The Gift of Receiving

In the Tsinoy (Filipino-Chinese) culture in the Philippines, I’ve heard of the Fookien proverb: Han tsi, hey oh. (Literal meaning: Camote, return with gabi. Someone gives you sweet potato, you give them taro.) I’ve seen often how my mom or my mom-in-law would give something in return (almost immediately or soon after) to someone who’ve given them some gifts. My mom said she doesn’t like to be indebted to people. Personally, I often feel like doing the same. It seems that giving is easier to do than receiving. It’s as if we are uncomfortable with just receiving.. period.

Through the years, I observed how frustrating it is for children who wanted to show their love and care for their elderly parents and have their parents turn down their gifts or their offers. Imagine you buy food or things for them, deliver them personally to their place, and have them say “I don’t need them.” or “you keep them or give to your children instead.”  or see them store in their cabinets unused for ‘nth’ years until these things get destroyed by floods or pests or expired with time.gratitude-is-what-starts-the-receiving-process-quote-1.jpg

So I learned the lesson of the gift of receiving: to accept graciously and gratefully whatever my children or my friends offered me. This requires that I do not have a sense of superiority – feeling that I am the elder or that I can afford to give more than the giver. It also means that I do not need to feel a sense of being indebted to the giver. I give the giver the pleasure to give me things, to serve me, to do things for me. I know my children are happy when I let them serve me or buy me gifts. I accept gifts of my helpers when they bring food after they return from their vacation. I use the gifts that missionary pastors give me with gladness.

More than that, I am not shy to ask for help from my friends when I need it. It brings to mind what Paul taught the Galatians: Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. (6:2)

In Joni Eareckson’s words, it is ‘interdependent.’ She said: “As a quadriplegic of 47 years, I have been on the receiving end of other people’s help for many years. My caregivers and my husband are experts in giving, even when it hurts, and they are bone-tired. Part of me feels guilty about that. But God designed my disability not to make me “independent,” but “interdependent.” And as the recipient of my husband’s love, I do all I can to support him and my caregivers with gratitude, as well as pray for them in their weariness. It’s the least I can do. It’s the family thing to do.”

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Gilbert Meilaender wrote in an article for First Things, “Families would not have the significance they do for us if they did not, in fact, give us claim upon each other. We do not come together as autonomous individuals freely contracting with each other. We simply find ourselves thrown together and asked to share the burdens of life while learning to care for each other.”

Yes, it is more blessed to give than to receive… but it is also possible to give in receiving – to give others the pleasure of giving is a gift much appreciated as well.

This is the human perspective – giving and receiving between men. How about between man and God?

Today, how am I receiving the gifts of God? Am I even aware of them? Are they just taken for granted? With a sense of entitlement? Or with a heart of gratitude? We can never out-give God. But we are good at asking to receive from God. Perhaps we should do better how we receive from God… even and especially the things we did not ask for.

 

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What are you giving this Christmas?

What to give for Christmas? To give or not to give… that is the question.

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By now, many people have done their Christmas shopping, gifts given and exchanged. I wonder in all the gift-giving and gift-wrapping and unwrapping, have we remembered to give something to the Celebrant? This Christmas, what have I given to Jesus? Is it my church involvement? Is it about my tithes and donations? Is it about the external and the expensive – costly resources I have? My time and effort? Sure, all these meant something but only in the spirit by which gifts are offered…

Micah asked:

With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?

Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?

Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?  (Micah 6:6-7)

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What gift does God want from me?

Justice: am I a reflection of His justice in everything I do?

Mercy: am I compassionate as He is?

Humility: am I humbly walking with Him?

This Christmas, remember that the true joy of giving is found in giving to the less fortunate; to our helpers at home, to our drivers, to our caregivers, to the street children, to the missionaries; those whom I do not expect to get any gift in return… not because they could not afford to give me anything but because they have already given me so much.

God gives me so much – I know He does not need anything from me; He gave not because He wanted something in exchange. He just wants me to love Him. How do I do that? Obedience. He wants me to:

Act justly. No preferential treatment for the rich and looking down on the poor.

Love mercy: to be kind, merciful and forgiving. If God is so merciful to me for all the sins I’ve done, should I not do the same to those who need forgiveness? If God relents from giving me what I deserve, consequences for the wrongs I’ve done, is it not just right that I extend the same compassion to others?

Walk humbly with my God: walk my talk. walk in total dependence holding on to the hands of my Creator. Walk with head held high and heart bowed low because my God is good, my God is just and my God is merciful.

These are the 3 gifts my God require of me this Christmas: gold of justice; frankincense of mercy and myrrh of humility.

On Being Naked

“If you read sis Marlene’s book, you will get to know her;” said my seminary professor to my classmates in class.  I was surprised at her statement. Two conflicting emotions came upon me. I was both pleased that she read my book – appreciative of her endorsement and a bit uncomfortable and ‘naked’. I suddenly realised that it was what I did – I revealed myself to everyone who would read my book – both my friends, strangers and everyone in between. It is alright to share with close friends who know me. It is also not too difficult to share with strangers. But what about those in between? Would they understand me? Would they be critical of me? Was there anything I should not have written with such candour? Am I revealing too much of myself?

Genesis 2:25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

We studied this verse in Old Testament Exegesis 1 class. This verse ended chapter 2 – the creation story where God made Eve so that Adam would not be alone.  This verse was followed by chapter 3 – the fall of man. After Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree which God forbid them to eat, there was a transformation. Not an outward change but an internal realisation that led to an external response.

Genesis 3:7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.

They saw their own nakedness and they were ashamed so they had to cover themselves. Is it not human nature to hide in shame? Being a Chinese, I am quite aware of the face culture. We value honour, prestige, respect that we often need to save face – to put up a front to cover what is ugly and dishonourable.

Why else does a person hide? When the man and the woman heard God walking in the garden, they hid from God. God asked ‘Where are you?’  Did God not know where the man was? Of course, He knew.  Yet God asked – giving him a chance to answer.
Genesis 3:10 He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” The man was afraid. But his reason was not his admittance of guilt – that he disobeyed God. His reason was his nakedness.  So God asked another question?

Genesis 3:11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”

Fear often causes people to hide. Fear for being punished, fear for being judged. When someone says “I’ve got nothing to hide,” he’s saying I have nothing to be ashamed of, I did not do anything wrong. What a liberating statement that is – nothing to hide!

Man is sinful by nature. There is no one righteous. ‘For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ (Romans 3:23) Christians in their mortal body still sin. We still have our daily struggles to overcome sin.  “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9)

Some friends who read my book thanked me for sharing my stories. I think they often referred to those stories which bare most of myself – my weaknesses and my failings. Why? Because it is in these stories where God’s strength is most manifested. When I listen to inspirational speakers, I am most touched when they speak candidly about their weaknesses. It reminds me that no one is perfect – everyone has his struggles. This gives me hope that weaknesses can be overcome. It is comforting to know that I am not alone in my struggles. I appreciate the courage it takes to reveal one’s own weakness in order to help other people. And so by God’s grace, I do the same. I share candidly my thoughts and feelings, my joy and grief, my success and failure knowing that God can turn all these things for His purpose to bless people.

 

A Joyful Encounter

How do you respond when life sucks? How does it feel to be in a crisis – be it financial, health-related, or in a broken relationship? Unless one is a masochist, it is not in human nature for a person to seek a difficult life. Alas, but life is not a bed of roses – even for the rich and famous! So what are the children of God, followers of Jesus to do when life is hard? How are we to face our problems? Captain Jack Sparrow has a point when he said: ‘A problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.’

James, a disciple of Jesus said: Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, (James 1:2)

Who are these brethren he wrote to?  To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: (v.1) The twelve tribes refer to the twelve tribes of Israel – Jewish believers who were scattered all over – outside their homeland. They were Christians who were facing persecutions for their faith.

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Why did James write about being joyful when one encounters difficulties?

3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Life challenges test us – our faith, our tenacity, our grit. In those days, Christians were persecuted – they were being killed for believing in Jesus. James encouraged them to be aware that these trials were a test of their faith – how truly they believe and stand for what they believe. The test is for them to endure – to persevere and not give up. The goal of testing and enduring is for them to become mature.

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In high school, I learned a song ‘Little flowers never worry. If it never never rains, then they’ll never never grow.’ A stormy life tests our endurance. It makes a person strong. I remember my husband gave me poster when we were dating. ‘Do not pray for an easy life. Pray to be a strong person.’ The reality of life in this world is a reality of sickness, evil, broken relationships, natural disasters and continuous difficult challenges. No one is exempt – not even Christians. The difference between Christians and non-Christian is Christ in them. We have the Bible – God’s word to encourage us and we have the Holy Spirit to guide us. When we face challenges, we have a resource – a lifeline to help us go through the dark tunnel.

James continues: But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (vv.5-8)

God waits for us to go to Him for wisdom. God generously gives wisdom if only we ask. He is not only generous, he gives without reproach. He does not reprimand us for being foolish to ask for wisdom. He does not judge us. Never would he say: O how dumb you are, you don’t know what to do?!  When we ask for wisdom, we need to ask in faith – fully believing that God will grant us wisdom. We must be firm – not wavering, tossed to and fro by the waves and winds of the storm.

12 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

Again, James wrote about persevering under trial. To persevere is to endure till the end. There is a promise of the crown of life for those who pass the test of faith. Most importantly, it is a promise of the Lord for those who love Him.

13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.

We need to beware of blaming God for the difficulties that come our way. Are difficulties a temptation or a test? A test is for good – to make us a better person. A temptation is for evil – to make us do wrong. Is the difficulty a result of a sinful act? Let us beware of being misled and be discerning to know the difference. Sin has dire consequences. One wrong bears fruit of endless evil.

On the other hand, our heavenly Father graciously gives us good gifts. Let us not forget that all good things come from Him.

17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. 18 In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.

When life is hard, let us remember the good things God continuously gives to see us through. It is to be joyful encounter when we face trials because then we shall be fruitful witnesses of the good God, Father of lights who changes not.

 

Staying on even if….

1 Cor. 16
8 But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, 9 because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.

In the final chapter of his first letters to the Corinthians, Paul informed them of his travel plans. What struck me is verse 8. Paul was a missionary preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. He established and discipled many churches in many places. Ephesus
was one of them. In the ancient world, Ephesus was a center of travel and commerce. Situated on the Aegean Sea at the mouth of the Cayster River, the city was one of the greatest seaports of the ancient world. Considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, Ephesus’ Temple of
Artemis was dedicated to the goddess of the hunt. Paul’s successful ministry in this
city was considered a threat to this very temple (Acts 19:27).
When Paul was accused of hurting the Artemis and her temple, the mob gathered together in this theater (Acts 19:23-41).

Paul planned to ‘STAY ON’ in Ephesus. Who wants to linger in a place where one is not popular? Paul encountered great
opposition in Ephesus before. He was accused and mobbed for causing harm to the business and worship of Artemis. Yet Paul stayed 3 years in Ephesus. He also
returned to Ephesus. For what?
“Because a great door for ‘EFFECTIVE WORK’ was opened to me” and there are many who ‘OPPOSE’ me.

Effective work does not mean being popular with the people in the workplace. Paul experienced great difficulties because many tried to kill him. In spite of this, he
considered the more opposition, the more effective ministry to be done.

Applications: How often we run away when we meet opposition? How do we fare when many are against the work that we do? Do we get discouraged? Do we
persevere? How do we see these obstacles? Are these opportunities for effective work? Do we not rather stay in our comfort zone? Is it not easier to be working with
and among people who are on the same page with us? Who wants to go back to a place of great opposition?

Paul was not stopped by opposition because he had good motivation. His goal was to
proclaim Christ even to people who opposed him.

What motivates you? What do you
consider effective work? How you respond to opposition determines how long you ‘stay on.’

The One

The choice…

Have you answered online personality tests or health-related apps where you are asked to choose from several options for each question? Is it not frustrating sometimes to read through the list and realize that your answer is all of the above or worse… none of the above?

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So my question for the day is.. which is better… to have many choices or to have no choice?

Most of my life, I enjoyed the blessing of one.. one mom, one dad, one sister, one boyfriend until he became my hubby. I am the one and only daughter-in-law, the one and only sister-in-law, the only a-kim (the wife of your mom’s brother), and the only a-ee (the sister of your mother). For someone basically an introvert, this is good – life is simple. From childhood through my teen years, I went to one school. I attended one church: United Evangelical Church of the Phils. When I graduated from high school, I applied at only one university. Imagine if my application was not accepted…

All of the above seem to imply that I had no choice or that I was simply born into it – family, school and church. But as I grow older, life is not as simple. Everyday, I am confronted with choices… decisions to make, even as mundane or trivial as which route to take to go certain places. And I often wish I had less choices or if only God would just point to me the best option to ensure that I make the right one.

The paradox of God-given freedom for man to choose is that man is given the wisdom as a rational being to discern what is right and what is wrong. But what is right and what is not has become relative in this world tainted by sin. There is also the issue of good or better, bad or worse.

So my conclusion to my rhetorical question is this: what about The One choice?

I choose to ask God for wisdom and discernment – that through the Holy Spirit I will be enabled to make the right choices that will be pleasing to Him – that will accomplish the purposes to which He calls me.

I remember when I was first diagnosed with cancer, my first thought in prayer was: Lord, if you think that my life on earth has served your purpose, then I am at peace with that. But if there is anything else that you want me to do, let your will be done as well.

So each day, each moment, as long as I remember that my life has a purpose, I have a choice to make to obey His command:

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“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)

That is The Choice – the blessing of One for me.

Praying with a purpose

Nehemiah 1-2

Nehemiah was cupbearer to the king. He was in exile serving a foreign king. Nehemiah and many of his countrymen were carried away from their homeland into captivity in Persia.  He learned that his countrymen back home were in distress and their land in ruins – their city walls broken and gates burned! Neh. 1:3 What a pitiful situation!

After mourning for several days, Nehemiah prayed to God:
1) Behind his prayers, he had God’s purpose 2:12: I did not tell anyone what my God was putting into my mind to do.

2) How did he pray: He acknowledged God’s character (1:5), he asked God to listen to his prayer (v.6,11). Twice, he said ‘I beseech you’ I beg you, O God, may your ear be attentive. Please Lord, pay attention to my request. He confessed their sins – the wrongs his people did- offending God. v.6-7 Then he asked God to remember His promise to them and how He helped them in the past. v.8-10

3) What did he pray for? v.11 He prayed that God would grant him favor before the king. That the king would have compassion on him and grant his request. What were his requests?
A) Purpose: He told the king he wanted to go home to rebuild his birthplace. (2:5)

B) Protection: He asked that the king provide him safe passage. (2:7)

C) Provision: Nehemiah also asked the king to give him materials for the rebuilding project. v.8a

He acknowledged that the king granted his requests because God answered his prayers. v.8b

Truths to learn:
When I seek after God’s purpose, God surely provides.
When He gives me a task, He enables.

What is my first instinct when there is a crisis to face or problem to solve? Do I squeeze my brain juice for the solutions? Do I call a friend? Ask an expert? Before I go around asking people for help, do I ask God first?

Nehemiah went to ‘beseech’ God. He did not tell anyone about what God wanted him to do. 2:12 He was alone yet not alone because God was behind him. In prayer, I acknowledge God’s character. I confess my shortcomings and declare my dependence on Him. I pray that God listen and grant me favor to achieve His purpose. Surely, He listens.

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