Monthly Archives: June 2012

God the Chaser

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God is aggressively pursuing us so that our hearts may be inclined to his.

In Leviticus, he gets into all these details of setting up a tabernacle so he may dwell with his people. But gone are the days where he carves on stone tablets. Now he goes straight to our hearts, etching his own cause into our hearts so that we may respond to him. He even goes to the extent of circumcising our hearts so that we may love him with all our heart and soul (Deuteronomy 30:6). God will cause us to incline to love him. Didn’t He say, “I will put my law within them?”

A sermon I had heard online had elaborated on this attribute of God as a chaser. He said that God is troubleshooting this troubled creation. He wasn’t just hoping or wishing or begging, but He is aggressively out there. He even went to the extent of not just sending a prophet, but His own son so that He can be our God and we can be His people.

It’s simply baffling to think that this assertive, unrelenting, persistent God pursues us with His grace, opens our eyes and ears, reaches down and grabs our calloused hearts, forces, enables, and removes it so that He can give us a new heart. It’s not a wimpy grace, it’s a robust grace. It’s intentional!

Last year, I first heard of this verse from my Korean teacher who had encouraged me of God’s renewing grace. And it has since become my grip when I doubt that I can ever be restored. Ezekiel 36:25-27, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”

“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.” Hosea 2:14

Yes God, chase me, captivate me.

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Giving Reaction

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A rather introspective Daoist practitioner once wrote that she thinks her religious practice of burning incense sticks and offering food to the gods is like putting coins on a piggy bank. Saving a penny here and there, hoping that one day or when the sudden need arises, a fat pig can be cracked open for one’s disposal and favor.

Somehow, I feel that Christians approach relationship with God the same way. We pray, we do good works, we give offering at church, we serve in ministry, we read the Bible, and do all the rituals of good Christian living…for what? Is it out of sheer obedience or are we implicitly trying to store up a good amount of devoutness to our account so we can withdraw when necessary?

A friend who’s exploring Christianity casually confessed to me that she feels it’s cool to pray because you can make requests and they happen. Christianity has its benefits! And it does. “Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not His benefits.” (Psalm 103:2) But to see Him simply as a passive reactor to our deposits is demeaning His greatness. It’s insulting.

God promised great rewards for those who give cheerfully and sow graciously. (2 Corinthians 9:6-14). Clearly, there’s nothing wrong  in expecting Him to fulfill our needs and desires. But the heart motivation should be set aright. Are we testing God’s math? Are we laying treasures in heaven with our heart of trust to God or are we laying them down before us and checking once in a while if it’s time for the grand request? Do we always see God as the record-keeper who tallies every score we make?

I personally feel very uncomfortable when just after I give a present or bless someone with a meal, I immediately get back a gift or an excessive thank you. Or like today, my gift gets rejected because I’ve been told that I’m too nice. It’s good to be reminded to check my heart if I’m giving with expectation of receiving or is it from the outflow of God’s blessings to me. But more than that lesson, it makes me think: Is God like some of my friends who react to my giving with instant compensation or doubt? Or is He the activator and when I give or when I pray or when I do all these things in His name, I’m the reactor? This paradigm shifts me into thinking that I can never outgive God. I can’t give just so He can give me more. I simply give because He’s given.

To see God as a reactor to what we do is understating Him for who He is. When we give, we don’t compensate His goodness. We don’t bribe God to win His favor. We don’t need and God doesn’t want us to flatter him. Instead, we give out of a thankful heart in response to what He has given and what He has done.

Long Way

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God takes us to the long way instead of the short.

“When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, thought that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” Exodus 13:17

God knows their weakness, they might retreat and doubt again. And they did. Exodus 14:10-12 says they turned against their own initial decision out of fear of the approaching Egyptians and had doubted the promise ahead and were ready to retreat. Did this just happen once? No, it happened several times…the viscious cycle of complaining then regretting…

But maybe I am in the long way right now because God wants to make sure that I don’t turn back around. He knows me better so He’s leading the long way of no return instead of bringing me to the shortcut, which He could have done and it would have been an earlier victory, but I wouldn’t have been where I am, protected from any chance to retreat, had He not put barriers to the short road.

The Helmet

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faith hope love

These words were pasted on a white helmet hanging at the back of the bus driver’s seat. It was the first thing I noticed when I sat on one of those orange roomy “priority seats” right beside the luggage area. So diagonally, that helmet was in full view from where I’m at. It is the shortest bus ride I take in Taipei–5 minutes, 5 stops, but because the stretch is far out and there’s always no traffic, walking is not an option. Should I walk up the driver and pick up a chat? Didn’t I say I wanted to be a missionary? So why do I wish for some far off wasteland when the field can be right here in the nearly empty bus?

Time’s ticking and we’ve gone past two bus stops already. It’s one of those oft-encountered dilemma when the heart is ready to bounce but the butt is stuck on the seat. Maybe it’s not his and someone had left it along with the hanging umbrellas that passengers often forget when they alight. Maybe if I talk to him about it, he’ll give it to me? I need, no I want, a new helmet anyway. The one my former roommate left me had tiny crawling insects when I took it out of the upper cabinet. And I was really thinking of getting one so I can practice riding on a scooter and put my license to good use.

My motives are now compromised. I had regretted not braving up earlier on, but because I had stalled and looked for more reasons, the more I’m struggling. If I go there, it’s not going to be a holy pursuit because God weighs my heart and it’s now heavy with selfish desire. (Guilt) See, Jacqueline, you just read Proverbs 20 about searching out the spirit of man, about the king winnowing out evil with his eyes, about a child being judged whether his conduct is pure and right.* (Condemnation) God, forgive me. You saw my heart, I couldn’t hide it, I now confess, take it away, and make me do what you want me to do. I thought God would just honor my confessing heart and let me go of the mission He had at first called me to do. In my mind, I had rationalized that He is holy and since I had tainted His good and perfect will with my impure motives, He’s not giving me the helmet nor the privilege to speak His news to the bus driver. But seconds after the prayer, I found myself walking down the driver seat, as to what made me do it, beats me.

Me: I have a friend who has the same helmet and I was wondering if it’s yours? Oops, wrong wording!

Bus Driver: Yes, it’s mine. What’s your purpose for asking me this question? He’s obviously defensive and thought I had implied it’s not his.

Me: No, I just thought of asking because I actually have not seen helmet in person, just from a photo. I wasn’t lying, I had just seen it on facebook but I didn’t know why I had to use that as an into.

Bus Driver: What is your reason for asking me this question?

Now I’m stressed because the conversation is feeling awkward and I don’t even know what to say next.

Me: Where did you buy that helmet? It looks good.

Bus Driver: What’s your reason for asking me that? He had said the same question with the same defensive tone three times and it must be because how I started the conversation and the broken Chinese I manage to spill out which by this time getting more broken as my heart beats faster and my face turns redder.

Me: I’m just curious….Those three words are English words for 信心,盼望,愛. It’s in the Bible. I explained in Chinese. He leaned towards me and motioned to repeat what the words mean. And so I did, and every word is a struggle to say, not because of language, but moreso because I was losing faith in what I was doing. Fourth stop.

Bus Driver: I bought that in a store named xxx right by xxx. I didn’t care about that.

Me: So those three things are in the Bible and it says that love is the most important.

Bus Driver: I accept everything. Christianity, Buddhism, See that Buddha (pointing to the pasted picture above the front window), it’s all the same, just don’t do bad things.

I knew it’s not the right answer. I knew I have to speak up my God–the real God. But I just can’t utter any more words.  I’m at my stop and the one other person went down ahead. I didn’t even know if I said God loves you when I alighted, or maybe I just said a meaningless thank you. So I went down the bus feeling worse than I started. I mulled on it on the way to Rachel’s for small group. And if there’s any consolation, a foreigner picked up a conversation with me on the train and I said “God bless you” when we parted ways.

That night, I learned a lesson on obedience. You follow and give God the consequences. It’s not about feeling good when you do something good. It’s about simply obeying what He has called me to do. It’s about not letting the enemy keep me from doing what’s right because I committed wrong. It’s about understanding God’s immediate forgiveness. It’s knowing that His good and perfect will comes with a chance to make mistakes, confess, and the will remains unchangeable, unbreakable.

 

More than Stories

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Jasmine was very honest in the safe distance she treats the Bible. When I asked her what she thinks of a passage in Mark we just read together, she said, “Nothing. These are just stories to me.” She articulated what I have been feeling, but as a Christian I dare not say out, in the past several days when I read my daily Psalms and Proverbs. But God surely knows my heart. He cannot be fooled. My roommate’s bare comment last night and today’s dose of Psalm  peeled the outer veil of piety I had been putting on everyday. “Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults.” (Psalm 19:12)

Everyday I squeeze this plan of reading a chapter from Psalms and Proverbs. I had computed that in a year, I would have read the whole Psalms twice and the first 60 chapters thrice. And I would have read Proverbs 12 times! My motivation has been finishing an assignment I had put on myself, more than a spiritual encounter with God–the composer of the words He had breathed into the pens of the authors. I had stripped His word down to mere structured phrases, which a professing Christian ought to read, re-read, memorize, quote, and post on facebook or study table to serve as beautiful inspirations for the day. But God challenged me through Psalm 19:7-9 that His word is beyond stories, more than a cure for a bad day, or a vitamin dose to start the day right. His word brings promises of revival to the weary, transforming wisdom to the simple, joy to the depressed, clear vision to the confused, eternal security to the near-sighted, and righteousness to the flaky and faltering. I had spoiled God’s word of its essence with my attitude of, “Okay…it’s June 9, I guess I’m reading Psalm 74 and Proverbs 9 today.” Am I not supposed to have an expectant heart of, “God, here I am. What do You want to tell me through your word? It’s more precious than gold, it’s sweeter than honey. Through it will I be warned, in keeping there is great reward. (Psalm 19:10-11) ” Oftentimes, I find myself eating while reading the Bible, or delaying the plan until I’m at the bus stop because I thought that’s more efficient. I get ready first, prepare the day’s food, dress up, and do all other preparations except coming before God who had looked after me through the night and awakened me for yet another day. I miss that day long ago when I first read this romantic response to God’s dusk to dawn doting on His loved ones,  “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.” (Psalm 3:5)

Dear God, you know my habitual sin of taking everyday as though I have a need to conquer it on the pretext of being a good steward of time. You know how I approach you disrespectfully and if I may be so honest, something to the lines of, “What do you want to tell me right now? Come on, speak up, I’m listening while I’m trying on clothes to wear today.” Or, “I’m sure if you want to tell me something badly, you’ll make it loud and clear. So it doesn’t really matter if I’m preparing breakfast and listening to Charles Stanley’s podcast.” Father, keep your servant from willful sin; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression. (Psalm 19:13)

O Lord, I profess that you are my Rock and my Redeemer. And in my sinful self, I am oftentimes tempted to sleep when I fast, to daydream when I pray, to drift into wishful thinking when I intercede, to quote memorized verses without acknowledging the Spirit’s power and presence when I counsel. So, please…may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, now and forevermore. (Psalm 19:14).