Due to my work in the seminary, I get to meet a lot of preachers—those who want to become preachers and those who have become preachers. As a result of knowing some of them on a personal level, I also become aware of the struggles that they go through. One of them is that there are times when they know that their lives do not match up with their preaching. Like anyone else, some decide to do nothing about it but to accept it and carry on with their lives. Thank God, some decide to something about it. They want to quit because they know they are not worthy to be servants of Jesus. By the grace of God, the Holy Spirit stop them; after convicting them, He renews them and brings in fresh power to their lives and uses them.
In his book, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, Pastor Jim Cymbala talks about preaching. He says there are two kinds of preaching: fine and true preachings. A fine preaching is a preaching in which the preacher’s skill of preparing it becomes the dominant feature of the preaching. True preaching is one that flows out of the preacher’s life where, the preaching and the preacher are one. There are many factors that can hinder spiritual growth, one of them is, according to Pastor Cymbala, fine preaching. The preacher and those who hear his preaching end up not growing. They might like to preach and be preached to, but neither grow. They might know more about God, but they do not know God more—deeply and intimately.
Like it or not, we are all preachers because we are all bearers of the Good News of Jesus. We always tell people about Jesus, directly or indirectly. So, we, too, at times struggle when we know that our preaching does not match up with our lives. Do not brush it away as if it is nothing by saying, “No body is perfect.” Instead, do listen to what the Holy Spirit whispers to us and take a step back. Remember this: God never stops shaping us, especially those whom He uses.
Having been married to Santy for nearly 39 years, I have learned a few things about marriage. I learned that marriage is hard work. Anybody who says that marriage is a piece of cake is either a perfect man who can do anything, or is lying, or blind to his spouse’s needs, or simply doesn’t care. But we, who are not perfect, honest, can still see and care, will readily admit that marriage is hard work.
I have also learned that marriage is not for everyone. It requires a set of traits to make marriage work, such as being flexible, faithful, and able to see the other person’s mind and heart. Conversely, we, who are rigid and unwilling to change, or unfaithful will absolutely be miserable and along the way, make our spouse miserable as well.
And here is another one: Marriage requires dogged persistence. It is not for quitters. We, who give up easily, will not be able to keep our marriage for long. Not only are we to be ready to deal with new issues as we cruise through life, but we are also to be willing to revisit the same issues over and over until we get them resolved.
This is the last one: Marriage does not only meet our deepest need and most intimate longing for a relationship, but it also gives us a great reward of joy. And joy is the stuff that we need to wake up each day and face what comes our way. And out of this joy comes this gratefulness to God for uniting us with this wonderful person.
Bill McCartney, the former University of Colorado’s football coach and the cofounder of Promise Keepers, says, “If you really want to know about a man and what kind of character he has, you need only look at the countenance of his wife. Everything he has invested, or withheld, will be there.” It is of course true the other way around, but the point is simple: We are as we thanks to our spouse.
People say that we will only know the value of something after we are no longer in possession of it. It is true, isn’t it? One of the most precious possessions that we tend to take for granted is our spouse. While she was alive, we appreciated her; after she died, we cannot bear the loss. She is more than precious; she is now indispensable.
In his book, Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas shares something that he has learned from his marriage. For the longest time he thought that what he needed to do in marriage was to be nice to his wife, not to attack her or to “say cruel things to her.” But then he came to understand that he has a Christian obligation “to continually move” to his wife. He learned that the opposite of love is not hate but apathy, which begins when he stops moving forward to her.
I am sure we can relate to what he says. We, too, think that what we should do is to stay still, not move backward. And as long as we can do that—be nice to our spouse—we are OK. We forget that too many marriages fail not because we do cruel things to each other but because we do not do enough loving things to each other. Gary Thomas encourages us to keep moving forward, to draw closer to each other. Not only will it solidify our relationship, but it will also prevent us from falling backward, in times of failures.
Thomas concludes, “Falls are inevitable. We can’t control that, but we can control the direction in which we fall—toward or away from our spouse.” I have seen men and women fall; too bad, many fall backward, away from their spouses. But thank God, there are some who fall forward, toward their spouses, to the arms of those who have loved them and stood by them unconditionally. And I’ve never seen them pushed away. Like the Psalmist says, “Though he falls, he shall not be cast down.” For their spouses uphold them.
Last week on Friday, Jesus Our Lord came and took our sister Yulia home. And last Wednesday, Jesus Our Lord came and took Mr. Tjandra, Sjafy’s father, to his eternal home. When those whom we love are taken away from us, we cannot help but feel sad. We miss them because we will not be able to see them or talk to them for the time being. But knowing that we will see them again gives us hope and comfort. And, instead of feeling angry, we feel grateful.
In his book, The Art of Forgiving, Lewis Smedes writes, “Our ability to love is proportionate to our feeling of gratitude about life. If someone feels the joy of having been given much, she is capable of loving much.” That was my observation as well. Those who are grateful for every little thing they have are full of love while those who complain about every little thing that they don’t have are empty of love. Instead, they are full of anger and bitterness.
In my conversations with Cie Jenny, Enge, and Citra, what I heard over and over was thanksgiving. Yes, they’re grieving but they are not drowned in their grief. Instead, they thanked God for so many things that He has done in the life of their sister Yulia. The same with Sjafy. She, too, expressed deep gratitude for the fact that God had given her the chance to spend some precious moments with her dad last week. No wonder, they are all full of love. So, it is true, isn’t it, that those who are full of thanks are full of love. And the reason they are always thankful is because they see life via the eyes of a recipient. They own nothing; all they have are gifts from God.
Today from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth we learn that we don’t even own our body; it’s rental property, given to us free of charge. So is our life; given to us free of charge. Given to Us. That is the story of our life; that is the story of God’s love.
We thank God for getting us through tropical storm Hillary; it could have been worse. Most of us only got strong wind and heavy rain, no reported property damage. We can now empathize with our brothers and sisters who live in the South and the Northeast. They do not get tropical storms; they get HURRICANES. Not once in every 84 years like we here, but several times a year. May God help them!
The other day Santy and I watched a YouTube channel about birds—lovely birds. And in it we saw how they built their nests—one leave at a time and one twig at a time. Yes, these birds pick up a leave or a dry twig, place it on a branch, and back and forth they go, till the nest is done. I couldn’t help but be amazed
not by their cleverness or creativity but by their Creator’s cleverness and creativity.
To me it is mind-boggling that some people still deny the existence of God and had rather develop a theory that these creatures came about by an evolutionary process. The concept and the working of AI or artificial intelligence, to me, defies their logic. AI is created; it does not self-exist, let alone come about by a process of evolution. AI is a product of algorithms designed by data scientists. It is a product created by real intelligence—humans. It then follows, if artificial intelligence must be created by real intelligence to exist, real intelligence then must also be created to exist. But it must be created by something greater that real intelligence—God.
Lately this thought has crossed my mind more frequently than usual that God, the creator of billions of galaxies, knows me and loves me. Not only does He see me, not only does He know me, but He also cares for me. He acts on my behalf and gives on the impulse of His love to me. He does not respond to everything I ask right away but He will always do something about it, in so many ways.
We are bracing for Hillary, tropical storms Hillary, that is. The first tropical storm in 84 years will pass through California, so I heard. The good news is that this storm that began as a hurricane in the South is supposed to have weakened by the time it reaches Los Angeles. Last week fire destroyed much of Lahaina, Maui, killing
nearly 100. It’s dubbed as the worst fire in history, and the first.
Lately we have witnessed a lot of the “firsts” and we cannot help but wonder what is going on. Well, we may not know what is behind all these “firsts”, but we know that the Bible (Matthew 24) has warned us that before the coming of Jesus Our Lord, there will be “famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.”
In fact, Jesus Himself tells us, “Heaven and earth will pass away but My Words will by no means pass away” which means there’ll be lots of unusual phenomena that will, not only mess up, but cause major havoc to “heaven and earth.” But He assures us that His words will not pass away. The Word of God will stand and will not be shaken, so hold on to His Word. Do not hold on to what can be swept away; instead, hold on to Him, who is eternal and immovable.
Life is full of storms. Some storms can be known ahead of time so we can prepare for the worst. But sometimes we do not know, so we cannot prepare; we just have to sail through the storm. And that will be the time in which we let go of control and let God take over. He won’t let go and will hold us firmly till the storm passes by.
Lately, I have been made aware of God’s amazing love. He, who is the creator of the heavens and earth, watches over me, and cares for me. He, who has the power of billions of galaxies, loves me, a tiny dot in His vast landscape. I am safe, we are safe, in His arms.
As far as our identities are concerned, we have two choices: We can
be defined by who we were or by who we are. We can be defined
by what happened to us and by what we did in the past or by what
happens to us and by what we do today. I hope we are not defined
by who we were yesterday but rather by who we are today.
The choices are ours—not others—to make. We, who are defined
by who we were, continue to live in the past. We still act and think
like we used to, and we still blame what happened to us in the past.
In other words, we cannot let go of the past. We, who are defined
by who are, do not forget or deny the past. We embrace the bad
and the shameful and we still feel bad whenever we think of them,
but we do not let them control us anymore. We move on. We don’t
tear the page—because we can’t anyway—but we turn the page.
But this is what we need to be cognizant of: The wind can blow and
turn the page back! The wind of popularity, the wind of praise, the
wind of accomplishment, the wind of influence, the wind of wealth,
the wind of pain and disappointment, the wind of failure. So, don’t
neglect to put our finger on the current page, lest, in a split second,
the wind blows and turns the page back to our darkened days. I
have seen many who got blown off by the wind and catapulted to
the past. Suddenly the past became their present—shamefully.
The other day Santy and I talked about friends that we met years
ago who still live in the past. As the Bible has warned us, our sin can
and will find us out, so, their past has finally caught up with them.
Even though they try to disentangle themselves from it, they
cannot. The past has become the present; the consequence of what
they did then, is now here. Our hearts bleed with them but the train
has left the station; we cannot stop it. But Grace can. God’s grace.
Lewis Smedes, in his book, The Art of Forgiving, tells a story of his own doing—hurting a couple of people that he admired greatly. He said something about them. In his own admission, “They were the last two people in the world whom I would have wanted to wound. But what I said badly and needlessly wounded them.” These two then asked to meet with Smedes and in that meeting, they told him that they would never forgive him. Never! It crushed him, badly.
For almost fifteen years he lived with “shame and sorrow” of having hurt people whom he loved and admired, until the day he got sick. Out of the blue, they contacted him, wished him well, expressed their concern. And this triggered a chain of reactions. He and they began contacting each other, by letters, by phone, and they even visited him. They reconnected, more importantly, they forgave him, even though they never said so. Smedes received mercy and grace.
We all long for mercy and grace. The bigger the offense, the bigger the wish for mercy and grace. And if we receive it, the bigger the gratitude and the stronger the sense of relief. Smedes shares, “I cannot think of many things in my life that I am more grateful for.” I am sure that we all have received it from others, so the least we can do is to pass it on. We may think that they do not deserve it—and we might very well be right in our assessment—but that’s the idea about mercy and grace. It is given to those who do not deserve it.
Sadly, there are those who never received mercy and grace. If they did, it was rare and invariably tied with conditions. They, who grow up with no mercy and grace, end up walking in life unfamiliar with mercy and grace. They only know “take and give”—they take, and others must give. It’s a one-way street. Mercy and grace are not a two-way street; it is one-way street, but from the other direction.
Last Wednesday in our Bible Study and Prayer Meeting, a sister shared the good news that God had given her a birthday gift she asked for: a good health! After going through a series of tests the doctor finally concluded that she did not have the illness that she dreaded. Praise God! But on the same day, to be exact later that evening, a sister in Lord that attended our Bible Study at Oom Tim’s house passed away suddenly. She had had a heart problem for some time but most recently she seemed to be fine. Lately it was her husband who became the focus of prayer due to his declining health. But God had another plan for them; He wanted her home.
Once again, we’re reminded that we do not know about tomorrow. We do not know whether we will wake up to see the day and night or just the day. We do not even know whether we will wake up. But God does. So, we give Him thanks for each day; we thank Him for the good news of health and the bad news of sickness. We trust in His good will, and we follow Him in this life’s voyage. We do not know how long we will be on this voyage or how far we will travel. We only know that the destination is home. We are going home.
One of the songs that has become a beloved for many Americans is Home Sweet Home, written by John Howard Payne in Paris, while he was away from home in Long Island. As an actor and playwright, he was busy and often away from home. But despite all the success and fame, he was lonely; on that gloomy day in Paris, he suddenly thought of his boyhood home and how much he missed it. He then, took a pen and began pouring his heart out, “Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam. Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home . . . . Home, home, sweet, sweet home! There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home!” I imagine it, too, shall be our song when we get to heaven, “Home Sweet Home.”
Many of you have shopped at J. C. Penny; in fact, one of our sisters, Peggy, works there. But perhaps a few know the life of J. C. Penny, the man who founded this chain of department stores. In 1929, on his way to a successful career, he suffered a setback during one of the worst economic crises, called the Great Depression. As a result, he was overcome by anxiety and insomnia, causing not only mental anguish but also physical ailments. He was so depressed that he felt that he had nothing to live for anymore. He was finally hospitalized.
It was then that one morning he heard people singing in the little hospital chapel, “Be not dismayed whate’er betide/God will take care of you.” He was so drawn by the singing that he started to walk into the chapel and listened to the song and the Scripture reading and to the prayer. In his own words Mr. Penny wrote, “I felt as if I had been instantly lifted out of the darkness of a dungeon into warm, brilliant sunlight.” He let go of his worries, surrendered his burden to Jesus, and placed his trust in God, that He would take care of him. We know the rest: J.C. Penny became one of America’s greatest retail merchants. God took care of him, as He promised.
J.C. Penny’s success story may not be our stories, but his story of deliverance is our stories, too. In times of darkness and loneliness, when we felt there was no hope as we lay in bed, God’s Word came, His presence surrounded us, His hand touched us, and His voice spoke to us, “I am here with you.” I call this dungeon experience—in the darkness and alone. Joseph has been there, so have Paul, Silas, Jeremiah, Daniel, and John the Baptist. Sometimes God takes care of us by keeping us away from toil and dangers but sometimes He takes care of us through toil and dangers. Psalms 34:19 reminds us, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” Many, but what matters is God will deliver us.