A Box of Chocolate

This happened a while back, but it is still fresh in my memory. 

“Can Mama have it back?”

Standing on the other side of the living room, I could see that our toddler, just shy of two months to being two years old, really wanted another one.  She had a box of chocolates in her lap, her little hands wrapped around the box and her head tilted down staring at these little goodies.

After all, this was the first time she had chocolate. 

Calmly and warmly, Wai Jia asked Sarah-Faith for the box of chocolates back.

We waited to see what Sarah-Faith would do next. 

She continued to stare at the box.  Her hands were holding the box of chocolates very firmly.  After all, who wouldn’t want another one?  Especially after trying it for the first time.  She really wanted to have more.  

Then, after pausing for less than a minute, but what probably seemed like an eternity in our almost two-year-old’s eyes, Sarah-Faith did something that would make any parent proud. 

She returned the box of chocolates back to Wai Jia.

There was no fuss, no tears.

Being her parents and being much bigger, we could have simply yanked the box from her.  We could have yelled and commanded her to do so.  As her parents, we had every right to do so.  But this time, we waited and see.

I was amazed.  What could drive her to do such a thing?  We had not yet taught her right or wrong.  She had the freedom to disobey and have another.  We probably wouldn’t stop her if she had done so.  I am sure her mind wanted another piece of chocolate.  But another part of her knows that it is better to obey her Mama. 

As a father, I was very proud of Sarah-Faith and filled with joy to see that she chose to obey even though she could enjoy another tasty treat.

Recently, I did a study on blessings.  In the church, we talk about blessings all the time.  The benediction is commonly spoken over the church at the end of the service.  In fact, every night, after we pray with our children, we speak the benedictions over them.  The benediction starts with, “may the Lord bless you…”

As I look at blessings, especially from Jesus’ teachings, it is not simply about receiving stuff or happiness.

When we look at the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-11), Jesus taught that we are blessed when we choose specific attitudes.  Yet, these attitudes are not those the world desires or seeks. 

Take being meek, for example.  It is an attitude that is highly regarded in the Kingdom of God, but the world never deems it valuable.  No one ever chooses a successful CEO or leader because of their meekness.  No one ever chose someone in a team or in a relationship because they are meek.

The question I ask myself is, how are we blessed for following these attitudes?  You don’t get a bigger house, a happier life, a promotion for being a peacemaker, for being merciful or getting persecuted for Jesus’ sake.   So how can Jesus say we are blessed for seeking these attitudes?  In other words, what is the motivation for seeking and developing the Beatitudes within us?

As I dwell on this, I realized that being blessed is not just about getting stuff or having a good life.  Instead, we are blessed when we choose certain attitudes in our lives because it brings joy to our Heavenly Father.

When Sarah-Faith chose to return the box of chocolates, I was filled with joy.  Why? Not only because she chose the right thing.  But because she was willing to deny her own desires to have another piece of chocolate in order to obey her mother.

Just as how I was filled with joy when Sarah-Faith willingly chose to return the box of chocolates to Wai Jia, our Heavenly Father is filled with joy when He sees us willingly choosing the Beatitudes in our day to day lives.

After all, the biggest blessing is bringing joy to our Heavenly Father and willingly doing His Will.  My joy comes from knowing that my actions and attitudes bring joy to our Heavenly Father.

Amen!

Walking Rightly

This was written a few days before we moved to Singapore.

We are currently in the midst of transiting from Canada to Singapore. I did the same thing back in 2011, and I thought it was difficult. Now having two kids, I realized ‘difficult’ is a matter of perspective.

In the past two months, there were a few stressful nights. Stressful because by the time both Wai Jia and I finished eating dinner and cleaning up the house, it would be 9:30 pm. We would have about 30 min or so to pack, process and prepare ourselves for the big move.

Plus, the amount of paperwork involved. Wow.

By God’s grace, after many nights of doing a bit here and there, we finally saw much progress this morning. Wai Jia has been tirelessly packing our children’s things and preparing for a place in Singapore. I, on the other hand, have been focusing on items we need to check off here in Canada.

One thing I realized about moving to a different country (for us, an average once a year), is that it is easier to ‘take shortcuts’ and just not do things properly. I will expand on this for the rest of my post.

One other thing I realized about Canada is that the system is voluntary. If I don’t tell the system, they probably won’t know. But if I inform them, then I have to submit forms, pay fees, and make sure I meet the qualifications. I love Canada, and at the same time, I could do things improperly and probably get away with it. Of course, it is not wise, but it will save a lot of time and effort.

I will take Healthcare as an example. In order to maintain health care coverage, I need to meet certain criteria. This means going to the local Ontario Service (an office where it deals with driver’s license, health cards, etc.) and inform them. This also involves filling a form and getting a letter from my employer. It is a lot of work now that we have two more children (they are dependent on me).

The easier way is to go without informing them. Of course, if you are caught, you are in trouble. But the trouble won’t be fine or a penalty. I am sure many people do it because it is less of a hassle and so on.

I can go on and on. But something that the Lord has put in our hearts is the importance of walking rightly before Him.

It would be very silly to lie and cheat my way in order to do things for God. It is tempting, but God looks not just what we can do for Him or the results, but what’s in our hearts. Every step and every decision we should be making righteously.

This is hard. It is hard because it is easier to cheat, lie, or not tell the whole truth to move on. It is easy to justify it by telling myself, “well, I have many things to do. I am sure the Lord understands. He will probably forgive me. I need healthcare coverage to do more work for Him.”

No, He won’t. He will hold me accountable in heaven.

A while ago, we read in Psalm 84:11:
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
from those whose walk is blameless. (NIV)

This verse is very interesting. A lot of times, many of us, myself included, ask God for blessings like things. I need a new job. I need a favor. I need help with my kids etc.

Yet, this verse is telling us the focus is not solely on asking for blessings.

Rather, when we walk uprightly, when we chose the right decision, even though it almost always will cost us more time, effort, or money, He will not hold back good things from us.

This, for me, is probably, the most important lesson for a Christian in walking in Christ. It ain’t about just asking for blessings (even at times when we are doing His ministry).

Rather, we need to examine our own walk and make sure it is righteous or blameless before God and before men.

AMEN!

Update: We visited Ontario Service to discuss about my health care (OHIP) coverage before we flew out. They informed me the maximum I can take is two years while overseas. This means it is most likely I will lose my Canadian health care when we go to mission. God is still good and He is still my healer.

Rush

Today I went to Toronto General Hospital to see my transplant doctor.

Traveling from Mississauga, I rushed to downtown at 7:30 to make it to the 9:30 am appointment.

Rush out the door and stuck in traffic.
Rush to find a parking lot and run into the subway.
Rush past people to check myself in at the Transplant Out-patient clinic.

By the time I see my transplant doc, it was 12:30 pm. I was anxious as I wanted to rush back home to supervise a contractor.

The meeting lasted no more than 5 min.

“Your numbers look great. You look good. There is nothing we can do with your medication. Take care.”


There are two ways to look at this…

I can be upset thinking about the fact that I traveled so far and waited so long for a measly five-minute appointment. Do I really need to be in person for them to tell me I am ok? Can’t they simply put me early in line, so I don’t have to wait so long?

On the other hand, I realize I should be grateful. A five-minute meeting means I am healthy. An extended meeting says the doc found something wrong and did more follow up and tests.

There are probably others who need more of the doctor’s attention than me. There are others who would love to hear that they don’t need another test or change/add more medication.

I am learning, after having my transplant for almost 30 years, this is a good type of wait. It seems and feels like a waste of time, but it is a time to give thanks.

Influence

It is not uncommon for Christians to bless one another to be “people of influence.”

What is influence?  What does it mean in God’s eyes compared to how the world sees it?

Influence may be defined as:

  1. the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others:
  2. the action or process of producing effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of another or others:
  3. a person or thing that exerts influence:

(Source: dictionary.com)

In the world, to gain influence generally means one has to be popular, wealthy, powerful or be a combination of these things.

When I think of the word “influence”, I think of someone who is charismatic or popular.   Someone who speaks and everyone listens to.  It is the person in class that everyone wants to be a friend with. It is the person in the “in” group.  It is the alpha male. It is the one on social media who has plenty of “likes” and “follows”.

Influence in the Bible is vastly different. In God’s Kingdom, influence is upside-down.  Influence is not a numbers game.  It is not about how many likes, shares or comments your social media post has.   Influence happens when we obey God and God’s will is done on earth.

In the book of Acts, Philip is an example of how God gives and ‘takes away’ influence for His Kingdom. 

In Acts 8, Philip went to Samaria and started a great revival there (Acts 8:5-8).  The revival was so great that Peter and John had to go down to help (Acts 8:14-15).  

In verse 26, an angel told Philip to go to the desert road.   

If you consider the situation, you would likely believe that Philip must have heard it wrong.  Why should anyone leave a city when everyone wants to receive Christ?  It is a revival!  Many need someone to teach them how to follow Jesus.  This revival is every minister’s dream!  Why on earth will you leave?

It doesn’t make sense- Philip had much influence in Samaria.  If we read carefully, Philip was healing people. The lame were walking.  Demons were cast out.  He was showing signs and wonders (Acts 8:6-8).  The city was in joy.  They weren’t persecuting Philip like when Paul preached the gospel.  That’s the kind of influence many of us long to have.

Yet despite all the ‘influence’ he had, Philip abandoned it for a desert road.

The Influence of One

This is where I love the story.  Philip obeyed and encountered an Ethiopian Eunuch.  His influence shrunk from thousands to one.

Logic will tell us that Philip should not have gone to the desert road.  However, Philip chose to obey to go.  He didn’t care about the numbers.  He cared about obeying God.

Wouldn’t Philip be more useful in Samaria, saving thousands, than to save one person?  In our eyes, of course. But God has better ideas. He always does.

By saving one eunuch, the Good News of Jesus Christ spread to Ethiopia.   The Gospel spread went beyond Middle-Eastern and into Africa.

Notice God didn’t explain to Philip why he had to go on the desert road.  He didn’t show the game plan to Philip, that he had to abandon the revival in Samaria to meet an Ethiopian eunuch to point him to Jesus from explaining through the book of Isaiah (Acts 8:32-33). Often God just says, do this or do that without showing us the full picture.

What am I getting at?  

I am not saying we should avoid the masses and live the life of a hermit.  

I am saying we should not worry or be concerned about how much influence we have or need.  Influence is given by God for His Glory.   We often want more influence (as with wealth or power).  

But can we trust in our God that He gives us as much (or as little) influence as we need for His Glory’s sake?  

Can we surrender our desire/worry/fear to gain influence and let Him take control?  

The key is our obedience to God.  We don’t have to think our influence is small just because we are not popular, don’t have a vast network, don’t speak well or are not good-looking. We don’t have to strive to gain influence.  Rather, all we need is to trust and obey what God is telling us to do.  Whether it is influencing thousands or one person, we must follow willingly.

 Let God take care of our influence, for our job is solely and simply obedience.

The story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch is such an encouraging one. It tells me that I need not be the most eloquent speaker like (insert your favorite pastor/preacher). I need not have the most followers on Facebook/Instagram. I need not even strive to achieve those performance indices to be considered influential or faithful. 

Side note: this doesn’t exclude me from studying the Bible and preparing a well-crafted answer to the hope that we have in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2)

Because all God requires of me is to focus on what He is calling me to do and to obey Him. 

Let us let God be God and allow Him to weave a beautiful story for His Kingdom and His Glory!

Quote: A. B. Simpson on renouncing our rights

I solemnly believe that most of the blessings that have been given to me in my life and ministry have come because of the evil things people have said of me, and because God made me willing to allow them to say them.A. B. Simpson

Unlearn

Before I did my first triathlon, I went online and asked others for help. The forums were filled with ‘wisdom’ and lots and lots of to do lists for the first-timer.

Some say you have to bring a bucket filled with water so you can get the sand off of your feet after your swim. Some say you have to bring this or that. Some say to get this gadget or some widget to help you finish the race.

The best tip I read was to learn by watching the pros race. When it comes to transition (when you go from swim to bike and from bike to run), the pros keep things simple. They don’t have a gazillion and one gadgets. They just have the essentials.

In a race, you don’t want to be complex. The more things you have, the more likely you will forget something or mess up. In a sport where every second counts, you don’t want complexity because it slows things down. The simpler you are, the better.

So for race day, I learned to keep things simple.

I learned that for shorter races I can ride and run without wearing socks.

I learned that I don’t need to pack the bike with 2-3 bottles of water (that’s extra weight!)

I learned that I don’t need to bring a bottle on the run because I can drink from the water station.

Did it work? Well, my transition time went from 2 minutes down to less than a minute.

When it comes to Christianity, we often think we need to learn more in order to become mature. To a certain extent, that is true. We need spiritual truths ingrained into our hearts especially when we are new believers.

Today when I read Oswald Chamber’s devotional, he said that perhaps God wanted us to unlearn something so our faith can be as simple as a child’s.

What if part of following Christ is to unlearn things?

The world will teach you that if you want to get ahead you have to be the alpha dog. You need to be aggressive and shut down all your competitors. You need to dress and walk and talk success in order to be successful. Fake it until you make it.

But Jesus never taught that. Jesus said blessed are those who are meek for they shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).

What if in order to grasp the idea of meekness, we have to unlearn the idea of being aggressive? They are polar opposites.

You can’t live following these two principles. One of them has to go. In other words, you have to unlearn the alpha dog mentality in order to be as meek as sheep.

A while ago I talked to an American missionary who served in China for 15 years. He told me about how he had a bunch of health problems while he was in China. I asked him what his health plan was and what it covered. Because I had a liver transplant, health plan was very important to me. Many missionary organizations and missionaries will buy some sort of overseas health plan just to be safe.

He told me his health plan was Dr. Jesus. For a while, I really thought there was a health coverage plan covered by a Christian organization called Dr. Jesus. I’m embarrassed to say it took me a few minutes to realize that he meant Jesus was his healer as he shared how God healed him through divine appointments at the hospital.

It was then that I realized I had to unlearn the reliance on health coverage in order to trust more in Jesus as my healer.

I am not saying I have reached the faith of a child yet. But I am learning or I mean, unlearning things which don’t help me grow my faith in Christ. Having child-like faith does not equate immaturity. Rather, it is to strip down all the unnecessary baggage that stops us from trusting Jesus in a simpler way.

Simple is good.

Simple faith is a better way.

What is one thing God is trying to help you unlearn today?

Forward Ever, Backward Never

Forward Ever, Backward Never

This is the slogan of a primary school we ministered when we were in Uganda.

If you are to ask me how’s my spiritual life, right now.  I will use this slogan.

Being a father a few weeks ago and studying Masters of Divinity at the same time is no easy feat.  The baby always have an impeccable timing of crying or a need whenever I have an urge to sit down to study or write a paper.   This doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy our child.  A child is definitely a blessing from God!!!

And it feels strange.  Shouldn’t I be working right now to make sure we can pay the bills?  Wouldn’t that be the rational thing to do?

Yes, it is.  But spending time to study God’s Word is far more valuable. This is not a time to settle but rather it is a season of preparation for the future.

And this the season we are finding ourselves in. 

Once in a while, the idea of settling down is very tempting.  What if we stay in Mississauga or in Singapore?  Wouldn’t it be better for us and our child?  

Then the desire and hunger to follow God return and these thoughts simply don’t make sense more.

As Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62).

God has called us to follow, so we follow.  This is truly exciting and scary at the same time.  But we trust in Him.  He has provided for us in the past.  He will provide for us in the future.

We are moving forward and not looking back.
Forward ever. Backward never.

Bible Books Abbreviations in MLA style

I’ve been writing a lot of essays in the MLA format. One thing I found it hard is to know the abbreviations for each book in the Bible in MLA format. The table below is based on the Common Abbreviations for Books of the Bible — MLA at Henry Buhl Library. They had the books in two separate PDFs and in alphabetical order. Both of which is hard for me to find the books easily. So here’s one table showing all the books in order you find in the Bible.

Book Abbreviation
Genesis Gen.
Exodus Exod.
Leviticus Lev.
Numbers Num.
Deuteronomy Deu.
Joshua Josh.
Judges Judg.
Ruth Ruth
1 Samuel 1 Sam.
2 Samuel 2 Sam.
1 Kings 1 Kings
2 Kings 2 Kings
1 Chronicles 1 Chron.
2 Chronicles 2 Chron.
Ezra Ezra
Nehemiah Neh.
Job Job
Psalm Ps.
Proverbs Prov.
Ecclesiastes Eccles.
Song of Solomon Song of Sol.
Isaiah Isa.
Jeremiah Jer.
Lamentations Lam.
Ezekiel Ezek.
Daniel Dan.
Hosea Hos.
Joel Joel
Amos Amos
Obadiah Obad.
Jonah Jon.
Micah Mic.
Nahum Nah.
Habakkuk Hab.
Zephaniah Zeph.
Haggai Hag.
Zechariah Zech.
Malachi Mal.
Matthew Matt.
Mark Mark
Luke Luke
John John
Acts Acts
Romans Rom.
1 Corinthians 1 Cor.
2 Corinthians 2 Cor.
Galatians Gal.
Epheisans Eph.
Philippians Phil.
Colossians Col.
1 Thessalonians 1 Thess.
2 Thessalonians 2 Thess.
1 Timothy 1 Tim.
2 Timothy 2 Tim.
Titus Tit.
Philemon Philem.
Hebrews Heb.
James Jas.
1 Peter 1 Pet.
2 Peter 2 Pet.
1 John 1 John
2 John 2 John
3 John 3 John
Jude Jude
Revelation Rev.

Cliff’s “Continuing List” for 2017

During the New Years, it is common to do a New Years Resolution.  Though there are some things I’d like to change about myself, there are a few good habits I’d like to keep doing in the coming year.

So without further ado, this is Cliff’s “Continuing List” for 2017.

  1. Continue to Seek God and His Righteousness first

We recently moved back to Canada and I am expecting to be a father early next year.  These are major (wonderful!) changes in our lives.  Recently, my wife mentioned, “Canada is so comfortable.  What would make someone want to do mission overseas?”   We concluded that we shouldn’t let our comfort determine where we live or how we live. Rather, we should continue to seek Jesus and His Righteousness in all that we do.  This means that when Baby Tam comes out, we will still go where He calls us.  Team Tam’s priority will always be God first, wife second, Baby third (and Cliff fourth). 

  1. Study God’s Word

This relates to the first point.  I started the Masters of Divinity program online ever since we were in Africa two years ago.  Slowly, credit by credit, I hope to finish it by the Fall of 2018.  

  1. Criticize less

This is probably the biggest struggle I have, especially on Facebook.  There are many times I felt like writing a comment but I felt the spirit wasn’t right or encouraging.  It might be the right thing to say but if the spirit behind it is not right, I should remove it.  

  1.  Spend more time present and less time online

It is easy to consume our gadgets on the Internet.  I am also a victim of that. My wife would encourage me to put down the phone and have a real conversation one on one.  Lately, I’ve read a lot of articles of how easily infants or youth children get addicted to a gadget.  For me, the biggest challenge is not just telling the children to stop but advising their parents to put down the gadget. 

This is especially true when our little one comes along.  Will I be the physically there but mentally absent parent?  Or will I be there spending good quality time with my wife and Baby Tam so they feel  loved?

  1. ‘Light’ workout

Since 2016, I got back into a routine of exercise.  You would think that I would get into the routine easily given that I used to do triathlon and endurance racing.  But nope.  I love to hit the snooze button and sleep once in a while.  But thanks to my wife, we are exercising together in the morning.  

One thing that I started doing is to work out not to build muscles but rather to keep fit and reduce injury.   I am not pumping and bulking up.  I ain’t doing it to get the six packs the media always advertise.  I am focusing on my core and especially, my lower back which is most neglected for a long time.  The key is to keep the body tune and not lethargic from sitting around all day.  I want to be in good shape physically when I am out on the field. 

That’s about it.  We are so excited for Baby Tam to be part of our family.  With 2017, we are preparing ourselves to labor for His Kingdom in the future.   :)