Reflections (2014)

I suppose I’ve reached an age where the mind simply retains memories of triumphs and gratification and forgets the negative experiences and setbacks. Still, truly, this is a year where I felt a rise in gratitude and joy. It wasn’t all smooth sailing but I saw that the challenges were there for a purpose.

After two arduous years, I finally completed my part-time studies. Yes, it demanded much of me. I’ve heard of mothers complaining that their pregnancies robbed them of their memory. My part-time studies did the same to me. Although it was a struggle trying to focus and direct my energy and time towards my various commitments, I saw how much I could be stretched and the stretching produced grit in me. I am stronger than I thought I was.

Even so, I was more convicted that as a limited and definite creature, there’s only so much to which I could commit. A thought that stayed with me since a church camp is that I should invest my life and resources in things of eternal value. With that outlook, some of my present commitments seem unimportant and I thought of backing out. Yet, because of the sense of duty and obligation to people, I have chosen to stay with these commitments. Such choices in life only heightens the daily tension of living as a pilgrim on this earth, which I hope I’ll have more wisdom to handle as I age.

While finding purpose in my work had been a long-time struggle, my change in job scope in July brought with it new perspectives in the meaning behind what I do. I was very apprehensive of the changes but God used it for good by invigorating me with a sense of purpose. God also gave me a new dream as I considered the financial choices to be made when I turn 35 in 2 years’ time. I’d like to have a place of my own, to practise hospitality, hosting friends and providing a place for fellowship. With this desire, an old dream waned; the idea of home has changed. A home is functional, but more than that, the meaning of home is much more, emotional and social. I’m blessed that even now, I have a home to which I can look forward to returning.

If there’s any palpable sadness this year, it’s the growing awareness that my mum’s health is deteriorating. Her dementia condition has worsened and she’s more prone to bouts of forgetfulness and outbursts. The sense of loss of control in her life and my life as a result of her behavioural change triggered a feeling of helplessness. In a way, that helped me to learn to live one day at a time. I reckoned this contributed to the greater gratitude for daily grace and strength.

A song that helped to realign my thoughts when I was unhappy with what I don’t have was Matt Redman’s Ten Thousand Reasons. As the second stanza reminded me of God’s goodness and love, I hope that my focus in 2015 will be on Him and His character.

Chorus:
Bless the Lord, O my soul, O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before, O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name

The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes
[Chorus]

You’re rich in love, and You’re slow to anger
Your name is great, and Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find
[Chorus]

And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore
[Chorus x2]

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33

Jesus died at 33. A study has shown that people are the happiest at 33. As I turn 33, I have never felt more at ease with myself, grateful for what I have (and what I don’t have), and appreciative of the people who love me and whom I love.

In recent days, my angst over the uncertainties in life started to dissipate. Through solitude, God showed me my unhappiness arose from discontentment as I compared what I have and didn’t have with others’. But God reminded me that there are ‘10,000 reasons‘ to praise and thank Him. And I do have those reasons.

I guess God answered the prayers of my friends after I shared with them my anxiety over work. Then came an increasing sense of purpose from work, seeing that I could help profile colleagues’ work for recognition.

I also realised that I’m in a privileged position, enjoying financial independence, a certain quality of life, good health, and love of my family and friends.

And there is hope. With all that I am and have, I can bless others.

So at 33, I’m just thankful for love and life.

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Post-studies reflections

The past two years have been a most gruelling experience. There were days where my mind was so saturated with theories, research ideas and assignment outlines that I wanted to prick my brain bubble to relieve some mental tension. There were nights where I struggled to keep my eyes and my thoughts on the readings, while fighting futile battles against my listless mind. Like a skipped music track, there were periods absent from my memory, which will never be like what it was.

But those days are over now, and I wondered how I have survived. I do remember receiving the text messages from friends encouraging me in my studies. I recall the occasions where I was asked out for meals by concerned people. I can also think of the times where I cried out to God for strength and help and He answered.

In all honesty, I know that my devotional time with God suffered during this period. Setting aside a dedicated time to read the Bible and pray was not my priority and it was difficult to serve wholeheartedly when there was irregular spiritual input. But I have learnt to relate to God in a different way. I grew to appreciate the foundation built on God’s word when I clung onto memorised verses in desperation. I have learnt to share my struggles with people more willingly, asking them for prayer. I was also humbled when I realised how unkind I was when I judged why people struggled when they were doing their part-time studies before I did.

As we go through different seasons of life, we are given opportunities to learn about ourselves and grow. Likewise for our relationship with God. I do not regret giving these two years for my part-time studies because I have known God’s faithfulness and goodness deeper. These were and are given to me because He’s a loving God, not because I was dutiful. The gospel I believe in is not a gospel of works but a gospel of grace.

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2013 in reflection

When I first started my blog, I told myself that I would update it at least once a month. But my last entry was seven months ago, and I guess that pretty indicated the state of affairs in my life this year: busy, busy, busy.

The first half was pretty much a blur and I can’t seem to recall any significant event from that period. The second half was just tiring. I don’t know why I was so tired. Wait, actually I do – full-time work, part-time studies, church and community service, and trying to squeeze in recreation on the sides. My plate was so full and God taught me one lesson well through that, i.e. I’m a finite creature with limited time, energy and resources. One of the greatest regrets is how my devotional time with God has suffered. It’s not just the quantity and quality, but the desire in itself has waned. I can’t wait for this Masters programme to end so that my life can return to normalcy as I knew it 1.5 years ago. But this has also served as a test of what the routine means to me. Time with God is imperative for the relationship to grow. Nothing can replace that.

Learning this lesson of my finiteness caused me to mull over what I want and should do. Initially there was great tension between what I want to do and what I should do, and by the grace of God, He allowed me to reconcile with my desire and His will, and desire to choose what’s more valuable. Ironically, as I realised what’s more important, duty pulls me to something else. Again, I find myself caught between duty and desire. Oh, to have duty, desire and delight aligned!

Something that adds that tinge of sadness to the year is realising that paths with some friends have diverged. You realise that some are not the same anymore and they seem to have grown more distant. Taking a step back, I reason that perhaps God has allowed us to walk together in the past and now He has called them to different phases and focus in life. Not only have friends changed, I see my family changed as well, and by that I mean my mother. Her dementia seemed to have worsened and there were moments of frustration where I really wanted to shout, ‘you were not like this’, but I knew those moments were not her doing. If it’s anything, it’s God’s testing of my love and patience toward her who selflessly gave herself for this family for so many years.

If this post seem somewhat melancholic, I have thanksgivings to share as well. Thanks to some questions in a research survey, there’s full assent that the people who love me the most and accept me for who I am are my family members. While my family is not perfect, they have always been there for me. While it’s not something new, the acute awareness of their love strengthens my resilience to life’s challenges. I’m also grateful for friends who supported and walked beside me during the year, especially when times were trying. God has been most gracious to me this year, and I know 2014 will be a year where I’ll experience his grace and presence even more.

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Knowing God with a good and honest heart

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18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. … … 28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.

Romans 1:18-21, 28 (NIV)

Through the general revelation of God in His creation, man knows God (vv18-20). The man who knows God is expected to glorify God and give thanks to Him (v21), yet, a knowledge of God doesn’t naturally translate into so. Paul speaks of a truth suppressed because of wickedness (v18), vain thinking and darkened hearts (v21). The knowledge of God can be lost instead of retained (v28), or as the ESV version says, we may not see fit to acknowledge God.

As students of the word of God, we are supposed to know God better and deeper, yet I couldn’t help but realise that these descriptions can be aptly applied to us as well.  We can know God intellectually yet not glorify him nor give thanks to him. The cerebral stimulation received through Bible study can be reduced to useless cognitive processes.

What we need is a good and honest heart for the word of God:

But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

Luke 8:15 (NIV)

God has given us a new heart and a new spirit (Ezekiel 36:26). With this heart, we can hear, retain and allow the word of God to bear fruit in our lives. Guard this heart with prayer so that it does not turn evil and deceptive.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)

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Galatians – Afterthought

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I had never thought that my belief that I should live for myself would be challenged and shaken so quickly but it has. The recently concluded sermon series in the book of Galatians has brought about this effect, harkening back to the verse that I kept as my Daily Perspective many years ago. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Because of my natural temperament, I’m a sucker for laws and rules, and I know how sometimes overzealousness for the law can turn one into a legalist. But as the letter to the Galatians tells us, the law that we could not keep has been fulfilled in Christ, the promise of righteousness delivered by faith in Christ and now we have the Holy Spirit to teach us how to live crucified with Christ. What an incredibly liberating truth! That’s why the book of Galatians continually exhorts us to live by the Spirit, walk by the Spirit, and  keep in step with the Spirit.

It’s difficult to think about how to reach my full potential and pursue opportunities when I know that I have the Spirit of Christ to enable me to live with passions crucified. There are still many interests that I would like to try out and curiosities to satisfy, but I must learn to rein them in so that the boundaries that I told myself to keep would still stand and the focus is back on Christ in me and bearing the fruit of the Spirit.

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An exceedingly onerous building project

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My Bible reading plan started off without a hitch this year. But of course, as the weeks got busier when the school assignments increased, a few hiccups invariably popped up. But I thank God that I managed to finish the chronological plan up to Leviticus and now going into the book of Numbers. Reading Leviticus was hard, but before that I had to contend with the regulations regarding worship and the tabernacle (the temporary temple) in the book of Exodus.

Moses took 12 chapters (25-31, 36-40) to elucidate the requirements for the building of the tabernacle, the designs for the priestly garments for worship and the consecration of the priests for presentation of the offerings. The measurements listed out for the table, lamp-stand, courtyard, altar, curtains, and ark stumped me. I couldn’t visualise the structures, and much less estimate the sizes of the components. But what was more intimidating was the magnitude of the project, where every item had to be hand-crafted and assembled to build the tabernacle. What’s more, the tabernacle was not a permanent structure; it was moved whenever God wanted the Israelites to relocate. Thinking about the scale of constructing the entire tabernacle, setting up, dissembling and moving the structure was enough to boggle my mind. As I read through the chapters, the question that stayed on my mind was, why did God make it so exceedingly onerous on the people to build a tabernacle?

But that question was duly answered when I read Chapter 40, verses 34 to 35:

34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

The tabernacle was for God, and the glory of God filled the tabernacle when God’s presence rested in the place. It was not just a place for the receptacles and items for worship. The sense of puzzlement over the complexity and intricacy of the mega-project dissolved as I remembered the most fundamental purpose – it is for God, a God who allowed His unapproachable, terrifying and indomitable glory to be with men. Yes, a holy God is worthy for us to cleanse our sins, to set apart our lives and to live excellently for Him. He is a God bigger than my complaints and more than sufficient for my unmet needs. So when I went on to read the book of Leviticus, all those statutes and prohibitions to mark out a people distinct for a holy God made sense.

God is holy, yet I can now come before Him because of the righteousness of Christ. Amazing.

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