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 If’s and When’s of life

What if I get sick… what if a big earthquake strikes… what if I fail to get the job.. What to do when there’s not enough money to pay rent? Where to turn when terror strikes? How to cope when relationship turns sour?

The Bible doesnt tell us a clear-cut answer for each ‘if’ and ‘when’ of life. One thing it tells us – Do not worry about all these things. (See Matthew 6). Instead pray.

Oh but many of us Christians do that – we pray. When? When the crisis strikes or when we think it is about to happen… when we are at the end of the rope.. when there is nothing else to do… then perhaps prayer works?

Do you know that King Solomon said a prayer for all the ‘ifs’ and ‘whens’ he could ever imagine in his days.

Read 1 Kings 8 and observe how many of his prayer items started with ‘If’ or ‘When’: all the not good scenarios but harsh realities in life: sin (v.31,46), defeat (v.33), drought (v.35), famine, pestilence, enemies, plague, sickness (v.37), war, etc. Why so? Wasnt he the richest, wisest, most powerful and popular king in the history of Israel? The Bible tells us there was peace and great prosperity during his reign. (1 King 4, 5:4)

Do you know when and where he prayed about the ‘ifs’ and the ‘whens’ – bad things of life? He prayed after he built a great beautiful temple for God. He prayed during the dedication of the temple to God. Not the typical ‘celebrative’ prayer, is it?

Why ‘if’ and when ‘when’? ‘If’ seems to imply ‘might’ or ‘might not’ happen. When is more a matter of ‘when’ – a matter of time. Regardless, Solomon prayed because he was calling on God to be ‘present’ in the temple he built for Him. He recognized how awesome, loving and kind God is (v.23). He realised that God is too big to be contained in the house he built (v.28). Solomon knew the realities of life and living life. He knew of man’s sinful nature. He understood how nature works – drought, famine, sickness are part of life. Solomon understood that man can only live and overcome these challenges by the hand of God. He grasped the importance of having God ‘hear from heaven’ (vv.30,32,34,36,39,43,45), ‘forgive’ (vv.30,34,36,39,50) and ‘maintain the cause’ (v.45,49) of the ‘pray-er’.

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So how do we apply this today? How can we follow Solomon’s example?

Today, we can pray like Solomon. We pray for the ‘ifs’ and ‘whens’ – for the not so good even in the midst of prosperity and blessings. It is not being pessimistic or fatalistic. We pray because we beseige God to be with us on earth as He is in heaven. We pray because we need his forgiveness if and when we sin, when we make him sad, when we offend our neighbors. We pray because God alone can maintain our cause. He alone makes the impossible, possible.

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We pray each of us knowing the affliction of our own heart: God, hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive and act and render to each according to all our ways, whose heart You know, for You alone know the hearts of all the sons of men, that we may fear You all the days of our life. (vv.39-40)

We pray: Hear in heaven Your dwelling place in order that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name. (v.43) Amen.

may hear your great name

 

 

Hope in the darkness

Have you ever been oppressed? To be oppressed is the passive side of being depressed. When I feel depressed, sadness came from within me. When a person is oppressed, it came from something outside, he is the subject of harsh authoritarian treatment. To oppress is to subject someone to hardship with unjust exercise of authority.

Oppression can be one of many causes of depression. What other reasons are there for depression? Why are people sad?

Oppression, hunger, bondage, blindness, loneliness, helpless, fatherless… these are sad realities of life. Many in the world are dying of hunger – not just physical, but emotional, mental and spiritual. Many are in bondage – more than those in jails, addictions to vices, imprisoned by anger and bitterness, chained to anxieties and fears. And so it is not only poor widows and helpless orphans who are needy, in hunger, and oppressed living physically hard life, it is ironical to see the rich in material wealth hungering for love, in bondage to greed, blinded by temporal gratifications of power and fame, alone and lonely at the top.

There is good news. God, the Creator of the world is the strong advocate of the oppressed and provider to the hungry. Jesus came into the world to set us free from sin. The Holy Spirit is our light in the darkness – to guide us on our way.

Psalm 146
1 Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord, my soul.
2 I will praise the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.

6 He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them—
he remains faithful forever.

7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
8 the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
the Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

10 The Lord reigns forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord.

The Bible shows us the way out of oppression, hunger, bondage, blindness and helplessness. Read the Bible and know about God, know God, the Creator of the universe. Read the Bible and know Jesus, the Saviour of the world. Accept Jesus as your Saviour – to free you from the bondage of sins. Believe that Jesus came into the world to die for your sins. He is the only way to God, the Father. Enjoy eternal life here on earth as it is in heaven – free from hunger for love because God loves you. Be set free from the bondage of lust for temporal pleasures of the world because Jesus’s blood on the cross paid for the wages of sin. The Holy Spirit is our pledge – our security in the world to walk in the light – to see what God’s plan for our lives is – to show forth God’s glory and live a blessed life – life of abundance, free from want.

What good is the bad?

Why me? Why is life so hard? Why do I have to suffer? What good is there to suffer? God must be punishing me. These are some valid and logical questions to ask when one is facing difficult situations in life.

Psalm 119 is the longest psalm. It is a psalm about the value of God’s word, his laws and his promises. Who wrote this psalm? It is unknown but most scholars agree that it is David, Ezra or Daniel. Why? Each of the 3 suffered much in life. Many verses in the psalm describe plots, slanders and taunts against him (23, 42, 51, 150 ), persecutions and afflictions he faced. (verses 61, 86, 95, 110, 121, 134, 157, 161; 67, 71, 143, 153) https://www.gotquestions.org/Psalm-119.html

From vv. 1-88, 4 verses mention suffering/affliction (患 難,受苦). These verses teach us the right perspectives of a person who faces difficulties in life.

What good is there in suffering?
1) Comfort of God v. 50
You comfort me in my suffering,
because your promise gives me new life. (ERV – Easy to Read Version)
這 話 將 我 救 活 了 ; 我 在 患 難 中 , 因 此 得 安 慰 。(CUV – Chinese Union Version)

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It is in my cancer that i experienced God’s embrace the most. It is when my parents were dying that God’s promises sustain me. Job sought God’s comfort in his sufferings. David found refuge in God when enemies sought his life.

2) Knowledge of God v. 67,71,75. I have witnessed many times how people turn to God when they are in the pit. My brother-in-law read the Bible everyday when he had cancer. He came to know God as he went through the valley of the shadow of death.

Arthur Pink in his piece The Afflictions of the Godly describes 3 kinds of heart in these 3 verses in Psalm 119. https://www.gracegems.org/Pink/afflictions_of_the_godly.htm

2.1. An honest heart v. 67
Before I suffered, I did many wrong things.
But now I carefully obey everything you say. (ERV)
我 未 受 苦 以 先 走 迷 了 路 , 現 在 卻 遵 守 你 的 話. (CUV)
This verse is a confession of an honest repentant sinner. Sufferings brought sinners to turn from their waywardness to obedience to God.

2.2. A grateful heart v.71
Suffering was good for me; I learned your laws. (ERV)
我 受 苦 是 與 我 有 益 , 為 要 使 我 學 習 你 的 律 例 。(CUV)

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How do I see suffering? Only a thankful heart sees it is good for me to suffer. A grateful person realises God’s laws are good. I learn so many lessons in life when I was in the deepest pit and the darkest valley. I experience God’s peace beyond human understanding in my radiation treatments. I experience God’s timely provisions when I was bed-ridden and nothing else to do but pray. I would not exchange these lessons for an easier path.

2.3. A discerning heart v.75
耶 和 華 啊 , 我 知 道 你 的 判 語 是 公 義 的 ; 你 使 我 受 苦 是 以 誠 實 待 我 。(CUV)

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An honest heart knows oneself. He knows his sinful ways. A discerning heart knows God. He knows God’s ways are righteous and just. A wise heart admits that God is right when he punishes with affliction. While it is true that not all sufferings are God’s punishments for disobedience, it is real that sins have their consequences. God disciplines us when we do wrong. He is faithful to his character – one of righteousness an justice. God allows afflictions in our life to teach us valuable lessons – to call us back to him and turn from our wrong choices in life.

So what good is there in suffering? I get to experience God’s comfort. I get to know myself and I get to know God more.

Getting up from the mud…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

choose joy

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

Thirsting for water

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mister Fantastic

Resilience: the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity. This brings to mind the scenes of Tom and Jerry stretching and compressing and returning back to their original shapes after being pulled and pressed. Is it not true that cartoon characters amuse us with their ability to get back to their original shape after being squished and squashed; pulled and pushed around? Mr. Fantastic Reed in the Fantastic Four is the super hero with super elasticity he can contort himself into any shape n size he needs to save himself n the needy.

In the real world, to be resilient is to be able to get back on your feet after being struck down. It is the capacity to withstand a difficult situation and recover quickly from it.

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The resilience of the Filipino people is best seen in the aftermath of Yolanda – the super typhoon that struck the Philippines leaving thousands dead and hundreds of thousands homeless. It is amazing to listen to the stories of the survivors what they believe and how they cope in the aftermath of the storm.

We learn resilience from Biblical heroes. Job is number 1 in the list in terms of sufferings. The secret to Job’s resilience is his perspective on suffering. He knew his origin and his destination (Job 1:21). He came into this world with nothing and he can take nothing with him when he dies. He acknowledged everything he had is from the Lord (Job 1:21, 2:10). The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Shall we accept good from the Lord and not trouble? Job’s faith enabled him to accept both the good and the bad. He sees both sides of the coin: his coming and leaving; God’s giving and taking. A resilient person sees God behind all the good and the bad.

Joseph’s resilience is seen in his journey from being favored son to hated brother to favored servant to accused prisoner to trusted prime minister of all Egypt… from the pit to the prison to the palace. In his story, there was not a mention of him griping and complaining. His brothers sold him into slavery. He did not sit in the mire cursing his brothers. He just made do with each circumstance the best he could. God granted him favor in the sight of Potiphar. Joseph became his trusted servant. When Potiphar’s wife enticed him to sin, Joseph’s main concern that he could not do this evil and sin against the Lord. He was imprisoned for something he did not do. In prison, God granted him favor with the warden. Joseph again helped his fellow prisoners interpret their dreams. The fellow prisoner he helped forgot about him. When opportunities came for him to avenge himself, he showed kindness to his brothers. The key to all these is his forgiving spirit. It was sad and painful to have his brothers betray him. Yet he did not let his grief turned to bitter anger. He focused on doing best he could under each circumstance. He refused to remain in the pit. A resilient person forgives the wrongs done against him.

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David’s Psalms exemplified his resilience. His psalms of lament and of praise narrate his grief, his fears and his praise in the midst of trouble. He was kind to his enemies. He did not kill Saul who wanted him dead even when there was more than 1 opportunity for him to do so. He was kind to Shimei who cursed him (2 Sam. 16, 19). He also prayed for God to avenge him with his enemies. A resilient person is realistic and optimistic. David realized his sad and dangerous circumstances yet he is always sure God would turn things around for him.

危机 means crisis. The first word means danger. The 2nd is opportunity. This Chinese phrase wisely interprets that there is an opportunity in every problem. Jacob’s resilience is manifested in his encounter with his father-in-law. He wisely made use of the opportunities presented to him even when his father-in-law time and again took advantage of him. Joseph turned his prison experience into an adventure to help his fellow prisoners. This eventually got him out of jail to interpret dreams for Pharoah. David used opportunities to show Saul his loyalty by sparing his life again and again. A resilient person makes good use of opportunities in times of crisis.

I was surprised when a friend said I am resilient. How? She referred to my journey as a daughter-in-law who did not bear a son to carry on the family name. Perhaps she empathized with me the challenges of being married to an only son born to traditionally conservative Chinese parents. Perhaps my phlegmatic personality inclined me towards resilience. One thing I know I learned that God wants me to focus on what I have and not on what I do not have. I do not have a son but I have three precious beautiful daughters – who are diligent in their studies and responsibilities. They love me and love each other. I miscarried my first child – a boy. For many years, I envied mothers tagging little boys along or mothers with big tall lads to do for them what boys supposedly do better than girls. God showed me that girls can carry heavy loads just as well.

I observed that my resilience is best seen when I lick my wounds and forgive. It is useless to remain angry and sulky after fighting with hubby. It is wise to heed the biblical teaching: Do not let the sun go down on your anger. More than just passive forgiveness, I learn from Jesus that active forgiveness is washing the feet of the people who kick him – the disciple who betrayed him, who denied him and who doubted him. Resilience is stretching the limits… going beyond what is normal.

In the past few months, I had power stretching sessions with my physical therapist. Stretching is not my fave to do at the gym. Dancing is much more fun. Yet stretching allows me to go on to dancing. After my ankle surgery, I could not put weight on my foot for almost 3 months. In my first session at therapy, the PT stretched my foot with all her might. Through the past 7 months, my foot got better because of the stretching exercises I had. My PT often asks ‘Mam, tama na ba?’ I often say: “Stop.” As time passes, I learn to let him stretch a bit more before saying stop. I distract myself with my phone and text and even FB – things that I like to do so that discomfort of stretching is not as visible.

Resilience is about elasticity. It is about being pliable – adaptable to all shapes and sizes of circumstances – realities in life. God is our master therapist. He knows our limits. He will not let us go beyond what we can bear. He equips as he calls. He enables us to be resilient to each twist and turn in life’s journey. He allows difficult circumstances to mold and shape us into his image – to be holy as he is holy; to love as he loves; to be patient as he is patient; to forgive as he forgives. To be a resilient person by God’s grace and mercy is to journey with the boundless and timeless Creator – to go beyond our imagination and what we think we are capable of. Because our God is infinite – beyond limits and without boundaries, we can be resilient in trust and obedience – be pliable in the Potter’s hands.