What to give up for Lent?

Lent a period of 40 days. It does not include Sunday. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday.

The forty days of Lent represents the 40 days and night Jesus spent in the wilderness. During these 40 days, the devil came to tempt Him but Jesus defeated these temptations. Jesus also spent time fasting and praying to prepare Himself for His ministry.

What was Jesus’ ministry? His ministry was to preach about the Kingdom of God. His teachings were on turning away from sins, or also known as repentance, and living our lives in faith and obedience to God.   

Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. Let us use this time to reflect on the love of Jesus Christ for us. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came into this world for us. He suffered and died for us. He who was without sin carried all our sins upon Himself. He rose from the grave and ascended into Heaven. He is in Heaven now, preparing a place for us—those who believe in Him.  

If we have been struggling to read and study God’s Word, this is the time for us to do so. If we have been too busy to pray, the season of Lent is a good time for us to refocus on Him.   

Sometimes, when life gets too overwhelming , we can’t hear God talking to us. We may be carrying too many unnecessary baggage.   Now is the time to slow down our pace and receive healing from God. Now is the time to bask in God’s friendship and enjoy His love.

What to give up for Lent?

Unnecessary spending

We may not need a lot of the things which we had purchased. Now that we are in the pandemic, we may not shop as often as we like, but let us learn not to spend unnecessarily  and to find contentment in what I have. After all, godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Timothy 6:6).

This can also be time where we look through at our possession and donate items we no longer need to people who really need them.

Entertainment

Let us be more intentional in focusing on God and reflecting on His love. Instead of watching TV or Netflix, we can use this time for meditation or read the Bible. This is also the time to minister to a friend who needs a listening ear, visit a friend, keep in touch with a friend, get to know someone or do something nice for someone.  

Junk food

I love junk food! I love bubble tea. I love ice cream. I love fried stuff. All these are yummy but they are not good for my body. This is the season that we give up on food that do not nourish us. After all, we need to take care of our health, which is one of the most precious gift from God.  

 “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” Corinthians 6:19-20

Late nights

Lent is a time for us to rest in God and to find peace in Him. After all, God is in control of the universe, not us. Let us rest in Him.

What are you giving up for Lent? May you experience God afresh as you draw close to God. May His love and presence surround you and your family.

Day of Repentance

Today is Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent. Ash Wednesday reminds us of 2 things:

(1) our sinfulness before God

(2) our human mortality

In the beginning, God formed human beings out of the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7). After they had sinned against God, God gave  them their punishment and told them, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19 NRSV).

John the Baptist and Jesus Christ also preached the message, “Repent, and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15).

Let us intentionally spend time today to reflect on our lives—we are frail creatures. Let us be mindful that we are sinful creatures and confess our sins before the holy yet merciful God. May God teach us to number our days so that we will live wisely for God’s glory.  

Passion fruit: the fruit of passion

Text: 2 Samuel 11:1-3, Psalm 51:1-12

King David was a heroic figure. In his youth, he defeated the national enemy, Goliath with just a sling and a stone. He was a warrior. He was a “superstar” whom the Israelites sang the praises. From boyhood, he understood God’s love, presence, mercy and grace and he wrote songs on them which we can read from the book of Psalms today. God even called him “a man after God’s own heart”.

From a humble beginning as a shepherd boy, God had chosen him to be the king of Israel.  David had everything: military success— he reigned over a vast kingdom. His empire was from the edge of Egypt to the Euphrates River in modern-day Iraq. He had material success— he lived in a palace. He too was spiritually connected to God Whom he worshipped, adored and wrote many songs about. He was physically strong too as he was a mighty warrior. King David had success in all areas of his life. Unfortunately, his desire for a woman had caused his downfall. And ever since she had appeared in his life, his life was never the same again.  

There are many love stories in the Bible and one of them was the story of King David and Bathsheba. It all started when it was spring. It was a time where the kings would lead their armies to war. David sent the Israelites army to fight against their enemies. However, King David stayed back in his palace in Jerusalem. He was lingering about his palace, and not with his army as he should have been. If we were not alert and be where we are supposed to be, and do what we are supposed to do, we would be putting ourselves in danger too. It is important to stay prudent and to be faithful in doing whatever we have to do. Let’s encourage each other to be watchful and stay on guard. Idling around will open us up to unnecessary temptations.   

One evening up on his roof, he looked down and saw a very beautiful woman bathing in the river. It is interesting how the NIV describes her as “very beautiful”, implying that “beautiful” is not enough. Her appearance attracted David’s attention. The first glance must have been an accident. It would have not been a sin if he looked away, but he looked again and again. He then desired to have her and asked to find more about her. She was not just merely bathing, but she was undergoing a ritual bath to cleanse herself 7 days after menstruation. It was a common Near East practice. You can read more about this purification bath in Leviticus 15.

Unfortunately, knowing that she belonged to someone else did not stop him from feeding his desire. He already had wives and concubines but yet, he desired for Bathsheba. It seemed that the forbidden fruit tasted much sweeter. He asked for her to be brought to him and he slept with her. Then as in the culture of the day, women did not have much say, they were treated like objects. After sleeping with her, he sent her away. May be David hope that this was the end. But it was not.

What was her reaction when the king, not just an ordinary king, but a king honoured, respected and loved by the people, asked to sleep with her? Was she frightened? Did she love him? I am curious to know.  

We human beings are creatures of passion. We are made for love. When God first made Adam and Eve, God made them just for each other. God had taken a rib bone from Adam and made Eve from it. When Adam first saw Eve, he cried out, ““At last!” the man exclaimed. “This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh! She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken from ‘man.’” (Genesis 2:23, NLT).

Passionate love is a gift given to a man and a woman. Passionate love is the fuse the inspiration for great art, poetry, songs, literature and so on. 

Quotes of passionate love are:

You know you’re in love when you don’t want to fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams. (Theodor Seuss Geisel)

I would rather share one lifetime with you than face all the ages of this world alone. (R. R. Tolkien)

Passionate love between a man and a woman is a beautiful thing. We are made to love and be loved. This love is beautiful and wonderful because it is self-giving and God-glorifying.  

David loved Bathsheba with a passionate love but it got out of his control. His passion fanned into lust and it turned into a disaster.

A few months later, Bathsheba sent news that she was pregnant. “I am with child”, she said. In those days, the consequence for adultery was to be stoned to death, but Bathsheba put responsibility to David by letting him know that he was the father.

Now, Uriah was at the battlefield. It would be obvious that he was not the father of her child. David then had a plan and asked for Uriah to leave the battle and go home to his wife and to sleep with his wife so that the child would be “his”. But Uriah would not. The soldiers on battleground would not leave the battleground to go home to their wives. It was an expected loyalty to the country and to the king. So David invited Uriah to eat and drink with him and David made Uriah drunk. Even when he was drunk, Uriah remained faithful to the king and to the country. He would not go home to his wife but would stay on the battlefield.    

Uriah was not an Israelite. He was a Hittite (2 Sam 11:3) a foreigner, yet, he was so faithful to God, to David and the country. When David’s plan had failed, he devised another plan. He sent a letter to Joab, the commander of his army. In the letter, David ordered that Uriah to be put in the most dangerous place in the battle—the spot where the battle would be the fiercest. David specifically told Joab to put him there and withdraw from him so he would die.

The worse thing was that Uriah, did not know what would be coming upon him, was carrying the letter that would orchestrate his own death. In the battle, Joab had the city under siege and put Uriah at a place where there would be the strongest defenders.  

Uriah died in the battle. Some of David’s best soldiers were killed too. It could have been avoidable but because the king wanted Uriah dead. It is scary to think how far David would go to have Bathsheba by his side. It is a reflection for us too: the higher our position, the more we have to be careful because we do have the power to make powerful decisions that would affect the lives of others.

When David received the news from Joab, he would normally be very angry if precious lives were taken and if the deaths of his soldiers could have been avoided. But not this time. He would not care if other good soldiers of him died together with Uriah. All that he cared about was making sure that Uriah was dead. With him out of the way, he could finally have Bathsheba.   

Bathsheba mourned for her husband. After that, King David took her to be his wife. And she gave birth to a son.

When King David first saw her, he desired to have her. He must made her his. He arranged for her husband to be killed so that he could have her.

King David, a bright shiny star, the glory of the nation of Israel had fallen. His passion to have Bathsheba led to unexpected consequences. I wonder how many times when David was lying in the bed at night regretted his decision. If only he could turn back time, would he repeat his action again?

His action did not please God. The child that they had would be taken away from them.

We make mistakes but as always, God is always there. He will forgive anyone who repents. Because God loves David, He sent His prophet, Nathan to him.

Nathan told him a story: there was a rich man who had a very large number of sheep and cattle and a poor man who only had an ewe. A traveller came to the rich man and he wanted to prepare a meal for the traveller. Instead of taking one of his own sheep for the meal, this rich man went to the poor man and took his ewe lamb, which was his pride and joy and prepared it as a meal for the traveller.

David was furious at the rich man. He was shocked when Nathan said he was the rich man in the story. He had everything. Yet, he despised God and took the only wife of his faithful soldier and killed him.

David broke 5 of the 10 commandments. He coveted his soldier’s wife, he committed adultery, he bear false witness, he murdered and he stole his soldier’s wife.  

Because David had despised God, this child must die. This consequence was upon David and Bathsheba. But that was not the end of the story. David did not cast Bathsheba in the harem and forget her. No. Instead, they had 3 more children together. In the later years, as David grew old and weak, his son, Adonijah had claimed the throne. Bathsheba came to remind David that he had made a promise that their Solomon would be the next king. Whether or not he actually promised her this, we did not know. But David listened and trusted her. David then made Solomon the king.

In her older years, some traditions said that Bathsheba recited Proverbs 31 to Solomon on the day of his marriage, “charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeing; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised”. Everything in the world will fade away some day: power will not last forever, beauty certainly does not. Even as the greatest king of Israel, David too had to step down and coronate the new king of Israel. But our relationship with God lasts forever.

God loves you and I too. When you and I make mistakes, we will have to bear with the consequences but God will always forgive us. We will be made clean.

After realising his sin, David prayed, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” (Psalm 51:10-12, NIV).

Psalm 51 is a beautiful psalm of repentance that David sang after his adultery with Bathsheba.

He asked for a pure heart and a joyful heart to obey God’s commands. He too, pleaded with God, not to leave him or take His Holy Spirit or from him. He desired for God. He yearned for God and to delight himself in the Lord again. 

God will discipline us because we are precious in His sight. He did not want us to continue in the wrong path. He wants to wake us up to the right path. When God speaks, we have to listen. He did not condemn us but bring us back to the path of salvation.   

The genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew highlighted the fact that Bathsheba was Uriah’s wife. It said, “David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife” (Matthew 1:6b). Although Jesus, the Saviour of the World, is perfect and holy, he did not come from perfect ancestry. We are not perfect, yet, in our own imperfections, we experienced God’s mercy and forgiveness. None of us can say we have never sinned. But we all can say we have tasted and see God’s love and mercy. How great and deep His love us for us. 

What is the love story of your life? May it be a sweet passion fruit that blesses you and your beloved. And that your passion fruit is an example to others, one that brings great rejoicing among friends and relatives, and one that glorifies God.

The Type of Fasting God is Looking for

Bible text: Isaiah 58:6-12

February marks the beginning of the season of Lent. What is Lent? Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. Lent is a season of 40 days, not including Sundays. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday). Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word “lencten”, which means “lengthen” and it refers to the lengthening days of spring.

There are 40 days in Lent to represents the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness, in which Jesus was spending time in prayer in preparation for His ministry. It was when the devil tempted Him 3 times, and Jesus defeated him (Matthew 4:1-11).

Lent is a time of repentance and fasting. Fasting does not necessarily mean we abstain from food. It can be refraining from activities that distract us from spending time in prayers. Fasting helps us to draw closer to God by remembering that we do not live on bread or food alone but on God’s Word. Fasting helps us to attack the sin that is within us. What sins are you struggling with? Fasting helps us to lean upon God and with God’s help, break away from the sins that entangled us. Fasting gives us freedom from sins that grip us. 

The Israelites described in this passage were fasting. However, their fasting was not acceptable to God. One of the problems was that although they were fasting, they were using it as an opportunity to oppress the weaker people. The employer would use fasting as an excuse to avoid work for that period of time, and it meant that the workers would have no income during the fast. This provoked God’s anger.

The people were fasting, yes, but at the same time, they had their own selfish agendas behind it. From the outward appearance, it seemed they were fasting, but God saw their hearts, and their hearts were far from God.

What is the type of fast God is looking for?

What is the type of fasting which God is looking for?

It is mentioned in Isaiah 58: 6-12:

•          to loose the chains of injustice

•          to untie the cords of the yoke

•          to set the oppressed free and break every yoke

•          to share your food with the hungry

•          to provide the poor wanderer with shelter

•          to clothe the naked

•          and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood.

And then in verses 9-10:

•          if you do away with the yoke of oppression

•          stop the pointing of the finger

•          stop the malicious talk

•          spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry

•          satisfy the needs of the oppressed

In short, God wants to see these things in His children:

1.        Lift the Burdens of Others

•          to loose the chains of injustice

•          to untie the cords of the yoke

•          to set the oppressed free and break every yoke

•          To satisfy the needs of the oppressed

Words such as: “chains, cords of the yoke, oppressed…”. God wants us to help lift the burdens of others. Not to increase it.  

May we help those in need, and not to be bystanders to watch or to add to their hardship. 

2.        Share your food with the hungry

In school, we had to do Moral Education. We were given a picture and say what we should do in a scenario. In school, it is easy to say we should do this and that but now we are adults living in a real world. Sharing food with the hungry is not as straight forward as writing Moral essays in class. How can you share with food with the hungry? We are called to feed the hungry. What are some ways that we can feed the hungry? It may not need to be like a pot-bless or a party or something extravagant. It can be a small little act that we do. God will use your small acts of kindness to bless someone in need.  

3.        Provide the poor wanderer with shelter

God calls us to provide shelter to others. It can refer to being hospitable to others, especially the foreigners, the migrants in our land. How can we show hospitality to others?

4.        Provide clothing for the naked

This includes clothing others with dignity. Remember that we all came from the dust of the ground as God has made the first man out of the earth. Uphold each other with dignity.

The verse says, don’t point fingers at others. Be sympathetic.

5.        Respect others

In fasting, we are to respect others. And not to turn away from our own flesh and blood.

13 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. 2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. 3 Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:1-3, NIV)

Remember those who were in difficult circumstances as if we too are in it.

6.        Satisfied the needs of the oppressed

Help those who are oppressed. Be their friend.  Passionless giving or donation without much thoughts are not what God wanted.

If you do these things, then see how you will experience God’s mercy and grace:

-Your light will break forth like the dawn

You will enjoy the blessings of the Lord. People will know that you belong to God by the way you live.

-There will be strengthening in you  

-Your righteousness will go before you

-Glory of the Lord will be your rear guard

-The Lord will surround you

-The Lord will answer when you call

-The Lord will satisfy your needs

-The Lord will strengthen your frame

-You will be like a well-watered garden and like an ever-flowing spring

God blesses those who bless others. God will never short-change His children. When you give of yourselves to help others, God will satisfy you. You who feed others, God will feed you. You who clothed others in need, you will be clothed by God. You will not be in want but will be like a well-watered garden, a spring that will not run dry. God will strengthen you and bless you.

These are the blessings we will receive when we fast the right way to seek His face. We have to be very careful here. God is not a genie whose arms we can twist in order to get blessings. Every blessing we receive is grace from God, not that we have earn it with our own efforts or strength.

It is a right time to think about these questions:

Why am I doing what I am doing?

Why am I fasting?

Am I praying and fasting because I want to draw near to God? Or am I doing this with hidden motives or self-centred agenda?

Lent started with Ash Wednesday. The significance of Ash Wednesday is to remind us of our mortality. Let us be mindful that we are just a breath. The weak, the poor and the oppressed are not so different from us. They are also human like us. How would you live differently if you are mindful that our days are on earth are numbered? As Moses prayed, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)

Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. Let us be intentional to set aside time to seek God’s face. Let us think beyond ourselves and see how we can help others during the season of Lent. May we be refreshed by God as we help others.

Prayers change things

2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:2-6, NIV)

One of the spiritual disciplines a Christian should cultivate is prayers. Prayer enables us to build a relationship with our Father in Heaven who loves us.

When Apostle Paul wrote this letter, it was meant for the church at Colossae. It seemed that the Christians at Colossae were on the verge of losing their understanding of the power by which the Christian life is lived. Paul wrote this letter to encourage them as well as to remind them that there is power and joy as Christians.

Paul’s prayer for the Christians is that they might be strengthened according to God’s glorious might. Paul was in the prison when he was writing this. Being in the prison did not discourage him. He was still joyful because he himself had been strengthened by God.

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” (verse 2)

Devote ourselves to prayer means we priority prayers regardless of the circumstances. The situation around us does not dictate our joy. Regardless of whatever the circumstances, there is something that we can be thankful for. Make a commitment to pray because prayer connects us to God, our the source of joy and strength.

(1) Prayers Change Things

One of the comments we often hear is this: why do we pray when God is in control? Why do we still need to pray if God already knows everything?

God is not a robot that will do what He is programmed. God is a compassionate God, Who is slow to anger and abounding in love (Exodus 34:6; Psalm 103:8, Psalm 145:8). In various accounts in the Bible, we see that God will change His mind when His people prayed.

For example, Exodus 32 tells us Moses was up in the mountain to be with the Lord. That was when he received the tablet of the 10 Commandments from the Lord. The Israelites saw that Moses had not return to them so they gathered around Aaron and demanded Aaron to make a golden calf from the gold jewellery they had so they could worship it and said this golden calf brought them out of Egypt. They worshipped it and offered sacrifices to it. God was so angry with them that He wanted to destroy these rebellious people. But Moses found favour with God and so, Moses talked to God and asked for His mercy upon the Israelites. Then, God changed His mind and not destroy the people. Verse 14 of Exodus 32 tells us, “Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.”

Another example is found in Jonah. God sent Jonah to the great city of Nineveh. It was a very large city and the people were wicked. God wanted to destroy the city and so He sent Jonah to warn the people there. The king and the people of Nineveh heard God’s warning and they repented. The people fasted and prayed and repented.  “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” (Jonah 3:10)

Prayers will change the course of events. God will change His mind when His people come to Him in prayers. Apostle Paul reminds us that we are partners with God.

“For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Cor 3:9) We partner with God. He is not a task master that orders us to do His assignments but He is merciful and compassionate.

As God’s co-workers, it is our responsibility to pray. May God have mercy and hear our prayers for our nation.

(2) Prayer transforms us

When we pray, we move closer to the heart of God. We will see clearly what God loves and know what God hates. We will then begin to care about the things He care about, to love the things He loves and to hate the things He hates. It is not about me anymore but we will think about our action and consequences whether they are they pleasing to God.

Prayer is life changing. It changes our lives. Prayer allows God to transform us. James 4:3, we ask but we do not received because we ask with the wrong motives. Prayer is also a way God is shaping us and molding our character to be more like His Son, Jesus and to live a life that is pleasing to Him.  

Apostle Paul urged the Christians that there should be transformation in our lives as followers of Christ.

5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:5-6, NIV)

Prayers change our behaviour. We also pray so that we will be wise when we live our lives in the society so that we can give glory to God. Prayer helps us to seize opportunity to be good witnesses for the Lord. Prayer changes the language we use towards others and towards ourselves. We don’t use language or words that accused and condemn others but our conversation will be full of grace, edifying, uplifting and encouraging wherever we are: at home, in school, at the workplace or in the society. 

Prayers let us know the heart of God so that we can answer people about the God Whom we love and serve.

(3) Prayer is a journey

My dad loves to watch boxing matches. The boxers did not jump into the ring to fight without training. They did not just train for a day and then compete in the championship. They trained for a long time. Singers do not record music without musical training. They too had been undergoing training for a long time before recording music in the studio.

Same goes with prayer. It is a journey. It is a learning process. We will not be able to pray immediately. We need time to learn to pray. The more we pray, the more we will know how to pray. The more we pray, the more we will know the character of God. Don’t be discouraged if you think you don’t know how to pray yet. Think about your own children. When they first learn how to speak, you don’t get upset because they can not talk to you well yet. You will be overjoyed if they speak the first vowel because they are learning to communicate with you. Because they can’t talk very well yet, that does not mean you love them less. You know it will take time for them to learn words. You know it will take time for them to have a conversation with you which you can understand. 

God is our Father in Heaven. He is delighted that you, His beloved child, come to Him in prayer. Prayer is heart to heart conversation with God.

Let us devote ourselves to prayer. Prayer is communion with God. Prayer is to know the heartbeat of God. Prayer changes things. Prayer transforms us. Prayer is a journey. Let us go deeper into prayer and experience more of His grace, love, provision and strength.  

Where There Is No Vision, The People Perish

Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. (Proverbs 29:18)

I was in the choir during my seminary days. When I was in Year 2, the choir presented a song for the graduating class during the graduation service, and the song was entitled, “Give us a vision, Lord”.

The lyric of the song was, “Where there is no vision, the people perish. Give us your vision, Lord.” The lyrics were inspired by Proverbs 29:18.

During our choir practice, the conductor told us that she had chosen this song for the choir to sing for the graduating class as they would be moving from the seminary into the world. They needed to be reminded that they were being sent out on God’s mission. They would need vision from the Lord for the tasks in front of them. They would need vision from God for the church they would be going to, they would need vision from God for those who were going back to the marketplaces, or serving in the para-church.

If they moved forward without vision, it would not be good. This verse says, people will perish without vision from God.

Today is the 20th day into the new year. Usually, at the beginning of each year, we make new year resolutions. New Year resolutions help us to improve ourselves, to achieve our ambitions, what I want to achieve for myself: I want to keep fit, I want to go for missions trip, I want to be more effective at work.

As disciples of Jesus, we want God to be in our new year resolutions. We want to use the gifts He has blessed us with to serve Him and to help others so that God will be glorified and we will live fulfilling lives.  

No one on earth has your backgrounds, or the same life experiences as you do. You are uniquely you in the entire history of mankind. You are unique and only you can fulfil the things God wants to do through you. No one else can fulfil what God wants to do through you: not your children, not your grandchildren, not your friends but you.  

We are here on this earth, at this time, for such a time as this. God wants to do something through us: through you and me. Let us catch God’s vision for us.

Vision is: able to see in our minds God’s plan and purpose for our lives—both now and the future, partial (may be only a bit) and whole (a more complete picture), individual and corporate and take actions to do what God has told us to.

Our society talks about KPI: what I can do, what I can achieve. As disciples of Christ, our vision always go back to what the Lord has in mind for us. What He can do, what can God do through me, how I can let God use me. 

The King James Version says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” (Proverbs 29:18)

For people with vision and they obey God, they are happy people. Some translations say, we are blessed. We are blessed and happy. Other meanings of the word “happy” are: “blessed, joyful, successful, peaceful”. We will be happy and blessed when we submit to God’s plans for us.  

This verse also tells us, “where there is no vision, people perish”. Without purpose in life, time will pass by aimlessly. Life will go by aimlessly too. Without vision, we will lost the purpose and the joy of life. Every day is just another day to get through, and not a gift. When we have the attitude of living an average life, we will miss the opportunity to experience God’s presence, power and provision (material provision, or provision in terms of giving us strength, wisdom and so on). When we see God’s plan for us, every day has a purpose.

How do we see God’s plan for us?

S. O. A. R (soar on eagle’s wings)

(1) Seek

The Lord says in Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” The Lord was speaking to His people, the Israelites when they were in captivity in Babylon. God planned a new beginning and a new purpose for them to reassure them that He was with them.

This promise is for us too. When we seek Him, we will find Him.

Intentionally quiet down ourselves to seek God and His direction for us. Make time to hear from God. I go for silent retreats to hear from God every year to listen to what He is saying to me personally, and also to the church. Cultivate the disciplines of solitude to hear clearly from God.

(2) Obedience

To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22)

This is only the first of many places in the Bible that talks about “obedience is better than sacrifice” (Ps 40:6-8, 51:16, 17; Proverbs 21:3; Isaiah 1:11-17; Jeremiah 7:21-23; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8; Matthew 12:7; Mark 12:33; Hebrews 10: 8,9). 

Sacrifices in the Old Testament were a ritual that physically demonstrated a relationship between God and a person. Today, if we do “everything” right (we go to church, we are serving in ministries, we are giving to charity), but if our heart is not right with God, everything we do outwardly is meaningless.

We need to obey if we want to embrace God’s vision. We can’t have it my way and God’s way. It is my way, or it is God’s way. We need obedience to respond to God’s vision. In obedience, we will find life.

(3) Adjust

We want God to speak to us and use us to do something. But we don’t want to make adjustments in our life. If we look at the Bible, when God spoke to His men and women to carry out something, they had to adjust to Him. Some had to leave their families and countries behind. Some had to remove their prejudices. Other had to leave behind life goals, dreams and wishes.   

For example, Abraham could not stay at home and go where God asked him to (Gen 12:1-8).

Moses could not be a shepherd and yet lead the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 3).

David left his life as a shepherd boy behind to become king (1 Sam 16:1-13).

Jonah left his home and work on his prejudice before he could preach at Nineveh (Jonah 1:1-2, 3:1-2; 4:1-11).

Peter, Andrew, James and John left their fishing business to follow Jesus (Matthew 4:18-22). 

Once they had adjusted to God, only then God could use them to carry out His plan and purposes.

Even Jesus Christ has to adjust His life to God’s plan: He forsook His glorious life in Heaven, come down to Earth to save us by dying on the Cross for us. 2 Cor. 8:9 says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he become poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9). 

As believers, we have to adjust ourselves to God. We need to adjust our lifestyle accordingly in the ways that pleases the Lord, because He is the Lord, He wants to be your Lord. His purpose for you will always be the best although we may not understand it at that moment.  

      What are the things you have to adjust to respond to God? How can God use me at home? In the workplace? In the society? How can I use my intellect and gifts to be a blessing to the people around me?

(4)Review

God is a living God. His directions, and plans for us is different from season to season. Think of a plant and its stages of growth: sprout, seedling, vegetative, budding, flowering and ripening. Different amount of water is needed, different amount of fertilizer is used and even different pots, depending on the size of the plant.

Just like us too. As we go through different seasons and different stages in life, we will have different needs. Our needs as a young adult are different from when we were children. It will also be different in our golden years.

Make each day count. Don’t waste our time away. Make every day count for the glory of God. Spend time to seek the vision God has for you.

Our lives here on earth are like a vapour—we don’t know how long we will be on earth. Let us catch the vision God has for us. Remember, you are special. You were wonderfully and fearfully made. Make every day count. May God be glorified in our daily lives. 

Contentment is Great Gain

I was driving home one day when I saw a group of people walking home. In the group were 2 female adults with 2 children walking in front of them. They had the biggest smile on their faces. Apparently, they were walking home too. I noticed that their home was just a very simple place and yet, they were filled with joy.  

The ladies reminded me the simple joys in life do not cost a lot: spending time with loved ones, a leisure stroll and a simple meal. There were times when I sulked because I do not have what I wanted (not what I needed). Apostle Paul reminded his mentee Timothy that, “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6, NIV).

Godliness is a life with God in the centre. Contentment is finding joy and satisfaction in what God has given to you. The opposite of contentment is greed and greed is like a bottomless pit, we will never be satisfied when greed is lurking in our hearts.

Contentment is something that we will learn as we walk with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is not in our human nature, it does not come naturally to us. Apostle Paul also said, “for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11, NIV). Paul learnt contentment through his own life experiences when God put him in situations where he would be in need, starved and also in situations when he had plenty and was well-fed (Philippians 4:12).

We can not keep what we have forever. Verse 7 and 8 tell us, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”

Greed will lead us to do things that will bring terrible consequences. Apostle Paul continues, “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction”(verse 9). People fell into destructions because of greed. Think about the news you have read this morning. Crimes were committed: robbing, stealing, cheating, murder, all because of wanting to get money quick. We grieve with the victims on the loss of their money, although some may also, out of greed, fell into these traps.

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (verse 10). We can never have enough. We see something, and we want it. If we set money as our main objective in life, we will lose all that matter. “Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (verse 10b). When the love of money is untamed, it brings us sorrow and griefs—not just status and power in the society.

Money does not bring joy as the social media claims. The celebrities may be living the lifestyles of the “rich and famous” but true joy does not come from money or fame.

May God help us, to live a life of joy and contentment. The next time when I catch myself grumbling because of what I do not have, I shall count the bountiful blessings which I have received from my God who loves me. The simple pleasures and joy in life do not come from money, but they come from God who “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17).  

Teaching our family to love God

The pandemic changes the way we view things. It teaches us what is most important to us. Most of the time, the most important things are not the material things. The most important things are things which money can not buy: like relationships with our family and friends, health and the nature which God created. And of course, there are the basic needs that we must have: food, shelter and clothing.

Deuteronomy means “second law” or “repetition of the law”. The book of Deuteronomy is a farewell speech by Moses to the 2 million Israelites. Farewell speeches are very important. They are the last words of a person. Before the Israelites enter into the Promised Land, he wanted to equip this generation of the Israelites for a new life in the Promised Land. It would not be easy. They would be living among nations who did not know God and they had their own cultures and beliefs. The Israelites had to be mindful that they were the people of God, they were not to assimilate into the culture around them but to shine for God and live lives that glorify God. They were not to forget God for all the blessings He had showered upon them.

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

“Hear” or in Hebrew “shema” means to listen with the purpose of obedience. This is so important that the Jewish boys are to memorise it as soon as they can speak. The nations around them worshipped many gods and idols, but for the Israelites, they affirm that there is only one true and living God.

The “one” (ehad) also means “a unity” in Hebrew. It is the same word used to describe the oneness of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:24). The Israelites are to remember that God is one. God was the One who delivered them from enemies and rescued them.

5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

We love God because He first loves us. We can only love Him if we know Him. Loving God means knowing Him and obeying Him. We know God through His Word: read, meditate, talk about it and share it with others.

To love God, to worship Him and to serve Him is the greatest privilege we can have. Our love for God involves our whole person “with all your heart, all of your soul and all your strength”, that means, all of us (Ps 103:1). Love the Lord with all that is within us.

Timothy Keller, a US pastor, “Love is never primarily defined in the Bible as a feeling. At its foundation love is at least a commitment and a promise”.

Loving God is not basing on feeling. Today I feel God, I will love God more and be kinder to people. Yesterday I didn’t feel like loving God so I did not read the Bible or pray. Loving God is a commitment. It is not based on our feelings.  

If we love God, we will love others in response to God’s love for us. if we love God, we want our family to love Him and enjoy Him too. We will want to talk about God to our family and what He has done because He is so great. There are so many things we can talk about Him to our family.

6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

When we love God, we listen to His Word and we keep them in our hearts and we live them out. Someone said Christians are like a walking Bible. Others will know about God through our conduct, speech and behaviours.

Moses urged the parents to discuss God’s Word in the home and to allow God’s Word to guide them in their daily lives. God’s word also control who could come into the gate of their home and the door of their house.

The lsraelites took this literally. They wore a part of the Scriptures in little containers called phylacteries on their foreheads and left arms. They also had a small container of Scripture—a mezuzah, to the front door and on every door in the house. Every time the occupant passed through the door, he or she would touch the mezuzah reverently. By placing the Scriptures on the forehead, on the left arm and on every door, the Israelites were mindful that they themselves and the house was for the glory of the Lord. The home should be the place where the Word of God was taught, loved and obeyed. The home should be the place where loving God and loving one another is practiced.

May our home welcome God in their house. May each family reading this walk in love and unity in the Lord.

As Moses spoke to the Israelites, warning them of the challenges ahead, living in a pagan culture, the same challenge is for us today. We are to remember we are children of God. We do not assimilate into the cultures around us but to be salt and light in the society. One of the most important things we can do is to teach the younger generation about God and His Word. The world we are living in is a tough world, all the more we need to teach our children God’s Word and be grounded in faith, or else, the cultures of the world will push them to and fro. We need to teach the next generation the importance of being a follower of Jesus Christ. Teaching them God’s Word will save them from danger and harm. Not only that, their children after them will also benefit from the teachings we teach them, “These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life.” (Deut 6:1-2). In God’s Word, there is life. We want our children to live well. Something we have to strive to do is to teach them about God, and to pray for them.

It is a life journey. Some days are better than others. You will have good days and you will have better days and some days which are not so good. It is a journey.

Our God is not interested in looking at the results only. What interests Him and what He wants to see is the moulding of our character in the process, and deepening of our relationship with Him. He cares about the transformation of our lives too. 

May our homes be filled with God’s love and be blessings to the community.

Christian Lifestyle

To me, Hebrews is just like a military book: you have to get going, there is no time to waste. Hebrews 13 is the last chapter of Hebrews. In it are the instructions on how we should live: as brothers and sisters in Christ — the fellowship we have should be bound by love. How our marriage should look like as Christians, the use of money and to persevere in our spiritual walk.   

Love and Fellowship (vv1-6)

The Hebrews to whom this letter was written for had no doubt been rejected by their families and friends for being followers of Jesus Christ. But the love that Christians shared was different because it was from God and empowered by God. The love of God had enabled them to love one another.

“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters” (verse 1). That is what makes us different from social clubs and other hobby groups. We are a family in Christ. There should be no distinctions or discriminations.   

  • “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:10)
  • “Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.” (1 Thess 4:9)
  • “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.” (1 Peter 1:22)

Love and Hospitality (v 2)

Where there is Christian love, there is hospitality. Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic priest, theologian and writer, wrote:

“Hospitality means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. . . . The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations. Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adore the lifestyle of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own.”

In short, hospitality is the free and safe space for strangers to enter and discover the meaning of life and purposes.

Hospitality is an important ministry in the early church. Because of persecution, many believers were kicked out of their homes by their families. Not only that, there were traveling ministers who needed places to stay (3 John 5-8). If you remember, the story of prophet Elisha in the Old Testament. He often traveled from place to place. A Shunammite woman would prepare a room for him to rest when he was passing by. Because of their hospitality, her husband and her were blessed with a son. 

How should we show hospitality to strangers in our church and strangers in our lives? In this pandemic, all the more we need to extend our warmth to people who need it. It has been a rough year. All the more we need to show that we care. May you be God’s agents of love and hope this Christmas season. 

It is interesting because if we show hospitality, we are entertaining angels. Verse 2 says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it”.

In Genesis 18, Abraham welcomed strangers and gave them food to eat. He was actually entertaining Jesus and His two angels. It was only later that he realised it was Jesus and his angels. You and I may not be entertaining angels in disguise but each guest that we welcome are agents of blessings to us. May we too, be refreshed when we show hospitality to others.  

When we show hospitality, let us not forget those Christians who are persecuted.

Verse 3 reminds us, “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”

Let us not get so comfortable with our lives that we forget our brothers and sisters in Christ who are persecuted for the Gospel. I have seminary classmates who were ministering in places where they were beaten and put to jail because they were Christians and were proclaiming the Good News. Remembering and praying for Christians who are persecuted is one way to show that we care as the Body of Christ. It is also pleasing to the Lord.  

Love in the Christian Home (v4)

The home is the ground where we practice love (Hebrews 13:4).  A Christian home is made up of a Christian marriage. There is no place for the marriage bed for a third person. As Christians, the marriage bed is only for the married couple. God is the judge and any misconducts will be judged by Him.

King David committed adultery. When he repented, God forgave him but he still had the bear the consequences of his adultery.

The media, the movies that we watch, the songs that we listen to, have catchy tunes but most of them promote pre-marital sex. It seems everyone is doing it. It seems right but it is not right in God’s eyes. Not that God is old fashioned but God was the one who designed sex. And He meant for it as a wonderful gift for the husband and the wife. If we remember we are children of God, we will not want to do it. It is not for entertainment or for experiment as the media is portraying it. Let us ask for God’s strength and wisdom to stay away from these activities that are not beneficial for us and will do damage to our souls.

Love the Lord (verse 5)

Most of the pastors entered into the ministry not because of money or its benefits but because we are curtained that God has called us into serving Him full time. And none of us are in lack or in want. God’s blessings are beyond our imaginations.

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (v5)

The love of God helps us to use our money wisely. Jesus also reminds us not to love money so much that we forsake our own souls.

There is a quote that John Wesley said but it had been under debate because he might not have said it. It is “Earn all you can, save all you can and give all you can”. It has been at the back of my mind all these years. Nonetheless, we can learn from it.

“Earn all you can.” We work diligently through participating in God’s healing and creative work in the world. We don’t exploit other people or get income from the sufferings of others but earn all that we can in a righteous way. 

“Save all you can.” Wesley supposedly was talking about a simplified lifestyle, a warning against extravagance, and self-gratification. May be in this pandemic, we realise what we really need in life. We are just grateful to be alive and what we need is actually the basic things in life. It is a good time to really think about what we really need and what makes our life meaningful.

“Give all you can.” For Wesley, giving is rooted in the very nature and activity of God, whose nature is love, which is the emptying of oneself on behalf of others, the giving of life, abundant and full life. When we love God, we will give to others, especially those in need.

Love your leaders (v 7)

“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (v 7).

The leaders are to give an account before God someday. Therefore, we are to respect and honour them. Leaders are humans after all. They make mistakes too. It is important to cover them with our prayers so that they will make wise and godly decisions in their daily lives.  

The heart of Hebrews is to pursue holiness. May you continue to love one another, be faithful in your marriage, love God and find contentment in Him and honour your leaders.   

Declutter

I am in the midst of packing to move. As Methodist pastors, we get transferred to different congregations every now and then.

I am amazed at the things I could hold in this small apartment! Packing is a stressful thing and unpacking is another tiresome chore.

I hope to make it my goal next year to declutter my living space. A clean physical space is not only good for the soul but it is also a good exercise for my soul to depend less on material things but to be free to enjoy experiences of life.  

Charles Spurgeon said, “You must keep all earthly treasures out of your heart, and let Christ be your treasure, and let Him have your heart”.

May it be that I will not forget to declutter my life. If my heart is crowded with many things, I can not hear the voice of God accurately.

“Two things I ask of you, LORD; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:7-9, NIV)