Posts Tagged ‘Following Jesus’

Coast

On my triathlon bike, I have a computer that measures my cadence, speed and various things. It also measures how long I pedal on my bike.   So whenever I go for a long training ride, the time on my watch will measure the total time of my ride. The bike computer will measure the actual time I pedal. There’s always be a difference.

If you are riding for fun, this is not that important. However, if you are actually training for a specific race, you need to be as precise as possible to find out exactly how long you have been training.  Whenever we are on the bike, it is very easy to coast. That is, once we ride fast enough, we let the momentum to keep us going. We can give our legs a little break or rest.

The goal for training is to spend as much time working the body as possible.  In other words, it is important to keep the time difference between total ride time and the actual pedal time to be as small as possible.

The truth is the idea of coasting is very attractive especially when you’ve been out on the road for hours. Your legs are burning and they are aching. You are thirsty and you just want to stop. My training buddy always tell me whenever I am dying to keep pedaling. Don’t stop.  This is a lesson I learnt early on during my triathlon days.

Whenever my legs are busted from climbing a hill, I will talk myself to keep pedaling and keep my legs moving.

In other words,

Don’t coast.

 

At the end of the ride, the time on the bike computer doens’t lie. It tells you honestly whether you are training hard or just coasting.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about this to a Christian life. I asked myself often, am I coasting as a Christian? Being in the Christian circle long enough, you will hear people who say they’ve been Christian for so and so years.  But the time being a Christian doesn’t mean anything. Just as owning a triathlon bike for many years doesn’t mean I am a fit.

It is easy to get a quick high from attending a Christian conference, listen to a great speaker or even go on a mission trip, then just coast the rest of our Christian walk. Well, I’ve been to this country before and shared Christ and now I can live my own life after doing my Christian duty.

This shouldn’t be. I can confess that while in Singapore I’ve been coasting. It is very subtle.  At first it is simply stop reading the Bible once in a while.  Then sin becomes more attractive.  The desire to labor for the Lord slows down.  I become complacent.

It is interesting how Paul describes in Philippians that even him, one of the Apostles, continued to focus on the Lord so he doesn’t disqualify himself.  If he needs to remain steady, fixing his eyes on Jesus, how much more should I (or should we?)

I believe a better way to measure someone’s growth in Christ, or his/her maturity, is not merely the time they go to church or how long they’ve become a Christian.  Rather, it is whether they still have the passion for the Lord.

Are they (am I) have the urgency to share the Good News (1 Corinthians 9:16)?

Are they (am I) still hate sin and crucify my flesh (1 Corinthians 6:18)?

Are they (am I) still depend on Him for my daily bread (Matthew 6:11)?

In any cycling race, between the first place and the second place is often mere seconds apart.  The one who doesn’t coast in his training is the one who can be strong to endure to get the first place.  May we continue to press in so we get the Heavenly reward.

 

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. rothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ JesusPhilippians 3:12-14 NIV

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.1 Corinthians 9:24-27 NIV

A New Year to Follow the Lord

It must be around 25 when I started to count my age and realize how little time I have left on earth.  When I was younger I never thought like this.  We all think we will live forever.  As one year passes, I realized that time is short.  In April, I am turning 34.  In a blink of an eye, I will be turning 44.  Who knows (well, God knows) that I might not live to then?  No one can predict their time on earth.  As Francis Chan said, ‘each one of us has a time stamp when the Lord created us.’

The question I asked myself lately, it ain’t as much where I want to go, where I want to eat, or what new toys I want to get.  Rather, I am asking myself am I investing for the Kingdom?  I know it sounds so weird.  Yes, Kingdom of God is important.  But really? What does it mean? In the whole grand scheme of things, if I am going follow Jesus and be His disciples, how important it is to do His Work in sharing the Good News, in helping the poor and in taeching others His ways?  The answer is easy, VERY IMPORTANT.

Last Sunday, the pastor preached on the First Ressurecction (Revlation 21).  He warned us that we better be sure we are going to make it to heaven because eternity is a long time to regret.  I remembered what Jesus said in Matthew 25 using the parable of the Ten Virgins.  There were ten virgins waiting to meet the bridegroom at night.  Each of them has a lamp.  Five of them were wise and took oil for their lamps. The other five were foolish and didn’t bring any oil.  As the foolish virgins went out to buy oil, the bridegroom came and the foolish virgins missed the wedding banquet.

At the end of the Parable, Jesus reminded His disciples to keep watch.

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.Matthew 25:13 NIV

We are called to keep watch.  I will admit that anticipating for Jesus to come back is not always on top of my priority.  Yesterday, I told my friend that we probably don’t think Jesus will come back any time soon.  Afterall, it is already 2000 plus years since His Ressurecction and Ascendsion to heaven.  Really? He will come back anytime now?

If we sit down and see the things we worry and the things we focus on on our list, I can easily say that most of them are for this life time.  Maybe retirement (that’s about 30 years from now).  Maybe getting a car (that’s within a year or two if you are working).  Maybe finishing University (3-4 years).  Or getting married (a few years depending on the stage of your relationship).

You might think surely these are practical things we need to be mindful on.   Of course, they are.  What I seeing is that these shouldn’t always be top priority of our lives.  Yes, they are important but they are secondary importance.

So what does it mean to keep watch?  We can go back to what Jesus said before He left earth…

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

When we see what happened afterwards in the Book of Acts, we see that there’s a great urgency to preach the Gospel until the end of the earth.  The disciples were focus and filled with passion.  They had urgency.

Lately, this is what I’ve been praying and discerning.  That I too have this urgency.  Wouldn’t it be a shame when I see Jesus and He asked me what I have done for His Kingdom and I can’t show anything?  This is my on going prayer for 2014 and onwards as well.  I need to keep pressing in and keep seeking so that one day I can hear the words, ‘good and faithful servant.’

On the first day of 2014, Wai Jia and I prayed together.  We gave thanks for how the Lord worked in our lives in the last year.  I prayed for us to be bold and courageous as we are stepping into 2014.  There will be many changes and transitions.   There will be many challenges as well.  At the same time, there are many opportunities for us to prepare and to do His Work :).

Time is short.  Let’s make the best of it.

The poor you will always have with you

A while ago during fellowship, someone said, “well Jesus said we will always have the poor.” I wasn’t sure what we were talking about.  Maybe it was about the poor.  Then we talked about something else.

For the longest time, I felt there’s something not right when it comes to using this line.  What does it really mean when we say that we will always have the poor?  More importantly, what does Jesus means when He said that?  What is He implying?

This had been nagging in the back of my head for the longest time.  First, let’s go to the Bible and see where Jesus said this.  We find this line in Mark 14:

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”Mark 14:3-9 (NIV)

Side note, this is also mentioned in John 12:7.

From the passage in Mark, we noticed a few things:

  1. Jesus was in Simon the Leper’s house (verse 3).  A leper in Jesus’ days is considered a social outcast.  This means that financially he is not well off (aka he is poor).
  2. Notice what it says in the rest of verse 7 (The poor you will always have with you,  and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me).  Jesus is implying that the disciples should help the poor whenever they want.  This means that as disciples of Jesus, it is regular practice for them to help the poor.
  3. Lastly, this is a unique circumstance because the woman is preparing Jesus’ body for burial.  If we look at Jesus’ ministry, He always help those who are in need (feeding the five and four thousands, healing the blind etc.)

Earlier this week I was reading The Hole in the Gospel by Richard Stearns (President of World Vision).  In one chapter he quoted the same line in Deuteronomy 15:

There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.Deuteronomy 15:11 (NIV)

My eyes nearly popped when I read this.  The whole chapter 11 focuses on erasing debt, compassion and generousity when it comes to helping the poor.

If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.Deuteronomy 15:7-11 (NIV)

When we say there will always be poor people, what are we implying?  More importantly, how should we respond?

There are two ways…

  1. We see that the poor is always with us. The problem is too big for us to do anything about it.  Therefore we do nothing.  We continue to live our lives and let other people and maybe the government to do something about it.
  2. We response with generousity and in compassion.  We help those who are poor and needy.

 

From my own experience whenever this line is use, we tend to do the first option.  Yes, there are many people who are in need.  But didn’t Jesus say the poor is with us?  Let’s move on to something else.

This line should encourage us to help each other to be more generous and compassion.  Both Wai Jia and I are learning how this looks like in our lives.   Recently among our busy schedule, a friend, Dennis, contacted us that he needed help.   We went and visited him a few weeks ago. Due to his financial situations, he had to move into a one room flat (that is one room living space and a washroom) with a stranger.  As we visited his place, he told us that he needed a washing machine and a bedframe.

After talking among ourselves, we decided to help Dennis.  Wai Jia asked for help on her blog and we were able to raise the funds to get what he needed.  The bedframe and the washing machine was delivered to his place last Friday.  He couldn’t be happier.  It was an early Christmas present for him.  

Sometimes when these circumstances come my way, I know that it is very easy to have excuse. I am too busy. I am too tired. I have other things I need to do for God.   I have my own responsibility.
May we never become so self focus that we neglect the poor…

…because the poor we will always have with us.

 

Grandma

I lived in Hong Kong until I was eight before my family moved to Canada.  Hong Kong has a special place in my heart.  I have fond memories of my relatives and cousins gathering together during Chinese New Year and other holidays.  For Christmas, I would stay at my grandparents (my mother’s side).  They would put up a Christmas tree filled with ornaments.   One type of those ornaments was a small present tied together with a bow.  Even though the inside was nothing more than a styprofoam cube, I would unwrap one of them each visit.

Earlier this year, New York Times published an article describing those who know their family background fare better in life.  By understanding our heritage, we become more resilient in lives’ uncertainties.   I am beginning to realize there’s certain truth in that as I reflect my family heritage.  

With Wai Jia and I looking to serve overseas next year and then going back to Canada to renew my Health Care, we figure we won’t be able to visit Hong Kong for a few years.  With this in mind, last weekend we went back for a short visit.  Being in Singapore for the past two years, I had the privilege of going back to Hong Kong more often than when I lived in Canada.  Each time when I go back, I gained gain another piece of my heritage.

My visit in Hong Kong always include seeing my 90 year-old Grandma.  She’s a fragile old lady with immense joy, peace and full of faith.   Since most of my relatives are not believers, it was a special moment for me to spend time with the same faith and raised me when I was young.   She had a simple faith. There’s no deep doctrine discussion.  Nothing about Calvinist vs Arminian.  Nor Reform vs Charismatic.  Nothing about mission methods.  Simple and yet, deep faith.

Her church gave her Chinese poetry.   Each line contains only three characters.  But these three little characters will contain a piece of divine truth.  Every morning she will go for a walk in the park.  As she stroll, she will recite the poem.  It will take her thirty minutes to recite the whole poem.  Despite her age, her mind is very active.  She knows that 30 minute = 5,000 steps.  Since her walk takes one hour, her walk to the park will take 10,000 steps.  Afterwards she goes back home and exercise some more.  While exercisinng she will recite Scriptures as well! Wow, what an active phsyical life and spiritual life!

It was such a joy and frill to hear her daily prayer for us.   It is seeing my grandma to have such a deep hunger for prayer that re-ignite my own prayer life.   It is also an encouragement for me out here in Singapore to have a family interceding on my behalf.  With all the things we worried when going on the field, medication, financial support, enough clothes for our back, at the end or at the beginning in following Christ is prayer and faith.   All the other things are secondary, we need to stay close to God.  He will guide us and open the door for us.

I don’t know if I will see her again.  I wish I will (at least on earth).  I often wished I have more time to hold on to to spend time with my family, my relatives and my love ones.  But given the short two years in Hong Kong, we do the best that we can.  With lots of hugs and farewell, we left the little unit and said good bye to my grandma and my aunt.

grandma_cliff_waijia

grandma_cliff_waijia_1

A Boat Bobbing in an Ocean

For the past few weeks, many people inquired about the future of my wive and me.

My role with OMF is for two years.  I decided to renew for six more months to finish up some of the projects that I am involve in.  I can say, the next few weeks and months will be very busy as I am helping to revamp and upgrade a key part of their IT system.

As much as it is great for people to pray for us, it is also a trying period in our lives. Many people, with good intention, ask about our future.  And to our best intention, we do not have any answers.

Where are you going to go after OMF?
I don’t know.

What about staying in Singapore?  Have you thought about that?
Yes, but we are letting the Lord to guide us.

What about your work visa? What happens if it expires?
I do not know.  I can ask for an extension.  But really we don’t think we will stay here for long.

What about going to Canada?  Have you consider that?
Yes, we have.  Shared about our tales in Canada….then decided to go on mission.

What will you do if you are going on mission for a year or two?
I have no idea.

Has God revealed to you where you will be going?
Not yet.

 

As you can see, it is not much of a conversation. In a way, it sounds rather negative.  Just no no no no and more no.  To be honest, I do not know and Wai Jia does not know.  This is not due to the fact that we are naive and unprepare.  Though our answers seem to point to us that we never consider our responsibility and practicality.  It does sound like we are irresponsible.  We have to think about our future.  Where will we take care of our family?  What about savings?  What about my own health?  What about Wai Jia’s career?

The truth of the matter is that we both discuss, think and pray through many of these scenarios.

Today, I had a little revelation of our current situation.

It is an image of a small boat bobbing up and down among a temptest in a vast ocean.   Imagine if you will you are sitting on this wooden little boat. 

We are in a scenario in which we have little to control.  There are scenarios and there are possibilities.  There are dangers and risks.

The storm of the seas pushes this boat up and down.  The raining is pouring and lightning is all around you.  The boat is so fragile and so small.  At any moment one wave will push the boat over. 

I immediately thought of the story of Jesus calming the sea.   Just like how my image of a boat among the storm, the disciples were in the same predicament.  Jesus was sound asleep.  In their fear, they cried out to Jesus to calm the storm.  Jesus rebuked the storm and told the disciples they had little faith. The disciples were stunned.  Who is He with the authority and power to stop a storm?

And so I found myself in the same scenario.  Jesus is in the boat.  So am I.  He is also sound asleep.  Am I afraid?  Definitely!  At the same time I know if Jesus is with me, things will be alright.  So among the storms and the unknown, I am resting in Him.

 

He is taking us deeper than both of us experience.   I know I need to go deeper.  I need to build up my faith.  We need to press in.

He is taking us deeper than both of us experience.  We are on journey rock back and forth by the waves of uncertainty, doubt and risk.  In the stormiest of our lives, we rest on His Grace and His Faith.

Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him.  Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping.  The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!Matthew 8:23-27 NIV

His Glory or my glory

Ever since I got married, one of the things I tried to save time is to iron all my shirts at once.  Since it is a mindless activity, I will go to Youtube and listen to a sermon or two.  Lately, I’ve been listening to Ravi Zacharias.

Ravi was preaching the temptation of Christ in Matthew 4.  The second temptation was when satan took Jesus to the top of the temple and asked him to jump down.

He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’Matthew 4:6b (NIV)

To which Jesus replied:

‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’

Ravi used this temptation as an example of how we often use God.  He joked that as long as school have math exams, there will always be a reason for prayers!

How funny.  How tragic.

How often do we, do I, reduce God to merely a genie in the bottle.  I called on Him ONLY when I need help.  If we reduce to calling God merely for our needs and wants, then we are god and He is just a tool in our pocket.

I still remembered when I first got into triathlon in 2005. I told God I will train hard and win first prize to bring Him glory.  The truth is, as I look back, I was merely chasing my own glory.  Of course, in front of others, especially Christians, it sounded great.   I am doing something for the Lord.  Amen!

But thanks be to God for He never made me fast.  I never made to the podium.  Not by a long shot!   God didn’t gave me a, ‘ha, see how sinful you are.‘  I was sinful but He was very graceful in showing how far I fall short.  Slowly, He humbled me and conformed me for His purpose.

In 2009, I competed for the last time.  It was the World Transplant Games in Australia.  I was competing for 5 km bike time trial and 5 km running race.   Before the race, my prayer was no longer winning. It was to glorify Him regardless of winning or losing.  If winning equate to not giving Him glory, I do not want.

The saddest part is that in church I see individuals who are gung ho for Jesus and want  to do something for Him.  But deep down, their desire is to lift themselves and their own pride.  This is what sin is.  It is not merely a list of wrong things we do. It is the intention to say we are in control and we do not need God.  It is the rebellious selfish spirit with lustful eyes to fulfill our salviting plans.

It can be…

  • a business deal
  • career
  • getting things – car, house, gadgets, toys…
  • a relationship, a family
  • meeting friends’ expectation

… the list can go on and on.

 

As a Christian, for those who say they follow Jesus, we must examine our own lives and motives.

  • Why am I so bent on wanting to get ______ (insert the thing you want)?
  • Have we ever stop and ponder why this one thing is so important in our lives?
  • Is this one thing become our identity?
  • Is our lives incomplete without it?

How do we know unless we kneel before the Lord and let His Spirit convicts us?

 

I love what Paul say in Galatians…

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.Galatians 5:24 (NIV)

May we live our lives seeking His Glory and not flaunting our own.

He must become greater; I must become less.John 3:30 NIV

Parable of the Pearl of Great Price

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, 46 who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.Matthew 13:45-46 NKJV

pearl

The picture is taken at OMF International Headquarters.  If you see closely, you will see that the pearl is actually a light.  Quite ingenious! :)


Last week, Wai Jia and I met up with a young Christian couple for dinner.  Over dinner, we shared about our journey on how we followed Jesus.  When the couple realized that I sold everything to come to Singapore, they were astonished.  One of them shouted, ‘that’s like the parable of the pearl.

Before coming to Singapore, I spent a lot of time dwelling on the cost of following Jesus.  When Jesus shared this parable, and the one before this (the parable of the hidden treasure), did He really mean what He said?

I understood precisely what it meant.  Following Jesus has a high cost.   His Kingdom has a high cost because Jesus had to die on the cross for it.  It will cost us personally and dearly because the one we followed paid the price with His life.   It will cost us everything.  The value of His Kingdom is worth more than everything we have.

Since coming to Singapore, Starcraft 2 is what I do for fun.  It is a computer game I played since I was in High school.   Three weeks ago, during one of the weekly talks with my wife, she sensed we ain’t seeking as hard as we should.   We talked where we were spending our time.  Well, Starcraft 2 was on the discussion.  Without hesitation, I told her I would fast Starcraft 2 for two weeks.  To my wife credit, she also fasted from something she consider important to her as well.

For some of you, you might think this is a childish thing for a 30 something to spend his time playing a video game.  In Singapore, I do not have many things I do on my downtime for fun.  We don’t have a tv at home (which I don’t mind because I don’t watch tv).  I don’t follow sports.  I have very little leisure activity.  During this fast, once in a while I would want to justify in playing. Everyone deserves down time right?  This is not a bad thing.  I need a break once in a while.

I remembered Wai Jia telling me a story of one of the missionaries.  The missionary wanted to collect fishes as a hobby but the Holy Spirit forbid her to do so.  When she went to the Lord to protest and stating that her friend (another missionary) had six hobbies, the Lord replied: “Even with her six hobbies, she still put me first.  If you have the fish, you will not put me first.”  Ouch. Sometimes the conviction of the Holy Spirit is sharp and deep.

I am now almost a month Starcraft free.  It is so much to justify I need to play or I need to _______ [Insert your fun things to do: shopping, eating out, movie, tv shows/dramas, video games etc.]  than to dedicate ourselves to the Lord.  I remembered what’s at stake here: a little video game or the Kingdom.

Last night, I led a little Bible study with Wai Jia.  She’s currently my only student (and my guinea pig hehe).  We were studying the Parables of the Sower.   In particular, we were discussing about the seed in good soil that grew thirty, sixty and a hundred-fold.  Looking at Wikipedia about this parable, some commentaries said that the difference between thirty and hundred fold is dependent on the response of the seed.  In order words, those of us who are the good seed can determine how much fold we want to produce.   If you want to serve God, do you really want a thirty fold? Or a hundred fold?  Of course, a hundred!  We both agreed we wanted a hundred fold.  So what’s the difference between the thirty fold and those of the hundred fold?  Well, it means we have to prepare ourselves even more.  We have to dig deep. We have to focus.

Before fasting from Starcraft, I always complain to Wai Jia I never have enough time.  Never have time to pray. Never have time to read the Bible.   Now that I am fasting, I have a lot more time on my hand. I realized that giving up some fun time is what’s needed in order to grow and groom myself spiritually.  The reality is that we only have 24 hours a day.  If we want to do something, we have to sacrifice something else.   With this in mind, if we are to invest in the Kingdom totally, we will have to sacrifice even more.  There’s no easy way.

This goes back to the parable of the Pearl. In which I ask myself lately, is Jesus and His Kingdom worth everything I’ve got?  Even at the cost of my time, energy and things?  Is everything really means everything?  Definitely yes! There must be no compromise.  It is all or nothing. Even at times when I missed playing Starcraft, I found a new joy in blogging.  In praying and in reading the Word.  :)

Praise God!!

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, 46 who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.Matthew 13:45-46 NKJV