Thoughts and Reflections

[ Saturday, May 22, 2010 ]


God told me to buy a house.

Now, I'm not the kind of person who would normally say that kind of thing. However, it seems pretty clear this time. I was hopping off the bus, and thinking about the fact that someone I know has a lot of investment property. Three of the units they own are in the same block of flats. As I hopped off the bus, I thought "perhaps I should buy a flat there too. But there's never any for-sale signs..." Lo and behold, as soon as I thought this, I noticed there was a brand new for sale sign outside one of the units.

Now this kind of coincidence is certainly not enough to convince me that God is speaking. However, it made me investigate buying properties, and I discovered the bank would lend me much more than I expected, and that I could get a significantly-priced property without affecting my monthly cashflow or after-tax and after-mortgage income very much.

I was still wondering about this while listening to the sermon at church, when he looked straight in my direction, and spoke these words - "It's not your idea. It's God's idea".

Ok, God. I'll follow. But....

To buy the house would mean liquidating most of our share portfolio to pay the deposit. And the share market has been in freefall the past two weeks.

To buy the house means trusting that the current housing bubble will not burst.

To buy the house means trusting God to find good tenants.

Well, we engaged a buyer's agent who found a house that looks good, in an area that, from his explanations, sounds like it will grow. One evening, we were able to view the house, and our buyer's agent negotiated with the seller's agent and the seller so that the deal was signed the very evening we went to look. The buyer's agent said it was a 1 in 20000 chance that the deal gets sealed so quickly and nicely. Fortunately it did, my wife suddenly had to fly off to attend a funeral the very next day.

So I do trust God - in at least part of me - that this is his idea to buy the house. This means trusting him to provide all the necessary finance. Watching the share market go down last week meant every day pleading with God about finances. I've rarely worried about finances in the past, and there's no reason for me to worry about it now. If this purchase really is God's idea, he will make it work out, finance and all.

I had this conversation with God while worrying, asking him if I should quickly sell the shares to stop any further losses.

"Is buying the house my idea?"
"Yes, yours"
"Do you know what's going to happen [in the stock market]?"
"No, I don't"

The implication? Stop worrying. I've never really worried about finances in the past, yet somehow I find myself more worried now. Is this just a bigger tes, or have I somehow lost some of the trust I had in the past? Either way, this is an opportunity to see God work and increase in faith.

Mike [4:44 PM]

[ Monday, January 23, 2006 ]


The other day, my son had a "teachable moment", as they are called. I almost missed it. He started by asking "What language does Jesus speak?" (My son is exposed to a very multilingual environment).

I began to waffle something about Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew, before I caught myself.

"He understands English too. You can speak to him in any language you like".

Then he asked another profound question.

"How can God hear, when there are so many people talking all the time?"

I didn't know how to answer that, so I just reassured him that God could. He didn't seem convinced. So I said "maybe He has very big ears?".

Hopefully God - and my readers - will forgive any perceived blasphemy. Take it (even if my 4-year-old would not) as merely a metaphor for a deeper spiritual truth - that indeed God's "ears" are big enough to accommodate and hear us all.

Mike [6:48 PM]

[ Monday, December 12, 2005 ]


Yesterday the money ran out.

Having run out of cash, I withdrew 200 dollars from our bank account, leaving seventeen left over. An automatic deduction took all but the last 70 dollars of remaining credit limit from our cards. And it's still two weeks 'til payday.

On the other hand, our house was finally sold (again). The buyer, a bishop, should pay the initial two percent today. This money would see us through very nicely. Unfortunately, it will be locked up in a lawyer's office, an hour's drive away, only open during office hours.

However, while praying, we feel God has said not to worry. He'll see us through this difficulty.

One thing I learned as the house was sold : sometimes when God wants to bless, we still have to ask.

After the deal was closed, the estate agent (Edward) pointed out some part of the wall that where the paint was badly peeling, and suggested that we paint it - after all, he didn't want the buyer to complain. However, the kind of paint we used is expensive. We were looking at 70 dollars per tin. As the estate agen was driving off, we waved him back, and asked him if we could pay him to do it (he also does general contracting work). He said he didn't have time, and it wouldn't be worth our money to pay him, so we should paint it ourselves. Nonetheless, he then invited us to go in his car to a paint shop he knew.

The paint shop was shut but the proprietor was there. Edward brought us in, explained the problem, and the proprietor went to look for the correct paint.

Out of stock.

All he had left was some old mouldy almost dried discoloured left-over paint in the
bottom of a dented tin.

We took it. We also bought a brush.

Edward took us back to the house, revived the paint to its former glory, and then painted the parts then needed it. So the seventy dollar job got done for three dollars and fifty cents. Definately a blessing from God.

But we wouldn't have got it if we hadn't asked.

Mike [6:05 PM]

[ Thursday, December 08, 2005 ]


My wife borrowed "The Heavenly Man" from the church library. I got to read a snatch or two in my spare moments. It's an amazing story, full of testimonies af miracles that God performed in the life of a Christian pastor in China, who suffered terrible persecution at the hands of the authorities.
It seemed that no matter what random page I turned to, I would only have to read a few paragraphs to see some amazing miracle of providence and grace.

On the one hand, though, the book is a plane above my own walk. For me, suffering is not enough money or trouble at work. For him, it is arrests and torture. For me, miracles are money comes or trouble is turned around. For him, it is walking out of a maximum-security prison without the guards noticing.

In more abstract terms, I can see my own walk as a tiny mirror of his. I too disobey, suffer for it, yet find God at work in the midst of the trouble. Or obey, and suffer for it, yet see God's deliverance at the end. It's a matter of scale of course, and I dare not compare beyond the abstract.

Perhaps life's not so bad after all.

Mike [12:44 AM]

[ Monday, December 05, 2005 ]


"At just the right time" God saved us.

One thing that's becoming clear to me this painful year, is that God does things at "Just the right time". Sure, He'd been telling us this all along - "Your house will be sold at just the right time. You will have another child at just the right time." We just weren't paying attention. How silly.

We moved into our new house - after I had spent exactly 3333 days in the old suburb. Amazing that God would choose one third of 10000 days. It shows (to me) that He is in control.

My wife was diagnosed pregnant only days after the move - just when it became clear that the previous buyer was not, in the end, going to pull through. Amazing that one painful problem suddenly gets replaced by a problem we had thought was already solved. My wife's pregnancy has come at what is seeming more and more like "Just the right time." When she was saying she couldn't take it any more. The timing means also that I will have no classes when the baby comes, and that it is still safe for us to fly home for Christmas.

Now I am beginning to learn how to believe that He will also send us a (genuine!) buyer for our house. When? He hasn't said, but again, it will surely be "Just the right time".

Just as Jesus died for our sins at "Just the right time."

Mike [10:54 PM]

[ Friday, October 07, 2005 ]


Frustrated desire is a common experience for people. The book of James, from the Bible, talks about desire, often in a negative sense - "a person is tempted when he is enticed by his own evil desires..." "You pray for what you want, but you don't receive them because you ask with wrong motives"

But sometimes we desire something that is not evidently wrong. It's not materialistic, it's not ungodly... and still God does not grant it.

Does God ever deliberately place a desire in our hearts, then deliberately withhold the desire? And why, then, does he deliberately put us through this kind of suffering? Proverbs says "a hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is sweet to the soul". Is it the sickness or the sweetness that God is ultimately trying to produce?

Mike [4:52 PM]

[ Friday, August 12, 2005 ]


It's so ironic.

We've been trying to sell our house. For eight months. We'd been getting more and more discouraged by the array of agents without buyers, or buyers without integrity, that had darkened our door over the long, long waiting period. Then came the nail in the coffin, or so I thought.

Our neighbour, a mechanic, has a derelict car in front of his house. e's been intending for a long time to fix it, but to everyone's eye but his own, it looks, well, derelict. Then suddenly one day, there it was. The derelict had a brother.

I felt my optimism finally beginning to crack. Surely now, with not one, but two derelict cars, nobody, nobody, would ever buy our house. Little did I suspect the irony about to unfold.

The second derelict had an axle problem. The mechanic called a friend, and asked him if he knew a welder. The friend came over and while inspecting the car, saw the "for sale" sign on our house. The rest, as they say, is history.

Isn't it strange how the very thing that I thought doomed our hous to be forever unsold, turned out to be the very thing that brought a buyer?

Mike [12:10 AM]

[ Wednesday, July 13, 2005 ]


My wife and I had a very unusual adventure yesterday.

I arrived at work and began to settle down. The very first call I received was from my wife - she had spoken to the developer who built our new house. He had asked her if we had engaged a contractor to renovate our house. She told him we had not. "Well someone has broken down your back kitchen wall and extended your kitchen!"

So back on the train I hopped, and made my way back home.

After my son finished kindergarten, we had a quick lunch in the car, and then drove to the new house. The kitchen was a great mess, bricks and sand everywhere. The back window frame was bent like a gothic statue, but the panes of glass were neatly stacked in another room. The original back wall had been broken down, and moved back four feet so that a little concrete patio that was once outside is now inside. The toilet door had been moved. Unfortunately, the job was not complete - no plaster, no paint…

Of course, we needed to find the renovator, but how could we possibly do that?

Well, we began to act on the melange of contradictory advice our friends had, by this time, given us. After speaking with the developer and settling some other issues with them, we made our way to the nearest Police Station, arriving there about 3:30, where my wife made a Police Report. At the end, the lady asked us "…and what is the purpose of making this report?" A strange question. Finally she advised us that if we wanted the police to take action, we would have to drive to the next (larger) town, and speak to the investigating officer at the police station there.

So we arrived at the next town, where my wife made a "Statement". This is apparently a different thing from a “Report”. The Sargent was laughing and laughing at first, but after a while managed to control himself. He said in his 28 years as a police officer, he had never heard of anyone making an illegal forced entry for the purpose of doing renovations. We ourselves were not sure whether to laugh or cry by this time.

Eventually, he finished taking the statement, and told us to lead him to our house, so his photographer could snap a few shots. When we finally arrived again at our new house, the police had already taken all their photos. The Sargent then got busy in true Sargent style, quizzing everyone on the street (all renovators working on other houses) about who had been doing the work. Nobody had a clue. We were coming to the conclusion that the renovator had fled and hidden after realising their mistake, and we would have to pay a hefty bill to clean up and complete the job.

Just at that point, a cleanly dressed gentleman drove up calmly in an old car. He parked next door, and walk towards us and the police contingent with a bemused smile. The Sargent asked him the standard question - "Do you know who did this renovation on this house?" He replied - "Yes. They were supposed to do my house!". He pointed out the renovators advertising banner tied to the front of his house. This was the only resident we had seen arrive anywhere on our street the whole time we were there. And it happened to be the exact neighbour we needed to see.

Shortly after, a worried renovator got an even more worrying phone call. "This is Sargent so and so, from such and such Police station. Can I ask you a few questions...."

When the renovator arrived at the scene, it must have been rather trepidating for the poor fellow. His neighbour, three policemen, and the two owners of a house he had broken into were standing there. He bravely approached, and spoke to us. “Sorry, sorry" he said, and quickly offered to complete the renovations, extending our kitchen, at no cost.

My wife and I have been praying for months for certain things that are very close to our heart. God has not answered. It is like suffocating in a dark, airless tunnel of despair and desperate hope. Now, instead of the things we asked him for, He has arranged for us to have our kitchen extended for free. It is like a glimmer of a candle of encouragement in a dark place, peeking out from a corner we least expected. It begins to give hope that perhaps the things we are asking for – or more likely, the things we really want and need instead – will eventually be granted. Perhaps in as surprising a manner as this, so that we will know once again, as we emerge from our current dark tunnel, that God truly is in loving charge of every detail of our lives.

Mike [9:35 PM]

[ Monday, May 23, 2005 ]


* Note : Some names changed to protect both innocent and guilty

The conference was over. Most of the participants had gone home, so I was left alone in the hotel in this city - a large city in an English speaking country. My own flight would not depart until the next day. I decided to spend the afternoon downtown, hoping to catch an art gallery or a museum.

However, when I arrived, I realised it was a public holiday. The streets were relatively empty, although here and there pockets of tourists and long-weekend shoppers weaved through the chilly dusty wind.

And the homeless. I saw her sitting outside a window near a closed railway station. An old old lady, a native. I smiled and walked on by... However, soon I needed to use a washroom. This meant walking back past the old lady. As I passed, she caught my eye and beckoned for me to come over. I nodded a 'friendly' nod and walked past, back to the place where I had seen a public washroom.

The toilet was shut, however. I began to search the town, avoiding the place where the old lady sat. However, most of the shops were shut. I thought of asking the old lady where to find a washroom. Surely, of all people, a homeless person should know. Eventually I promised God that if I found a washroom, I would go back and talk to the old lady. And I did.

At first I couldn't see her. I prayed "God, I'm sorry, I'm too late", secretly glad I was off the hook. But when I walked a little further, there she was. I approached here and asked her name. Harriet. She asked for help. I asked what kind of help she needed, and she told me she was hungry. So I offered to buy her food. It's not my policy to give money to beggars - many are alcoholic, after all. But the old old lady seemed happy to accept food, so after she had placed her order, I searched for a restaurant where I could fulfil it.

About 15 minutes later I returned, half expecting her to already have left. But she was still there, where she had been before. Where I found out later she had spent the entire night, morning and afternoon until I came. She gratefully accepted the footlong sub and the tea. "Not enough sugar" but she drank it anyway. And, in response to my prodding, told me some small fragments of her story.

Her two sons had passed away. She had tattoos on her hand : "I love..." some name I couldn't make out, but she had no family, she said. She pointed at the church across the street. "I asked them to help me but they turned me away". I wondered why the church would not help, and tried to ignore the odd stares people gave as they saw us sitting there. It was hard to make out the words she was saying.

She told me that she wanted to go to Manson*. I struggled to read the public transport map, forgetting to be thankful that I had met her near a railway station. How could she get to bus number 1* from where we were? Should we go by taxi? Manson seemed very far from my hotel - although not as far as the 40km Harriet had mentioned.

Eventually I decided to take a risk. There was a road nearby that bus 1* passed through. Perhaps... please God... it would stop there too. I explained the plan to the old old lady. She agreed, and painfully rose from the place she had lived for the previous 24 hours. Slowly we walked. It must have taken 20 minutes to move 1 block. The cold wind bit at times and made the lady stop until it passed. Eventually, after a wrong turn that doubled the distance, we found the bus shelter. We didn't talk much, but she gave me her address in case I decided to write.

Just before our bus arrived, a man approached us looking for a cigarette. He looked me in the eye for a few seconds, then said "Naah, I can tell you don't smoke". He then addressed Harriet by name, begging her for a cigarette. She didn't have any. He then asked me where I was going, and I said I was helping Harriet get to Manson.

"Manson! Why are you going to Manson?" he asked Harriet. "You told me you were going to de-tox". So Harriet was an alcoholic. Is that what had killed her sons? I didn't know what to say - should I encourage her to go to detox? Tell her drinking is no good? Her bus arrived less than a minute later, so I helped her to board it.

The man told me his name, but I quickly forgot it. "Thanks for looking after my street-sister" he said, and shook my hand. So he, too, was homeless. It seemed they formed a real community. Harriet asked me if I would be there again tomorrow. I told her my plane was leaving. To this day I am not sure if she realises that I came from a different country from her.

When I looked around, the man whose name I forgot was not there.

I walked quickly along the street. The tourists and shoppers were far fewer in number now. Instead, I began to recognise the street people. The homeless. Some were well-dressed, some less so. One here asleep on a bench, one pushing a trolley of his possessions, one pushing his wheelchair-bound friend across the street.

I met one more before I boarded my train. Richard* asked me for some money for coffee, and assured me he was genuine. When I offered to take him to starbucks, he said that if I gave him a small amount of money he could get soup from the salvation army in the east of the city. He chatted with me as we walked towards the train station, telling me he had bipolar disorder. He said he was homeless because of his mother was angry with him. Angry because of his lifestyle - which he didn't want to discuss. Eventually, he reached his destination, a hotel, and we parted ways.

I asked him what help he gets from the government. He receives a disabled pension - barely enough to live on, but still something I guess. I said there were homeless shelters he could go to, but... "it's very seedy there" he said.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, it's full of homeless people." drunk natives, he said, and other people who had nowhere to go. I could understand why that would make a homeless shelter less than pleasant. Could anyone open a 4 star homeless shelter though? How could such a place (I have never visited one) be made less "seedy"?

It only struck me later that the hotel he had entered was more likely to have pubs than salvation army soup kitchens - and that he had been walking west with me, not east. Was his story about bipolar disorder just a story? Or was his "lifestyle" an addiction to alcohol?

I cried for him as I prayed for him in my hotel room.

I prayed and told God that the church was not helping, that She had turned the old old woman away. I was reminded of the salvation army soup kitchen, that gave people a simple meal for a small small payment.

I told Him I hoped I had done at least a little good, and reminded Him that there was still so much to do, that there were still so many people trapped in the darkness of the cold city night. And of their circumstances. And of their pain. And I wish there was more that could be done.

I don't know what will go through my head tonight as I lie in my warm hotel room. Will I pray and cry for Harriet and Richard and the man whose name I forgot? Or feel sad for a city of lost people? Or feel guilt that I have it so good and do so little? Or feel fear lest, one day, alcoholism slips its tentacles down my throat, around my heart, and destroy my life and family and home?

God have mercy on my soul.

Mike [8:35 PM]

[ Saturday, January 24, 2004 ]


Book Review :

I just finished reading "Catching Cold" by Peter Davies. It talks about the influenza pandemic that killed 20-40 million people in 1918, and the scientific hunt for the virus that caused it. Its a very nice mixture of science, studies on human nature, and relevance to today. The most important lesson is that influenza is a dangerous disease - not because it causes sniffles every year or so, but because it causes widespread death about 3 or 4 times a century.

Scientists believe that when Hong Kong killed 1.5 million chickens in 1997, it narrowly averted a pandemic of the disease in humans.

How coincidental that I should finish reading this book just before the outbreaks of flu in poultry in Thailand, Vietnam and China. This is the same flu that was in Hong Kong in 1997. If it learns how to spread from human to human, it will be a major disaster for all of us.

Mike [4:25 PM]