From Bitter life… to Better than Best

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

Lamentations 3

 1 I am one who has seen affliction

    under the rod of God’s wrath;

2 he has driven and brought me

    into darkness without any light;

3 against me alone he turns his hand,

    again and again, all day long.

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

    and broken my bones;

5 he has besieged and enveloped me

    with bitterness and tribulation;

6 he has made me sit in darkness

    like the dead of long ago.

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

    he has put heavy chains on me;

8 though I call and cry for help,

    he shuts out my prayer;

9 he has blocked my ways with hewn stones,

    he has made my paths crooked.

10 He is a bear lying in wait for me,

    a lion in hiding;

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

    he has made me desolate;

12 he bent his bow and set me

    as a mark for his arrow.

13 He shot into my vitals

    the arrows of his quiver;

14 I have become the laughingstock of all my people,

    the object of their taunt-songs all day long.

15 He has filled me with bitterness,

    he has sated me with wormwood.

16 He has made my teeth grind on gravel,

    and made me cower in ashes;

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

17 my soul is bereft of peace;

    I have forgotten what happiness is;

18 so I say, “Gone is my glory,

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

19 The thought of my affliction and my homelessness

    is wormwood and gall!

20 My soul continually thinks of it

    and is bowed down within me.

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

21 But this I call to mind,

    and therefore I have hope:

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

    “therefore I will hope in him.”

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

\27 It is good for one to bear

    the yoke in youth,

28 to sit alone in silence

    when the Lord has imposed it,

29 to put one’s mouth to the dust

    (there may yet be hope),

30 to give one’s cheek to the smiter,

    and be filled with insults.

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

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

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

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

31 For the Lord will not

    reject forever.

32 Although he causes grief, he will have compassion

    according to the abundance of his steadfast love;

33 for he does not willingly afflict

    or grieve anyone.

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

34 When all the prisoners of the land

    are crushed under foot,

35 when human rights are perverted

    in the presence of the Most High,

36 when one’s case is subverted

does the Lord not see it?

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

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When life is hard…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First n Last

This morning after I drove Abigail, my daughter who’s interning at the hospital, I dropped by Mt. Carmel to put flowers in my parents’ crypt/vault. When I got out of the car, ‘Oh no, I’m in my shorts and sleepwear.’ It’s Ok, I always put on my underwear. 🙂 Such a lazybone that I am, lately I’ve been driving Abi and Mimi in my pyjamas. Good thing, only two ladies and the guard were at the place this morning.

As I got back in the car, I saw another car stopped and out came an old man probably in his 70’s or early 80’s wearing rubber shoes and shorts, holding a bunch of flowers wrapped in newspaper. He walked slowly, head down – a poignant scene of a man remembering his departed loved one – perhaps his wife? It reminded me of my father and all the fathers who grieved the loss of their wife.

My father was 13 years older than my mom. Yet my mom passed away 4 months and 9 days earlier than he did. God’s timetable is different from ours. It is not ‘FIFO’ – an accounting principle called First in First Out. Goods bought first are used first. God often uses LIFO principle.. last in first out.

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Our God is full of paradoxes. His kingdom is about living through dying (John 12:24), about strength in weakness (2 Cor. 12:29, 2 Cor. 12:10), where foolishness of the world considered wisdom, and wisdom of the world foolish (1 Cor 1:25,27), where first is last and last is first (Mark 9:35).

Everyday everywhere God is speaking to us. He is God of the universe yet He also lives within us. He is the big creator and the still small voice inside my heart. Am I listening attentively?

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.

Fixer upper – shorts and long

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I like watching HGTV shows – the Property brothers – buy and sell; Vacation house for Free, Love it or List it and especially Chip & Joana’s Fixer Upper.  These shows turn houses from shabby to chic; from low-value to top value; from outdated to modern living. Towards the end of the show comes pictures of before and after.  Before transformation, rooms were small and dirty. After renovations, each space is opened up, shining bright and looking fantastic. Most of these shows include segments of how much work was done, the demolition and throwing away trash, the many problems they faced.  I most like the final segment of each show – where everything is nice and perfect and the homeowners are all happy and sometimes in tears for the transformation they see in their new homes.

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In life, we are often inspired by people who have amazing transformations from bad to good, from poor to rich, from handicapped to success. We are wowed by their inspiring stories of how they overcame their limitations and weaknesses. They amaze and encourage us with their journey from failures, adversities, struggles through long dark tunnels into success, achievements and victory.  We like the before and the after. What we can never fully appreciate are the experiences of the journey.  We can only imagine how hard it must have been to be handicapped or sick or be abused or orphaned or widowed.

My life journey with adversities is not as dramatic as handicapped people missing a limb or physically impaired. I was not born into a broken home. I never knew how it was to go hungry going to sleep or feel insecure or afraid of being abused at home or in school. But I have gone through periods of deep depression and near nervous breakdown. There was a time in my life, I felt so down and out, I could not even cry. It was awful. To be sad and have no zest in anything, even the things that I used to love doing, I no longer want to do, it was terrible. Making it worse is feeling guilty about it. I know in my mind, there are millions of people out in the world who are suffering from hunger, from abuse, from fear of terrorism and wars. Many are in prisons for their faith. Yet these Christians are living in joy triumphantly overcoming the adversities and sufferings of life.

Looking back to this dark time of my life, I am truly grateful to God for seeing me through. Today, even as I am no longer in shadow lands, even as I look forward with much excitement to the launching of my book: Standing Stones of Grace – Finding Light in the Shadows, I must always remember where I came from. I should not forget how God accompanied me through the long dark tunnel.

Life is about the before and the after and everything in between. What most inspire people in stories of adversities are not just pictures of the dark side before the transformation, not even glorious products of the bright side after the transformation. What encourage me most are stories of the transformation process – what happened in the journey from darkness to light, the process of change from bad to good, from weakness to strength, from failure to success.  And this is only just for the viewers, those who look into the mirror of other people’s lives. They gaze inside the windows of the transformed spaces. These viewers of the make-overs and listeners of the stories : they are passive participants.

The fiery process of transformation – the process of turning rough stones to diamonds brings most benefit to the stone itself. In the Old testament, Job was the epitome of a righteous person who went through so much sufferings. When Job lost his children, his wealth, even his health and everything that he had, as he sat in the mud in a state of utter torment and despair, Job said “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” Job knew that God knows what He’s doing. Job believed that God’s testing would refine him, transform him and turn him to gold.

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As children of God, living life in this broken world is a work-in-progress. It is a constant change – of being transformed from glory to glory. The Holy Spirit enables and guides us in the process of sanctification – to become holy and be holy as God is holy. Everyday, we are being fixed to be put up onto another level of living space for the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit indwells each Christian. Our body is the God’s temple. Everyday, we are being renewed to become better.

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Paul said to the Corinthians: Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor. 4:16-18)

Are you suffering, dear friend? Are you in the midst of heavy renovation in the Master’s plan? Do you know you are being fixed to be better? Do not lose heart. Though outwardly, things are a mess. Perhaps, the demolition and renovations are not pleasant, they are back-breaking and soul-wrenching. Inwardly, there is renewal everyday. Our ‘momentary’ troubles are refining us and shaping us – achieving for us an ‘eternal’ glory that far outweighs all the sufferings we are facing now. In the midst of troubles and life’s adversities, let us fix our eyes not on the external but on the internal. Why? Because what is external will soon end, because what is internal is eternal – it is forever. Sufferings of this world will end. It is momentary. Christians are assured that the Refiner’s hands hold them through the fire so that when they are refined and for eternity – now and forever, they will shine forth as gold!

 

 

Silent reply

Isaiah 36
21 But the people remained silent and said nothing in reply, because the king had commanded, “Do not answer him.”

22 Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary and Joah son of Asaph the recorder went to Hezekiah, with their clothes torn, and told him what the field commander had said.

What happened here? Why were the people silenced? Why did the king command them not to answer? Answer who? Why were the palace officials in mourning?
What did the field commander say to the people?

Read Isaiah 36:4-20. King Sennacherib of Assyria attacked Judah and sent his field commander to deliver an insulting message – to demoralise and taunt the people. King Hezekiah was given a message for him to surrender and submit to Assyria. The people were being convinced not to believe Hezekiah when he said that God will deliver them from Assyrian attack.

What do u do when people insult you? What is our natural response when we are forced to listen to unpleasant words and unwelcome news? Is there not an urge to cry out? or run away if cannot take it anymore?

It is hard to be silent in the face of oppression. It is not easy when people wrongly accused us or threaten us or oppress us with words. Each time I face this kind of situations, I often think of Jesus when he was silent during his trial. In the reading today, the people were commanded to be quiet – not say a word in defense of their king and God. The officials were so grieved, they tore their clothes in mourning.

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How did King Hezekiah stay strong in the face of difficult challenges and insults? It is his knowledge and faith in his God – the God who is his first and last resort. In the next chapter, we read how Hezekiah lamented and grieved. He knew how the Assyrians insulted God and he believed God will himself avenge them. The king sent messenger to Isaiah for him to pray for the people to God.

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Today, I am still learning the virtue of silence… to keep quiet even when the urge to speak or cry out – to defend myself is great. It is hard, sometimes when I cannot utter the words, when I have to swallow the words, I let my tears flow instead. God sees. God knows. He uses such situations to transform me into the likeness of Jesus – to be meek and calm and at peace in the face of harsh and wrong accusations.

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How about you, dear friend? Take heart, God sees. God knows. God is with you all the way – he will see you through.