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Day 3 - How I Fight My Battles 

by Pastor Bobae Lee

Exodus 17:8-16

8 The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. 9 Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.”

10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.

14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven.”

15 Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner. 16 He said, “Because hands were lifted up against the throne of the Lord, the Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”

Three years ago, I started my first semester in Seminary, and I had no intentions of making friends. I just wanted to get my credits in, go unnoticed as much as possible, and graduate. To be honest, I still kind of feel this way because I don’t love school — I like the learning, just not the work. However, God had different plans for me. 

There was an introductory class everyone had to take called “Initiation to Spiritual Formation.” Not knowing anything about that class, I walked in, sat in the back row, and hoped that the professor wouldn’t call me all semester long. But of course, the professor called everyone of us by name and asked us to introduce ourselves. As the introductions were going on I realized that there were only 3 women, including myself, in the whole entire class. As fate would have it, we had small groups through the entire semester, and the 3 of us were in a small group together. We used to joke that we were forced to be friends, but honestly, I really think it was God’s plan to bring us together because he knew we needed each other. 

The first 2 years of our friendship, we were all simultaneously going through probably one of the toughest and most defining battles of our lives. The way I described it was that God was breaking our foundation, tilling the soil to plant new seeds that could bear good fruit. There sure was a lot of breaking and a lot of tears (I pretty much cried through my first 2 years of seminary), and there were moments where I felt like I wasn’t gaining much ground. Every time I felt that way, I would reach out to my friends, which was very uncharacteristic of me as I often hide with my issues. But I knew that was a breeding ground for shame so I confided in them. When I did, they would hold my hand and say, “Bo, you got this. God loves you so much and we’re gunna see victory over this.” There were moments where I was so beat from fighting but my friends had more faith for me than I did for myself. Other times, my friend couldn’t see hope in the situation but the rest of us would fix our eyes on the hope in Christ for her. When the battle became too tough for one person we would always stand alongside one another, holding each other’s hand up because we knew that there is victory for us in Christ Jesus and we were not meant to fight our battles alone. This is how we were fighting our battles. 

How are you fighting your battles today? How do you want to fight your battles?  

Moses was leading a whole nation to freedom and you could think, “Of course he had men to help! I don’t have an army of men fighting battles for me.” But up on the hill, Moses teaches us the two ways we are to fight against the enemy — in prayer and in community. Aaron and Hur were two of Moses’s most trusted leaders; they were his people. When they saw he was weak Aaron and Hur gave Moses a rock to sit on. When they saw he could not hold up his arms any longer, Aaron and Hur came alongside Moses so he could continue fighting. They didn’t do it for Moses, they did it WITH Moses. Moses could’ve easily rejected their help but there was no way Joshua would’ve won if Aaron and Hur weren’t there with Moses. 

Aaron and Hur were Moses’s people and he didn’t have to look too far for them to be on his side. Are you doing it alone? This thing called life is no joke. It’s highs are high but the lows can be very low. We need people to celebrate with and to grieve with. We need people to tell us like it is but also to run with us when the going gets tough. We all need an Aaron and Hur. 

Take a look around you. Who has God placed in your life to hold your hand up in the battles of life? If you have someone already, thank God for the blessing. If you don’t, ask God to open your heart to trust and to open your eyes to find a friend who you can be that with. 

Day 2 - Our Group Project

by Pastor Bob Koo

Many of us are familiar with the words of Romans 12:1. Here they are, in the NIV:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

Now it’s clear that the apostle Paul is using “you” as “y’all.” He’s saying, therefore I urge y’all, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer y’allr bodies. But then what do you notice?

We are to offer our bodies… as A living sacrifice. We’ve just transitioned from the plural to the singular. Isn’t that interesting? Isn’t that bad grammar? 

Here’s the point: Every one of us in the body of Christ is to come together and offer our bodies together to form ONE sacrifice.

When we were in high school and college, how many of you enjoyed group projects? When I think of such things, I shudder because I remember myself (accurately or not) as being the one who shouldered the majority of the workload. Perhaps you can relate. If so, I’m guessing that despite the perceived unfairness, you ensured that the project was in tiptop shape before submitting it to your teacher.

Likewise, we are to have similar ownership when it comes to the body of Christ, particularly within our local church community. This verse gives us the picture of all of us linking up arms and coming together on the altar: many bodies, one sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. The ultimate group project, if you will.

Therefore, we are each given the responsibility to care well for one another. We are to “warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14, NIV).

Today, let us pray and consider how we can contribute to this group project. Let us ask God who we can warn, encourage, and help. And then let us act accordingly.

Dear Brothers & Sisters,

As we enter into the final week of Community Month here at New Mercy, we will journey through a devotional together as one body.

As you read through each devotion over the next five days, please take a moment to pray anything that rises from your heart as you process what you read. May the Spirit give you thoughts, convictions, and insights to help you grow in your understanding of and participation in Christian community.

Today's devotion is an account that Pastor Kee wrote about an experience he had while he served as a chaplain at a hospital in 2003. May God bless you as you read through his story.

With much love in Christ,
Kee, Bob, & Bobae

Day 1 - A Story About Holding Hands

by Pastor Kee Won Huh

Over the summer in 2003, I served as one of the chaplains at Overlook Medical Center in Summit, NJ. I actually didn’t choose to do this voluntarily — one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) is required for pastoral candidates to get ordained in my denomination. But despite it being forced upon me, I was looking forward to it. Among my friends, every pastor who completed the CPE requirement told me it would be life changing. And, indeed, it was.

I was part of a small team of new chaplains (about five or six). Our job, basically, was to roam certain wards or units to see if patients required any chaplain services like counseling, prayer, communion, etc. Sometimes people just wanted company, so we would oblige — we learned very quickly that battling a sickness in the hospital can be a devastatingly lonely experience. Of course, if they were sleeping or didn’t want to be bothered, we would simply leave our chaplain card with information about what number to dial if they wanted our services. We also provided a daily worship service in the small, hospital chapel. Chaplains rotated running these. Typically, nobody actually attended these services, but because they were televised throughout the hospital, patients could watch it if they wanted. The two services I ran were surreal because I literally preached to empty pews. It was pretty depressing, actually. I reassured myself that a patient was probably watching via television, but that only made a subtle dent in the impression that I was speaking to nobody. Chaplains were also required to be on-call, which we also rotated. On my first overnight watch, I was paged around 2am. I was told I had to counsel a family whose father had died of a sudden and massive heart attack. Talk about a deer in headlights. Thankfully, I somehow had the presence of mind to dim the lights, hide the wires, and make the father’s body and room presentable before the family saw him, all of which I learned in training. My prayer, on the other hand, did not go over so well. As far as I can tell, they weren’t offended; but because they were Catholic, I think they were expecting something other than what I offered, which was basically a bumbling (albeit, heartfelt) prayer riddled with ums. Anyway, there’s actually many other aspects to hospital chaplaincy, but you get the idea.

Over the course of that summer, I visited patients in every section of the hospital from the ER, to the psych ward, to oncology, to ICU, and so on. I think the only unit I didn’t visit was neonatal. Not sure why. Well, actually, I do know why. Back then, whenever I thought of that particular ward, all I imagined were slimy newborns and engorged mommy breasts and afterbirths lying around. Not my idea of a good time.

But despite some of these minor fears, I had always found hospitals oddly compelling, even comforting. I think part of it had to do with the fact that I was surrounded by doctors. You see, before answering my call to become a pastor, I was studying to become a doctor (I actually finished all my premed requirements). I loved the methodology, the science and the art behind it, and this CPE unit provided a perfect opportunity to see what could’ve been. Frankly, it was fascinating and exhilarating. (Also, it’s great having doctors around in case you yourself have an emergency!)

However, there’s another reason I find hospitals strangely attractive. Within the walls of the hospital building is a rather extensive community, and this community is utterly unique. On one extreme, you have people who are trained to have a professional distance while maintaining a good bedside manner. (I found most doctors fell somewhere in between.) On the other hand, you have a population of people who literally span the entire spectrum of need and vulnerability. Add to this the families and visitors; all the components that make a hospital work; the imperfections of the system; the sprawling labyrinth of hallways and rooms; the sounds of machines and the laughter, the weeping, the moans and the piercing silence of patients; the conversations over lunch in the cafeteria; the gossip shared between folks manning the nursing stations; the solitude of eating alone in the cafe when you’re on call; the range of subtle and powerful emotions shared openly by patients or hidden in their eyes; the unrelenting pace and concentration juxtaposed with long, mind-numbing, heart-wrenching waits; the conferences; the unanswered questions; the ride on the elevator that is impending for some and routine for others; and so on, and you’ve got a place unlike anywhere else on the planet. This often jumbled, messy web of activity, thoughts, and emotions pulsates with an ideal that aches to be met — a struggle not only to fight for life or improve its quality, but to realize everyone’s humanity within the drama that is the hospital. For me, I can literally feel and smell this dynamic when I walk into a hospital. It’s disorienting, enlivening, sobering, tragic, and beautiful.

So as you can imagine, in this incredibly dynamic community, I certainly had my share of experiences. In fact, I had so many that I could probably fill a rather large book. I met innumerable people, had some incredible conversations, and witnessed suffering and deaths that shook me to my core. To close, I’d like to share with you one experience that still occupies my thoughts to this day.

I forgot which ward the patient was in, but I can still picture his room. It was to the left of the nursing unit, and it was unique in that there was a rather large window on the wall facing the nursing unit. The room itself always seemed rather dimly lit, though it was quite spacious for a single bedroom.

The patient was a thin, elderly man (probably in his seventies). I don’t remember his name, but I recall that he was recovering from having had a colostomy done. Basically, his large intestine was sutured to an opening in his abdomen which was then connected to a bag to collect his waste. I’m not really sure what other medical problems he had as I didn’t get a chance to look at his chart, but he didn’t seem like a happy camper. The first time I walked in to offer my chaplaincy services, he didn’t even let me finish my introduction before he went off on a tirade about the nurses. He had a really gruff, elderly man’s voice, which unfortunately was not very clear, so I had a hard time deciphering what he was saying. I’m not even sure he was speaking English. But he more than made up for it with gestures and facial expressions. I remember him pointing to his colostomy bag (which was full) and saying something like, “Can you believe this service?” I understood as much since he was pointing to the nursing unit and making angry faces while pointing to the bag and grumbling. He then pointed to his sheets, his gown, and his wires, and he made the same pointing motion to the nursing unit while making the same angry faces. I told him I understood, and that I’d let the nurses know. So I went out to the nurses and told them that the patient was upset about something. I believe a nurse brushed me off with something like, “Mr. So-and-so is always complaining about something. I’ll take a look in a bit.” It would appear this elderly man had already built a reputation for himself.

I returned to the room and told him they’d be there soon. He rolled his eyes and settled back down on his bed in resignation. I took that as an opportunity to introduce myself as a chaplain and to ask if he would like to receive prayer. He looked at me and shrugged his shoulders, which I took for a yes. So I pulled up a chair, laid my hands his arm, and prayed for him. I don’t remember what I prayed, but it was over fairly quickly. After that, I told him I’d be around again, and if he ever needed anything, he could call the number on the card.

Over the course of a couple weeks, I visited him several times. Sometimes he was sleeping. The times he was awake, he was the same — upset and complaining. It wasn’t really too much of a problem for me. To a certain degree, I liked the consistency of his personality. No surprises. Also, when I tried to empathize (which was also part of our training), I could see how this man would be upset with his situation. But at the same time, I knew the nurses in the unit were good at their jobs. So, I had a feeling he was just a guy who needed to lash out about his frustrations, and the nurses were his easiest targets.

However, as I got to know him, one of things I noticed was that he never had any visitors. The cynical part of me could see why. I extrapolated his current personality backwards in time, and I saw a man who wasn’t very pleasant to be around. But, of course, that clearly is not fair because I literally had no information about his past as our conversations typically boiled down to grunts and gestures and prayers. So I pushed the inner cynic aside. When I did so, what was left was this overwhelming feeling of sadness — I literally never saw anyone visit him. And what made it even more depressing was that he also never seemed to be expecting anybody to visit. So with time, I came to feel compassion for him, and I actually looked forward to our visits.

I remember this one time I stopped by his room, things were different. I could tell he was awake, but he wasn’t his typical self. He was lying on his left side, and he was quiet and very still. He seemed to be in a lot of pain, so I pulled up a chair and sat down next to him on his right. Without turning his head to me, he weakly lifted his right hand and started reaching for my hand. I took his hand, and I felt him squeeze with what seemed to be all the strength he could muster. As I held his hand in mine, I felt it tremble. I didn’t really know what to do, so I said a prayer for him. After the prayer, I sat in silence for a few moments still holding his hand. Then I tried to pull my hand away gently, but he tightened his grip. He didn’t want me to leave. So, I stayed. I’m not sure how long, but I stayed as long as I could.

After what seemed like quite a while, he eventually loosened his grip. I slipped my hand out gently and placed his on his side, and I quietly left the room. I didn’t want to linger too long as I had to get home, and I knew I’d see him again next week.

I didn’t think much about the patient over the weekend, but when I returned on Monday, I made sure my rounds would take me past his room. When I finally got to his room later that day, I walked inside. To my surprise, the bed was empty. I wasn’t shocked because typically this meant the patient was discharged. I was happy for him. I thought to myself, Nice, he was released. I hope he’s feeling better. After giving myself a moment of closure by taking in the empty room and imagining the patient at home with his family (that never showed), I walked to the nursing unit to confirm what happened to him. The nurse said, “Oh, Mr. So-and-so? He died over the weekend.”

I was stunned. I literally felt the air empty from my lungs in a reverse gasp, as if the room suddenly became a vacuum. And in an instant, it dawned on me why he wanted to hold my hand so long on Friday — he didn’t want to die alone. This revelation made the room spin, and I had to grab a ledge to steady myself. He didn’t want to die alone, I thought to myself. But he did.

The nurse saw me, and she said, “Don’t worry, he’s in a better place now.” But inside, I said, But he still died alone. No one should die alone.

To this day, thinking about what happened still brings tears to my eyes. A part of me still wishes I had been on call that weekend or that I would have at least realized what he was communicating that Friday. But I didn’t realize, and I know that I probably couldn’t have. I don’t beat myself up about what happened, but the memory remains.

Frankly, I don’t like to reduce people’s deaths into learning opportunities because people are much more than that. But I did learn from this patient. The time I spent with him helps me to remember that there are living people whose hearts are breaking every day because of loneliness, and they’ll do anything -- stupid things -- even complain and irritate people to get someone to notice that they exist, that they’re human, that they have hearts and needs and long to be known and cherished, and that sometimes, even the roughest of them like to have their hands held.

While I don’t remember the man’s name, the short time I knew him affected my life profoundly. The times I feel alone, I think of him. And the times I feel loved by family and friends, I think of him. He changed permanently the way I look at people. I can only hope that the one time I held his hand was of some comfort to him.

Loneliness is the most terrible poverty. –Mother Theresa

Devotional Thought:

At the end of his second letter to Timothy, Paul writes the following:

9 Do your best to come to me quickly, 10 for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. 12 I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. 13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments. -2 Timothy 4:9-13

Paul wrote this letter while in prison. When you read his words, can you sense how he longs for community? This is the Apostle Paul. If there was anybody who had the maturity and the spiritual resources to persevere through adversity, it was him. Yet even this great man of faith longed desperately for community.

Take a moment to think about the people in your life. Are there people who you do not spend time with because you think they don't need company? Or maybe there are people you avoid spending time with because they seem prickly? Consider Pastor Kee's story and Paul's words, and think through why, in fact, those people might need community the most. Pray for the people that come to mind, that they would be able to experience the community they need. Maybe the person that comes to mind is you, and you need community more than you are willing to admit. Pray that God would help you experience deeper intimacy in community, and then commit to taking the steps you need to take to get deeper into community whether it be by joining a family group or by reaching out to a pastor to help you get plugged in.