Remembering for good

Memories… light the corners of my mind…these words from a song came to mind as I read:

Deuteronomy 16

3….so that you may remember all the days of your life the day when you came out of the land of Egypt.

This chapter is all about festive celebrations that God wanted the Israelites to observe. What for? So they would remember all their lives throughout the generations that special day of liberation… so they would not forget their Redeemer God – the God who freed them from bondage of slavery.

When I was young, I had better memory: i could memorise all the lessons/facts/formulas/details of all the subjects in school. I even memorised all the schedules of my favourite TV shows – days, time, channels etc. Then there were birthdays, phone numbers, bank account numbers etc. As ageing caught up with me, i am often frustrated that I cannot even remember whether i took my meds 5 minutes after I did.

Indeed our capacity to remember is an important asset of our being. A person with amnesia can be likened to a tree with no root. It’s terrible not to remember your past – even the good and the bad. While we need to let go of the past with its wrongs, mistakes, regrets – for our actions and those of others, we also need to hold on to the good.. the right, the things that are true, noble, praiseworthy and excellent, the hurdles we leaped through, the temptations we overcome, the healing and the guidance we had – that led us up to who and where we are now.

There is a Chinese saying: 饮水思原.  Drink water and think of its origin.

Children of God need to always remember… remember God’s blessings, guidance and even discipline on them. Every moment, day by day, all by God’s grace and mercy – let these memories light the corners of my mind and my heart – that I will not forget lest I stumble and fall and stay fallen along this journey called life.

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Counting the Cost

Yesterday, as I was queuing to pay at a gift shop where the Great Hall of Harry Potter fame is, a boy perhaps about 7-8 years old, put his stuffs on the counter and gave a bunch of bills for the cashier to count out for him how much his bill was. 94 GBP!

The English lady cashier said: This is 60 pounds (clearly trying to tell the boy the cost of the items with her distinctive voice).

She then said: “The teacher should be with him.”
94 British pounds is more than 800RMB and for me it’s more Php6000! My kid, who is twice his age, hesitated to buy an item about 1/8 of his total purchase because for her, the price in GBP has to be multiplied by more than 60.

It’s sad to see the kind of kids being raised today by the rich who perhaps think that money is enough for a child’s education. Lots of money enable them to send their children to far esteemed institutions on ‘study’ tours – to see the world, be ‘educated’ about cultures and way of life in other places etc.

But money is not end-all, be-all answer to a good education. Money does not grow on trees or fall from the sky. For many, money is hard-earned or even unreachable commodity, never enough.. no matter how hard they work for it.

Bottomline: it is all about counting the cost. Did the boy even look at the price tags before he got all the items he wanted? Did he think about whether what he had in his hand is enough to pay for all the things he got? Perhaps, he thought he could always ask for more? Maybe, for him, it’s easy come, easy go?

Jesus taught his disciples two parables on counting the cost:

Luke 14
28 For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand?

What cost is Jesus talking about? The cost to be His disciples… What did Jesus say?

26 “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple…

33 So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.

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The cost to be a follower of Jesus is to put this goal above everything that one considers valuable or important. It does not mean that I am to hate my family, it means that I am to love God above my family, all that I have even my own life. To carry my own cross is to be like Jesus who was obedient to God, the Father even unto death… to give up my own desires, wants and my needs so I can follow Jesus more closely.

I have heard stories of Christians who were persecuted for their faith – imprisoned, killed, made to choose between denying their faith and saving their family… what a hard choice and a costly one indeed! Not all Christians go through such a great cost. Honestly, I do not know how I would respond to such a situation. I do only pray that God grant me the courage to be his faithful witness till the end.

That is the cost I need to know and commit to give as a follower of Jesus.

Dear Jesus, you have shown me the way of the cross. Help me to follow you closely no matter the cost. Amen.

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The Rule of Giving

What is rule for giving to the Lord? What does God say about giving to His cause? 10% of your earnings? Cash or in kind? The more the better?

In the days of Moses when the Lord asked them to build a tabernacle for Him while they were in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land, here’s the rule:

Exodus 35:4-9
Moses said to the whole Israelite community, “This is what the Lord has commanded: From what you have, take an offering for the Lord. Everyone who is willing is to bring to the Lord an offering of gold…. onyx stones and setting stones…

What a list! Beyond all these material things, there are just two simple rules that guide their giving.
1) Give what you have. It makes sense because one cannot give what he does not have.
2) Everyone who is willing should give. God gives us freedom to choose. His only commandment is for us to love Him. When we love, we give.

God’s only requirement in giving is for us to give what we have willingly. In those days, they were called freewill offerings.

What do I have? As I think about this, more questions follow. Where do all that I have come from? Who gave them to me? How did I have them? I believe all that I have come from God. God gives to me by His grace and mercy. His grace allows me to receive what I do not deserve. His mercy allows me to be saved from what I deserve.

Am I willing? Another question… if the gracious and merciful God gives me when I did not ask, when he gives me what I do not know how to ask, what I do not deserve to ask, why am I not willing? What kind of person would I be if I was not willing? 忘恩负义 (in Filipino – walang utang na loob = ungrateful)

The Chinese proverb: 飲水思願 literally means drink water think source. In Filipino, there’s ‘utang na loob’ (indebted heart). The Chinese proverb addresses what we have. The Filipino phrase answers our willingness.

What do you have? Are you willing?

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Resisting Temptation 101

How tempting… we use this phrase to describe something which looks good, tastes good, feels good yet we know we should not do, or eat. Temptation is a strong urge

or desire to have or do something that is bad or unwise.

The temptations of Jesus is a familiar story for many of us. Turn stones into bread.. jump from the highest point… bow and worship the devil..(Matthew 4)

As I read again this story, here are some lessons/reminders:

v. 1 Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

Observations: Led by the Spirit; tempted by the devil

The Spirit refers to the Spirit of God – the Holy Spirit

Implications:

1) Does this mean that God directed Jesus straight to the place where the devil would tempt Jesus? Yes, He did.

2) What does this imply?

God allowed Jesus to be tempted by the devil.

It was the devil who did the tempting.

Led by the Spirit = God’s test. God’s leading always puts us in places to strengthen us. God’s tests are for our benefits.

Tempted by the devil = Devil’s temptation. The devil’s seduction always puts us in places to pull us down. His enticements are for our defeat.

The 3 if’s:

1) IF you are the Son of God… turn stone to bread (for physical satisfaction)

2) IF you are the Son of God… jump off the peak (for emotional satisfaction)

Both temptations are based on the taunt : Prove to me you are the Son of God… do this..

3) IF you will bow down and worship me…

The first two temptations deal with Jesus’ identity or status. The last one deals with his loyalty. The devil knew that Jesus knows He is the Son of God, no need to prove

His status. So the last temptation was to get Jesus to turn away from that status, to show allegiance to the devil instead.

Truths to apply:

1) God allows us to be tested so we can be stronger.

2) We fight temptations with the word of God.

3) Where the Spirit leads, He enables.

4) We are children of God – there is no ‘if’. We do not need to perform miracles to

prove our status.

5) Children of God are loyal to God only – there can be no ‘if’ when it comes to our

loyalty. We do not need to bow down to the world, to the devil’s appeal to gain all

the worldly glory and splendour. As God’s children, our status is all the glory we need.

The Many Faces of Me

I’ve been thinking that as I grow older, I seem to be evolving into a multi-complex person – the serious side, the funny side, the seemingly extrovert who’s really an introvert, someone who’s playing “Knock, knock, who’s there” with myself.. as I live in this complicated world.

And we are familiar with the FB culture that it is the natural thing to do – that we choose the best profile pic we can find, we post the pleasant inspiring thoughts we have, we share the happy events and smiling faces of our friends and loved ones. Yet behind all these ‘faces’ we show the world, there is a side of us, that we keep to ourselves, that our family members know, that only our helpers at home see. And even some blind spots of ourselves that only God sees.

One thing I know is that the Holy Spirit is my guide and teacher, constantly moulding and transforming me into the person that God wants me to be.

As I look back, it’s been a long way I’ve come – from the child who would go hide in the bedroom whenever visitors came to our home. My mom would say: Oh, please excuse her, she’s shy.

I also remember one comment in my report card where the teacher put: No initiative. And how about the ‘snobbish’ image of an awkward adolescent, feeling sad and bad or even jealous of her more popular friends? Yet, these friends were my security blanket. I was contented that I was their shadow or in their shadow. It’s good to be a follower to their programs and ideas. And in our ‘barkada’ (gang of friends), I felt secure and accepted.

Indeed, God has a way of working all things for my good. One by one, members of this barkada left… migrated to faraway places. But God led me to a group of ‘older’ church friends who are my models and mentors to this day. And God led me to hubby to continuously hammer and put me through fire so that I can be shaped into a better person.

Not that I have arrived and become the best that I can be, I am a work-in-progress. Sometimes I go forward and many times I go backward, I slip and fall. Yet God always puts me back on my feet. It was painful but God’s grace is sufficient always.

From this evolving person, I am learning and discovering what Paul meant when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:

19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.
20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law;
21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.
22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.
23 I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.

Being a slave to all means giving more importance to another person than to my own desires. It means not to be judgmental but to be compassionately understanding.

This giving up of my freedom entails that I put myself in the shoes of the person I want to influence for Christ. I listen without judgment.

Let me give an example. I have a buddhist friend. I often eat vegan meals with her. She loves cooking but she is often alone in the house. She likes to invite me to dine with her. I eat vegan meals with her even though I am not a buddhist. I might not necessarily agree with her beliefs, thoughts and opinions. Yet I respect and accept her for who she is. I pray that one day, she will come to know the Lord through my friendship with her.

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I guess the idea is that being a Christian is not putting on a ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude. While I need to stand firm on what is right and wrong according to my Christian faith, I should not make others feel that I am superior to them.

To the weak, I became weak… this is walking alongside people so that we are equal. I am not above them nor are they above me.

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Bottomline – “I do all things for the sake of the gospel” (v.23) is about doing all things for Jesus. This is friendship evangelism – telling people the good news of Jesus by being a true/authentic friend to them… the friend who is one but also a friend who is all – including the many faces of me… but always striving for the beauty of Jesus to be seen in me.

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The Anchor that holds

The Christian life is not meant to be lived alone. We need one another to stay afloat.

Yesterday, I went ‘snorkeling.’ I had my life vest. I had my goggles. No snorkel! But I had my friends and my daughter. I am a novice swimmer. I only dare to swim backstroke in a pool where my feet can touch the floor.

My friend encouraged me: The life vest keeps you afloat. It is very safe. I know it’s a fact. I also believe and trust that I will not sink when I put on the vest. Yet, I was not completely at ease. I fluttered around -flapped my arms trying to steady myself in the water. Why? What I know in my head and believe in my heart, I need to work out in my experience.

‘Just relax. You don’t need to do anything.’ Well, that is simple yet hard to do when I feel inadequate. I did not know how to sit up after facing down to see the beautiful creatures in the reef. My friend told me to hold on to my vest. It worked for her but not for me. “Do whatever that’s comfortable for you.” That is true. Because I know backstroke, I am most comfortable when I turn on my back to sit right up.

Why just goggles? I hyperventilate when I put on the mask that keeps me from breathing through my nose. With the goggles, I control my own breathing. I can hold my breath and get back up when I’m running out of air. The disadvantage is of course, I often had to get up for air. But it’s ok. I get to see many wonderful creatures in the reef. Amazing handiworks of the Creator of heaven and earth!

I am grateful for the hand that towed me along and the arm that was my anchor all through the journey.

This thought brings to mind the value of friends in life’s journey. Even for Christians, and perhaps especially for Christians, we need the face and hands of Christ in fellow Christians to help us go through the rough places. For the weaker ones – the novice, the inexperienced swimmer like me, it is assuring that I have with me tools and gears to keep me afloat. I need not fear because my friends are swimming alongside and will not leave me.

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This leads me to the issue of trust. I trust my friends will not let me drown. While trust enables me to go through the experience, my desire to have the experience compels me to trust. Is my fear greater than my desire?

I remember when my youngest was perhaps 7 and we brought her to El Nido, Palawan. It was her first time to be in the sea. When we arrived in the small motor boat, she was literally chattering both from the cold rain and from fear. The next day, we were by the shore where there were fish swimming around. She was afraid. So I asked her: Do you want to see the fish and feed them? She said yes. Then go in the water – your floaters will keep you on the water. She conquered her fear because she really wanted to see the fish.

Do you want to experience the abundant life of Jesus? Then this desire should enable you to let go and trust. Faith is simple yet difficult to do. It is so much more than knowing and believing in some facts or truth. Faith in action means acts of courage. Faith in Jesus calls us to let go of our fears and hold on to His hand to lead the way. Trusting Jesus means to put your hand on His arm as your anchor… an anchor that holds and grips the Solid Rock.

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The Joy in Dance and Song

For many years, I sang in the choir… children’s choir, junior choir, senior choir. I sang 2nd soprano. It is the middle voice – neither too high nor too low. But it is easy to get lost in the middle. First sopranos usually sing the melody of the song and that is relatively easy. Altos on the other hand are the support and base of women choir. When a piece has very high notes, I am glad there are parts for 2nd sopranos. I remember I was an alto in the church concert where we sang Beethoven’s Ode to Joy because I didn’t want to sound like a pig or chicken in the slaughter house. 🤣

As a 2nd soprano, I am most comfortable and confident when I sit among or beside my veteran friends who read notes well and know what they are singing. I just need to open wide my eyes to read the notes and strain my ears well to listen attentively to my friend’s voice. Sitting in front of them is best. The voice behind me helps me to sing with comfort and confidence.

As with singing, so am I with dancing. I am somewhere in the middle. No. 19 is my favourite spot on the dance floor. It is behind 3 rows of dancers and slightly to the right of the instructor. I am neither expert nor novice. I can objectively say I am in the middle. Whereas it is better to sit in front of good singers, it is best to stand behind good dancers.

Standing directly behind the instructor is a good position because then I cannot see myself in the mirror. I do not really like to look at myself dance. 🤪 It makes me too self-conscious. I might not like what I see. How come my body is not as fluid and smooth as the teacher?! 😅

Keeping my eyes focus on the teacher helps me to dance well. It is challenging and fulfilling when the teacher does not teach the steps ahead and I need to sight-dance (just as when I need to sight-read when I sing).

How well I sing or dance depends on how familiar I am with the piece, how well I know the moves, habits and character of the conductor or the dance teacher.

When I dance, I often think how living life is like dancing (or singing). “Turn your eyes upon Jesus” comes to mind. How well do I know the teacher? How intent is my focus on the Teacher?  This determines how well I follow His steps. How attentive am I to the voice of the Holy Spirit – this helps me to sing the tunes of Christian living better. The more practice, the better I dance or sing. The more familiar I am with the piece, the more I enjoy the singing and the dancing.

Just as my veteran choir mates help me sing 2nd soprano, my veteran dance mates help me dance unfamiliar pieces – especially when the dance instructor decides to take a break in the middle of the dance. So in life, fellow Christians: mature friends who are closely walking with the Lord, those who sing and dance well in the difficult pieces of life, these people are my guide to be in step with the Lord.

I believe that no man is an island. I like singing in the choir. I love dancing with a group. The Christian life is not meant to be lived alone. Yes, I like it better when the music is good. I enjoy it more when I know the piece. Ultimately, I sing and dance best when I follow the good Teacher.

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Let them praise His name with dancing;
Let them sing praises to Him with timbrel and lyre. (Psalm 149:3 NASB)