Tuesday, January 28, 2014

First Child, First Day at School

It's Mikaela's big day today. We all woke up way earlier than the alarm clock did. Mikaela gobbled up her breakfast and was eager to get into her uniform...

Looking back at today. Its a lot for a 5 year old to take in. Leaving her parents and spending a big part of the day in a foreign environment with people she has never met before and expect to interact with them. Being an introvert, even I struggle at the best of times up until today about doing such things at conferences! We are SO so proud of our little warrior.

"You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise." - Deut 11:19

The above verse reminds us that we have now even lesser face time to teach her THE way. We must be more diligent. When we are sitting in our house, when we are walking by the way, and when we lie down, and when we rise up. Every minute now is precious with her. Face time with her will only reduce as she grows up. As she wants to spend more and more time with her peers even after school. Not only do we need to teach her, we need to model it for her to see... God's way... To pray that it is enough to guard her from the world. And to pray that God will do the rest to lead her to the way that will ultimately bring glory to Him as her name says - Mikaela: "Who can be like God".

"Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." - Prov 22:6

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

We Shouldn't Love God

We Shouldn't Love God by Mervin Chiang
We Shouldn't Love God, a photo by Mervin Chiang on Flickr.

Just documenting the key points from the Ignite Training Conference evening talks for the past 2 nights for myself. I feel that LT has really summed it up and reminded me of the what it is to be a Christian and what it means be part of His Church.

"To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:" - Phil 1:1

Paul addressed the Church as "all the saints"... IN Christ Jesus. He then also said "..,WITH the overseers and deacons". This means WE [Christians] are all "the saints" he is addressing when we see Philippi as the church he is talking to. Not just leaders of the church. LT then went on to expand on what it means to be "IN" Christ. Hence the title... This concept is simple yet profoundly complicated (at least for me) when I first heard of it... We shouldn't [just try to] love God, we should really stand in awe of His love for us and can't help it but love Him back uncontrollably. Its a REACTION to His love and not an ACTION in order to gain His favour.

"For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" - Phil 1:21

This statement was the "catch phrase" for night two and also said to be the defining statement to describe Paul. LT also talked about what a pastor, closed ones and friends would talk about at my (our) funeral. Would they say, "For Mervin, to live is Christ and to die is gain"? That's the challenge for ALL of the church and ALL Christians. So I was challenged once again to not just live FOR Christ, but to live IS Christ. It means to be so consumed by Christ and the gospel that all my actions, thinking, talking and being are an overflow from the REACTION to God's love through Christ. That is to further His Kingdom.

What do we do this weekend? What do we do tonight? What shall my next career move be? Shall we eat out tonight? Where should my kids go to school? Should my kids take up that class? Should I buy that car? Where should we go for holiday? What should I be chatting about at drinks with my workmates?... Are answers to these questions and more in my life driven uncontrollably from my over abundant longing and love of Christ and God's kingdom to eternity? Or am I struggling to remember to pray and when I do, I go..."oh, let's pray that God blesses us with this or that..."? Notice how we dare not say "give us" but "blesses us" :)

Looking forward to 2 more nights of goodness :)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

I Want to be Accepted by You

Fragmented Merv by Mervin Chiang
Fragmented Merv, a photo by Mervin Chiang on Flickr.
For as long as I’ve been able to think about myself, my heart, my life, I’ve known that I’m a sinful person. I’ve never doubted the reality of my depravity. And if there ever had been any doubt, being married and having children and immersing myself in a local church has provided all the proof I, and they, need.

But lately I’ve been considering one simple and disturbing aspect of this sin: I want to be accepted by you. At least, this is what I believe in most of life’s situations. I just plain want to be in the "in" crowd. I want to look cool, be cool and accepted as good enough. Somehow I never am and will never be. Somewhere deep inside I believe it’s true and too often I live and act like it’s true. Even with family.

This is the old sin of pride, I suppose, the one we talk about so often but deal with so seldom, the one many people put at the root of all sin. And it’s amazing to me how much of my sin comes down to it. I just want to be accepted by you as good enough. I'm never good enough. Too often I’m just plain convinced of it.

If I show you my skills, my knowledge, my wisdom, my deeds, my latest toys, my coolness... You'll accept me. You invite me to join you. You'll laugh with me. I'm part of your crew. I strive to please you, to study, to fake emotional sensitivity, to fake wisdom, to buy new things, just so I can feel you thinking "wow, he's smart, cool, interesting, sensitive... I'll let him into my circle. He's good enough."

I'm a chameleon, always able to adapt. Always ready to mold myself to the clique. Family included. As long as my family, friends, or any group I want to be part of accepts me, I'll be whatever they want, do whatever they want, show whatever they want. Usually by saying and doing things like... "hey, see what I can do!" or "hey, see what I've got that I can share with you that is cool!". After all, I just want to be accepted by you as good enough. If it doesn't go well, I screwed up. I'm not good enough.

This thread, this conviction of my own inferiority, runs deep in the background of my life.

It matters. It matters because while God calls us toward Christlikeness, I prefer to seek approval from others. To be other-likeness. God calls us to hold all things up to the light of his Word, while I prefer to hold all things up to the light of how others view or judge me. Ultimately, I long for conformity to others rather than to Christ. To seek acceptance by the people around me, the society and not God. Or worse! I am never good enough for Him.

If you are like me and honest enough about it, this makes us useless counselors. We are useless counselors unless we can counsel from Scripture and toward holiness rather than a ruse to be accepted as wise and part of the cool local Christian church, the IN crowd of the month. This makes us miserable because we are always convinced life would be easier and better if only others hang out with us and accept us. This lessens our usefulness to God and his kingdom because we spend so much of our time lamenting how others think of us and what we should do, say, or nor do or not say. This increases our sin and hinders our holiness.

I’m kind of a jerk, I know it, and still I have the audacity to want you to hang out with me. It’s baffling. It’s gross. It’s sin. It’s pride.

The above is an alternate context of someone else's post, my version of sinful pride using his format written (Original post from here: http://www.challies.com/articles/im-better-than-you). It's amazing that while the writer so powerfully wrote about his root sin, I at the same time was thinking about the same sin, but realised its fueled by an opposing force. So instead of trying to string my thoughts into words, I adapted his because it is much more powerful that anything I can write. I'll be up until I receive a complain that I copied too much. In which case I'll rewrite my version...

Monday, January 6, 2014

Spiritual Warfare: Flesh vs Spirit

So, we've moved house! "Again?", "How come so sudden?", "Really? Why? I thought you liked Forestdale?" This blog post is an account of the journey. I think its not secret. I have an issue with remembering things. So this is my attempt to write it down. Why write it down publicly? Well, its because this journey was nothing short of a miracle. This post will be our testimony that God is real. He is concerned for us and carried us through. And also... Satan is real and he has NO concern for us and he would stop at anything to break us.

Disclaimer: This is going to be a long post. It is an account of our journey over more than 3 months. There is something that Steve said which resonated with me as I was wrestling with God asking Him "Why, why must life be so difficult?"... Down in the depths of despair... This very same thing I'd like you to keep in mind as you read, if you are interested in the account: "People choosing to take up the cross and follow Him... in the literal sense, we become bigger targets for the devil..."

"5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him." - Romans 8:v5-9

The Call???
At the beginning of 2013, I had decided that it would be a year of change, a year of action. I wanted to do more with my life that would make more sense in eternity than just the mundane. Some would say this is the start of God's "calling", but I feel that His "calling" started long ago. You see, if you had your radar switched on, you can see that God's plan is in motion and you begin to see the beauty of His sovereignty. For a long time, I have been seeing how many major or even minor incidents that had happen in my life was allowed to happen for some very specific reasons. I was being molded, changed and improved for some reason. Bible calls this constant sanctification. Anyway, coming back to the start of 2013. I did my "research". I spoke to my pastor at Church, we prayed, I read heaps... Though the call to serve is a noble one (1 Tim 3:1-7), it is not simple or trivial in its requirements. Would I ever be qualified? Nonetheless, I've got a guide, something to work towards through His grace I grew more and more confident of the direction through the year.

The Decision
Through the intense lessons of The Guidance of God from 2012 Church camp and my various readings, we decided to put the learnings into practice. Kat and I prayed over a few weeks, we discussed long and hard about my decision for the family. I am thankful for Kat's trust in me and her support. Yet at the same time I feel the burden of this leadership. We made sure, at that point in time, that there weren't any issues with righteousness with the decision. Was I wanting to start serving God full time due to selfish gains or sinful reasons? I am fully aware of how easily puffed up I get. Quite like a puffer fish :) I laid out the plan with Kat that the first thing we have to do is to get our finances under control. This would mean moving. We couldn't serve God effectively at where we are. Of course we added other reasons like giving Mikaela a better chance at education by moving to somewhere closer to a good state school. Lastly we also decided it would be good for us to be closer to the Bible College that I'd start studying at this year (2014). After making sure that our decisions did not effect holiness, we applied good judgement to work out where and how to move and narrowed it down to where to move to. (For more on Guidance and the Voice of God see here: http://www.matthiasmedia.com.au/guidance-and-the-voice-of-god)

The Analysis of Plan
Decision made in August, being the business analyst that I am, started to systematically execute on the plan. I got a financial planner (message me if you want a referral, he's awesome!), I planned my move through spreadsheets. I started to calculate my budgets for the move and for the next 10 years. I understood that the number 1 reason most full time workers for God burn out or stop is because it was just not sustainable and they stepped into it on blind faith. I did not want to be the one extreme. But I was cautious too that I did not rely too much on my own fleshly worries. It was HARD to discern when to apply faith! Anyway, I started to work out my budgets for selling and buying a house to be closer to Church.

Relationships Reinforced
At the same time the family, parents included, started to get into it. All were supportive of the move and all enjoyed the prospect of "House shopping". There is something about viewing a house that brings joy and excitement :P One thing I knew I had coming was the difficult task of trying to get another house that would match up to our current one then. Everyone loved Forestdale. No one expected me to uproot everyone like this. Even though everyone was supportive of the idea, when the rubber was hitting the road, sparks were flying. House shopping gave rise to lots of heated discussions in the family. Being a person that draws energy from people's happiness, I was really drained when relationships were strained. The first trial hit! Satan knew exactly how to strike. I remember what Susan said when I first shared that we were looking... She said, "If it's God's will it'll be smooth." This was NOT the case here as I would soon find out. Us fighting a lot while choosing a house was to be the start of a NOT-SMOOTH-AT-ALL ride. I was greatly reminded of Job. Nothing was smooth for him. If God wanted us to grow in holiness, he'd allow trials to grow us. The key, like in Job, is to keep the faith and TRUST that it'll work out in the end because there is ALWAYS a purpose. In this case the fights opened deeper conversations with everyone in the family and we grew together as a family even with my parents. It allowed us fight not only with our flesh, but to see the spiritual learnings from it. To be all personally challenged to understand what it really means to take up the cross and follow Him. The first episode of Flesh vs Spirit...

God's Plan is Better Than Mine
Episode 2 of Flesh vs Spirit was to do with selling Forestdale. After much cleaning up and de-cluttering the house was finally up for sale. As days turned to weeks and viewings after viewings of the house turned up with no interest we started to loose heart. Every few days we'd pray for a buyer and I'd be crunching numbers to make sure that we can afford to buy a house when we sell. I remembered that as I started to rely on my numbers more and more all the bad news started to come. I don't think its directly related to my over-reliance on my spreadsheet, but it certainly caused me a lot of distress. First bad news was that we couldn't get bridging loan. The bank wouldn't lend us the money to buy a house first then sell our house. The second blow was that the bank is struggling to lend us the amount of money I was asking for to buy nearer to church. When I did the sums, we were short and could not afford any where near church. The only way was to either abandon the plan or sell and rent for a while, sell our other property and get enough to buy the place near church. After all the house viewings, this was a let-down for everyone. We saw a place we really liked at Fig Tree Pocket and we couldn't offer because we hadn't sold the place and we didn't have a bank that would pre-approve a loan to do so. We were back to square one... or so it seems.

The Sale of Forestdale
The end of Episode 2 came when someone offered to buy our place at the end of October. The only one offer we got. Issue is, they were asking for $10,000 less than what we needed. The flesh in me wanted to take it and keep going. Kat was more objective. We prayed and decided to completely surrender to God's will. Our prayer I remembered was for complete submission to His will and for wisdom to discern what is right. I remembered talking to the agent that night and he said if we don't take the offer, we'll lose them. I texted him saying it was fine, we will not take it and that we'll get the next one. We thanked him for his efforts and thought that was that. What happened next was something that none of us expected since any efforts at negotiation had failed. They counter offered with exactly $10,000 more. Exactly what we needed! Complete surrender to God's will worked!

Can we afford to buy?
Episode 3 of flesh vs spirit began... We really wanted the Fig Tree Pocket place. But all my calculations still fall short of it being affordable. The bank would not lend us the money that we needed. It was short. However, after knowing that we're definately selling Forestdale, I did the sums again. Strangely enough, something weird happened. Something I still cannot explain till now. I went through all the paperwork again and found that I had miscalculated by a LOT! I was $30,000 off. I triple checked and even asked Uncle Philip (our mortgage broker) how we got the figure and we couldn't explain it. The statement did not lie. I punched in the new figure and it miraculously worked. We could afford to buy near church... Just! How did I not see this? How did I work on a figure that made no sense and grossly miscalculate? I could not understand. Happily, we went to the Fig Tree Pocket place with the intent to place an offer. As I was walking up to him at the open house, he sadly said, "mate, we sold the place yesterday". "Wait, what?... How come you are having an open house if it was sold", I asked, thinking he was joking. Turns out he wasn't. It was too late to pull the ad and he was there to tell viewers. "I tried calling Kat, and left voicemails..." We had instructed him to tell us if there was an offer, but Kat never really got the calls. Or we missed the call completely. In short, we were devastated that we missed the opportunity to buy this house. What are the odds that we can get to find a place within these 2 weeks before we have to move out? We'll have to rent... An option we're not too keen on, 'cos we'll have to pay rent and also move TWICE! I couldn't stop thinking about how Jesus didn't reveal Himself to His disciples until he wants to when He came back after His death. Going to pick Kat up from Bloom after the failed open house offer episode all I could say to Kat was, "God did not want us to have this house." Think about it, if I had not mess up the calculation, we would have offered for the house at Fig Tree Pocket. I discovered this precisely on the day before the house was sold!

Buying Chapel Hill
Episode 4 of Flesh vs Spirit. We prayed for a place so we didn't have to rent. But at the same time we wanted to completely submit to His will and if renting is what He wanted us to do, we'll do it. With no anxiety in mind, especially after revealing His sovereignty to us from episode 2 and 3, we continued our house viewings the next weekend. Kat said there weren't many on the market where we're looking that would work, but she shortlisted one. So we went to have a look. She said it was over our budget, but lets go see anyway... So we went. We went, we saw and we liked... But I walked out of there saying these exact words, "We'd be laughing if they sold it to us for $xxx,xxx". The agent kept telling us the sellers are not interested in any offers below that figure that I had in mind. Learning quickly the lesson from episode 2 and 3, we prayed anyway and decided to place an offer that is lower than what the agent said the sellers would be interested in. "They would rather rent it out" were her words. Surprisingly, the agent did process the offer and did not dismiss it as wasting her time. So the offer that was not to be considered WAS considered! Also more glory to God was the fact that we closed to price at merely $3,000 above the value I said we'd be laughing if we got it! The place, its location and its features all pointed towards the fact that the price it closed at was too good to be true. But God allowed it to happen. In this case Spirit won!

Bank Loan Drama
This completely bumpy ride is not over yet. Episode 5. I had a lot of issues getting the loan approved. First there were loads of paperwork they required. But what was weirder where their requests before they would approve the loan. They wanted me to cancel my existing credit cards. I had thought nothing of it at the time and tried to negotiate it away. But this turned out to be the very thing that nearly drove me to depression. The stress of missing the plan and scheduled timelines was too much for me to bear. You see, we had to sell the house, get the money, buy the house and plan to move all our things in the new place. The timing had to be perfect. MY timing that is... Not God's... Within a span of weeks... not even months or years, I had already forgotten God's power and control. I had given in to my fleshly plans. I wanted to take matters into my own hands... It turned out that the credit cards took longer to cancel and delayed the banks ultimate approvals. The delay in approvals, pushed all our plans out and we weren't sure if we were going to get this house at all until 1 week before the settlement date. I knew I could depend on God. I knew that even if He did not allow us to buy the place His plans should be greater than mine. But even within weeks of seeing Him work, I was still weak and sinful. Exactly that weekend the sermon was on Hosea 4-14 about how we can hurt God by forsaking Him and trying to fix our own problems. Anyway, episode 5 ended with my repentance, lots of prayer of everyone about my anxiety and God allowed the loan and purchase to happen without any issues.

Do Not Store Riches on Earth
Episode 6. This is somewhat a battle of Flesh and Spirit, but not exactly. Let me explain. All throughout the move. Out of Forestdale and then into Chapel Hill, I had been somewhat embarrassed by the amount of stuff we have. I kept thinking to myself, how did I let us store up so much "treasures" on earth? This coincided with me looking at our expenses and also reading the Passport Through Darkness book (http://www.amazon.com/Passport-through-Darkness-Danger-Chances-ebook/dp/B005V21ZHE). I am ashamed and probably still am as to how much I have been sucked into the worlds consumerism. Its embarrassing how much stuff we own and how much we need to spend to make ourselves comfortable. However, this very thing that is a burden in my heart is now being used by Satan as a weapon in my thoughts towards my family. I could not discern between what they needed and when something was deemed as a "treasure" in their eyes or mine. We start to fight over the smallest things because if this. Satan used this to play on my sinful, unforgiving, judgemental nature... This is still an ongoing episode.

This story ends with an open episode 6. Friends, if you love God, can I ask you to pray for my ongoing faith and holiness. I'd be honest that this Christmas and New year period had not been my greatest. In fact, its been the lowest ending 2013. When you are so close to trying to seek God's will and glorify Him, it seems like a clear mirror, reflecting all the ugliness of my sin back at me. Satan is using this in my family to sow evil. My emotional state and spiritual state is fatigued. I question my ability to do fulfill 1 Tim 3:1-7 before I even start. I know in my head that His Grace is sufficient for me. I know episode 6 will end and I will be better after it. But as I go through it and as I look at the long road ahead, I am feeling the runners fatigue at the moment. Please pray for Kat and myself. That we can work through this. That I can work through this with God...

At the end though, I'd like you, if still reading, to also rejoice with me in thanksgiving for God's providence. The sale, the house and also most importantly the trials through 5 episodes of flesh vs Spirit with lessons of walking by the Spirit to be learnt. I hope that this post encouraged you as it did us who lived through it.