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"Midweek Pick Up"

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Silent Saturday

March 30, 2024

"At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there." (John 19:41-42)


Jesus' body lay in its tomb, cold and lifeless. The Gospel offers no insight into the events of the day following the chaotic and dreadful crucifixion. Jesus is silent on Saturday. So is God.  On Friday, God made His presence known. He tore the curtains of the temple, opened the graves of the dead, shook the earth, darkened the sun, and sacrificed His own Son. The world witnessed the terror and the grandeur of God on Friday. And here comes Saturday….nothing. Silent. 


Jesus died. Is God dead? Is all hope lost? Is this the end of everything? The silence is deafening. God may be silent, but the followers of Jesus are not. What should we do now? Where should we go? The Master, teacher, the Messiah is dead, and now, how about us? These must have been the thoughts racing through the minds of Jesus' disciples. Embarking on a journey is one thing, but not knowing the next steps can be maddening.  For three years, the disciples walked alongside Jesus every day, and now...? Anxious and unsettled, Jesus' followers demand answers. If Jesus is no more, what hope do we have? Give us an answer!


You do what Jesus did.  Lie still.  Stay silent.  Trust God.  Jesus died with this conviction: "Because You (God) will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay." (Psalm 16:10) Didn't Jesus repeatedly assert that he must be killed and rise again after three days? Yes, indeed, Jesus has every right to remain silent and teach us about trust. Trust is giving God full control over this life and allowing ourselves to take a backseat. Trust means embracing God's silence and letting Him carry out His will. Because trust operates most profoundly in silence.  And it is in the stillness of Saturday that God brings Easter into our lives on Sunday morning. 



Psalm 46:10: 


Be still, and know that I am God

Be still and know that I am 

Be still and know 

Be still

Be



Happy Silent Saturday,

Vincent Arishvara 03302024

Good Friday:

Father, Forgive ThemMarch 29, 2024

"Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots." (Luke 23:32-43)

The day's just getting started, but the sky's already a vibrant blue, and the sun's blazing hot like an oven. Noise fills the air: soldiers shouting, kids screaming, ladies crying in the street, and the crowd jeering relentlessly. Your eyes struggle to focus through the blur of blood and sweat trickling down your face. Thirst and hunger make your head spin while your body aches from the beatings, bruises, and wounds inflicted by the scourging. The sour stench of soldiers' spit lingers on your skin. You feel like giving up, but you still have to haul that massive, rough wooden block up to the skull-shaped hill. It's a heavy burden to bear.

As you hoist that heavy wooden block, a sharp sting shoots through you as the rough bark meets your open wound. Suddenly, your own prayer echoes in your mind, "Father, please take this cup away!" But it feels like nobody's listening. Peering into the distance, you spot your friends blending into the crowd. These are the folks you've called brothers, the ones you've shared meals and stories with, the ones who've laughed with you and shared your burdens. But now, they seem too scared to come close. "Where are you, my brothers? I could really use your help! Can't you lend a hand with this cross, or at least give me a sip of water..." you silently plead in your heart.

Here, in this eerie place called The Skull, the soldiers strip you bare. They lay your body upon that rough wooden cross and swiftly hammer a long nail into your right hand: Bang! Bang! The searing pain hits you like a tidal wave as if your very soul is being ripped from you and thrust back in simultaneously. Another nail is driven into your left hand, followed by a massive one for your feet. With a heave, the soldiers hoist the timber, and now your body hangs suspended between heaven and earth.

On that cross, you catch a religious leader hurling a sarcastic jab: "You saved others; why not save yourself if you're truly God's Messiah, the Chosen One?" Then come the bloodthirsty soldiers, taunting, "If you're the king of the Jews, save yourself." And right beside you, another figure hanging on that wooden beam joins in the mockery: "So you're the Messiah, huh? Save yourself and us!" These people scoff at your purpose on this Earth.

Their words are bitter, filled with hate. Isn't it enough that I'm being crucified? Aren't the nails piercing my flesh sufficient? Is the whipping not cruel enough? Can't you see the wounds covering my body? Must you also tear at my soul? Must you pour lemon juice on my wounds and rub salt into my bloody skin? You wonder, exasperated.

Friends, let me pose a question to you: Can you find it within yourself to forgive those who scourged and beat you? Can you extend forgiveness to those who spat in your face and pressed a crown of thorns onto your brow? Can you forgive those who, once your friends, abandoned you to face death alone? Can you forgive those who laughed and jeered at your suffering? Can you forgive those who drove nails through your hands and feet, leaving you to die upon a wooden cross?

Isn't it easier to be the one seeking forgiveness than the one granting it? Isn't it simpler for us to be like the soldiers, the mockers, or the religious leaders who repent, who come before God seeking His mercy? After all, deep down, we know that God is compassionate and gracious. His love endures from age to age. He can cleanse our hearts, turning them from scarlet to snow-white. He can remove our sins as far as the East is from the West, never to remember them again. Indeed, we have that assurance.

But that's not the question at hand today. Can we forgive those who have wronged us? Can we live out the prayer that Jesus taught us: "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors"? The first part may come easily; we utter it weekly, every time we seek God's blessings. But what follows is the real challenge. It's incredibly tough.

On the cross, Jesus extends forgiveness to every one of his adversaries. He even offers a blessing to the one beside him. Not a hint of bitterness taints his voice, nor does any tone of retaliation color his words. "When he suffered, he made no threats" (1 Peter 2:23). Jesus forgives instantly. He doesn't wait for the soldiers, the religious leaders, the criminals, and the mockers to approach him and repent before extending forgiveness. Instead, he grants it to them at that very moment.

In the following passage, Luke 23:47, a soldier stationed at the foot of the cross, one of Jesus' tormentors, likely observed and absorbed every word Jesus uttered during his journey and while he hung on the cross. Jesus touched his heart in a profound way. This soldier witnessed something utterly extraordinary, something that shook him to his core. You see, as a soldier, he was accustomed to a cycle of retaliation: you harm me, I harm you; I strike before you strike me! But in Jesus, he beheld a heart so pure, so willing to forgive even those who inflicted the utmost cruelty upon him. "We tortured him, yet he forgives. We killed him, yet he forgives," the soldier must have marveled. And there, overwhelmed with wonder and amazement, the soldier uttered in confession, "Surely, this man was righteous."

Friends, can we forgive as Jesus forgives?

Happy Good Friday,

Vincent Arishvara 03292024

Maundy Thursday:

Love One AnotherMarch 28, 2024

"It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;  so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him… "(John 13:1-5)

What would you do if you knew you were about to die tomorrow? Some of us spend all day praying, asking forgiveness for all our sins on earth, and making amends to people we wronged in the past. We may also put our affairs in order, telling our kids where things are, giving them our email passwords, bank account numbers, etc., and indulging in our favorite food. Right? That is not the case with Jesus. "Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father." But yet, what did he do? Taking the time to wash people's feet! 

Why did Jesus decide to do this just hours before he was dragged to an unfair trial and sentenced to die? Why? Well, as Jesus explains it, it is to set an example to us: “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you." (John 13:14-15)

This really shows us the kind of love Jesus is all about. It's not that mushy, romantic kind of love, or just being friendly and nice, or only loving people who love you back. Think about it: when Jesus washed his disciples' feet, Peter, who was going to chicken out on Jesus, was right there. And Judas, who was going to stab Jesus in the back, was there, too!

Can you picture kneeling right in front of someone who's been nothing but awful to you and washing their feet? Maybe they've denied you, betrayed you, hurt you, or even tried to wreck your life. Jesus faced Peter and Judas, knowing exactly what they were about, and still chose to love them the same way. He blessed them and showed love by washing their feet. Jesus could see right into their hearts, but he didn't play favorites. He didn't say, "Oh, since you're gonna deny me, I won't love you," or "Because you're gonna betray me, I won't wash your feet." Nope!

Jesus showed the purest form of love, even to those who were planning to hurt him the most. And that's the kind of love He wants us to share, too! He basically said, "Look, I've shown you how to love. Now go do it!" Remember that Jesus took the cross to demonstrate that “God so loved the world.” Jesus carried the cross to show in word and deed that God is love and that we, as God’s children, are loved. So, friends, remember: you're loved; now go and love others! 


Happy Maundy Thursday, 

Vincent Arishvara 03282024


Holy Wednesday:

The Bargain of JudasMarch 27, 2024

Today commemorates the agreement of Judas to betray Jesus to the authorities leading to Jesus' eventual arrest and crucifixion.


Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over. (Matthew 26:14-16)


At one Bible Study, someone asked me if Jesus knew about Judas' betrayal from the very beginning and why He allowed it to happen. Why didn't He kick Judas out in the middle of His ministry? Or, why did Jesus even bother to make Judas one of the disciples in the first place? If Jesus is a good teacher, he should've rebuked Judas for the very bad things that he was doing. She bombarded me with questions that I was not able to answer with certainty, and I suggested she bring up these questions to Jesus when we meet Him in heaven one day. 


One question we can address is what motivated Judas to betray Jesus.


Perhaps Judas left everything for three years to follow Jesus because he saw an opportunity for personal gain in the end. It's like putting money into a legit start-up company with the hope that one day he could reap much money from that early investment. With all kinds of miracles that Jesus did, Judas' hope rose up. Jesus could walk on water, heal the sick, feed five thousand people, calm the storm, and raise the dead. "Oh yeah, Jesus is my man! I'm betting everything on this guy!" Judas thought. Just like James and John, who asked Jesus, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory“ (Mark 10:37), Judas, too, perhaps,  had this high hope that he could be one of Jesus' generals to run His kingdom. 


But Judas's expectations drastically changed when he realized that Jesus had an entirely different vision for His kingdom. Especially when Jesus repeatedly talks about His death, "...that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again." (Mark 8:31-32) And when Jesus invited him with the saying, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34), this revelation shattered every hope that Judas had of attaining power, wealth, and fame through following Jesus. 


Why would anyone in their right mind follow such a weak Messiah who can't even defend Himself and demands that His followers suffer as a condition for discipleship?  How pathetic! I believe Judas turned himself away from Jesus because he was deeply disappointed. Judas' ego was too inflated to allow him to deny himself and carry the darned cross. He chose to betray Jesus, his Master, rather than lose his own self-importance filled with personal agendas and expectations.  


The more important question we should all ponder is: Could something like that ever happen to me? Is it possible that I could turn away from Jesus like Judas? When we are stuck with so many unanswered prayers, when His promise goes unfulfilled in our life, when our life is a long dark tunnel that keeps hitting a dead end, and God seems to be nowhere to be found, or when we find His way is not our way and His will is not our will, are we going to turn ourselves away from Him? 


Isn't it easier to judge Judas as someone else rather than to acknowledge the possibility of ourselves being akin to Judas?



Happy Holy Wednesday, 

Vincent Arishvara 03272024





Holy Tuesday:

Jesus Stands Against the MoralistsMarch 26, 2024

On this Tuesday morning, two thousand years ago,  Jesus and his disciples made their way back to Jerusalem. Upon their return to the Temple, Jesus found himself at odds with the religious leaders who resented his growing spiritual influence. In response, these leaders cooked up a plan to ensnare him in a trap and have him arrested. But Jesus saw through their scheme and gave them a piece of his mind, laying down some harsh truths.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.  You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." (Matthew 23:23-27)


Man…you don't want to piss Jesus off with your morality. Nope, especially when we preach goodness to others yet fail to practice it ourselves.  I am not saying that Jesus condones wrongdoings or turns a blind eye to our faults. Jesus understands the condition of humans' hearts and its sinful tendencies. What Jesus cannot stand is when people blatantly ignore their own sinfulness and magnify the sins of others. Jesus cannot stand cocky people, period. The Scriptures repeatedly tell us that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6) Jesus, being the embodiment of the Divine, embodies this principle perfectly. He cannot He can't stand people who are proud and act like they're better than everyone else. 


That's why, Jesus had more problem with religious leaders at his time than with those who dwell in sinful behaviors like tax collectors, prostitutes, and even criminals who were sincerely trying to turn their lives around and be better people. Humility is everything for Jesus because He is the culmination of the humility of God. Jesus is God but He didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to His Godness. Rather, He emptied Himself took on the status of a slave, became human! He lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. (Philippians 2:5-8) And Jesus asked us to be like Him in humility. 


In resonance with what happened yesterday when Jesus cleared the temple, He invites us to 'empty' ourselves before God. Many times we are just full of ourselves, too much! "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," Jesus proclaimed. Without emptying ourselves, we cannot partake in the blessings of heaven. One more thing, it's crucial to remember that true humility before God extends to humility before our fellow human beings. The failure of the religious leaders during Jesus' time lies in their incomplete understanding of humility. While they may have appeared humble before God, they neglected the equally important aspect of humility toward their fellow humans. 



Happy Holy Tuesday, 

Vincent Arishvara 03262024


Holy Monday: 

Jesus Clears the Temple of Our HeartsMarch 25, 2024

Holy Tuesday:

Jesus Stands Against the Moralists


"Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’” (Matthew 21:12-13) 


There is a famous story about a teacup. Although there are multiple versions, here is my favorite one: "Once upon a time, there was a wise Zen master. People traveled from far away to seek his help. In return, he taught them and showed them the way to enlightenment.

On this particular day, a scholar came to visit the master for advice. “I have come to ask you to teach me about Zen,” the scholar said. Soon, it became obvious that the scholar was full of his own opinions and knowledge. He interrupted the master repeatedly with his own stories and failed to listen to what the master had to say. The master calmly suggested that they should have tea. So the master poured his guest a cup. The cup was filled, yet he kept pouring until the cup overflowed onto the table, onto the floor, and finally onto the scholar’s robes. The scholar cried, “Stop! The cup is full already. Can’t you see?” “Exactly,” the Zen master replied with a smile. “You are like this cup — so full of ideas that nothing more will fit in. Come back to me with an empty cup.”


Today, two thousand years ago, during Holy Week, Jesus cleansed the corruption within the temple of God. He rebuked the religious authorities who exploited God's name for personal gain, condemning their greed, avarice, egotism, and the corrupt system they upheld. The overturning of the money changers' tables and the sellers' benches symbolizes Jesus' emptying our cups, making room for God's presence, for transformation, and for embracing God's agenda over our spiritual journey today. Yes, the day Jesus cleansed the temple in Jerusalem marks Christ's revolutionary impact on our hearts. 


Dallas Willard writes: “The revolution of Jesus is in the first place and continuously a revolution of the human heart or spirit…it is a revolution of character, which proceeds by changing people from the inside through ongoing personal relationships to God in Christ and to one another. It is one that changes their ideas, beliefs, feelings, and habits of choice, as well as their bodily tendencies and social relations. It penetrates to the deepest layers of their soul.” (Renovation of the Heart: Putting On the Character of Christ)


When our minds are cluttered, there will be no room for creativity, possibility, and God's exciting new revelation. Embracing spirituality requires the courage to 'overturn' and 'empty' to make room for God's grace to take place. Yes, it is a perpetual effort. For instance, today, I empty my dustbin, and after a few days, it’s filled with scrap papers all over again. Or, I cleared my table and arranged it well, and next week, it will be even messier. But that's life!  There is always something waiting to be sorted through and discarded, which is also true of our spiritual life. Think about: resentment, anxiety, harsh judgments, self-pity, mistrust, broken vows, addiction, negative thoughts, useless fears, worries, and old wounding messages that can take up a lot of space in our inner being. These things leave no room for God’s agenda of growth, knowledge, love, and beauty. 


Happy Holy Week!

Vincent Arishvara 03252024


Fortune

February 10, 2024

Today, people in China, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, and some other countries are celebrating the Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year. On Chinese New Year, we all ought to wear red outfits, eat at least eight courses of meals, gather with our big family,  and give and receive red envelopes filled with money. I can almost guarantee you that today I will gain five pounds! Every custom aims to usher in luck, prosperity, and blessings for the coming year. Giving red envelopes with money from married couples or elders to their children, for instance, is believed to keep evil from the children, keep them healthy, and give them a long, prosperous life. Yes, today is a happy and fun day filled with good hope for many people in Asia. 


Not only that, if you know anything about the Chinese New Year, you probably know it's all about the zodiac sign of the year and what kind of luck it's supposed to bring. Being raised in Indonesia, I've been around all sorts of fortune-telling stuff related to the zodiac signs. Yeah, when the new year kicks in, you've got experts throwing out predictions left and right based on your birth sign. It's pretty much a standard thing there. I remember growing up, my family and I would sit around chatting about our fortunes, checking out newspapers that had predictions for all twelve signs for the year ahead.


Take this year, for example, it's the Year of the Dragon (the only mythical creature among the 12 Chinese zodiac signs), which also happens to be my Chinese zodiac sign. Pretty cool, right? People believe that if you're born in a certain year, you kinda take on the characteristics of that year's animal (can you tell that, just like a dragon, I am magnificent, powerful, and humble? HA! :) ) So, these fortune-teller experts would dish out all sorts of predictions about your business, health, love life, and even warn you about any downsides related to your zodiac sign.


People like to know what the future holds. It is innate in our being because we all want to feel like we're in control. The unknown always intrigues us, and fortune-telling offers a glimpse into what might lie ahead. We're all just trying to figure out which path to take so we don't get blindsided by life's curveballs. Can one completely stir away from bad circumstances by following the advice of fortune tellers? No. Because life is certainly unpredictable. Even the wisest, most gifted fortune tellers are just regular people like you and me. At the end of the day, we must accept that life for life, no matter what the fortune tellers say. 


Anthony de Mello, a Jesuit priest, tells this story from China: 

There once was a farmer who lived in a village. Along with his neighbors, he struggled to make ends meet. One day, news came that his old father had died. His friends and neighbors gathered to offer their condolences. “Bad luck”, they said, but the farmer simply replied, “Good luck, bad luck, who knows?”

The farmer inherited a magnificent white horse from his father. Friends and neighbors gathered to celebrate his good fortune, but again, he simply said, “Good luck, bad luck, who knows?”

One day, the white horse escaped to the hills and could not be found. When his friends and neighbors expressed their commiserations, the farmer simply repeated his mantra, “Good luck, bad luck, who knows?”

A week later, the horse returned, along with a herd of wild horses. “Good luck!” exclaimed the neighbors. “Good luck, bad luck, who knows?” replied the farmer.

The farmer’s son, attempting to tame one of the horses, fell off and broke his leg. “Such bad luck,” said the neighbors. But again, the farmer replied, “Good luck, bad luck, who knows?”

Then war broke out.  The army conscripted all of the young men to fight.  However, the farmer’s son, with a broken leg, was allowed to stay. Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows? And the story goes on….


The story suggests that sometimes it's hard to figure out if something good that happens is actually good for us or if something bad is really as awful as it seems. Life has this funny way of twisting things around, turning bad stuff into blessings, and vice versa. So, trying to predict how it's all gonna play out? Yeah, good luck with that! Life's more like a crazy rollercoaster than a straight road. 


One thing we can be certain of in the midst of the ever-changing life's circumstances is God's ever-present help. I can tell you this from my own terrible experiences when my father died or when Vania was diagnosed with breast cancer. Even in those moments when it seems like the universe has abandoned me, when I feel totally alone and in despair, God never left my side. He was always there, quietly giving me strength. I noticed His presence in my family's love, my friends' loyalty, and the church.  No matter what goes down, God's there. 


So yeah, at the end of the day, it's all about trusting that God's got our backs. Thy will be done, right?



"Lord, you (alone) give me stability and prosperity; you make my future secure." Psalm 16:5 (NET Bible) 



Happy Lunar New Year with love and prayers, 


Vincent Arishvara 02102024


Know Your Why

January 26, 2024


Allow me to brag about my son today :) 

As a proud father, I can't help but express my admiration for my son's commitment to basketball. Varen is rocking on both the school basketball team and an AAU team. His daily routine is no joke. Right after school at 3, he's on the court for basketball practice until around 5 PM, and it often stretches longer on game days. Some days, he heads straight to club practice after school practice, grabs a quick hour at home, and then hustles from 7 to 9:30 PM. I'm just sitting here thinking, where does this guy find all that energy? Grinding it all day long? I'm exhausted just watching him bounce from one practice to the next. 


I asked him one day, "Do you ever get bored or tired from all this training?" 

Confidently, Varen answered, "No." 

"Why?", I continued. 

"That's what it takes to be a professional basketball player. The more training I get, the better I will become." I'm stunned by his answer. Boy, that kind of conviction is something that I didn't have when I was young. I thought to myself. 


Nietzche once said: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” Varen seems to know his 'why' he has been doing what he has been doing. He knows why he has to train hard, and his determination fuels his tireless effort. He's not merely engaging in rigorous practices for the sake of it; rather, he's investing his time, energy, and mental focus with a purpose. His journey is not just about physical exertion but a deliberate pursuit of excellence, understanding that the 'how' of his endeavors is intricately linked to the depth and clarity of his 'why.' Whether one day he is able to fulfill that goal, that's a different matter. 


As a Christian, have you ever asked yourselves why you are Christian? In a world with thousands of religions, what draws you to choose Christianity as the guiding principle for how you navigate this life? What significance does being a Christian hold for you personally? What makes it important for you to be a Christian? I asked my youth group students this question, and the answers often revolved around external factors, such as their parents forcing them to go to church or because they grew up in a Christian family. I pressed them to really find the answer that is true to themselves of why they are Christian, and it usually ends up with a big silence. 


Being a good Christian is hard. If we follow what Jesus taught us to do, it requires so much sacrifice and dedication. We must continually show mercy and kindness to people around us. We have to forgive the jerks who wronged us, no matter how hard it is. Frequently, we are called to set aside our ego to uplift others, prioritizing a life of service over self-centered pursuits. We must master unconditional love, which often causes us to experience more pain than joy. If we don't know the 'why,' then we will give up all the 'how.' We will give up in the face of the continuous grinding of the worldly temptations that lure us toward the easier way. Isn't it easier to get even with our enemy than to forgive? Isn't it easier to chase after our own agenda and ambition than to yield to the needs of others? Isn't it easier to love only when loving others brings profit than to love unconditionally? Certainly, without a firm grasp of the 'why,' we may falter in the face of these challenges. The path of true Christian living demands resilience and a steadfast commitment to the teachings of love, forgiveness, and selflessness.


Apostle Paul found his 'why' and he shares it with us today: "I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Galatians 2:20


So, friends, how about you? Do you know your why? 



Love and prayers, 



Vincent Arishvara 01262024


Sleep

January 19, 2024

Where do you find peace and comfort when the world around you goes crazy? People have different ways of coping with their difficult situations, especially in situations that they have no control over. Some bury themselves by working overtime, some spend hours chatting with their friends, some throw themselves binging on movies on Netflix, some take a long walk in nature, and some take a long nap. The latest one is one of several things that I do during tough times when the solution is unclear. Taking refuge in the simplicity of rest allows me to disconnect from the challenges at hand temporarily. 


You may not believe it, but I've never struggled with falling asleep. When I shared this with my friends, they were amazed at my sleep superpower. How can I manage to doze off when my mind is buzzing with problems? Well, I can, and I must! If I want to overcome my problems, I must go to sleep. I can't pinpoint precisely when I discovered this "superhero" ability—it just sort of happened.


I think deep down, my subconscious wishes that all my problems would go away magically while I'm asleep. Maybe I secretly hope there are elves, just like in that Brothers Grimm bedtime story about the shoemaker and the elves. You know, the ones who make shoes for the poor shoemaker while he's catching some Z's. Whatever it is that I have deep down, I'm convinced that sleep gives me a fresh perspective on the problems I'm dealing with. For instance, like there were times when I struggled to finish up my Sunday sermon. So, when faced with that challenge, I'd make a plan for Saturday night. I'd tell myself, "I'm hitting the hay early so that I can be wide awake at 3 AM with fresh thoughts from the Holy Spirit." And you know what? It works like a charm every time!


What makes me feel good about my sleepy problem-solving method is that the Bible seems to condone sleeping as a way to let God do His divine action. At the beginning of creation: After God made Adam, Adam roamed around the Garden of Eden and realized he had no equal partner. I mean, he couldn't make a meaningful conversation with gorillas or iguanas, right? Irritated, Adam wanted someone just like him. Genesis 1:20 “But for Adam no suitable helper was found.  So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs  and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.”  


Or, check out Genesis 15; Abram was asleep when he heard the promise of God about his future generation. Also in Genesis 28:10-13, when Jacob ran away from his brother Esau to the place of his uncle, Laban. He was in great distress after he stole the birthright from Esau because Esau vowed to kill Jacob. So, in the dead of night, while Jacob's stressing, God shows up in a dream and assures Jacob about His identity: “Jacob had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.”  Isn't it interesting how God seems to drop major messages in the Bible during nap time? 

Do you see any pattern in those stories? God showed up when people were in a state of disbelief, discontent, and intense distress, all during their slumber. Adam was feeling discontent because he couldn't find a suitable partner, Abraham was struggling to believe in God's promise, and Jacob was in serious distress, running for his life from his vengeful brother. It's like God wants us to break free from our own limitations. He seems to be nudging us to rely on Him completely, and the only time He can really do His thing is when we're totally knocked out—when we surrender everything to God, just like we do when we're asleep. This is exactly the whole idea of "sleeping" in the Bible that encourages God's children to let go and give God the reins when life gets overwhelming. 


It’s much like my daughter, Viola, who had issues with broken teeth at the age of four. The doctors recommended putting four crowns on her teeth, but due to her young age, they knew she wouldn't be able to control herself and keep her mouth open for the procedure. The only viable option was to put Viola to sleep using full anesthesia so that the doctor could carry out the necessary work.  In many ways, our lives mirror this scenario. When we find ourselves in a state of disbelief, discontent, or distress, our immediate instinct is to figure out how to escape those tough situations as quickly as possible, relying solely on our own strength. Little do we realize that, much like Viola, we might be incapable of navigating these challenges entirely on our own.


So friends, got sleep? 


Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara 01192024




A New Year Thought - Start Over

December 31, 22023

About a month before Christmas, my son, Varen, asked if he could get a game console that he had been wanting to get for the last two years. He said that he was going to get it out of his own savings and that was all he wanted for Christmas from Vania and I. "You only want our permission to get a console for Christmas?" I was astounded. "Yes, but you are welcome to chip in if you want…" Varen replied. Smiling back, I agreed to contribute some funds to make his wish come true. So, in November, he got his early Christmas present. I still remember how happy he was. Little did we know that this game console would bring a lot of joy to the entire family. Our favorite game so far is a cooking game, where players collaborate to beat the clock by preparing and delivering as much food as possible before time runs out. When we failed, we restarted the game and started over. Guess who pushes the restart button the most. Me! My rusty fat fingers struggled to keep up with the game controller. 


As I played the game, a thought crossed my mind, "Wouldn't it be nice if life had a restart button, allowing us to begin anew whenever we faced failure?"  As the year draws to a close, I can't help myself from being self-reflective, thinking about some of the accomplishments this year that I hope to repeat for the upcoming new year. I also spend time thinking about all the things I did this year that brought pain or sorrow to other people's lives, especially my loved ones. I ponder my failures, postponed goals, and the sense of brokenness that has led me to question my own self-worth. In those moments, I daydream about having a reset button for life. Imagine being able to start over with a fresh slate, free from the weight of negative memories and past mistakes that keep creeping back into my mind. If I had a chance to start over, surely, I'd be fueled by a new sense of spirit and determination to give this whole life thing another shot.


Whoever invented the New Year is a genius! It's like a built-in reset button for life. It gives me this chance to shake off the self-blame for all the dumb things I did, get past the failures, and kickstart a mission to be a better version of myself. Of course, we still carry around the remnants of our past mistakes, but there's something refreshing about being able to tell ourselves and everyone else: "This is a new year, a new season, a new beginning that's gonna lead to a whole new me!"

 

Friends, we may not have that reset button, but we are blessed with something even more powerful – the guiding hand of God, the giver of second chances. In His divine glory, God declares, "Behold, I am making new things!" It's an invitation for each of us to embark on a journey of new beginnings with Him. He says, don't worry about your brokenness in the past, I have redeemed you: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." With God like this, we can have the confidence to do the one thing in this life: "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."


Exactly two weeks ago, on a chilly Wednesday, December 20, while our church was distributing food to our neighbors in our Food Pantry Ministry, a breathtaking full-bow rainbow graced the sky amid the cold and cloudy weather. As tears rolled down in my eyes, that very moment served as a powerful reminder of God's unwavering faithfulness to the world, to the church, and to my family and me. There, as I was standing in the middle of the church parking lot, God whispered it once again: "This is my promise to you, and for all generations to come, I will always be by your side!"



Happy New Year to you and yours with lots of love and prayers, 



Vincent Arishvara 12312023



There's So Much To Be Thankful For

November 20, 2023


Josh Groban sings in his song There's So Much To Be Thankful For: "Somedays, we forget to look around us/ Somedays, we can't see the joy that surrounds us/ So caught up inside ourselves/ We take when we should give…" Groban is right. Gratitude comes from seeing.  It emanates from acknowledging the kindness, gifts, love, and care bestowed upon us. It also emerges from seeing the transformations within ourselves. Now, this one needs a little elaboration. 

A woman said to me: "Tough to be old. Being old is not for sissy!" After, she had to go through multiple surgeries to fix her hip. How can you be grateful for the changes? It is easier to be thankful when we compare our broken past with our much better predicaments in this present time, such as when I once was lost, but now I am found. I was blind, but now I see. But how can I be grateful for something completely opposite? For something like: I was healthy, but now I am sick! I was rich, but now I am wallowed in debt! When everything's just going downhill, feeling grateful is a real struggle, right? How do you find gratitude when the reservoir of good things in this life has hit rock bottom? 


Throughout my years in ministry,  the strength of my church congregants has been a constant source of inspiration. Those who continue show a tremendous amount of gratitude no matter what comes their way. Take, for instance, a lady who selflessly cares for a loved one, sacrificing her joy, a man enduring months in a rehab bed due to failing lungs, and someone grappling with the onslaught of cancer, depression, and the various side effects of chemotherapy. These wonderful people stand tall in the midst of adversity by showing an extraordinary ability to see that there's always something to be grateful for, perhaps from the remains of the last good things they could find in their lives. In a way, they embody a reversal of the saying "Every rose has its thorns," turning it on its head to declare, "Every thorn has its rose," reminding us that gratitude can bloom even in the toughest of situations.


That alone is a lesson that gratitude doesn't need to wait for good things to happen. Even in those crappy situations, there's a chance to be grateful in a different way. Like not just for the good stuff but for the opportunity to grow, be tough, and show that we can handle whatever life throws at us. It's like finding gratitude in the midst of all the drama and showing that we're strong and can keep going, no matter what.


If you've got a moment, give Psalm 31 a read. You will find the psalmist venting and pouring out his heart, but then he hits this moment by saying, “But I trust in you, O Lord,  I say, “You are my God.” You are the one who created me in my mother’s womb; you know my plea, Lord, you know my sorrow. But...My times are in your hand.” In other words, the psalmist is saying, "I'm broke, battling some serious health issues, and jobless – life's rough, but... but... I got God! I know I can trust you, Lord. You alone are in charge of my life, and You'll give me the strength to handle it all."


The psalmist shifts his focus to God, surrendering everything to the Almighty. This attitude of surrender opens up the pathway to praise. It's like, only by letting go of some parts of our lives can we really see what God has planned for us. Only by surrendering our ego, ambitions, and self-centered junk to the One in control can we say, "Even though life's messy, I'm still going to praise God." Yes, praise is a serious and deep acknowledgment that our lives aren't just ours – there's someone bigger in the picture. It's letting God be God. Praise is recognizing that God is the GOD, and He can evoke gratitude in our hearts no matter our situation. With that conviction, we may find that, yes, indeed, there's still so much to be thankful for. 



Happy Thanksgiving with love, 


Vincent Arishvara, 11202023


Is There an End to a War?

October 13, 2023


Let's be bluntly honest here. Do you think there will be an end to every war on Earth? You can say that I look at a half-filled glass as a half-empty glass and not as a half-full one. But I don't see there will be an end to war in this world as long as the earth continues to revolve. One war in one place after a certain period may end after the whole generation perishes. But, almost a guarantee, there will be another war elsewhere. How can we avoid war? 


The root of war lies in the negativity of the human heart. Think about how we often engage in unnecessary or trivial conflicts. We get irritated when someone disagrees with our Facebook posts. We get angry when someone confronts our political views. We get annoyed when someone dislikes the merits of our favorite pop star. We get hurt when someone remarks on our body image. The list goes on. If those petty things can anger us, how much more damage can we expect when things like cultural heritage, religion, land, and race become the subject of our argumentation? 


Why, then, do we get irritated, annoyed, bitter, or angry over things that are somewhat personal to us? Because we attach ourselves to these things as part of our identity as a person. 

When I think about it, the root of every conflict lies in the preservation of self. It is about survival. We protect what is ours. We claim what is ours. We defend what is ours. We preserve our religion; we defend our land, we claim our heritage. Because without those of ours, (we think) we won't have a sense of identity. Without identity, people won't respect us. Without respect, people will undermine us, then we will become powerless. And being powerless is not cool because we won't go far in this world without power. 


So, we argue about which is ours and which is others. But if you think about it, what is ours? In the Bible, Job cries, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart." We don't carry anything coming to or departing from this earth. So why sweat thinking about what is ours after all? Isn't everything above and below the earth belong to God? How can we claim anything is ours? I cannot, and I should not be naive about this matter. Yes, we do "own" something, such as a house, a car, a piece of land….as long as God allows it. Yes, we should protect and claim what we "own." But can we justify war for us to claim and protect what is "ours"? 


War is never a simple topic to explain. But anyone, even with a little sense of humanity in their heart, can certainly understand the evilness of war. How can one not shed tears watching little children live without their loved ones? How can one's heart not break to pieces watching a family get displaced and torn apart? How can one not experience anguish when they see innocent children die in the arms of their mothers? Then the question appears: is it worth it? Is it worth all those innocent lives to claim, defend, and expand what is ours? I don't know the answer. But I know my heart aches watching yet one more war broke out. 



Love and prayers, 


Vincent Arishvara 10132023


Balance

August 11, 2023

I know someone who saved every penny he earned and barely used it for anything fun. He always said, "One day, when I have enough money saved, I will have fun." Then the darndest thing happened, he got sick, and all the money he saved went into caring for his health. He said, "Now, I don't have any money left to use to have fun. It all goes down the drain for my health. I should have used it to have fun while I could." 


On the other spectrum, there was a person who spent every penny he had on lavish vacations, fine dining, fancy stuff, and so on, and he barely had any money saved for a rainy day. His excuse was always like, "Why work hard if I don't enjoy the fruit of my labor?" Later, he found himself buried under a mountain of debt. He had no money to care for his health when he was sick. He told me, "I wished I had saved enough money for retirement, but now I don't even have money for my health." Both died with regret. One for not having the time to have fun, the other for not having the money to take care of himself…" 


Wise people offer the concept of balance in life. Don't do anything in the extreme. You can work but don't overwork. You can have fun, but don't get wasted. Aristotle states: “Virtue is the golden mean between two vices, the one of excess and the other of deficiency” What he is trying to say is that overwork is as bad as no work, and having too much fun is as bad as having no fun in life. The golden mean is finding the balance between the two extremes. You wouldn't want to know my struggle trying to find balance in everything I do. For the list of failures is too long to be told. 


Telling people to balance their lives is as old as time. We know the truth about it, but we often find it hard to do. Why? One, perhaps, because life demands what we can give them. An overworked friend tells me she never wants to be overworked, but if she doesn't day and night, nothing gets done, and she might lose her job. And secondly, perhaps, because we don't know when enough is enough. We overconsume alcohol or tasty food, splurge on shopping, or binge on Netflix movies because we can't stop the things that bring us pleasure from coming to us. These two problems inflict us all humans as long as we live on earth. One can say that balance is achievable only by God. 


While Jesus was still on Earth, he gave us a hint of how to live a balanced life. Take a couple of examples of Jesus' life: when the people demanded so much from him, even to make Him king by force, Jesus withdrew to a mountain by himself (John 6:15). Or, on the night before, Jesus had to take up His most challenging task as the Son of Man, to be crucified, Jesus chose to have a dinner party with his disciples. As if he was trying to say, "I am not going to cry or be anxious about the cross. This evening, I want to have fun with my beloved ones by enjoying a good meal with them." If anyone would force me to be a king, I would say yes, sure, by all means! And if I know that I will be dead tomorrow, I will surely cry all day today, mourning my sad fate. Jesus' ability to put Himself in such a state where no outside circumstances could influence His peace, that, I think, is the golden mean according to Aristotle.  


The secret of Jesus' balanced life lies in His relationship with His Father. We can see how Jesus surrounds Himself with the presence of His Father in Heaven: when Jesus was by himself, when Jesus was with His disciples, during meals, during his ministry, and during the most challenging time of his life in the garden of Gethsemane, at all times, He made sure that His Father in Heaven was part of His decision making, highest goal, and meaning. Therefore, no extremities could overcome Jesus' joy and peace because His life is grounded in God and God alone. O, how I love to become more like Him. How about you? 


"...seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." Matthew 6:33



Love and prayers, 


Vincent Arishvara 08112023




So Help Me God

August 3, 2023


Something strange happened to me lately. I cry too easily! This is so not me. I don't usually cry or even get teary-eyed over touching matters unless a dire life event occurred, piercing my heart so badly, then I would cry. But even then, it was never hard. Just this morning, while driving from home to church, my mind suddenly wandered about all the people who have gone before me, like my dad, my uncle, and some of the old church members. And I was sobbing unstoppably the entire road. My eyes became a fountain of tears. I could feel my heart ache, and a deep longing appeared uncontrollably, wanting to see those special people. 


I didn't know what struck me like that, as if I was under a mysterious, gloomy spell. Is that because I'm experiencing a post-mid-life crisis? Hormonal change? And it is not even September yet when people's hearts become mellow (sing that tune: Try to Remember the Kind of September) Or maybe because my daughter is about to go to college in a couple of weeks? I am not sure. But my wife is convinced that that must be the cause. 


Richard Rohr, in his book "Falling Upward," describes the first half of life (the first 35 years of a person's life) as the “container” of our life. This first half is about growing up and building a solid ego structure. During this time, our days are spent designing our identity, following rules, seeking importance, seeking to belong to the right groups, obtaining school degrees, creating careers and wealth, finding a partner, having children, and so on. This phase of life is very self-centered—and necessarily so. It's all about acquisition, certainty, order, and upward mobility.

 

Rohr goes on to say that the second half of life can be described as "the contents” of the container. This is the time when we discover the meaning behind what we did in the first half of life. This season isn’t about growing up, but growing down. In growing down, we learn the lessons of surrender and letting go. And, in so doing, we come out of our own ego self to discover greater love, greater wisdom, and a more vibrant sense of self. 


Vania, my wife, is right. I may have this fear of letting go of my daughter on her pathway to adulthood. In two weeks, my daughter will live her life in college down in SoCal, apart from me and my wife. This is a huge crossroad in my life as a parent, knowing that my child is no longer my own (in fact, she never was, she is God's). I must come to terms with the reality that I must let go of the things I love. They are not mine to begin with, and I should not be entitled to anything, even about my own children. 


And this event wakes me up to the reality that at my age, I am just entering the second half of life, the season of growing down, the season of letting go. I can relate to what Rohr describes. As a 47-year-old man, as I reflect, I have no more interest in proving my worth in life. I have no interest in competing or showing people that I am a "master of the universe" anymore (even though I have never been one 🙂). I used to dream of working as an architect at a prominent architecture firm in a penthouse office overlooking the big city view, earning a lot of money, living in a nice house, and driving a sleek car. Even when I was first ordained as a pastor, I wanted to be a great pastor who could mobilize many people with my preachings and be honored as the most dedicated pastor. Now, not only did I let go of the desire for honor, power, glory, status, or wealth, but now I must learn to let go of my child to be in her own world of wonder. And then, what's next? That makes people like me nervous; how many more losses should a person endure in the second half of their life? 


I am convinced that for all people of every age and every season, God always has a purpose, and He will reveal its beauty in His appropriate time. In this season, I have to cry the tears of letting go, but at the same time, I know that God is working wonders in my life. It may come in the form of wisdom, understanding, acceptance, or spiritual wealth that I need yet to find out. Whatever that is, I am looking forward to greater love, greater wisdom, and a more vibrant sense of self. So help me God. 




Love and prayers, 


Vincent Arishvara 08032023


Why Saying Goodbye Sucks?

June 30, 2023

I find it over and over again that saying goodbye to those I love sucks. Goodbyes and their stings would never exist if we had never met each other in the first place. I can't say goodbye to a stranger I never met before, and to do so would be nonsensical. So why do we have to meet others? Is it because we are social animals and we are doomed by the Divine that we can't live without the presence of others? Should I say blessed are those who have never met anybody in their lives that they never have to say goodbye? 


I also find that the level of goodbye pains varies depending on how close I am to someone. To an acquaintance, I can be more willing to say goodbye when the time to be on two separate ways comes, and most likely, I won't even feel even a pinch of pain. But saying goodbye to a mother who loves me and whom I love, the hurt is real, and it sucks. I wonder why. Isn't it interesting that humans have developed this sense of attachment, and when separation must happen, it hurts? The closer you are to the person, the more hurt you would feel when you must part ways. Have you ever tried yanking off a duck tape from your skin? 


Just like wax to its mold, when two persons meet, through conversations, emotions that occur from each encountering moment, and the things that they do together, they adapt, adjust, and become one. Aristotle once said: "What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies." When goodbye must happen, the pain can be unbearable, as if part of your soul is taken away from you and you have become incomplete. The person to whom you are saying goodbye, suddenly, has become a shadow who exists between real and unreal, reality and a dream. They still exist but, at the same time, no longer exist. And that sense of limbo, I think, is what makes goodbye sucks. You know they are still there, in a distant place. You can still talk to them on the phone, and you can still Facetime them, but nothing can replace the in-person connection. 


Consoling his disciples before Jesus was going to leave them, Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me….I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” I believe at the moment, Jesus' disciples did not quite comprehend what Jesus' goodbye may really mean for them, but they certainly knew the pangs of grief of Jesus' farewell. Therefore Jesus had to assure them: "I'll be back!" The antidote to goodbye's pain can only be found when the beloveds are reunited once again. Nothing else. 


So, during the longing, during the anxious waiting, during the grief and the lonesome feeling, silently we can say to ourselves: 'until we meet again'…because that's our saving grace…because that is our hope. 


Jesus said: "Behold, I am coming soon…" Revelations 22:12


Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara 06302023


Pleasure in a Bag of Chips

May 12, 2023

I'm holding my favorite bag of chips, Hawaiian Kettle Style Potato Chips, reading its nutrition facts. It reads that a serving size of 17 chips equals 150 calories, about eight servings per container. That's quite a lot of calories for a few chips! I remember my friend told me that in order to burn 150 calories, that means I have to walk for about thirty minutes. My brain starts calculating. How can I eat only seventeen chips? Watching TV, I can easily crunch half of the bag within three and a half minutes. Too delicious to resist. 


I grab a couple of chips from the bag. My hand has two different sizes: the tiny one that looks crinkly odd in shape and the big one that is cut in a perfectly round shape. My brain starts calculating. When it says seventeen chips, does it mean seventeen tiny ones or seventeen big ones? Whoever wrote the nutrition facts must have meant seventeen big perfect chips that equal 150 calories, which means if I only eat the tiny ones, then I could eat more than seventeen chips. My brain starts to sort. I only pick small chips and leave the big ones in the bag. My goal for the day is to eat only seventeen chips! Broken-in-half-size chips, crinkled chips, and crumb-size chips all go to my mouth. Unexpectedly, a full bag of chips becomes only half. I got into a panic mode. What has happened? Where did the other half go? I am left dumbfounded. I dump the whole bag into a bowl. I see only a few huge, perfectly shaped chips and chip crumbs left. The rest? In my tummy!


It looked like my brain was compromising as I was eating it. As if I was face to face with my own self and my goal-keeping-self lost in the face of a bag of piquant chips. Every chip became small in size before my chips-craving eyes causing my hands to keep grabbing for more, I intentionally lost count of how many chips I ate because every chip looked minuscule for my calorie intake. In my case, molehills have become a mountain, literally! 


We are all have our temptations. Whatever those are. Some easier to resist than the others, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Whatever that is, it is hard to fight it off. Apostle Paul experienced the same struggle: "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do….For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out." (Romans 7:15, 18) Whatever temptations we are facing, we cannot face it alone. Even Apostle Paul couldn't! But Paul knew the key to overcome it: Jesus Christ! He said, "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:25) 


Yes, we are bombarded in every which way by temptations that will distract us to achieve our spiritual goal to be close with God. But, as cliche as it may sound, cling to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, so that we will not grow weary and lose heart. Because struggling alone will only result in big defeat. Believe me, who would have thought that a bag of chips could defeat me badly? 


Got tempted? Go to Jesus, 


Vincent Arishvara 05122023


Nail Service

April 21, 2023

Last night, Viola, my daughter, asked me, "Papi, can you do my nails?" 

"Why?" I asked. She always goes to a nail salon to beautify her nails before attending any big event. So, why now, I wondered. 

"Because I'm broke!" she replied. 

"What do you mean?" I was confused. 

"I want to have French tip nails for my prom this Saturday, but it's expensive to get it done." 

"How much?" I asked. 

"Seventy-five bucks."

"What? No way! Show me that French tip nails stuff." 

Then, Viola showed me a bunch of images on Google of the wide varieties of French tip nail designs. "Hmm…that looks easy. I can do that!" said me confidently. Let me be honest with you, I have this big ego of a know-it-all attitude when it comes to art. I always offered Viola to do her nails in the past because I always felt like it was not worth it to pay for something that I could easily do. But she always refused, arguing that I would not have the patience to do the nails. When she asked me last night, I thought, this is my moment to shine!!! 


"Ok, I'll do it! No need to waste $75! I can do a better job!" I said it to her, cockily. She glued fake nails and gave them foundation gel before I got to do my nail art on them. While waiting for her to do that, I checked a couple of Youtube tutorials on how to do French nail tips. I gained more confidence. "It's so easy…I can do it in half an hour." 


After finishing the prep work, she laid out all her nail polish materials: the gels, the glue, acetone, small jars, cotton wipes, a UV light for curing the nail gel, and a wide variety of brushes. I was impressed with what I saw. All these times, she could have opened her own nail salon, and surely, I could be her assistant. I laid her fingers on the table. Starting with the her pinky finger, I carefully colored her already well-gelled fake pinky nail with white gel on the tip. "It's okay to color the tip of your nail sloppily at first; you can clean it easily with acetone later," I remembered what the Youtube tutorial told me. I did every tutorial step: cleaned the excess gel around the fingertip, shaping and rounding the gel around the nail tip with a brush. 


Done! I said. Viola brought her pinky nail closer to her eyes, carefully examining my work. "Papi, the left side is too thick! And see, your curve is jagged, you got to round it seamlessly. And you see, the starting line of the left and the ending line of the right are not drawn evenly. Can you redo it?" I wiped the entire gel and started all over again. The second time Viola examined my work, "Papi, you see the gel clump on edge? You need to smoothen it. And the curve is still uneven." For a moment, I wondered whether my daughter had become a very demanding and annoying customer to her own dad or if it was my work that was questionable. But after the third examination, I passed. Viola said excitedly, "Good work, Papi!" All her earlier comments made sense. She acquired a good taste standard over time by watching her nails get done by professionals at nail salons. I felt a deep relief. Soon Viola said, "Nine more fingers to go!" 


I repeated the entire process nine times over, and let me tell you, I don't think I got better even after the fifth or sixth nails. I had to keep redoing my work over and over again. Viola noticed my sighing and frustration even though I tried to hide them badly so that I did not come across as a loser in front of my own daughter for not being able to finish the job. "Are you tired, Papi?" "Nope!" I said. Even though there were times I said to myself, "Just go get your nails done at the nail salon. This is too much!" Suddenly, seventy-five bucks did not seem much at all. 


Two and a half hours later, yes, you hear me right! Two and a half hours later, I finished ten fingernails: French Tips style! "Thank you, Papi!" Viola hugged me. My work looked alright, after all. I asked, "If you go to a nail salon, how long does it take for the person to do the entire thing?" 

"An hour. That includes the prep works and the whole things that you just did," Viola answered. "I did my prep work for two hours, and you did yours for almost three, today, we spent almost five hours doing nails." I was stunned. No wonder it cost so much! 


The lesson for me at the end of the day is everyone is blessed by God with their own talent and ability. No one should compare what they can or cannot do or whether this job is better or less valuable than the others. No one should say that being a pastor is more valuable than being a nail stylist or being a janitor is less valuable than being a doctor. Everyone has their own place to contribute to this society. And ultimately, to fulfill God's call as humans who work to glorify God. Yes, I learned so much last night. One thing I found out, too, I don't want to be a nail stylist. It is DARN HARD! :) 


May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands. Psalm 90:17


Love and prayers, 

             Vincent Arishvara 04212023




A Good Friday Thought

April 7, 2023

"Forgive Them For They Do Not Know What They Are Doing"


On a Good Friday afternoon, we hear Jesus on the cross shout: Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing. They do not know what they are doing, he explains to God, and people who don't know what they are doing should not be held accountable. Like, a teacher cannot give a bad grade to a student without telling the student what they should be tested on before. Or, when a little toddler hits your head with a toy hammer, we shouldn’t be mad at her, the toddler doesn’t know enough about what hurts and what does not. The reason is: We cannot hold a person responsible for what they do not know. And Jesus on the cross wants His Father to know that he has no case against the people torturing and killing him. Jesus wants all charges dropped.

We may ask: Are people forgiven only if they don't know what they are doing? No. God is merciful and gracious. He forgives our sins without any condition attached to them. Then why Jesus expressed this awkward statement? Remember, everything that Jesus said has more anything to do to us than to himself. The statement of Jesus on the cross states the reality of our human predicament that should make us be willing to forgive anybody the more. Think about it: We only know what we can possibly know within our capability to know. Say maybe it’s only 10% of the truth. And the rest, 90% of it lies in our oblivious states; we don’t even know that that 90% of the truth exists. It is simply because  we don’t know what we don’t know. 

What do we really know? Even for something that we claim we truly know, making us look ridiculous later on and could damage our relationship with others. This kind of scenario happens all the time in every level of relationship: family, church, and business settings…conflict happens because of what we don’t know; we get hurt, others get hurt, and we don’t know that we’re making an offense and the one making offense to us didn’t even realize what they did to us. So, what would you do if you are the victim of someone’s ignorance? On the cross, Jesus didn’t give up many options. He forgave because those who killed him did not know what they were doing, and He expects us to follow his step. 

I know some of you may immediately object: “You are wrong, Vincent! They knew what they were doing. They knew they were going to hurt me, and they went ahead and did it anyway.” When she told that lie, she knew what she was doing. When he double-crossed me, he knew what he was doing. Again and over again, we must think of this question: Can we truly know what we know? 

Ponder those haunting words: “Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing.” Underline the word “what” because it is the key to the first saying of Christ from the cross. The key is not the fact that they do not know. The key is what. They do not know what they are doing. They know they killed a man named Jesus, but they didn’t know who he really was. They didn't understand his true identity. After all the healings and every miracle that He did, the message of love that Jesus preached, and the life transformation that happened to every individual that Jesus encountered, they should’ve known better what they were doing, but in reality, they failed to do so. The soldiers, the religious leaders, and the Roman authorities, all of them were guilty of much worse than they know. They are guilty of killing the Son of God from heaven. When Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” he was saying, “Father forgive them because they need forgiveness more than they know.” “Father forgive them because they desperately need forgiveness, and don’t even know it.” 

On Good Friday, Jesus demonstrated His amazing grace to us. Because of that, we know better about God's mercy. As Christians, we must start from the position of grace. Yes, we know better about this grace! Despite all the shortcomings that we have as human beings, we should know better than those who do not know the Lord. Jesus has made it known to us on the cross what it meant to forgive even the unforgivable. Marcus Aurelius, the great Roman Emperor and Stoic saint, used to say to himself every morning, "Today you will meet all kinds of unpleasant people; they will hurt you, and injure you, and insult you; but you cannot live like that; you know better, for you are a person in whom the spirit of God dwells." Others may have in their hearts the unforgiving spirit; others may sin in ignorance, but we know better. We are Christ's men and women; and we must forgive as he forgave.


Friends on this good Friday, pull out the long list of people that you need to forgive. Say their names out loud and say it with a joyful heart: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. AMEN. 



Love and prayers, 

             Vincent Arishvara 04072023





Get Rooted

March 17, 2023

Last Tuesday, the wind blew hard around the San Jose area was recorded at around 50 mph. I was doing my pastoral visit when I got a text message from Laura, our church admin, telling me that three big trees had fallen on our church property. One of the trees caught the electrical pole's cable and pulled the giant pole to be slanted, causing the church without power.

Returning to the church, I saw a sixty-foot pine tree (I think) lying in the middle of the church's parking lot. The wind blew that giant tree down mercilessly. What amazed me was that I found the bottom of the tree was utterly uprooted. You could see the root with its thousands of tiny root fibers that look like twisted thousand fingers exposed, towering on top of the ground. I thought, what a mighty wind! But then, I realized that the hollow ground where the tree was planted before wasn't that deep. And I noticed that the exposed root was shallow. It was only about three or four feet down to the ground.  For a huge tree like that, it was surprising that the root was shallow. I can only imagine the tree's weight, followed by the blowing wind that adds more weight to the root. No wonder when the wind blew, the whole structure collapsed. O, how the mighty have fallen!

There, right in front of me, was a powerful lesson about life. For us to survive in this life, we must have a deep root that is anchored deep in the ground or else we will get destroyed when the huge storm comes. The more we grow, the deeper the root must grow to sustain the weight and the pressure of the wind. You've heard the saying: "the taller the tree, the stronger the wind". Life leaves us with a limited option, if we want to grow taller and bigger, then we must have deep roots. Many people want to be famous, wealthy, and influential, but only a few take the time to develop their root.

I had a conversation with some middle schoolers during a casual meeting after church and I asked them what would you like to be when you are big? Do you know what the most popular answer was? Being a Youtuber! I didn't even know that that was even a career that anyone can have. And they started explaining to me how making content for Youtube can bring you thousands of dollars a month if your channel gets a lot of viewers. One kid said, "Being a Youtuber is easy; you don't have to go to college, and you will be famous and rich in a young age!" I guess they got the point. But my worry by listening to that conversation was how these kids wanted everything in their hands instantly without having to do the hard work, especially developing their "roots". Do they know that life is not as easy as they described? Being rich and famous without solid educational, moral, ethical, and spiritual foundations can only lead them to disaster. I don't have to mention to you big names in politics, business, or entertainment that got entangled in abuse, scandal, and crime that eventually left them with nothing.

Apostle Paul was aware of the significance of building our roots. He wrote to the church in Colose:  "So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness." (Colossians 2:6-7) For Paul, life without root in Christ is life in vain. A life that may only lead to destruction and sorrow. Friends, who would want that kind of life?

Today is St. Patrick's Day. Let us pray together the prayer of St. Patrick as we continue to be rooted in Christ and His love:

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every person who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me. AMEN

Love and prayers,

Vincent Arishvara 03172023

Give Up, Give Out, Give In

February 24, 2023

On Wednesday evening, after our Lent service at church, a friend came to me and said, "I don't know what to do for Lent." 

"What do you mean?" I asked. 

"I don't know what to give up," she replied

"You can give up chocolate and candies," I answered half-jokingly, following the popular thing many people give up during Lent. 

"But I have no problem with chocolate or candies. I don't eat them anyway." Following my friend's logic, Lent is a time for us to give up the very thing that takes control over us other than God. If you are never addicted to chocolate and give up chocolate, what use is it? It won't do you any good. 

Earlier, in my sermon for Lent service, I said, "If you're thinking about giving up something during Lent, you may consider giving up negative things such as unkind attitude, unforgiving heart, gossiping, cluttered mind, laziness, being angry all the time, and so on…" So, I repeated the list to my friend. She smiled, "I think I got an idea." 


We know the theory about giving up the bad stuff, not only during Lent but forever! But we also know how hard it is, especially if that bad stuff has already been embedded in our being so deeply that it has become part of who we are. For us who quickly get angry over little things, for us who tend to hold grudges for every bad thing that other people did to us, or for us who always find joy in talking about others behind their back, you name it…and we have been doing these harmful things for as long as we can remember. Now, we get the invitation to give them up during Lent. How vain that would be? It's almost like giving up ourselves altogether. Take me for an example. I tend to have a cluttered mind due to taking up so many things all at once. Sometimes, I found myself pulling my hair in frustration, not having enough time to finish many things. But I can't help it. I have been that way since I was little. My mom can attest to that: a child with a busy mind and hands, always thinking and making something. So now, how can I give up my cluttered mind if that makes me who I am? 


I realized that telling myself to give up eating chocolate, red meat, or being hooked up to social media and Netflix is way easier than giving up my broken nature that has defined me as a person. But it is crucial for us to give them up. Why keep the junk in our souls if that will destroy us over time? We will continue walking in the circle of our brokenness if we refuse to break the chain of anger, unforgivingness, grudges, laziness, and a cluttered mind that leads to nowhere. Then, we won't find peace in everything we do. And unknowingly, piece by piece, our happiness, our relationship with others, and our spiritual life with God give out. Yes, it is hard and nearly impossible, but we must give them up. Especially when we know in our sober mind that we have a problem with certain negative aspects of our life. 


With our own strength, we won't be able to give up our harmful ways of life. I would recommend that we all give in. Give in to Jesus. Surrender and say to Him, "Lord, I can't do it alone. Please help." These are not magic words that will make all negative things disappear. These words will help us realize how limited we are as humans and how much we need a Savior, bigger and more powerful than us, to overcome everything that is not right within us. 

Do you get what I am trying to say? We need to give up bad habits, bad behaviors, and bad thoughts. If we refuse to give up, then all that is good in us will certainly give out. If giving up is hard, why don't you try to give in? Give in to Jesus. Hear what Jesus said: "Come to me you who are weary and burdened (with all negative things in your life) I will give your rest…" 


Happy Lent, friends!

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara 02242023


Cherish Each Moment

February 3, 2023

The last three weeks have been very busy for me as I was setting a personal goal to finish the first draft of my dissertation before February starts, not counting trying to juggle work and family life on top of that. Viola, my daughter, especially, has been very busy too. She had so many things in her hands: school, boyfriend,  basketball games, and senior homecoming night. I notice that I barely see her at home. It's not like that was a new thing for me. She is always busy, but this time is different. She is busy finishing up her high school year. Soon, June comes. She will graduate and start thinking about spreading her wings to college, something she has been talking about for a while. 


Last Monday, Viola had three days retreat in Santa Cruz with her school, and the house felt empty and quiet. There was a chill feeling that I disliked. I shared that sentiment with Varen, my eleven-year-old son, "The house is going to be quiet like this when Jiějiě (big sister in Chinese) is in college, right, Varen?" He responded almost immediately, "I disagree! It's going to be just the same. Jiějiě is always in her room anyway." Duh! :) Soon, my daughter will be away from me to pursue her education. I know it is inevitable. I know it is necessary for my child to grow up, to fly away from her nest, and to decide her destiny. I know it is good that she is going to college and not choosing to stay at home doing nothing. But still, it is not easy. She has been living with us for seventeen years with joy and tears. Yes, there were tearful moments of conflict, disagreement, disappointment, and even anger that frustrated me. And there were are happy times of laughing, silly acts, celebrational, and victorious moments together. Good and bad, she is my beloved daughter whom I love. The thought of being apart is painful. I think my parents must have felt this when I left home twenty years ago.


In the quietness of my house a couple of days ago, I was reminded by a poem by Kahlil Gibran that was introduced to me by my mom a long time ago: 

"Your children are not your children.

 They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

 They come through you but not from you,

 And though they are with you yet they belong not to you…"


How profoundly true.  Perhaps it is not only my daughter that needs to grow up. I, too, need to grow up and be wiser by not allowing my fatherly egocentric sentiment to confine my child from every opportunity to learn from life. 


Friends, we all know how fleeting time is. Jesus reminds us: "As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work." (John 9:4). We are given only so much time, and within that allowable time we have, we gotta do what we gotta do. While there is a chance, we should never put things off, for another time may never come. Nothing is worse than the tragic discovery that it is too late to do something we should have done. The last several days had taught me, once again, to number my days right and to cherish my family as long as time allows. In the meantime, I shall continue to be a father to my children. Hopefully to be a good one. 


Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara 02022023




New Year (Again)

December 31, 2022

In several hours, the year 2022 will be a thing of the past, along with everything that was memorable and good; along with our regret and the things that broke our hearts. Soon, they will only be a trace of our existence: we made the year 2022! Now all attention is given to the new year. We are making predictions. We are setting up our expectations. We are constructing a new dream. We are piling up our new year's resolutions. We do these things because we want 2023 to be a good year if not a better year. It is like pressing a reset button on a video game to erase all the losses and the mistakes we made. We need a fresh start to begin again with a new focus and energy. Whoever invented the cycle of new year is a genius! Can you imagine living perpetually in the same year? It can be depressing because then, it will feel like we're trapped in the vicious circle of life's absurdity. Yup, giving each year a number gives us a sense of direction and progress. What a genius! 


Last night, Vania, my wife, said, "Maybe a new year is not only about setting up a new expectation or a new goal. Maybe it's also about letting go." What she meant was every new year people keep making the same goal of the things that they failed to accomplish in their current year. What about letting go of that goal? Does it mean we will never get to do that goal? I asked. Yes, let that goal go and learn to accept the reality that the goal they have been setting may never come true with their current life situation, and make an adjustment for the new year, she said. I see her point. We all have broken dreams. If we continue to force ourselves to hang on to that dream then we may grow frustrated with life. Even though I know some people who continue to dream the same dream until that dream is realized no matter how much frustration they had to endure. And I also know some people who continued to dream the same dream until the day they died. Whichever route we choose, a new year is a good time to make some adjustments in life. Making new goals, letting go of a goal or two, hanging on to the old goals, or making no goal at all, whatever that may be for us, a new year is giving us that chance to evaluate our personal life. 


As we are entering the year 2023 along with its excitements, surprises, mysteries, and the unknowns, let me offer to you the famous "Serenity Prayer" that was written by an American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: 


" God grant me the serenity 

To accept the things I cannot change; 

Courage to change the things I can; 

And wisdom to know the difference. 

Living one day at a time; 

Enjoying one moment at a time; 

Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; 

Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; 

Trusting that He will make all things right 

if I surrender to His Will; 

So that I may be reasonably happy in this life 

and supremely happy with Him Forever and ever in the next. 

Amen."


Happy New Year, friends! May God bless our journey forward. 


Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara 12312022


Theater

December 9, 2022

A friend asked me, "Why do theater? Does it matter for your ministry?" He asked me this question knowing how busy I am every Christmas season trying to pull people together, writing playscript and song lyrics, making the set, and coaching the actors. All are part of an effort to produce a Christmas musical play production with the Trinity and GKI (Indonesian Church) congregations. "Theater brings people together," I said. And that's the main factor that keeps me going for more than 30 years. I love how little kids act with their cute movements and say their lines with their child's voices, even though it is always a struggle to get them, with their attention span equal to a worm, to focus when you are trying to give them direction. I love how we get together creatively to do woodworking, make the sets, create props, and paint, even though it can be a struggle to translate your artistic ideas to a bunch of computer engineers, moms, and some retired folks. I love how some people at church who had zero experience in acting accepted the challenge to be actors for this special Christmas production. Even though sometimes you want to pull your hair in frustration trying to teach them how to speak theatrically and move theatrically, encouraging them to memorize their lines, or having to keep reminding them about their blocking. 


One actor said to me yesterday when I was painting the set, "It is truly a journey. Less than two weeks ago I saw what a mess we were, with nobody remembering their lines and the kids going all over the place. I thought we wouldn't be able to pull this performance off. But last Sunday, I saw how it came together very nicely" I laughed. Church theater is different than the common ones, in my opinion, well, at least in my version of church theater :) We go on without auditioning the actors. My go-to method every year is just to ask some random people at church, young and old, who'd like to act in Christmas production for the year. After I got my courageous willing actors, I write the script by imagining the kind of characters they would be with a storyline in my head. The same with creating the set or selecting people for the stage crew, I call anybody who likes to hang out, paint, do some artsy crafts, set some lighting, operate the soundboard, do make-ups, and move things around with no prior experience. 


I am by no means a professional theater person myself. I never went to theater school for acting. I never got any formal education in decorating or set making. My love doing theater grew thirty years ago as a high school student who was given the opportunity to act in an Easter play in my hometown church in Indonesia. I was a shy young guy with zero theatrical experience being taken into the wing of the late Rev. Abdi Widyahdi, a pastor with a big name in art production at the time. I felt honored and more importantly, included. My love for this form of art grew bigger and inspired me to do the same for others. It is cool to be part of a creative community!


My biggest moment every single year is when people come to me and said, "I never knew that I could act, but now I know I can." Or "I didn't know that I dared to embarrass myself in front of a lot of people, but I do! HA!" And of course when you hear the children come to you and ask you, "When is the next play? We can't wait!" 


Yes, you can call us a bunch of amateurs. We won't get offended because that's who we are, literally.  By the way, do you know what the word amateur really means? The word amateur comes from the Latin word 'amatorem' "lover". Yes, we are a bunch of theater amateurs. And we are proud of it because we love making art, we love doing theater, we love one another, and ultimately we love the Lord. Yes, we're doing this not for our glory to one day win the Tony Award or something. We're doing this because we love the Lord whose birthday we are celebrating this Christmas. 


If you have the time come this Saturday for our Christmas Musical Play at 4:30 PM and 7 PM. 


Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara 12092022





Expectations

October 28, 2022

Coming home from school, I found Varen with teary eyes. I asked him what happened, and he said, "All is well", and he went out to shoot some hoops in the backyard with his basketball. I knew something wasn't right. Later, Vania told me that Varen was disappointed that he did not make the cut into the A basketball team at school and it was a very close call. Varen had been talking about how prepared he was and how he has what it takes to make it into the A team and today he had to swallow the bitter pill of defeat. 


Expectation is the mother of all disappointments, says one person. What he means is if you don't want to get hurt when you find out that the reality is not the same as what you have expected, then don't expect anything. Setting up how high our expectations are going to determine how much heartache we are going to feel when we find out that the reality doesn't match our expectations. The higher the expectation the more hurt we get if we don't get what we expect. Therefore never expect. When you work hard at your job, don't expect to get a promotion. When you treat your friends nicely, don't expect them to do the same to you. When you invest your money, don't expect to get any return on your investment. When you diet, exercise, and practice a healthy lifestyle, don't expect your health to improve, the list goes on. Otherwise, you may get hurt by your own expectation. 


Is that true? How can we not expect anything? As humans are always bound by what we desire, dream, and hope. Without desire, life would be dull and passive. Without dreams, progress in life may never happen. Without hope, we may fall into serious fatalism. We can and should expect our desire, dream, and hope to come true, but I think the key is to never put our expectations as the most important thing in our life. Making our expectations the most important thing in life would create an illusion as if we won't be able to thrive or even survive when our expectations are not the way we want them to be. 


The key to having healthy expectations is putting our expectations in the hand of God by saying: God, Your will be done, not mine. Often times we don't realize whether the thing that we expect to come true in life is good or not for our life in the long run. We simply don't know because our human understanding can only comprehend what is presented before us. We can't see the future. We can't see if our expectations will bring us more good than harm for us in the future. What we think is good for now may not be good a year from now. When we put our expectations under the will of God, the burden of expectation will be lighter and in return, we can feel more peace when things didn't happen the way we want them. Then we can treat any delays, any cancellations, any U-turn, or any stoppage in the fulfillment of our expectations as God's way of bringing something better for us in the future. 


In the evening, before bedtime, after finding back his calm, Varen came to Vania and me and told us: "I am happy. Me not making it into the A team is going to motivate me to be better in my basketball games." I gave him a good night smooch on his cheek: Attaboy! 


Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara 10282022


The Book

October 7, 2022

On my day off last week, I spent almost the whole day cleaning up my bookshelves. I was inspired by a friend of mine who had to do a lot of house cleanup after his parents had to move to an assisted living facility. He said to me, "You wouldn't believe how many books my parents accumulated over fifty-plus years living in their home. Pile after pile of books from every crack in the house now they are stacked in the living room. Now I have to think how to get rid of them." I smiled. In my head, yup, I have tons of books as well! A lot of them have been sitting on the shelves unread for many years collecting dust. It's time to go through them, sort them out, and give them away. 


I went through my books one by one. Looking at the title, brushing its pages in case I may find money bill or precious momentos in between its pages, and spending a little moment to think whether that book still giving me a spark or not (Marie Kondo, a world-known professional organizer, suggests to rid of the stuff that doesn't give you a spark anymore and keep the one it does) and then place it to either in the "to keep" pile or "to rid" pile. What made it hard for me to get rid of some of the books is that in my early days of reading, I used to write the date I bought the book and the occasion of why I bought the book on the first page of the book and then I put my signature there. It seemed like the kind of book I bought suited my mood the moment I bought it. As you can imagine, I became sentimental and every book suddenly became personal to me all over again because I was reminded of the memory of each book. For instance, the book "Ten Theories of Human Nature" written by Leslie Stevenson and David Haberman, I bought it in Surabaya, on April 20, 2002. I wrote a caption that says: "Anxious about America or Indonesia, read away my anxiousness." That book reminded me of the time when I had to decide between moving to the US or staying in Indonesia. I remember how anxious I was, thinking about leaving my whole family, my job, my friends, and my home church to create a completely new life in a foreign country. Each book has been a part of my life in big or small ways. 


After going through a tight sorting process, the "to rid's" pile was somewhat enormous. I had to make peace that a lot of my books, however personal they are, must go and find a new owner who could be inspired by the wisdom of the author of each book. As I looked at the piles of books that were ready to be shipped elsewhere, I gave thanks to them for they had been a wonderful companion in times of need. I gave thanks for they had been part of my growing process as a person. Yes, I know even though those books are going to depart from my bookshelves but can never be separated from my life. Because in every little way, these books have helped shape the way I think and feel about myself and my world. 


Talking about books that shape my life, there is one book that has brought a tremendous amount of inspiration throughout my human life. This book challenges me when I become so full of myself. This book encourages me when I feel lonely and weary. This book inspires me to keep being kind and loving in any circumstance. This book shows me the way of eternal love and how to stay on the path of love. Ultimately, this book has defined who I am as a father, a husband, a pastor, a friend, and a human being. And I love this book! Can you guess which book I am talking about? Well, if you are intrigued to know, I can tell you more about this book :) 



Love and prayers, 


Vincent Arishvara 10072022


Humble Prayer

September 16, 2022

Luke 18:9-14


To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else,Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”



Which one do you like better as a person, a loyal citizen, a faithful religious person who devotes his life and gives tenth percent of his income for the work of God like the Pharisee? Or, the tax collector, a bully, literally?  During the time of Jesus, tax collectors were hated and despised by their own people because they were usually fellow Jews who worked for Rome, which was the oppressor at the time. When they collected their taxes for Rome they would turn over the required amount of money, and kept whatever they could add on for themselves.

In many regards, I like the Pharisee! He is For sure he is practicing a strict law and would do anything to build the Kingdom of God. Who doesn't like this kind of person? I would sign him up to be a member of our church or even an elder altogether. When I was still working as a youth director, I would love it when I found my students were faithful, read the Bible and prayed everyday. It would give me even more joy when I hear that they love Jesus and would love to give some of his allowance money to the church, and perhaps one day go as a missionary. 

And yet, in the story, Jesus was in favor of the tax collector  and made him an example for others. Why? Not because of his bad behaviors in the past, but because of his prayer! 

An obvious difference between the way the Pharisee and the tax collector prayed is their postures. The Pharisee's posture is erect, elevated, and cocky. One could suspect that he is not praying to God but with himself. In his prayer, the Pharisee was informing God about everything good he has done:  "God, look how great I am! Don't you see what I did everyday? Everything I do, I do it for you, Lord! Am I awesome or what?" 

The tax collector, on the other hand, knows how messed up his life has been. For this reason he stood far off, maybe in the hidden corner of the temple unseen from other people, and he would not even lift his eyes to God. There, he stood with contempt, sobbing and beating his chest. His heart was filled with regret and sadness from all the terrible things he had done: the greed, the deceit, the injustice that he inflicted upon his fellow people. He prayed "O God, be merciful to me-- sinner,"


If we think about it, who in this world can live sin free? Who in this world can live like a newborn baby, pure and untainted? Even a newborn baby is sinful. As the psalmist declares it: I was sinful at birth! No one in this world can claim that they are better, purer, nicer,  than anyone else! We should always remember: No one who is proud can pray. Apostle James: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”The gate of heaven is very low; only the humble can enter it. — St. Elizabeth Ann Seton 

And no one who despises their fellow humans can pray a faithful prayer. In prayer we do not lift ourselves above others.  Every single day we make mistakes. I believe there is no day passed without a single sin done.  We are sinning when we become impatient with our spouse or our children. When all we care about is our own needs and we become ignorant of the needs of others. When we judge others because of the color of their skin or their religious background. When we hide the truth and let lies triumph. When our speech and our actions do not reflect Christ. If you really search and look at the depth of our own heart, and see all the junk that lies deep within, then no one, no one at all can stand with confidence before the Almighty. 

Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanuse was on his deathbed, his disciples asked him to teach them the way of life. His last words to them were: "When you pray, realize before whom you stand." Friends, in that courtyard at the hour of prayer, both the Pharisee and the tax collector knew where they stood. But only one of them knew before whom they stood. Therefore before the greatness of the Holy Almighty God, the only thing that the tax collector could do was to  fall face down, ask for God's mercy, and ask for forgiveness. For nothing, nothing at all, in his life even the good things he had done can shine more than the brilliant glory of God. 


Love and prayers, 


Vincent Arishvara 09162022


We Are The Church

September 2, 2022

Okay, let's be honest with ourselves, Christians, oftentimes, are the reason why people stop going to church. Thinking back, I have many incidents where I found Christians were not the nicest people in the world. When I was little, I remember, a pastor scolded me from the pulpit for being fussy during service, in front of a lot of people. Of course I was fussy for the sermon was boring and I was being a child and doing what a child does when he gets bored with the pastor's sermon, right? On the other hand, during my teenage years, I witnessed first hand how a pastor was treated poorly by his congregants. The pastor was brought to a church court because of his sermons that were not in accordance with the congregation's liking. With those two events alone, I had enough excuse to stop going to church if it were not because of my mom's ongoing pleas.


Now being a pastor myself, I still hear stories of how people are hurt and traumatized by church. Apart from physical abuses that church did, there are many mental abuses that the church have caused that made people stop going to church. People stop coming because other Christians make sarcastic comments about others' appearance at church, have an unwelcoming spirit with people who are different, gossips, the list goes on. Christians can be mean to each other. No joke about that. 


A couple years ago, there was a gay couple who visited our church service whenever they visited their parents. After many encounters, we became friends. One day I asked them, "Why don't you join our church since you like our church so much?" The guy said, "I will never be a member of any church. In the 80's, a church that I was part of for many years said that I can no longer be a member of the church after I came out. They basically kicked me out and wanted nothing to do with me after those many years. I was hurt so badly. And I don't think that wound will ever get healed. I believe in God and such but I don't think my relationship with church would ever be the same anymore" I was speechless. It reminded me of Mahatma Gandhi's story of how he was rejected by the door by a white church in Calcutta because of his skin color. Gandhi said: "If it weren't for Christians, I'd be a Christian." He was completely turned off by the segregation practiced by the church. Later Gandhi also said: "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."


That said a lot about the broken reality of our life as Christians, as church. We fail to embody the boundless love of Christ that always forgives, kind, merciful, just, gentle, and all-welcoming. Billy Graham once said: "there is no perfect church." As much as we want it, a perfect church, perhaps, never exists. Because there are still imperfect humans in it. If we want to be honest with each other, church is a place where sinners are redeemed and transformed and we promise to God and with each other that we will leave our sinful life and live a godly life. Oftentimes we fail, but we know that we are being renewed each day as long as we are willing. 

As a church, we may not be able to be perfect, but we shall continue to persist in that direction. To persist toward the goal to which Jesus wants us to be. Can we do this – love those who are different, even our enemies, stop being judgmental, always forgive, and practice justice? No, not perfectly. But at least we continue to try. Today should be better than yesterday, tomorrow will be better than today. To persist in bringing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Are you willing to persist? We must! Because we are the church and the world needs us to lead them to Christ.



Love and prayers, 


Vincent Arishvara 09022022




Is the Church Still Cool?

August 26, 2022

Last week, I found out that one of my students declared themselves an atheist. I was shaken. They were raised in a Christian family, went to church, and have been part of my ministry as long as I have known them. It was not the first time I heard my former students have this kind of change of heart on Christianity. I can give you a list of my former students who went to college after high school, came back to town and chose to stop going to church, declaring themselves an agnostic or atheist. I wondered what had happened with these young people? 


It is not a secret anymore that young people are no longer interested in going to church. They don't feel that church is a necessity for their life. Even worse, the media is bombarding us with all kinds of news about how corrupt, scandalous, and abusive the church is as if there is nothing good that the church has done and is still doing for the world. This can only lead people to think that the church is a place of complete hypocrisy where Christians preach about one thing but do completely opposite things. Surely, young people are disassociating themselves at a steady rate from the church. I heard it over and over again from some of my students who are still practicing Christianity this excuse: "I am spiritual but not religious. I believe in Jesus but I don't like organized religion, and so on and so forth."  I don't feel like the church where I worship is that way (maybe that's just my naive opinion) but again, that is not enough to convince young people to flock inside the church to worship. What do I have to do to make the church cool so that they want to be part of? 


My son, Varen, who loves sports, loves shoes. His favorite shoe brand? Nike! Whenever I take him to shop for Nike, people line up at the Nike store. There are many shoe brands, but why Nike? Varen not only wants Nike, he needs Nike. He thinks that wearing Nike can improve his image and also his basketball handling. For Varen, wearing Nike is almost like a matter of life or death. Boy, how I long to see young people have that kind of need for church. I long for them to line up to go to church and see church as something that they really need, a life or death matter for them. I long to hear young people say to their football coach: "Sorry coach, I cannot practice on Sunday because I really, really, really have to go to church. Not because my parents force me to, but because I really want to. It is a cool thing to go to church." Maybe I am dreaming. Maybe it is true that the church that we know now needs to have a total renovation inside out. Maybe the church in the western world is out of breath and waiting for its dying moment. I don't know. 


Thinking about young generations and their disinterest with the church always makes my tummy churn. As a pastor, what do I have to do? Should I turn our church sanctuary into a flashy sanctuary with a light show and loud band to accommodate the energy of the young spirit during worship? Should I hang out at places where young people hang out and try to share cool stories about Jesus? Should I keep doing what I have been doing and just pray that God turns the tide of this culture? The only consolation about having to be a person who runs a church is to realize that the church I am serving is not my church. The church is not mine nor that I am the CEO of the church. God is. And for these many young people who said: "I don't believe in God anymore!" My response would be that of Alexandre Dumas's character Abbe Faria in his novel 'The Count of Monte Cristo': "It doesn't matter, God believes in you…" In the end, I can only hope and pray that God alone will be the one who touches the lives of young people in His own mysterious way. God may still want to use the church to reveal His presence or maybe not at all. Who knows? In the meantime, for us who still believe in the church of Jesus Christ, let us persist with God's work: loving young people, one soul at a time. 



Love and prayers, 


Vincent Arishvara 08262022






Childhood - A Reflection

August 12, 2022

When I was in Indonesia doing my sabbatical last July, I stayed at my mom's house for three weeks and during that time, I had an opportunity to reminisce about some of my childhood memories. Some of the things I did were visiting my old elementary school, eating at the food stand where I used to hang out with my friends, visiting my birth town, the list goes on. One day, my mom brought out several small boxes from her storage room and said to me, "These boxes are full of old pictures, maybe you'd like to go through them and take some to the US as keepsakes." I opened those boxes and found a lot of loose family pictures stacked inside: photos of family vacations, friends, church gathering, home recital, etc. As I was going through them, my eyes caught on a stack of some old pictures, these were photos of me when I was little. Some of the photos were starting to fade away but some were still sharp even though the colors were not vivid anymore, smeared with some pinkish hue. My dad was the one who took all those pictures. He loved photography. I still remembered the cameras that he owned were already advanced for his time. 


I found lots of solo pictures of little Vincent in all kinds of poses. I was not the cutest little kid, let me tell you (of course my mom would argue with me about that. HA!).There were photos of a skinny two-year-old Vincent with a big bald head wearing a tank top. I literally looked like a sad lollipop. I thought, is that really me? Why don't I remember me looking that sad? There were photos of me riding my first three wheel bike, a photo of me sitting on my mom's lap in our old house that no longer exists blowing a candle on my third birthday, and so on. How can I not remember all these events? 


Maybe it is just me, but isn't it interesting that I cannot remember or even tell myself what truly happened in my childhood, at least the first three years of my life? Only bits and pieces here and there that came back to mind. Even then, I couldn't even tell myself the details of each event captured by those photos.  I don't remember being a baby. I don't have any recollections about me being one, two, or even a three-year old. My mom could tell me the kind of child I was. She told me that when I was little I always cried whenever I saw sad movies. And how my dad even thought that there must be something wrong with me since, he thought, that I was too little to know my feelings. Really? I asked myself, I don't remember that. 


Looking at myself, a forty-six year old man. I thought, well, even though I don't remember much about my childhood, certainly those years existed. These moments may only be bits and pieces in my brain but it did happen. Time is so fleeting and life gets on so quickly with it. That's why I am grateful for smart people who invented cameras. These photos are evidence of God's grace, providence, and guidance that came through the hands of those around me when I was little and innocent. The photos that were in my hands only captured some of the best and happy moments of my life, and surely, there were many moments that were not so good or even bad. But these bad moments have shaped me to be who I am now and have helped me to realize that even in my worst moments, I am still accepted and loved, unconditionally, by those around me. Maya Angelou once said: "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."  Yup, that feeling of being loved as a child, I remember that vividly. 


So, if you have a chance today, go over some of your old photos and thank God for His goodness. 


Love and prayers, 


Vincent Arishvara 08122022



Moving On

May 13, 2022

Written on the white board in my office: Sunday, "December 19, 2021". That is the date that my daughter wrote when she came to church that Sunday morning. That was also the date when the church had a Covid-19 outbreak with many people getting sick that Christmas week including me. Once again, I had to miss the church's Christmas celebration, cancel my long-waited end of year vacation, and reschedule all my family gatherings. And I had to spend two weeks in bed trying to recover from Covid. Way to end my 2021! I'm not sure why she had the urge to write that specific date on the board, although I know that she loves to use my whiteboard to doodle or write silly stuff whenever she gets bored. She wrote it in the morning, before she knew the outbreak was about to happen. Perhaps she had a premonition? I asked her that, but she couldn't remember. 


Today is May 13, more than five months since the day of the outbreak, and I still have that date written with black ink on my whiteboard, right in front of my working desk. For whatever reasons, I didn't want to wipe it off just yet. As if I wanted myself to be reminded about the bitterness of life in the year 2021, on that specific date. Yesterday, I thought about erasing it again, but then I decided to leave it for another week. Why? I don't know. Humans are quirky. Or is it just me and my antics refusing to move on? 


Moving on is a process. For some people it is a faster process and for others it takes a longer time. Apostle Paul gives us a tip in his letter to the Philippians: "But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead" Why did Paul make it sound too easy to move on? Especially after you have been hit by a big traumatic event, we could find our life "engine" stalled and crippled for a very long time. We don't want to be stalled nor do we want to crippled by bad life events, and we know it is bad for our life in the long run. But we cannot control our feelings. For any justifiable reason, we are not able to pull ourselves out of the ditch of bad experience. And for some people, we have found how they become stuck and "crippled" for the rest of their lives. Just forget and move on? How can we forget a bad experience? 


A traumatic life is like a crumpled piece of paper, clenched up, hard with some sharp and jagged edges. Can we still use it for writing? Of course. But it takes some work to straight and smooth it out. First, slowly we must find the edges of the paper and try to unfold it, crease by crease. We don't want to rush it or otherwise we may end up ripping the paper. After it completely opens up, we straighten the paper up with our hand, with a baking roller pin, or even with a heated iron. Voila! We just added another life to that piece of paper. But still, the creases, the clenched up marks of its crumpled shapes remain. You can still see it. You can still feel it, no matter how much time you spend ironing it. Again, we argue with Apostle Paul, "See, Paul! How can you forget the past traumatic life?" 


But Apostle Paul with his gentle grin would reply to us with another statement: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" (2 Cor. 5:17) That's the only saving grace we could have in this life: being made anew. And that's, perhaps, what makes Paul able to forget his past life. Only in Christ can we find complete healing and full restoration of our earthly life, where all the marks of our traumatic and negative life would be erased and we are being reborn like a smooth new piece of paper coming from the press. Hmmm…how I long to be made anew. 


Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara 05132022


A New Song

April 29, 2022

How can I live without music?  One thing that I am grateful about 21st century technology is that I don't have to be in a certain place in order to listen to music like I used to be with a big stereo set nor that I have to carry a bulky boom box or a walkman set clipped on my belt just to listen to a handful of songs that could become stale in an hour since I could only carry a couple of cassettes or CDs. Now, my cell phone contains a gazillion songs I could listen to anytime, anywhere. I have all kinds of song playlists that I categorized according to the theme, mood, and genres. When I do my hike, I play the Taize chants to calm my mind during a strenuous climb. I play religious songs when I do gardening to remind me that gardening is like doing ministry at church. Last week, during my road trip to Arizona I played a groovy kind of  music to keep me from falling asleep while driving long hours. Hours of music and still millions to choose from with the Spotify app I am using. Amazing! 


Music is magical! I believe you remember the story of King Saul in the Bible who gets moody easily and he always needs David's song to calm his spirit. "Whenever the evil spirit from God bothered Saul, David would play his harp. Saul would relax and feel better, and the evil spirit would go away." (1 Samuel 16:23). Or the story of Elisha who asks for a harpist to play music to his ears before he can give a prophetic voice from God to the people of Israel that the rain would come to end the long drought in the land. "...bring me a harpist.” While the harpist was playing, the hand of the Lord came on Elisha and he said, “This is what the Lord says: I will fill this valley with pools of water." (2 Kings 3:15-16) One of our congregants told me that she plays four hours of Christian music every single day since her mobility is shot due to muscle loss. And that spiritual music helps her get through the day. Music has a way to bring healing to a broken soul, calm to an agitated heart, and joy to an aching heart. 


The Psalmist writes in Psalm 40:3: "He (God) put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God". If you are anything like my daughter, you will always get excited to find a new song sung by your favorite singer coming out on the Billboard chart. She would sing this new song over and over and over until her father (me) gets annoyed by it. But I couldn't blame her. I would do exactly the same thing. Sometimes when I was playing piano or strumming my guitar, a nice tune would come out in my mind in the middle of my playing and I had to play it over and over again so that I wouldn't forget it before I got to write it down. It is an exciting experience, I'm telling you. The inspiration that I believe came from the Divine: God put a new song in my heart! 


I believe that's what the psalmist meant by a new song. A fresh tune, not an old, stale one that you have heard many times before and has lost its meaning and power to change you. This fresh tune gets you excited and invites you to move your body into its rhythm. And you just want to sing it over and over again because it is so good. So, what kind of song that God put into your mouth today? Is it a song of repentance that calls you to change the way you've been living? Is it a joyful song that invites you to raise your hands in praise to your Creator? Is it a relaxing, spa kind of song that encourages you to be still despite your crazy schedule?  Is it a marching song that calls you to keep on going in your life no matter how difficult your life is. Whatever the song is, listen to it and sing it loud, and praise God who put that new song in you. 


Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara 04292022


A Thought: Can You Move Your Shadow?

March 26, 2022

"Can you move your shadow?" a friend asked me as she was going to do her swing at the golf ball when we played mini golf at Golfland. Unknowingly, I stood near her waiting for my turn to hit the ball but my body was covering the sunlight behind me so a large shadow of my body darkened the area where her golf ball was. Her request tickled my brain because it sounded strange. I laughed so hard. How can I move my shadow if I don't move me altogether? "Yes, exactly," she said, "I want you to move so that I can see clearly where my golf ball is." I moved but the strange request stuck in my brain. 


In the Book of Genesis, when God created humans for the first time, He said "Let us make humans in our image…" The word "image" is translated from the Hebrew tselem, which could have several meanings: shape, resemblance, figure, or shadow. So, we may read God's saying as "Let us make humans in our shadow." We were created in God's shadow! When we ponder about this we could ask how a shadow forms? It is when a source of light hits an object, and the exact form of that object casts a shadow. If the object is moving, its shadow moves. The shadow does exactly what the object is doing. The shadow of a person dances when the person dances, runs and the shadow will run, and so on, you get the idea. The shadow is an exact representation of the person and it is the evidence that a person or an object exists and presents. (Now you get it why I chuckled when my friend told me to move my shadow, right? :)) Here is a spiritual lesson on this fact: If we were created in God's shadow, then, everything we say and do should be the reflection of God. God is love, therefore we should do love. God is merciful, therefore merciful we are. 

Another thought: have you ever made or played shadow puppet with your hands? I still remember when I was playing it with my children when they were little. I clawed my hand in the shape of a giant monster trying to eat my children. All I did was move my hand closer to the source of light and my shadow became bigger. When my kids pretended that they beat up the giant shadow monster, I would move my hand further from the light and it became tiny as if they had defeated the giant shadow monster. An interesting fact about a shadow, the closer the object or person is to the light source, the bigger the shadow it casts, and the further away the person or object, the smaller the shadow! Here is another spiritual implication of the shadow. The closer we are to our Creator, who is the light, the bigger we will appear.  I am not talking about “bigger” in size or bigger in self-perception, but rather “bigger” in terms of Him and His qualities and certainly we can be bigger than any problem or temptation that we are facing. So, stay close to the source of light! Stay under God's divine light and be big, bigger than any obstacles that this world can throw at us.  

"Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty (Psalm 91:1) 


Love and prayers, 


Vincent Arishvara 03262022


Lord in Your Mercy, Bring Peace

February 25, 2022

Coming home from school, my ten year old son blurted to me, "Papi, are we going to have World War 3?" I was speechless for a moment. Varen did not ask me that question with fear in his eyes or worried tone in his voice, he said it rather casually, almost too casually that I sensed that he might consider the idea of world war as a cool idea. I said, "Pray that we never, ever, ever, have to repeat that horrible war." And then I went on explaining why war is evil. 


I can never understand war. However right and justifiable that war is. Especially when it is over a land, territory, or power. In my head this kind of war is a bad idea sowed and propagated inside the head of commoners by a few egocentric-power-greed-leaders who crave for dominance over others. It is never an idea coming from an ordinary man or woman. Because all they want is to live a peaceful life so that they can work and do their daily routine without any interruptions. I am one of them. I just want to live a happy life in the house that I purchased twenty years ago. I just want to do the work that God asked me to do. I want to see my kids finish their school, have careers, get married, and give me a bunch of grandchildren so that I can retire peacefully until the Lord calls me home. It is simple. Who wouldn't want that? I may be too naive or foolish, but try to convince me that war is necessary? 


The immediate thought that came to mind yesterday after learning that a war broke out between Russia and Ukraine was how terrible life has become for men and women and children who have to flee from their home, their job, and their school leaving everything that they have to a completely different state of living full of uncertainty, fear, and hopelessness. How can anyone live like that? William T. Sherman, an American army general during the Civil War said a remarkable statement that stuck in my head: "It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded, who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell"  I couldn't agree more. 


Friends, in this time of sorrow over the war that just broke out, let us pray for our Ukrainian brothers and sisters. Let us pray for peace using the prayer that Walter Brueggeman wrote during the Iraq war, a prayer that is still relevant for our condition today: 


On Peace and War

"…The world has become so strange,

and our place in it so tenuous,

where gray seems clearer than the white purity of our hopes,

or the darkness of our deathly passions.

There is so little agreement among us,

perhaps so little truth among us,

so little, good Lord, that we scarcely know how to pray,

or for what to pray.

We do know, however, to whom we pray!

We pray to you, creator God, who wills the world good;

We pray to you, redeemer God, 

who makes all things new. We pray to you, stirring Spirit, healer of the nations.

We pray for guidance,

And before that, we pray in repentance,

for too much wanting the world on our own terms.

We pray for your powerful mercy,

to put the world – and us – in a new way,

a way after Jesus who gave himself,

a way after Jesus who confounded the authorities and

who lived more excellently.

Whelm us by your newness, by peace on your terms – the newness you have promised,

of which we have seen glimpses in your Son

who is our Lord.


-Walter Brueggemann, Prayers for a Privileged People (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2008), pp. 65-66. 



Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara 02252022


Student Teacher

February 19, 2022

            I know now for sure that being a pastor is one of the most humbling jobs ever. I often asked what is the best advice a forty year old pastor could  give to a person who was diagnosed with cancer, leukemia, facing retirement, etc. What do I know about arthritis or this and that? I never had the experience before. It’s totally different than when I advise my sixteen year old daughter about bad friendships. I can tell her that bad friendship is toxic. I can tell her about the hormones of teenagers around that age that make problems worse. And I can always convince her by saying: “Believe me, I’ve been there! It happened to me and I don’t want it to happen to you.” I can give her thousands of tips on how to manage a good friendship. I see and hear enough in my 45 years of my life to advise a 16 year old.  I can say with confidence with those younger than me.


            How to advise someone with a problem double my age? While all I can do is say, “God be with you.” “You will be in my prayers.” or “Hang in there!” I said to a friend who deals with cancer, “Hang in there!” and he responded, “It’s easier said than done.” How do I advise a person who completely lost hope and barely has any faith left because her life is so broken by myriads of problems? I don’t know. I couldn't even console a friend who lost his dog due to old age. He and his wife cried every night and they asked me for prayers. Witnessing that much of love that a person had toward their dog, amazed me. Since I couldn't put myself in their shoes.How can I pray for someone who lost a pet while I have never had any connection with a pet? What kind of prayer should I pray? 


I know God is good. I know God gives way out of our desperate situation. But knowing is different than experiencing it myself. It’s like knowing the theory of music do-re-mi-fa-so… now can I teach someone how to play piano if I never play it myself? I can tell them that the note D is after C, but surely I cannot show them how to play. I can preach about everlasting hope. I can preach about enduring faith. But how can I preach with integrity if I have never been to a situation so dire that I almost lose all hope that forces me to question my faith but against all odds, I manage to keep them? I remember my piano teacher said to me, “I cannot teach you what I’ve never done before.” Sunday after Sunday, each time I stand up on the pulpit to deliver a sermon, I ask that to myself. The most humbling moment in my life, when people know how inexperienced I am and yet they still come to me and share their hearts with me.


Later, I found one aspect that I have never considered before. Somewhere, I found someone who said or maybe wrote "we are all teachers and students". Yeah, what if every one of us are students and teachers at the same time? It is a sober realization that no matter how old or young, experienced or inexperienced,  we can always teach others about something. Jesus urged us not only to learn from him but also from everyone and everything around us: from a persistent widow, little children, from the tree, bird, flower in the field. There's so much we don't know about life that requires us to pay close attention. Just like me, my role as a pastor has put me more as a student than a teacher. For I learn more from my congregations' lives than what I am able to teach them. These bits and pieces of wisdom I harvest every single time I am in conversation or in prayer with them, I store them in the depth of my heart so that I can use them one day during the drought of my spiritual life. 


But I am also aware that I cannot deny that in big or small ways, I am also a teacher. I need to teach others who I believe and tell them that life is worth living with the One I believe. Every single day I teach, through my Sunday morning sermon, my writing, my testimony, my speech, and my actions. I may not fully understand the subject that I teach but the Divine in me will be the one who teaches through me. I believe each one of us, you and me, are also teachers. So, never shy away from the opportunity to teach others. No matter how old, young, inexperienced, or well-seasoned you are, teach away! 


The prayer of the day: "Lord, show me, what should I learn, and what should I teach today?"


Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara 02192022


How To Forgive a Difficult Person?

February 4, 2022

Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. Matthew 18:21-22

The question that Peter asked Jesus, perhaps is our question too. I know the benefit of forgiveness, but now, how many times should I do it to someone? We ask: "Lord, I have this annoying person in my life. He hurt my feelings, cheated on me, broke my heart, lied to me, manipulated me, stabbed me in the back...over and over again. Do you think I need to forgive him again and again? I can't stand it!"  So, we hear Peter make a proposal: “Lord, how about up to seven times?” In our thinking, seven times for the same person is a lot already and that's good enough.


Jesus answered: “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. Audrey West, a Bible commentator, has an interesting take on Jesus' statement: "Seven is a measurable number. It represents an amount that is easy to trace, even if its referent is something great. Jesus’ response to Peter’s question takes forgiveness out of the “countable” or measurable category and places it into the realm of the incalculable." The forgiveness that Jesus asks us to do is beyond our capacity to keep tabs, beyond our capacity to offer on our own strength or ability. Jesus challenges Peter to forgive like God forgives! Uncalculating and unconditionally. 


Forgiveness is a tricky business. It demands for us to take off our ego and put it at the bottom of our feet. How could we since we have every right to demand repayment for any wrong and damages that another person has done to us? A Sufi, Imam Husayn said: "Nobility is to choose forgiveness when revenge is in your power." But often we find ourselves choosing revenge because that's easier to bear. We get to maintain our ego and at the same time exercise it upon our debtors for the wrong they did to us. And if forgiveness or revenge are not even an option for us, we choose a softer path: avoidance. We say things like: 'I'm going to stop talking with you', 'I'm going to forget that you exist!' 'I'm going to disappear from your life'. And we hope that time will heal our pain. Wrong! What we're doing is like putting make-up on a bruised face. There is no real healing that takes place. We don't demand pay back but we're stuck with the debt that person owes us. Without forgiveness, this person who wronged us  and their debts will continue to haunt us and hold us captive. And this bitterness will eat away our inner self, smother the joy out of life, and incapacitate our ability to grow. Soon, we will find that our life will be dwarfed by our own inability to forgive. 


Forgiveness requires us to look at the eyes of our debtors and with an open heart canceling every debt they owe us and with a big embrace welcoming them as a free person without any debt to repay. By doing so, we free the debtor from shame and ourselves from bitterness. Just like Jesus on the cross who faced his enemies while saying, "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." Jesus is a free man, unburdened by the harms that others did toward him. Yes, it takes a big heart to do so. It is hard but it is necessary if we want to live a free life full of joy. Peter’s question, “How often should I forgive?” and Jesus’ answer “Seventy times seven” suggests that forgiveness may well be a long and difficult process but it is possible. 


Joan Chittister writes "Forgiveness is the most divine of the divine attributes, ranks, as well, as the most basic of human processes, the one that really brings us to the zenith of ourselves. Therefore, to forgive is to be like God who has no bound in his mercy toward us. So, if you desire to follow God who has shown great mercy to you, then let us forgive and let it begin now…


Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara 02042022


Dependence

January 27, 2022

Today, my day at the office wasn't quite smooth. My plan to finish some of the work was stalled due to a problem with our internet connection. Technicians came and tried to solve the problem with no avail since the problems were apparently larger than what they could handle. So I had to cancel our Bible study, I couldn't finish my writing, I couldn't print, basically I couldn't function without the internet. During a conversation with Carol, our ministry coordinator, we reminisced about the time when the internet was not even a thing. I couldn't even remember how I got the work done without the internet back then, how silly! Life was more complicated, I believe. We had to go to the library to do our research, we had our glorious Yellow Pages book to find restaurants or other businesses, we had to go to a real physical place in order to do Bible study or to see movies, we had to open a huge AAA paper map to find directions to certain places, boy…life was tough back then. But we barely complain about it because simply we didn't know any different. And now? With the convenience that computers and the internet give us, we are spoiled. I admit that I would be handicaped without the internet. 


Think of all the things that we are completely dependent on. Electricity, fresh and clean water right out of our faucets, refrigerator, washer and dryer, smart phone, Netflix, amazon prime one day shipping, the list goes on… It is a sober realization that convenience comes with a cost: our independence. The more convenient life can be, the deeper we are trapped into dependency for the things that cause us to be convenient. We simply cannot look back to the old way of life. I believe it doesn't stop here. The rapid progress of technology and science that are going to make life "easier" and the work more "productive" will shape the way we live. I have nothing against it. In fact, I may enjoy some of the products of that progress. I even prayed that one day I would get to experience a Star Trek teleportation that could get me from the U.S. to Indonesia in no time :) HA! Or maybe not, but I know, one day the world that I know now may look completely different in the future for the better or for the worse. 


Our dependency should teach us that in this life, we cannot live alone. We need other people. In fact, we are dependent on others' presence. We need inventors to create amazing gadgets for us, we need technicians to fix our internet, we need post persons to deliver our mail, we need doctors and scientists to cure us from Covid, we need pastors to remind us that this life is not our own and we certainly need God as our guidance to lead us through difficult times. How can we live without others? How can we live without God? May our dependency also teach us how to be humble knowing how to appreciate every person of many roles that come into our lives who have made us able to enjoy this life. And may our dependence upon God grow ever stronger that we find that life without Him is a futile one. 


"Make sure that when you eat and are satisfied, build pleasant houses and settle in, see your herds and flocks flourish and more and more money come in, watch your standard of living going up and up —make sure you don’t become so full of yourself and your things that you forget God, your God…" Deuteronomy 8:11-16 (The Message Bible) 


Love and Prayers, 


Vincent Arishvara 01272022


Fear Not

January  20, 2022

Dependence

January 27, 2022


We weren't exactly off to a good start this year. With the Omicron virus rampaging the whole world, we, once again, were forced to cancel our trip, to stay at home, to reschedule our gatherings, and to do all kinds of precautionary health tests. Another year of distraction that makes us anxious about the future of our world. Is there any end of this chaos? I saw a meme on a Facebook post that captured the sentiment of this new year: "Don't fear 2021, fear 2022! Because 2022 is 2020 too." Still vivid in my mind that 2020 was the year when all hells were set loose. 


I got covid on Christmas' week that forced me to completely rest until the beginning of the new year. Thank God, my symptoms were moderate, so the pain was bearable. I only had to deal with body ache, chills, fever, sore throat, runny nose, and cough (well…I guess  that's the whole covid symptoms..HA! :() Just like a really bad flu. Nevertheless, it got me thinking. In the beginning of my illness, under a lot of pain and unable to sleep, my head was filled with thoughts about my own mortality. What if this nasty virus continues to progress attacking all my vital organs and my condition gets worse? I lost seven friends last year because of this pandemic. No one knows how our body could combat the virus and how lethal the virus could damage the body. So, during my illness, I prayed, if this is it, God, please take care of my family.  


"Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not be afraid…", the psalmist prays. Death is like a shadow that follows us everywhere. Things that can rob us from this life are all around us at every single moment of our life: covid, drunk driver, tsunami, sickness, you name it.  It's a sobering reality that as long as we live on this fragile earth, we will always have to face death as part of broken human conditions. We know this reality but it doesn't make it easier for us to accept it when it comes upon us. 


In my own reflection, life is more bearable when we are on God's side; when we let God dwell in the center of our being. When we achieve this understanding that our life is not our own but God's, it certainly will give us calm in the midst of danger. Because, then, we know that this life, even though we may lose it in this world, it will never be utterly lost because He who holds us is eternal. And with that understanding, we may have this great clarity that we don't need to be invincible and powerful all the time, and surrender into God's arms can be the only thing that brings us peace when everything else fails. Life is hard and scary only when we face it alone. But when you face it with God, you can certainly say with confidence: bring it on! 


Let me remind you of Thomas Merton's prayer from Thoughts in Solitude: 


My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I’m actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen. 


I pray that we can face the year 2022 with courage, for God is with us. 


Love and prayers, 


Vincent Arishvara 01202022


Dependence

January 27, 2022

"I Love to Tell the Story"

November 12, 2021

"I love to tell the story of unseen things above:

of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love."


I grew up singing that hymn not knowing what the lyric truly meant. Christianity had always been the foundation in everything we were doing as a family. My parents instilled in all their kids the love of God and the importance of learning about Jesus. So, attending church regularly, reading the Bible, and praying at every meal and before bed were the routine that never went away from our to-do-list growing up. Yes, I have to admit that there were many moments when I just wanted to stop doing Christian stuff because I didn't really know what it means to follow Jesus. I questioned, Why should I be following a God whom I can't even see or touch? There were many occasions where I rolled my eyes in disbelief when I read utterly bizarre and confusing Bible passages. There were many moments where I could not endure boring preachers that sounded like broken records lecturing me about the right thing to do in life. I wanted to quit church and this Jesus stuff but my parents wouldn't allow me to. 


Many years later, finally church and Jesus made sense to me. I finally understand the relentless effort of my parents. Just like meeting a distant uncle for the first time, I need to first get introduced to him first and I need to spend lots of time with him in order for me to get to know him. Only through time and continuous exposure with this uncle will I finally get to call him a dear loving uncle of mine. Isn't that what it takes in any good relationship? Spending a lot of time together and going through the thicks and thins of life. 


Through Jesus and church, I have learned that everything I have comes from God and belongs to God, so I don't need to feel entitled or sad when things are taken away from me. I have learned that one's sense of importance cannot be gained by being served but by serving. I have learned that love is the ultimate way to be happy and striving toward unconditional love is the only way to experience joy. And many more! Not that I have attained all this great wisdom of life, oh, far from it! But I have chosen this Christ's path because I know this path is good for me and for the world.  I finally get it that Jesus is not just a story of the past about a nice teacher who was trying to teach the world about love but I can say with confidence that He is the driving force to continue living in this life. 


Forty five years later, I am passing the story of Christ to my children. Yes, there were some moments where my kids got lazy about going to church or forgot to pray before bedtime. Yes, just like me before, they still need to learn who this Christ really is. They need to meet Jesus personally for themselves in order for them to love Him. Will they stick with their faith throughout their lives? I don't know. Will they continue to have Jesus as their living foundation? I can only hope so. But at least I can try my best to show them who Jesus is and what He has done to me and my parents to my kids so that they can also show Jesus to their own kids. 


"We will not hide the teaching from their children; we will tell to the coming generation

the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. That the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and rise up and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God…" Psalm 78:4,7



Love and prayers, 


Vincent Arishvara 11122021




We weren't exactly off to a good start this year. With the Omicron virus rampaging the whole world, we, once again, were forced to cancel our trip, to stay at home, to reschedule our gatherings, and to do all kinds of precautionary health tests. Another year of distraction that makes us anxious about the future of our world. Is there any end of this chaos? I saw a meme on a Facebook post that captured the sentiment of this new year: "Don't fear 2021, fear 2022! Because 2022 is 2020 too." Still vivid in my mind that 2020 was the year when all hells were set loose. 


I got covid on Christmas' week that forced me to completely rest until the beginning of the new year. Thank God, my symptoms were moderate, so the pain was bearable. I only had to deal with body ache, chills, fever, sore throat, runny nose, and cough (well…I guess  that's the whole covid symptoms..HA! :() Just like a really bad flu. Nevertheless, it got me thinking. In the beginning of my illness, under a lot of pain and unable to sleep, my head was filled with thoughts about my own mortality. What if this nasty virus continues to progress attacking all my vital organs and my condition gets worse? I lost seven friends last year because of this pandemic. No one knows how our body could combat the virus and how lethal the virus could damage the body. So, during my illness, I prayed, if this is it, God, please take care of my family.  


"Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not be afraid…", the psalmist prays. Death is like a shadow that follows us everywhere. Things that can rob us from this life are all around us at every single moment of our life: covid, drunk driver, tsunami, sickness, you name it.  It's a sobering reality that as long as we live on this fragile earth, we will always have to face death as part of broken human conditions. We know this reality but it doesn't make it easier for us to accept it when it comes upon us. 


In my own reflection, life is more bearable when we are on God's side; when we let God dwell in the center of our being. When we achieve this understanding that our life is not our own but God's, it certainly will give us calm in the midst of danger. Because, then, we know that this life, even though we may lose it in this world, it will never be utterly lost because He who holds us is eternal. And with that understanding, we may have this great clarity that we don't need to be invincible and powerful all the time, and surrender into God's arms can be the only thing that brings us peace when everything else fails. Life is hard and scary only when we face it alone. But when you face it with God, you can certainly say with confidence: bring it on! 


Let me remind you of Thomas Merton's prayer from Thoughts in Solitude: 


My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I’m actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen. 


I pray that we can face the year 2022 with courage, for God is with us. 


Love and prayers, 




Reformation

October 28, 2021

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed ninety-five theses of his protest against the Roman Catholic church over the corruption that the church had committed by selling indulgence (a way to reduce punishment for any sins committed) intended to finance the construction of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. The protest that gave birth to the Protestant movement that lasts until this present moment reminds us that there is no one church that possesses the whole truth. With our limited human minds, we are trying to grasp the vastness and the greatness of God and with our fallible human condition, we are trying to understand the Truth. This is a futile attempt (for we are sinners, for goodness sake!), for sure, but by the grace of God, He allows us to continue seeking the Truth. 


Our Presbyterian Church has this motto: Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda, which means “always being reformed”* Theologian Harold Nebelsick put it well: “We are the recipients of the activity of the Holy Spirit which reforms the church in accordance with the Word of God.” It means we must change whenever the Holy Spirit asks us to. God never changes but we, humans, change. We don't have to look far to realize it. Less than twenty years ago, Facebook and Iphones were invented that changed how people connect and do their daily routines forever. Last year, Covid pandemic forced people to connect more using social media and video calls since we must social distance ourselves from others. We found churches around the world discussed and argued about the validity of having online service and online communion. And we say, yes, worshipping and taking communion online are legit since God is Spirit and He cannot be bound by time and space to connect us as one body. While, of course, there are churches that still argue that worshipping and taking communion in-person and onsite are the only way to do it. But we agree to disagree. The question is which church is right and which church is wrong in regard to their decision? Only God can answer. 


When Christ was on the cross, he prayed for his enemies, "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." Oftentimes, we operate based on our own version of truth without knowing that our truth may be skewed or distorted that caused us to do foolish things. When Christ rebuked the hypocrites, He said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?" Jesus knew that we have this human tendency to force our own truth to others even though we may be far from the real truth. 


As a Protestant, I believe that we must continually "protest" at our own protest when our own protest no longer serves the truth that Christ taught us to embrace. Because perhaps our protest was built upon selfish ambition, bias, or prejudice that we wrap nicely with a blanket of "truth". It works at every level of our life as a nation, a community, family, and an individual. We pray that the true reformation and transformation needed for us to be a better Christian may take place in our life today. 



"...be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will, " Romans 12:2


Love and prayers, 


Vincent Arishvara 10282021



*https://www.presbyterianmission.org/what-we-believe/ecclesia-reformata/




Waiting as a Gift

October 21, 2021

We're all waiting for something. Waiting for a baby to be born. Waiting for a college acceptance letter. Waiting for a big promotion at work. Waiting for a big move to another country. Waiting to meet our loved one who has been gone for far too long. Waiting for retirement. Waiting for the pandemic to be completely over. Waiting for the answer of our prayers. Waiting for a better future. Waiting to be healed from all our sicknesses. Waiting for Christmas. Waiting to die.


The most important period of waiting is the in-between moment before we get to what we're waiting for. What we say and do during that period shows our character. Like waiting for traffic to clear, some wait patiently, some wait anxiously, and some wait prayerfully. Some play deafening music while they wait. Some watch Youtube channels to kill time. Some talk to some random friends on their cell phone. Some redo their makeup in the car. Some keep flipping their middle finger to some foolish drivers. Some start noticing how dirty their car dashboard is and start cleaning. Some pull over to the nearest exit and spend a couple hours at a gas station to catch up with their sleep. Some go over the list of people in their head that need prayers and start praying. 


As Christians, we are waiting for the Lord to return. Apostle Paul writes: "So while we have time, let's do good to everyone." While we wait, do something good. We can be the gift of God into this world while we wait by the testimony of our faith, by our compassion, by the inspiration of our love toward others,...even right before we die. I have encountered people who continued to give their blessings even while they were laying down on their deathbed. "My failing body is my highway to meet the Lord, Vincent…" said one woman as she held my hand. Something that I will remember when one day I must experience the same situation she had. She had given me a gift of encouragement. She was a gift. 


Before St. Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897) died in her young age of Tuberculosis, she said: "When I die, I will send down a shower of roses from the heavens, I will spend my heaven by doing good on earth. If God answers my requests, my heaven will be spent on earth up until the end of the world. Yes, I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth." Her beautiful statement has expanded my horizon further, even after I die waiting for the end of time when the Lord returns, I can still be a gift to this world. 



Love and prayers, 


Vincent Arishvara 10212021




Reformation

October 28, 2021

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed ninety-five theses of his protest against the Roman Catholic church over the corruption that the church had committed by selling indulgence (a way to reduce punishment for any sins committed) intended to finance the construction of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. The protest that gave birth to the Protestant movement that lasts until this present moment reminds us that there is no one church that possesses the whole truth. With our limited human minds, we are trying to grasp the vastness and the greatness of God and with our fallible human condition, we are trying to understand the Truth. This is a futile attempt (for we are sinners, for goodness sake!), for sure, but by the grace of God, He allows us to continue seeking the Truth. 


Our Presbyterian Church has this motto: Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda, which means “always being reformed”* Theologian Harold Nebelsick put it well: “We are the recipients of the activity of the Holy Spirit which reforms the church in accordance with the Word of God.” It means we must change whenever the Holy Spirit asks us to. God never changes but we, humans, change. We don't have to look far to realize it. Less than twenty years ago, Facebook and Iphones were invented that changed how people connect and do their daily routines forever. Last year, Covid pandemic forced people to connect more using social media and video calls since we must social distance ourselves from others. We found churches around the world discussed and argued about the validity of having online service and online communion. And we say, yes, worshipping and taking communion online are legit since God is Spirit and He cannot be bound by time and space to connect us as one body. While, of course, there are churches that still argue that worshipping and taking communion in-person and onsite are the only way to do it. But we agree to disagree. The question is which church is right and which church is wrong in regard to their decision? Only God can answer. 


When Christ was on the cross, he prayed for his enemies, "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." Oftentimes, we operate based on our own version of truth without knowing that our truth may be skewed or distorted that caused us to do foolish things. When Christ rebuked the hypocrites, He said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?" Jesus knew that we have this human tendency to force our own truth to others even though we may be far from the real truth. 


As a Protestant, I believe that we must continually "protest" at our own protest when our own protest no longer serves the truth that Christ taught us to embrace. Because perhaps our protest was built upon selfish ambition, bias, or prejudice that we wrap nicely with a blanket of "truth". It works at every level of our life as a nation, a community, family, and an individual. We pray that the true reformation and transformation needed for us to be a better Christian may take place in our life today. 



"...be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will, " Romans 12:2


Love and prayers, 


Vincent Arishvara 10282021



*https://www.presbyterianmission.org/what-we-believe/ecclesia-reformata/


Ghosting

September 9, 2021

Yesterday during lunch with a group of friends, we talked about our mutual friend who moved out of town several years ago. I asked, "How is she doing now? Are you guys still in touch with her?" A friend answered, "No. It has been awhile since I made contact with her. In the past I dropped her text messages, on Facebook, and so on...but she never returned the messages to me. So I guess that's the end of our friendship." 

I didn't say anything but I agreed with her. A relationship is a relationship as far as there is still a connection that is being maintained by both parties. Once one party breaks that pattern of connection, that's it. I have had several occasions in my life where people whom I called friends suddenly disappeared completely from my life like some members of our church, former co-workers, and some childhood friends. To say it bluntly, I have no respect for people who 'ditched' me like that. Simply because they show no respect to me by leaving me without any explanation, which could also translate that our years of relationship may mean nothing to them.  Do they owe me any explanation for leaving me? In my opinion, yes. Because I believe once we enter any kind of relationship, we are bound by this unwritten and invisible 'contract' that we are accountable to each other in big or small ways. That means if this friendship matters, then we are bound to care for one another in good and bad times. That could also mean if we want to end this relationship, we must reserve decency to explain why we are doing it no matter how hard it is. 

The millennials have the term for this kind of behavior: ghosting. Let's say, you’re in a relationship. Suddenly without any warning at all, your partner/friend/co-worker seems to have disappeared. No calls, no text messages, no connection made on social media, no responses to any of your messages. That is ghosting. The person you used to have a connection with disappeared like becoming a ghost. And yes, ghosting hurts; it’s a cruel rejection. It is particularly painful because you are left with no explanation and no rationale. You ask yourself why it happened without a clear answer. And it left you with no guidelines for how to proceed. You wondered if you must have done something wrong that this person is now avoiding you and you are trying to come up with a solution. But you don't know what kind of solution since the person has disappeared for you to do anything at all.  

If you are a victim of ghosting, perhaps we can ask ourselves the question of an old adage: "What would Jesus do?". On the cross Jesus forgives His persecutors by praying, "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." Perhaps, our ghoster simply is not aware of what they have done to us by disappearing without any explanation. They may not know how terrible the feeling of rejection and disappointment that we experience as a result of their ghosting. With humility we must also ask ourselves: have we contributed to their ghosting to us? Perhaps unknowingly we have created some damages in their lives that caused them to run away from us and cut the ties completely. With that, we should pray: "Father, forgive me for I do not know what I am doing." All in all, forgiveness is always the best option. Forgiving those who ghost us and forgiving ourselves who often react out of resentment, disappointment, and even anger. Praying that may God have mercy on all of us so that He can mend the broken relationship we have with others. 

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

Content

September 3, 2021

In the last century, a tourist from the U.S. visited the famous Polish rabbi Hafez Hayyim. 

He was astonished to see that the rabbi's home was only a simple room filled with books. The only furniture was a table and a bench. 

"Rabbi, where is your furniture?" asked the tourist. 

"Where's yours?" replied Hafez.

"Mine? But I'm only a visitor here."

"So am I, " said the rabbi. 

(taken from "The Song of the Bird" by Anthony De Mello)

That story by Anthony De Mello reminded me of my visit to my friend, Connie,  who worked as a teacher for children for more than fourteen years in India last year. Her place was only a simple small room filled with almost nothing at all. The big items in the room were her thin mattress on the floor that did not look comfortable at all, a tiny book cabinet by the wall, and a guitar and its case next to it. Knowing that she came from the U.S. I remember asking her a similar question as the tourist in the story, "Connie, is this all you need? All these years?" Her answer was, "I don't need anything more than what I already have."

I am always impressed with people who are content with the little that they have. If you have ever been in my house, you will know that I have so many things. Too much sometimes. Often when I've been in my cleaning mode, I could find a gazillion colored pencils and crayons belonging to my kids, millions of eating utensils, books, you name it. I often wondered, do I need all of this? And yet that question doesn't stop me from buying more of the same stuff I already have. "I need this turquoise colored jacket for this winter. Because I am going to look amazing this season with it." said myself one day, although I already have more than enough jacket collections for every season. 

We have this mentality that we are the owner of everything we have. We are the landlord. In fact, we are the lords over our own life. Therefore, we are entitled to buy anything we want to buy with the hard-earn-money we have. We deserve to find happiness through the things we possess. When we have a tourist mentality, then we would have a completely different approach to life. Since we are only visiting, then we would put into consideration what's important and what's not. We will start prioritizing by bringing only the necessities for our travelling such as toiletries, medicine, and some change of clothes for the duration of our visiting time. Suddenly buying and carrying a lot of stuff for our travel is no longer on top of our goal. We have the choice to bring all our CD collection or our assorted pajamas, for instance, but wouldn't it be burdensome for our travel when we take them all during our trip. We need to travel light as tourists, because the ultimate goal of our visit is to enjoy the place of our visit the most without being distracted by caring for our stuff. Then, gladly, we will be able to be freed from all kinds of unnecessary attachment to things. 

A "tourist" on this earth is exactly what we are. The concept is very biblical. Apostle Paul writes: "For while we are in this tent (living on earth)...For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands." (2 Corinthians 5). We're just a passing by visitor on this earth, Paul affirmed. And about possessing things Jesus said: “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Matthew 8:20. Jesus did not carry much in life. He did not even have a place for himself to stay. Perhaps Jesus is trying to teach us a huge lesson of living without any attachment to things. Jesus is also trying to teach us that as a "tourist" in this world, you have to pay more attention to the things that God Our Father is doing rather than caring too much about "stuff". "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than them?" (Matthew 6:26)

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

Why Doing Good

August 26, 2021

When God walked into heaven and found that everyone was there, he wasn't pleased at all. He owed it to His justice, did He not, to carry out his threats. So everyone was summoned to His throne and the angel asked to read the Ten Commandments. 

The first commandment was announced. Said God, "All who have broken this commandment now be taken to hell." And so it was done. 

The same was done with each of the commandments. By the time the angel came to read the seventh, no one was left in heaven except a recluse-smug and self-complacent. 

God looked up and thought, "Only one person left in heaven? That makes it very lonesome." So he shouted out, "Come back, everyone!" 

When the recluse heard that everyone was forgiven, he yelled in rage, "This is unjust! Why didn't you tell me this before?" 

Some people believe in God and follow God's commands faithfully by doing good out of fear of hell and with full expectation of heavenly reward. If that's our M.O., then our belief and obedience to God are transactional. We say to God, "God, if I follow you with all my heart, then promise me that you would spare me from the heat of hell and reserve for me that VIP seat in heaven." Then, we will see God's mercy and forgiveness to those undeserved sinners as something that betrays that contract. Just like the story, we would argue, "God, what's the purpose of me doing everything right in your eye if those who don't even try to do good get what I got?" 

It's like a student who studies hard just for the sake of getting all A on every subject instead of for the joy of learning. Or like an employee who always finishes his work on time just for the sake of an end of year bonus and a pat on the back from his boss instead of for the joy of embracing his vocation. Of course, there's nothing wrong about pursuing good grades or expecting an end of year bonus or wanting to go to heaven but if those things are the sole purpose of us doing good, then we miss out the point of doing good. Because our value as humans now is only measured by the goal we have set and nothing more. And failure to achieve that could also mean reduction in our self worth. 

Apostle Paul said: "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:23). That means, no one, no matter how hard they try, can achieve this standard that God has set for us. That means no one can claim that they deserve a good grade, big fat year end bonus, or even heaven from God. That could also mean that God doesn't even want us to be reduced by our own goal and standard, not even by God's standard. Our value as humans, God's precious creation, is way more than that: we are God's beloved. A child is still a parent's child even though they fail to meet their parent's expectation, nothing can change that identity. Therefore God is willing to make an adjustment, by His grace, to include us into His divine salvation. As if God is saying: "Continue to do good, not because of the things you want to achieve. Do good because you love me. Do good because I, who loves you, is good." 

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

Expectations

August 12, 2021

We all have expectations. It is a natural part of our being. It gives us the drive to move forward in life.  It gives us something to look forward to. And for many of us, it gives us hope. For we expect good things to happen to us. 

I have expectations for myself: about what I should do and achieve in life. I think it is easier to deal with our own personal expectations. For instance, when I entered a graduate program to get my doctorate education last year, I expected myself to graduate within three years. I imagined how cool it will be to stand side by side with my daughter wearing a graduation gown when she graduates from her high school in 2023. Now, I have my expectations. But my expectations will not come to reality if I don't put enough effort into it. Because we all know that expecting something to happen will not make it happen. I have to put some effort into it. If I am slacking and being lazy, then forget graduating in three years and forget having a photo op with my daughter in grads gowns. My good friend gave me powerful advice when I took the call to be the pastor of Trinity almost seven years ago: "inspect what you expect!" What it means is I must continually reflect, evaluate, and make necessary corrections on the things I do so that my actions will always be in accordance with what I expect to happen. I must ask myself whether I have met my daily goal today, whether I have read the assigned books, and written my allocated chapter of the semester or have I been slacking off altogether which may cause me to fail meeting my expectation. 

Things get more complicated when our expectations involve other people. I believe you can come up with lists of examples in your own life where you have felt disappointed toward people who did not live up to your expectations. Yup, that's because oftentimes we mistakenly believe that expecting other people to do what we want will actually make them do it. Like expecting my kids to make up their beds in the morning, do dishes and take the garbage out every night. I can tell you countless days where they failed to meet my expectations. Of course when I set my expectations to my kids, I wanted them to do their chores happily because at the end, what they are doing will benefit the whole house. I preached to my kids: "It only takes minutes to do your bed, put dishes in the dishwasher, and take the garbage out. You sacrifice a few minutes of your time to bring the whole house (including yourselves) the ultimate joy."  But of course, the way my kids see it: "Chores suck! And if it can be avoided, it should be avoided at any cost" 

I learn this lesson every day: If you want to be disappointed, then expect life to always turn out the way you want!  If you want to know how resentment feels like, then expect other people to behave the way you expect them to. Should we not expect anything then? Of course not. We can and we should have expectations. But we should never make our expectations the center of our universe where our happiness is tied to. And it is also hopeful when we add patience into our expectations. The Bible says: "But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience." Romans 8:25. Patience to accept that our expectations may not always come true. Patience to understand that others may have different set expectations from us. Patience to endure all kinds of hardship so that we can fulfill our expectations. 

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

Separate Ways

July 22, 2021

In this life there is no perfect relationship, we all know that. Relationships come and go with its ebbs and flows. It changes with time, life's force, education, and growth. I notice it with my children's friendship. Those kids they used to hang out with are no longer around. When I asked them, their responses would be like: Ugh, I don't want to be friends with her again because she turned out to be a weirdo. Or, well, he has his own group now. Or, so and so has changed a lot and I don't vibe with them anymore...Things happen that cause us to evaluate the way we communicate and interact with others, even our loved ones. Sometimes we can come up with a compromise like: "She is into basketball now, I will join a team so that I can still relate to her." But oftentimes, we just have to drop off our connection with a person completely and go our separate ways simply because we don't have anything in common like there used to be and there's nothing we can do about it, which is okay too. Think of how many people in your life that you used to like but now you no longer see it that way. 

I have seen and experienced it a lot as a pastor. There were members of the church who developed a different set of doctrine and belief and chose to move to a different church. There were close friends who came to me and said that they had to renounce their faith and call this whole Christianity thing quits. There were friends whom I used to hang out with and shared many fond memories who, for whatever reasons, went their separate ways. Yes, it hurts. Yes, it is disappointing. When that happened, I always thought: so, all these years our relationship meant nothing to you? And of course, I would feel like the victim of the break up, not counting that perhaps the other parties would feel the same about themselves and thought that I was the one who was selfish not trying to compromise or meet their needs. Well, relationships can be challenging. 

The Bible has some stories of breakups too. Like Abraham and Lot, his nephew in Genesis 13:8-9 "So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives. Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.” Or remember Paul and Barnabas went separate ways in Acts 15:39-40: "They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord." I thought, if the God's saints experienced hardship in their relationship, then it is bound to happen to me more so. 

When breakups happen in your life, it is helpful to pay attention to what Anthony De Mello, a catholic mystic, says: “I have no fear of losing you, for you aren't an object of my property, or anyone else's. I love you as you are, without attachment, without fears, without conditions, without egoism, trying not to absorb you."  The hurt we feel when someone we love goes on their separate ways happens because unconsciously we have made the person an object of our love. Human's conditional love comes with expectations, restrictions, boundaries, and requirements. Have you ever noticed that the love you have toward someone increases when that person shares the same agenda, interest, or ideology and that person will do anything to comply with all your values? When we are building a relationship with someone, unknowingly, at the same time we are building a box for that person to live within the perimeter that we set for them. And when that person chooses to fly away from that box, we feel destroyed and broken to pieces. 

I hope you remember Jesus Christ, our perfect example of a freedom fighter of any relationship. I am often astounded by how wide Jesus' heart is for anyone, even to those who disagreed or even hated him. Jesus wasn't offended when a rich young ruler refused to follow him. Jesus didn't get mad and vow to get even when Peter denied him and when Judas betrayed him. He didn't scold the criminal on the side of his cross for mocking him. As if Jesus was saying: "I don't care whether you want to agree or disagree with me, love me or hate me...I love you just as you are. With everything you think, say, and do. I hope you can go my way but if not, it's okay too. I will love you anyway…"

"Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture." 

– Romans 8:36 (Message Bible)

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

This Too Shall Pass

July 16, 2021

We say those words when we are in the middle of terrible hardship. We utter that statement when life's storm is tossing us back and forth, right and left, smashing us to the ground and lifting us back up just to bring us back down. It is not only an empty statement, but an encouragement we say to ourselves reminding us that bad times we are currently having won't last forever. And to me, it's also a prayer we pray to God to pass me through the tough times as quickly as possible. Because pain and sadness can cause time to drag or even stop still. The wise says: "Time is too slow for those who wait, too long for those who grieve." Therefore I pray, "This (bad time) shall pass. And God, please make it pass quickly, don't let bad times linger."

But I realize that that statement comes with its twin sister: "this (good time) too shall pass." The wise also adds: "Time is too short for those who rejoice." Good time passes even quicker than the bad! Isn't that the tragedy of earthly living? The other day I was spending time walking around the Rose Garden of our church. The sky was blue and the weather was just perfect, not too hot and not too cold. I could feel the breeze brushing over my skin with its silky feathers and the sun bathed me with its glowing ray. I said to myself: "Hmmm...I can stay here forever…" An hour later, the sun moved and hit my face with its punishing heat and the breeze stopped to blow. Earth's paradise lasted only for a few moments in my watch. "This (good time) too shall pass". It is not an encouragement nor a prayer. It is a sober realization that there is nothing eternal on this earth. Everything is bound to break, diminish, decline, deteriorate, and die out, even something that we think is indestructible and perfect. 

With everything that is passing away, we should, then, gain the wisdom to live this life. This month alone I lost five friends from Covid. Yes, while we can enjoy a normal life here in the Bay Area, people in Indonesia are struggling with the huge spike of Covid cases just like India a couple of months ago. It reminds me, don't take anything for granted and do good while we can. I realized that I had lost touch with them and it didn't occur to me to say hi to them until they were gone. I had a big problem with one friend who died when I left Indonesia to be in the US. I went with a big grudge toward him and now I have no more chance to say to him that I have forgiven him. It taught me a great deal of lessons. I want to treasure those whom I love more deeply while there is time. Seneca, a Stoic and a Roman philosopher writes, "It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it." Yes, oftentimes, we are too absorbed by our busy agenda and ambition that we forget those around us. Or we have been too lazy to do something good to others until it is too late. 

Apostle James says: "For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." So with this little time we have as a mist, let us not waste our chance to enjoy this life. Enjoy the warmth of the sun and the cool morning air. Enjoy every bite of the food you are eating and savor it with gladness. Stay away from negative people and negative thoughts and tell them that they are not worth your time and energy. Enjoy the companions of our loved ones. Enjoy the time we have with them. Say how much you love them and show them how much you care. Enjoy everything that's good before they pass. 

"Seize life! Eat bread with gusto,Drink wine with a robust heart.Oh yes—God takes pleasure in your pleasure!Dress festively every morning.Don’t skimp on colors and scarves.Relish life with the spouse you loveEach and every day of your precarious life.Each day is God’s gift. It’s all you get in exchangeFor the hard work of staying alive.Make the most of each one!Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily!This is your last and only chance at it,For there’s neither work to do nor thoughts to thinkIn the company of the dead, where you’re most certainly headed." 

Ecclesiastes 9:7-10 (Message Bible)

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

Freedom

July 1, 2021

Our Constitution speaks about freedom to practice or not practice our religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of press. For the most part, we have been enjoying freedom in those areas. And then we are talking about freedom from this terrible COVID 19 pandemic. We’re still working on it, but it seems like we’re on the right track for that freedom. I also find my kids starting to speak about freedom of expressing themselves from tattoos to fashion. And can we say that we are truly free from the most part living in this Land of the Free? Perhaps. I am not sure. 

How can we say that we are truly free when the biggest captor of our life is our own thoughts? Have you ever had a time in your life where your mind couldn’t stop playing the sad and worrisome songs? The terrible thing about it is that it keeps on looping endlessly. These songs are played by the band of insecurities, uncertainties, fear, worries, and jealousy. O yes, they are mean, ruthless, and cold-blooded. They don’t care that you need to turn these noises off so you can go to sleep uninterrupted. Precisely, they came to you in the middle of the night, set up their big band and played their horrid melodies in your head. Over time, you will lose sleep and have no energy. It crushes your mood. You became tired, agitated, and bitter. Yup, unknowingly, your negative thoughts claimed their victory over your life. When you finally realize that you have been enslaved and tortured by them, the damage has been done and could take years to rebuild your life back on. 

Kahlil Gibran was right when he wrote: You shall be free indeed when your days are not without a care nor your nights without a want and a grief, but rather when these things girdle your life and yet you rise above them naked and unbound. — “On Freedom”. I wish I could do that: rise above my own negative thoughts naked and unbound, free from all kinds of attachment and fear. How can we live free like that? A friend said to me, you worry because you care. That’s true. A parent prays for their children day and night,  a lover gets jealous, a shop owner works hard, a student sweats over their school grades,….because they care. Isn’t the opposite of love indifference? But then, isn’t it terrible if caring can cause us to be a captive of our own thoughts? Or perhaps, our way of caring is wrong. That’s why it causes us to suffer. 

Perhaps we can learn from the way Jesus cares. He cares without asking for anything in return. Jesus cares without any reservation or agenda and because of that, He is free. When a rich young ruler refused to follow Him, he stayed quiet and didn’t shake him for missing a great opportunity to be His disciple. When Peter denied Him and Judas betrayed Him, He didn’t get upset. When His Father in Heaven refused to take the cup of suffering away from Jesus, He didn’t throw a fist to His Father but followed obediently. Jesus also had no worry when He said that “The Son of Man doesn’t have any place to lay His head” and He suggests us to learn from the birds in the sky and lily in the valley that have no fear about life. O, how freeing if we all can live like Jesus! 

In this life, especially when the world is still fighting this terrible pandemic, it is almost impossible not to be concerned or worried about something. But it can certainly help when we share our load with our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus invites us: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29) To Jesus we can bring the names of our beloved. To Jesus we can show him our concerns and worries and all the stuff that keeps us awake at night. Yes, He can give us freedom from our negative thoughts so that we can rest peacefully in His embrace. 

Happy Freedom Day, 

Vincent Arishvara

The Real Gift is the Thought Inside

June 10, 2021

Our sense of gratitude is relative to the size of the "gift" a person gives to us. Let me explain. 

A rich friend gave you a twenty dollar gift card for your birthday present. Of course you would say, "Thank you" to the giver. But deep down, perhaps you were grumbling, "Really? That's it? You are my friend and you are capable of giving more than just a twenty-dollar-gift card." Compared to someone you barely know who gave you a thousand dollar gift out of the blue. O boy, I believe you would appreciate it very much. You would write the nicest thank you letter on a fifteen dollar Hallmark’s card with gold glitter and promise to yourself that you would repay the giver with a nice gift on their next special occasion.

Or consider a different example. Oftentimes our social identity as a consumer dictates how we should be grateful or not. We have been trained to think of ourselves and then to behave as consumers. If we are a consumer, it follows that our primary expectation of the people we meet is that we get something from them for which we are prepared to pay a price. Like giving the tip to the waiter in a restaurant or to our pizza guy: Good service 25% tip, poor service: standard tipping: 10%. Or, going back to the first example, we put people we know in scales and ranks: the better the person, the better our treatments toward them. 

There's nothing wrong with that. Aren't we all reaping what we are sowing? Even Jesus realized our tendencies to grade our gratefulness in terms of the gifts we received and even reminded His disciples about that. In the event of a sinful woman who bathed Jesus' feet with perfume and wiped them with her hair (in Luke 7:36-50), answering the cynicism of the people around Jesus, He answered: “Do you see this woman? When I entered your home, you didn’t give me water for my feet, but she wet my feet with tears and wiped them with her hair.  You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but she hasn’t stopped kissing my feet since I came in. You didn’t anoint my head with oil, but she has poured perfumed oil on my feet. This is why I tell you that her many sins have been forgiven; so she has shown great love. The one who is forgiven little loves little.”  

But I would like you to consider this story I got from a friend the other day. 

There was a desert wanderer who discovered a spring of cool, crystal-clear water. It tasted so good, he filled a leather container with the precious liquid so he could bring it to the king. After a long journey, he presented his gift to the king, who drank it with great pleasure and lavishly thanked the wanderer, who went away with a happy heart. The king’s son tasted the water and spit it out. It had picked up the smell of the old leather canteen and had become foul. The boy asked his father why he pretended to like the awful tasting water. The king said, "Son, that man gave me a gift from his heart. It wasn’t the water I enjoyed; it was the sweet taste of his generosity. When someone gives you something with genuine love, the thing given is simply the container. The real gift is the thought inside." 

Oftentimes, we overlook the "gift" that a person gave to us just because the gift is too simple and looks cheap, such as a wishing well card, a bag of cookies, or a simple text message from someone you know wishing you a happy birthday. We judge the gifts thinking that the givers are capable of giving more than what they already gave us. How about the next time we get the gifts we express our gratitude the same no matter the size of the gifts? Because in the end the real gift is the thought inside."

Consider another story about a poor widow: "Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44)

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

Pain, Again

May 20, 2021

I don't know how many times I've talked, preached, or written an article on the topic of pain. Pain, suffering, agony, misery, trouble, affliction, adversity, misfortune, hardship...pain comes in many names and it encompasses every aspect of life, big or small. From a paper cut pain, pain of losing someone we love, pain of chronic illness, to an incurable pain of a broken heart.  We are fascinated by pain. We try to understand the meaning and the purpose behind pain. Philosophers in every generation came up with their wisdom about pain. Epicurus teaches us to pursue pleasure by avoiding bodily pain whatever the cost. While Marquis de Sade, on the other hand, teaches that we can experience pleasure only by way of pain.  And Nietzche suggests that both pleasure and pain must be sought together:  "Did you ever say yes to a pleasure? Oh my friends, then you also said yes to all pain. All things are linked, entwined, in love with one another." "What does not kill me, makes me stronger." The writers of the Bible, too, have mixed feelings about pain. Jeremiah asked the Lord: Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? (Jer.15:18) But Paul writes: "we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Rm 5:3-4) Despite all the arguments and reasons surrounding pain, pain is inevitable. It is the surest thing in human life. Pain is part of the deal of living on earth. 

If you ask me, my opinion is clear: pain sucks! It's no fun. I don't like it. As a matter of fact, I hate it. And I will avoid it no matter what the wise may say about the benefit of it. Yup, my position on pain is as clear as day. Vania, my wife, who has been dealing with this excruciating back pain asked me yesterday, "Why is it that I must experience this?" Fighting back the tears, I shook my head and held her leg. I was trying to say something to cheer her up or at least to give her reason about the meaning behind the pain she's experiencing, but not a word came out of my mouth. I could say the classic, "Stay strong!" or "God has a plan for you" or quoting Jesus "this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in you." 

But what do I know about this kind of pain? And who am I giving all kinds of wise sayings about pain while I, myself, have never experienced any terrible pain in my life? 

I could say: be strong! But what if Vania doesn't want to tough it up. I could perhaps endure a day of pain but a month? Even the toughest person has their limit. I could say God has a plan. But how do I know the mind of God? And my human thinking cannot reason the connection between plan and pain. Pain should not be planned. If there is a plan in pain, it must be a bad plan and I despise that kind of plan. Or understanding what Jesus said the glory of God might be revealed in pain. I would argue, can God come up with a more positive way of revealing His glory? Is pain the only way? 

I am reminded of an essay by Richard Rohr that has impacted me to better accept the reality of pain: "All healthy religion shows you what to do with your pain, with the absurd, the tragic, the nonsensical, the unjust and the undeserved—all of which eventually come into every lifetime. If only we could see these “wounds” as the way through, as Jesus did, then they would become sacred wounds rather than scars to deny, disguise, or project onto others. I am sorry to admit that I first see my wounds as an obstacle more than a gift. Healing is a long journey.

If we cannot find a way to make our wounds into sacred wounds, we invariably become cynical, negative, or bitter. This is the storyline of many of the greatest novels, myths, and stories of every culture. If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it—usually to those closest to us: our family, our neighbors, our co-workers, and, invariably, the most vulnerable, our children." 

We may not be able to see the meaning or the reasons beyond our pain but we certainly have the options to do something about it. Rohr's proposal is to transform our pain into something more positive. Talking about his suffering and death, Jesus said “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." (John 12:23-24). Jesus transforms his pain into a way to bring blessings to others. Jesus sees his suffering and death as a way to bring '"fruit" of life, healing, and blessings to others. If we cannot see any good reason or meaning in the pain we are experiencing, perhaps it's not a bad idea to make something good out of the pain we carry, whatever the cost and whatever that may mean to you. 

Love and prayers,

Vincent Arishvara 

The Ascension Day

May 13, 2021

Yesterday we greeted our Muslim brothers and sisters: Eid Mubarak as they celebrated the end of the month-long dawn-to-sunset fasting of Ramadan. For Christians, today is the Ascension Day of our Lord Jesus Christ, the 40th day after Easter (Acts 1:1-11).  For us, this day is very important. Jesus was no longer an earthly man, a humble servant who gave himself up to die for the salvation of the world. On ascension day, God the Father exalted Jesus as King to rule at His right hand. And we all now await His return to take us back to His kingdom to enjoy his presence for eternity.  Ascension day is also important for the church of Jesus Christ  because it marks the beginning of the lives and ministries of Jesus’ followers as they carried the torch of the Kingdom of God that was passed on by Jesus. 

After Jesus was carried up into heaven, the last line of Luke’s Gospel reads: “They (the disciples) returned to Jerusalem with great joy and they were continually in the temple praising God.” Their teacher was no longer with them, but somehow they felt the joy. I don’t think we can equate it with teenagers who are left alone at the house by their parents.  Yay!!! Party time! Time for booze and get wasted!”  I don’t think so. 

For them, Jesus is gone but not gone. They remember the Jesus of history, yes, but they live now immersed in the Christ of faith. And that’s why they were full of joy. Their minds and souls are raised to new awareness, to new insight, to new consciousness of the power of God among them. We all know how ignorant these disciples could be when Jesus was around. Thomas doubted, Peter had shallow faith, and they all ran away when Jesus was crucified, but somehow after Jesus went up to heaven, these disciples got it all. This time the whole Kingdom of God's business was on their hands. No time to mess around. They have learned the teachings and are about to live them out themselves. 

But yes, at first they were stunned, they were troubled, they cried, they wept as they witnessed Jesus was taken up to heaven. Their eyes followed Jesus’ as he was slowly ascending, up, up, up, and... away... It was a majestic experience. Their eyes were fixed to the sky, to the heaven...wow….that’s beautiful!!   Everybody in the crowd, looking up. But then, the angels rebuked them: “Men of Galilee! What are you doing looking up to heaven?” It’s like a mother who shakes her little boy who is having a dream. Wake up! You’re dreaming! 

Jesus had just finished delivering his command to his disciples to go all the way to the end of the earth, and here we found his disciples staring to the sky. Perhaps, looking at heaven is more exciting than looking down to the world full of problems. And here, in the event of the ascension story lies the critic to us as humans. What are you looking at?  It sounds silly. But that was the question posed in this story. What are you looking at? Jesus gave his command to his disciples to FACE THE WORLD! I am going back to my Father, now face the world! Look at the world that I love! Look at the people that I created. Go make disciples! And for the last time they didn’t get it until Jesus had to send his angels to slap the back of their heads. POW! What are you looking at? Don’t you remember that you have to go? Go now! 

We may be puzzled by this.  Isn’t looking at heaven the most profound thing? What's wrong with that? And here we have the great lesson about a link between the two inseparable dimensions of life - the physical and the spiritual- the heaven and the earth. 

When Luke tells his audience that Jesus ascended to heaven, couldn’t it be possible that Luke also meant that the spirit of Jesus now dwells in the hearts of his people? Luke also tells us that on one occasion Jesus said: Not here or there but The kingdom of heaven is within you! We can’t see physical Jesus, but the spiritual Jesus is clearly within us, within his people on Earth.  Jesus taught us to pray so that the kingdom of God may come on earth as it is in heaven. For Jesus it is clear that heaven and the earth, the spiritual and the physical are inseparable things. When we talk about heaven, we talk about the earth and vice versa. 

Joan Chittister writes:  Spiritual life is a life of awareness and divinization of the daily. The spiritual knows as a result that there is no place where God is not because the spiritual has learned to see Go everywhere. God is in suffering and God is in glory. God is in the cosmic, and God is in the crucifixions of daily life. 

What happened to the disciples at the time of ascension was that they were looking at heaven as if there was no more earth. Go, Jesus commanded them...the kingdom of heaven is within you, it is on earth! Go and reveal it to every living person on earth. The voice of the angel to them calling them that they can still see Jesus in the life of His people in this world. To see the broken, the poor, to see the faces of Jesus is everywhere. “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do it for me!” Matthew 25. Then the voice of the angel sends them back to Jerusalem. 

Since ascension, We now live under the great command of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Go, He said! Go! Don’t stay, don’t linger, don’t get too comfortable, don’t get lazy! Go! You’ve faced the book, now face this world.  Christianity could spread throughout the earth because of God’s people who embodied the “go”. From a humble carpenter’s son who inspired twelve people to walk and carry the cross with him to lost souls in Gobi desert and Amazon jungle. In the beginning of his ministry,  Jesus said: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,  because he has anointed me  to proclaim good news to the poor,  to proclaim freedom for the prisoners  and to bring sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  And off he goes,  off  his disciples go...and today, we are called to go, face the world, and proclaim Christ to all people. And off should we go!

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

The Cost of Things

April 22, 2021

Yesterday, out of the blue, Viola, my daughter gave an Amazon box to her brother, Varen. Curiously, Varen opened the box and found a brand new gamer headset. He got so excited about it. All these times, Varen has been using my old cheapy cellphone headset that only works on the left side and Viola's old laptop headset that only works on the right one. Combining the two headsets cleverly, Varen gets a balanced audio for his two ears. But, of course, it has become a hassle since he has to deal with more cables and four ear pieces. Perhaps Viola had noticed that and decided to give a gift to her beloved brother. 

The new headset looks amazing to me. When Varen opened the box, I was in awe as well. It has a futuristic look and with a little mic wand on the headset makes Varen look like a pilot in a sci-fi movie. Handsome. When Varen went away to try the headset, I asked Viola how much money she spent for that. In my thinking, that headset must be well around $100 and I was curious where she got the money to buy it. She whispered, "fifteen." I was disbelieved, "fifty?" I asked her back. "No, fifteen!" she answered back. What? That's it? I didn't believe it. I took the packaging box and examined it. I was astounded. The price of the new headset became a discussion topic between Vania and I. 

There are all kinds of costs involved in the making of that headset: the design, the plastic mold, the paint, the head foam cushion for the head and the ear parts to make the wearer more comfortable, the technology inside it: the electronic chips, the cable, the transmitter, even the packaging box that looks amazing must also have costed a lot of money to make. Not counting the cost to import the headset from China to the US. How come it only costs $15? Hundreds of skilled laborers were put to work in order to produce one headset and Viola only had to pay $15? Unbelievable. No wonder kids nowadays take things for granted, I said to Vania. 

As I reflected more, I realized that it is not just kids that take things for granted. We are all at fault in this matter. When I look around my house and everything that I have bought: the dining table, TV,  IKEA book shelves, guitar, drawing pens, paper, etc...each one of those items came with a price tag. And behind those price tags lies the life stories of the people who made them. A story of a single mother who has to get up every morning to assemble my bookshelves in order to feed her children. A story of an overworked engineer who had to design the chips for my TV. A story of a lumberjack in Brazil who lost one of his arms from an accident cutting wood for my guitar...We traded these life stories with the amount of money that's not even enough to pay our hourly minimum wage to do what they do. Sometimes with the money we earn and spend, we don't even think about these labor forces until their stories become our stories. 

Knowing that there is somebody like us working tirelessly to provide us the inexpensive comfort we know we enjoy would give us a better appreciation about life. And more importantly, a sense of compassion to those who work. Because we owe our priceless comfort to them. 

"May the favor of the Lord our God rest on (those who work and labor) us; establish the work of (those who work and labor) our hands for us— yes, establish the work of (those who work and labor) our hands." 

– Psalm 90:17

Love and prayers,

Vincent Arishvara

In Pursuit of The Mundane

March 25, 2021

Jerry Seinfeld tells a joke: 

“When you’re moving your whole world becomes boxes. That’s all you think about is boxes. Boxes, where are there boxes? You just wander down the street going in and out of stores. Are there boxes here? Have you seen any boxes? I mean it’s all you think about. You can’t even talk to people because you can’t concentrate. Shut up I’m looking for boxes. After a while you become really into it you can smell them. You walk into a store. There’s boxes here. Don’t tell me you don’t have boxes. Darn it, I can SMELL them. I’m like I’m obsessed. I love the smell of cardboard in the morning. You could be at a funeral. Everyone’s mourning, crying around, and you're looking at the casket. That’s a nice box. Does anyone know where that guy got that box? When he’s done with it do you think I could get that? it’s got some nice handles on it. And that’s what death is really. It’s the last big move of your life. The hearse is like the van. The pall bearers are your close friends, the only ones you could ask to help you with a big move like that. and the casket is that great perfect box you’ve been waiting for your whole life. The only problem is, once you find it you’re in it.”

Ah, life and its concerns...Seinfeld and his genius joke really poked my inner thought the first time I heard it. I was laughing not at the joke but to what the joke is pointing at...myself.  If we can be honest with ourselves, we will find that we have been spending too much time looking and searching for the mundane in life. We have become anxious, stressed, and agitated because the mundane we are looking for is hard to find because it's rare, costly, and everyone else wants it as well. Unknowingly, we have signed up for a race in pursuit of the mundane. We wake up every morning thinking about the best strategy of winning it. We think about how to be at a strategic place so that we can have the biggest opportunity to seize the mundane we are craving for before anyone else. If our competitors get there first, we're ready! Because we have created 1001 ways to intercept, tackle, and to snatch the mundane from the hand of our opponents. Day in and day out, our minds are fixated on the mundane.  

Jesus also tells a joke about the pursuit of the mundane in Luke 12:16-21: 

" Jesus told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’  “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’  “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

What is wrong with building larger barns to store away some of today’s harvest for tomorrow? Isn't it wise to save up? Yes! Nothing's wrong, except for two things. First, notice how the farmer is talking to himself:  “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul….” Notice the amount of  "I" and "my"? The farmer doesn't even think about using the harvest to help others, there's no gratitude for his good fortune, let alone any recognition of God who gives this abundance to the farmer. The farmer has fallen prey to worshiping the most popular of gods: the Unholy Trinity of “me, myself, and I.” This leads to the second mistake. He is not foolish because he makes provision for the future; he is foolish because he believes that by his wealth he can secure his future. The farmer is called “fool” because of neither his wealth nor ambition but rather because he grants finite things infinite value.

The mundane can be anything we are looking for on earth: riches, fame, beauty, fitness, hobby, comfort, security, you name it. Those things are important, but what good are they if one day once we find it we're buried in them? 

I pray that this Lent season we can give us an opportunity to evaluate the focus of our lives and to reorder our life not around the mundane and finite but around God who is spiritual and infinite. 

"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." 

– Matthew 6:33

Love and prayers,

Vincent Arishvara

Teach Me What I Cannot See

March 11, 2021

There is nothing more confusing than when someone that you love suddenly turns their back against you. They stop calling you and when you're trying to call, your call goes directly to their voicemail box. No news and everything grows quiet around you and your friend.  It's as if they were swallowed alive inside the belly of the earth. You try to visit their house to find out what's going on. You ring the bell and you hear the sound of the walking steps from inside the house, but then you hear no answer. You know your friend is by the door taking a peek from the peephole but they refuse to open the door for you. Every effort to find out what's going on failed. You start wondering, what have I done? Isn't it hurtful when we don't even know what we have done to deserve this kind of treatment? 

Knowing is a basic human need. We are God's only creature that has the desire to know and to find reason for everything that exists in this world. This desire of knowledge has caused us to fall miserably when Adam and Eve, our ancestors, couldn't bottle their curiosity for getting a taste of the forbidden tree in the middle of the Garden of Eden. But this desire has also been our saving grace in preserving many lives. Think about the world's scientists who thirst to know how the Corona Virus lives and works in the human body so that they can fight against it. For sure, the most frustrating event in life is when we fail to know the answer to our questions. When mystery remains mystery. 

Job, in the Bible, has asked the very questions when God allows suffering that's felt more like punishment to befall him. "If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of humanity? Why have you made me your target? Why have I become a burden to you? Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity? For now I shall lie in the earth; you will seek me, but I shall not be.” (Job 7:20-21) Perhaps Job was thinking, "All my life I've been doing good to you. I have put you as the most important substance in my life and you have reckoned me righteous in your eyes. Now tell me why you give me this whirlwind?" So Job begged to God, "Teach me what I cannot see; if I have done wrong, I will not do so again.’" (Job 34:32) 

I love that statement. "Teach me what I cannot see". In this life, we are prone to make mistakes no matter how hard we try not to. Breaking people's hearts, offending our loved ones, and turning our back against God are our expertise. We don't have to go to school to do those things. In sin my mother conceived me, said the Psalmist. When we don't even know what we are doing that brings disaster to other people's lives, the damage could be more severe. Especially when we think that we are superior to others and we think that we never make mistakes. Before we know it a harmonious life that we have been having disappears before us. It takes serious humility to admit that we are covered with all kinds of blindspots in our relationship with others and God. It takes deep commitment to make any relationship to work. But it is not impossible. 

So, let us pray the prayer of Job today, "God, teach me what I cannot see...so that I can love You and others more deeply." AMEN

Love and prayers,

Vincent Arishvara

Life Will Find Its Way

February 26, 2021

I have neglected to clean the rain gutter around my house since last year. The combination of laziness and the thought that "I will do it tomorrow" that turns into "ah, it won't hurt to leave the gutter until the next rainy season." So yes, yesterday when I was working on my front yard, as I was taking a deep breath after doing some heavy lifting, my eyes caught an unusual sight around the corner of my house's roof.  There were little green leaves hidden in that corner. How odd? I thought. I took a step closer to see what it really was. To my disbelief, I found that the gutter in the corner had turned into a vegetation bed. It was filled with cute little leafy plants all around. How could I miss that all along? I checked inside, and of course, these little leafy plants grew over the falling leaves debris from the big tree next to my house which got settled inside of the gutter for months and months. This debris became fertile soil for this little vegetation to live. 

The question is, where did the seed of these plants come from? My mind wandered. Did a little bird that hung out on the top of the gutter dropped a little seed from its beak? Has the wind pollinated my soil filled gutter with the seed it brought? Or maybe the leaves debris that settled had in it those living seeds inside and when it was given enough time and a good environment, it grew into a green plant. Who knows! 

Borrowing the quote from the Jurassic Park movie, the important lesson I learned was "life will always find its way.” In the most secluded, hidden, and unexpected place, you will find life making its way to live, grow, and shine. If this neglected gutter is our life, perhaps we should look for beauty and life in the area of our life that has been ignored for years. Perhaps a long forgotten childhood hobby could bring us back to the happiness we have longed to regain. A broken relationship we had with our former best friend could bring us unexpected joy when we choose to revisit it. Or our years of disappointment with God who doesn't seem to answer our prayer would turn into a thriving spiritual life if we choose to give God a second chance to dwell in our heart. 

This neglected gutter can also be a reminder for us, no matter how difficult and challenging life can be, life will always find its way. No matter how impossible it might seem at the moment, there will always be hope for growth and thriving life. Yes, the life giving Spirit of God can manifest anywhere: in the cracked concrete of our heart, in the parched dry desert place of our soul, or in the frozen arctic of our mind. You will find God in action making life in the place where life cannot be found. Surely, sometimes we will find life in the most unexpected place. Believe me. Who would have known that little seeds can find their place to live inside a rain gutter of a lazy pastor's house? By now, you may wonder, Vincent, are you going to clean your gutter at all after all you've said about it? Well...I'll report back to you on my next blog :) HA! 

"Can I go anywhere apart from Your Spirit? Is there anywhere I can go to escape Your watchful presence? If I go up into heaven, You are there. If I make my bed in the realm of the dead, You are there. If I ride on the wings of morning, if I make my home in the most isolated part of the ocean, Even then You will be there to guide me; Your right hand will embrace me, for You are always there." 

– Psalm 139:7-10 (VOICE Bible)

Love and prayers,

Vincent Arishvara 

Q&A

February 11, 2021

“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.”
― Albert Einstein, The World As I See It

"Kids nowadays get access to all kinds of answers for any question they have. They can't stand any lingering inquiry without any resolution. They can't stand mystery, that's it." My friend was making a case during our conversation of how the new generation always wants to get the answer about each one of their problems quickly. The invention of search engines, I believe, has contributed to this attitude. Search engines like Google have provided them with a quick way to solve every problem under heaven. The answer of every mystery is just a couple clicks away with your fingers. Ask Google about the weather today, how to make a delicious chocolate chip cookie, or how to get out of a toxic relationship...the answers are immediate and vary to fit your heart's desire. 

The older generation, perhaps, have more patience to wait for the right answer. I still remember living in the dark ages (I shouldn't brag too much in this case since many of my elders have lived in even darker ages)  in Indonesia where TV only had one channel. There were no computers, no internet, no cellphone, our library books were not that comprehensive back then either. When you had a question like "where do babies come from", the only way you had was to ask your parents or your teachers, and believe me, you would get all kinds of weird answers such as: babies are from the supermarket (think Petco where you get your pets) or you get married and voila, God gives you baby (which is true, but not the whole truth :) If you find me talking nonsense, you can blame years and years of misinformation I got when I was little HA! 

Yes, the older generation may be better in coping with mystery. But it doesn't mean that we like mystery. We just had no choice and the only way to live within the mystery was to adapt and adjust and let the mystery be mystery. Even in this era of digital information, we still cannot answer every question. 

These are some questions that we  just can't simply google to find the answer. We must be willing to live with it. Yes, just like reading a mystery book, sometimes we become impatient to find out the end of it where the cloud of questions is finally lifted. But that's life. A life without a mystery is not real life. Sometimes we cry like the psalmist in the Bible who lived in the ancient time cried for revelation: "God, do not hide your face from your servant; answer me quickly, for I am in trouble." (Psalm 69:17) We, too, cry to God for answers when life gets crazy and challenging. And oftentimes, questions remain and mystery prevails. 

How do we live with questions and mystery of life? Consider this story of Anthony de Mello: 

"Disciples ask the Holy One to teach them the secret of life. Because it was the Day of Silence, the master took a piece of paper and wrote just one word in reply, "Awareness." The disciples read the word and looked at one another in consternation. "Master," they continued, "Could you explain this a little more?" The Holy One took another piece of paper and this time wrote two words, "Awareness. Awareness." The disciples were clearly perturbed. "Holy One, "they persisted. "Can't you please explain more about what you mean by 'awareness?" The Holy One looked up from the prayer rug exasperated and this time wrote clearly and distinctly. "When I say 'awareness,' I mean Awareness! Awareness! Awareness!""

To me, the awareness that there are things in life that will remain a mystery begs us not to pursue answers but to live within it is a key to our happiness. And the awareness that God is present in our life questions is the ultimate key to happiness. Humans are the only creatures that ask questions. The ability to ask questions, to dive deep to the depth of life's mystery is God's given ability. That means God allows us to live with mystery and questions of life and as a matter of fact, God wants us to live inside them. With that, we can be confident that we will have power to endure no matter how mysterious our life can be. 

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

Plan? What Plan?

January 22, 2021

If this month were a normal January, I would be putting together a list of places to visit, people to meet, and projects to do. This January, perhaps, is like no other January for a lot of us in terms of personal planning. The first day in January came and I found myself scratching my head thinking about what I should do with this year as I lost my two mentors and my second brother, Christian, was hospitalized for a severe case of Covid. This is the end of the third week of January, and I still don't exactly know what to plan. Even with the new administration and vaccine on its way, the road ahead is still foggy. That makes the whole planning thing a tricky task. I asked a couple of friends about their plan for this year. Their response is strikingly similar: Plan? What plan? 

I still remember the plan I put together for the year 2020 with things to do, the names of several countries I planned to visit for my mission trip, and a plan to visit my family in Indonesia. It was all fun until March came with its shelter-in-place mandate and travel ban in every corner of the world. I faced a sad reality that all my plans had shattered. I remember a Yiddish quote: "humans plan, God laughs." I found it true last year, a bitter truth indeed. We humans can only plan within our own human capacity and limitations and see how far our planning can carry through. The rest, we can only hope that the Almighty will allow our planning to become reality. 

The question is, if we cannot plan, should we not plan for anything? Despite everything that happened, I am still a firm believer of planning ahead. Because planning gives us a sense of direction, a measured step that I must take toward the future, and a goal to achieve. Even though our planning this year may require us to add ways, extra room for adjustment, adaptation, change, flexibility, and mercy…(yup, mercy to redeem ourselves when our plan once again must face a brutal reality of sinking before its launch), planning is important. I know that God may laugh at my plan, but with a plan in my hand, I will laugh with Him, and in turn I will ask God, "God, if you're going to laugh at my plan, why don't you help me plan my plan.”

I think a better plan we can propose this year as we continue to struggle during this uncertain time is: to have God's plan in our plan.  With the song "Lord, I Offer My Life" by Don Moen, we sing: 

"Things in the past
Things yet unseen
Wishes and dreams that are yet to come true
All of my hopes
And all of my plans
My heart and my hands are lifted to You
Lord, I offer my life to You
Everything I've been through
Use it for Your glory"

And we pray as Jesus taught us to pray, "Lord, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Your will, not mine." 

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

His Love Endures Forever

December 31, 2020

I think every person in this world would feel the same about this year. Choose one bad adjective and most likely it would be applicable to describe this year: dark, gloomy, sad, bitter, boring, desolate, eerie, depressing, cruel, deadly… This year's situation has caused us to become erratic, abrasive, distasteful, distant, cold, numb, rude, stressed, sour, angry, rotten…Very negative. 

If life is a book, this is the part where the hero of the story got beaten up, and everything that can go wrong, go wrong. Our hero got pushed to the edge between existence and nonexistence and they are barely hanging. We don't like this part. Even though, deep down, we know that the thing that makes a good story in a novel is the conflict that the character must go through otherwise, the book will not worth reading. But this time, we just want to move forward to the next chapter because this part of this life's story has been too dark for far too long. The gloom and doom have been lingering for pages and pages long almost without any hint of the conflict resolution for the hero of the story. If you're like me, for sure you can hardly wait to flip the page of this part of the story and move on to the part where the hero's fate is about to be turned around toward goodness. 

As we are waiting for the turning of the year, if you have a chance, read the entire Psalm 136. Read it carefully and you will find that every action from creation through liberation to ongoing providence is motivated by the compassion of the Almighty. One can conclude: if there is a reason for everything, it must somehow be connected to the everlasting love of God. 

The psalmist recorded all the things God had done to their lives starting from the beginning of creation. “God who made the heavens, who spread out the earth upon the waters,  who made the great lights— the sun, the moon and stars…” to the history of people of Israel. The psalmist wanted to acknowledge the God who did everything in his power to love his people. In other words, the psalmist wanted to say: the story of humanity is actually God’s story. Our story is God’s story. And that is the heart of Psalm 136.  Only by his grace, by his love, and by his kindness can we exist until today. God set the whole universe in order, he put the sun, moon, and the stars in the sky, giving us humans a perfect space for us to live.  The great empire of Egypt could’ve crushed us in a second with its power, we could’ve died during 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, the great kings of the world could easily pulverize our tiny nation, but the mighty hands of God would always be with us protecting us from any danger.  The Hebrews shouts: ki le’olam chasdo, his love endures forever. Yes!

Thomas Merton says something in the same sentiment: “To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything He has given us — and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is grace, for it brings with us immense graces from Him.” Isn’t that the truth? If we want to trace every single event, every single moment, and every single breath, we can smell the aroma of God’s love throughout the history of our life.

I love Agatha Christie's crime novels. I believe I have read most of her 70 novels. Each time I pick up her book, I know that my mind will be stirred and I will have to deal with a crime, a mystery, the tension between characters, and some disturbing events. But I also know that in the end, no matter how complicated the case, at the end the hero of the story will always be able to solve the case, find the culprit, bring them to justice, and bring peace to all. I know for sure about the ending because I know Agatha Christie's way of writing. If we believe that God is the great author of our life, then we know that the end of our story, no matter how chaotic and doomed, will be a good one. Then, all we have to do is trust him enough to let him finish the story.  

So friends, say it to yourself,  repeat the phrase, memorize it: His love endures forever! When you are tempted to despair, ponder this thought: His love endures forever. When you want to give up, write this thought down and stick it on your dashboard: His love endures forever. Tell your husband: His love endures forever. Tell your wife: His love endures forever. Tell your children:  His love endures forever.  When you’ve had all you can take, when the world seems collapsing around you, stand up, lift your head, and shout to the skies: His love endures forever! No matter what's going to happen this upcoming new year: His love endures forever. If the new year is going to bring us so much hope and restoration: His love endures forever. If the new year is going to challenge us even further: His love endures forever.  Consider how he has led you thus far. Think of the many promises he has made to walk with us in good times and bad times, even when we are down in the valley of the shadow of death.. . His love endures forever! 

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us. Happy New Year, my friends. 

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

A Glimpse of Hope

December 24, 2020

Ask somebody what their Christmas wish is, I bet you they will say for this pandemic to be over and life can resume as normal. Who doesn't miss our annual family gathering with its delicious food and loved ones around the dining table? Who doesn't miss awesome Christmas pageantry and church candlelight service? This year, because of Covid, we have to make so many adjustments in almost every area of life. One person said to me, "The holiday this year sucks!!!" I can't agree more. 

But Christmas is not always about what we wish for and what we can get. Often, Christmas is about thriving while striving. Check out what happened with Mary and Joseph on the first Christmas. Detached from their immediate family, alone, and perhaps scared for the road before them was unclear. They went on a journey miles away from Nazareth to Bethlehem and found nowhere to give birth to their son, so Mary and Joseph settled with an animal stable. They just committed to God's request to give birth, raise, and care for the Messiah. Perhaps they did not think far enough to know the risk before saying yes to the call. Nevertheless, they carried baby Jesus with a heart wide open. Mary, in particular, still didn't quite understand what was going on, but she allows the mystery of the Divine to penetrate her soul and give it room deep in her heart as she treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." (Luke 2:19) We know later from the story that Mary and Joseph had to escape to Egypt as refugees because a power-thirst king Herod wanted to kill Jesus. Who would've thought that a little baby could create a drastic change in their lives? 

I feel like God has a sense of humor by bringing every single soul on Earth to experience what Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus experienced during their first Christmas. Quiet, simple (in fact very sad), detached from their family, alone, scared, and scarce of all the glittery stuff of the world. Perhaps this Christmas is calling us to truly reflect on what Christmas is all about in its simplicity and scarcity so that we can appreciate life in the fullness of it. Apostle Paul said, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake, he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich." (2 Corinthians 8:9). We have been living in "plenty" where we have a roof over our head, food on our table, and family around us; and we forget the One who has made it possible for us to enjoy all of this. Perhaps, this Christmas is a chance for us to evaluate who has been on the throne of our heart. 

Still, after realizing the true meaning of Christmas, it doesn't make it easier for us to comprehend the brutal reality of our world today. We are remembering those who got sick, those who are deeply concerned about the wellbeing of their family members, those who mourn the loss of their loved one, and those who lost their job, saving, and so much more because of Covid. If Christmas can give us a glimpse of hope, this is it: a baby was born in a manger on a dark night, in such a humble place, vulnerable, fragile, homeless, and a helpless baby. That baby is the Son of God who came to show us that even in our darkest night, light does exist and hope is possible. Yes, it is tiny. Yes, it is only a tiny spark of light; it is a tiny glimpse of hope, yet one day, it will take over the world and turn this world into a paradise. Yes, it may be hard for us to believe. But perhaps we can learn like Mary to treasure up this glimpse of hope and ponder it in our hearts. 

Jesus said: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” 

– Matthew 13:31-32

May the hope of the Lord will be our strength this Christmas Season and forever. 

Merry Christmas, my friends, 

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

A Gift

December 10, 2020

One morning, as I was working on my project in my study, I heard a tapping sound on my window behind my back. Tap, tap, tap... I ignored the sound at first thinking that it must be a fallen twig hitting my window. But after one tap came another tap and another. That's not falling twigs, I said to myself. I turned my head toward the window and looked around and there was nothing. I turned back to my busy thought and continued my work on the computer. But as soon as I started clicking my computer keyboard, I heard another tap on the glass of my window. This time, without taking too much time, quickly I turned my head toward the window. There I saw a little bird with a red head tapping my window with her beak. She was floating in the air looking at the window and then tap, tap… and then she stood on the edge of my window sill looking toward me.  It happened several times. I thought how weird. This bird wanting to come inside my house, maybe? Or, maybe this bird was looking at her own reflection and thought that it was her lover saying good morning to her? I kept looking at her antics before she flew away. 

The next day, it happened again. Around the same time, this little bird came back tapping at my window. I greeted her good morning. I watched her until she flew away. On the morning of day three, I decided to wait for her. This time I was ready with my cellphone. I wanted to take a picture of this friendly little bird. The time moves so slow when you wait. That morning I couldn't really work on my project. I sat on the couch in front of my window. Looking outside to my backyard, my mind kept thinking of this little bird. I was hoping that she would visit me again so that I could record that loving visit she had done for the last two days. Surely, as soon as the sun was up, there she was flying down from the sky with her two tiny wings flapping and started tapping my window in front of me. Without missing the beat, I took my cellphone and videotaping her cool morning greeting to me. Believe it or not, she has been visiting me for the last four mornings. As I am writing this blog, I am hoping that she will visit me again. I don't know how long this lovely visit will last before she gets bored with me. 

I believe that little bird is a gift from God to me to cope with the stress of this challenging time. I believe she is God's way of refreshing my soul. He sends her to me, personally, always during my work time to remind me that He still cares about me even in the midst of my weary days. It reminds me of that great passage that our Lord Jesus uttered when He delivered His sermon on the mount, "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" (Matthew 6:26-27) Perhaps that little bird keeps coming to tell me, "Look at me, look at the way my Father in Heaven is taking care of me!" And with her gentle tap on the window, actually, she has been giving me a gentle tap on my shoulder to remind me, "God is taking care of you too, bro! Stop worrying!

What "little bird" has God been sending to you to remind you of His love? 

If you don't mind, please share with me how you cope with this challenging time? Share with me how God has been faithful to you. Write me an email with your story: arishvara@gmail.com

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara 

P.S.: I shared the photo and video of the bird with my family, and my sister-in-law found out more about the kind of bird that has been visiting me: she is a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. 

Thank You

November 26, 2020

Many of us have mentioned how different this year's holidays are going to be. Yesterday, as I and a couple of friends were putting up Christmas trees at our church sanctuary for the first Sunday of Advent, a friend told me that this year will be the first time in fifty years that he will be spending Thanksgiving without inviting other families. And another said that this is the first time he was decorating the church with a heavy heart. No one would expect that our life will go down this way. 

Yes, it may be sad. It may be strange. It may be weird and isolated to celebrate Thanksgiving this year, but I hope that your joy remains. This year, you may only need to buy a smaller size turkey or just settle with a KFC chicken box and have a quiet dinner for two. It may sound depressing, but we can see it from the other way around. This year we may have just freed ourselves from the burden of cleaning and decorating our house and cooking for three families. We are given permission not to participate to be part in the annual political debate with your fanatical relatives around the dining table. And we can be less concerned about our precious china since your crazy four-year-old grand-nephew will not be at our house this year to destroy it. Today, we will have more time to make a shopping list for the Cyber Monday deals or start writing Christmas cards. For sure, many of us, this year, will have more time today to think of the many things we are thankful for. 

Gratitude is an act of remembering. Remembering the big and small gifts we have received throughout our life. Remembering those who came before us who continue to inspire us to be strong in our faith. Remembering every hand that comes our way in helping us to be the person we are today. Remembering the God who was and is and is going to continue to be with us every step of our way. The list goes on. Often than not, our thanksgiving season went by unnoticed, and on Friday our minds quickly shift into Christmas mode without even giving ourselves a chance to pause, to remember, and to give thanks.  

Today, with the prayer of Apostle Paul, "I thank my God every time I remember you!" (Philippians 1:3) This year marks my seventeenth Thanksgiving season with you. In Indonesia, people celebrate sweet seventeen as a sign of a child entering adulthood. Yes, I am celebrating sweet seventeenth Thanksgiving today. I remember enjoying my first "giant chicken". I remember my unique transitional times coming fresh from Indonesia as an architect and had to teach American kids about God which ended up them teaching more about slangs and American cultures :) I remember one holiday when my office is filled with sweaters and warm shirts from Trinity folks who probably thought that this poor Indonesian boy would not survive winter if he did not dress properly :) Today, I remember the chance you have given me to be your pastor. Something that I have never even dare to dream even for my wildest dream. I remember those who came on my way and now have gone before me who paved ways for me. I remember each one of you with fondness in my heart for accepting me the way I am despite my flaws and my shortcomings as a human. It is only by God's grace that we can continue in this journey of faith. 

Friends, I pray that today your heart will be filled with joy of thanksgiving.  The joy that comes only from the Lord no matter how weird and strange you may find your today's celebration is. 

May God bless you on this Thanksgiving day. 

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

Prayer

October 23, 2020

During my conversation with our church folks, I often get to hear them lamenting about the uncertain situation of our world today and how they find themselves unable to focus to study the Bible or be on their knees to pray like before. And then they would share their guilty feeling about it. "I feel like I need to pray to God more, Vincent. But I don't know, somehow what my heart tells me to do, my body chooses to do other things. When I think about it, I feel really bad.  But still, I can't seem to bring myself to pray in this depressing time. And now I get depressed about it. Like a circle of evil." said one person. I get this a lot during the eight months of the pandemic. My usual response is to share that I, too, get to feel this kind of heaviness in my heart sometimes. "Can you imagine how I feel when I have to prepare a sermon but cannot bring myself to pray? I feel worst!" I said.

I believe a lot of you share this sentiment with everything that's going on around us and especially with the election that is less than two weeks now. For you who find yourself unable to compose words to pray to God, too tired or anxious to pray, or simply have no desire to pray, I would like to share some funny stories that were collected by Anthony De Mello in his book "The Prayer of the Frog". These stories have helped me in the past and continue to help me in this present moment to realize the wide breadth of the meaning of prayer. You may find yourself smiling when you read these stories and at the same time being consoled by their wisdom. Be blessed.

-----

A Hasidic tale: 

Late one evening a poor farmer on his way back from the market found himself without his prayer book. The wheel of his cart had come off right in the middle of the woods and it distressed him that this day should pass without him having said his prayers. 

So this is the prayer he made, "I have done something very foolish, Lord. I came away from home this morning without my prayer book and my memory is such that I cannot recite a single prayer without it. So this is what I am going to do: I shall recite the alphabet five times very slowly and you, to whom all prayers are known, can put the letters together to form the prayers I can't remember." 

And the Lord said to His angels, "Of all the prayers I have heard today, this one was undoubtedly the best because it came from a heart that was simple and sincere."

-----

An old man would sit down motionless for hours at church. One day a priest asked him what God talked to him about.

"God doesn't talk. He just listens," was his reply.

"Well, then what do you talk to him about?"

"I don't talk either. I just listen."

The four stages of prayer: I talk, you listen / You talk, I listen / Neither talks, both listen / neither talks, neither listens: silence. 

-----

Once the Master was at prayer. The disciples came up to him and said, "Sir, teach us to pray." 

He taught them by telling this story: 

Two men were once walking through a field when they saw an angry bull. Instantly they made for the nearest fence with the bull in hot pursuit. It soon became evident to them that they were not going to make it. So one man shouted to the other, "We've had it! Nothing can save us. Say a prayer! Quick!"

The other shouted back, "I've never prayed in my life and I don't have a prayer to this occasion."

"Never mind. The bull is catching up with us. Any prayer will do."

"Well, I'll say the one I remember my father used to say before meals: "For what we are about to receive, Lord, make us truly grateful."

Lesson: Nothing surpasses the holiness of those who have learned perfect acceptance. 

-----

A Rabbi once asked a pupil what was bothering him.

"My poverty, " was the reply. "So wretched is my condition that I can hardly study and pray."

"In this day and age," said the Rabbi, "the finest prayer and the finest study lie in accepting life as exactly as you find it." 

----

"...the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans." Romans 8:26

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

Cup, Bowl, and Beyond

October 9, 2020

Lesson from Ordinary Stuff: Cup, Bowl, and Beyond

If you are reading this midweek pick up while eating your lunch or sipping your cup of tea, take a moment to check out the plate, bowl, or the mug you are using to contain the content of your daily indulgence. Perhaps you are using your grandma's china that has been passed down for three generations or simple ceramic dishes you bought from IKEA. Notice that the purpose of this tableware is not affected by how fancy or how bland the design is. The real purpose is highly affected by the convex shape (the U-shape) or simply the hollow part of your dishes. Without this shape, a cup or a bowl will lose its function to contain your food.  Can you imagine trying using a block of solid ceramic to contain your tea? 

Ancient Eastern philosophers have this quote: "Unless a cup is empty, it cannot receive anything. To empty oneself of ego is to fill oneself with humility."  From our bowls and cups, we can learn a life lesson about freeing ourselves from ourselves, one of the foundations of a healthy spiritual life that we can find in practicing humility. With all our achievements, accomplishments, and successes we can be full of ourselves by thinking that we are invincible. Along the same line, with our series of setbacks, disappointments, and shortcomings, we can also be full of ourselves by thinking that we are a failure. Think of a bowl that is filled with leftover food from a week ago, sitting in the corner of our refrigerator and we don't want to empty it because we're too lazy to do so. That bowl's life is stuck being full of bad stuff and not able to receive anything new and good because it's full. Being full of ourselves always putting ourselves at the center of our own universe and by doing so, we won't be able to experience the fresh newness of life that God is about to bring to us. 

Therefore, if we find ourselves being like a block of solid wood, ceramic, or metal and trying to fulfill our purpose as dishes, then it is time for us to ask God to chisel, knead, or grind out the big chunk of our self so that it may become hollow and ready to be used for God's glory. Master Eckhart, a 13th-century German theologian, elevates "detachment" to the status of the ultimate virtue. "All other virtues have some regard for created things, but detachment is free from all created things." Eckhart adds that as great as love is, it compels us to love God and at the same time compels God to love us. "To be empty of all created things is to be full of God." *

The most excellent example of humility we find in Jesus's life as Apostle Paul declares it in his beautiful hymn of praise: "Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross." As Apostle Paul urges his people in the first century, he urges us too: "Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus!" Joyful and peaceful life can begin when we allow ourselves to be an empty cup or bowl for God's blessing to be poured out in us. 

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara


* From Meister Eckhart: The Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises, and Defense

Refrigerator

October 2, 2020

Lesson from an Ordinary Stuff: Refrigerator

After a long hike under the sun, hot and sweaty, you go for the fridge. You open its door and reach to its shelves where you neatly organized all kinds of canned bubbly beverages. You take one, you pull the tab's ring of the canned drink, POP! I bet you can imagine the exuberant joy as the cool liquid flows down your throat and slowly rejuvenates your weary body. There's something magical about cold drinks on a hot day. Even more magical is how humans have found a way to bring the coolness inside our own homes. 

Of course, enjoying a cold drink is only one function of the refrigerator, which the ultimate purpose is preservation. As I was deep cleaning my fridge last night, I found a frozen piece of cake inside a zip-lock container that was dated 2015 and it still looked fine. You don't have to bet whether I ate that cake or not because I dumped it right away. 'Cool temperature preserves food by slowing down the growth of microorganisms', read an article on Google. It gives fresh food a longer lifetime and we don't' have to keep throwing away food because it goes bad after one meal. 

On a spiritual level, we certainly need a soul refrigerant. We are emotional beings that are more often than not controlled by our mood and impulses. We react according to the mood of the day. Unfortunately, our surroundings contribute a lot to our mood. Think of a situation; you wake up in the morning refreshed and in a chirpy mood after getting a boost from a cup of coffee. A minute later you receive a phone call from your boss that he finds a lot of errors on the project you were working on the day before and now you have to do a lot of corrections on top of a new pile of work that's yet to be worked on. Your heavenly morning turns to hell as quick as the blink of an eye. Guess how you are going to react?

Think of the many times we act unwisely because we were overcome by our anger, disappointment, or restlessness. Think of the times we hurt others' feelings because of our snappy comebacks or harsh comments. Think of how we have severed any relationship with others by our negative attitudes. The Bible says: "Hot tempers start fights; a calm, cool spirit keeps the peace." (Proverbs 15:18, MSG Bible). The question is how do we keep cool of our spirit? We certainly need a 'soul fridge' to help us preserve our relationship by slowing down the growth of 'evil-organisms' within our hearts each time we are tempted to say or do something foolish toward those around us. 

At the night before Jesus was arrested to be crucified, He said to His disciples who were in a bad mood after Jesus made a comment about leaving them: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:27) Jesus has left us with the most amazing, out-of-this-world soul fridge. This awesome soul fridge will enable us to face any circumstances with ease without having to worry about the sway of the cold-hot temperature of our being. But how come we often feel like we are so 'hot' all the times by so many things that are not right around us? Perhaps, because we forget to plug this soul fridge into the center of our hearts? 

The combination of this never-ending pandemic and the election day that's less than a month away has caused us to be more anxious and frantic. It's easy to get 'hot' all the time. Boy, with that situation, I hope you don't forget to plug that soul fridge in your heart and let the soul fridge cool down your temper. 

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

Shoes

September 18, 2020

Meditation on Ordinary Stuff: Shoes

The shoes we wear daily are somewhat a reflection of who we are. There are thousands or even millions of shoe models but we choose the ones that fit our personality best. Shiny handmade Italian leather shoes with an unorthodox color like yellow may reveal that you are a confident person who's not afraid to look different, and you will make sure people notice that. Simple black colored slip-on shoes, without any ornaments around it, and highly comfortable to be worn for any occasion may reveal that you are a pragmatic kind of person who likes simplicity and practicality. The choice of color, the model, and the materials of the shoes, even when you dress for the occasion, flow from the kind of person you are. 

The way you care for your shoes also shows how much you care about detail. Unlike the face or the upper body of a person, feet are the last thing that people see, if they even want to see them. Therefore the shoes you wear aren't noticeable right away. A woman told me one time, "You can tell so much about a man from the way their shoes look." Perhaps she meant to tell me, you can judge the character of a person by the way they care about little-hidden-things. Something that can be surely be said about the character of God. Even Jesus said: “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? "

But no matter the kind of shoes you choose or how much you care for your shoes, have you ever thought about wearing two different kinds of shoes for your feet at the same time? A sneaker on one foot and a high heel on the other? Or have you ever had the thought of only wearing one shoe for your left foot since the right one doesn't feel like wearing one that day? As crazy as our world is today, I have never seen a person with a sound mind wearing only one shoe. Shoes are designed to be a pair, completely equal with the same materials and quality. Unequal shoes will cause problems for those who wear them. Therefore unequal shoes are despicable things.

If you lose one shoe, what are you going to do with the one you have? No matter how precious that shoe is, most likely you will stop wearing it, store it in storage, or just dump it altogether. If that shoe can speak, it will say, "How can I live without my partner? What use is it for me to be in this world without my other half?" If you're thinking about replacing the lost one, wouldn't that be a useless effort? Since the lost one is irreplaceable. It has gone through many miles together and It has the same faded color and the same worn sole with the one shoe that you still have. Nothing can replace the lost shoe without making the exists one look strange simply because they are a match made in shoe manufacturer. 

In life, I hope, your life is like the shoes you are wearing: that you can be as authentic as you can be by the things you say and do, that you will be looked after with great care by those who love you no matter how insignificant you think you are. Most importantly,  I hope you have found a companion or two in this life's journey, someone who understands the way you think and feel and doesn't mind your quirks, someone who will walk with you side by side, and someone who will never leave you alone no matter what life throws at you until the end of time. 

"I will never leave you nor forsake you!" (God)

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

Scar

September 4, 2020

Last Tuesday I went for a hike with a friend to celebrate her birthday. Her birthday happened last month but due to a series of heatwaves and smoky air, we had to postpone it until last Tuesday. At the end of our hike, I asked her about how she's doing, coping with the loss of her husband after more than a year. She paused a little and answered me, "The grief will never go away because when he died, part of me died with him. I guess I will live with that fact for the rest of my life." I caught a slight tremble in her voice. With that answer, I knew that she has not gotten over the grief. But as she said it, can she? Can anybody get over the grief of losing someone who has been the love of their life for more than fifty years? Can anybody get over the grief of anything at all? If getting over means completely forgetting the grief, I don't think it is possible. 

Over time, grief may look like a scar. We are healed from the pain but the scar remains. Because every scar is accompanied by a traumatic story behind it; it's almost impossible to completely forget it. I can show you a scar on my leg when I fell into a ditch when I was in Kindergarten. The whole class was marching and my eyes caught a glimpse of a flying bird in the sky, I looked up for just a second but my right leg chose to take a dive into a gross sewer ditch. Or I can tell you about a burn scar on my right arm when my foolish cousin was waving a burning sparkle around and that hot sparkle landed on my arm during an Indonesian Independence Day celebration. Funny how I still remember vividly the event behind each scar even though they happened more than forty years ago. 

I remember a quote from G.K. Chesterton: “Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump; you may be freeing him from being a camel.” Every person has their own "hump", a scar, a traumatic event, or a sad story or two that make a person who they are. This the hump that we must carry for the rest of our lives. 

In the Bible, we find the story of Jesus' glorious resurrection. Jesus was nailed on the cross, broken, and died, sealed inside the tomb for three days before God raised Him from the dead. His broken body now healed and restored and pain is no more but surprisingly, the scars remain. Why didn't God close up the nail marks on Jesus' hands and feet? Why didn't His Father completely remove the stab scar of the Roman soldier on Jesus' side? Why did God leave them open and visible for others to see? It's like a contractor who's doing a renovation job on a house that's filled with dry rot. He cleans the rot but leaves the broken wood as it is; open and unsealed, leaving the renovation job unfinished. 

But isn't that what makes Jesus Jesus? When Jesus appeared to His reluctant disciples after His resurrection, He showed His scars to them to convince His disciples about His identity. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see..” (Luke 24:38-39) The scars in his hands and feet and his side point to a story of redemption when He died on the cross for us. They remind His disciples about the love He has for them. They remind Jesus' beloved that He who was crucified and broken is now alive and well. Jesus' scars also teach them that no matter how painful the journey of life is they can make it through; the scars may remind them about the story of Jesus' defeat but most importantly, they remind the disciples about the story of Jesus' victory. O yes, just like a combat warrior who comes home after winning a battle, he shows his bullet mark on his body to his family with pride to show them how he was able to endure and persevere and be a victor. 

How about you? What does your scar mean to you and others? 

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

At a Loss of Words

August 28, 2020

Have you ever felt that you've run out of good words to say because everything that's happening around you goes against your words? I have. As a pastor, I have a collection of encouraging words that I can use anytime I meet someone in need such as: 'Be strong!' 'This too shall pass.' 'God never tempts you more than you can handle.' 'There is a reason for everything.' 'There's light at the end of the tunnel' ' Do not fear, for God is with you'… and so on and so forth. 

And of course, as a preacher, I also have collections of Bible verses up my sleeve so that I can use them whenever I need to encourage someone who is dealing with fear, sickness, or without hope. Yes, I quote them every Sunday with a true conviction coming from the bottom of my heart. But if each time I say it the circumstances go completely opposite of what I have said, will you still believe what I say? We're now going into the sixth month of the shelter-in-place situation and there is no clear indication that this pandemic will be over soon. At the beginning of March when it all began, I said "God will make a way out and we have to trust his leading." April came and I said, "Our hope is in the Lord, stay strong!" May and June came and I said, "Let's learn the lesson taught by God through this pandemic for He is making things new." Then July came, I started the sermon series on the Book of Exodus with the hope my church and I can learn about the hardship that the Israelites had and how God protected and guided them through it. People have been waiting for the realization of that promise of 'light at the end of the tunnel' but the more we wait the more we are unsure about it. 

In the past two weeks, we who live in the Bay Area got hit by a power outage and days of a heatwave. Two Sunday ago, I preached of how Moses led the people to escape the hands of Pharaoh's armies by going through the Red Sea. Moses encouraged his people by saying, "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:13-14) That Sunday, hours after I delivered my sermon, I heard the news that the lightning shower that happened earlier that Sunday morning had caused wildfires in many areas of our surroundings and now we found that a lot of people were displaced and lost their homes and once again we're dealing with the smoky air on top of everything that's happening in our personal life.  I find myself at a loss for words. What else can I say about this? How can I say with conviction that the Lord will fight for us and we need only to be still? How can I, as a pastor, restore the damage of broken hope? 

Whenever I feel a great weight hanging in my heart, I always turn to the Book of Psalms and read a chapter or two to calm my spirit. King David had a similar experience that he expressed through the beautiful psalm he wrote. He cried: "I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death." (Psalm 22:14-15) What David was saying is: I am at a loss for words for my ruined life! I believe every one of us can share this deep sentiment that David had when we are bombarded by harsh situations over and over again without a sign of a way out. 

What gives me strength whenever I am reading a depressing psalm like this is that the psalm almost always ends with a restored conviction of the power of God. The lament, in the end, turns to praise!  David sings: "I will declare your name to my people;  in the assembly, I will praise you. You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!  Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help." (Psalm 22:22-24) Quite a dramatic turn of mood, isn't it? I am not sure what caused David to swing from the state of "at a loss for words" to the excitement of bringing the whole nation to open their mouth in praising God. Perhaps David's honesty and his ability to pour out his deepest feeling to God have helped Him to overcome his own anguish. David was honest when he said, my mouth is dried up. Maybe at that moment, David was also saying, "God, I don't even know how to praise you when I feel like I am so close to death like this." When David was pouring out his heart to God, he was literally putting every weight he was carrying into the hands of the Almighty. At that very moment, David was stripped bare and vulnerable before God but at the same time, he's no longer carrying the heavy burden. Because now, everything is in God's hands: his feelings, his heartaches, his burdens, and his very own life.  When one surrenders like that, one can begin to ease up and float to the surface of a drowning sea. Something that we all can learn to do more. 

"The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans."

– Romans 8:26

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

First Love

August 13, 2020

When Viola, my fifteen-year-old daughter, told me that she was in love with someone at her school, I didn't really know how to react. Part of me thought, "That's a normal phenomenon for anyone who is maturing, from childhood to adulthood. What's the big deal about it?" And the other part of me, perhaps, was denial. I wasn't ready to see my daughter, my baby, my angel, to fall in love with a guy other than me. And the thing that bothered me so much, perhaps, was the fact that Viola looked so happy and excited about this guy. I thought, who is this guy who stole my daughter's heart? How dare he! During our conversation the other day, jokingly I reminded Viola, "Viola, remember, I am your first love because I am the first amazing guy you've ever known the minute you were born into this world." Of course, she rolled her eyes at me and said, "Stop it, Papi! You're weird." 

O yes, as you can predict it, as a good parent,  I must have a series of investigation periods where I asked a lot of questions to Viola about this "new guy", questions like:

'Who is this guy? Where does he live? What kind of family does he have? Why do you like this guy? How do you know that he is good for you? There are billions of guys in this world, why did you pick him? How do you know that this is love and not just a silly attraction?' On and on and on… I bet you are thinking: poor Viola having this OCD dad. I just couldn't help it. I had to make sure that my daughter gets the best of guys. Someone that at least better than her old man (which is impossible in my opinion)  HA! :) 

I also knew that this feeling of denial could also come from the fact that I have lost touch of that so-called 'puppy love' reality that happened to me when I was about the same age as Viola now. Boy, that happened three decades ago. I forgot the exhilarating feeling, the silliness, the stupidity, and sleepless nights thinking about the one I loved. Yup, all the irrationality of falling in love for the first time. The love song that captured my sentiment at the time was a song sung by Nikka Costa,  "First Love": 'Everyone can see there's a change in me. They all say I'm not the same kid I used to be. Don't go out and play. I'll just dream all day. They don't know what's wrong with me and I'm too shy to say. It's my first love. What I'm dreaming of when I go to bed. When I lay my head upon my pillow don't know what to do.'  Didn't I have to go through those crazy phases of falling in love when I was with my wife before? Why do I now feel all weird about my daughter's feelings? Do you still remember how you felt when you fell in love for the first time? 

God, through John the Patmos, reminded the church in Ephesus about the first love. “I see what you’ve done, your hard, hard work, your refusal to quit. I know you can’t stomach evil, that you weed out apostolic pretenders. I know your persistence, your courage in my cause, that you never wear out. “But you walked away from your first love—why? What’s going on with you, anyway? Do you have any idea how far you’ve fallen? A Lucifer fall! “Turn back! Recover your dear early love. No time to waste, for I’m well on my way to removing your light from the golden circle." (Revelation 2:2-5, Message Bible)  Often times, we forget the deepest feeling we once had with God (if that even existed). Those times when we felt like God is our best friend that made us willing to spend a lot of time in prayer and in reading the Bible or the time when we felt like God had been so so good through all his blessings to us that made us feel well-loved by the Almighty. But routines, problems, and the hecticness of life almost erase that exhilarating feeling. Now we feel the dimming of that joyful love. And as time goes on, that feeling goes away with it. Suddenly we find ourselves in the desert of our spiritual life: dry and parched from all living sources. We no longer have the desire to pray. And we no longer have nice things to say to God other than complaint and anger especially around this time of uncertainty. We even wondered if God has ever cared enough about us for allowing all this suckiness to happen. We can 't even recall any good thing that God has given us because life is so darn difficult for us right now to be on our knees and give thanks to God. Give thanks for what? We ask. For this pandemic? 

We have forgotten our first love, our "puppy love" time! That's the time when we easily forgive our loved one no matter how annoying they are. That's the time when we were willing to go miles and miles away doing a dumb chore for them without feeling like a chore at all. That's the time when we felt like they are the best thing that has ever happened to us no matter how imperfect or flawed this person is, we loved them anyway. Yes, if we find ourselves being estranged with God, I think it's time for us to remember our first love with Him. Remember how we first believe the God in Christ Jesus. Remember the very first time when we said yes to shoulder the cross and to follow Him for eternity.  Remember why we said it in the first place. Perhaps by remembering our first love in Him, the joy of our heart can be restored fully to the brim, again. 

Love and prayers,

Vincent Arishvara

Second Home

July 31, 2020

Last Tuesday, after a fun drive with my family at the beach, I made a quick stop at church. I told my family to drive around the church neighborhood while waiting for me to finish my stuff. Varen, my nine-year-old boy, had to make a "pit stop", so before my wife took off with the kids, Varen went with me and I took him to the church restroom. As we walked into the church patio, Varen said, "Wow...it's been so long!" His eyes were scanning the entire church building checking if there were any changes in the place that's very familiar to him. Indeed, since March, it has been a full five months that Varen has been absent from coming to church. "Papi, take me to your office!" He took my hand and we went to my office. "I thought you had to go to the restroom?" I asked. "It can wait!"

Upon entering my office, he noticed the missing round table that used to be in the corner of my office where I had my desktop computer that Varen always used to kill time whenever he had to wait for me. "It looks so empty, Papi. What happened to the table?" he asked. "I use it in the sanctuary." "Take me there!" Varen urged me. I unlocked the sanctuary and he found the now empty sanctuary. About two months ago, I stacked all the pew chairs so that I can better count and plan how many people I could have inside the sanctuary by following the 6 feet social distancing protocol once we are allowed to go back to church physically. Varen took the time to run around the empty sanctuary before he finally said to me, "I have to pee!" 

With a big sigh, Varen said, "Papi, I miss my second home." I looked at him. I caught the twinkling in his eyes as he was remembering all the good memories he had in the past. The church has been a big part of Varen's life. Every Sunday, almost never fail, he came to church and spent three to four hours to worship, eat lunch, and to hang out with his friends. I asked him why he misses church and Varen said, "I miss my friends, I miss Sunday school, I miss being in the Christmas play, singing, and playing with my friends…" Varen went on with a long list of the things he misses from his second home.  

I was touched by what Varen said. I totally share his sentiment. I am saddened by the fact that because of this pandemic, we are scattered and not able to spend time to fellowship with our friends like before. I, too, miss my church friends each one of them, I miss the worship time, the fellowship, the ministries we used to do together. At that moment with Varen, as saddened as I was, I also felt happy by what Varen feels about the church. I am happy that Varen has found a place where he can find his comfort, joy, and love; a place he can call home. And this place is the church among many other places in the world, a symbol of God's presence in the world. 

I believe in Christ there is no good-bye, but see you later! We are always united, no matter how scattered and displaced we are at this moment. Because the God whom we worship is the one God who holds everything in His hands. This one God will keep us one no matter how far or near we are. I know one day we will be able to come back to our second home to pray, sing, and have fellowship together and Varen will be able to visit his Sunday school room, meeting his friends to play and hang out. Until then, we can certainly pray for the well being of each other. 

"One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock."

– Psalm 27:5-6

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

Future Glory

July 23, 2020

During this quarantine time, my brothers in Indonesia, who own and manage their own orchestra in Indonesia, have to endure hardship by not having any gigs for the last four months. The source of steady income for their family is cut for awhile since the entertainment industry usually draws a large crowd that could expose people with the virus. Bored from staying home doing nothing, they gathered a number of friends and started making music, recording it, and posting it on youtube. When I saw their first youtube content during this pandemic, I was very impressed although I could see there is room for improvement there if they choose to stick with this venue for the long run. 

As I was watching it, my mind wandered to a distant memory of how my brother, Christian, used to hate music when he was little. It was a daily struggle that my mom had to bear in order to make him practice his guitar. My mom was a piano teacher and of course, she wanted all her four children to be able to play a musical instrument. Let me tell you, my mom is a super gentle person but when it comes to learning music, boy, she could be a totally different person. She could be very stern in exercising discipline for musical learning. Each one of us could select our own musical instrument and must stick with it until we gained some expertise in it. Like me, I chose to play the piano, Christian chose guitar and so on. And I had to practice my piano at least half an hour a day and if I forgot to practice my piano, I couldn't go out to play with my friend or do any fun activities. Dare I not to practice for a couple of days, hell could be set loose by this tender-hearted mother. :) 

For some reason, the four of us, especially Christian, did not really enjoy playing music in the beginning. Christian simply detested the idea of doing music. As you can tell I witnessed many nights filled with tears where mom and Christian had to argue with each other about practicing music. Christian would storm out from his piano bench, slam the door of his room, and cry. I remember my dad and I said to mom, "If Christian doesn't like music, let him be, release him from this painful duty of practicing guitar." Unflinching, mom kept pushing and pushing Christian to stick with his music. We simply did not understand why mom had to force us to do music until one day she said, "We are not a rich family. I may not be able to leave you with a lot of money when I die, but I can equip you with this skill to survive the world." Her statement sticks with me until now. 

I don't know what happened in between, but over time, I could see Christian had become to fully enjoy music around his middle school year. Not only did he practice his guitar without arguing, but he also wrote his first composition and performed it in front of the whole family. Now, Christian along with my youngest brother, Alvine, owns an orchestra production and built their home from music. I guess the proverb: "Mothers knows best" is not far from the truth. I remember one day Christian said to my mom, "Thank you ma for pushing me to practice music at the time when I did not know well enough about things in life." I believe when my mom heard that statement, her heart must be filled with joy. I could imagine in my mom's head she was responding, "I told you so!" but she only responded with a smile and a big hug to Christian. 

Reflecting on this story, Apostle Paul writes to the Romans: "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." Just like Christian, my brother, we don't know what we don't know because we only know what we know (if that makes sense). We question all the bad things that happen to us as a hardship that we must endure with no meaning to it. We even raise our hands to heaven with anger accusing God of inflicting pain to our life. Have we ever stopped to think that perhaps every negative things that happen in our life is a way for God to bring out good? Further Apostle Paul writes, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Note the words "in all things". It means everything: the good, the bad, and the ugly of life can be used by God to declare His glory upon us. In the midst of an unending pandemic, violence, and chaos in our government, perhaps God is training us to be patient and to stick with our faith. Perhaps God is teaching us how to become more human with each other, no matter the color of our skin or our belief we are called to pursue peace. Perhaps God is teaching us to trust him more than human leaders.  If mom knows better, how much more about God? Perhaps our upside-down-life we are experiencing right now is like a painful musical practice we must endure in order for us to be able to produce the most incredible musical masterpiece. Who knows! 

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

(If you'd like to see my brothers' work in their Stradivari Orchestra, you can watch this video on YouTube.) 

Mission Peak

July 10, 2020

Yesterday, Viola, my daughter, and I and several friends took a hike on Mission Peak. I kept hearing about the symbolic importance of this hike especially if you live around the Fremont area. It is not only that the hike is notoriously difficult because you must climb 2,500 feet in just three miles that makes it very popular but also because of its view from the top of the peak that overlooks the entire Fremont area that will take your breath away.  Some friends who have done the climb before said that on the way to the peak there's not much vegetation, so it is better to avoid the heat of the day because the sun can hit you badly and you could get exhausted faster before even reaching the middle trail. The best is either I go before sunrise or sunset to add the awe factor of the whole adventure. I chose the first one. 

I reached the trailhead at 4 AM in the morning and started to walk right then. As cautioned, the hike was tough. Right in the beginning, the trail goes up and continues to incline steadily with only a few flat areas where I could rest. And as you can imagine, I could feel the stretch and the tension in the lower part of my body: on my thigh, knee, foot. I thought to myself, what have I gotten myself into?? A friend warned me beforehand that Mission Peak is a gnarly butt buster. That early morning I found out that wasn't a joke! 

Let me tell you, walking in the dark early morning with friends and my daughter was a joy. Our surroundings were pitch black but we had no trouble walking because above us the moon and the stars were shining bright. A rare sight for us who live in the city most of the time who are so addicted to our artificial lighting. The air was cool and crisp and the walking got heavier as we went up but my heart was at peace. As we walked, we talked about our daily life, our struggles, church, and life in general. We giggled and groaned listening to each other stories and occasionally we stopped to calm our breath and took the time to enjoy the sky or to preserve the memories with our cellphone camera. We even commented that when we journey with friends, the burdens are shared among us. Therefore we won't feel the sharp bite of the pain of the journey as much as we journey this life alone. 

The last quarter mile toward the peak, the climb became harder and more treacherous. You really have to look for a safe path to support your body otherwise your foot would slip from the gravelly ground. After about two hours climb from the trail head, we finally reached the peak. Thank God for the basketball training I've been getting from Varen, my nine-year-old son, every day, helping me get this endurance to tackle the peak. My body was drenched in sweat and my legs were burning but all the exhaustion disappeared in an instant as I was approaching the peak. The view was spectacular. I cannot describe it with words. The dance of the sky color as the moon was saying goodbye to the sun to go to bed that morning and as the sun took the center place of the stage of the universe with all its splendor. Gorgeous! 

The words of the psalmist in Psalm 121 came to mind and as I watched the scene before me, I recited in my heart: 

"I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be slipped and He who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your coming and going from this time on and forevermore." 

The tears came down my face. Over and over again I was reminded of God's faithfulness to me. This time through the works of His hand. He who spreads the hills and told the sun to rise told me that morning that He is able. If He is able to create this majestic scene before me, how much more will He be able to help me through this life journey? During this unprecedented time of our lifetime, my heart often clouded by worry, doubt, and anger, and unknowingly I have spent more time being sour about my circumstances than spending more time bathing in God's grace that is so readily available around me. Yesterday morning, my heart was full of gratefulness for everything that God has done, is, and will do for me. 

Mission Peak hike yesterday had given me a spiritual meaning. In this life, we are on a mission to reach the peak of life. The peak for us, Christians, is the Presence of God and to dwell in the House of the Lord forever. The journey is long and the road is treacherous and steep but the reward is great. And we certainly don't have to travel this road alone. There's always a travel companion, a friend who has the same vision to reach the goal to share the road together.  

Friends, when you are feeling down, take a friend or two, go to nature, and see God's handiwork. Witness it for yourself that God is able to do anything. He is able to create a beautiful creation out of the ashes of our life. Yes,  nothing is impossible for Him and for those who believe. 

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

Freedom to Wear a Mask

July 2, 2020

Freedom is an interesting thing. Some people think if we are truly free, then we should be allowed to do anything that pleases our hearts. There should be no restrictions nor boundaries in whatever we are about to do. If there is a limit, even an iota of limit to our freedom, then that's not freedom after all.  

Watching and reading the news lately, my attention got caught to the whole debate of a facemask. Social media is filled with all kinds of videos, suggestions, even memes about why one should wear or not wear a facemask. I never knew that a facemask could create such a dramatic division between American people. Some say that the government has violated their human right by enforcing to wear a facemask in public places in order to curb the spread of the virus. Some quoting the Bible saying that wearing a facemask is obstructing the way we breathe, therefore obstructing the Divine Spirit that was blown into our nostrils at the time of creation. On the other side of the arguments, some reason that we cannot afford to experience a major setback in battling this virus by wasting the entire three months quarantine time just to go back to where we were or even worse with the increase of more cases. Some shout in fewer sentences: I don't want your virus, wear a mask! 

In the first century, Apostle Paul spoke about the limit of Christian freedom addressing the debate whether Christians in Corinth could eat or not eat the food offered to idols. Paul's address could certainly offer valuable insight of what we should do in regards to wearing or not wearing facemask during the pandemic. Paul said:  “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others." (1 Corinthians 10:23-24) 

Paul offered three layers of filters in decision making about wearing a facemask. 

This weekend, we are celebrating our Independence Day. There is so much homework for America to do in order to ensure our freedom for the future. There are many issues, way more important than the issue of facemask, that require us to pay close attention to. If we all can stop and ponder how we can stop our egocentric effort in seeking our own good and start looking at what we can do to bring good to others, then we can celebrate our independence in a much more meaningful way. In the end, isn't that what freedom and the sense of independence is all about? The freedom to bring goodness to others. 

Happy 4th!

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

Nailing Jello on the Wall

June 19, 2020

Do you know how hard it is to teach your own kid piano lessons? Super hard! It's almost impossible sometimes. I heard the wise said that trying to educate your own kids is like nailing jello to the wall. I believe I have shared with you years ago that I failed teaching piano to Viola my fourteen-year-old. Not only did she dislike my way of teaching, but she also claimed that she was traumatized by my strict pedagogy. So, instead of taking piano, Viola is learning flute from her school teacher and she gets pretty good with it.

I have my second chance during this Shelter-in-place. Varen, my nine-year-old, has been taking piano lessons from a piano teacher for three years. But because of the pandemic, all the physical presence has been stopped and replaced by online lessons. We found out that Varen had trouble focusing on working his piano skill through the internet. We put the cellphone on a table with its camera looking at Varen on piano and the teacher on the other side of the line watching, correcting, and giving instruction to Varen. The magic of our modern world! Sometimes we had to change the angle of the camera because the teacher wanted to see Varen's fingers or the music up close, and that's pretty distracting. Not only that, I don't know where Varen got his silly nerve (Vania said he got it from me :)), so, oftentimes he hides from the camera altogether and only showing his moving fingers or he completely disappears causing his teacher to wonder until Vania comes looking for Varen. The teacher literally had no control over this virtual lesson while we were too busy doing other things than to stay with Varen for the entire thirty minutes. 

Not only that virtual piano lessons don't work, but Varen has also been begging to get a lesson from me. I always refused to teach him because I did not want to repeat the same mistakes I did with my daughter. I would rather spend some money to see my kid excel than becomes a piano hater. After encountering roadblock after roadblock, I have decided to teach my son piano myself. In my mind I thought, this is my redemption time. I failed the first time, maybe God is giving me a second chance. Brave moves! 

The first two lessons worked like a gem. Varen obeyed every single word of my teaching. But starting the third, fourth, until now, I literally had to bottle up all my emotion so that I won't blow my top off. We argued a lot during lessons which caused me to wonder who is the teacher and who is the student. He thinks that he has played the right notes while in fact, Varen completely went on the wrong track. And the problem is he doesn't want to admit that he was making a mistake and let me correct him. He kept saying that he did everything right and I was not paying attention to his playing. I ended up recording his playing just to show him my point. We argued endlessly about the right note or the right finger positions. I almost ran out of tricks up my sleeve trying to teach piano to my boy. Of course, a couple of times during each lesson, I blew up. Who wouldn't? if you know that famous Bible passage that says: "God will never tempt us more than we can handle", let me tell you, it doesn't work with your own kid. God may be merciful, but your own kid will tempt you mercilessly. 

Last night after an hour and a half "battle" filled with tears and anger trying to teach Varen a new piano song, Varen gave me a big hug and he said, "Thank you for teaching me piano, papi." I was shocked. Astonished, I asked him, "So, you like the way I teach you?" 

"Yeah, of course." he answered. 

"So, what about the screaming and crying that you did?" I asked. 

"You are strict. But when you are angry you look funny. I like it." Varen answered quickly and ran to get his video game. I was stunned, speechless. Well, I just don't get the mind of a nine-year-old boy. 

This morning as I ponder about my time with Varen, I just hope that one day he can remember all the times I've been trying to be a good father, a good piano teacher, and a jello nailer to him. It is not easy. It is super hard, but I know it is worth it. 

"Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it."

– Proverbs 22:6 (ESV)

Happy Father's Day with love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

Application is Everything

June 6, 2020

According to Pew Research Center that surveyed more than 35,000 Americans from all 50 states about their religious affiliations, they found out that 70.6% of that many people identified themselves as Christian. Now, if that's a reflection of the whole United States, we could conclude that Christians dominate the US population. My question then, why is there still so much unrest, hatred, prejudice, terror, violence, and racism in this Christian land? I wondered if Jesus did not make clear his gospel of love. Here is an illustration: 

A soap manufacturer and a pastor were walking together down a street in a large city. The soap manufacturer casually said, "The gospel you preach hasn't done much good, has it? Just observe; there is still a lot of wickedness in the world and a lot of wicked people too!"

The pastor made no reply until they passed a dirty little child making mud pies in the gutter. Seizing the opportunity, the pastor said, "I see that soap hasn't done much good in the world, for there is much dirt and many dirty people around." 

The soap manufacturer replied, "Oh well, soap is only useful when it is applied."

And the pastor said, "Exactly, so it is with the gospel!"

In a simple way of saying it, obedience is simply about applying what you believe; it's about putting our belief into practice. We heard what Jesus said about loving God and loving one another as ourselves. We believe that, but it won't do anything good without putting it into action. James said it so perfectly, "Faith without works is dead! Useless! It will make no change, no good benefit will ever come to our personal lives and to the world we live in." Application is everything; but, here we're not only not following what the Bible asks us to do, we also do the exact opposite to what the gospel prescribes us.

The list goes on...

My heart is broken and my spirit is restless with the chaos that happened in the last week. My gut is churning with sadness. We don't need one more problem on our plate but this is our world today. It's showing its bad and ugly face to the whole world. I lament for the death of George Floyd and all other victims of racial violence. I am saddened by the violence and the unrest that made people succumb in fear. As the first generation Indonesian who came to this country sixteen years ago, I may not have the whole history in my pocket to understand the story of racism against the black people in this country. I may not have the whole context to come up with the right words to console the victims or to condemn the perpetrators of this violence. But I know one thing, that this whole chaos must stop. We must unroot evil, racism, hatred, and prejudice in our country no matter the cost because it stands in the exact opposite of our Christian faith. It must end now.  I love Nelson Mandela's saying, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.” I know we are capable to love and bring peace into our life. For certain, there is so much homework for us Christians to do; to apply what Christ has taught us into practice. 

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

Learning to Forgive

May 29, 2020

Storming out of her room, Viola, my fourteen-year-old daughter, shouted to me, "Papi, you would be proud of me!" Jokingly I said, "What trouble have you done now?"  "You know (name) my friend, right?" I nodded. "You know that we didn't talk to each other since we graduated from middle school, right? We didn't talk for the whole year." I know that Viola and this friend had a disagreement that caused a huge rift in their relationship. Before that split, they were buddies since they were in Kindergarten. Numerous sleepovers and play dates, and one day, poof! They stopped communicating. As if the whole season of beautiful springtime turned into ice in a snap of a finger by a magic evil goblin in a fairy tale. Viola continued, "Out of the blue I called her today. I thought she would not answer my call, but she answered. I said to her that if I made a mistake I am sorry and I hope you forgive me. Our relationship is too precious to go down the drain. And she said that she's sorry too about everything that happened. You know, Papi, I am so relieved. It's like a huge stone is lifted up of my shoulders." Viola smiled. I gave Viola a thumb up and told her how proud I was. 

Lately, Vania and I have been talking about how to teach our kids Christian values. I think the conversation was triggered by these many hours we have to spend with our children now since the shelter-in-place order in March. Watching our kids grow bigger in front of our eyes, perhaps scared us. We wondered, can they live a good life after we're gone from this earth? We know the world has become more egocentric and narcissistic. So we ask, can they be so selfless to love and to care for others as Christ taught us? We see that the world is becoming unforgiving, we tend to fix the blame than to fix the problem, point our fingers, and find the scapegoat than ask for forgiveness and to forgive. The world doesn't always give my kids a healthy spiritual lesson. From Netflix to Tik-Tok, from Facebook to Nintendo games, they teach different kinds of values than the ones that we believe in. To ban my kids to access them altogether will not solve the problem, how about giving them a solid foundation so that they may know the right from wrong and the good from the bad.

Not only that, but I am also sure that my kids caught me many times being cranky or anxious with my own thoughts. When you have to stay at home most of the time during this SIP order, you can barely hide your feeling anymore. There were times when I drove my kids crazy and I showed the worst version of me to my family. Something that I am not proud of and I wish that my kids won't remember my crappy attitudes during this crazy time. But who knows? The world doesn't show a good example and even worst, me, their father, failed to do the job of showing goodness. 

So when Viola shared her story, I couldn't be more proud of her. I thought, maybe we're not too bad as parents. I know my own flaws as a sinful person, my weakness, and my own dark side. If I count all my shortcomings, then there is no way that I will be qualified to teach a single Christian value to my kids. What kind of teacher is one who teaches something to other people while he himself is still struggling to master his own lesson? No one would want to learn Math from a person who is struggling to solve multiplication problems. There is so much that I need to learn and master and at the same time, there is so much that I must teach my kids fast before they become adults and stop listening to us or before I have to face my Creator!

In this matter, I too, need to learn forgiveness. Not only that I need to learn to forgive others, I also need to learn to forgive myself. I need to forgive myself when oftentimes I cannot be the best role model that my kids have. Forgiving myself is not a free pass or an excuse to keep doing the wrong things without any effort of transformation. In the end, only God can fully forgive. I know that He will forgive me for my lack of forgiveness toward others and toward myself. 

If you asked me what have I learned during this shelter-in-place time, I will say to you: forgiveness. 

"Cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you."

– 1 Peter 5:7

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

Memory

May 22, 2020

On her last visit to the US, my mom left me with a big bag of clothing that belonged to my dad. Dad passed away six years ago due to lymph cancer. Those shirts are full of color with some fancy patterns around some of them. My dad was always a trendy-dandy guy. He loved wearing nice and fancy clothing. My mom said maybe I can wear it someday. Honestly, there was a weird feeling creeping in when I heard my mom say that I could wear them one day. I guess I just don’t want to have all the bad memories of losing him coming back to me. So, I put them on the top shelf of my clothing cabinet and never really touched them, and eventually I even forgot about it.  

One day when I was doing a deep cleaning around the house, my eyes stumbled upon that big bag. I opened it and took some of the shirts out. My mom wrapped them inside the bag really good that preserved the smell, and aroma of my dad’s clothing cabinet. There was a  combination of the aroma of an old wooden cabinet, humidity, his cologne, and a bunch of mothballs. The smell that’s so familiar to me that I didn’t encounter for such a long time. It was the smell of my dad when I gave him a hug or when we were goofing around. It all came back through that big bag of clothing. Vividly, some of the good memories were flashing in front of me: with the blue striped shirt he took me to a New Year’s party. With a nice collared black batik shirt he taught Bible Study at church. Every shirt reminded me of him and how he looked on different occasions.  I broke into tears. I missed him so much. 

There is something about memories. They shape who we are in this present time in good and bad ways. Those memories stick within us and we carry them until we die. They are useful to keep us close to the ground and teach us how to be humble. The lives we have now did not just come from nowhere. I, for sure know, that I am a “product” of the love that happened between my parents and their teachings, and their life examples have made me the way I am now. 

The memories I have are also useful for me to look forward to the future. Those memories give me strength in times of need. When I feel discouraged, I will remember the optimistic attitude that my dad had; and in that moment of remembrance I will be made aware that if my dad could, I can. 

Christians are invited to remember and anticipate. The past and the future break into our present life of faith. In the past we remember the great act of redemption in which God delivered us from sin, death, and despair through the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ; and in the future, we anticipate the final entry into the New Jerusalem, to be with God forever. 

When Jesus broke the bread during the last supper, he said, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” That statement is an invitation for us to remember His great love for us, everything that He has done for us. It is also an invitation to look forward; that the broken body of Jesus that we “eat” will be restored in the day of resurrection and with that, our life that is filled with so much brokenness will also be restored with him. 

Friends, this coming Monday is Memorial Day, the Day of Remembrance. I think this year, we have a lot more to remember. Not only that we remember the fallen heroes of our country that gave their lives in order to usher in the freedom that now we enjoy, but we also remember the many lives that have been taken by COVID-19. During our remembrance, I pray that we can also learn a big deal from this tragedy of how we can better this world together. This pandemic has stripped away layers of problems that our world has been hiding: economic inequality, racism, messy health care system, environmental problems, the list goes on. Through our remembrance, we can also be strengthened by the fact that the Lord is an unchanging God. The God who was with our forefathers, heroes, and those who have gone before us is the God who is and will always be with us now and forever. Remember His love and forget not his benefits! 

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

Trusting is not for The Faint of Heart

May 8, 2020

To trust takes a lot of guts. Oftentimes, it's not easy to do, because there is no 100 percent guarantee that the person we have given our trust to would carry on whatever task we ask and expect them to do. We heard stories of betrayal, in fact, perhaps we were victims of betrayal at one point in our life. We were cheated or even backstabbed by our coworker or even loved ones. Broken promises that have caused us to promise to never trust anyone ever again. 

Trusting is not easy because we literally have no control over the person to whom we are giving our trust to and at the same time, we have no control over the very thing we trust that person with. Just like dropping our baby to a daycare. We are giving away our control over our baby to the babysitter which, at the same time we are giving away our baby for a short period of time. If we don't have trust in the babysitter at the daycare, this will never happen. Trusting means letting go with the hope that the other party, the one we are putting our trust, will keep the promise to carry on the task as we hope. 

To trust is like learning to bike or swim for the very first time. I still remember when I taught my kids to swim. First thing, I had to gain my kids' trust by holding their hands as they tried to practice their swimming moves. O yeah, my kids kept saying over and over again: "Papi, don't let go! Don't let go!" As if I was going to drown them. 

"Okay now, I will launch you. Just feel that you can float in the water and let the movement of your feet carry you forward. Now, I will release your hands so that you can now practice your hand moves. I won't go far. I will catch you if you start to drop." 

"NOOOO!!! Don't let go! Hold me, Papi! Hold me!!! they screamed. The swimming lesson would fail miserably had my kids never let go of me and give their trust to me. 

Or consider Henri Nouwen's story about a trapeze artist: 

"One day, I was sitting with Rodleigh, the leader of the troupe, in his caravan, talking about flying. He said, ‘As a flyer, I must have complete trust in my catcher. The public might think that I am the great star of the trapeze, but the real star is Joe, my catcher. He has to be there for me with split-second precision and grab me out of the air as I come to him in the long jump.’ ‘How does it work?’ I asked.

‘The secret,’ Rodleigh said, ‘is that the flyer does nothing and the catcher does everything. When I fly to Joe, I have simply to stretch out my arms and hands and wait for him to catch me and pull me safely over the apron behind the catchbar.’ 

‘You do nothing!’ I said, surprised. 

‘Nothing,’ Rodleigh repeated. ‘The worst thing the flyer can do is to try to catch the catcher. I am not supposed to catch Joe. It’s Joe’s task to catch me. If I grabbed Joe’s wrists, I might break them, or he might break mine, and that would be the end for both of us. A flyer must fly, and a catcher must catch, and the flyer must trust, with outstretched arms, that his catcher will be there for him.’"

Can you imagine yourself as a flyer, letting go of that bar and flying to the catcher? Trusting is not for the faint of heart, that's for sure! 

Yet, trusting is liberating. We will never go far with our lives if we don't trust. We will never be able to experience the wonder of swimming in the water, biking through the hilly side of the mountain, or flying high as a trapeze artist. Life is a series of trust. Think back on your life and see how many times you had to let go of things and trust others! And see how far you have traveled in your journey based on the trust you have given! You trust your elementary teachers to teach you good education, the pilot in the airplane to take you safely to your vacation's destination, your spouse to care and love you forever, your kids that they will do good in their lives, and so on and so forth.

In a challenging time like this, I pray that you once again can trust. Not in humans or stuff, but in God. Let go of the desire to have control over our own life. Sometimes in this life we must be willing to surrender all and let God do his work for, in, and through us.  

"The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him."

– Psalm 28:7

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

Sowing Seed

May 1, 2020

Anthony De Mello wrote this story: 

A woman dreamt she walked into a brand new shop in the marketplace and, to her surprise, found God behind the counter. 

"What do you sell here?" she asked.

"Everything your heart desires," said God

Hardly daring to believe what she was hearing, the woman decided to ask for the best things a human being could wish for. "I want peace of mind and love and happiness and wisdom and freedom from fear," she said. Then as an afterthought, she added, "Not just for me. For everyone on earth."

God smiled. "I think you've got me wrong, my dear," He said. "We don't sell fruits here. Only seeds."

If the story of De Mello is true, is that why we rarely get the peace of mind, love, happiness, wisdom, or freedom from fear that we want? Because like a regular seed, it takes work, in fact a lot of work, before we get to enjoy its fruit. 

During this quarantine time, I have been spending many hours in my back and front yard, weeding, fixing my tree house, trimming trees, and of course planting. I've always wanted a lemon tree in my backyard as I have found out that lemons have so many health benefits. Two years ago, I bought a lemon tree in a pot from Home Depot and then transplanted it into the ground. But for whatever reasons the tree never got big. I am not sure what happened. I did exactly what my friend told me to do to transplant the lemon tree, but instead of me enjoying the fruit of my labor, I was stuck looking at a tiny little lemon tree that refused to grow up for two years. After reading a long gardening article that caused my head to spin. I deduced that perhaps the problem of this tree was lack of sunshine. So, I decided to once again transplant this little tree to the front yard with the hope that this time, I was going to harvest lemon fruits by the next year or two. In the meantime, I've got to make sure that this little lemon tree stays alive and likes its new home. 

Yup, sowing and planting seeds is a tedious task and not only that, the waiting period can be unbearable. It is simply because we cannot see what's going on inside the dark soil and the plant cannot tell us whether they need more water or they have been attacked by the bug. All we can do is to do our best to care for the plant and wait. Therefore, the spirituality of the sower, then, is the spirituality of urgent patience. A good farmer is willing to be patient because they believe that their effort will be worthwhile! They know their sowing will lead them into harvest. And when the harvest comes, they will be able to feed their families and sell the produce to the market for profit. That's why the farmer keeps sowing and planting even though these activities taxe their energy and sometimes their soul. Sowing takes a long, long time. And for those who sow must know the risk that they may not be able to see the result of their work because of unexpected disasters like parasites, bugs, or bad weather that might kill the plant before its harvest. But they do it anyway because they know that a good thing is made possible through the work of their hands. 

During these quarantine times, let us not be weary to keep sowing and planting seeds of love. I believe that our world needs it today more than ever. Yes, we can still sow love from our confined environments, maybe by reaching out to our friends via telephone or emails and letting them know how much you care for them and wish them well during this unprecedented time. You could deliver food to elderly friends who aren't able to drive around or write cards with an uplifting message to your neighbors. Do you know that sewing masks is sowing love too? Yes, hunkering down at a time like this is not an excuse to do nothing. It is more reason to sow seed, care for it and wait until the harvest comes. 

"Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains."

– James 5:7

Happy sowing friends, 

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

Longing

April 17, 2020

What would be the first thing you do once the shelter-in-place order is lifted up? Going to the Mall? Eating at your favorite restaurant? Worshiping at church? Hanging out with your friends? The list goes on. For me, it's clear, I need to make a visit to my barber. I need a haircut. Some of my friends let their wives buzz-cut their hair. Well, not me. If there's one thing I cannot let my wife do is give me a haircut (don't tell her that :)) So, I think I am going to let my hair grow all the way to my hip again then like when I was young. 

Well, for the majority of us, who have been strapped at home for more than a month now, this whole situation may feel like a hardship. It felt that way to me at the beginning of the shelter-in-place order. I felt anxious, helpless and disgruntled by it even though when I come to think about it, I have not been totally chained down at home since I'm still able to go to church for essential stuff like preaching and running the food pantry, go to grocery stores, bike around the park, or spend fun times with my family. Yet, I couldn't help feeling restless about it. 

Over time, from stories and the news that I read and hear, I am reminded by what Nick Vujicic, a Christian motivator who was born without limbs, said: "You can either be angry for what you don't have or be thankful for what you have." And I realized that I should be more grateful that my living circumstances are far better than some people. I cannot imagine being healthcare providers during this time; doctors and nurses who have to be at watch 24/7 taking care of patients and putting their lives at risk of infection from the virus. They don't really have the privilege to shelter-in-place themselves as they follow their calling. 

Or think about those who got sick in the middle of this dire situation. Last week I got a phone call that a church friend had to be admitted to the E.R. for a serious abdominal pain. The cancer has spread throughout her stomach. And there I was holding the phone talking to her husband. "She's looking for you, Vincent. She said you would pray for her." The entire time I was hoping that I could drive to the hospital, hold her hands, and pray for her like before. But this time the whole situation doesn't permit me to do so. Not even her husband could be by her side at the hospital. When you go through pain, wouldn't it be great if you have someone you love who can be with you and accompany you through this tough journey. 

Today, I have to bury another friend whom I have known for more than seventeen years. She died of old age after years of deteriorating health. I was glad that I could serve her communion right before the shelter-in-place order took place. When I found out that she was slipping away, I wished I could visit her one last time. At least I could say spend time with her to say goodbye or give her a last rite. But even a short visit was not permitted due to fear of the spread of the virus. It made me really sad. 

It's great that I can still make a plan of what I am going to do or where I am going to go after all this is over, God willing. I don't know when, but I know that one day I will get my super haircut and look clean again. I know that this situation is only a temporary moment.  I believe God works through the minds and the hands of doctors and scientists to find a cure for this terrible pandemic. In the meantime, my prayer goes for those who are sick, suffer and are alone around this time. Those in nursing homes, in the hospital rooms, in isolation, the poor and the homeless people who have no place to go. And for those who must continue to work because their work is essential. Those who put their lives at risk so that others can live: health care providers, farmers, factory workers, construction people, ….

And with the words of Apostle Paul, I pray for you: "Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm (stay healthy, stay safe, stay at home, and stay prayerful) in the Lord, dear friends!" (Philippians 4:1) 

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

Looking Up to the Heavens

April 3, 2020

For the last couple of days, I've been wondering about the word exponential as the number of people get affected by the COVID-19 virus grows exponentially. Doctors and health experts have suggested that washing hands frequently, social distancing, and staying at home would help to curb the exponential spread of this nasty virus. They are certainly helpful physically, but how about mentally and spiritually? What can combat the exponential growth of our weariness of the shelter-in-place isolation or the anxiety that our hearts feel as we are facing this uncertainty? 

One lesson I've learned from my church experience is that you cannot give people in despair easy answers. Any answer you try to give will sound wrong in their ears no matter how true it may be. When you say, "God has a plan for you." They might say: Is this God's plan? I don't like this kind of plan!!! Or when you quote Apostle Paul's words: Our suffering may lead us to glory, they may say: I don't need glory! I need a release from this pain! Friends, there are no easy answers when life comes apart at the seams. 

But, let me share with you what Prophet Isaiah, in Isaiah 40:21-31, said to me this morning. According to the prophet Isaiah, the key to enduring terrible things that happen to us is to look up instead of about.  Think about our normal days. How many times during the day do we take the time to look up to the sky? We spend most of our time interacting with what’s right in front of us, usually within arm’s reach.  The majority of our interactions with the world like preparing meals, working on a computer, using a cell phone, or brushing our teeth require us only to use our below-horizon-visual-field. I wondered during this shelter-in-place time, if we may have spent more time in front of the TV or computer watching the news or Netflix. 

Many experts have spoken about the benefit of looking up. In his fascinating book, The Dopaminergic Mind in Human Evolution and History, a neuroscientist Fred Previc argues that our visual brains have two distinct systems. One is more specialized for the graspable interaction space of the lower visual field and another is specialized for the visual field above the horizon. This second visual system, specializing as it does in surveying “extrapersonal space,” the distant vistas above the horizon. Previc goes on to argue that this area of the brain is strongly activated during religious experiences, meditative activity, dreaming, and probably any kind of artistic or creative activity that encourages us to reach beyond the bounds of nearby time and space into the infinite and eternal.  It’s no accident, according to Previc, that during meditative states, worship, or praying we often look up. 

In the interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer in 2010, Stephen Hawking gave this piece of advice to his three children: “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet.” And psychologists know this little secret of looking up. By this simple act of looking up, we will be in a better mood and it can evoke the creative energy from our brain. Colin Elard, an expert in Human Brains writes: "I could well imagine that when we look up, we’re also putting ourselves into contact with the lofty infinite, thinking big thoughts, and contemplating our place in the Universe." By looking up, literally we are reconnecting ourselves with the universe far bigger and beyond ourselves. 

Prophet Isaiah's suggestion is right to the point: We should focus our minds and hearts on the power and promises of God instead of our worldly problems. Isaiah says: God sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,  and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.  “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. (Isaiah 40:24-25) And Isaiah strongly suggests these hopeless people: " Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?" and he urged us to meditate upon the wonders of creation. In a way, Isaiah was saying, “Think about it. The Spirit of the Living God, the same Spirit that breathed life into creation can breathe life into us when we are down and out. We need to put our little lives in a larger perspective instead of setting our gaze downward all the time, and lose sight of our eternal glory that God has already planned for us!" 

Isaiah continues: "He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing." Literally, Isaiah is saying, “Look up!"  The one who made the heavenly bodies is the same one who promises to deliver you. Is there anything too hard for the creator of all that is.” This is the God who is mighty in power and strength. This is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. 

The result of looking up is real: "He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." (Isaiah 40:29-31) Notice: the end of the prophecy doesn't end with: you will be strong and comfortable so that you won't have to do anything. No! This prophecy talks about more wonderful work that you can do with the power of God. You will be able to walk, run, and fly! Your strength will be added NOT so that you can live comfortably without doing anything, no! But you will be able to tackle more things in life, even the life during this pandemic time. 

Let me close with this funny story as the wise said it:  "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." (Proverbs 17:22)

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson went on a camping trip. As they lay down for the night, Holmes said, "Watson, look up into the sky and tell me what you see."
Watson looked up and said, "I see millions and millions of stars."
Holmes asked, "And what does that tell you?"
Watson thoughtfully answered, "Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Theologically, it tells me that God is great and that we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it tells me that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you, Holmes?"
Holmes deduced, "Someone stole our tent!"

(from Humorous Illustrations by Michael E. Hodgin)

Certainly, it is not a good time to go camping. But let's spend more time looking at the sky, the heavens. Take the time to see life beyond our life, to observe the magnificent works of God. Observe it from our own backyard during this isolation time. Remind yourself that this too shall pass and trust that the Lord who has promised us strength and joy will carry us through this dark time into His bright future. 

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

O How I Miss It

March 26, 2020

I wished I could stay at home longer and sleep in and wouldn't have to go to work in the morning. 

O, how I hate rush hour traffic filled with foolish drivers. 

I wished I would never ever have to stay in a checking line to pay for my groceries or to mail my package at a post office. O, how I hate long lines of antsy people. 

I wished I wouldn't have to be at a social gathering that my wife arranged so that I don't have to do all those meaningless handshakes and wishy-washy words with some new people I meet.  O, how I hate lip service just to show that I am a good human being. 

I wished I wouldn't have to drive my kids to their basketball practice or to their any extracurricular activities and wait for hours for their practice to be over. O, how I hate passing my precious time. 

It seems like God has a sense of humor. 

"Here you go, all your wishes, I am making them all come true! You don't need to hate anymore. Abracadabra!!!"  a la skillful magician, God has put a stop to all the sources of my complaints. 

Now...

I don't have to get up in the morning, because my office is closed and I have to do all the work from home. I don't have to get up in the morning beating the traffic, because on the road there are barely any cars. I don't have to go to any social gatherings, because everybody is social-distancing everybody. I don't have to take my kids to school or any extracurricular activities because all their schooling is canceled and must be done from home. 

Now, I have so much time in the world to do everything for myself;  too much time that is needed to be killed. I never felt this way before. Time moves so slow. Time is not only crawling, it's snailing or maybe stopping altogether. I don't know anymore. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday... every day feels the same. I eat breakfast at 12 PM and eat my dinner at 10 PM. 

Suddenly a thought came to mind: O now, how I miss traffic hours, long lines of people, my kids' basketball practices. Obviously, I simply don't know what I have until everything is taken away from me. 

Lately, I spend hours weeding, shaping and poodle-ing the green bushes in my backyard;  dusting and organizing my bookshelves, kitchen cabinets, and my kids' bedrooms; doing woodwork and cleaning around the house. Not only that I am spending a lot more time at home helping with my kids' homework, playing board games, exercising, and cooking with my family. Of course, I must also endure the occasional shouting and the yelling that happens between my kids when they have nothing else to do.  

All this I do because: "I AM BORED!!! I WISHED…" No! Stop that thought, I said to myself. Be careful with what you wish for, the old adage says.  

No, no, I don't wish any of that to go away. I don't dare to hate them no matter how bored I am. I don't want God with His sense of humor taking any of them away from me. I don't want to come back to Him later and say, "God...O how I miss having moments of weeding, organizing, woodworking, and be with my family." I have to admit when I was weeding I got to enjoy the fresh air outside and when I was organizing my bookshelves, I found some old letters from my friends hidden between pages of my books that brought back beautiful memories. When I was doing woodworking, I felt a sense of accomplishment that I could still use my hands to create something and when I helped my kids with their homework, I have become more aware of their lives outside our house.  

When time is what I have so much in my hand now, I won't dare to spend every single moment of it with complaining or feeling sorry about life. This much time in hand is not to be killed but cherish, celebrate, and make the most out of it. What I need to do more is giving thanks to God that in the midst of this challenging time, He still gives me a chance to do things around the house, to rest, to be with my family, and the opportunity to think and to meditate, to pray and to give thanks. For everything I have is precious, no matter how mundane, how boring, and how painful it may be. Therefore I must accept them with gratitude because He will make everything beautiful in His time. 

O, wait, have I told you that I miss you? 

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

God, I'm Afraid

March 12, 2020

God, I am afraid. I am afraid of the whole ups and downs of this world. It is uncertain. It is unpredictable. I have seen people dying in their old age. I've seen a seven-month-old baby who died because of a heart defect. There is no end of this human frailty and now, this virus pandemic is eating away the soul of so many of us. I cannot travel, schools are canceling their classes, churches are limiting their gatherings. Lots of people are afraid of losing our job. The economy is going downhill. The stock market is plummeting. We are hiding in our houses being suspicious of those who cough or sneeze. Please understand, God, we don't want to get sick nor do we want to spread our germs to others if we carry ones. We have to stock up food and toilet paper, hand sanitizer and cat litter, well...we have to continue living, right? All these things we do still don't eliminate my fear. So, let me be honest with you: I am afraid and I am not going to hide my feeling before You. 

Yes, you said it over and over again in the Bible: "Do not fear! Do not be afraid!" But, do you know, God, that it is easier said than done? In Biology, I learned that fear is a human defense mechanism that will enable us to detect danger. Fear is useful to give us the direction of how we should behave in the midst of a threat.  So, if a threat is on our left side, we can steer our way to the right or any other direction. It will help us to ensure our survival, right? After all, we just don't want to be cocky in the face of any danger, that's why we allow ourselves to be at fear and brace ourselves in case the virus pandemic takes a turn for the worst. 

Still, your voice comes stronger than ever, "Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God." Isaiah 41:10. It makes me stop to think the depth of this proclamation you uttered through the prophet of old. "Do not fear...for I am your God!" It keeps ringing in my head. As if you are asking me now, "Who's in charge of your life?"

"Of course, it is you, God! You are in charge. You are the possessor of my life, the true source of all living things. I will say Amen to this beyond any shadow of a doubt!" I will answer you.

"Then, why have you made fear takes charge of you? Why do you let fear control you?"

"No. I am not allowing fear to take control of my life, God." I argue.

"But why do your heart rate and your blood pressure go up each time you're thinking about Coronavirus? Why do you keep playing the 'what if' games in your head? What if I run out of food? What if the virus gets me or my family member? Vincent, you're playing this game as if you will be able to fix the whole situation by playing it."

" Well, I cannot help it, God. My imagination goes wild when stuff like this happens." 

"That's because you let fear be your boss. It's not what you fear, but what a life controlled by fear does to you. Do you know that you can destroy yourself faster by being afraid than the Coronavirus itself?" 

"Yes, God. Does it mean I shouldn't be doing any precaution things?" 

"Being prepared, yes! Being cautious, yes! Being afraid and lose your sanity, NO! Remember, I am your God. I hope it is still true for you." 

"God, it is a hard lesson to swallow. It's easier to believe this statement when everything is alright. I found out it's harder to surrender to this statement when life is in chaos." I am afraid that I may lose my faith in the midst of this chaos. 

"Have you seen the works of my hands? The sun, the moon, and the stars? Have you heard my glory being declared by the wave of the ocean deep and by the grandeur of the mountain top and how I made you from the dust? Have you heard the stories of how I brought my people out of the land of slavery and how I defeated their many enemies? Have you heard the stories of how my Son, Jesus Christ, healed the lepers and fed the five thousand? And look at this world, generations come and go, each with its sorrow and struggles, but have you ever heard that I left them alone to endure the craziness of life? Look at your own life and see for yourself how far I have taken you and count the many blessings you have received. Thus far I have led you, will I now let you go without My Spirit?" 

In shame, I shake my head. "I am sorry that I doubt You, God. Sometimes to succumb in fear is the most natural thing a person like me can do than to remember all the wonderful things You have done to me. I certainly need to learn more about trusting You." 

"Then, learn to believe and learn it fast. In the end, you have not many options, right? It's either your fear or Me who will be your God. You simply cannot serve two masters." 

"I choose you, God!" 

"Then listen to me one more time, listen carefully: " Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (Isaiah 41:10; 43:2)

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

Strength

March 6, 2020

In the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak, I have been watching the news closely of how this chaos has progressed. The latest is how people started to stock up some of the necessary basic items like dried food items such as rice or pasta, hand sanitizers, toilet paper, and water bottles. Lots of my friends keep sending emails and texts giving live updates about grocery stores that still have some of these items available for us to buy. They kept telling me, "A lot of grocery stores ran out of the basic items! You have to start buying now, that in case of an emergency, you will have enough for your family!" I am not trying to downplay the nastiness of this virus,  but I feel like the media, especially social media, have blown it out of proportion. We get bombarded by the news, the images, and videos of the growing number of people affected by the virus, dying people, people lining up at grocery stores hoarding all kinds of basic items...yikes! Perhaps, this is what triggered this mass hysteria. To be honest, I try to keep my head up by not allowing myself to be drowned by fear and anxiety and try to observe the situation from a healthy mind.

Wednesday afternoon, as I was preparing the midweek service for our church, my wife called and said that Governor Gavin Newsom had declared a state of emergency and then she asked me, are you sure we don't want to start stocking up anything? Her comment got me thinking. I paused for a little bit and tried to come up with some reason why we should not be panicky. Nevertheless, the wall was eroding. I thought in my mind, what if it is true and we will get isolated because of the virus and I cannot get out for weeks to buy the food? In the end, it's not just about my life, but my family's. Scary thought. What if this..what if that… All of a sudden, I got converted into this whole hysteria. 

After the service, I decided to stop by at Costco. It was 8 PM, and the whole Costco was quiet. Everything seemed normal, I saw stacks of clothing and electronic items being displayed by the entrance. In produce area: fruits, vegetables, bread… I didn't see anything irregular. As I walked in further, I found empty shelves of rice, pasta, toilet paper, frozen food stalls, water bottles. I started to panic, so it's for real? I have the money to buy but I can't buy anything because the stuff I was looking for is not available anymore. The worst kind of imagination came to mind: what if the apocalypse happens? The movie clips of walking dead came to mind, where every place on earth becomes desolate and we will be chased by the zombies… arrrgh! The apocalypse is here and now, I thought. What should I do? For the first time in my life, I felt like money has no value in the midst of this. No matter how much money you have, if there's nothing you can buy, your money means nothing. I ended my trip by buying some fruit items and some pasta boxes for my kids' school lunch. 

My shopping mood for survival turned into a gloomy thought. On the way home,  I wondered about this whole phenomenon. It is a scary world, really. All kinds of thoughts came to mind: how much should I be prepared before the whole situation gets worse? How much food should I buy for my family? Where should I take my family when the apocalypse happens? As I reflected later on, these thoughts came because fear finally took over my head. In the midst of this chaos, it's kind of hard to keep a level head. I am still not certain about what I should do next. All I know, as lots of people, said it already, is to keep washing my hands and don't touch my face, stay home when I am not feeling well and stay away from those who are sick, et cetera, et cetera. Perhaps the most important thing I can and should do is to rise above fear and angst of this whole situation because fear and angst can only beget more trouble than solution. 

This morning, during my devotion, I was reminded of prophet Habakkuk (Habakuk 3:17-19): 

I heard and my heart pounded,
    my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
    and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
    to come on the nation invading us.
Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights.

I pray that we and the whole world can go through this chaos with the strength of the Lord. For our life is in God's hand. 

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

Open for Examination

February 27, 2020

Yesterday, right after I was done putting together the Ash Wednesday liturgy and hand out for our church congregants, I spent some time looking over them. I was looking for any typo or grammatical errors that I often do unconsciously. I read the liturgy and the handout slowly and carefully and found nothing. No error. I thought to myself, "I am getting better at English.." Since English is not my first language, I have developed a habit to ask someone to proofread any of my writings before it goes to the public. So, I asked Mark, my fellow pastor, to read my work. Jokingly, I said, "Mark, the more I read them, the more I cannot find any flaw in my works. Either I am perfect or I am blinded by my perfect ego. Maybe you will catch some errors there with your fresh eyes." He laughed. And sure enough, he found three errors in a short handout that I had put together. 

As an artist too, I realized from many different experiences in the past, that I should never allow myself to be consumed completely without any time to break away from my art project, especially when I am working with a portrait painting. Numerous times when I got so excited and let myself get lost in the work, without any time to have a break and review my own work, I found that my portrait paintings were distorted, unbalanced, or out of proportion. Even many art masters would suggest you take plenty of time to break away from your project, so that you may gain fresh eyes to look and fix the errors you have made in the past. 

I have learned from my mistakes. Therefore, for any project, before it is completely done, I always ask my family or my trustworthy friends to check my work to see if they find anything that's not right that is hidden in my own blindspot. Yes, I have a circle of trustworthy people, people who love me, who can give me honest feedback without crushing me altogether. My ego often times get too inflated to see deep within my own heart the mistakes or errors I have made. 

The Lenten season invites us to examine ourselves, to seek within the depth of our beings anything that's not right before the eyes of God, acknowledge them, repent, and turn to the righteous path of the Divine. It is a time to break away from our ego, from our busy and mundane life, a time to reflect, and a time to tear down the huge walls that separate us from God. Yes, the invitation of Lent will mean nothing, if we are not willing to be open for this invitation: open to stop, open to be vulnerable, open for examination, and open to better our life. 

Our prayers this Lent season: "Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Psalm 139:23-24

Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara

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February 20, 2020

Since my trip last week, I