For richer… for poorer

Ecclesiastes is a book in the Old Testament belonging to the genre – Wisdom Literature. It is believed to be written by King Solomon in his old age. At first glance, this book seems to take a pessimistic-fatalistic perspective on life and living. In Eccl. 1, it says:

1 The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:

2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”
3 What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?

Meaningless or vanity… the quality of being worthless, useless, pointless. Why so? Everything is for nothing? The ultimate question asked is what do I gain at the end of life for all the toil I do.

After reading it many times, I have come to realise that the author is wise in his observations about the realities of life. It is an account of the lessons he learned as he lived through the experiences of life – as a king with wealth and power.

Perhaps this book came from the inner convictions of the author as a rich man while looking around him to the people who are not rich. For me, the Teacher of Ecclesiastes teaches us about life and living through the dual lens of both the rich and the poor, the wise and the fool.

The wise teacher of Ecclesiastes lists down truths about life from his observations living life – a common sense that is not common because we do not pause to think and reflect about it.  Here are some of his observations:

Ecclesiastes 5

Vanity no. 1 – It is never enough.

10 Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless.

Greed is the heart of all human search for wealth. The human heart is a bottomless pit. The grass is often greener on the other side of the fence. It is vanity – useless and pointless to accumulate wealth and yet never find satisfaction in riches because it is never enough.

11 As goods increase,
so do those who consume them.
And what benefit are they to the owners
except to feast their eyes on them?

A simple point for comparison to illustrate v.11: Buffet meals!  At ‘Heat”, a restaurant in Shangrila hotel, there’s ‘Lobster Madness’ on Fridays and ‘Mad for Wagyu’ on Saturdays. Even as the food on the buffet table increases, so do the people who flock to these places to indulge. At the end of it all, when one has reached the brimming point, when he feels like vomiting, what else is there to do except to feast his eyes on them? At some point, even the sight of food can be revolting!  Isn’t this vanity?

Vanity no. 2 – Money cannot buy everything.

12 The sleep of a laborer is sweet,
whether they eat little or much,
but as for the rich, their abundance
permits them no sleep.

Money can buy a big bed, comfortable beddings, warm blankets but money cannot buy sleep. Each time I see homeless people sleeping soundly on sidewalks under the hot sun in the noise of the traffic, I am reminded of the ironies of life. I know of wealthy people having trouble sleeping – popping pills to help them sleep, on their computers in the middle of the night looking up stock markets and keeping track of their investments. How ironical that sleep often eludes me when I have time and I feel so sleepy when I need to get up!

Lesson to learn?

Contentment

Vanity no. 3 – Every one dies – the rich and the poor. In death, everyone is equal.

15 Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb,
and as everyone comes, so they depart.
They take nothing from their toil
that they can carry in their hands.
16 This too is a grievous evil:

As everyone comes, so they depart,
and what do they gain,
since they toil for the wind?

17 All their days they eat in darkness,
with great frustration, affliction and anger.

But there is good news. The wise teacher has one good observation to share:

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19 Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. 20 They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.

Being rich is not a bad thing. It is good to enjoy wealth and riches, whatever material possessions that God gives. It is fitting that man reap that fruits of his labor – to enjoy their work, to enjoy the rewards of hard work. Even the ability to enjoy good things comes from God. Children of God are called to receive blessings and gifts from God with gratitude and gladness of heart – to be happy and accept with open hands and an open heart.

The dual lens of living a good life is to know that we take nothing with us when we die and to enjoy with gladness and gratitude the good things God gives us – the rewards of our labor while we live.

When life is hard, take comfort that it ends somewhere. When life is good, be grateful knowing that is it a gift from God, enjoy with gladness of heart.

The good and the bad

Question… Shall we accept good from God and not trouble? What is your answer? What kind of question is that, you ask. Well, it is a rhetorical question asked by a real person in the Bible. In Job 2:10, Job asked this question after he said to his wife: You are talking like a fool. Why? Because his wife told him to curse God and die so he would be free from his suffering. (2:9)

This question has been on my mind often. It is a reminder to me of important truths about my faith.

First, Job acknowledged that both the good and the bad come from God. It might sound heretical to say that bad things come from God who is all good. It sounds complicated but it is simply how life is lived and viewed through the lens of faith. Job believes that both the good (his wealth, his children, good name, fame, the good life) and trouble (his loss – death of his children, physical sufferings) in life are from God.

Second, Job accepted both the good and the bad. It is easy for me to receive all the good things in life – thank God and praise God for all the blessings he gives. It costs me nothing. It is human nature to be happy when life is bright and sunny – when all is well… no fear, no worries, no problem, no sickness, no trouble. But when bad things happen, when disaster strikes, when sickness comes knocking, it is human nature to cry out in pain, to cringe in horror, to run away and hide. How can a normal sane person accept trouble without the natural response inherent in his being?  His faith!

If God gives me good things, I rejoice and praise him. When God allows bad things to happen to me, I cry out and cling to him. That is how Job coped in his sufferings. He acknowledged that his troubles came because God allowed it. He believed in his heart that his life is in God’s hands – both good and bad come from his creator.

Let me illustrate with a simple example how I appropriate this important question in my life. I love my husband. He is a good man. As with all men, he has his strengths and weaknesses. We have been married for 30 years now. Today, I still struggle to accept the good and the bad in our marriage. I admire many of his good traits but I am also pained and angry with his shortcomings. Yet i realised that in both the good and the bad, God does work all things for my good. Through the pains in life, God wants me to be a better person – a better wife, a better mother, a better friend, a better follower of Jesus.

It is through the storms of life that I grow to be strong. It is in helpless situations that I depend on God to help me. It is when pride is hurt that I learn humility.

So shall we accept good from God and not trouble? Can we? Yes, we shall and yes, we can. How so? Because we know that in all things (good and bad) God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Rom.8:28). What is his purpose? His purpose is for us to glorify him – that all people will know God through our lives – in all things (good and bad).

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The If’s and When’s of life

What if I get sick… what if a big earthquake strikes… what if I fail to get the job.. What to do when there’s not enough money to pay rent? Where to turn when terror strikes? How to cope when relationship turns sour?

The Bible doesnt tell us a clear-cut answer for each ‘if’ and ‘when’ of life. One thing it tells us – Do not worry about all these things. (See Matthew 6). Instead pray.

Oh but many of us Christians do that – we pray. When? When the crisis strikes or when we think it is about to happen… when we are at the end of the rope.. when there is nothing else to do… then perhaps prayer works?

Do you know that King Solomon said a prayer for all the ‘ifs’ and ‘whens’ he could ever imagine in his days.

Read 1 Kings 8 and observe how many of his prayer items started with ‘If’ or ‘When’: all the not good scenarios but harsh realities in life: sin (v.31,46), defeat (v.33), drought (v.35), famine, pestilence, enemies, plague, sickness (v.37), war, etc. Why so? Wasnt he the richest, wisest, most powerful and popular king in the history of Israel? The Bible tells us there was peace and great prosperity during his reign. (1 King 4, 5:4)

Do you know when and where he prayed about the ‘ifs’ and the ‘whens’ – bad things of life? He prayed after he built a great beautiful temple for God. He prayed during the dedication of the temple to God. Not the typical ‘celebrative’ prayer, is it?

Why ‘if’ and when ‘when’? ‘If’ seems to imply ‘might’ or ‘might not’ happen. When is more a matter of ‘when’ – a matter of time. Regardless, Solomon prayed because he was calling on God to be ‘present’ in the temple he built for Him. He recognized how awesome, loving and kind God is (v.23). He realised that God is too big to be contained in the house he built (v.28). Solomon knew the realities of life and living life. He knew of man’s sinful nature. He understood how nature works – drought, famine, sickness are part of life. Solomon understood that man can only live and overcome these challenges by the hand of God. He grasped the importance of having God ‘hear from heaven’ (vv.30,32,34,36,39,43,45), ‘forgive’ (vv.30,34,36,39,50) and ‘maintain the cause’ (v.45,49) of the ‘pray-er’.

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So how do we apply this today? How can we follow Solomon’s example?

Today, we can pray like Solomon. We pray for the ‘ifs’ and ‘whens’ – for the not so good even in the midst of prosperity and blessings. It is not being pessimistic or fatalistic. We pray because we beseige God to be with us on earth as He is in heaven. We pray because we need his forgiveness if and when we sin, when we make him sad, when we offend our neighbors. We pray because God alone can maintain our cause. He alone makes the impossible, possible.

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We pray each of us knowing the affliction of our own heart: God, hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive and act and render to each according to all our ways, whose heart You know, for You alone know the hearts of all the sons of men, that we may fear You all the days of our life. (vv.39-40)

We pray: Hear in heaven Your dwelling place in order that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name. (v.43) Amen.

may hear your great name

 

 

Hope in the darkness

Have you ever been oppressed? To be oppressed is the passive side of being depressed. When I feel depressed, sadness came from within me. When a person is oppressed, it came from something outside, he is the subject of harsh authoritarian treatment. To oppress is to subject someone to hardship with unjust exercise of authority.

Oppression can be one of many causes of depression. What other reasons are there for depression? Why are people sad?

Oppression, hunger, bondage, blindness, loneliness, helpless, fatherless… these are sad realities of life. Many in the world are dying of hunger – not just physical, but emotional, mental and spiritual. Many are in bondage – more than those in jails, addictions to vices, imprisoned by anger and bitterness, chained to anxieties and fears. And so it is not only poor widows and helpless orphans who are needy, in hunger, and oppressed living physically hard life, it is ironical to see the rich in material wealth hungering for love, in bondage to greed, blinded by temporal gratifications of power and fame, alone and lonely at the top.

There is good news. God, the Creator of the world is the strong advocate of the oppressed and provider to the hungry. Jesus came into the world to set us free from sin. The Holy Spirit is our light in the darkness – to guide us on our way.

Psalm 146
1 Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord, my soul.
2 I will praise the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.

6 He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them—
he remains faithful forever.

7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
8 the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
the Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

10 The Lord reigns forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord.

The Bible shows us the way out of oppression, hunger, bondage, blindness and helplessness. Read the Bible and know about God, know God, the Creator of the universe. Read the Bible and know Jesus, the Saviour of the world. Accept Jesus as your Saviour – to free you from the bondage of sins. Believe that Jesus came into the world to die for your sins. He is the only way to God, the Father. Enjoy eternal life here on earth as it is in heaven – free from hunger for love because God loves you. Be set free from the bondage of lust for temporal pleasures of the world because Jesus’s blood on the cross paid for the wages of sin. The Holy Spirit is our pledge – our security in the world to walk in the light – to see what God’s plan for our lives is – to show forth God’s glory and live a blessed life – life of abundance, free from want.

The story of the fried chicken

Recently, I attended the graduation ceremony of my classmates from the Asian Theological Seminary. I’m happy with them and for them – they have hurdled a milestone in their ministry. I am blessed to see them received the rewards for their hard work and diligence.

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I am most touched by the story of the fried chicken. My classmate, in his response speech on behalf of the graduates shared his story of the fried chicken. He talked about the transformation of life, learning and love as a seminary student. I can relate to his point that at some point in the life of the seminary student, he questions: Am I where I’m supposed to be? Is this what God calls me to do?

He illustrated the answer he found with the story of the fried chicken. On the first day of his ethics class, he had only P20 in his pocket. His round trip transport costs P43. To make ends meet, he took 1 ride out of the 3 that he had to make and walk the rest of the way to school. He wanted to save money for his trip home knowing he would be tired after class. On the way, he prayed: Lord, show me your miracle today.

During the class break at 10am, he went to the canteen and smelled the mouth-watering fried chicken to fill up his hunger. He knew that he needed physical food to sustain him through the school day. So he repeated his prayer. At noon, the professor announced to the class that they will stay in the classroom for lunch. So in came the staff from the canteen with lunch of fried chicken – served to everyone in class.

And so when God calls, he confirms and affirms. Where God calls, he provides.

I feel like crying with tears of joy and affirmation because I too experience God’s affirmation in times of doubt.

Question? Did the professor decide on serving lunch to his class before Ryan prayed or after? I’d like to think that God prepared the fried chicken for Ryan even before he prayed for a miracle.

Praise God for stories of fried chickens!

 

Good king, bad king

Of Lion’s head and a mouse’s tail… Pride and prejudice?

2 Chron. 29 Hezekiah was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. His mother’s name was Abijah daughter of Zechariah. 2 He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done.

32:24 In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. He prayed to the Lord, who answered him and gave him a miraculous sign. 25 But Hezekiah’s heart was proud and he did not respond to the kindness shown him; therefore the Lord’s wrath was on him and on Judah and Jerusalem. 26 Then Hezekiah repented of the pride of his heart, as did the people of Jerusalem; therefore the Lord’s wrath did not come on them during the days of Hezekiah.

2 Chron. 33 Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-five years. 2 He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites.

12 In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors. 13 And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God.

There are many stories of good kings and bad kings in the Old Testament – 1 Kings; 2 Kings; 1 Chronicles; 2 Chronicles. Each account started with the same phrases -his age when he became king, length of reign, whether the king did what was right or evil ‘in the eyes of the Lord’.

So with Hezekiah and Manasseh:
Hezekiah started at 25 and reigned 29 years. Manasseh started at 12 and reigned 55 years. H did right and M did evil.

There are 4 long chapters written of the many accomplishments of Hezekiah in his 29 years of reign. There are only 20 short verses summarising Manasseh’s 55 years as king.

How did they end? They both died of course. Yet one great difference is that the good king turned proud (32:25) and the bad king humbled himself. (33:12)

In both, God had a response. When Hezekiah had pride in his heart and did not acknowledge the kindness God shown him, God’s wrath was on him. When Manasseh humbled himself, God was ‘moved’ by his entreaty. He listened to M’s plea. When Hezekiah repented of his pride, God’s wrath did not come on them during his days. (Question: does it mean it came in the days after his reign? Implication: our pride has consequences.)

Lessons to learn:
When all is well and we have so many accomplishments under our belt – even those of purifying the temple (ch.29), leading the people in worship in the Passover (ch.30), raising funds (ch.31), winning battles (ch.32), beware of pride. What a good capable person I am! I did it all – I am a good king, I did great things for my people and for God. So with us Christians, even the things that seemingly to be of the Lord, for the Lord, to the Lord – these doing and giving and being, successful things can become our idols – which makes us proud and forgetful. We forget that all good things come from the Lord – even the heart for doing right and being right in the eyes of the Lord. All by grace and mercy of God..

When all is not well, when we did badly, when we are hopelessly in the deep dark pit of evil and sin, there is hope. God listens to the humble heart – to the entreaty and plea of even the most evil king – reigning badly for 55 years. God is moved (33:13a). He brings us back to him – He restores us to knowing that the Lord is God. v.13b

Beware of pride and prejudice. Repent and be restored. Let me not forget.

The quarrelsome wife vs prudent wife

I remember the days of living in our apartment on the 5th floor of a building with no elevator and sleeping in a bedroom with no aircon. My sister, Marian and I shared that bedroom. Insomnia was not a problem for me then. But I can still remember what it was that kept me awake… constant dripping of a leaky aircon.

Proverbs 19
13 A foolish child is a father’s ruin,
and a quarrelsome wife is like
the constant dripping of a leaky roof.

The wise author of this proverb sure knows what he’s saying. I can imagine how irritating it is for a man to have a quarrelsome wife when she is like the constant dripping of a leaky roof… tok.. tok… tok.. tik… tik.. tak.. tak.. I also know how it is when I am quarrelsome. Andrew would tell me: Di le chio wan quay ba? (Are you challenging me to a fight?) He also described it as ‘provoking’ him to anger. And it is true, I was quarrelsome when I did not control my mouth (or more aptly, tame my pride).

Proverbs 21
9 Better to live on a corner of the roof
than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.
19 Better to live in a desert
than with a quarrelsome and nagging wife.

These two statements are good reminders for me as a wife.
God wants me to learn self-control: taming my tongue and swallowing my pride. He keeps the lessons coming. I often realise that the argument stops when I keep quiet. I have also experienced more grief when I indulged in a swift moment of pride and/or anger.

Andrew often jokes (half-seriously or perhaps he’s serious about it) that he’s moving to the 3rd floor to be by himself. One bathroom is not enough for the two of us. His nightly concerts (Zzzzz) sometimes keep me awake. Even so, I am glad that we’re still in the same bedroom. 😀

Proverbs 19
14 Houses and wealth are inherited from parents,
but a prudent wife is from the Lord.

Proverbs 20
3 It is to one’s honor to avoid strife,
but every fool is quick to quarrel.

Bottom line: I prefer to be his prudent wife from the Lord rather than a quarrelsome/nagging wife like constant dripping of a leaky roof. It is to my honour to avoid quarrel because only fools are quick to quarrel. And I don’t want to be a fool.

So my dear sisterly wifey friends, let’s encourage each other to be treasures of our husbands – and let them say: I have a prudent wife from the Lord.

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