A Beautiful Exchange

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To all who mourn in Israel He will give: beauty for ashes; joy instead of mourning; praise instead of heaviness. For God has planted them like strong and graceful oaks for His own glory. – Isaiah 61:3 TLB

(Studies shown that in the Biblical times, it was the custom for people in great mourning and difficulty to lay down in pile of dirty ashes.)

Today marks a new beginning: a new chapter, a new hope, a new milestone, and a renewed spirit. “For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?” (Isaiah 34:19A)

Matthew 9:17 cautions that ”no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved.”

So in order for the new to arrive, we have to get rid of the old.

The bumps and curves of life in the past year may have left us wounded with hurts and crushed by disappointments. We may even wallowed in that stinking puddle of pain, anger, bitterness and resentment. In our sub-consciousness, we may even be angry with God.

Yet our loving and gracious God doesn’t want us to remain in the ashes of the past; He wants to trade our brokenness for healing and restoration; He wants to exchange our ashes for the better (beauty). A beautiful exchange that wasn’t merited; His promise is far greater than the sum of our past, failures, mistakes and agony.

But that can only happen if we let go of what has been holding us back, and let God does His Work. Only then can we experience true freedom when we have totally release what we have been holding in our hands- if you need to forgive someone or even yourself, forgive; if you need to get rid of an unhealthy habit, rid of it; if you need to overcome the carnal nature of the flesh, crucify it.

It all boils down to a choice, we have to choose not to let what has happened to define us, and allow God to use those things to refine us. All our tears and heartaches are not without purpose, for our desert experiences seek only to draw us closer to Him so that we can learn to trust Him more.

So don’t waste another day sitting in the ashes, for we have a future ahead that can be filled with beauty. God has already done a beautiful exchange, we just need to trade up and return to Him as a new ‘wineskin’.

“I have wiped out your transgressions like a thick cloud And your sins like a heavy mist. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.” – Isaiah 44:22 NASB

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The Pain Of Denial (Part 1)

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P.S. I will be sharing in parts as it will be too much to share at one time. I was prompted to share my convictions, and hope by sharing this entry in my own spiritual journal, it will bring illumination in a new light.

“If any man will come after me, let him (a) DENY himself, and (b) take up his cross DAILY, and follow me.” – Luke 9:23 KJV. 

We all have heard this verse far too many times. If we are honest, we also switch off many times. This has been the mandate of my previous cell at one time till a time it became alive to me– I went through a very difficult transition in my life two years ago when I was impacted with a physical condition, although not life-threatening, that a surgery could not fix and a healing miracle seemed implausible — Dashed dreams. Crushed hope. Wretched self. Menacing fears.

The first few weeks upon receiving the check-up report, I wasn’t able to worship in church– I was incapacitated to sing nor clap along. All in my mind was, “Why??” and “God, where are you?” My ex-G12 cell and my mentor had showered me with inordinate amount of concern, but I wasn’t grateful. I just wanted to be left alone as I justified the rights to my disappointments and lamely to confess my anger with God too. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to attend the weekly G12 meetings, and I even withdrew myself from the cell. But to my surprise, I couldn’t abandon my open cell that I had to lead every Friday. I still fulfilled my duty, shared the Word, and put on smiles (though I was struggling very badly as if a hypocrite).

Was I wearing a mask with my open cell? No. It was one method that helped me- “Deny myself.”

I couldn’t count the number of times “I didn’t FEEL up to it or FEEL like to”, “I didn’t WANT to…”, “I hate to be forced to…”, “I have the RIGHTS to…” I merely trying to cook up excuses as justified reasons. Till I came to a point that I realised I was actually very self-centered, very consumed with “I, me, myself” and very inwards-looking, focusing on myself only. I put my feelings and emotions before God as how I feel and what I want is more important than Him. It was a constant battle to deny, deny, deny, deny myself in the pit. It was even a scarier experience when I was enshrouded with darkness, alone, and found myself drifting away spiritually over six months. I was aware of such a downwards spiral, but I refused to yield as I was wrestling with God like Jacob. What really jolted me was- I began to lose myself while threading on a very thin tightrope, and any moment longer, I think I had tipped to the other side. That was unthinkably scary.

So how did I climb out of the pit, and back to the Cross? I have to simply keep denying myself daily, yes, EVERY DAY- deny my mood for the day, deny my emotions, deny my rights, deny my will, even to denying my convenience (my own time, my own pace, my own freedom…), and surrender to the Cross.

If we are honest with ourselves, it is by NATURE we follow what our flesh leads us. It is unnatural for us to contradict our flesh and that takes SUPERNATURAL intervention with the help of the Spirit. Aside to taking action to deny the self, we can draw reinforced strength from these verses:

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. – Galatians 5:16-17

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. – Romans 8:7-8

There is no change in my physical condition, but I had stopped asking all the whys because there will never be any answer- and who am I to question the Sovereignty? It was a decision whether to continue rotting by being my own god or to let go of all and let God be God. And letting go doesn’t mean to remain status quo. Just like bible says, “Faith without action is dead”, so I had to force myself since it is unnaturally of me to crucify my flesh to weaken its desires. It is simply to put to action in denying myself.

No doubt it is an uphill task because our flesh gets stronger when our Spirit is quenched by sins. It is a humbling experience to call upon God for help in this area.

So first thing first, get right with God. Face it honestly- Overcome it with God far easier and better than letting what consumed you and lose yourself.

“What Is It You Want?” The Trivial Things.

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Throwing off his cloak, Bartimaeus jumped up and came to Jesus. “What do you want Me to do for you?” Jesus asked. “Rabboni, said the blind man, “I want to see again.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” And immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. – Mark 10:50-52

It has never occurred to me to pray to God for trivial things. I thought it was incredulous to ask a supreme being who does big things to do something so insignificant. Until a friend put into a new perspective that God is concerned what is bothering us even with the slightest matter! (Imagine God numbers every strand of hair on our head as delineated in Luke 12:7. That shows God is a God of fine details!)

I found it amusing to be asking God, in my 15-year journey with Him, to request Him to be my alarm clock as I needed to wake up earlier to rush work. (Lest you wonder, normal alarm clock doesn’t work on me……) Initially I prayed, “God, please wake me up earlier.” Indeed, I had been waking up earlier than my usual timing, but it was still behind time as planned. Until I decided to be more specific, so I prayed to God to wake me up at 8am.

Yes, you guessed it. I really woke up at 8am!

“What is it you want?”, God asks specifically. (Matthew 20:21)

“What do you want me to do for you?”, Jesus asks specifically. (Mark 10:51; Luke 18:41)

Therefore, be specific, no matter how trivial your request.

Don’t worry about anything (including what you worry that your requests may be too trivial for the Almighty); instead, pray about everything (yes, all the little things that bother you). Tell God what you need (specifically), and thank Him for all He has done (claim and receive by faith). If you do this (by praying and petitioning), you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand (and you be in for a surprise!). His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus (just trust Him). – Philippians 4:6-7 NLT

On the other hand, even if we have yet to hear our prayers answered, Jesus encourages us to always pray and not lose heart, through a parable in Luke 18, about a persistent widow pleading her cause continually, until the judge had to grant her request. Although 1 John 5:14-15 reminds us that God hears each prayer: “And we can be confident that He will listen to us whenever we ask Him for anything in line with His will. And if we know He is listening when we make our requests, we can be sure that He will give us what we ask for.” Our prayers have to be in line with the Will of God, as not everything is beneficial to us. We have to trust our all-knowing, loving God wants the best for us, and leave the outcome in His Hands.

Money Matters

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Those who love pleasure become poor; those who love wine and luxury will never be rich. – Proverbs 21:17

I had a deep reflection while on the way home last Friday after cell, because it was a subject that was very close to my heart- Money Matters. I chanced upon Proverbs 21:17 which warns those who indulge in carnal pleasures and sensual gratifications, and spend time and money in such a way, are very likely to be poor, and not rich in or towards spiritual things. Dictionary defines pleasures as extravagant living, expensive feastings, and costly leisures or entertainments, and we have often heard that where our money goes to tell a lot about us. And interestingly, according to Ecclesiastes 5:11 NLT, it also warn that the more you have, the more you spend.

I retrospected my life now to the time I was steeped in debts before I gave my life to Jesus. It was a joke that my best subject in Accounts had flunked me in life- poor financial decisions reaped bad consequences. That catastrophe had forced me to live the other spectrum of life: back to the basics- one pair of jeans, one pair of shoes, one bag and one tee-shirt. (Lest you wonder, irrespective of style, cut, type, colour, function, it was just one item only.) Believe me or not, I literally wore them like a set of uniform. Plain Jane? Boring? Sure, but I had no means to indulge. I even had to stay away from shopping lest I be tempted. Till a time my mum had to encourage me that it was high time to change my wardrobe a little as I seemed to live like a tattered beggar. Whenever I needed to make a purchase, I had to prayerfully consulted my Chief Financial Officer (God of course) a few times, “Should I or should I not?” Now that my life is better, I no longer lived that pathetically. However I have to guard myself against all covetousness with a “want versus need” evaluation. But of course I still do make imprudent decisions at times.

Last Friday night after some insightful revelations by the author, I was nudged spiritually, and stumped by a myriad of questions I could not answer:

“Why do you need another pair of shoes?”

“Why do you need another top/ bottom?”

“Why do you need to travel to so many countries?”

“Why do you spend money on immaterial things?”

“How do you spend my money? Have you consult Me?”

“What do you think pleases Me?”

I am no Saint to be sharing this, but I felt in my Spirit to pen down what I had received: Whether we all like it or not, if we are honest, how we spent our money only seek to indulge the “self”: I want to look good; I want to feel good; I am entitled to spend the money because I have worked hard for it; I deserve to reward myself; I need comfort food or things; I want to achieve my dreams; and all on the wanted list.

Some helpful questions to ponder:

  1. Are you sure the money you have are yours?
  2. Who give you the right to spend what pleases your flesh?
  3. Are your “want”s your “need”s? So are they necessary or rather essential for you to live?
  4. Are you doing what God wants you to do?
  5. How have you been sowing in the Kingdom of God?
  6. Why are you so uptight in giving generously to the kingdom purposes of God when you can spend extravagantly on what you love?

Look at Jesus: just a pair of well-travelled sandals, perhaps a few pieces of weather-beaten garbs, and a basic appetite for simple meals.

I am sure some of us will rationalise that Jesus lived in the old era but now we have much choices, therefore the application is not relevant in today standard of living; some of us may also justify “I don’t spend on expensive things” so it won’t hurt, but I do concur that it isn’t about the value, it is our attitude of the heart: what if God asked, “How about you give what you supposed to spend it on, to bless someone who needs it more?”

Listen to how our heart respond, we will get the answer.

Money is the second most referenced topic in the Bible, where it is mentioned more than 800 times. God had first laid the blueprint so that we would not get consumed by the world. We will need God to help in our weaknesses in this area- be humble, God will spotlight the areas that we need to work on.

The Pain Of Contentment

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Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. – Philippians 4:11-12

In the midst of some household chores, I chanced upon this quote in the Chinese newspaper that read,  “不知足的人,永远不会福。” (which literally translated as, “Those who do not know how to be contented, will never be blessed.”) resonated deeply to me.

During times of lack in my journey of entrepreneurship, I struggled the most with being contented. I seem to be consumed by thought of “Will I have the money this month?” day in and day out. I do not trust my Heavenly Father to provide? Perhaps. I lack faith? Perhaps. I worship money more than God? Perhaps. I am getting worldly? Perhaps. I am relying on my own strength instead of God? Perhaps. It is just part and parcel of being an entrepreneur? Perhaps. Thousand of possibilities.

And there is always this great void in me that can’t seem to find peace. Perhaps, it is a sense of insecurity. At such, the word, “contentment”, was never found in my dictionary. After prolonged seasons of seeking after “more securities or assurance”, I seemed to distrust God more and more. Perhaps my value system in believing that if I work hard, I will get what I have worked hard for. But nothing is further than the truth- no matter how hard I tried, the return of “investment” (time and effort) did not commensurate with what I had consecrated to. Didn’t the bible say, “one reaps what one have sown”? (2 Corinthians 9:6)

That was how I discovered something is not quite right with my mentality. Little wonder, blessings elude me because I never learnt to appreciate the little and be contented.

The backslider in heart will be filled with the fruit of his ways, and a good man will be filled with the fruit of his ways. (Proverbs 14:14) Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice. (Proverbs 16:8)

It was high time to let go and let God. But it took me years to really learn from Exodus 16 to live day to day and taking one step at a time, where God provides just enough for the day. I have to daily exercise my faith muscles and work on my trust issue- imagine I receive a mandate from Jesus, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? (Matthew 6:25) Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. (Luke 12:15) Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for you brought nothing into the world, and you cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these you shall be content.” (1 Timothy 6:6-8)

In whatever situation, good or bad, we are to count our blessings even in the little things, and learn to be contented. Only then will we realise how blessed we are for God’s mercies and love are often disguised in what we deemed insignificant. We are forgetful beings and need constant reminders that God will supply every need of ours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)

God doesn’t just bless us with bigger things all the time, but often the little things that made us learn to depend on Him more, and more.

Courtesy photo from a friend who visited Canggu, Bali, on 1 October 2017.

When Conscience Pricks……

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They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them. – Romans 2:15

Having been working on my own for 6 years, I know that running a business is not easy. It is akin to treading on treacherous ground when I am surrounded by a lot more shrewd business-people. On many occasions, I have been conflicted by compromising situations, either a make-it or break-it decision. I could not count how many times my conscience has been on toes.

Sometimes as a result of unwise decision with lack of prudence, we acted indiscreetly and made mistakes. I can totally relate to how it feels to have my conscience gnawing relentlessly. But when I seek to redress the wrong and do right, it feels good to breathe the air of liberation,  and able to lift my head up without condemnation.

Our conscience can bear witness to our actions, and we will reap what we sow. We have to consider even our innermost thoughts which can breed evils that prick our conscience too. If you think you can camouflage an evil thought or keeping hush over a bad action, be warned that God knows every details, whether inwardly or outwardly.

Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord. – Jeremiah 23:24

When one’s conscience is seared, that is when darkness of the soul has rendered the person impotent of thinking, feeling and doing right. And if we persist in walking down the wrong path, we will be on a spiritual downward spiral.

Holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, – 1 Timothy 1:19

But if we seek righteousness, we leave no room for malice and can stand upright before others.

Having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. – 1 Peter 3:16

Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. (Romans 13:5) It is good to include in our prayers that we be sure we have a clear conscience and desiring to act honourably in all things (Hebrews 13:18), just as Paul could declare, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” (Acts 23:1)

Our spiritual lives should be temperated by love, guided by a pure heart with good conscience and acting upon a true faith. (1 Timothy 1:5)

In a nutshell, it resonates with a famous quote that goes:

Watch your thoughts;

They become words.

Watch your words;

They become actions.

Watch your actions;

They become habits.

Watch your habits;

They become character.

Watch your character;

It becomes your destiny.

Period.

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“Be still, and know that I am God.” – Psalm 46:10

A punctuation mark has just inspired me- a full-stop, in other word, “Period”.

We have all from time to time entertain the dot, dot, dot, dot, dot, dot. But often God puts a period to where it should be. Although our life is a journey, our ups-and-downs are never a destination: Each hard knock is a school; each trial is a teacher, each experience is an education; each test is a testimony; and each challenge is your character development. And that is where we all need to learn where to put the “period”.

RECALL (Upward focus):

  1. God is All-powerful (Matthew 19:26). Period.
  2. God is Sovereign (Psalm 103:19). Period.
  3. God is our Refuge and Strength (Psalm 46:1). Period.
  4. God is unchanging, He is the same, yesterday and tomorrow (Hebrews 13:8). Period.
  5. God is in control (Psalms 22:28). Period.
  6. God is our double-portion (Isaiah 61:7). Period.

REALIGNMENT (Inward transformation):

  1. Fix our eyes on things unseen (2 Corinthians 4:18). Period.
  2. Set our mind on things above (Colossians 3:2). Period.
  3. Guard your heart with all vigilance (Proverbs 4:23). Period.

RESPONSE (Outward action):

  1. Wear your full armor of God daily so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:11). Period.
  2. Think of thoughts that are true, good and sound (Philippians 4:8). Period.
  3. Hold your mind steadfast on God and trust in Him so that you can have perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3). Period.
  4. Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you (Psalm 55:22). Period.
  5. Do not rely on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5B). Period.
  6. Be anxious for nothing but pray for everything (Philippians 4:6A). Period.
  7. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done (Philippians 4:6B). Period.
  8. Submit to God and resist the devil (James 4:7). Period.
  9. Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will direct your paths (Proverbs 16:3) Period.

RETRAIN (Forward resolution):

  1. Always be on the alert and stand firm (1 Corinthians 16:13). Period.
  2. Be an overcomer (1 John 4:4). Period.
  3. Fight the good fight of the faith (1 Timothy 6:12). Period.

And God will work things out in the end (Romans 8:28). Period.