The God of Paradoxes

A paradox is a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true. Paradoxes are often contrary to what is commonly believed and helps us to understand about truths on everyday life.

The God of wisdom gives wisdom to help us in the challenges of life. King Solomon asked for wisdom to rule God’s people rightly. What is true wisdom? How does the world define wisdom? How is biblical wisdom defined? What is foolishness in God’s eyes? A Biblical passage that deals on God’s paradoxical views of wisdom and foolishness is found in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31:

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,  the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 

Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthian church because they were quarrelling among themselves about who belonged to whom. There were factions and group dissensions as to who converted or baptised them e.g. Paul, Apollos or Peter (vv.10-16). The Corinthian church was gifted (v.7), in Paul’s words they were not lacking in any gift (talent or skill).  Paul exhorted them to be at peace with one another. It is not important who baptised them because “Christ did not send me to baptise, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.” (v.17)  This is the background of Paul’s message on the paradoxical views of wisdom and foolishness, strength and weakness in God’s eyes. 

The Corinthians were blessed with many gifts and talents. As a result, there is a tendency to take pride in their gifts. Paul wanted to teach them the kingdom view on wisdom and foolishness. God’s standard of wisdom and strength is unlike that of the world. The world’s wisdom boasts of the external, the superficial and visible things that can be touched, seen, heard and tasted with the physical senses. These are temporal things of money, fame and achievements that keep changing and are quickly lost and forgotten. God’s wisdom boasts of the eternal values that cannot be destroyed.

Paul ended the passage: Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

What does it mean to boast in the Lord? Where was it written “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord?” Paul was quoting from Jeremiah 9:23-24:

Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches;  but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord.

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We are not to brag of the wisdom, power and wealth that we have, instead we need to take pride that we have ‘the understanding to know’ God. What do we know about God? What kind of God is He? That He is the Lord who is kind, just and righteous and that He ‘exercises’ kindness, justice and righteousness on earth. We are to boast that we know who our God is, that He delights in kindness, justice and righteousness. And we are to delight ourselves in the Lord and He will give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4). Finding delight in the Lord is liking the things that He likes. What are these? He delights in being kind, being just and being righteous. Being kind to the needy, upholding justice for the wronged and obtaining righteousness for the oppressed – in these let one boasts in the Lord!

How are we to have the understanding to know God’s kindness, justice and righteousness? We gain understanding when we experience and remember God’s kindness to us. Have you experienced God’s kindness in your life? Were there times of grace and mercy in the past when God provided and protected you in the dark tunnel of suffering? How has God’s goodness and justice work out in the circumstances of your life?

I remember His warm embrace when I was journeying with cancer. I deeply experienced the joy of His presence and peace as I went through surgery and radiation treatments. I will not forget how God saved me from being an orphan on the first day of my life. He kept my mom from bleeding to death when she gave birth to me. God accompanied me through deep dark tunnel of depression – a period when I could not even cry for the sadness that was in my heart. I came out of the tunnel only by His goodness to me. He walked beside me when my parents died within months of each other. He healed my anxious heart when my mom passed away. I did not know how to grieve and take care of my 92 year old father who got sick after mom died. I had a bad fall and broke my ankle. I was in the wheelchair when my father was gravely ill. How can I forget the days when I accompanied my father for his dialysis in the hospital. We were a convoy of two wheelchairs – he in his reclining wheelchair and me in mine. I thank God for our caregivers and our drivers who took care of us on this journey of health challenges. Through the valley of the shadow of death, God’s grace and mercy healed my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual pain and suffering.

The paradox of God is that we boast of our weakness because through our weakness, we learn how strong our God is. We boast of our needy selves because in God we find our richness: the abundant life of peace, joy and comfort that overcome the troubles of the world. This fullness of life is not of material wealth unlike the standard of the world.. these material things do not last – they rust and fade, they get stolen and depreciate, they are lost and forgotten. We boast in our encounter and understanding of our God. In our foolishness, God is our wisdom. He gives us understanding to know Him, to experience his kindness, his justice and his goodness amidst the evils and sufferings of this world.

God is calling to you, dear friend.  Do you know the kind, fair and good God of the universe? The God who takes delight in kindness, justice and righteousness of the world?

Now is the time to know God – read the Bible and find out for yourself the eternal things to boast of.

 

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Why a good God allows evil…

Why is there so much evil in the world? If God is good and powerful, why didn’t he put a stop to it?

Most of my life, I live in a sheltered environment of my family, my school, my church and my work. By sheltered I am referring to my Christian faith, traditions and community. So the first thought that came to me when a friend questioned God about the sufferings and evil in the world: Why do you not think that it is the work of the devil? God will never push people away from Him; it is Satan who desires that. Satan is constantly working to cause people to sin, to tempt them away from drawing near to God. Our world suffers the evil consequences of all the bad morality for which man is fully responsible.

But could there be other views or possible explanations for why an omnipotent, good and loving God allow so much sufferings or evil in the world, which He created in the first place? It is about time that I step into a deeper investigation and exploration to questions of theodicy.

As with investigating or doing any study inductively, we always seek to answer the questions of who, what, why, where, when and how. And this will be my guide in this investigation.

Let me start with ‘what’. What is theodicy? Theodicy refers to the justification of God – from the words – theos dike. This term was introduced by Leibniz who in 1710 published “Essais de Théodicée sur la bonte de Dieu, la liberté de l’homme et l’origine du mal” – an essay intended to show that the evil in the world does not conflict with the goodness of God. What are the thesis statements being made here: 1. God is omnipotent. 2. God is wholly good. 3. Evil exists in the world. Each of the three statements is true standing on its own.

Yet when put together, there seems to be a contradiction. If God is powerful and able to eliminate evil, yet He does not, does it mean that He is not good? If He is good and yet He does not, does it mean that He is unable to do it? If He is both omnipotent and all good, then why does evil exist? Or more to the point, why does He allow evil to exist? Many have tried to answer these questions with explanations of the good of suffering and pain, with justifications for the evil happening in the world.

What good is pain? According to Philip Yancey, ‘pain is not God’s great goof’. The sensation of pain is a gift that nobody wants. He explained as he witnessed the lives and experiences of the lepers in Carville, that they are living a painless hell. Pain is God’s megaphone to life’s perils – that something is wrong with our body. Lepers are

constantly endangering themselves because they lost the sensation of pain. C.S. Lewis introduced ‘pain, the megaphone of God’ saying ‘God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience but shouts in our pains, it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

What about suffering? Yancey said that pain signifies body’s protective network while suffering signifies human misery. Suffering is a ‘scream to all of us that something is wrong.’ What is wrong? What went wrong? Why is there so much evil and suffering in the world? Why did God allow or why is He still allowing evil and suffering? Where do I find the answer?

After reading from so many experts on the topic of suffering, pain and problem of evil relating to the sovereignty, providence, omnipotence of God, I decided to go back to the Bible – the only source of truth to know more of God’s thoughts, God’s Words and God’s purpose to all that He has done, is doing and not doing, and will ultimately accomplish. Somehow, somewhere along the way in my searching, I will grow in faith and knowledge of the God who put me in this suffering world for a reason.

Consequence of Sin
So let’s start from the very beginning, a very good place to start!

The world that God created was good. For each of the six days of the creation process, it ended with God seeing that it was good. Genesis 1:31 tells us ‘And God saw all He had made and behold, it was very good.’ And all include even the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God instructed man not to eat from the tree warning him that the day he eats from it, he will surely die.

This is the first mention of something not good – death. And what is death a consequence of? It is the consequence of eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The tree itself is good. But eating it against the instruction of God is disobedience. Death is the consequence of disobedience against God.

God created man with free will – He told man, from any tree of the garden you may eat freely. But with freedom, there is still a boundary to keep us safe. The world is operating on a set of rules that follow cause and effect – actions and consequences. The law of gravity warns us from stepping off the roof. God stated that eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil bears the consequence of death.

God did not cause man to disobey – man had a choice – to listen to God or to listen to the serpent. After eating from the tree, the eyes of man and woman were opened. In Genesis 3:10, man said I heard the sound of Thee in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself. From being innocent of anything not good, man became aware of his nakedness, experienced fear and the need to hide. This is the start of unpleasant emotion and action of mankind – being afraid and hiding from God.

Yet God in His mercy was the one who went looking for man. He called to the man and said to him: ‘Where are you?’ Gen. 3:9. Is it not amazing that since the beginning, God has been the one reaching out to man, to have a relationship with him, even in his disobedience, went in search of him, giving him a chance to answer. This tells me that God cares, He notices when I am afraid, when I sin, even when I hide from Him. He is calling to me – where are you? This then becomes my first lifeline when I am in the pit. God is looking for me. When I suffer because of my sin, God calls to me. Call to

Sanctification

After redeeming me from my sin, God did not say you are now free from suffering because you are now sinless. Christians do not become sinless but are called to sin less. This process of sanctification is tedious and not without cost. It is a reality that people become complacent and stop growing when everything is nice and rosy. It is in

adversity that the strength of a person is tested.

James 1:2-4 exhorts us “to consider it all joy, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (NASB)

Sanctification is calling us to be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. What makes suffering difficult to bear is because when we are in the middle of it, we do not know when it will end. And this is precisely the point – long-suffering without knowing when it will end. This requires endurance. In the Bible, this is synonymous with steadfastness and perseverance – holding on in spite and despite of circumstances. The goal of enduring is to lead us to perfection, completeness and not in want.

Why are we here – to what end is human existence? Professor John Hick in his book ‘Philosophy of Religion’ summarized the Christian view that God is dealing with incomplete creatures. Consequently, our environment on earth should primarily nurture the process of ‘soul-making’. John Hick explores a Utopian world free of pain and evil and concludes that this kind of world would actually defeat God’s purpose for us.

Courage and fortitude would have no point in an environment in which there is no danger or difficulty. Generosity, kindness, the agape aspect of love, prudence, unselfishness and all other ethical notions which presuppose life in a stable environment could not even formed.

God asks us to participate in our own soul-making through the process of struggle and suffering. I realise that instead of the backward-looking question ‘why’, there is the more important – forward-looking question – ‘to what end’. I am here in this suffering world to be changed, to be made more like God in order to be prepared for eternal life in his presence.

Call for a Response

Another favorite verse that many Christians like to use to comfort those who are suffering is Romans 8:28. And we know that God causes all things to work together for good. They like to hang on to the promise that everything will work out fine in the end. But wait… The verse does not end there. The second just as important truth of the verse is ‘to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

God causes – He brings about good out of ‘all’ (even very evil and bad) things to work together – all things working together include me, the participant in the process – do I love God? I am called according to His purpose, do I obey and cooperate with Him in His purpose for me? How should I respond? How do people usually respond?

I observed that in the lives of the seekers, witnesses and participants of horrible pain and sufferings, there are two final responses: they turn their backs on God or they cling to God. For scholars and intellectuals, the results can be so extreme like Bart Ehrman, a former pastor/theologian, who became an agnostic after many years of dwelling on the problem of pain and there is Greg Boyd, who returned to Christianity from being an atheist.

And these responses depend on which of the two main issues of suffering they focus on: 1) cause – why am I suffering, who did it? 2) response – how do I respond, what do I do? It seems to me that the more I read of the logical explanations presented by intelligent writers, scholars, thinkers and theologians, the more I see the humor in the efforts of finite creatures trying to defend their infinite Creator, when He Himself does not see the need to explain His ways to His faithful suffering creature – Job. Instead He asked Job to respond to Him.

God’s answers are revelations of the person that He is – not the grand design that He has. Our responses to suffering reflect our knowledge of Him – who He is and helps us in the process of who we become – this process called sanctification – to be conformed to the image of His Son – who suffered on the cross. Our response is our choice, our free will.

C.S. Lewis gave a very good illustration of how to explain God’s will and man’s free will in the state of the world’s evil. He said that God created things which had free will – so that creatures can go either wrong or right because if a thing is free to be good, it is also free to be bad. And free will is what made evil possible. So why then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. (Lewis, 1952).

This brings me to the free will of man in choosing how to respond to God when He allows suffering in his life. I knew of two similar experiences of a parent whose child was dying. Both had a heart condition called myocarditis. Both experienced this health challenge at an important stage of their lives – one was going to graduate Summa Cum Laude from his college degree, a very brilliant scholar of a good renowned institution; the other was preparing to get married to the man she loves. She died within a few months after she got sick –in spite of going through many major operations, a community of faith praying fervently for her.

The other one got sick in his final year in the university – for a period when he was sick, he was slowly working his way towards commencing his brilliant academic career and fulfilling his dreams. He also died. His mother is my friend who continued to question how can a good God allows suffering to happen to her son – the same friend who challenge us Christians about God’s will, why did God push her away from serving Him by letting this happen to her son.

I heard the testimony of the father of the girl who died, giving thanks to God for seeing his family through their suffering, and praising God for His goodness and faithfulness. The joy of the whole community of faith witnessing such love – love of the father for his child, loyal devotion of the earthly father to his heavenly Father and the love of the Creator for His creature – is oh so much worth having!

Indeed God is so honoured and glorified when man chooses to respond positively. Is this not one of the great paradoxes of God’s kingdom? Habakkuk 3:17-19: Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls, Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, And makes me walk on my high places. God enables His children to walk on high places for His glory.

 

How then do I live?
God is good and loving and He cares for me. He is sovereign and nothing happens without His knowledge and outside His will. This I confidently know and experienced through out my life. I believe that when trials come, I do not need to ask backward looking question of why but I must not forget God’s provident answers of the past – to the very first day of my existence. Even while I was an innocent helpless baby, God saved me from being an orphan, saving my mom from bleeding to death when she gave birth to me.

God chose me even before I know right from wrong, even before I know about Him. God is causing all things in my life to work for my good because He has called me to a purpose. In 2009, I was diagnosed with stage 0, ductal carcinoma in situ. I had a lumpectomy and 33 sessions of radiation.

When I look back through 56 years of my life, I know in my heart that each moment of each day is a moment of grace – grace upon grace. In those days of treatment, I remember God’s loving presence embracing me. Never was I more comforted and overwhelmed by God’s amazing love for me. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me. God’s assuring presence is my hope.

On the eve of his surgery for prostate cancer, John Piper wrote ‘Don’t waste your cancer’ to reflect on his situation and minister grace and truth to others. He believes that cancer is God’s design in that he allows it for a purpose. I will waste my cancer if I do not believe that my cancer is designed for me by God. In His grace and mercy, I was spared the uncomfortable experiences of chemotherapy. He knows my limits – His grace is all sufficient for me.

Looking back to God’s faithfulness in the past helps me to live through the challenges of the present. His Word is my guide to live victoriously through suffering. 2 Corinthians 4:7-9 tells me my means and my end. “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.

I can overcome because Christ has overcome. To what end am I afflicted? 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Let me not waste my suffering but let it be a means to reach out and help others go through their affliction – that together, we find comfort in the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.

John Piper also said that cancer is wasted if it is taken as a curse and not as a gift. I distinctly remember sharing to my bible study group that having cancer is my privilege – to witness God’s wonders in my life, an opportunity to testify of His all sufficient grace, His abundant sustenance and abiding presence.

Today, even as I go through the challenges of living in this groaning body, with mood swings, experiencing sadness and blues for no apparent reason, and with it, the guilt for having such a state of mind, I am reminded to ‘Consider it pure joy, whenever I face trials of many kinds, because I know that the testing my faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that I may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4).

Romans 5:3 encourages me to exult in tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

I have hope that one day, I will have a body that will not get sick, that will not suffer pain, that will not decay – a resurrected glorified body to be enjoyed in the eternal presence of my God and Creator. You will waste your cancer if you grieve as those who have no hope. (John Piper, 2006, p.214). Joni Eareckson Tada spoke of hope that is hard to come by (during the days of going through her tragic accident) – yet hope is best of things because God can raise us out of hopelessness as she testifies to this. We need to meet joy on God’s terms because His hope never disappoints and we need to pass this hope to others.

I do not want to waste my cancer by failing to use it as a means to witness to others about the truth and glory of Christ. Let me personalise the words of David Powlison: In my cancer, I needed my brothers and sisters to witness to the truth and glory of Christ, to walk with me, to live out their faith beside me, to love me. And I have to do the same with them and with all others, becoming the heart that loves with the love of Christ, the mouth filled with hope to both friends and strangers.

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. 2 Cor. 4:16-18 (NASB).

 

References:

Bartusch, Mark. 2011. Bart D. Ehrman’s God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer. Journal of Lutheran Ethics. (July, 2011),

http://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe/Social-Issues/Journal-of-Lutheran- Ethics/Issues/July-2011/Bart-D-Ehrmans-Gods-Problem-How-the-Bible-Fails-to- Answer-Our-Most-Important-Question.aspx (accessed March 5, 2013).

Kempf, Constantine. 1912. Theodicy. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved March 5, 2013 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14569a.htm

Lewis, C.S. 2001. Mere Christianity. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
1995. New American Standard Bible. La Habra: The Lockman Foundation. Retrieved

from http://www.biblegateway.com.

Piper, John and Justin Taylor. Eds. 2006. Suffering and the Sovereignty of God. Wheaton: Crossway Books.

Yancey, Philip. 1990. Where is God when it hurts? Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House.

More than Adultery

The story of David and Bathsheba is perhaps just as well-known as that of David and Goliath. Whereas David killing Goliath was David’s first heroic act in his career as a soldier on the way to become king, his adultery with Bathsheba was David’s most shameful act as soldier and king. (Read 2 Sam. 11)

As I think about this story, I realise that it is more than just adultery that David’s story can teach us about.

When all is well, sin creeps at the door. David was at the height of his reign. He had an army of soldiers fighting for him. He was home in Jerusalem and woke from bed to walk around the roof of his house. He saw a beautiful woman bathing. Indeed sin starts with seeing… and at the heart of it is ‘lust.’

One sin leads to another. Adultery turned to murder. Bathsheba got pregnant.  David tried to cover his track. He tried to convince Uriah to go home to his wife and make love to her. Alas, Uriah refused to go home because there was a war and he wanted to be with his soldiers instead of going home to his wife.  So David had a worse plan. Let Uriah die in battle.

I wonder how David felt after committing adultery and murder, not to mention all the deceit and scheming in between! Sin does multiply.  There was nothing more mentioned until Nathan, the prophet came to rebuke him with a story. (Read 2 Sam. 12).

“There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.”

In spite of David’s immoral behaviour, he should be given credit for his sense of right and wrong when Nathan presented him with the story of the rich oppressing the poor. (vv.5-6):

Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

Nathan said to David: “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. 11 Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. 12 For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.”

How did David respond to the rebuke and consequences of his actions?

David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” (v.13) No excuses. He was quick to admit his guilt. He also knew that it was ultimately a sin against God. He faced the consequences of his sins.

a)  He faced the reality that his child, the fruit of the adultery, got sick.

b) He prayed to the Lord about it. For 7 days, he put on sack cloth, he fasted and prayed for God to heal his child. (vv.16-17) Such was David’s relationship with God, he believed that God is merciful in spite of his sins. He hoped that God would spare his child.

c) After 7 days, the child died. God did not hear his prayers. What did David do? Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate. (v.20)

What was David’s rationale for all that he did and how he responded to this crisis in his life? His servants asked David: “Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!” 22 He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ 23 But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”

David accepted God’s punishment for his sins. He knew he did wrong. He also believed God is gracious. So he prayed for God’s mercy. Finally, he accepted God’s answer. He got up from the ground, went into God’s house and worshipped him. (v.20)

Something on prayer: It struck me how two people responded differently in two prayers they uttered in different circumstances in their lives.

Hannah prayed for a son – with fasting and sadness. After praying, her face was no longer downcast.

David prayed with fasting and sadness for his son to get well.

Hannah went on and ate something even before her prayer was answered. She cast her cares to the Lord in prayer.

David got up and ate something even after his prayer was not answered. He accepted his dues from the Lord in prayer.

What kind of attitude do I have in prayer? Let me learn from both Hannah and David. Prayer is drawing close to God with the desires of my heart. Prayer is leaving to God what he deems as best to give me. Prayer is worship of God no matter the answer – whether yes or no.

Regrets… what ifs… if onlys…

I wrote this piece a year ago 2.5 months after my mom passed away… Today, I still have thoughts of doing things better or what i should or should have not done. I know things past cannot be undone. I can only treasure the good memories n learn from the not so good.

Regret: is feeling sad because you fail to do something you now think or wish you could have done.

What ifs.. this is ‘imagining’ the worse or worst scenarios that could or might happen in life.

If only.. this is ‘wishing’ the better scenarios that should have happened in life..

Regrets… I have learned and am still learning that regrets are of no use to me except as reminders to do better in the future.

‘What is’ is better than what if… Instead of worrying about what could/might happen (which usually does not and will not), it is better to ponder on what is happening. For Christians, what is God giving me.. how is God using me..

If only… this is related to regrets. It is like the opposite of regrets. I regret not doing certain things… If only (I wish), I could have done better.

These 3 phrases are lessons for me in the past few months.
1) No Regret: I refuse to dwell on things I wish I had done better for my mom. I choose to think of the things I did for her – which made her happy. It does not help my mental health to regret.

2) No If only: If only Marian and I convinced her to be admitted to the hospital.. if only we let her have blood transfusion… If only her haemoglobin was not that low.. what good are these if onlys?

3) No what ifs; Only What is.. Mama is now in the bosom of our Lord. She is now free from pain and suffering: no more tear, no more night.

My friend, any regrets? Let them serve as stepping stone to do better next time. Any what ifs? Throw them away.. cast all your cares to the Lord because He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7) Any if onlys? Trash them as well. Just do your best day by day, moment by moment by God’s grace and mercy. Yes, we can. Just do it!

Let’s Dance

Recently, I danced with two instructors on different days of the week to the same music. It’s both challenging and fun to learn different steps for the same pieces. It keeps my mind alert and keeps my spirit high to dance differently under each teacher.

I prefer the style and moves of one over the other. Why? Because more than just preference in style, I believe one has more style, creativity and artistry in his execution. Another reason is because i danced with him longer, I am more used to his moves and styles.

On the other hand, I find it also fun to dance under the younger teacher coz there’s a certain energy and passion that he brings to the class. He often stops in the middle of the piece and this made me turn my eyes to my classmates in front of me – those who know the steps I missed when I was absent. Unlike the older one, he does not regularly review new pieces each week. So it’s up to the absent student to catch up. It challenged me to be quick to see and quicker to move – that’s how I can enjoy the dance – to be able to dance to the beat and be in sync with the others dancing.

I often have these thoughts while I dance – that dancing is a lot like singing – which I miss doing now that I am no longer in a church choir. It reminds me of how we sometimes used to sing the same songs arranged by different composers or when the same arrangements were conducted by different conductors. Same thing applies – it is a challenge to learn to sing to the same tune with different interpretations – it brings freshness to the music. It requires attentive listening and watchful thinking to do the music/words justice.

In both singing and dancing, I am glad that I’m with a group. In choir, I sing most comfortably learning new pieces with ease when i sit with the veterans. Their voices so strong and firm – it made the task of reading new music like a piece of cake. Better if seated ‘beside’ them or best if ‘in front’ of them.

On the other hand, dancing “behind” the lead dancers works best for me. I prefer to be in the middle of the class – neither too close to the instructor nor too far from him. Just a little to the side behind him is good enough.

I realise that singing is the higher skill coz it needs both attentive ears and watchful eyes. Ears both to listen to my own voice and that of my choir mates. Eyes to read my scores and to look at the conductor.

Dancing while it does not require as much listening skills, it needs the dancer to feel the beat. The more I am in sync to the beat of the music, the more I am in tune to the mood of the dance.

In both cases, the conductor and the dance instructor lead the group to perform best with their silence. They lead with their hands, their feet, their eyes, their smiles and their energy! Sure, they can use their voice – their shouts, their whispers, their words to instruct. In the end, singing and dancing are best done with ears attuned to the music and eyes glued to the teacher/leader.

Now apply all the singing and dancing to living… sing and dance with the living God along with others in your class! What a life that will be!

Stay or Run

Of all gym workouts, stepping onto the elliptical machine is my least favorite. Why? It’s like climbing stairs in one place. It strains my knees, my thighs and my butt. And I go nowhere. But that’s how it is with all gym equipment, isn’t it? Training you to stay fit by staying put.

In life, I dislike going nowhere and stuck in places of dark shadows and deep valleys. Who wants to linger in depressing events or frustrating conversations of who’s right and who’s wrong… who’s wise and who’s not.. who’s more reasonable and who’s less?

I want to run away from them.. avoid them if at all possible. But that’s not reality, is it? So what to do?

Instead of running, face it and deal with it. Perhaps God wants me to learn some important lessons. Maybe I need to change instead of having Him change the circumstance.

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Then I recall how Jesus was quiet when people wrongly accuse him, how he washed his disciples’ feet, how he responded at the cross.. then perhaps I am on the first step towards the journey of stepping up and going somewhere.

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God’s Wish for You

What is God’s will? How do I know what He wants for me? What does He want me to do? These are questions Christians – young and old should/might think about – whether struggling or not; searching or not – in earnest desire to please God or in desperate plea to find a solution to their problems.

1 Thessalonians 5
16 Rejoice always; 17 pray without ceasing; 18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Paul taught the Thessalonians in 3 short sentences what is God’s will for us.
3 verbs and 3 adverbs – rejoice, pray, give thanks; always, without stopping, in all things. It sounds simple yet not easy to do.

To Rejoice is actively being joyful – even in difficult times. Being joyful is not the same as being happy. Being happy depends on happenings. When good things happen, we are happy. I learned that in life to rejoice always – depends on the grace of God. This does not mean that we suppress our grief, our pain, or deny them. It is a determined attitude to rejoice defiantly nevertheless. Karl Barth believes that Joy is a ‘defiant nevertheless.’ There is a choice – to choose joy in spite of…

To pray without ceasing is to always be in touch with the triune God. As reading God’s word is our food, praying in the Spirit is our oxygen. We do not stop breathing – praying without stopping gives air to our spiritual life. How often I pray determines how oxygenated my body is. Aerobics is about air – the more strenuous the dance, the more air I need to take in. The more difficult life is the more need for prayer. Let me not forget that I need to pray all the time – in good times or bad. Even when God seems to be so silent or when the dark tunnel seems endless!

To give thanks… sure! To be thankful for the blessings in life, for the good stuff and the happy events, for the good and the kind people, for family and friends, that is easy. But to be thankful in ‘everything’? Even in trials and adversities? Not easy, is it? How do I thank God when I am angry? How to be grateful when people hurt me? How to give thanks when someone died? How to have a thankful heart when the heart is aching with pain? Anger, grief, pain… these are what make me human as much as love, joy and peace. It is a hard lesson to learn that gratitude trumps anger, grief and pain. I can give thanks for the person or event that made me sad or angry when I recall how I made God sad many times. I must thank Him for His grace and mercy, for the opportunity to learn patience; to experience His comfort; to know His presence and most of all, in gratitude, I learn that He is my God who delights for me to know Him.

Rejoice, pray and give thanks… always, unendingly, in everything. This is God’s will for me – but only possible in Jesus Christ – by His grace and mercy!