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This is a continuation from Part 1.
- This is me recovering, following up on my previous comment.
April 30, 2010
“i am the person who wrote that depressing comment above. i just want to let you know i’ve recovered and i want to share this with everyone who has lost faith in the things of God. i had unknowingly allowed myself to become food for the devil. in recent years there has been a lot of outside criticism about my pastor and questioning of his gift of teaching. i was also very affected by a lot of believers attacking one another on the web (it is so depressing) and bad press in the local papers about certain churches and church figures here. it really stole my joy, confidence and hope in the things of God. 2 nights ago i heard one of the best sermons ever. God truly knows my heart and sent a word in season for me. i came out of the service feeling spotless, reborn and full of life and hope! i realize now that the body of Christ has been under attack and we must use our gift of exhortation to lift our brethren up. grace and peace to all of you, the united body of Christ!”
- This is me back in my element, writing in an email to my disciplers.
May 6, 2010
“….I noticed that as I start on this journey of seeking God and his leading, my original dilemma of not knowing my place in the world and in his kingdom just doesn’t seem so critical anymore. I have this feeling that hey, maybe this is what God wants from me right now, for this season, to just spend time seeking him and be immersed in him. It feels good, it feels right. In fact, dare I suggest that perhaps this is what our life’s purpose is – to seek Him and have communion with him. Plain and simple. Everything else… about knowing my calling and my dream etc, are but fruits of this main pursuit. They will ripen when the time comes. Just stay connected to Vine! I know you’ve probably heard it many times over (so have I) but I just can’t help getting excited all over again. I think it died off somewhere but now I am feeling that life again. Feeling like I am “back in my element” again, and with Kathy’s encouragement, I have started noticing people in a more personal way and ministering to them, just like old days. So I want to thank all of you for helping push me out of my “wallowing in the dust and self doubt” experience. May God send you his richest blessings, may his favor surrounds you and your ministry and may the light that you carry touch ever life that comes your way like it did mine.”
- Pray for your pastor and your church. When the enemy strikes the shepherd, he is not just targeting him, he is going after you and the rest of the flock.
- When you tear down another believer, you are making yourself the devil’s advocate. You are helping him accomplish his goal faster.
- Do not surround yourself with trash. Read enough to stay informed but do not feed yourself with trashy news, mindless gossips and camp around cynicism and negativity. If you do, you’ll feel dusty pretty soon.
- What to do when you find yourself dusty,
1st – stay away from trash
2nd – plunge yourself into God’s word. feed your spirit man with whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, praiseworthy.
3rd – keep company with people who edifies you.
- Seek God. Stay connected to the Vine. Your path will become clearer in due time.
- Step out in faith.
- Recommended resource: The Key to Holiness It teaches you how to stay dust free.
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.
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.
People of the Year
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.
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
To read past year’s In Focus, please refer to the Site Index under the category: In Focus.
I am sorry to disappoint some of you with a password protected post in my last entry. If you’ve read the about segment at the top of this blog, you would already know that these are posts that contain too many intimate and private details. Either that, or I need to protect certain parties involved in the story. I know some of you are waiting to know what my decision is.
That post was a word-for-word email I sent to my in-laws a couple of weeks ago. It was the first time I made my thoughts and feelings known to them in a clear and honest manner about the situation at home. My in-laws have been very nice and supportive all these years, whatever little they know of our situation. My mother in-law had invested so much to help her son over the years. It will not be right for me to withhold my intentions from their knowledge after all their sacrifices.
I have decided to start working towards leaving an emotionally oppressive environment and a person who clearly has not grown up after all these years and who continually puts his family in grave financial risk. I have known for a long time this was what I wanted but never really had the resolve to act on it in a consistent manner. I want to do better this time. Here are a few things I want to accomplish by end of this year.
- learn about personal finance and investments
- engage an independent financial advisor and start planning for a future as a single parent
- see a counselor
- get in touch with an attorney familiar with divorce and family law
- start working with my husband towards an amicable solution with regards to custody and
splitting of assets etc. in case of separation or divorce (this will be the toughest challenge as he still doesn’t think I will go through with it)
Recently I discovered that being a permanent resident here has it’s disadvantages when it comes to housing, which is a big consideration for me. There are a lot of other practical issues I am still trying to sort out. I read somewhere the other day that many couples choose to remain in their current position for practical reasons. Now I can understand why. Then there is the emotional side of things, not so much my own feelings (we have been living separate lives for as long as I can remember) but those of my children. Surprisingly, I feel a tinge of sadness for my husband as well because I know we are everything he has. To deprive him of that feels somewhat cruel and heartless. He had his chances and blew them, what can I say? I cannot continue to allow him to be irresponsible without consequence. It is not fair to me and the kids. We deserve a stable environment.
I have something to share which I have not shared with anyone before. A few years ago, my spiritual strength was at an all time high. It was a time when my faith and passion for God overshadowed every problem and every challenge and I had felt that I was ready to deal with more. So one morning, with legs crossed and hands opened in worship, I told God how much I appreciated Him and then with quiet confidence I declared (to Him) that I am ready for whatever challenges He may have for me ……. as long as He walks with me. It was as good as saying, “Lord, I am ready for more shaking. Come and test me out.” I can’t decide if I was being naive or arrogant, probably both! And come they did. Sometimes in a trickle, sometimes in torrential thunderstorms that shook me out of every false impression I had of God, of myself, of my circumstances and my faith. Now many showers and thunderstorms later, I discovered that He is still walking with me and I learn to trust and appreciate much more His loving provision and gentle guidance. Over the weekend I watched Schindler’s List for the second time and asked myself’ “What could possibility be worse than that?” and I realized I am blessed and protected beyond measure. I can’t help but notice the ending comment that Oskar Schindler, for all the good he did, wasn’t protected from failure in his marriage and subsequent business ventures after the holocaust. It can be an unsettling thing to see that the reward of our faithfulness might not come this lifetime but thanks be to God it does not depend on our goodness but on the unsearchable richness of God’s grace.
This will be my last post about this gloomy topic, at least for now. My life is more than my marriage. It is more than my children, more than my problems and certainly more than my husband. I will be busy living it and live it well I will, for the glory of God. I invite you to do the same.
Here is a song to encourage all those who are walking through the valley of the shadows. Footprints in the Sand by Leona Lewis
Here is a post I wrote on footprints back in 2004.
Of Footprints and Failures
You’re due to leave in 2 minutes and your teenage son is still quibbling with his sister about who gets more playtime on the computer and about how life is so unfair. You hastily cleared up whatever was left of breakfast, reached for your car keys on the kitchen counter, bolted out the front door and shouted the ultimatum. Out now or both of you are walking to school! As you turn on the ignition, you wondered how long more could you keep up with this. Ever since your husband left for that foxy young thing a few blocks down the street, your life has been an endless cycle of hell. Your kids hate not only him but you as well. You’re heart broken and wanted to draw the final curtain but struggled anyway to keep your sanity. Maybe you should have just packed them off to their granny’s and start life anew with the newly appointed EVP in your department. He has a promising career, very available and most of all, he has the hots for you. Maybe…just maybe…your life will finally work out. You blinked as if to erase these thoughts from your consciousness and stepped on the accelerator. God, why did you create a life that sucked so much. Why can’t “happily ever after” not be just a fairy tale?
Many of us have walked the road of suffering in our life or at least a general sense of unsatisfactoriness with life. While ours may not be like the case of the fictitious women above, all of us knew shortly after we were born, that life inevitably brings suffering. The Bible says that suffering exists because sin is present. I don’t know if you’ve ever wondered, with the rapid advancement and sophistication in technology and science, would there, could there, be a possible cure for sin? Like perhaps humans can be reprogrammed to “sin not”, when people cannot hurt themselves or others. Man…how different our human experience would be then. Like the Eden Project at Cornwall in Britain, where a garden lay amidst a perfect environment, perhaps we can recreate an environment not too different, where man himself is the perfect creature. Just imagine…what it would be like?
Steal away with me for a moment and try to picture yourself in Agnieszka Tennant’s world of a sinless future and let me know if you think you’d like to be born into such a time as this.
April 21, 2447, the death of a 143-year-old woman hailed a new era. Lungs of people everywhere swelled with relief. Impeccability had dawned.
The deceased, Rosa Pecadorita, a coca grower in a remote village in the Andes mountains, was widely believed to have been the last living sinner. As the obituary in The Global Times put it, she was “the last remaining human whose genes had not been therapeutically adjusted to prevent her from engaging in behaviors that the Global Referendum of 2304 deemed harmful to society and which the treaty that ended the Great Wars of Religion of 2105-2304 classified as sins
The referendum and the treaty had made way for the implementation of the internationally binding Humane Humans Project, which went into effect one nanosecond after Pecadorita was born. The project, hailed as the most moral tool people had ever invented, dictated that all fetuses be altered while in their mothers’ wombs. Diagnoses were made before symptoms occurred; cures were secured before diseases appeared; salvation came before sin. As the legendary World Mayor Anna Odwanza forwardly put it, in an apparent allusion to George Orwell’s myopic Animal Farm, “Who said we can’t all be more equal?”
But unlike her cohorts, Pecadorita did not want to be spared from herself. Along with everyone else born before the implementation of the project, when she reached 15 (the global age of legal responsibility), Pecadorita was offered an all-expenses-paid corrective treatment by the World Care Organization. She declined, citing concerns over “losing [her] soul” and “playing God.” Her parents were Pentecostals, and she said they’d inspired her sense of ethics.
The fears expressed by Pecadorita were common around the time the first genetic therapies were being implemented, but they had since been put to rest. Numerous studies had documented that souls thrived when their carriers behaved ethically. The genetic eradication of sin had been linked, for example, to an immediately deepened and more regular prayer life. And as theologians of all religions pointed out in their joint creed at the end of the Great Wars of Religion, nowhere in holy texts does God say he wants humans to suffer or sin.Pecadorita lived the kind of life she created for herself. Much like the other unaltered people who died before her, Pecadorita was observed gossiping (though, with time, she had fewer and fewer people to do it with), drowning her troubles in more than one glass of alcohol at a time, and experiencing mood swings. She was addicted to saturated fat and often ran five minutes late for meetings.
Most alarmingly, Pecadorita’s behavior, unlike that of altered people, was unpredictable. It was hard to know when she was joking, when she spoke the truth, and when she lied—fickleness that genetic correction could have eliminated.
The trend to treat certain traits out of existence did not, of course, begin with modern medicine. But it was in the 21st century that genetic manipulation became the means of saving the world. Evil had entered the world through DNA, it was concluded, and through DNA it would have to leave.
As scientists identified various genetic misspellings that were responsible for diseases and inappropriate behaviors, societies initially instituted the testing of pregnant women. Those found to be carrying children with, say, Down syndrome, were first encouraged, then mandated, by insurance companies to abort. Eventually, abortions became unnecessary, as scientists found ways of correcting the misspellings.
Those who felt the need to believe in God were at first reluctant to join in the euphoria. They remembered the bitter lessons of previous attempts to tinker with what it meant to be human: slavery, eugenics, and fascism. But they joined the revolution upon realizing that traits they found reprehensible could be eliminated in their offspring. One influential faction, for example, preached that it was God’s will that homosexual urges be eliminated in utero.
Of course, religious groups disagreed fiercely over what constituted sin. That’s what the Great Wars of Religion sorted out, while the Global Referendum determined socially harmful behaviors. The combined list included not only homosexuality but also anger, lying, lust, jealousy, disagreement with others, accumulation of personal wealth, eating more than 2,000 calories a day, deadpan humor, and ending sentences with a preposition.
On April 21, 2447, no one had these odious tendencis. the world had become a safe, knowable, fair place. There was no more sin. Or so it seemed.
Brave New Salvation
A vision of a sinless future
Agnieszka Tennant l posted 6/20/2007
It’s depressing reading the papers these days. The news seem to be getting bleaker and bleaker. We’re only into our fifth month and there are already more than we can handle. Worsening economy, political unrest, shortage of food, diseases, natural disasters and the continuing terrorist threats. I am reminded again of how blessed I am to still have a job, two healthy children, family and friends and living in a relatively safe nation. Even then, I know I must not put my trust in earthly things, especially now that “the shaking” is going on. “Put your trust in God; the only thing (Person) that is unshakable!”, pastor urged us earlier this year. Really, there is nowhere safe anymore. You think Singapore is safe? For how much longer and from what? earthquakes? tsunamis? cyclones? terrorist threats? what about diseases? But we do not need to fear the shaking. C.S.Lewis likens pain to God’s megaphone. It’s gets our attention! Philip Yancey, having worked with Dr Paul Brand who works with leprosy patients, discovered the “gift of pain”. It calls our attention to the problem. Leprosy attacks the body’s pain sensors so that you cannot feel pain. Lepers slowly loose their limbs, most times without even knowing it!
So fear not the shaking, fellow pilgrims. We share the same earthly home, bearing it’s joy and sorrows. Your triumph is our celebration and our tears, your sorrows. Whatever destiny awaits us, we shall pass through the fire and testings with courage and hope knowing “that what can be shaken will be removed so that what cannot be shaken will remain.” (Hebrews 12:27)
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8:19-22)
Before I sign off, I just want to share with you this lovely hymn by Chris Rice.
This morning I spent some time reading the thoughts of a doctor who was recently diagnosed with cancer. Dr Chen is a Professor of Medicine at University of Colorado in Denver and Director of Endoscopy at University of Colorado Hospital. I often wonder how a doctor might respond to one of life’s most feared diseases and especially so if he or she is also a believer in Christ. How does he reconcile the reality of a terminal illness with a good and sovereign God who goes about “healing all” as the Bible tells us. Does he believe God still heals today? What would he say about health and wholeness in the Holy Communion; that healing was purchased for us through the cross? How does a person of medical and scientific background live out his faith when faced with the undeniable facts about his illness? Does he think that all this “faith talk” is just wishful thinking, a way by which we console ourselves or did he indeed find a very real hope, more real then what the test results showed, in the God who promises to walk through fire with us? Is it more difficult for someone who had been trained to make conclusions and decisions based on observable evidences to continue to trust in a God who can’t be proved?
“For many years, “In Me We Trust” was the motto engraved on the coin of my realm.
We all like to think that we are in charge of our own destiny. And if everything appears to be going our way, for a time we can be lulled into thinking that we are in control; that we can actually manipulate the circumstances and details of our daily lives and determine our own future.
But when something earthshaking like cancer strikes, we suddenly realize that we are really not in control of our lives!
As long as we can take in another breath, it is not too late to examine the basis of our faith, or to evaluate the trustworthiness of the object of our faith.
A number of years ago, I slowly began to recognize the bankruptcy of self-reliance and the fallacy of self-sufficiency. Although I still have long way to go in this journey of faith, I have since learned to put my faith in the only Person in life who is truly worthy of our trust. He is the same yesterday, today, and yes, forever (Hebrews 13:8).
And when the storms of life “pulls the rug out” from under me, I have discovered that I am shipwrecked on God’s omnipotence and stranded in His love.”
Last Friday I attended an EQ workshop organized by my company and a question was presented to us; “Is happiness something determined by your externals (circumstances) or is it something you decide for yourself?” Dr Chen demonstrated that it is possible to live a meaningful life with hope, joy and peace even when you know you have less than 18 months to live. In his own words,
“People keep warning me that in this journey with cancer there will be many ups and downs – “roller coaster” feelings of discouragement, anxiety, fear, abandonment, depression, and even anger. But this has not been the case at all!
I marvel at the strength, peace and comfort that I God has granted me. Except for the obvious physical discomfort and side effects of chemo, I sleep soundly at night. And my heart is at ease.
I realize that apart from God’s grace, I could very well be experiencing all of these negative human emotions. I rejoice that God has spared me and my family from these psychological detours.
I suppose some people might assume that I am still in denial! But since I am fully assured of my spiritual destiny no matter what happens to me, and I am confident that God loves me and He is sovereign over every detail of my life, there really isn’t much left to fret about.”
I hope as you read his reflections, whether you’re a believer or not, you will be ministered to as much as I have. This is by no means meant to judge those of us who are still struggling with “choose to be happy anyway”. I fully believe that God’s dealing with each person is unique and different and there is a time and season for everything.
In my first post of the year, 2007 In Focus, I wrote about a financial challenge that I am facing. Just before that, in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, I wrote about my views on money. Last month, I left a comment in Steven’s blog questioning the link between our finances and our heart.
Two weekends ago, I made a financial commitment. Not on impulse but after much thought. By all natural reasoning it is foolishness; suicide. At first I didn’t feel safe enough to share it here as I felt it should be a matter between me and God alone. But at the same time, sharing it here will serve as a form of accountability. If it’s just between me and God, it is more convenient to shrink back when the pressure increases. The commitment I am talking about is the consecration of 10% or my gross income to God; what the Bible calls tithing.
I agree and believe wholeheartedly that tithing is not just a responsibility (as creatures of God) but also a privilege (as children of God). What I struggled with was the material blessings that comes from tithing, where the spiritual affects the natural; that God uses tithing as a tool to prosper us right here on earth, even though God did say, “test me in this, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” It’s context clearly suggests earthly, material blessings. In the end, I think it’s about trust. I didn’t really have the faith to believe that God would take care of all my financial needs, let alone multiply my seeds sown. I was afraid the remaining 90% will not be enough. In the past it was easier to tithe because there were reserves I could fall back on if I fall short. I didn’t realize then that I wasn’t trusting God to provide for my needs, I was trusting my bank account! Subconsciously I was thinking, if God doesn’t come through, there is backup…..and so save everyone the embarrassment. As long as I think I’m covered, I could tithe. That shouldn’t be! Tithing should be as much an act of faith (a reflection of our dependence on God as our provider) as it is an act of worship (honoring God with our wealth).
But this time I am going to run with God, even though it sounds CRAZY to the natural mind. There is no more backup this time. How my paycheck is going to stretch till the end of the month after 10% of it went to God last week, I have absolutely NO idea. How this is going to play out month after month, only God knows. If He doesn’t come through for me, by all natural reasoning and calculation, I should be in debt before the year is over. Actually, that was exactly “my financial forecast” this year by a local Feng Shui master. No, of course I DID NOT ASK for it to be read, God forbid! It was up on a big banner (kinda in-my-face) in a very public place during the recent Lunar New Year festivities. It is common for Feng Shui masters to give a general “prosperity forecast” of all the 12 Chinese zodiac signs. Mine was under the first Chinese zodiac of the Rat. To be exact, it said “many financial woes”. As if that is not enough, a co-worker forwarded me a list of the best and worst dates to start work in the new year. <roll eyes> That is the kind of obsession people have over here! Well you guessed it, I started on the worst possible day, completely ignoring the warning. So you see, even the “stars and elements” are against me!!
But you know what, to hell with them all! I am a child of the Most High God, Creator of the heavens and the earth and whatever elements within. He alone is the final authority in my life. Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall NOT be in want. He shall supply ALL my needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Because He is my helper, I will not be put to shame. A thousand (rats) may fall at my side and ten thousand more at my right hand, it shall not come near me. My barns will be filled to overflowing and my vats will brim over with new wine. If God is for me, who can be against me? Not any stars, nor moon, nor any created thing.
Do or die, I am going to trust my God this time.
I have news to share and it is already 2 weeks overdue!
My Dad’s long search for God had finally come to an end. He had reached a decision. After more than 2 decades of searching for answers to the inner most need of the human soul, the need for a meaningful spiritual existence, he had taken the Pascal’s Wager and decided to place his stake on Christ! It was a surreal moment seeing him make his way through the crowd in response to the grace of God, the gift of salvation, Jesus Christ himself. It was unbelievable given his past resistance. We discovered later that he still does not have all the answers to his satisfaction but I guess what he had was enough to take the leap of faith. What can I say, truly God is faithful to save us and our whole household.
If you know my Dad, you’ll know that he has come a long way in his spiritual journey. He is skeptical and cautious by nature; not one to be easily influenced no matter how convincing something sounds. And there is an aura of pride around him so that he doesn’t submit himself to any idea or person without a fight. However, my Dad has always been in tune with his spiritual side. He is always curious about spirituality. In the years after his retirement, he spent considerable time studying the various religions. He would read extensively and love to engage in dialogues about them. As is typical of most Asian Chinese, my parents were brought up worshipping a variety of idols. Their worldview was a cross between Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Seeking guidance and protection from the various gods and forces via mediums and shi fu (masters) were not uncommon. So is fortune-telling and future-forecasting; they were part of South-East Asian Chinese culture. Later on, both he and my Mom became heavily involved with Nichiren-Buddhism to the point that my Dad almost set up an altar for the Gohonzon in our home. As it turns out, he discovered something in it’s teachings which unsettled his heart, so the plan was aborted. Eventually, Mom came to know and accepted the Gospel of Jesus Christ while Dad started investing his time and effort to investigate the purer form of Buddhism, pouring through Buddhist literature and sriptures. That covered a good part of his latter years. At the same time he also explored Judeo-Christian teachings especially after seeing his wife and his children converted one after another. I suspect in the beginning he felt it was a religion for weaklings and simple minded people. That was the way he sees Mom, thus he didn’t want to be associated much with it. However he did not object to her conversion, though he did on many occasions tried to ridicule mom’s young faith. Once, not long after my own conversion, he sent me a book on a Buddhist’s critique of Christianity and another to help me understand Buddhism. We exchanged several correspondence about our faith. With his extensive reading (he is after all a learned man), he felt he already knew all there is to know about Christianity and was even more proud of his deep knowledge of Buddhism. In his eyes, Christianity falls short (read: too simple) compared to the intellectual and deep teachings of Buddhism. Buddhism and the Gospel of Jesus Christ are worlds apart at it’s very core. Buddhists work for their own salvation and so have no need for a God. Christians receive salvation as a gift of grace from God the Creator, who is the reason and purpose for every form of existence. It is no wonder that grace is a difficult concept for Buddhist to comprehend or accept. Throughout these years, he was resistant to the Gospel, frequently finding fault with it and used the failures of the institutionalized church and individual Christians as justification for his rejection. Yet he was wise and humble enough to know that he could have missed something of infinite importance and so left a foot at the door to his heart and mind. Somewhere, somehow, a seed was planted and by God’s grace, it finally took root, after more than a decade. And all of heaven rejoiced with us!
As I went up to congratulate him, he said it was a decision long overdue! I was curious about how he came to such an unexpected decision. He said he could not deny any longer what his conscience and heart tells him to be true – we have a soul and there is a Creator God. He could not reconcile that witness in his heart with what Buddhism taught him. He also could not accept the teaching that one can never fully understand the Buddha Way until one becomes the Buddha. To him that is just as good as saying one can never reach the destination. My sister who sees more of him, living in the same country, feels that the recent episode over my brother’s situation could have further reinforced his need to find peace in God. She revealed to me how Dad wept on the phone over my brother’s situation but quickly hanged up out of embarrassment. None of us has ever seen our Dad cry. But that day she saw his vulnerability. Sometime last year, he also faced a period of uncertainty and worry over his health. Till today he will still tell you that it was God’s intervention that delivered him. On both occasions he confessed to asking Jesus for help. It was a humbling experience just watching him stretch out his hands to receive the gift of salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ, and to relinquish control of his life and destiny over to Him. For someone who is always in control, this is a major step forward. Although some of his beliefs are still a little muddled and deviate from commonly accepted Christian doctrine, we trust that God’s Spirit now resident in him will guide him into all truth just as the Bible promises. Dad’s conversion has taught us never to give up trusting in God’s faithfulness. The answer to our prayers may take more than a decade to materialize, that was how long ago since my mother prayed for his salvation, but it’s not over until God says it’s over.
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
Dad’s new birth was on 24th February, 2008 at New Creation Church in Singapore. He lives with Mom in our hometown in Ipoh, Malaysia. They were visiting at that time.
It’s time for my annual In Focus blog – my personal version of the Oscar moment. Before I go on to name the winners, I just wanted to say that this year has been a rather uneventful year for me in many areas. There weren’t any major event in my life worthy of being named Event of the Year. Nevertheless, a few of them deserve some mention. So I am going to do that right now before I present my list.
There were a few setbacks and disappointments. This is the first time I am writing about some unhappiness at work. I have always loved my job and my workplace. But for some unknown reason I seem to have less favor with a few people this year. As someone who has had a record of good relations with co-workers and bosses most of her working life, I am a little concerned. Let’s just say that I feel the need to constantly remind that I have to learn to stand up for myself sometimes and not allow people to run all over me. I wouldn’t say it’s a major issue but it does piss me off when it happens.
This is also the year my son sat for his first major exam, the PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination). I know it’s not a big deal to most of you but among Singaporean parents, it’s a big milestone for their children because it determines the path the child will take in his secondary education and so on. My son did not do as well as we’ve hoped for. I have to admit I was a little disappointed. While I take my children’s education seriously, I also constantly remind myself that education encompasses more than just academic excellence. The education system here is rigorous and very competitive but from the onset I have endeavored not to get sucked into the mad race. My disappointment was not due to his ranking lower than others. It has never been my vision for him to chase after awards and medals. What I want is for him to challenge himself; pushing his own boundaries so he can reach his full potential. This is where I felt he could have done better. Anyway, we have accepted the results and moved on, continuing to trust God will work all things for good and has good plans and purposes for him in this less popular route. I strongly believe that His destiny is in God’s hands and not determined by his academic achievement alone. The next stage of our prayer is that God will bless him with good teachers and classmates who will have a positive influence in his life and that he will grow healthily not just in his academics but most importantly in his character. Already, I could see God’s grace. Because of his normal results we have decided it’s best for him to continue his secondary education in his affiliate school. It turns out to be a very good choice. I’ve just attended a whole day’s worth of briefing and presentation by the school’s principal and his team the other day. They spoke with passion and resolve about providing a holistic education, built upon strong Christian values for the children. But what impresses me the most is their sincerity and love for the children. It concluded with a moving, God honoring ceremony to welcome and integrate the new cohorts into the “family”. By the end of the event, I am convinced this is the best school for him!
Moving along, it has been a pretty dry season spiritually as well. I am ashamed to admit that I have not invested much in this area this year, so the dry spell is no surprise. Truly what we invest in, in terms of our time, energy and focus will reap it’s harvest eventually. A little slumber, a dash self-indulgence and emptiness and frustration is brewing in the pot. I find myself more carnal this year than I have ever been. It is a year I am not very pleased with myself in terms of spiritual growth.
It has also been a year of escalating financial challenge. Due in part to lack of good financial stewardship but mostly due to increasing financial burden. My husband’s continuing financial dilemma and obsession with the stock market naturally affected us as well. It is difficult and unnerving to live from one paycheck to another. But thanks be to God at least I am not in debt. Due to these financial woes I struggled to understand certain doctrine and to reconcile them with the reality I was facing. Nevertheless, I will say, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” Right now I need to reassess my finances and make some changes which will have to include letting go of certain comfort things. I told God that I really wanted to start tithing on a regular basis again. My past 2 year record had been spotty. If you are a personal friend of mine, please do not worry about me. It is not as bad as it sounds. You know how we tend to assume the worst. It will make me feel awkward and I will have reservations sharing them in my blog in the future. When we do meet, you need not feel obliged to discuss it unless of course I initiated it. The best thing you can do for me is to relate to me the way you normally would and if I had to decline certain get-togethers, I hope I you will understand. Don’t assume it’s always a financial issue. More often than not, it’s because of family commitments. And no, I will not be comfortable accepting treats from you during this period. You will know when I am back on track. This doesn’t mean I can’t do anything with you guys anymore. It’s more like, lets go to the local kopitiam instead of a fancier venue. Ultimately, it is the human bonding that makes the difference. I feel a burden lifted already. Thank you.
Oh dear, sounds like it’s mostly bad news. Don’t know why I’m sounding so gloomy when I am not even feeling that way right now! My mom once told my brother that I am not the sort to wallow in depression. (wow..you really think so Mom?) I didn’t know exactly what she meant until I heard my pastor preach one day; that there is a certain buoyancy in our inner man that keeps us from drowning in utter hopelessness. It sounds a lot like 2 Corinthians 4 – “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” And for this I owe my gratitude to God. Thank you for the hope and promise that is in Christ. Thank you also for moments of refreshing and grace in my journey this year. They make it less arduous than it would otherwise be.
And now, my list for 07.
Film of the Year
These are films I’ve watched this year. They are not necessary produced this year. All of them deserve my 5/5 rating!
The Talented Mr Ripley
Life Is Beautiful
Book of the Year
I have not read that many books this year. Will try to catch up in 08. To read my comments on these books please refer to the Site Index under the catergory, Books.
Silence by Shusaku Endo
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Jewish History and Culture by Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Anne Frank: Beyond The Diary
Heroes of the Holocaust – Arnold Geier
Event of the Year
People of the Year
Sermon of the Year
This is a surely a year of good sermons! Unfortunately I am unable to share them here this year because there were simply too many and to add to that, most of them were all pretty lengthy. They all have this amazing ability to refocus my mind, settle my heart and reignite the fire of hope in me. In the coming year, I am considering keeping a record of the title of such sermons so that those who are interested could at least visit the ministry’s on-line store to find out more. It will come in handy if I need to listen to them again in the future.
Blog of the Year
Lesson of the Year
I think I’ve learned something about choosing priorities and how the results of misplaced priorities is not always immediately evident. This year’s setbacks, some of which I’ve mentioned above, has also taught me a thing or two about humility and gratitude.
To read past year’s In Focus, please refer to the Site Index unter the category: In Focus.
I received a call recently asking me if I would be interested to attend a seminar on “How to be a millionaire”. It was one of those random sales call most of us are familiar with. Ms Millionaire-Wannabe sounded really surprised that someone would actually turn down such an invitation. Her astonished but blunt respond was, “You mean you don’t want to be a millionaire?” I can almost see her raised eyebrows and bewildered eyes at the other end of the line. How does one respond to that without sounding rude? So I didn’t even try.
It was a valid question of course. I just didn’t think it’s worth explaining to a stranger whom I know wouldn’t care if I’m a wealthy property tycoon or a peddler by the roadside, if it’s not for what she can gain for herself because you see, she is also wanting to be a millionaire. So first off, I want to make it clear that I’m NOT against riches. I am not among those who believe that poverty is a blessing and money is evil. Who doesn’t want to have more money? If you are among the rare few, please drop me a note and we can discuss how you can transfer some of it to me. The thing is, while we can have more than enough for ourselves, especially if we live simply, we can never have more than enough for others. Just ask World Vision or any other humanitarian agencies. We’ve always heard the saying, “money is the root of all evil”. That is a misquote from the Bible. It says “the love of money is the root of all evil”. You can live in poverty and still have the love of money. Money is neutral. In the hands of responsible and big hearted people, it is a tool for blessing. It can solve world poverty. Don’t be surprised if it can even buy back that broken relationship with a relative or friend. In short, money can solve many problems, in our own life and in the lives of others. So I am all for money. I belong to a church who is not ashamed of its prosperity.
So why am I not excited about Ms Millionaire-Wannabe’s offer? It has got to do with the system I live under. As a believer I am aware that I live under a different system from the world. The first thing you want to know is that our number preoccupation is to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these will be added unto you”. We are not to go after money in order to gain heaven (a good life). Instead we make it our life’s mission to go after God first and the rest will fall into place. We are not to worry about our provision because that is an insult to a God who calls Himself our provider. I believe the reason why we need to seek God first instead of his blessings is because in our seeking, we grow in our knowledge of Him and in Him we develop the wisdom and character to be good stewards of the money He places in our hands. The way we manage our finances will be directed in a way that is in line with God’s will and God’s purposes for our life and for the people around us. Without this vital step, the chances of us being enslaved by money are so much greater. While God is not against us having money, He doesn’t want money to have us and become our master. I will explore this in more detail later.
That’s the first thing; the second thing you want to know is that under this system, our blessings (material ones included) come by grace. Our success and prosperity is not determined by how hard or smart we work but come by the undeserved favour of God, or what is commonly known as grace. It doesn’t mean we don’t work hard, it doesn’t mean we don’t use our brains. It just means that we don’t depend on them for our success. As we place our future in His hands, we can have faith that He will put us at the right place at the right time and grants us favour with the right people. The motive for working hard is entirely different. We do it because as bearers of God’s image (which all of us are, Christians or not) it is a privilege to be able to reflect that in the way we use our talents and time. We also do it out of rest, knowing that we do not need to push ourselves to gain the approval of others or even ourselves. God has already approved of us and our destiny is already secured in Christ. The book of Jeremiah says it this way, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future“. What more can we ask for? Isn’t that a promise all of us want ultimately? It is out of this rest that we are truly able to honor God with our work. I have friends who wish to retire early so they can start living the life they want. I, on the other hand, see work as a blessing and an avenue by which to honor God. I hope to be able to work for as long as I can. Our work does not have to interfere with our living. It can be complimentary. It is when the motive of our work is amiss that work becomes a curse. If there has been undue strife in our work life, perhaps we should start asking ourselves if we are seeking the right ends. Money as we all know is a means to an end, not an end in itself. God by His grace can bypass all that and bring us straight to the end if that fulfills His purpose. That leads us to the next thing that you would want to know.
Everything in a believer’s life operates by divine purpose. Most times these purposes are not immediately obvious to us. Only on hindsight do we understand them sometimes and there are some we will never know till we get to heaven. From the Bible we can agree that character development is a major priority of God for us. Joseph did not become the Prime Minister of Egypt overnight. What his brothers meant for evil, God used to build Joseph’s character. Likewise, Moses’ 40 years in the desert tending his father-in-law’s flock was not for nothing. God humbled him before He appointed him as Israel’s deliverer. Even David, Israel’s greatest king, started out as a shepherd boy. It should give us great comfort to know that what the world considers worthless and hopeless, is not a hindrance to God. He only asks for a willing heart. So will it serve His purpose if He blesses us with more money than we are ready to handle? Will we still love the right things? As Christians we are not to rush into getting rich. Instead we need come to a place where we can say together with Paul, that we have learn to be content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. Sometimes God may lead us through a different route then what we hoped for in order to prepare us for His blessing. Dumping it on laps prematurely only turns us into spoilt kids.
Finally you will also want to know the significance of an ancient practice called, tithing. From the earliest days, back in the time of Genesis, God has commanded that we set apart a portion of our gains as an offering unto Him; a sign of our acknowledgement that he is our ultimate provider and all things belongs to Him. He is the one who gives us the ability to create wealth. While some motivational speakers boast in their strategies and declares themselves self-made millionaires, God says “apart from Me, you can do nothing” and rightly so, for our very breath and existence comes from God and is sustained by God. The idea is that as we consecrate 10% of our income to God, the remaining 90% is blessed. We read in the book of Malachi that the Lord said, “test me in this (referring to the tithe), and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” However, we do not tithe to get rich. Note again the motive. Don’t think for a moment that we can manipulate God. He sees our heart. I suspect not only does God want us to acknowledge our place before Him but also that He doesn’t want us to become attach to money. Jesus said, “he who finds his life will lose it, and he who losses his life for my sake will find it.” Likewise, the more we run after money, the more it eludes us. The secret is in giving it away.
And this concludes what my answer would be to Ms Millionaire-Wannabe but as you can see, I doubt she will have the patience for it. Do I want to be a millionaire? Why not, but I want to do it God’s way in God’s timing.