Joy of a different kind

Question… what makes a joyful church? What do churches of today celebrate about? Anniversaries mostly. They are happy when they have built bigger and grander places for worship and assembly. They pride themselves for being mega churches with thousands of membership and being globally known all over the world. They raise their hands in praise to the sound of grand accompaniments, with worship leaders in big air-conditioned and beautiful sanctuaries – in much comfort and ecstatic feeling of being together with so many people – so festive and elating. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being big in resources whether human or material.

Yet a blessed church is more than just about the external and the quantifiable – the tangible ‘blessings.’ In the early church recorded in the book of Acts, it was a different kind of joy that believers celebrate. I previously wrote about their joy of sharing their resources – there was no needy person among them because they had one ownership of everything they had. Everything they had they gave to benefit the whole church.

Another kind of sharing that brought them joy is the joy of sharing in the suffering for Jesus’ name.

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Acts 5
41 So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

So what happened here? After Jesus ascended to heaven, the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost and they were empowered to speak the good news of Jesus. Peter preached and thousands believed in Jesus. The early church led by the apostles of Jesus was growing in numbers. Miracles were happening – the sick healed, the needy provided for, thousands were added to the church (Acts 5:12-16) in spite of deep and severe persecutions from those who opposed Jesus. The apostles were imprisoned, threatened and flogged. (5:18, 40) Even after all these, Peter still preached and condemned them for putting Jesus on the cross. The temple leaders were so enraged they wanted to kill the apostles. They were released only because Gamaliel, a Pharisee, a respected leader stood up to give this advice:”stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.” (38-39)

So how was it to be ‘rejoicing’ after being imprisoned, threatened, flogged and shamed? For what? These believers had a different kind of motivation – they pride themselves for being ‘considered worthy’ – that they were good enough to suffer for the cause of making Jesus known.

Today, many of us believers are too comfortable living our faith – we only hear of persecutions in other places – of lives being taken, of imprisonments, of the horrors of suffering for being Christian. Yet it is often those suffering Christians who are more joyful than those who are living freely and comfortably. How sad…

So how do I apply this lesson? I need to be more grateful for the things I take for granted – freedom to worship, freedom to share God’s Word, freedom to make my life count – to further the cause of the gospel. I need to beware of taking life too easy – complacent in my comfort zone. I must learn to choose joy when things are not to my liking or expectations. Suffering or problems in life are relative – there is always the issue of comparison – with what or with whom are we comparing our issues and challenges?

To reflect… how do I rejoice when life is not easy? What do I consider to be worthy to be joyful for? What causes me to celebrate? What is the purpose of my existence? Motivation and purpose of living – this directs our perspective and influence us in the way of joyful living. Is it for the cause of Jesus?

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Musings on the 32nd…

There are at most 31 days in a month. In the Filipino-Chinese community, we used to say when one reaches 31 years old that he/she’s getting off the calendar. It seems to be a transition period from youth into adulthood. The next number would be the max limit of the thermometer – 40! Hi fever to reach 40, isn’t it?  But life is said to begin at 40.  What about marriage? What’s the magic number for the promise to love, to cherish and to hold  – in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, till death do us part?

On FB, there are often professions and confessions of love and devotion, through thick and thin, cheesy and warm declarations and greetings of anniversary celebrations filled with smiles, seemingly all things bright and beautiful. Indeed wedding anniversaries are a milestone to be happily and thankfully celebrated. Yet behind each marital journey, there are always tears and heartaches along the way. Life is not a bed of roses. Even as there are roses, roses have thorns. It would be unreal to just see all sunshine without the rain. Even when the rain does not fall, black clouds loom in the horizon that threaten to dampen the way.

Hubby and I are entering our 32nd year of the journey called holy matrimony. Looking back the 31 years of being together, there was certainly much sunshine as there were storms. There were tears as there was laughter. Going through the marital path is about seeing both sides of the coin not just fuzzy idealistic lenses but also with a bare and clear realistic perspective: that man does not love perfectly. We are flawed no matter how much we love. And no matter how much we strive to be the ideal partner, we often fail. Honeymoon does not end after the first few months or even the first year or in spite of the kids’ arrival.

Is there a formula to a joyfully strong and ideal marriage? Hubby being good at Math, came up with a simple equation for our special dates. My birthday is the sum of his birthday and our anniversary. We are both born on the same year in the same month – only 17 days apart. Today is our anniversary. Basic algebra will give you the answer to our birthdays. It so happened that in the year we got married, 17 was a Sunday. But our love story is more than just numbers on the calendar.

Long story short, there is a simple formula that seems simple and yet profound. It does not take two to tango. Ours is a love triangle. Perhaps I could borrow some geometry to describe our marriage. It’s like a pyramid with God as the base and God as the peak. It’s God that holds us together by His grace and mercy. If there is one thing that is more important or just as important as our love for each other, it is our common faith – we both have Jesus as our Savior and Lord. We both receive God’s gift of salvation and eternal life to be lived on earth as it is in heaven.

Let me give practical illustrations on having a dual lens of the marital adventure. It’s like some paradoxical mystery with God as the puzzle mastermind.

Two but One

First, it is a fact that women are from Venus and men are from Mars. A man and a woman are different even as God created Eve from Adam. They are called to be one flesh from two bodies. And so my first dual lens is that we need to affirm our individuality yet find our way to be one. It is more than just about me eating ice cream and hubby having hot soup together. It is also not about him trying to fix things and find solutions each time I tell him a problem. It does not have to end with him feeling helplessly frustrated at finding  a solution. Why? Because more than a fix, I just need a listening ear or bluntly a sounding board. So how do we traverse this paradoxical issue? We need to accept one another. It is easier said than done. It takes lots of practice on self-awareness and other-thoughtfulness. And this leads me to the next paradoxical secret.

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Head and Heart

There are many truths about love and marriage that we know in our head. We can get so theoretical, rational and logical – we reason and argue with this and that – how right we are or how wronged we are. The head needs to be balanced with the heart. Sometimes the distance between the head and the heart can either be very short and near or long and far or even boundlessly unreachable! So how then do we deal with head and heart thing? We need to read God’s Word and practice what we read from it. James speaks of looking at the mirror and not doing anything about what you see in the mirror. Reading the Bible is like looking at the mirror to see that your hair is not in order. Not practicing what you read is like going out of the house without combing your hair. Love is not a thing of the heart. It is more than just warm fuzzy happy feeling that you have – when your spouse is so lovable and thoughtful and doing all the things right and serving you in the way that you expect him/her to do.

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Love is being kind and serving hubby food even when I do not feel like it – even I think that he does not deserve it… even when I feel like letting him starve or even when I wanted to storm out of the house and not appear again for a day or two to let him taste what it would be like to go a day without me! Love is a decision in the head – a choice to make to do what the Bible teaches me to do. It is thinking of myself less and more of what God wants more. The Bible teaches me to submit to my husband. It is not about being a slave – oppressed and depressed either. It is about making a choice to be humble and patient. Again it is easier said than done. Where is the line between humility and inferiority complex? How do I get past these obstacles of hurt, pain, wrath, frustration and disappointment?

Forgive and not Forget

What to do then? I practice to let the sun go down and not holding on to the wrong, the hurt, the pain etc. How am I doing with this lesson? Perhaps just a little higher than the passing mark or sometimes even way below the borderline. It is hard to let go of the pain. It is not easy to hold my tongue and not justify myself or defend myself. If I hold my tongue, I need to let the tears fall. It’s my way of coping. But again practice makes perfect even if perfection seems to take practicing forever. And it’s not about forgetting either. It is perhaps about remembering less and less the wrong. Love does not keep a record of wrong. How to remember less the wrong? How about remembering more the good? I need to remember the good words that hubby said, the good traits that he has, the good deeds that he does.

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And before this piece gets too long, I need to stop and practice some more. 1, 4, 17, 21, 31 or 32 or more… these are just numbers. Many things in marriage cannot be counted – they are abstract and difficult to appraise. Yet these priceless stuffs are what count.

As husband and wife, we need lots of practice – to be different yet united, (through acceptance), to be rational and yet emotional too (in our loving), to let go and to hold on (in our forgiving/appreciating). Let God be the base and the peak.

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As man and wife, pray this prayer together… Together, we can do it – you, me and God!

Practice makes Perfect

In a few hours, I’m going dancing again. I danced at least once or at most 3x a week. I love dancing more than doing gym exercises or weights or stretching. It’s exhilarating to dance to the current pop music and sweat it out. I especially enjoy the pieces when I like the music and the moves the instructor taught us.

Each week I joined 3 sessions, 2 under an older more experienced teacher and another class under a younger teacher. The older taught more systematically with patience giving us more time to digest the step before he puts on the music. The younger one improved a lot since he started to learn with a fellow dance instructor. But his moves are more intense because I felt more out of breath when dancing in his class.

Aerobics classes have evolved much through the years since i started attending. In the early days, the moves were called grapevine, chasse, three step etc. Instructor would put on headset with mic to dictate to us what moves to do as he does them. It’s like doing rote exercises. Compared to the present, it’s a bit boring. Instead of enjoying the music fully, there was always the voice of the instructor dictating the moves.

Nowadays, zumba dancing is the fad. My instructors no longer wear mic/headset to have himself be heard over the loud music. Instead, he teaches the moves step by step, chunk by chunk before he puts on the music and let us dance as we follow him. No shouting over the music, we just need to keep our eyes on him.

When I first attended aero classes, my muscles used to ache from all the swaying, twisting and bending. I get dizzy from too much turning and spinning. A friend suggested that I need to do stretching before and after to attune the muscles to the dance moves. After more than 15 years of dancing to exercise, my muscles no longer ache after dancing except when I stop for weeks to resume again.

When I dance, many thoughts run through my mind. I think as I dance about how living life is like dancing with God as the leader and me as the follower. The more I dance with him, the more I become familiar with his moves, the better I can dance to his music. He’s always one step ahead of me. As long as I keep my eyes on Him, I can follow in time.

Sometimes, the instructor would make fun of us and mislead us with unexpected or unusual moves. But after being with him for some time, I began to expect these surprises and follow closely. So long as I keep my eyes fixed on him. So with God, when I read His word daily and practice them well in life, I learn to know his will and purposes for me in each of life’s incidents. I can expect certain moves to certain types of music and beat. But I still have to keep my eyes on him all the time to dance well. If I falter and miss a step, I can catch up coz he’s always one step ahead of me. He shows me the next move before the I finish my current step.

I am still a work-in-progress. I need to keep dancing and keep practicing. When I stop, it is like starting over – muscles need to adjust again. I need to catch up with the numbers. I need to relearn many steps forgotten. When I arrive late at the class, I missed the instructions given at the start of the class, I need to play catch up. The teacher let us practice more than once or twice for each new number. Then we review again next session.

I realise that the more familiar i am with the moves, the more i can enjoy the number fully and truly. It’s so natural and I don’t have to exert effort to remember the next steps.

Practice does make perfect. Keep on dancing. Keep your eyes on the teacher and you will surely enjoy dancing with him to the beat of the music!

Truth N Consequence of LOVE

IF… and SO THAT… Cause and Effect..

John recorded important lessons Jesus taught his disciples when he knew the time of his suffering and death was near. Jesus wanted to prepare them for his departure – to encourage them to be strong and stand firm. He told them how to continue his ministry – to be productive and fruitful.

John 15 recorded many truths and consequences that are helpful for the disciples (also for us) to live life as Jesus intended for them to live.

5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. IF you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

The 1st truth: IF I remain in Jesus and Jesus in me, I will bear fruit.  If I stay apart from Jesus, I can do nothing.  To remain means to abide, to stay near to Jesus. Jesus also told the disciples when he leaves, he will send the Holy Spirit to be with them. If we let the Holy Spirit in our heart, if we listen closely to the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit helps us bear fruit. To remain is to stay constantly and not leave.

7 IF you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

The 2nd IF I remain in Jesus and His Words remain in me, the result is that my prayer gets answered.  There are further implications in this: If we abide in Jesus and we study and remember and live out His words in our daily living, we will bear much fruit. Bearing fruit proves that we are disciples of Jesus. Consequently, God is glorified. Reading God’s words and praying go hand in hand. When we immerse ourselves in God’s words, we get to know His perfect will for us. We learn precious truth to apply in our daily living. We discover how and what to ask and have our wishes done for us – because we will know how to ask in the Father’s will. When we ask the Spirit to help us love God with all our heart, soul and mind, when we ask the Spirit to enable us to love our neighbour, it is promised that we get our wish. As a result, we will live fruitful lives and the world will see that we are Jesus’ disciples. The final important consequence is God, the Father is honoured.

9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.

The 3rd IF: I obey = I will remain in Jesus’ love = Jesus obeys = Jesus in God’s love. Obedience is the proof that we are abiding in Jesus. Where does this force to obey come from? God’s love and the love of Jesus. Just as God loves Jesus, Jesus loves us. His love compels us to obedience. Obedience leads us to abide in love. Obedience keeps us grounded in his love. God’s greatest commandment is for us to love. Love God and love our neighbour. Loving and obeying go together.

11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

Final ultimate consequence of all the Ifs is a joyful life – complete joy!

All of the above: If we Remain in Jesus, if we remain in His word, if we obey His word, we will bear fruit, we will have our prayer answered, we will remain in Jesus love. All these will lead me to Jesus’ joy. His joy in me – my joy may be complete. Stay with Jesus, read His word, follow what He says, then I will bear fruit. I will receive what I ask for God’s glory. Then Jesus’ joy will be mine and this joy is enough – not lacking.

12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

Jesus chose me SO THAT I might go and bear fruit. Fruit that will last. Jesus chose me SO THAT whatever I ask in Jesus name, the Father will give me. What do I ask? I ask that I remain in Jesus, Jesus in me. I ask for His words: “Love each other” to remain in me. I ask that I bear fruit for God’s glory.

And God gives me practicum. What are his words again?

if you love me      Unknown

I started this piece early this morning before I went to a writing workshop: Writing to evangelise, equip and encourage. So now, I’m ending it with the application that God wants for me after all of the above exposition. God wants me to obey his commandment – to love my husband as He has loved me. God loved me even when I was unlovable. God loved me even when I often did not feel like talking to him when he longs for me to do so.

After returning from the workshop, I was all excited to share with hubby what I learned and he cut me off saying: “Not now.” I said “Oh I’m sorry. I am always bad with timing.” I was hurt. I ran off to take a shower. I wanted to go out to a parlour and have a pedicure. I curbed this urge (oft time habit) to go out of the house to steam. Instead I went to have a veggie/fruit dinner. Now as I write this piece, I still don’t feel like loving. Lord, this is a hard lesson to learn. What is there to forgive in love when he’s not even aware of any offence taken.  Well, now I learn a lesson, because I’m not obeying to love, my joy is not complete.

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Jesus said to remain in His love, to love one another. When I obey him to love and not to sulk, when I listen to His command to stay in His love, his joy comes into my heart and my joy becomes complete. To be complete is lack nothing. To be complete is to be mature in love – not lacking in patience, not missing the joy and the peace that comes from loving.

And guess what, hubby asked me just before I wrote the previous paragraph, if I want to eat somewhere later and where do I prefer to go. Guess what – we’re going on a date coz I said “Wherever you prefer…” That’s how I overcome my selfish desire to have my way; that’s how I practice patient forgiveness – not to dwell on the offence but to move on and claim my fullness of joy – as I abide in Jesus and let His love and joy remain in me.

Thank you Lord for your abiding joy… my cup of joy runneth over!

Which comes first?

Happy new year… Happy and new.. which comes first to have something new and be happy or to be happy and experience freshness in all things?

Thanksgiving and joy… which comes first… to rejoice because there is something to be thankful for or to be thankful because you choose joy?

A joyful heart is a thankful heart as is thankful heart a jubilant one. To be thankful when things are going well is easy. To be joyful when life is hard is not. To be thankful is a choice. To be joyful is also a choice.

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It’s another new day on my side of the world. My new day thought and prayer: Lord, thank you for loving me. Please enable me to rejoice in you always… to always be joyful and be thankful because all of life is by your grace and mercy.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:10

How to be happy when it hurts

It is a reality that human relationships are not perfect. Just as a good relationship makes 2 people happy, a bad relationship can make them unhappy. So what to do when people make me sad or angry?

Attitude:
I cannot control how people treat me nor do I have control to what they say or do. But I can determine my response to the things they say or do. It is not about being manhid or deadma (Filipino lingo about ignoring or uncaring).

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Acknowledge:
It is alright to feel hurt or irritated or even outraged. It is natural human instinct.

Accept and move on:
After acknowledging your feelings of hurt, anger, disappointment, frustration etc. move on – do not dwell on the events or things that made you feel bad.

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I recall Rev. Wesley Shao’s sermon about 3 don’ts

a) Do not curse.
b) Do not rehearse. It does not help to keep repeating the offence to yourself or to anyone.
c) Do not nurse. Nursing the wrong done to you does not make the wound heal faster. It makes the wound more painful. Either how wrong he/she was – makes u all the more angry or how wronged I was – makes u all the more kawawa.

I learned that the more I dwell on the unpleasant stuff, the more I nag about them, the more I nurse (feed on them), the sadder, the angrier, the more disappointed, the more frustrated I am.

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So what then? I move on by forgiving. Let go.
I let go of my right to explain, to admonish, to point out how wrong the offender was. Perhaps, I can do so at another time? 😀 when the offence seemed less offensive. Is it not how perspective changes – that some events are not as bad as we thought them to be? Many arguments that I had with hubby seemed so petty when I looked back on them. It’s not worth the anger, grief and angst between us.

I focus my thoughts on the pleasant – find something good to think about – what good the person previously did for me; or what positive things came out of the event, perhaps there is an important lesson for me to learn from this.

Most of all, time heals. God does make everything beautiful in His time.

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What I do when hubby and I fight…

Sulky queen? Grumpy queen? Fragile cry-baby? That’s how my fleshy human nature wanna do at times when hubby and I had our arguments. I often had to ‘storm’ out of the house to drive around to vent my anger, frustration, grief etc. I wanted to go pour it on someone – to vent it on a ‘sounding board.’

The last time I had such an episode, I was tempted to check myself in a hotel and not go home that night. I also searched my mind who to go to – to cry and gripe about the incident. Sadly, I could not think of anyone I wanted to tell it too. Not even to my one and only sister. I did not want to bother her, she might be having her bible study at home.

And so I drove and drove, not knowing where to go, I parked the car and went into a restaurant to sit in the corner by myself. So alone even in a crowd of people. I ordered food and remembered a “couple” friends thousand of miles away. This couple is our pastor friends – hubby and mine. I sent them a what’s app message to tell them to pray for me. I told them how sad I felt. I narrated not the details of our conversation but the context of my hurt and why I was sad. The lady friend responded to me in understanding with kind words of encouragement. Most of all she prayed. She told me they both prayed for me right at that moment when I needed their prayers. And through the tears and the pouring of sadness and outpouring of prayers, the Holy Spirit worked in such wonderful ways that I felt peace beyond understanding… I felt better. I ate my food, paid the bill and went out and walked some more. Then I went home.

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Another time, a similar incident happened, again I got in my car feeling the same thing… wanted to not go home… thought of going to someone to gripe… same thing.. could not bring myself to go to anyone.. what did I do? I went to watch a chick-flick movie. After watching, I felt better coz I laughed and cried in the movie. I even learned something from the movie. “Even though our love is not perfect, it is real.” See, there is something to learn even in a romantic comedy-drama, chick-flick! And I applied it to our love story – mine and hubby’s…

What’s the point of these stories of mine – of conflicts and arguments, of being sulky-drama-crying queen?

First, this is my way of coping with the trials of marital journey. It is a reality of life. No marriage is pure bliss and no conflict. It is also human nature and woman instinct to want to get out of it asap, to make tampo (sulk), to make sumbong (gripe/complain), and to cry. It’s either to be angry and sulk/complain how wrong he was or to be sad and cry indulging in self-pity how wronged I was.

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Second, it is good to go out or get out of the situation to clear my head. It is good to watch a movie whether to cry or to laugh – that is how it often works for me. It is my self-therapy. It is also good to sound it out to a friend who prays for me. Prayer works. It amazes me always how God sends his angels to my rescue at times when I felt like crying or even while I was crying. Either He sent them to me or He let me find them.

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Third, for all the friends that I found, I am thankful that none added fuel to the fire. None of them sided with me to comfort me to make me more right and hubby more wrong. Yes, they acknowledged my sadness, they encouraged me and comforted me with prayers. Prayers work!

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Bottom line… I know God works out ALL things (good and bad) for my good… so that I learn how to be more Christ-like – humble and patient…. I’m so far from perfecting it – being the submissive wife.. it is not easy. But one thing I know, God called me for his purpose – his purpose to sanctify me and show people how good He is – to glorify Him.

So dear friend, especially my lady friend, next time you and your hubby have a fight, let’s go watch a movie together… my treat.. and you can treat me to ice cream..

Have a blessed Tuesday to all.😍😎