Monday, July 24, 2017

NEW YEAR’S DAWN

It was a beautiful sunrise. The pale light of dawn had brightened into a glorious golden glow, kissing the clouds with tints of pink and orange as it heralded the arrival of a new year. But idyllic new year feelings were the furthest thing from my mind. As I watched the sunbeams dance across my hospital bedsheets, my thoughts retraced the events that had brought me there. Two nights earlier, I had suddenly developed an excruciating pain in the lower right side of my abdomen. I was rushed to the emergency room, where I underwent emergency surgery to remove a ruptured gangrenous cyst. Now I faced a hospital stay and several months of recovery.
For the first twenty-four hours after the surgery, I was too overwhelmed to think clearly, but as the pain lessened and the shock subsided, questions came in a flood. I felt confused, discouraged, and afraid.
It was then that I noticed a pair of tiny birds soaring into the dawn, and I was reminded of a verse: “What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” It was comforting to be reminded that my life rests in God’s hands, and that He will always be there to help, hold, and guide me, no matter what comes my way. “I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.’”
The year that followed proved to be an unforgettable one. The surgery was the first of many health struggles during the subsequent weeks and months, yet I felt Jesus always close by my side, comforting me, giving me His grace and strength, and reminding me of His unfailing love and care. The difficulties and challenges were balanced by countless beautiful experiences, blessings, and joys that gave me a deeper appreciation for life and for the One who does all things well.
As another year dawns, I think back on that New Year’s morning at the hospital. The memory reassures me that my future, while unknown to me, is known to Him. With my hand in His and my eyes on His promises, I can trust Him for the year ahead.
Matthew 10:29 (ESV) Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.
Isaiah 41:13 (ESV)
For I, the Lord your God,
hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Fear not,
I am the one who helps you.”
Mark 7:37 (ESV) And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Sunday, July 23, 2017

MY LIVING CHINA DOLL

When I was a child, we lived near an apartment complex housing college students. At the end of the school year, the students would give away or sell cheaply whatever they didn’t want to haul home.
One day, my brother brought me home a China Doll plant. My mom, who has a green thumb, said it was a good find. I took it to my room and would set it out on the front porch every few days for some sunshine.
After I’d had the plant for a few months, its leaves started drooping and then falling off until there were no leaves left. When I asked my mom what was wrong, she said it had gone into hibernation. A plant without leaves held no interest for me, so I put it in the backyard with my mom’s other potted plants, and there it stayed for quite some time, leafless and forlorn.
And then, one day, my mom brought a plant to my room. Yes, it was my China Doll, and there were tiny sprouts at the tips of its branches. Soon the sprouts grew into new shoots and leaves, and eventually my plant was in full bloom again. This cycle continued over the years.
I eventually moved away from home and left the China Doll with my mom and her green thumb. In one letter, my mom wrote: “I thought your China Doll had finally died. I almost tossed it, but you know how I hate to throw away a plant. I waited a while, and sure enough, it grew back fuller than ever.”
Last spring, I went to visit my mom. She has more time for gardening now that most of her kids have moved away, and the back yard was beautiful, full of aromatic rose bushes and flower-covered arbors and trellises … and my China Doll was now transplanted into a new pot and was at least four feet tall.
As I begin the new year, some things seem to be hibernating—a few dreams and goals—but with the sunshine of God’s love, the water of His Word, and a little of His tender loving care, they will blossom in His good time. If He causes a simple plant to begin anew and grow stronger year by year, how much more can we expect Him to do for us, whom He loves dearly and for whom He created all the rest?
John 14:6 ESV / Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
1 Corinthians 6:12 ESV / “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything.
Romans 6:23 ESV / For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

NEW YEAR PERSPECTIVES

What a crazy year I’ve just been through! In the space of 12 months I left a job I’d had for five years, moved to a new country, went on an emotional rollercoaster, spent many sleepless nights worrying, and on it goes…
I’ll admit it was tough at times to live through, but now, with the benefit of hindsight, I’m seeing things somewhat differently.
It’s true I left a job, but I got a new and better position. Yes, I moved away from my old friends, but I’ve broadened my horizons and already made many new friends in my new situation. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster for sure, but it’s also been a learning experience. I might have worried a lot last year, but here I am at the dawn of a new year, safe and sound. The start of a new year has always symbolized for me a time of reflection and evaluation on the year that’s past, and I’ve learned to cherish my year-end analysis. With the passage of time, perspectives change, big issues turn to naught, fears dissolve, and wounds heal. Perhaps the pithy proverb about “giving time to time” actually has truth to it.
Aside from it lending perspective to life, I find a second major benefit of looking back is identifying what I’d like to do differently this year. On this occasion, two things stand out:
1) I want to draw closer to God, and I want Him to be the one I turn to when I need help. I want that quiet confidence I see in people who have learned the art of depending on God.
2) I want to think less about myself. Too many hours last year were spent worrying about me. Instead, I want to spend some of that time and energy on other people and things that matter.
I don’t know what this new year will bring. I’m sure it will include surprises, joys, sorrows—and sure, most likely even some sleepless nights. But if I can implement these two goals even just a little; if in the heat of the most turbulent moments that this year brings I can manage to remember that my perspective will most likely change in just a few months; if I can keep God and others on my mind, no matter where I am or what I’m doing, then I know this year will be a success!
Joshua 1:9 ESV / Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Ecclesiastes 3:1 ESV / For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
Romans 12:1-2 ESV / I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Friday, July 21, 2017

SEARCHING FOR EBENEZER

Toward the end of last year, I was haunted by the word “Ebenezer.” It all began when I heard it on a Christian podcast, but the speaker didn’t clarify what it meant. The word stayed in the back of my mind for days, and I wondered where I’d heard it before. My children identified it as the unusual first name of the Scrooge character in Charles Dickens’ famous novel, A Christmas Carol, but that wasn’t the Ebenezer I was looking for.
The mysterious “Ebenezer”popped up again when I visited my daughter during the holidays. There it was, written in bold letters above the entrance to a new shop in the village square. “Ebenezer” seemed to be appearing all around me, but who was he?
The answer came when I was listening to another inspirational audio. Out of the blue, the speaker mentioned the word, and also gave a Bible reference: 1 Samuel chapter 7. I looked it up right away and it turns out that in the passage, the prophet Samuel puts a rock between two places, Mizpah and Shen, after his people had won a great battle against their enemies. This rock was named—you’ve guessed it—Ebenezer, meaning “the stone of help,” and was set up in acknowledgment of and appreciation for God’s assistance. And so it turns out that “Ebenezer” wasn’t a “who” but a “what.”
I can picture myself sitting on top of that big rock. On one side, the year that has just ended, with all of its obstacles and trials and victories and joys. I look back from my vantage point and my heart fills with praise.
On the other side, the new year, full of mysteries yet to unfold. I’m filled with anticipation. If God has always come through for me in the past, surely He will in the future too!
This year, every time a sorrow or difficulty comes my way, I will strive to rely on Ebenezer, the stone of help and the rock of hope. I will make a resolution to face this new year with the expectation that the future is as bright as the promises of God! In the words of David, “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains. Where will my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.”
Romans 12:12 ESV / Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
Jeremiah 29:11 ESV / For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Romans 15:13 ESV / May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

WALKING WITH GOD

Perhaps you prefer to walk in the early morning, like Jesus who rose a “great while before day and went into a solitary place to pray.” Or maybe you enjoy walking peacefully in the evening. Perhaps your walks are purposeful, part of your journey to work, school, or shopping. Wherever or whenever you walk, you’re following in a great tradition:
Abraham took a walk at God’s command. Moses led the children of Israel on a long trek to the Promised Land. Joshua’s spies were sent to walk through the land. The followers of Jesus walked with Him through Galilee and beyond. The paralyzed man lying by the pool at the sheep market took up his bed and walked after Jesus healed him. Paul walked for God, spreading the Good News throughout Asia.
Of course, not every scripture about “walking” refers literally to taking step after step, but many are references to a way of living. That’s why reminders to “walk like He walked” mean so much more than a mode of getting around.7 So how is our life’s walk progressing?
Look back and remember.
I have been with you wherever you have gone.—2 Samuel 7:9
As we have traveled along the road of life, there have been pleasant places8 and some less enjoyable routes. It has not always been an easy path, but one thing is sure: whether His footsteps beside us were visible or not, God was with us.
I will walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people. I … will hold your right hand, saying to you, “Fear not, I will help you.”—Leviticus 26:12, Isaiah 41:13
Thank You, Lord, for Your presence on my journey.
The Lord shows the way.
The shepherd of the sheep … when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.—John 10:2,4
God will continue to be with us, just as He has always been. He is the Good Shepherd who knows the way.
Always long and pray that the will of God may be fully realised in your life. You will find that the man who does this walks in the land of peace and quietness.—Thomas à Kempis (1380–1471)
When I am with God
My fear is gone
In the great quiet of God.
My troubles are as pebbles on the road,
My joys are like the everlasting hills.
—Walter Rauschenbusch (1861–1918)
Help me, Lord, to follow You.
Going forward means putting one foot after the other.
You do not know what will happen tomorrow.—James 4:14
We look back and remember where we’ve been; we look around and see where we are now; but the place we can’t see—the direction we can’t fathom—is the future. Yet as an old saying tells us, “We don’t know what the future holds, but we know Who holds the future.” Our not knowing the future seems to be part of His plan.
God doesn’t always remove obstacles out of our way before we reach them. Yet when we are on the edge of our need, God’s hand is stretched out. Many people forget this and are forever worrying about difficulties that they foresee in the future. They expect that God is going to make the way plain and open before them miles and miles ahead, whereas he has promised to do it only step by step as they may need. You must get to the floodwaters before you can claim the promise.—Author unknown
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.—Isaiah 43:2
Lord, help me to trust You for what I cannot see.
Walk with God.
We will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever.—Micah 4:5
O Christ, the keeper of us all,
Let Thy right hand guard and protect me day and night, when I rest at home, when I walk in my work abroad, when I lie down and when I rise up, that I may not anywhere fail.
I commit my whole being unto Thee; take charge of me; provide for all my real needs, from this moment forth and always.
—Saint Nerses (4th century)
Walk in the light! Thy path shall be
A path, though thorny, bright;
For God, by grace, shall dwell in thee,
And God Himself is light.
—Bernard Barton (1784–1849)
Lord, help me to walk with You all the days of my life.
Mark 1:35 (ESV) And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.
Genesis 3:8 (ESV) And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
Hebrews 11:8 (ESV) By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

BE AN ICON

The Greek word translated as “image” in most English versions of the Bible is eikon, from which we also get “icon.” It is used in the Bible both literally and figuratively. The Septuagint, the first standard translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek, called Adam “the eikon of God.”
The sculptures, paintings, and carvings in Orthodox churches are called icons, but modern culture also includes a surprising quantity of icons. People who are greatly admired or considered excellent at what they do—entertainers, sports stars, entrepreneurs, etc.—are often considered icons. And then there are more mundane icons—our computer screens are cluttered with those little pictures representing programs and shortcuts. Some icons have even taken on a life of their own, like the yellow smiley face emoticon.
Some people also use the word “icon” to explain the Christian’s role in the world. We are to strive to be images of Christ by doing as He did, or would do today. That’s not a bad idea. If we could see our fellow believers as images of God, it would certainly engender brotherly love and respect. Mother Teresa even took that concept a step further. “I see Jesus in every human being,” she said. “I say to myself, This is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.”
Few of us will ever attain to the level of selfless love that Mother Teresa came to symbolize, but we can strive in our own lives to be more like Jesus. We do that by spending time with Him, reading His Word, and practicing what He preached and lived. “All of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.”
Matthew 22:20 (ESV) And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”
Colossians 1:15 (ESV) He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
2 Corinthians 3:18 (ESV) And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

SAND BETWEEN MY TOES

The small card fell out of a pile of papers. It was an old photograph, nothing special, a tiny fishing boat crossing a calm ocean underneath a blue sky. I don’t know how it got there, but I smiled as it triggered memories of my younger years playing by the seaside, feeling the sand between my toes, collecting shells with my neighborhood friends, and seeing who could throw stones the farthest out into the waves.
I grew up in a small fishing village in southern Taiwan. The narrow lanes and simple houses were crammed into a small sliver of land that jutted out into the sea as a peninsula, with the harbor on one side and the deep, wide ocean on the other. During my teen years, I lived in a tiny upstairs room. From its single, wood-framed window, I could see the harbor light at night, and the boats returning with their catch the next morning.
My family was poor, and we lived a very simple life, but I didn’t realize how rich I was in the things that really mattered until many years later when I was working as a volunteer in Japan. It took a drive of several hours from the crowded and busy city where I lived at that time to be able to smell the salty air of the sea.
One day, our team visited an orphanage, and I got to talking with an 18-year-old resident. Out of the blue, she asked me if I had ever been to the beach. She told me that she had never been there and that it had always been her heart’s desire to have a chance to play by the ocean, to feel the sand and the small waves lapping against her feet. I had to excuse myself and ask for the restroom, as I didn’t want to cry in front of her.
There have been times when I prayed and wished for this or for that, thinking it would make my life’s journey easier and happier. But the answer to my prayers and wishes has often come in the realization of how blessed I am and how much I have to be thankful for.
Psalm 118:24 ESV / This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV / Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Colossians 3:17 ESV / And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.