2008 was a significant year for many. We lived through the continuing threat of terrorism, major natural disasters, soaring oil prices, inflation, global financial meltdown, tainted food and deepening political unrest. Many nations elected their new government in 08 too. And of course, who can forget the event that lifted China up on the world map. No, this one is good news – the 2008 summer Olympics.

What was it like for me?

Let me start by saying that 2008 was not a smooth sailing one for me by a long shot. I started the year with a general sense of impending doom in my marriage and finances. These alone were enough to keep me on the edge the entire year. You can imagine what it was like for me to hear pastor proclaimed to us at the start of the New Year that it will be a year of manifested blessings for many. It could feel like a slap to my face. I used the word could because although I had no inkling how this will work out for me, I said amen to it anyway. I know my God. Apart from loosing faith in Him, nothing that could happen can truly be called tragic. Now, please don’t think, “Wow…I wish I had her kind of faith.” The honest truth is that I am only able to say this in retrospect. At every point of crisis, I had my doubts and anxieties, coupled with helpless attempts to cling on to God. Sometimes I look shipwrecked….but always on the shore of His grace.

I discovered during my time in AQ (adversity quotient) training that the way I view my misfortune is more important than the misfortune itself. There is a saying that tragedies are only tragedies if we allow them to be. (Mine could hardly be called a tragedy) I know it is so cliché but there is a ring of truth in it. It is difficult to see things in God’s perspective when our faith is hijacked by the reality staring at us. I remember pastor once taught that truth is not reality. Reality is subject to change just like all things earthly are but truth is eternal and unchanging. The challenge for us today is to have a firm grasp of the truth so that it can begin to change our reality. As believers, we do not deny reality but we bring God into it so that His truth changes it.

So I was broke, my husband was selfish and irresponsible, our home was at stake. These were the realities. Some still are. Yet here I am. Have those realities changed? I know I have changed. I am more prudent now in my financial stewardship, I have a better understanding of money matters, my priorities are more aligned with what they ought to be, I am better able to pray for my husband regardless of how I feel about him and I have a lighter grip on the material. God changes reality through us. I think if He were to do it the other way round, we may not be ready to live up to the changes He wants to make. “It is one thing for us to set up a ministry and ask someone to lead it but quite another when God raises a leader and get him to start that ministry,” pastor said. Which do you think will be more successful? Inner transformation is an agonizingly slow process and its fruit may not be immediately visible. Meanwhile, God’s reputation hangs on the precipice of our human frailty. Yet this is the way He chooses. I discovered an important lesson here. Those who are secure and confident in who they are do not clamor after men’s recognition. God is not afraid to put his reputation on the line because He is sure of Himself and what He is doing. If I were to be given a Bruce Almighty moment, I will zap everyone into obedience and go about setting things straight whether my human subjects like it or not. No one can accuse me of not living up to expectations.

Yet the question remains, have those circumstances changed? People of the 21st century are very realistic people. We don’t need feel good stories and have little patience for philosophy, much less, theology. Yes, they are nice and inspiring but….show me the money! I want to know that my debts are cleared, that the tumor is gone, that my home has doubled in value, that I have a new husband! We want results and want them fast. Otherwise, we move on to the next thing that promises a quick fix. It is a short-sighted view of life. We make judgments base on the material. If only we realize who we are directly affects how we experienc life, regardless of the conditions, we will be more willing to wait. I recently read the testimony of Jacelyn Tay, a Mediacorp artiste. She said that she no longer sees her misfortune as something necessarily bad. To put it another way, all of life’s experiences can have a redeeming value. She brought God into the situation and rose above them.

But to answer the pragmatic question – I moved from zero savings to having an emergency fund. It is still small but growing steadily. The wonderful thing is that I did not have to sacrifice my tithes for it. I will write a little more about this experience another time. My mother-in-law stepped in to help save the home. It is safe for now at least. These came about in the most natural way. Money did not appear from nowhere. I did not suddenly win the state lottery. Instead God brought certain people and resources to me. They helped put me back on my feet. My husband is still pretty much the same but he did get his job back before the year is over. In the past I had struggled to pray for his blessing because I felt he deserved what was due him. Now I am learning to look pass his failures and pray for him anyway even though I don’t feel like it. Along the way, I also witnessed relationships of people around me rose and fell and was surprised to find myself interpreting them with new eyes; less judgmental, more honest and certainly more objective. Things may not have change much in the materialistic sense but I feel I have grown much more this year compared to the last couple of years put together. When I look back, I discovered I am a different person now then I was years before. Yet it didn’t all happen in one episode. It is an on-going process. Years of being washed in God’s word while in the training field of life’s arbitrariness has shaped the way I responded to life. Together, they made me who I am today. Looking back, I could see why all the shaking was necessary. May we all grow from strength to strength. Remember, we can also slip backwards. The determining factor is the condition of our inner man.

I say all these to say that the power to make a difference lies within and nothing changes the inner man the way God does. Circumstances can either make or break us but with God, the latter is less likely because in Him we find an anchor. Without an anchor, we are easily tossed about by the waves of life’s uncertainties. So it follows that real and lasting change (for the better) begins with God at the center. The horizon is still a long way off. Never think that we have arrived. Instead, let us look for redemptive value in every set back.

I have rambled for too long and should proceed with my list. It has become a tradition for me at the end of every year to present a list of favorites in various categories. I have taken out Lesson of the Year because I have just written 1000 words on it.

Music/Song of the Year
The Blessing Song – Dennis Jernigan
Amazing Grace – Chris Tomlin
I’m Yours – Jason Mraz
Lucky – Jason Mraz & Colbie Caillat
Footprints in the Sand – Leona Lewis

Film of the Year
Last King of Scotland / Blood Diamond / Children of Men / Waitress / In The Valley of Elah / Batman: The Dark Night / Freedom Writers / Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian / Good Will Hunting / Schlindler’s List / Gandhi / Apollo 13 / United 93 / Hitler: The Rise of Evil / The Good Shepherd

Book of the Year
The Laws of Money, The Lessons of Life – Suze Orman
Nothing short of life-changing for me. She gives sound financial advice that does not just address the surface of a problem but digs deep to reveal an underlying spiritual condition. Money is more spiritual than we think. Read Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s work in Thou Shall Prosper and you will know what I mean. The 5 Laws of Money just makes it easier for everyday people like us to understand it. Lapin’s work might be a little heavy for some of us. Neither of them are Christians but their views of money will lead us to honor God with our money and change our life for the better.

Waiter Rant – Steve Dublanica
It was finally revealed that Steve Dublanica is the author behind the hugely popular blog, Waiter Rant. I have followed his blog for years and am so proud and delighted to know that his first book by the same name is so well received. I feel a certain connection with the book. It’s like seeing one of your own finally making it big.

Significant Moments of the Year
My father’s conversion – Journey of A Decade
My financial meltdown – Jehovah Jireh
My marriage –
Waitress
At A Crossroad
Moving Forward

People of the Year
Suze Orman
I don’t care if she is lesbian. She is one of the most influential people God brought to my life this year. She is charismatic, sharp, witting and funny. It is evident in all the advice she gives, that she always lives by her values – people first, then money, then things.

Seth Barnes
Whenever I read about all the criticisms out there about Christians and our failures, I look at Seth Barnes and the work that he does and I don’t feel so depressed. Recently an atheist group in London launched a massive ad campaign in the city’s subway stations and double-decker busses. The ad carries the slogan, “There’s Probably No God. Now Stop Worrying and Enjoy Your Life” Funny, ever since God came into my life only the opposite is true. When you read about Seth’s life, his thoughts and the work that he and his team is doing, you will see why that is so.

Sermon of the Year
There were just too many to list. The bulk of it came from my very own pastor, Ps Joseph Prince. There is hardly a sermon by Pastor Prince where God did not speak to me. There were many excellent sermons this year but one that particularly stood out was, God’s Protection Plan Against The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse.

Another notable teacher I read and heard this year was Joe Stowel of RBC ministries. He taught on the transforming power of Christ from the book Philippians, His book Radical Reliance: Living 24/7 with god at the center and his sermon albums, Ruth: Love Unshaken, Firm Foundation: Faith and Truth in an Age of Uncertainty and Shattered: Making Sense of the Brokenness of Life were all excellent materials.

Blog of the Year
Radical Living in a Comfortable World by Seth Barnes
Beauty & Depravity by Eugene Cho

Top 3 Post of the Year
Introducing Waiter Rant
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
Who Wants to be A Millionaire

rk

To read past year’s In Focus, please refer to the Site Index under the category: In Focus.

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