Archive for the ‘God and Life’ Category

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.   :)

 

Sermon: Finishing Strong

Two Sundays ago, Wai Jia and I had the opportunity to preach one at Generations, Cornerstone Community Church’s Youth Service before we return to Canada.   Every time I preached is a very special occasion.  It is a time to share God’s Word and a time to be used by God as His mouth piece.

Unlike my previous sermons where I used a lot of my own experiences, this time I focused primarily on the Bible.  Knowing that this is the last time we will peach to the youth, I wanted to make sure that what I shared will help them to grow in Christ.

The sermon is entitled, Finishing Strong.


Good afternoon, everyone.  We are so glad to be at Generations.  This will be our last time preaching to you for a while as we are returning to Canada and USA end of this month.  We wanted to share a message that will help you grow in Christ.  

Today, the title of our sermon is Finishing Strong.    Being in Generations, I know you start this race in Christ well.  We always enjoyed worshiping and preaching with you because you are passionate to follow Jesus.  But the key is to finish well.   In all my triathlon races, my goal is always making sure I finished my race strong.   No one participate on a race to quit right? 

This is the same with following Jesus and being a Christian.   What is finishing strong?

In 2 Timothy 4:7, Paul wrote:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

Paul knew he was going to die but he wasn’t sad.  He was joyful because he finished the race and fought the good fight.

You don’t finish strong by cruising to the end of the finish line.  If you see any race, it is the end is where it makes all the difference.  This is the same for our spiritual race.  We have to remain focus and remain steady.

Why should we want to finish strong?  What if we started strong and finish weak?

This is what Jesus has to say about that in Luke 14:28-30:

For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’?

I don’t want anyone of you and myself to be that man.  Who started building the tower and not able to finish.  That’s humiliating!  This is the same as we might as well don’t start.

What does it mean to finish strong then?  What does it look like?

The key for all of us at the end is for Jesus to called us good and faithful servants like in Matthew 25:23.

In the glimpse of eternity, this life on earth is so short!  Notice, after Jesus praised the servant for being a good steward, Jesus told him he will be ruler of many things and the joy of the Lord.  This is the longing in our heart.  That Jesus is proud of what we are doing.

Today I will share three points to help us finish strong.  The first point is crucifying our flesh.

In Galatians 5:24, it says, and those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

What is the flesh?  Our physical body?  In Jesus’ eyes it is:

For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornication, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.Matthew 15:19

Do you have someone that irritates you so much that you get angry every time you see him?  We either blame him or blame Satan for causing us to anger (sin).  But the reality is that it is the nature of our heart that causes us to sin.  These circumstances only reveal our sinful nature.    The more you walk with Jesus, the Holy Spirit will slowly iron these things out of you.  The flesh and the Spirit cannot co-exist.  Like oil and water.  It is either the Spirit or the flesh who reigns in your life.   What does it mean to crucify our flesh?

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:26-27:

Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.

Paul doesn’t blame others or the church or his leaders.  He knows that it is only him who is responsible for disciplining his own body into subjection.  Don’t think just because you are serving in church or involve in some big ministry that you will be exempted from crucifying your flesh.  Paul has the biggest ministry we ever known.  He was planting churches and preaching the Gospel everywhere.  He was so filled with the Holy Spirit that he could raise people from the dead, speak in tongues, healings, visions and dreams.  But yet, he didn’t say well I am so useful in God’s Kingdom I am sure God doesn’t mind my sinful desire.  NO.  He said,  I discipline my body so after I have preached to others, I myself do not become disqualified.

Crucifying your flesh takes time.  Crucifixion is slow, painful and suffering death.  The Roman Empire use crucifixion only for the worst criminal because they want to make them suffer.  This is the same for us when we crucify our flesh.  The first time you try, it will feel painful and you might not get it right.  Like not getting angry at someone irritating you.  But just because you failed, it doesn’t mean you should quit.  Some of you live with so much guilt because of your sins.  I want to tell you don’t beat yourself up for your sins.  Jesus who died for your sins to restore you back to Him, He can help you crucify your flesh.  Yes, you sin.  You repent, ask God for forgiveness and ask for the Holy Spirit to help you try again.  The more you try, the better you get at crucifying you flesh. 

When I first do triathlon, I couldn’t swim more than two laps. For the Ironman triathlon I had to swim 50 laps.  So I needed help. I joined a swimming class and they split us up into three groups: the fast swimmers, the slow swimmers and myself.   I was so bad that the coach put me in my own lane. 

During the class, he will talk to each group to work on techniques and how to get better strokes.  For me? He just told me to kick.  I was awful.  But I didn’t quit. 

I was so determined to learn to swim I would go to the pool two times a day.  6 am in the morning and after work.  I go to the pool so often I showered more there than at home.  I got to the pool just to do drills. Kick.  Kick. Kick.  Do you think the drills are fun? NO!  But I do them because I know that’s the only way to get better.  I always joke that the reason why there are two lifeguards in the pool is because they are afraid I am going to drown.  Five months later, I swim 10 laps nonstop.  That was my victory.  At that point, I knew I could swim 50 laps. 

Why am I telling this?  Crucifying your flesh is like how I learn to swim.  You might not be joyful doing it but the outcome is good for you.  Second, you can’t do it on your own.  Without a coach telling me to lift my elbows and to kick properly, I can’t correct my own strokes.  This is the same as crucifying your flesh.  We need the Holy Spirit to reveal to us what we need to crucify. 

Do you think your jealousy, you anger, your lust, your cheating, your envy will go away if you don’t crucify them?  No way. They stay with you and fester the older you grow.  But once you overcome and have victory through the Holy Spirit, you will have victory over that sin forever.

So what are other fleshly desire that you need to kill? How about not yelling at your parents and honoring them even when they are not right.  Or swearing, lying, cursing.  Just take a look at what you post on the internet, Facebook, Snapchat, Whatsapp lately.   Are you comfortable showing them to your leader? If you are not, clearly your heart is not right.  Sometime we think we are so smart, like on Snapchat, no one will ever find out what we post or we can stay anonymous online.  But God ain’t blind.  There will be a day when He will hold us accountable to everything we post.

That’s point one.  Now the second point to finishing strong, what is it?  After crucifying our flesh, what do we need to do?

The second point is surrendering.

If you’ve been a Christian and you never once had to lay down your rights, there’s something wrong with your walk with Jesus.   When we say, Jesus is my Lord and my Savior, we mean He is our Lord in all aspect of our lives.  All means everything.

This is what Jesus says about surrendering, let’s go to John 21:18-19:

… when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.”

Peter denied Jesus three times and Jesus is speaking to Peter after Jesus resurrected.  Isn’t that ironic?  The older you become, the more independence you should have right?  You tell your parents I am this age and I can make my own decisions.  But following Jesus is the opposite. When you are a baby Christian, you can do anything you want.  But the more you walk with Jesus, the more you draw close to Him, the more the Holy Spirit will take you and guide you.  The more He reveal to some areas of you life that doesn’t glorify Him.  You want to go left but the Holy Spirit is prompting you to go right. What do you do?  Do you surrender and obey the Holy Spirit?  You want to scold someone in your cell for messing up but instead the Holy Spirit is telling you to encourage him.  What do you do?  These crossroads are where you know whether you are lord or Jesus is the Lord over your life. 

Surrendering also means laying down my expectations of what it means to do God’s work.

From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.

Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!”

But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.Matthew 16:21-24

We have pre-conceived notions of what we expect God to be.  Sometimes we are egotistic in our own ways we don’t even ask God about what He desires.   Why did Peter rebuke Jesus?  This passage comes just after Peter told Jesus He is the Messiah, the Christ.  In Peter eyes, there’s no way the Messiah will be killed.  The disciples were all waiting for the Messiah to come and take Jerusalem back from the Roman Empire.  They were expecting Jesus to be the triumphant King because He is the Messiah, the Savior. They wanted Jesus to overthrow the Pharisees and the chief priests.  How can Jesus tell them He will be killed? 
A dead Messiah is a failed Messiah.   How can a dead Savior save anyone?

That was what the disciples expected God to do.  They didn’t understand what God is doing and that Jesus was to come as a sacrifice for all mankind.  They only mindful of the things of man and not the things of God. 

Sometimes we are so busy with our own ministry that we only think of our ministry as MINE ministry.  And we are so selfish to hang onto our own ministry we don’t even think about others.  This is pride and it goes against what God desires.

Therefore, I say you have to surrender everything, even your own expectations of doing God’s Work.

How can you apply this? 

First thing first, in everything you do, ask God first.  This means choosing schools, courses and careers and even ministry.  Will you give up a good school because God wants you to go somewhere else for His Kingdom?  That’s surrendering.

Just because you are gifted at something doesn’t mean this is where God is calling you.  God is not looking for those who have talents.  He is looking at someone who is willing to surrender everything to follow Him.  We think talents and gifting are so important.  Look at the twelve disciples. Most of them are just fishermen. They are not highly educated.  They are not your elites.  God used them because they gave up all and depend whole-heartedly on God.  

Look at Moses, why did God chose Moses?  Because he can speak? No, he’s stutters.  Because of his youth? He was 80!  But because he surrendered and was willing to follow God, God used Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian captivity.

To summarize point two, surrendering to Jesus is instead of telling God what I want to do, we go to God and asks Him what does He wants me to do EVEN if I have to lay down my rights, I will do it.

This leads me to the last point, after crucifying your flesh and surrendering your rights….what do we have left?  To become a bondservant of God.

Paul wrote this in Philippians 2:5-8:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

Jesus took the form of a bondservant.  That is the mindset Paul is telling us to have.

What is a bondservant?

Bondservant is basically a slave.  It is one who belongs to another.  It is voluntarily. 

All of these points I spoke you are voluntarily. I can’t make you crucify your flesh if you don’t want to.  I can’t make your surrender your rights if you hang on to them.    Your leaders can’t make you.  Jesus never demand anyone to follow Him. He asks.  He never begs.  Even when people leave Him, He doesn’t chase after Him. 

Paul wrote that we should have the same mindset as Jesus Christ, take on a form of a servant.  What does that mean?  Here are three qualities of a bondservant. 

The first one is humility.   How do you know if you are humble? The first is how you relate to one another. 

In Philippians 2:3, Paul wrote this:

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.

Like in a cell, do you always feel you must get your way or make your point across.  Do you think you are better than everyone else? Do you treat others better than you do to yourself?

The next quality related to humility is meekness.  In the Bible, meekness is related to a lamb.  When you think of a lamb, you think of a very gentle animal.  It is not aggressive or demanding. 

Jesus is described like a lamb in Isaiah 53:7:

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth;

He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,

So He opened not His mouth.

Do you always have to fight for your rights?  If you don’t, fight, you lose, right?  Jesus never fought back.  He was silent.  Look at what the Bible says about fighting back:

Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,”says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink;

For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.Romans 12:19-21

Have you ever got in a situation where you want to fight back and you hold yourself back.  Have you try to overcome evil with good.  You bless your enemies instead of curse. This is meekness. 

This world doesn’t value meekness.  Look at Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Wolverine, just name any hero.  Are they meek?  No way!  Think of anyone who is in K Pop or J Pop or in Hollywood.  Are they meek?  Most likely not.  But this is what God values.  He said in the Beatitudes, blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

For me, meekness is hard, especially on Facebook.  Sometimes I tell my wife, I am so angry about what others write on Facebook I just want to tell them off.  I have a friend from Secondary School who always comment on my posts about Christianity. He always post nasty things about Christians and I am so ready to write back and to explain everything and proof him wrong.  But my wife, being holier, told me not to write back in anger.  So I pray to the Holy Spirit on what should I do.  The response I got from God was instead of writing back I should pray for his salvation?  So every time I think about him and how much he hurt me with those comments, I just pray for God to open his heart and intercede on his behalf.  Now I am not saying you shouldn’t respond back.  Every situation is different.  The key is in your attitude and your heart. 

The last quality is obedience.  A servant must do what his master tell him to do.  This is key.  There’s no point in sitting and listening to a sermon and don’t do anything about it.  That’s a waste of time. A true sign of following Jesus is that you obey.  You might not agree or you might not want to.  Just like Jesus, part of Him doesn’t want to take the cross. It is painful.  But He chose to do it bc He obeyed His Father.

Before taking the cross, Jesus prayed.

O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me, nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.Matt 26:39

Not our will but as You will.

So what did we get from all of this?  What did we get for being humble, for being meek and for obeying.  If we go back to the Philippians passage:

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every namePhillippians 2:9

God exalt those who are humble.   God leads us to situation where we have to humble ourselves.  But He won’t do it for us.  Only you can humble yourself.  And when we humble ourselves.  God will exalt us.  Of course, we won’t be exalted as Jesus did because Jesus is our Lord and Savior.

The problem we have is that we often get this wrong.  We think we must exalt ourselves or no one will know what we can do.  Like flash our CVs, show what we can do and proof ourselves to the top.   This is what the world does right?  But not with following Jesus.  He said if you want to be the top, you have to go down and serve.

So how do we finish strong? 

We crucify our flesh, we surrender our rights and carry our crosses and we become a bondservant by being humble, focus on meekness and be total obedience.

We all desire and expect a big move from God.  This is not wrong but we cannot neglect carrying our crosses and denying ourselves daily.  It is these little day by day small obedience that changes your heart.  From the outside you don’t look different but if you keep at doing this, I can guarantee you in a few years when you look back, you will realize how much you have changed in Christ. 

When I first follow Jesus, I never expected any of this.  At that time I remembered I want to do more triathlon and Ironman races.  But once I started to follow Jesus, I tasted His goodness.  The more I followed Him, the more I wanted to follow Him.  Crucifying my flesh, surrendering my rights and being a bondservant, oh yeah, I want it all.  Why? Because I want at the end of my life, Jesus can call me a good and faithful servant.  That’s really what it matters in life.   Everything I do, all the races, all the medals and all that fanfare ain’t that important.  They come and go.  But bringing joy to the Father by doing His Will and hitting His calling, that will last forever.  For that, I am willing to go all out.

          Finishing strong ain’t just for a selected few.  It is for those who wanted Jesus so badly. God brought us on this journey and we are still figuring out what it means to finish strong.  As He leads us to the next adventure, I am going to invite my wife to come up and share our story on how God is teaching us to finish strong.

cliff-wj-sharing-finish-strong

Joy in Obedience

It has been a while since I blog.  In fact, our times in Uganda and now back in Singapore have been quiet on the blog front.  On my desktop there are many word docs saved.  Each doc is a blog post which I started but never finished.

I am now 36 and moving quickly into 40s.  I am now in a period of my life where I often reflect my past.

It has been more than ten years since I became a Christian.  Looking back, a lot has changed.   I was in Canada back then. I was participated in triathlon and endurance sports.

Now I am in Singapore for this season and married to Wai Jia for almost four years.  I am now working at church.

Last night I was teaching at church on Short Term Missions.  After sharing our stories and experiences in Uganda, I whatsapped her later the night that we had a lot of good experiences following the Lord.

Following the Lord.  This is what it means to be a Christian.  Where Jesus calls, we go.  It is simple and difficult.  It sounds almost too easy and almost impossible.

Deep in my heart, I wouldn’t want to do anything else.

A while ago I preached that following Jesus will cost everything we have.  When we think about that, the first thought tends to be sorrow.  I am going to miss that and I am going to give up that.  But, if the Holy Spirit is in us, there is also an abundance joy of doing so.  So it is both.  It is sorrow and joy.  Joy and sorrow.

But at the end of the day, it is all about obedience.

And this is what it really matters at the end.

Wai Jia and I are once again in this crossroad.  Where we might have to give up everything and follow the Lord.  Where He goes, we follow.  There will be sorrow but I realized there are much joy when we obey.

Selling everything in Canada to move to Singapore is fill with sorrow but it is overshadow by the joy of obedience to Jesus.

Before we went to Uganda, we did the same thing.  We never thought we would be back in Singapore so soon (at least not after one year).

One thing I keep praying to the Lord and for each of us is that we never lose this desire to seek Jesus when we get old.

There’s no point in being burning hot for Christ in the beginning and end up cold and harden at the end.  When you race, you want to finish the race strong.

So we continue to pray and seek the Lord.

And we know He is a good God.  He is more than proven by the experiences we had of following Him in the past few years.

: )

Speaking at Q Commons on Resilience and Faith

Last night I had the privilege of speaking at Q Commons (Singapore).  Q Commons is an event bringing like-minded Christians and non-Christians to discuss how to advance the common good in our community.

My topic was Finding resilience through my faith in Christ.

I haven’t spoke on my own journey for a long time.  It was a refreshing time for the audience and also for me as I recalled how the Lord rescued me from cancer, gave me a second chance and took me to places where I never thought possible.  cliff-speaking-q-commons

 


25 yrs ago I should have been six feet underground. I can only imagine what went through my parent’s mind when they told them their son had cancer. There was a massive growth in the liver and there is no way I could live without a transplant. The doctors gave me 6 months to live and the waiting list is much longer than that.
At that time, I couldn’t process all this meant to me and my family. All I know was that because of my family’s decision to migrate to Canada, it was through a routine check that the doctor found out something wrong with me.little-cliff-bike

This sequence of events proved to me that I am standing here today, alive and well, is not random nor by accident. Looking back, I knew God wanted me to live. After my liver transplant, He gave me a second chance. A second chance to live with purpose.

cliff-riding 

At the age of 27, I completed an Ironman event.  An Ironman event consists 4 km of swimming, 180 km of cycling and a marathon all in one day. It didn’t started off like this, of course. Like all things in life, it started off small. I started running. Picked up cycling again and later learn to swim. After finishing a small triathlon, I thought maybe, just maybe I could do an Ironman. It is just a little longer right?

Doing an Ironman is like wrestling with a Gorilla. You don’t stop when you’re tired. You stop when the Gorilla is tired.

Cliff Tam running in the Ironman USA 2007I completed the course in 14 hours of grueling heat, strong prevailing wind and pain in places I never thought possible.  At the end of the Ironman, I started to cry. I almost felt like I was hallucinating. I felt God is telling me to give up my life to follow Him. I knew that I was alive not by accident but because of His love and care for me.

After doing the Ironman, I believe that there are no limits to what we can achieve when we choose to rely on Him and fulfill His purpose in our lives. Of all the things I’ve done, finishing the Ironman was probably the greatest achievement. But that wasn’t the most important thing in my life. I realize the purpose of my life is not for my sake but for His.

Years later, through a ‘divine’ accident, I got married to the most beautiful woman in the world. Living half way across the world, 10,000 miles apart. It was impossible to start a relationship. It was not even rational or logical.

cliff-wjYet, I knew God has a purpose for both of our lives, given the same heartbeat we have for the poor and the needy. When I decided to lay down the love of triathlon, I know God is taking me to a whole new adventure.

Sure, I can continue to compete in triathlon, winning medals and giving glory back to Him. It would be the sensible thing to do. It would be an inspiring story. But I knew that wouldn’t be obedient to Him. God has a different purpose. It was only after I surrender triathlon, God brought me to Singapore and made this relationship possible.

wj-kids

Through this woman, God changed my life once again.  Three months ago, my wife and I returned from a one year stint serving in Uganda.

When we started this journey to Africa, everyone thought we were crazy. Being a medical doctor, my wife, more than anybody else knows the risks that it poses to my health to be in Africa. Having a liver transplant means that I am on immuno-suppressant drug everyday. It means I am easier to catch disease and could not take the yellow fever vaccination which is compulsory for entry into Uganda. But once again, when we thought there’s no other way, instead of giving up as many suggested, we made a stand to pray and seek God. He, as always, is faithful and we were off to Uganda.

cliff-wj-kidsDuring our one year stint, as we obey God’s calling to serve the poor, my wife and I saw Him open doors and performed miracles neither of us dare to imagine. I believe that life, whether in Africa or in Singapore, always have an element of risk.  But, it is when we made a choice to allow God to take over and obey His calling, there is nowhere safer on this earth than in the palms of our father’s hands.

Today, my challenge to you is this. How are you living your life?

Resilience is not inborne. I was not born with it but I believe the circumstances in my life, God taught me obedience. And through that obedience, trust. Through trusting, He grew resilience inside of me which then allowed me to live my faith as it is today.

Resilience is available for everyone but only when we allow Him to develop it inside of us. It is not develop by our own strength or will. It is available when we are willing to lay down our lives and surrender what we wanted for God’s highest calling.

Resilience is a choice and a way of life IF we allowed God to bend and mold us as He pleases. He is trust-worthy because He is our creator and the author and the perfector of our faith.

To end off, I would encourage you to choose a life of total surrendering and obedience. For only then, can God work out true resilience in us to live for His highest Glory.

Thank you.

See you later, Uganda

In a few hours, Wai Jia and I will be hopping on a plane leaving Uganda.

I haven’t blog much about our experience in Africa. The past year was a year of laboring for the Lord and experiencing the faithfulness of His goodness. I am leaving with ever more desire to serve Him and seek His Kingdom and His righteousness. I am leaving realizing that the Word of God is a two edged sword and I still need training on how to use it effectively and not cut myself in the process.

For the past year, we’ve been teaching at the Bible School and work alongside with the local church in various ministries (sewing and beading and training teachers to de-worm kids). We have built many friendships and enjoyed their fellowship. One of the things we will miss the most is the worship in Ugandan church. It is simply vibrant.

Teaching at the Bible School really shaped me to see the need to know the Bible and be able to explain doctrines clearly and concise. Last night, Wai Jia and I discussed with each other about some of the changes we expect when we go back to Singapore. We are using materials designed to help missionaries return back home. One of the items we discussed is the change in our spirituality while in Uganda. I can see Wai Jia has grown a lot in understanding the Bible. As for myself, I hope so as well. Though I feel like I am still illeterate when it comes to knowing Scriptures.

As we are leaving our friends behind, we often wonder what will happen to them. Will they be ok? One of the pastors we worked alongside went into the hospital a few days ago with a major operation. What about him? What about our ministries and the projects that we were part of? The Sewing and Beading ministry. Will this continue to grow? Will it transform lives?

In all things, they are not in my control but in His Soveriegn care. We are learning to trust. We are simply given the privilege to be His Workmen in Uganda in this brief period.

If God is willing, He will bring us back.

As for now, we are heading back to Singapore and serve Him there. As for me, Singapore will be a period of spiritual training as I continue to study my M Div online. What’s more important though, is not the grades or a few letters behind my name but rather a strong and living relationship with God. That’s the key and source of life when we go back on the field. When? We don’t know. We simply trust and wait.

see-you-later-ugandaPhoto with children and friends on our last day at Cornerstone Entebbe, the church where we served and worshipped in Uganda.

 

When Empathy is not enough (a missionary musing)

Before coming to Uganda with my wife as missionaries, I served in Singapore for 2 ½ years.   Singapore was the first place where I served as a long term missionary.   Given that Singapore is well developed, you would think it was easy for me to transit, right?   Unfortunately, my experience was far from smooth.   My wife had to spend many nights listening to me feeling the sense of loss of my home, friends, and family.     Though I am Chinese from descent (I was born in Hong Kong), I am more ‘Ang Mo’, a Singaporean term to describe Westerners, given that I spent more than 20 years living in Canada.  Living back in Asia was a shock to my system in various ways.

For many missionaries, homesickness, loneliness, missing friends, and family are often some of the stressors one experiences on the field.  Lately, I noticed there were a number of posts published online about the suffering a missionary goes through.  Unfortunately, for me, these posts tend to discourage rather than encourage.   They list a bunch of things a missionary suffers but do not offer solutions to them.  These posts might make me feel like someone out there understands my situation.  But for me, empathy is not enough.  I need more.

During those times on the field when I am down, my encouragement comes from reading the Bible.  Paul, as an apostle (and also a missionary),  suffered much for Christ.  Whenever I open the book of Philippians, I am inspired by Paul’s desire to follow Christ, even to discount all things as a loss (Phil 3:8).  His message to the church of Philippi is not merely to say ‘yes, things suck’.  Rather, he not only stated the trials he went through but also brought the Philippi church up and encouraged them to keep the faith.  Yes, things are not going to be good.  But it is worth it.  Paul is the right person to say this.  He wasn’t sitting in an Ivory tower and giving orders.  After all, he was

  • Five times beat with forty stripes minus one
  • Three times beat with rods
  • Stoned once
  • Three times shipwrecked
  • A night and a day in the deep
  • In perils of water, robbers, own countrymen (Jews), Gentiles, in city, in wilderness, in seas, in false brothers, in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness, in hunger and thirst, in fastings, in cold and nakedness

Source: 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 (NKJV)

If Paul, the one who suffered so much for the Gospel, can keep going, I can take that message.  This is a message that gives me hope and courage.

While we were here in Uganda, we had an experienced missionary who told us that people from back home will disappoint us.  Now, this might sound negative but this is a reality.  The reality is that no one at home will truly understand 100% what we are going through.  There was a time when I was upset at my friends and supporters for their lack of sensitivity.  But after a while, I needed to move on.  It is ok if people do not understand.  It is ok because the source of my strength is not from them.  It is by looking at Jesus that we can continue to labor in joy despite hardships.   Following Jesus is a hard thing to do.  When we talk about labor for Him, it really means to labor with sweat, toil, and heartache.   But at the end, it is worth it.  It is important to keep the end in mind.

I remembered my first Half Ironman (a very long triathlon event).  I was 10 km from the finish line.  We started in the morning and by then, it was noontime and it was hot.  Even though the triathlon is an individual race, there are times when you race together to encourage each other.   In Ecclesiastes, Solomon said that two is better than one and a cord of three strands will not break (Ecc 4:12).  It is especially true in triathlon.

I somehow ended up with two other participants.   We exchange a few words as we jogged along.   One of the participants began to complain how hard the course was and how hot she was feeling.  The more I listened to her, the more I did not want to listen.  Realizing her words were not helping me to keep going, I wished her well and ran ahead.

I did the same race a few years later.  Once again, the race was hot and muggy.  This time I hadn’t trained as much and was struggling.  At around the same part of the race, I gave up and started to walk.  Just as I was trotting along and making up every reason why I should walk, a much older gentleman passed me.  As he passed me, he turned around and waved at me to keep going.   In triathlon, it is common for them to write down your age at the back of your calf.  This person had a 60 on his calf!  I told myself, if someone twice as old as I could keep going, I could as well.   I started jogging again and caught up with him.  This man was very encouraging and we exchanged words to keep each other going to the end.

It is the same when we labor for the Lord.  The situation is difficult and it is tough.  We will feel lonely and a sense of loss.  But we need to encourage one another to keep moving and keep our eye on the eternal crown.  He is the strength and the source for us to keep going.  Life is short and we need to accomplish all the things He marked us to do.   The suffering we are going through is temporary compared to the glorious eternal prize we will achieve when He calls us, ‘good and faithful servants’.  AMEN!

 

“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”Philippians 3:12-14 (NKJV)

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9 (NKJV)