Hope always motivates

I have always wondered which comes first: hope, faith or love? It might be a chicken-and-egg question. No one knows the answer. They just are.

A verse in Scripture I read recently, however, sheds some light on the issue. Colossians 1: 4-5 says: “… we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people — the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven …”

The last line suggests that hope comes first. From it spring faith and love. When that hope is in Christ, that hope never disappoints. The famous Romans 5:5 verse tells us that hope never fails us: “… because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Some versions read verse 5 as “hope doesn’t disappoint us”. Whether hope doesn’t shame or disappoint us, the point is that hope that perseveres through life’s experiences will never let us down.

For Christians, that hope is the hope we place in Christ. That hope is “stored up” (Col 1:5) for us in heaven. It has an eternal quality. It doesn’t dry up. That’s the reason, when we put our hope in Christ, no matter what happens, we are always hopeful!

Some may think we are mad — being hopeful when things around us show the exact opposite! That’s the power of hope! When we hope, we can dream. When we dream, we have a vision or an awakening of a desire and it kindles hope that it can become real for us. So, we act on that hope in faith to realize that hope for ourselves and those we love.

Sometimes, in hoping for something, we may arrive at a dead end. That’s normal, part of life. In such cases, the best thing to do is to find an exit. When our larger hope is in Christ, the death of a smaller, specific hope will not leave us hopeless. That larger hope will help us backtrack from the dead end and find other choices and alternatives. In the end, some specific individual hopes may die but we never become hopeless because our larger hope in Christ helps us get through.

There was one area in my life where I lost hope. It was the darkness that pulled me down. But, God gave a promise and I held on to it because it gave me hope, and I pulled through, step by step resolving until I reached a very stable, secure place and I never felt that darkness again. Then, though the promise did not come to pass, I could let hope for it die because, from a position of strength now, I could see for myself that it wasn’t really what I want.

God’s promises give us hope to believe, dream and want for ourselves and those we love. With hope, we exercise faith to attain things for ourselves and our loved ones. Yet, the Bible says the greatest of these three is love. “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (I Cor 13: 13) Understandably. If we have hope and know how to exercise faith but we can’t love, the first two are useless! We need hope and faith so that we can make things happen for those we love, including ourselves! Such a life is well lived, because by applying these three spiritual resources, we see things work out through our choices.

The Christian life should be characterized by these three qualities: hope, faith and love — not wealth, monuments and material things. When we have hope, faith and love, we can have wealth, monuments and material things but the focus should be in growing in hope, faith and love rather than in the acquisition of the end-products they bring.

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There’s hope, but is the opposition united to make good on it?

It’s stinking politics as usual, of course. Yet, in the midst of it there is just a sliver of hope cutting through the dirt. The question is: Are the people who can make a difference taking hold of the hope to do what it takes to bring about the desired change?

In the current political scenario, hope comes in the form of the opposition parties who have considerable support from the people. Undeniably, the odds are stacked up impossibly high against them. In the continuing old politics, the system is rigged to enable the incumbent political alliance to stay in power. Now, it is said that the Election Commission’s new redelineation exercise — if passed — will enable the BN to win a general election with only 35%of the vote.

Yet, I believe that the opposition can beat the odds — if they would do only one thing — stand solidly united. Unfortunately, that isn’t what we are seeing. The opposition is fractured, and that is the problem. The problem isn’t the electorate. Sure, they can be manipulated, and, actually are. But, if the opposition can not present a united front, what choice do the people have? They will choose the side that can form the government. What would be the point of voting for a fractured opposition which is unable to form a government?

The problem is that the opposition is made up of disparate parties who haven’t as yet learnt the art of trade-offs that is essential in negotiations to facilitate a single-minded united action to deliver on our hopes. It’s a skill that the BN has learnt and effectively practiced and which is bolstering them up now despite the lack of majority support.

If the opposition doesn’t learn to act in concert, we can expect the BN to win the next general elections. That glimmer of hope we see in the opposition will die a natural death, and it may lead to the break up of the opposition. If that happens the BN will get even stronger — by default, because the opposition is divided. And the old politics will continue: reforms will be tossed out of the window; hungry, roving, political wolves will continue to taunt and intimidate in order to destabilize the peace so that emergency can be introduced or force the hands of their leaders to invoke the ISA and put the trouble-makers, including their own (which they wouldn’t mind as long as their party remains in government), in detention. All for the sake of keeping the minority in power.

If the opposition can’t see what will happen if they fail to come together in unity, then, I think, we should be prepared for a tried and tired future with the BN.

There’s no time to lose. The next general election is the only chance the opposition will get to unseat the BN government in the near future. If they miss this chance, they may have to wait for a very long time before a chance presents itself again for them to win an election and rule.

Opposition parties have to put aside their petty differences for the good of the nation and start talking now, not when the general election  is announced. They have to sit down together and thrash out their concerns, not in one meeting but in several until they come to a consensus.

Only a united opposition can defeat the BN. Only a united opposition can give the people a credible alternative. It is the responsibility of the opposition to give people that choice if they want to rule. Then, I believe the people will choose wisely.

Some of the issues that are dividing the opposition are the choice of candidate for the premiership, hudud, and which party will take the lead in the coalition. Well, all these issues need to be thrashed out. Right now, Muhyiddin Yassin is a good candidate for the position of PM because he was primed for that position as the former deputy PM. PKR and DAP need to understand this, and not insist that PKR advisor, Anwar Ibrahim, becomes the PM. At this point Anwar can’ t because he is in jail. If he is freed, there can be renegotiations for the post of prime minister.

If PAS is courting Umno to introduce hudud, it will have to go it alone and that might be the end of the party. If it lets bygones be bygones and links hands with the opposition, it must be willing to give up hudud because hudud has no place in a modern, multi-cultural society. DAP, too, should extend an olive branch to PAS and treat it with more respect than it has. PKR has to stop obsessing with Anwar and be willing to give and take with Muhyiddin’s party, Parti Pribumi.

These issues need to be sorted out well before the next general election. The people need to see that the opposition can work together. If the opposition fails to stand united, BN will win the next general election. If the opposition stands 100% united, they will be a force to reckon with, and will be ready to form the new government.

We can hope, but will it happen? It will if the opposition can get its act together and become a formidable, united coalition.

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Let’s not get hoodwinked

For a long time, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak dismissed former PM Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s criticisms as mere “noise”, not to be taken seriously. That tune seems to have changed. Recently, he singled out “one person” — a veiled reference to Dr M — for creating trouble.

This can only mean one thing: Dr M is now no longer inconsequential; He is a threat to Umno. Publicly, Umno leaders have stated that the new party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), founded by Dr M, will have little effect in changing the political landscape.

Yet, Umno had made overtures to former Kedah Mentri Besar, Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir, who is also Dr M’s son and who was sacked from his post, to return to Umno. Mukhriz’s response was “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry!” Mukhriz is now a member of Parti Pribumi.

In Sabah, Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal, a Dr M supporter who resigned from Umno, is setting up his own party and forming an opposition coalition of Sabah-based parties. As a result, PKR and the DAP have lost a couple of key leaders who left their respective parties to join in Shafie’s initiative. Government-owned media have presented this as the collapse of the opposition, led by PKR.

Well, that’s what the government-owned media say. If more local-based Sabah parties come under Shafie’s opposition umbrella, the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) may lose a number of parliamentary seats in Sabah. The truth that is not openly stated is that, perhaps, Dr M’s efforts to mobilise bumiputras may be making headway — enough to make Umno insecure — and forcing them to react to appear they are strong. Hence, all these negative statements against Dr M (who has nothing to gain from his endeavours, whereas the people will gain everything!), Parti Pribumi and Shafie’s Sabah initiative.

That also explains why hooliganism by some Umno members is getting worse (Red shirts preventing Bersih supporters from their right to assemble and protest). The more insecure the insecure become, the lower they sink to show their strength.

It is heartening to note that all this is not lost on Malaysians. They are expressing their disagreements. An exchange of views in public debate is ongoing, at least, on the online media. My hope is that more Malaysians will wise up to the current political situation and not let themselves be fooled by the mainstream media which have always put the interests of their political masters ahead of the people’s right to know the truth.

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My other passionate distraction!

I teach refugees. Previously, most of my students were refugees from Myanmar with a few from Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The political situation in Myanmar and Sri Lanka has more or less stabilized, so I only get a few students from these nations. Of late, none from the latter.

In the last year, we saw how millions of North Africans and Syrians left on rickety boats across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, many of them shipwrecked and drowned along the way. A trickle of them found their way to Malaysia. So, in my current batch of students, I have Yemenis, Somalis, Syrians, a couple of Pakistanis, one Rohingya and an Iranian.

They are all Muslims, except for the Iranian whose family, according to him, weren’t religious, and, he stressed, weren’t Muslim anymore. A brave lad to declare it openly to a class of all Muslims. (After getting to know him, I realised why; he is a tough guy!) Despite, his open stand, I didn’t see any discrimination against him.

In fact, one of the other students later said that many Muslims in Iran were converting to Christianity. That was a revelation. Really? That’s a trend we don’t read about!

When I talk with my students, I catch glimpses of life I don’t read or hear in the media. They have to struggle with the horrors of war, and off and on as they talk you catch a perspective that reveals much about their inner thoughts and feelings.

One Yemeni student lost his father who crossed the border into Saudi Arabia for a job when militant groups started bombarding enemy-held territories, and he has not seen his father since then. His mother is being strong and raising the family single–handedly without country and with minimal funds.

A Palestinian student — though not living in Palestine anymore — abhors the thought of co-existence with Israel. “They destroyed our villages and we have no where to go. Let them go back to where they came from!” She usually pauses and stammers, searching for words, when she speaks. But, on this subject, she spoke fluently, without a pause or an error!

Some of their emotions are raw, but, I let them speak, gently challenging them to consider alternatives, and they do. They start thinking!

A Somalian student who fled her violence-wracked country is still quite partial to the pirates who ply the coast off the horn of Africa! She says some of the pirates do kill those they kidnap, but most don’t kill but only want money, which, according to her, is given to the poor along the coast. Now, I understood why the pirates get support from the coastal folk and why they continue to thrive. They have the support of those they feed.

A number of the refugees are anti-West. If they had a choice they wouldn’t want to be resettled in the West. But they have no choice. Firstly, they have to go where the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) sends them; secondly, they have to live and they go where they can earn a livelihood and that takes priority over their political preferences.

Their countries many be broken up because of politics, but the concerns of the refugees are economic. When they can’t live in their countries any more, they leave. They want to live and that is the fundamental human need that drives them to leave their homes for a strange, unknown world — it’s their survival.

That’s the reason why I teach refugees. I teach them English. They need to learn the language in order to live in this new world before them. I help them acquire it. As I teach them English, I open their eyes to the world they have been thrust into. Most important of all, I tell my students that there is a world in front of them and there are opportunities they can seize to make it in this world. I help them see those opportunities.

I care for my students and I enjoy interacting with them. What I like most about them is that they relate to me just like another person. I don’t scare them off — strangely! I seem to scare off others, but not my students! We get along fabulously, and as I relate with them I help them along in the life they want to carve out for themselves.

I know what it’s like to start on brokenness, and grow towards hope. Of all the compliments that my students have given me, one blesses me the most. In the last term, I asked my students what they had learnt most from my course, and one Myanmar student, a Shia Muslim, told me, without hesitation: “Hope!”

My students are eager to further their studies and I’m glad to do my small part to give them hope to do so.

If you would like to fully or partially sponsor one of my students or provide any other kind of financial aid, — which is their most urgent need — please contact me.

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A heavenly distraction

When you consider some of the things happening in this country (in this world, in fact!), it is quite tempting to throw up your hands in despair! You think, “Give up, lah! Change just isn’t happening. And the same old same old keeps going on.”

Everytime, I come to that point, I tell myself not to lose faith. Just trust God and do what you can do. If somehow things work out our way, we thank God for it; if it doesn’t, then we just have to find the faith to adjust to the reality. Meanwhile, to make me feel better about my life, I look for distractions! Take my mind off the worrying trends!

By “distractions” I don’t mean only frivolous, entertaining activities, though they are included in that category. I mean those activities that yield better and more satisfying dividends as well!

The most significant of all my “distractions” is the time I spend reading the Bible. It gives me the greatest encouragement. It’s a very productive distraction! I often get direction as I read the Bible, and, many, I have shared with you. I have another verse I want to share with you today: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” (Rom 15: 7)

Wow! When we accept one another, it somehow facilitates praise to God! I don’t know how that happens but it makes sense to me. When we accept one another, we help to upbuild the other person and that would certainly make us feel good about ourselves and the people we relate with and they too would feel good about themselves. In that feel-good state of bliss, it is natural for us to praise God!

Amazing! Now, to start putting it into practice!




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What really counts

As we grow older, it is quite normal to look back and wonder if we have left behind anything of value. Children, career accomplishments, houses, cars, holiday trips, savings, retirement plan. When they have served their purposes and the children are on their own, we wonder, don’t we, is this all there is to life?

These are much, sure. If we have all these, it means we have made good our lives and that should be commended. But, these are practical matters. We have to attain them so that we and our own are ok. And they give us purpose and focus. Once they are achieved though, is there anything else to look forward to?

I was wondering about these things when I came upon Gal 5: 6 and it put things in perspective: “… The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” When we look back we’ll realise the things we did that really counted were those we did out of love. How we strove for the people we love — our family and friends. Sometimes, it was difficult, but we did everything we could to give and take care. When we succeeded what joy it was to see them blessed!

Sometimes, it was impossible to love, but many of us found faith in God or in a “universal will” — as some people call it — that came through at the right time! I think this is something that people with children and people to take care of can identify with. The accomplishments, the material things, money all have a very short lifespan. Once achieved, they don’t seem to matter so much, but the people we suffered for and who grew as a result of it, we value a great deal, don’t we?

The things of value are not the cars, houses, designer clothes, starbucks coffee, travel and the monuments we build, but faith expressed in love. That has a touch of the divine and is priceless!

The context of Gal 5: 6 is a debate on the need to circumcise. Paul declares that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts but faith expressing itself through love. The same point is echoed in Gal 6: 16: “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.”

In other words, all the things we do to justify our actions, count for nothing except what we do by faith in love. When faith is demonstrated through love we upbuild the new creation in Christ, which is the Body of Christ, which is The Church.  That should be the priority and the bulk of our resources should be channeled for that purpose.


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Clean hands make us grow stronger

Two weeks ago I wrote about how people seem to be doing all sorts of things and getting away with it. It appears as if those who are doing the right things have to face consequences. It just doesn’t seem fair.

But recently, in my night reading of the book of Job in the Bible, I came across a verse that has encouraged me greatly about doing the “right thing”. The verse is Job 17: 9: “Nevertheless, the righteous will hold to their ways, and those with clean hands will grow stronger.”

Even when it doesn’t seem so, those with clean hands will grow stronger. Job was already down in the pits. He had lost everyone and everything. He was bewildered and baffled by the extremities of his deprivations. He could not understand why God was doing this to him. He knew he was blameless, and so he was beside himself as to why he had to undergo such unwarranted suffering.

In his conversations with God, he starts with despair cursing the day he was born (Job 3:1), then to the realization that God is too great to dispute with (Job 9:14) and by the time he comes to 17:9, he affirms the settled belief that the “righteous will hold to their sway and clean hands will grow stronger”.

Yet, at the time he says it he isn’t in a strong position and there would be many more chapters of agonizing appeals to God before his fortunes change! Yet, at verse 17:9, Job knew his God enough to realise the truth that those who do right and suffer will become stronger.

In the end it became true of Job. Job endured and “the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before.” (Job 42:10) He became strong and persevered. I don’t know if suffering always produces the rewards Job received, but whatever the additional benefit, we certainly will become stronger.

For example, a person who doesn’t accept nor give bribes may not bring in as much business as his or her colleagues. As a result he or she may not earn as much as them. He may have to settle for a lower standard of life or change job. It may be a difficult adjustment but by going through it that person becomes stronger in character. In addition, he or she would enjoy the inner satisfaction of knowing that he/she did the right thing.

So, when we suffer for doing the right thing, we should see it as an opportunity to become a stronger person, not one who lives in bitter regret and disappointment over our misfortunes. Clean hands, indeed, make us stronger.

Job didn’t know why he went through such an ordeal. He didn’t know anything about the conversation God had had with Satan. God (it wasn’t Satan’s initiative) asks Satan to torment Job but not take his life (Job 1:6-12).

Some people may say God is rather cruel to do this to an innocent man. Well, that is one way of looking at it. But, I am inclined to think that the test God put Job through was a device to create a person that was his handiwork. God achieved his purposes although Job had no idea of it.

There are forces at work in this world that we, human beings, know very little about. Religion helps us become aware of that realm and the choices and decisions we make in some ways influence the outcome in the other realm. That was the context in which Job suffered though he never knew why, but, through it, God made his point in that realm and ours.

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