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).

Romans_8-28

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!

 

The Fad or the Odd?

 

To blend in or to stand out? Peer pressure is an issue not just for adolescents, adults have it too.

In the Bible, in 1 Samuel 8:5, the Israelites said to Samuel: “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

For years since their exodus from Egypt, the Israelites had always have God as the leader. God spoke to them through Moses. When Moses died, Joshua led them through the conquests until they fully possessed the Promised Land. After Joshua, God raised many judges to lead the Israelites. God used prophets to speak to the people and guide them on what to do. They had no king. God was their king. During the final years of Samuel, the people asked for a king.

 

They had valid reasons for the request. Samuel was already old. His sons were not like him – they were corrupt and not walking in the ways of the Lord.

But their more important reason was “such as all the other nations have.” When God told Samuel to warn them about the disadvantages of having a king (vv. 9-18), they refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” vv. 19-20

What lessons can we learn from the story?

Samuel was upset about the request. God encouraged Samuel that it is not him they were rejecting but God Himself. Let me remember that God’s work is God’s – let me not be discouraged when people or things seem to be against me… because it’s not about me, it’s all about God.

To be like all other nations… is that a good thing? Seems like it… All other nations had a king, why not us? All other people are doing this, why not me? In life, we often feel more comfortable and safer to be with the majority. Majority rules. But not so in God’s kingdom. Children of God are called to be ‘in’ the world and yet not ‘of’ the world. To be ‘in’ the world is to live in the realities of the world – not detached or out of touch, but be involved and aware of the things happening in the world. To be ‘not of’ the world is to stand different from the world – stand for what is right and good in God’s eyes. It takes courage to go against status quo and stand alone knowing that it is what pleases God.

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The more mature a Christian is, the more he will discern and be courageous to stand alone for what is right and good in God’s eyes. When I was young, I felt most at ease and comfortable when I was with my family, with my friends, going along with the majority. It is awkward to be alone. I was afraid to be different and have people ridicule me or criticise me. As I grow older, I seek to be different – to be more independent of people’s opinion and more dependent of God’s perspective. Not that I am perfect, I still crave for affirmation and approval of people, but God taught me lessons on this – to be courageous to be different and make a stand for the right. Many times people might not appreciate what I do. The important thing is am I doing what pleases God?

It’s not about me but all about God.

Getting up from the mud…

What do you do when things do not go the way you want them to? How do you react when people are rude and inconsiderate? How do you feel when your actions were misunderstood, criticised and taken negatively in spite of the good intentions you have?

What do you do in the face of all negativity that surrounds you? Do you complain about it? Talk to a friend? Do you retaliate in kind? Give the people who offended you a piece of your mind? Defend yourself? Do you passively ignore them? Do you pray to God to vindicate you? Do you even pray for God to avenge you? So after doing any one of these things, what next?

I have at one time or another experienced one of the scenarios above. At one time or another, I might have responded in similar ways to one of the above. What did I learn from all these negative, unpleasant situations that life brings? I learn resilience. Resilience is the ability to bounce back, to be elastic and stretchable. It is being adaptable and adaptive to circumstances that life brings to us. It is refusal to stay in the mud and mire. It is picking myself up from the mud, washing off the dirt and start walking again.

How do I do that? First, I stop complaining about it. Let me illustrate. When my driver/chauffeur of 10 years resigned suddenly without advanced notice, I was taken by surprise and mad. I was angry at his disrespectful behaviour. I was insulted he sent me a resignation letter delivered by his brother-in-law addressed “To whom it may concern.” I suspect it was written by his new employer. I complained about it to his brother-in-law (who is employed with me) and my friends. Then my husband told me: I guess he’s embarrassed to come personally to us to give his notice of resignation. I realise that putting myself in his shoes helped me to be less angry. It made me stop complaining. I learn to be happy for him – if he is in a better job, then good for him.

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I then turn to the positive aspects of the situation. One driver less is less expense for us. My daughter can drive herself to work, get parking reimbursement from her employer, and we save on gasoline. The driver does not need to take her to work and go back for her after work. She gets to manage her own time. There are 4 of us in the family who can drive. One driver can serve our needs. If necessary, I can drive for my children or my children can drive for me. We get to have more bonding moments in our rides. My driver gets to earn more. We increased his salary for his added load and to encourage him to do better.

What about when I quarrelled with my husband? It is always stressful to argue, to shout and vent our anger on each other. It is not pleasant to keep myself from defending my rights, and not get what I deserve. There is a need to have the last say. It is difficult to shut up and fume inside. It takes lots of energy and self-control to bite my tongue so the argument will stop. What do I do? I rationalise. I think how right I am. I get angry and say to myself – how wrong he was. Or I think how wronged I was. I cry. I sob. I indulge in self-pity. I learn both these responses do me no good. I dry my tears. I get up from the couch of self-pity and anger. I drove myself to watch a movie. It doesn’t matter what the movie is about – a drama, a comedy or a thriller – so long as I like it. One time I watched Phantom of the Opera. It was cathartic to continue crying in the movie – for something not my own sadness. Another time I watched King Arthur – the legend of the sword. The plot and action scenes in the movie made me forget my own angry tales. Then I bought myself my comfort food to bring home to eat. I ignored my husband the rest of the night. I went into the bathroom the next morning and hugged him to say I’m sorry. And he said ‘I’m sorry too.’ That’s the end of sad story… until the next one.

158411-Dolly-Parton-Quote-I-ll-be-wearing-my-high-heels-even-if-I-m-up-to.jpgReality of life is that there will always be difficult circumstances in our life – unavoidable or not, things within our control or not. Our mortal body (diseases, death) – with our sinful nature … in an evil world (war, prostitution, terrorism, oppression, etc.), in the natural world under the forces of nature – famine, typhoon, tsunami, earthquake, etc.; all these are often beyond our solutions to solve, beyond our abilities to handle to avoid or run away from. We have no choice but to face them as they come. But we do have a choice how we face them – how we respond to them with our attitude and perspective.

It is natural to feel sad when hurt, to feel angry when wronged, to feel anxious when sick. Grief is part of the emotions that God created in man – what are tears for? Today I still grieve for my parents. They died within 5 months of each other last year. How do I cope with grief. I think of our happy times. I look at old photos of us together. I remember my childhood days. I treasure the legacies they left behind. I honour their memory when I live out these legacies – the legacy to be diligent and responsible, the legacy to be prayerful, to be positive and encouraging, to be resilient when times are hard.

choose joy

Yes, it is easier said than done. Practice makes perfect. Everyday is a choice. If there’s a will, there’s a way. For Christians, we have the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our teacher, our counsellor and guide. He guides us and enables us to get up from the mire and to continue walking.

Thirsting for water

 

Psalm 42
For the director of music. A maskil of the Sons of Korah.

1 As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
3 My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”
4 These things I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
among the festive throng.

5 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

6 My soul is downcast within me;
therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.

8 By day the Lord directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life.

9 I say to God my Rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?”
10 My bones suffer mortal agony
as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”

11 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

Psalm 42 is a song of praise and a song of lament. I love this song. It is a love song. It speaks of the deep love the psalmist has for God. vv.1-2

It is also a lament. A lament is a psalm expressing deep sorrow and asking for God’s blessing or intervention. How sad it is to have tears for food day and night! How does it feel to be mocked – where is your God? Why are you crying? v.3

What to do when it seems that I am thirsting for water – and the solution to my thirst seems to be out reach? What helps me in my sadness? vv. 4-6 show us the secret to crying out our sorrows to God by praise. How to do that? I remember as I pour out my tears. Remember what? Remember the good times – the good old days when I used to sing with joy at the grace and mercy of God. v.4 Then I say to myself, why are you down and out? Be hopeful and praise. v.5
v. 6 puts it quite neatly together: I am sad but I will remember the good times.

vv. 7-12 is a passage of interplay between joy and sadness, praise and lament, remembering and hoping. It is being realistic and optimistic. It is remembering the past with gratitude, acknowledging the present with candour and looking with hope to the future.

Are you down and out, my friend? Read the Psalms and learn from the psalmist, to sing your way out of the gloom, to hope that things are going to get better because things were good in the past.