa, so no wonder our two big State Universities’ sport teams are called Hawkeyes and Cyclones.

I know hawks or even eagles may not be the right bird to talk about during this occasion. We should be discussing turkeys, right? By the way, wild turkeys abound in our area as well. You can spot them just hanging out in the empty corn fields. Perhaps we can skip the grocery and just capture one of them and make it our dinner for the Thanksgiving.

Enough of the turkey, and back to the flying hawk that I saw. Maybe flying was not the right term, for it was barely flapping its wings. It had its wings open, and like a big kite, it was effortlessly gliding in the sky. It did not seem to mind the strong gusts of wind, and may even be thankful for it. For the stronger the wind, the higher it soared.

Sometimes the strong winds in our lives, those gusts that we think will shred our plans, and those storms that can blast our dreams away, may just be helping us soar to higher heights.

Last week, the lady in the gym’s reception desk, the one who greets me cheerily every time I come in, gave me a book. The book was entitled “Praise God for Tattered Dreams.”

I have observed this lady as always upbeat and has a sunny disposition in life, day in and day out. I am impressed on how she remembers all the names of the gym goers, as she greets everyone by name. And I mean everyone.

Few months ago this lady, after greeting me for years since I have been coming to this particular gym, learned that I am an ICU doctor. She then told me that she was a patient many years ago, in the hospital where I work, and even stayed in the ICU. But that was a couple of years before I came to Iowa.

Since then whenever she sees me, she would always try to convince me to write a journal about my experiences as an ICU physician. She said that it may be interesting to share those stories, and I may even make some money from it.

Last week, after coaxing me to write a journal every time we meet, I finally told her, that I was indeed already writing a journal. Well, sort of. I told her about ‘this’ blog. I rarely tell people I know, that I blog. Why? So I could write about them!

After learning that I write, she went to the back, retrieved a book from a drawer and handed it to me. She told me that she wrote and published this book, and it’s about her trying experience. She added that I can borrow and read it, but if I spill coffee on it, then I have to buy it.

She narrated in the book that she was a vibrant mother with two young boys, and with a promising career, when out of the blue, she suffered a near-fatal stroke. It was a large bleed in the head. She was only 33 years old at that time.

She was close to death when she was brought to the hospital. The doctors, including the neurosurgeon, gave her only 10% chance to live.

But she lived!

She was comatose for several days and spent 3 weeks in the ICU, and a total of 3 long months in the hospital. This does not include several more months of rehabilitation after being discharged from the hospital.

She described that half of her body was paralyzed and was unable to speak for a while. In that dark moment of her life, she found God and discovered a new purpose in life. When she felt that her dreams have ended, God showed her that she was only beginning to live a more meaningful life, for which she was very thankful for.

Now she is speaking and walking with almost unnoticeable residual of her stroke. She is happily working in the gym and encouraging people to be healthy and happy. She definitely has a story to tell. From tattered dreams to an inspirational life.

As we gather around our dinner table this Thanksgiving, with our roasted holiday bird, (the turkey, not the hawk), let’s thank God for everything. Including our trials and disappointments. For storms and strong winds can make us soar higher.

Happy Thanksgiving!

IMG_5638(*photo taken with an iPhone)

 

Conflicted

What do you do when you see a sign that says Caution:Wet Paint?

Are you like many people, which includes me, that can’t help but touch it? Just to see if it’s really wet! Maybe because we have been lied to so many times, and we don’t believe anything unless we prove that it’s true.

The other day, since we were having some construction in our office to add more examination rooms, I saw this sign. I know it’s a mundane sign, but it caught my attention.

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Do you suppose I touched that wall? Of course I did.

But there’s more to this sign. Is it wet? Or is it dry? I think the wall is conflicted. Is that an oxymoron, a wet drywall? Do you still call it a drywall when it is wet? I’m confused.

I believe the caution here is like that wall, some people today are conflicted and confused. We are lost in our identity. We are neither wet nor dry. Neither hot nor cold. Constantly riding the fence, and compromising our beliefs.

 

 

Walking Where Jesus Walked

Life is a journey they say. As I commemorate my fifth decade here on earth, I decided not just to go for a trip, but for a pilgrimage. I wanted to walk where Jesus walked.

In tracing the steps of our Saviour, we ventured to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. But unlike the familiar Christmas hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” Bethlehem today is not a little town but a thriving busy city.


We were led to an old church, the Church of Nativity, where it was believed, based on tradition, to be the site of Jesus’ birth.

At the basement of this church was the marked site where He was born. But there was no shepherds. No angels singing. Just a crowd of eager people trying to make a bee line to see this site.

Then as we traveled through Israel, I saw signs that points to Nazareth, the place that Jesus spent most of His years – from His childhood until He started His ministry. But the Bible was silent about those years He spent in Nazareth.

We followed Jesus’ footsteps into the river Jordan. This is where He was baptized, signaling the start of His ministry.

Some in our group even decided to be baptized in the Jordan River.


Jordan River is not as a large and mighty as I imagined. Though it appears “muddy” as it was described in the scriptures. No wonder Captain Naaman of the Syrian army as recorded in 2 Kings, refused to dip in this water.

Yet, muddy or not, I must at least dip my hand, and my belief.

Then we followed Jesus’ footsteps into the mountains near Jericho. This is the mountain where it was believed He was tempted.

What could it be like to spent 40 days and 40 nights in this barren place? Though interestingly today, there is a stone quarry at the foot of the mountain. Definitely lots of stones that can be turned into bread.

Then we looked for Jesus’ traces in the town of Cana. This is where He performed His first miracle, where in a wedding feast, He turned water into wine.


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Our trip then led us to a town that He spent some time during His ministry, a town called Capernaum or Capharnaum.

The only remains of this town today are ruins. Though the site is still beautiful as it is beside the lake, known as the Sea of Galilee. We even saw the remains of an old synagogue (photo below).


Even though we only see ruins of that Capernaum town, it showed us a glimpse, a window if you will, of where Jesus walked.

We climbed a mountain beside the Sea of Galilee. This they say is where He gave His teachings or His sermon on the mount, that became known as the Beatitudes.

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As I looked at the beautiful scenery, I tried to listen through the blowing wind, to His voice and His teachings, in that Beatitude mountain.

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We even had the chance to sail across the Sea of Galilee, where on this very waters, He shouted “Peace, be still,” amidst the roaring waves and howling winds. Good thing there’s no violent storm when we sailed across it.

img_4535 I could even imagine the footsteps that He left on the waters, when he walked on it. But no one among us tried to walk on the water, for that will be preposterous.

We followed Him through Jerusalem. We climbed the Mount of Olives, where He spent some time teaching and praying.

From the Mount of Olives we viewed the City of Jerusalem (photo below). This is where Jesus wept when He looked into the city and the temple, knowing of its coming destruction.

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Then we trace Jesus’ footsteps into the walled city of Jerusalem and walked in its streets and alleys.

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We followed Him into the Garden of Gethsemane where He fervently prayed, the night before He was arrested.

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Then we walked the path known as Via Dolorosa or the Way of Suffering. This is the path that he chose to walk on his way to Calvary in behalf of you and me. (Photo below is Station V of the Stations of the Cross in the Via Dolorosa)

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We then went to the place known as the Skull Hill (calvarium is Latin for skull) or also known as Golgotha. This is the place believed where Jesus was crucified and died, so we can have life.

Below is the Skull Hill today. Old photos of this hill showed it is really shaped as a skull, though recent earthquakes have changed its distinct features.


Then we went to see the tomb where they laid His body after He died. (The Garden Tomb is one site, though there’s another possible site, the Holy Sepulchre Church, which we also visited.)

We even went inside the tomb. But that tomb was empty. For He is risen! And that is the very foundation of my faith.

As we celebrate this Lent season, may we contemplate on His life and what He has done for all of us.

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at the Sea of Galilee

And as a pilgrim, I realize that walking where Jesus walked would be pointless, unless we also follow His will and walked spiritually as well, where He walked.

May we have a meaningful and glorious Easter.