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.