To Forgive and Not Forget

What do you do when people treat you badly? How do you respond when you are in a position to give them a dose of their own medicine? An eye for an eye? Do you bury the hurt deep in your heart and let it simmer till it explodes? Or perhaps try to forget not forgiving what was done to you? Or even try to forgive while trying harder to forget? Like mission impossible?

How about if the people who caused you pain are the people close to you? People you love? How painful, is it not?!

In Genesis 37, Joseph, a young lad of 17, was sold into slavery by his brothers because of jealousy. He became a slave in a foreign land – a long shot from being the favoured son of the family. After becoming the favoured employee, he was wrongly accused of adultery with his employer’s wife and imprisoned. For 13 years, from the pit to the prison to the palace, he suffered a lot – physical, mental and emotional pain, betrayed by his brothers, separated from his family to be among strangers in a foreign land, punished for wrongs he didn’t do.

When time came for him to confront his ‘enemies’ – the brothers who caused him so much suffering, what did he do? How did he treat them? What did he say?

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Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!  And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.  For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping.  But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt.

Joseph forgave his brothers because he saw the God behind all his sufferings – the God who saves, the One who sent him to save lives, the God who was with him throughout the journey. God in His providence, provided the way for Joseph to forgive without any regret or bitterness.

To forgive and not to forget – it is mission possible – only through the lens of the Godly perspective.

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The Green-eyed Monster

Jealousy personified. William Shakespeare coined ‘green-eyed monster’ in Othello and ‘green-eyed jealousy’ in the Merchant of Venice. Why did he use green to describe this emotion? “Green is a colour associated with sickness, possibly because people’s skin sometimes takes on a slightly yellow/green tinge when they are seriously ill. Green is also the colour of many unripe foods that cause stomach pains.” Origin of the Green-eyed monster .

Why are people jealous? Jealousy is often associated with insecure love. A husband or a wife is jealous when he/she sees his/her spouse getting close to another person. One who is confident and trust his/her spouse enough has no need for jealousy. When a husband/wife is securely loved, when he/she is faithfully committed to the marriage, there is no place for jealousy in the relationship.

Green with envy. Envy and jealousy might be synonymous but there is a difference. Envy is coveting or longing to have what others have that you do not. Jealousy is fear of what you have will be taken from you. At the root of jealousy is insecurity. At the heart of envy is discontentment. The grass is greener on the other side of the fence. An envious person compares himself to another. He thinks about his traits and his resources: all that he is and all that he has and finds them lacking. Napoleon observed: “Envy is a declaration of inferiority.”

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The hymn, Count your blessings by Johnson Oatman reminds us:

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings money cannot buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

Refrain:

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
*Count your many blessings, see what God has done.
[*And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.]

The antidote to envy is contentment. The way to contentment is gratitude. The means to gratitude is counting blessings – not comparing blessings. Happiness is found when we stop comparing ourselves with other people. There is much wisdom in the Chinese proverb: 比上不足,比下有移 (Compare with the more, there is not enough. Compare with the less, there is more than enough.) Life is a matter of perspective. We can choose to live joyfully in grateful contentment or we can choose to covet miserably in ungrateful greed.

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Another cause for envy is superiority.  He does not deserve it. She is not as good as people think she is. At the root of envy is the notion of self-righteousness. I am better than her. I deserve more. Envy could be hidden beneath the righteous anger for injustice – undeserved fortune. The antidote? How about being happy for the good fortune of another?

There is no room for envy in a heart of unselfish love. There is no room for jealousy in a heart of self-worth. Love your neighbour as yourself. A heart of love is the cure for envy and strife.

Let me end with an example. I have a younger sister who is an achiever. Since we were young, she is the more popular one. I used to be asked all the time: Are you Marian? The actress? She used to be involved a lot in plays – she played lead roles in Chancel Repertory – a Christian theatre group whose mission is to spread the gospel through the stage. She graduated valedictorian in both her English and Chinese class in high school. My dad used to tell people she was awarded “Diamond of La Salle” upon graduation from De La Salle University. He was proud of her first job in a big company associated with National Bookstore – the biggest bookstore in our country at that time.

Perhaps it is easier for me because I am a person of lesser ambition. I am basically an introvert. I do not seek much attention. On the other hand, I believe at the heart of it all, I was not jealous of my sister because I was secure in my father’s love. I am assured of my self-worth. My sister and I – we are different and unique. We each have our gifts and talents. I also love my sister. I am proud of her and her achievements. I do not covet for what she has because I am happy and content with what I have.

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, (1 Corinthians 13:4)

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But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. (1 Tim. 6:6-7)

Kill the green-eyed monster. Be secure in God’s love. Be content and grateful for who you are. God loves you because he created you. Count your blessings name them one by one.

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Aging with Grace

We often say ‘Life is short.’ when someone dies unexpectedly, especially when he/she is too young or not old enough to pass on.

On the other hand, for many elderlies, the days drag on, and time passes so slowly. 
A Chinese saying comes to mind: 求生不得,求死不能. I ask for life but I cannot have. I ask for death but it is not possible.

Such is our mortal body. A long life filled with physical infirmities is such a weary life. An old soul without a mate or friends to talk to is such a lonely life. A helpless and useless life without a sense of purpose is such a meaningless life. A person, young or old, without Christ is a lost soul without hope of experiencing peace and joy even in the best of circumstances.

I pray that when I get old, I will remember to rejoice in the Lord always. May the joy of the Lord be my strength. I hope to be a cheerful person so that I will be a friend to the lonely. Let me be a prayer warrior so that life is still purposeful and meaningful.

My mother is my example. Even when frail, she went about doing the tasks of a wife, mother and homemaker. She bonded with friends; and shared the good news of Jesus whenever possible. She prayed with friends over the phone. She prayed for her children, sons-in-law, and grandchildren. She also often prayed for my mother-in-law and my sister’s too.

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Please Lord, help me remember that even when I am old, you are my Hope, my Peace and my Joy. In You, I will be strong living life with a sense of purpose – to be light and salt to the people around me.

Written April 17, 2015

I wrote this piece less than a year after my father-in-law passed away. These thoughts came when I saw how my mom-in-law lived with dementia and how our family struggled with this challenge. It’s been 4 years since she was widowed. Today at 94, by God’s grace and mercy, she is weak but healthy. She has a good appetite. She is often sleepy. Although she’s not chatty, she still responds when talked to. We are thankful for these blessings.

I wonder though how I would feel and think should I get to live to her age. Not exactly something I look forward to. 😀 I hope Jesus returns soon.

 

 

Playing Mom

Dear parents… question… do you play with your children? And I mean adult children? Do you ‘chat’ with them? Do you know their secrets? Or better yet, do they tell you their secrets without you asking?

Do you want to know how I do it? I play with them. I let them beat me at scrabble… no tricks but because they are really better at it. That’s why I am very happy when I win. It is gives me pleasure to beat my kids at scrabble. And when they beat me, they know it is because they are good at it.

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I chat with them. One on one time whenever there is opportunity sometimes impromptu.. wherever we may be – eating, shopping, or just watching Netflix together. I tell them what I do with my friends. I share funny stories. I tell jokes about myself, I let them laugh at me even as I laughed at my ‘silly’ moments. I play cool when their dad made fun of me with them.
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Have I ever feel the itch to be nosy… curious to know about their personal life? Yes, I do. But I have to curb the urge and control myself – not to be nosy and intrusive. Have I ever worry about them staying single? What if they don’t have someone to take care of them in old age? Well, worry does not solve the issue. So I keep the concern in my heart. God knows my heart. He will take care of it.

In their own time, they come to me and tell me about it. When they do, listening is best. No judging please.. zip my mouth and open my ears. Not even when I think they did wrong or should have done better. And ‘I told you so’ does not help at all. No need to rub it in. If I add salt to the wound, there will be no next time. No more confession, no more secret revelation.

I remember when one of them came to me about having a ‘relationship’ in high school. I was surprised. I was not aware she had someone. I listened and told her gently but firmly, it is alright to have a special friend. You are still young. Many possibilities and opportunities still ahead – many years of study to do yet. I trusted her enough to let go so she can make her own mind and do what is right. Eventually, she learned that study is her priority and she gave up the relationship without any intervention on my part.
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God is good. He gives wisdom and guidance to our children when we teach them in the right way – the way of God. God takes care of them. Many times, many thoughts came into my mind and concerns crowd my heart, I cant help but wonder if there is anything I could do better or say more to help things along. Such is the dilemma of a mom – to strike a balance between being close and giving them space… between asking and listening… between being passive or active… But always in grace by grace through the grace of God.

So dear parents, you can do it… be a good parent that God calls you to be – to your natural or spiritual children… play with them, pray with them and pray for them. Give them time and a listening ear, an understanding heart… a heart of love.
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The Motivational Factor

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No initiative. That is one comment in my elementary report card that stuck with me. When I first saw it, I didn’t know what it meant. But the ‘no’ made it sound negative. And I learned that the teacher described aptly how I was then. In those days, I was simply a follower. I was shadow to my more influential dominant friend(s). Perhaps side-kick like Robin to Batman.. and I was contented with that. I was contented to be 2nd honour in class. 3rd in my graduating batch was high enough for me. A close counsellor friend once observed to me that I was an under-achiever. In my words, ‘no ambition’, easily contented or at worst, lazy!
 
As I grow older, laziness not an option.  I got a job. My first boss used to urge me: “Khah quey poh leh.” Hokkien literal meaning: Be more nosy.  He wanted me to mind more than my own business – check things out. I was the purchasing assistant. He expected me to do more than just my menial, trivial routine tasks. In other words, take the initiative to do more.
 
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When I got married, more external influence and change came through hubby. Sub-standard will not do. Everything has to be perfect and no excuses! After 31 years, this kitten became a tiger (me) trained by the lion king (him). 😂😜
 
Seriously, through the years, as I managed my household helpers, I have one observation. There are several levels of workers – in terms of motivation and performance. Lowest one is the group who do not do as they are told – they forget, they do it sloppily, they make excuses. They do not even bother to exert effort when the boss’ eyes are on them. The next level is those who do as they are told. Whether for show or not, only God knows or the other helpers squeal on them or perhaps the CCTV camera tells all. The top of the bunch are those who have the initiative to do more than what’s expected of them. Yung kusa na di na kelangan utusan. (Those who initiate without being told.) It’s even better if they could read my mind and do what pleases me most.
 
So with God and his children. There are pasaways (the rebels) who just like to do their own thing, be their own bosses. There are those who obey for the rewards. There are those who obey for fear of punishment and consequences. And the top of the bunch are those who do what is right because they want to make God happy.
 
At the heart of it all is a heart of love. What motivates us to do the things we do? Is it reward? It is fine to work for rewards. The Bible tells us that there are rewards and crowns for the good and faithful servants of God. Why do I do what’s right? Is it simply because it’s the right thing to do? Yes, it is. How do I know what’s right? The Holy Spirit is my guide. When my motivation is to love God, when i just want to please Him, when I am compelled because of his love for me – I do what he pleases him because it is the right thing to do.
 
When we were young, we avoid punishments. Our parents set boundaries for us and we are disciplined when we do wrong. As we get older, we know better what is not right. We do not need to get hit by the car to learn to be careful when crossing the street. But it’s not as simple as that. It is common sense to watch my step when I walk. But it took a big bad fall, painful surgery and long whole year of therapy for me to be really careful – look down, hold the handrail, walk slowly lest I fall again! This is another type of motivation. We do things so we do not end up badly.
 
So what is the better motivation? The positive or the negative? How about the top motivation? Love God with all our heart, soul and mind. Love our neighbour as ourselves.
 
Take the initiative. And do it now!
Today is another day to take the initiative, so help me God.
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Where is God when it hurts?

Question… If you were to wake one day and all that you have were taken from you in an instant: all your possessions, your wealth and even your children, how would you respond? If you were left with nothing but pain and suffering, physical, mental, emotional torture in your soul, what would you do? If you believe in God, what would you say about him? What would you say to him?

Job is a Biblical character known for his great suffering sandwiched between his two great periods of prosperity. (See Job 1:1-5; 42:10-16) He started very wealthy. He had lots of animals and servants. He died at 140 – an old man full of days. He was greatest of all men in the east. Why? Aside from his great external resources, he had great internal values.

He was “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.” (1:1) Job was first and foremost described as a good man. He had great integrity. There was no guilt in him. He believed in God and because of his belief, he did not want to do anything wrong to offend God. He even made daily sacrifices for all his ten children – saying perhaps they have ‘sinned and cursed God in their hearts.’ (1:5)

So what started his suffering? Who started it? It all started when God ‘bragged’ about Job to Satan: Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.  Well, of course he is good – you have blessed him so much. Take away everything. He ‘will surely curse You to Your face.’ 

This was the first challenge. God ‘allowed’ Satan to test Job. (1:12) “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” `

What happened then? Long story short, in a day, no more oxen and donkeys; dead sheep and camels… and last but not the least, goodbye sons and daughters! (see 1:13-18)

What did Job do? Job stood up, tore his clothes and shaved his head. That was the custom of their day when one is in mourning. He fell to the ground and worshiped. What did he say?

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked I shall return there.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

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What was the challenge again? Take away everything from him and he will surely curse you to your face! Ding! Round one goes to God. Job did not curse God. He blessed God. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God. (1:22)

Job did not sin. Curse God – that is the sin. How about blame God? Surely, God caused his trouble. To blame is to ‘ascribe unseemliness to’ (NASB footnote). To blame is to credit responsibility for something wrong. Yes, God was responsible for it. He allowed Satan to take away all that Job had. (1:12) Job blessed God because he knew one truth: He came into the world with nothing. When he dies, he takes nothing to the grave. All that he had came from God. If God is the one who gave, he also has the right to take away. There is no wrong in that.

Job knew his God. The God who gives. He did not know God’s conversation with Satan. He did not hear God said “Only do not put forth your hand on him.” But we do. We need to remember that even in suffering and trials, God extends his mercy.

So here comes round 2 of the challenge: God again praised Job to Satan. (2:3) Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” Yes, but a man would do anything to save himself. “However, put forth Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh; he will curse You to Your face.” (2:5)

God said “Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life.” Again God is merciful.

Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.  And he took a potsherd to scrape himself while he was sitting among the ashes.

What happened next? Mrs. Job had something to say to him: Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die (2:9). End your misery!

You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?

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Job was consistent with his knowledge of God. Just as God gives and takes away, God gives both the good and the bad. Another truth to learn.

So here are the two important lessons we can learn from Job’s response to sufferings.

Our Being

In suffering, we need to remember our being. We came into the world in our birthday suit. When we leave this world, we take nothing with us.

Our God

Our life begins and ends with nothing. Everything in between comes from God. Through this lens comes a different view to suffering. Just as God allows suffering, he extends his mercy. Suffering does end.

Our World

The reality of the world is that it is filled with both good and bad. It started very good. God created all things good. Sin came into the world because of man’s disobedience – because of the desire to be like God. God in his mercy still made animal covering for Adam and Eve to cover their nakedness. God in his mercy sent His Son Jesus to die for our sins. There is so much evil in the world, so much suffering because of so many bad things sinful men do. Man has a choice to do good or do evil. God allows it.

Shall we accept good from God and not adversity? This lens helped Job in his suffering. God is in control. He gives and he takes away. He gives good and he allows evil. He allows evil and he extends mercy. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Where is God when it hurts? He is with me in my suffering. He loves me. He loves you too.

 

Joy of a different kind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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