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.

Paying Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trusting God in a broken world

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being both sad and joyful

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

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

It’s important to keep these realities in mind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Unrequited Love

Unrequited love produces holy anger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make Some Noise

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

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

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

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

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

Why does God do this? Two reasons:

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

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

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

Joyful even in sorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joyful Noise

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strong Everyday

Followers of Christ can be strong everyday.

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

How can we have this strength?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kapit sa Patalim (Desperate Moves)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finishing Well

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confronting Evil

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

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

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

Psalm 55 actually shows why he is courageous.

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

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

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

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

Riding Victoriously in Majesty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen only to God’s Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only what God said qualifies as the Word of God.

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

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

Careful To Obey the Lord

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

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

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

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

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

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

More than Food

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

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

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

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

We encourage you to do the same.

Passover

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

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

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

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

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

Why is there so much emphasis on the blood? 

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

Join me and Emma give thanks to God!

God’s Strange Ways

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

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

It’s strange, isn’t it?

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

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

My view has since been modified.

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

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

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

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

Faithful to the end

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

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

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

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

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

How can we be faithful and obedient to the end? 

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

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

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

Clear Conscience

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

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

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

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

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

His righteous life flowed from his worship.

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

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

God is great and good!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trusting God 

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

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

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

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

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

Trusting God Even When We Suffer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Dream

Anyone who longs to know God’s plan must take time to study the second part of Isaiah (Isaiah 40-66). The grim and dooming note of the first 39 chapters of this amazing book are replaced with beautiful pictures of salvation leading to the new heavens and the new earth.

Isaiah 60 must be one of the best chapters in the whole Bible. If someone asks me this morning my favorite chapter in Scripture I would put this chapter up. No chapter speaks so gloriously about salvation, about the final and ultimate redemption of God’s people. Here he brings three beautiful themes of salvation together.

First, he points to the beauty of the Lord and the redeemed ones. Zion is a beautifully lighted city. Such beauty comes from the Lord’s glory shining forth among his people (60:1-2). Everyone in the city has escaped darkness. They have seen the Lord’s glory (Isaiah 53) and are becoming more radiant everyday (60:5). God claims that such transformation is his work. He says that he himself “has made his children beautiful” (v 9). As his people look to him, as they gaze on his beauty, they themselves shine with his glorious beauty.

Justice and righteousness are twin-themes that describe salvation. To be saved means to be rid of injustice and danger from evil. God says those who look mighty now, the earth’s bullies will be brought down. This encourages God’s people to be engaged in working for justice and righteousness everywhere they are. This should also strengthen them to endure, suffer and remain faithful for the sake of the gospel.

Finally, there is light. As God spoke light at the first creation, so God becomes the everlasting light that forever shines among his people (v 19). In the renewed creation, there would no more need for the sun or the moon for God’s presence among his people will provide all the light they need. Darkness and all evil will be gone forever.

Now one might be tempted to think that this promise is for the future. The good news is we can start drinking now. We can drink of his mercy and grace everyday. We can look up to him and be filled by him, be filled with joy in him.

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.

CHRISTIAN DOCTRINES What We Believe and Why. Word of God Four characteristics Authority Clarity (understandability) Necessity (why we need it) Sufficiency. – ppt download

Authority of Scripture Every word is God’s word  Scripture not given by dictation  Every word written God intended (applies to original manuscripts only)

Source: CHRISTIAN DOCTRINES What We Believe and Why. Word of God Four characteristics Authority Clarity (understandability) Necessity (why we need it) Sufficiency. – ppt download

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us… Without doubt, the mightiest thought the mind can entertain is. – ppt download

God’s Being: Trinity God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Spirit… and each person is fully God… and there is One God Diversity Equality Unity

Source: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us… Without doubt, the mightiest thought the mind can entertain is. – ppt download