Yearly Archives: 2006

Part of it is in you

I sat on top of a hill and watched a storm as it moved through the valley. The skies were filled with darkness and the clouds began to cry, and thunder began to shake the earth. It seemed as though the lush landscape was completely changed, and its beauty gone forever. I sat there and saw how the rain was drowning the plants, flowers, and fruits. The storm finally settled down and moved out of the valley.

If I had sat in the same place the following day and asked, “Where is that intense storm and all its terrible darkness?” The grass would have said, “Part of it is in me.” The beautiful flowers would have said, “Part of it is in me.” And all the other plants, fruits and everything that grows in the ground would have said, “Part of the storm has produced the radiance in me.”

We all go through different trials in life; whether it may be family, school, or our own spirituality. And during those trials, our vision is so limited that we can hardly see where we are walking. It’s almost like you are blind. All you see is darkness. There’s no light. There’s no life. Anxiety, loneliness, and shame fill your heart as you watch this storm move through the valley.

It’s a scary sight at first. You see the rain pour down and the thunderous clouds shake with might. How is it possible for something good to come out from this storm?

Look back at the little story in the beginning. The grass, flowers, fruits and everything that grows in the ground said, “Part of the storm has produced the radiance in me.” And to you my friend, part of the storm is in you. The cloud of woe will soon descend in showers of blessing on your head when you have faith that this storm will help you grow and produce rich harvest. God is doing a greater work in you, and that can only come as you learn to trust Him no matter how dark the days and sleepless the nights. Your heart no longer demands answers. The “why” becomes unimportant when you believe that God can and will redeem the pain for your good and His glory. It is only when you have been through the darkness with Him that you know He is in the tomorrows.
Rise up and cheer up, my friends. Part of it is in you.

The Mountain was Full of Horses and Chariots of Fire

During a recent flight out to California, I stared out from my window seat, as was my custom. My eyes never seem to get tired of the vastness of the land or the new perspective of the clouds. I can stare out the windows for hours, watching the landscape scroll gently by, with no need for fresh entertainment.

As I was staring out at what I think is the middle of nowhere in New Mexico or Arizona, i noticed a small cluster of human civilization that seem to be completely engulfed by the vastness of the rolling mountains. The people there are literally living inside one tiny shadow of the thousands of crevices and creases of the landscape.

Somehow, that got me thinking.

I was sure that there are hundreds of people who live down there. And they are like me–they are living with their own share of problems that simply tags along with life. Some are children who live in dysfunctional families, and the four walls of the house become their most dreaded place to be. Some are dealing with stress from school or work and the steps that lead to campus are difficult to take. Some are simply dealing with responsibilities, hardships, depression, and fears that are only known in their hearts.

Everyone is dealing with something at some time or another.

This reminded me of Elisha’s servant who woke up one morning and saw the enemy surrounding the entire city. Stricken with fear, he cried out to Elisha, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?”

And Elisha prayed, and said, “Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

My thoughts trailed off as I panned away from the tiny houses and zoomed back out to the picture of the gentle scrolling landscape.

Sometimes, we may feel like we’re stuck in a pothole of life; there’s this problem and it’s not going away. But God is there all around us, already protecting us. So, open up our eyes and see. Behold, the mountain is full of horses and chariots of fire.

Looking the Part

Last week I was fascinated when I learned about homophenes. They’re word sets or phrase sets that appear the same when lip-read. Try it: (and this is one in particular I will expand on). Mouthing “I love you” is perceived identically as mouthing “olive juice”, “elephant shoes”, “onion soup”, and “island view.” Really, try it.

“I … love … you” and “olive … juice”. Or the others.

In fact if you were to dub over a video recording of someone saying “I love you” with “olive juice” instead, it would be hard to even know otherwise.

Though we may not realize it, the “tenured” Christian tends to rehearse this specific homophene too. And basically, that is looking the part (read: seeming christianly), yet having no substance. The “I love You” we proclaim to God is indeed in reality “elephant shoes” or “olive juice”–gibberish–yet the world would be hard-pressed to detect it, or even notice. Of course, sometimes it is obvious to spot the fakes. But in the end, only we ourselves can discern what we really are saying.

The “I love You” spiritual homophene comes in various forms. Anything repetitively done tends to become habit. And often habit degrades to formality. And that’s when this homophene starts to take form–when we lose the meaning and purpose behind spiritual or reverent actions. Formality clouds substance, and without knowing it, soon enough even we are deceived by our own “I love You.”

The Israelites and early Christians were often guilty of the same phenomenon. And their transgressions or lack of substance spanned a wide gamut of “phrases.” Speaking (Mt 15:8). Fasting (Is 58:3-9). Offering (Mal 1:6-14). Praying (Lk 18:9-14). Teaching (1 Cor 4:15). And hey, even loving (1 Cor 13:1-3).

Therefore, it’s worth it every now and then to review why we do the christianly things we do. Why do we pray in the name of Jesus? Why do we kneel in our prayers? And actually, why do we pray at all?

The purpose isn’t to just question, find no answer, and abandon the habits that are disingenuous (although sometimes this may apply). The purpose of constant reflection is to question, perhaps find no answer, but then rediscover the genuine flame that originally burned when we first believed. There was a good and pure reason we did it in the first place.

Why do we sing hymns before service? Why are we involved in the RE ministry again? And why do we attend theological and training seminars? And wait, why is fasting a powerful prayer again?

Let’s unlearn the hollow “I love You”s and remind ourselves of the joy of John 4:24–worshiping in Spirit and Truth.

When God Messes With Our Plans

Sometimes we feel frustrated or confused because it seems God messes with our plans. But for what purpose does He mess them up? And how should we react? The following is based on a sermon recording I heard a while back which probed me to consider the extent to which I was following God in my personal arrangements.

When Mary and Joseph were engaged and making plans for their wedding, their whole world was suddenly in disarray. A child out of wedlock was taboo at the time, yet Mary was found to be with child before her wedding day. Like most couples, I’m sure they would have liked have had a little time to themselves before the kids came along, but they couldn’t even have a honey moon.

When He messed with their plans, God did not consult them beforehand. Joseph freaked out and even intended to abort the marriage at first. Where did this ‘illegitimate’ child come from? And when Mary was informed by an angel, there was no room for objection. Thus God is sovereign; He has the right to plan what He wants with our lives. He doesn’t need to feel bad or embarrassed that He didn’t consult the couple first; even the name of the child was decided. He doesn’t need to be concerned people will see Him as a big bully who doesn’t confer with us, simply because He is our omniscient and benevolent God.

Despite this dramatic turn of events, the obedience of the couple is admirable. Mary was merely perplexed and asked, “How can it be?” The angel explained the almighty power of God would always shadow her and there was no hint of objection. “Let it be so according to your will”, she said, recognising she was only a maidservant and there was nothing she could do but gladly obey the will of God for her life (Lk 1:38). She not only obeyed but was happy to do so, expressing her joy in praise to God when she visited her cousin (Lk 1:46-55). She accepted the task as a glory and an honour to do this for the Lord, not viewing herself as doing anything much, but rather appreciated what God had done for her. Joseph initially panicked, but when God commanded him to take Mary as wife and raise her child (Matt 1:24-25), he also acted accordingly.

The plan for Mary and Joseph was not easy; there was even more to come. Continue reading

The Thorn In My Hip (1)

Half a year ago, my hip suddenly gave way in the middle of training for a distance race. I ran the race and kept running for months afterwards despite the occasional sharp jerks of pain that shot through my hip when I leaned forward. One fine day, I was reduced to a limp because walking became so painful. The next morning I finally picked up the phone and called my doctor’s office to find out how to get a referral for an appointment at the Sports Medicine Clinic.

Because I initially didn’t know how to get a referral to the Sports Medicine Clinic and because I was afraid that the doctor would tell me my problem was too far advanced to be solved, I struggled to run for six months before seeking help. How long do we wait in spiritual struggles before asking for help?

Perhaps often we waddle in our spiritual, emotional, financial, and academic mire alone because we are afraid to ask, don’t know who to ask, and fear the solution is too difficult to achieve. As we wait, we sink, deeper, and the number people we hurt and deceive as we struggle may increase. How long will we go another day without talking to God, how long will we teach our RE students the ten commandments if we have trouble keeping them ourselves, how long will we indulge a bad habit before we ask for help in prayers and advice?

Not another day. Now is time to ask for help.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up.” (Eccl 4:9-10)

“Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (Jas 5:16)

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matt 7:7)

“For He says:’In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor 6:2)

Pick up the phone and make an appointment with God, with our parents, with our church friends, with our pastor. Today. Before we are reduced to a limp at work, in school, in a friendship, or in our faith, before the damage is permanent. Now is the acceptable time to get a check-up, to ask for help, to ask for mercy.

Part 2