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).

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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!

 

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.

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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.

Enough is enough.

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Three Chinese proverbs sum up the teachings of Paul to Timothy. First, 知足常楽 is the way to a happy life. 知 is know, 足 is contentment, 常is often, and 楽 is joy. Second, 比上不足比下有餘。Compare with the richer and be found wanting. Compare with the poorer and discover there’s more than enough. Third, 知足常足,終身不辱。 Contentment brings satisfaction and spares one from disgrace. See 1 Timothy 6:9-10

Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

What stands out in all 3 proverbs is 足. This Chinese word has two meanings. One is foot and the other is enough. The foot meaning is independent of the enough meaning. They are not related to each other. They just happen to be in the same form – having the same character to represent them. https://chinese.stackexchange.com/questions/3852/足-why-is-foot-also-enough?answertab=oldest#tab-top.

足 in these proverbs means enough, satisfied. When is enough, enough? The answer lies in contentment. Paul wisely taught that godliness with contentment is great gain. To be godly and to be content is an asset. It defines one’s perspective in life. You never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough ~ William Blake. Lao Tzu said He who is contented is rich.

Paul explains why godliness and contentment is great gain.
1) V. 7 tells us it is because we came into the world with nothing but our birthday suit. When we die, we take nothing with us as well. What is the physical life but only food and clothing? v. 8
2) vv.9-10 teach us that greed (the opposite of contentment) leads to many woes. Indeed the thirst for wealth leads many to destruction and griefs.

Alfred Nobel wisely observed that contentment is the real wealth. Godliness with contentment is being content and grateful for all that God gives me. “Contentment is not the fulfilment of what we want but appreciation of what we have.” ~ unknown.

Through 55 years of my life, I learned lessons of contentment and gratitude. The green-eyed monster takes away joy. Theodore Roosevelt said Comparison is the thief of joy. It is wise to rejoice with those who rejoice. To be happy for other people is a level-up in the lesson of being happy. Even a higher calling to be happy for your enemy.

To be grateful for what I have and not focus on what I do not have is key to joyful living. Being contented with what I have does not mean being complacent and stop being better or achieving more. It just means that I need to have the godly perspective: to know what is enough – not too much and not too little. Not too much is about being not greedy. Not too little is about being not lazy.

When is enough, enough? God gives wisdom through the Holy Spirit. He teaches me and shows the way to true godliness and contentment. Neither greedy nor lazy.

 

 

Of Lion’s Head and a Mouse’s Tail

 

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In the Bible, there were two kings who had opposite beginnings and endings.

Hezekiah was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. His mother’s name was Abijah daughter of Zechariah. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done. (2 Chron 29:1-2)

In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. He prayed to the Lord, who answered him and gave him a miraculous sign. But Hezekiah’s heart was proud and he did not respond to the kindness shown him; therefore the Lord’s wrath was on him and on Judah and Jerusalem. Then Hezekiah repented of the pride of his heart, as did the people of Jerusalem; therefore the Lord’s wrath did not come on them during the days of Hezekiah. (2 Chron. 32:24-26)

Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-five years. 2 He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. (2 Chron. 33:1-2)

In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors. And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God.  (vv.12-13)

In the stories of good kings and bad kings in the OT – 1 Kings; 2 Kings; 1 Chronicles; 2 Chronicles, each account started with the same phrases -his age when he became king, length of reign, whether the king did what was right or evil ‘in the eyes of the Lord’.

So with Hezekiah and Manasseh:

Hezekiah started at 25 and reigned 29 years. Manasseh started at 12 and reigned 55 years. Hezekiah did right and Manasseh did evil.

There are 4 long chapters written of the many accomplishments of Hezekiah in his 29 years of reign. There are only 20 short verses summarising Manasseh’s 55 years as king.

How did they end? They both died of course.  Yet one great difference is that the good king turned proud (32:25) and the bad king humbled himself. (33:12)

In both, God had a response. When Hezekiah had pride in his heart and did not acknowledge the kindness God shown him, God’s wrath was on him. When Manasseh humbled himself, God was ‘moved’ by his entreaty. He listened to M’s plea. When Hezekiah repented of his pride, God’s wrath did not come on them during his days. (Question: does it mean it came in the days after his reign? Implication: our pride has consequences.)

Lessons to learn:

When all is well and we have so many accomplishments under our belt – even those of purifying the temple (ch.29), leading the people in worship in the Passover (ch.30), raising funds (ch.31), winning battles (ch.32), beware of pride. What a good capable person I am! I did it all – I am a good king, I did great things for my people and for God. So with us Christians, even the things that seemingly to be of the Lord, for the Lord, to the Lord – these doing and giving and being, successful things can become our idols – which makes us proud and forgetful. We forget that all good things come from the Lord – even the heart for doing right and being right in the eyes of the Lord. All by grace and mercy of God..

When all is not well, when we did badly, when we are hopelessly in the deep dark pit of evil and sin, there is hope. God listens to the humble heart – to the entreaty and plea of even the most evil king – reigning badly for 55 years. God is moved (33:13a). He brings us back to him – He restores us to knowing that the Lord is God. v.13b

Beware of pride and prejudice. Repent and be restored. Let me not forget.

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Nothing comes from nothing… Nothing ever could

Nothing comes from nothing… nothing ever could.

The first phrase came from a line in Shakespeare’s play King Lear. The whole sentence is part of the song Something Good from The Sound of Music.

Nothing is for nothing… nothing ever would. This sentence is my paraphrase for an important lesson I learn as a Sunday School teacher in toddler/nursery classes. Perhaps some of you teaching young kids could relate to this.

Have you tried telling a story to a toddler? It is sometimes like 对牛弹琴playing the lyre to the cow or talking to the walls. It often seemed to me that nobody is listening or if they were, would they even remember much less understand what I am talking about. Well, surprise, surprise! It gives me great encouragement each time a parent shared how her child sings the song we sang, or repeats what he/she hears in class.

Indeed nothing comes from nothing and nothing is for nothing. We just celebrated Jesus’ Resurrection. His death is not for nothing. All our works and testimonies for him are not for nothing. Whatever little tiny weeny thing we do for the Lord is not for nothing. So do not feel discouraged when it seems that no one notices, when no one appreciates, when it seems that you are playing the flute for the elephant, because God sees and God knows. And someday, the fruit of our labor will be richly rewarded in heaven.

1 Cor 15:58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

The secret to a long happy prosperity …

Do you know that the Chinese have their sought-after ‘trinity’? It’s the trinity of 福禄寿(Blessings, Prosperity and Longevity). Here is the recipe to all three. Read on and find out the ingredients and process to have a taste of the long, blessed and prosperous life.

Proverbs 3
Wisdom Bestows Well-Being
1 My son, do not forget my teaching,
but keep my commands in your heart,
2 for they will prolong your life (longevity) many years
and bring you peace and prosperity. (blessings and prosperity)

3 Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
4 Then you will win favor and a good name
in the sight of God and man.

The two key ingredients are love and faithfulness. (v.3) The result and promise to living a life of love and faithfulness is favor and a good name. (v.4)
To be favorable with God and man: this was how Samuel and Jesus were described when they were growing up. Favor means approval, support, popularity. Is it not a great blessing to have the thumbs up of God and man? It is not easy because often, you can get only one or the other. The secret to finding favor with God and man is love and faith. Live the 2 great commandments – love God and love man faithfully.

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

These two verses are favorites of many Christians.
Ingredients: There are two positive verbs and one negative. There are also adverbs that describe the verbs.
Positive: Trust (in the Lord with ALL your heart); Submit (in ALL your ways.)
Negative: Lean not (on your own understanding)
Promise: The Lord will make your paths straight.
The next verse explains further how to trust and submit.

7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
8 This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.
Ingredients:
Do not be “queh (false or fake) gao (goodness or wisdom).” The literal Fookienese translation is false goodness or fake wisdom. Synonyms are self-sufficient, proud, conceited, trusting in your own self. It means to be humble. How?

Fear the Lord. It is depending on the Lord. To fear is to honor and obey. It means to desire to please God by avoiding what is bad and staying away from doing evil.
Promise: Health to the body and nourishment to the bones. It means well-being inside and out. Is this not the path to longevity?

9 Honor the Lord with your wealth,
with the firstfruits of all your crops;
10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
and your vats will brim over with new wine.

Prosperity! Overflowing and brimming over – just the adjectives many like for their bank accounts. Method? Honor God with our wealth. How? Give the ‘first fruits’ of our labor. First means priority – give to the Lord first – prioritize giving to please Him, to obey Him, to honor Him. It does not mean that we only give ‘at’ church. It means we use our material wealth wisely. How we manage the wealth given us is a matter of stewardship. It is to know that everything comes from God. It is acknowledging that without His grace and mercy, we cannot make money on our own. When we have the right mindset, then we can give generously. Indeed, I have experienced that we can never ‘out-give’ the Lord.

Applications:
A blessed life is about living wisely. How do we live wisely? Think wisely. How? Seek wisdom. Where? In God’s Word. What did He say? Love and faith – wear these two around our neck. Trust and obey – walk these two with our heart and our feet. Pride and evil – stay away from these two. Work and give. Input-output; manage our wealth wisely.