So, I will start with NYTS held in Hillsborough, NJ.
Thank God this time I had the opportunity to serve as a team captain and a hymnal leader. Having been far away from a church during college, I did not get many chances to serve the church as many other of my church friends were, and to be honest I kind of envied them, but also admired them. It sort of made me feel kind of useless and I wish I could’ve done more. A pastor that I saw at NYTS even went as far as saying that it was a waste for me to go to school so far away. In some ways it could be true, but the experience had its benefits as well. Regardless, I’m very thankful to still be in Christ and to come out still with a desire to serve. Wow, this paragraph was nothing more than a digression from the first sentence.
Anyways, I was a bit nervous and worried about the responsibilities I would have at NYTS, in addition to preparing a graduating sermon. I decided to dedicate basically the entire week prior to the start of NYTS to prepare for my duties, which included Bible studies, hymnal arranging, and of course, prayer. I had laid down a mental schedule in my head on what to accomplish each day of the week so I could be “ready” and “prepared.” During the second half of the week, however, an unfortunate event involving a protein drink through a wrench in everything and I was basically bedridden for two days and my diet consisted of saltine crackers, bread, soft noodles, and gatorade. Obviously my little prep schedule fell apart and I even had to forego my airport pick ups to other members, including one in the wee hours of the morning.
God was, however, indeed faithful. On Sabbath (2 days before the actual start of NYTS classes) I felt pretty okay and went to church and helped out with cleaning and yardwork no problem. I even picked up some people late Saturday night too. That night when I got back home I was a little hungry and thought I had recovered enough to eat a little cereal with milk. The next morning, my stomach felt uncomfortable again and my energy low. Thank God, by NYTS registration in the evening I felt fine again, and throughout the entirety of NYTS, I felt fine with no problems (I ate a pretty stale diet for the first 2 days just in case). So yes, God indeed was faithful to me. Allowed my body to take it easy to take on these new responsibilities :p
I think through this God may have been teaching me to just rely on Him. In my mindset of laying down my own schedule and trying to feel prepared through my own effort, I may not have been truly handing things to God. When I was bedridden I couldn’t do anything and by the time NYTS started I hadn’t done everything I would’ve liked to prepare, so the only thing I could do was pray. I was worried that things would turn out bad if I was feeling ill, but that turned out not to be an issue by the grace of God.
In the first day or two of NYTS and of leading hymns in the evening, I felt kind of stressed because of my incompetence. I’m a somewhat shy person so stirring up sharing and discussion and enthusiasm is certainly not my strongest suit. I knew that serving God was supposed to be a joyful thing, so I prayed about it and asked God to enable me to serve Him better, and with joy instead of stress. Thank God, leading the hymn sessions afterwards was much more relaxing and enjoyable (at least for me haha). My group also became more willing to share without as much awkward filler from me.
I constantly prayed for humility during the seminar since pride is a big issue for me. I kept trying to remind myself of the lessons I learned from the article I wrote in EWR about David’s legacy. In retrospect writing that article was essential in shaping my perception of servitude, namely that the heart is most important because the talents we have are God’s anyways. It’s not the talents and accomplishments that God really wants from us, since He can find anyone to perform any task, but our hearts that we offer to Him. Our hearts must be right before God, pure and perfect. If there’s any pride in servitude, then the heart is not right, and God is not pleased. I tried to assure myself that despite my incompetence, as long as I did my best with the right attitude, my service would still be acceptable to God, even if the results weren’t optimal.
A verse that came up in class that I think was really relevant to me was 1 Corinthians 8:1, the latter portion:
Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.
Biblical knowledge is absolutely necessary in serving God because without it, even if we have the heart, we may not always serve correctly. Serving incorrectly, even with pure motives, can have harsh consequences (recall Nadab and Abihu offering profane fire, and Uzzah who caught the Ark of Covenant). Having recently become more comfortable studying the Bible, I felt myself beginning to attain a deeper knowledge of the Bible. With this also crept in a sense of pride, that I had acquired this knowledge on my own, that my insight was superior to others’. I wanted to impress others with this knowledge, under the guise of sharing. Of course, this was not my main motivation, but that bit of pride was there. I think that’s why 1 Cor 8:1 “struck it down” for me. The knowledge doesn’t edify on its own – it needs love. I was feeling the knowledge beginning to puff me up; I needed to pray for more love. I constantly reminded myself of this while preparing for my sermon as well. I had to share what I learned out of love for the audience and their spirituality, not out of any selfish ambition to make myself look good. After all, the things I share are lessons for myself that I also need to learn and practice. Anyone could learn what I had learned if he/she took the time to study the same passage. Many can attain knowledge, but fewer can maintain a godly love to make that knowledge edifying.
I would like to share a simple example that I experienced during NYTS, of how love edifies in conjunction with the knowledge. Everybody knows the church is the house of God, and that the house of God should be kept clean and in order out of respect for God. At NYTS, all the groups are assigned cleaning duties that rotate during the week. One morning, after my group had finished tidying up the bathroom before Bible reading, I was walking back to the chapel from the bathroom. I saw another brother walking down the hallway towards me, looking at the floor, sweeping his eyes back and forth, making note of the areas that needed to be swept with a broom. I was really touched because this brother was not assigned to do this work (it was probably the responsibility of another group who may have forgotten to do it the night before). This brother was doing this because he loved the church. He had the knowledge to keep God’s house clean, as most of us do. And this knowledge was conveyed to me through his love. It showed me that love for the church is shown in the smallest of things, something I already knew in my mind, but somehow not in my heart. Edifying? Yes, much moreso than if someone just dryly told me so, which would’ve puffed me up and caused me to think, “Yeah, I know that already.”
I found myself praying to ask God to be more loving. Loving to the church, to members I may not like for whatever reason, loving to my family, and loving to God. I want to become a better servant. I was feeling grossly incapable amidst other brothers and sisters who were serving fervently and effectively and with love. I want to be able to do a good job for God too, to please Him with my servitude as well. I don’t think I ever felt so strongly about this before. I know God has given me many talents, but so far I’ve done squat to use them for God to the ability that I can. I want to start using my talents more for holy work, and less for pleasure, and give them back to God along with a right and whole heart. To him who has been given more, more will be expected.
Thank God I also had the opportunity to do some door-to-door evangelizing after NYTS, to invite people to the Spiritual Convocation and Evangelical services at Hillsborough. I always found this to be quite intimidating, especially considering my awkward confrontational skills, but fortunately I was paired with a more experienced person to see examples of how it could be done. And thank God, after inviting a couple people myself, I found that it wasn’t really difficult at all! What was also nice was that while we were all scattered around a neighborhood, it was kind of cloudy and the forecast said it would rain. But it didn’t rain until soon after we all drove and met back at church. How thoughtful of God
So those are just a couple of my reflections from NYTS. There are many more things I learned from the classes and small tidbits that I made note of, along with some refined resolutions for living a more disciplined spiritual life, but this is already quite long. I hope it’s marginally edifying and I know it’s somewhat all over the place and “stream of consciousness” style, and the tense is all over the place and run on sentences are everywhere (like here!) and grammar and such. But for a blog, it’s okay.
Now for New Zealand.
I met relatives either for the first time ever, or the first time in like a decade. These relatives are unique in that they have no problems speaking English, which is great. Plus, they speak English with a kiwi accent, which is even more awesome. After spending time with them and hanging out with them, I found that not having a language barrier really goes a long way. It’s unfortunate that I can’t talk as candidly with my cousins in Taiwan because my Chinese is too broken and awkward.
Anyhow, my cousins and aunt and uncle took a lot of time out of their very busy lives to entertain us and make sure we had fun (and food), so I am very grateful and thankful to them. Even though the weather was forecasted to rain for a large portion of the time we were there, thank God for the most part it didn’t rain. And on the days when I prayed in the morning and the night before, the weather was simply awesome and perfect when it wans’t supposed to be, so thank God! As a result, I have lots of beautiful photos of New Zealand :p.
The most radical thing I did in New Zealand had to be bungee jumping over an emerald green lake. It was a 47 meter drop, and the scariest part hands down was waddling to the edge of the platform looking down with a very heavy chord tied to my feet that felt like it would pull me over before I was ready. It all happened pretty fast and I let out a pretty hearty yell on the first drop. Those who watched me said there was a doppler effect cause I yelled the whole way down. Anyways, it’s all documented and recorded in multiple photos and videos, which have yet to be posted (if ever!).
I have to say something about the beaches there because they are awesome. The water is blue and clear, and there are shells everywhere! it’s just so cool because in the beaches I’ve been to recently in North America, shells are kind of hard to come by. But in NZ, shells are literally everywhere. You know sometimes in shopping plazas there are areas filled with rocks or mulch surrounding like a bush or tree? Well in NZ they used shell fragments. I picked up a bunch of rocks and shells from various lakes and beaches to add to my rock collection/museum.
We also got to see live Kiwi birds which are the cutest things ever because they walk and run funny and only have two appendages. Must be extremely frustrating for them though. They walk with their two legs, but for everything else, they have to use their mouths. Coincidentally, they can’t do much else.
Let’s see, some differences between NZ and the states.
Things tend to be smaller in NZ. The roads are more narrow and the freeways (or motorways as they say) are fewer lanes. As a consequence, the cars are smaller and not as wide. When I went inside a public restroom, the first thing I noticed was that the urinals were much smaller too. I took a picture too. I felt like I was peeing in a large white porcelain bowl. And no dividers, which kind of bothered me.
Speaking of cars and roads, the driver side is on the right side of the car, and they drive on the left side of the road. This was a bit jarring since I’d always walk to the wrong side of my cousins’ cars and my cousins would be making left turns after looking only in one direction and traffic on traffic circles went clockwise. One time my mom even got in the driver seat and sat there for awhile, and didn’t realize until my cousin said, “Uh…I have to sit there.”
I must mention the accent again because it’s so awesome. I like listening to my cousins talk because it’s just so different and I’m used to cousins speaking very broken English if at all. After about a week of hearing the accent everywhere, I started thinking with a NZ accent. People were also much more friendly and jolly than in the states, like in stores and cafes and such. I theorize that the accent contributes to this and induces a more friendly response from customers, aka myself. It just seems wrong to yell at someone who is speaking with a NZ accent. They also smile more. It was quite chilling to come back to the states going through customs without a single employee smiling. Just a robotic “wait in that line…take out your passport…why did you travel…”
Another difference is university life. My cousins go to Auckland University (or “uni” for short) and they commute from home. Obviously this is very different from the dorm life. I imagine going to college doesn’t feel much different from high school in that respect.
Also, before uni, students have to wear school uniforms. College or uni students must feel privileged to wear whatever they want when they go to uni :p
Then there’s the whole inverted schedule and seasons. NZ is winter during summer in the states, which means it’s colder there and my cousins were in the middle of their classes and exams and projects. Sorry!
Okay…entry is too long. I was going to say some thoughts concerning my transition from east coast to west coast, but I’ll save it for another day, if you even made it this far.