The Day We Were Robbed

Written By Shelley Pearl, New Zealand

“I’ve to run. My flat . . . someone’s entered my flat. I must go,” I told my boss in a barely audible whisper.

I could hardly believe my ears when I received a phone call from my sister to say we had been robbed. We live in a very safe suburb, so to learn that our flat had been entered into was shocking. Questions raced through my head as I drove home on the motorway, barely registering the trucks and cars on the road.

I was certain that my computer, iPad, and laptop would have been filched. But when I pulled into the driveway and saw that nothing seemed out of the ordinary, I breathed a sigh of relief. “Maybe it’s not as bad as I thought it would be,” I thought.

But the nightmare began the moment I stepped into my unit. Initially, my mind refused to register what the eyes saw—the room was a mess. The burglars had gained access through my bedroom window; its security latches had been hacked in half.

Drawers had been emptied of their contents, and their contents were strewn all over the floor and on the bed. An armchair that used to sit next to my bedroom window was now in the middle of the room. The contents of my backpack were scattered all over the floor and my backpack was gone; the burglars had likely used it to take away their stash.

My year-old camera was gone as well, and the container I used to keep it in had been thrown underneath my bed. The other things in it had been taken too—my passport, a small sum of foreign currency, and a stack of coffee loyalty cards that resembled credit cards (no doubt the thieves would be disappointed upon discovering the cards were useless). Our electronics, however, were left intact. The desktop was presumably too heavy and the iPad was of an older model.

As my sister and I surveyed our flat, our heart sank with each step we took. Our walk-in cupboard was a wreck, and the burglars had pawed through our storage units, foraging through our winter wear. They had taken handbags, probably attracted by the faux diamonds on the bags. Our designer jewellery, given to us as birthday presents and at other important occasions, were also missing.

I was sad, angry, and devastated all at once. I was sad that I had lost my valuables, as I had worked hard to buy them. And I was so angry that there was someone out there who thought he could help himself to things that weren’t his. Growing up, we were taught not to take what wasn’t ours, so why was it OK for these people to do just that?

Exhaustion washed over us as we trawled through our unit; the rapidly cooling evening air blowing through my broken bedroom window was a reminder of how our little haven had been shattered, our privacy violated.

Still, we were thankful that no one was hurt and we still had each other.

As horrible as the incident was, it made me realize how fleeting our material possessions are. When I left for work that morning, our valuables were sitting in their respective places; in less than two hours, they had vanished without a trace.

The burglary made me see the truth in Jesus’ words about not storing our treasures on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal (Matthew 6:19). For the longest time, I had seen this verse as something that parents used to discourage children from desiring the newest and latest items their friends had.

Now, I saw how temporal our earthly possessions really were—here one minute, gone the next. A week or two after my camera was taken, the manufacturer announced the release of a newer model with added features. Really, there is no way of keeping up with the latest and greatest. And, to be honest, my life doesn’t feel any less without some of these items which I had bought thinking they would add value to my everyday existence.

Unfortunately, the police were unable to catch the culprits and closed the case. Meanwhile, our apartment has been fitted with alarm and CCTVs, and we are also looking to do grills for the windows.

When my sister’s workmates heard of the news, two of them swung by on a Saturday morning to help us tidy the flat. One of them brought her daughter to help, and they even brought us some food, knowing we would be too overwhelmed to think of cooking. We were moved by their readiness to give up their precious Saturday morning, when a text of “thinking of you” could have sufficed.

The incident reminded me of how Jesus told us to store our treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20), which I believe means investing in things that have everlasting value. The actions of my sister’s workmate showed me that these things include relationships. When we spend our time investing into the lives of others, be it helping someone who is going through a difficult time or taking the effort to befriend a lonely person, we are sowing treasures in heaven.

These treasures, unlike our earthly possessions, are safe from opportunists. For example, many years ago, a woman came up to me to say she remembered the time a group from my church had dropped by her house to help clean her place. But no one has ever come up to me to say they remembered a lovely dress or handbag I had. You see, I believe no one remembers what we own, but they remember what we have done for them.

Admittedly, it has been awhile since I have taken the time to sow into the lives of others. I cannot remember the last time I had intentionally invited a friend out for a lunch just to catch up. By the time the weekend rolls around, I’m so exhausted from working, swim training, and doing household chores, that all I really want to do is sit at home with a book. Imagine how many of my relationships have withered due to my lack of investment in them (I’m not keeping tabs because I don’t want to find out!)

It is so easy in our era of social media and endless consumerism to feel we need to have beautiful things for our life to be meaningful. While there is nothing inherently wrong in desiring nice things, I believe it must not be our end-all and be-all of life. I would be lying if I said the burglary completely wiped out my desire of owning nice, new things. No, I still love shopping, but these days, I am more mindful about what I invest in.

The burglary has showed me that the items I counted as precious were really quite mundane—photos of my friends and my family, my book collection, my wetsuit for ocean swims, and laughably, my newly bought pillows and duvets, which had cost me a fair bit. Yet, as these items had no resale value, the thieves had left them. I have learned that it’s not worth putting stock on material items, as they can disappear in the blink of an eye.

From now on, I’m going to work more on storing my treasures in heaven. I know, it does sound a bit dull not being able to show off your latest wears, but I believe when we quietly build a rich storehouse of good works, our reward in heaven will make any earthly possessions look like rags.

Thank God I’ve Got Fingers and Toes

Written By Stacy Joy, USA

I will never forget pulling away from a leprosy colony in Southern India the summer of 2003. I was 13 then and had just helped my family conduct a worship service for a couple dozen Christians in the colony.

As our car bumped along the terrifyingly narrow, one-lane mountain road, I vividly remember looking at my fingers, studying them for a couple of moments and then letting my gaze fall to my feet, and then to my toes. That quiet moment felt like it lasted forever as I became lost in my thoughts. I softly whispered, “Thank you, God, that I have fingers and toes.”

My view of thankfulness radically changed that day.

 

It is a way of life

Thanking God isn’t just a prayer before dinner; it is a way of life. I realized that nothing is guaranteed to me—not even the limbs on my body. As we walked among the lepers in India, my 13-year-old eyes fell upon limbs rotting away as people still lived. My narrow, westernized view of what life owed me shattered, and I realized that I had never thanked God for the simple, beautiful blessings I have surrounding me each and every day.

To have the ability to stop within the craziness of life and thank God for the breeze, the trees, the beauty of sunlight, the ability to walk, even to see—it’s a life-giving spiritual discipline that can easily be overlooked. Chuck Swindoll, a well-known American pastor, said that thankfulness is a decision of the will—one which takes work.

God created us to live a life of thankfulness. 1 Thessalonians 5 calls believers to give thanks in every circumstance. This is not Jesus’ idea of a self-help theory. He knew that thankfulness does something to our very being, to our soul. It psychologically and spiritually decreases stress, anxiety, and worry.

 

It removes worry, fear and anxiety

I am currently working toward an advanced degree in counseling, and the more I study, the more I realize that training oneself to live a life saturated in thankfulness is one of the greatest ways to remove worry, fear and anxiety. This is not merely a psychological tool. It is a spiritual reality discussed in Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (emphasis added).

The passage doesn’t end there. It goes on to say that after we have presented our requests, worries and anxieties to God (which, by the way, shows a trust in His sovereignty and His will for one’s life), peace that transcends our understanding is promised! That is a beautiful, exciting and powerful promise.

 

It changes the way we see challenges.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian who was killed in a Nazi Concentration camp for opposing Hitler, once said, “It is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” If a man persecuted and living in a concentration camp is able to utter those words, then may we all be prompted to remember all of the things—both small and large—that God has bestowed upon us, and thank Him for them.

Pastor and author John MacArthur sums it up aptly: “A thankful heart . . . stands in stark contrast to pride, selfishness, and worry. And it helps fortify the believer’s trust in the Lord and reliance of His provision, even in the toughest times. No matter how choppy the seas become, a believer’s heart is buoyed by constant praise and gratefulness to the Lord.”

Would you join me this month and intentionally thank God for something different each day? Try it out for a while—I guarantee it will forever change your ability to see beauty amidst pain, suffering, and even the humdrum of daily living.

What To Do If You’ve Misplaced Your Identity

Written By Hannah Spaulding, USA

One of the latest buzzwords in today’s culture is “identity”. Whether it’s race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, or relationship status, there are so many ways we can identify ourselves.

Naturally, it can be confusing to figure out what our true identity should be. Even as Christians, we can place our identity in things other than Christ.

There was a time in my life where I lost myself in a desire for romantic relationships. When I was in high school, I craved being in a relationship and went through several failed relationships. Some were relationships that didn’t work out, and some were relationships that didn’t happen although I badly wanted them to. During the summer before my senior year of high school, I got to a point where I felt worn out, lost, and far from God.

One day, my thoughts drifted back to the time before I entered my first relationship. I remembered how in my earlier years of high school, I had felt so close to God that I didn’t worry about getting into a relationship. That’s when I realized that I had let my desire for a relationship get between me and God. I had stopped trusting the God of love stories to write my story, and instead had tried to take the pen and write my story myself.

After that realization, I decided I wanted to get close to God again. I wanted to give the pen back to God and trust that His stories for me would be infinitely better than anything I could come up with on my own.

However, this was easier said than done. I needed to re-center my identity back on Christ, and not let my relationship status define myself. Here were three things that helped me

 

1. Process my thoughts with God.

During the time I was trying to put God first again, I found journaling to be incredibly helpful. I’m a writer and word lover, so writing down my prayers to God helped me process my experiences.

I also noted down quotes or Bible verses in my journal that helped redirect my mind towards my goal of getting to know God better. During that time, one of the passages that reminded me of God’s nearness came from Psalm 73:23-26:

Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.

 

2. Re-orient my priorities.

Part of my problem was that I was focusing too much of my thoughts and energy on having a romantic relationship. My life was centered on my own desires instead of God’s desires for me.

When I realized the need to put God first in my life and get to know Him better, I began to re-orient my life around God. Whenever I started thinking too much about romantic relationships or feeling dejected because of being single, I would pray to God and remind myself that He has a plan for me.

This process is gradual. I still find myself worried, anxious, and uneasy about things going on in my life when I let my own desires take control. It is when I keep God at the center of my thoughts, decisions, and relationships that I experience peace. Even now, I still have to remind myself that putting God first is the most important and most rewarding thing.

 

3. Identify with Christ.

The knowledge that I am loved by God, and that God completes me and is all I need helps me to approach my life in a new way. Instead of searching for a partner to fulfill my own emotional and spiritual needs, I can search for a partner because I’m looking for a companion in the race God has called me to run.

There’s nothing wrong with desiring a significant other, or desiring other things, such as good grades or good friendships. But the difference is that when I identify myself as a child of Christ, I begin to seek those things with a Christ-like attitude of wanting to glorify Him (Psalm 37:4).

 

When I look back on my life, what strikes me most is that God didn’t wait until I had it all together before bringing a significant other into my life. When I first met David, it was during the fall of my senior year, when I was still working on getting closer to God and trusting Him with my romantic relationships.

But the biggest difference between my relationship with David and my prior relationships was that it was God who brought us together. David and I met at a Christian retreat, and were both at a similar place in our faith journeys. Early on in our relationship, we both shared how each of us had struggled in the past with desiring romantic relationships and a lack of trust in God. At the time we were getting to know each other, we had both been praying that God would reveal the right person to us in His time. That was one of the first things I loved about David—that he was trying to be intentional about his relationship with God like I was.

I prayed a lot before entering my relationship with David because my plans had been to wait for college to start dating again. But I decided to trust God with our relationship, and as we grew closer, I felt even more assured that my relationship with David was not against God’s will. I’m now in my second year of college, and I’m happy to say that David and I will be celebrating our two-year anniversary in December.

I do still struggle with misplacing my identity sometimes. It’s tempting to look to David to fulfill all my needs, but I’ve found when we trust in God and turn to Him together, we are then able to love each other best.

Where Do You Place Your Worth?

Written By Daniel Ng, Singapore

I’m a jokester. God has gifted me with the ability to lighten up a tense atmosphere and cheer people up. But like so many others, I have used this God-given talent to glorify myself instead of Him.

To me, the more laughs I get, the greater my value. It strikes at the heart of me when I don’t get that coveted “hahaha”. As sad as it sounds, the truth is that I find my worth in my ability to draw laughter from others.

What about you? Where do you find your worth? In treasured possessions? In achievements and accolades? In relationships?

I believe that our choices lie at the core of our very being, and they are inseparable from our identity. The choices that we make in our lives, big or small, go a long way in defining who we are.

Whether we are choosing what to study in university, or our marriage partner, or even what to wear to school in the morning, our choices are based on what we value, the things that we deem “of worth”.

The problem comes when we blur the lines between what we value and what our value is. Don’t get me wrong—I’m all for striving hard for excellence in the careers and studies that God has so graciously gifted us. However, when we allow our careers or grades to define our worth, we’re paving the way to disappointment.

The truth is, everybody makes mistakes, and there will be times when we don’t meet our own expectations. We’ll also find that the people or things we so dearly hold on to fail us.

If my worth is in my relationship with my girlfriend, what happens when we break up? If my worth is in the number of likes I get on Instagram, what if I don’t get those likes? If my worth is in the number of A’s on my report book, what if I fail my exams?

I can tell you what happens then. I feel like trash. I feel worthless.

 

Only God is worthy

In my quest to ground my worth properly, I ask myself this: What matters the most? I formulated a question to help my search: If ________ wasn’t present, the universe would not go on.

Go on. Try to fill in that blank. I’ve tried it myself and I’ve found that the only answer that begins to make sense is “God.” It’s not my girlfriend. It’s not my grades. And it definitely isn’t the number of likes I get on Instagram. It’s God.

Philosophers sometimes say that God is the only necessary being in the universe. This simply means that without this Almighty God who created the universe and sustains it, the universe would not go on.

Since He’s the only One who matters, it would only make sense that we place our worth in God’s expectations of us. However, the Bible tells us in Romans 3:10-12 that every single one of us misses the mark of God’s good expectations. There is nothing we can do to make ourselves better or more desirable before a Holy God.

And with that, we’re back to square one. Since we fail to measure up to the only standard that matters, I guess we’re worthless then.

 

The liberating truth

Now here comes the truly liberating mystery at the heart of Christianity. John 3:16 tells us that God, in His love, sent His Son to the world so that we wouldn’t perish like worthless dust. While we were still sinners, He came to die for us and give us eternal life. He came to give us worth in God’s eyes. I get goose bumps every time I think of this.

If that isn’t enough to overwhelm you, in Philippians 2:6-8, we read of how Jesus humbled Himself. He is the infinite God, but humbled Himself to the form of a puny created being. He didn’t come as a king in riches, but came to be born in a stable as a helpless infant. This great God came to die in one of the most humiliating ways possible—to hang on a cross while people mocked Him.

When someone has gone through all that for you, would you dare say in His face: “In Your eyes I have no worth”?

We have no more reason to feel and say: “I’m not good enough.” Neither do we have any reason to get caught up in our failures. To me, that is truly liberating. So now, I no longer study hard because my grades define my worth; I study hard because studying itself is a gift from God. And I want to show Him that I love and appreciate this gift. When it comes to relationships, I don’t put in effort because they determine my value, I do so because my friends are a gift from my loving God. It is only when we start to see our worth in light of God’s loving sacrifice that we will be able to give thanks, even in the midst of breakups, failures, and rejection.

Anything—other than the blood of Jesus—that we use to define our own worth is a sweet lie we tell to comfort ourselves. Our worth is not based on money or self-praise or even the “good Christian” things we do. Our only worth is our faith that the God of the universe died for worthless me, and I cling on to that fact. What a wonderful mystery this is—how we can be so unworthy and worthy at the same time when we stand before such a great God!