Weekly Photo Challenge: Celebration

I wasn’t thinking about textures, patterns, or framing when I took this picture maybe I wanted to tell a story with it. As I search for a photo to depict celebration I’ve chosen this one because of the symbolic meanings behind it. The cross that Jesus crucified on was constructed out of trees and the craved heart is the reason for it. It’s a celebration of love, death, and resurrection. It’s a celebration of eternal life pass down from generations to you and me!

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.

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!

Who’s Calling?

by Judi Chow

Every so often, I receive a telephone call and the person at the other end just starts talking without acknowledging who he or she is. Most of the time, I can recognize the voice and then carry on the conversation. But there are times when I cannot recognize the voice, so I usually just let the other person keep on talking and hope to find some clues from the content. If that doesn’t work, I apologize and admit to the fact I have no idea to whom I am talking, in a nice way. I don’t know about you, but I can only recognize familiar voices, those people I talk to or listen to on a regular basis. One hello, I know it is my mom. One hey, I know it is my sister or my housemate. I can also recognize my favorite preacher’s voice over the radio.

One time I got a call from my coworker while riding the MTR in Hong Kong. I recognized the voice but couldn’t understand a word she was saying. I turned the volume all the way up and pressed the mobile phone even harder against my ear. I only heard noises but couldn’t make out the meaning. Oh, no, am I going deaf already? Then I realized the people all around me were talking loudly to each other or what seemed to me like some people making a public speech into their hands-free mobile phone devices. The ambient noise level inside the MTR is actually quite high and that had overshadowed my coworker’s voice.

I wonder if this can be applied to those people who say they have difficulty hearing God’s call to missionary service. After all, they say today is like the days of Samuel when the word of the Lord was rare. If I remember correctly, the Lord did call Samuel. In fact, He did three times until Eli told Samuel to respond by saying, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” (I Samuel 3:9) I am not sure if people are looking for the Apostle Paul’s shinning-light-and-voice-from-heaven kind of calling or maybe as the Lord chose to speak to Elijah – not in the wind, nor in the earthquake or fire, but in a gentle whisper. (I Kings 19)

A friend of mine said, isn’t the Great Commission clear enough a call already? What we really need is enough love to respond to God’s command. To be fair, God did call Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, Jonah to Nineveh, and Paul to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. Jesus also called His disciples to follow Him, to be with Him, and to be fishers of men. Remember that small, still whisper? Well, it came to me loud and clear one day during my devotions years ago, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last” (John 15:16). I knew that was God’s calling to me; I heard it, I recognize His voice, I understood what He meant, and I responded by offering myself to Him completely. One step at a time, He led me to the road of missionary service. I just have to keep listening, following, and trusting.

God is trying to get our attention in many ways. One thing I am sure, if He speaks to me about a certain thing, He will not say something different to another person regarding the same issue. If you are not familiar with His voice, that “inner voice” or whisper sometimes can be very subjective, and it is necessary to seek confirmation from other Godly people who are familiar with God’s voice. Remember, a whisper by definition is very soft. You cannot hear it from a distance, and it can be overshadowed by other noises. Remember my MTR instance? In order to hear God’s calling, we need to stay close to Him, to know and recognize His voice. I don’t think you will have trouble understanding Him; the bottom line is how would you respond to His calling you?

1st, 2nd, or 3rd?

by Judi Chow

Have you ever felt like you didn’t hear something right? I had this feeling when my friend introduced her husband to me, “This is Second, my husband.” “Huh… Oh, hi, Ss…” Dare not to repeat the name fearing it might be Simon instead of Second. “Yes, it is S-e-c-o-n-d, meaning Jesus is first in my life.” Well now, that is a bold statement, a good testimony, and great conversation material! Ever since then I have put Second at the top of my special name list, until recently I came across an article entitled, “I am Third.” I don’t know anyone personally by the name- Third; it could have topped Second! Actually, the article was about some teenager who went to camp where he was taught the priorities in life should be God first, other people second, and I am third.

It was a revelation to this kid to place himself third while the media is brainwashing us all to look out for number one- oneself. Maybe kids nowadays need to be reminded to put others before themselves, so they can be more self-sacrificing instead of going with the current self-centeredness. After all, this is part of our spiritual heritage; most missionaries and ministers I know are obliged by this golden rule of putting people’s needs before their own or even their family’s. Some have creatively blended God and ministry together and placed that first in their priority resulting in burnout. Yet, in their mind and heart, they have followed the golden rule of putting God first, others second, and themselves third or even last!

What’s wrong with this priority list? Can we go by a list all the time anyway? Do we make decisions by meticulously going over our priority list? For example, one morning as I was leaving for my weekend personal retreat to uninterruptedly focus on God, suddenly the phone rang and someone was crying incoherently talking about her husband’s abuse. She wanted me to help her escape. What was I to do? How do I put this situation into a priority list of first, second, or third? The older I get, life seems to become more complicated. It is not just simply black or white; there are all shades of grays in between, not counting the color spectrum.

May I suggest a very simple priority list by asking yourself, who is really first in your life? Is it others? Is it God? Is it ministry? Is it your own desires or needs? If God is really first, then ask Him who or what He wants to place in second or third or last on your priority list! He’ll tell you; more than that, He’ll show you. You might be surprised; God’s priority list usually is quit different from ours. What I need to keep tabs on is always checking Who is on the top of my list.

Missionary, Moving, and Ministry

by Judi Chow

As a missionary, I often move from place to place which means I have to look for a “home” church no matter where and how long I settle in one place. It is one of those things most Christians might take for granted, especially those who grow up in church and find no reason to move. Moving a household can be stressful, but moving a spiritual home is devastating. Actually you are not moving anything except yourself, your emotional tie, and your spiritual support. Moving the unseen is much more difficult than moving the seen. 

We are born into a family, a home chosen for us by God. What about a spiritual home? Do we get to choose the church we call “home”? Most people I know choose a church based on certain criteria such as its location, size, denomination, or types of ministries that church offers. I know a guy who moved to another church because he couldn’t find any peers there. Most people seem to have a choice except maybe pastors and missionaries. Pastors and missionaries are called to a church to serve and those pioneers have to plant their own church with their hands, their feet, and their lives. We call this ministry.

Recently a friend asked me whether or not I am serving at my newly-adopted spiritual home. My immediate response was “No, since I am not ‘doing’ anything there except attending worship services.” My most “doing” for the last couple of months has been trying to get to know a few people among hundreds. That question got me thinking hard on the meaning of ministry. I browse church websites to see what type of ministries they have. One particular church has ministries galore, from children to campuses to careers to couples, from singles to single parents to seniors to the sexually abused, to name just a few. I can imagine the many different activities and programs cater around different target groups depending on the felt needs. I get tired just thinking about it, but I can also sense the energy and excitement of the people who find their sense of belonging in those ministry groups.

Ministry means, “to attend upon someone” in Greek; it is an act of service to the body of Christ for the glory of God. Someone said ministry is the outpouring of one’s life. Ministry should not be something you just do, but you do it with your heart because of who you are. It is more important how you do ministry than where or what you do in ministry. After a second thought, I answered my friend with a “yes” to ministering at my new “home” church. Doing what? I’ll tell you in person!