Weekly Photo Challenge: Unfocused2

I am a little unfocused too as I am preparing for this Sunday’s sermon. It is not a sermon on mother’s day although I am preaching on Mother’s day. I dig up this photo to remind myself, no matter how unfocused I am there needs to be a focus. Hopefully the center focus is always on Christ regardless of the surroundings!

I Know… I Don’t Know…

by Judi Chow

I can’t stand it when people think they have all the answers, particularly when I know that person doesn’t know anything regarding to the subject matter. Did you catch me? I just became that presumptuous person when I wrote, I know that person…! The revelation came during seminary graduation with a little panic, now I know I don’t know much about God, theology, the Bible, and myself for that matter! It was years later that I am thankful I have this awareness- that I don’t know. The next question is, do I really want to know, how much or how deep do I really want to know about God, life, and the future?

An old hymn came to mind– “I don’t know about tomorrow, I just live from day to day… Many things about tomorrow, I don’t seem to understand, but I know who holds tomorrow, and I know who holds my hand.” I have to admit there are many things I don’t understand and have no answers to. I won’t pretend a philosophical answer to “Why does God allow suffering?” will ease the pain of those sobbing or shouting, “Where is God when the building’s crashing down on my parents? Why didn’t God save my wife? How can I go on living while my only son is dead?”

Suffering is painful and separation is difficult no matter how you look at it. How can anyone endure the unbearable and have the strength to face tomorrow? I believe only love can dry the tears and restore hope. Don’t you remember John 3:16? “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” Because of love, God endured separation from His only son. Because of love, Jesus endured suffering for our sake. Because of love, we have hope of restoration. Buildings might crumble, lives would change, but the spirit is not crushed because I know who holds my hand.

Take time to contemplate the meaning of Psalm 119:71 “My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees.” I will never have the answers to many life questions until when I meet Jesus face to face. Meanwhile, get to know God more and more, than I might be able to understand His decrees a little better. I don’t know about you, but I know 1 Corinthians 13:13 “Three things will last forever…” I particularly like the Message translation: “…Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.” Let love be our motivating force to face each new day and to accept the unknown reasons behind the suffering we witness.

Do You Want to Get Well?

by Judi Chow

I have never had the opportunity to step into the cancer ward of a hospital, but I know the ordeals of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Many missionaries have gone through these kinds of treatment, some recovered and some went “home” to be with the Lord. After several rounds of treatments, a friend decided enough is enough since all the treatments she went through didn’t work, hair lost is minor compared to the puffy-yellowish face with weakening strength and will each day. I don’t have to ask if she wants to get well; of course she does – leaving her husband and two teenagers behind is unbearable! I did ask if she will try other treatments; she told me it won’t make any difference since it is just a waste of time and money resulting in more torture and disappointment. My friend has lost faith in medical treatments; she wants to get well but she has no hope of getting well!

About two thousand years ago by the Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem, Jesus asked a man the same question: Do you want to get well? (John 5:1-9) Of course he did, day after day, year after year, lying there waiting – listening to the pain, smelling the sick, and watching people rushing into the pool – to get well. That’s why he replied to Jesus – how can I? No one helped me and I can’t help myself. (My interpretation) Maybe you don’t know what is it like to be a helpless invalid for 38 years, but you can imagine or even have experienced hopelessness. I assume this man wanted to get well but he had no hope of getting well!

A pastor who had three major brain surgeries has proclaimed health is not the most important thing in life. Maybe the surgeries affected the brain’s normal function? Don’t we all pray for health and wish for wealth? This pastor lives with a time-bomb in the brain and decreasing sensations in all four limbs and has proclaimed the most important thing in life is: HOPE! I didn’t ask if this pastor wants to get well, but by the continuing treatments, therapy, and exercise the answer is evidently yes. In this case, getting well is not as important as having hope. How true, as a counselor and missionary, I don’t have all the answers or solutions to people’s problems but I am there to instill hope.- hope not necessarily in the things we wanted or the health we seek but in a way out through Christ!

Jesus took away the question, the blame, and the doubt by commanding that man by the pool to get up, pick up his mat, and walk! Instant healing took place, restoration of strength on all four limbs happened before this man knew who did what. Out of so many people who wanted to get well, Jesus chose to heal that man and welcomed my friend “home” to be with Him. Why? Maybe He loves her more; maybe she has fulfilled her destiny. I can rationalize and justifiy but I am not in the position to question God’s decision. It’s a life-long learning of trusting and accepting His will is better than my will and His ways are higher than my ways.

When you feel stuck, no one seems to understand, no one is reachable to help, and no hope of getting well (physically or emotionally), please remember Jesus is only a prayer away. He can pull you out of that state of hopelessness!

Why are You Afraid?

by Judi chow

One of the questions we ask missionary candidates for their Pre-field psychological assessment is, “What do you fear the most?” Let me share some of the answers here: snakes and rats, death and separation, sin against God, not being used by God, my parents die before accepting Christ, my child’s safety, getting seriously ill on the field, not able to accomplish my task as a missionary… the list goes on and on. Looking at these answers from missionaries now serving in different parts of the world, you can see that missionaries are also human beings with blood, sweat, and tears.

Often times, missionaries as well as church leaders tell me in tears they are scared. As a counselor, I can analyze the psychological causes of their fear like: feeling threatened, powerless, perceived danger, inadequacy, rejection, and guilt (genuine and false). Fear usually arises from lack of trust and when one falls into uncontrollable situations or the unknown. As a missionary, I know servants of the Lord are not immune to fear. Even Jesus’ disciples were really scared when their little fishing boat was about to be swallowed by the storm. They tried to wake Jesus up by shouting, “Lord, save us! We are going to drown!” The disciples really thought they were going to die, and Jesus responded with a question, “Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!” (Matthew 8:23-26)

Every one of us has our own fears. I don’t know about you, but my number one fear is… believe it or not… preaching! Do you know why? Well, maybe I have been taught women ought not to preach and if I do, then I am being disobedient. Preaching is proclaiming God’s Word, and what if I don’t get it right, will I be leading people astray? What will people think of me then? Here, finally, I have come to the bottom line – my concern is about my performance, my face, me! I am just like the disciples focusing on the circumstances and my own well-being, having so little faith! I neglected the fact Jesus knows and He cares! Numerous times Jesus assures us, “I am here! Don’t be afraid.” (Matt. 14:27; Mark 6:50) I am getting better at conquering the fear of preaching now. I still sweat over sermon preparation and experience butterflies in the stomach before approaching the pulpit, but during delivery I try to stay tuned into Jesus’ comforting promise, “I am here! Don’t be afraid.

Fear did not go away completely as my faith factor still has room to grow. It is understandable for missionaries to be afraid, particularly when one doesn’t know a wave is a welcomed invitation or a hostile rejection. Facing the unknown and uncontrollable circumstances on the field without a support system can force a person to turn to Jesus or become self-reliant. I am sad to said, as I counsel missionaries in times of need or fear, their first answer usually is not Jesus!

Jesus’ question, “Why are you afraid?” is followed by what seems to me a rebuke, “You have so little faith!” Jesus didn’t stop there; he stood up and rebuked the wind and the waves showing the disciples He can calm the storm at sea as well as the storm in their hearts. Jesus’ presence and power overcame fear!

Next time when you are scared, focus on His promise, “I am here! Don’t be afraid.”

If You are a Missionary…

by Judi Chow

A few years ago, we tried to launch a program called IOU40@wecare. It was an attempt for missionary candidates to spend 40 hours of intensive preparation as to follow Jesus’ example of 40 days of fasting and prayer before His public ministry. Satan came at the end of that 40 days when Jesus was hungry, tired, and vulnerable; the temptation posted as a challenge- “If you are the Son of God,” prove it by turning these stones into bread and by throwing yourself down from the temple top. In the midst of His physical weaknesses, Jesus answered with spiritual strength- “It is written” everytime. (Matthew 4:1-11)

I don’t remember ever hearing a voice challenging me- if you are a missionary, you should devote yourself totally in caring for the poor, praying for the sick, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, preaching the Gospel, planting the church, counseling the downcast, casting out demons, making disciples, training leaders, etc., etc. These are real needs which can be very demanding for any missionary, but when does being responsible became a dangerous temptation? When we forgot it is written, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)

Missionaries usually don’t have to prove ourselves, right? We are sent to do these things. We are expected to be faithful and fruitful. We are to be servants and leaders. We do all these because we love the Lord, the lost, and… well maybe not ourselves! We get on that treadmill call ministry, start running and running until we are exhausted but not able to get off. I have known missionaries who worked so hard on the field, they had to be carried home on a stretcher. When did we forget it is written, “Be still and know that I am God?” (Psalm 46:10) The second half to this verse is, “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.

Maybe one of the best kept secrets buried deep in a missionary’s heart is the fear of not being use by the Lord. Satan knows our weakest link and that’s where he will lure us with his temptation. Someone said money, sex, and power are the greatest temptations. As we read from the news, many of God’s servants have fallen prey in the midst of their seemingly successful ministries. Not sure when their focus had shifted, rationalization began and the end justified the means. It is okay, it is for the sake of the Gospel! Somewhere along the way, it is forgotten, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)

Jesus overcame Satan’s temptation by reciting God’s words from His heart. These words are not factual knowledge only, Jesus knew pleasing and honoring the Father is more important than working and reaping for the Father. Next time when you hear, If you are a missionary, don’t justify, just follow Jesus in His steps.

Seed and Water

by Judi Chow

I like to play games. I like to use games in training missionaries. Word association is a game I often use for experiential learning to bring about self-awareness. You start with a list of words and write out the first word that comes to mind associating it. The following is an example of what some missionaries came up with:

God – love, Jesus – cross, Missionary – obedience, Single – lonely,  Culture – language, Home – belong, Ministry – evangelism, Joy – baby, Peace – dove, Sin – murder, Rainbow – Noah, Peter – rock

From a list of associating words, you can find out something about a person’s thinking, past experiences, and value system. Association can be straightforward or creative; it reflects one’s worldview.

Recently, I associated “seed” with “water” from looking at the tiny seeds in a plastic container I got after a Sunday sermon. It was given to us as a reminder that if we have faith as a mustard seed, we could move mountains. Many months past by, all the seeds remain intact on the corner of my desk. As I was looking at it, this verse came to mind, “…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24) Somehow in my mind’s eye, I see these tiny seeds as missionaries… willing to die, to give up ones’ lives in exchange for an opportunity to win the lost. To bear fruit for the Lord!

Well, a seed remains as a seed until it… no, not only dies, but it needs soil, sunshine, and water before it can sprout and bear fruit. When I see those tiny seeds as missionaries and associating it with water, you might be curious and ask: what or whom does water represent? Some said, water– definitely refers to the living water, God himself! That’s whom missionaries needed in order to bear fruit! Well, there is no right or wrong answer to association, but another verse came to mind, “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42) What if I see water as people God has called to encourage and care for missionaries? Imagine it hasn’t rained for months, the soil is dry, even though the sun is still shining the plant will eventually wither due to lack of water.

“…unless a cup of water pours into the soil and empties, it remains in the cup; but if it empties, the seeds will sprout and bear much fruit.” Both water and seed require sacrificial giving up of self in order to fulfill one’s destiny. It is not possible to give without love from the Lord and for others. Water cannot be a seed, but seeds need water! God created both for a purpose, which one do you think you are?

Change and Exchange

by Judi Chow

Every few years or so missionaries go on furlough. May I remind you it means home assignment not vacation. On my furlough this time I heard some kind comments from old friends like “You look the same all these years, no change!” After observing my peers and talking with my sister about changes, we came to this conclusion- those who were smashingly handsome or stunningly beautiful in their prime seem to have changed the most in their appearance. Those of us who are average or not so good-looking seem to have kept a recognizable look after all the years- “no change.” Yes, our Creator is fair in this regard.

On a more serious note, I do believe to every change, there is an exchange no matter whether the change is external or internal, physical or emotional, intellectual or spiritual, plan or unplanned, welcomed or unwanted. No one can escape life changes, yet missionaries seem to endure more changes due to the nature of our life commitment. Usually people resist changes, yet missionaries have to embrace them. Beginning with a change of heart to our life’s direction, choosing the narrow path rather than the broad, to exchanging a sense of security for living by faith. Also, it’s pursuing holiness rather than worldliness, to leaving aging parents and soul-mates for strangers and lost souls, and exchanging praises from men for a “good and faithful servant” from the Lord.

The decision to make the change is only but a moment, yet the exchanges need to be made moment-by-moment. When the alien feeling finally subsides and ministry has taken root, it then seems to be time for another change. The cycle starts again, missionaries move on exchanging the familiar for yet another uncharted territory ahead. For some it could be stressful and overwhelming, yet for the servant of the Lord who heeds His call to walk this special path, it is full of adventures and blessings for He has promised to be with us until the end of the earth!

Some changes are inevitable and at times beyond our control, like the sudden news from the doctor’s office pronouncing there is cancer growing in your liver or a long distance phone call telling you your son was in a car accident… News like these can turn our world upside down. Yet especially in difficult times of unwanted changes, we must focus on the constancy of His unfailing love. As we live in this world of transience, can we choose to exchange the temporal for the eternal?

What changes are you facing and what are you exchanging at this point in life, my friend? As for me, in view of the consistency of change, I gladly exchange whatever for constantly holding onto His hand!