Friday, August 15, 2014

Quick Update 02

Another passage on my heart recently

James 1:2-4 (NIV) - Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 

Trials test faith. The idea of “trials of many kinds” suggests that there is also faith of many kinds too, or at least faith applied in different areas of life and yielding different results. 

Romans 14:1-4 (NIV) - Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

One person’s faith holds him/her to stricter standards, another’s faith gives more latitude. I find it interesting that even Paul refused to specify one as better than another. If he doesn’t hold up one as higher or stronger than the other, why should we?

Back to the topic of trials – the purpose of trials is to bring maturity, and that requires perseverance. That finally started making sense to me, since any virtue is flawed unless it has perseverance to back it up. For example, compassion is weak if it cannot continue in the face of adversity. Humility in degrading situations has to persevere, or else it is unable to bear fruit.

Sounds good in theory. But in real life, when trials hit, we usually don’t know what they are for and how we ought to handle them. Sometimes trials require us to use our faith, to express our faith with specific works, in order that we may achieve the outcomes God desires for us.  

James 1:5-8 (NIV) - If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. 

Here we see the most basic application of faith – to ask for and receive wisdom. We can even say that without wisdom, we are unable to achieve the purpose of any trial, because we’d just be groping in the dark about what is happening and what to do to overcome that specific trial. 

This tells me that one of the first areas a new believer has to be established in (after the Fatherhood of God and forgiveness of sin) is divine wisdom. The new believer has to be taught that God’s wisdom is above that of this world, he desires to impart wisdom to us, and what we, on our part, have to do to receive it in order to act upon it. 

James 1:9-11 (NIV) - The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business. 

This passage has had me stumped for ages – humble circumstances are a high position? Riches are a low position? But it is starting to make sense to me these days. When we are in humble circumstances, the only high position we have is NOT of this world, it is in the eyes of God. 

Ephesians 2:6-7 (NIV) - And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

It is when we are in humble circumstances that we most need to remind ourselves of how highly God has lifted us up in the heavenly realms. Problem is, the heavenly realms aren’t perceived by our earthly senses, they can be perceived only through faith. Hence the need for both faith to be tested (James 1:2) and for us to set our minds and hearts on things above (Colossians 3:1-2), as I said in my previous post. 

And when we are rich we should take pride in our low position. In what way are riches a low position? Earthly riches are so transient, they can fade away so quickly. 

Proverbs 23:4-5 (NKJV) - Do not overwork to be rich; Because of your own understanding, cease. Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven.  

Earthly riches are transient, they can be lost so quickly. Every rich man knows that, anyone who has slogged for his or her millions knows how precarious that position is, that he or she is usually just one bad decision or one financial calamity away from losing everything. You don’t need the Bible to tell you that, life tells you that quickly enough! But the Bible goes a step further and tells is to take pride in it. 

The Greek word translated as “take pride” (Kauchaomai, Strongs’ #2744) has the idea of boasting. When a rich person boasts of how precarious his wealth status is, that tells everyone not to look to him for help, to not envy him but to look beyond earthly wealth. And that means looking unto the LORD, maker of heaven and earth. 

Maybe this explains what happened to David in Psalm 30. Could it be that he got caught up in his wealth and success and thought that they were secure even apart from God’s sustenance? 

Psalm 30:6-7 (NIV) - When I felt secure, I said, "I will never be shaken." O LORD, when you favored me, you made my mountain stand firm; but when you hid your face, I was dismayed.

I suspect this is what God wants me to learn this season, that in the midst of my trials I have an exalted position in Christ, and even when my trials are over, any earthly success or reward I might get is transient, so fragile and able to fade away quickly. But earthly rewards are not all that I will receive when I make it through this season.

James 1:12 (NIV) - Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.  

There is a crown of life waiting for me. I don’t understand what it means, what it looks like, or if it is something I will receive in some way here on earth or only at the final judgment. All I know is that thinking about it makes my heart beat faster in anticipation and courage to arise again within me. That passage also tells me the secret to persevering under trial: love God. Keep loving God and that will ensure you make it through!

That is my prayer for myself now, that God will keep that crown of life on my heart and strengthen my love for him even during this season. Is that your prayer too? I would to God that be so! 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Quick Update

(personal blog post) 

Yes, I know I haven’t been posting.

Life used to be ups and downs. Ever since I last posted it has been a lot of downs, to the point when I often can’t think straight. Whenever I see all that happening, I hunker down and go into crisis prayer mode. That means – no Scripture reading plan, and if I don’t think of any new Scripture passages to look at today I relook at whatever I meditated and prayed on yesterday. 
Actually, I will usually try to relook at the previous day’s verses also, to further ram them into my mind!

The pain of this season is more acute because of how well things went last year.

Psalm 30:6-7 (NIV) - When I felt secure, I said, "I will never be shaken."1 O LORD, when you favored me, you made my mountain stand firm; but when you hid your face, I was dismayed.

Anyway, I am thinking of just sharing in a small way the verses that are on my mind this season. Bear in mind, there is no plan, so don’t expect things to build one day on top of another. Here goes:

1 Peter 1:3-5 - Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 

One thing I have to put in effort into – keeping my mind on things above, especially when things below are going badly. Earthly problems have this way to shout loud in your mind in the voices of fear, anger and despair. And that makes it hard to remember the living hope I now have.

1 Peter 1:6-7 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 

This is the part that grabbed my attention – suffer grief in all kinds of trials. During the time of writing, the trials the believers faced were various forms of persecution for their faith. And let’s face it, no matter how bad things are at my side, I am still not persecuted for my faith in Christ yet. 

But the passage said “all kinds of trials”. Does that include many disappointments and let-downs in my teaching? Does that include my son’s injury and all the stress and hassle that follow? 

“All kinds of trials”.  

I am very much a Word-of-Faith person, and I believe that God prospers and heals his people. So I do get tired of people who say that they bearing with sickness glorifies God. Nope, it doesn’t. It makes people wonder if the Jesus you believe in, who healed multitudes of people during his ministry on earth, is unreal, misrepresented or uncaring. Who gets the praise, honour and glory, then?

I believe we do. I believe God is the one who will lavish on us praise, glory and honour at his chosen time.  

1 Peter 1:8-9 (NIV) - Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

The salvation of our souls – if we take an expanded definition based on the Greek word sozo (Strong’s #4982, “make whole, to heal”, as in Mark 5:34), this also includes the healing and making whole of our souls. This ties in with Romans 5.

Romans 5:3-5 (NIV) - Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

In the midst of my trials, as light as they seem to my logical mind, my true character comes out. Eeewwwww, I don’t like what I see! And the only way to fix the character flaws and faults I see in myself right now, according to Romans 5, is to rejoice in my sufferings. Peter does not tell me just to rejoice, he says I can be filled with “an inexpressible and glorious joy”. How unreasonable! How ridiculous! How unbelieveable!

But it is just so like God, isn’t it, to ask of me what I cannot reasonably accept or do, so that I have to trust wholly in his wisdom and empowering to do what he wants of me? OK, enough of this for now. Will post again soon, hopefully. See you then!  

Monday, July 14, 2014

Is Substandard the New Normal?

I am all about encouraging people to garner their courage and take a step out to play music for their church. But over the years I have seen way too many unprepared people thrown into the deep end of the pool too early, left to sink or swim (sink, more often than not). That's not doing anyone, the church or the wannabe musician, any favours.

Even worse, I have discovered that when you get unprepared musicians playing "live" for church too soon, their bad habits usually become permanent. Something that could have been learned with 6 months of lessons now becomes a bad habit that takes 1-2 years to fix. And the unlearning and relearning process is painful (been there, done that).

Confession time - I too have contributed to such a culture. I have simplified stuff and cut things down to their bare essentials when teaching music for church. I guess that has unleashed the floodgates, sending people the idea that things can be simplified even further. And after some time music foundations (which take a long time to build) get short shrift in the quest to churn out "servers" for church, who feel better about their playing than they ought to.

The only way to get some semblance of music skill from such servers is by feeding them cheap, simplistic music formula. But if they believe too strongly the cheap music formula they are given, they become unable to pick up mistakes in their own playing.

Let me share my experience:

When I was a teenager, I started learning drums. I played in the school marching band, and so had a decent idea and grasp of snare drum rudiments. But when I shifted to the drum kit I had no one to teach me how to play rim shots or cross-stick. I made up my own approximations. When my own approximations did not sound like the professionals I assumed it was because the professionals had sound engineering to make them sound better, so if they gave me the same sound engineering and mixing I of course would sound just as good.

In the end, it got so bad that I thought my “boom pat” on the kick and snare was on par with the professionals’ “boom THWACK!” I heard my playing as the same as theirs. Looking back I cannot believe I had THAT much hubris!

This doesn’t just apply to musicians. It can also apply to singers. I worked with a singer who was not very fluent with English, but did her best to sing English songs because her church needed her to lead worship in English (God bless her heart). Whenever I pointed out to her any pronunciation mistakes she made, she would say that’s what she heard from the video/MP3. I tried my best to ignore those mistakes, but I had enough when I heard her sing the song “Worthy is the Lamb” by Hillsong. There is one line that is “crown him now with many crowns” and she sang it as “clown him now with many clowns”. No, I doubt Hillsong sang it like that!

But that is the problem when mistakes become habits. After some time we can’t even hear them anymore and we think our music/singing is doing just fine. We mentally tune out any extra high G notes on the guitar that clash with the B minor chord, or we play a pad sound on the synthesizer, hold it down with the sustain pedal, and leave it there even if we played the wrong notes in the first place or it no longer fits the chords of the song. When I was taking music lessons at Yamaha we used to laugh at a one-chord-fits-all kind of playing. I never thought our little insider joke from all those years ago would ever be seen as acceptable playing in a church…

To sum up what I am saying:

Proverbs 28:19 (NIV) - Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies will have their fill of poverty.

Don’t fantasize of waking up overnight and suddenly having musical skill and ability you did not work for. Don’t dream that amateur bumbling and noodling around will lead to skill that people who have put in proper work will envy. There are some shortcuts to certain aspects of music skill, but don’t ever let yourself think that practice and training will always be fun and easy. It is always fun and easy only for boring children’s music. The Levites in the Old Testament initially started serving from 30 years old onwards (1 Chr 23:3) and that was later changed to 20 years of age onwards (1 Chr 23:24). Even then I don’t think they played kiddie music in church!

OK, I am going to chill now and get on with my regular life. Be blessed!

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...


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, , 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

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

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