Guarding our Tongue

‘Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless’ (James 1:26).

In the letter of James, the tongue seems to be a problem (James 1:19; 2:12; 3:1-3, 14-18; 4:11-12). The words we use are a testimony that we are or are not followers of Jesus (Mark 7:15-23).

Whether our religion is true or not depends on what comes out of our mouths. The words “tight rein” here refer to those of a horse’s. During James’ time, much like today, the horse is used for transportation and also for labour work. To be able to ride a horse and to use it effectively, we have to be able to control it, or else it will go in different directions than where we intended. To control it, the rider keeps a tight rein on the horse. The reins is attached to the head of the horse, if we hold on to the rein tightly, we can control where it goes. Likewise, we need a tight rein to guard over our mouth.

What are the words we choose to use? What words come out of our mouths when we are frustrated? When we are angry? Our tongues can do great damages if we do not put a rein over it. I have seen the damages the tongue can do to the community of faith when people are not careful with their words. Once careless words are spoken in anger, whether in anger or without thinking, it will hurt others, and sometimes a relationship can not be repaired to how it used to be.  

Jesus Christ also said, “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Matthew 12:34). What comes out of our mouth is an indication what is in our hearts.

In this coming week, let us listen for words that tears down, belittle others or are hurtful. May be you can spot them in conversations on the television or even in our conversations with friends and family. May we be careful with the choice of words we use. We can either build up or tear down. Let us also consider it as a part of our spiritual discipline to watch over our tongues. 

Pilgrimage

For centuries, people have been going for pilgrimages for religious purposes. They would go to holy sites to deepen their relationship with God, to learn more about the history of the religion, to connect with other believers in the community, to experience the historical sites and some may even seek healing at the historical sites.  

We can go on a pilgrimage without leaving our country. People who are unwell, the elderly, those limited by physical abilities may not be able to travel to the holy sites to see the historical architectures or experience the surroundings as encountered by the saints. However, taking a pilgrimage is to seek a deeper connection with God — it is our journey with God.

When our heart yearns for Him, He speaks to us through His Word, even if we are in an armchair at home. He speaks to us through the community of faith around us. He speaks to us when we are silent and seek His face intentionally.   

Every Christian is on a pilgrimage. We move from ourselves and journey towards God, knowing Him, conversing with Him and walking with Him. It all starts from opening our hearts to His movements in our life.  

Rejoice in the Lord

Our human nature tends to be anxious and we are weigh us down with worries. It can be hard to stop our worrying about the many things in life.

In Philippians 4:4, Paul gives us the antidote to worrying. It is, to “rejoice in the Lord always”. Rejoicing in the Lord is not enough. We are to rejoice not just once but “always”. It means rejoicing should be a part of our lifestyle as Christians. 

Not only that, Paul said, “I will say it again: Rejoice!”. It is a repeated command that we should rejoice. 

Why should we rejoice? 

1. God is sovereign.

He has everything in control. We may not feel it at the moment but God’s timing is the best (Psalm 121:2)

2. God is faithful

He never leaves us or forsakes us (Deuteronomy 7:9-11). We are not in need or in wants. He is with us through the though times and the good times (Psalm 23).

3. God sent His Son

Through the works of Jesus Christ on the cross, we are free from shame and guilt (Galatians 5:1; Isaiah 42:6-7). We have forgiveness from God. We no longer live in shame but we have God’s forgiveness and power. We are now living in freedom through the power of the Holy Spirit.

What does rejoicing in the Lord look like to you? 

The Joy of the Lord is my Strength

This verse, “the joy of the Lord is my strength” is found in Nehemiah 8:10. The descendants of the Israelites had returned to Jerusalem from the exile in Babylon. Ezra, the servant of God, read the law of the Lord to them. They were overcome with grief and they wept. They realised how they far they had drifted away from God. But God was merciful and loving. Through the grace of God, He reconciled us to Himself.

“The joy of the Lord is our strength”. This strength means God’s grace. In times when we are weak and frail, God’s grace will strengthen us. Nothing can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:38). When we first and foremost put God first in our life, and love Him, we will experience radiating joy that comes only from Him.   

As children of God, we have the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Holy Spirit is the Giver of Joy. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Even in trying and difficult times, we can experience the joy of God because of His grace and His love that never leaves us or forsake us. God’s grace and love give us strength to face the day.   

Maundy Thursday: Jesus came to serve and love

Today is Maundy Thursday. The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin of Jesus’s words when He gives his disciples a “new commandment” (mandatum novu) to love one another (John 13:34). The last words of someone about to die are very precious and important. Jesus knew that He would be heading towards the Cross very soon. It was His final night with His disciples on earth. He wanted His disciples to carry out this Commandment: to love one another. Love is the hallmark as His disciples.

From this passage, there are 3 things that we as the disciples of Jesus should do:

(1) Serve one another

Half-way during the meal, Jesus got up, took off the outer clothing and wrapped a towel around his waist, kneeled down before His disciples and washed the feet of His disciples one by one, drying the feet with the towel around his waist.

This was not what a king should be doing. What type of king would serve His servants? It is the servants who are at the king’s commands to serve Him.

What Master would serve his disciples? Washing the feet of the disciples is not one of the things the Master should do. The disciples were shocked. What type of a Master is this?  

Footwashing was something that the lowest of servants would do. The servant would draw the water, wash the feet and dispose of the water. In those days, footwashing was a synonym for slavery. Those who received footwashing were superiors to the servant who washed the feet.

That was what Jesus did. No servant is greater than the Master. Yet, Jesus humbled Himself to show us an example of love and humility.  

Jesus, after taking off his garment, was most probably in a tunic, which was something like an undershirt. This garment was what the servants in those days would wear to serve a meal. Jesus, the Master of His disciples, dressed like a servant as He washed His disciples’ feet.

Paul later wrote to the Philippians that Jesus made Himself nothing by taking the form of a servant. The Prince of Heaven took on the form of a servant.

Paul would later write to the Philippians that Jesus, the Son of God, made himself nothing by taking the very form of a servant.

“Who, being in very nature a God,

did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature b of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:6-8

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who had authority above all things, came from Heaven to Earth as a man like us. He stooped down to wash His disciples’ feet to show us how to love.

In our culture today, we do not have foot-washing. What Jesus showed us was not the act of foot-washing itself, but it is about humbling ourselves to serve others. It is about serving others with humility and love. It is His humility and His love that enabled Him to stoop down and take the role of a lowly servant, and washed His disciples feet.

Jesus Christ never came to this earth to boast or to boss us around. He came to serve. He came to love.

What does it mean for us today? How does serving look like? Who can you serve? How can you make a difference in someone’s life, starting with your family? Who can you serve in your family? How can we serve?  

Many of us worry that we can’t do much. But serving does not need to be a grand thing. A tiny act of kindness and goodness will have a ripple effect. Like a pebble thrown into the pond, there is a spreading effect. A tiny act of kindness will spread from one person to another. The effect will impact many others.

May God enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our friends, to love our neighbours and even to love our enemies.

Who can you serve today?

2. Love one another

The acts of Jesus in the upper room must have impacted His Disciples. One of them, John, wrote,

“Beloved, let us love one another. For love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)

We love because love comes from God. Those who love have God in their lives.

Jesus gave the Commandment to love one another. He said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). Love is the hallmark of being the disciples of Jesus.

Jesus introduced the Last Supper to His disciples, teaching them the significance of the bread and the cup. 2000 years later, we celebrate Holy Communion in remembrance of what Jesus did for us. We remember the love of Jesus for us that bring Him to the Cross. Because He loves us, He was willing to head to the Cross, although He was scared too.

When we partake the Holy Communion, let’s be reminded that we share the one loaf of bread and the same cup. Let us not ignore or dismiss any of God’s people. We partake from the same loaf and cup. We are one in the Body of Christ, although we have different backgrounds, occupations and even skin colours, we are all same in the eyes of God. We are not any better because we are all sinners deserving death but we are saved by the mercy of God. 

Jesus came for all of us. He died so that we will know what love is. Jesus loves us and He wants us to love one another.

3. Forgive one another

On that night in the upper room, as Jesus was holding the bread in His hands, He knew what was waiting for Him. He understood that this bread in His hands symbolised His body.

In a few hours’ time, His body would be crushed and broken —crushed for the sins of mankind. The entire weight of the sin of humanity was upon Him. He would be nailed on the Cross.

As Jesus was holding the cup, He would see the glistening red wine which was a symbol of His blood. In a few hours’ time, His body would be bloody from the merciless whipping. His would wear a crown of thorns which pierced His head. His blood was shed for us so that all of us who believe can be free from the snare of sin and death. Jesus shared the Cup with His disciples, reminding them that His blood would be poured out for the forgiveness of sins.

Later that night, Jesus said one of the 12 of them would betray Him. The disciples looked at each other. Who could it be?

Then, Judas, one of Jesus’ 12 disciples betrayed Him and sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

I am sure Jesus did certainly forgive Judas for betraying Him. There were no one so bad that Jesus could not forgive. No one so evil that Jesus did not came to save.

In 1988, a famous novelist was on a tv interview, she said, “What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness; I have nobody to forgive me.” Why? Why was there no one offering her forgiveness? Why is it she has not forgiven herself when she knows that she will receive forgiveness if only she takes a step to embrace the forgiveness of Jesus? May be she has not fully understood that Jesus offers forgiveness to anyone who would come to Him.

Jesus has offered forgiveness to everyone but it is not received by all. Why?

Forgiveness is hard to give but why is it even harder to receive?

How should we Christians tell others of the forgiveness we have in Christ? How should we live our lives as testimonies that we have been freed from our sin and guilt? There should be forgiveness in us because of the forgiveness that Jesus had given to us.

May we be reminded that Jesus came to serve, to love, to forgive. Let us also serve one another, love one another and forgive one another.

Life is a Gift (Ecclesiastes 3)

Human beings are always searching for meanings in life. The Teacher came up with 3 observations about life and death:

  1. Life is a gift from God (verses 9-10)

The Preacher noticed something in the pattern of mankind.

“9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race” (verses 9-10)

All of us are carrying burdens. There are financial burdens and worries. We are carrying our loads as parents who provide for our children. Or we are caregivers to our elderly parents. If you are a young adult, you face the pressure of balancing work and family life.  

If we see life as a gift from God, we have a better attitude and outlook in life. Even if we are going through difficulties times or are carrying burdens, we can still give thanks to God for the gift of life.

If we treasure life as a gift, every breath that we take is a gift. Life becomes meaningful because it is a gift.

If we see our life as a burden, we will miss the gift of life God has for us. We will not see the blessings from God, but all we can see are problems, pain and difficulties. This will make us angry people, bitter people, people who hold on to grudges, people who are always blaming others for their unhappiness.

The way we look at our lives is important. How we view our life will determine how we live our lives. How we live our lives will most likely determine how we leave this world.

2. Our life is linked to eternity (verse 11)

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (verse 11)

Mankind is created in the image of God. When God created mankind, God placed “eternity in the human heart” (verse 11). God put eternity in our hearts, we were meant to last forever until sin came into the world and separate us from God. In our attempts to find God, we tried many ways to fill in this emptiness. 

The Teacher searched for fulfilment in life. He searched for it in entertainment. He could not find it. He searched for it in wealth and could not find it. He was not satisfied. Without God, there is emptiness.

How does knowing that you have been created for eternity affect the way you live your everyday life?

God accomplish His purposes in His time, and we may not understand His plan because He sees it from the eternity point of view. God is all knowing, all seeing, almighty, ever present. God is eternal. He sees the whole picture. He makes everything beautiful in His time, and we can fully trust in Him though we may not understand it all. But it is not for us to worry about. We just need to trust in God and live by faith.  

3.Our life is enjoyable— now (vv 12-14)

“12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.” (verses 12-14)

Yes, each of us is carrying our own load of burdens. But the Teacher tells us to enjoy what we have right now. Appreciate what we have now. Some are caught up dreaming of some possible future thinking that we can only enjoy life when we have a car or a house or be married or have kids or retired, or have more money in the bank. Some are dwelling in the past, lamenting about that the good days were gone.

We can appreciate our live right now and live in the moment, not dreaming about the future or dwelling in the past.  

Ecclesiastes seems to talk a lot about “meaningless, meaningless” because this is what it is without God, meaningless. But another theme of Ecclesiastes we do not hear a lot is “enjoy life”. We can see this theme being repeated from chapter 3-10.

Life is difficult. Still, we are to treasure each day, and be thankful for what we have. Everything that we have comes from God. God gives us the strength, ability and talents for work and to make a livelihood.

God gives us rest from our labour.

No matter what comes our way, as people who love the Lord, learn not to complain but to give thanks for all that we have with all that we have.

When we are mindful that life is a gift from God, life is more meaningful and manageable. We can rest in God and find satisfaction in our daily toil.    

Jesus Christ as Our Greatest Delight

What brings you the greatest delight? It may be entertainment, your family, your children or pets or your hobbies. We are living in a time in human history where we the most self-sufficient due to the advancement of technology. We can easily get the things we want on the internet and have it delivered to us. If we want to see the world, we can purchase air tickets online and hop on the plane, and find and book accommodation through the apps on our phones. If we are bored, we can entertain ourselves, keep ourselves happy and occupied. We can do everything on our own. But do these activities give us lasting joy?

The Bible is very specific that God alone is our greatest joy and delight. The psalmist says in Psalm 16:11, “in Your presence, there is fullness of joy”. In God’s presence, there is joy so deep and so satisfying that we can not find anywhere else. In the psalm that follows, Psalm 17, the psalmist wrote, “because I am righteous, I will see You. When I awake, I will see You face to face and be satisfied” (Psalm 17:15). God is near to the righteous.

God chose a man named Saul to be Israel’s first king. However, instead of obeying God’s commandments, Saul was relying on his logic. Because of his disobedience, God removed him from the kingship and gave it to a man whom God said had a heart like His own— King David. King David adored Jesus Christ as his greatest satisfaction, joy and delight. 

Our Human Heart

In the medical world, our heart is “the muscle that pumps blood received from veins into arteries throughout the body.” It pumps blood into every area of our bodies. In Biblical terms, however, our heart is more than a muscle; it is who we really are. Our heart is the wellspring of our life. 

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Our heart is the place where you connect with God and connect with other people. Everything we want to achieve in life: our desires, our passions, our dreams, flow from our heart. Everything we are: the words we say, our thoughts, and the things we do when we are alone, all these come from the heart.

How can we have a healthy heart?

(1)Deep repentance

Let’s look at this list: brother, son, musician, worship leader, warrior, general, king, poet, outlaw, adulterer, murderer, shepherd, husband, father, leader, hero, ancestor of Jesus Christ…this list is about a man. He is a powerful man, a man gifted in music and battle but at the same time, he was also an adulterer and a murderer.

David realised how serious his sin was. He was filled with lust, anger and jealousy. David repented and asked God to cleanse his heart.

David specifically prayed in Psalm 51, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight (vv 2-4). Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow (verse 7). Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me (verse 10)”

The reason he has a heart after God’s is because he genuinely repented of his sins. Every one of us had committed sins. We are not perfect. Some of us may be still holding on to our sins. Let us remember that our sins do not define us. We need to face the consequences of our sins, like David did but we also can receive forgiveness from God like David did.

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (1 John 1:9, NLT). If we are truly repentant, God will forgive us and cleanse us from our sins.

When we are so broken by sin, we will realise we have nothing apart from God.  We can’t even save ourselves. We are helpless. When we acknowledge we have nothing, and put our trust in Jesus, Jesus will be our greatest delight. He forgives us and helps us to start all over again.

(2) Delight in the Lord

The second thing we can pray for our hearts is that it will seek God as the greatest joy and delight in our hearts.

George Müller (27 September 1805 – 10 March 1898) was a Christian evangelist and the director of the Ashley Down orphanage in England. During his life time, he cared for 10,024 orphans and provided educational opportunities for the orphans. He established 117 schools that offered Christian education to more than 120,000 children, many of whom were orphans.

Despite being busy running orphanages and caring for these children, he said, the first and most important duty of his day was to get his heart happy in God—-through reading the Bible and praying. His first priority was not to make them the teachers or the orphans happy. His first priority was to make his heart happy in God first, before he could face the challenges of the day.

King David’s heart was happy in the Lord. Even when he faced challenges and his enemies were trying to kill him, he found his greatest joy and satisfaction not on his circumstances but in the Lord.  In difficult and dangerous circumstances, he could still sing praises to God.

Many of these psalms reveal to us his heart, which is him delighting in God’s Law. God’s Word encouraged him through the toughest times. He held on to the unchanging, unfailing promises of God. He meditated and thought about God’s Word, and his heart was happy in the Lord because of these.

“Praise the Lord! How joyful are those who fear the Lord and delight in obeying his commands.” (Psalm 112:1 NLT).

Sometimes we make our problems so big that it is like a tsunami crashing down on us. When our problems is too big, we see God as too small.

Making God our delight need not have to be dependent on our situations. How many of us think our day is ruin by some careless words someone said to us or angry emails from colleagues? Our circumstances in life do not determine our joy. Our level of joy does not depend on how others treat us. Do we say that if we have a better job, we will be happy? People and circumstances do not determine how happy we should be. Make our heart happy in God because the joy of the Lord is our strength.

The Psalmist of Psalm 43 was in a time of darkness. His soul was downcast. He had been crying out to God, waiting for him to rescue him from wicked people. He was waiting for God to answer his prayers and even felt that God was not answering his prayers.

Instead of getting angry at God or throwing a pity-party for himself, the psalmist he picked up his harp and sang to the Lord, “You are my joy and my delight” (Psalm 43:4)

He sang to God, “You are my joy and my delight” even at a time when he was oppressed by wicked people and felt rejected by God.

Our circumstances do not dictate our joy. But we will be happy when we secure ourselves with God’s Word. God loves us. Nothing can ever separate His love from us. He is with us. He watches over us.

We can delight in the Lord by doing these things:

  • Pray and Praise God
    • To remind us Who God is
  • Gratitude
    • David is grateful for what God has done. Again and again in different psalms, he thanked God for what He had done. Keep track of all the answered prayers and the blessings we have receive from God and the things that we are grateful for  
  • Honour the Lord’s Day
    • Worshipping God on Sundays  
    • Come to God with a heart of expectancy. Expect that God will speak and reveal Himself to us through His Word, worship songs and worship services.  
  • Recognise Jesus as your greatest treasure
    • Nothing in the world lasts or stands the test of time but in Jesus, we will be satisfied

(3) Dependency upon God 

In Psalm 18:2, David said of the Lord, “The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.”

Throughout his life, David depends fully in the Lord. When he was a young boy, he depended on God for victory against his fight with Goliath, the Philistine army whom the Israelites were frightened of.

Later on in his life, David also depended on God. Psalm 25 showed us his dependence upon God in the midst of all of his own sins; when his heart ached and the consequences he had to face; the conflict, the sin, the unbelief all around him; the unjust attacks upon him and upon the name of God. Everything happened to him all at once but he depended on God.

Corrie ten Boom is a hero to people who grew up after World War II. She and her family helped Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II. And they saved about 800 lives. Her life was a legacy of godliness and wisdom. She had been arrested and sent to the concentration camp. And she survived to tell her story of dependence on God during those years of suffering. In 1971, she wrote the book, “The Hiding Place” which talked about her experiences.

Corrie once said, “I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that, I still possess.”

Throughout her life, Corrie experienced losses: she lost her family, her sister who was arrested and was sent to concentration camp with her died in the camp, she lost her possessions and lost years of her life. Yet, she learned to keep the best things in life: things that were gained spiritually and emotionally by putting everything in the hands of her Heavenly Father.   What should we place in God’s hand? Your family? Your future? Everything?

Depend on God, we will not lack or be in want as He has promised us in His Word. Pray that God will help us to depend on Him, for our daily provision, for wisdom in our daily living, and to depend on Him as the supreme joy in our lives.

David makes mistakes too but he sincerely wanted to follow God’s commandments and live a life pleasing to Him. Only God can fill the hole in our hearts. If we look for fulfilment elsewhere apart from God, we will not be satisfied for very long. To make Jesus as our greatest delight, (1) repent deeply for the sins of our lives, (2) make our hearts happy in the Lord, (3) make our heart the dwelling place and depend on God for everything in our lives. 

Romans 8

Why is Romans 8 the most beautiful and important chapter in the Bible

8 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.

Many people considered Romans 8 as the greatest chapter in the Bible. Someone said that if the Bible is a ring, then the book of Romans is the diamond, and chapter 8 is the apex of the cut on that diamond.

Romans 8 verse 1 begins with “no condemnation” for those in Christ Jesus and it ends with verse 39 which tells us that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. In between verse 1 and 39, we see the connection of a believer in Jesus (verse 1), the freedom in Christ (verse 2), the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in us (verse 9), life in the Spirit (verses 10-11, 13), adoption by God to be His children (verse 15), assurance of salvation (verse 16), inheritance we have with Christ (Verse 17), future glory (verse 18), intercession of the Holy Spirit (verse 26-27), the goodness of God (verse 28), foreknowledge of God (verse 29), predestination (verses 29-30), victorious living in Christ (verses 35-39).

8 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,

“Therefore”, meaning Apostle Paul summarized the truths he mentioned in chapters 1-7. Romans 8:1 is the conclusion of all that Paul has written from chapter 1-7. In Romans 6, Apostle Paul talks about our union with Jesus Christ. Romans 7 is about our ongoing struggle with sin. Romans 8 is about the ongoing victory we have in the Holy Spirit.

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (verse 1). In Greek manuscript, the first word of the sentence starts with “no”, meaning that the primary emphasis is placed upon “no.”

In Greek, the word for “condemnation” (which is ‘katakrima’), is a strong word that means ‘death sentence’, or ‘eternal death’.  During the Old Testament times, the law condemned those who break the law by giving it a guilty verdict to sinners. Since the law could not save us or free us from condemnation, God has to send His One and only Son Jesus to be our substitute and die for us (Romans 3:21).

We die with Christ. In union with Christ’s death, the power of sin over us is broken. The law of sin and death no longer has any hold over us since we have died to the law in Christ Jesus. By the resurrection of Jesus, we too, are raised with Him, in newness of life, in His Spirit. God’s wrath which was upon us was poured out on His Son, so those who believe will be free from condemnation through faith. Those who believe is guilty no more before God.

We are not found guilty anymore. Until we meet Jesus face to face, the devil may try to accuse us and put guilt and shame in us, but remember, 2000 years ago, Jesus Christ was condemned on our behalf and He had already paid the price for our sin. The verdict is that we are not guilty.

3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.

When Jesus Christ was here on earth 2000 years ago, He was fully man. He faced challenges we faced. He faced temptations, like we do, yet without sins. Jesus was “born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law” (Galatians 4:4-5). He was born under the law and therefore He could save us from the power of sin in our life.

Jesus was also fully God. Because He was God and He was without sin, only He could take all our sins upon Himself and died for us.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13).

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6)

While we were yet sinners, Christ has died for us—once and for all for all humanity.  There is no eternal death sentence for those who believe. We have been made righteous in Jesus Christ.

This is not applicable for everyone, only to those who are in Christ Jesus. There are some people who will reject Jesus and they are not in Christ. They are those who are separated from Christ Jesus (Romans 9:3). For people who are not in Jesus but are separated from Him, they can not say that they are free from God’s wrath. Jesus Christ came to die for humanity but a person needs to come to Jesus by faith and accept the free gift of eternal life which only Jesus Christ offers. The free gift of eternal life is free for everyone but a person has to make a choice to accept Jesus as his personal Lord and Saviour.

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” (John 3:36)

There is no half-half in accepting Jesus. We either are in Him, or we are not. Have you accepted the free gift of eternal life? Do you have the assurance that you are not living in condemnation anymore? You are not condemned when you feel like a failure. You are not condemned when you realised you had made a few bad choices in your life.

This is the Gospel in the nutshell: God is loving, holy and righteous. We are all sinners in this world. God loves us but because of our sins, He has to punish us, like any loving parent would if their child misbehaves. In our sins, we face the wrath of God. Only God alone can save us from sins, and He had provided this solution, that is, through Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is perfect. Jesus is holy. There is no sin in Him and therefore, He is able to take all our sins upon Himself and took our punishment on our behalf. Jesus Christ died for us on the Cross, the punishment which was supposed to be ours. His blood shed on the Cross cleanse us from our sins. Jesus Christ has risen from the dead after 3 days. Those who believe in Him will be saved. The great news is that there is no condemnation for us who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans chapter 8 also talked about the Holy Spirit in our life as Christians. We do not live our Christian life in our own strength. Without Him, we can not go very far. We live day by day in the power of the Holy Spirit who helps us to live a life that is pleasing to God.  

In Romans chapter 8, the Holy Spirit was mentioned 19 times in the first 27 verses. What are the functions of the Holy Spirit according to this chapter? The Holy Spirit:

  • Gives us life (verse 2)
  • Sets us free from the law of sin and death (verse 2)
  • Help us to walk in righteousness (verse 4)
  • Testifies in our spirit that we are God’s children (verses 15-16)
  • Gives us the assurance of our salvation (verses 15-16)
  • Intercedes for us and prays for us according to our weaknesses (Verse 26-27)

With the Holy Spirit’s empowerment, we are to:

  • walk according to the Spirit (verse 4)
  • set our minds to the things of the Spirit (verse 5)
  • The Spirit of God lives in us (Verse 9, 11)
  • Put away our evil desires (verse 13)
  • Pursue holiness (verse 14).    

Verse 4 tells us, “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

“in order that” the law might be fulfilled in us. It means yes, although Jesus died for us and we are not condemned in our sins anymore, we still have to live our lives obeying God’s commandments and walk in holiness. What is the greatest commandment?  

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

In the past, we walked “according to the flesh”, we did what we like because we were in our sinful nature. We had no fear for God because this is our human condition since birth —our minds are set to satisfy the cravings of our flesh. That was why we got into unnecessary troubles. Verse 7 tells us, “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so”. We were enemies of God.

Now, we walk “according to the Spirit”, we live by the power of the Holy Spirit. When we are spiritually minded, we have life and peace (verse 6).

9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.

For those who belong to Christ Jesus, the Holy Spirit makes His home in us. With the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we are able to be obedient to what God requires of us. Our mindset too, is changed. We no longer think of things that only benefits us. Our time, our money— all these are not our possessions but we recognised them as gifts entrusted to us by God.   

In our daily living, let us be intentional followers of Jesus. When we are faced with many temptations, let us choose to walk according to the Holy Spirit. Let us guard our speech, action and thoughts in the workplace, in our dealing with others, at home with our family or alone with our entertainment. Let us depend on the guidance of the Holy Spirit daily to choose things that are pleasing to God.

During the 19th century, Ireland was stricken by a potato famine. Many of the Irish people immigrated to America. A young Irish boy stowed away on a ship bound for America. At seas, unfortunately, the ship struck an iceberg and began to sink. As people scrambled frantically for the lifeboats, the captain was the last to leave the sinking ship. When he looked back at the ship, he saw the young stowaway coming out of hiding. The captain ordered his lifeboat back to the sinking ship. He climbed aboard and rescued the boy, putting him in the only vacate seat in the lifeboat, which was the captain’s. As the lifeboat slowly pulled away from the sinking ship, the captain yelled out to the boy, “Boy, never forget what has been done for you today!”

This is grace. I am sure the boy treasured his life from that day on, don’t you? He was almost gone but the captain saw him, rescued him, and exchanged places with him. The captain gave him his seat on the lifeboat. All that the captain asked in return was that the boy not to forget what had been done for him that day.

How often do we think about the sacrifices of Jesus Christ for us? We don’t really think about it. We should live our lives in remembrance of what Jesus Christ has done for us. He died to give us life. He rose again from the dead to give us hope and a future. Come to Jesus, He cares for you.    

Rejoice in the Lord always

Philippians 4:4-8

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

When Apostle Paul was writing this, he was writing to the Philippians not to let selfish ambitions or quarrels to destroy the church life. Apostle Paul reminded them to turn to God and think of things that are of God, and not on earthly things. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

This is the 3rd and 4th times that Paul wrote in this letter to remind the Philippians to rejoice (the other times he commanded them to rejoice was in Philippians 2:18; 3:1). Rejoice means “to be glad”. They are to rejoice—to find joy in God because of what God has done. .

Joy is not head knowledge. Our joy is not about seeking a spiritual experience. Some people are always looking for spiritual highs or the manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Joy is more than just eating ice cream on a hot day. Joy is not dependence on your circumstances. Our joy does not come from other people or how they treat us. Our joy doesn’t come from how much we earn.

Rejoicing in the Lord is not something that we do “when we feel like it”. We are told to rejoice in the Lord always. It should be our lifestyle as followers of Jesus Christ. Our joy is in the Lord. We rejoice in God our Creator.

Joy comes from God. Joy is knowing that God sent Jesus Christ to die for our sins, the Holy Spirit is with us and we have eternal life with God. It is something that can not be taken away from us. Jesus said His joy is in us and that our joy will be full (John 15:11).    

“Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” (verse 5)

We can not rejoice in the Lord if we are full of bitterness, anger, and a quarrelsome attitude. We can not rejoice in God if there is unforgiveness in us. May be one of the reasons someone is going through a dark spiritual time is because of bitterness and unforgiveness.

Bitterness is a root that will manifest itself one way or another in our bodies or in our relationships with others, and the choice of words we use in our conversations.

In the original context, there was a conflict between Euodia and Syntyche. Instead of continuing with this conflict, Apostle Paul asked them to be gentle instead. Instead of asserting their power and rights, be gentle. Don’t hold on to a grudge even if you were wronged. It takes courage to ask for forgiveness and to forgive someone but that is how you are set free from the bondage of grudge and bitterness. Take this matter before the Lord. Don’t let unforgiveness destroy your soul.   

Apostle Paul went on to say, “The Lord is near”. Jesus Christ is coming back very soon. It is not time for disunity, for quarrels in the church. It is time to shine for Jesus and to share His love with the people around us.

How do we have joy in God when there is no joy in us? There are times when God is like the sun, hidden by clouds. We can’t see Him. Martin Luther had such an encounter and described that God was hidden like the sun behind the clouds.

Our Christian life is a journey. There will be ups and downs. None of the ups or the downs will be a permanent state. Just as there are different sceneries at different part of a journey, sometimes there are breath-taking views, there are times when it is just a piece of dry land, there will be times when we are in a dry or dark season in our walk with the Lord.

King David recorded moments when he was experiencing spiritual lows in his life.  

Psalm 40:1-3

1 I waited patiently for the Lord;

he turned to me and heard my cry.

2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,

out of the mud and mire;

he set my feet on a rock

and gave me a firm place to stand.

3 He put a new song in my mouth,

a hymn of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear the Lord

and put their trust in him.

King David, used these words “slimy pit” to describe his spiritual condition. He felt he had fallen into a deep and dark well and was stuck deep in the mud.

We could sense his helplessness and desperation. Helplessness is: the mother overwhelmed with taking care of young children, the stress of the youths studying online, the loneliness of elderly people who has been at home most of the time and missing their friends, those who read the news and feel a sense of hopelessness, those struggling with an illness. At times, we feel hopeless and helpless.

What did King David who was in the pit of destruction and in the miry bog do? He cried out to God, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.…” He cried out because he had confidence that his cries would not fall upon deaf ears. God is a God who listens to prayers. When was the last time you cried out to God when you were in a desperate situation? King David cried a lot. The psalms recorded his songs of tears and weeping. God cares for you and you are not struggling on your own.

After calling out to God, David waited patiently for God to do something. He had confidence that God who hears his cries is able to deliver him out of his situations. Remember, God is a faithful God. We are able to trust in God’s faithfulness because time and time again, God has proven to be a faithful God to us. Our human faithfulness can be flickle at times. It ebbs and flows based on our circumstances and surroundings. There are times our faith is so small and tiny but Jesus said the faith of a mustard seed can move mountains. Trust that even at times when our faith is so small, God still holding us and calling us to Himself.  

And sure enough, God lifted him out of the pit and set him on a solid place where he could stand again. God’s deliverance brought great rejoicing to David. And David could rejoice again. He sang songs of praises to God again. And this had become David’s testimony.

David said, “Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.”

Whatever you are going through will be a testimony for others to see God at work. People will see how God works and put their trust in Him. From disbelief to believing. If you are in the pit of destruction, continue to cry out to God and wait for His deliverance. The song of praise you will sing and your testimony will be an encouragement to those around you.

2 Tim. 2:19, Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,”

1 Cor 1:9, God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Philippians 1:6, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

These are God’s promises to us. Even when we are in the dark, hold on to God’s promises. His promises never fail. His Word will not fall unproductively to the ground. Remember that you are his child. Cry out to God in our helplessness and hopelessness. But let us also wait patiently for him. We do not know how long we must wait before God comes to our rescue, but He will rescue us and deliver us. He makes no mistake. God is a faithful God. His timing is perfect. In our moments of darkness or helplessness, cry out to God, hold on to His hand and wait for His deliverance. Don’t let go of His hand. He certainly won’t let go of us!    

Great men and women of God had moments when they did not experience God.

When Martin Luther wrote the hymn “a mighty fortress is our God”, with Psalm 46 as his reference, it was believed that he was going through a dark and challenging time. In 1529, it was published as “A Hymn of Comfort.”  

Mother Teresa too, experienced a time when God was eclipsed in her life. She wrote to Rev Michael van der Peet in September 1979, “Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.” It was said that for 60 years, Mother Teresa did not experience God but she carried on serving God. 

What do these people have in common in their experience with God? They never gave up on God. They trust that even in their darkness, God was with them.  Even at times they did not see God or experience Him, they knew that God is with them.

What shall we do when we feel helpless, hopeless and so far away from God?

Continue to seek the Lord and wait upon Him. Shift our mind set. And not to set our eyes on our circumstances.

Apostle Paul went on to address the anxiety issue.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (verse 6)

What are you worried about? Family, health, job, money, future, the list goes on…

Apostle Paul urged us not to be anxious or worried but to commit everything to God in prayers. Like King David, we have to trust that God will pull us out from the pit of destruction and place us on solid ground. Tell God what is on your mind. Tell God your desperate situation. God wants to hear from you. He cares for you. He knows what is in your mind but He wants you to tell Him. That is how you build a relationship with God. You pour your heart to Him and you listen to Him and read His Word for instructions.

When we make our needs and requests known before God in prayers, we are to give thanks to God. “Thanksgiving” (eucharistia in Greek) is the expression of gratitude, of giving thanks. 

It means, when we pray, we are to offer our prayers to God with the attitude of remembering His faithfulness, love and mercies in our lives. And we expect that He will do something about our current situation.

When we are discouraged or in the dark, give thanks to God. Think of how God has been with you in the past. He is with you now. Also, it is equally important to guard our minds.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (verse 7)

Peace is a state of well-being. In the Old Testament, the word “Shalom” in Hebrew means: harmony, wholeness, completeness, health, tranquillity, safety, rest, peace with God, and these are permanent state.  

When we pray with thanksgiving, God’s peace will guard our heart and mind. He will guard and protect our heart and mind from worries and anxieties. God’s peace is beyond our understanding. Wait upon God. Rest in God and rest in His promises.

Lastly, we have to make efforts to guard our heart and mind.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” (verse 8)

We talked about being gentle, not holding on to grudges, be at peace with other. It is about training our mind to think of things other than our rights, taking revenge, paying someone back. “Think of these things”. In Greek, the verb for think is “logizomai”, a term for accounting and mathematics. It involves the cognitive process. It means, “to consider, to give careful thought, to consider dwelling your minds on these things. We can control what we think, with God’s help.

Think of these things:

“True”: being truthful and honest, righteous.

“Noble”: honorable, above reproach.

“Right: fair, just.

 “Pure”: holy, clean

“Lovely”: pleasing, amiable.

“Admirable”: praiseworthy, commendable

“Excellent”: excellence within a social context  e.g. excellence of character, giving someone the benefit of a doubt.

“Praiseworthy”” praise

Think of these things. It is not our human nature to think these things so Apostle Paul asks us to put into practice.

“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (verse 9)

Apostle Paul asks the Philippians to learn from his example. For us today, in our Christian community, think of those that you can learn from. You can even ask to be mentored.

Something that we should put into practice:

(i) Prayers

What should you be praying about? When we do not feel God or His presence, continue to pray. His peace will guard our hearts and minds in Him.

(ii) Read God’s Word

When the great men and women of faith felt that God was faraway, they held on to God’s Word. The Bible is God’s Word that is a light unto our path. It leads us to the path of righteousness and wisdom. We should read it, meditate on it and apply it in our lives. St John of the Cross (1542-91), a Spanish Catholic priest, who wrote “the dark night of the soul” said that when we read God’s Word, the new life of Christ gets brighter and brighter in us.

(iii) Submit to God

In our daily activities, work, relationships, ministry, St John urges us to pray, “Lord, your will, your way, and your time.” So much of our self-imposed stress and anxieties will be removed when we commit them to God’s will, way and time.

Conclusion:

God is with us when we are in the pit. God is with us when we are on mountain tops. 

The times when we feel God is so far away is only temporary. Repent of our sins, receive His forgiveness, move on, read God’s Word and pray. God will not hide His face from us forever. We are His children. He is faithful. Let’s rejoice in the Lord always.