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Wednesday, March 05, 2014

In His Presence We Are Equal

This has been burning in my heart recently.

I have been going through a tough season recently ("again, JJ?" Yes, again). And the past few times these happened I have been looking at others with envy. Some people just don't have the responsibilities and challenges I have. Others cope with them so much better, either because of natural ability, wiser decisions in the past or help from supportive friends and family.

Whichever case it may be, it pains me to look at their lives and see how they do better than me. Facebook is NOT your friend at this point! I find it difficult to rejoice with those who rejoice these days, as the Bible admonishes me to.

And yet on the other side, I am sure there are people who envy me. I have decent music skills and I am quite effective in using them in the service of God. I have two healthy sons, and despite the different challenges they give me in parenting them, they are good kids. They are turning out better than I have reason to expect, and for that I really have to thank God for his grace and mercy.

This is before I start comparing myself from people who are less well-off than I am.

Over the years I had people sign-up for my mailing list and every email I sent on worship ministry was an excuse for them to ask me to send them money. :) The fact is that there are believers from the poorer countries that look at Christians from other countries as money-channels to be tapped and exploited. They will always say that they are serious about serving God, have no support from their own churches, and want me to go over and hold worship concerts for them. Then they expect me to pay my own way and give them money too, while they use the concert as a chance to raise funds from their fellow church-mates and countrymen. They get to keep all the money they raise of course...

*shrug*

It's tempting to be judgmental, but I have experienced extended seasons of lack and know firsthand how much it crushes the soul and affects the thinking. After some time you will start getting bitter and think you are entitled to help from others. Once you start thinking like that it is VERY difficult to breakout of that mindset and start trusting God to bring us to maturity and to make things work. So I sympathize with them. Not enough to do what they want, but enough to at least not name and shame them publicly.

In His Presence We Are Equal

One thing I realized: when we worship God and experience his presence through the Holy Spirit, we are equal. I don't get any less of God's presence than the people I envy. And I don't get any more than the people who envy me. I might be better able to perceive it and recognize it, because my heart may be less cluttered with worries and the things of this world (notice I said "less"), but God is with us the same.

Let me make it even clearer - when we worship God we all have the same access to his presence manifested in our lives. The guy with a divinely-blessed family and earning more in one month than I do in one year gets as much of God as I do. The guy with sick kids and struggling to pay his bills or even feed his kids gets as much of God as I do. The woman with a great career and less family responsibilities gets as much of God as the bereaved widow struggling to stay strong for her kids.

So what?

When God is with us, he can bring help to us in our troubles.
Psalm 46:1-3 (NIV) - God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way

 and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

But we cannot expect things to happen automatically without any action on our part. We have to prepare the way for God to act, to show that we are humbly trusting in him and depending on him.
Psalm 50:23 (NIV 84) - He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.

Every time we enter the presence of God through worship, there is that divine potential. It may be seen as the power of God present to heal the sick (Luke 5:17) or God delivering us from our adversaries (2 Chronicles 20:22-23). Every time I worship God I don't know what he will do for me that session. Sometimes I get wisdom and insights, sometimes I receive comfort and strength. I won't know what to expect. I only know that God is worthy of my praise regardless of what happens, but as I praise him I can expect good to happen.

And I trust him enough to let him decide on how and when he wishes to bless me. As long as his presence goes with me, I know everything will work out.

Most Importantly....

... His presence is with YOU.

The same God that is with me is with you, if you are a believer of Christ and a child of God (John 1:12). And you get the same presence of God that I get. Can I just encourage you to make full use of this privilege? Be found in his presence worshiping him and praising him, he will take care of you! Be blessed!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Crisis and Loss – What is your reflex action?

I hate to sound negative, but here is a harsh truth: sooner or later we will face loss, crisis or grief.

Whether losing a loved one through death, being forsaken by the person who promised to marry you or even the loss of a job position, it is only a matter of time before crisis hit us. The exact problem may differ, but the emotional upheaval, the shock, fear, anger and aching sense of loss that hits us will be the same.

When that happens, we will not be at our emotional and mental best. We will most likely find our emotions running away with us, if not at the moment then some time later.
1 Samuel 30:1-2 (NKJV) - Now it happened, when David and his men came to Ziklag, on the third day, that the Amalekites had invaded the South and Ziklag, attacked Ziklag and burned it with fire, and had taken captive the women and those who were there, from small to great; they did not kill anyone, but carried them away and went their way.
This was the crisis David faced. We must remember that David had no guarantee his wives and children were safe. He didn’t find their corpses at the ruins at Ziklag, but that meant nothing in an era when human life was cheap. He could only hope his family was safe. His men had no such hope, but gave in to despair immediately.
1 Samuel 30:3-6 (NKJV)- So David and his men came to the city, and there it was, burned with fire; and their wives, their sons, and their daughters had been taken captive. Then David and the people who were with him lifted up their voices and wept, until they had no more power to weep… Now David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and his daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.
At first, David reacted as any one of us would, he wept until he had no more strength to weep. But after that he strengthened himself in the Lord his God. Notice that this was NOT an automatic thing. David had to make the decision to strengthen himself in the Lord. Other translations say “David encouraged himself in the Lord”. He did not wait for God to come and zap him out of his grief. At that exact moment David HAD to take the initiative, to make the first move in approaching God.

This is NOT what I see from other people going through crisis or grief. At the most I see them grieving, but not going on from there to encourage themselves in the Lord or seeking him. Does God owe it to us to blast all the negative emotions out of us without any serious action on our part? I don’t think so!

When the crisis or loss hits, what we do will be the result of all the preparation we have put in during the peaceful seasons, when we seek God in prayer and the Scriptures. Whether we will seek God properly when the storms of life hit depends a lot on if we seek him before the storms. Whether our minds and emotions will react well to the trials depend a lot on how much we let the Scriptures renew our minds before the trials come.
Matthew 7:24-25 (NKJV) - "Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.”
Let’s look at some people who reacted well to the storms.
Job 1:20-21 (NKJV) - Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord."
Job had just received news that he had lost ALL his wealth and ALL his children. And yet his first reaction was worship. Some Word-of-Faith people (like me) are uncomfortable when Job said “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away”, but we all can agree with what he said next: “Blessed be the name of the Lord”!

I am not saying that just because I am a worship leader. I have seen in many lives that if people keep seeking the LORD even during the storms, they come out from the storms sooner, faster and better. Worship is necessary for restoration and wholeness to take place. Job’s reflex action put him smack on the path of restoration and wholeness again. Things would get worse before they get better, but at least he was moving in the right direction!
2 Samuel 12:15-16, 19-20 (NIV 84) - After Nathan had gone home, the LORD struck the child that Uriah's wife had borne to David, and he became ill. David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground… David noticed that his servants were whispering among themselves and he realized the child was dead. "Is the child dead?" he asked. "Yes," they replied, "he is dead." Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate.
This was just after David was confronted about his adultery with Bathsheba. God already decreed that the baby born to them would die, but David entreated the LORD for mercy. When his supplications were fruitless and the child died, David also reacted with worship. And God showed his mercy by setting his heart upon the next child from David and Bathsheba. We know that child as Solomon, but God called him Jedidiah, “beloved of the LORD”.

Seeking the LORD, even after a grief or loss we don’t understand, is always the best thing to do!

Negative Example
Matthew 26:36-38, 40-41 (NKJV) - Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.” … Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
This account in Scripture haunted me ever since I first read it as a new Christian. We are caught off guard by crisis and loss almost all the time. But this time Peter and the two brothers were warned by Jesus in advance AND told to pray. And they could not.

I suspect that during all that time Jesus was physically present, they were counting on Jesus to seek God for them. They were depending on him to hear God, relay God’s instructions to them and fix the mess whenever they fumbled. Jesus had told them of their relationship with God, the Father in heaven, but they were lazy in their prayer lives. And when push came to shove and Jesus asked them to pray just that one hour, they could not. They did not have the spiritual stamina for it.

How about us? Do we count on having a prayerful husband/wife or a pastor or small group leader, and have them do all the praying for us? I don’t want to sound alarmist or negative, but if even Peter and the two brothers, who walked physically with Jesus during his earthly ministry, could not get away with that, how can we make it without a proper prayer life of our own?

Just One Hour?

Jesus’ words, “Could you not watch with Me one hour?” also suggests to me that when a crisis or trial comes, one hour seeking God is what we need. We don’t need to spend the whole night in prayerful vigil (though that would be even better). Just one hour spent seeking God, crying out to him (not just sobbing away by ourselves), encouraging ourselves in the LORD (commanding our souls to remember God’s goodness) and giving thanks to him for all his goodness in our lives.
2 Chronicles 20:21-22 (NIV) - After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the LORD and to praise him for the splendour of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: ‘Give thanks to the LORD, for his love endures forever.’ As they began to sing and praise, the LORD set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.
But it takes training and discipline. Don’t expect that you can have a wimpy prayer life and suddenly be able to pray for one hour the next time a crisis hits. We need extended stretches of time spent seeking the LORD (one hour?), not just a whispered prayer here and there during TV commercials or while waiting for the next train to arrive. We have to spend enough time in the Scriptures to renew our minds and emotions, to establish our hearts and minds in the ways of God. This won’t happen just by reading Christian books, watching sermon videos on Youtube, scanning through Christian posts on Facebook or getting some preacher who moves in signs and wonders to pray for you. If the last one would work, wouldn’t Jesus have already done that for Peter and the two brothers?

What Next?

If you know that your prayer life has been weak and you want to strengthen it, or if you are already facing trials and you KNOW that how you are handling it badly, get help. Find people you can be accountable to, and report your prayer life to them, even if you didn’t pray.

You can also join me at my Facebook Bible reading group, https://www.facebook.com/groups/approved.workmen/ , follow along with the readings from Psalms and the prayers I pray for my pastors. When you read the Psalms aloud, as I do, it is like seeds of prayer you are planting into your own heart. And over time they will help you bear a harvest of a strong and vibrant prayer life. Use the prayers I pray for my pastors to pray for yourself and your pastors. Over time you will not only grow in your prayer life, you will find your spiritual maturity in other areas growing too.

May the LORD find us faithful and fruitful in prayer this year!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Fear the LORD

I’ve been writing on the book of Malachi. Here's something that came up. Enjoy!


2 Kings 17:24-26 (NKJV) - Then the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel; and they took possession of Samaria and dwelt in its cities. And it was so, at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they did not fear the Lord; therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them. So they spoke to the king of Assyria, saying, "The nations whom you have removed and placed in the cities of Samaria do not know the rituals of the God of the land; therefore He has sent lions among them, and indeed, they are killing them because they do not know the rituals of the God of the land." 


A little background: the people of Israel (not Judah) finally ran out of time. God kept calling them to repent but they refused. So he gave the land to the king of Assyria, and the Israelites were exiled and carried away to other countries.

The king of Assyria also resettled other people groups in the land of Israel. That led to problems, because those peoples did not fear the LORD and he sent lions amongst them to kill them.

I must admit this did not sit well with me. Doesn’t God know that those people had absolutely no clue of what his law and judgments require of them? Wasn’t he too harsh with them? But this showed me two things:

  • 1) The God of all the earth is very territorial - when he set his heart upon the land, he pays special attention to it, and expects a lot more from those who dwell there; and

  • 2) God could have been that harsh with the Israelites immediately when they departed from him to serve other gods. But he didn’t. He patiently and painstakingly wooed them over many generations. These new settlers were not in covenant with him at all, and so he answered them with judgment immediately.

Side note: I don’t like what God did here. It still doesn’t seem right to me. But it is not my job to make God and his ways acceptable to other people. He is the Judge of all the earth, it is OUR job to make ourselves acceptable to him!

2 Kings 17:27-28 (NKJV) - Then the king of Assyria commanded, saying, "Send there one of the priests whom you brought from there; let him go and dwell there, and let him teach them the rituals of the God of the land." Then one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and dwelt in Bethel, and taught them how they should fear the Lord.

What exactly did this priest teach? Did he teach the entire Pentateuch? The sacrificial system? The moral law? I believe this unnamed priest taught the entire Torah to the people there. But the people were not receptive.

2 Kings 17:29-33 (NKJV) - However every nation continued to make gods of its own, and put them in the shrines on the high places which the Samaritans had made, every nation in the cities where they dwelt. The men of Babylon made Succoth Benoth, the men of Cuth made Nergal, the men of Hamath made Ashima, and the Avites made Nibhaz and Tartak; and the Sepharvites burned their children in fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. So they feared the Lord, and from every class they appointed for themselves priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the shrines of the high places. They feared the Lord, yet served their own gods--according to the rituals of the nations from among whom they were carried away.


This was very messy. The peoples took on SOME aspects of worshiping the Lord God of Israel, but yet kept their previous ways. They continued to worship their own gods, even sacrificing their children to them.

We need to watch out for this in this day and age. Many other religions are now freely available in the world. Obscure Asian religions have made their way to Europe and America, Africa and Indonesia have always had their own native animistic religions. And that is before we include various worldly philosophies that have as much power over people’s hearts and minds as a religion would have.

As the gospel of Christ takes new ground and regains lost territory, we will have people in our churches who used to worship other gods before they turned to Jesus. It is up to us to ensure that they fear the LORD and reject their old ways and practices!

As for us…

I see a parallel to my life in this passage.

The promised land, where the Israelites dwelt, were for the Jews. God also promised them a Messiah who would deliver them. As the pagan settlers found themselves in a land that was not originally intended for them, likewise I found myself resettled by God into a salvation that was originally intended for the Jews first.

Romans 1:16 (ESV) - For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

In order to fully understand this salvation, I have to not only know what Jesus did, I also need to know the old covenant that he came to fulfil. More importantly, I have to choose to let go of my former way of life and my old way of thinking in order to embrace this salvation fully.

Ephesians 4:22-24 (NIV 84) – You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires, to be made new in the attitude of your mind; and to put on your new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

If I choose to keep my old way, the Word of God says that I am NOT fearing the LORD.

2 Kings 17:34 (NKJV) - To this day they continue practicing the former rituals; they do not fear the Lord, nor do they follow their statutes or their ordinances, or the law and commandment which the Lord had commanded the children of Jacob, whom He named Israel.

What I find interesting is that God chose to tolerate all this. He could have continued to send the lions until all the people there followed his laws completely, or were totally driven out of the land. But he did not. He chose to show the people mercy, just as he had shown to the Israelites earlier.

Like those people, we have a lion to watch out for.

1 Peter 5:8 (NIV 84) – Be self-controlled and alert. You enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.


I personally believe that because of our highly exalted status in Christ and the great mercy of God, we don’t need to be very devoted to God in order for the devil to be rendered powerless in our lives. In fact, if you read the accounts of great men of God falling, you will discover that they had to throw open the front doors of their lives (through greed, lust or ill-temper) before the devil could destroy their lives and ministries. And even when they did that, it took the devil years to finally bring about their downfall.

Which leads to the question: are you serving God because you are afraid of the devil ruining your life, or are you serving God because you really love him?

In the end, the new settlers there missed out. Check this out.

2 Kings 17:35-39 (NKJV) - … with whom the Lord had made a covenant and charged them, saying: "You shall not fear other gods, nor bow down to them nor serve them nor sacrifice to them; but the Lord, who brought you up from the land of Egypt with great power and an outstretched arm, Him you shall fear, Him you shall worship, and to Him you shall offer sacrifice. And the statutes, the ordinances, the law, and the commandment which He wrote for you, you shall be careful to observe forever; you shall not fear other gods. And the covenant that I have made with you, you shall not forget, nor shall you fear other gods. But the Lord your God you shall fear; and He will deliver you from the hand of all your enemies."

This is what God had spoken to the Israelites. This was his covenant with them.

2 Kings 17:40-41 (NKJV) - However they did not obey, but they followed their former rituals. So these nations feared the Lord, yet served their carved images; also their children and their children's children have continued doing as their fathers did, even to this day.

Now we see that the same covenant, the same opportunity was extended to the settlers. God wanted them to enter into that same covenant with him, that he might extend to them the same benefits and relationship he extended the children of Israel. But they rejected that opportunity, and settled for a half-baked truce with God, just enough for them to avoid the lions and yet keep serving their old gods.

I can understand that.

Those settlers were sent to the land pretty much by fluke. It was the luck of the draw, a whim of the king, that led to them being sent there instead of other territories conquered by the Assyrians. They could have just resented the king for sending them to a place where the God was fussier and pickier than the other gods they knew before. The settlers could have also resented God too. Why impose the requirements of his covenant upon them when they were not the ones God rescued out of Egypt?

But I have no excuse

It was not just a fluke or the luck of the draw that brought me into my salvation in Christ. God paid for my salvation with the blood of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Acts 20:28 (NIV 84) – Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

And now God calls me to forsake my old ways and walk closely with him. He calls me to fear the LORD, not half-heartedly as those settlers did but whole-heartedly. He punished the Egyptians of old to rescue the Israelites, but he punished Jesus for my sins to rescue me.
 

And so I have no excuse, just a high call of God that, by the grace of God, I will fulfil. Will you join me? I pray you do! 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Missed Church Yesterday

(personal blog post)

I missed church yesterday, in both senses of the word.

Jess was unwell ever since Friday. He had vomiting and fever. It seemed to go away by Saturday, but by evening time it resumed. So on Sunday I brought him to the doctor.

Along the way he kept puking. He just couldn't keep any food down, whether fruits, regular food or even clear soup. He also complained of giddiness, so every once in a while we would have to stop and rest before continuing to the doctor.

How about faith and healing and all that?

I gotta admit, I did pray, and got mixed results. Whenever the fever got worse I put my hand on his head and spoke out Psalm 91 twice. And the fever would clearly, obviously recede. But that didn't seem to stop the vomiting, and besides, I couldn't keep that up the whole night. So in the end I brought him to the doctor.

Not an epic testimony of faith and healing, right? It's OK. God is still secure on the throne, my worry does not diminish his power one bit and he doesn't need me to lie to protect his reputation! :)

So I missed church. It just happened that I was not scheduled to serve that week anyway, so the rest of the people didn't have to scramble to find a replacement. But I was looking forward to being at church, being a normal congregational member, just one of the crowd.

Ah well, life happens!

A friend of mine asked me (via Facebook chat) "A test from God?" I was actually thinking a lot about that recently. Ever since I came back from Japan life has been getting tougher. And at the same time I have been feeling this burden ("oracle"?) to write down my thoughts and musings on Malachi. I am not done with chapter 2 and the whole thing is already about 8 pages. Maybe it will get to 16-20 pages when I am done?

So all these struggles ever since I came back from Japan, a mountain-top experience for me, could be because of spiritual opposition to my writing. The thought of that puzzles me, because what I have to write doesn't seem as important as my Invisible Worship Musician.

And besides, what authority do I have to write on Malachi anyway? I am not some Old Testament professor, just a worship leader/musician who has things to say about the book. *shrug*. When it is done I will probably ask around for people who would like to read it and give feedback. Wanna volunteer? :)

OK, gotta get back to my sons. Elder one on medical leave, younger one on school holiday, and I have to coach the younger one on his school work. Be blessed!

Monday, September 23, 2013

When God Grants Your Desires

One thing about me, I am a very austere kind of person. I value
saving money, living simply and things like that. That is most
likely because I have to provide for my two sons (life in Singapore
is expensive!!!) and so I pay more attention to securing the
necessities.

That very much carries over to my goals and ambitions in life. I am
a father, and fathering takes a serious time commitment. So I tend
not to pay much attention to other matters than work, my sons and
ministry at church.

Do I have personal goals, interests and hopes? Of course I do! But
since there is a limit to my time, budget and energy, these tend to
get put on the back shelf. “I’ll get to them later” I always tell
myself. But the later never comes. Know what I am talking about?

Luke 5:1-3 (ESV) - On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in
on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of
Gennesaret,  and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen
had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one
of the boats, which was Simon's, he asked him to put out a little
from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat.


I can identify with Peter in this incident. He was caught up with
day-to-day survival, making ends meet, business as usual. Even
though I already know Jesus and want to live my life for him, the
fact is, like Peter at that moment, I am only giving God leftovers.
Granted, more and better than Peter’s (since the Holy Spirit has
been working in me for decades), but leftovers nonetheless.

Luke 5:4-7 (ESV) - And when he had finished speaking, he said to
Simon, "Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch."
And Simon answered, "Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!
But at your word I will let down the nets." And when they had done
this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were
breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come
and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that
they began to sink.


Peter and his partners were experienced fishermen. If they could
not consistently catch enough fish, they would have gone out of
business a long time ago. Did he ever wish to have such a huge
catch of fish before? Of course! But he would have dismissed it as
idle fantasy. Come on, let’s be realistic. He’s human, with human
limits, and there are all the limits of nature, like how many fish
are there in the lake itself and whether they would do the
equivalent of committing fish-suicide all at the same time.

Very unrealistic. Quite impossible. But it happened!

Likewise for me. I had a hope and achievement I wanted but didn’t
dare believe I would get. It was pretty much my teenage dream
(albeit better than Katy Perry’s), and just as useful, which is not
at all! To top it all off, when the money actually started to come
in to finance this, I spent so much time and effort into financing
this achievement and settling the logistics (who is gonna take care
of the boys when I am not around?) that I pretty much forgot to
prepare myself. It’s like taking a long trip to take an exam but
forgetting to actually study for the exam. Come on, let’s be
realistic. How am I going to pull off a stunt like that?

Very unrealistic. Quite impossible. But it happened!

Luke 5:8-11 (ESV) - But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at
Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O
Lord." For he and all who were with him were astonished at the
catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John,
sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to
Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men."
And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything
and followed him.


So when God gives me my desires, and it is obviously God because I
was woefully unprepared and unready, what do I do now? Ever since I
succeeded I have been on my knees daily thanking God for it. What
touches me deeply is the fact that what God did for me is purely
for me. I dare to expect good from God when it comes to provision
for my family, or when it comes to success in ministry, because it
isn’t selfish, other people benefit, not just me.

But for this personal goal, no one else benefits. Just me. And God
granted me success anyway. So what comes next? For Peter, Jesus
called him to the full-time service very quickly after that. But
how about me? What is a fitting response to God’s tender mercies
and kindness in my life?

Psalm 116:12-14 (ESV) - What shall I render to the LORD for all his
benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the
name of the LORD, I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of
all his people.

Blindingly Obvious Lessons


First, such blessings do NOT fall into our lap without any effort
on our part. For Peter, he had to obey the immediate instruction –
launch out into the deep and let down the nets. In my case I had to
believe that God was leading me to take the necessary steps, and I
had to put myself in the place where I can receive a supernatural
blessing.

Second, our God is often more generous than we give him credit for.
He richly gives us things for our enjoyment (1 Timothy 6:17). Of
course don’t be irresponsible with the resources and provision of
God, since as stewards we have to give an account to God of our
stewardship. But at the same time recognize that sometimes God just
wants to leave us totally awestruck at the depths of his goodness
to us.

God just did that for me. I pray that he does it for you too. Be
blessed!



Monday, September 09, 2013

Strong and Courageous?

Joshua 1:9 (ESV) - Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.

I now know for sure I am NOT courageous.

Over the past 8 years or so I have faced all kinds of trials. Some have been distressing, like the time loan sharks threatened my family in order to get neighbours to pay up the money they owe. And though the trials have bothered me (I am not Superman, for crying out loud!) none have been able to make me feel THAT scared.

Until now.

Ironic, isn’t it? Actual physical danger to my sons and I didn’t disturb my sleep, but the thought of traveling to Japan for my own personal upgrading gave me sleepless nights. And on the actual day of departure, the fear was so acute that it even upset my stomach.

Embarrassing!

Why does this trip trouble me so much? It’s like an onion, I’m sure I can find many layers of reasons should I be honest enough to look. But at a basic level, I have the full responsibility of making all the arrangements (flight and hotel), travelling to a country where I know very few people, and where I do not speak the native language. My usual support group isn’t there and I am totally unfamiliar to the place. Good enough reasons to feel uptight?

2 Timothy 1:6-7 (ESV) - For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

 
Paul tells us that God has not given us a spirit of fear, which tells me God does not want me to get uptight or anxious over the situations or matters that arise. But on our part we have to fan into flame, to awaken, to stir up, the spirit of power, love and self-control that God has already given us.

 
In other words, don’t sit back and expect it to work out without any deliberate effort on your part!

 
What are some of the ways we can stir up that spirit within us?
 

1)      Speak Directly

 
Open up your mouth and speak to your spirit. You can say, “Spirit of power, love and self-control, arise within me!” And do that a few more times, until it feels good!
 

There will be people who will criticise that as being merely mindless chanting, positive affirmations and all that. But the fact is, we already have clear Scriptural precedent of speaking to ourselves:
“Bless the LORD, O my soul” (Psalm 103:1, 103:22, 104:1)

And calling upon the LORD to arise:

2 Chronicles 6:41 (ESV) - "And now arise, O LORD God, and go to your resting place, you and the ark of your might.  

And

Numbers 10:35 (ESV) - "Arise, O LORD, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you."


2)      Speak the Scriptures
 

John 6:63 (ESV) - It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.


If the words of Jesus are spirit and life, won’t they resonate with the spirit of power, love and self-control within us? 
John 16:33 (ESV) – “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."

To be totally frank, I don’t see any reason Jesus’ words in John 16, especially that last verse, would help me overcome fear. Jesus didn’t promise anything concrete and tangible here, so I don’t have a logical reason to find his words comforting. They are too vague for me.

 
But when I made the effort to speak the whole of John 16 to myself, reading it aloud 3-4 times in a row, I did receive courage and comfort in the midst of my trials and fears. And it was be a comfort that does not make logical sense to the un-spiritual. I don’t care. I’ll take anything God wants to give me!

 
3)      Pray it out
Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV) - do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

God has given this promise, that if we will commit our problems to him, via prayer, supplication AND thanksgiving, we will have a peace that surpasses all understanding. In other words, a peace that makes no logical sense. To our hearts and minds this peace is like a strong and gentle father consoling a frightened child. “Rest assured, child, Daddy is here and Daddy will take care of everything!”

 
Just take this Scripture at face value, and pray about everything!

 
Bonus Tip – ignore pride

 
In my most recent struggles with fear, it wasn’t the fear that caused me so much emotional pain. It was my pride. I was supposed to be the one who had it all figured out. I was the one who had fought with and overcome fear so many times. I was the one who had successfully taught others how to deal with fear. How could I be so scared now? My pride did not want to accept that I had to deal with fear again.
 

The reason why the Bible has so much to say about dealing with fear is because it is a universal problem. You can be a church leader, extremely wealthy businessman, battle-hardened soldier or internationally acclaimed musician. Whatever your earthly reasons for confidence, no matter how many times you have overcome fear before, you will still have to face fear again, and deal with it using the same spiritual tools as the rest of us.

 
Since we all have to deal with fear some time or other, do share this with other  believers if what I wrote is helpful to you. In the meantime, be blessed!

 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Prayer Life Lessons

At the very beginning of the book of Daniel, we see that Daniel started small. He set himself apart from the rest of the unbelieving culture around him by his food choices. By the time we got to the second chapter, we know that Daniel had faced his first major test in Babylon, and passed. Did he have a powerful, dynamic prayer life before the test? The Scriptures do not tell us, but we know for sure that he had one by end of the first test!

For me, every trial and test that I passed with the help of God only served to cement the importance of a living relationship with God into my mind. I can get busy, distracted or even rebellious, but sooner or later I will return to seriously worshipping God, praying to him and seeking him in his Word. This was probably the case with Daniel. After he cleared the first major test he probably realized that he needed to walk close with the LORD in order to survive and thrive in Babylon.

Daniel 6:3 (ESV) - Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.

By this time Daniel was no longer merely the royal dream interpreter or the head of the astrology and sorcery department of the Babylonian civil service (the thought of that always tickles me, though I am sure Daniel and the magicians of Babylon did not find it funny). He was actively involved with the day-to-day running of the Persian Empire. And he performed his duties faithfully AND flawlessly (Daniel 6:4).

So his foes sought to make praying illegal, just for the sake of catching Daniel out. Sometimes, I wonder how many other schemes and plots they tried before they figured out that Daniel was only vulnerable through his prayer life. Did they try to tempt him with illicit gain? Did they try to catch him showing partiality to special interest groups? Did they call for audits on his accounts to uncover misuse of government funds? Whatever else they did, nothing worked.

Since I have a lot less responsibilities than Daniel did, that was something for me to really think about!

So the decree was passed. Daniel had just received the news that he could be jailed for his prayer life. What did he do?

Daniel 6:10 – (ESV) … he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.

That verse, with core Hebrew words put in, looks like this:

… He kneeled (berak, Strongs’s H#1289 to kneel or to bless) upon his knees three times a day, and prayed (tselâ', Strong’s H#6739, to bow down), and gave thanks (yedâ', Strong’s #3029, to throw up the hands) before his God…

So even at Daniel’s advanced age, prayer was a physical activity. He kneeled, he bowed down and he raised his hands to the LORD. He kept to a private place, yes, but if you ever watched him there you will know for sure he was praying.

Daniel 6:11 – Then these men assembled, and found Daniel praying (be‛â'  be‛âh, Strong’s H#1156, to swell, to gush over, to desire) and making supplication (chănan, Strong’s H#2604, to move to favour via petition, to implore a benefactor to bend over to show favour) before his God.

If the earlier verse didn’t convince you of the intensity of Daniel’s prayer life, this one certainly would. He was literally gushing over to God. He was also imploring, beseeching, earnestly begging that God be gracious (show favour) to him. No timid requests from Daniel, he prayed as if his life depended on it.

And later on we would see that it did!

Another point – When speaking to Daniel, King Darius referred to the LORD as “Your God, whom you serve continually…” The word “serve” in both vs 16 and vs 20 is pelach, which can also be translated as “worship”. Bear in mind, Daniel was not a priest serving at the Temple of Solomon, he was a full-time civil servant involved with the running of a massive empire. He spent the bulk of his time on secular matters. But consistent, intense prayer three times a day caused King Darius to see Daniel’s prayer life as a life of continual worship and service to God.

Would he say the same of OUR prayer lives?

Conclusion:

There is so much for us to learn from Daniel’s prayer life. We can learn from it

1)      Consistency, even in the midst of a busy and productive secular job;

2)      Frequency, three times a day;

3)      Expressiveness; you can see from even his physical posture he was praying;

4)      Variety, he would engage in worship, thanksgiving and supplication; and

5)      Intensity, imploring, beseeching and pleading for God to be gracious.

More importantly, for those of us holding full-time jobs in the secular world, we can see here what it takes to live a life of continually serving and worshipping God. Praying like Daniel will be a challenge for some of us but it can be done. And I believe even trying for it will cause us to walk closer to God.

So what are you waiting for? Let’s get praying!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Small Start, Big Test

I didn’t plan to earlier this year, but since I wasn’t too familiar with the Minor Prophets (the prophets other than the big three, Isaiah, Jeremiah & Ezekiel), I thought I’d read through the Minor Prophets this year also. Because of that I have been pondering the life of Daniel a lot recently.

Daniel 1:3, 6 - Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility… Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah.

This is the very first mention we have of Daniel. We know he was of the tribe of Judah, and was of noble or even royal blood. Nebuchadnezzer did something radical in his day; instead of totally wiping out the remnants of the leadership of conquered nations, he incorporated them into the running of his empire. By doing so he secured their loyalty and reduced the hassle of having to deal with uprisings and rebellions. He also got a civil service that already knew the customs of the conquered people, and could begin administrating them with minimal disruption.

Sounds smart to me!
We don’t know anything about Daniel’s life before the downfall of Jerusalem. Was he a devout believer who mourned the wickedness of his people, prayed for the deliverance of Jerusalem from her enemies and who was heartbroken when God judged them still? Or was he a hedonistic, pampered young man, used to the life of luxury, and shocked to the very core of his being by the hardships of war and the Babylonian invasion? The Scripture doesn’t tell us, but of one thing we can be certain: he saw horrors that most of us cannot even imagine. And I suspect that was what drove him to seek the LORD God of Israel, even in a foreign land.

Now that was a VERY difficult environment. He was smack in the centre of foreign nation, with the state religion firmly entrenched in power. I can imagine the sneers and jeers from the native Babylonians. “Those Jewish boys are so quaint, holding on to their powerless gods even here. Oh, you mean, they only have one? Obviously it didn’t work very well, maybe they should have taken a few more as back-up!”

In the midst of all that, Daniel and his friends chose to remain faithful to the LORD. And they expressed their faith not through maintaining the morning and evening sacrifice, the burning of incense or even through the songs of Zion.

Daniel 1:8 - But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king's food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.

That was all. That was how he got started. The Bible did not say he had an active, vibrant prayer life at that point. All we know for certain was that he was serious about God and he chose to express his faith through his eating choices. How about us? What is that small measure of obedience we can offer unto the LORD first?

My Story - When I was 20, I wasn’t serious about the things of God, nor did I have a prayer or worship life worth speaking of. But remembered one day, I decided that I would at least read the Bible. I loved reading ever since I was a young kid. So reading the Bible itself wasn’t that difficult for me, and I knew it. I remembered praying, “God, I don’t believe all of what is written in there, I don’t understand much of it, and I am certainly not going to promise to obey it. But I can just open the pages and at least give it as much attention as my favourite fiction novels. God, will that do?”

Daniel’s small gesture of obedience to the LORD did not come without objection.

When he told the steward in charge of their meals that their little Jewish fellowship did not want to eat the same luxurious food as everyone else, the steward was worried that Daniel and his friends would look less healthy than the rest. And that was a legitimate concern. I have met people who only eat vegetables, as Daniel did, and those people looked really scrawny. Daniel and his friends took a small step of faith, God answered them in a small way by keeping them healthy, and I am sure that encouraged them to see that their small act of obedience did not go unnoticed by the LORD.

Small Start, Big Test
Starting small is always great, but sooner or later, a big test would come. Daniel’s test came when Nebuchadnezzer had a dream that really perturbed him (Dan 2:1). Showing unusual insight, he insisted that the astrologers and magicians tell him his dream first to prove that they had the supernatural insight to interpret his dream (Dan 2:6). When the astrologers and magicians objected, Nebuchadnezzer ordered that all of them (including Daniel and friends) be executed (Dan 2:12).

Daniel tactfully asked for more time (Dan 2:16) and then started praying fervently with his friends (Dan 2:18). We don’t know if he had a serious prayer life before this crisis, but we know he certainly had one now! And God answered him and gave him wisdom, knowledge and revelation.

My Story - My big test came in the middle of my university days. For some reason I was not able to cope with my studies. It wasn’t that I was trying and not getting it, my mind would totally shut off once I opened my books. I would fall asleep, I couldn’t help myself. So I faced the real possibility of flunking my exams.

Since I was a typical Asian, that was a BIG crisis to me!
At around that time, I came across the idea of meditating on the Scriptures, which by Hebrew definition meant not reading them silently but actually chanting them aloud. I remembered being very unsure about it. No one in my immediate circle of friends did it that way, I never heard it preached by my pastor, and it seemed too mindless. And besides, I was already reading the Bible silently, you mean that wasn’t good enough?

I did it anyway. What did I have to lose?  I spent an hour a day in the book of Psalms (30 minutes in the morning and again in the evening). At the beginning I felt stupid, but soon after I started experiencing a strange kind of energy, as if another dimension of me was waking up, as if I had senses that were being activated.

All this affected everything I did in university and at church. It gave energy to my prayer life and fixed up the problems with my school work.  When interacting with people, I started saying the right thing at the right time more often, and I found myself making wild guesses about something, getting it right and looking as if I was REALLY smart.

Important – all these benefits took time to manifest, and they were not permanent. They would gradually fade off if I did not maintain that kind of time in the Scriptures. But the important thing was that now that I had tasted that kind of life, I knew it was possible for me, and I knew exactly what I had to do if I wanted to live life that way.

Conclusion:
If you are new to the things of God, start small, but start somewhere. Remember the principle in 2 Samuel 24:24, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing." Whether it is just turning up for church, praying a few minutes a day or reading the Bible like a novel, if you have been doing nothing, start by doing something.

But remember, when the crisis seasons hit, odds are the little things aren’t going to be enough. When you need God in a big way, you need to seek him seriously. I am not talking about epic deeds to purchase your own salvation or to deserve God’s love. We know Jesus did it all for us on the cross. I am talking about walking with God, facing the trials of life the way he wants us to, receiving the power he has ordained for us, by the Spirit and the Word of God.

And also, don’t face your trials alone. By the time Daniel and his friends faced the crisis of chapter 2, they had at least 3 years of fellowship and encouraging each other to stay faithful to the Lord. Daniel called on them to seek the LORD with him (Dan 2:17-18), and they did. We, likewise, need to invest our time and effort into a community of believers NOW, that we may receive support from them during our trials and that we can encourage them during theirs.

I hope this sharing has encouraged or helped you in some way. Be blessed!