trees and fruits (Matthew 7:15-20)

2004 autumn, Beijing.

This could be my last year in Beijing studying for my Master degree in Electrical Engineering at CAS, the best graduate school in China. The stress of going to US to study overwhelmed me, indulging in alcohol and smoking, as well as struggling with relationship with guys. I was journaling to ask God to help me, though I had no idea who God and Jesus is. One day, I found out that one of my lab mates is a Christian, and he is going to get married in a church. Before we were all invited to his wedding in TianJin, he told me I could visit his house church if I’m interested. I did.

Biking over to a residential area and “sneaking” into an apt, I met about twenty people, different age and gender, some are like teachers, some are students of my age. Without any background about the bible, I found myself in a bible study on Matthew 7:15-20:

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them”. -Matthew 7:15-20

My first impression on bible is EASY, compared to my thesis on polarized radar system. Of course, good tree bear good fruits, bad tree bear bad fruits. Second impression is REDUNDANT. Of course, a good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. I’m sure at that only bible study I’ve attended in China, they explained what trees and fruits mean, how our lives should bear fruits. For the Natalie back then, arrogance and pride made my ears, eyes and hearts closed, I didn’t understand the deep meanings and didn’t think I had the time and energy to figure them out. On my way biking home, an unexpected peace was filled me however.

Looking back, almost eight years have gone. How God brought me to US, led me to accept Jesus, to server God, to graduate with PhD and move to CA! One miracle after another one, nothing is as normal as just my “hardwork”. When I flipped bible and read same passage, what do I really know about the trees and fruits?

The parable is about us, followers of Jesus. We are trees, and the fruits are our characters, deeds and thoughts. To say we are good Christians are in vain without proof of good fruits. “But the fruits of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. “-Galatians 5:22. It serves such a great reminder that we are in the process of being transformed to be more like Jesus, it is OK that we are not there yet, but we need to practice and should be willing to be transformed/changed! I don’t think anyone would want to be “cut down and thrown into the fire”, but if we take God’s words seriously, am I asking God to increase His grace to me when I sin and not bear fruits? Should not, Paul said “we died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” So the old Natalie died. New Natalie in Christ Jesus was born.

I thank God whenever I read this passage on trees and fruits, not only challenging me to bear fruits, but also a great reminder how faithful God has been to me to even start His work in me back in China. What is your story? What is your experience with your first bible study?

Are you smart or not?

Hi, friends, I have not been able to update my blog, but I guess it’s never too late to pick it up. Time flies, I’ve been the bay area for almost 4 months before I could pause and really appreciate all this place has to offer to me. Absolute luxurious sunshine, various delicious Asian food, multicultural housemates and colleagues, large and classic campus, but all these wonderful things cannot stop these haunting questions to me regarding my job as a postdoc at Stanford- “Why I’m here? Am I smart enough to fit in here? ”

I know God has the best plan for me, I know clearly that when I prayed for job situation, I had the peace to come here and everything has been far better than I imagined. However, not very soon did I realize that my colleagues are from these famous schools (Columbia, Cambridge, Harvard, Tsinghua and all the best schools you can imagine). Me being from “Inner Mongolia University” cannot even be found Stanford school list, so I was from this “unlisted school” when filling up my profile. I’m sure no one probably would care/notice, but I was so self-conscious about my education experience, wondering how I could ever fit in this prestigious school, and if I’m smart or not to meet the expectation of my job.  Of course, when I called my friend Ruthie, she laughed at me and told me that I’m the smartest Chinese girl she knows. But I still doubt. Interestingly, I met a friend who is probably super smart in my definition (PhD in Computer Science at Berkeley) and told me that he agreed with me on feelings not smart…And another really smart girl from Tsinghua also told me her struggles sometimes to believe she is smart. Have you ever felt that way? Feeling stupid on work and not confident in your brain power?

Who is smart? How smart is smart enough? Is that how I’m supposed to judge the people around me and myself? Flipping my bible to 1Corithian, I feel these words spoke to me to the core and reminded me the truth of who I am. “Where is the wise person? …Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? …For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” – 1Cor 1:20-31

When I was called, I was not wise, not of noble birth, not of famous school, but God loves me so much that He CHOSE me! Smart or not does not equal to wise or not, I’d rather to be choose believe the truth, to acknowledge my foolishness and trust God called me despite of my foolishness. I admire Paul to have the wisdom that “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. -1Cor 4:3”. I hope I could write this to remind myself to care little of being judged by others, and also not to judge myself. How relieving to me to know that I don’t have to judge myself if I’m smart or not! If you happen to be one of those people feeling stupid as me, this is a good news! Don’t judge yourself,and don’t care too much about how others judge you. If you are still not sure, I could help to do a MRI scan on your brain and rule out possible reasons…(just a joke, but interestingly my job includes all different analysis to measure brains, here is my own brain)

Or if still not sure, here is fun website called “Am I dumb Test”, I got proof that “You are smarter than 94.29% of the population.” hahaha, being a nerd~

Frustration and Encouragement

How are you doing with your New Year Resolution, if you have one? I have to admit I’m already behind my goal on writing on my blog, not along to mention my bad time management, unstable bible reading, not loving people the way I wanted. Frustrated? Embarrassed? Scared? Yes to all. How many times do I need to fail before I could have “statistically significant” differences? When would be the time for me to live without frustration towards myself? Is that even possible? 

Well, I don’t have answers to my frustrating questions. But I’d like share a story of this cleaning lady who comes to my apt weekly. Perhaps you never been to my apt (less than 8 people have visited me), it is a two-story building with more than 10 small rooms occupied with tenants from all over the world. I LOVE the clean floor and bathrooms with the credit goes to this cleaning lady. She is a tiny Chinese lady, around my parents age, with a strong accent from Hunan. I have been trying to talk her and share with her about Jesus, in hope that she may have JOY during this tiring job. But it seems embarrassed for me to start topics like Jesus whenever I see her, because I usually get up late if I could see her. Since she doesn’t speak English, sometimes she will talk to me because I’m the only one living here speaking Chines. There she was today wiping the floor in the living room (got up late again>.<), she started to complain to me that how tiring this job was, and she was thinking to go back to China. I thought it would be a great chance to share with her that Jesus knows her suffering and Jesus could give her rest. But I did not as I was frustrated with myself. I only conveyed my sympathy. Then like a typical Chinese person,  she started to ask my education background and concluded that postdoc is really not a job (my mom thinks the same), but at least my job is much better than hers though I made less money than her. What could I say? My job is not a job? Be patient, I told myself. At least I could be nice to ask her name, I did. Then she was very proud to tell me that she came from THE Mao family, her name is “Mao Mei”. I thought she must also be a strong atheist. So I was assured how ridiculous that would sound if I shared with her about Jesus. So, quickly I planed to go to work, grumbling to God why I prayed to get up early and my schedule is still so messy. I didn’t even care this cleaning lady was trying to talk to me. As I walked downstairs, all of a sudden, she scooped over the stairs and asked me “Have you believed in Jesus?” I stood there speechless for 2 seconds, then I said “YES!” Then she asked me if I go to church or fellowship, I told her yes. She started to tell me it is good, and all her families are believers of Jesus! I was there first shocked by her question and then her heart to care for me. Walking out of the apartment, I had to praise God for putting this cleaning lady in my life so I could be reminded how to live a Christian life. She has such a “low” job, but she has such a loving heart, towards me a stranger. She was so eager to share with me her life, and was so brave to ask me straightforward.

When I was focusing on my own little life, I forget how God is so gracious and encouraging,  surprises us with his people in our lives to remind us how He loves us and knows us. How I realize my own selfish on having “a big face”, and how I would feel ashamed or awkward being a Christian outside of church, but there are so much more and bigger pictures God is drawing in our lives. If we let God to write our stories and let God be really God in our lives, I think everyday live will not seem that ordinary and frustrating, but full of awe of his deeds. I was greatly encouraged by this “Mao Mei” and so glad to know her.What has God been doing in your life to surprise you and encourage you?

Life to the full – Happy New Year!

My friends, Happy New Year!!! How exciting to watch SO many people counting down for the ball drop at the Times Square! I wish I were there, but I was very content with deep fried ice creams and the Moscato in a much warmer room. 🙂 So what’s next? Nothing wrong with writing New Year resolutions, I have a long list I really wish to accomplish: better time management, reading the bible, loving my family and friends, working harder, self-discipline, running, cooking, and on and on. Usually the plan won’t last too long, and I know I will then get frustrated with myself, thinking it may never happen and that I may never be able to change myself to the person I want to be…

This morning at church, I got so inspired by a very familiar story in the bible about Jesus healing this man who had been lying by a pool 38 years and waiting to get healed (John5:1-10). Jesus started by asking “Do you want to get well?”.  It seems to be such an obvious question, of course this poor man wanted to be healed! But this man didn’t answer directly “YES”, he explained/complained to Jesus why he could not be healed. Maybe he has lost HOPE after 38 years’ waiting and he didn’t believe that he could be healed, because the only way to be healed in his mind was to be the first to get into the pool when the angel stirred up the waters. But Jesus told him “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk. “, and miracle happened! He picked up his mat and walked!

In retrospect, how many times have I been trying to explain/complain to Jesus and myself why I couldn’t change. All my hopes were fixing on the “pool”, which would be graduation, marriage, friends, church, job, and etc. If only I graduate, I will then be able to manage my time better. If only I find the best church, I will then be able to serve the Lord better. If only I get married, I will be able to change/be changed. But the question is “Do I want to get well?” No excuses, no explanations, no conditions, no strings attached. If I really want to get well, and if I really want to change to be the person that Lord has created me to be, the answer goes to Jesus, who has the power to heal and change me TODAY!

Jesus promised to give us abundant life, life to the full, are you like me kind of settling for a life less? — “It’s not wonderful, but it’s predictable; It’s not great, but it’s controllable and known; It’s not the best life, but it is A life.” What a great time to start to look forward with hope and confidence on Jan 1st? Do you want to get well? What are you waiting for?

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead! -Philippians3:13

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come; The old has gone, the new is here! -2Corinthians 5:17

Here is the link to the sermon I heard this morning, hope it will be helpful to you!

The Edge of the Pool

Start with Psalms

Trying to become like the coolest person (Ruthie Dean) I know , I’m starting this blog to honor/thank her who started this amazing journey with me! I’m not as good as her in writing (but I do have a real major in Engineering), only in hope that we and more could be encouraged by sharing my happiness and weakness, confirming the joy and hope beyond the seemingly common lives!

No time is better to start a new blog than the last day of 2011 (in China time), and no breakfast is more satisfying to start a day with Cinnamon toasts and a nice cup of coffee for me!  I sat at my living room and flipped my bible to Psalms. The dreadful memory of writing my PhD dissertation was fading away, but I cannot forget how I would not have finished it without the book of psalms. It was a dry season for me back in May, I was feeling stuck in a position where I could not go forward one more step but was too late to give up. Thanks for Andrew to encourage me reading Psalms, I did. It helped me so much beyond words to experience the guiding hand of the Lord day by day. Today, after graduating in Aug and moving to my dream job in Oct, lives just seem dry for me again due to loneliness and all the hassles in transition. So here I am, reading one of my favorite Psalm 139.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

My human nature tends to hide and retrieve to a corner when darkness haunts me, the accusation from the devil, the judgement from others, the self doubt of worth, the confusion of future, the list goes on. How encouraging to know that the darkness will not be dark to the Lord! He is the TRUE light that gives light to everyone, including Natalie.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 

When the world is trying to teach us how to find values from our work, outside appearances, salaries, families and friends, our inmost being is created by God! Each person is fearfully and wonderfully made, David knew it full well, how much do I know and do I believe this? If so, then why am I scared of being judged by others, and why am I worried about being my true self?

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. 

The Lord cares for our hearts, and teaches us not be anxious. One of my new year resolution is to open my heart and let the Lord test me and stir my heart, so my heart won’t be hardened and I will be sensitive to hear his little voice. Changing is hard, but if we are not brave enough to open our heart, being fragile and vulnerable in front of God, letting our own ego fading away, how could we experience the real abundant life that Jesus promised us? New Year, 2012, what are your new year resolutions?  Do you like Psalms? How willing are you to open your heart, not being afraid of being stirred by the Lord? Let’s be brave in new year! “So do not fear, for I’m with you.”

A beautiful Chinese song according to Psalm 139: