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Friday, December 21, 2012

A reason for a silent night


Matthew 2:10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.

Luke 2:12
 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. 

Isaiah 9:6
 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 


Growing up, Christmas was a tussle of highs and seemed like there was a lot of emphasis on the holiday foods, the decor - to cover up the yelling and fighting and deteriorating family structure.It was our own "Christmas tradition" for someone to have a big blow up during the holidays. Nevertheless, Christmas was still the most magical time at home.

But in later years, as the parents got older and my sisters and I grew up...the tempers settled down. Christmas was still Christmas, and I found that my "grown up Christmas list" was very different from the things I had wanted when I was much younger. 

There are many traditions I would like to carry on from my childhood to my new Christmases with my husband now - the music and caroling, the "Christmas prayer ornaments", and of course all the glorious food - but I have to remember, first and most of all - why we celebrate this day. 

Too often, people have certain expectations of what should be happening at Christmastime - how family gatherings should go, what presents they should be getting - but really, the only expectations we should be having is on ourselves - about how will we celebrate the day? How is our Christmas glorifying Jesus' birth? 

This Christmas, my husband and I have been travelling - first for his work trip, and then driving down to visit his family. Christmas already feels strange to me - without my daily baking of winter goodies, playing Christmas music nonstop on the piano - but it's not these "traditions" that make up what Christmas is - it is the purpose. 

I just need to remember to celebrate the purpose of Christmas - in whatever way I can - and that is Christmas at it's best. 

Dear God,
Thank you so much for sending your Son for us. I cannot imagine having a child knowing that it was born to die. Please help me to always keep in my heart the true purpose of Christmas, and when I am feeling greedy, stressed, or fussy during this time of the year - help me find a silent time to focus mainly on you.

Have you ever had a Christmas celebration where certain expectations weren't meant?

How do you plan on making room for the true purpose of Christmas this year?

Take time to read "The Three Trees" story, maybe to your family on Christmas Eve, and reflect on the personal gift given by each tree. 


Friday, August 10, 2012

Uncertain Prayer

"And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don't know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words."
Romans 8:26

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."
Romans 8:28

"Wishing will never be a substitute for prayer" (Ed Cole). And isn't this true? We can wish and wish for something so badly - but if we don't personally ask God about it, then it is not prayer. If it is not prayer, then it has no power to move to a mountain.

"Some people pray just to pray and some people pray to know God" (Andrew Murray). What reasons are you praying for? Do you pray just to recite a list of requests and then forget the most important aspect of prayer - getting to know God better?"

"There is a mighty lot of difference between saying prayers and praying" (John G. Lake). When I was younger, my family was attending a Roman Catholic church and I was attending a Catholic school. No offense to the Catholic denomination, but from my young experience, my relationship with God was one of memorized prayers and last-minute requests. I didn't realize the full power and purpose of prayer when I began a true personal relationship with Him when I went to Bible camp at 8 years old. There, I learned that praying to God can just be like talking to a friend. Telling God about my day, how I felt, and asking God my own questions about Him. And if I wanted answers, all I had to do was look in the Bible. 

"You may pray for an hour and still not pray. You may meet God for a moment and then be in touch with Him all day" (Frederik Wisloff). How strong is your prayer life? Is your prayer to God strong enough that you only need to meet with Him for a moment and be in touch with Him all day? Or would you spend hours praying and crying out to Him and still not be able to feel Him?

The purpose of prayer is never to accomplish our own will, but to accomplish God's will. When we use prayer only as an instrument by which our will can be done, than we totally misunderstand prayer. God's intention for prayer was not so that we can have a hotline for instant requests to God. Jesus even said, "Not my will, but thy will be done." But sometimes it is difficult to pray when we don't know the will of God. This is where the Spirit of God intercedes for us and helps us in our weakness - the Spirit intercedes for is when we do not know what to pray for. Isn't it wonderful to have the Spirit pray for us when we have "groanings that cannot be expressed in words"? 

When my rare neurological illness resurfaced last fall with severe symptoms and new consequences for my life, I prayed constantly to God for Him to take away my illness…for complete remission…for a cure. I prayed fervently for good health to return, thinking that if I prayed this for hours and hours - surely God will hear my cry and grant it to me.

Despite these hours of fervent prayer to God, I still did not feel any closer to God. It was only when the Spirit interceded for me and brought to light that I was praying for my own will - not God's will. When I finally started giving more focus to God in my prayers and making it less about me, then I was able to meet with God and finally feel His arms around me. I prayed to God that He can use my illness for His purpose…that He can use me as an example to the broken and the hopeless. That he can help me use my experience to help others who have felt lost because of their own illness and experiences.

Right now I am feeling very healthy - I have not had any symptoms since last fall. My doctors are really happy with my progress and feel that I am on the good road to remission. Is there a chance that my illness may return again? Yes there is. Is there any sign of an upcoming cure? No there is not. Despite all this, I pray instead to God that if I do get sick again - that He will stay with me to endure it, and that I can grow from that experience and help others grow closer to Him because of my faith.

And wherever you are in your prayer life, remember that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). After each prayer request, remember God's wisdom and that He is in control of all circumstances that surround your life. Even in the desert place and the wilderness of life, we can rest in faith that God can use it for His good and His glory.

Dear God, You are in control and You know everything about me, even when I sit and when I stand. You know my heart and everything that is in it. I am sorry for the times when my prayers to you have been selfish and I have forgotten to also honour you and give you the praise you deserve. Thank you for sending your Spirit to intercede on my behalf so that He can intercede when I know not what to pray. I pray that you help me see the areas in my life where I need to change my prayer requests because you have something better planned for me according to Your will.

How do you regularly pray to God? Do you set aside special time each day for it, or do you just send up a prayer to Him when you feel like it? Here are some exercises to help boost your prayer life.

Remember the "ACTS" style of prayer each time you spend deep personal time with God, so that You can give Him glory each time.

Adoration (you can praise God's name, sing a worship song)
Confession (confess any sins in your heart, your actions or your thoughts and ask for forgiveness)
Thanksgiving (thank God for all that He has done for you and has provided, thank God for the beloved people in your life)
Supplication (leave your requests to God for last)

Another exercise is to dedicate one day just for praising and thanking God. Spend that whole day only thanking Him and praising Him and try to abstain from requests at that time, so that your prayer's focus can be centred on God.

"Aware" by Salvadore

Make me aware, make me see
Everything I am is not all about me
Take my world, turn it around
So that the obvious can finally be found

Thursday, June 7, 2012

"What faith can do"

And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”
Matthew 21:21-22 

Some people have started to minimize the power of prayer. They have stopped appreciating it when people offer to pray for their needs and hurts, because they feel that praying is useless. They want more than what people have to offer. They want healing right away. They want their pain to be disappear instantly.

But Jesus says that when we pay, we must have faith and believe that God will answer our prayers. When I was a child and I first heard this verse, I wondered if I could ever have a faith strong enough to move mountains. But there's usually that little seed of doubt in my head that smears the faith in my prayers.

We need to start praying with more faith, and believe that God is powerful enough to save us. When I was 17, there were three times when I almost died when I was admitted to the hospital for my illness. My parents had all our families and friends praying for us, and those friends asked their churches, their other friends, and their schools to pray for me. I had so many people I didn't know praying for my recovery - and then it happened that God brought healing to me - and the doctors called it a miracle. I wasn't supposed to live, to be able to walk, or to talk…but I had a full recovery.

Sometimes we pray earnestly to God and we don't get the answer that we want. Remember that God answers earnest prayers with three responses: "Yes", "Not Yet", or "I have something better in mind."

So when someone offers to pray for you, don't dismiss it. Instead, ask them if they can pray for you with so much faith it is strong enough to move the pain away from your body and your heart.  

Dear God, you are Healer and Father. I thank you for bringing people into my life who are willing to pray for me. I am sorry for when I have doubted in the power of prayer. I ask that You help grow my faith so that all my prayers will be free of doubt, so that I may receive Your blessings in Your timing.

How is your prayer life with God? Do you pray to Him regularly, or just pop in to say hello when you need something? Pray regularly, attend church, and find an inspiring Christian friend who can help your faith increase.

"What faith can do" - Kutless

Everybody falls sometimes
Gotta find the strength to rise
From the ashes
And make a new beginning

Anyone can feel the ache
You think it's more than you can take
But you're stronger
Stronger than you know

Don't you give up now
The sun will soon be shining
You gotta face the clouds
To find the silver lining

I've seen dreams that move the mountains
Hope that doesn't ever end
Even when the sky is falling
I've seen miracles just happen
Silent prayers get answered
Broken hearts become brand new
That's what faith can do

Monday, May 21, 2012

"Leaning on My Rock"

"From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. "  (Psalm 61:2)

When we are overwhelmed, it takes so much just to keep standing. I know that when I am physically overwhelmed, it takes all my energy just to walk to the nearest place to sit and rest. When I am mentally overwhelmed, I need to rest my brain and take a break from "thinking" so much. When I am emotionally overwhelmed, I need a place where I can break down and just cry, and release all the emotions I have had pent up inside.

Isn't it wonderful that we have a God - who is a Rock - that is higher than we are? He is strong when we are not. He is sturdy when we are ready to collapse. He lets us lean on Him when we are ready to fall down.

When your heart is overwhelmed, remember that Jesus' yoke is light, and He is always willing to exchange burdens with us. We just need to pray to God and ask for His hand in our heart, to bring rest and peace. I have felt strongest with God during my weakest hours, because that was when I was leaning on God as my Rock, and He helped me survive the storms and crashing waves in life.

"We can give thanks for everything because even the worst of situations will drive us right to God. And He promises that His peace will stand guard over us." —Buddy Riddle

Dear God, You are strong, sturdy, and almighty. Thank you for being there as my Rock when my heart is overwhelmed and life seems to be crashing all around me. Please give me peace and rest when I feel like I can't get up anymore. Help me remember that You are always there for me to lean on when I feel heavy. Thank You for guiding me through the dark times of life even when I can't see you or feel your presence, but You are always there watching over me.

What is it that easily overwhelms you? Is it family problems, financial issues, personal stress? When you feel overwhelmed, take a "pause" each day with God and spend some time leaning on your Rock.

Shining - Phil Wickham

You guide me through the dark
You calm my fearful heart
I will rest in You
You give me perfect peace
You fill my deepest need
I will rest in You

God, shining like the sun
Let Your kingdom come

I want to be with You in Your presence
I'm here to give You praise
You take my breath away
And now I'm here with You in Your presence

Friday, May 11, 2012

"On Fire"

"So that the tested genuineness of your faith - more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire - may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. "
1 Peter 1:7

Have you ever felt like you were on fire - in a metaphorical way? People get "fired up" when they are excited about something or doing the activities that they are passionate about.  When people say, "Wow that person is on fire!" -  they usually mean that the person is in his or her own zone and can't be touched. That person seems unstoppable.

Sometimes when you're living with an illness, it's hard to feel "on fire" about anything. It's easy to lose interests or passion because you feel like everything that is happening to you keeps turning against you. In May 2011, my illness had flared up and I was put back on the much-despised steroid medication again after five years. I hated the side effects it gave me - the bloating, the moon face, the insomnia…by the time it was September, I was excited to be tapered off it. I only had 12.5 mg to go and then I would be done with this medication.

But in September, my illness flared up again and I went back on a high dose of the steroid medication. I was frustrated and angry with my illness. I started making terrible assumptions about my life, thinking that my illness will always haunt me until it kills me and that there was no point in looking forward to life, when life kept giving me lemons. No matter how many times I tried to make lemonade, everything just kept turning sour.

Then one day, it dawned on me that I had a choice - I had a choice about how I can live my life, regardless of whatever happens to me next. I can live my life with hope and trust in God, and look for the purpose in the pain. Or I can shun God and dwell in my pain.

The trials we face are fire testing our faith. Our faith is "more precious than gold" - and when gold goes through fire, it becomes pure and brand new.

We are God's children and He sees as like jewels in-the-rough. He wants to mold us to the person He wants to be so that He can better use us to serve His purpose. He knows every instant in our life, and knows how we will come out when we are tested by fire.

Maybe you think, "I keep going through so many fires - and I still don't  see any blessings from the Lord!" Maybe you are experiencing a blessing in disguise right now. Maybe your blessing will come later when you have emerged from your cocoon of waiting. Maybe the blessings that God planned to come out of your period of fire are not meant for you in this lifetime, but for a greater purpose that you do not know.

For even heroes in the Bible went through many periods of fire to test their faith. "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised" (Hebrews 11:39). These heroes of faith never got to see the promise of the Cross, but their faith and lives were stepping stones on the path to the Cross, God's ultimate plan to save the world.

I went through many period of fire in my life. I struggled with family stress during my childhood. I battled with a neurological disease. At the time while I was going through these periods of fire, I prayed to God to release me from it. I did not want this experience. But looking back now, and seeing who I am today because of the fire I went through and the blessings that accompanied it - I am thankful for my time in the fire and I would not give it back.

So when you are going through fire, remember that: "...God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them" (Romans 8:28). We may not know exactly what this purpose is, but we can trust that God's way is higher than our ways, and He knows the best way to use our fire.

Dear God, You are amazing and indescribable. I am sorry for the times when I have doubted your plan for me. Help me see Your purpose in my pain, and give me Your strength to persevere through these periods of fire. I ask that you help me keep my faith "on fire" - passionate and burning to know more of You. I thank You that you always cause everything to work together for the good of those who know You, even if we cannot see what that "good" is right now. Amen.

How have you been tested by fire? How can you be more "on fire" for God in your daily life?

"On Fire" - Switchfoot

You are the hope I have for change
You are the only chance I'll take

When I'm on fire
When You're near me
I'm on fire
When You speak
And I'm on fire
Burning at these mysteries

Thursday, May 3, 2012

"Fighting Fraudulent Fear"

    "So do not fear, for I am with you; 
        do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
    I will strengthen you and help you;
        I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."

    ~Isaiah 41:10

    This is a powerful verse that speaks to us about how God cares for us. We need not fear or be dismayed because of who He is.

  1. "I am with you"
  2. We do not need to have fear, worry, or anxiety in our lives because God is with us. He has a plan to give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). When we spend time worrying and being anxious, we are telling God: "I don't trust that you have everything in control." Instead of wasting time wondering where life will go next, be thankful that God is with you wherever you are.

    Recently I had brain scans that showed that there is no sign of my illness. My rheumatologist told me that I can now transition off the chemotherapy and move on to a new medication. While this was supposed to be really great news, I thought, "What if I still get sick again in the future?" My illness can flare up at any time. Just because there isn't any activity now does not mean it will never come back. But why spend time worrying if it will come back? If it does come back, I trust that God will be with me - just like He was with me during the last three times this illness had flared. And if I get sick again, I trust that God has a purpose greater than my illness.

  3. "I am your God"
  4. A lot of people often forget who God is. God is the Creator of the Universe. He is omniscient. He is power and glory. And even with all this, He chooses to love us as our Father. J.B. Phillips is the author of the book, "Your God is too Small." In this book, he showed how many people forget the greatness of God, and then they become dismayed.

  5. "I will strengthen you"
  6. God will strengthen you. What a great promise! A friend of mine posted the reference to this Bible verse on my Facebook wall several months ago, and it brought so much encouragement to me during that time in my life. I had just been released from the hospital and struggling to return to regular life. I felt weak and tired all the time. But this verse says that God will strengthen you. Maybe He won't give you superhuman powers to move mountains, but he will provide strength for your heart and mind to persist through your current circumstances, so that you can continue to run the race He has set forth for you.

  7. "and help you"
  8. God is our Helper. All we need to do is ask. There is a popular quote that talks about God's answers to prayer:
    "not now,"
    "I have something better in mind."

    When I was younger, I struggled with living in a stressful family situation. I prayed to God and asked Him to rescue me. To provide a way for me to escape. I asked Him to help me get top grades in school so I can get a great scholarship to attend the university of my choice and finally leave home. Instead, in my last year of high school, I was diagnosed with my neurological illness - something that will affect me for the rest of my life.

    When I got sick at 17, I thought that was it. God forgot about me and instead of rescuing me, He made me even more dependent on my parents. But this trial ended up being a blessing in disguise. Because I got sick, my mom sent me to live with my aunt in the west coast because my mom knew I couldn't fully recover while living in a stressful home environment. And this turned out to be one of the best decisions in my life. Moving to the west coast was definitely not what I had in mind when I prayed to God for my rescue, but this move led me to attend a great university, meet new best friends, and through them - I met my husband.

    Sometimes God helps us differently than how we imagined He would - we just need to trust Him and be patient for His plan to be revealed to us.

  9. "I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
  10. Don't worry about falling down, because God will hold you up. In His righteous right hand, there is no room for fear. Fear is the opposite of everything that God wants for you. Fear and joy cannot coexist. Neither can fear and love, fear and peace, fear and hope. Someone said that fear is :


    Give your fears to God in exchange for joy, love, peace and hope in His hand.

    Dear God, You are great and wonderful. You know everything about me, even when I sit or when I stand. I am sorry for the times when I have made You too small and doubted Your goodness. I thank you for being with me in everything through out life, and that You carry me when I am too weak to carry myself. I thank You for strengthening me and helping me in times of need. I ask that You reveal Yourself more to me  so I can feel Your presence in my times of trouble.

    How does knowing that God is here to help and strengthen you bring you comfort? Someone said that fear is "false evidence appearing real," can you think of any parts of your life that is presenting fear? How can you replace fear with love, joy, peace, or hope?

    "My Savior My God" - Aaron Shust
    I am not skilled to understand
    What God has willed, what God has planned
    I only know at His right hand
    Stands one who is my Savior 

    I take Him at His word and deed
    Christ died to save me; this I read
    And in my heart I find a need
    Of Him to be my savior

    That He would leave His place on high
    And come for sinful man to die
    You count it strange, so once did I
    Before I knew my Savior 

    My Savior loves, My Savior lives
    My Savior's always there for me
    My God: He was, my God; He is
    My God is always gonna be

Thursday, April 26, 2012

"Rewriting Endings"

"The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride."
Ecclesiastes 7:8

Some people probably don't agree with this Bible verse. After all, there are movies that start out with laughter and happy bubbles and ends in tears and goodbyes. There are relationships that started out blissfully and ended in resentment and anger. There are stories in our life that begin with such promise, only to end in brokenness. But patience, endurance and perseverance through such trials build strength. And at the end of all this, you will come out stronger and better than you were at the beginning.

This verse also echoes Ecclesiastes 7:1 where the writer says, "the day you die is better than the day you are born." This is because the writer knows that after we breathe our last breath, we will finally see God's glory - which is so much more than everything we endured in the chapters written in our life story.

Have you ever read a book where so many terrible things are happening to your favourite characters and you flip quickly to the end of the book, just for a brief glimpse to see that it all turns out okay? I have done that many times because I was too impatient to endure the trials with the characters in the book. By skipping to the ending, I miss the growth process of the characters or the revelations revealed to them that led them to the conclusion.

There have been many times where I wish I could just read the last page of a certain chapter in my life, just to see how it all turns out. If I had a time machine, I probably would  gladly send notes to a "younger me" telling myself not to freak out, everything will eventually be okay.

But it's during these hard chapters in our life where we grow most. Facing the difficulties of life builds our character, our strength, our perseverance - and best of all, our faith in God. God is the one who knows every ending to every chapter in our lives. We need to be patient and wait on Him to reveal His purpose and lesson in that chapter,

"Patience is better than pride" because it is better to be patient with God, then to keep demanding about His reasons for everything happening to us. When you find it difficult to wait on God and you're wishing to just skip to the ending already, remember that "waiting is not just something we have to do until we get what we want. Waiting is part of the process of becoming what God wants us to be" (John Ortberg).

"Life has many different chapters of story. One bad chapter doesn't mean it's the end of the book." Each day, God gives you a new chance to rewrite your ending. And for Christians, no matter what the previous chapter is in our story, we all share one finale - eternity in Paradise where the chapter is filled with endless joy.

Dear God,
You are the Author of life. All my days have already been written in your book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16). Thank you for always being near to me when I am going through the difficult chapters in life. I am sorry that sometimes I am not very patient with Your will and I just want to take things in my own hands. But You always have a better plan for me than anything I can come up with. Help me to grow stronger and more faithful in You during my periods of waiting. I pray that Your hand will be present through every last page of my story.

Can you think of a chapter of your life where God led you somewhere different than where you had intended to be? What is the most difficult part about waiting for a chapter to end for you?

"Story of your life" - Matthew West