Monday, April 14, 2014

For you, Ma, on your birthday

The thing about life-changing moments is that you don't know that they would be life-changing until they have passed. It is when you look back, you are hit with the realization that you are now a different person.

Photo by my sister Catherine Yong

When I was seventeen, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. When she told me that she had cancer, I cried. And she was the one who comforted me.

On my eighteenth birthday, she received her third dose of chemotherapy. She protected us by locking herself in the bedroom. She did not want her daughters to see her in such a state. Years later, she would tell me how awful these treatments were. How sick she felt. How she would crawl to the bathroom when she needed to vomit. How she fought to stay alive, for us.

Suffering is the part of heroism that we are less keen to talk about. We want to remember the triumphs, the celebrations. But heroes suffer.

Our home was dark and quiet during those months. Ma was the one who switched on the lights when the sun went down. If she saw us reading in the dark, she would say, "Don't ruin your eyes, always read with the lights on." When she was sick, no one else thought to flip on the lights. That is until we got tired of groping in the dark.

One evening, I walked into the living room and found a fairly common sight. Pa was sitting next to Ma. Ma had taken off her scarf. He was stroking her bald head. During the day, she wore her scarf with so much dignity and courage. In Malaysia, covering one's head carried a religious meaning — it was a mark of a Muslim woman. If strangers stared (and they did, a lot, because Ma did not look quite like a Muslim), Ma would graciously explain that she was a Christian, fighting cancer.

Anyway, I walked into the living room that evening not knowing that my life would be changed, that this picture of my father caressing my mother's bald head would stay with me for years to come. It held so much of what I knew about them, about their one-ness. When I came to the States for college, this picture of them, sitting together, comforted me during my darkest nights. When Hans asked me to marry him, I thought to myself, can we be happy, like that?

Of all the gifts that my parents gave to me, the best gift, by far, was the gift of their love for one another. I don't recall a lot of chocolates or roses, though I am sure there were some. I do recall, however, specific examples of how they changed and grew and sacrificed their own interests for the sake of the other person.

My dad loved my mom. He took her out for walks everyday. They watched the sunset. They held hands. They talked. They laughed, a lot. And Pa caressed Ma's head when she was bald. "To keep her warm," he would explain. But I knew it was because he loved her.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I am Thine

Dear friend,

I heard you that have been restless and weary. The days are long, but the years are short. In case you, like me, need words of help to pray, here is one I am praying today.

Often foolish, I act as though I am my own resting place. But as the Lord is kind to reveal, again and again, that I am not enough. I am not trustworthy; I am not strong.

Thank you, Puritan brothers and sisters, for writing down your prayers.

Teach me to see
that if Christ has pacified Thee and satisfied divine justice,
He can also deliver me from my sins;
that Christ does not desire me, now justified,
to live in self-confidence and in my own strength,
but gives me the law of the Spirit of Life, to enable me to obey Thee;
that the Spirit and His power are mine by resting on Christ’s death;
that the Spirit of Life within answers to the law without;
that if I sin not I should thank Thee for it;
that if I sin I should be humbled daily under it;
that I should mourn for sin more than other men do,
for when I see I shall die because of sin that makes me mourn;
when I see how sin strikes at Thee, that makes me mourn;
when I see that sin caused Christ’s death, that makes me mourn;
that sanctification is the evidence of reconciliation,
proving that faith has truly apprehended Christ;

Thou hast taught me
that faith is nothing else than receiving Thy kindness;
that it is an adherence to Christ, a resting on Him,
love clinging to Him as a branch to the tree, to seek life and vigour from Him.

I thank Thee for showing me the vast difference between knowing things by reason,
and knowing them by the spirit of faith.

By reason I see a thing is so; by faith I know it as it is.
I have seen Thee by reason and have not been amazed,
I have seen Thee as Thou art in the Son and have been ravished to behold Thee!

I bless Thee that I am Thine in my Savior, Jesus.

The Valley of Vision, 102-103.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Repenting of my repentance

My sister Jean gave me a book of Puritan prayers for Christmas and it has proven to be most helpful. When I lack the words to pray, I lean heavily on the words of men and women who walked before me.

I return to this prayer again and again. Written during a screen-less time, the prayers of the Puritans are steeped in word pictures. This one is drenched in the imagery of rags and robes. I meditate on it as I get dressed in the morning, as I give the boys their baths, as I change them when they soil themselves, as I change my clothes, again, because I am as clumsy as they are (though without a good excuse). The mundane tasks of putting on, taking off, and changing remind me of the ceaseless work of repentance.

O God of Grace,
You have imputed my sin to my substitute,
and have imputed his righteousness to my soul,
clothing me with a bridegroom's robe,
decking me with jewels of holiness.

But in my Christian walk I am still in rags;
my best prayers are stained with sin;
my penitential tears are so much impurity;
my confessions of wrong are so many aggravations of sin;
my receiving the Spirit is tinctured with selfishness.

I need to repent of my repentance;
I need my tears to be washed;
I have no robe to bring to cover my sins,
no loom to weave my own righteousness;
I am always standing clothed in filthy garments,
and by grace am always receiving change of raiment,
for you always justify the ungodly;
I am always going into the far country,
and always returning home as a prodigal,
always saying, "Father, forgive me,"
and you are always bringing forth the best robe.

Every morning let me wear it,
every evening return in it,
go out to the day's work in it,
be married in it,
be wound in death in it,
stand before the great white throne in it,
enter heaven in it shining as the sun.
Grant me never to lose sight of the exceeding sinfulness of sin,
the exceeding righteousness of salvation,
the exceeding glory of Christ,
the exceeding beauty of holiness,
the exceeding wonder of grace.

The Valley of Vision, 136-137.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Snot on my armor

{A short Biblical theology of fashion}

In his mercy, God clothed Adam and Eve. The serpent promised that their eyes would be opened if they ate the fruit of the forbidden tree. The irony is that their eyes were opened—unto death. They stood there, naked. Fig leaves were not enough to cover their shame.

All of us—men and women—wear clothes, everyday. The Bible has so much to say about fashion and what we should wear. Except for the occasional mention of modesty, however, our theology of clothing is as thin as a shabby old T-shirt in the winter storm.

Our Lord Jesus declares, it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person. What defiles a person, he says, proceeds from the heart. By the same principle, it is not what I put on my body that defiles me, my heart defiles me. I could be covered from head to toe and still be defiled. Living out a Biblical understanding of clothing is not about what I wear, but why I wear what I wear.

1. I wear clothes as a reminder of Adam and Eve's former glory.
Adam and Eve walked with God in Eden. They had nothing to prove, nothing to hide. Their lost their glory when they rebelled against God. When they felt shame for the first time, their impulse was to cover themselves, though their leafy garments were insufficient. God did not reprimand them for their desire to cover themselves. Instead, he clothed them with something far better — garments of skin that required the spilling of blood. Therefore, returning to our naked state is not an option. Our reality is now outside Eden. Therefore, we clothe ourselves.

2. I wear clothes as a confession that I am not who I ought to be.
The king of Nineveh took off his royal robe and covered himself with sackcloth and ashes. He commanded his people to do likewise.The Lord looked on the nation with mercy and forgave them of their sin. I put on clothes every morning as a prayer unto the Lord for mercy. I confess that I am a rebel, I cannot save myself. I am not enough. My clothes are my sackcloth and ashes, a sign of my repentance.

3. I wear clothes as a confession that Jesus Christ is my perfect covering.
I am hidden in the death and the life of my Lord Jesus Christ. I can stand before the Father's throne because he sees the perfect obedience of his Son. I put on my clothes — in remembrance of him. Christ is my perfect covering, my armor of light. Christ is my helmet of salvation. Christ is my breastplate of righteousness. Christ is my belt of truth. Christ is my combat boots, preparing me to preach the Gospel of peace. Christ is my shield. He gives me the sword of the Spirit, his living Word.

4. I wear clothes as a reminder of the Church's present labor and future glory.
The Lamb of God laid down his life for his Bride, the Church. His blood purchased her fine linen of righteousness, bright and pure. While we wait for his return, we, his royal priesthood, shall labor in our priestly garments. We wear our priestly robes in service of others, in the presence of God. Our robes could look like office attires, nurses' scrubs, hospital gowns, military uniforms, firefighters' suits, a chef's hat, prison uniforms, or — my blouse and jeans. My priestly garment is currently covered with paint, snot, a splash of bath water, mud, cream cheese, and I smell like chocolate cookies. Somewhat like the priestly garments in the Old Testament, without so much blood.

I like pretty clothes. But I don't like to admit I like pretty clothes, because I don't want people to think I am vain and superficial, though I can be. There is nothing wrong with wearing pretty things, because it is not what I put on my body that defiles me. My heart defiles me; idolatry defiles me. Wearing things (pretty or not, long or short) for my own glory defiles me. People may judge me according to my outward appearance, but the Lord sees my heart. The Lord sees why I wear what I wear; he sees my intentions, my motivations. And that's a scarier thought.

So, why do I wear what I wear?

I change out of my pajamas in the morning out of respect for my children as we begin our homeschool. I put on my favorite things on Sundays because I get to stand before God in the midst of his congregation. I feel weird about wearing cross necklaces because the cross is the sign of my death penalty that Christ has paid. And I feel weird about seeing my death penalty decorated in gold and hanging around my neck. I don't wear WWJD bracelets because I think they are ugly. And I prefer my priestly garments to be non-ugly.

But what do I know? I have snot on me.

When I love certain things a little too much, I ask myself, "Am I willing to give this away?" I am learning, slowly, to hold all things loosely. Fabric, faux-fur, and leather are merely shadows of what is to come.

I read recently a story about an 80-year-old farmer in North Korea. In the cloak of darkness, he goes on a boat and drops scripture leaflets along the coastline of the hermit kingdom. “I pray over every gospel leaflet I throw into the sea," he says. "I pray for those who will read them as they wash up on the shore. This is now my profession, the most important task of my life.”

For this reason, he goes out into the night wearing his nicely pressed suit and a tie around his neck. He puts on his best. He knows for whom he is dressed; he knows of whom he is wearing.

And so must I.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Flinging life away for love of him

Hans and I never lived in the same state until the day we got married. After the wedding, everyday was like a big date. We got to eat, work, and talk — face to face. We even got to decide how to spend our leisure time together. I know, crazy stuff. Hans knew what I loved. He took me out on walks; even on our shoestring budget, we tried a few new restaurants and museums. He was a lovely man.

And then, he taught me how to play strategy games.

I must confess, at first, I just didn't get it. I didn't understand what were the benefits of staring at a board, or the computer screen, for hours upon hours. What were we accomplishing? How was this useful? What am I getting out of this? Did he not know that our dates were about me and revolved around my interests and for my benefit?


I disdain useless things and I have an irrational fear of being useless. Thinking about it makes my throat close and I can't breath. When I was pregnant, I couldn't stand my closet. I wanted to purge everything because nothing, not even the stretchy things, would fit. But Hans wisely told me to hold off on giving everything away, at least until the baby arrives.

I am my own idol. Even during some of my finer moments of serving others and keeping spiritual disciplines, I can be very concerned about myself and what's in it for me. Meditating on Mary's love for Jesus has been good for my soul.

Mary, and how she sat at Jesus' feet, listening to every word, watching every gesture, beholding every expression. Mary, and how she fell at his feet, weeping. How she broke and poured her alabaster jar of pure nard, on Jesus' feet. How she wiped Jesus' feet with her hair.

Mary's love for Jesus was so indiscreet, and even immodest. Hers was a love that was self-forgetting. She broke decorum and abandoned respectability. She used the crown of her head to wipe the dirt beneath his feet. Her worship of Jesus made people uncomfortable.

Mary placed herself at his feet. This is a pattern in Mary's relationship to Jesus. She was always at his feet. This was not a mutual exchange, not an equal give and take. This was not Mary helping Jesus out. This was worship.

Martha welcomed, served, and helped. Judas was an advocate for the poor. Mary did nothing useful of that sort. Yet, Jesus commended her, defended her. He called her sacrifice beautiful. Jesus was not saying hospitality was bad or feeding the poor was bad, but Jesus was distinguishing these works from Mary's worship. Unlike the others, Mary saw Jesus properly, so she responded properly — with homage and devotion.

Love takes us beyond ourselves. Of course, love can be helpful and practical, like receiving socks on Christmas morning. In fact, I love receiving socks for Christmas. But love can and should also be extravagant and unreasonable and sacrificial. For some birthdays, Hans would give me useful and practical gifts like my dutch oven and my chef's knife. For other birthdays, and especially for my non-birthdays, he would give me outrageous things, like a polka dot skirt. In the winter. He is a lovely man.

I am look forward to spring.

The only thing I bring to my salvation is my sin. Christ took my sin and death upon the cross, and in exchange, he gave me new life — with him. Therefore, I need to quit asking, "Am I being used by God?" Because, frankly, I am of no use to him at all.

The Father is looking for worshipers, like Mary, who are not the least bit concerned about themselves and what is in it for them. Because Mary surrendered herself, Jesus says her story would be told wherever the Gospel is proclaimed.

Consider this final passage by Howard Guinness in his book Sacrifice:
Where are the young men and women of this generation who will hold their lives cheap and be faithful even unto death? Where are those who will lose their lives for Christ’s sake, flinging them away for love of him? Where are those who will live dangerously and be reckless in his service? Where are his lovers, those who love him and the souls of men more than their own reputations or comfort or very life?

Nearly eight years later, Hans made a convert out of me. I love strategy games. It's a lot more fun now that I know what is in it for me.

A lot of wins.
Ha. Just kidding.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The dove returned

We heard last week that North Korea's supreme leader Kim Jong Un ordered the execution of 33 Christians. As we scoured the internet, we could only find bits and pieces of news, tainted with staged interviews and scripted press releases. From this distance, it is hard to distinguish truth from propaganda.

I found this sliver of information to be consistent in the reports: The 33 Christians were accused of planting 500 underground churches.

Our hearts swelled with a joyful sorrow.

Thirty-three. As it was in the days of Noah, the dove returned in the evening, bearing in her mouth a freshly plucked olive leaf. Ironically, the news of their death sentence is a sign of life — the Lord is at work. So, we receive this dire news with hope. The Body of Christ is alive in North Korea. Against all odds, the church is growing.

This is remarkable given the degree of persecution against Christians there. Following Christ comes at a great cost, sacrifices of many kinds. The "three-generation" policy makes North Korea the most brutal and suppressive regiment against Christianity in the world. Not only would the accused individual be sent to labor camps, but their families, their parents and children, would all be put away. Imagine having to watch your elderly parents and young children die of starvation and exhaustion — because you were found to be in possession of a gospel tract, or a few pages of the Bible.

The blood of God's children cries out from the ground. We must keep our brothers and sisters in our prayers. Pray not only for the 33 saints, but pray for their families, pray for the underground churches, pray for the pastors, and all the saints. Pray that they would be strong and courageous. Pray that they are somehow able to hear God's Word. Let us keep praying for them with all vigilance.

My sister Jean shared this hymn with us last week. She took an old hymn and gave it a new melody and a bridge. As I listened to it the first few times, I was filled with curiosity and admiration for Jean's gift. But as I started singing with her, this song really got to me.

So, I am sharing with you the soundtrack of my prayers for North Korea. I praise the Lord for their testimony, how they hastened to follow Christ, despite the many waters of persecution.

I am hastening, slowly.
Would you come with me? I would love your company.

Stanzas 1 & 2:
Resolved no longer to linger,
Charmed by the world's delight,
Things that are higher, things that are nobler,
These have allured my sight.

Resolved to go to the Savior,
Leaving my sin and strife;
He is the true One, He is the just One,
He hath the words of life.

I will hasten to Him,
Hasten so glad and free;
Jesus, greatest, highest,
I will come to Thee.

Stanzas 3 & 4:
Resolved to follow the Savior,
Faithful and true each day;
Heed what He sayeth, do what He willeth,
He is the living Way.

Resolved to enter the kingdom
Leaving the paths of sin;
Friends may oppose me, foes may beset me,
Still will I enter in.

I will hasten to Him,
Hasten so glad and free;
Jesus, greatest, highest,
I will come to Thee.

Stanza 5:
Resolved, and who will go with me?
Come, friends, without delay,
Taught by the Bible, led by the Spirit,
We'll walk the heav'nly way.

He's awaiting that glorious day
When His bride sees Him face to face;
He's preparing her for that day
When in white she walks down with grace,
Winning the Bridegroom's praise.

Shall we hasten to Him?
Hasten so glad and free;
Jesus, greatest, highest,
We will come to Thee.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Not a love at first sight

I first encountered Hans when he was preaching in his previous church. Ours was not a love at first sight. I was, however, given "an understanding at first hearing."

I love learning from him then, and I love learning from him now. Hans has a way of explaining complicated things, making them simple and accessible. He is clear and logical and precise, skills that do not come naturally for me. And now that we are married, I have the benefit of knowing that he teaches me because he loves me.

Hans is currently teaching Christian apologetics in his Sunday school class. He kindly gives his wife summaries of his lessons every now and then, because I am usually with the boys when he is teaching.

A few Sundays ago, I asked Hans what is the use of Christian apolegetics. Does it do any lasting good to be able to defend the truth of the Gospel or the reliability of Scripture? All this talk about evidence and presuppositions — do people actually come to faith by being proven that they have been wrong all their lives?

I came across the testimony of Nabeel Qureshi today. Nabeel grew up in the United States, in an extremely devout Muslim home. His mother came from a long line of missionaries of Islam and he was taught to be an ambassador for Islam from a young age. But Christ revealed himself to Nabeel and his life in Christ revives a desire in me to better explain and defend my faith. He reminds me why the Gospel is worth dying for.

In his testimony, Nabeel talks about his best friend David. He was the first person who provided some answers to Nabeel's attacks against Christianity. David's response was unexpected and his friendship was genuine. "From that point on, we did everything together... In that context of friendship, I know that he is going to take a bullet for me if the time ever arises, and I would do the same for him. So when he shares the Gospel with me, and when he tries to tear down my faith, I know he is doing it because he loves me."

Theirs was a love that was truly tolerant.

Tim Keller said in a sermon, “Truth without love is imperious self-righteousness. Love without truth is cowardly self-indulgence.” Christian apologetics is a useful tool, but only when it comes from mouths that speak the truth with love, and from hearts that are ever so aware of the grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ.