Forgiveness

It has been a very reflective 2016 for me thus far, at times poignant. If there is a key or prominent word that keeps occurring, it would be Forgiveness. There has been many quotes from the bible about how we have received forgiveness, especially with Good Friday and Easter recently. After his resurrection, when Jesus appeared to his disciples, he said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:46-47 ESV). I am ever grateful for his love and forgiveness for me but I realised it is not that simple. The other key word is repentance, without which forgiveness would not be in effect.

A big shopping mall is giving away a free gift to the first 100 customers who walk in when it opens tomorrow. Even though the gift is free, the person has to go there to get it. Of course, there will be other considerations like whether it was worth the effort and time, etc. However, it is clear that you need to go to the mall and meet the conditions to get it. In a way, repentance is the condition, the state of heart, mind and spirit that will enable one to receive forgiveness.

When I was younger, I have always thought that I was not good enough and weak willed. I find myself guilt ridden because I thought that I was not able to overcome temptations. Every time I fell, I would ask God to forgive me and somehow it would be like a hopeless vicious cycle that I would once again be asking God to forgive me for the same sins. It was even worse when I realised that my list of wrong doings kept growing. Eventually, I gave up. I gave up not only from asking for forgiveness but also from believing that I would ever be able to overcome. To add to this sorry state, I would not forgive myself for all that has happened and considered myself a hopeless case.

Many years later, I realised that as hopeless as I thought I was, it was really my pride that was the real problem. I have placed the judgement (sentence) on myself and made the decision to go it alone blaming it on my `hopeless’ state. It was I who chose not to believe in the saving power of God for my weaknesses and failures and went ahead on my own schemes and ways. It was I who decided to be the judge and controller of my past, present and future in my so called hopelessness, ironic isn’t it? I thought I could ride through my life with all my imperfect and sinful nature and carve out a decent life with some christian values thrown in. I cringed when I think that I could have gone on the rest of my life in that state.

All the years of growing up in a christian family and environment means nothing if I never really experience repentance and forgiveness in its true sense. It is like what Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36 ESV). A repentant person would be like this, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32 ESV).

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 ESV) and he said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26 ESV). I came to this point like Martha, “Do I believe?” Will I be like Martha who said she believed even though her brother Lazarus has been dead for four days? Clearly my situation was not as drastic as hers but to believe that God will deliver me from my perceived hopelessness was drastic for me. I found it really, really hard to believe as it has been so long, so very long that I am weary just thinking about it.

I realised that my inability to forgive myself stems from my thinking that I can be the judge of who is deserving of forgiveness. This seems utterly ridiculous as who am I trying to be, God? Not only was I unrepentant, I was high and mighty too. It’s like I am stuck inside a deep, dark and murky well and someone came to rescue me by lowering a rope for me to hold on to but I said, “No need I’m fine, just let me rot in here”. This is a prime example of foolish pride.

To truly believe in God, I need to repent – acknowledge and recognise my sinful nature and the need for deliverance (to be rescued) through Jesus Christ who has paid the price for me and through him I can receive the forgiveness of sins. I believed and stopped judging my hopelessness and lay myself down before God, warts and all. I received the forgiveness of my sins whom only Jesus can wash clean and I am set free! I am forever grateful for his love and grace for me and that he will continue the work in my life as I press on to live this life in his light and joy that I may be a blessing to others and let them know that indeed, Jesus saves and is coming again. I can now testify the verse quoted earlier, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed”!

Now I can say with much joy and gratefulness, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20 ESV) and Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10.10b ESV).

Reflection

Well, I am forgiven but it does not stop here as being forgiven also requires that I forgive others, among other things. It makes sense doesn’t it that as we have been forgiven, we should also forgive others. However, it is not so simple yet again. “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;” (Luke 6:37 ESV). This should be covered next.

 

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Superhero (Part 3) – It’s all about the Birds!

Having dogs as a regular part of our family was due to my dad’s love for animals. Birds however, were his main obsession which you will get to know soon. During our kampung days, my dad included dogs in the family as they were known to be loyal guardians of families and homes. Break-ins and thefts of property were common in our kampung during the 1960s and 1970s. We had other creatures included like a couple of white mice that I brought home but my mom’s squeals when I played with them in the house and their subsequent disappearance from my makeshift cage, made it no longer feasible to keep them. Much to my dismay, cats could not be included as they would frighten the birds or even worse, eat them, so my dad would not risk having them around.

After my family settled in the new high-rise living in 1979, the birds came along as they have been my dad’s lifelong passion. Somehow, dogs were still added on later by us children and my dad just embraced all of them and walked them daily.

Dad bringing Patchy, Rusty and Jamie out for their daily walk at the foot of our block.

Dad bringing (from left) Patchy, Rusty and Jamie out for their daily walk at the foot of our block.

No matter which type of animals that came into our family’s life, it was still all about the birds when you see my dad. He was into it from rearing them the moment they were hatched, trapping them in the jungle to buying or exchanging them with fellow bird lovers. There was one that prominently stood out with him and it was the White-eye Finch, known locally as “Mata Puteh” (a malay description for white-eye) and the following photo will help you see why the small and feisty bird got its name:

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I believe my dad gained a reputation as the “King of Mata Puteh” as he had several wins under his belt such as winning the first prize in a bird singing competition as shown in the following photo dated back in the late 1960s or early 1970s:

Dad won 1st prize in a Mata Puteh bird singing competition

He rose in the ranks of owners of competition standard Mata Puteh such that he was invited to be a judge in such competitions. He had to give up taking part in the competition as it would conflict with his role as a judge but he just loved doing it all as it would promote a hobby that he loved. Here’s a rare photo of my dad judging at one of these competitions:

Dad Judging at a Mata Puteh Singing Competition

You may think that so much time was devoted to one particular species of birds but that was not all. There was another species called “Merbok” and I just learned that it is a Zebra Dove! This bird was like the `luxury model’ of all the species of birds at that time and there were stories about the Sultans (Kings) in Malaysia trading their Mercedes Benz for such top birds in competitions and there is even a town in Malaysia called Merbok, for reasons unknown to me.

My dad had an old friend called Uncle Henry who lived in an old shack up in the old Kampung Eunos and if I remembered correctly, the road leading to his place was Jalan Singa. He was poor and lived alone in a little hut that was at the back of another wooden house and it was the size of a small room. My dad would visit him regularly and brought me along and he and Uncle Henry would sit and chat the whole day about merbok which my dad had one or two. I believe Uncle Henry was his mentor and perhaps they shared one or two potential birds that my dad had invested in (rearing it according to strict diet and care). Here is another rare photo of Uncle Henry and dad with their merbok after winning the first prize at a Merbok singing competition:

Uncle Henry and Dad wining the 1st Prize at a Merbok Singing Competition

I think no one will dispute it if anyone was to say my dad was “Birdman”. After all, his name is Robert and many of his peers, including mom, called him “Bert” which sounds like bird anyway.