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.

 

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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.

 

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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A Defiant Faith – Fearlessly Firm

What do you do when the authority tells you to do what is against your faith? Pray that the rule will be changed? Pray that the authority will be kind to forgive? Pray that God intervene and protect?

In the Old Testament, the 3 friends of Daniel: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to the golden statue King Nebuchadnezzar set up and faced the consequences of being thrown into the furnace of fire. (Dan. 3:8-12) Their action made the king ‘furiously’ angry (v.13). When the king had them brought in for questioning, their verbal response made the king even more furious that his face became distorted! Imagine the rage that made him heat up the furnace 7x more – that even those guards that threw the 3 got killed! (v.19,22)

What exactly did they tell the king? What made him so ragingly furious?
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. 17 If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”

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Hey, Nebu, we don’t need to explain our faith to you. If our God whom we are loyal to, can save us from you, let him do so. But even if he does not, we will not serve your gods and worship your golden statue.

Fearless loyalty that needs no explanation… these 3 men follow through with actions, they were fearless in their faith. Actions that speak loudly it made the king very angry. It is faith that needs no defense, faith that is unmovable whatever the consequence, faith that is loyal to the end.

When our faith is challenged, are we just as sure, just as firm and just as fearless and loyal to the end? Yes, we believe and perhaps we want or need to defend our faith, perhaps our defense will change the course of our fate? Or perhaps we believe God will change it for us? But what if he does not?

‘But if not, be it known to you, o king, we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the statue you set up.’

Time to think… a faith that needs no defense, a faith that is fearless and loyal to the end – no matter how God respond and no matter the consequence!

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And God is still God!

From Bitter life… to Better than Best

Lamentations – a book written by Jeremiah, the weeping prophet in the darkest times of his land when he was down in the deep depressing state of his soul. In chapters 1 & 2, Jeremiah described the desolation of the land and people he loved. He spoke of God’s fierce anger (1:12) as He inflicted on him sorrow upon sorrow. Affliction, God’s wrath, darkness, God’s hand upon him… Jeremiah acknowledged that God caused all his sufferings (3:1-16). God filled him with bitterness (v.5,15,19). Wormwood (v.15,19) is the Artemisia absinthium of botanists. It is noted for its intense bitterness ( Deuteronomy 29:18 ; Proverbs 5:4 ; Jeremiah 9:15 ; Amos 5:7 ). It is a type of bitterness, affliction, remorse, punitive suffering.

Lamentations 3

 1 I am one who has seen affliction

    under the rod of God’s wrath;

2 he has driven and brought me

    into darkness without any light;

3 against me alone he turns his hand,

    again and again, all day long.

4 He has made my flesh and my skin waste away,

    and broken my bones;

5 he has besieged and enveloped me

    with bitterness and tribulation;

6 he has made me sit in darkness

    like the dead of long ago.

7 He has walled me about so that I cannot escape;

    he has put heavy chains on me;

8 though I call and cry for help,

    he shuts out my prayer;

9 he has blocked my ways with hewn stones,

    he has made my paths crooked.

10 He is a bear lying in wait for me,

    a lion in hiding;

11 he led me off my way and tore me to pieces;

    he has made me desolate;

12 he bent his bow and set me

    as a mark for his arrow.

13 He shot into my vitals

    the arrows of his quiver;

14 I have become the laughingstock of all my people,

    the object of their taunt-songs all day long.

15 He has filled me with bitterness,

    he has sated me with wormwood.

16 He has made my teeth grind on gravel,

    and made me cower in ashes;

(vv. 1-16 God is the one responsible for all the troubles, sorrows and bitterness in his life. Vv. 17-20, Jeremiah describes how he feels – the deepest pit of sorrow where peace and joy are missing.. the hopeless state of mind…)

17 my soul is bereft of peace;

    I have forgotten what happiness is;

18 so I say, “Gone is my glory,

    and all that I had hoped for from the Lord.”

19 The thought of my affliction and my homelessness

    is wormwood and gall!

20 My soul continually thinks of it

    and is bowed down within me.

V.21 is the turning point, BUT… in spite of the sad state of his soul, he chooses to remember… his memories bring forth hope.

21 But this I call to mind,

    and therefore I have hope:

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24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,

    “therefore I will hope in him.”

In the midst of suffering, we need to remember one unchangeable truth – the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. God’s love is steadfast – firm and tight – holding on to us and never letting go. His love and mercies do not stop even in the midst of troubles. His love and mercies are continually renewing – unchangeably transforming and refreshing us each morning… just according to our changing needs. God’s great faithfulness gives us hope. His promises stand – what he says, he always fulfills.

\27 It is good for one to bear

    the yoke in youth,

28 to sit alone in silence

    when the Lord has imposed it,

29 to put one’s mouth to the dust

    (there may yet be hope),

30 to give one’s cheek to the smiter,

    and be filled with insults.

Out of all the bad that is happening, good is mentioned 3x (vv.25-27).

First, the Lord is good. We need to remember that the person who causes all our troubles is the same Lord who is good. He is good to those who wait for him. To wait on the Lord is to actively seek the Lord with our soul – the deep yearning of the heart. The longing that David speaks of as the deer panteth for the waters so my soul longeth after thee. You alone are my heart’s desire.

Second, it is good to wait. How are we to wait? We are to wait quietly. To wait quietly is to yield all that is within us to him… to stop struggling, to let go. What are we waiting for? For the salvation of the Lord. To wait is to be still and let God do the saving. It is an actively quiet wait – waiting with hope and in hope. Hope is not a passive verb – it is an active one because it is expecting of something good – something new, a definite action to follow – the salvation of the Lord.

Third, it is good to bear the yoke. This is the active good based on the first two good. To bear the yoke in youth, to sit alone in silence ‘when the Lord imposed it.’ God is responsible for it. To bear and to sit are synonymous to waiting. To put one’s mouth to dust – how does one talk when there is dust in the mouth? Cannot.. so then it is to be quiet… to give one’s cheek to the smiter – to turn the other cheek and take it all in. There is power in bearing, sitting, being silent, turning the other cheek. It is power in actively waiting on the Lord to do something. Because…

31 For the Lord will not

    reject forever.

32 Although he causes grief, he will have compassion

    according to the abundance of his steadfast love;

33 for he does not willingly afflict

    or grieve anyone.

FOR the Lord does not turn his face away forever. There is an end to his punishment. Because of his abundant compassion and steadfast love – that is forever, his anger is not forever. He does not delight in afflicting or causing grief to anyone.

34 When all the prisoners of the land

    are crushed under foot,

35 when human rights are perverted

    in the presence of the Most High,

36 when one’s case is subverted

does the Lord not see it?

Bottom line: Even when times are dark and we seem like prisoners oppressed and crushed under the enemies, even when human dignity and rights are deprived – the Most High is present. Does the Lord not see it all? And the answer is a resounding ‘YES!’

My many faces

The many faces of me…
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Please excuse my self-musings.. 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 molding and transforming me into the person that God wants me to be.

As I look back, what a long way I’ve come from the child who would go hide in the bedroom whenever visitors came to our home – having my mom explained: 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 ‘snob’ image of an awkward adolescent, feeling sad and bad and even jealous of her more popular friends. Ironically, 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’, 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 me. 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 molded to be 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 or I slip and fall. But always God puts me back on my feet. It was painful but time heals and God’s grace is sufficient always.

When life is hard…

No pain, no gain… No rain, no growth..

This journal was written August 22, 2016. I want to remember how it was when I was lame and could not walk, when my father was gravely ill and dying, when life was difficult but God so gracious n mercifully faithful ..

Some thoughts kept recurring in my mind for the past few months. So many things have happened: my mom passed, I fell, my dad became ill.. still is…so much pain, so much grief, so many tests.. As I look back, as I am still in the middle of it.. what’s the point of it all?

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A song comes to mind: Little flowers never worry, when the rain begins to fall… If it never never rains, then they’ll never never grow.

2nd song: Trust His heart
God is too wise to be mistaken. God is too good to be unkind. When you don’t understand, when you can’t trace His hands, trust His heart. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWk8DRwDYDc

Sufferings and challenges of life either draw people to God or turn them away from God. We, as children of God are not exempted from harsh realities of life: sickness, heartaches, evils of this world, and finally, death. What makes Christians different from the rest of the world is how they respond to sufferings and trials in life.

We are made aware of our dependence on God. We realise we are helpless needy souls who rely on God’s grace and mercy day by day, moment by moment. We seek comfort that we are not on this journey alone.

Through these past months, I experience steadfast love and mercies of God, they are new every morning. I am reminded that God’s ways are higher than my ways, His thoughts not mine. I learn that God does make a way when there seems to be no way. I confess that I’m such a fool to be anxious about petty things that God had to turn my focus from them to Him. I worry about domestic helpers. My cook got sick and went home. God provided a new one even before the old one left. I worry about food to put on the table. God taught me: Give us this ‘day’ our daily bread. I review and learn new dishes with the new helper one day at a time (on youtube). My sister and I pray for God’s mercy on my father. Many times I plead: Lord, take papa home to eternal rest or to his earthly home. After almost a month now, my father is still in the hospital. Marian and I wept on the phone. I cried alone, wept with friends.

What got us through.. what holds us together? Prayers… sufferings/trials get us on our knees. I know our family has many prayer warriors accompanying us in our difficult times. I learned and am learning how to pray like Jesus: Lord, have mercy.. Thy will be done. These two seem paradoxical… Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane sought God’s will even as He prayed for God to take the cup of suffering away from him. In prayer, God’s children get to experience together the amazing grace and mercy of God. Even as I pray with my friends in their need, I get to witness how God listens and answers to the calls of those who love him and are called for His purpose: to bring glory and honour to God – so that the world will know what an amazing God we have.