Sadness

Sadness is like a ball of emptiness you can’t quantify but can feel. Sometimes it feels like there’s nothing inside you. I’ve been sad because a string of events have happened and I didn’t really know how to cope. But thank God, I didn’t dwell on things too much and I wasn’t alone. Through the love and prayers of the people around me, the people in church, I didn’t go through it alone.

It’s hard when others expect you always to do your best and be good while they slack off (with anything, but especially in character and moral obligations). And when there is a call of duty they abandon their obligations and abandon you. I don’t really understand them though I feel pained. Sometimes pain is all I feel.

But i guess this is life, and there is a time for everything, quoth the Bible. For me, that’s just the period I’ll have to go through right now. One day, it won’t be all that bad. I can’t wait for that day of joy.

Don’t let me get you down, I feel much better actually. Have really been busy. A student I am tutoring failed his English badly and he is due for the PSLE (=primary school leaving examination) in September. Just for him in preparation for his exams, I have loads to do and worry about. 

Life

I reckon that some of our lives are meant to be painful. We will never have glory, easy days like some people, or smooth-sailing roads. But I reckon we are better people for it, and I think that’s how it’s meant to be for us. Don’t be afraid, don’t think you are getting the lesser of the lot, because God intends better for you. Much better.

Something sad, something victorious

These three days I’ve been to a wake for two nights and a cremation service today. A young sister in our congregation had passed on at twenty years of age and it was a sad affair. 

On Wednesday night it was announced after service that her bout of pneumonia requiring surgery had seen a good turn after the congregation had prayed and fasted for her the previous Saturday, and that she was better. Her illness had been ongoing and with blood cancer it was a tough fight. But because we hadn’tbeen hearing any public updates about her condition many of us assumed things were status quo, but not that bad. I think only the visiting preachers and the pastoral team knew the details of how she was doing. Wednesday night I went back home and prayed in earnest for this young church sister I had not been praying for in a while, and resolved to encourage her not to give up on her faith with a card and a cup made from ceramics. Thursday morning I headed down to my teachers’ studio to work on a cup and left it to be fired, hoping to finish everything within one or two weeks, Thursday night she was called home by the Lord at around 8.30pm.

In one previous post I’ve written that I haven’t really experienced the death of a close one. I think this was quite close. It is hard to explain, and it did affect me. Somehow during the wake services the sadness of the bereaved parents bore on me and I felt the pain of their loss. The feeling of grief is hard to describe. I did not really grasp why God did not answer our prayer of faith and couldn’t help but ask, is she saved? Did she give in to the tempter in the fierce spiritual battle for her soul?

Then on the final day of the funeral during the service after which her cortege was due to leave for the columbarium (most of us cremate here), our resident preacher comforted the congregation saying that a sister had prayed to understand the will of God in taking sister Jiahui away and dreamt that two angels had brought her away, and she was borne away, leaving the words to the one who dreamt the dream, “Tell my parents not to be too sad about my passing.”

I think God is merciful and gracious to His church and this is His way of telling those who grieve that she was saved, rather than being brought away to the nether world. This testimony only bore its impact on me when I reflected about it tonight–God is faithful and has answered the question I had in mind. If she was brought away by angels, she must not have given up in the spiritual battle for her soul. And that means, she was victorious. All praise and glory be unto His name, amen.

Breathless

A month has gone by since I last wrote. Things seem to have taken on a roll and I feel breathless. Seems like there are so many things to handle and helm. Right now I’ve promised to make thirty cups for senior members’ day before end June and I am feeling that the time is rather tight. I really hope the cups turn out well enough to be gifted as souvenirs for the oldies, and that the oldies/elderlies like it as a memento.
So I’ve been heading down to my ceramics teacher’s workshop for the last three days consecutively, hoping to churn out sufficient pots for my daily quota before the 24th, which is sort of like the day where the teens we teach will help to glaze the fired (1st firing) pots. I thought I would enjoy this work, but it’s more stressful since I promised to deliver, and I hadn’t known I had such a short time. Some of the RE teachers at church want to chip in to help, but having to teach them while ensuring that I do quality work feels like added work. Besides, pottery for me is a quiet and focussed activity — I like to work in solitude. I’m not sure if I will be able to focus and enjoy the work if there was too much camaraderie and chatting? Praying that He would hold my hands and heart as I do work for Him. 

So I was at the workshop today, and one of the older ladies learning pottery (she has been around there for eight years) was chatting to me about religion and faith. Frankly I find it extremely hard to speak to people I don’t really know that well about religion or preach the gospel. Because testifying about my faith is so personal and you never know what views others hold or if you have said too much. Because it takes so much honesty, and who knows if others can have the same frankness with which you face your religion, your God? Because it always takes a lot out of me. Well not to say that this lady wasn’t a nice person, but I have come across many people who aren’t as open as they purport to be, and their minds are already closed before you have begun any discussion. And it just ends up going one big circle and returning to status quo. According to her she has had it hard early on in life, and the influences of her elders and neighbours was stronger than a cold God preached to her by people who didn’t properly live out their faith, so she felt that she could rely on herself to tide through the hard times. This is obviously one strong and admirable lady. I usually don’t want to come across to strongly so I just listen to their stories. Maybe that’s why I usually get written off by the ones with strong views as weak and effective though that’s not the case. To me preaching to others is more than gaining one more member for the church, it is about loving another person and sharing God’s love with him/her, it is also saying to Him, Lord, lay one soul on me. And it probably takes years and the best of you to bring another soul to Christ, I really don’t think it is statistical. Everyone counts.

Collecting thoughts

I reckon there are some kids/young adults where you really have to draw the line with them, or they will never know their place and think the whole world belongs to them. Head-strong with an ostentatious sense of self-esteem and a lack of  moral principle, they can easily twist you according to their whim so that they will get their way if you lose your better sense with them. I have learnt my lesson the hard way not without its hurt, one has to put his foot down when dealing with them. They respond little to exhortation, encouragement or persuasion, and need to be given a sense of structure and order–to be put into their place that is.

I have always thought that love will change people for the better once they understand it, but I’ve been wrong. Some kids need to be taught the hard way, they are too hard headed and hardnosed and prefer to find things out themselves in their own way, by their own will and time. With a sizeable age gap in between they fail to comprehend the number and meaning behind the years of difference between you, and treat you as their perfect equal. Don’t get me wrong, but it is unwise when they start to interfere with your personal life with their inmaturity, and that maxes it out for me. If you keep dishing out soft-hearted advice to them you will be sadly manipulated, and thus set for failure. How can you even help bring them around when you lose your efficacy? An unloving or harsh environment where there remains tough love will help such youths do better instead. Because they are set to fall, fail and they can very well pick themselves up independently, but the time they will take to yield to His love will be a long and arduous one. But such strong-headed people will thrive in this kind of environs, overprotectionism will only set them up for sure failure and the wrong moral direction. It is very hard, and you can’t be weak or give excuses for your weaknesses, and if you can’t do it, get someone else to do the hardlining.

Love chastens and rebukes the ones we do not wish to see falling into purgatory. It could be very stern and tempers might flare. I wish to say more but frankly I don’t really have much more to say on this topic. I don’t wish to explain any further either, to skeptics or detractors alike. Some decisions take time to understand given our different paradigms at different stages of life, and some people will never understand besides. I am not seeking for understanding, just a judicious way of slicing into the difficult situation at hand. If you fail to understand my motivations, I am fine with that. 

Love in Truth

After struggling with this difficult question (not the title) for scores of years, I think I finally made a breakthrough with an answer while playing the piano just now for a quiet devotional. There is always politics and conflict when there is something of great value being contended for or great stakes, yet being located at the heart of (deep) politics, you can be non-political. In an absolute way. Yes. There is a way. I don’t mean to say you are not going to be take sides. Or you’re not going to fight. But your motivation will be different. Some years ago I watched a korean tv drama whose plot and storyline resonated with me; it’s on youtube and called The Rooftop Prince. It has humourous overtones but the real plot is much more serious and interweaves between the present and the past. Though the ending was heartbreaking, I found it a good resolution which was for a good end. In summary, it was kind of bittersweet. Tells us that there is a price to pay if we want to do good; especially if we want to do good. For the price of peace, there is always great sacrifice.

People often think love is just a warm and fuzzy feeling and an absolute acceptance of all things, whether they be good or bad, pure and sinful. But I think people who have truly loved know that this is not so. The world carries on its age-old hoax that as long as there is world peace and unconditional acceptance of each others’ sins and flaws, life is beautiful. It is no wonder when we speak of equity, justice, loyalty, friendship, protecting others, sacrifice, and even honest rebuke we find our weight and definition of love superfluous, and perhaps even supercilious at best. Because we know that that kind of love doesn’t seem to measure up when justice is demanded for, or when one chooses to die for a friend in war.

Scripture defines love in 1 Corinthians ch. 13; to save time I will not quote it here. The more I read the bible with its many statutes and precepts, laws and ordinances, cases, charges, wars, and many judgments of God in the old testament, reiteration rather than the abolishment of the ten commandments of God in the new testament I realise that the heart of the biblical message is one of love. There are shadows and prefigurations in the old testament, then there is Christian love in full maturity expounded fully in the new testament times. Does that mean that the people of God did not know love in the biblical times? It is not so; this is far from the truth. But the old testament puts the stories in a much more pictorial rather than verbal way of expression as compared to the new testament. Yet it is one and the same, the love of God towards man has never changed.

A few posts back I pondered if wisdom and kindness were mutually exclusive and whether one needs to exceed the other in order for either to take effect in reality. I won’t answer this directly here but I think i can see the answer in a more pictorial way.

One struggles to reconcile virtues and principles with one another while things are yet to be perfected in him. How many times should I forgive someone who hurts me repeatedly? Should i forgive someone before he or she repents or asks for forgiveness? Who is my neighbour that I should love him in order to fulfil the commandments of God, the summary of which is to love God and love man? What constitutes loving my enemies? Is forgiveness for my own sake letting go or releasing that person from his guilt? Can I put my career first and still qualify as being godly? Can I not take sides when my faith is challenged? Can i have a life of peace and not defend the gospel when my faith is persecuted or compromised? Can i tell white lies to save myself from difficult situations? What is truth? –these are the questions that often arise and we start haggling over the finer points of what constitutes the obedience and submission to God’s will and what doesn’t. These are important in our walk of faith because it is the process we have to navigate through while we are being moulded and shaped into a vessel for God. But there is a time when such questions wouldn’t matter. Because in the fullness of His love one finds all the answers to these questions. There is psalm i love which marries all the different aspects and virtues, to me, a perfect consummation leading to a perfect knowledge of God, for God is love: 

Psalms 85:10-13

Mercy and truth have met together;

Righteousness and peace have kissed.

Truth shall spring out of the earth,

And righteousness shall look down from heaven.

Yes, the Lord will give what is good;

And our land will yield its increase.

Righteousness will go before Him,

And shall make His footsteps our pathway.

So whether one is afraid she might become a doormat through considering others’ well-being better than her own, or is time and again being used while being kind is not the crux of the matter. If one truly loves, then he or she would be used even though it might hurt, wouldn’t mind being a willing doormat, would exhibit wisdom in her love for others and be defined by it, would in effect go the ends of the earth for the One whom she loves. I can’t place this in a better way, this summarises what I think is the answer to the question. Against such things there is no law, for love fulfils the law.

Everyone knows what is the right thing to do, even children. But while we were still young and immature, we were unable to do it. While we had struggles we were unwilling to do it. We did not have the love for God and also men. But not so for a mature Christian, and we should all aim to be that. Love emboldens us to take up arms to protect those we love.

Good kids and bad kids

One thing I’ve learnt, there are two kinds of people, good kids and bad kids. You love them both. The bad kids challenge all your beliefs and all that you uphold, make you love them with strong intensity and affection, make you go to all ends and extremes just to bring them back, make you feel triumphant on the good days, and sad on the bad days. When you love good kids they love you back, sometimes with more than you have loved them with. Still, after all you try to do, sometimes bad kids don’t become good kids and they walk away from you. But those who return, and the really good kids, not without their own struggles, I believe there belongs to them a special place in His mercy and grace.

Looking for a way

Been having some things on my mind. 

Because of God, I have become a layman. I no longer look at things in the way of schools of thought and what-theory-do-you-subscribe-to. Because of Him, I look at life as a whole, death as a part of it at its endpoint, and people as the creation who have fallen short of His glory, awaiting restoration. I look at toil and difficulties as a necessary part of our earthly sojourn, and the world and myself in a whole new light. Faith in God produces a tenacity of faith in men, a willingness not to give up on those who may have failed you or society, impelling you to reach out a hand to assist or help, and removing yourself out of the equation of what-do-i-get-out-of-this and disappointment in lieu of unreciprocation. It frees you from the entangling mess of returns, because He believed in you and never gave up on you. Would you give up on an errant prodigal or pray for him, when you perceive that his faith is literally dead or stillborn (it is not mortal sin)? Would you walk away from someone because he has trespassed against you and is stubborn to change and is walking away from God? Would you reach out to help instead. I’m looking for a way. A way to be judiciously wise. A way to persevere in kindness. Are the two mutually exclusive? Must one exceed the other for it to take effect? These words seem a jumble. I can’t seem to be coherent. When a thorn nettles you, do you break down in full understanding of the situation, or do you endure in hope of a better consequence you only vaguely imagine and try to make out based on what you believe? 
We ought to overcome evil with good. Maybe it’s no longer by wisdom and understanding, but by faith alone.

Our God is a quiet God. Sometimes he stays silent.

Conundrum

Is it possible for a person with great wisdom to be unerringly good? From my observation, most people don’t think so. Perhaps because power corrupts, and knowledge is power. That is my guess at hedging an elucidation for this cynicism/observation. I’m not necessarily sure if it is a fear if the unknown, but it seems that when one is unable to ascertain the goodness of a person with great knowledge, we stay away from that person because we think he or she is/might be evil. I guess most ordinary people with sufficient wisdom/wariness will reserve their opinion about this group of people. Because of the question of self-justification, because of this — what makes you think you are so good? What makes you think you are infallible? A relevant consideration. 

I forgot what I wanted to discuss in this train of thought. But while ruminating on the subject, I think I can start to feel the answers coming. Looking to the Bible, believers are exhorted to be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matt 10:16). It is always hard to ascertain the genuine moral character of a person, it’s hard to read people, and time is a huge factor that not everyone is willing to afford. Secondly, it is a largely difficult process–not everyone is willing to put themselves through that kind of effort required, even if it may be rewarding. Or yet, it might cause you great disappointment and sorrowing or grey hairs on the head. So some would rather let things less complicated and not delve so much into it. I think it is a general reaction to be naturally distrustful of a person with great knowledge, especially if you do not know the person. And I think that it is not wrong that people are more wary or think this way.

There are such people in the Bible and an example I will quote is Paul the apostle, author of many letters in the New Testament. He was a man of great knowledge in the mysteries of God, an apostle to the Gentiles (unbelievers), a learned Pharisee, a Jew whose lineage could be traced to the tribes of Israel, a witness of God and a sufferer in chains for Christ. In His writings within his letters he testified that he was brought up to the third heavens by the Spirit where he saw wonderful things and received the oracles of God. Because of this he was able to expound many mysteries of God to the believers in the apostolic church and pastor the flock. But knowledge puffs up and gives rise to pride (2 Cor 12:1-10)– 

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

God is able to keep us in His grace and mercy. When He gives us someone great wisdom, he is also able to keep that person greatly humble so that that one does not fall away because of his pride. To some it may seem like the Lord is unnecessarily harsh on those whom he blesses in this way, but I think it is not because he loves their souls. Just as it is written, I realise it is just as Paul said, it is often in the form of a thorn in the flesh. 

So yes, it is possible to be wise and good. Not to mention rare and noble too. It is not easy, and requires one’s best effort from a pure heart. For those who are harmless, wisdom is a form of protection from corruption and the less altruistic motives of selfish individuals.  But it is a basic expectation of us Christians.

I guess I kind of found the answer to the said conundrum. The bible answered my question. Yay! :)

On Death, Part II

So I went tonight, for the first time, to a funeral/condolence service, to the house of mourning rather than the house of feasting and mirth, which is what scripture advocates, to number our days and gain a heart of wisdom. Because an elderly church sister of ours had passed on at 96, and it was held at her house. 

It was like a normal service, with hymn singing and a sermonette to comfort the bereaved. It wasn’t unduly sad, because the deceased had died in the Lord and we have the assurance of seeing her once more in the heavenly mansions. And I thought, would the same be held at our house when my matriarch maternal grandma passes on, she who has opposed my faith for many years? Would she one day decide to get baptised, perhaps on her deathbed? She who I sometimes think would hold out till the very end because of a stubborn refusal to trust anyone other than her own astute judgment? She who had a part in my pain and in playing the role of the persecutor in bringing me to my knees and bringing my life almost to a total wreck if not for the saving hand of my God? She who holds on to her own will till today. 

I am writing for a semblance of control of a life which once again seems to be fraying at the ends. Once again, no matter how hard you try, things come apart. A hymn goes, “Bow the knee.” Suppose you think you have a rather good understanding of things usually. Try as you might to be a good Christian, try as you might to understand every facet of the problem at hand, try as you might to resolve to be upbeat and positive in every way, situations that fail us still occur. You try to prep yourself and feel around for the way ahead, but you don’t understand one bit of it, the way is pitch-darkness. Perhaps you had it all, but it’s been taken away. As you try to pick up the pieces you get cut by the broken shards. Grief. Tears, sorrow. Every time it is like that. So you ask, how long, O Lord? So you pray for mercy and give yourself up to Him in totality. So you learn to submit, to entrust, and then one day, to hope. 

And when you don’t understand

The purpose of His plan 

In the presence of the king

Bow the knee.

https://youtu.be/ZMT_48MqGGQ
Perhaps for some of us we will only start to genuinely rely on Him when we realise things are pretty much out of our hands. Perhaps for some of us this is the way to the kingdom of eternal life. Because in utter hopelessness God works miracles. It may not be healing or resolution or relief, but nevertheless these are miracles, and perhaps they are the greater miracle because He is Immanuel, God with us.