Friday, May 16, 2008

On getting a life

I think I read this once upon a time. But SooT forwarded it to me today, from Bob Kee, and it was a good 'refresher'!

The Gospel of Mark is so graphic this way. The first half of the Gospel is Jesus showing people how to live. He's healing everybody. Then right in the middle, he shifts. He starts showing people how to die: "Now that you've got a life, I'm going to show you how to give it up." That's the whole spiritual life. It's learning how to die. And as you learn how to die, you start losing all your illusions, and you start being capable now of true intimacy and love.

--Eugene Peterson

As I read these words, I was reminded of Michael's famous words, "Get a life!"

Might it be that we are to get a life only to lose it; perhaps that we are to get a life in order that we may lose it?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

My Grace is Sufficient for You

2 Corinthians 12:9- But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

this verse brought me through my first year in uni. medical studies has never been easy for me since the first day i entered medical school. i struggled all the way through, and when exams neared, so many of us lost ourselves. we tried to care for others when we ourselves could hardly care for ourselves. those who had never experienced headaches got a string of them, and those who knew not imsomnia expereinced it. the whole process of exams was traumatic for many of us. till now, 10 days after my professional 1 exam, i am still not relaxed. till now, i still think about what medicine can do to people. i still cannot accept medical studies. but God has been faithful in bringing me through this year. when i couldn't take it anymore and really felt like giving up, God's promises gave me hope. and this is what i'll live on for the next few years of my life- His grace and faithfulness.

leading a self-initiated ministry in uni, God brought many poeple to Himself. could i actually say that it was me who brought people closer to God? well, i did do things, but is it not His grace that chose me to lead this? is it not His Spirit that inspired people to draw close to Him? am i not just another broken vessel, a sinner, emotional and weak? it is grace.

there is so much more to learn, so much in me that is faulty, yet His grace assures me of my privilege as a child of God. unworthy. therefore, how could i live without Him? will i not die in my own sin? "My grace is sufficient for you..."

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Focus for the holidays

Who can discern his errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.

Keep your servant also from wilful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then will I be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

--Psalm 19:12-14 (NIV)

That as he [Brother Lawrence] knew his obligation to love God in all things, and as he endeavoured so to do, he had no need of a director to advise him, but that he needed much a confessor to absolve him. That he was very sensible of his faults, but not discouraged by them; that he confessed them to God, but did not plead against Him to excuse them. When he had so done, he peaceably resumed his usual practice of love and adoration.

--from The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Further along the way: self-control, grace, silence and trust

After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, "I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me."

His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, "Ask him which one he means."

Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, "Lord, who is it?"

Jesus answered, "It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish." Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon.

--John 13:21-26 (NIV)

The symbol of dipping a piece of bread was first recorded in the identification of Judas as Jesus' traitor.

As we celebrated the Eucharist in church this morning, two thoughts came to me:

First, how can I overcome sin in the flesh if I cannot even control the time I sleep? I shall be making it a point to head to bed by 11 p.m. daily this month, not because I think extra sleep will save me from sin, but because I believe (as Pastor Vincent preached this morning on the revival that followed the appointment of waiters - Acts 6) there is a correlation of sorts between being able to control one area of my body and another.

As I held the bread in my hand, I remembered that Jesus submitted His body to His Father.

Second, it was to the traitor that the symbol of the ultimate miracle was instituted. Perhaps it was because he, of all people, needed it most then. "But where sin increased, grace increased all the more..." (Romans 5:20).

Whether it was because of his need or not. I know I need it. I need the reminder of Christ's sacrifice no less than I need the forgiveness which comes from it.

* * * * *

I found myself encouraged yesterday by the writings of one d'NAer and a conversation I had with another d'NAer over two years ago.

While packing the tall cabinet downstairs, I stumbled upon Yen's Asian Beacon article, 'The Woman Who Would Not Give Up' (which I printed out from some online source). I haven't told many people about it, but lately I have felt what might best be described as 'moulting pains' concerning my photography and, to a lesser degree, my writing.

It's as if the last few months have shown me that my art is taking me somewhere; in fact, prior to the last semester in university, I never really considered my photography as art. Now I am inclined to think it is more art than photography. Whatever.

But I don't really know where it's taking me, or how to get there. But I know God is faithful, and Yen's article reminded me of a word first drummed into me by Frederick Buechner in his essay 'The Road Goes On': T-R-U-S-T.

Yen wrote;

What I am learning is that we should not turn to God only when we have exhausted all human means, for if we trust in God only as a last resort we might now know how to trust Him even as a last resort.

I couldn't agree more, and I think this is the lesson I, too, am learning.

The other d'NAer is Joan. In January 2006, I had a conversation with her over MSN, and we talked about hearing God among other things. She was taking a break from blogging then, and I was still coming to terms with my new job as Editor-in-Chief of the Victorian Editorial Board.

It occurred to me at church this morning that the things I said to Joan might cause some people to assume I believe that God always speaks in some fluttering, still, small voice accompanied by a sudden warming of the heart and an overwhelmingly benevolent peace of the soul. That would be untrue.

Rather, the silence Joan and I realised was so necessary is the silence needed to truly hear ('akouo'), not so much the peaceful, calming voice of God (although our God is a God of peace), but the hard-hitting voice of God.

When I think about it, God's voice is very hard-hitting in its simplicity; often the voice brings to us a realisation of what we are doing wrong or what we ought to be doing. And it can be very hard to accept what the voice says.

As C.S. Lewis recalls in his essay, 'A Slip of the Tongue';

A good author... asks somewhere, "Have we never risen from our knees in haste for fear God's will should become too unmistakable if we prayed longer?"

Silence is difficult for noisy people like myself. But I believe it is, along with trust, something I need especially in this season of metamorphosis. I need to avail myself to the word of God, to the will of God, to the wisdom of God, to the way of God. And I cannot get there unless I prepare myself through the discipline of silence, and through it cultivate trust in the Leader.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Reflections on a Bukit Tinggi Retreat

While I was still in prison in the courtyard, the LORD's message came to me again. The LORD, who made the earth, who formed it and set it in place, spoke to me. He whose name is the LORD said, "Call to me, and I will answer you; I will tell you wonderful and marvellous things that you know nothing about.

"I, the LORD, the God of Israel, say that the houses of Jerusalem and the royal palace of Judah will be torn down as a result of the siege and the attack. Some will fight against the Babylonians, who will fill the houses with the corpses of those whom I am going to strike down in my anger and fury. I have turned away from this city because of the evil things that its people have done.

"But I will heal this city and its people and restore them to health. I will show them abundant peace and security. I will make Judah and Israel prosperous, and I will rebuild them as they were before. I will purify them from the sins that they have committed against me, and I will forgive their sins and their rebellion.

"Jerusalem will be a source of joy, honour, and pride to me; and every nation in the world will fear and tremble when they hear about the good things that I do for the people of Jerusalem and about the prosperity that I bring to the city."

--Jeremiah 33:1-9 (TEV)

The PKV's recent Committee Planning Retreat (CPR) at Gracehill Lodge, Bukit Tinggi, went well. (See pictures here.)

We have our theme and objectives for 2008/2009, and as to what that theme is, it's a surprise! All I can say at the moment is that LEGO bricks probably fit in the picture somewhere.

I'm writing this because a few days ago, I was reading Jeremiah 33. It happens that we chose for one of our objectives the supporting verse Jeremiah 33:3 (Call to me...), and I basically structured my devotions over the last few days around the verses we chose for the objectives.

It occurred to me that the Jeremiah passage quoted above somewhat sums up what our thrust for the coming year will be:

Building the city of God and living out the forgiveness which is its foundation.

Calling to God and listening to Him as He helps us make sense of what's going on around us.

Being a source of joy and honour to the nations.

Two songs come to mind at this point. The first is 'Rebuild' by Switchfoot, Relient K and Ruth. The second is 'God's Got An Army':

God's got an army, marching through the land
Deliverance is their song, with healing in their hands
Everlasting joy and gladness in their hearts
And in this army I've got a part.

And that's what the theme means to me really; about the unity in this army, the joy and the healing and the gladness we are called to carry to each other and to those outside the army. The sort of paradoxical army of a paradoxical kingdom; a kingdom whose King will not stay buried.

A kingdom whose power is not so much that there is no more death or hurt in it, but that the death cannot kill and the hurt can no longer cause pain.

It will be a season that calls for much change in our attitudes, I believe. And just this morning, I read these words on Sacred Gateway.

When we meet Jesus in prayer, we do not need to explain. He reads our hearts too. One of the joys of prayer is that it opens our hearts to us, so that we realise our own jealousies or resentments, our deeper feelings. To meet him in this way, we need to be still and stop making words.

Perhaps it is hardest for those like me (and maybe some of us) who are almost naturally wordy. Yen laughed at me (and with good reason, I believe!) when I said I thought of staying low-profile when the next semester begins, such that the incoming juniors would have to ask, "Who is Benjamin?"

But half a year down as Prayer Head, I realise this is probably what I need to change most of all. I need to be quieter that I may listen; I need to be quieter that I may write and reflect well. Above all, I need to be quieter because my rather active lifestyle is really taking quite a bit out of me, and God knows I need the stamina for the real work.

* * * * *

Four animals: four reminders.

The snake and fruit amidst the bushes reminds me of Satan's destructive activity and how he aims to lay siege on the City of God, of the power of his temptation and how he tries to make us forget our place in the garden.

The dogs at the entrance of the house remind me that God calls us to be faithful, loving and trusting, even as one family in one household. Of all the animals in the world, the dog is called man's best friend and is the reverse spelling of 'God'.

The wasps remind me of the importance of unity and teamwork in the body of Christ, for which Christ prayed in Gethsemane. In some ways the leaf that gives them shade against the sun reminds me of the vine God caused to grow for Jonah; of His grace in our weakness.

The lizard reminds me to be patient and still, to wait upon the Lord at all times. Reptiles, being cold-blooded, rely upon heat from the surroundings to 'activate' the enzymes in their bodies; likewise I am reminded to 'lean not upon my own understanding' (Prov. 3:5).

And I think, like the animals, we learnt (at least in part) what it means to depend on God's providence. Following Entangled, Adrian of the PKV called God the 'God of the Red Sea' because so many 'Red Seas' had parted in the run-up to the musical and also throughout the semester.

Following CPR, it dawned upon me that the Red Sea was only the beginning of the trials; the Israelites had only begun to experience God's power. The real testing would come in the desert, and the most miraculous providence would also come then.

Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.

--Deuteronomy 8:2-5 (NIV)

God provided for us in Bukit Tinggi; we had just enough electricity, an amazing variety of garden plants to supplement our cooking, a relatively complete kitchen, a good balance of rain and shine (and an experience of what someone called 'God taking photographs', i.e. thunder and lightning)...

And a whole lot more fun than we thought we'd have (read: piano, drum set and swimming pool with diving platform)!

So we've crossed the Red Sea; the desert lies ahead, and beyond that the Promised Land. May we not forget these lessons even in the coming semester.

(All photos taken at Gracehill, except wasps taken at the entrance to the adjacent private property. These were about all the animals we saw, barring occasional birds; I forgot to shoot the leeches... argh!)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Post-Election Thoughts

I was wondering if I had anything to say about the recent General Elections, given that I generally shy away from politics (ironically it was politics that gave me a head start into the world of public speaking).

Amidst all the cheers of victory on the side of the Opposition (and the vast majority of its backing citizens), I felt the change a good thing. I'm not saying things in Malaysia will turn out for the better; stability with a good number of freedoms revoked is probably better than a lot of great ideas but no solid ground for implementation.

In a state like Kelantan (and perhaps to some extent Kedah) where PAS has been in power for so long, it is nothing new. But the entire political landscapes of Perak, Selangor and Penang, for instance, have changed dramatically. For the first time ever, I think of the friends I encountered today and realise that most of them are from Opposition-controlled states.

But I said earlier that change is probably a good thing. Yesterday morning before church, I found myself thinking this over as I browsed through the statistics on the Election Commission's official website. Change is perhaps a good thing for people bored of the same old same old, but I think more so for the Christian, because it is only change in this world that can remind us of the unchanging things.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, said the writer of Hebrews.

Chuck Colson opened Steven Curtis Chapman's 'Heaven in the Real World' with this narration: "The hope that each of us has is not in who governs us, or what laws are passed, or what great things we do as a nation. Our hope is in the power of God working through the hearts of people, and that's where our hope is in this country, and that's where our hope is in life."

Come what may, God's work continues. It has survived the destruction of Jerusalem, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, the Communist Revolution, two World Wars, to name a few.

And because of this we are free to vote, and free to rejoice and celebrate the victorious politicians. Not so much because we have faith in their capabilities, but because our faith is rooted in the One to whom all rulers are subject, and so we know that no matter who rules over us, we are safe and have a future in Him.

Praise Him.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Future in His Hands

And even though sometimes Your ways
I cannot understand
I'll never walk away because
My future's in Your hands
~Running After you, Planetshakers

I'm at a point in my life now where I almost completely do not understand what God is doing with my life and in my life. Or maybe I am at a point where I finally realise that I normally don't understand anyway. I just assume. Honestly, if I truly understood, I would be 1) freaked out and 2) unable to practice faith hope, perseverance and character-building, etc.

If God told Abraham before all the trials he underwent, that he would have a son and that son would have to be sacrificed, Abraham might have baulked. But Abraham faced that final test of faith once he had undergone so many other little tests that he could reason that God could raise the dead ( a big improvement from his previous reasoning that he and Sarah were too old to have children).

So while I do understand in the present the season of life that I'm in, whether of trial, rest or spiritual revelation, the long-term outcome is not something I can ever predict with certainty. Joseph in his prison would have been hard-pressed to imagine how his dreams of bowing sheaves and stars could come true, though he seems to never have given up hope in his destiny, rising in favour even with the prison warden. In the same way, I've been asking, what is the point of all the events of my life up to now? If every moment counts toward a higher purpose, even the bad ones, then giving up in situations isn't an option. What is my purpose in Christ? I don't mean theologically--we're all predestined to glory, etc. I mean, what is my personal mission for Christ given by him? What are the good works prepared in advance for me to do, like the art and craft materials prepared by the teacher beforehand for his class? That's what I'd really like to know. Maybe that's predestination. God knows those who want to take his art class and provides the canvas and the paints and teaches us as we go. No matter how simple and unremarkable the stuff we paint is, he already knows how it will turn out and already has in his mind how he'll fit it all together with his own masterpiece, so that it becomes a thing of great beauty. And the cool thing is that in the end, we are his masterpiece--not our works, unless our works are of course other people whose lives the master artist has sculpted through us. The future in his hands is the destiny I wish to fulfil.