Jesus Heals​

Matthew 8 records amazing accounts of healings done by Jesus. Here are a few. He heals a leprous person (8:1-4); Jesus heals a soldier’s servant by merely speaking a word from a distance (8:5-13). He heals Peter’s mom-in-law​ and many people who had demons. He ordered the demons to leave and he healed all the sick (8:14-17). This is followed by his healing of nature. He calms a storm (8:23-27), a prelude to nature’s redemption. He also heals two men who had demons in them. The demons begged Jesus that he sent them to possess the pigs, instead of being sent to their final destiny (8:28-34). For some reasons, only He knows, he listened to them.

These healings continue in the next chapter. Jesus also heals a paralyzed man. This is the same story quoted in Mark 2. Some men cut through Jesus’ rooftop to bring their friend to Jesus. Jesus saw their faith so he healed him physically and spiritually. That is just incredible. In the middle of the chapter, Matthew presents Jesus healing a haemorrhaging​ woman while on his way to raise a dead girl back to life!

What do these healings show? Matthew says ​these healings fulfil a prophecy made by Isaiah, “He took our suffering on him and carried our diseases” (Matthew 8:17). These healings and exorcisms and resurrections point to God’s future sickness-death-demon free world.

I spent a great deal studying this passage for my dissertation decades ago. Advocates of healing for all in the atonement use this Scripture to assert that if one has faith, every sick person ​should be healed now for Jesus has already suffered for our sicknesses. That is not the point God is making here.

The point being made concerns God’s rule. Where he rules conditions brought by sin are reversed. One day, the last condition, that is, death ​will be removed. These healings, therefore,​ prove the presence of God’s kingdom working in these conditions. These are also promises of the complete healing that is yet to come.

So how will God bring this reversal? Matthew’s quote of Isaiah 53 tells us that the future redemption will take place because of Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice on the cross.

Earlier, I was just told that one of our church members died. Last week, I​ spoke at two funeral services, one of them is a very dear friend.

For many, ​they would avoid talks about sickness, death, sufferings and funerals. They’re taboo topics. But for anyone who understands the gospel, these topics affirm our faith. Funeral services remind us that while death is a terrible enemy, it is a defeated enemy. Death has lost its power to keep us from God and his gift of life. Sickness and death are sober reminders from our loving Father that earthly life is short and fleeting. These remind us of the healing that has already begun but its completion is yet future. We are headed towards our new home where sickness and death are gone completely.

Thank you, ​Jesus, ​for taking our place on the cross.

So blessed, I can’t contain it

The title comes from an old song which we loved to sing. The song’s claim comes directly from no less than​ the Lord Jesus’ Those who are in him, those who follow, serve, and love him are the blessedest people in the universe!

Sadly, the term betrays the essence​ of blessedness. These are not​ attitudes, required neither as these attitudes one has to learn or achieve to qualify to be saved and blessed by God. Instead of looking at these traits as requirements, the better way is to see these as descriptions of those who are part of God’s kingdom.

Here’s how The Passion Translation puts Matthew 5:3-11. Its actually pretty good.

3 “What wealth is offered to you when you feel your spiritual poverty! For there is no charge to enter the realm of heaven’s kingdom.

4 “What delight comes to you when you wait upon the Lord! For you will find what you long for.

5 “What blessing comes to you when gentleness lives in you! For you will inherit the earth.

6 “How enriched you are when you crave righteousness! For you will be surrounded with fruitfulness.

7 “How satisfied you are when you demonstrate tender mercy! For tender mercy will be demonstrated to you.

8 “What bliss you experience when your heart is pure! For then your eyes will open to see more and more of God.

9 “How blessed you are when you make peace! For then you will be recognized as a true child of God.

10 “How enriched you are when you bear the wounds of being persecuted for doing what is right! For that is when you experience the realm of heaven’s kingdom.

11 “How ecstatic you can be when people insult and persecute you and speak all kinds of cruel lies about you because of your love for me!

The Passion Translation (TPT)
The Passion Translation®. Copyright © 2017 by BroadStreet Publishing® Group, LLC. Used by permission. All rights reserved. thePassionTranslation.com

When Mercy and Justice Met​

There is a beautiful window of the gospel in our readings today. Look at this, “…Then the LORD said, ‘I will wipe off from the face of the earth mankind, whom I created, together with the animals, creatures that crawl, and birds of the sky – for I regret that I made them.’ Noah, however, found favour in the sight of God.” Genesis 6:7 (HCSB)

On the one hand, God spews judgment and says he will wipe off mankind. On the other hand, he loves Noah. He looks at him with great love and delight. That’s a big problem, ​isn’t it?

His judgment over sinful mankind is God’s natural response to sin. As a righteous God, he ​demands justice from offences​ committed against him. He can’t ignore sin. Every sin moves him to judge and condemn the sinner to death.

His endearing love for Noah also flows naturally from his mercy and kindness. He loves his people and wants​ to save them.

God’s solution is the ark. God would destroy humankind and the rest of his creation with the flood. The flood serves as an instrument of justice. At the same time, the flood also becomes an instrument of salvation. For it is through the raging waters that the ark floated to safety.

Isn’t this amazing? Very early in the biblical story, God is already hinting how he would save​ sinners who believe in him. He would save his people through judgment. The ark without the flood would be a joke, but so would the flood be, without the ark. Both are needed.

Some people can’t understand why Jesus had to die as our substitute. Why did he need to be judged for our sins?​ Can’t God just save sinners? Can’t he just forgive them for​ their sins? Can’t God devise some way to save without the cross?

The answer is no. His righteousness mandates him to punish sin. A judge who would declare a guilty person not guilty would be seen as a corrupt judge. But God is also merciful so he wants sinners to be saved. God’s solution then is the flood. The flood allowed God to judge sin and save Noah and those inside the ark.

In the same way, ​God saves us through judgment. He saves us by having Jesus take our judgment on the cross. God saves those who turn to him, those who enter the ark, by becoming their substitute. The judgement that fell on Christ on the cross, becomes the instrument that saves us.

What a gospel! Go share it with​ someone today.

Begin with God

Genesis 1-2 provide a record of the creation of the world. These chapters along with other Scriptures tell us about the who and why of the universe. Science tries to tell us about the how and the what of creation. It looks at the data it could find and then theorise how things came to be. The Big Bang theory is their best theory for now.

Followers of Christ look beyond these theories. They listen instead to Scriptures. The see One wise and powerful Creator-God who made everything in the universe with a purpose. The grand designs in creation only confirms their faith in the ultimate Designer. They understand why He made the world.

Where do we read this in the creation story? Moses narrates that at the end of every creation day, God looked at what he made and said, good! And after the creation days, he sat and enjoyed his work, especially humans and exclaimed, very good! Creation did not happen by chance. God created the world and human beings for his pleasure and his glory.

Followers of Christ see something else when they look at creation. They are reminded about the new creation initiated by Christ. The apostle Paul expresses this beautifully in Colossians 1:16. He said, everything was made through Him and for Him.

As I finished reading the creation account in Genesis this morning two thoughts filled me. First, I was filled with gratitude towards the triune God. I thanked him for my life, family, calling, friends, good health, his gifts and our church family. I thanked him for our city. Also I thanked him for the opportunities this year to make more disciples and train more leaders. I recommitted myself and my whole family to him. I renewed our family vision of living only for him and through him.

But at the same time, there was sadness in my heart. I opened our door to smell the air, but quickly closed it. The air wrecks with the smell of unbreathable firecrackers. God reminded me that I live in a world still broken by sin. We live in a world awaiting its redemption, initiated by Christ at his first coming and completed when he returns.

This calls us to our mission. People and all nations need to hear the good news. They need to understand and be convinced of this good news. The nations needs to hear and be saved.

Let’s begin this year with God. Join me and Emma in this journey.

The Prepared Bride

The Bible begins and ends with a wedding. One can say that the narrative of Scripture follows a love story of a God who chose, won, prepared and finally takes his bride to be with him for all eternity.

Our readings today from Revelation 21 offers very exciting details about the consummation of God’s purposes. First, John picks up the motif of marriage. He describes the bride, God’s people as the New Jerusalem, being wedded finally to the Lamb. This describes the final and eternal reconciliation and union with Christ. We will be with God forever.

Second, he also shows where he is bringing his bride. The new home is a renewed creation. The apostle Paul saw this too and shared how man’s final redemption will also be the creation’s redemption. This newly created order does not have any sea which reflects the absence of earthly disorder. He says death will also be gone in this newly created order. Death which came along with sin is gone forever. With death and sin gone, there would be no more separation from friends and loved one. John says God will finally comfort his people, he will wipe their tears away.

How would God want us to respond to this truth?

First, our first response should be to worship, to praise him for what he did. God urges his people then and his people now to praise the Lamb who was slain for us.

Second, God wants us to be faithful no matter what we face as Jesus was faithful even when it cost him his life.

Third, we must prepare ourselves for God. We must prioritise our spiritual growth. He is coming for a prepared bride, a blemish-free bride.

Finally, God wants us to keep sharing the good news to others. As his bride, we want to give out invitations to our coming wedding.

Fruits

Reading the first part of Isaiah is difficult. The first four chapters teems with warnings of judgments, warnings which were carried out to the letter. It’s a heartbreaking read. Moving to chapter 5, God addresses Israel with a slightly different note. The first seven verses include what is commonly called the Song of the Vineyard. Isaiah sings on behalf of his “Beloved”—the Lord—who had a vineyard that he loved. He prepared the vineyard, protected it, and tended to its needs with the expectation of fruit. But the vineyard yielded “wild grapes” (v. 4 ).

Its interesting to note what the divine gardener expected good, delightful fruit. A good tree should bear good fruit (cf. Matt. 7:17–19 ). Alas, the garden yielded bad fruit.

So God looks for fruit from those he called and redeemed. And what does God expect to find in yours and mine? Isaiah 5:7 actually states it. “He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry” ( Isa. 5:7 ). So God expects that those who have received his redemptive care become agents of justice and righteousness in the world.

God expressed this expectation also in Micah 6:8:

He has showed you, O man, what is good.

And what does the LORD require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy

and to walk humbly with your God (NIV).

Justice refers to how we treat others and our response to abuses and the injustices that happen around us. How should I as a follower of Christ respond to the culture of killing that threatens the very fabric of our nation? What about corruption, the drug problem, the killings, the abuses of power? What about the blatant disregard of law, whether it is traffic, economic, social laws? Righteousness refers to actions, to acts of righteousness such as showing kindness to the poor, being a voice to the voiceless, and meeting the needs of those God brings to you.

So God tells us what fruits he expects from us? Are we capable of doing these things? Are we becoming in heart and action people of courageous compassion and socially sensitive and proactive people who do things in his name?

The answer actually comes from the first seven verses of Isaiah 5. God asks, “What else should I do?” What else should he do to really save us and transform us to bear fruits that please him? In the coming of Jesus, we see how God answered his own question. God answered his question by sending Jesus. He is the ultimate cure for man’s ills. He is the ultimate gardener who plant seeds of life, love, kindness, justice and righteousness. He is the surgeon sent by God to replace our old and stony hearts into hearts that care for others and love God and everything right.

Prayer: Father, your call that we live justly and righteously in the world bring us back to you. We can’t do these things unless we first become your people who are righteous and kind and just in heart. We need your mercy and grace. We need your Spirit to continue working in us. Help us Lord. Transform our hearts. Help us so we could bear fruits of righteousness that honour your name.

Praising Our Creator

Psalm 96 calls us to sing to and praise Yahweh, the LORD for being our Creator. The first two verses read:

“Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.”

I’m just thinking right now as I write this blog to thank him for the very space where I sit belongs to him. The fingers used to type to form words and sentences and paragraphs all come from him. Writing would not be possible without the finger joints, the hands that hold them, the legs where my computer rests; that includes my two good eyes that look at what I am writing. These eyes are quite used now, its tear glands are more active these days, and of course, my brain that makes​ all these possible, the writing​, thinking, composing, creating, and enjoying what is being written.

God, however, ​is not just responsible for creating the universe and everything in it. He is also its redeemer. Veres is 6 and 7 states:

“Come, Let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.”

Here the psalmist points out one more reason for worship: God shepherds his people. This picture of God as a ​shepherd is rich and deep with meaning. AS shepherd he provides for his people; he protects them; he guides them; he grows them; he takes care of them and much​ more.

David, the shepherd, understood this quite well. He wrote in his most loved, most quoted and the ​most popular song he wrote “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside still waters. He restoreth my soul; he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death; I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me….”

This psalm by itself provides enough reasons to praise God and be thankful to him. However, we should not read this psalm in isolation with the rest of biblical revelation. The New Testament completes the story of God as our shepherd. He saves his flock by giving​ his life for the sake of sheep, to save them, redeem​ them, and protect them from sin and its judgement.

Creator and shepherd put together should warm our day today. Think of this: He created the​ universe ​in order to redeem it. His creation plans and redemption plans were conceived together.

Now, lift us your eyes and praise God. He is your creator and redeemer.

Where God Rules

Psalm 93 is sang during turbulent times. There is no specific mention as to when and why the song was written but its context shows it was intended to calm God’s people, to call them to trust, to invite them to worship in the worst of times. Why? Because God rules, and everywhere he rules, the world is safe, those who trust in him are safe, those who call on him are safe.

The psalm uses the common picture of chaos and evil – the raging sea. But even this gets included in God’s rule. The song claims that God rules over the raging seas. He rules over the chaos and the evil that is so common in our world today.

Our son drove us to the airport yesterday and on the way we had close encounters with drivers and pedestrians who don’t have any regard of traffic rules. My dearly loved kababayans walk everywhere, whenever they want; cab drivers cut your way; passenger jeepneys stop in the middle of the road, or in an intersections to pick up and load down their passengers; but buses are especially notorious in bad driving. I took one a few weeks ago, and the short ride I had was inconvenient and very dangerous. My heart breaks for the commuting public who suffer because of these drivers.

What do you do when you drive in roads like that? There are three things you could do. First, you join the chaos. Drive like most everyone else. Drive to gain advantage. Second, you get mad at the drivers and the people who violate the rules. This means become an angry driver, barking, cursing, hating almost everyone else. Third, you drive knowing that God is control. This means drive to honour God.

Here is the biblical truth that should change our driving and walking: change who you worship. The most fundamental way to truly change is to change who you worship. Don’t drive to please yourself, drive to honour Jesus.

Next time you are behind the wheel, remind yourself, that even this road chaos, this raging sea of chaos, this evil that defies God’s rules, even there you can honour him. Let’s go conquer the roads. Let’s transform our roads into places of worshipping obedience.

Hungrier

Some days you wake up longing for God. Other days you don’t. Other days it can be embarrassing to admit that you are not thinking of him at all. Your heart is in someplace else.

Growing up as a younger disciple, I had difficulty understanding those times when my soul ached for God. I had longings that did not easily go away. Casual readings and hurried praying did not help at all. Even ministry involvement did not ease that aching longing for God – just tired and hungrier for him.

Those feelings were more intense on Mondays. My body and mind would be tired but sometimes I would spend the whole day feeling like an arrow has pierced my soul with desires, so deep and infinite and longing for him to come and satisfy my soul.

I now see that this hunger is God-given. Augustine said God placed a deep vacuum within us, a God-shaped vacuum which he only can fill.  Jesus talks about this in Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

That future tense reminds us that this hunger for him will continue to haunt us this side of heaven. This is actually good. Having this hunger, this insatiable pain within is a great thing. It makes us go after God. It moves us to seek him, to long for him, to earnestly seek him until we find him. When we do, our souls are flooded with joy, albeit, temporary and incomplete. It’s like God playfully shows up, then vanishes. He comes satisfying our souls but withdraws to keep us longing more for him. I know I’m babbling here, but I just feel so powerless and out of words to describe the experience.

Sadly, a lot of people have never been aware of this pain. They are so busy eating, as C.S. Lewis said, eating mud pies, make-believe soul foods, instead of the special cookies of heaven that truly satisfies.

A dead body feels no hunger and the dead soul knows not the pangs of holy desire. “If you want God,” said the old saint, “you have already found Him.” Our desire for fuller life is proof that some life must be there already. Our very dissatisfactions should encourage us that our yet unfulfilled aspirations should give us hope

(I got inspired reading a devotional from Tozer. These are musings from that reading)

Praising God

I got up early today, knees aching, still tired from yesterday’s work, but my heart was yearning for the Lord. So I did what I have been doing the last 43 years -read the Scriptures, listen to God and talk to him.

My readings included one psalm, the ninety-ninth chapter. Its title caught my attention. It is a song specially written for the Sabbath Day. It is a song sang when people rested and sought to be refreshed by God. I must say, this psalm when truly understood leads you to real Sabbath rest.

The song expresses the psalmist’s joy. He says, “How good it is to make music to the Most High, proclaiming your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night, to the music of the ten-stringed lyre and the melody of the harp.” The singer looks forward to a day of intense and joyful worship.

And why does he plan devoting a whole day of joyful worship? The second paragraph, tells us why. He says, the LORD’s works, what he personally does, makes him joyful and glad.

This worshipper discovered the key to life that brought music and praise to his life and to your life and mine too. He says it’s God’s love that made this possible. The psalmist is referring to God’s covenant love, his hesed.

Abraham is someone who understood this love. One day he asked God for assurance that the promise made to him would come to pass.  God ordered Abraham to prepare an animal sacrifice and divide it into two. Each party would then walk across the sacrifice. To an uninformed person, this act would be meaningless, but for Abraham, and those who are familiar with covenants, what happened here is incredibly amazing. When God passed through the sacrifice, he was telling Abraham that if God reneged on his promise, Abraham has permission to cut God into pieces.

No wonder, Abraham trusted God, when he promised that he would have a son, though he had none at the time. It did not matter that both of them were very old and physically beyond having children. They trusted God.

As I read the psalm today, I am reminded that God actually did what he promised to Abraham. He had himself butchered and cut into pieces. He was killed for the covenant’s sake. Only, it was not because God was unfaithful. He died because we were unfaithful. He died in our place. He died in my place, so I could become part of his covenant people. So we can be restored to God, become his children, who would sing love songs to him from morning till evening, for the rest of their lives.

Let’s praise and sing to him.

Wooing Back His Beloved

My readings have moved to the Book of Hosea. Of all the prophets, his call must have been the most emotionally taxing. Maybe I would put him close to the weeping prophet, the beloved prophet Jeremiah.

Imagine being told to marry a prostitute, who will give you children you will disown and would later abandon you for another man and then to be commanded to go take her back while living with another man.

A few things caught my attention reading the first part of the book.

First, there is the issue of honour and propriety.  This prophet must have cringed at God’s command but obeyed anyway in all instances. His primary call was a messenger of God. He delivered God’s message in the most bizarre yet effective way.

Second, the prophet appears to know that the nation would refuse to listen. The blunt and at your face rebuke did not stop the people from unashamedly pursuing other gods, rejecting Yahweh and refusing to listen to the prophets’ insistent calls for repentance. Judgement was coming.

There is a third element in the story, and this comes early in the Book. In Chapter 2 the prophet is already saying, Israel will be thrown out of the land. They will be judged by Yahweh. But before you start thinking that Israel is done and gone, the prophet says, God will come for them. God, their husband, will do something to change his wife’s status from rejected to forgiven, disowned to accepted, unloved to loved graciously again.

I got to remember today, that God’s disciplinary actions are redemptive in nature. His disciplines are intended to reveal how deeply his children and his people are loved.

How will God do this? That’s for the rest of the Book to reveal. More next time, Lord willing.

Paying Out

Scripture instructs us that sometimes we should settle with people who could possibly hurt us and the people we love.  The Book of Proverbs says it is wise if you owe someone to settle with them before they drag you to court. Sometimes, sending a present to someone who is angry with you works rather well. Husbands know this by heart.

2 Kings 12 includes a story of King Joash, a godly king of Judah, buying off King Hazael of Aram to stop him from attacking his kingdom. He emptied the temple of its precious treasures to keep him away.  Did the king act right? Sadly, we can’t find the answer from the narrative. There is no mention of any consultation with God, any attempt on the king’s part to rally the people in prayer to seek God’s help. The author just tells the story leaving the readers to read between the lines.

The rest of the chapter shows this decision enraged many in Judah. His own servants, most likely, soldiers who served as his personal guards and assistants, killed him.

Two things come to mind as I read this chapter today. The first is the bigger picture of a nation and a people in spiritual decline. Both nations have begun to slide down spiritually, spiralling away from God, and headed for judgment. Every Israelite knew the covenant they made with God. He will be with them, blessing and protecting them if they faithfully followed the Lord. If they don’t God’s hammer is going down and they would lose everything, the land, their lives and eventually, even the temple, the symbol of God’s presence would be taken away. The temple treasures going to the enemy could be seen as a warning to the king and the nation.

But second, this story really points us to Christ. This payout reminds us of Jacob’s actions to appease his brother’s wrath. Do you remember how he had the little ones, Jacob’s children, meeting their uncle all rehearsing their dad’s humble appeal for forgiveness? He had gifts to offer him. He was giving up a sizeable amount, perhaps even willing to give up all so his brother won’t kill him. In the end, as in our story today, Jacob’s strategy worked well.

This story points us to another transaction, this time with far worst threat involving not just a nation, but the whole of humanity. The Bible calls this buyout as ransom or redemption.  Mark 10:45 echoes Jesus’ own words explaining his reason for coming into the world. He said, “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The apostle Peter says the same thing in his letter. He says we were redeemed not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood (life) of Jesus.

We should state here that Jesus did not pay the ransom to Satan, as some, sadly, advocate. The payment was made to God himself. As Creator, we owe him obedience, worship, and gratitude. We all failed. The whole humanity failed. We all sinned and deserved to perish eternally, forever separated from him, away from his loving gaze and affirming presence.

To save us from this ordeal, God sent his own Son, his treasure, his one and only Son, the darling of Heaven, to take our place in judgment. Just as the temple treasures,  really belonged to God, so God, through his Son paid the penalty of sin. In this way, we could be saved, we could turn to him, and be forgiven on the basis of the atoning work of Jesus.

So the King of Aram discontinued his threat. King Joash and his people were spared. Good story. But this is nothing compared to the result of Jesus’ ransom. Those earthly kings remained as enemies, only there was the suspension of violence. Jesus did not merely end up violence, he did not only stop the guillotine of judgment from cutting us off forever. Through him, former enemies are reconciled to God and then adopted into his family.

Every time you go to a store and pay someone for something, remember Jesus. Let us remember that he paid a debt, he did not owe, to give to us blessings we don’t deserve.

Trusting God in a broken world

God puts us in a world broken by sin and calls us to trust him. God assures us that it is safe to live in the world, despite the problems, threats, dangers and the disappointments that have become common and normal part of life.

Acts 24 provides a context which shows this biblical truth. The apostle Paul remains in prison. Both his accusers and judges failed to find valid reasons to keep him in prison. But he remains in prison for years. The apostle Paul should be free doing what God has called him to do.

When you read this episode in the Book of Acts, it is easy to get your emotions stirred. You start feeling sorry for Paul. You get upset about the abuse of political power and the injustice the servant of God suffered. You imagine demanding his release from prison now.

Don’t. The Book of Acts invites us to read these stories with your eyes open to the real actor and hero of the story, God Himself. He wants us to see that Paul is not a victim of the whims and caprices of men, he is a servant of God doing the will of God. And he was contented, even joyful for it.

God forbids us to see Paul as a mere prisoner. He himself said in many passages, he is a prisoner of Jesus, his Lord. Those prison bars had no power whatsoever to hold him back, those chains couldn’t keep him from accomplishing his mission. Actually, he referred to those chains in one of his letters. He said he was chained with one of the Roman guards. But he was not saying, “poor me”. Instead, he was saying, “poor guard”, he could not get away from me, and many of them, in fact, met Paul’s Lord.

Here’s one final thought: Paul had to remain in that Roman prison because God was bringing him to Rome.

Dear ones, we all live in a world wrecked by sin. Worry no more. Because of Jesus, the whole creation stands on tiptoe waiting for its redemption. God will have a new world untouched by sin, the world that is put together, healed, renewed, the world that works, that function as it should. That is where God’s people are headed.

Let us trust the Lord. He is in full control. His children are safe with him in this broken world.

Being both sad and joyful

The gospel forms us into a people who live sorrowfully and joyfully at the same time. We can’t just be joyful. Neither can’t we just be wallowing in sorrow. We lived both joyful and sorrowful at the same time.

Let me explain. A big part of this can be explained by the eschatological nature of our salvation. We are already saved from the penalty of sin. We have been forgiven in Christ, but we are still sinners saved by his grace. We have been adopted into his family, but we still live among men, in a sin-sick world. We have already received the Holy Spirit but we remain in this mortal body awaiting our own resurrection.

It’s important to keep these realities in mind.

I think this is the primary failure of the prosperity gospel that remains to be very popular here in the Philippines. Christianity Today recently published this article that in Nigeria the greatest threat to Christianity is not the extreme form of Islam, but the proliferation of the teaching of the wealth and health gospel.  The article said the worst enemy of the gospel comes from within the church, among those who deceive people by proclaiming a gospel which is not a gospel at all. It is a false gospel.

A well-thought, balanced view of Christianity allows room for both realities of the already and the not yet. We must live with both, never denying any, but never allowing one to dominate the other. We must confess both. We are both saints and sinners. We are both alive and dead. We are both pressured and comforted at the same time.

The gospel empowers us to face both. We can live through sickness and pain and be both sorrowful and joyful at the same time. We don’t need to deny our struggles, because of the hope that we already have which we will have more fully.

Let me apply this to my fellow pastors. The apostle Paul wrote in one of his Corinthian Letters about becoming overly burdened by the cares of the churches as well as his own. He truly identified with the churches and individuals in their struggles. He wrote that he despaired to death over these burdens.

The apostle Paul, however, receives comfort from God. The problems remain but he was holding on to something that enabled him to live with joy amidst all the sorrows around him.

In the gospel of Jesus, we can have the realism and the hope that the apostle had.

 

Unrequited Love

Unrequited love produces holy anger.

Psalm 78, part of my readings today brings out a theme laid out from Genesis to Revelation. God responds with anger when his love is rejected, ignored and especially when those he loves prefer another love.

For years, I did not quite understand God’s anger against those who reject his love. I saw these only as plain judgment, or as punishment for a wrong done. Rejecting his love is like rebellion which requires an extreme response – kill and destroy.

Understanding the gospel helped me see God’s love and judgment more clearly. God is both righteously holy and graciously loving and merciful. As the apostle put it, he is both the just and the justifier of the wicked. His righteousness requires him to punish sin and wickedness. He is also merciful and gracious at the same time. He loves and saves those he loves. For finite beings like us, this puts God in a difficult place. How can he be both holy and gracious at the same time?

Psalm 78 provides an answer. Here the psalmist refers to the striking of the rock to provide water to thirsty Israel. Actually, this story is not a simple story of people who were desperate for water. The people were angry, in rebellious and actually were ready to stone Moses who recorded this as a court case. The people filed a case against Moses and God. They accused God of unfaithfulness. They wanted to go back to Egypt because God has forsaken them.

The record shows the opposite. God has been nothing to them but faithful and gracious. The people have been unfaithful and forgetful. They can only remember their last minute experience. What God did here reveals how God acts in both judgment and grace.

He orders Moses to take his staff. He also told him to bring the elders of Israel to stand as witnesses. By ordering the accused to seat as judge. God is saying neither Moses or himself is guilty of the accusation. The accusers are guilty, and now they must be judged for their sin. So God instructed Moses to go up on a big stone. I imagine the people watched Moses amusedly. You don’t find water on a rock. Water cannot be found on top of a big rock!

God then said something that baffled many for years. He said he will stand before Moses on the rock. Not that he will stand with him as the judge, but he is saying something else. He said, I will stand before you on that rock which you will strike with your rod, so the people can be watered. Now what strikes me here, and I hope, it also moves you, is what is being implied here. You see, to stand before someone really means to stand before a superior. God is saying, I will take the inferior part and stand before you Moses. Let that rod of judgment, much like the judgment that came to Egypt’s waters, let that fall on me. Let that hit me. Let that judgment break me, let it kill me, so water can come to refresh, to quench my people’s thirst, not only for one day but every day and for all eternity.

Years after, Jesus looking to the cross, said, he is the water that gushed out of that rock. He is the water that followed Israel in the wilderness. He is the water we can go to for the satisfying drink. He through the cross would flow into our lives, through the Holy Spirit ensuring that we will never be thirsty again.

Look at him being hit for you, crushed for you, broken and suffering for you. Look at him and receive his life, his Spirit. You can live fully every day. That’s his promise. That is why he came. That is what every rock and pebble seek to preach to us. So keep looking and every time you see a rock, let it move you, let your mind go to Calvary, on that rocky place called Golgotha. You’ll have eternally refreshing water in you, and you can have this flow to others as well. And when someone fails to requite your love, don’t bring the gavel, you don’t need to anymore. Jesus has come and through him, you can now actually respond with loving words, thoughts and actions.  Let him flow.

Make Some Noise

The gospel welcomes loud and noisy cries for help. God listens to the cries, the loud, incessant cries of his people. He’s not offended by honest noisy cries of people who feel God has disappointed them.

Psalm 77 is this kind of psalm. God gave this song to grieving, suffering, and those suffering great loss. God here is saying bring me your complaints, your protests, your questions, unedited cries. Give them to me. I am listening. And I care.

Sadly, we don’t encourage God’s people to do that. We count as heroic those who suffer in silence, without saying a whimper, just passively taking everything in, hoping that God would come to their rescue. Of course, God always comes to his people when they are in need, but he wants his people to be rid of bottled up frustrations,  questions, complaints. These are poisons that darken the mind and the heart. These need to go, and they way is via loud noise.

Emma and I just ministered at a funeral service last week. Before the husband died, he told his wife and daughter not to be sorrowful. He told them that he wants his wake to be celebratory, no sign of sorrow, no crying, no pain.

This is the exact opposite of what God is saying to us in this Psalm. Instead, God is saying, cry, cry aloud, ask questions, file your complaint, made incessant noise.

Why does God do this? Two reasons:

First, he does it for his honour. Our noisy cries don’t offend him. They honour him. If you look at this psalm, half of it are complaints, but the remainder is about God’s greatness. Our weakness gives way to God’s greatness.  Read the whole psalm, don’t put it down until you read the second half, then you will see what God does, and what happens to the psalmist after meeting God.

Second, and I love this, crying complainants prepare us for Jesus who would make loud noises, incessant and embarrassing cries on the cross.  Most readers don’t see this, but the Gospel writers tell us that Jesus cried, grimaced, and made loud noises on the cross. Why can we cry? Because our Saviour cried. He cried the forsaken cry, the injustice victim cry, the sufferer’s cry, the condemned cry, the fearful cry, the overly burdened cry, the man-in-pain cry. Why? So we can cry without being forsaken, we can cry without feeling abandoned, without self-pity cry.

Instead, we can cry to a Father who loves us, who treats us as his beloved sons and daughters. We can cry our pains out without the sense of condemnation and abandonment. Jesus cried loudly and so we can cry.

Joyful even in sorrow

The gospel transforms sufferings into a blessing that brings cheer and joy.

The wise man who wrote Proverbs 15 must have seen this trait around him. He has met all kinds of people. He’s familiar with the sad ones, the ones who complain about everything every day. He lived with unhappy people, including ones whose face never lit up all day.  But he has also met people whose faces with lighting up the whole day. They were happy, hopeful, great to be with. Their speech was refreshing and wise.

He also noticed that many of the happy ones he knew did not necessarily have easy lives. He is surprised by their joy. They lived with afflictions, going through evil days, they should be unhappy and resigned, but surprisingly, they are not. They were having the best times of their lives. They appear to be enjoying life, they were feasting within, feasting in God, in their faith, in what they know. And the greatest surprise is seeing how affliction appears to be helping them, not wasting or hurting them. They were joyful in sorrow. They were cheerful despite afflictions.

The writer calls them “wise.” He sees that joy comes naturally to the wise. These know God personally. They live to honour and please him along with like-minded others. Their faces reflect the joy of the LORD who loves and lives with them (Psalm 89).

How is this possible? For the OT believer, that joy came from worshipping in the temple, watching their sacrifices offered at the altar, and listening to the word as it was spoken to them.

Believers today have Jesus to look at. He is the ultimate picture of a man under affliction. Hebrews 12:2 presents this beautifully. He puts the cross with its unthinkable suffering and joy together. He states that Jesus suffered for joy, for his own joy and ours too.

How does the cross make us joyful in suffering?  First, the cross takes away condemnation. My bloated knee which makes every move painful, and walking not possible can’t stop me from praising God and writing about him. Why? Because I am a child of God, a dearly loved child of God. I suffer as a loved child of God. Second, our afflictions are divinely ordained instruments to turn us into mature sons and daughters of God. Finally, we can have joy in affliction because of his grace that keeps us going and loving and trusting.

Joyful Noise

Followers of Christ should make joyful noises of praise and thanksgiving to the LORD.  There is no place for lame worship, no room for heartless praise.

The Scriptures I read today provide reasons for exuberant and uninhibited noisy worship.

In Psalm 69, the psalmist David praises God joyfully for delivering him. Following God’s salvation he calls others to praise God. Not contented with human praise, he calls the whole universe to praise God. That would be thunderous, roaring sound, loud, noisy but beautiful expression of love.

In Acts 2 we have 120 people praising God, declaring God’s awesome works. They were prophetic declarations, tongues, languages spoken loudly and all at the same time. So loud and distinct were the noises that people were drawn and awed. A few hours after the 120 blabbers would grow to 3000+. One imagines the noise raised to several decibels.

2 Samuel 6 shows us the King David wearing the ephod and freely dancing in the street before God as the ark was moved into Jerusalem.

These passages have one thing in common: they were made to God in humble, joyful and spirited response to God’s salvation. Today is the Lord’s day, let us go and join God’s people praise God; join God’s angels praise him; join the heavens and the earth, the seas, the mountains, the whole of creation praise God. And let us do it noisily and joyfully.

Strong Everyday

Followers of Christ can be strong everyday.

This is a promise I glean from my readings today. In Psalm 68:35 we read that God strengthens his people, with his energy.  In light of the dwindling and costly energy the world faces, God assures us of endless strength which can be ours freely and everyday.

How can we have this strength?

David’s story points us to his source of strength. Life on the run made life very difficult for him. He had to support his family and supporters. They became mercenaries fighting for the Philistine king. At one time, he almost joined a war that would have pitted him against Israel. God saved him from that dilemma. The Philistine commanders sent him home. They did not trust him.

But this did not end his woes. An enemy invaded their camp, burned it and took their families. His group blamed him for their loss and thought of stoning him to death.  This greatly hurt David. These were his friends, his loyal soldiers who fought side by side with him. Their rebellion weakened him greatly.

What did he do? 1 Samuel 30:6 states, “David strengthened himself in the LORD.” Sadly, we are not told how he strengthened himself. The only information we have is he strengthened himself in the LORD. He looked at the covenant God, he must have recalled Yahweh’s promises and plans.

Most importantly, the severely weakened warrior encouraged himself by what God “performed for us” (Psalm 68:1). The language point to the countless ways God saved his people. Everything in Israel, the law, the temple, the sacrifices, the priesthood, the land, the monarchy, the people, everything points to Yahweh’s mercy and grace towards his people.

The same applies to us today, only we have the same source of strength, only we have more. We live past the cross and the resurrection of Jesus, the coming of the Holy Spirit to indwell his people. That is a source of strength.

Are you feeling weak? The risen Christ is your source. Follow David’s example – spend time with God strengthening yourself, being re-energised and then trusting him wholeheartedly, believing that he is in you by his Spirit and believing that you are able to do whatever you need to do through him.

Lord, thank you that whether we are at our lowest ebb or facing great trials and challenges or just facing the ordinary struggles of life, we can all find strength and energy in the Lord our God.

Kapit sa Patalim (Desperate Moves)

Desperate people will do everything to survive.  Today’s title “Kapit sa Patalim” conjures someone who holds on a sharp object in order to save his or her life. I remember watching 127 Hours. The survivor, played by James Franco, had to cut his arm using only a pocket knife to free himself from a boulder that trapped him.

My readings today include one desperate act from a king who had it so good at the beginning but lose it all due to disobedience. Faced with a war he knew was too big for him, he sought God’s help and guidance. Sadly, God has abandoned him. God left him and given his throne to another person.

He refused to give up his throne however. This meant he had to go against God. He had to face the Philistines. The problem is not only was God on the side of his enemies, they were too much for him.  So he turns to God for help. Sadly, God has left him. God was silent.

So he conjures up a plan. He would seek the prophet Samuel’s help. The only problem was Samuel was long dead. So he sought a medium’s help which again leads to another problem: he has taken the mediums away, and has set a law prohibiting the practice under the threat of death. The king goes ahead – desperate.

King Saul’s story should serve as a warning to all. Don’t go against God, you’ll lose.

This story’s calls us to surrender and obedience. Be willing to give up anything for your dear life with God.

When life gets too difficult, remember to look at Jesus. When you do, the pressures and burdens of life won’t crush you. Without Jesus, every difficulty and problem is an unwelcome enemy to be overcome.  With Jesus, you gain a new way of seeing the crashing challenges of your life. You face these knowing that God is with you; he is not angry at you. You face every challenge knowing he was crashed for you.  You go through the pains and difficulties as a dearly loved child of God. He is disciplining, training, pruning, beautifying, healing you, turning you into that godly person he longingly wants you to be. So you yield, you give way to his will.

Finishing Well

My readings today in Proverbs 12:28-13:9 provide instructions on how to finish well. This chapter also helps us see pictures of Jesus, the biggest finisher of all!

Some start well but end up poorly. King Saul started well with God’s blessing. He changed his heart so he could serve well as king over his people. The king’s role was to rule in place of the King. His initial decisions as king went very well. He sought God and had success. Sadly, he could not handle the corrupting nature of power and success. He becomes arrogant that begins the process by which the mighty fall.

How do we finish well? In a nutshell the writer says, the key to finishing well is righteousness.

“In the way of righteousness is life. And in its pathway there is no death.” (NASB)

The wise man who wrote this proverb must have seen many in Israel who ended up poorly. He looked at them and concluded that those who finished well had something in them that contributed to their success. He too have seen those who ended up poorly. Righteousness made the difference and determined ones future.

He then proceeds to describe what a righteous person looks like.

He says first of all that the righteous is submitted to wise counsel. He listens to good parental advice (Proverbs 13:1).  He also describes the righteous as those who guard their lips (13:3). They don’t rush into judgment. They control their tongue so they don’t come to ruin.

Another feature of the righteous is diligence. They work hard. They work honestly. He says the righteous enjoy the fruit of their labor. They have been redeemed from the curse  of meaningless work. Now they look back at their work with joy and satisfaction. Their work is hard, all all work are, but they do it with diligence and joy.

He also says that they righteous love the truth. They hate what is false (13:5).They T

Finally, he says the righteous are honest. They are not flawless, neither are they perfect. What they have is integrity. They are authentic. They don’t live double lives.  They are the same person, both in public and in private.

So we are called to be righteous. The problem of course is we cannot on our own live righteously.  Our hope rests with the Scripture we quoted earlier.  He says, “in the way of the righteous is life. And it its pathway there is no death.”

Our hope of ever becoming righteous is for someone who is perfect and righteous, someone whom death cannot touch, to give us his righteousness. In the gospel we see how this is done. Paul said, Jesus became sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

This grace experience transforms us. We see ourselves as incapable of living a perfect life on our own. But in the gospel, Jesus does not only forgive us our sins, he also gives us his life. He gives us a new heart, a holy affection, a hunger for righteousness, a desire to please the Lord. We finish well because we live for him. We seek his honour in every conversation, every deal we make, every work we do, every minute we live.

Confronting Evil

Psalm 55 shows an unusual picture of King David. Here he is not his popular self, the warrior, the unafraid warrior who singles himself out from others, for bravely standing up to an enemy giant who petrified everyone else.  Here he is not confronting, he’s not standing up. Instead, he appears to be on the run – away as far as he could  from his enemies. He hides from the enemy, He appears to be so afraid of their attacks, especially the verbal barbs.

What happened? Has David been so broken by war and confrontations. Is he show
ing post trauma signs?

Actually, no. None of the above is true. The King is his usual self – brave, strong and courageous.

Psalm 55 actually shows why he is courageous.

His courage is not natural. As the psalm shows the King is vulnerable. He is not a man of steel, he does not have a heart of stone. He is human.

His courage to face his enemies flows from his meeting with God in prayer. He brings to God all his fears, concerns and hurts. He pours these out to God, and as he does, God fills him with peace, with faith, with a fresh vision of God’s sovereignty, his justice and mercy.  He sees those who wish his hurt and dead from God’s perspective.

romans 12-21King David demonsrates to how to confront evil.  He does not seek to end evil by doing another evil thing much like armed revolutionaries who kill and destroy to end one evil. He faces evil directed at him and the nation not with sinful rage but with humility and dependence on God. Neither does he ignore and run away from evil. He confront evil head on. But he begins the fight with God.

Psalm 55 must not be seen as merely giving us an example. David’s action points us to the Lord Jesus. He came and he had one goal in mind, eradicate evil and restore creation for God’s glory. And how did he do it? He did it just like his earthly grandfather did. He did it with God. He began the fight with God and ended the fight with him.

Riding Victoriously in Majesty

Psalm 45 is a psalm of praise. It’s writer looks to the “King” and feels his heart melting at the beauty that stands before him.

There is one reference to the king’s outward appearance (handsome) but the rest are about splendor. He is majestic, righteous, regal. He rides in majesty and victoriously.

More importantly, the psalmist calls this king, who is not Yahweh, divine. He says,

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. A scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you from among your companions with festive oil.” Psalm 45:6-7, LEB).

Hebrews 1:1-8 quote this psalm and refers it to Jesus. He is the King, enthroned forever, called by God as God. This king is God himself.

A good interpretative question here is how does this “king” gets enthroned. What happened that led to his enthronement as Lord and God?

They key is the cross. This handsome figure receives his throne via the cross. I call this the cross-resurrection way. The way to glory is via the cross.

This is an amazing truth to learn because the cross-resurrrection way applies to us all. Those in Christ live also this way. However difficult our lives are today, we have assurance of victory. The cross leads to resurrection.

What makes this truth doubly amazing is the person of the king. This psalmist may not have seen this clearly, but now, we do. This king who gets enthroned is none other but God himself. He is God the Son who comes from eternity. The king who suffers is the King who created the universe.

This week is special time to think of the cross. Emma and I hope that our blog today would help elicit gratitude and praise to God.

Listen only to God’s Word

Who do you listen to? The last time I visited my internest doctor, she told me that the biopsy test came out negative, but I should not still beware, as I could be one of the very few “unfortunate ones.”

Is it okay to kill a person who is a drug addict? Some say it is okay. Drug addicts, especially those who sell drugs, are useless and dangerous individuals, therefore they should be taken out. Is this okay? Is this right?

God says his people must listen only to him. God says, his people must teach others to listen to God. The world lives in danger because they listen to other voices, who misled them from the truth.

In Deuteronomy 18 God presents the ultimate authority, the final voice we are to listen to. He is the Prophet who was to come. He will declare the ultimate word to be listened to. This prophet will be another Moses, who himself was a prophet called by God to deliver his words to his people and to Egypt. This prophet will also speak only what God has spoken.

But what is the problem of listening to other prophets, to other voices, other than the voice of the Lord spoken through his prophet? The problem is simple: their words are not God’s word. They are interpretations of dreams, of objects, of feelings, or of the stars and the planets, or “revelations”, or words they get from signs and from all everything else, except from God.

Their words can appear right. These can even come with “signs” and “miracles”, but they are not from God.

Only what God said qualifies as the Word of God.

The writer or Hebrews tells us that the revelation, the message, given to us by and in Jesus, is God’s final and ultimate word. This means everything must be weighed in, filtered, evaluated on the basis of the final word given to us by Jesus.

Don’t seek for another word, other than the word given by the Living Word, incripturated in the written Word. That is God’s final word. That is what we believe and live by.

Careful To Obey the Lord

Today’s reading on God’s word about obedience reminded me of one of my dad’s favourate song,  “Trust and Obey”. He, being an Ilocano, sang it in his vernacular. I sang with him. My family sang “Ti la talek ken ti panagtulnog” with him. He often sang it with his violin, and at times, he would sing with his harmonica.

God commands his people to carefully obey him, to worship him and him alone.  He expects his people to obey him, to trust and obey his will, willingly, abandonedly, and joyfully.

At least that is what I see from that word, “carefully”. The command is not only to obey the Lord, but to carefully obey him. In its context, God was primarily referring to worship and relationship. Carefully applies to how his people, then still living in the wilderness, but just about to enter the land God promised to his people.

God said his people worshipped him in the wilderness however they pleased (Deuternomy 12:7). It appears that up till this time, Israel’s worship was unregulated and far from pleasing to God. Things would change as his people prepare to enter the promised land. God now declares his desire for worship that reflects his holiness and perfection. God wants careful obedience – well thought obedience. This is the opposite of blind obedience. God desires an obedience of the willing. His words reveal that he is most pleased when his people obey him because they trust him and no other.

Here the big question is why should his people carefully obey the Lord? Deuteronomy 10-11 records several reasons for absolute loyalty and obedience. All of these promises relate to the covenant and its promises to the people of God. They will remain God’s favored covenant people. They will have God with them.

Why should we obey the Lord? Why should we love him with our all? For Israel, their deliverance from Egypt, that cruel place where they were enslaved for years is the primary reason for obedience. For us today, their experience is a mere shadow, a foretaste of something good. We have the real thing. We have the real “Exodus”. We have experience deliverance from Egypt, and by his grace, he is delivering the Egypt in us today.

More than Food

Our readings in Mark 8 shows an amazing picture of people preferring to listen to and be with Jesus over food. They listened to him for three days without taking any food.

Three times weekly I have an 8 o’clock meeting. That means leaving the house an hour earlier than my normal schedule. The challenge for me is to do my normal readings or take my breakfast. Most of the time, I take breakfast, and hope that during the day, I could catch up with my readings. At other times, I wake up early and do both.

The Scriptures tell us that Jesus is our true treasure. His value to us is without equal. We depend on him for everything.

I value the early mornings where I could spend time with God, listen to him, echo his words to him, share my concerns, pray for people God brings to mind. Younger disciples often ask what has sustained me and Emma all these years. Some think we must know the secret of sustained growing spirituality. Consistent time with God, reading, studying, meditating, praying, submitting and receiving from God has been the one major discipline that has brought our lives under his grace.

We encourage you to do the same.

Passover

Reading the Passover account in Exodus 11:1-12:51 had me thinking what a story it is. There is nothing like it that helps us see how God, through His Son, the Lord Jesus, our Passover Lamb, delivers us from sin and judgment. 

The story actually took place before the final battle between the most powerful king at that time, the Pharaoh of Egypt and the shepherd turned prophet of God, Moses. The king hardened his heart and won’t release Israel from bondage, despite the first nine plaques. So God prepared for the 10th and final attack. This time God told Moses that the king will be broken. He will finally realise, his power can’t match God’s power. So he will submit and will release Israel from Egypt. He will let them go.

To prepare Israel for their final release, God instructed them to prepare for the Passover. Every family was to  chose a lamb without defect (Exodus 12:15), kill it, take its blood, and spray it at the doorframe of their houses. This was to spare the family’s first born son from death when the angel of death came that night. Every home without the blood suffered the judgment. That included Pharaoh’s firstborn. That would be the final blow that would led him to submission. He would literally beg the nation to leave Egypt.

The New Testament lifts the story and applies it to the greater Exocus secured for us by Jesus. The lamb without defect clearly points us to the sinless and pure Jesus. He lived on earth untouched by sin. 

There is great emphasis on ‘the blood’ of the lamb (vv.7,13,22–23). The blood of the lamb without defect was to be shed as a sacrifice (v.27). When John the Baptist saw Jesus he said, ‘Look, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1:29). In one of his letters, he says that when we confess our sins, the blood of Jesus would cleanse us from all our sins.

Why is there so much emphasis on the blood? 

In Exodus the blood sprayed on the doorframe of a house sent a message that death has already taken place. Judgment has already been made to that family. This provides a beautiful picture of how we are saved from judgment. When we put our trust in Jesus, when we believe Him, he applies to us his sacrifice. He literally covers us with his blood. His blood protects us from judgment! We do not need to be condemned anymore or again, because death has already taken place. We died with Jesus when he died on the cross. We lived with him too,  when he came back to life!

Join me and Emma give thanks to God!

God’s Strange Ways

It’s important that followers of Christ learn how to respond to the Lord’s strange ways. He often surprises us with how he works. When he does, don’t panic, enjoy the experience, learn from it and let it deepen your admiration of God.

My readings in Exodus 5-7 this morning gives us an example. God says he will harden Pharaoh heart so he won’t believe, badge and obey God’s demand to let his people go.

It’s strange, isn’t it?

Why would God harden Pharaoh’s, heart? Some are quick to defend God from possible wrongdoing. They insist that God did not harden his heart. He only hardened him after the king hardened his heart. They’re saying, God has nothing to do with the hardening of the king’s heart?

This line of thinking has helped me for many years. I applied the same reasoning on Judas’ betrayal of Jesus (Matthew 26).

My view has since been modified.

First, I realise I don’t need to defend God. I’m not his press secretary. He is God. He does what he wants and he does not call me to explain away, deny, twist his word. I’m a worshipper, believer and follower. All I know is God is wise and good. Whatever he does, or does not do reflects his wisdom and love.

Second, I saw a bit of inconsistency in my theology which required some adjusting. When it comes to salvation, I believe that it is by grace. We are saved by grace alone, in Christ alone, by faith alone. It is not my good works that save me (Ephesians 2:1-10; Titus 3:5). It is his work. The cross affirms that. Acts 17 helped me to see this. Where I was born, where I lived, my experiences they’re all part of this incredible outworking of God to lead me to him. God sovereignly orchestrating my life so I could come to him!

Theologians call this divine providence. It’s a wonderful word of course until it is applied to Pharaoh or Judas or Israel (Romans 9-11). When God says, I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, we cry in protest saying, God can’t do that. It’s out of his character. God cannot be responsible for sin! This is true of course, and I must humbly admit that I am far from fully understanding God’s strange ways and words.

But I am learning to embrace God as he revealed himself in the Word. I am reading his word with a deeper appreciation of who he is, what he does, what he say. So I encourage everyone to give God more room. Don’t box him in. Don’t say, He can’t do that. When you read passages like this, bow in reverence and say, Lord I don’t understand your ways, but I know that you are wise and good and I trust you in everything that you do.

Faithful to the end

I want to be faithful and obedient to the Lord Jesus who called me.  

My readings this morning from Psalm 18, Matthew 25, Job 41-42 instructs me to do so. These assigned readings also gave me reasons why I must remain faithful and obedient to the Lord.

King David looks back at his life and realises how faithful God has been to him. Despite his failures, God remained faithful. He looks back and sees how faithful God was to him when he was disciplined and humbled for his sins. I love this thought as I remember the lesson I taught last Sunday. God’s people learn to embrace their sufferings, not as punishments from an angry God. Instead, these are loving rebukes meant to transform them into faithful and obedient worshippers of God.

Matthew 25 exhorts us to be faithful in using our talents and our resources to honour him. Jesus makes this very clear: what we do for others, we do it to and for him. This is more than a sentimental thought. He is really there, with the needy, identifying with them in their sufferings and need. We don’t go to the poor to bring the presence of Christ to them, we go to he poor and meet Christ in them. 

Every day on my way home, I pass by an old woman who lives in a makeshift. She lives by the road in her cage. Others sleep beside the street. Sometimes, when I pass by them, I turn off my car lights and slow down hoping that I won’t wake them up from their sleep. My heart just gets broken when I see them. I know Jesus expects me to be faithful in serving those who are poor. It is so easy to get used to watching the poor and move on with our lives. But being faithful to the Lord means we must show the Lord’s love to them. I hope to do something soon. I want to speak to this old woman. I want to know her, what she needs, I want to point her to Jesus. Nothing could be more heartbreaking than to be poor and now know the Savior.

How can we be faithful and obedient to the end? 

Job’s faithfulness provides the clue. He reminds us of someone who was faithful to the end. Job’s perseverance points us to the perseverance Jesus showed as he was hanged and tortured on the cross. He obeyed his father to death. 

But what has this to do with us? Actually, everything. The faithfulness of Jesus in suffering means everything to us. We are saved by what he has done. We are transformed by what he has done. We want to be faithful and obedient because of what he has done. We want to care for others, because of what he has done for us and others. 

Thank you, Lord Jesus, that we can be faithful because you were and remain to be faithful today.

Clear Conscience

A clear conscience is an incredible gift from God. My readings in Job 31 show that a clear conscience protects the sufferer from condemnation. A person with a clean conscience can stand unscathed from vicious attacks, accusations, innuendos, smears, gossips and lies. 

A clear conscience, however, is not a given. Years ago I was involved in a church split. For years until today, I still feel the sting of that breakup. I had a part in that failed relationship. 

Job, however, stands to his conviction that he is righteous. He is adamant insisting he has treated others fairly, kindly and generously. He claims to be pure morally and ethically. 

Where does Job get this confidence? How can we have this confidence too?

The answer can’t be found in Job 31, alone. Here he claims to a sterling spirituality. But he can’t rest entirely on his record. The answer actually can be found elsewhere, the earlier part of the book. Job offered sacrifices for his children. He understood that he cannot stand on his own merit. He had to depend on someone, the sacrifice of another, in his case, the sacrificed animal.

His righteous life flowed from his worship.

We too can’t stand on our own merit. Clear conscience depends on someone’s merit. Job’s sacrificial​ lamb is a picture of Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice, without blemish, the sinless, infinitely pure Son who gave his life in our place, and who offers to us a righteousness that makes us acceptable to God.

Having been cleaned, made right before God, reconciled, adopted and now indwelt by God, with good works following, we live with a clear conscience. 

God is great and good!

God is great and good! Embracing these two seemingly opposite sides of God helps us trust him in difficult times.

When we confess God’s greatness we refer to his being above and beyond, his surpassing and excelling superiority over his creation, which includes us. He is above us. He is the consuming fire that melts everything that gets near him. So we bow reverently, fearfully and silently before him.

But he is also good, loving, kind, gentle, intimate, fatherly. He is one who desires the best for his children. I can think of 2 cousins, I’ve been blessed to have, who welcomed me with such joy every time I visited them. As a young follower of Christ, these cousins pointed me to God who cared, only in a much deeper and consistent way.

My readings in Job today (Job 27-29) helped me see this beautiful truth. Job, surrounded by his “special prosecutors”, struggles with his suffering, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

How could he suffer so much? His friends are sure he is a sinner being judged by God. Poor Job, he struggles, but God leads him to embrace God’s greatness and goodness. Read the chapters and you will begin to see this unravel. He begins confessing God’s transcendence. He is great. He is above and beyond anyone else. He is powerful. He does what he wants. Then in the following chapter (29), he recalls how intimate he was with God, how near God was to him, how loving he had been. Don’t be confused by his used of the past tense. He uses it to refer to his current view of God. It’s like saying, I know he loves me. I look at the cross and know for sure that he cares for me.

Do you see dear ones, how embracing both helps us trust and love Jesus when we go through trials and sufferings?

Embracing his greatness makes us humble and worshipful; his goodness makes us cling to him like a child clings to her mom or dad.

Now please talk to God and declare your trust and love for him.

Trusting God 

God calls us to trust him. He assures us we could. And when we do, he gets delighted. Nothing pleases him more than when we unquestioningly follow him every time he calls us. 

My readings this morning include one of the most quoted Scriptures of all time, Proverbs 3:4-5. Here the father teaches his son to trust in the Lord, in Yahweh, their covenant God with all his being. He is to trust in him alone. The father then defines what trusting mean. It means not leaning on his own, but entirely depending in God’s wisdom.

Recently, I’ve been working on a lecture to new believers about the Word of God. The Word is completely reliable. It expresses what God wants. So he calls us to  believe, follow and trust his Word. When we do we discover the way to true happiness, blessedness, safety and the key to pleasing the Lord.

Last year I read a story that illustrates what it means to trust the LORD. During World War II, in the terrible days of the Blitz, a father, holding his small son by the hand, ran from a building that had been struck by a bomb. In the front yard was a shell hole. Seeking shelter as quickly as possible, the father jumped into the hole and held up his arms for his son to follow. Terrified, yet hearing his father’s voice telling him to jump, the boy replied, ‘I can’t see you!’ The father called to the silhouette of his son, ‘But I can see you. Jump!’ The boy jumped, because he trusted his father. In other words, he loved him, he believed in him, he trusted him and he had confidence in him.

Are you loaded with burdens and care? Trust him. He will help; he’ll catch you. 

Trusting God Even When We Suffer

Life is lived better when we trust God. I see this truth illustrated in my readings of Job 4-10 this morning. His friends, who initially buoyed his faith with their loving silence, suddenly take their turns to speak, accusing him of sin, speaking to his face that he must have done some terrible sinful things that brought his sufferings – and so the trial begins.

(The key to understand these exchanges is provided in the end when God says that Job’s friends misrepresented him, while Job did not).

Job responds to Bildad (one of his friends) by acknowledging the truth that he said, but rejects his glib explanation of why he was suffering.

Also Job responds to his suffering with honesty mixed with faith. He admits his struggles and doubts, including anger, at what is happening to him. He says, he loathes his life and is complaining. He says he wishes he had never been born (10:18-19). He says he could only plead to the Judge for mercy. Though innocent he could only plead for mercy.

In the midst of all his miseries, he continues to recognise that nothing is impossible with God. Though unable to process his condition, he held on to God’s goodness. His words reverberate with faiHeth. He said, “You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit.”

I love this mixture of honest struggle and faith. He does not pretend that everything is okay, or that he can handle his situation, explain it, yet he tightly clings to what he knows about God.

The apostle Paul does the same thing actually. In 2 Corinthians he wrote of his suicidal thoughts. He admits being so deeply in despair, he was overwhelmed by the weight of the load he was carrying. That is not that he said however. In the end, he declares his trust in the God of comfort.

Here dear ones is a word from God that we need to pay attention to. God calls us to trust him when we suffer. Our Father provides a room for weakness and complain, but urges us to hold on to what we already know about God. He is good, wise, loving, and he is with us all the way.

Suffering

I started reading Job this morning. If I had my way, I would limit my reading of this Book to the first two chapters and the end part (chapters 38-42). Dear Job looks really good in chapter 1 and 2. The first satanic attack caused Job great financial loss, including the death of all his children in just one day. That is like stepping on a hidden bomb. One expects the victim to be tornd dead.

But Job comes out of that attack unscathed. He does not turn against God, and neither does he turn against those who hurt him. He comes out humbly praising God. His words have been immortalise in songs and preachings, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” Job 1:21 (KJV)

My reading however includes the third chapter. It’s a heartbreaking chapter. It’s like being so broken listening to my son cough all night. Every cough makes me squirm and pray for mercy.

Job, the faithful, unmovable man of God transforms into a suicidal, self-loathing and soon God-blaming person.

What caused the changed?

Protracted suffering.

Satan, with God’s permission, inflcts Job with severe boil problem. Job 3:7 states, “Satan… smote JOb with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown.” He had the worst type of skin problem, itchy, painful, and unthinkable suffering. The boils were so bad, his closest friends could not recognise him anymore. They were so overwhelmed by Job’s condition that they were speechless for 7 days.

Protracted pain and suffering could break the strongest. Job confirms it.

The gospel however equips followers of Christ to face suffering. First, the gospel provides an answer to the question raised in the Book. Why do the righteous suffer gets answered? Second, the gospel provides to us a way to see suffering as beneficial to faith. It moves us to God, it encourages us to trust in his goodness and wisdom. Finally, the gospel points us to the ultimate righteous sufferer, the Lord Jesus. He would suffer not because of his sin, but for others, for other sufferers.

Because of him, we have someone to look up to when we go through the horrifying experience of suffering. He is with us.

Out of the Boat: Courageous Leadership

My reading this morning covers the final part of Matthew 14. And guess what, it’s the narrative about Peter being called by Jesus to join him out of the boat and into the sea. Jesus called him, in response to what Peter ask, “Come Peter.”

Much has been said about the other disciples, mostly disparagingly. I remember someone saying, they were faithless disciples who chose to be in the boat instead of being in the water. They chose the more comfortable boat than the challenging sea. Great for challenging people of course, but this is reading too much into the text. We impute something that Matthew never said.

Peter’s out of the boat experience took place primarily because Jesus called him. That also explains why the other disciples remained in the boat. We don’t decide to move out of the boat until we hear his call.  We are better, safer and more secure inside the boat.

What should we take from this narrative? What is God teaching us about courage and faith?

I believe the most important principle is this: courage follows from truth revelation. Listening to teachers and preachers talk about stepping out scares me. They omit this part. They speak of courage without this vital element of serving God. Courage without the Word of God can become easily misguided.

Another truth that this passage shows relates to what we should expect as we obey the Lord. The disciples in the boat being battered by strong waves show that following Christ does not spare us from trials and sufferings. Difficulties and suffering do not in any way suggest that God’s displeasure.

Third, as we step in step to follow, we can be assured of the Lord’s presence, mercy and grace, to keep us from drowning, to enable us to walk with him, and to give him honour, for what he has done.

Finally, and this is the main source of assurance for those who obey the Lord. We need not fear about drowning. Jesus’ saving Peter would serve as a picture of what he would do. How did Jesus do this? Because one day, he will come on our behalf and place and be drowned by God’s judgment. He will die in this drowning but on the third day. he would be raised to life again conquering death so that those who die in him, may no longer remain in the clutches of death, for they will live again.

Emma and I have moved out of the boat and are here in the Philippines, back to our home, to obey the Lord and do what he has called us to do.

Seeking Godly Wisdom

I seek God’s wisdom every day. I believe it is the most important need I have. I need godly wisdom to lead my family, to serve God’s people, and to go through both the challenging and routinary elements of life.

I love the father depicted in the Book of Proverbs. The Book, along with the Scriptures, became the primary textbooks in Israel to teach the young how to live. In the royal home, the princes and the princesses sat down to learn about life, how to live wisely and learning how to eventually lead wisely.

God shows us two ways to live. One is called the way of the fool, the unwise, the simple, the ungodly, and the wicked. The other is beautifully called the way of wisdom, the way of prudence.

Following either way leads to a destination, completely different from the other. Following either way leads to a path that could lead to ruin, terror, and endless pain or to joy, peace, success, security and life.

Looking it this way makes the choice very simple, a no-brainer.  So why aren’t more people seeking and valuing the godly way?

Here’s the answer: because the way of wisdom requires complete surrender to God. It requires submission to someone else’s wisdom. It requires faith that someone knows how to live our lives better than we do.

The Book of Proverbs calls this the “fear of the LORD.” The fear of the LORD is a heart-posture towards God. It is humble and dependent on God. It rejects the self’s claim of knowing and being in control. The way of wisdom looks up to God and seeks for mercy and grace.

God’s Strange Ways

Something in what I read today made me shudder. Matthew 11 records the Lord Jesus’ strong condemnation of the cities who refuse to repent despite the miracles he did among them. Let me quote what he said about Sodom:.

“And you Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sidon than for you.” Matthew 11:23-24 (ESV)

Strange isn’t it? Jesus knew that Sodom (its people) could have repented had they seen the miracles that he did in Capernaum. So why did God not do enough miracles there? Genesis 18-19 show that God sent two angels who appeared as men to save Lot and his family. The only miracle that happened was the blindness inflicted on the men who wanted to sodomise the “visiting angels.”

It’s tempting to question God. When we look at what was at stake with Sodom – their eternal destiny of judgment, we would want God to do everything he could to save them.

Our Lord Jesus seems to make it worst. Moses did a great job showing how evil Sodom and Gomorrah were. He is convincing about their deserved judgment. But Jesus changes that. He makes us sigh and think that they could have been spared from judgment had they seen enough of the mighty works of God.

So how do you handle this? Let me share my response this morning.

First, I refuse to entertain the thought that God is unfair. He is righteous. Everything he does (or does not do) reflects his perfection.

Second, I defer to him. He did what he did and that is fine with me. I acknowledged my limitation. He is God and I am not. His ways are too high for me to understand. He knows things I do not know.

Third, I thank him for his work in my life. He did what I needed so I could come to him. He pursued me, died in my place, and then he opened my eyes to see what he did. He saved me, although I still wonder how and why he would do such a thing for an undeserving person like me.

Finally, I trust him. I trust in his wisdom and goodness. The initial shudder is changed into confidence, now relaxing in his grace and mercy. Instead of worrying or questioning, I sing to him praising him for his strange works and trusting him. You could do the same.

Generosity

Reading Genesis 24 today reminds me of a sermon I heard from Dr. Chuck Quinley. I remember him describe how Rebekah showed profound hospitality to an unknown person, a servant at that. When this stranger asked for a drink, she gave him what he needed, but she offered more. She volunteered to give his animals a drink. These animals, Dr. Quinley said, really drank. Each had a big tank to fill. She must have gone down to the well several times to fetch water for him and his beasts.

This generosity led to a love story that brought a rich solo heir and a beautiful woman in marriage. From them God would prepare the line that will usher in the Saviour, who resembles his grandma in kindness and generosity.

We need to recapture this virtue. The church must reflect God’s generosity to a world that is in dire need.

Christ-like generosity can happen to both rich and poor. In Philippians 4,  the apostle Paul points to poor believers in Macedonia, who were generous. They begged to be allowed to give, not because they had overflowing resources, but because they cared and they loved others.  Just like Rebekah, true generosity comes from not from having much materially, but from being made rich by God because of his grace.

Thank you Lord for using this story today to remind me and Emma about you. You are a kind, gracious and generous God. Your kindness led you to give up your own Son, your only Son, for us that we might be drawn to your love, be transformed by it, and be empowered to do the same in the world.

Circumcision and God’s grace

My readings today included God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17. This is an amazing narrative beginning with God coming to Abraham with a command, I am the Lord Almighty, walk before me and be blameless. God then proceeded to tell this 99 years old man that he has made an eternal covenant with him. He also changed his name and his wife, reflecting the promise that he will become the father of “many nations.

Later in the story God set the symbol of the covenant. Every male child born in Abraham’s household will be circumcised when they are 8 days old.

Later in the story, Abraham did something that God did not command him. He volunteered to circumcised himself, Ishmael and all the men in his household.

One question that begs an answer is what is the covenant made by God to Abraham. We have the symbol of the covenant, a bloody and painful experience, which meant a keeper of the covenant. But what is the covenant that God made with Abraham?

I think the answer goes back to Genesis 12. God calls Abraham from Gerar to go to Canaan so that through him and his family God can bless the nations. Absolute obedience was required. Genesis 17 reflects this. Walk before me and be blameless. Of course the promises made to Abraham and his family were overwhelmingly abundant. The childless couple, in their old age were promised to have so many children, as many as the sand on the seashore. God also promised him the whole of Canaan. All these are theirs provided that they obeyed the covenant.

It is here that we see the significance of the circumcision. The rite symbolised the keeping of the covenant.  The problem is Israel could not keep the covenant. However, he tried to obey, he just could not. We see this early with Abraham himself and later with his descendants, the nation of Israel. The history of God’s people is one of disobedience.

New Testament writers would look at circumcision in a new light. This symbol of obedience to the covenant would stand for our failure to obey and also our need of a saviour. Circumcision would point us to Jesus because it is through him that the stipulations of the law/covenant would be completely obeyed. It is by him that God would provide genuine righteousness, something that Israel, and the whole of humanity have failed to do.

Thank you Jesus.

Making Sense of Ham’s Curse

Part of my readings today included Noah’s cursing his son Ham. The story recorded in Genesis 9 shows Noah drunk and laying naked. It is not clear what Ham did, but the writer is sure he did a very bad and dishonouring thing to his father. Others suggest he molested his dad, but the record says nothing of this. He sort of “gossiped” about his father’s condition.

One notes also that the writer takes Noah’s drunkenness quite neutrally. He makes no moral comment about it. The next time a father gets drunk (Lot in Genesis 19), a severer evil happens.

So what made Ham’s sin so severe that he and his family (what would become Canaan) had to be cursed?

Dr. Kidner, one of my favourite OT theologians, says that Ham’s sin is disrespecting his father. Filial regard, the honouring of parents comes very closely to that of honouring God. Exodus 21:15,17 records that gross violation of this command could be meted with the severest punishment of death penalty.  Jesus even quoted this passage.

What I normally do when puzzled by passages like this is to bring them to God in prayer. I did the same thing this morning. I poured out my questions to God. Here are my thoughts following my conversation with God.

I was surprised to realise that I failed to see the seriousness of Ham’s sin. I thought the punishment was too severe compared to the offence. How wrong I was. Dishonouring our parents is a serious sin. God takes it personally.  It is an assault against him, for he has set our parents as the human authority for us, to prepare us for him.

My conversation with God and musings of Ham’s sin led me to remember my own rebellion against my parents, and how I tended to be rebellious against other leaders. I repented of my sin.

I also saw today that Ham’s curse did not mean he and his descendants were destined for destruction. Of course, Canaan, Ham’s descendants would become a nation that plunges into cruelty, immorality, and idolatry. This should not surprise anyone. Rebellion against God leads to greater sins. The gospel, however, cancels that. Because of Christ, Ham’s descendants, like you and I, could now be accepted, loved and welcomed into God’s family.

When Children Rebel

Nothing hurts than when people you love turn up against you. The wounds of rebellion goes deep and could be utterly devastating both to the rebel and the rebelled upon. But home rebellion can also provide an opportunity to experience gospel grace.

Three chapters of my readings today, Psalm 2 and Genesis 4 and 6 are about rebellion. The first two are sons turning against their parents while one refers to a society that turns against God.

King David is the dad rebelled upon by one of his sons, Absalom. This trouble happens in part because of David’s own sin (see 2 Samuel 12). He repented of course and God forgive him, but the consequences of his sins remained. God forgave him, he was restored to God, but he still suffered the consequences.

Psalm 3 is his song reflecting the pain of betrayal. Here we see what David did to experience grace in the face of his son’s ugly rebellion.

First, he turns to God. This kind of prayer, the kind that sounds very unchristian as it often includes a sense of vindictiveness and cruelty, confuses a lot of Bible readers. These prayers are not to be taken as such. These are prayers offered to God. The person praying expresses and vents his anger, his pain, his longing for justice, to God. Instead of hurting back, he pours his frustrations to God.

By giving us these prayers, God lovingly provides a means by which we can be angry and not sin. God says vent on me, empty your tank of anger, revenge, murderous thoughts, etc, for I can handle them.

Another blessing that comes to those who turn to God, is God himself. God comes to those who pray, who call on him. In King David’s case, I could imagine God coming to him to assure him of his grace. David knows, he is partly responsible for all the troubles that has been happening in his family. The guilt could be unbearable. He needs God to come to him, to give him the grace he needs. You are forgiven. I have taken away your sins. I have chosen not to remember them. They’re gone now. I don’t condemn you anymore. I am your father who loves and cares for you and your family. Read David’s song in Psalm 103 and you will get this.

This explains the King’s unusual display of humility when attacked by others. Grace produces humility. Sinful anger turns us into judges and executioners.

Second, and sadly, we don’t get the opportunity to see this with this dearly loved king. He follows on a long list of great men in Scripture who were did very well at work but failed miserably at home. Also, Absalom, his son got killed in battle. For this we have to turn to other passages. The Book of Proverbs is filled with instructions to parents to discipline their children early. Another passage that teaches us about discipline is Hebrews 12. Here the author says that God disciplines those he loves. He disciplines his sons and daughters to restore them to himself.

Here is an important truth to see. Restoration of erring children must be God-centred. They need to be restored to God. Merely restoring them to what we want will be insufficient as this do not lead to a changed heart.

 Let me close with this thought. How can God volunteer to take our pain and anger in prayer? Personally, I feel uneasy when someone vents their anger in my presence. I tend to stop their venting. Not so with God, he takes them all. And one day through his beloved Son, he will take in all our sins, the deadly blows against our sins will be laid on him, poured on him, so we can turn to him, and he can come to us, like a father who loves his children. 

New Beginnings

A God-centred New Year to all! I woke up this morning in a city filled with smog, perhaps from all the fireworks that blew last night. We are really in another year. In a world that sees time in a cyclical way, we are into another beginning, we all have a fresh start. In a linear time, life continues.

My readings today include the first chapters of the Book of Psalms, Matthew and the first two chapters of Genesis. Very interestingly, the first two chapters of Genesis presents, how all things begun: with God. And this is how our New Years should begin. We should begin with God, worshipping him, adoring him, loving him, trusting him, obeying him, and knowing him.

Here are things we could start anew, if you have not been doing them, or continue to do them, perhaps with increase longing and desire for God.

Psalm 1 invites us to delight in God, especially with his word. Take time to read, to meditate, to reflect and understand God’s Word. This is a very beneficial activity which promises endless rewards for you (as it is with me).

Matthew 1 contains the family origins of Jesus. Yes, we can resolved to keep looking at Jesus. Read the Scriptures daily with your eyes on Jesus. He said the Scripture is all about him anyway. Look around you and be aware of Jesus. This is.a great new year’s resolution: I will keep my eyes on Jesus.

Genesis 1 and 2 is a special invite to wonder at God’s creative wisdom. God created everything – big and small, visible and invisible. He created every person in his own image. Get amazed at a new baby formed in a mom’s womb. Get amazed at small creatures like ants who were made by God to teach us about life and how to live it. Don’t be to in a hurry, look around and enjoy the flowers, the grass, the trees, the people, and above all the Creator. And don’t forget about the new creation. This is another great new year’s resolution: I will take time to wonder at God’s creation.

May the Lord bless us all as we move into another year. Our road trip to the north recently made me see how each town or city has an arc that welcomed travelers, and a Godspeed message as you leave. I love that. God welcomes us into another year. Let’s begin it with him.

Blending Toughness and Gentleness

My readings today included Revelation 5, a chapter which gives us a peak into the throne of God. That throne focuses on God and Jesus, our Lord, described here as lamb and lion, two completely opposite animals.

The context helps us understand the importance of the Lamb. A crisis is discovered which no one could solve. A search party searches the universe to find someone who will meet the need. They came back empty. Eyes were then focused on Jesus, the Lamb who acts to meet the need. He successfully opens the scroll, and events leading to God’s plan of redemption unfolds and gets finished.

Jesus depicted as a lamb and a lion can also provides an important picture of the beauty of Jesus. He is both strong and gentle. He could be ferocious and deadly, but when needed he can be very caring and cuddly. Jesus in the perfect blend, reflecting true beauty and what perfection truly is.

Most of us want to be, or at least come close to it, like Jesus, the perfect blend of strength and tenderness. Sadly, this ideal does not come easy. I take myself as an example. Emma, my sweetheart for life often reminds me of being all heart. She knows I’ve tried all my life to change.

I did change of course. God’s mercy and grace has done a great work, and will continue to, in my life. I have become more heart, God has been turning me more tender, loving, caring, and gentle person. Surprisingly, this growth has helped me deal with very difficult challenges recently.

I sat with an fallen brother recently to tell him in person that he is being cut off from the church, and did it crying. My heart was completely broken for a brother who keeps falling into sin, who just cannot control himself, who continues to take terrible steps that hurt him, and his family. I was angry at him, at his sin, but I was also broken for him.

I am not in any way saying, everyone should become like me. This is my blog and reflection of how God has been working in my life. Do I want to be different from who I am becoming? Not at all.

I hope you can say the same thing about yourself. Remember, our hope is with Jesus, he is both our Savior and example.

The gift of grace and prayer

If you happen to attend one of our Cornerstone gatherings, do not be surprised when people passionately thank God for his grace and for his prayer gift. Most Christians know the first, but sadly, ignore the second.

The prophet Zechariah says so. He prophesies God as saying, “I will pour out a spirit of grace and supplication”(12:10). Grace poured out clearly refers to his work through Christ by whom he pours and fills our hearts with undeserved love and goodness.

He will also pour out a spirit of prayer. So what is this? John’s Gospel and Paul’s letter to the Romans help us see what this meant. The Holy Spirit helps us pray. He guides our prayers. He empowers God’s people to pray when they are unsure how and what to pray for. Romans 8:26-27 reveals this amazing truth. The HS intercedes through us with inexpressible groaning. The result of this intercession is the working out of the good for God’s people.

In John’s Gospel, we have our Lord Jesus saying that his sacrificial death on the cross will result in prayer in his name. Praying in his name is a gift that flows from the cross. It’s an amazing truth to learn.

The prophet also spoke of a fountain to be opened to God’s people that will clean them from sin and impurity (13:1).

How is God able to dispense his grace so abundantly?

Zechariah actually said it first, before John recorded what Jesus said. The prophet tells us how these gifts become possible. God said, “They will look on me, the one they have pierced”(12:10, cf. John 19:34-37). This is further described in Zechariah 13:7 as the “striking of the shepherd.”

The answer is through His Son, the piercing of his Son and the striking of his Son – all referring to his cruel death on the cross.

Knowing that God’s gracious gifts to us cost God so much should make us appreciate and treasure his gifts. Let us thank God for his incredible grace. This Christmas is a good time to thank God for his gifts of grace and prayer.

Enjoy a white Christmas, loved ones. The kind of white that the blood of Christ produces. Don’t just dream it, receive it, then thank God for it. Merry Christmas!

Who May Stand Before God

My readings in the OT today has moved to the Book of Zechariah, just one book away from completing the Old Testament. I also read John’s 3rd letter today. Zechariah served the people who came back from the Babylonian exile. These people have experienced God’s wrath, first hand.  For years, they’ve lived as captives in exile. The Babylonians were vicious and cruel in war. They destroyed their homes, their city, and their treasured temple – and all of these were expressions of God’s displeasure.

But they also experienced God’s mercy. God remembered them while they were in exile. So he brought them back into their land which by then, seven decades past, was in complete ruins. A very important part of the rebuilding and restoration of the city and its people was the rebuilding of the temple. The temple was the most treasured place in Israel.

Their experience of judgment and mercy have made them aware of God’s holiness and what he requires from those who would stand before him.

Zechariah 3 contains this revelation. It’s both appalling and worship-inspiring.

Who would stand before God? Well God calls in “Joshua” the high priest of the people. The high priest was considered the holiest person among the people. The Book of Leviticus tells us about the elaborate preparation the high priest took to stand before God for a few minutes, once a year.

To everyone’s surprise, God calls the most revered man in the nation as filthy. He smelled really bad, like a skunk. God was saying this is how the best, most revered, the godliest human among you stand before me. Appalling isn’t it. This was God saying, no one qualifies. No human can stand before God who satisfies God’s demand. Those who have stood in his

This was God saying, no one qualifies. No human can stand before God who satisfies God’s demand. Those who have stood in his presence stood not on the basis of their own merit, but on someone else’s.

The prophet describes the hope as a healing which God will accomplish in “one day.” This means the cure for uncleanness and unacceptability will happen quickly.

Zechariah clearly was pointing to our Lord Jesus. The Book of Hebrews describes how God did this. Jesus served as both the great high priest who entered the holy of holiest to offer himself, as the ultimate sacrifice for the cleansing of our sins. As a result of his sacrifice, we can now be clothed with God’s righteousness as we turn to God by faith.

As I pondered on my readings today, I remember the late Pastor Florentino Cortez, my dad in faith preaching from Psalm 24. I still remember his distinct voice, which cracked on several occasions during his preaching, urging us to be clean. He preached about holiness with passion and pleaded to younger disciples like myself to turn to God. He said we can’t have clean hands apart from Jesus.

Thank you Lord for your gift.

Holy Kitchen?

I woke up at around 4 AM this morning with a longing to read the Word. Looking at my assigned readings for today, Psalms 133, 1 Peter 4, I got excited remembering what these chapters are. Psalm 133, of course, is about the unity of God’s people. The psalmist points to the beauty and blessings of unity. 1 Peter 4 calls me to love others deeply. As I read I heard the Lord’s voice urging me to strive and stretch myself more in loving others. Not that I could do this on my own, but through Christ, God calls me to love others fervently, just like the way Christ has loved me.

Immediately, the Holy Spirit started to move me to prayer. I started praying, even weeping for the relationships I had, friends, church members , fellow workers that went sour. I prayed for God’s mercy and forgiveness. I asked God to help me restore those broken relationships.

After this rather emotional time of prayer, I went back to my reading of Ezekiel 46, 47 and 48. I perused the chapters, they have become more familiar through the years. Chapter 48 is the last chapter of the book which records the return of the lands to the tribes, a beautiful picture of restoration. Chapter 47, one of the most loved chapters in this amazing book, describes God’s river. It is a river, the psalmist poetically describes as flowing from God.  Reading it was refreshing. It remembered that Jesus also spoke about a river that gives life. He referred to the coming Holy Spirit as a gift flowing from his work of redemption. How grateful I am for being in God today. The river has flowed inside of me, and now he flows through me. These are very encouraging thoughts that moved me earlier today.

Then I started reading Chapter 46. The chapter is mostly about the Prince who will come and rule as king. He will also offer sacrifices and will bless his children with a great inheritance. These lines were as encouraging and informing as the rest.

As I read the rest of the chapter, particularly, vs. 19-24, I realise the prophet moved to a different subject. The NIV does not have a caption to it. I further realized that these verses never got my attention all these 40 years of serving him. I never paid attention to this holy kitchen. I was intrigued to read a passage that did not make any sense to me at all. The short read about the holy kitchen did not make any sense to me.

The NIV read, “This is the place where the priests are to cook the guilt offering and the sin offering and bake the grain offering (holy kitchen), to avoid bringing them into the outer court and consecrating the people.” Ezekiel 46:20. The NIV seems to be saying that the animal parts had to be cooked in the kitchen to prevent the people from being consecrated. It did not make sense.

The ESV translation did not help clarify the meaning. The editors translated it, “… and so transmit holiness to the people.” These two translations, considered by most evangelical as their “twin towers”, most trusted and popular did not help me this time. Thank God I have over 40 different translations in my library. The clarity came from the NLT. It read, “….They will do it here (kitchen) to avoid carrying the sacrifices through the outer courtyard and endangering the people by transmitting holiness to them.”

The point is this, the kitchen which was placed at the corner of the building, kept the people safe from the dangerous holiness of God. Exposure to God’s holiness would kill the people.

It was then that I realize why Jesus came, and why he had to go to the cross. He had to butchered, cut, and boiled in God’s wrath so that he could take away the judgment coming from God’s holiness. And having absorbed God’s fury against my sin, he can now invite me in to be reconciled, to be adopted as a child of God.

Next time you see a kitchen or work in a kitchen, remember Jesus. He went to the holy kitchen both as the chef that produced the best life-giving food ever, while at the same, he went to the kitchen as the lamb that was slain for my sins and yours.

 

Dead But Now Alive

The Bible presents a very horrifying picture of the unsaved. Jesus described the unregenerate state as being lost. He said he came to seek and find the lost. Most of us have experienced being lost and might be tempted to think easy with the term. The word actually describes someone who is completely lost, not someone who is trying to find his way back, but someone who believes everything is okay when he or she is not.

Other terms are used in Scripture but none of them is more used than death. The unsaved are dead to God. They are completely separated and disconnected from God. The unregenerate do not have spiritual life. They may be alive physically, emotionally and mentally but when it comes to loving, honouring and enjoying God, they don’t.

Ephesians 2 states this. Our sins and transgressions against God have made us dead to God. The apostle Paul says that Satan, not God, rules the spiritually dead. They follow their sinful desires, instead of doing what God wants. Worst, the spiritually dead live outside of God’s favor.

Our readings in Ezekiel 36 and 37 provides an amazing imagery about the coming to life of those who are spiritually dead.  Here the dead are rebellious Israelites. God’s judgment has fallen on them. They lay on the ground, unburied, in skeletal form, not a comforting picture suggesting ultimate disgrace.

God, however, promised to bring the dead back to life. Ezekiel 37 describes how this will happen graphically. At God’s command, bones came together, infleshed, made alive, and turned into a beloved nation.

At the end of Chapter 37, God reveals what his incredible saving was intended for, the restoration of God’s presence with his people. Let me quote this beautiful promise.

generic-red-reference Continue reading “Dead But Now Alive”

Discipline and Perseverance

From time to time, someone cautions me about our message of grace. They’re concerned that emphasis on grace could lead to inaction and passivity. I understand these sentiments, of course, and don’t blame them if they feel this way. There are groups today which may be called “hyper-grace” teachers who present a concept of grace that misrepresents the Scriptures.

Some of these teachers, for example, say that repentance is no longer needed when one sins. Instead of mourning over one’s sin, the believer, whose sin have all been paid for by Jesus, should just move on. There is no debt to pay, as everything has been paid for by Jesus.

Contrary to this teaching, the Scripture commands us to repent of our sins. In fact, we are to live lives of repentance. I mean repentance is to be a part of our disciplined lives.

Grace, correctly understood, encourages taking responsibility of your walk with God. Our response to God’s grace is grateful and joyful obedience.  Instead of passive, leave-it-all-to-God believers, God’s grace produces Christians who humbly say, speak Lord, your servant is listening.

This result is shown in Psalm 125, part of our readings today. The first three verses point to God’s grace. His people are likened to a huge mountain, standing high and strong, persevering through life and nature. And how is this security attained? The author says, the security and strength of God’s people are possible because God surrounds them. God completely secures his people. He is before them, behind them, above them, below them, around them, and inside of them.

But then the writer says, “Do good, O LORD, to those who are good, and to those who are upright in their hearts!” (Psalm 125:4). Here the focus moves from God’s grace to man’s responsibility. My responsibility as a follower of Christ is to do good and remain upright.

Due to mobility issues, I stay at home most of the time these days. But if you think that being at home gives me all the time and reason I need to make spiritual growth and ministry plans, read, study, seek the Lord, and take my walk with God to a deeper level, then you will be disappointed.  Staying at home, having more time, do not mean a better spiritual life.

What enables me to stay close to God is disciplined effort to keep on pursuing God as my humble and joyful response to his grace. I hope you do the same.image-1

Fear and Worship

Genuine worship is a perfect blend of reverence and fear. This is like the 2 and 2 coffee blend that Canadians (at least those I know) love. Every time Emma and I were offered a Tim Horton coffee, the offer always came with “2 and 2″blend. I had no complaints and agreed it was a great blend.

But far more important is the combination of fear and worship. As you read the Scripture you will see how this evolve. Worship in Eden showed this. The picture of God coming down to the garden to meet with his creatures shows the intimacy between Creator and his creatures. This relationship however depended on his creatures’ obedience to his law. When his law trashed by his creatures, the intimate relationship also ended. They were driven away from the garden and made sure that they could no longer go back.

Some people think they can worship however they want, or whenever they want. They see themselves in a superior role in the worship. Such attitude does not stand any chance as far as the biblical God is concerned. God revealed early, consistently and progressively what he demands from those who worship him.

His demand disqualified every one from coming to him on their own. Sinners die in his holy presence.  This is a humbling truth for me and hopefully for all who read this blog today. We can’t come to God. We can’t have an audience with him. We’re disqualified and any meeting with him would mean our death.

Here we see a beautiful revelation of God’s grace. To allow sinful people to come to him, he prescribed the sacrificial system. Unblemished lambs, goats, bulls and birds were brought in to be butchered and offered to take the worshipper’s place.

The sacrificial system prepares us for the coming of Jesus, God’s very Son who would come and become the ultimate sacrifice for us all. Through him our sin problem is taken cared of. It is paid up completely and fully. Now through him we can come to our Father to worship him with fear and trembling while loving him for his incredible grace.

Approaching God

Some people don’t realise that approaching the God of the Scriptures requires something that they do not have. They must rely on someone else to come to God.

Our readings today from Hebrews 4 and 5, and then into the first few chapters of the Book of the prophet Ezekiel help us see what it takes to come to God.

The Book of Hebrews talks about priesthood. It reminds the readers of the OT system God set to enable worshippers to come to God. Here, the worshippers brought the required offering to a priest, who then prepares and butchers the animal sacrifice, sprinkles the blood, clean up the animal’s meat, then offered this to God, all in behalf of the worshipper. Only then can the worshipper come to God.

This reminded Israel of several things about God. First, those who sought to come to God to worship him realise how unapproachable God is. This problem stems from God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness. Man in his sin cannot come to a holy God. God set the sacrificial system, as a temporary solution, to enable worshippers  to have a moment with God. For a sinner to come to God, someone has to die in his place. The animal sacrifice took care of that.

Second, the worshipper realised God had absolute prerogative in the meeting. God set the time and the place for meeting. God also designated who can do the sacrifice. There were 12 tribes in Israel, but only one tribe, Levi’s tribe could serve as priests.

The Book of Hebrews tells us that in Christ, God has opened a way for sinners to come to God, to approach the unapproachable Creator of the universe with confidence through the Lord Jesus. The writer speaks of Jesus, as the better sacrifice, the ultimate one actually, who takes our place on the cross, once and for all. Through him we can now enter into God’s presence.

As I read God’s Word today, as I talk to him, as I felt his nearness, I couldn’t help but thank him for providing a way for me, disqualified by my many sins, so that I could come and enjoy him. I thank God for the Lord Jesus for through him we can come with bold confidence. We could come to God as his children – all because of Jesus.

Elihu’s Theology

For several days, I have been reading the Book of Job. I know some people who read the first three chapters of the book, skipped the entire trialogue (33 chapters) and then restart reading God’s silencing response from chapter 38 onwards.

Job’s three friends tried to help their suffering friend to acknowledge his sin. In their minds his sufferings provided undeniable evidence of God’s displeasure. They believed that God always prospers the righteous with good and comfortable life. The unrighteous gets nothing but divine wrath.

God gave us this book to present a more accurate view God and suffering.

God tells us that sufferings need not be an expression of his personal anger and displeasure. It could be the opposite. These painful experiences might well be his loving correction, and for Job, a pathway to a life transforming revelation and encounter with God. Having served the Lord for over four decades now, Emma and I personally this. Some of the best times of our journey have been in those difficult and a few nightmarish experiences.

This book also introduces us to a righteous person who suffers. Job, this man, proudly called by God as a righteous person prepares us for the ultimate righteous person, our Lord Jesus. Unlike Job however, the greater One will suffer for others, he will take their place in the court of judgment for our forgiveness and restoration.

God’s Love

Someone asked me the other day whether God’s love for his children is conditional. This dear brother pointed to a Scripture in John’s gospel where Jesus said that those who love and obey him will be loved by His Father.

For many years I thought God’s love depended on my performance. This was experience with my dad. He was pleased and proud of me when I behaved and did well in school.

After my conversion I saw a different God. Unlike my earthly dad, he loves me despite my flaws. I also saw that God’s favor wasn’t earned. He saved me and continues to transform me through his grace.

God’s love for me and his children does not mean that he ignores our sins. Because he loves us, he disciplines us. That is part of his love. He loves us as a good father loves his children.

Healing (Part 2)

Yesterday, I wrote about healing as an eschatological reality. That big word simply means that we should look at healing as both a now-and-not-yet reality. Because of Christ substitutionary sacrifice, we have hope of ultimate healing when the work of redemption is completed. The healings Jesus performed in Matthew 8-10 all speak of this. His healing ministry has begun, but the complete removal of sickness awaits his people in the future.

How should we apply this truth about healing?

First, we must worship God for the cross. On that tree, he carried our sins and their consequences. Let us be grateful for substituting for us on the cross.

Second, we must trust God. The cross should erase all doubt about God’s goodness to his people. We can trust him, depend on him, no matter what happens.

For almost 20 years now, I have suffered from gouty degenerative arthritis. My doctors said it was the worst kind. The ligaments around my joints were degenerating and they can’t do anything to stop it. The best they could do was help me with the pain and the swellings.

For the first few years I was very unhappy with my condition. His grace along with good and balance theology helped me both spiritually, mentally and emotionally. Emma and my family would tell you that though I live with pain everyday, and some days, the pain were too unbearable, I also live with praise and surrender to him. I had people pray that almost accuse God of being neglectful to his “servant”. They would say, Lord Danny is your servant, and he serves you, so you must heal him.” I didn’t like those prayers.

Thirdly, we must allow God to use our sickness and suffering to transform us. Sufferings and sickness can definitely strengthen our faith in the Lord. These can also soften our hearts, to become more compassionate on the sick and suffering people. And of course, it should deepen our longings for his promise that in the new heavens and the new earth, sickness, pain, physical deformities and death will all gone.

Finally, when we pray for the sick, we should do with care and trust. We pray humbly, trusting in God’s goodness and power.

Battles and Blessings

Someone defined the Christian life as consisting of battles and blessings happening simultaneously. Sometimes, these follow each other, but most of the time, we face both battles and blessings at the same time. Followers of Christ must learn how to wade through the storms and the calm that come their way.

Temptations intend to distract us from following God. For Abraham’s dad, Terah, temptation kept him from reaching the promised land. He and his family were on their way to Canaan, but the allure of Haran became too difficult to resist, too tempting for him, to ignore (Genesis 11). Instead of settling in Canaan, where God wanted him and his family to be, he settled someplace else. Joshua, in his farewell address, refers to this and says that Haran turned Terah and his family away from God to worship the gods of the place he chose to live.

Matthew 4 records the Lord Jesus’ famous temptation story. Jesus here is the second Adam, the greater one, who overcomes the devil’s temptations. He is the new and faithful Israel who remains true and faithful to God. He is unlike the old Israel who rebelled against God through their idolatry (Exodus 32), their complaining (Exodus 14:11; Numbers 21:5), and their refusal to submit to their God-appointed leaders (Numbers 16). Unlike Israel in the wilderness, Jesus remained loyal, faithful and obedient to God in the wilderness.

So what is the significance of this story? For most Christians, this chapter teaches them how to overcome temptation. They look at Christ’s determined reliance on the Word, his unswerving loyalty to God. This approach could do us some good.

However,​ we must look more deeply into the story to see its point, which is to show the sinlessness of Jesus. He obeyed his Father completely. He remained faithful and true to his call. He, to use the apostle Paul’s words was faithful unto death. His sinlessness is important for his mission: to become our substitute on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, and to give to us God’s gift of righteousness. These are things He could do only because He lived among us and yet was without sin.

When you are tempted remember that Jesus has already won the victory for you. You can’t win over the devil on your own, but through Jesus, you could​. You should. Now live ready for the battles and the blessings.