Fighting For the Faith

I finished reading 1 Timothy today. The city of Ephesus stood as one city which strongly resisted the gospel. Life for a Christ’s follower was difficult. Diana’s temple served as a central attraction. People from all over the world came to Ephesus for its “special services.” The city was also prosperous.

This spiritual father warns his son about the dangers of materialism and allure of pagan culture. Here he tells him to “Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called…that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” 1 Timothy 6:12,19

How does one do this? I have been preaching from the Book of Daniel recently, and there the exiles faced a similar situation. How do they live out their faith and life? The false teachers told them separate yourselves from these pagans. Don’t bless the city. Fight against it. Pray for its downfall. That was Satan’s voice. God’s voice turned out to be the exact opposite. God told them, engage with the people. Participate in the life of the city, but live out your faith in their midst.

This tells us what the apostle was telling his son. Instruct the church to live out their new lives in the middle of the city. The church must not segregate or separate. Instead, the church willingly take the risk and cost of being its needed gospel frontlines. God was saying to the Ephesian church, they were the only hope of their city. They must fight for their faith in order to save their city.

Sadly, the church appears to have failed. Jesus gives them a horrifying rebuke in the final book of the Bible. They have lost their first love. In their engagement with the city, they ended up becoming more like the city, instead of the city having a sip and good meal of the gospel.

Keeping our hearts on the prize in the midst of a materialistic world and a pagan culture remain challenging today.

How can Christ’s followers do this? Verse 6 is God’s cure: “But godliness with contentment is great gain” (‭NIV). Nothing overcomes a godly person with contentment! Godliness without contentment can be religious, but lacks power to live out God’s life in the world.

Paul knew this personally. While languishing in prison, he was dependent on provisions from outside. There were days of plenty but their were weeks of having nothing. Did this upset the apostle? It appears that it did not? He felt no entitlement. He was completely yielded to God. He depended on God for everything. He was contented when he had plenty, but nothing changed when he had nothing.

His secret was a contentment in Jesus. He knew God loved him. He knew God was with him. He knew his whole life was in him. He knew God is able to care for him no matter what. He took hold of eternal life inside prison. He lived it out everyday. He lived with joy everyday and everyone noticed it and many were drawn to God.

We can have the same thing. When we see the Son of God placed under infinite quarantine in his mission to save us, we can live with joy everyday. But we must fight for it.

Pursue Godliness as Leaders

God-honoring leaders pursue godliness. We should. As dads, we can’t ignore our call to lead and our need for godliness. Yesterday’s Father’s Day honor requires godliness to continue. Without it, we just slide back to being the funny man in the house, or the one who takes a second lead from spouses who have to, by necessity, take over the leadership vacuum abandoned by absent fathers.

So how does a godly leader look like? My readings from 2 Chronicles 21-23 today provides two contrasting pictures of leadership. One leader abuses his power, seeks total control to protect his leadership. In the end, nobody showed up at his funeral. The other leader does the opposite, he gives leadership away. He empowers others to lead and serve, in a God-honoring way.

In 1 Timothy God provides important details on godly leadership. Paul defines godly leadership as the consistent application of gospel truth. He urges his spiritual son to pursue godliness by teaching truth and living it. One can’t just preach truth, a godly leader practices what he preaches.

Let’s conclude with the “how question.” How can we do this? How can we become godly leaders. Pastor Dennis in his devotional today talked about leaders who pursue God’s heart – David-like leaders who are made after his own heart.

We can’t do this on our own. The desire to be godly does not come naturally to all of us. Take prayer as an example. The desire to pray regularly, to open the Scripture everyday, daily pursuing him with growing intensity happens only with a renewed and revived heart. This command to be godly flows from the finished work of Christ. The Holy Spirit, the Word, fellowship, worship, disciplines, they are all needed. Let’s grow.

Stepping into 2020

Happy Newer Year 2020

Moving into another year invites us to take a look backward and forward — back to the year whose last pages are turning, and forward to the year before us. Sadly, at new year everyone wants to be in the happy side. At year-ends we tend to set aside our theology and move into wish-land. We can’t and we don’t need to.

Taking an honest look back often leaves us squirming. Our worst days — or weeks, or months, or years — have a way of burying the mercies of God in our past, and darkening the promises of God for our future. The past becomes a list of hopes deferred, relationships lost, opportunities squandered, all telling the broken story of how earthlife will always be challenging. Without, God’s enabling grace, the future could all be overwhelming.

Followers of Christ must put on the eye of faith defined by the Christ-event. The cross empowers us to look at our past, present and future. The cross enables us to join with King David, looking forward to the cross declared, “You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us” (Psalm 40:5).

Throughout the Psalms, the phrase wondrous deeds refers to the works of God in creation and redemption. David’s incredible faith was influenced by the exodus event, the land, the covenant, the kingship, the temple and its sacrifices, the prophecies – all of these gave him confidence in God’s grace.

As David surveys the years gone by, he is not naïve. He sees the sins and the sorrows behind him (Psalm 40:12). But these are not the the most weighty, parts of his past. Against this backdrop, a darkened sky, he sees stars shining: “You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds . . . toward us” (Psalm 40:5).

As for us, we have more. The Christ event empowers like no other. Because of Jesus, we are called to look foeward to look and see, the dazzling, wondrous works of God. Have faith. See everything in light of Christ. Happy Newer Year.

Moving to the New Testament

Today my Bible reading moves into the New Testament. Since January till September 12 this year, I read the Old Testament. This morning I moved into Luke 1 and John 1.

Some people want to know how I manage to read through some of the more difficult OT books to read. Some think Leviticus and Numbers are difficult to read. Others look at the long, seemingly endless chapters of Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel and think, going into these books is like entering into a deep endless tunnel.

What has really helped me read the OT and enjoy it, especially the last five years, comes from a chapter in Luke’s Gospel. It is the story of two confused disciples who had difficulty understanding the events following Christ’s arrest, crucifixion, death, and the news of his resurrection. On that Emmaus road, the risen Lord joined these two disciples and opened their eyes to the Scripture, the Old Testament. He told them, their Scripture pointed to him. Moses’ books, the Torah, pointed to him. The Prophets, from Joshua to the 12 minor prophets, also spoke of him. And of course, the Writings, the Ketuvim, were all written to prepare for his coming.

Interestingly, one can’t miss this. When you read the Chronicles or Ezra-Nehemiah, or even Malachi, the last books written to Israel you will sense their longing and waiting for their hope to come. They have been prepared for his coming. From the opening pages of Genesis, the promise of the seed that would crush their enemies head, to the Messiah, the David-like king the prophets and their writings pointed to, they were ready and hungry for their Messiah to come.

This is how my Bible reading has been transformed into a delight. Year after year, I read through the Great Narrative of God’s plan to redeem and restore a creation wrecked by sin. That plan was promised and fulfilled. That hope reverberated in the hearts of God’s people. The OT makes you long for the Messiah’s coming.

The NT celebrates his coming, My readings today gives two viewpoints. Luke opens with one of the faithful remnants, a righteous Jew, who understood and faithfully waited for the promise to be fulfilled. What a joy it must have been for the old priest, Zechariah to be the first recipient of the news that the long-awaited Deliverer was coming, and he will come as a baby, and he and his “son” would have a great part in the plan.

John’s Gospel brings us back as far as eternity past. He says the One who comes to save, is none other but the eternal God himself!

I hope you get to finish reading the Bible yourself this year. There is nothing like reading God’s great story. The plot is mind-boggling, the twist, the great turn that changes the story and how it ends, are just beyond words. You get caught in the story. Your heart is taken by the gracious God who fills up the story. You get invited to align your story into his, so in the end, there is just one story – His story.

All Evil Shall End

The Book of Jeremiah ends with a headline: flourishing evil has ended. And may I add, one day, it vanishes forever. Jeremiah 52 shows a grim picture of nation and its people with the divine axe falls on it.

This chapter, very much like the last chapters of the Book of Revelation shows that human rebellion may flourish for a while, God’s mercies and his call to repentance may be ignored, but that flourishing is temporary. Evil may have its day but in the end it welts like an old flower. The only plan that survives and thrives is God’s. This explains why the Book ends showing a Babylonian king, with “evil” in his name, shows kindness to one of Judah’s exiled kings. Ahhh, in the end, we need a history and destiny built on the one who is faithful, and righteous and able (Jeremiah 23:5-6; 33:14-16).

Sadly, we don’t learn this too easily. Instead of trusting in God, we put on trust in ourselves, in our abilities and connections. No nation or person may severe itself from God and not wither and die into the fire of God’s judgment.

The gospel shows an alternative in Jesus. This beloved God-Man came to show us how to truly live. He came in human form and lived a personal history of pure devotion and righteousness for each of his own people. Such gift gives us a history that is presentable and pleasing before God. Jesus came to pay the penalty for our failed, rebellious histories, so that our destiny would be eternally with him.

Taunt evil with the hope that you have in Jesus. Fight it with, in, and for Christ!

Living by Faith

The Book of Habakkuk encourages us to keep trusting in God when faced with difficult circumstances. The prophet struggled watching a nation in chaos. His heart broke watching his people turn away from God to seek refuge from their make-believe idols. Add to his dilemma is God’s silence.

So he fires up two questions to God: Where are you? Why are you doing this?

One can’t miss Habakkuk’s theology. He is a die hard advocate of God’s sovereign control over creation. He is definitely in charge.

I watch our nation with the same concern. I watched church organisations with the same heavy heart, and cry out the same.

God’s response to his crying prophet stirs our faith to hold on God. He may lead us through dark times, but he is there. He hears their cry. He sees their pain. And he is with them. He won’t relent. He is righteous and holy. He won’t let sin and abuse go unchecked. He assures his people that he knows and he is working out his purposes.

So how should we respond to the unchecked evil and chaos around us? God says, trust in him. He instructs Habakkuk, and calls us today to have faith in him, in his faithfulness, in his wisdom, in his goodness.

Here’s my favourite part of the Book:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Saviour. The Sovereign LORD is my strength, he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.” Habakkuk 3:17-19 (NIV)

How could Habakkuk trust God that much? Well, he had Exodus to look back to. God delivered them. He had the story of God’s covenant faithfulness in the wilderness in Numbers. He had the incredible temple, the sacrifices, to remind him of God’s mercy and righteousness. Then he had God’s word.

New covenant disciples have more reasons to trust God. We live post the cross and the resurrection. In Christ, we can declare the same thing!

It’s Monday today. What a beautiful day to serve Jesus!

Your People Must Be Happy

The title comes as a quote from a queen who visited King Solomon. The narrative is recorded in 1 Kings 10. The queen was so impressed about the organization, the luxurious banquets, the steady throng of people who came to listen to the king’s wisdom. He had an answer to every question! Moved by this sight of greatness, she got poetic:

“How happy your people must be! What a privilege for your officials to stand here day after day, listening to your wisdom! Praise the LORD your God, who delights in you and has placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the LORD’s eternal love for Israel, he had made you king so you can rule with justice and righteousness.”

Some think that these great words from the queen indicate a conversion. Others are saying that she and the king became a couple. None of these are written in the text so they will always be speculations. What is clear is the author’s intent: show the success of Solomon as a king. He built an impressive kingdom. The next chapter would show however, that this greatness would not continue. The author seeks to show how sin, idolatry, and disregard of the covenant ruined the massive kingdom and its king.

Was the queen right? We’re the people really happy? The answer is no. Later, after Solomon’s death, the author would show how the people really felt. They were unhappy. The enormous demands the king made on them to keep everything going were burdensome.

The queen’s words really should be taken in a prophetic way. Her comments apply to a great king, someone like the earthly king who was wise, but someone far greater than him. He would be king, but he would be a ruler who would bring justice and righteousness. He would bless the people. He would serve the people. He would transform them by dying for them, filling them with his Spirit so they would serve with joy and love for him.

In some way, the queen’s words must apply to the church. Not that we expect the church to live with uninterrupted joy, but the service from a grateful heart, the worship from a fiery heart, the prayers of hungry disciples seeking their Master and King could really happen.

The church must organise, yes, the church must have order, the church must have elders to rule the body. But the church must rule reflecting their King’s way and purpose.

Embracing God’s Wisdom

Wisdom is applied knowledge. Godly wisdom works in the same way. It is humbly applying biblical truth to every aspect of your life. Wisdom empowers us to live God-honouring lives.

I have been reading the Book of Proverbs for several days. It’s an amazing book originally written to teach young men and women in the king’s court, to prepare them for service. The Book focuses on right living. it exalts honesty, integrity, respect, fear of God, genuinely care for the poor, and the weak. I wish we have this today. Imagine requiring every person who wants to serve in public service to take up a course that reflects the values of this Book. We would have a different system, we would develop a culture of integrity, righteousness, and prosperity.

Its important to understand how this Book should be read. Others read it like these are God’s promises. The righteous are rewarded in this life. Doing what is right comes with divinely guaranteed results. Not likely.

This Book teaches us what God wants. It shows God’s will. It shows what is right and what is wrong.

The promises in the Book are not guarantees from God. The Book consists of sayings, short, attention grabbing statements, to teach them then, and show us now how a wise person lives.

Wise living requires being acquainted with the two other wisdom books in the Old Testament. Understanding their message equip God’s people to live wisely. One of these books is Job. He is a righteous man who suffered greatly. His life is the opposite to what the Book of Proverbs appears to promise. Sometimes, the righteous suffer, not because of their sins, but simply because they are righteous.

The other Book is Ecclesiastes. its main message is this: life sometimes does not make sense at all. Things that happen appear to be meaningless. Life is an enigma, a big puzzle. You work all your life then you die. The right thing to do is trust God, know God, and obey God no matter what.

These three books empower Christ’s followers to face life as they come. The wise commits to live right. He or she however does not crumble when bad things happen, or when death comes. The wise trusts and obeys God.

Proverbs does one very important thing. It does not only show us the righteous life. The Book points us to Jesus. He is the wise man who came. He lived a perfect life – for us. He lived out the ideals this Book and ther other wisdom books show. He lived the life, we should have lived, but are unable to. Furthermore, he is the truly righteous person who suffered greatly. Like Job, he suffered now because he sinned. He suffered vicarously.

As I read Proverbs the last several days, and this week, I will read this amazing book with eyes set on Jesus. I pray you would too.

Pondering God‘s Love

Psalm 107 moves us to ponder at God’s amazing love. The psalm is the first of many psalms directing Israel and now every human being on earth to look at God’s incredible love and be moved to praise.

So why should I be praising God today? It’s early morning and the heat is already tormenting. I can’t imagine how it will like later in the day. It would be woefully hot. Why should I be praising God today, my back is painful, and my ears too are just humming. I can’t hear very well. Not to mention that yesterday I woke up with a swollen ankle! Yes, I am trying to make every step be a step with Jesus, as the song suggests, but in reality, every step comes with a painful ugh…

How can I praise God with these personal realities? And let us not go beyond this personal experience. Once I step out of our condo, you get into a world of chaos, evil, and just spirit killing atmosphere.

Or so, I sometimes think. But this morning God is saying something, he also spoke to me about yesterday.

Emma and I were with our Malibay Core for the “battle night”- a term we coin for our time of prayer. We had two songs, and then the Holy Spirit started to move our prayers. First, he directed us to give thanks to God for the place he has called us into. He said, look at the beauty, the good, the work of God already in this place. Half of our team started doing that, and the atmosphere just changed. It is like Lucy walking out of a door to find herself in another world, within her world. And then he directed to pray about things in this place that needs to be broken so that the good could be built up. It was real battle, but the team persevered. Why not? We already know who wins. We already know what happens in the end.

The psalm zooms into God’s redemptive work as the primary reason for praise. He talks how God called his people from all over – the east, north, south, west, people who had no land and city, and gathered them to have a land and a city of their own. He reminds them about how God delivered them with his hands, how he fed them in the desert, how he held them like a shepherd.

The psalm calls for praise for God merciful grace. His people and everyone else could have been abandoned. We deserve nothing of his tender love, nothing of his hosed. Our sins and rebellion are like a sickening stench that must be removed and thrown away. But God’s mercy kept him from completely removing his rebellious creatures. He would discipline his erring people, but only so he could come back to them again.

I wish the psalmist had a glimpse of the most incredible love act – the cross. On it, God substituted for his rebellious creatures. On it he took the punishment, the judgment, the abandonment, the darkness they, we, I must include myself in the story, on the cross Jesus, the Son of God, did the unthinkable. He took my place, he took my death, so I can receive his offer of life.

So what else could keep me from praising God. The author of Romans had a list of would be praise assassins. I may as well include some of mine, and you could include yours in the list. But, in the end, nothing could change the fact, that nothing could stop us from praising God. No heat is so hot where his love is not hotter still! No crazy drivers are so crazy and infuriating where his mercy is stronger still! No pain is so excruciating where the sufferings of cross don’t swallow up to give way to a thankful heart. Let us praise him!

Fools and a Merciful God

This blog’s title is my unapologetic description of today’s reading from Deuteronomy 8-10. Here Moses appeals to the new generation of Israel to be loyal to Yahweh and the covenant they agreed to have with him.

One interesting observation is the new generation’s experience of God’s merciful exodus. God spared them from the death penalty meted to the older generation – their dads, uncles, older brothers, etc. Over six hundred thousand men, twenty and above, left Egypt. All but two remained alive after 40 years!

They knew the consequence of blatant disregard of the covenant. They knew first hand what divine judgment looked like. They also knew God’s mercy and grace. Here are a two notes and an application from today’s reading.

First, the passage pictures God’s justice and fairness. The older generation failed God continually and disqualified themselves from entering the promised land.

Second, God includes the second generation in the guilty verdict. Moses quotes God several times saying, “you were impossible to deal with.” He includes and excludes them at the same time. These younger generation were at much guilty with the sins of their fathers. Only God’s faithfulness to his covenant with their forefathers spared them. Here, we see displayed, God’s mercy triumphing over judgment, again.

Their continues existence shows God’s patience and faithfulness. He could have wiped Israel completely for their sins, but did not. That generation knew they exist only because of God’s mercy and kindness.

This must be true with us today. I woke up today, only because of God’s mercy. If I had to qualify to live, I would have died a long time ago. But such is the mercy of God.

But don’t think that God has become soft towards sin. He does not. He cannot. He is righteous and merciful at the same time, all the time. So how could God show mercy towards that generation? The answer has to be that God had a plan that one day he would send someone who will pay for all their sins. He will send his perfect Son, to live the perfection we are unable to live, so we could be perfected in him, and by him.

I pray these simple gospel inspired thoughts lead us to live wisely.

The Gift of God’s ​Law

Deuteronomy, as the Book’s title infers, records the second time God gives His law to his people. It’s a shortened version, clearer, more simple but generally, the same law that God gave to his people then, and His law for us today. Reading from this Book the last three days had been delightful.

Sadly, there are others who don’t share the same delight. For them, this Book, and the law, in general, are rigid demands to be observed at all cost. Others, see these laws as unnecessary. They live by the Spirit, or look at the liberating gospel, and claim they no longer need the law.

So, why am I delighting in reading these laws while others don’t? I think the key that opens the door to a delightful reading of God’s law hinges on seeing it in a new light.

The key is to see God’s laws as gifts from God. One sees this in the order of giving the law. The Book of Exodus and Deuteronomy follow the same sequence. God states the basis for his laws. He says, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deut 5:6; Exo 20:2). In both instances, the law follows grace. God rehearses Israel’s redemption from Egypt. God delivered Israel from bondage before giving them his law. He showed them love, grace, mercy and compassion before telling them how to live. This is the freedom-joy-giving aspect of the law: law follows grace. We obey from, not for, God’s grace. We keep the commandments because we have been graced.

So grace is the basis for giving the law. But there is another key that leads to delightful obedience: grace also makes it possible for us to obey the law. On our own, we can’t obey the law completely. We can’t possibly love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Matt 22:37-40) every day?

So how does this inability lead to joy? The answer is this: it leads us to the good news of Jesus. We can’t keep the law enough to earn eternal life, but Jesus came and kept the law perfectly in my place, and yours too. Also, in his death, he paid the penalty for my law-breaking.

God bless.


Noah and Abraham

We’re on our fourth day of reading through the Scriptures the whole year. We just finished the first 11 chapters of Genesis and now we move to Genesis 12-14. Earlier, we saw two fresh starts, Adam and Noah and two return-to-chaos narratives. These chosen men failed, and only God’s mercy kept the redemptive hope alive.

Recently, I watched Noah on Netflix. Emma and I did not watch the movie when it was first released. There were too many negative reviews of it from the Christian media police. This time however I did. I was reading Genesis, and Noah, and also I am preparing for an Old Testament Survey class. I also happen to like the Gladiator actor.

I was not disappointed. I thought the movie retained the general thrust of the Bible story. There were questionable parts of the story but generally, I enjoyed the movie makers view. I did not completely agree with them, but I like their creative portrayal of the story.

They portrayed that Noah thought, he and his family, would be the end, not the beginning of a new humanity, but the end of humans on earth. God was done with humans. He was saving the rest of creation, but with humans, God was done with these rebellious divine imagers. The story had a twist, for the daughter in law, who was thought to be barren, discovered she was pregnant. So Noah, calls his family and tells them, that if the baby is a boy, they will keep him, but if the baby turns out to be a girl, he would have to kill her, to ensure a human-free creation.

The movie makers understood humans deserve to die. They also portray that God had not given up on humankind. His mercy continues. Humanity exists only because of God’s loving character. That follows the biblical worldview, isn’t it?

Genesis 11 ends up with a vivid description of the would-be-mother of the new creation. It says, and Sarai was barren. (More on this tomorrow), tomorrow).

Food and Salvation

Just soup…..and water?

Here’s one more interesting data about these two men: both exercise authority over the animals. In Genesis 2 Adam named the animals. Noah exercised his God-given authority by preserving them inside his ark. Also, both were commanded to be fruitful, to multiply and to rule the earth. Sadly, both men fell and affected many in their fall.

We’re on our third day of reading the Scriptures together. One notices from chapter 6 to 10 that the author connects Adam and Noah. Both are described as made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27; 5:1). Interestingly, both men walked with God (3:8; 6:9). Can we have an amen from all the men there?

The most interesting commonality, however, is with food. Adam we all know ate the fruit of the forbidden tree. Noah fell by drinking the fruit of a tree.

Reading this makes me think of another food. This time it is Jesus eating the Passover with his disciples. He said the food refers to himself and his death on the cross.

It’s interesting to see how food both ruined mankind and saved us too.

Next time you eat, I hope you remember the gospel.

God is God and I am Not

Today is the first day of 2019. It’s the perfect day to start reading Genesis 1-3. Three things caught my attention from reading through these chapters.

The first one is God as this incredibly powerful and wise creator. The opening verse states, Ïn the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Moses said everything God made was good. I’m reminded today that the world we live in belongs to another. This is our Father’s world.

Second, Genesis shows that man was created in a special way. Everything God made before he formed man, he created them with a simple divine command. This happened six times but when it came to man, the author said, God paused and deliberated: “let us make man in our image and likeness.”This showed that man was created in a manner that everything else was not. He created mankind from the depths of his heart. We must treasure every creation of God especially humans. The bullies of the world are out of step in God’s plan.

Finally, Genesis 3 shows where sin started. This chapter helps us see why there is so much evil in the world and nature. Humankind rejected God as the arbiter of good. That rebellion brought sin into the human heart. It turned God imagers into abusers, murderers, liars, selfish creatures. Sin also damaged creation.

Genesis 3 introduces us to the initial consequences of sin. It will get worse from there. One can only imagine the extent of the damage brought by sin to both humans and to nature. But, also, here in the beginning, God also introduces us to grace. In the midst of the terrifying judgments on sin and rebellion, God introduces us to hope. God will have a seed, a saviour who will come and correct what has gone wrong.

Let us praise God today for his power to create, his righteousness and also his mercy. We look back and see God calling Abraham and building a nation out of him. We just celebrated Christmas, then this Sunday, most churches will remember the cross and the resurrection. Then we will say, he has done it. He is doing it, and one day, he’ll complete the plan of redemption.

Live with the End in View

I was supposed to read just a few chapters in Revelations this morning (chapters 11-13). That would have left two more days to read. It was early, and my heart and mind were just too filled with wonder at the greatness of God. Revelation opens our eyes to the reality of evil and darkness. One sees spread through the book, the attempt of God’s archenemy to steal away God’s glory. He can’t stop him, but I think he can cause pain and sorrow on those who belong to the Lord.

So he does. The enemy uses everything he could to thwart God’s plan. He sees God’s restorative and corrective work in creation and with the new humanity. He wants to keep things are they are, but God is leading everything to the new heavens and the new earth. This is the redeemed order, the new universe where every wrong thing, every corrupted thing, everything ruined and distorted by sin are made right. God restores every part of creation to how they should be: the mountains and the hills, the rivers, the ocean, every tree claps their hands in praise of the creator.

The book ends with the bride, the church, God’s people finally gathered. The bride is pure, blemished free and made ready to be united with God. The bride’s heart has been fully won. The bride is all for the Lord. The ugliness brought about by the fall is replaced with a heart and mind that are completely for him. The songs of worship heard all over the book express deep gratitude and love for the Lamb, who gave himself as a replacement sacrifice for his bride.

Let’s keep these amazing truths in mind as we prepare for another year. I don’t with you but for Emma and I, we look forward to continually pursue the Lord, serve him and his people, and honour him with our lives and service.

The Gospel and Obedience

The apostle Paul opens his letter to the Romans stating that the purpose of the gospel is to create Jesus-obedient and trusting people. The gospel transform self-following, self-depending, and self-worshipping into a God-be-all people.

How does the gospel make this happen?

The power of the gospel is in its glory. The gospel outshines every glorious act, thought and plan any man or woman or angels can ever think or imagine.

Think of God’s plan to restore humankind and creation back to himself? What does he do to rectify and correct every wrong thing that sin has brought to God’s creation?

Paul says it is by the gospel, the answer to all the ills and the brokenness in the world is the promised seed, the Davidic son who came as a lowly human so that through his life, atoning death and resurrection, he would, as God’s Son, rule and restore fallen humanity back to God.

This glorious truth when heard, when it is believed, and when it fills the hearts and minds of people produces an obedience of faith. It’s by divine romance (love) that God created, it’s by the divine romance that he redeems, and now it is by the romance that we respond and obey.

Eager to Preach the Gospel

Paul says something to the church in Rome that both interests and intrigues me. He says, he is extremely eager to visit the Roman church so he could preach the gospel to them.  

The apostle’s intended purpose, for some people, would appear to be too little and unimportant. These think the gospel is for beginners. Once you receive it, you lay it aside and move to bigger, better  and deeper things.

Paul unashamedly claims the church never outgrows its need for the gospel. We can go deeper and higher and wider in our understanding of the good news, but never out of it. God did not give us the gospel just to save us from our sins. The apostle is saying that the gospel is God’s gift that gives us everything we need to live and grow.

How does this work?

The Book of Romans provides an example of how we should relate with the gospel after we have received it. In the first chapter, the apostle lays out the gospel and how it is the power of God to save all kinds of people. Then he elaborates on it. He starts reflecting on why every person needs it. Why everyone needs the gospel of grace. Every chapter presents a new truth about the good news. He builds on it. He digs up an aspect of the gospel and focuses on it.

In the same way, every Christ’s follower must learn to dig, to extract, to mine the treasures of the gospel and apply them to every area of life. We mine these gospel truths and be absorbed in them, in their benefits, in what these reveal of God and of ourselves.

Most of us have been trained to mine these truths, but Paul’s example point us to the need to speak these truths to ourselves every day.  We must preach the gospel to ourselves every day. The apostle is saying, I am coming, and when I come, I want to be able to share these spiritual gifts to strengthen you, to empower you to serve and love the Lord, one another, and especially to love those who have yet to hear the gospel preached to them.

I certainly need the gospel every day. You do too. Dig in the gospel.

Sharing the good news: “Jesus came to make every wrong thing in the world right!”

Weak And Strong

Christ’s followers are strong only when they embrace their weakness. This is the truth the Holy Spirit points out in 2 Corinthians 13 and other passages.

The world of course rejects this idea. It insists that strength is with in you. Just Go find it, believe you have it, then just do it, like any champion does.

Adopting these viewpoints give two different results. The I can do it produces self-confident people. The I can’t do it without help produces other-dependent people. For Christ’s followers, they become Jesus-dependent disciples.

Scripture urges us to move away from self to Christ. The Word convinces us we were designed to be God-dependent people. Sin actually promotes self-dependence. Adam and Eve bought into the idea that they could be God themselves, independent creatures who decide and navigate on their own.

We must continually look to the Cross to remind US that we are not self-saviours. We need saving ourselves. Christmas, the Cross, the Resurrection – all of these point to our need. That may be perceived as weakness by the uninitiated, but for graced people, that is their way to the top.

Marriage and Eternity

In 2 Corinthians 6, the apostle Paul reveals an incredible truth about marriage: the union of a man and woman in an exclusive lifetime covenant relationship is a picture and a promise of God’s ultimate plan of being united with his people in eternity.

This truth impacts marriage in several ways:

First, it affects who one should marry. Paul’s prohibition of marrying a non believer is premised on this one. He says in light of God’s plan, you should marry someone who loves Jesus as well. Marry someone who will take God’s purpose seriously. To marry an unbeliever is a betrayal of that purpose.

Second, this truth should move us towards serious marriage building. If our marriage is an earthly picture of the heavenly union between God and his redeemed bride, then we should work on making one.

Let’s pursue marriages that truly honor God and reflect his amazing plan.

The Gospel Impacts Everything

My readings today included 1 Corinthians. Reading this letter could either fascinate or frustrate you. Someone said it is so relatable. The church looks like your day to day church with all the skirmishes, the infighting, the “tampuhans” (taking offenses), the doctrinal issues and the morally questionable lives of its people.

The church of Corinth needed the gospel as we do now. What appears to be the root problem is the church’s failure to allow the gospel to transform their minds, values, and ways of living.

The problems that were addressed are mostly cultural. Take their stance on wisdom for example. Theirs reflected worldly wisdom which valued appearances and oratorical power over the simple elaboration of the gospel and its implication to life. In the end, they concluded that Paul was an unacceptable herald of the gospel.

The gospel must be preached regularly. Those of us who are called to preach must apply the gospel into the lives of the gospelised community. Help us, Lord. Give us your wisdom to do this assignment effectively. 

Preaching the gospel to the villages

Temper Issues

Recently, I heard an incredible thought about the cursing of the fig tree. One of our men argued that having a temper explosion is normal. Jesus had several recorded ones. This brother then referred to the cursing of the fig tree. Jesus was angry at the fig tree and cursed it to death because it failed to give him fruit. In this way, Jesus is just like any man who comes home after a long work-day. He comes home tired and very hungry and finds nothing to eat. So he goes ballistic! Our men’s group had a blast laughing at ourselves.

I am not sure if it’s coincidence, or by divine design that today, part of my assigned readings included Matthew 21, the account of Jesus’ cursing the fig tree. That gave me a more time to look at the passage today. Here are my findings. I hope they help someone today.

One challenge with this chapter is the absence of explanations. Neither Matthew or Jesus offers any explanation why Jesus cursed the fig tree. I’m not surprise then that one of my men friends thinks Jesus had a temper tantrum.

Others ignore the whole story and focus only on the power of faith to move out mountains. These are incredible commands and preachers (myself included) have been tempted to ignore the whole point of the chapter. Sadly, when we do, we end up with a contextless faith that leads to unhealthy teachings and unhealthy faith.

The point of this chapter is not about the need for powerful faith, it’s not even about hunger and the need to be fruitful. The chapter is God’s judgment about dead temple-based religion and his planned replacement. The cursing of the fig tree must be seen as an acted parable to show this truth. Jesus’ harsh words to the fig tree could be applied to the nation of Israel and its beautiful Temple. Fruitful in appearance only, Israel’s religion was spiritually barren.

The teaching on faith must be connected to this context. Jesus is saying God is about to do the most incredible thing: He will do away with the dead temple worship and replace it with a new and living one. He calls them, as he calls us today to believe in God. When we do, we too will participate in the greatest building project of all time. We will be his co-builders. We are God’s partners in building this new thing.

Let’s put aside the temper thought and give way for the living temple brought about by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

What do you think?

Being Lost

Luke 15 contains stories about lost things. These were Jesus’ response to the religious leaders’ grumblings about his friendship with the “dirty and untouchables” of his day. He gave not one parable, but three parables to deliver his point, a scathing rebuke and an amazing explanation of his reason for coming to seek the lost.

In the first parable, Jesus likened himself to a shepherd who goes out of his way to find one missing sheep. This unusual shepherd leaves the 99 sheep, steps into the dark night, searching for the lost sheep. In the parable, the lost sheep got found. The shepherd goes back to the sheep-fold rejoicing and invites the others to celebrate with him.

The other parable has similar features: a coin gets lost, the woman searches for her missing coin. She finds the lost coin, then out of sheer joy, she invites everyone to celebrate with her, for she has found her missing coin.

The last parable, the parable of the lost sons.,  has all these features, except one. No one goes out actively to search for the lost son. The Father stays at home, the elder brother stays at home too. Unlike the father who cared, the elder brother was indifferent to his brother’s predicament. In the end, the younger one returns home, but the elder brother remains lost.

What would be more tragic than being lost? Being lost is awful. It means spiritually lost. It means one misses out on life’s purpose. It is to live a wasted life. Worse, it means eternal separation from God. Is there anything worse than being lost? Well, there is, and here it is: being lost and no one is searching for you. Being lost and not know that you are is one thing, but being lost, and no one is losing sleep for it is another thing. Being lost and nobody cares. That is the most terrible tragedy of all.

Emma and I are part of a team that goes to India in a few days. Our prayer is that a Village, a person, a family would know they are not forgotten.

Guarding the Heart

The prophet Jeremiah wrote something about the heart that I have known since 1974. I first heard it from a senior student in Bible School. During meal times, students took turns to share “memory verses”. The brother said, “Labihan gayod ka malimbongon ang kasingkasing sa tawo ug walay makatupong niini. Kinsay makatugkad niini? Ako, ang Ginoo, nagasusi sa kasingkasing ug hunahuna sa tawo. Ihatag ko sa matag usa ang angay sa iyang batasan ug binuhatan.” Jeremiah 17:9-10 (The heart is deceiptful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? I, LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve).

The prophet saw that  Israel’s problem, and for the rest of us, is a heart problem. Something is terribly wrong with the centre of our being; our thought process, our willing and desiring. Man is driven the wrong way. No wonder Israel just can’t live right. They already had Yahweh, yet they continued to pursue useless and make-believe idols.

Worst, the prophet says, man is incapable of understanding his heart. He is deceived. He does not truly see. But God does. He sees and understands our heart problem. The prophet Ezekiel declared that God would cure the heart of his covenant people (Ezekiel 36:25-28). Both prophets looked forward to the miracle of new birth.

As I recall my Cebuano brother reciting these verses, I am reminded of God’s work with my heart. His work goes beyond knowing the condition of my heart.  He left heaven, became human to win my heart with his love shown on the cross.  He has given me a new heart and a new spirit that hungers and thirsts for him and what is truly beautiful – his holiness.

God wants to do the same for you.  Daygon ta ang Ginoo!

Thank you, Suffering Servant

Reading Isaiah 50-53 this morning made me see how much richer and fuller our knowledge of God’s redemption is compared with those who first heard it.

Here the prophet talks about a coming person. He calls him the Servant of Yahweh. His identity isn’t clear, Sometimes, this servant appears to represent a whole nation, at other times, he is an individual on an incredible mission.

New Testament believers see it more clearly.

This servant is none other but our Lord Jesus. He is the prophesied deliverer who would come to save his people from their enemies.

We also now know that he is the representative Israel. He represents the nation of Israel. He does what the nation and its people failed to do. He obeys, honors and witnesses to God as the ideal Israel.

Also, this servant suffers and dies in place of others. He suffers God’s judgment substitutionally. But he also comes back to life in the same way.

The prophecy did not say anything about his identity and origins. He just shows up on the scene. He shows up to rescue and redeem.

How blessed and humbled we are today to know that this servant is none other but God himself. The second person in the Trinity, took on human form. The apostle John echoes the disciples’ experience. The in-the-flesh God revealed glory and grace (John 1:14,18). The cross showed this to them, as it does to us today.

Don’t miss the riches of our faith. The gospel gives us that. Let’s praise and honour God today.

Hosea’s Message

Most of us associate Hosea with his call to marry a prostitute. This divine action offends our sensibilities. We look at the prophet with pity as we think he got a raw deal from God.

The prophet, however, does not share these sentiments, which really, indicate our often half-hearted devotion to God. Hosea demonstrates to us how we are to relate to our covenant God.

Hosea and his message confirm the covenant relationship between God and his people. In Hosea, God opens his heart towards his people. He relates to us as his bride – dearly loved, exclusively for him alone. The threats are “love threats”. He is a devouring lion (Hosea 5) but one who restores them to life and hope.

Hosea helps us understand God’s heart. God reveals his brokenness, the pain he endures over his bride’s unfaithfulness. Sin breaks him deeply because of his great love for his people. He wants them saved, safe, cared for, honoured, and loved.

The prophecy, however, goes beyond the judgment. He sends them away into exile, he lets them out of his sight, he throws them away, only to pursue them and return them home.

This book provides a great context when looking at the incarnation – the coming of God to rescue his unfaithful people. The name changes say it all: love, no longer loved, now dearly loved again. This is our story too. Thank you, Lord, for this book.

Hallelujah

In Bible School, my friends took turns telling Hallelujah stories. One of my favourites is the missionary who took a flight to an unknown place. He did not know anyone there. Neither did he know how to have any contact. He was beginning to worry until a “hallelujah” idea came.

As the missionary embarked on the plane, he saw throngs of people lined up, waiting for their passengers coming out of the plane. He started to shout Hallelujah. There was no immediate response, so he shouted even more…Hallellluuujahhhhhhh. Then someone from the crowd shouted back, and another, and another. The missionary shouted back, Hallelujah, and others from the crowd shouted back Hallelujah. The missionary had his first contact.

My readings today consisted of the last five chapters of the worship and prayer book of Israel. These are Psalms 146-150. These prayer songs are called “Hallelujah” songs.

As I read through them, this thought came to me: the Book of Psalms ends in the most profound and prophetic way. Despite all that God’s people go through in life, in the end, it will be a Hallelujah song.

Look at the singers! On top of the list are God’s people, redeemed, saved, delivered, fathered, healed, set free and gathered in God’s city. Creation, redeemed creation will also sing the Hallelujah song. The psalmist describes mountains, hills, seas, snows, trees, birds, animals, sea creatures, even stormy wind praising. Heavenly creatures, those in God’s assembly will all be singing his praise.

The Book of Revelation explains the singing of the Hallelujah chorus. Sin and every damage it caused to humans and creation are gone completely. Satan, his demons and every wicked person have all been gone, thrown into eternal hell. And topping it all, God lives with his people who love, adore and obey him in their new home, the new heavens and the new earth forever! Hallelujah!

Graced Rulers

1 Kings 1 teaches grace and how it transforms and empowers graced leaders to lead with grace.

Two truths shine out from this chapter.

The first is God’s grace in his choice of a leader for the chosen nation. One is reminded again how the king himself was chosen. He was the youngest in their family, unprepared, outwardly unfit but God chose him. David learned, Israel learned, and every Christ’s follower learns that God does not look at the outward appearance, but, instead, looks at the heart.

Adonijah, the other son, is older and therefore had the upper hand over Solomon in the list of possible successors to the throne. He made his desire known. He showed wisdom in asking for support from the other leaders and gained it.  Solomon did not do any of these things. He neither aspired or promoted himself publicly or through backdoor deals. The only he had was the king’s promise. He did not earn the right to the throne. He did not qualify for it. But he had the king’s promise.

In a very similar way, that is how you and I and every Christ’s follower become heirs of God’s kingdom. It is all by grace. The king saw us. The king chose us, actually, in eternity, before we were even born (Ephesians 1:3-13).

Grace is the primary and only reason for the cross. To become fellow heirs to the throne, the King of the heavens, invisible, immortal, ruler of all creation, stripped himself from all these prerogatives to come in human form and be like us, to fight as our substitute so he can win for us.

To seat us with himself as fellow ruler, he becomes the second Adam. The first one failed to rule and fulfil his calling. But now through Christ, the second Adam, we rule out of his victory and grace (See 1 Corinthians 15).

How should we rule then? This is the other truth which shines from our passage. Graced kings rule with grace. This doesn’t mean ignoring sin, or offences. It means ruling with gratitude and ruling humbly. Solomon forgave Adonijah, his older brother. In that culture, everyone expected Adonijah to die. After all, he tried to grab the throne. Instead, he got to live another day. Sadly, he was evil and bent on taking the throne and unseat the rightful king. Grace also includes putting your enemies away.

When Mercy reins over Justice

There are stories in Scriptures that both baffle and humble me. One of these is David’s census of his fighting men recorded in 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21-22. First, the authors offer different views as to what moved King David to make the order. The pro-David Chronicler says that Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take the census. 2 Samuel attributes the act to the LORD, to Yahweh himself. God himself incited the king to take the census so he can punish Israel.

Liberal scholars see here another example of Bible contradiction. However, the most authoritative Old Testament scholars see no contradiction. They explain the different versions as saying the same thing: God, the all-sovereign ruler, moved to Satan, a subject, to execute his plan to punish Israel for their sin.

For years, I accepted this explanation. I sat in Old Testament seminary classes where respected seminary professors defended this view. Also, this version affirmed the two big truths about God: his sovereignty and righteousness. Despite this, I still cringe within every time I read this unthinkable transaction.

Yesterday, I read this passage again and something sparked. I read the story several times actually and determined to hear what God is saying in this narrative. Clearly, God reveals his righteous indignation against sin. Israel is into the covenant relationship with God and violating that covenant merits God’s punitive action. He also displays his power and sovereignty over everything. This includes Satan, his enemy.

But there is something more in the passage. Near the end of King David’s rule and life, God gives us a preview of the gospel. How does God do this? First, look at the guilt of the King and the people. Both nation and the king have provoked God’s anger for their sin. Judgment was coming.  Second, the author provides several cues about the gospel. I see two. First, there is the Angel of the LORD who executed God’s judgment. In just three days he has already killed seventy thousand. But then he stopped. Mercy made him stopped. The second cue is what David would do next.

The king having seen the destruction of lives begged the Angel to stop the killing. He pleaded that he and his enemy should instead take the judgment. He then offered sacrifices at the threshing floor which he purchased with sixty shekels of gold. Even more significantly, that field would later become the place where the Temple would be built. God instructed the David to build the Temple in this place.

So the narrative really prepares us for the gospel. Mercy reined over judgment. That is a powerful image of the gospel. Mercy, however, doesn’t operate alone. Mercy is given and received in lieu of the sacrifices that were made.

Fast forward to the cross. There mercy and justice meet. Sin is paid for. The sinner is redeemed from sin and freed from judgment. God’s demands were met and satisfied. The cross, however, comes with a twist. In David’s narrative, the king takes the blame and offers himself instead. One notices however that when the king offered the sacrifices, the Angel has already stopped the killing. He showed mercy to the people before David could do anything.

Why would he do this? Because one day, this Angel of the LORD, will come in the flesh and will himself pay the price, by offering himself as the ultimate sacrifice for our salvation.

Read the story for yourself and gain and a new perspective of the glorious gospel.

Orderly House

My readings this morning included two of King David’s songs recorded in 2 Samuel. One is a song of thanksgiving for his deliverance from King Saul. The king wanted him killed as he saw him posing a threat to his throne.

The other song is something he wrote at an old age. It was a swan song. It is an important song for him and to his family. Everything in the song is okay. The first paragraph acknowledges him as the divinely anointed and exalted king. The second paragraph praises God for David’s rule. As king, he ruled in righteousness. There was the Uriah-Bathsheba scandal, of course, but overall, he ruled in righteousness. He treated the people well. He provided for them. The kingdom prospered economically and politically.

The final stanza is a bit problematic. David claims that God made an eternal covenant with him on the basis of his house being in order. The record of his house in the Samuel series and the very pro David Book of Chronicles state a different claim. These books are both saying, David was a great king, a great person, a God-loving person, but not his house. His house and family were in disarray. Talk about dysfunctional family. His family was one.

So why does David claim to have an orderly house? It could have been better if the God-inspired author focused on the king. God made an eternal covenant with David because he was a godly man. That could have been more acceptable. So why?

Well, David could have been blindsided. Like many parents today, we think well of our family. We gloss over the flaws and think we have the best family in the world.

It could be that David was old and was writing about his dream. He dreamed of a great family, and now that he is old and dying, reality eluded him. In short he was dillusional.

I think the above statement is true, except for David being confused and dillusional. I see this stanza as prophetic in nature. The house in order refers to another person’s house, someone connected to the king.

The Gospels bring this out very clearly. Matthew’s gospel loves to call Jesus, the son of David. He is the promised son-king who would rule eternally. He is the eternal-son-king whose house will be in order. He is the eternal-ruler with a righteous family house eternally connected to God with a covenant.

Reading the song again makes one think that the whole song is really about this Davidic son. I think it is.

The joy of being a Mephibosheth

Part of my readings today include a record of Mephibosheth’s brief conversation with King David upon his return to Jerusalem to regain the throne temporarily taken over by his son who sought to grab his father’s throne. While on the run, Ziba, Mephibosheth’s servant, lied to David that his master has joined the rebellion. The king rewarded Mephibosheth by giving all his master’s lands to him.

But the rebellion ended so the king came back. As he did, his detractors all lined up to seek his favour. Mephibosheth was there too. Unlike the others, he did not see the king for favour. When asked about why he did not join the king’s household who left with him, he told him that his servant betrayed him. The king then tried to reverse his order about the land that belonged to his family. The prince Mephibosheth declined the generous offer. He said he did not deserve any favour from the king. For him it was enough that the king is safe and back to his throne. It was enough that he could be with the king again.

I think the narrator wants us to see something here. First, this episode shows how God blesses and protects the maligned ones. He vindicates the righteous. Second, and I think this is more important. The narrator wants us to see what hesed does, what kindness does to people.

God’s covenant love, his hesed, his merciful grace transforms the undeserving. Those who experience the king’s grace love their king back. They want his presence, not his gifts, or favours. Their greatest joy and reward is to be near the king. For the lame prince, Mephibosheth, having breakfast with the king, being carried to the king’s table to be seated near the king, was everything.

I’m currently working on a lesson about calling. There is a temptation that every Christian, especially those in church leadership must take note. It’s the temptation to make your call to leadership, your ministry, what you do for the king replace your primary call to the king.

Mephibosheth reminds us of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. In the third chapter the apostle expressed his deep love and preference for his king Jesus over anything else. He considered everything else as nothing compared to the joy of being found in Christ. He is saying the same thing as Mephibosheth told King David. I prefer you over anything.

Grace, when truly understood and experienced, changes our hearts. It delivers us from idols. Grace sets our priorities right. It is all about King Jesus.

When sons rebel

I was a rebellious son. I never tried to unseat my father, as Absalom in 2 Samuel 17-18 tried, but I sure did not respect his authority. I feared and hated my dad. He loved God, but he had a temper which emotionally drove me away from him. Thank God, I got saved and restored with my dad.

Now a dad myself, I now understand how he must have felt during those years. Nothing breaks parents’ heart more than a son or daughter turning against them.

Children’s rebellion is not a new thing. Adam and Eve turned against God, the original parent. Rebellion stems from sin and the desire for self-rule and independence from God or other authorities.

How does the gospel cure? How does the story point to the gospel?

Two ways actually. First, the Absalom rebellion point to the consequences of rebellion. Absalom dies. His dad and family suffered tremendously. Second, peace ensues only after the rebellious son gets his due. The nation had peace, the throne of the king had peace, the nation had peace after Absalom got what he deserved.

The same could be said about the gospel, only in reverse. In the gospel, the person who gets punished is not the rebellious son. Instead, its the obedient son, who gets the judgment for the disobedient one. The principle, however, is the same: someone has to die, rebellion must be punished and paid for before peace could come.

It’s also this gospel feature that moves rebellious sons and daughters to repentance. What can change rebellious sons? What changed me? Threats and punishments did not do their work with me. Every time I got punished for a wrongdoing, I felt justified. I thought I paid for sin.

The cross disarmed me of all self-justification. I saw my infinite sin. I saw my hopeless situation. I saw Jesus, the holy one, the obedient son, crucified and judged for me. That moved me that night in June 1974 in Davao City. It still moves me today. I pray that more people would turn to you.

Facing our Fears

My readings the last several days have been alternating between 2 Samuel and the Psalms. Yesterday, I read through David’s family troubles. One of his sons rapes his own sister. Another son kills his brother. He flees away. King David brought him home after several years without dealing with the issue. The same son attempts to take his dad’s throne. The king not wanting to face his son in battle flees away instead.

The psalms I read today express the king’s thoughts and emotions. He is angry and scared.

What does he do?

These psalms are “maskils”, unsure of its meaning, but it must be connected to what to do when deeply hurting from betrayal and injustice. Some say maskils are to teach some kind of lesson, or to clarify something.

My observation of the maskils, there are about 11 of them in the psalm, is God gave these unusual prayer songs to aid us when we are deeply angry and troubled. They help you face your anger and desire to get even.

Note how important these psalms must have helped David. He could not kill his own son. He is in the middle of David’s hurt. His son led the rebellion. His former close friends sided with him, and now they were pursuing him.

What does he do? Well through these psalms the worshipper is able to express, or vent his hurt and seething anger towards God. God seems to be saying, give them all to me, pour your anger. Express them, unload them all to me, dumped every drop of poisonous anger towards me. Then you can be free.

In some way, these psalms provide an amazing background to the cross. As God said in the psalms unload your anger and the judgement on me, so on the cross, the judgment, the wrath against my sin were all unloaded, this time, literally on God, on Jesus, who went to the cross to absorb our judgment and God’s wrath against our sins.

That way the demands for justice, the holy demand that sin must be paid for took place. Jesus became that sacrifice who took it all on himself, in your place and mine.

Let’s meditate on this psalms today: Psalms 3,4,13,28,55. I pray that these psalms warm your heart with his passionate love. A maskil indeed!

From Sorrow to Joy

Christ’s followers have been given a way that moves them from sorrow to joy. This means that the saw-toothed life experience we have should not surprise us. We live in a fallen world, affected by sin, so things don’t always work as they should. Jesus told his disciples that they should expect troubles. He also said, they should rejoice as he has already overcome the world (John 16). I love Jesus’ realism. Expect that troubles would come, but don’t be overwhelmed by them. Jesus tells us not to lose heart and faith when the realities of a fallen world hit us.

My readings today Psalms 32, 51, 102, 103, 122 show this path. These are all David’s songs. The first two are what we call penitent songs. These psalms were David’s prayers of repentance. Here he acknowledges his sins and what they have caused him. The middle song, Psalm 102, is a humble petition to be admitted by God. He does not presume God’s forgiveness. He humbly asks for it. He offers the sacrifices for his sins, and seeks God’s mercy. In Psalm 103, he expresses gratitude towards God’s mercy and forgiveness. He acknowledges God as his Father. He thanks him for how he disciplines and forgives. The final song expresses his longing to worship again. His joy flows out of the prospect of worshipping God again.

Sorrows can come through many ways. Sicknesses, losses, disappointments and falling into sin can all hit us hard. How do you move towards joy?

For the fallen and sorrowful king the way involved the restoration of relationship that leads to worship. His goal goes beyond merely relief from death. His ultimate goal is worship, true worship.

I am grateful to God that these days I don’t live with the kind of pain that I used to have in Hong Kong. I lived with pain everyday for about 10 years. Though some days the pain was more bearable the struggle was the same. It was a battle that centred on the heart.

David shows that the key that moves the sorrowing to joyful existence is grateful worship. So how does he do it? Psalms 102 and 103 show the way: penitence and forgiveness. The key to joy is being in right relationship with God. Joy does not come in the relief from the pain or from guilt, it comes from being assured that God loves you no matter what you feel.

With David, he found relief from the animal sacrifices. He saw the sheep sheared and butchered and burnt. He saw his sin being done away.

But we have it better. The king only saw a shadow. We have something so much better because now we see Christ offering himself as the ultimate sacrifice. Our pain reminds us of his greater pain. Our sorrows only remind us that he, the joyful one, became a man of sorrows, so that miserable ones, like you and me, can find the way to joy.

Keep looking at Christ dear ones.

When Men of God Fell

How do you respond to news of men of God falling into sin? What about leaders who abuse their power? How do you respond to the fallenness of your leaders, be they be political, religious, or your own?

My reading today of 2 Samuel 11-12 has given me insight enabling me to personally look at leadership flaws and failures.

These chapters reveal God’s unbelievable mercy and grace towards King David, his family, and hence, the chosen nation. Of course, he suffers some kind of consequences from his crime and sin, but the author focuses on the graciousness of God. Solomon, whom God calls Jedidiah, is God’s love incarnate, his love communicated in a person.

For a lot of readers, they might think that God has turned his back on the King. He has fallen and ergo, he’s out of his graces. Sadly, this is how many of us relate to fallen leaders. We treat them mercilessly.

God says in 2 Samuel that his heart is broken because of David’s sin, but his heart is bigger than his sin. He restores him remember? God gave us two psalms, Psalm 32 and Psalm 51, to tell us that no matter how deep we have fallen, we’ll always find his love to be deeper still.

Three things have helped me all these years to live through the fallenness of Christian leaders:

My own sinfulness.
God’s incredible grace in forgiving his fallen beloved.
God’s unchanging love for those who are his.

God bless.

Who May Stand Before God

The thought of standing before a judge, someone in authority, or someone you care for dearly, could evoke horrifying thoughts. I remember how students would come to my office when I called them. They come cringing and fearful. Others would tell me they had some sleepless nights before the meeting.

One psalm appears to express this. David’s song catalogued as Psalm 15 begins with these words: “Who may stand before God…” I wish this psalm had some context. But this one has none. With contextless songs like this, one must be very careful how to interpret it.

It is possible that he wrote this as a king assigning the singers and tent workers. Standing before God refers then to the priests offering sacrifices to God, or the high priest, coming to God in that once a year sacrifice. This song reminds them about the need to meet some kind of acceptability.

It is also possible that he was referring to himself before and after his heinous crime was found. The King did not immediately confess to his crime and sin. He kept it from others. But God knew. He knew. He was terrified at God. His repentant songs in Psalm 32 and Psalm 51 reveal the inner troubles he had. He felt terrible knowing he can’t come to God. If it happened after his exposure and repentance, then the song was sung with a lot of grateful and humble tears.

For this to happen, the king had to offer sacrifices. Someone had to die in his place. He could stand before God only on account of another.

When I read this psalm a few days ago, I sang it like David after his sin has been found. I come to God, and I love to come, to keep coming, to hang out, to dwell in his presence. When I do, I come to him, not on my merit, but on the merit of another. I come to him on the merit of Jesus. He accepts and welcomes me in his presence not because I passed his entrance test. He welcomes me on behalf of another, someone who is perfect and pleasing to Him.

Enjoy being with God everyday. And remember, you come to him on the basis of someone who is pure, who has clean hands, who never misuses his tongue. He is perfect and holy.

Live with the End in Mind

It’s important to live with the end in mind. I can’t think of any better way to truly live than keeping the end view.

These thoughts came to me as I read 1 Chronicles 10 today. The author records the end of King Saul’s life. He died in battle. An enemy arrow accidentally hit him. As he bled dying, he ​asked his armour bearer to kill him, but he refused. So King Saul pulled his sword and killed himself.

People mourned for him. The new king mourned and cried for him. The whole nation gave him a good funeral.

But God did not. The author makes sure we don’t miss this. He said the king died because God killed him for his unfaithfulness. He was disobedient to God. He failed to follow what God wants. He failed to seek God for direction. He consulted with mediums. In the end, God took his life.

I met with a few men earlier today. Pastor Abalos, a retired pastor of the COG was with me. He is an example of someone who has not forgotten God’s call in his life. He continues to share the gospel everywhere he goes. He said God called me and I want to serve the Lord until I die.

I humbly share this dear pastor’s resolve in life. I also want to serve God until our Master calls us home, hopefully with a “Well done” welcome.

So how we do this? How can we set our eyes to the end? As I write this part, whispering a prayer, the Scripture from Hebrews 12:2 came to my mind. God says,

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

The way to live with your eyes to the end is to look at Jesus. He provides the best example. He came to show us how to live. Here we are told, he looked at the end. He saw his bride, his beautiful and perfected bride prepared for him. He saw his people adoring His Father. He saw with great joy the redeemed and creation fully restored.

With that sight, he endured every challenged that he faced. That included the cross, the shame and the pain.

The end for me and Emma is the joy of standing one day with all the people from all nations and tongues, gathered around the throne of God worshipping and singing together the song of the grateful redeemed. O God would you grant us more of your grace. Help us see.

The Younger David

1 and 2 Samuel tell us about the two most important kings of Israel and of course, the real King.

King Saul was the people’s choice to be their king. He had the looks, the appearance of greatness to be king over Israel. He did not have the heart though, at least initially, so God gave him one. The Holy Spirit came on him and changed his heart. He could be a great king. Sadly, he failed to nurture the heart given to him by God. Instead, of trusting in God, he abused it, killing anyone who posed a threat to his throne. He forgot he was not really the King of Israel. He forget he was a king under the King.

The other king, King David, is the complete opposite of the first king. He is humble. He trusted God. He waited on God. He refused to kill the sitting king, although he had the opportunity and the right to it. He chose to place himself and his family under many troubles, not wanting to get ahead of God.

In doing so, the King protected him. The King was with him. He was with him with when David pretended to be a mad man so the enemy would not kill him and his group. He was with him when he went to war as a soldier for hire. He was with him inside that famous cave of Adullam. This king wrote many songs and enriched the worship experience of many today. Feel betrayed by your closest friends, you can turn to his songs. These inspired songs enable you to come to God, with all your pain and hurts and frustration. These imprecatory songs have served as tools to heal the heartbroken and disappointed and those who feel like God has abandoned them.

I love the younger King David. He was so careful. He consulted with God. He listened and waited on God. He was loyal to King Saul and he showed great kindness to his family. The story of Mephibosheth, how he searched for him, how he invited him to eat with him on the table, how he restored his fortunes, the author shows God’s kind of king.

King David reminds us of another David. He reflects the traits we saw in David. He too waited on his father. He walked with his father. He lived for his Father’s pleasure.

You Are Not Able to S​erve the Lord

These words must have shocked the people to whom it was first given. Joshua, now old and about to die, uttered these words to the whole nation of Israel. He pleaded with them to be faithful to their covenant with the LORD. He warned them about the dangers of falling into idolatry. The elders and all the people responded by pledging allegiance to God. Together they said, “We will serve the LORD, for he is our God” (24:18).

That should have been enough. That was the correct answer. They committed to only serve God. Joshua, however, contradicted them. He said, “You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God” (v19).

Why can’t they serve God? Joshua says because God is holy, and by implication, they, the people, are not. We are not holy enough, good enough for God. We all fall short of God.

A very similar answer could be found in Exodus. God told Moses he won’t go with Israel anymore on their way to Canaan. Instead, he would send an angel to go with them. And why won’t God personally accompany Israel to Canaan? God said, “I will just kill them along the way for their sins.” Moses, however, persisted. The tabernacle was the compromise solution. God will go with his people, but he will be in a safe place, a place no man, except one person, the high priest, may enter once a year for the atonement offering.

God was right of course, every man over twenty years of age, who left Egypt died in the wilderness. The men who were left were the second generation. And God is again expressing the same statement: you or anyone else can’t possibly serve me.

The people, of course, denied their inability to serve God. They insisted they can and will serve God. The Book of Judges proves Joshua was right. After saying yes, the tribes of Israel along with their elders went back to their homes and forsook God.

For years, I assumed, people can serve God. I thought if people were more serious, if they knew more or if they were told what they should do, they would. So I preached and taught the best I did the same. I tried my best to serve​ God. But I was always falling short.

In God’s mercy, he brought me back to the gospel. I began to see why Jesus came, why he lived a perfect life, whey he sent the Holy Spirit. I saw that in the gospel, God offers to give me a new heart so I could and would love him. He offers to replace my dead and stubborn spirit with a new spirit to enable me to desire him, to desire to follow his will.

As I read Joshua’s final words to Israel today, I can’t help but agree with him. We can’t serve God on our own. We don’t need to. He came so we could come to him. He came and opened his heart to be broken for our sins that we might be won to him.

The Levite’s Treasure

Before Israel entered the promised land, every Israeli tribe knew what they would get – lands, fertile lands. For farmers and herders, ​that promise was welcome.

The Levites, however,​ were promised something else. God says ​you won’t be given lands, like everyone else. You’ll have me instead. God was saying to his temple workers, the priests and their families, I am your reward, your treasure and inheritance, your life.

God’s offer and promise to his Levites remain today. In fact, God calls every one​ of his followers as priests. Whatever profession you have, if you are a disciple of Christ, you are a priest to him. You serve in his temple as his priest. You offer sacrifices of praise and good deeds today, inside the spiritual house and also in the world.

And you live by God. He is our treasure and our life. He is our inheritance.

Sadly, many turn to other treasures. They turn to career​, to money, to family, to making a name for themselves.

The apostle Paul expresses this amazing truth in Philippians 1:21. He said, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” His words aren’t new of course. He is just rehearsing what God said in Deuteronomy 18 to his Levites: I am your life.

We need to pay attention to the question about life, about why you live, who you live for, what you consider to be important in your life.

Emma and I ​urge you to be converted. Make Jesus your life.

Why should we do that? The answer is given right there in the chapter where Paul’s words were recorded. The answer is grace. We turn to God and say, Lord you are my life, you are the reason for everything I do and want to be. And it is all because of your mercy and grace.

In John 17 Jesus said something that is really beautiful. Part of his prayer to his Father rehearsed his mission. He said, for their sake (the disciples then and his disciples today) I sanctify myself. To sanctify oneself means to set yourself apart for something. Jesus here is saying, for the sake of those who follow me, those who believe and trust in me, those who consider me their lives and treasure, I devote myself to​ their good.

The cross shows the extent of that commitment. He paid the extremest price for a ruined life like me so I can live and be alive in him.

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.

Prophetic Actions

Have you heard of acted prophecy? Sometimes God would tell his prophets to live out or act out their message. One of the most well known examples, and a cultural shocker for that generationto is Hosea’s prophetic message to Israel. He sent God’s message to the “people’s face”.

Another prophetic drama gets revorded in Jeremiah 51:61-64:
“He said to Seraiah, ‘When you get to Babylon, see that you read all these words aloud. Then say, ‘O Lord, you have said you will destroy this place, so that neither man nor animal will live in it; it will be desolate forever.’ When you finish reading this scroll, tie a stone to it and throw it into the Euphrates. Then say, ‘So will Babylon sink to rise no more because of the disaster I will bring upon Her. And her people will fall.’ ”

God certainly knows how to communicate. Here he puts a small piece of his mind on display. The subject? The judgment of nations, particularly Babylon. God sets a limit to this Empire.

Also displayed here is the process of prophetic steps. We see that God’s judgments of nations and kingdoms are not random events, but decisions made in the throne room of heaven that are then proclaimed on earth by God’s servants who are listening to Him and praying. Jeremiah lived for God’s purposes before his nation’s purposes. Jeremiah not only wrote down the words God gave him, but he had them proclaimed in Babylon as a prophetic action. The scroll was then thrown into the Euphrates as a prophetic statement.

Are prophetic actions still called for by the Lord today? Does God still share his plans with His servants so that we can pray?

The answer has to be a yes to all these questions. The first question however mostly concerns us: in some way we are God’s prophetic message to the world. God’s message rings through his body. We are as the song says his mouth, arms and heart.

May God help us to communicate a clear message to those around us. That could be in the home where we live with family, the workplace, or even the web community.

Fathers as God’s Surrogates

I woke up at 3.30 this morning. These are my favorite times of the day. There is something about early mornings that makes them quite special. I read the Scripture, have a conversation with my Heavenly Father, and when I am at home, play classical music.

Today it was our son, whom we left in the Philippines to take a quick trip to Hong Kong sent me a one line greeting, early. That is enough for one dad to shed a tear.

I wrote our son back telling him how grateful I am to God for giving us a son like him. I told him he is becoming more like his dad’s Master.

And here I believe is where fatherhood must be defined. For most of us we love the adoration and respect of our children. They are good things, even biblical things. But these also come with danger. Often in our quest to be loved, honored, respected, hailed as heroes by our children, we forget that this is not our calling.

Fathers are surrogates. I’m sure you have heard of surrogate mothers. A surrogate is a person appointed to act for another. In the case of fathers, we are appointed a vocation that is akin to being a deputy for a king. So fathers are called to the vocation of being a kingly surrogate.

While we aren’t kings ourselves, the one true king has delegated to us some of his own authority, power, and responsibility. Specifically, we are given authority over children who are (or we hope to be) part a royal family, God’s own elect.

As a dad, I know how authority could be easily misused. Jesus warned about leading like lording pagans. He teaches that Christian leaders lead not in the exercise of power but, like him, in their sacrificial service to others (Mark 10:45).

This year and this day, let us, as dads, kneel before God to align our hearts, minds, and wills to our call as his surrogates.

How can we do this? On our own strength, we can’t and won’t. Our hope comes from looking at our king who came to lead by giving his life for those he came to serve.

God’s temple

My readings today is on the building of the temple by Solomon. His dad wanted to build it, but God said no. His son would build it instead. The temple was built with the best and most expensive materials. It was intended to “wow” those who would see it.

This was king David’s desire. He felt so bad that he lived in a palace that wowed people and the Ark was inside a tent. He wanted a reversal where the wow was directed at the right object.

Solomon did a fantastic job as the sitting king. He invested a lot also in the construction of the temple. In the end, God displayed his approval when he graced the inauguration with his presence. That must have been some kind of inauguration. The program got stopped. The priest and everyone else had to stop everything as the Real KIng comes in.

Solomon did well at first. The temple was a blessing initially, but then he changed direction. The temple ended up destroyed and burned.

Another Davidic son would come who would build the temple. This temple would be different from the previous temples. It’s going to be a spiritual temple consisting of “stones” all especially cut and redeemed. As for its cost, well there is nothing like it. No building on earth ever compare to the cost of building it.

Jesus alluded to it when he said, “Destroy this temple” and in three days I will build it. Those who heard him thought he was making one of those “apologetic” jokes he loves to crack. They told him their temple was built within 40 years, and now Jesus is saying, in three days.

They had no idea he was referring to the “real temple” – his body would be destroyed and in three days he would rebuild it. Today, God is building that temple, a spiritual house.

Emma and I and my family, we are grateful for his merciful call. Thank you Jesus for giving yourself to be destroyed, thank you for taking the hammer of judgment that brought you down, so that instead of a hammer, we would receive a “restoring touch” from you.

Saved Through Judgement

Yesterday, I woke up at around 3:30 in the morning to spend some time in prayer and the Word. The assigned passage for reading was Numbers 33, a chapter which summarizes Israel’s route from Egypt to the banks of the River Jordan.

Here is a part of the passage:

“This is the route the Israelites followed as they marched out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. At the Lord’s direction, Moses kept a written record of their progress. These are the stages of their march, identified by the different places where they stopped along the way. They set out from the city of Rameses in early spring—on the fifteenth day of the first month —on the morning after the first Passover celebration. The people of Israel left defiantly, in full view of all the Egyptians. Meanwhile, the Egyptians were burying all their firstborn sons, whom the Lord had killed the night before. The Lord had defeated the gods of Egypt that night with great acts of judgment!”
‭‭Numbers‬ ‭33:1-4‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Oh, so Moses was a writer, and God directed him to write. My mind started to wake up. Then, he wrote, how Israel marched in open view of Egypt. Earlier, their king refused to let them go. But the death of all the first-born sons in Egypt, the kingdom folded before God. Israel was free to go.

How was Egypt defeated? Verse 4 offers this: with great acts of judgment. Israel was saved through the act of judgment! Here we have another display of this incredible truth that salvation and judgment stand inseparable. There is no salvation without judgment.

Interestingly, in my preaching passage yesterday, the same truth showed up. The prophet Isaiah said that the lofty city could only be humbled and won through the fire of judgment ( Isaiah 26:10-11).

Here’s the beauty of this doctrine. Because God is holy, sin must be punished. Death and judgment must be applied to sinners. But because God is merciful, he seeks to save sinners. So the most important question is this: how can God be both. If he just saves sinners without the just penalty of sin, he then ceases to be holy. If he just killed sinners with their deserved judgment, what would happen to his love.

The answer comes in full display at the cross. Here God displays both in full view. And here we see the glorious doctrine of salvation through judgment. On the cross, God shows his justice. The fire of judgment fell on His one and only son who took our place. At the same, at the cross, we come in full view of God’s love. This is how much we are loved. Jesus willingly embraced the judgment of the cross, to show his mercy and love.

Father, thank you for giving up your Son, that sinners, guilty sinners like us who deserved nothing, might be saved.

Trusting in God

These days everyone needs to remember one of the most beautiful truths about God and hold on to it, like your life depends on it. I’m referring to his sovereignty. God is sovereign. This means he is in full control over everything in creation.

With all the tremors in Mindanao, the Taal eruption, and prices rising, one needs a solid source of hope. We all need a strong foundation, other than ourselves to lean on.

Psalm 9:7 states that God is in ultimate control of the universe. He reigns. How does he rule? He rules with righteousness and ministers justice to the people in uprightness. God is saying here that he rules perfectly, not necessarily what we might prefer but in a way that is perfect to his will. Believed and applied, we relax. In the midst of all the noises of imminent danger, we relax in his presence.

How can we trust God?

King David looked at his history. He looks back and sees a covenant keeping and enforcing God. He sees the Exodus and the wilderness experience. He sees the covenant God made. He sees the people God has called to himself. He sees the temple, the sacrifices offered for his sins and his family and the whole nation.

We have something even better than what David had. We have the greater David who came and was both righteous and merciful. We see that on the cross. There Jesus became our substitute: he took what should have been our curse, so he could give undeserved mercy.

We must bring the cross event to where we live today. We must refuse to doubt God no matter what we feel, hear, and even think. Don’t ever, ever doubt God’s goodness. He is all powerful, but he is good, and he is on our side.

Thoughts On Genesis

I’ve started my 2020 readings a few days earlier. Initially I thought of waiting till Jan 1 2020, but decided to go ahead. So here are a few thoughts on Genesis.

Genesis 1-11, what is often described sa Primeval History, answers the why questions: Why is there a universe? Why are there human beings? One may expand the question to the why of cities, marriages, families, and even nations. These chapters also explains the why of sin and ruin? Why are there different cultures and languages? Why are we here?

Genesis opens to us a Supreme being, who is called Elohim, or Yahweh. He creates to make his glory known. He creates to gather a people and a universe that relate to him.

For its first readers, Israel in the wilderness, on their way to the promised lang, these chapters defined them. They understood they were chosen by the One who created and redeemed them from Egypt’s slavery. They were a nation on mission.

What Israel was, the church also is today. Genesis provides a fitting introduction to God, now revealed in Jesus. He created and is recreating us for his glorious purpose.

To be alive and moving into another year means we continue in the service and pleasure of the Lord Jesus.

It’s exciting to know the why of life. Now we need to share this truth. Information should move us towards transformation.