“God’s time is not our time.” That is what one of you reminded me of upon finding out that our latest test results were still positive. Thank you, Brother! Yes, God’s time is not our time. We thought we would recover from Covid infection in a week, but we are now in our third week. Not only is God’s time not our time, but also God’s plan is not our plan. Suddenly everything stopped and we are to stay home—like it or not. God’s plan is not always our plan. Amen.
We may have made plans for us or somebody else—plans that were good—but then God stopped these plans. We may have wishes for us or for somebody else—good, not sinful wishes—but God did not grant them. In fact, He decided to do something against our wishes. And we may have experienced failure—something that we did not expect—and consequently we ought to pay a hefty price for it.
E. Stanley Jones, a former American missionary to India, made an insightful comment, “Many a time God lets us fail in a secondary thing in order that we may succeed in a primary thing.” O how true! I have seen this principle at work not only in other people’s lives, but also mine. God allowed me to fail in my counseling class twice, which then forced me to take the same course three times, so I’d go for counseling myself. And God used this personal counseling to bring about changes that fundamentally transformed my life not only to be a better counselor but also to patch my ragged soul.
So, whenever we stumble upon failure, keep in mind that it is failure in a secondary thing and there is a more important project that God wants us to master. Through failure, we learn what is secondary to us is often primary to God—and vice versa—and what’s primary to God usually centers around knowing Him and trusting Him.
I wonder what I would be thinking about when I, if God’s willing, turn 90! Perhaps I’d be thinking about how grateful I am for the life God has given me and how I look forward to finishing it well. The last thing in my mind would be about starting another project. I’d simply be too tired for a new assignment. Perhaps that was what Jehoiada had in mind when he turned 90. But something happened that called for action, and he knew it was God who called him.
In the Book of II Chronicles 22-24 we can read the exploit of this old priest, whose wife, Jehosheba, happened to be the half-sister of King Ahaziah, whose mother was Athaliah, the daughter of King Ahab of Israel. Upon finding out that her son had been killed by Jehu, Athaliah went berserk. She killed the whole royal family to ensure her grips on the throne. It was, then, that Jehoiada and his wife hid Joash, one of the king’s sons, for six years before he finally managed to launch a coup d’état and made Joash king of Judah.
We do not know the full extent of God’s plan. For some age 90 is the age when God says, “Rest,” but to some, it is the age when He says, “Rise.” What matters is we are ready—to rest or to rise. When God tells us to rest, we rest, but when He tells us to rise, we rise. But there is something else we must keep in mind, and that is what we must do while we are still alive. Robert Browning, the 19th century English poet, poignantly reminded us, “A man’s value is not measured by the years he has lived, or even the work he has done. A man’s value is measured by the character he has molded.”
We begin by molding our character and we end by molding the character of those God has entrusted us with. That is where our value lies; not in the years we’ve lived or the work we’ve done.
Evil is everywhere but few could even imagine that it would enter a fourth-grade classroom in Uvalde, Texas, last Tuesday. And that evil took the lives of nineteen students and two teachers. It is hard to see the images of these children flashed on TV screen and to hear the crying of their parents, lamenting the loss of their precious little hearts. Rightly did C. S. Lewis write about Nero, Emperor of Rome who burned the city of Rome only to blame it on Christians, “But to a Christian the true tragedy of Nero must be not that he fiddled while the city was on fire but that he fiddled on the brink of hell.”
What happened last Tuesday was a tragedy of a callous heart—a heart that can no longer feel or care. You see, only a callous heart could shoot his grandmother in the face before going on a killing spree. And that callous heart was barely eighteen; he was still a kid. He was not much older than the children he killed. Perhaps he could still relate to them and play with them; what he could not relate to was their happiness. I surmise that was the reason he specifically targeted elementary school—the happiest place on earth.
There are many unhappy people around us; so, blessed are we who are happy. I consider myself happy and one of the reasons I am happy is you. Upon knowing that I tested positive for Covid on Thursday, I received the outpouring of love from so many of you. Thank you for making it easier to go through this sick time, yet at the same time, harder. You see, it is hard not to be with you.
Yes, care does not cure illness, but it does alleviate pain—by adding happiness to an aching heart. In his book, Laugh Again, Chuck Swindoll writes, “A happy heart is not achieved by hard work and long hours.” Care received makes a heart happier—and less callous.
TOne of the good habits that we should foster is the habit of being thankful and appreciative for the many little things God has blessed us with. The other day while we were at our daughter’s house, I watched Santy play a game of monopoly with our grandchildren. I could tell she really had a good time playing with them, as shown by the many times she laughed. It was then, while watching them play, I was reminded, how blessed I was to be married to her. A good wife, a good mother, and a good grandmother. I am a lucky man.
Rightly Johann von Goethe, the 18th century German poet, said, “He is happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds his peace in his home.”
But life is not perfect; hence, it is not always easy to find the many little things God has blessed us. I understand that; sometimes the burden of life is so unbearable that we cannot—or are not in the mood—to be thankful to God. What I find it hard to understand is I have met some who were discontent and angry at God for making their lives less than perfect. I can’t get my head around it because to me they should—and can—be thankful for the so many other things they have been blessed with. If only I could make them see.
One of the blessings we often neglect is friends. Blessed are those who are surrounded by good and faithful friends. They generally live longer and more happily than those who are not. With friends, we can face life’s struggles and enjoy life’s finest better. With friends, we have less lonely hours and more happy hours. But friends are not gifts from heaven; they are gifts from earth—from us to us. You see, friends are made, not received; and we make friends by being good friends to others. As your pastor I am glad to see that you have made friends here in the church. You care for one another, and you give more than you receive. That’s what a friend is for.
I often say that the greatest gift we can ever give to the one who will marry our child is a stable and healthy upbringing. In the early days of ministry, I knew the importance of family’s upbringing through books that I had read. But now decades later, I know how important one’s upbringing is through real life experiences.
I have seen how devastating and debilitating it can be; and I have seen how strengthening and blossoming it can be. I have seen how much pain one can inflict on his spouse because of what he went through in the hands of his parents. And I have seen how much blessings one can be to her spouse because of the rich and fulfilling life she enjoyed while under the love and care of her parents.
Having said that, I must also say with sympathy that we never chose our parents—and for that matter, they never chose us, either. So, the conclusion of the matter is how fortunate we are if we were raised by godly and healthy parents who enjoyed a stable and fulfilling marriage. Consider us, blessed, as told by Proverbs 20:7, “The righteous man leads a blameless life; blessed are his children after him.” Our righteous life is the best wedding gift we can give.
But life is not perfect; rarely do two people come into marriage with this kind of wedding gift; some don’t even bring any gifts. In that respect marriage becomes a construction site, where we, with tears and sweat, build our marriage one brick at a time. As aptly put by Gary Thomas in his book, Sacred Marriage, we can, in fact, define marriage by the language of perseverance, “the maintenance of a long-term relationship.” We, who persevere, who keep trying and don’t give up, will, in the end, unite our souls. But it must begin with a righteous life—a life that is right with and blessed by God.
Every time I am with our grandchildren, I cannot help but wonder, “How can they communicate to one another?” You see, only the eldest can enunciate the words clearly; the other two cannot. Often Santy and I must ask them to repeat themselves several times to decipher what they are saying. So, what I frequently do is simply saying yes or nodding my head, giving them the impression that I fully comprehend what they are telling me. Grandfather’s trick!
Their mother has no problem understanding them, though. Even when they were younger, when it was a lot harder to understand them, she communicated with them just fine. I, then, conclude that the key to understanding is time. You see, the more time we spend, the more we understand one another; and mothers spend the most time with their children. No wonder they understand their children the best; even before any words are spoken, mothers already know.
Mother’s Day is special, not only because mothers make the most sacrifices, but also because mothers know us the best; they even know when we lie. What is amazing is they accept us and love us, just the same. In this respect I truly believe that mothers exemplify the unconditional love of God. They know us and they love us just the same, just as God knows us and loves us just the same.
Not only is mothers’ love not affected by what they know about us, it also knows no preferences. We cannot ask mothers to make a choice, who is child number one or child number two; they cannot because they love us just the same. And that reminds me of Tante Lydia’s response whenever her children asked her, “Mama, out of all your children, who do you love the most?” She replied, “God loves you! My love is temporary, but God’s love is everlasting.”
The other day I met someone who was diagnosed with a serious illness several years ago. I remember that time; and I remember how relieved he was when he learned the good news that he was now well. When I met him, he told me that his illness had come back and he’s getting ready for treatment. Despite his positive attitude, I could tell that he was down. It’s not a stop; it’s a stay.
Perhaps we have been there before. We thought it’s just a stop—a brief halt—but it turned out to be more serious than we thought. We ended up staying for a long time. Or we thought that we just needed to stay and eventually would get out of the situation. But we thought wrong; we ended up not only staying but also remaining in that situation, even to this day. It’s not a stay; it’s a remain.
A stop, a stay and a remain share one thing in common: We ought to suffer through it. At age 17 Joni Eareckson Tada’s life came to a screeching stop when she suffered a spinal cord injury, resulting in a long hospital stay. When she was discharged, her life underwent a complete change. She became a quadriplegic and has remained so for more than 50 years. God has used her to bless so many people.
I’d like to share with you something that she said, “Sometimes God allows what He hates to accomplish what He loves.” God does not like suffering—in fact, He hates it. Do not ever think that God enjoys seeing us suffer; not at all. However, to accomplish what He loves, sometimes He must allow what He hates to happen to us. He loves those who are disabled, so He allowed Joni to experience that tragic accident. So, through Joni, a disabled, many disabled—and abled—folks would be blessed. Just like through Jesus, God’s Only Son, we would be saved. You see, God hates the cross, but He loves us.
One of the men used by God to expand His Kingdom’s sphere on earth is John Wesley. Out of his ministry came the Methodist and Wesleyan missions and churches all over the world. He did not only preach, but he also wrote volumes of books that contain his deep insight to the Scriptures. There are, of course, tons of wisdom that we can draw from his writings, but out of those, there is one simple truth that he wrote that speaks so powerfully, “Best of all, God is with us.” Simple, concise, a pure reflection of his walk with God.
Best of all, God is with us. In the Old Testament, we can find this concept, “God is with us” or Immanuel in Isaiah 7:14, “The virgin will be child and will give birth to a son, and will call Him, Immanuel.” In the New Testament we can find this in Matthew 28:20, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” On the day He began His life on earth, Jesus was Immanuel—the embodiment of God’s continued presence in the lives of His people. On the day He ended His life on earth, Jesus promised His continued presence in the lives of His disciples. Immanuel through and through; from the beginning to the end. No wonder, best of all, God is with us.
As I write this, I just got the news that Louisa and Pek Ban are still stuck in Germany due to positive Covid tests. They had hoped their latest tests would be negative so they could fly home this weekend, but that will not happen. Being confined to a hotel room for weeks was not in their vacation itinerary, but evidently it is in God’s. We, too, perhaps, have had our plans either cancelled or detoured; what was not in our itinerary suddenly showed up without warning. In times like these what usually brings comfort to our confused and troubled souls is Immanuel, or in the words of John Wesley, “Best of all, God is with us.” That’s the only best thing left that gives us hope.
Life is not always wonderful; at times, it can be awful. And for some of us, life can be awful for a long time. In my line of work, I see and hear pain and discomfort a lot; and sometimes right in the middle of suffering, they will ask me, “But after I have gone through this awful time, God will give me a break so I can enjoy life again, right?” Well, sadly I must answer, “Not necessarily.” There are times when God calls us to a life of burden, not joy. That will be the time in which our joy will come not from “life is good,” but rather, “God is good.”
Be that as it may, there is one thing that we should always keep in mind: We shall have a break and be able to enjoy life again, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday and somewhere in the Kingdom of Heaven. Simply put, as Christians we have no room for pessimism and despair; there is always room for optimism and hope because of the promise of eternal life God has assured us. The day of Jesus’ resurrection will one day be ours, for we, too, will be raised to life and be given a new life of glory. Easter gives us hope.
Today Easter is celebrated by millions of people but on the first day of Easter, there were only six who came to the tomb and found it empty: Peter, John, Salome, Joanna, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James. And out of the six, only one received the honor of meeting and talking with the resurrected Jesus: Mary Magdalene—a nobody, once under the control of seven demons. The first greatest news—Jesus’ birth—was told to a group of shepherds; the second greatest news—Jesus’ resurrection—was told to Mary Magdalene.
Not a very impressive group, but that’s the choice that God made to have them come and celebrate the two most important days of His life on earth: Birthday and Resurrection. And He’s chosen us, too.
Today is Palm Sunday. In John 12:12-15 we can read the account of Jesus’ entrance to Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, and being greeted with an honorific and loud welcome, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!” The residents of Jerusalem could not wait any longer; they were certain that Jesus was the Messiah, the future king of Israel, who would deliver them from the Romans, just like Moses, from the Egyptians. So, they decided to go to the street, to anoint Jesus as their king in defiance to the Romans. “Salvation has come,” so they thought.
But they thought wrong. Jesus did not come to free them from political bondage—the Romans—but from spiritual bondage—sin. Jesus did not come to become king in Israel but to become king in their hearts. He did not come to reign in glory but to die in agony. His throne would be His cross and His crown would His thorns. He was not to be accounted among the nobles but among the convicts.
Recently I have been corresponding with several individuals who are going through serious spiritual struggles. Despite their unique and personal natures, all share one thing in common: They were deeply disappointed in God. Jesus is not as they expected Him to be, and God is not as good and caring as they knew Him to be. As a result, they have become bitter toward God; and want nothing to do with Him. But I know, deep down they are hurting, plain and simple.
In the case of the residents of Jerusalem, it caused them more than hurt: It made them mad, which led them to the unanimous verdict to crucify Jesus on the cross. But Jesus never deceived them; they were deceived by their own expectations. Jesus has never lied to us; He is as He’s always been: A suffering servant and a lamb of God.