Saturday, February 28, 2009

Day 4: Deny your 'self'… (Luke 9:22-27) 28 Feb 09

Death is a taboo in our culture. We don’t talk about it openly; neither do we have positive hope in death. But Jesus talks about His death openly. He is the Messiah who not only delivers, but also dies. This really blows the mind of Jesus’ Jewish followers and also blows my mind sometimes. We all have a common beliefs and expectation: a messiah delivers, not dies. But Jesus did both.

The author says, “To follow Christ, there is no room for self.” In my own understanding, if I want to have the abundant life that Jesus promises, I cannot have self, I have to die to self, and there is no room for self. This is such a paradox in Christian faith, which will take me my entire life to understand.

Jesus states the plain fact that: to be His disciple, I have to deny myself. And unless I really know myself, how can I deny myself? That is why the author also mentions that: To know God, you must know yourself; and to know yourself, you must know God.

Do you know your ‘self’ enough? What is in your ‘self’ that God wants to deal with during this season of Lent? Maybe God is speaking to you about a specific situation in your life right now, are you ready to let God deal with it as He reveals it to you? As you get to know God more during this season of Lent, you will get to know your ‘self’ more, and are you ready to deny your ‘self’?

This is the price of following Jesus. Do you still want to follow Him? The good news is that Jesus has already paid it all in full on the Cross.


Friday, February 27, 2009

Day 3: I think I am… (Luke 9:18-20) 27 Feb 09

Our self is all we have, all we are.” The author blankly points out our self-centeredness. It is not wrong to love self, but loving self without loving God is wrong. If our self is all we have, and all we are, then there is no room for others, not even God. And we so-called Christians are not spared from being self-centered, though we may not admit to it.

Many philosophers tried to give meaning to life by giving meaning to self. Psychologists also the self with positive emotions and feelings and thoughts, believing that such feeding of self can improve a person quality of life. But the truth is that whether philosophers or psychologists, the fail to realize that the definition of self is defined by another Self, who is God.
Therefore, Christians understanding of self should be “God is, therefore I am.” Do I know God? Do I know Jesus? Do I know the Jesus who took my Cross? Or do I simply know about God or know about Jesus? Knowing God is equivalent to knowing self (I think this is by J I Packer). I have completed my three years of theological education, I know a great deal about God, but do I really know God? You may know many stories in the Bible about the work of God and Jesus, but do you know Him?

Many Good Fridays and Easter Sundays had past me by, and I have enough knowledge about them. This year, I am determined to walk this journey with Jesus towards Good Friday and rejoice with Him on Easter Sunday. I only have one desire that is to get to know Jesus more along the way letting Him to lead me to my Cross. And such encounter and face-off can be bloody when we reach the Cross, as the author puts it. Are you ready for it?


He had to… (Hebrews 2:14-18) 270209

Thank God, it’s Friday! It will be a busy day for me today, as in I have to finish quite a number of works by the end of today. I have to complete my notes for Baptism class this Sunday and of course also to compile all the other teachers’ notes. I also have to prepare for my small group lesson, and collect a van from a friend. I have to sort of rush all these, because I will be on course tomorrow.

Today’s text informs me that being the children of God (v14), we have overcome the power of death (v14) and delivered from the fear of death (v15). And the author of Hebrews stresses that Jesus’ death and resurrection is for the descendant of Abraham, which is you and me (in spiritual sense) and not for the angels (v16). We are not second class citizens; we are in fact first class because of what Jesus did on the Cross and left an empty tomb.

Then the author uses a very strange description in verse 17. He says that Jesus ‘had to make like His brethren in all things’ and the reason is so that He can make propitiation or atonement for our sins. What is strange is the Greek word uses for ‘He had to’, it actually literally means ‘to owe or to be indebted’ in financial sense. And some scholars would propose that this word should be translated as ‘He was obligated to’.

I think if we reflect on this, we can be sure that how valuable we are in the sight of Christ. He who owes nothing makes Himself ‘indebted’ and ‘obligate’ to make propitiation or atonement for us. I am thoroughly touched and grateful. Because the propitiation or atonement Jesus made was not using another unblemished animal, but it is He Himself going to the Cross.

In Paul’s theology, it is commonly to be understood that he champion that Christ work on the Cross is a legal act of redemption or repayment and even representation. But in Hebrews, the author seems to be equating Christ work on the Cross as a cultic (as in religious) act of substitution of atonement using an unblemished sacrifice, in which this case is Jesus Christ the Son of God. But today’s mediation and reflection draws me to hold a view of both; Christ work on the Cross is both a legal and cultic act.

We owe God a holy life, and only by someone paying for us by sacrificing Himself, then we can be set free from our debt. Jesus did it. Jesus was obligated to do it. Jesus had to be there on the Cross so that He can both be our representatives and also our unblemished sacrificial offerings.
We are in the season of Lent. I don’t think it is coincident that my devotional study on Hebrews keeps leading me back to the Cross; because the message of the Cross is central and core to our faith in Christ. Jesus had to go to the Cross. He had to.

Then what do we have to do? I think we have to; or rather we are indebted to reflect on the Cross, especially during this season of Lent. Yes, you are indebted and obligated to sit at the foot of the Cross and be amazed by the completed work of Christ on the Cross. Take time to do this.
You had to!


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Day 2: God’s time… (Luke 9:10-11) 26 Feb 09

I am dumbfounded to be reminded that I am actually living in God’s time. The time I have to sleep, to read, to play with Alethea, to write, to work, to enjoy, to watch news on television, and even to serve; belongs to God, it is God’s time. I am living on borrowed time, and it belongs to God. What am I doing about it?

If I have time to read the newspaper and magazines, how come I don’t have time to read the Bible? If I have time to gossip about the latest retrenchment plan of an established local bank, how come I don’t have time to comfort the sick and visit the lonely people in my congregation? If I have time to go for a holiday to shop and spa, how come I don’t have time to go for a retreat to spend time alone with God? How do you spend God’s time?

Busyness is not only the sin of the modern society; it is the sin of individual. I have heard many people being busy for God’s ministry, but not being busy with God Himself. This is not only the problem of lay people who have to work and serve the Lord at the time, but also among people who serve in church. People measure their importance and success of their ministry by how busy they are, and how little time they have. Are you one of them?

I have just recovered from a burnout experience and a season of going through darkness; I treasured my time with God. I spend extensive time to read and reflect; I keep a close watch about my spiritual-emotional ‘fuel tank’, make sure it doesn’t run dry. I make sure I have my day-off to reflect and to rest. That is my rhythm of work and rest, what is your rhythm? Without a good rhythm, the melody of life will be out of sync; and the entire music of abundance will be lost.

Keep your rhythm, follow God’s timing. He is the Conductor.


Salvation through sufferings… (Hebrews 2:10-13) 260209

I saw rainbow yesterday’s evening, and I believe many of you also saw the rainbow. My wife, Esther, told me that she even saw people praying to the rainbow. I saw many people taking photographs of the rainbow, and also many were taking photographs with the rainbow. Rainbow has become an object of worship, it has also become a beautiful sight for photographs taking, and it is surely to Christian a sign of covenant from God.

This covenant began with Noah (Genesis 9:13-17) and completed by Jesus going onto the Cross. In this season of Lent, meditating on this passage in Hebrews brings me to the heart of the Cross: salvation through sufferings. There is no other way that we can have our salvation, except by the suffering of Jesus Christ on the Cross.

Hebrews 2:10 says that Jesus brings many of us to glory by being the perfect author of our salvation, through His sufferings, which is on the Cross.

NASB translates ‘to perfect the author’; NIV ‘make the author… perfect’; and NKJV ‘make the captain… perfect’. All these suggest that the author or captain who is referring to Jesus was not perfect before He went through the sufferings on the Cross. At least it seems to be like this from reading the English translation. But from the Greek text, the idea of ‘perfect’ can also mean ‘complete’. And the question whereby many recent scholars ask is the word ‘perfect’ or ‘complete’ a modifier for the ‘author’ or ‘captain’?

I would want to suggest that the ‘perfect’ or ‘complete’ is modifying the description of the ‘author’ which is ‘salvation through sufferings’. In other words, the incarnation of Jesus and His suffering on the Cross, makes the salvation plan of God complete and perfect. This implies that Christ sufferings and death on the Cross is necessary and sufficient for our salvation, this is the perfect plan. And how can we then neglect the meditation of the Cross?

The Cross reminds me of the perfection of God’s salvation plan for me. The Cross reminds me that I am being grafted and accepted as a child of God, and Jesus would call me ‘brother’ (v11-12). The Cross reminds me I can put my trust in Him (v13). What does the Cross remind you of?
The author of Hebrews again quotes three Old Testament Scriptures here: Psalms 22:22 for verse 12 and Isaiah 8:17-18 for verse 13. These OT texts are what we usually call the Messianic text, which have almost direct inference or prophecy of Jesus, being the Suffering Servant and the ultimate Redeemer. The first readers of Hebrews will surely remember these texts and identify Christ with them. As you are reminded of Jesus journey to the Cross, can you also identify your journey with Christ too?

In this season of Lent, take time to read the Scripture. Read it slowly; let it sinks in you, and yourself soaks in it. Read it quietly; let the living word whispers to your heart, and your heart being transformed by the power of the word. Read it meditatively; let the emotions and the scenario of the text reappear to you, and you interacting and living within the story and movement of the text. Also read it painfully; because our salvation comes from sufferings, not our sufferings, but Christ suffering on the Cross.

Anyway, just read it.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Resolutely… (Luke 9:51) 25 Feb 2009

I am deeply touched by the statement: The decision marked a deadline for Jesus (p1). I am particularly moved by Jesus’ decision. To me, the decision was more that a deadline, it is a dead end! But to Jesus, this is neither a deadline or dead end, but a Cross road whereby He has to get across so that I can also cross over the deadline and move beyond the dead end.

Today is the beginning of this journey to the Cross. I know that I cannot carry the Cross Jesus carried, but I can take up my cross daily, and follow Him (Luke 9:23). What is my cross? Where is my cross? How to carry my cross?

After being a Christian for so many years, I think I have abandoned my cross somewhere along the road. I have been so comfortable being a Christian warming pew, for me now is warming pulpit, but I am so reluctant to step out of my comfort zone. I have seemed to lost my passion for people, especially those difficult ones (if you are reading, you are not the difficult one). I just want to be with people who like me, and have no conflict with me, and accept me and my egoistic devotional journals. But I am called to follow Christ to love the people He loves, not the people I choose to love. And Christ loves people who don’t love Him and me, and this includes Christians.

Do you have a ‘lost cross’ too? During this season of Lent, look to that ‘lost cross’ again, and do what Jesus did: He resolutely set His face to go to Jerusalem to meet His Cross. Let us also resolutely set our heart to face our ‘lost cross’, and once again take it up and follow Him. Let Jesus leads us on this journey to the Cross, as we confess Him as our Lord. Let us humbly deny ourselves and follow the steps of Jesus, one step at a time, towards the Cross.

The Cross road is a long and difficult journey. We must resolutely set our face and goal at the Cross, taking one step at a time. I am sure that each step will be meaningful and transforming to our life.

Let’s go.


Little lower… (Hebrews 2:5-9) 250209

Today is Ash Wednesday; it is a tradition whereby the Church remembers the journey that Jesus took towards the Cross. It is the beginning of the Lenten season, and my church is following this tradition by going through the book, On The Cross Road by Ser Choon, to meditate along with it in our devotion, as we approach the Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

I am tempted to journal my personal devotion together with the book too, and abandon this new theme of Hebrews. But as I pray, I think I will still stick with Hebrews for my morning devotion, and I will conclude my days with my thoughts on the meditation on the articles and scripture of the book, On The Cross Road. Pray that I will have the discipline to write in the evening, after I put Alethea to bed.

The author of Hebrews quotes Psalm 8:4-6 here. It is interesting that he does not bother to even give a proper quotation, but simply declares that someone has borne witness somewhere to this effect (v6). I don’t think he does not know where this Old Testament Scriptures come from, and I agree with F. F. Bruce comments about the author that ‘All the Old Testament is to him a divine oracle, the voice of the Holy Spirit.’ Do we also treat the Word of God as divine too? Or do we merely treat it as a book of inspiration? Do we read the Word of God carefully and try to understand it with desire to be transformed by it? Or do we pick and choose what we read and interpret it as and how it suits us?

Today’s reading of Hebrews reminds me of Jesus’ love for me. There is a phrase really reminds me of that: Thou has made Him for a little while lower than the angels (v7, NASB). And this is repeated in verse 9 when the author explains it’s significant. You may have a different translation of this verse, as NIV will translate it as: You made Him a little lower than the angels (NIV, NKJV). When we read this, we will really think that Jesus was little lower than the angels. How can God be lower than the angels? Jesus is fully man and fully God while He is on earth! This idea of Jesus being a little lower than the angels is absurd! I have problem with such translation and appreciate my NASB translation which gives me a clue to a better understanding.

George H. Guthrie gives this explanation in his commentary:

The word brachy (lit., “little”) in this phrase can be understood in two ways: a small measure of distance or substance (“just a little lower”), or a small amount of time (“for a little while”). This latter meaning seems to fit the context better since the author is not interested in the degree to which the Son was of a lower status than the angels. Moreover, the author is expressing the thought that Christ walked the earth as a human being for a brief time before being exalted back to heaven.

Isn’t it clear to me now? Jesus, for a little while made Himself lower by His Incarnation to walk among humanity so that He could bear the sins of all men on the Cross and then to receive the crown with glory and honor (v9) and have all things in subjection under His feet (v8).

For a little while, Jesus lowered Himself and approached the Cross for you and for me. As you approach the Cross, would you also lower yourself? Would you lower your pride and search your heart with all honesty? Would you lower your burdens and baggage and lay before the Cross? Would you lower the noise inside you and take time to sit quietly in His Presence, listening to His sweet and gentle voice? As you get lower, your crown in heaven will be in greater glory.

So, get low; a little lower.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

More than words… (Hebrews 2:2-4) 240209

I am to look after Alethea today. I only can do my devotion when she is asleep. I enjoy spending time with her as her father; feeding her, changing her, bringing her to the playground, bringing her out to the market and bathing her. I enjoy being able to take care of her because I love her. I believe that my Father in heaven also loves to spend time with me, by telling me how much He loves me through His word, and feeds me spiritually also by is words. But it is often that we do not want to spend time with our Father in His words.

The author of Hebrews reminds his readers and us that the word was spoken through angels (v2). This phrase is an Old Testament way of understand the Law of Moses. The Greek word for ‘angels’ also has the meaning of ‘messengers’. This is the way whereby God the Father relate His word to His people, through a messenger, or a prophet, and this is how the OT comes about.

Then the author continues to remind his readers that the message of salvation was first spoken through the Lord, and confirmed to them by those who heard (v3). Jesus is the message of salvation; He is what Apostle John describes as the Word becomes Flesh and dwells among the people (John 1:14). Jesus did not come in a mystical or spiritual way whereby no one can see or understand, but He was seen and witnessed by many, and many heard Him and His teaching about Himself being the message of salvation.

Thirdly, the author concludes with the continuous evidence by the Holy Spirit (v4). George H. Guthrie, explains that ‘The triple expression “signs, wonders and miracles” was used in early Christianity to speak of God’s activity among his people, accompanying the preaching of the gospel.

The word is first spoken by God the Father through messengers, then by Jesus, the Son of God incarnated among humanity, and accompanied by the works of the Holy Spirit. This is a Trinitarian view of the word of God! And what does it mean to me?

Word of God is more that words, it has to be obeyed (v2), it has to be heard and passed on (v3), and there will be supernatural evidence accompanied (v4).

This is not a formula for us to exercise the supernatural, but this is to me a reminder to go back to the basic: Obey the word, hear the word and pass it on. Then the supernatural follows, according to His own will (v4).

I believe in the supernatural, and the work of the Holy Spirit. But I have to first of all, obey the Word, hear it and pass it on. It is evidence in the book of Acts, whenever there is the preaching of the word, there will be signs and wonders and the number who believed Jesus, increased. Therefore, seek first the word of God, then the signs and wonders. I believe God will not be stingy to pour out His miracles if we ground ourselves in His word.
The Word is more that words.


Monday, February 23, 2009

Pay careful attention… (Hebrews 2:1) 230209

It’s Monday morning, I am in the office now. I have chosen not to have my off day on Monday and have it on Tuesday. Anyway, there is nothing much to do on Monday, except to clear up my desk, take time to reflect the past one week, and listen to some good sermons and catch up with some good readings.

Reading Hebrews is not easy. As I open up Hebrews 2, I am stuck with verse 1. I cannot go further because the phrase: we must pay much closer attention (NASB), catch hold of me. Well, we I do my devotion, I will pray and ask the Holy Spirit to speak to me, and catch hold of my heart and do His work of transformation in my life as I read His word. And surely He does draw me to what He wants to speak to me; and perhaps to you too.

NIV bible translates as: we must pay more careful attention. But if I will to do a more literal translation from original Greek, it would something like this: it is necessary for us to pay attention in a much greater degree (New Abel Translation). And Leon Morris also points out that “the verb prosechein means not only to turn the mind to a thing but also to act upon what one perceives.”

Well, I guess I know what God is trying to tell me. He is simply reminds me of what I have preached in the Chinese ministry two Sundays ago: Hear the Word, Act upon the Word. And I say the same thing to a member yesterday to encourage her to resolve some issue she has with her boyfriend. And now, God is shouting at me to pay much closer and careful attention to His word. How can I miss it?

We often hear the preaching of God’s word as a form of inspiration and motivation. We often study the word of God as an intellectual exercise. We also often read the word of God with the hope to receive the ‘magic word’ or encouragement of the day. But the word of God is living and active, sharper than the two edge sword, and I think I am quoting a verse from Hebrews.

The word of God cannot just remain in me as a form of inspiration or motivation, or enrichment of my intellect, neither as the ‘magic word’ or encouragement of the day; it has to be translated as some form of practical action. We live in a real world with real needs and real issues. The word of God is telling us to take real action.

Maybe you just read the parable of the Good Samaritan, what will you do when you see an old lady trying to cross the road, as you are driving in your car? Maybe you just read 1 Corinthians 13 about ‘Love is patience’, what will be your reaction when your friend keeps you waiting for 2 hours? Maybe you just read Ephesians 5:21 about ‘submit to one another’, what will you do when your pastor or leader confront you about an area of sin in your life?

We must and it is necessary to pay much closer and careful attention to what we have heard and read and study; if not we may drift away.

Are you paying attention?


Friday, February 20, 2009

Firstborn… (Hebrews 1:5-14) 200209

The author of Hebrews strings seven Old Testament (OT) passages to corroborate his argument that the Son of God is superior to the angels (F. F. Bruce). The use of OT passages is obviously to present a stronger argument to persuade the audience who are mainly Jews who are familiar with these scriptures.

As I read, I am drawn to the term “firstborn” who refers to Jesus. Leon Morris suggests that ‘this verse is the only place in the NT where "firstborn" (prototokos) is used absolutely of Christ. Elsewhere it is used with reference to Jesus' birth (Luke 2:7) and it is linked with many brothers (Rom 8:29), all creation (Col 1:15), or the church (Col 1:18; Rev 1:5). It represents Christ in his relationship to others and gives the word a social significance. Here, however, it signifies that he has the status with God that a firstborn son on earth has with his father (cf. reference to "heir" in v. 2).

I am not too sure if you ever ask question like this when you come across this term “firstborn”: Does it means that there are ‘secondborn’ or ‘thirdborn’ of God? In other words, Jesus is not the only Son of God, He actually has other brothers of His Father God. Even John 3:16 the phrase “only begotten Son” is debatable as the Greek literal translation have the meaning: an unique Son, which implies there might be other not so unique Sons. That is where many cult leaders claimed to be the heavenly brother of Jesus. My research on Tai Ping Revolution in China is a classic example of that idea.

Now, you might doubt my theological soundness. Don’t worry, I still believe and hold on to Jesus as the only Son of God. Jesus being the firstborn does not necessary mean ‘firstborn’, but rather ‘born before’. Even the idea ‘before’ may invoke the idea that Jesus is time bound, rather than co-exist with God. But I would argue and understand that Jesus is ‘before’ and beyond our time concept and co-exist with God ‘before’ our understanding of time.

I know all these arguments are difficult to grapple, but it is necessary. I am challenged by my own understanding of Jesus, and it helps me to be even more firm with Christ.

For today’s devotion, I consult three commentaries and even bounce ideas with a colleague. We have no conclusion. But for me, I get rooted deeper in my faith and understanding of Jesus as the ONLY SON of God. There is no other Sons of God.

I think I need more time to digest my readings and sort out my thoughts. I may not even revisit this idea in the near future, but at least I have given this a thought.

There are many things about God, we simply cannot comprehend. Do we just leave it alone? I don’t think we should just do that, but we should think about it more, seek the truth. Though we may not have the answer, but I am sure each time we grapple with tough issue like this, we grew deeper in God and with God.

Are you puzzled with what God is doing in your life? Are you confused or angry with what God has allowed to happen in your life? Do not give up grappling with God. Think about it, pray about it and even talk about it. There may be no answer after all, but there will be growth in the process.



Thursday, February 19, 2009

He sat down… (Hebrews 1:3-4) 190209

Hebrews 1:1-4 is actually one long sentence, but when translated into English, it was divided into four verses. It contains many truths and profound theological concepts. I think it can be a good research topic for doctorate studies. I am not going to write a thesis on it.

I approach the book of Hebrews not so much in a scholarly or academically manner, but I am reading it with Lectio Divina. Do not restrict the practice of Lectio Divina to the book of Psalms, or some Old Testament prophetic books; you will find it as enriching if you apply it to New Testament letters. Having said that; I did not throw away my intellectual mind while using Lectio Divina, we have to read the Scripture in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:24).

As I meditate and read through these two not too short verses, I am impressed by how the author of Hebrews lays the foundation of this book by stating the identity and trustworthiness of Jesus Christ, the Son. He uses the phrase: exact representation of His nature (v3) to describe Jesus, as the Son of God and having the full nature of God. Again, quoting from commentator, George H. Guthrie:

The Son is “the exact representation of his being.” The word rendered “representation” (charakter)…The imagery may also call to mind the “representation” of a parent one often sees in the face of his or her children… What the Son represents is the “being” of the Father, that is, his essential nature. The phrase “representation of his being,”… speak of Jesus as the “form,” “likeness,” or “image” of God (e.g., John 1:2; Phil. 2:6; Col. 1:15). So the Son provides a true and trustworthy picture of the person of the Father.

But what really stands out and speaks to me is another phrase: He sat down at the right hand of the Majestic on high. This implies Christ completed work. This implies He can finally sit down. This implies He is with His Father, the Majestic One. This also implies He has all the authorities and powers as He is sitting on high.

I am brought to a point to visualize the picture of Christ sitting down at the right hand of God. It will be a picture of Christ is sitting on the throne, and I will be standing before His throne. It will be a picture of me standing in awe in the presence of His Majestic glory. It will be a picture of me weeping and worshiping the God of goodness and mercy.

Christ sat down, where are you? What are you doing when you come into the place where Christ is sitting down? I lay down my burdens, I discard my baggage, I burn up my discontentment, and I throw myself down to worship.

I was still sharing with my wife after our devotion, about my unhappiness and discontentment. I can call it what Bill Hyber terms it: Holy Discontentment. It is not unhappiness due to any misunderstanding or conflicts. It is simply a discontentment on my part, not fully fulfilling what God has called me to do. It is some kind of frustration of not having the resources and opportunities and even spaces to do what God has placed in my heart to do. This is actually a good thing for me, so that I can keep God’s calling in mind and clear and continue in working toward fulfilling it.

Now as I reflect and ponder on the Christ on His throne, sat down; I just submit to Him my Holy Discontentment. Unless I commit it to Him, I will have to carry it all alone, and this is not His idea. I believe God place this discontentment in me, so that I can come to where He sat, and lay it down before Him.

Do you have any discontentment to put down before the throne where Christ sat down? Is it your job or your relationship with your spouse or your parents? I won’t know, but you know and God know. Come to His throne where He sat down, and put them down before Him.

He is still sitting there, waiting for you. He sat down. You come.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

God spoke… (Hebrews 1:1-2) 180209

I will take a break from Psalms, and will venture into New Testament book, Hebrews. I am not at all an expert or neither have I attended any course on Hebrews in my Seminary. But I reckon that Hebrews is a very interesting and rich theologically and spiritually book. My attempt to understand and draw application from my devotion on Hebrews is a novice one. I will be going very slow and in small steps.

I take a deep breath and read Hebrews 1:1-2, I stop there. I can’t help, but notice the richness of these 2 verses:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.

The spoken word of God is the emphasis here. Hebrews is like a sermon rather than a letter or epistle. No one is sure who is the author of this book; some says Paul because of the overall theme of grace and some says Peter because this book is directed to Jewish audience. But whoever is the author, God is speaking.

Commentator George H. Guthrie highlighted to us that the author of Hebrews begins by presenting divine revelation in parallel contrasts between the “older” communication during the time of the prophets and the “newer” communication through the Son. He contrasts four areas: the era of the revelation (long ago vs in these last days), the recipients (to the fathers vs to us), the agents (in the prophets vs in His Son), and the ways in which the revelation was manifested (in many portions and in many ways vs Jesus Christ, His Son, the only way).

I am touched by the truth that God is so desired to speak to His people, to reveal His glory to His children, and to communicate His plan for us. God is always speaking. God is always revealing. God is always communicating. The question is, am I listening.

These 2 years, I am learning to listen to God. I am still learning. God is very creative in the ways He speaks. Hebrews tells us that He speaks through His prophets and also His Son. He also speaks through His living words, and the Holy Spirit. Doing devotion is a good spiritual discipline; but such discipline defeats its purpose if we only stop at reading and praying, but not expecting God to speak into our life. Fasting is also good spiritual discipline; but if we stop at fasting and praying, and fail to realize that fasting is to create the space and hunger to hear God to speak into our life, we are merely being religious.

I am not against doing devotion and fasting; I do devotion and I fast. But I am more interested, or rather I should say I am hungry to hear God speaks into my life. What do I mean when I say God speaks into my life? I mean that God’s word piercing through my soul and my spirit, causing a transformation and deep repentance.

Today, God has spoken; did you hear Him? You may be struggling with some sins in your life, He is speaking to you now, listen up. You may be going through a tough working week, and it’s only at the middle of the week, He is speaking a word of comfort to strengthen you, listen up. You may be feeling down and depress because to the stress of studies and perhaps relationship, God is speaking His peace and love to you, listen up.

Listen up, God spoke.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Theocratic… (Psalm 72) 170209

I have come to the end of Book 2 of Psalms. I cannot imagine how this can be done without the grace of God. As I have a Day Alone with God at home yesterday doing laundry, changing bed sheets, cleaning up the floors, going out for 20 laps of swim and a haircut. I was trying to experience how Brother Lawrence (a kitchen monk) was so soaked in the presence of God while doing his daily chores, washing wine bottles and cutting potatoes. And of course, I read a book, The Race by Robert Solomon.

I am not here to share about my Day Along experience, maybe some other times. I am here to reflect on Psalm 72, the last psalm of the Book 2 of Psalms, which is divided into 5 Books (Book 1: Ps 1-41; Book 2: Ps 42-72; Book 3: Ps 73-89; Book 4: Ps 90-106; and Book 5: Ps 107-150). This Book 2 ends with a very beautiful psalm. As Stanley L. Jaki describes, such beautiful psalm is liked all beauty, can be a distraction.

Indeed, this psalm describes the splendor of Israel while under the leadership of King David and King Solomon. It speaks about the psalmist, Solomon, successor of David, having the desire to rule with justice and righteousness (v2-4, 12-14). It also speaks of the greatness and the prosperity of the time (v8-11, 15-17). But most importantly, it speaks of God centeredness in the ruling of Israel (v1-2, 18-19); this is what we called: Theocratic – The Government of God (I think this is the best I can put it).

Theocratic is about God as the ruler of the nation, not the king. Theocratic is about God as the Law by which the country is being ruled and governed. The king or the human government is only representation of God’s people, taking direction and guidance from God to manage the nation. The king is merely a human agent of God. Such rule should be seen in church, a spiritual and symbolic Israel. (I am not for the idea that the church has replaced the nation of Israel in every sense.)

In many ways, the manner the church should be managed is not by the Senior Pastor, neither by the Session (for the Presbyterian) nor the Bishop nor the Board of Director nor the congregation. The church should be governed by God. The question is: how does a church rule by God? Through those people mentioned earlier.

Then isn’t this a chicken and egg problem? Maybe, maybe not. As long as the one who is leading the church is submissive to the leading of the Lord, the church is led by God.

As a pastor, though I am not leading the entire church, but I am, by the grace of God, placed in the position to lead in some church ministry. In fact, if you are a parent, or teacher of any sort, or leading and influencing other people’s lives, and I suppose you lead your own live; you are a leader. I have to constantly check my life and make sure that I am in submission to God. I have to let God rule my life first, before He can rule His people through me.

Are you ruled by Christ? Or you simply rule your own live without God? It is easier to be self ruled, but self ruled may lead to no rule, and a life without rule is a life without security. I know that as God rules me, He also protects me. I know there are many things in ministry I am not in control, but God is.

As the church has given me the responsibility to facilitate the forming of Adult Bible Fellowships (ABFs) of other life stages besides the Young Adults, I am out of my wits how to even get it started. I don’t even know how to gather the people, because other life stages of people do not have such fellowship setting before this. And there isn’t sufficient facilities (as in rooms, always have to beg YABF to use their room), and also no leaders availing themselves to serve. The most importantly, I am not willing to take up that leadership, because God has not given me the green lights to do so. I simply have to wait for God’s timing to raise His people to lead and meanwhile, I just have to be faithful in keeping the ABFs going. It is not easy, because it can be quite discouraging to organize ABFs without people attending. But I just have to keep going, until God send His chosen one to lead.

I think I have shared too much. Just keep this me in prayer to remain faithful and do not lead without the approval of God. He desires obedience more than sacrifices. I desire a Theocratic life.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

No regrets… (Psalm 71) 140209

I am wondering; what will I become when I grow old? What will I be doing after I ‘retire’? Will I be a happy old man, or a grouchy-grumpy old fellow? Will I be still joyfully serving the Lord some other meaningful ways, or staying in an old folk home, waiting for my days to end? Will I be still writing devotional blogs and preaching the Word of God, or just become an irritating-naggy old man? I have actually thought about it and talked about it. Have you?

This psalm is probably written by an old man, some scholars will attribute it to David in his old age (v9). He is probably reflecting upon his life, seeing how God has been faithful to him since he was a child, even from birth (v6). He constantly refers God as his rock (v3), refuge (v1, 3, 7), rescue and deliverance (v2, 4), confidence (v5) and hope (v5). He knows God’s marvelous deeds (v17) and His righteousness (v15, 16, 18). This is a psalm of gratitude and hope. This is a psalm of reflection of a man who knows God. This is a psalm of an old man who is still after God’s heart. This is a psalm of a man who lived a life with no regrets.

I am wondering again; will I be like this psalmist when I grow old? I don’t know. I know that I should not let the past to live in me, and I also do not live for the past; I live for the present, today. Yesterday was history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift; because it is also called present.

Today is Valentine Day. I am not advocating you to follow the world in its way of celebrating Valentine Day, but take this opportunity to remember someone whom you love or have loved you. I am not referring to your spouses or boyfriend or girlfriend, I am referring to those who have selflessly loved you; like your parents, siblings, teachers, friends, maybe pastors. If Valentine is a celebration of love, then the love of these people is surely worth remembering and being celebrated for. Celebration of love needs not to be expensive or elaborate; a prayer for them will go a long way, a hug or a kiss will warm their heart, and a text message of appreciation will encourage them to love more.

Do not wait till tomorrow; for tomorrow may not even come (I think I am copying some movie lines). Do not let your old age fills will regrets. Live a life of no regrets. Love God faithfully and love man generously. These are the two commandments where the whole Laws hang on. Go and do likewise.

Have you show your appreciation to those who love you? Do it today, even if you read this after Valentine Day. Do not let your tomorrow has any regrets of today. So that, when you grow old, you can testify that God is faithful and has loved you all these while through those people around you.

I am going to show my love for my wife now.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Hasten or not hasten??? (Psalm 70) 130209

If you are observant enough, you will discover that this psalm is almost a replicate of Ps 40:13-17. Commentator, VanGemeren says, “This psalm is virtually identical with the prayer in 40:13-17. The main differences lie in the absence of the divine name, a characteristic of the Elohistic Psalter, and in the addition "hasten" at the very beginning of the psalm.” And true enough, as I meditate on this psalm, the word ‘hasten’ seems to jump out at me.

I begin to reflect my life; my family and my ministry. I have been a father for 14 months and I am enjoying it thoroughly. Sometimes I have a thought: how nice will it be if Alethea can be in her teens now, or how beautiful will it be for me to walk Alethea down the aisle of the church to be married. But at the same time, I also miss those days whereby Altehea was so small and frail and so dependent on me to feed her, to change her, to bathe her and to carry her around. At this point, she is beginning to assert her needs, and she is so mobile walking and running about. I miss those days whereby she will quietly sleep in my arms. But why do I yearn for her to grow up? I think a lesson for fatherhood is for me to learn to be patience.

I am back into full-time ministry as a pastor for more than a months, I have been writing devotional journals, preaching in the Chinese ministry, organizing Adult Bible Fellowships (ABFs) for young working adults and young families, and also leading the Boys’ and Girls’ Brigades ministry. I am also currently leading 2 BAGs, and a Zone Pastor who doesn’t do anything. I am, of course, responsible for the Christian Education of the church as my primary calling and ministry. I have so much at hands, only less than 2 months into full-time ministry. Am I doing too much? I miss those days whereby I can slowly and without haste, sit before the feet of God and meditate upon His words for hours; and now I only have an hour to do so.

The psalmist begs God to hasten to deliver and help him (v1). He wants his enemies to be ashamed, humiliated, turned back, and dishonored (v2-3). Well, he is only being honest about his feeling and thoughts. I am like him too, I also want God to hasten His work, and I am obviously in a haste to do God’s work. But this psalm does not indicate how God acts upon the psalmist request.

Hastening is what we want, but may not be what God wants. I want God to hasten His reply for my prayers. But there is no quick fix in God’s economy. God mould me through time, He has all the time He wants in the universe. God is not into fast-food, but rather He desires me to chew His words and savor Him, again and again.

But there is one thing God will hasten to us; that is when we are in our suffering. He will be hastened to standby us. He will be hastened to listen to our cries. He will be hastened to comfort us when we finally come still before Him. The psalmist is not wrong to ask God to hasten His deliverance and help, because God is the Deliver and the Helper (v5).

Are you in a haste to grow up, or to grow your career? Are you in a haste to read more, or to read into your future? Take time, unhurried time, to grow in intimacy with Christ. Take joy, unpretentious joy, to read in the life of others as Christ reads into your life.

I know life is in haste. I live in a real world like you, I love to have things fast and quick; and I know that life is harsh too. But be sure that God is quick to standby you and comfort you. Maybe you are going through some challenges at work, God is right beside you right now. Maybe you are struggling with some pains or physical health issues, God is right there to strengthen and to comfort you.

Hasten or not hasten, God knows.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Save me… (Psalm 69) 120209

The psalmist is obviously sinking (v2). It is either he is not a swimmer or the water condition is too harsh, even for good swimmer. And he calls for help; he calls for God to save him (v1).

I am currently reading 3 books at the same time: Grace Walk by Steve McVey which is about understanding how the grace of God is working in our life and ministry (I read this for weekly Pastoral devotion); The Race by Robert Solomon, Bishop of the Methodist Church of Singapore, which is about life being a race and the book encourages us to train well and focus on the true goal of the race (I read this when I am on my “throne”); and When The Game Is Over, It All Goes Back In The Box by John Ortberg which also talks about what is the most important thing in life is at the end of it (I read this when I am on my way to the office).

All these three books have a common thing being mentioned; life out there in the world is tough, and it will only get tougher as it goes. I cannot help, but to agree as I observe my friends and church members around me. We are all struggling with life, and I am not spared. We are all looking for answer to all these struggles, and we are trying to make sense out of our suffering. But many a times, our struggles and sufferings make no sense at all.

There was a saying I have learn yesterday: Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived. I haven’t found out who say this, but this statement is so true. The challenge is to live our lives with the mystery. There are many things we cannot comprehend, and even if we have an answer, we might not like the answer.

This psalm is really about the reality of life. I can hear the struggles, the pains, the complaints and even the hatred (v28) of this psalmist. I can identify with him. I have my struggles of sins, I have my pains of the past, I have many complaints as you know, and I have even harbored hatred! But there seems to be only one thing the psalmist is yearning for; the Presence of God. He wants to see the face of God, he is fearful that the face of God might be hidden from him (v17). The only buoy he desires in his drowning moment is God.

I don’t know if you are a good swimmer of life or not, but I am quite a good swimmer. I can swim in this value-deteriorating water quite well, I can stay above the look-good-religiously water for quite a long time, and I can surely know how to dive into the messy-problems water to help some other to stay afloat. But I know I cannot stay in the water forever in this manner, I need a buoy, I need Someone to save me, and I know that God can.

I know God hears the needy and will not despise those who are prisoners of life (v33). He will rescue me; He will help me to get out of the water. And He will help you too. Maybe you are drowning in the midst of your office politics, maybe you are drowning by the deteriorating condition of your health, maybe you are drowning in the pressure and stress of you studies, and maybe you are drowning in the confusion and frustration of the relationship you are in. Call out for the Buoy, call out for God to save me.

You don’t have to threat water by yourself, you don’t have to swim longer than you should, and you don’t even have to try to be useful by trying to save others while you are struggling. You need to call out: Save me.

It is a posture of humility, it is a sign of being weak, and it is definitely opening up to be vulnerable. But we are to humble before the Almighty God, we can only be weak in order to experience the perfection of God’s strength (2 Cor. 12:9), and we can be healed and saved only if we are vulnerable to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

I can’t save you, but God can. I need to be saved too, and I am calling out: Save me!


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Let God arise… (Psalm 68) 110209

The theme of my church for this year is “Arise and Christ will shine on you”. This is such a motivating theme for the church to embark on its journey in 2009. It is a follow up from previous two years “Abiding in Christ” and “Abundance in Christ”. But I am reminded that in the beginning of 2009, there are already few deaths of the family members of the church members, and we are also entering into an unprecedented gloomy economy when members are facing job lose and retrenchment. How can we arise and shine in the midst of such gloomy and dark moments? I think this is also the question which many of us want to ask.

I have no answer. As I am reading today’s psalm, I read it with a heavy heart. I am not facing retrenchment personally, I am not experiencing death or sickness in my family; but yet my heart is heavy. I have gone through my season of darkness earlier. My heart is heavy because I am a shepherd; because I am a pastor; because I love my congregation; I love the people God has assigned to me to take care. I am hearing that my member is asked to have long leave, because his company operation is being cut down. I am hearing that my member is going to have his work review soon and not too sure if his contract will be renewed or not. I am hearing that my members are sick, and yet still have to work (this includes my wife). I am also hearing that my members are struggling in their marriages and relationship with their parents. I am hearing too much burdensome news from my members. That is why my heart is heavy.

Today’s psalm is a complicated one. Even the scholars are not too sure how this psalm comes about and its main function. But VanGemeren would comment that: If there is one unifying theme, it is centered around Yahweh the Divine Warrior, who comes to deliver his people in Mount Zion.

The psalm starts with a call to “Let God arise” (v1). And as I repeatedly read this, I seem to have a sense of joy, a beam of light, penetrating through the darkness of my heavy heart. My heart seems to be lightened; I seem to be able to arise as I let God arise. This is it! Let God arise! Not that we arise, but let God arise in the midst of darkness. Let God arise in the midst of gloomy economy. Let God arise in the midst of messy relationship struggles. Let God arise in the midst of our job uncertainty. Let God arise. For God, Yahweh is our Divine Warrior as He is for the psalmist, for the people of Israel and also for you and me. Let God arise.

As I read through the psalm, I can see how God loves His people, how God loves us. He will be a father to the fatherless, a judge for the widows (v5); He will also make home for the lonely, and lead prisoners into prosperity (v6). This is not prosperity gospel; but the gospel of Christ will lead people to prosperity. As we let God arise in us, we will be able to see how God loves the fatherless, the widows, the lonely ones, and those in bondages; He wants to give security to the fatherless, justice to the widows, and friendship to the lonely ones and freedom to those in bondages. This is gospel of Christ; this is what will happen when we let God arise.

When God arise, He gives strength and power to the people (v35). When God arise, He will be shining on and in and through you. Therefore, I will say, the theme of 2009 of my church should be: Let God Arise and Christ will shine on you!

Blessed be God! (v35)


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

God blesses… (Psalm 67) 100209

When I read this psalm, I cannot help to pronounce a benediction from Numbers 6:24-26:

The LORD bless you, and keep you;
The LORD make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you;
The LORD life up His countenance on you, And give you peace.

I am sure that the psalmist understands the context and has experienced God’s bountiful goodness and greatness for both himself and his people; that is why he also desires such blessing to be extended to all the people in all the nations (v2-5). He is so intentional in his message, that the structure of this psalm shows it all:

A. Prayer for God's Blessing (vv.1-2)
B. Prayer for Inclusion of the Nations (v.3)
C. Prayer for the Rule of God (v.4)
B'. Prayer for Inclusion of the Nations (v.5)
A'. Prayer for God's Blessing (vv.6-7)

You and I know that God blesses. He has blessed me, and He has blessed you. But you and I also know that His blessing comes with His ruling. Unless we are being ruled by Him, we will not be able to experience the fullness of His blessing in our lives. I must put a disclaimer here: God still blesses the whole earth and the people in it because of His love. But in order to experience the fullness of His blessing, we have to allow Him to rule in us, so that we can be in tuned with His working in and through our lives.

God blesses, and God rules. Recently, I read in the newspaper that Singaporeans have been more ‘religious’ during this economic downturn. More people are swarming into temples and churches. They are seeking after some sort of divine blessing upon them, they are longing for some sort of ‘deliverance’ from such a difficult time; but not many people are seeking to be ruled. They want blessing with no string attach. They want a god who can simply manipulate by their ‘sincerity’. They want to be blessed without to be ruled.

As I reflect on this, aren’t we Christians also having similar attitudes? We go to church to listen to a sermon, and then we critique it or the preacher and left the church without being transformed at all. We come before the communion table to confess our sins and ask God to forgive us, and continue our Monday with the same sin again. We serve the church on our precious weekends and hoping that God will see our diligence but just to find an excuse to be late for Monday work or having Monday blues. We even gather people to fast and pray and thinking that our numbers can overpower God’s sovereign will. (I am not against fasting and praying, because fasting gives us time and space to reflect upon God’s blessing, and acknowledge His ruling in our lives. I am encouraged to see many people fasting and praying; because in such manner, we can grow in intimacy with God, understanding His will.) But the goal of Christian life is to be more and more under that rule of God and hence live in the Spirit.

God blesses, and God rules. Let us remember this truth. And the psalmist echoes it in his concluding verse:

God blesses us, That all the ends of the earth may fear Him. (v7)


Saturday, February 7, 2009

Come and see and hear… (Psalm 66) 070902

This psalm is definitely a joyful one (v1), it speaks of praises (v2; 4; 8), it also speaks of answered prayer (v19). But there are two stanzas which sum up the theme of this psalm; verses 5-7 and verses 16-20. They begin with similar idea but with distinct features of the psalmist understanding of God’s dealing with His people.

Verse 5 begins with “Come and see the works of God”, and in verse 7 it reminds the readers that “His (God’s) eyes keep watch on the nations”. It has some sort of idea-play here; as we see, God watches.

Verse 16 also begins with “Come and hear, all who fear God”, and verse 18 comments that “The Lord will not hear” if I regard wickedness in my heart; and verse 19 also highlights that “certainly God has heard… the voice of my prayer”. This is again another idea-play; we invite others to hear how God will hear or not hear our prayers.

But both have an invitation to come. And I think this has to come before both seeing and hearing. Unless we come before God, unless we come with an open heart, and unless we come to the throne of God; we will not see or hear anything. This psalmist must have gone through great distress or threat in his life, but because he comes before God to pour out his needs and troubles and maybe even complaints; he is able to see God’s awesome works (v2) and hear God’s comforting words. And because he comes to God, he knows that God is watching over him (v7) and God is actively listening to his prayers (v18-19). This allows the psalmist to understand and know God more and better.

We are all in one way or another way in difficult situations whereby we need divine intervention. Before we can see how God is going to work through our life or situation, we have to come to Him; and before we can hear God’s answers to our prayers, we also have to come before Him. Unless we come into the Presence of God, unless we come before the gracious throne of God, and unless we come with a hungry heart and a thirsty soul; we cannot see and hear God.

We can keep making things happen and saying our prayers louder; but we cannot see and hear God. It is not because God is not doing His work in our life, or not hearing our prayers; but it is us whom cannot see and hear; because we have not come near to Him.

It is not easy to come to God. We all have different ways to approach God, and we must all find our unique way to do so. I love to come to God in the morning and write down my thoughts as I come near to God through His words. Though I am struggling to wake up at 5.30am, I really enjoy the moments I am in God’s Presence. You do not need to wake up at 5.30 am, if you are not a morning person. If you are those who wakes up at 5.30am and feel very grouchy and cranky; so much so that no one wants to be with you; I think God also don’t want you to come near Him at that hour. You got the point?

Where are you today? Have you come before God already? If not, come and see and hear.


Friday, February 6, 2009

Visited… (Psalm 65) 060209

It’s 7am in the morning; I have finished my breakfast and read the newspaper. I am too early to prepare to go out. Today will be a busy day for me, even though I will not be going in to the church office to work; I will be attending a seminar at Singapore Bible College, and during the lunch hours, I will be rushing over to a Presbyterian school to preach in a chapel service, and will be most likely doing a hospital visit after the seminar, and head home to prepare for small group meeting. I have not been so busy or pack a day with so much for quite awhile. Today will be a litmus test for my tenacity against stresses.

As I read through today’s psalm, I am drawn to verse 9: Thou dost visit the earth, and cause it to overflow; Thou dost greatly enrich it; The stream of God is full of water; Thou dost prepare their grain, for thus Thou dost prepare the earth (NASB).

There are three things that speak to my heart this morning. And the first one is that God ‘visit’ the earth, and causes it to overflow. This reminds me that God is not far away, or sitting at the remote corner of the heaven looking down the earth, or hiding in His private room staring at his CCTV monitors. God does ‘visit’ the earth. He is near. He comes to us. He comes to me.

When I was young, I used to have this understanding that when someone in high authority came to visit me, I must have done something wrong, or I must bring something nice to offer to him. But this psalm reminds me that God visitation is not to find fault with me, or to ask me for offerings, but rather He visits me to cause me to overflow. I am so blessed with this. I am so comforted with this. I am overwhelmed by such love of God. He comes to cause me, my soul, to overflow. He does not come to just fill or refill; but to cause me to overflow. This is a promise of abundance.

And when I read on in verse 9, I come across the phrase: greatly enrich. This speaks of grace in abundance. I do not know how can I better put it, but to use the phrase ‘greatly enrich’ is redundant in English, and I think so for Hebrew. To be enriched is to be in abundance. NIV translates this as ‘enrich it abundantly’. But I think, there is no better way to express the richness and abundance of God except using two positive words to enhance each others. This shows only that God is so generous in His blessing, and sometime I wonder why I undermine His riches. Do you? Have you ever doubt that God can provide for you more that you need?

I have been hoping to have my own transport, maybe a motorbike or a car (as now I have a driving license); I know it will be demanding and challenging for my family financially. But I have a hope that God will send someone to provide this need for me so that I can be more mobile for His works and for my family too. (If you are reading this, it is not for you to provide for me.) But I also at the same time doubt it. Today, I am going to claim upon this blessing: God will provide me with a car or a motorbike!

And lastly, I am reminded by the psalmist that there is a ‘stream of God’, which is full of water. I have been writing about thirsty souls and our longing for the living water. There is a stream of God, full of water, full of living water. This stream is whereby you and I can rest in the Presence of God. This stream is whereby our souls can be refreshed and find rest. This stream is whereby we can encounter God face to face. We are not only allowed to drink from this stream of God, but we can also jump into the stream of God to soak ourselves in it to be washed and cleansed; and also we can simple lay down beside this stream of God and listen to the peaceful gush of water flowing.

Today, you may be as busy as I do, or even more busy than me. Take some time to go near to the stream of God to find rest and refreshment. I am ready to face my day, are you?
Remember, God visits us at where we are, and wants to greatly enrich us, as we take time to be near at the stream of God.
It's almost 8am, I have to go. God blesses you.


Thursday, February 5, 2009

Complain!!! (Psalm 64) 050209

I want to complain! I want to complain about the air-conditioning in the church office is too cold! I want to complain about the church not giving me an office room to study and pray; it’s too noisy! I want to complain about the programs we have in church; it’s too many and not family friendly! I want to complain about the MRT being too crowded in the morning; I have to be squeezed in order to get on a train! I want to complain about not able to have my own transport (I am referring to motorbike here)! I want to complain about the cockroaches which still keep coming to my house without my invitation! I want to complain about everything which I didn’t write here. I just want to complain!

I thought only Singaporean is very good at complaining, actually psalmist also likes to complain. This psalm is more likely to be a soliloquy than a prayer to God (commented by Stanley L. Jaki). And such soliloquy is actually a complaint. The psalmist asks God to hear his complaint (v1), and then he lists down a long list of things which he wants to complain. But I think all these things can be summarized as sin of the tongues. The language uses here in this psalm refers tongue as a sword and bitter speech as arrow (v3), and talk of laying snares secretly (v5); it also refers that the words from the mouth are a reflection of one’s heart.

When I list down all my complaints, I know you might think that I am such an ungrateful guy. I am able to work in the comfort of an air-conditioned environment, yet I complain. I am given a spacious working desk of my own, yet I complain. I am in a church which organizes meaningful activities for families, like Adult Bible Fellowship (ABF) and Family Wise Series, yet I complain. I am able to go to work by some form of transport system and don’t need to walk to work, yet I complain. I only have cockroaches coming to my house instead of rats and snakes, yet I complain. But I will still complain about not being able to own a motorbike.

Complaint reflects a person’s heart condition towards God. Actually complaint is not much of a difference from other sins of the tongues mentioned by the psalmist. As I read this psalm, I was thinking that: isn’t this psalmist a pot calling a kettle black or a kettle calling a pot black?

The psalmist is basically spiritualize his sin of the tongue, and calls it a prayer! Beware, when we pray a prayer of complaint, or share our complaints with other people; we are revealing something deep within our heart.

God allows us to complain. He actually uses our complaints to reveal to us our deep secrets of our hearts, so that we can deal with those issues. If you have things to complain to God, go ahead and complain; but do not stop there. Let God also shows you your heart’s condition; why are you so grouchy and full of complaints. Let God deals with those issues as He reveals and brings them out into the light from the darkness of your heart. I think that is why the psalmist concludes his psalm with this:

Then all men will fear,
And will declare the work of God,
And will consider what He has done,
The righteous man will be glad in the LORD, and will take refuge in Him;
And all the upright in heart will glory.
(v9-10; NASB)

Please do not go around telling people about my complaints, lest you also fall into the sin of the tongue (this is called gossiping). I have dealt with them with God already, except about my motorbike!


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

No Water… (Psalm 63) 040209

This psalm paints a picture of a very dry dessert. This reminds me of Psalm 42, where the deer pants for the water (Ps 42:1), it is a picture of a thirsty deer. And recently, I heard a sermon on John 7:38-39, whereby Jesus was inviting those who are thirsty to go to Him and drink from Him and drink of Him (Jn 7:38). All these imageries bring me to a conclusion: we are all thirsty people, because we are living in a spiritual dessert.

I am not saying that we are all spiritually dry, or died; but the earth which we are living on, is spiritually dry, hostile to the Gospel, and full of temptation. We are all thirsty people; we need to be constantly refilled by the refreshing water of God, which flows only from Jesus Himself. If we try to depend on this world, or other things beside Jesus, we only find dryness, dessert, and no water.

I need spiritual refreshment regularly. I understand what it meant to be spiritual thirsty. I have experienced going through the spiritual dessert or wilderness. It is called wilderness, not only because it does not have water, it also have a lot of other ‘wild’ things to distract, tempt and endanger us. When we are thirsty, we are easily tempted to give in to other kinds of ‘water’, and in the wilderness, the Enemy provides great variety of choices of water which will poison our soul. This ‘poison water’ comes in the form of entertainment, achievement, accumulation of wealth and degrees, lust, greed, security and the list goes on.

Are you feeling thirsty today? You should. Because we are in a dry and weary land, where there is no water (v1). Are you feeling dry because you don’t seem to have your prayer answered? Are you feeling weary because you have been serving so hard and no one seem to be noticing you or giving you any credit? Are you fed up of having to wake up early to prepare your family to work and school, and then being all alone after that? Are you afraid of going to work because you may be called in by your boss and told to leave due to your company downsizing? Are you thirsty?

But there is a solution, there is a source of refreshing water which we can draw from, that is Christ. His lovingkindness is better than life (v3), and our soul will be satisfied by Him (v5).

Are you drinking from God? You should. Because He is the living water (Jn 7:39), in Him we can be refreshed and renewed. Have you drink of Him today?

You and I are in a world where there is no water, but we can have the living water in us. Not only we can have the living water in us, we can keep tapping and drinking from it, so that our soul can be refreshed.

May you find refreshment today from the Lord.



Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Rest and Reward… (Psalm 62) 030209

Last night, I was asked to preach at a funeral wake service of my senior pastor’s brother. As I prepared the sermon and myself, I discovered that there was a mixed feeling within me. There was a sense of sadness because a man whom I witnessed his baptism only 2 months ago, has left the world. But there was also a sense of hope and joy because this man knows Jesus as Lord and Savior, and I know that he is now in a better place; in the arms of Jesus with all his pain and sufferings removed, and resting in peace.

Today’s psalm is a psalm of rest and reward, as the commentator, VanGemeren, names it. He proposes that the structure of this psalm is as follow:

A. Confidence in the Lord (vv.1-2)
B. Man Is Unreliable (vv.3-4)
C. The Lord of My Salvation (vv.5-7)
B'. Exhortation to Trust, Not in Man, But in the Lord (vv.8-10)
A'. Confidence in the Lord (vv.11-12)

That will make the central theme of this psalm concentrates at v5 to v7:

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.

The NASB translates v5 as “My soul, wait in silence for God only.­” This implies that the idea of “rest” is more than lying there doing nothing. It is an active anticipating of waiting for God as the sole purpose in silence. Resting is not idling. Resting is not merely recovering. Resting is definitely not wasting time sleeping or stoning. It is waiting quietly and with expectation for the God. It is giving God our wholehearted devotion by meditating on Him and Him alone. It is thinking and thanking God over and over again for His love, grace, mercy, goodness, faithfulness and all other attributes and works in your life. This is resting.

Only when we have enough of rest, we can be like the psalmist, receiving the rewards of life. This reward is not merely material reward, though it is also included in the package. Such reward is found in intimacy with God. This psalmist, which probably is David, has a tough time from his enemies. He has been pursued, threatened, betrayed, misunderstood, and depressed; but he emerges as a victor. He receives his reward as he is able to pour out his heart to God and seeks refuge in God (v8), and as he is able to have the confidence that he has God as his stronghold, he will not be shaken (v2, 6).

You may be going through difficult situation in life. Maybe your boss is giving you overwhelming amount of work in the name of downsizing; maybe you are worried about your rebellious teenage children; maybe your job and income is at risk because of the economic crisis; maybe your relationship with your spouse is drifting apart because of some in-laws issues; maybe you felt spiritually dry and tired of trying all sort of spiritual practices; and maybe you are lost in this world thinking that you are without hope. I invite you to find rest in God; wait in silence for God only.

Find a place and find a time whereby you can give God your hundred and one percent attention. You don’t need any other books beside the Bible, that may not be even necessary if you already have a verse or some verses memorized. Simply wait expectantly for God to meet you at where you are. You do not need to feel guilty if you don’t receive any new truth, but what you really need is God and His Presence. That will be your best reward. That will be the most important reward. What else can you ask for more, in comparison to the Presence of God?

May you find rest in God and receive His reward for you.


Monday, February 2, 2009

There is a longing… (Psalm 61) 020209

This psalm, so simple, yet so full of longing (Stanley L. Jaki, Praying the Psalms). Yes, this psalm is full of longing, longing for God of David to answer his prayer (v1-2; v6-7). David has a longing, a longing that one God can fulfill. David longs to be in presence of God; he longs to take refuge in Him, he longs for God to be his tower of strength (v3), he longs to dwell in the tent of God, and long to be sheltered under the wings of God (v4).

We can long for many things in life; I long to own a motorbike, so that I won’t have to travel by bus and go home early to see my Alethea. You might long for a miracle to happen, so that you won’t have to work on Monday. You might long for your family member to be healed from a sickness, so that it will spare you from grieve and disappointment. You might even long to become rich, so that you can be as generous as you want. But there is only one thing which is the most important to long after; that is, the presence of God.

These longings are not invalid, but they are not the most important one. David teaches me that, in the midst of all his troubles and all his misdeeds and even all his powers; he finds that there is only one thing can made him satisfy; that is, the presence of God. That is to be in the tent of God, to take shelter in the wings of God.

I particularly like this image: let me take refuge in the shelter of Thy wings (v4b). It is an image of a weak young chick seeking protection and love from its mother bird, which most likely to be an eagle. At home, my 14 months old daughter likes to play ‘run and hide’ game with me and my wife, Esther. When I am doing some housework in the kitchen at night, such as washing the milk bottles, hanging up the laundry, refilling thermal flask, or getting ready her milk power for the next day; Alethea will like to sneak out from her mattress to venture into the kitchen and see what I am doing. I will pretend I didn’t notice her and let her come close to the kitchen, and then I can suddenly turn towards her and pretend to be a ‘monster’ and chase after her. She will quickly make a turn and run towards her mother and hide in herself in Esther. She loves to play this over and over again. I realize that she not only finds protection from her mother, but also love.

As a Christian, I have the habit of coming to God whenever I am in deep troubles or sometime small troubles. I believe I am speaking on behalf of many Christians too. But seldom do we come to God to enjoy His presence and enjoy His love. We study the bible for information, but God wants to meet us there and gives us a transformation. As we are approaching the season of Lent in two weeks time, it is a good time to come to God for love. It is a good time to experience Christ and Cross in a refreshing way. It is also a good time to learn to cast all our troubles and worries at the feet of the Cross, and only focus on the risen Christ of the Cross.

Let us also learn from David as he will sing praise to God’s name forever and pay his vows day by day (v8). David knows that his longing can only be filled by the Presence of God. My longings will be filled by the Presence of God too. And your longings will also be filled by the Presence of God.
Deeper in Love (by Don Moen)

Verse 1
There is a longing only You can fill
A raging tempest only You can still
My soul is thirsty Lord to know You as I'm known
Drink from the river that flows before Your throne

Take me deeper
Deeper in love with You
Jesus hold me close in Your embrace
Take me deeper
Deeper than I've ever been before
I just want to love You more and more
How I long to be deeper in love

Verse 2
Sunrise to sunrise I will seek Your face
Drawn by the Spirit to the promise of Your grace
My heart has found in You a hope that will abide
Here in Your presence forever satisfied