The Amazon Echo Is Pretty Cool — And Great for Hymns!


amazon echoI usually don’t hock products on this blog (unless you count the rash of book reviews I’ve been writing recently), but here’s a product I really, really recommend–the Amazon Echo. I recently got one, and I have to say it’s slowly but surely changing my life, for the better.

For those who don’t know, the Echo is a cute little round cylindrical device (about the size of a 1-liter soda bottle) that you can put anywhere in your house and talk to. It reminds me of a cute little robot–although it doesn’t really do anything but sit there and wait for your command.

It’s sort of the same idea as Siri or Google Now, except while Apple and Google are trying to be too fancy with their voice-to-text recognition (and failing with laughable results), Amazon has gone the other direction and has started with simplicity. The Amazon Echo doesn’t attempt to understand every complex statement you utter from your mouth, but it understands simple commands and executes them flawlessly.

For example, it’s a morning ritual now for me to leave the house and ask the Echo “How’s the weather?”, and she’ll give me the temperature and the day’s forecast. She’ll also answer other simple commands like asking for a sports score, a stock price, the time, when sunset is, or read even the latest news. She’ll even maintain a To-Do List or a Shopping List for you just by dictating to her.

You keep the unit plugged in all the time, which eliminates the battery draining issues that Apple and Google have with their phone-based speech recognition.  And while I started out by yelling out commands, I realized that I can speak to it in a normal voice, even from across the room. I just say “Alexa” (the name that “she” goes by), and the top of the unit will light up, waiting for you to speak. The speaker is a really high quality one that sounds amazing, and you can even control the volume by saying “Alexa, louder” or “Alexa, turn down the volume”

But what I love most of all is that I can connect my Pandora account to Alexa. Specifically, I created a channel on Pandora called “100 Hymns Instrumental Radio” and to my surprise there’s some really great instrumental hymn music. I just have it going all day now, singing along. I use the free version of Pandora, so the ads can get a little annoying, but it’s worth it given the amazing collection of hymns they have playing at any time.

Furthermore, if you subscribe to Amazon Prime, among other benefits you’ll get unlimited ad-free access to their music library which contains a lot of really great gospel and hymn tracks, from Elvis Presley’s Gospel Music to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to a number of modern gospel and worship artists, all which you can ask Echo to play for you on command.

And if you’d like your Echo to read the Bible to you, all you need to do is sign up for an Audible account and purchase something like The Word of Promise.

I think Amazon’s been pretty brilliant with this solution. While Apple and Google seem to be falling over each other trying to outdo each other with speech recognition so complex that no one even bothers to use it, Amazon’s Alexa is doing the simple things and doing them well. By purchasing other add-ons like the Belkin WeMo Light Switch you’ll even be able to use voice commands to turn the lights off and on. Who knows where it’ll go in the future but for now I’m pretty happy having a new little friend at my beck and call just answering the simple questions for me :)

Review of Really Woolly Nighttime Lullabies


The book I’m reviewing this month is Really Woolly Nighttime Lullabies. It’s a cute little hardcover board book that’s about 40 pages long. It’s sturdy and its pages are all thick cardboard-like stock, making it an impressively durable book. That, plus the fact that it’s about 6 inches by 8 inches make it an ideal book for a little ones. The book is ideal for toddlers or children 3-5.

The book is beautifully illustrated with full color pictures throughout. For those familiar with the Really Woolly series that’s been around for 15 years, you’ll notice pretty much the same pattern. There are lots of really cute drawings of the sheep character, along with friends like bunnies, baby ducks, fireflies, squirrels. In this book they’re doing fun things like hiking, blowing bubbles, looking at the stars, and camping out in the backyard. The drawings alone are beautiful and full of detail that will definitely capture a youngster’s attention and imagination. On the facing page of the illustrations is a title, a bible verse, and a poem, with a little one-line prayer under the illustration.

If there’s one slight gripe I had about the book it’s the poetry. The title is a little misleading–while it says it includes “lullabies”, what’s really included are three-stanza poems that rhyme. That’s actually counter to Webster’s Dictionary, which defines a lullaby as a “song used to help a child fall asleep”. In a way it’s showing the age of the Really Woolly series–they’ve already done Bedtime Prayers, Bible Stories, Bible Verses, Bible Promises, and Treasury, so it could be they’re just running out of “Bedtime” ideas.

There’s nothing wrong with the poems of course, and they do all have a calm, soothing quality about them. On the other hand some of them seem to lack substance almost to the point of being vapid. “Dream of kites and red balloons / butterflies and happy tunes / bunnies racing through the yard / sparkly sky so brightly starred”. Again, not horrible, but at times it seems like the authors were stretching to find a way to tie together words that rhymed as opposed to really writing a cohesive and substantive poem. Granted it is written for young children so I’m not expecting theological depth, but on the other hand I almost wish this could have been a book with real songs like “Jesus Loves Me” and “Jesus Bids Us Shine” with the Woolly gang.

Still, as with all the other Really Woolly books this one is beautifully drawn and produced, and one I’d recommend to parents. That said, I’d probably buy one of the earlier version before picking this one up if you want a good introduction to the series. I’d rate this one 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Review of Words to Dream On


words to dream on childrens book reviewIt can be difficult to shop for Christian reading materials for children and toddlers. In some cases the material is too watered down–being so subtle in its message that it’s hard to tell if it’s from a Christian or a secular worldview. In other cases the material can be too deep–there may be a time to expose children to esoteric theological material, but perhaps not as a baby or toddler.

Out of all the children’s books on the market, the one that jumped out at me as I tried to “judge a book by its cover” was Words to Dream On: Bedtime Bible Stories and Prayers by Diane Storz (illustrated by Diane Le Feyer). The book itself is a beautiful, full-color book from cover to cover, with hardcover binding. The first page has an area where you can write your name, the child’s name, and the date if you give the book as a gift to a child, grandchild, nephew or niece, or friend.

The book is divided into 26 stories from the Old Testament and 26 from the New Testament. The stories are arranged by the order they’re presented in the Bible, started with the Creation and ending with an entry called “Forever with Jesus” based on Revelations. In the middle, of course, you’ll find stories you expect, such as Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Noah’s Ark, and many stories of Jesus from the Gospels.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this book is that the author didn’t see a need to embellish the stories. As I read through the stories, while the stories are of course rewritten in simple language for children, I don’t see anything that contradicts the original text of Scripture. To the contrary, the stories are very true to the stories of the Bible. For example, take this passage from the Parable of the Prodigal Son:

Here’s how the passage reads in this book:

“Here’s your food, piggies,” he said as he poured messy pig food into feeding troughs. He felt so hungry, though, that the messy pig food began to look good to him, and he thought about eating it himself.” Then he had an idea. “I’m a hired worker with nothing to eat,” he said, “But my father gives plenty of food to his hired workers!”

And here’s the source content:

So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!’

The illustration are also remarkably true to Scripture as well, as far as I can tell. In the Christmas story, you don’t see wintry scenes of snowfall. Illustrations of most characters throughout the book are of people with dark hair, darker skin, and beards of the kind you’d find in the Middle East, not to mention fairly accurate (for a kid’s book) depictions of the kinds of clothes, marketplaces, pottery, and animals. In the story of Jonah, you don’t see a picture of a smiling whale but rather an illustration of a tail of a “great fish”. The one exception, not all that surprisingly, are illustrations of Jesus, where He’s still depicted with white skin and brown hair; granted no one knows what He really looked like on Earth, so the illustrator probably figured it was better to stick with the typical images.

Something else I loved was that each story concludes with a short “Sleepy-Time Prayer” and “Bedtime Blessing”. If I had one wish it’s that the prayers were just a little longer than the 10-15 words and the blessings were a little longer than the 5-7 words. But then again, it might be for the best if you as a parent can come up with your own prayer to share with your little one.

Overall, I was pretty impressed with this book. The book itself is solid–the hard covers are thick and durable, and the pages inside are thick and in beautiful full color which will hold the attention of your little one. It is a great way to introduce your little one (and re-introduce yourself) to the stories of the Bible.

Review of Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary


nelson bible dictionary reviewMost of us, when we do daily Bible reading, just read through the passages quickly without stopping much. We’ll come across certain words and our brains will draw a certain conclusion about what that word means.

My favorite example of this is the word “manger”. We all know the song “Away in a Manger”, but the scene that comes to most of our minds is a traditional nativity scene where all the shepherds and sheep and Mary and Joseph are all gathered around the baby Jesus, peacefully sleeping in a bed of straw. But looking up the word in the Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, you read this as the definition:

MANGER – a feedingtrough, crib, or open box in a stable designed to hold fodder for livestock (Luke 2:7, 12; 13:15). In Bible times, mangers were made of clay mixed with star or from stones cemented with mud. In structures build by King Ahab at Megiddo, a manger cut from a limestone block was discovered. Mangers were also carved in natural outcroppings of rock, such as livestock being stabled in a cave; some were constructed of masonry. 

The definition goes on to describe each time the word is used in the Bible. Understanding the true meaning of the word suddenly brings the context of the Word alive. The physical place that Jesus was born wasn’t a pristine scene where you could hear “Silent Night” playing in the background. It was obscure, anonymous, and probably dirty and smelly. But that’s kind of the point. Jesus’s entire life on earth was one where He has “nowhere to lay His head”, but His whole life pointed to a new, spiritual kingdom that was not of this world.

It’s really interesting to go through the Bible Dictionary and look up other words you always assumed you know what they meant. It’s also fascinating to read up on the background of cities like Ephesus, Corinth, Galatia, and others to provide you context before you read about them in the New Testament.

The Dictionary is substantial. It comes in at over 1200 pages. The paper is thick and the typeface is relatively large and readable. The language isn’t scholarly nor esoteric but easy to read. The pages are all in color with plenty of photographs of artifacts, archaeology, present day photographs of geographical locations, and diagrams (there’s a topological diagram of the path that the Israelites took in Exodus that really helps you understand their wandering in the wilderness, and the beginning of the book are timelines covering the entire Old and New Testament periods in vastly greater detail than you’ll find anywhere else). Entries about the Books of the Bible contain an outline of the book you can use while studying it.

I literally couldn’t think of a Bible-related term that wasn’t covered in the book. One other thing I like about the book is that it attempts to be objective when covering “controversial” topics which different denominations have disagreements about. It lays out the viewpoints of at least the major denominations in a way that doesn’t seem to be pushing one or the other. For example, my own church has a rather conservative view about baptism, and yet reading the entry on baptism, I wasn’t offended or put off, but I found it interesting to read, without the fog of argument nor over-enthusiastic proselytizing, the viewpoints of others.

Overall, this version is a fantastic improvement over the last version, and I’d say it’s a must-have if you’re serious about digging deep into your Bible study. And call me old-fashioned, there’s something nice about having this all in a book you can hold in your hands as opposed to scattered all over the Web.

One thing to be aware of is that you’re buying the most recent version, dated 2014 and named “Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary: New and Enhanced Edition“. There’s an older version named “Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary: Limited, Deluxe Edition”.

 

Review of the Once a Day Chronological Bible


Walk into a Bible bookstore and you’ll see Bibles for every occasion, purpose, and theme. There are Bibles for for women, for men, for kids, for teens, for leaders, for study, for gardeners, for music lovers, for survivors, for those who want life application, and dozens more. In most cases, these are just a typical Bible with a lot of extras added around it, whether it’s commentary, study notes, charts and diagrams, or others. Some of these Bibles are done really well, others are obviously slapped together just for Zondervan to make money off another niche.

I’ve been looking for a once-a-day Bible for a long time. I just turned 45, and for about 20 of the last 30 years I started the New Year with a resolution to read the Bible through in a year. But try as I might, I just can’t seem to get through. Most years I end at Leviticus, I think a few years I made it through to the history books. But I always get distracted, and before I know it weeks have past, I’ve forgotten what the last thing I read was, and there I go waiting for another year.

What’s pretty cool about the NIV Once-A-Day Bible: Chronological Edition is not just that it’s broken into 365 day chunks, which a lot of other “finish in a year” Bible are, but it’s also arranged in chronological order. So you’ll read about Job around the time you’re reading about Noah, which is where many scholars place him in time. You’ll find David’s psalms juxtaposed with the events in the books of Samuel and Kings that inspired them. And so on. You’ll even read the events of the gospels in their correct chronological order. It feels a lot more like reading a paperback novel versus “studying” a religious text.

One thing I love about this Bible is its simplicity. With study Bibles, it seems that every third word has a little letter or number next to it that distracts the flow of reading. With this Bible, at most you’ll find 2-3 footnotes from the NIV translators. Each reading is separated by days, and at the end of each day you have a reflection of about 1-2 paragraphs that help reinforce what you read, albeit some of them seem to be a “stretch’ as far as tying a practical insight to the day’s reading. I like that there are no red letters, no charts and maps, no commentary scattered all over the pages–those are great when you’re studying the Bible, but when I just want to curl up with a good book (that is, The Good Book), I like it simple. If there’s one wish I had, it’s that they’d have released it without any chapter and verse numbers so I could literally read it like a book.

The pages are thin, which makes for a paperback book that’s not too bulky, although you can still see the ink on the other side bleed through the paper. There’s a Kindle version of the same Bible, but call me old-fashioned, I still like the feeling of holding the physical book in my hands and seeing my progress by looking at where I am in the book.

Overall, it’s a great approach to daily Bible reading, and now that I’ve had a birthday, one I’m planning to try myself. Pray for me that I can make it through this year. :)

Review of The Southern Foodie’s Guide to the Pig


pig bookIt’s hard to describe The Southern Foodie’s Guide to the Pig. On the one hand, it’s a reference guide that takes you through all the parts of the pig, including the butt, ham, ribs, loins, chops, shoulder, and bacon (it’s sometimes easy to forget these all come from the same animal) and tells you the unique characteristics of each. On the other hand, it’s a cooking primer that tells you how to cook the different parts of the big, from how to properly fry bacon to how to set up a pit to roast a whole pig. On yet another hand, it’s a travel guide that brings you through some of the most amazing restaurants in the South that cook up pork dishes. And on still another hand, it’s a cookbook that has recipes for some of the best recipes from those restaurants, from pan-fried mac and cheese with kale and chorizo to sweet potato biscuits to bacon cinnamon pull-apart bread to slow-roasted pork shoulder to pecan-crusted pork tenderloin. And of course, there are recipes for barbecue sauce, from Texas style to Kansas City style to rubs from the Carolinas to Memphis to brines.

In short, it covers every part of the pig except for the oink. And while you think such a gargantuan effort (it clocks in at over 300 pages) might mean the content is watered down, each one of the sections could stand on its own. It was written by Chris Chamberlain, a food writer out of Nashville perhaps best known for The Southern Foodie: 100 Places to Eat in the South Before You Die (and the Recipes That Made Them Famous). In fact, this book pretty much follows the same winning formula that made that one a best-seller, except that it focuses on our porcine friends. As with the first book, this book is well-written, filled with color photographs and helpful tips you might not have thought of before (like 8 ways to use bacon grease). It’s the kind of book you can curl up and read parts of, but also keep in the kitchen as a reference for cooking, as well as take in the car with you for a trip down South.

If you haven’t read his original book, I’d definitely recommend you get that first. But if you’re particularly interested in pork and pork dishes (and who isn’t), this is a must-read.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

About the ministry of a friend of mine


I don’t talk too much about my own church on this blog, partially because this site is intended to be for all Christians and not those of a particular denomination, but also because while I love my church, I haven’t been very happy with its leadership in the last few years. I won’t get into the grisly details, but one thing they’ve done that has really, really gotten me ticked off is how they’ve treated a man I admire more than just about any other person in the world.

He was an ordained minister in our church, who worked tirelessly for God, and whom, every time I hear him speak, I can feel the power of the Spirit in his words. And while I don’t speak the same language he speaks (he speaks Mandarin and French), and we only see each other maybe once every few years, I consider him a dear friend.

Last year, my friend was suddenly fired from his post as minister. To this day, I don’t understand what happened. His only crime, it appears, is that some of his preaching veered off from the very strict orthodoxy that our church “officially” approves of. It seems that few “wise” men in the leadership of the church decided that it was “heresy” and worse, those who were in the church who should have spoken up on his behalf were silent.

In all honesty, I’ve heard his so-called “controversial” preaching. His is a preaching style that encourages people to think, instead of just indoctrination by repeating the same things over and over. That’s what makes him “dangerous”, I suppose. But as I think about it, to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, what shows the greater lack of faith–those who encourage people to question with boldness or those who encourage people to stay silent with blindfolded fear?

What I admire more about my friend is that he continued to serve the Lord. He’s not a rich man (none of the ministers in our church are), but he continued to preach the gospel in China, in the French-speaking parts of Africa, and in his home of France. And the remarkable thing is, he hasn’t let himself be overcome by evil, but he is overcoming evil with good.

I don’t get to hear many details of my friend’s ministry, but a few days ago another friend of mine posted letters he received from my friend while ministering in the regions of Rwanda and the Congo. These are areas of the world that have been racked by poverty and war, and to this day it’s dangerous to go there, especially for a foreigner. But my friend still goes there because our church members there are desperate to hear the gospel.

Usually, reports of his trips are in Chinese, but in this case they’ve been translated into English. You can read them here:

http://www.seventhousand.net/en/node/482

I feel amazed and in some cases ashamed when I read the accounts of his ministerial trips. Here I am in my air conditioned room, with my white-collar job, and complaining every day about minutiae. But my friend (whom I think is in his 50’s, pushing 60) works with a cheerful heart, even amid oppressive weather, mosquitoes, poor living conditions, and the daily presence of danger, even a death thread. And he does it because he himself is inspired by the young men and women in the church who have committed to living as Christians, even as their homes and families have been torn apart by war and poverty. And they walk for hours and hours just to hear the Word of God.

I share the link above with you so you can read his accounts too (albeit most of the entries are in Chinese). And while I never put up this site to make money, I do have a favor to ask. If you’ve ever been blessed by this site or by the lyrics in the forum or in the Classic Hymns section, and if after tithing to your own church or favorite causes you still have some left to give, I would ask if you can consider a donation to a fund that’s been set up to support my friend’s ministry. The fund is an IRS-approved 501(c)(3) organization, meaning that donations are tax deductible.

The address is:

Lily of the Valley Community Outreach
10007 Harbor Hideaway Circle
Frisco, TX 75034

Phone (USA): 214-770-4350
Email: contact@lotv.us

Let Freedom Ring (My Country ‘Tis of Thee) Lyrics by Abby Anderson


Every now and again you come across a song and a new artist that just makes your jaw drop. The latest one is a young 17 year-old named Abby Anderson.

Abby composed and performed her own version of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”. The original lyrics to this were written in 1831 by Samuel Francis Smith while he was a student at Andover Theological Seminary. His friend Lowell Mason (whose name you might recognize as the composer of hymns like Joy to the World and Nearer My God to Thee) asked him to translate lyrics from German songbooks into English. In particular, a melody from Clementi’s 3rd Symphony caught his attention, but instead of translating old lyrics he wrote this hymn’s lyrics in 30 minutes.

It might sound odd to hear this little ditty referred to as a hymn, especially since our modern society has all but forgotten the fourth verse, which was intended as to summarize of the first three verses and be sung as a cohesive whole.

Our fathers’ God to Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing.
Long may our land be bright,
With freedom’s holy light,
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God our King.

The first stanza, which we all know, talks about the United States being a land of liberty, formed by the original pilgrim settlers and preserved by the blood of American soldiers. The second stanza talks about the beauty of the land itself. The third stanza evokes Luke 19:40, where Jesus said told the Pharisees rebuking His disciples that even if they were silenced, the rocks would cry out with joy, and comparing this joy to the joy of living in freedom. And the fourth stanza summarizes it all–the land, the faith of the pilgrims and soldiers, the beauty of the land, and the joy of freedom is all due to the Author of liberty, Great God our King.

As everyone knows, these lyrics were traditionally put to the music of “God Save the Queen”, the national anthem of the United Kingdom. Whether it was co-opted out of respect or meant to be a stick in the eye of the vanquished British isn’t clear, but whatever the reason, it stuck. Until 1931, when Congress adopted The Star Spangled Banner (another patriotic song whose “forgotten” last stanza praises God), My Country ‘Tis of Thee was widely recognized as an unofficial national anthem.

If you haven’t heard Abby Anderson’s rendition, you’re in for a treat. Amazingly, it takes these 183 year-old lyrics and breathes new life into them with a combination of a beautiful new melody and Abby’s amazing voice. Of course, the lyrics are as timeless as the freedom itself that it describes.

You can download a copy here for 99 cents:

Let Freedom Ring – Single – Abby Anderson

Or click here for a preview.

The one thing I appreciate most in Abby’s rendition is that it brings back something that had been missing for almost all these 183 years, and that’s the invocation of God as the author of liberty and freedom.

We live in a world today where politicians and governments act no differently than old European monarchs as if they’re the ones who give us freedom–and if they give it to us, that means they can take it away if we don’t vote for them or otherwise pay them tribute.

But that’s why the Founding Fathers used the word “unalienable” to describe our rights as a nation. “Unalienable” means “unable to be taken away from our given away by the possessor”.

In other words, I have the right to worship as I wish, to pursue happiness as I wish, and even to write this silly blog as I wish without a government censor checking my every word. As fundamental as this sounds–this simple act of writing a paragraph of text is illegal in a lot of places in the world. In China, if a government censor doesn’t like what a blogger writes, his blog will be blocked and he might be put in jail. In countries like Malaysia, if I write anything good about Christianity but don’t put a disclaimer that says “For Non-Muslims Only” I could be censured, censored, or both.

And sadly, even in the United States, so many of us don’t recognize what true freedom is even after so many have fought so hard to preserve it. So many people are focused on “the freedom to choose to do what’s wrong” and so few see it as “the freedom to choose to do what’s right”. Those who choose the former end up themselves being slaves to addiction and wealth and worldly status and libertine behavior. But it’s only a few that choose true freedom.

Cherish your freedom, and cherish the memories of those who died defending it, and cherish the One who makes true freedom possible.

Here are the lyrics, as arranged by Abby:

Let freedom ring
Let freedom ring.
My country, ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims’ pride,
From ev’ry mountainside
Let freedom ring! 

My native country, thee,
Land of the noble free,
Thy name I love;
I love thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and templed hills;
My heart with rapture thrills,
Like that above.
Let freedom ring,
Great God, our King;
From sea to shining sea,
Let freedom ring. 

Let music swell the breeze,
And ring from all the trees
Sweet freedom’s song;
Let mortal tongues awake;
Let all that breathe partake;
Let rocks their silence break,
The sound prolong.
Let freedom ring,
Great God, our King;
From sea to shining sea,
Let freedom ring. 
Our fathers’ God to Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing.
Long may our land be bright,
With freedom’s holy light,
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God our King.

Let freedom ring,
Great God, our King;
From sea to shining sea,
Let freedom ring. 

Let freedom ring,
Great God, our King;
From sea to shining sea,
Let freedom ring. 

 

Ruminations about Dad and That Which Lasts: Thoughts on One Day


We used to sing hymns as a family growing up. My dad and mom would sing from a Chinese hymnal, while my brother, sister, and I would sing from an English hymnal.

Every time we sang this hymn “One Day”, my dad would put down his Chinese hymnal and pick up an English one.

He explained one day. He loved this hymn, because when he was a young student at Baylor University, they would sing this hymn. Baylor is where Dad first heard about Christ.

This devotional isn’t so much about this hymn, but about my Dad. And how his passing helped me to understand 1 Corinthians 13 a little better.

My mom went back to be with the Lord back in 1992. In her final weeks, I spent a lot of time with her. I asked her about her life. You can read about it here.

Mom did manage to tell me those things that were most important in her life. How her father came to Christ. How she said good-bye to her mother in 1949, when communist China closed the borders and separated them for the rest of their lives. How Jesus healed her from a terminal illness as a teenager, after an elder in her church lay hands on her head and prayed over her. How the three of us, three healthy children, were born after she had suffered a string of many miscarriages (fittingly, my big brother’s name is “Samuel”).

But she never got to tell me much else about her life. And so, not wanting to make the same mistake twice, I went to my dad a few years later, and asked him to tell me his life story. Dad ended up taping almost 8 hours on cassette, going through his life. I heard them for the first time after he passed away, and it was an amazing experience.

I had promised him I’d write a book about it. I still plan to. But for now, I’ll just give you the 50,000 foot version.

Dad grew up in the northernmost part of China, near Manchuria. Living conditions were primitive. There was no running water, no electricity, no cars. Rice was a luxury that was enjoyed only once a year—for the other 364 days in the year, they ate a grain called gao-liang. As a baby, his mother would chew gao-liang, and feed it to him. He grew up malnourished and sickly. At one point, he said he had a recurring dream of him hungry and crying, and his grand-uncle threatening to bury him alive, saying that such a child couldn’t survive anyway, and should be put out of his misery. He said he was pretty sure this really happened.

When Dad was a young adult, the Japanese took over northern China. Dad decided with his college friend to make a run to southern China, which at the time was still under Chinese control. He tells a harrowing account of the long trip by train, boat, foot, and bus. At any time in the journey, all he had to do was open his mouth—the Japanese would hear his accent and send him back to the north, where he might be imprisoned or even executed.

Dad made it to southern China. From there, he made it to Taiwan, and then to the United States.

The boy who had once failed entrance exam after entrance exam for high school in China, due to the poor education provided in his hometown, then graduated from Baylor University with a PhD in chemistry. He went on to work at Pfizer, and then at Squibb (now Bristol Myers-Squibb). Over his 30-year career, he collected 17 U.S. Patents.

Dad and mom had the happiest marriage I have seen. They supported each other. Where one was weak, the other was strong. They knew what it mean to submit to each other, and to respect each other. And it spilled over to us kids. Growing up, our lives were filled with love, and joy, and happiness. The magical combination of a praying mother and a father whose sole aim in life was to fulfil his duty as a father to his family.

I remember when mom was sick, dad watched over her literally day and night. When mom was terminally ill with cancer, her face and body were puffy because of the medicine, she coughed a horrible sounding cough due to her asthma, and her room smelled horrible because of her incontinence, again due to the medicine. But dad stayed right there in that room with her. He had an oxygen tank ready to administer to her any second of the day or night her breathing became difficult.

And when she breathed her last breath, I remember that well. My dad, normally not a spiritual nor an emotional person, asked me to kneel down and pray with him, to ask God to take mom’s soul. And as we knelt down, I remember him wailing the cry of someone who had lost a soulmate and a best friend.

Dad got remarried later, but to be honest, it wasn’t the same. My dad and my stepmother took care of each other, but there wasn’t that connection of two people truly submitting to each other.

A few years ago, Dad suffered a massive stroke. It left him unable to talk and move his entire right side. He became, quite literally, like an infant. He had his stroke exactly the same week that his first grandchild was born. I remember hwen Sam and Linda came back from Baltimore, seeing how similar Katie was to dad.

When he tried to speak, it came out as incoherent babbling. He had to be fed pureed food, a spoon at a time. He even had to wear a diaper, because he couldn’t physically go to the bathroom.

The difference was…she would grow out of it. He would not.

Dad was always a serious person, but in his last few years, when I would visit him, he and I would have a little inside joke between us. I’d raise my eyebrows and make a funny face, and he’d do the same thing, and then we’d both just laugh. Or, if someone in the room said something odd, we’d both shrug our shoulders and hold up our hands in an “I don’t know what’s going on” pose. Then, we’d both chuckle about it.

Dad passed away about two years ago, around this time of the year.

When I think back at Dad, what do I remember?

Do I remember a young man from northern China who grew up in poverty and found the American dream, through hard work, perseverance, and grit?

Not really.

Do I remember the PhD who had seventeen US Patents to his name? The brilliant scientist who worked for 20 years for one of the world’s pre-eminent pharmaceutical firms? The scientist who once got a letter from a United States senator in the late 1960’s, requesting the state department to allow his wife to remain in the country, because her husband’s research was critical to the United States?

No.

Do I remember an 80 year old man, wearing diapers, who couldn’t talk, and who ate mashed up food?

No.

Did I receive a huge sum of money, or a business to run, or a prestigious name as an inheritance?

No.

What do I remember?

One of my earliest memories being held in strong yet gentle arms as a child, feeling the stubble of face as it pressed against mine in a hug.

I remember every Thanksgiving and New Year, him roasting a duck and carving it for the family. I remember him making, from scratch, Chinese pancakes to wrap the roast duck in. I remember the joy of sitting around that white kitchen table filled with delicious food, surrounded by the smiles of a family whom I loved and who loved me.

I remember when I was sick in the hospital myself with cancer, him sitting by my bed day and night. To the point where I almost got tired of him being there, and wanted to be alone. But looking back, I treasure every second he stayed by me.

In other words, the greatest inheritance that dad left me wasn’t wealth, or a prestigious name, or property. It wasn’t fame or fortune.

The greatest inheritance he left me was love. All those other things were there, and now they’re gone. But the love abides. Even after I’m gone, his love remains.

And that’s what it means in 1 Corinthians 13.

There are three things that last.

Money doesn’t last, fame doesn’t last, prestige doesn’t last.

What lasts?

Three things last, past life, past death, past eternity.

Faith
Hope
And love

And by being a servant to his family, by showing his love, dad guaranteed himself immortality. In every sense of the word. He lives on in the people he touched on earth. He lives on in eternity.

I only hope that I can do the same so that one day, we will meet again.
1.
One day when heaven was filled with his praises,
One day when sin was as black as could be,
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin—
Dwelt amongst men, my example is he!

Chorus
Living, he loved me; dying, he saved me;
Buried, he carried my sins far away;
Rising, he justified freely, for ever:
One day he’s coming—O, glorious day!

2.
One day they led him up Calvary’s mountain,
One day they nailed him to die on the tree;
Suffering anguish, despised and rejected:
Bearing our sins, my Redeemer is he!

3.
One day they left him alone in the garden,
One day he rested, from suffering free;
Angels came down o’er his tomb to keep vigil;
Hope of the hopeless, my Saviour is he!

4.
One day the grave could conceal him no longer,
One day the stone rolled away from the door;
Then he arose, over death he had conquered;
Now is ascended, my Lord evermore!

5.
One day the trumpet will sound for his coming,
One day the skies with his glories will shine;
Wonderful day, my beloved ones bringing;
Glorious Saviour, this Jesus is mine!

How Could An All-Loving God Do That? Thoughts on Great Is Thy Faithfulness


This blog post is originally from August 2005.

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Like many of you, I’ve been riveted to the TV the last few days, looking at the effects of Katrina.

It was just a few years ago that I decided to treat myself to a little trip. I happened to see that the Giants were playing the Saints, so I used some of my hotel points to get a room in a Four Points Sheraton in Metairie, used Priceline to get a rental car, and used my air miles to book a plane from Newark to New Orleans.

The trip was a great one. The first night, I got the Giants game over with. I can’t remember the score, but I do remember the Giants phoning it in that night. And they weren’t the only ones. That was the game where Joe Horn of the Saints scored four touchdowns, and grabbed a cell phone from under one of the goal posts–I’m sure he felt it well worth the $30,000 fine he had to pay later. At that point, of course, I had to deny to the rabid Saints fans around me that I was a Giants fan. “California. I come from California” I sheepishly replied when a friendly person in the next seat asked me where I was from. I felt like Peter talking to the servant girl.

The next few days, I saw the town. Made sure to get beignets for breakfast. Walked around the French Quarter. Had a “Po-boy”. Ate an incredible Cajun buffet lunch at the Court of Two Sisters restaurant. Lots of Jambalaya, lots of crawfish, lots of great jazz. Visited the D-Day Museum. Had a nice drive down to Lake Pontchartrain, and drove up and down that bridge a few times. Lots of smiles from the people there.

A great trip, all things considered. I think it’s the last trip I’ve taken that wasn’t work-related.

To see the devastation on the TV is heartbreaking. Who would have thought it? Just a week ago, Katrina was just a tiny little disturbance, like all the others. Who would have known that just a week later, thousands and thousands of lives would be tossed about?

For some reason, a verse kept popping up in my head this week.

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

– Lamentations 3:18, 19

When disaster like this strikes, you invariably hear people snidely remark, “how could an all-loving God allow this to happen”.

But honestly, the questions should go something like this:

“Why is it that I have been spared thus far?”
“How is that that an all-powerful God still has the time to hear our cries when we pray?”

Disaster and calamity will happen on this side of paradise. It all goes back to the curse. That it doesn’t happen to us every day is the miracle. But some day we will get hit by that storm. That’s a guarantee. Maybe its name won’t be ‘Katrina’. Maybe its name will be “9-11″. Or “massive stroke”. Or “broken engagement”. Or “sick child”.

But our all-loving God already did do something. He sent His only begotten Son to die. As Paul wrote in Galatians 3:13, Christ redeemed us from the curse by becomes a curse for us.

So it’s the same, whether you’re dealing with the aftermath of a physical storm, or of any kind of storm in your life. Maybe we can’t think of an explanation of why things happened the way they did. Maybe there is no explanation, at least not one we’ll fathom until we’re out of this world. But the one thing to hang onto is this: Christ lives. And this means we have hope. This means we can pick up the pieces, and move on.

And the best way to move on…is to wait. Kicking and screaming and crying might be what we feel like doing, and yes, it’s okay to do that for a time. But it won’t change anything. Waiting quietly for the salvation of the Lord, that’s what brings relief. “Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.”

Please remember the victims of Hurricane Katrina in your prayers, and please be generous in your giving.

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1.
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.

Refrain
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

2.
Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Refrain

3.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

Refrain