On Being Naked

“If you read sis Marlene’s book, you will get to know her;” said my seminary professor to my classmates in class.  I was surprised at her statement. Two conflicting emotions came upon me. I was both pleased that she read my book – appreciative of her endorsement and a bit uncomfortable and ‘naked’. I suddenly realised that it was what I did – I revealed myself to everyone who would read my book – both my friends, strangers and everyone in between. It is alright to share with close friends who know me. It is also not too difficult to share with strangers. But what about those in between? Would they understand me? Would they be critical of me? Was there anything I should not have written with such candour? Am I revealing too much of myself?

Genesis 2:25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

We studied this verse in Old Testament Exegesis 1 class. This verse ended chapter 2 – the creation story where God made Eve so that Adam would not be alone.  This verse was followed by chapter 3 – the fall of man. After Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree which God forbid them to eat, there was a transformation. Not an outward change but an internal realisation that led to an external response.

Genesis 3:7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.

They saw their own nakedness and they were ashamed so they had to cover themselves. Is it not human nature to hide in shame? Being a Chinese, I am quite aware of the face culture. We value honour, prestige, respect that we often need to save face – to put up a front to cover what is ugly and dishonourable.

Why else does a person hide? When the man and the woman heard God walking in the garden, they hid from God. God asked ‘Where are you?’  Did God not know where the man was? Of course, He knew.  Yet God asked – giving him a chance to answer.
Genesis 3:10 He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” The man was afraid. But his reason was not his admittance of guilt – that he disobeyed God. His reason was his nakedness.  So God asked another question?

Genesis 3:11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”

Fear often causes people to hide. Fear for being punished, fear for being judged. When someone says “I’ve got nothing to hide,” he’s saying I have nothing to be ashamed of, I did not do anything wrong. What a liberating statement that is – nothing to hide!

Man is sinful by nature. There is no one righteous. ‘For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ (Romans 3:23) Christians in their mortal body still sin. We still have our daily struggles to overcome sin.  “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9)

Some friends who read my book thanked me for sharing my stories. I think they often referred to those stories which bare most of myself – my weaknesses and my failings. Why? Because it is in these stories where God’s strength is most manifested. When I listen to inspirational speakers, I am most touched when they speak candidly about their weaknesses. It reminds me that no one is perfect – everyone has his struggles. This gives me hope that weaknesses can be overcome. It is comforting to know that I am not alone in my struggles. I appreciate the courage it takes to reveal one’s own weakness in order to help other people. And so by God’s grace, I do the same. I share candidly my thoughts and feelings, my joy and grief, my success and failure knowing that God can turn all these things for His purpose to bless people.

 

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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!’

Reminiscing in time

On April 25, 2015, I wrote:

This morning, I was happy that after his nap and early lunch, my papa was alert and awake enough to talk with me. Really treasured memories of the chat:
Pa: 薇,我会替妳祷告。祷告有力量。(Bee, I will pray for you. Prayer is power.)
Pa: 薇,toh sia di lai khuah goa. (Bee, thank you for visiting me.)
whoa, i feel like crying..
Me: Pa, don’t thank me, it’s just right that I visit you.


Lessons for me:
1) Take every opportunity to make memories with ageing parents.
2) Time to talk and time to just be with them; even with so few words and not very long periods of time, so precious the moments.
3) When I get old, i need to remember to be appreciative of what my children do for me – even little moments of presence and attention mean a lot.
I have to stop now.. coz i’m being drama queen again.. sniffle sniffle..

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Today, papa is in another place where I cannot ‘yet’ be. I can no longer listen to him speaking words of love to me. But I can remember and treasure the words he spoke to me. I can still visualise how he was on his bed – curled up on his side with his hand inside his shirt. I can imagine his voice speaking to me – calling my name ‘薇‘ and asking ‘Kui tiam?’ What time is it?

Time – such a precious gift… time to be together, time to love, time to speak in love, time to experience love.

A Chinese proverb: 一寸光阴,一寸金,寸金难買寸光阴。An inch of time, an inch of gold. An inch of gold cannot buy an inch of time.

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The eternal God – the Alpha and the Omega (the beginning and the end), the timeless God created time when he breathed into man the gift of life. He gifted man with time to live and to love… a time to be born and a time to die…

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Restoration of the broken

Jeremiah was a prophet God sent to bring judgment on the southern kingdom of Judah for their sins: disobedience to God’s commands, idolatry, injustice and unrighteousness towards the poor and the needy of the land. They were to be exiled to Babylon as punishment for their sins. Yet God spoke words of comfort to them. He promised in Jeremiah 30 that he would eventually restore them and bring them back to their land.

Jeremiah 30

18 “Thus says the Lord,
‘Behold, I will restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob
And have compassion on his dwelling places;
And the city will be rebuilt on its ruin,
And the palace will stand on its rightful place.
19 ‘From them will proceed thanksgiving
And the voice of those who celebrate;
And I will multiply them and they will not be diminished;
I will also honor them and they will not be insignificant.
20 ‘Their children also will be as formerly,
And their congregation shall be established before Me;
And I will punish all their oppressors.
21 ‘Their leader shall be one of them,
And their ruler shall come forth from their midst;
And I will bring him near and he shall approach Me;
For who would dare to risk his life to approach Me?’ declares the Lord.
22 ‘You shall be My people,
And I will be your God.’”

The essence of restoration and healing for these sinful people is to be called God’s people. and for God to declare that He will be their God. It is about restoration of a broken relationship.  The basis of this restoration is God’s compassion (30:18a). How is this restoration going to be? More than just the physical rebuilding of the city and the palace (v. 18b), it is a restoration of the heart – from mourning to rejoicing (30:19a, 31:4); restoration of significance because God honours them (v.19b). From the least to the great (children, congregation and the leader), they will all come before God to be in his presence (v.20-21). God will punish their enemies (20b). This is the restored status of being God’s people: for God to acknowledge them as His people and for God to proclaim himself as their God.

Jeremiah 31

1 “At that time,” declares the Lord, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people.”

Again, this relationship of God and his people is emphasised and further described.

2 Thus says the Lord,
“The people who survived the sword
Found grace in the wilderness—
Israel, when it went to find its rest.”
3 The Lord appeared to him from afar, saying,
“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.

God is love. Although he punishes people for their disobedience, his love is an everlasting love. This love is permanent and for always. The eternal love of God compels him to be kind – to forgive and restore and draw people back to him. (31:3).

Jeremiah 31-3 I Have Loved You With An Everlasting Love black

4 “Again I will build you and you will be rebuilt,
O virgin of Israel!
Again you will take up your tambourines,
5 “Again you will plant vineyards On the hills of Samaria; The planters will plant
And will enjoy them.
6 “For there will be a day when watchmen
On the hills of Ephraim call out,
‘Arise, and let us go up to Zion,
To the Lord our God.’”

27 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man and with the seed of beast. 28 As I have watched over them to pluck up, to break down, to overthrow, to destroy and to bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the Lord.

God’s promise of restoration is in the metaphor of planting and sowing. In the place of destruction and desolation, God said he will sow with seed of man and beast (v.27). More than act of sowing, God ‘watches’ over them to build and to plant. He watches over them in good times and bad – whether to pluck up, break down, overthrow, destroy and bring disaster (v. 28).

31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. 33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

The old covenant was written on tablets of stones -on Mount Sinai where God called them to obey his commandments and promised them blessing for obedience and curses for disobedience. The people broke the old covenant with their rebellion and idolatry. The new covenant is written on their heart. God said: I will put my law within them and on their heart, I will write it  (v. 33). Again it is repeated – I will be their God and they shall be my people.

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At the heart of the new covenant, is the covenant of the heart – a renewed and restored relationship of God and His people.

What kind of covenant is this new one?

  1. This new covenant has no need to be taught. It will not be through words of man. God’s people will not teach each other God’s law. There is no need for them to tell each other what God wants to do.
  2. Why? Because they will ‘know’ God – from the least to the greatest – from the children to the leader, from the least learned to the wisest scholar, they will all know God.
  3. How? Because God will forgive their iniquity and their sin he will remember no more.

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Sin is the barrier which keeps the people from knowing God. When God forgives, he gives a new heart – a heart where his law is written. This new heart enables us to know God. God himself sets up the new covenant for people to know him. He loves us with an everlasting love and he draws us near with lovingkindness. He calls for us to be his people and he promised to be our God.

Although God punishes sinners, God relents and forgives us when we turn to him. He himself restores and heals. He gives a new heart for us to know him. Turn to him and receive this new covenant of everlasting lovingkindness. Listen to his call, my friend.

Prosperity plans: before and after…

 

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Many Christians like to quote and claim the promises of Jeremiah 29:11-13. These verses bring assurance of prosperity and a bright future. They are words of hope and security. God said: Come tell me and I will answer. Come find me and I will be found. It greatly encourages us that if we pray with all our heart – believing that no harm is coming to us but only prosperity, it will be so.

But we need to know the context of these verses. To whom were they spoken? What were the circumstances of the people to which this message was given? Context is important in reading Bible verses because background knowledge helps us to apply correctly God’s words to our present day circumstances. We need the Holy Spirit to guide us to read attentively and reflect carefully what is the truth.

Jeremiah 29
4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:

(God is speaking to the exiles of Judah (the southern kingdom) whose capital was Jerusalem. These were the people brought into captivity by their enemy to Babylon. They were living in a foreign land under the rule of the Babylonian king.)

5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.

(To build houses, plant and eat from them imply staying a long time. This is not a temporary exile. They are told to marry and multiply – even from one generation to the next. To stay in a place beyond a generation means to take root in that place. Make it your home.)

7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

(Since they are to call it their home, they need to seek the peace and prosperity of the place – the foreign land where they are exiled. Since it is now your home, pray for its peace and you too will enjoy peace. Pray for its success and you too will be successful.)

8 Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.

(Do not be deceived by lies of the prophets who said there’s peace – staying in your own land.)

10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.

(God was very specific. He even told them of a time frame. 70 years. After 70 years, God will bring them back home. Indeed God’s promises came true. Read more about the 70 years of exile from https://www.gotquestions.org/Babylonian-captivity-exile.html)

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

(And God also spoke to those who remained in their homeland – those who did not go into exile.)

15 You may say, “The Lord has raised up prophets for us in Babylon,” 16 but this is what the Lord says about the king who sits on David’s throne and all the people who remain in this city, your fellow citizens who did not go with you into exile— 17 yes, this is what the Lord Almighty says: “I will send the sword, famine and plague against them and I will make them like figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten. 18 I will pursue them with the sword, famine and plague and will make them abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth, a curse and an object of horror, of scorn and reproach, among all the nations where I drive them. 19 For they have not listened to my words,” declares the Lord, “words that I sent to them again and again by my servants the prophets. And you exiles have not listened either,” declares the Lord.

Is it not ironical that people in exile were promised prosperity and security while those who stayed behind were doomed to die by the sword, famine and plague. The exiles would enjoy peace and prosperity in enemy territory while those who ran from their enemy would be object of horror/scorn and reproach among nations where they ran to.)

Bottom line: God’s ways are not man’s ways. God’s thoughts are neither man’s. Our idea of peace and prosperity is quite different from God’s. God’s plan – not to harm, to give hope and a good future is not dependent upon circumstances of our lives. God’s plan is about his character – he knows what he’s doing. God’s promise is not about what we will do – it is about what he will do. His desire is for us to draw near to him – to call on him and seek him with all our heart. To seek him with our heart is to obey his call no matter the circumstances of our lives – even in exile – away from our comfort zone, even when all around us seem far from peaceful. His promise is that he will be near to us, he assures us that he will answer to our call. Answers might not be according to what we imagine the best to be – because God’s best is far far beyond the reach of our best.

God says ‘I know the plans I have for you.’  God knows – he wants us to call on him to reveal those plans to us… plans to draw us near to him – to seek him and love him with all our heart.

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?

Enough is enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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