This past Sunday at our church we heard an inspiring message linked to Chinese New Year that included the way some ancient Chinese characters have significance with Godly and biblical truths. I was reminded of one of my favourite Chinese characters, the one for “listen”, which is comprised of six word pictures.
I can easily imagine how this character may have developed in the ancient world with emperors who were to be respected, and personally appreciate how the Asian world developed listening as a virtue in society.
The person who first shared this Chinese character with me was a missionary in China. His way of translating this character was as follows: “If you listen with your ear when you come before the king, it is equivalent in value to having ten eyes to understand his one heart.” He further shared that the word would take on even more meaning when you know that Jesus is the King of Kings. Ever since that encounter, I have remembered and treasured this Chinese character. It has added to my growing understanding of the importance of listening and how good listening is much more than simply keeping silent.
The Bible is filled with Scriptures that speak to the value and virtue of listening as characterised in these ways.
In our fast-paced modern lives, we may forget the importance of listening as a virtue that should be developed. In our actions we too often move away from the richness of the traditional Chinese character and the biblical concept of listening. We gravitate toward living out the simplified character for “listen” used in mainland China. That character has only a mouth alongside a derivative of the character for hammer. I am at a loss for how this radical linguistic change came about, but it certainly captures what any of us might feel at any day when listening – being hammered with words from someone’s mouth!
The visual image for listening in the traditional character shows us how we can listen better.
This week, my interest was renewed in the wealth of culture that impacts our lives in Hong Kong. This led me back to Godly truths about listening.
How are you doing at listening?
Nine years ago, a couple from a care group at Island ECC felt called to start a church in Tung Chung; so with the blessing and support of Island ECC's leadership, Bridge Church was founded. Island ECC has supported Bridge Church through the years and this year, Pastor Tim LaTour has agreed to serve at Bridge Church for a 6-month period while it transitions towards a long-term sustainable church model. We encourage everyone to pray for Bridge Church and Tim through the coming months, and hope that you will introduce people who live around Tung Chung to attend Bridge.
Happy Chinese New Year! Hope you have been having an enjoyable break. I’ve been sick over the past week but am back on my feet now and ready to eat some good family meals!
My wife recently introduced me to a new app called Travel Frog, which has been a huge hit amongst younger people in HK and China. In this game you provide various foods and equipment for your frog companion, which he will take on his journeys throughout Japan. In return, he will bring back snapshots and souvenirs from his trips which you collect.
There is very little to do in the game, especially if your frog is not home. Additionally, you have no control over when or where the frog goes, how long he stays and when he returns, and what he brings back with him. Numerous articles have been written on the attraction and popularity of this simple game. Most focus on the lesson of letting go – accepting that, although you can prepare and equip as best as you are able, you cannot control the outcomes that may result.
Isaiah 38 tells the story of a king who had to let go of everything. In this chapter we read of King Hezekiah’s illness that nearly led to his death. He describes it like this:
In the prime of my life, must I go through the gates of death and be robbed of the rest of my years? Isaiah 38:10
In desperation, the king prays to God and God hears him and heals him. Once he is able to look back, he realises that God has done all of this. I hate being sick, yet I have to admit that, like Hezekiah, only during times of sickness, do we find ourselves totally dependent upon the grace of God. It is as though we finally realise our own mortality and, in that realisation, we find we cannot control even our own health.
Hezekiah learnt to trust God as a result of his experience. As a result of his “soul-anguish,” Hezekiah found humility in trusting God:
I will walk humbly all my years because of this anguish of my soul. Lord, by such things people live; and my spirit finds life in them too. Isaiah 38:15-16
After his sickness, he found a new perspective. “By such things people live,” he writes, and so in the second half of his life he lived not for his own glory or achievement as king but in humility before God – and in this way he “finds life”.
As I walk around the city I am struck by the incredible amount of activity and busyness we see all around us. It was then that I realised that in such busyness there is no room to stop and seek God as long as we are consumed by our own activity. Over this New Year period, let me encourage you to pick up the Seek God For the City 2018 Lent devotional. You can pick up the app for just a token amount here. We should use it as an aid to our own prayers as we “let go” of our self-importance and the busyness that can result from it, and turn to God in reliance and prayer.
In day 2 of the devotional guide we are asked to “seek God for humility instead of complacent pride.” Inside we read these words:
“Not only do we keep ourselves busy, we often take pride in how preoccupied we have become. But our ambitious self-sufficiency leaves us disillusioned and weary on the inside.”
Life in the city can leave us exhausted and at the end of our strength, as we strive to achieve, make a name for ourselves, and impress those around us. The message of Isaiah calls on us to turn from trusting in our own ability and strength to trusting in the God who made us, knows us, loves us and who alone can save. Who will you trust?
But /bʌt,bət/: a conjunction used to introduce a phrase or clause contrasting with what has already been mentioned.
“But.” A very short yet powerful word. The ultimate game-changer. When coupled with God, it holds great promise and infinite possibility. Whatever was said before is not final until God says so. Through this word, He can negate whatever happened, or He can call into being that which does not exist (Romans 4:17).
Whatever circumstance you find yourself in today, remember that the final outcome can be radically different and not what you expect because of these two words: but God.
Bad intentions can be redeemed; disasters, bad endings and worst cases can reversed:
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Genesis 50:20
If other people seem to have all the answers; if you’ve ever felt ridiculed because your faith or if you need help to believe He can work in inexplicable, miraculous ways, remember:
“Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” 1 Corinthians 1:27
When injustice has been done; when you’ve been overlooked or treated unfairly; when you feel that God isn’t there or doesn’t care, remember:
“If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands,” Genesis 31:42
When you feel shame or guilt, or when the Enemy says, “God could never forgive you for that”:
“But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
When all seems lost and you fear the worst, remember that Christ defeated death so that your name will be written in the Book of Life:
"[They] put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross. But God raised Him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him." Acts 2:23-24
These two words give us hope. Add them to your prayers. God has the last word and our story is not over until He writes the ending.
Which verse speaks to you the most today? Do you have a “but God” story to share?
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Romans 12:2
As someone who loves photography, I love to explore different settings on my camera in the hope that I can take better pictures! The challenge, or in fact the fun part, in low light photography is to control the amount of light that falls on your subject – especially if you are shooting portraits. In such a scenario, knowing how to use the external flash thoroughly can bring great joy in this hobby. There is a function on many external flashes called ‘Through the Lens’ (TTL). I find this term somewhat intriguing as I examine my own identity in Christ. I wonder just exactly through whose lens am I looking at myself? Am I looking at myself through God’s lens or the world’s lens without Christ in the centre? Whose acceptance am I trying to gain?
Most of us were raised in an environment where the word “success” is defined in certain ways, especially in Hong Kong’s culture. For instance, a person is deemed “successful” if they have a fancy work title and many people reporting to them in their organisation. A person is successful is they live in a big apartment or better still a house located in certain address in the city. A person is successful if they can afford all the niceties the world has to offer without even trying. However, I wonder if this is God’s definition of success. This can be a very distorted view if I view myself through the same kind of lens. In fact, the way God sees me is quite the reverse of how the world sees me! Then how does God see me? Who am I to Him? Let’s take a look at some of names the Bible calls me or us.
This is my identity. This is who I am in Him! And none of these identities have anything to do with money or fame or worldly success. Jesus accepts me just as I am and He qualifies me as one of His chosen people. This is amazing grace – undeserved favour or unmerited favour from God. Hallelujah! Praise the Lord.
Let’s practice through the lens by: