Wednesday, February 24, 2016

GOD is Love

The Bible tells us “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16). We are reminded that God IS love not merely God is loving. Love is the nature of God not just one of his characteristics. One of the most vivid images throughout the Bible is that God is love. In Psalm 103, we see how God’s love manifests itself in actions. God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy (v8). His love is like a father towards his children, filled with compassion (v13). He does not deal with us as our sins deserve (v10). Instead he has removed our sins from us as far as the east is from the west (v12).

In fact, to say God is love means God has our best interests in mind. He wants to give us good gifts and provide us with “all his benefits” (v2). What are these benefits?

Spiritually God's love removes the barrier that separates us from him by cancelling the debt of our sin (v3 & 12). We can never pay for our sins but because of Jesus Christ, our debt is cancelled. Now we can enjoy a loving relationship with him because he has removed our sins as though they never existed.

Next are the eternal benefits. God’s love “redeems us from the pit” (v4) i.e. eternal death. More than that, he grants us eternal life. Even more than that, we are adopted into his family. We are the children of the king of kings and lord of lords.

What else can we know of God's love here? I think the best thing we can know is that God’s love is personal. Notice again in Psalm 103 the number of times the personal pronouns used - "me", "my", “your”. The Bible tells us God is a person. As a person, God is capable of loving us and being loved. Further, being a person, he loves each one of us intensely and personally. That means he loves not simply not just mankind as a whole but each one of us personally as an individual. He loves each one of us as though each one of us is the only child he has. That’s how God loves.

There was this famous Bible scholar who was asked, ‘What is the single most important truth about Christianity?’ He answered simply with ‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’Jesus loves me’ – that is the cornerstone of our Christian faith. So when God says “I love you”, he is saying that you are important to him. You are a person of worth. You are valuable to him. Regardless of what others think, whether you have little or much, old or young, strong or weak, in God’s eyes, you are precious and wonderful.

Finally we know that God’s love is beyond human understanding (vv13-14). He knows how terrible we are but still loves and forgives us. We were drowning in sin but he pulled us out. We deserve justice and punishment but instead we get life. That is how God loves us - beyond comprehension.

To see God’s love in action, all we have to do is look at the cross, “But God demonstrates his own love toward us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). If we really want to understand what it means to love and be loved, look to the cross! It is there that God’s love for mankind is seen beyond any doubt. It’s a love beyond human comprehension. All we can do is receive it. And then we thank him not just for his love but for the many benefits that we are blessed with as a result of his love, by living for him alone.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Cultivating the Presence of God

Psalm 32:8, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.”

One morning as I was reading Psalm 32 and meditating on this verse, I felt the Lord’s prodding – be God-oriented instead of merely being activity-oriented and result-oriented. What do I mean by ‘God-oriented’? I believe it is to ensure we are not being overwhelmed by our daily to-do list and pace of life to the extent that we overlook our encounters with God in the small minutes of our daily life.

In ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’, Brother Lawrence said, “I make it my business to rest in His holy presence which I keep myself by a habitual, silent and secret conversation with God. This often causes me joys and raptures inwardly.” He desired a lifestyle where he intentionally and consciously cultivated a deeper awareness of God’s activity in his lives. This, for anyone, is an excellent desire to cultivate and so I asked our glorious Lord to help me live this out in 2016.

It involves habitually building in small pauses and breaks in the daily routines to turn and re-tune the heart back to God. Before we pick up the phone, we breathe a prayer to the Lord to help us listen. As concerns pop up, we place those concerns in God’s hands before moving on to handle them. As we fulfil our daily tasks and responsibilities, we talk it over with God and dedicate each task to Him before we begin and after we complete it. When interruptions happen, we ask Jesus for grace to be like him because he always had time for people who questioned and interrupted him. We can set our mobile devices to alert us several times throughout the day so that we intentionally pay attention to God and live in his presence. It may be just as short as five minutes for reading a short Psalm, praying or even simply revelling in his goodness. I am sure you will have other suggestions to lay alongside these practices.

Ultimately, the desire to develop this awareness of Christ’s presence is to see God grow spiritual fruit in our lives. The fruit could be keeping company with Jesus through the day, receiving each daily moment as God-given. It could be learning a new lifestyle of letting go of our need to control, to compete. Instead we grow in awareness of our constant need of God. We learn to rest in his presence so that we see him even in those situations which needlessly sap our energy, irritate and anger us. We will reap the promise of Ps 32:8 that he will instruct us of the direction we ought to go as we orient our lives with Christ at the centre. I am very sure God will grow even more fruit other than these as we continue to intentionally set time aside regular time for him daily.

However, it is important that we remember that the spiritual discipline is about personal relationship. It is not just an activity embedded with ritual and strategy. It arises out of a love for God that desires to live in a deeper union with Christ. Ultimately, it is about our life being a love letter to Christ, an expression that we love him and desire to remain wired to him alone throughout the day.

May our glorious Lord Jesus be your great reward in 2016 as you remain in him and may you see the fruit of his tender care as you walk with him.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas is about Giving and Sharing

Christmas is just around the corner again. Many people will again be shopping for gifts for their family and friends. It is hard to miss this part of Christmas. We are reminded of it by our friends’ busyness in planning and buying their gifts. We are reminded of it by the media advertisements on where the best buys and offers are found.  We definitely cannot miss the air if we take a walk in the shopping malls. I am sure many will also be doing this today at the last minute, thinking of something special to get for a friend or family member (I've given out all the presents I need to give so I am at peace for one). 

Gift-giving is a wonderful way of showing someone that he or she matters to you. The act of buying something meaningful, wrapping it appropriately and penning one’s thoughts of the season on a card to go along takes time, effort and resources.

Gift-giving at Christmas is also significant because it reminds us of God’s gift to all of us—his one and only Son, Jesus Christ. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve had an intimate fellowship with God. This was broken when Adam and Eve chose to go their own way and resulted in God’s crowning act of creation, mankind, being alienated from God. Yet Christmas reminds us that God did not give up on man but gave up his only son for man. The Christmas story is about God’s unfailing love for his creation. However, this Christmas story needs also to be shared and spread.

There still are many people who celebrate the season but do not know the story, not in their hearts anyway. Friends and family may have lots of fun amidst the food, feasting and festivities but yet not know Jesus Christ, the real reason for the season. They may receive gifts from one another and yet not receive the gift that God has prepared for them, through Jesus Christ.

There will also be people who will see us enjoying ourselves and yet they will have no one to call friend. When you laugh, the whole world laughs with you but when you cry, you cry alone. I hope that all of us will make sure that no one in their cirlce ever cries alone. The best gift we can give anyone is to bring them to Christ. While we may bear each other’s burdens, we can never bear it completely because we can never be there for those in need all the time. Omnipresent friendship can only come from Jesus Christ. His name is Immanuel which means ‘God is with us’.

For many people, the big question in life is “Is God with me?”  We can tell people there is a God and they agree. But yet they find it hard to accept that God is there with them. They find it hard to accept that God is so easily accessible to them. This is what the message of Christmas is – there is a God whose unfailing love for us led him to give his son Jesus to carry our sins. In this messy mixed-up world filled with death, disease and disasters, where millions of people cry out “where is the hope?” we Christians can offer them the hope of Jesus Christ.

Let us then commit ourselves to being God’s gift-bearers to the people around us. As we hand out our gifts to friends and family, let us tell them of the special gift that gives the meaning to Christmas. The Bible reminds us that God is preparing a great celebration for his people in eternity. This Christmas, let us be the ones that God uses to send his invitations to this celebration. Let our willingness to be his messengers be the special gift that we offer to God this Christmas.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Praying Like Jesus Prayed

"Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will" Mark 14:36

In life, there are times we struggle not knowing if we will ever see a solution. However, God has provided a channel through which we find an answer to life’s challenges – prayer. On the night, before he was betrayed and deserted by his friends, Jesus prayed in this time of distress. And in his prayer we see a model for our own prayers.

He prays like a child addressing a loving father and called out “Abba”. The Aramaic word expressed the idea of love, tenderness and intimacy. Jesus was praying to someone he knew he could put his complete trust in. There will be times when we will experience the challenges of life – illness, office politics, loss, etc. These will be our Gethsemane-like challenges. We will have to bear emotions of loneliness, pain, humiliation, etc. That is the time we will also have to go on our knees and address God as Abba – the cry of a child to a loving Heavenly Father.

Prayer is also a time for us to acknowledge who God is and who we are. Jesus wanted to be spared the agony of crucifixion. He wanted to be spared the agony of separation from his father when he bore the world’s sin. So he asked his father if it was possible for this upcoming misery to go away. Could the Father remove the cup? Yes! Could Jesus refuse the cup? Yes! However, that would mean our being lost forever. So Jesus prayed, “Abba! Father! Everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will." Just because something is possible does not mean it is according to God’s plan. It was God’s plan that Jesus would sacrifice his life in payment for the world’s sin. Jesus knew what was important was not his own earthly desires but his Father’s desire for reconciliation with us. So Jesus used prayer to bend his own will to the Father’s will. That is the way prayer works. In prayer our desires are shaped around what God wants.

If Jesus being God himself could bend his will to follow his father, how about us? Through prayer we realize that we are finite and God is infinite. This should create in us a sense of humility. We know that talking with our Heavenly Father, who also created the universe, anything we ask is possible. But what is possible may not be in God’s Will or beneficial to us. So we ask for what we want and God gives us what he knows we need. Sometimes, we set our expectations very high. Thus, if our prayers are not answered positively to our liking, let us see with eyes of faith, that God loves us and wants the best for us. Therefore we pray and bring our petitions to our Heavenly Father and trust that he will respond in the appropriate way.

What is your cup of suffering today? Perhaps you are asking God to take it away. But he may not because he sees a greater plan for your life than you can see for yourself. That’s when you need to pray an ‘Abba’ prayer of trust just like Jesus did here. God may not remove your cup because he want to see you bring others to Jesus as they see Christ-likeness in your response to challenges of hurt and humiliation. We can choose to disobey our Father. But then we will lose the opportunity to glorify him. Therefore, we should pray to be like obedient sons and daughters who have complete faith and trust in their Abba, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Great Divide

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. His delight is in the law of law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.” (Psalm 1:1-3)

In Ps 119:105, “your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path”, the Psalmist declares plainly – without Scripture, we walk in darkness. Psalm 1 illustrates this effect of Scripture with a graphic contrast between the wicked and the righteous - the “tree planted by streams of water” versus the “chaff that the wind blows away”. One is unwavering and flourishing while the other is unsteady and fruitless. The root of the practical difference between these two is the contrast in their attitudes towards the “law of the Lord”. Our attitude to God is seen in how we live, act and perceive right from wrong in response to the objective truth of his Word. In Psalm 1, one man, whose life is pictured as an ever-fruitful tree - lush, lasting and a blessing to all, delights in Scripture and meditates on it “day and night.” The other, whose life is pictured as windblown chaff, i.e. momentary and good-for-nothing, does not. That is the only difference but it is all the difference in the world. It is a watershed in every person's life.

What is a watershed? Geographically, it describes an area or ridge of land that separates waters flowing to different rivers, basins, or seas and literally, it is an event or period marking a turning point in a situation (Google). The Continental Divide stretching from north to south of North America is a watershed. Rain and snow falling on one side of the Rocky Mountains eventually flows in the Pacific Ocean. Rain and snow on the other side flows into the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. There is no way that water destined for one will end up in the other ocean. At its point of origin on the mountain peak, the Divide is hardly apparent, perhaps mere millimetres apart. Walking along it, one may even get the illusion there is no Divide. Yet, the destination of water and snow running down either slope ends up thousands of kilometres, even a continent apart.

There is a spiritual truth here that can be applied in our lives. The great divide between followers and non-followers of Christ is the attitude of belief or unbelief to the Word of God. The prefix ‘un-’ looks so insignificant. Yet this prefix defines the follower of Christ. It is the great divide between the fruitful Christian and the fruitless Christian. On one side, we find fruitfulness and delight in God’s Word. On the other, we find dryness and dreariness.

How stands our relationship with Christ? Are we like the Psalmist, “whose delight is in the law of God”? I believe the Psalmist is pointing the way to joy in our relationship with God. God’s Word remains in his mind and he cannot stop thinking about it. He thirsts for God so he keeps drinking and drinking. As a follower of Christ, we too should delight in God’s Word. To some it is dull and boring, but to us it is fulfilling and joyful. To remain in Christ, we delight to study it, hear the preaching of the Word and have faith in God's Word. Such an attitude results in a life of joy, trust, godly desires and blessing from God, not wavering even when sometimes, we lose our happiness along the way. That’s the way to live - staying rooted in Christ alone.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

On Handling Anger

In the movie, ‘The Hulk’, the main character is a mild-mannered scientist. However, whenever assaulted, he would turn into a raging 9-foot green giant and punch out those attacking him. My friends and I used to watch the TV series of this movie when we were young. Being young, we loved to see the Hulk punch their lights out because that was how we would express our anger - by retaliating.

However, is expressing our anger by raging or screaming right? Someone said the only way not to sin in anger is to be angry on the right grounds, against the right persons, in the right manner, at the right moment, and for the right length of time. That’s impossible. Almost always, our anger is a destructive anger, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:19-20). We should always aim to be very slow in getting angry because it does not bring about the righteous life that God expects of us. Since God does not want us to sin by expressing our anger, it is best then to resolve it. Paul helps us with some wise words in Eph 4:26, 27.  “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Paul is saying that while anger is an inevitable emotion sin should not entangle us in our anger. Nurturing anger results in bitterness which allows the devil a foothold in our life. When someone hurts us, let us not brood and nurse that anger. Instead pray to God for self-control and grace and that God’s love will overflow from us to the person.

Often the best way to deal with anger is to learn to forgive. Since expressing or suppressing it does not help, the best way is to replace it with Christlike qualities. Paul teaches, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” (Eph 4:31). He is saying “Don't choose it. Get rid of anger.” Then, he says we are to replace it, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph 4:32). Forgiving one another and committing the hurt received to Christ is the best solution.

In 1955, Jim Elliott and four missionary friends landed in the Ecuadorian jungle. They wanted to reach out to the Auca Indians but were speared to death by the very Indians they were trying to befriend. Elliot’s death must have shaken his widow, Elizabeth. However, her response mirrors what Paul is teaching us in Eph 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Later with her daughter, Valerie, she went back to the Ecuadorian jungles to reach out to the same Auca Indians who killed her husband. In time, through her witness, she won many Auca Indian souls to the Kingdom of Christ. Her husband’s death and her sacrifice worked for the good of the Auca Indians who came to know Jesus Christ. She was definitely a very Christ-like person, filled with grace and love. She could have responded to her husband’s murder with malice, bitterness or rage. She could have instilled those feelings in her daughter and many of us would have thought her justified in doing so. But she chose to follow the guidance in Eph 4:32 and replace anger with kindness, compassion and forgiveness.

We don’t have to be angry and sin. With God’s grace, we can glorify our Lord by choosing to replace our anger with something that will edify. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

HE Makes All Things New

‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Rev 21:1-5

Somehow, reading the above text makes me think of Chinese New Year. For the Lunar New Year, we believe in a traditional emphasis on newness. Perhaps that is why so many people do last minute shopping. When they cross over at midnight into the New Year, their things are still very new. The smell is new. The taste is new. The look is new. Somehow the newness of everything surrounding us renews the soul and excites us. That is why I don’t think negatively of people who do last-minute shopping. This is the kind of newness presented in the passage from Revelation. It promises us a hope of newness. It makes us excited and restless for a coming of newness that will be eternal.

At the end of Revelation, the Apostle John gives us a vision of the final stage of God’s plan for an all-new creation. In the first 20 chapters, John uses very dramatic symbols to show God’s judgments on creation. The war between satanic forces and God’s people ends with the final defeat of the Devil. John then closes with the final judgment where everything that is not of God is thrown into the lake of fire. Now if the Bible ends at Rev 20, God’s people will face a dark and dystopian existence. That is because much of creation is still in a state of devastation. However as we turn the page to Rev 21-22, we see John describing the glorious inheritance which awaits all of God’s people. It’s an indescribable inheritance, beyond anything we can imagine. For those who believe in Jesus as Saviour and Lord, judgment day is past because Jesus has already taken the judgment we deserve. Instead, at the end of history, what await us are words of blessing, “Well done good and faithful servant! Let the little children come to me! Nothing can separate you from my love!” And we can see in Rev 21, a new creation replacing the present heaven and earth. The word ‘new’ means unworn, unused, fresh, original, etc. God is making all things new because he wants all things new, the best, from his children. Isn’t that how it is with you? If you had something new to use or wear, would you want to go back to your wardrobe and pick some old clothes to wear?

God is not satisfied just to refurbish his old creation, give it a touch-up and hand it over to us, saying ‘there you go.’ No, no, no, HE is making all things new - “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” There is not going to be a renovation or makeover. It will be a new earth that we will live in. It will have to be a glorious place. It will be a place where nothing that we have or build can compare with it. This is because God’s people have new bodies and so God gives us a new, glorious place fitting for our new bodies. Nothing in the old earth compare with what is in the new earth. In fact, nothing we can have today can compare with what awaits us. Our possessions, our cars, our homes, our trinkets and toys will be nothing in the new creation of God.

Not only will we be living in a new creation, we will also be a new community of people drawn out of every tribe and tongue and nation. The new Jerusalem is called a bride beautifully dressed for her groom. Whenever I counsel couples for weddings, I tell the bride-to-be that she only has one job to do on her wedding day and that is to look beautiful. A wedding always makes a beautiful picture doesn’t it? The high point is when the bride walks slowly down the aisle, beautifully gowned for her husband. She would have prepared months in advance for this special day so that everyone looks at her. The new Jerusalem is called both a city and a bride, “I saw the Holy City coming out of heaven from God prepared as a bride.” A bride is a picture of intimacy. A city is a picture of community. That is a wonderful picture of the church, beautiful in glory given to Jesus Christ. Our fatty livers, thinning hair, overweight body parts and bad hearts are not going to be a bother anymore because they belong to the past. All the people that we love will be radiant in their new bodies, looking glorious, morally and spiritually pure. Glorious as befitting the bride of our glorious groom, Jesus Christ.

The text promises us “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." There will no longer be poor, rich, powerful, underprivileged people. Every citizen of this kingdom will be equal because the only qualification for citizenship is to receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour in this life. That’s the only thing that matters to God. How wonderful. Whether the one has only one leg or arm, suffers from autism, has poor dress sense, speaks poorly, or suffers any other disadvantage or disability, that one is still not disqualified from this new community.

How would we live our life if you knew that our eternal future is secure? All of us live with a sense of hope, don’t we? We hope the economy will do well so that our jobs will remain stable. We hope our children will do well in school especially if it is a crunch year like ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels. My wife may be hoping I will have more time for her this year. I certainly hope so too. Some of our hopes will be realized but some will be disappointed. Yet, there is one hope that all people can rejoice and never be disappointed. That is the glorious hope of the new world in and through our Lord Jesus Christ. Some of us may have struggled a lot last year. Some of us may have struggles ahead of us this year. There can be so many ways we can struggle through - a nasty boss, difficult politicking colleagues, and stubborn subordinates. Perhaps it could be the lack of work – retrenchment and restructuring. Perhaps it could be a relationship problem - a nagging wife, an uncaring husband, a rebellious child or an uncaring parent who does not bother to care for you. Maybe it is a health problem – a recurring pain, a tumour, disability, growing anxiety or depression. Although I hope not yet, none of us can guarantee it will not happen. There is one thing we do know. We have the glorious hope in Jesus ahead of us. That hope cannot change because it is the hope of glory before all of us. 

Or perhaps we have been the cause of others’ struggles. Perhaps we have been a difficult boss, politicking colleague or stubborn subordinate. Perhaps you have been the nagging wife, uncaring husband, rebellious child or indifferent parent. The glorious hope of our future in Christ gives us all hope to change. Or perhaps we have changed but we still live with the guilt of what one has you done in the past. After all, there are some things broken that cannot be repaired so easily. And sometimes they may never be. The glorious hope of our future in Christ gives us hope too. We may never be able to make all things right in this life. But because of the glorious hope we have in Christ, we can let the guilt go. Because God will make all things new, we can ask him to change us, make us new in heart, mind and soul. Then we will not repeat the hurts we brought to others. It can happen because God is making all things new.