Return to Me…

…yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.

This phrase appeared 5x in Amos 4 (vv 6-11). What came before these words each time? Not good…

Who did Amos, the prophet address in this passage?

1 Hear this word, you cows of Bashan who are on the mountain of Samaria,
Who oppress the poor, who crush the needy,
Who say to your husbands, “Bring now, that we may drink!”

Ladies, how would you like to be called cows?! And cows of Bashan at that… Bashan today as in ancient times is known for its cattles. And how did these ‘cows’ get fat? They oppress the poor to gain wealth.

2 The Lord God has sworn by His holiness,
“Behold, the days are coming upon you
When they will take you away with meat hooks,
And the last of you with fish hooks.
3 “You will go out through breaches in the walls,
Each one straight before her,
And you will be cast to Harmon,” declares the Lord.
4 “Enter Bethel and transgress;
In Gilgal multiply transgression!
Bring your sacrifices every morning,
Your tithes every three days.
5 “Offer a thank offering also from that which is leavened,
And proclaim freewill offerings, make them known.
For so you love to do, you sons of Israel,”
Declares the Lord God.

vv. 2-3 God has made an oath – a promise by his holiness: it is a certainty because God always does what He says. God pronounced judgment – they would be punished for their injustice.

vv. 4-5 God mocked them; He’s being sarcastic – he told them to go and sin; to bring their sacrifices and perform their customary religious rites and practices because they were proud of these.

6“But I gave you also cleanness of teeth in all your cities
And lack of bread in all your places,
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the Lord.
7 “Furthermore, I withheld the rain from you
While there were still three months until harvest.
Then I would send rain on one city
And on another city I would not send rain;
One part would be rained on,
While the part not rained on would dry up.
8 “So two or three cities would stagger to another city to drink water,
But would not be satisfied;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the Lord.
9 “I smote you with scorching wind and mildew;
And the caterpillar was devouring
Your many gardens and vineyards, fig trees and olive trees;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the Lord.
10 “I sent a plague among you after the manner of Egypt;
I slew your young men by the sword along with your captured horses,
And I made the stench of your camp rise up in your nostrils;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the Lord.
11 “I overthrew you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,
And you were like a firebrand snatched from a blaze;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the Lord.

Main truth: God’s purpose in all these punishments is for the sinner to return to Him. Yet you have not returned to me…

12 “Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel;
Because I will do this to you,
Prepare to meet your God, O Israel.”
13 For behold, He who forms mountains and creates the wind
And declares to man what are His thoughts,
He who makes dawn into darkness
And treads on the high places of the earth,

Prepare to meet your God… God called… He declared an announcement – get ready to see me in person… to know who I am… Who is God?

 

How gracious! The One who forms the mountains, creates the wind, is the same God who reveals/shows himself – the Creator tells His creatures what He is thinking. He is the Lord God Almighty who turns light to darkness… the one who is on top of the world.

Lessons to learn/Truths to apply:

1) God hates injustice. He punishes those who oppress and take advantage of the poor and the needy. He cares for the marginalized; the disadvantaged.

2) When God punishes, He is waiting for the punished to return to Him. Again and again, disasters came upon Israel, yet they did not return to God. There are two responses from people when problems or bad things come their way: they turn to God or they turn away from God.

3) God calls us to meet Him – to know who He is, what He did, what He is doing and what He will do. He reveals his thoughts to us. What a comfort and assurance to hold on to.

Yes, bad things are God’s means for people to return to Him, to know Him. The world is a sad place where evil seems to reign. For those who turn to God, God shows Himself. He is the Lord God Almighty, who forms the mountains and creates the wind, He reveals His thoughts to man. Turn to God and He will show himself to you.

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..

05233177028367e84c8ad4df240b8495--tiny-dancer-scripture-quotes

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.

9e2a9d7a851b924e3b0452381a27d56f--bible-scriptures-bible-quotes

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…

b746a0e57a18b0cccf6dbfa36f845c20--bible-verses-quotes-scripture-verses

My many faces

The many faces of me…
🙃😕😣🙂😊😀😂🤣😍😜😨😱😛

Please excuse my self-musings.. I’ve been thinking that as I grow older, I seem to be evolving into a multi-complex person – the serious side, the funny side, the seemingly extrovert who’s really an introvert, someone who’s playing “Knock, knock, who’s there” with myself.. as I live in this complicated world.

And we are familiar with the FB culture that it is the natural thing to do – that we choose the best profile pic we can find, we post the pleasant inspiring thoughts we have, we share the happy events and smiling faces of our friends and loved ones. Yet behind all these ‘faces’ we show the world, there is a side of us, that we keep to ourselves, that our family members know, that only our helpers at home see. And even some blind spots of ourselves that only God sees.

One thing I know is that the Holy Spirit is my guide and teacher, constantly molding and transforming me into the person that God wants me to be.

As I look back, what a long way I’ve come from the child who would go hide in the bedroom whenever visitors came to our home – having my mom explained: Oh, please excuse her, she’s shy.

I also remember one comment in my report card where the teacher put: No initiative. 🙂 And how about the ‘snob’ image of an awkward adolescent, feeling sad and bad and even jealous of her more popular friends. Ironically, these friends were my security blanket. I was contented that I was their shadow or in their shadow. It’s good to be a follower to their programs and ideas. And in our ‘barkada’, I felt secure and accepted.

Indeed, God has a way of working all things for my good. One by one, members of this barkada, left me. But God led me to a group of ‘older’ church friends who are my models and mentors to this day. And God led me to hubby to continuously hammer and put me through fire so that I can be molded to be a better person. Not that I have arrived and become the best that I can be. I am a work-in-progress. Sometimes I go forward and many times I go backward or I slip and fall. But always God puts me back on my feet. It was painful but time heals and God’s grace is sufficient always.

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.

a6377f9a6d94b50c1a303dcd9f428620--jewish-christians-jeremiah-

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.

12bf8a3ae37c9c602f4262bf558e0c10--jeremiah--verse-of-the-day

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…

 

1dc459fc674825bd4e97fc72bba7c9db

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.

A house that lasts…

What is your dream house? When I was small, i so enjoyed going through the houses in Forbes park whenever we visited my si-peh 四伯父 (my dad’s elder brother- my 4th uncle). Houses with nice doors/windows/gardens etc.. Looking at houses inside and out has always been a fun thing for me to do. It didn’t matter that we didn’t live in a big house. In fact at one point in our life, we had a tiny apartment we called home. And I was happy in that place.

In 2 Samuel chapter 7, David was getting settled in his house of cedar.

After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.” 2 Sam 7:1-2

Cedar is a good popular tree growing in Lebanon – quite sturdy for building houses coz it does not decay or subject to worms. (ref. http://biblehub.com/topical/c/cedar.htm)

What touched me is that David remembered God when he was nicely and securely living at rest in his beautiful palace. He remembered that the ark of God (the symbol of God’s presence with Israel) was still in the tabernacle. So David wanted to build a house for God. He really loved God.

So what did God say? God said: I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. (v.6) In all the years that I moved with you, have I ever asked your leaders to build me a house?

God instead reminded David of all the things He had done in the past and the things he will do for David. vv.8-10 Most important of which is: God will build for David a house that will last. God said He will establish David’s house by giving him a descendant to rule as king forever. v.13,16. David was a soldier. He shed much blood. God wanted David’s son, Solomon, a man of peace (a peaceful kingdom that his father setup for him) to build His house.

The house that David offered and that Solomon built was magnificent but it was eventually destroyed. The house that God gave to David is one that endures forever. From the house of David came Mary – whom God appointed to bear His Son, Jesus. Jesus is king forevermore.

Today, we live in houses that decay and depreciate. Our houses get worn down, by pests, by the weather elements, cabinet doors get unhinged, even cornice in our bathroom ceiling fell off, termites eat our doorposts,etc. All sorts of problems come with our earthly houses.

Only the one who dwells with God has an eternal home. As Moses wisely prayed: Lord, you have been our dwelling place
throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. Psalm 90

Where is your dwelling place, my friend? On what do you put your security in this world? God is waiting for you to come home – to know him and find true security in him. Make him your eternal home.

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?

romans-8-28-lg.jpg

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.