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).

Romans_8-28

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.

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!

 

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.

 

More than adultery…

Adultery lang?! (Just Adultery?!)

The story of David and Bathsheba is perhaps just as well-known as that of David and Goliath. Whereas David killing Goliath was David’s first heroic act in his career as a soldier on the way to become king, his adultery with Bathsheba was David’s most shameful act as soldier and king. (Read 2 Sam. 11)

Lessons from this story.. As I think about this story, I realise that it is more than just adultery that David’s story can teach us.

1) When all is well, sin creeps at the door. David was at the height of his reign. He had an army of soldiers fighting for him. He was home in Jerusalem and woke from bed to walk around the roof of his house. He saw a beautiful woman bathing. Indeed sin starts with seeing… and at the heart of it is ‘lust.’

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2) One sin leads to another. Adultery turned to murder. David tried to cover his track. He tried to get Uriah to go home to his wife and make love to her. So that in case Bathsheba gets pregnant, Uriah would cover for David’s act of adultery. Alas, when Uriah refused to go home, David had a worse plan. Let Uriah die in battle.

3) I wonder how David felt after he did two crimes. No mention of it until Nathan the prophet came to rebuke him with a story. (Read 2 Sam. 12). In spite of David’s immoral behaviour, he should be given credit for his sense of right and wrong when Nathan presented him with the story of the rich oppressing the poor. (vv.5-6) More than that, David was quick to admit his guilt. Psalm 51 is a popular psalm written by David confessing his sins and his contrite spirit – being truly sorry for the wrongs that he did.

4) Finally, there is a lesson to be learned from David – how he faced the consequences of his sins. Nathan told him what God is going to do as a result of his sins. (vv.7-11).
a) David said I have sinned against the Lord. (v. 13) No excuses. He was quick to admit it. He faced the reality that his child, the result of the adultery, got sick.
b) He prayed to the Lord about it. For 7 days, he put on sack cloth, he fasted and prayed for God to heal his child. (vv.16-17)
Such was David’s relationship with God, he believed that God is merciful in spite of his sins. He hoped that God would spare his child.
c) After 7 days, the child died. God did not hear his prayers. What did David do? Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate. (v.20)

What was David’s rationale for all that he did and how he responded to this crisis in his life? His servants asked David:
“Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!”

22 He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ 23 But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”

David accepted God’s punishment for his sins. He knew he did wrong. He also believed God is gracious. So he prayed for God’s mercy. Finally, he accepted God’s answer. He got up from the ground, went into God’s house and worshipped him. (v.20)

Something on prayer: It struck me how two people responded differently in two prayers they uttered under different circumstances in their lives.

Hannah prayed for a son – with fasting and sadness. After praying, her face was no longer downcast. David prayed with fasting and sadness for his son to get well. He continued to do so for 7 days.

Hannah went on and ate something even before her prayer was answered. She cast her cares to the Lord in prayer.
David got up and ate something even after his prayer was not answered. He accepted his dues from the Lord in prayer.

What kind of attitude do I have in prayer? Let me learn from both Hannah and David. Prayer is drawing close to God with the desires of my heart. Prayer is leaving to God what he deems as best to give me. Prayer is worship of God no matter the answer – whether yes or no.

Counting the countless…

Solomon, the richest and wisest king of Israel… Of his material and human resources, numbers could be given: daily supply of food, areas of land owned and ruled over, numbers of flocks, herds of cattles, horses, horsemen, deputies, even food for the animals – everything could be counted.

Do you know what did he have that could not be counted?

I Kings 4
29 Now God gave Solomon wisdom and very great discernment and breadth of mind, like the sand that is on the seashore.

Solomon is known for his wealth and wisdom. Wisdom likened to sand on the seashore! How wise of Solomon to ask for something that cannot be counted! And how paradoxical too… Solomon prayed:

1 Kings 3:7 Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 Your servant is in the midst of Your people which You have chosen, a great people who are too many to be numbered or counted. 9 So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?”

Asking in Humility:
1) Solomon knew his God v.7a: who he is..God is his Lord and his God. what he did…It is God who made him king.
2) Solomon knew himself v.7b: who he is.. a ‘little child’. what he knows not: I do not know which way to go. He saw himself as a servant of God.
3) Solomon knew his people v.8.. who they are…They are God’s people – people He has chosen… a great people too many to be counted..
4) Solomon knew his task v.9: to judge with wisdom – knowing between good and evil.

Humility is the state of mind – a recognition of who one is in relation to God and fellowman. It is thinking others are more important than oneself and believing that God alone suffices.

God was pleased that Solomon asked unselfishly. He asked with pure motive – to do his job well. So God gave him more than he asked.

To have wisdom like the sand of the seashore.. what a priceless and countless blessing.
Perhaps, it is because Solomon emptied himself before God – fully depending on Him that God filled it to the brim and even overflowing. How often when I think I am sufficient – that I know – it is in those times when I need to tell God – I do not know.. show me… give me wisdom.