Reminiscing in time

On April 25, 2015, I wrote:

This morning, I was happy that after his nap and early lunch, my papa was alert and awake enough to talk with me. Really treasured memories of the chat:
Pa: 薇,我会替妳祷告。祷告有力量。(Bee, I will pray for you. Prayer is power.)
Pa: 薇,toh sia di lai khuah goa. (Bee, thank you for visiting me.)
whoa, i feel like crying..
Me: Pa, don’t thank me, it’s just right that I visit you.


Lessons for me:
1) Take every opportunity to make memories with ageing parents.
2) Time to talk and time to just be with them; even with so few words and not very long periods of time, so precious the moments.
3) When I get old, i need to remember to be appreciative of what my children do for me – even little moments of presence and attention mean a lot.
I have to stop now.. coz i’m being drama queen again.. sniffle sniffle..

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Today, papa is in another place where I cannot ‘yet’ be. I can no longer listen to him speaking words of love to me. But I can remember and treasure the words he spoke to me. I can still visualise how he was on his bed – curled up on his side with his hand inside his shirt. I can imagine his voice speaking to me – calling my name ‘薇‘ and asking ‘Kui tiam?’ What time is it?

Time – such a precious gift… time to be together, time to love, time to speak in love, time to experience love.

A Chinese proverb: 一寸光阴,一寸金,寸金难買寸光阴。An inch of time, an inch of gold. An inch of gold cannot buy an inch of time.

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The eternal God – the Alpha and the Omega (the beginning and the end), the timeless God created time when he breathed into man the gift of life. He gifted man with time to live and to love… a time to be born and a time to die…

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Restoration of the broken

Jeremiah was a prophet God sent to bring judgment on the southern kingdom of Judah for their sins: disobedience to God’s commands, idolatry, injustice and unrighteousness towards the poor and the needy of the land. They were to be exiled to Babylon as punishment for their sins. Yet God spoke words of comfort to them. He promised in Jeremiah 30 that he would eventually restore them and bring them back to their land.

Jeremiah 30

18 “Thus says the Lord,
‘Behold, I will restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob
And have compassion on his dwelling places;
And the city will be rebuilt on its ruin,
And the palace will stand on its rightful place.
19 ‘From them will proceed thanksgiving
And the voice of those who celebrate;
And I will multiply them and they will not be diminished;
I will also honor them and they will not be insignificant.
20 ‘Their children also will be as formerly,
And their congregation shall be established before Me;
And I will punish all their oppressors.
21 ‘Their leader shall be one of them,
And their ruler shall come forth from their midst;
And I will bring him near and he shall approach Me;
For who would dare to risk his life to approach Me?’ declares the Lord.
22 ‘You shall be My people,
And I will be your God.’”

The essence of restoration and healing for these sinful people is to be called God’s people. and for God to declare that He will be their God. It is about restoration of a broken relationship.  The basis of this restoration is God’s compassion (30:18a). How is this restoration going to be? More than just the physical rebuilding of the city and the palace (v. 18b), it is a restoration of the heart – from mourning to rejoicing (30:19a, 31:4); restoration of significance because God honours them (v.19b). From the least to the great (children, congregation and the leader), they will all come before God to be in his presence (v.20-21). God will punish their enemies (20b). This is the restored status of being God’s people: for God to acknowledge them as His people and for God to proclaim himself as their God.

Jeremiah 31

1 “At that time,” declares the Lord, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people.”

Again, this relationship of God and his people is emphasised and further described.

2 Thus says the Lord,
“The people who survived the sword
Found grace in the wilderness—
Israel, when it went to find its rest.”
3 The Lord appeared to him from afar, saying,
“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.

God is love. Although he punishes people for their disobedience, his love is an everlasting love. This love is permanent and for always. The eternal love of God compels him to be kind – to forgive and restore and draw people back to him. (31:3).

Jeremiah 31-3 I Have Loved You With An Everlasting Love black

4 “Again I will build you and you will be rebuilt,
O virgin of Israel!
Again you will take up your tambourines,
5 “Again you will plant vineyards On the hills of Samaria; The planters will plant
And will enjoy them.
6 “For there will be a day when watchmen
On the hills of Ephraim call out,
‘Arise, and let us go up to Zion,
To the Lord our God.’”

27 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man and with the seed of beast. 28 As I have watched over them to pluck up, to break down, to overthrow, to destroy and to bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the Lord.

God’s promise of restoration is in the metaphor of planting and sowing. In the place of destruction and desolation, God said he will sow with seed of man and beast (v.27). More than act of sowing, God ‘watches’ over them to build and to plant. He watches over them in good times and bad – whether to pluck up, break down, overthrow, destroy and bring disaster (v. 28).

31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. 33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

The old covenant was written on tablets of stones -on Mount Sinai where God called them to obey his commandments and promised them blessing for obedience and curses for disobedience. The people broke the old covenant with their rebellion and idolatry. The new covenant is written on their heart. God said: I will put my law within them and on their heart, I will write it  (v. 33). Again it is repeated – I will be their God and they shall be my people.

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At the heart of the new covenant, is the covenant of the heart – a renewed and restored relationship of God and His people.

What kind of covenant is this new one?

  1. This new covenant has no need to be taught. It will not be through words of man. God’s people will not teach each other God’s law. There is no need for them to tell each other what God wants to do.
  2. Why? Because they will ‘know’ God – from the least to the greatest – from the children to the leader, from the least learned to the wisest scholar, they will all know God.
  3. How? Because God will forgive their iniquity and their sin he will remember no more.

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Sin is the barrier which keeps the people from knowing God. When God forgives, he gives a new heart – a heart where his law is written. This new heart enables us to know God. God himself sets up the new covenant for people to know him. He loves us with an everlasting love and he draws us near with lovingkindness. He calls for us to be his people and he promised to be our God.

Although God punishes sinners, God relents and forgives us when we turn to him. He himself restores and heals. He gives a new heart for us to know him. Turn to him and receive this new covenant of everlasting lovingkindness. Listen to his call, my friend.

Prosperity plans: before and after…

 

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Many Christians like to quote and claim the promises of Jeremiah 29:11-13. These verses bring assurance of prosperity and a bright future. They are words of hope and security. God said: Come tell me and I will answer. Come find me and I will be found. It greatly encourages us that if we pray with all our heart – believing that no harm is coming to us but only prosperity, it will be so.

But we need to know the context of these verses. To whom were they spoken? What were the circumstances of the people to which this message was given? Context is important in reading Bible verses because background knowledge helps us to apply correctly God’s words to our present day circumstances. We need the Holy Spirit to guide us to read attentively and reflect carefully what is the truth.

Jeremiah 29
4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:

(God is speaking to the exiles of Judah (the southern kingdom) whose capital was Jerusalem. These were the people brought into captivity by their enemy to Babylon. They were living in a foreign land under the rule of the Babylonian king.)

5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.

(To build houses, plant and eat from them imply staying a long time. This is not a temporary exile. They are told to marry and multiply – even from one generation to the next. To stay in a place beyond a generation means to take root in that place. Make it your home.)

7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

(Since they are to call it their home, they need to seek the peace and prosperity of the place – the foreign land where they are exiled. Since it is now your home, pray for its peace and you too will enjoy peace. Pray for its success and you too will be successful.)

8 Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.

(Do not be deceived by lies of the prophets who said there’s peace – staying in your own land.)

10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.

(God was very specific. He even told them of a time frame. 70 years. After 70 years, God will bring them back home. Indeed God’s promises came true. Read more about the 70 years of exile from https://www.gotquestions.org/Babylonian-captivity-exile.html)

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

(And God also spoke to those who remained in their homeland – those who did not go into exile.)

15 You may say, “The Lord has raised up prophets for us in Babylon,” 16 but this is what the Lord says about the king who sits on David’s throne and all the people who remain in this city, your fellow citizens who did not go with you into exile— 17 yes, this is what the Lord Almighty says: “I will send the sword, famine and plague against them and I will make them like figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten. 18 I will pursue them with the sword, famine and plague and will make them abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth, a curse and an object of horror, of scorn and reproach, among all the nations where I drive them. 19 For they have not listened to my words,” declares the Lord, “words that I sent to them again and again by my servants the prophets. And you exiles have not listened either,” declares the Lord.

Is it not ironical that people in exile were promised prosperity and security while those who stayed behind were doomed to die by the sword, famine and plague. The exiles would enjoy peace and prosperity in enemy territory while those who ran from their enemy would be object of horror/scorn and reproach among nations where they ran to.)

Bottom line: God’s ways are not man’s ways. God’s thoughts are neither man’s. Our idea of peace and prosperity is quite different from God’s. God’s plan – not to harm, to give hope and a good future is not dependent upon circumstances of our lives. God’s plan is about his character – he knows what he’s doing. God’s promise is not about what we will do – it is about what he will do. His desire is for us to draw near to him – to call on him and seek him with all our heart. To seek him with our heart is to obey his call no matter the circumstances of our lives – even in exile – away from our comfort zone, even when all around us seem far from peaceful. His promise is that he will be near to us, he assures us that he will answer to our call. Answers might not be according to what we imagine the best to be – because God’s best is far far beyond the reach of our best.

God says ‘I know the plans I have for you.’  God knows – he wants us to call on him to reveal those plans to us… plans to draw us near to him – to seek him and love him with all our heart.

The Powerfully Good and Loving Avenger

Many of us know who The Avengers are: a team of superheroes, appearing in comic books published by Marvel Comics, who inflict punishment on bad people to avenge the afflicted.

In the Bible, God is the first and last Avenger. He is the ultimate Avenger even when evil seemingly is in control in today’s world. Read from Nahum the prophecy concerning Nineveh – the great populous and capital city of the Assyrian empire. Today it is Mosul, Iraq.

Nahum is one of the minor prophets. When I was young, I rarely read from these books of the minor prophets – except for the story of Jonah because he was eaten by a big fish. Today, as I read Nahum, I am reminded of who God is and what kind of God he is.

God is slow to anger (v.3). He gives 2nd chances. Refer to Jonah’s story, when God sent him to Nineveh to tell the people to repent. When the city repented, God relented.

Nahum 1
1 A prophecy concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.

2 The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;
the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath.
The Lord takes vengeance on his foes
and vents his wrath against his enemies.

3 The Lord is slow to anger but great in power;
the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished.
His way is in the whirlwind and the storm,
and clouds are the dust of his feet.
4 He rebukes the sea and dries it up;
he makes all the rivers run dry.
Bashan and Carmel wither
and the blossoms of Lebanon fade.
5 The mountains quake before him
and the hills melt away.
The earth trembles at his presence,
the world and all who live in it.
6 Who can withstand his indignation?
Who can endure his fierce anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire;
the rocks are shattered before him.

7 The Lord is good,
a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him,

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8 but with an overwhelming flood
he will make an end of Nineveh;
he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness.

He is a jealous and avenging God – who will not leave the guilty unpunished. v. 2
He is slow to anger but great in power. v.3
He is master of all creation.  vv.3b-6
He is good – he is a refuge – a shelter when the storm rages. v.7a
He cares for those who trust in him. v.7b

Theodicy is the defence of God’s goodness and love and power in spite of existence of evil. It is about why a good, powerfully loving God permits evil. The passage above affirms God’s character. He is slow to anger (patient). He is powerful and able to do everything and anything because he created all things. He is good and hates evil. He will punish the wrong. He is loving because he cares for those in trouble. He is the ultimate Avenger. He Himself will defend the defenceless, help the helpless and speak for the voiceless.

Let us take comfort in this assurance that our God is powerful, patient, loving and good. He is able to carry me through – as the song tells us. He is able!

He’s able, He’s able,
I know He’s able,
I know my Lord is able
To carry me through.

He healed the broken-hearted
And set the captive free,
He made the lame to walk again
And caused the blind to see.

He’s able, He’s able,
I know He’s able,
I know my Lord is able
To carry me through.

What is prayer about…

16 years ago today, my mom visited me at the hospital after I gave birth to my youngest. She was not feeling well and told us that her urine was pinkish. Not many days after, while I was still having my geh-lai (within first month after childbirth), she had kidney failure. My sister and I cried on the phone when we realised that mom was seriously ill. She had dialysis for the next 6 months until her kidney transplant in Feb. 2003. Dialysis is a long hard road to travel. 3x a week she spent at least 5-6 hrs – travel time, prep time (which included repetitive piercings/needle insertions when veins collapsed), dialysis – blood pumped out, purified and pumped back into the body – a process of at least 4 hours, then tests, clean up and pack up. Doctors advised that transplant is the way for a better quality of life. Mama was hesitant about having a transplant. So she prayed. As she prayed, she read of Hezekiah’s story.

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2 Kings 20
1 In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”

2 Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, 3 “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

4 Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: 5 “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the Lord. 6 I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.’”

This morning as I read this story again, what struck me was ‘Before Isaiah had left the middle court,’ What does this mean?

In v. 1 Hezekiah was fatally sick – about to die. Bad news! Isaiah – God’s messenger told King Hezekiah to prepare to die.

v. 2 Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord. To face the wall perhaps to be alone with God? To face the wall to think about his life and impending death? To hide his tears? It doesn’t matter. What matters is he prayed. What do you do when you know you will die soon?

v. 3 Just one sentence only, 1 request – REMEMBER, Lord what I have done, remember that I followed you wholeheartedly and faithfully. This is an action word for the Lord – he prayed for God to do something. To remember. His prayer is for God’s mercy to remember. He called on God to remember that he did right. Yet he did not ask God to heal him. He just wept bitterly. Hezekiah knows that God knows.
How do you pray?

v. 4 So Isaiah went to deliver one short message and he must have left after or while Hezekiah prayed. Before Isaiah left the middle court, God sent him back to the king with an answer. God answered so very fast! It is not much as how soon the answer came but what the answer is about.

v. 5-6 God’s answer:
1) Who is Hezekiah? He’s the ruler of ‘my’ people.
2) Who is the Lord? He’s the God of your father David.
3) What did God say:
3.1. I have heard your prayer. 3.2. I have seen your tears.
3.3. I will heal you. How?
3.3.1. On the 3rd day you will go out of bed to my temple.
3.3.2. I will add 15 years to your life.
3.3.3. I will save you and your people from your enemy.
3.4. Why? v.6b for ‘my’ sake and for the sake of ‘my’ servant, David.

1) God’s answers to our prayers are about relationships – who we are to him and who he is to us.
2) God answers us according to what he sees and what he hears.
3) God answers in specifics – in promises of future things that he will do.
4) God answers for his own sake and for the sake of his children. God promised David that he will not fail to have an heir on the throne. God keeps his promises.

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My mom agreed to go through the transplant based on this assurance from God’s Word. God gave her another 13 years. It is not exactly according to the answer that Hezekiah got. God answers our prayers in different ways at different times according to his sovereign will but always for his own sake! For his glory and for the sake of his children.

This story is not about the ultimate answer to all fatal illness. It is not telling us that our stories will be exactly like Hezekiah’s story… we know this because not all prayers of Christians for healing get answered. This story is about the point of prayer. Prayer is relationship between God and the pray-er. It is about who God is to me and who I am to God. It is about God seeing and hearing what I want to say to him – all i have in me – my joy, my grief, my pain. Prayer is about God’s Words, promises and things he will do – for HIS sake – for his purpose and for the sake of his children.

Teach me Lord, how to pray for your sake. Amen.

On Hold…

Fermata

fermata

A fermata [ferˈmaːta] (also known as a hold, pause, colloquially a birdseye or cyclops eye, or as a grand pause when placed on a note or a rest) is a symbol of musical notation indicating that the note should be prolonged beyond its normal duration or note value would indicate.

Ringgggg.. “Hello, may I speak to Mr. X, please?” Operator: “May I put you on hold?” Music comes on for about 5 long minutes or worse, some ad tagline about the company keeps repeating. In life, things are more complicated. A young successful woman having a promising career got pregnant, has a baby, then everything is put on hold while she attends to the 24/7 role of being a mother. When does her career resume? Or will it even pick up where she left it?

In music, the fermata is much more than a rest. In a rest, there is a definite value where music stops for definite number of beats. In a fermata, how much longer it is held is up to the discretion of the performer or conductor. How much time to hold before the music continues is not fixed. When I go on vacation, I know the vacation ends in a week and work resumes after. How about when God puts me on hold for a ministry? Does the music stop? In a fermata, the note is sustained even when the next note is not to be played yet. There seems to be something going on in the music even while on hold.

This brings to mind, the story of the Israelites’ journey: 40 years in the wilderness led by God by a pillar of cloud during the day and pillar of fire at night. They set up camp or pack up depending on when the pillars settle or rise up. It was up to God how long He wanted to put the journey on hold. How did they know when to pack up again? They had to keep their eyes on the pillars. It is interesting that the sign of the fermata is like that of an eye, a reminder that the musician(s) whether choir or orchestra has to focus their attention on the conductor.

Where are you in your life now? Is there a fermata? Do you wish it would be a rest so you know when to move on? How are you holding? Are you struggling with the ‘longer than necessary’ stop? Are you sustaining the note? Sometimes God puts us on hold yet the music does not stop. We need to sustain the music before the fermata. The fermata is there to welcome a grander next phase of the music. Perhaps it might be a change of pace or a transition to another key? We just need to keep our ‘eyes’ on the Conductor. He knows the whole piece from the beginning to the end and every thing in between.

Prayer:

Lord, you are the Giver of life and Sustainer of all things. Your fermata is meant for our good so that music is made all the more majestic and the next beat, next note all the more glorious. Please shine Your light on me that my eyes will see your guiding hands, that I will be alert to the movement of your baton. I trust that You always make all music beautiful in Your perfect time. Amen

New hope… new strength

Words of comfort for the weary and the tired…

Isaiah 40

28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

How does it feel to be tired? The weary feeling is not only physical but often emotional and mental as well. It is a weariness that comes from doing the same thing again and again. It is the feeling of getting tired from old routines – repetitive stuffs – boring tasks lacking freshness. It might also be a case of anxiety and fear dragging the body down… a constant tension in the heart.

Being tired and weary is part and parcel of living in this broken world. Even the strong gets weak, even the young gets weary. Even super heroes have their weaknesses. Even Christians grow tired.

Only the Lord, the everlasting God (eternal – no beginning and no end), the Maker of all that exist, He is the only one who does not grow tired. We can never understand the depth of his understanding. He understands us – he knows when we are weary and weak. He gives us strength when we are tired. He increases our supply of power when we are weak.

How do we avail of his strength and power? Hope. What is hope? Hope is more than just optimism that someday soon things will be better. Nouwen writes ‘Hope frees us from the need to predict the future and allows us to live in the present, with the Deep Trust that God will never leave us alone but will fulfil the deepest desires of our heart.’ Hope is waiting with faith. Hope is expecting patiently and trusting fully.

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Those who hope IN the Lord… It is more than waiting ‘for’ the Lord. It is waiting ‘in’ the Lord. To wait in the Lord is to abide – to stay with God; be in his presence. This abiding presence gives us strength… the strength likened to the soaring of the eagle! What power! What strength! What joy! This hope, this joy, this abiding presence with the Lord enables us to run tirelessly; it allows us to walk and not be faint.

How are you holding, my friend? Are you tired and weary from the burdens of life? Are you fed up and about to give up or have you given up?

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.

Those who hope in the Lord renews their strength.
They will soar on wings and take flight like the eagle.

Be weary no longer. Hope in the Lord. Be with the Lord. Take time to linger in his presence. Take time to read the Bible and pray to him.

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