The Smart Lawyer

If I were not an accountant, I think I would like to be lawyer. I love watching arguments in court. I like how lawyers prove their point with reason, with evidence either to convict the guilty or to acquit the innocent.

This morning, I read in Acts 23:1-11 Paul on trial as he faced the council of people who were against him for spreading the gospel. Paul was a Roman citizen and a Pharisee – a member of an ancient Jewish sect, distinguished by strict observance of the traditional and written law. He used these status to his advantage. (Read Acts 22:25-29 on how he used his Roman citizenship to get himself out of being whipped and released.)

Beyond his status, here is his argument in self-defence:

“Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.” Whoa.. what a claim of innocence!

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The high priest, Ananias was perhaps indignantly surprised at Paul’s impudence – implying that he was wrongly accused. Ananias ordered those beside Paul to slap him on the mouth. Paul said:

“God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?”

The bystanders said to Paul: How dare you insult the high priest!

Paul said, “I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’” (Paul once again defend himself with the truth. He did not know the high priest. Yet he also pointed out what is the law – that one should not disrespect a ruler or people in leadership.)

Paul was a smart lawyer. He knew how to position himself and take timely advantage of pertinent data and situation. He knew that in the courtroom, there were two groups of people: the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Sadducees were a religio-political group that held a great deal of power among the Jews in Israel. These 2 groups had opposing view on resurrection – life after death.

Paul began crying out in the Council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!”

Because of his statement, a great uproar and argument started and some scribes (secretary) of the Pharisees sided with Paul and said:

“We find nothing wrong with this man; suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?”

What happened next? v.10

And as a great dissension was developing, the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them and ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force, and bring him into the barracks.

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Paul got himself out of the trial – he was neither convicted nor acquitted. But the people who tried him ended up quarrelling among themselves.

What can we learn from Paul in this case? Paul was a smart lawyer. He knew how to use his knowledge to his advantage. He was familiar with the legal system, he knew the weaknesses of his enemies. He was also bold to speak out. He was passionate about the gospel to the extent that he was often persecuted – jailed, beaten, mobbed, plotted to be killed (Read of the plot to kill him vv.12-15).

What is his comfort and motivation? v.11

But on the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.”

I often wish that I would hear God speak so clearly to me as Paul did. And I discovered on many occasions that God did – through the circumstances and people that came into my life at just the right place and time. I am always amazed at his timeliness. He sends his comfort and encouragement just when I needed it most. He assures me of what He wants me to do through His Word – affirmed by timely assignments that He sent me.

Let me illustrate my point: Recently I was studying the book of Esther. On the day that I shared a lesson on Mordecai and Haman, I was invited to write an article for publication in a booklet. The person in charge asked if I could write about Esther. Truly, God affirms his calling in his beautiful time.

It is not easy for Paul to be a missionary to the Gentiles. That was what God called him to do (Acts 22:21). Yet when God calls, it does not mean the road would be easy. But it means His presence, peace and power go with the calling.

Wherever you are right now, dear friend, whatever you are doing, no matter who you are, you are loved and called for a purpose – to serve your family? to love your enemy? to teach your employees? to work for your boss? Is it hard? Yes, it is not easy. But God said: Take courage. I am with you always.

Be like Paul – make your defence against the enemy and let God defend you and make an offence to stand for what is right and true… to be on God’s side. Let God be on your side.

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Trashy Talk

Hey, do you know what happened yesterday to _________?? He said… She said… They say….
 
A chattering fool comes to ruin; the mouth of a fool invites ruin. Proverbs 10:8,10,14 Whoa, 3 verses one after another associating the foolish tongue with ruin! Scary but so true!
 
First thing that comes to mind is gossip. To chatter is to talk incessantly (non-stop) and rapidly (very fast – often talking fast is a result of not thinking carefully) about ‘trivial’ matters.
 
Is gossip not like that? Talking about things of little value – neither helping the one who gossips nor the one who listens. Gossip destroys relationship. Even if they were true, gossips are usually about someone’s not present to defend themselves, about something they said or did and somehow, oftentimes, said differently or in different context, passed around gets distorted and different from the truth.
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Proverbs 10:18 says Whoever conceals hatred with lying lips and spreads slander is a fool.
 
Another truth to learn: v. 19-21
19 Sin is not ended by multiplying words,
but the prudent hold their tongues.
20 The tongue of the righteous is choice silver,
but the heart of the wicked is of little value.
21 The lips of the righteous nourish many,
but fools die for lack of sense.
 
Principle 1: More talk more mistakes is indeed true. The prudent (careful) and wise ‘hold’ their tongues. Bite them even if only to control themselves from multiplying mistakes.
 
Principle 2: Out of the heart, the tongue speaks. A righteous person speaks words of value – likened to choice silver. To be righteous is to be morally right, virtuous, good. Each time I speak, what motivates my speech? Is it right, is it just, is it good to those who listen?
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Principle 3: Speak to nourish. When the heart is right, the mouth speaks words that nourish – gives life, heals, comforts, encourages, strengthens and edifies (instruct or improve someone morally or intellectually).
 
Bottom line: Each time I open my mouth, let me be careful (prudent). Let me speak rightly from within a righteous heart. Let me speak to help those who hear my words. Let me borrow the words of the Psalmist:
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May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14

The Power of the Tongue

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Input / Output: who the person is and what he speaks

Pro 5:3 For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey,
and her speech is smoother than oil, (smoothness/flattery)

Pro 10:13 On the lips of him who has understanding, wisdom is found,
but a rod is for the back of him who lacks sense.

Pro 10:14 The wise lay up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near.

Pro 10:18 The one who conceals hatred has lying lips,
and whoever utters slander is a fool.

Pro 10:21 The lips of the righteous feed many,
but fools die for lack of sense.

Pro 10:31 The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom,
but the perverse tongue will be cut off.

Pro 10:32 The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable,
but the mouth of the wicked what is perverse.

Pro 11:13 Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets,but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.

Pro 11:9 With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered.

Pro 12:6 The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood, but the mouth of the upright delivers them.

Pro 12:13 An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips,
but the righteous escapes from trouble.

Pro 13:5 The righteous hates falsehood, but the wicked brings shame and disgrace.

Pro 15:2 The tongue of the wise commends knowledge,
but the mouths of fools pour out folly.

Pro 15:26 The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord,but gracious words are pure.

Pro 16:1 The plans of the heart belong to man,
but the answer of the tongue is from the  Lord.

Pro 16:10 An oracle is on the lips of a king;
his mouth does not sin in judgment.

Pro16:21 The wise of heart is called discerning,
and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.

Pro 16:23 The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious
and adds persuasiveness to his lips.

Pro 16:27 A worthless man plots evil,
and his speech is like a scorching fire.

Pro 17:4 An evildoer listens to wicked lips,
and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue.

Pro 17:7 Fine speech is not becoming to a fool;
still less is false speech to a prince. (a fool or a prince)

Pro 17:20 A man of crooked heart does not discover good,
and one with a dishonest tongue falls into calamity.

Pro 18:6 A fool’s lips walk into a fight,and his mouth invites a beating.

Pro 18:7 A fool’s mouth is his ruin,and his lips are a snare to his soul.

Pro 18:8 The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.

Pro 19:28 A worthless witness mocks at justice, and the mouth of the wicked devours iniquity.

The Person & his Pulse: where words come from

Out of the heart comes words. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). The kind of person defines the kind of speech. A wise person says wise words, a foolish one speaks folly. A righteous person speaks truth, what is good and right while a wicked person tells lies and evil. Love and hatred motivate the speech (Pro 17:9, 26:24, 26:28). The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things (Pro 15:28). Ultimately, the right word comes from the Lord (Pro 16:1). So the ‘godless’ person (the one who does not know God, one who disobeys God) speaks evil, falsehood, slander, gossip, flattery and words that harm and lead to strife, discord and death.

Process – how word is spoken

Pro 7:21 With much seductive speech she persuades him;
with her smooth talk she compels him. (smooth, seduction, persuasion)

Pro 10:19 When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. (self-control, prudence)

Pro 13:3 Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life;
he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin. (prudence, life/ruin)

Pro 15:1 A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Pro 15:28 The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer,but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.

Pro 17:27 Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding

Pro 17:28 Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise;
when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent. (self-control)

Pro 18:13 If one gives an answer before he hears,it is his folly and shame.

Pro 21:23 Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble. (self-control)

Pro 25:15 With patience a ruler may be persuaded,
and a soft tongue will break a bone. (patience, gentleness)

Pro 29:20 Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.

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How, where and when words are spoken…

Prudence, discretion, self-control, gentleness, kindness and timeliness are important virtues associated with words of wisdom and goodness. How words are uttered is just as important as what words are spoken. Prudence means giving ‘careful’ thought to what should be said or not, when to speak and how to speak. It is to ponder, to guard, to restrain. Discretion is being careful about keeping secret what should not be revealed to avoid offense and discord. Words spoken in gentleness and kindness bring comfort and healing. Soft answer turns away wrath while harsh words stir up anger (15:1). Timely words are important as well – befitting the setting and occasion as needed by the listeners (12:25, 15:23). There are many proverbs dealing with the folly of speaking rashly, babbling without thought – they often result in strife, anger, and bad consequences leading to pain and death. Listen first before speaking.

Product: the fruits of words

Pro 6:16-17,19 There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a false witness who breathes out lies,and one who sows discord among brothers.

Pro 10:11 The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.

Pro 11:11 By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is overthrown.

Pro 12:18 There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Pro 12:19 Truthful lips endure forever,
but a lying tongue is but for a moment. (truth, eternal/temporal)

Pro 12:25 Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.

Pro 13:2 From the fruit of his mouth a man eats what is good, but the desire of the treacherous is for violence.

Pro 15:4 A gentle tongue is a tree of life,
but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. (gentleness, life, brokenness)

Pro 15:23 To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!

Pro 16:13 Righteous lips are the delight of a king,
and he loves him who speaks what is right. (delight, love)

Pro 16:24 Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.

Pro 17:20 A man of crooked heart does not discover good,
and one with a dishonest tongue falls into calamity. (dishonesty, calamity)

Pro 18:6 A fool’s lips walk into a fight,
and his mouth invites a beating. (talk that leads to quarrel)

Pro 18:7 A fool’s mouth is his ruin,
and his lips are a snare to his soul. (ruin, snare/trap)

Pro 18:20 From the fruit of a man’s mouth his stomach is satisfied;
he is satisfied by the yield of his lips. (words – nourish and edifies)

Pro 18:21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
and those who love it will eat its fruits. (death vs life/fruitful)

Pro 21:6 The getting of treasures by a lying tongue
is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death. (death, temporal)

Pro 22:11 He who loves purity of heart,
and whose speech is gracious will have the king as his friend. (king’s friend)

Pro 22:12 The eyes of the  Lord keep watch over knowledge, but he overthrows the words of the traitor. (protection/rejection of God)

Pro 23:16 My inmost being will exult when your lips speak what is right.

Pro 25:23 The north wind brings forth rain, and a backbiting tongue, angry looks. (gossip)

What is the result of good or bad speech?

Wise words bring life, healing, restoration and gladness of heart. A person prudent in speech is a delight to the Lord and makes his father glad. He is considered the friend of the king. The king administers justice through his words. Many metaphors are given for good words: choice silver, gold, abundance of costly stones, jewels, apples of gold in setting of silver, honeycomb, bubbling brooks, tree of life, fountain of life, and deep water. The benefits of wise words are eternal while those of foolishness are temporal. Lies and falsehood are abomination to the Lord, things which He hates. Flatteries are associated with the adulteress or the prostitutes to cause harm to those who listen. Bad speech is like sword thrusts, glaze covering an earthen vessel, a snare and a deep pit – bringing pain, ruin, the rod/beatings and downfall to the speaker. Gossip, slander and lies cause quarrel, strife and violence. Death and life are in the power of the tongue (Pro 18:21). Good diplomacy saves a city. A person’s speech affects the whole community.

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Purpose – why speak and why not speak

Pro 28:23 Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor
than he who flatters with his tongue.

Pro 20:19 Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets;
therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.

Pro 24:26 Whoever gives an honest answer kisses the lips.

Pro 24:28 Be not a witness against your neighbor without cause, and do not deceive with your lips.

Pro 27:2 Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.

Pro 30:32 If you have been foolish, exalting yourself, or if you have been devising evil, put your hand on your mouth.

Pro 31:8 Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute.

Pro 31:9 Open your mouth judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Pro 31:26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

Why speak and why not speak

We are not to speak our own praise. Let other people say good things about you (Pro 27:2). The wise does not open his mouth with the fools (Pro 24:7). It is useless to argue with the foolish person. Personally, Agur prayed for two things (in the negative aspect): 1) falsehood and lying be removed from his lips 2) neither poverty nor riches be given him. It is interesting to note that he associated the two pairs. Indeed how often do poverty and wealth affect a man’s integrity (20:17). He explained it clearly in 30:9 – denial of God in riches and deceit against man in poverty. Both are speeches we should refrain from. We are not to slander or bear false witness against our neighbor. Proverbs 30:32 tells us to put our hand on our mouth for 3 things: being foolish, exalting self, and scheming evil. In the society, King Lemuel is taught to open his mouth for the mute, the destitute, the poor and needy. In his words, he is to judge righteously (31:8-9). On the flip side, it implies that he is to rebuke and correct those who are oppressing these marginalized people. In the home, the virtuous wife opens her mouth in wisdom and teaching of kindness. She not only models good deeds but also speaks good teachings. The goal of our speech is to edify people and glorify God.

Metaphors

Pro 10:11 The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.

Pro 10:20 The tongue of the righteous is choice silver;
the heart of the wicked is of little worth.

Pro 16:24 Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.

Pro 18:4 The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.

Pro 20:15 There is gold and abundance of costly stones,
but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel. (precious jewel)

Pro 20:17 Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man, but afterward his mouth will be full of gravel.

Pro 22:14 The mouth of forbidden women is a deep pit; he with whom the  Lord is angry will fall into it.

Pro 25:11 A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.

Pro 26:7 Like a lame man’s legs, which hang useless, is a proverb in the mouth of fools.

Pro 26:9 Like a thorn that goes up into the hand of a drunkard is a proverb in the mouth of fools.

Pro 26:22 The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.

Pro 26:23 Like the glaze covering an earthen vessel
are fervent lips with an evil heart. (passionate evil: easily chipped off)

Application: To speak or not to speak

What words are we to speak? Wisdom, knowledge, truth, teaching of kindness, good words, gracious words, and words that bring healing, comfort, gladness and life. How are we to speak them? We should ponder, guard and restrain. We need to exercise discretion, prudence and self-control. Rash words cannot be taken back. They are often spoken without thought but their hurts last a lifetime. It is said that the fool’s lips walk into a fight and his mouth invites beating (18:6). How true that it often feels good to pour out words like delicious morsels that go into the inner parts of the body – but the aftermath and side effects are far from delightful! Silence is golden indeed.

This applies to communication between husband and wife. I have learned many painful lessons for not biting my tongue. I have also experienced God’s vindication in my restraint. The art of speech is more than speaking. It is more of listening. “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” (18:13) It is a snare to be listening with the intention of preparing for an answer – the right answer to defend myself… or even the appropriate response to point out how wrong the other person is. In listening, I need to ponder – not be so defensive, then I can guard and restrain myself from saying rash words. After attentive silence, comes careful consideration what to say and how to say it. Perhaps, still say nothing. Perhaps, take it up when both heads are cooler. The right answer is from the Lord so I ask Him for it. The right time is also from the Lord. Lord, grant me wisdom to discern, to be prudent.

In relation to our study of the prophets, there is a need today to speak not only words of comfort, grace and mercy, but also of rebuke, justice and righteousness. It applies to parent-child, pastor-member, teacher-disciple, friend-friend relationships. We are often superficial in our speech. We say ‘good’ ‘pleasing’ words (sometimes flattery) to gain favor and promote easier working relationship. We are hesitant to offend. We do not want to be the ‘bad guy.’ It is better to stay silent and maintain the status quo. Why rock the boat when the sailing is smooth? Proverbs 28:23: Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue. There is a need to speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves: the mute, the destitute, the poor and the needy. The reality of the church today is that the rich and powerful has the more say. Their voices are louder. They fund the projects and their presence represents a ‘good’ image that all is well. Pastors who know how to relate to the influential elders and deacons, leaders of the church last longer. In the school, similar politics apply. Leaders who cannot accept and/or unable to change the status quo, leave for lack of support and for personal conviction and stand.

Such is the paradox of the wisdom of speech: to be silent in the noise and to speak in the quiet. In the final analysis, it is about the heart – a humble heart that defers to the other person; a servant heart that seeks the welfare of others rather than his own, a heart that seeks answer from the Lord.

 

 

Tips on Reading the Bible

Why read the Bible? When to read? How to read?

I once heard a speaker at a theological forum teaching a Psalm of lament. A lament is a passionate expression of sorrow or grief. The psalmist set an example on how he coped with his sadness – complaining and crying out to God.

The speaker shared one striking truth: the biblical principles of living life in stride and coping with adversity are better read and remembered during good times. Why? Because taking vitamins is most useful when one is healthy. Eating healthy and keeping healthy are means recovering better when one gets sick.

Do we read labels of cough medicine when we are not coughing? That is how we sometimes treat the Bible – is it not? We open it when we are seeking for answers; we scan the pages for comfort and encouragement when we are in despair, worried and at the end of our ropes.

While it is good to read God’s word for comfort, encouragement and assurance in difficult times, it is so much better to discover Biblical truths on a moment to moment, day by day, bit by bit, step by step basis. Many of us remember Bible verses we learned as a child – and these verses became our weapons against the enemy’s lies. The daily intake of vitamins helps to immunise the body against illnesses – fighting off bacteria and viruses – a reality all around us. Healthy diet, exercise and enough sleep do not of themselves prevent us from getting sick. But we will have a better chance to recover and heal when we keep healthy habits.

So with reading the Bible… knowing, memorising and applying God’s word do not guarantee a problem-free life. The evils of this physical world are a reality we cannot avoid. But when we put our time to reading, remembering and living out God’s truths in the trivial details of daily life, we have a better chance of standing firm when the storms come. Practice makes perfect.

An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. God’s Word is more than just defensive weapon against trials of life – it is an offensive artillery to triumph in life.

Tips on reading the Bible:

1) Regularise – fixed time and place everyday. Just as we eat our meals regularly to stay healthy, we need to read regularly to stay fit spiritually.

2) Right size (downsize then upsize) – Start small.  Read short passages regularly. It is much better than long passages once in awhile. Same applies in our eating habits – it’s much better to have many small meals in a day than few big meals in one go.

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3) Personalise – put your name into passages of prayers and verses of assurance. Borrow words of the psalmists to pray as your own prayer. Put yourself in the shoes of Biblical characters – think how they think, feel how they feel. Learn from their mistakes. Discover how they win their battles.

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4) Memorise – store precious nuggets of your readings – take away into the rest of the day what you read by memorising verses. You will be amazed at how these verses come to mind at just the right place and time to encourage, to comfort and to calm your fears.

5) Internalise – apply God’s word into the small details of your daily living until it becomes a part of you.

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Last but not the least, JUST DO IT!  Start reading.

Aging with Grace

We often say ‘Life is short.’ when someone dies unexpectedly, especially when he/she is too young or not old enough to pass on.

On the other hand, for many elderlies, the days drag on, and time passes so slowly. 
A Chinese saying comes to mind: 求生不得,求死不能. I ask for life but I cannot have. I ask for death but it is not possible.

Such is our mortal body. A long life filled with physical infirmities is such a weary life. An old soul without a mate or friends to talk to is such a lonely life. A helpless and useless life without a sense of purpose is such a meaningless life. A person, young or old, without Christ is a lost soul without hope of experiencing peace and joy even in the best of circumstances.

I pray that when I get old, I will remember to rejoice in the Lord always. May the joy of the Lord be my strength. I hope to be a cheerful person so that I will be a friend to the lonely. Let me be a prayer warrior so that life is still purposeful and meaningful.

My mother is my example. Even when frail, she went about doing the tasks of a wife, mother and homemaker. She bonded with friends; and shared the good news of Jesus whenever possible. She prayed with friends over the phone. She prayed for her children, sons-in-law, and grandchildren. She also often prayed for my mother-in-law and my sister’s too.

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Please Lord, help me remember that even when I am old, you are my Hope, my Peace and my Joy. In You, I will be strong living life with a sense of purpose – to be light and salt to the people around me.

Written April 17, 2015

I wrote this piece less than a year after my father-in-law passed away. These thoughts came when I saw how my mom-in-law lived with dementia and how our family struggled with this challenge. It’s been 4 years since she was widowed. Today at 94, by God’s grace and mercy, she is weak but healthy. She has a good appetite. She is often sleepy. Although she’s not chatty, she still responds when talked to. We are thankful for these blessings.

I wonder though how I would feel and think should I get to live to her age. Not exactly something I look forward to. 😀 I hope Jesus returns soon.

 

 

Playing Mom

Dear parents… question… do you play with your children? And I mean adult children? Do you ‘chat’ with them? Do you know their secrets? Or better yet, do they tell you their secrets without you asking?

Do you want to know how I do it? I play with them. I let them beat me at scrabble… no tricks but because they are really better at it. That’s why I am very happy when I win. It is gives me pleasure to beat my kids at scrabble. And when they beat me, they know it is because they are good at it.

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I chat with them. One on one time whenever there is opportunity sometimes impromptu.. wherever we may be – eating, shopping, or just watching Netflix together. I tell them what I do with my friends. I share funny stories. I tell jokes about myself, I let them laugh at me even as I laughed at my ‘silly’ moments. I play cool when their dad made fun of me with them.
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Have I ever feel the itch to be nosy… curious to know about their personal life? Yes, I do. But I have to curb the urge and control myself – not to be nosy and intrusive. Have I ever worry about them staying single? What if they don’t have someone to take care of them in old age? Well, worry does not solve the issue. So I keep the concern in my heart. God knows my heart. He will take care of it.

In their own time, they come to me and tell me about it. When they do, listening is best. No judging please.. zip my mouth and open my ears. Not even when I think they did wrong or should have done better. And ‘I told you so’ does not help at all. No need to rub it in. If I add salt to the wound, there will be no next time. No more confession, no more secret revelation.

I remember when one of them came to me about having a ‘relationship’ in high school. I was surprised. I was not aware she had someone. I listened and told her gently but firmly, it is alright to have a special friend. You are still young. Many possibilities and opportunities still ahead – many years of study to do yet. I trusted her enough to let go so she can make her own mind and do what is right. Eventually, she learned that study is her priority and she gave up the relationship without any intervention on my part.
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God is good. He gives wisdom and guidance to our children when we teach them in the right way – the way of God. God takes care of them. Many times, many thoughts came into my mind and concerns crowd my heart, I cant help but wonder if there is anything I could do better or say more to help things along. Such is the dilemma of a mom – to strike a balance between being close and giving them space… between asking and listening… between being passive or active… But always in grace by grace through the grace of God.

So dear parents, you can do it… be a good parent that God calls you to be – to your natural or spiritual children… play with them, pray with them and pray for them. Give them time and a listening ear, an understanding heart… a heart of love.
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The Comforter

Have you ever felt helpless and speechless going to a wake? I have. I have also witnessed the bereaved comforting the “comforter!” Hubby once went to the wake of a friend’s young daughter. Minutes after sitting beside the friend, he started crying. I can still picture in my mind, the hand of the friend going behind hubby’s shoulder and patting him gently. What a scene!

Job 2:11-13 record for us the profile of what seems to me to be the ideal comforter.

Job’s three friends all came from different places and they agreed to go together to comfort him. Don’t we often do this? We accompany each other to wakes. It’s easier not to do this alone.

When they ‘saw’ Job, they ‘raised their voices and wept’. They even tore their clothes and put ashes on their heads. They came, they saw and they mourned.

Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.

And how did Job describe these 3 friends? “you are miserable comforters, all of you!” Read Job 16:2. What happened? It started when they opened their mouths! Read all about their great debates from Job 4-15. The point of their argument is: Job is suffering because he did something wrong.

Lessons to ponder…

To mourn with those who mourn is to ‘see‘ – to realise how great the sorrow and pain of those grieving.

It is also to be in the ‘shoes’ of those grieving – to feel as they feel, to cry as they cry.

7 days and 7 nights – it’s even as long as the longest wakes I usually hear of. In the Philippines, ‘lamay’ usually lasts for 3 to 7 days.  Journeying with others in their suffering takes time – time which is often a luxury for us to offer. During the wake, the bereaved is in the company of friends who come to comfort. It is a temporary period where pain and grief seem a little bit more distant or bearable. What about the days, months and years after?

To See

More than time itself, what is my attitude when I offer my time? When I am grieving, the presence of a friend holding my hand, patting my shoulders and giving me a tissue to wipe my tears – these are treasures more than words can offer. What motivated Job’s friends? ‘for they SAW that his pain was very great.’ Again, to mourn with those who mourn is to ‘see’.

Am I willing to sit on the ground to grieve with those in grief? When I feel helpless and speechless, when I ‘SEE’ how great her pain is, then perhaps it’s when my grieving friend gets most comforted!

Lord, open my eyes that I may see.

Not a word

When you do not know what to say, it is best not to say anything. I have been on both sides of the fence – to comfort the bereaved and needing comfort as the bereaved. When my mom passed away, the story of Job came to mind. I did not feel like narrating the story of how my mom passed away again and again. I did not feel like talking at all. I just wanted to sit quietly with my friends.  So I wrote a note to let them read: Thank you for coming. Thank you for sitting with me quietly.

In the end, I put the note away, because it was so unorthodox and did not jive with our culture of grief. Ours is one of words. We often think we need to say something – to offer solutions, words of advice and comfort. We feel the need to break the silence: a culture of denial—showing a brave face, a strong spirit, covering the sadness with chatter, pushing away the grief with words of “comfort.”

My parents died within 5 months of each other. My mom who was 13 years younger went ahead of my dad. In the months that followed their sickness and passing, God sent my sister and me many companions to be with us on our journey.  In hindsight, I realise that the most precious gift they offered us was their time—listening to our prayer requests, uttering a kind word, visiting my parents when they were sick and praying with them, being present when we needed them most.

I know that these friends were motivated by their love of God and their love for us. Love compelled them to open their ears to listen to our grief without faltering. Love opened their eyes to see our need for encouragement and companionship.

In the Chinese culture, bereaved people avoid going to visit friends’ homes, because it might bring bad luck to the household they visit. Because of this belief, a friend was greatly comforted when a family friend told his mom, “You can come to my home wearing your blackest attire anytime.” Indeed, no journey is too hard to bear as long as we know we are not alone.

When God created Adam, he said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We are not meant to live our lives alone. We need people to walk with us through our challenges, reminding us that God is always near to us, and the Holy Spirit is our guide and counsellor along the way.

 

During my grief, I received many words of well-intended “comfort.” Someone sent me a text: “Move on.” This came as a shock. Move on? To where? “Slowly,” I replied.

Moving on implies leaving something behind, getting it over with. Perhaps the only people who think there’s a time limit for grief have never lost a piece of their heart. I do not really want to “move on”—but if I do, I hope I will be moving from being sad and emotional to holding my grief with joy and strength.

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When someone asks, “What happened?” I sigh with weariness. I’m exhausted from going through the whole story, beginning to end, sickness to death. What happened? Death happened. Sickness happened. My response is—nothing. I do not bother to reply. It would be better to say nothing at all.

When someone asks, “How are you?” my canned reply is: “Better” or “Up and down.” At least this question helps me to assess myself and reply honestly about how am I coping. The question, “How are you?” became a steppingstone toward deeper reflective time with God and with myself.

But when a classmate ended her words of condolences with the words, “no need to reply,” I welcomed them with relief. I sensed her empathy. She must have known how tiring it was to respond to every word of sympathy and inquiry. These words told me that she understood I needed to be silent.

Silence is often the best response we can give to one another.

Henri Nouwen wisely observed: “The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing… not healing, not curing…that is a friend who cares.”[i]

My godmother comforted me with: “No words.”

I appreciated a friend’s, “We do not know what to say.”

A grieving friend wrote: “When you do not know what to say, please say nothing.”

Benjamin Allen said, “When someone says, ‘There are no words…’ it is there I will find them and we will meet in the silent language of grief.”[ii]

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. Amen. 2 Corinthians 1:3–4 (NASB)

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[i] Henri Nouwen. Out of Solitude: Three Meditations of the Christian Life. (Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 2004).

[ii] Benjamin Scott Allen. Out of the Ashes: Healing in the Afterloss. (Reno: Senssoma Publishing, 2014).