Abiding in the Shadows

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In the shadow of your wing, I will praise you, O Lord. This is the song my theology professor often led us to pray before we start each class.

What is a shadow? A shadow is the dark shape of the object formed by the same object when it blocks the light. As there is light on one side of it, it has its shadow on the other side.

As I look back in time through my life, I want to thank my Shepherd, for leading me through the shadows of life: my sins He forgives, my tears He dries, my wounds (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual) He heals. In my failures, He teaches me lessons, lessons that I could not and would not have learned in plain sunshine.

Growth is a process. In life, it is the struggle that makes a beautiful butterfly. The cocoon is formed by a plain caterpillar. What is it like to be in the dark cocoon? How does it feel to squeeze and wrestle out of the dark cocoon? How often I wish if only God would free me from this bad and sad situation, or change this difficult person(s) so life would be easier. Instead, it is me that He is changing. God wants me to dwell (to stay, to linger) in His Shelter. He taught me and is still teaching me that it is possible to rest (stop struggling) in the shadow because as He is my light, and I am in His shadow.

In life’s there is and will always be light and shadows. Thank u, Lord for your light to guide me in the shadow. Help me Lord to abide in your shadow. And in the shadow of your wing, I will praise you, O Lord.

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Pray and Let Go

A pastor once told of his young son asking him to keep his marbles for him while he played. So the father put the marbles in his pocket to keep for his son. Soon, the boy returned: Dad, can I have my marbles back? Not long after, he came back crying. Why? He lost his marbles. 

Are we not like that too? We go to God with our prayer concerns and ask Him to keep them for us – that He take care of our requests, that He provide for our needs, that He take our worries and our fears, etc etc. Then after praying, we take it all back. We find solutions to our problems. We depend on our abilities to fix things and make it better. We worry and we fret. And we go crying to Him, how come the results are not as we would like them to be.

I know it is easier said than done… because I’ve been like the little boy. I asked God to safe keep my treasures or take away my anxious thoughts and heavy burdens. Then I changed my mind and thought I could do better. But many times, God taught me to be patient. He wants me to trust Him completely and patiently. I’ve learned that rushing things do not make it faster or better. 

I once asked the botanist who helped me with our plants at home: how long before the flowers bloom? How long will the flowers last? How often do I have to water them? All these questions concern time. Time is what it takes to grow flowers. Time is needed to make buds open. Watering them more often does not make it grow quicker. Watering too much might actually kill the plants.  

Time is needed for me to learn patience. I need to wait and in waiting, I need to fully trust and obey.

In the right time, I will learn to pray rightly and trust fully, perfectly, to let God safe keep my marbles always.

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The If’s and the When’s of Life

What if I get sick… what if a big earthquake strikes… what if my son doesnt pass the entrance.. what if my business deal falls thru; what if my spouse cheat on me? What to do when there’s not enough money to pay rent.. where to turn when terror strikes… how to cope when relationship turns sour..

The Bible doesnt tell us a clear-cut answer for each ‘if’ and ‘when’ of life. One thing it tells us – Do not worry about all these things. (See Matthew 6). Instead pray.

Oh but many of us Christians do that – we pray. When? When the crisis strikes or when we think it is about to happen… When we are at the end of our wits and hanging by the end of the rope!

Do you know that King Solomon said a prayer for all the ‘ifs’ and ‘whens’ he could ever imagine in his days.

Read 1 Kings 8 and observe how many of his prayer items started with ‘If’ or ‘When’: all the no good scenarios and harsh realities in life: sin (v.31,46), defeat (v.33), drought (v.35), famine, pestilence, enemies, plague, sickness (v.37), war, etc. Huh? Why did he pray about such things? Wasnt he the richest, wisest, most famous king in the history of Israel? The Bible tells us there was peace and great prosperity during his reign. (1 King 4, 5:4)

Do you know when and where he prayed about the ifs and the whens? He prayed these after he built a great beautiful temple for God. He prayed during the dedication of the temple to God. Not the typical ‘celebrative’ inaugural prayer, is it?

Why ‘if’ and when ‘when’? ‘If’ seems to imply it ‘might’ or ‘might not’ happen. When is more a matter of ‘when’ 🙂 Regardless, Solomon prayed because he was calling on God to be ‘present’ in the temple he built for Him. He recognized how awesome, loving and kind God is (v.23). He realised that God is too big to be contained in the house he built (v.28). Solomon knew the realities of life and truths on living life. He knew of man’s sinful nature. He understood how nature works.  Drought, famine, wars, sickness are part of life. Solomon understood that man can only live and overcome these challenges by the hand of God. He grasped the importance of having God ‘hear from heaven’ (vv.30,32,34,36,39,43,45), ‘forgive’ (vv.30,34,36,39,50) and ‘maintain the cause’ (v.45,49) of the ‘pray-er’.

Application:
Today, we can pray like Solomon. We pray for the ‘ifs’ and ‘whens’ – for the notpp good even in the midst of prosperity and blessings. It is not being pessimistic or fatalistic. We pray because we beseige God to be with us on earth as He is in heaven. We pray because we need his forgiveness if and when we sin, when we make him sad, when we offend our neighbors. We pray because God alone can maintain our cause. He alone makes the impossible, possible.

We pray each of us knowing the affliction of our own heart: God, hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive and act and render to each according to all our ways, whose heart You know, for You alone know the hearts of all the sons of men, that we may fear You all the days of our life. (vv.39-40)

We pray: Hear in heaven Your dwelling place in order that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name. (v.43) Amen.

How to be happy 102

1) Do not be a KJ (kill-joy). Don’t be a Mr. Grumpy or Mr. Greedy.
2) Throw away JK (joy-killers). What are they?

Anger:
Many things in life upset us: when there is injustice, when our employees make a mistake, when our children disobey us, when we are wronged. It is alright to be angry – the thing is ‘Do not let the sun go down on our anger.’ Eph 4:26
1) Do not dwell too much on the issues that upset you.
2) Move on.

Antidote to Anger:
In the end, it is about forgiveness. Forgiving is not about condoning the mistake or denying the offence. Forgiveness is giving the offender the opportunity to do better next time. And even when he did not ask for forgiveness, forgiving frees the offended from being in bondage of bitterness.

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It is impossible to be angry and happy at the same time, right?

Anxiety (a.k.a. worry)
We often worry about many things as well: job securities; family relationships. Will our children do well in school, in their careers, in their marriage? Will our test results be favourable? Will the helpers stay long? Will my husband stay faithful to me… and on and on goes the list. All our worries are about what’s to come – and how often we waste lots of angst and energy worrying about things that never happen. The Bible tells us not to worry about what to eat, what to wear – not to worry about tomorrow. I know it is easier said than done.

Antidote to Anxiety…
Think back to the past. When I worry about whether my maids will stay long or leaving soon or when I am about to panic about having no help at home, I look back to the times when God provided for me. It might not always be according to what I wanted – but He always helped me through each challenge.

In the end, worry is a trust issue. Do I trust God enough to let God be God and let go? Letting go = worry free = happy. Try it!

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Anti-anxiety formula

Do you worry? About what? Why do people worry? Jesus taught his disciples not to worry.  Read Matthew 6:19-33 and Luke 12:22-31.

Here are some questions to ask when you are worried and answers to seek to stop worrying…

 

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For this reason… what reason? Read vv. 19-24, Jesus talked about wealth and money matters.

1) Earthly wealth is temporal – houses rot, cars break down, money stolen. v. 19

2) Value the things that are eternal – treasures in heaven last. They cannot be stolen, and destroyed. Love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness.. Kind words, good deeds, obeying God’s command to love Him and love our neighbors.. These are priceless with no expiration date. v. 20

3) Where our treasure is, there our heart is also: we pursue what our heart considered as valuable. Where is your heart? What is your treasure? v.21

4) Light and darkness: We see clearly in the light. Do our eyes see the light? Or are we in darkness? v.22-23

5) God or money: which one for you? Choose one only… it cannot be both because if I love money, God becomes second.

So for ‘all of the above’ reason, we should not worry about life: eating and drinking. All these entail money, right? If we worry about these, we are basically worrying about money matters.

Q1: IS NOT LIFE MORE THAN food and the body more than clothing?

To ponder: What is life about? Why am I who I am, where I am? What for?

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Q2: ARE YOU NOT WORTH MUCH MORE? than what? the birds of the air.. they do not work for their food. How do they live? Our heavenly Father gives them food.

To ponder: What is your worth? Where do you find your worth? In financial security? In social affirmation? In personal achievement? In your doing or in your being? Doing things to please people, striving for recognition? Our worth is in our being – we are the beloved of God. God loves us so much He sent His One and Only Son to save us from eternal death.

27 And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?

Q3: Can you add a single hour to your life by worrying?

To ponder: If I worry, does it make time skip the stuff I fret about? Does it make it go slower to the day I dread for it? Or will worry make it go faster or quicker – make the journey to recovery shorter?

28 And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, 29 yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! 31 Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’

Q4: Why am I worried?

To ponder: When I worry, am I helping God along? Or do I think I can do better – than how He can provide? Solomon was very rich yet the lilies of the field are clothed more gloriously than he was.

Again, how do I compare myself with the grass of the field in God’s eyes? When I worry, is it because I do not trust God to provide for me?

32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.

Implication: When I worry, I am eagerly seeking the things that Gentiles (those who do not know God) seek. What are these things? Eating, drinking, clothing… again money matters, right?

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The antidote to worry is to seek God – put Him first – go after the things that matter to Him – His kingdom and His righteousness. How? Find out when you read the Bible – all that He wants for His children are found in His word.

And the promise is that ‘all these things’ – all the things that you worry about needlessly, these will be ‘added’ (implication: added means it’s on top of God’s kingdom and His righteousness.. more than earthly treasures, seek the heavenly treasures.

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A Tale of 3 Outcomes

Once there were 3 friends: Eggy, Spuddy and Coffy. They’re good friends even though they look different and have different personalities. Eggy is hard outside but soft and runny inside. Spuddy is hard-core and unevenly spotty outside. Coffy is small but terrible… people can smell him without seeing him.

One day, they all decided to apply for a job at a breakfast place. The owner put them to a test of boiling water. The once fragile and brittle Eggy became hard-core. The strong and tough Spuddy became mushy. Beany Coffy infused the water with his wonderful aroma that filled the whole place.

In life, we have our times of testing too. We encounter our hot-seat moments. There are times of challenges that seem to reach beyond boiling point. Often, circumstances are beyond our control. Choices are few and there seems not much that we can do. Yet different people have the choice to respond differently to similar crisis in life.

We do have a choice how we see problems in life. We can decide to learn from the mistakes we make. We can choose to look forward and move on from the situation. Trials and tests in life can make us strong or bring us down. We have the choice to become hard and jaded like Eggy; weak like Spuddy.  How about being like Coffy – turning the hot water into something flavourful and filling the air with a pleasant aroma?

The Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 2 of being the sweet aroma of Jesus Christ to people around him.

14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. 15 For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? 17 For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.

Christians are not exempted from troubles of the world. Christians stand out different from the rest of the world when they decide to turn their troubles into triumphs by their proper perspectives. Paul went through a lot of hardships and persecutions for preaching Christ. Read 2 Corinthians 11:23-33.  He was able to overcome these challenges because he had a different lens to see through all the sufferings in life.

Christians are called to live their life as a living sacrifice to God. Paul wrote in Romans 12:1-2

Therefore, I urge you,brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Are you going through tough times, my friend? Is life hard and unbearable? Are you in hot waters? Be strong and courageous – decide to be transformed by the power of Jesus. Renew your mind and put on the lens of Jesus so that you may look through these troubles and see beyond – what the will of God is – that which is good and acceptable and perfect – to make you a pleasing aroma to the people around you! Just like Coffy – turn the hot water into something flavourful!

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Seeing in the Dark

. . . and Joshua said to them, “Cross again to the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel. Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ then you shall say to them, ‘Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.’ So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever.” —Joshua 4:5–7

One morning when I got up to go to the bathroom, the room was in total darkness. I walked towards the place where I recall the toilet was and found myself to the toilet seat. I remember my father—who was almost blind, how he used to walk slowly and tentatively towards where he wanted to go as he remembers it.

When it is dark and I cannot see, it is good to remember. My memory becomes my sight. Of all the senses I have, I used to think sight is most important. My worst fear is to be blind. So horrible—not being able to see. When I started writing my book, I was anxious about not being able to see the whole picture and not knowing how to piece the parts together.

As I read through the bits and pieces, I remember the words God gave me—the stories he shared with me, the journey he walked with me. These memories are precious.

When I was young, I had better memory: I could memorize all the lessons, and details of all the subjects in school. I even memorized all the schedules of my favorite TV shows—days, times, channels. Then there were birthdays, phone numbers, bank account numbers. As aging has caught up with me, I am often frustrated that I cannot even remember whether I took my medicine five minutes after I did.

More than raw data, our mind stores memories of relationships we shared over time and space in our lives. Indeed our capacity to remember is an important asset of our being. A person with amnesia can be likened to a tree with no root. It’s terrible not to remember your past, both the good and the bad. While we need to let go of the past with its wrongs, failures and regrets whether ours or others’, we need to hold on to the good, the right, the hurdles we passed, the temptations we overcome, the healing and the guidance we had—that led us up to where we are now.

In the above passage, when Joshua leads the Israelites to cross the Jordan River—in their final phase of the journey to take possession of the Promised Land—God instructs him to have the leaders of the twelve tribes carry twelve stones from the river to commemorate this significant event. The stones were to serve as a lasting memorial to remind the people of God’s guidance, faithfulness, protection, and provision in leading them across into the Promised Land.

In my life, I have many standing stones of God’s grace and mercy. In my book, I tried to remember the major standing stones that mark turning points in my life, and I have tried to tell my stories through the lens of God’s Word. I hope and pray that the Holy Spirit will enlighten the way for me to relate and apply God’s Word to each step of my life journey.

At times I have been afraid that I would not be able to see clearly what to write about. There are so many choices, perspectives, and stories, and I have often been bewildered about which to include and how to connect them together.

In these times, I remember how in the book of Numbers, twelve spies are sent out to scout the Promised Land. Ten of them give a bad report, anxiously comparing themselves to the giant size of land’s inhabitants (Num. 13:28–29, 31–33). After hearing this report, all the people cry out in fear and regret: “If only we did not leave Egypt… if only we died there or in the desert… what if the giants kill us all… what if our family were taken captive…Perhaps better to go back to Egypt” (Num. 14:1–4).

But two people give a positive report. Caleb says, “We should go take possession of the land for we can certainly do it” (Num. 13:30) “If the Lord is pleased with us” (v. 8). Then Joshua and Caleb report that the land is exceedingly good—filled with giant grapes, flowing with milk and honey (14:7–8).

They know with certainty that God will lead them into the promised land and give the land to them as long as they fear God and not men. Joshua and Caleb focus on God. They remember how God led them through and out of Egypt.

Angered by the people’s fear that God will not keep his promise, God says: “These forgetful and ungrateful people…How long before they turn from their contempt and unbelief in me?” (14:11).

The people see how God kills off the ten spies who brought the bad report and decide to believe that God will give them victory over the giants. But when they fight the giants, they fail because they ignore Moses’s warning and try to go ahead by themselves, doing things their way, by their timetable (14:40–45).

I don’t want to be timid like the ten spies who focused on the giants, but like Joshua and Caleb, confident in God’s grace and mercy through the whole of my story.

Later, in Numbers 33, when the Israelites finally arrive in the Promised Land after journeying for forty years in the wilderness, God tells Moses to record the stages and stopovers of their travel.

Their journey started triumphantly with their liberation from the Egyptian slavery through God’s ultimate plan—killing the first-born of all Egyptian households (vv. 3–5) This ended the long stopover they had in Egypt. Each succeeding stop was recorded—some were milestones and landmarks of God’s further protection and provision during their flight: the Red Sea, where Egyptian soldiers and horses were drowned; Elim, where there was springs and palm trees; Rephidim, where there was no water; and many other places, where the people complained of food and water. All these stops were written down so that the people of God would remember the significant places along their journey. Each stop was significant because it was part of the whole journey until they reached their destination.

In life, we need to remember significant events of God’s guidance and providence as well. Each stop or milestone provides an opportunity for us to remember a lesson we have learned along the way. We remember the mistakes we made. We strive to do better and not to repeat the same mistakes. For moments of triumph, we give thanks and remember that everything is by God’s grace and mercy.

As I reflect on my journey, my hope is that it will spark memories and connections within your story. What do you need to remember all the days of your life? How has God shown his goodness in your life? Is memory lighting the corners of your mind? Or is your memory getting dusty from the challenges and difficulties of the present? Now is the time to remember and celebrate.

Each of us has standing stones of God’s grace and mercy. The following excerpt from All the Way My Savior Leads Me, a song by Fanny Crosby, reminds us of God’s presence with us through all seasons of life:

All the way my Savior leads me, What have I to ask beside?

Can I doubt His tender mercy, Who through life has been my Guide?

Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort, Here by faith in Him to dwell!

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Dear God, thank you for your acts of grace and mercy to me. Please help me to remember all the days of my life when you lead me through the valleys and the mountains – in good times and bad. Let me celebrate your goodness always. Amen.