New Year’s Musings of a Chinese Christian

Another year is ending. Around the dinner table, a friend shared he has cancer. His positive attitude of accepting whatever God has planned for Him is encouraging. He read from Psalm 90 n was reminded of God’s peace in the midst of challenges. He said if it’s his time, he is ready. It reminded me of my prayer years ago when I learned that I had cancer: Lord, if you think that your purpose for my life on earth is done, then I am at peace with that. But if there is anything else I need to do, please guide me through this journey.

Death is a morbid subject. Many do not like to think about it, talk about it. They avoid anything that looks like it n sounds like it. In the Chinese culture, four is not a good number because it sounds like death, whether in Mandarin, Cantonese or Fookienese. No matter what our attitude is, mortality is a reality. Even Christians are not exempted from cancer. What differentiates them is their attitude towards death. It is more than just passive, fatalistic acceptance. It is an acceptance in peace and being at peace, in hope… Hope to a future in God’s presence for eternity.

Today is the last day of the year. No one really knows for sure if it will be his last. The Bible teaches us that there are three things that last: faith, hope n love. (1 Corinthians 13) God’s children live each day in faith that God loves them n He knows best. They live with hope that there is life beyond mortality. They live in love just as God loves them and calls them to love. As we usher in the new year, let us face each day with renewed faith, encouraging hope n enduring love that only our Creator gives. Happy new year!

These were my thoughts written on Chinese New year’s eve in 2016.. about 3 months before my mom passed away and 4 months before my dad followed her. Today, my mom and dad are both in the eternal presence of God.  Today, that friend is still undergoing treatment for his cancer. Today, I have other friends going through similar journeys. Yesterday was Chinese New Year. It was my first time to celebrate Chinese New Year at a funeral. I attended the interment of a 93 year old family friend – a very close friend of my father. He was our family doctor when my sister and i were young. He was bedridden for the past 8 years. As I attended the farewell service of this dear uncle, I am both sad and glad. I am sad for his wife who is grieving and missing a lifelong friend and companion. I am reminded of man’s fragile mortality. I am also glad that he is now enjoying eternal bliss in the presence of his Creator – free from pain, no more tears and no more night.

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Moses prayed: Teach us, Lord to number our days that we gain a heart of wisdom. This prayer reminds us to make each day count. Numbering our days is to put a significant value to each moment of each day. As children of God, we need to savour each minute God gives us with a thankful attitude, a contented heart and a joyful disposition in this broken world. We need to be joyful in hope, patient in tribulation and persistent in prayer.

Let these values guide us in the coming days of the new year… faith, hope, love, joy, patience and wisdom to live life to the fullest.. what God intends for all his creatures.

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Choosing Joy

This morning I reviewed my journal of March 8, 2016. It was entitled To walk away in joy from frustration. Here is the account.

If there’s a will, there’s a way. If I decide not to be pulled down in irritation and frustration, I will find a way and make a choice not to be. How?

First, I need to be aware of the source of my frustration. Why am I upset? I am right…he/she is wrong? I am wronged…is he/she right?

Second, does it matter that much? So what if I am right and he/she’s not? Many times, the source of the conflict and the issue in the conflict are trivial when I look back on it.

Just let it go. I like the Hokkien proverb: “Tsih na bo ngh e bueh tan.” Literal translation: It takes two coins to make a sound. English paraphrase: It takes two to tango. If I decide not to get into the argument, there is no argument. If I decide to let go, then nothing to argue about.

Choose my wars and choose my timing. In the heat of the moment, many things are said which ought not to be. And even if they need to be said, they might not be uttered in the right manner – right words, right tone and right attitude. Let me be slow to anger, slow to speak and quick to listen and quick to hold my tongue. Then I will be one step closer to being joyful (not pulled down with anger and bitterness – in frustration/irritation.)

I often have to review my past – what I wrote almost 2 years ago still applies. Today I am still learning how to live wisely – to choose joy.  I realised the first step towards joy is humility. It is letting go of the ego – to be right; to prove I am right – to win the argument. Many issues that seem so important fade in significance when I look back on it. They are petty and trivial. They are not worth the angst and the grief of fighting over it. Many times I could have saved myself a lot of stress from anger and frustration if only I knew which battles to fight for and which ones to let go.

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Jesus, I come to you. Show me and help me to be gentle and humble like you.  I need wisdom and discernment from the Holy Spirit to show me. Amen.

A Joyful Encounter

How do you respond when life sucks? How does it feel to be in a crisis – be it financial, health-related, or in a broken relationship? Unless one is a masochist, it is not in human nature for a person to seek a difficult life. Alas, but life is not a bed of roses – even for the rich and famous! So what are the children of God, followers of Jesus to do when life is hard? How are we to face our problems? Captain Jack Sparrow has a point when he said: ‘A problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.’

James, a disciple of Jesus said: Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, (James 1:2)

Who are these brethren he wrote to?  To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: (v.1) The twelve tribes refer to the twelve tribes of Israel – Jewish believers who were scattered all over – outside their homeland. They were Christians who were facing persecutions for their faith.

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Why did James write about being joyful when one encounters difficulties?

3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Life challenges test us – our faith, our tenacity, our grit. In those days, Christians were persecuted – they were being killed for believing in Jesus. James encouraged them to be aware that these trials were a test of their faith – how truly they believe and stand for what they believe. The test is for them to endure – to persevere and not give up. The goal of testing and enduring is for them to become mature.

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In high school, I learned a song ‘Little flowers never worry. If it never never rains, then they’ll never never grow.’ A stormy life tests our endurance. It makes a person strong. I remember my husband gave me poster when we were dating. ‘Do not pray for an easy life. Pray to be a strong person.’ The reality of life in this world is a reality of sickness, evil, broken relationships, natural disasters and continuous difficult challenges. No one is exempt – not even Christians. The difference between Christians and non-Christian is Christ in them. We have the Bible – God’s word to encourage us and we have the Holy Spirit to guide us. When we face challenges, we have a resource – a lifeline to help us go through the dark tunnel.

James continues: But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (vv.5-8)

God waits for us to go to Him for wisdom. God generously gives wisdom if only we ask. He is not only generous, he gives without reproach. He does not reprimand us for being foolish to ask for wisdom. He does not judge us. Never would he say: O how dumb you are, you don’t know what to do?!  When we ask for wisdom, we need to ask in faith – fully believing that God will grant us wisdom. We must be firm – not wavering, tossed to and fro by the waves and winds of the storm.

12 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

Again, James wrote about persevering under trial. To persevere is to endure till the end. There is a promise of the crown of life for those who pass the test of faith. Most importantly, it is a promise of the Lord for those who love Him.

13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.

We need to beware of blaming God for the difficulties that come our way. Are difficulties a temptation or a test? A test is for good – to make us a better person. A temptation is for evil – to make us do wrong. Is the difficulty a result of a sinful act? Let us beware of being misled and be discerning to know the difference. Sin has dire consequences. One wrong bears fruit of endless evil.

On the other hand, our heavenly Father graciously gives us good gifts. Let us not forget that all good things come from Him.

17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. 18 In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.

When life is hard, let us remember the good things God continuously gives to see us through. It is to be joyful encounter when we face trials because then we shall be fruitful witnesses of the good God, Father of lights who changes not.

 

What are you proud of…

What is the world’s standard of success? Money? Fame? Wisdom? Strength? Influence? What are the things people boast about? Parents are proud of their children – their academic achievements and their careers. Athletes take pride in their medals and trophies. Popularity, fame and fortune are the pride of movie stars and celebrities. These measures of success can be deceiving. They often offer a false sense of security.

In the Old Testament, Jeremiah, the prophet, was called by God to speak words of judgement to the southern kingdom of Judah. Jeremiah was caught between the wrath of God and the sins of his people. In Jeremiah 9, he said:

1 Oh, that my head were a spring of water
and my eyes a fountain of tears!
I would weep day and night
for the slain of my people.
2 Oh, that I had in the desert
a lodging place for travelers,
so that I might leave my people
and go away from them;
for they are all adulterers,
a crowd of unfaithful people.

3 “They make ready their tongue
like a bow, to shoot lies;
it is not by truth
that they triumph in the land.
They go from one sin to another;
they do not acknowledge me,”
declares the Lord.
4 “Beware of your friends;
do not trust anyone in your clan.
For every one of them is a deceiver,
and every friend a slanderer.
5 Friend deceives friend,
and no one speaks the truth.
They have taught their tongues to lie;
they weary themselves with sinning.
6 You live in the midst of deception;
in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me,”
declares the Lord.

God condemned the people for their lies. They deceive themselves and they lie to one another. Their sins lie in their self-deceiving sufficiency – they ignore God (v. 3). God warned Jeremiah in v. 4 to beware of friends and family because even people close to him are liars and traitors.  Again refusal to acknowledge God is the sin that God condemns.

7 Therefore this is what the Lord Almighty says:

“See, I will refine and test them,
for what else can I do
because of the sin of my people?
8 Their tongue is a deadly arrow;
it speaks deceitfully.
With their mouths they all speak cordially to their neighbors,
but in their hearts they set traps for them.
9 Should I not punish them for this?”
declares the Lord.
“Should I not avenge myself
on such a nation as this?”

10 I will weep and wail for the mountains
and take up a lament concerning the wilderness grasslands.
They are desolate and untraveled,
and the lowing of cattle is not heard.
The birds have all fled
and the animals are gone.

11 “I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins,
a haunt of jackals;
and I will lay waste the towns of Judah
so no one can live there.”

12 Who is wise enough to understand this? Who has been instructed by the Lord and can explain it? Why has the land been ruined and laid waste like a desert that no one can cross?

13 The Lord said, “It is because they have forsaken my law, which I set before them; they have not obeyed me or followed my law. 14 Instead, they have followed the stubbornness of their hearts; they have followed the Baals, as their ancestors taught them.” 15 Therefore this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “See, I will make this people eat bitter food and drink poisoned water. 16 I will scatter them among nations that neither they nor their ancestors have known, and I will pursue them with the sword until I have made an end of them.”

God’s punishment for his disobedient people is to banish them into exile – to be conquered by enemies leaving their land in devastation and desolation.

 

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God calls to all the wise, the strong and the rich not to be deceived – not to find security in the things of this world – wisdom, health and wealth. These things do not last. The people in Jeremiah’s time, fooled themselves into a false sense of security. They thought they are wise, they are strong and safe. They said Peace, peace when there is no peace (Jer. 8:10).

Instead of boasting of wisdom, strength and wealth, what are they to boast about?  God said: If you want to brag, then brag that you know me. Be proud that you are wise enough to know who I am. What kind of God am i? I am the Lord, the one who is kind, just and righteous. I am an advocate of the poor, the needy and the oppressed. I am concerned that kindness, justice and righteousness be executed among my people.  These things I delight – these 3: kindness, justice and righteousness – these are important to me. Be proud that you know me and be proud that you are ‘kind’ like me, ‘just and fair’ like me. Delight = take pleasure in doing right on earth. Delight in what the Lord delights. This is what you should boast about. Be proud that you are in a relationship with the Lord of kindness, justice and righteousness.

25 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh— 26 Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab and all who live in the wilderness in distant places. For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart.”

What is circumcision? Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology defines circumcision as:

Removal of the foreskin or prepuce of the male genital organ, whether for religious reasons or as a purely hygienic measure. Circumcision was practiced in the ancient Near East by the western Semites, including the Ammonites, Moabites, Hebrews, and Edomites. The procedure was rejected by the east Semitic peoples of Mesopotamia, the Canaanites, and the Shechemites.

The Old Testament. The special meaning of circumcision for the people of Israel is found in Genesis 17 and occurs within the context of God’s renewed covenant promise to Abraham, following the initial contractual relationship (Gen. 15). On the second occasion, God again promised lands and offspring to the still childless patriarch, and gave him the sign of circumcision, which was to be imposed upon Abraham and his descendants as a token of covenant membership ( Gen 17:10 ). For the Israelites circumcision was a religious rite and was intended to mark the beginning of covenant solidarity for Abraham’s descendants rather than describing the historical origins of the procedure.

Circumcision of the heart is more important to God than outward circumcision of the flesh. It is more than ritual and external compliance of the law. It is not about the form but the essence. To be uncircumcised at heart is to be unkind, unjust and wrong.

Success by the world standard does not last. To be kind and compassionate to the poor – this has eternal value in the eyes of God. To defend the rights of the oppressed, to speak for the voiceless, to help the helpless, to defend the defenceless, these are close to the heart of God. To be circumcised in the heart is to take delight – to take pleasure, to boast and be proud of knowing God. To know God is to know the person he is. Know that He is the Lord who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth for in these (kindness, justice, and righteousness), He takes delight.

What are you proud of, my friend?

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?

Bars & Boundaries

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These bars seem constricting. They keep people from lugging big bags onto escalators. They are wide enough for carry-ons to go thru. These are safety measures so travellers don’t get hurt when huge heavy luggages fall off narrow steps on escalators.

In life, many seemingly inconvenient constraints are God’s hedges on His children. We need to be trusting that his ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts are not our thoughts..but so much more.

He gives us enough space to get us through with what we need along the way. Let us not carry too much but travel light.

Jesus said my yoke is easy n my burden is light. Are u travelling light, my friend? Cast your cares on Jesus for He cares for you.

Hedges, fences and boundaries protect us. They not only keep the bad things out. They are not only for protection from bad, they also keep the good things in. The world today is constantly filling our thoughts and minds with values and perspectives that last only for the moment. Temporal pleasures, fleeting success and momentary gratifications..

For Christian parents, we often want to shield our children from bad influence. We do the best we can to teach them the right values and Godly perspectives. But there is a limit to what we can do and how we can keep them safe. We cannot be with them 24/7 and everywhere and anywhere they go.  This is why it is important to set up good boundaries that will keep them safe. We need to teach by walk and by talk – Biblical principles that will guide them in how to face difficult situations in life. These principles are like the bars and railings at the top and bottom of the escalators. They provide just enough space for the essentials to go through. Excess and useless stuffs are filtered out. They keep our children from hurting themselves when we are not with them.

Proverbs 22:6
Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

We need to train them young. Many life principles are caught and taught when the mind is still pliable and receptive. As parents, let us do our part and do it now.  Set up boundaries that will keep for life.

Juggling life…

I often feel that life is pulling me in two different directions. Pride and self-pity… Confidence and doubts… security and anxiety… It seems to me like walking on the balance beam. I need to stay in the middle to keep from falling off.

Each time I think of this dilemma, I remember a Chinese song I learned from Youth summer camp at  church. The lyrics are taken from Isaiah 30:20-21.

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The Easy-to-Read version reads: The Lord might give you sorrow and pain like the bread and water you eat every day. But God is your teacher, and he will not continue to hide from you. You will see your teacher with your own eyes. If you wander from the right path, either to the right or to the left, you will hear a voice behind you saying, “You should go this way. Here is the right way.”

Living the blessed life is about staying on the right path – making the right choices. But it is easier said than done. In the world today, it is no longer just black and white. Many things have become grey.  World views and moral values are constantly changing. Aside from external influences, man in his sinful nature constantly struggles with the good and the bad, the right and the wrong. Even Christians are not exempt from this struggle.

God puts me in circumstances to teach me how to walk the balance beam. When I become proud and self-dependent, God gives me lessons of humility. When I am burdened with anxiety, God shows me he is faithful to provide for all I need. Such a fool to be worried and fearful for the what if’s of life that never happened. Indeed, in the midst of adversity and challenges in life, God’s Word is a comfort for those who take time to read and study it. If only we will listen attentively to his voice and obediently follow his call to walk in his path, we will surely stay on the balance beam.

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Which ball do you think will bounce back?

I’d like to add faith to the 5. As a Christian, faith in God is more than a ball that I juggle with. Life’s circumstances often made it seem difficult to keep all the balls up in the air. It is not about which balls will bounce back. It is about having God’s hands juggle the balls with me. Surely, God keeps all the balls up in the air. And even if any falls, it bounces back.