Friday, August 19, 2011

Sharing @ Granville

     Last Sunday, I once again went to downtown Vancouver after Church to engage people in conversation after two weeks of being away. After the recent riots that had occurred in the UK, I wanted to hear what people had to say about evil, justice and forgiveness, and the relevance of the Gospel and the Christian faith in these important realities of life. It was the first time that I was conversing with the average pedestrian on the street, rather than the management and staff of the stores that had been vandalised during the Stanley Cup riots. This time, however, I was very happy to have had the company of three of my friends - Bryan, Tommy and Victor who were really enthusiastic about similarly engaging people in conversation. So sometime in the early afternoon, Bryan and I arrived at Granville Street and decided to start talking to people while waiting for Tommy and Victor. The afternoon turned out to be simply incredible for all of us.

    While strolling down to Granville and Robson, Bryan and I encountered a security guard in front of a shop entrance, standing at the street corner and looking in the direction from where we had come. When Bryan (who works in the security industry) approached and asked him what he was guarding, he was initially suspicious, wondering if we might be thieves attempting to distract him. I don't blame him, given that a lot of vandalism had occurred in the blocks around the area during the Stanley Cup riots. Once we explained what we were doing in the area and that we meant no harm, the three of us had a most engaging and interesting conversation on the nature and reality of moral evil, justice and forgiveness and whether academic theories of sociology and psychology could provide better and more relevant explanations for the state of human nature.

    Citing now-famous studies on population density and its effects on behaviour performed between 1963 - 1983 at the National Insitute of Medical Health by the late Dr. John B. Calhoun [1], our friend attributed most 'evil' human behaviour to the "behavioural sink" coined in the aftermath of Dr. Calhoun's studies. Engaging an invigorating and lively debate about the secular vs. Christian perspective of evil, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that he knew the Bible quite well. As we talked about the nature of truth and justice, the conversation took an surprising turn when our friend asserted that the core of all systems of faith, Christianity included, was really about treating other people right. I respectfully disagreed, pointing out the core message of the Gospel in the Christian faith, from which all application to life and relationships were defined as secondary. I also had an opportunity to share my own personal history and experience of major monotheistic and polythestic religions, having grown up in an environment saturated with the beliefs of Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. It was, is, and always will be my unshakeable conviction that they do not "all lead to the same God", as social wisdom would have us believe. They differ on almost every major aspect of belief - reality, sin, evil, justice, heaven, hell, God and salvation; and that is just the beginning of the list. We talked about this for quite some time.

    As it was time for us to go, we asked if he was usually there on Sundays, so that we could continue our conversation next time from where we had ended. He replied that he was. As I've had time to think over the things we talked about, I'm looking forward to seeing him next week and discussing our worldviews in greater detail! As we headed back in the direction we had come, we spied Tommy and Victor talking to an elderly gentleman half-way up the street. When they joined us some time later, they had a most interesting experience to share, as the man turned out to have been deeply mistreated and scarred by the church in Europe, both as a boy and later on in life as a young man. His story was made more tragic by the suffering his father had endured as a prisoner in a concentration camp during World War II. Though he did not want to talk about the Christian faith, Tommy and Victor listened to him patiently and sympathetically, and asked if they could pray for him.

Victor and Tommy talking to the elderly gentleman
     Mulling over what I had heard, I found it both sad and ironic. As much as we were trying to reflect the light of Christ and share the beauty of the message of His Cross with those who did not know Him, the same church of whose body we were a part had also inflicted terrible pain and suffering on the very people it was meant to bring hope and healing to.

    How grievous it is that we as the church throughout history have brought such shame and disgrace to the name of our Lord and Master through our shameful behaviour, and forgotten the grace and mercy that saved us from eternal hell! We have often been guilty of the words spoken by Christ to the first-century church at Sardis:

    “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.'" - Revelation (3:15-19)

    As Bryan had some tracts with him, we decided to spend some time handing them out to people on the street. And we really saw God work in some unexpected and amazing ways in the next one hour or so. We split up into pairs, with Bryan and I at the corner of Granville and Howe. Tommy and Victor went down into the Vancouver City Centre SkyTrain entrance, and tried handing out tracts there. Initially, none of the passers-by took any, and they felt discouraged, feeling that no-one wanted to know anything about the Gospel. Then, just as that thought crossed their minds, someone took one out of their hands without it being offered. And then another person, and then another. Within minutes, all their tracts were gone, without them having offered any on their own. As Victor said later, "it was as though God was reminding us that even though we were easily discouraged, He was still faithful." Meanwhile, up top, Bryan and I had some wonderful experiences of our own. After handing out our English tracts, we were left with some Chinese, Japanese and Spanish ones. Out of curiosity, Bryan turned to the couple sitting on a bench next to us, and asked if they might be Spanish. "Yes. Why?", came the reply. We were stunned. There was a hot dog stand in front of us manned by an oriental man and woman. We discovered in short order that they were Japanese, and gave them a Japanese tract! We handed out all our Chinese tracts as well :)

Victor, Bryan and Tommy with our tracts :)
     When Tommy and Victor came back up to the street, we remembered that there was a famous Japanese hot-dog stand located on Burrard called "Japadog", and decided to walk over there and hand the workers there a few Japanese tracts too. I took some snaps of us at the Japadog stand, which I've posted below.

Tommy at Japadog with Japanese tracts

All out for the glory of God!
     As we wound up our time of sharing together, we looked at each other with happiness and great joy. It felt wonderful to be out on the street, actively engaging others in conversation about our faith and challenging them to think carefully about ther worldview, how it shaped their perception of life, and the centrality and relevance of the person Jesus Christ in the midst of it all. I'm looking forward to venturing out again with these wonderful brothers in Christ, and more exciting conversations next week!
- The Wisdom Seeker

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Road Ahead: Thoughts On The Future

     In my last post, "Looking Back At The Road To Here", I reflected on the events of the decade of my life that had come to an end. As much as I've found it important to remember and reflect, I also finding myself increasingly occupied with thoughts of the future.

    There is no doubt that life is changing on many different fronts, and in a way that sometimes leaves me feeling in possession of more questions than answers. Six months after having landed a job after graduate school, standing on my own financially and juggling new and growing responsibilities that must be attended to, I find myself thinking about the road I have set out on and the entailments of this stage. Once again, the words of Frodo Baggins in my favourite novel and movie, The Lord of The Rings come back to me:

"Remember what Bilbo used to say: "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."
- Frodo Baggins, The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring

    Where will this road sweep me off to? Will I be able to handle the challenges that lie ahead? There is much that I feel inadequate about and unprepared for. This only exacerbates my tendency to feel as if I must become a hard-charging, achievement-oriented perfectionist, perfectly knowledgeable and capable of assuming complete mastery of whatever situation I find myself in. I'm confronted with the fact of how little I know about how the real world and things in life work, and I'm sure there are plenty of other young adults who find themselves in a similar state of affairs. As much as I believe in being optimistic about the future, I also believe that such an outlook will not be possible without a realistic assessment of where I find myself now.

    Although in primary school I was taught addition, subtraction, multiplication and division using money as an application and the idea of simple compound interest, I've realized how little I know about where money actually comes from and how to properly handle it. Witnessing the sequence of seemingly never-ending financial shennanigans in this country, our neigbour to the south and elsewhere on the globe over the last few years has ony made me more wary and distrusting of those who work in the financial sector. Can I do what it takes to navigate the pitfalls that might lead to a costly financial blunder and bring both myself and others to ruin?

    Speaking of "others", as I think of those both now and in future who will depend on me, I find myself contemplating my roles in work, ministry, relationship, marriage, family and all the challenges that accompany them. It gives me great concern as I survey the state of the culture and world that I live in, and its aspirations for the future, particularly the increasing intellectual hostility towards the Christian faith. As hard and hostile as it may seem now, I occasionally find myself wondering how I will guard and guide any children I might have in future through the cacophony of confusing voices and worldviews that will clamor for their attention in future. I have little doubt that the mental, spiritual and emotional stamina required will be tremendous. Will I buckle under pressure and crumble, or will I make it through?

    Among all these and many other concerns, there is also much joy and happiness that I find in what God is doing in my life, as I take steps to share my faith in the person with Christ with those around me. There is so much I want to do before He calls me to go home to be with Him. It is increasingly becoming my overwhelming desire that God would use me to make an impression for him in this city that I have lived in for the last five years. Of late, I have begun pondering the question as to what lengths I would go and hardship I would face for this city to know of the name and glory of God, and the saving power of the cross of Jesus Christ. As much as I struggle with concerns over the kind of person that I am or want to be, I also find and increasing an overwhelming passion that arises in my heart "out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it", as expressed in the famous words of Martin Luther.
    But even as I write this, it occurs to me that whatever concerns I might have and write about, the fundamental question that really confronts my heart is one of faith - in the goodness, wisdom and sovreignty of God. Ultimately, I must accept that while it is wise and prudent to think and plan ahead, whatever "preparation" I attempt to do in anticipation of the challenges of the future are perfunctory at best. There really is so very little of life that I (or any of us for that matter) have control over. I was reminded of this as I read the following verses in the book of Jeremiah this morning on the way to the 10 AM service at Willingdon:

    "Thus says the Lord:
    Cursed is the man who trusts in man
    and makes flesh his strength,
    whose heart turns away from the Lord.
    He is like a shrub in the desert
    and shall not see any good to come.
    He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
    in the uninhabited salt land.

    Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
    whose trust is the Lord.
    He is like a tree planted by water,
    that sends out its roots by the stream,
    and does not fear when heat comes,
    for its leaves remain green,
    and is not anxious in the year of drought,
    for it does not cease to bear fruit."
(Jeremiah 17:5-8, ESV)

    May God plant and establish me as such a tree, as I set out on the road into the next decade. I pray this in Christ's name.
- The Wisdom Seeker

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Looking Back On The Road To Here

    Reflecting on the thoughts of my last post of the closing of the second decade of my life, I thought I'd take time to look back on the time gone by, and take time to look ahead. Jamie was mentioning yesterday that one of her professors had made a statement about how we apparently perceive time as we grow older - that events and days only seem to accelerate. Even so, it's hard to believe 10 years have gone by so fast. With whatever time of life I have left, I wonder if the coming decade will seem to pass even faster than the last.

    It seemed not too long ago that I was in my first year of my undergraduate degree, floundering in life on all fronts - academically, mentally, physically, socially, emotionally, spiritually. After working to my utmost in my final years of high school to get admission into a good undergraduate university in engineering, it seemed that life was falling into place as I started out at one of the top 10 universities in the US. But within months, life began to unravel and fall apart at a pace that I seemed helpless to stop. My sense of discipline and purpose seemed to evaporate, and my health collapsed. It culminated in a spectacular loss as all the whatever I had seemed to achieve in academic progress crumbled to dust, leaving me hanging by the proverbial thread and with little hope for the future. I found myself lost and in crisis on almost every personal front - mentally, emotionally, spiritually, identity, suddenly unsure of what I wanted to do in life and what to do to put things together.

    But as it so often happens in moments of personal devastation, God was architecting events even as I roamed aimlessly in the midst of the rubble that my life had become. The next five years of the decade I have just left behind would become pivotal, as God orchestrated powerfully transforming and paradigm shifting change in my life, on a journey that spanned seven cities in three countries on two continents. It would be an understatement to say that I became a different person; emerging from an undergraduate degree in engineering in India, I still remember the comment of a relative who remarked that it seemed that both I and my life had been turned 180 degrees from what they used to be.

    The last five years have been a similarly wonderful journey, though in a different sense. Hopping back to the North American Continent and traversing two cities in the pursuit of a Master's degree in Engineering, it became a period marked by intellectual struggle for both faith and truth. I did not expect graduate school to grind me that way, but it was a good thing. Wading through the ideologies that struggle for dominance of the minds that attend a typical secular North American university campus was hard. It was often that I found myself struggling to explain either to myself or someone else, why the Christ and my Christian faith that I had taken to heart so easily since childhood was intellectually viable and defensible. Deism, Theism, Pantheism, Atheism, Agnosticism, Mysticism, Humanism, Politicism, Secularism....I have lost count of the conversations I've had on campus during my time at SFU with proponents of one (and sometimes more) of those worldviews. Some conversations have been wonderful and cheerful, others bland and superficial and yet others hostile and depressing. I found myself in turmoil as I tried to find a basis for thought amidst what seemed like intellectual quicksand - fearful, angry and confused as I came away from conversations that seemed on the verge of destroying both my faith and assumptions; happy at those that brought me reassurance and comfort; frustrated at those that seemed to be stuck at a mental impasse; inadequate after being unable to answer a question or challenge coherently or satisfactorily; restless after those that seemed to insert nagging doubts into my head about life and faith, and many more. Sometimes, I still come away feeling unnerved, but it only drives my determination to find truth and certainty.

    But even during my time in graduate school, I see how God has been orchestrating events with a purpose of slow, deliberate growth and maturity through a steady and ceaseless intellectual hammering. Questions of life, faith, truth, love, doctrine, theology, worldview, family, relationship, money, politics, autonomy, origin, meaning, morality, destiny - wading through the quagmire of questions that surround these was (and still is) very, very hard. I don't for a moment dare to claim that I have perfect, infallible understanding or answers to these questions that have plagued humanity during all our time here. But I do claim that I have met and am increasingly coming to know the Christ who does. 

    I need no convincing that the words of the hymn that came out of James Russell Lowell's original poem "Once To Every Man And Nation", might possibly be true: 

"Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong;
 Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;
 Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
 Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own."

    Whatever happens from here on out, may I not forget this fact - God is there, in the shadows, purposefully watching and waiting. He has not, does not and will never leave my life to chance. I pray that you come to this realization too. See you in the next post as I think about the road ahead.

- The Wisdom Seeker