Wednesday, October 24, 2012
What I found interesting about this book is the authors’ eagerness to make sure everything seen in heaven is being verified by the Scriptures. This well written book also grants readers a sense of suspense of what’s next. I know that everyone wants to know a little bit more about heaven, but to me, heaven is not only what this book is all about. The authors’ intention is to uplift readers as they struggle through many areas of their life by this heavenly journey. Today’s world is all about visuals and this could be the best method to present Christ and inspiring messages to the masses. Personally, I always have been careful when someone told of his or her journey from heaven to earth but this book did change me quite a bit. An inspiring book for all and I recommend it for everyone!
I want to thank Book Sneeze for giving me this ebook free for the purpose of this review.
Friday, September 14, 2012
“Don’t give up!” my best friend, Amy, cried with me. “We are with you,” she spoke hugging me. I kept my chin up, tears and all, fighting hard to resist that temptation of walking away from it all. The thugs came consistently to warn me about what they would do to my younger son if I continue to dwell on it.
Just the other day, my eldest son was dragged away to prison for a charge of speaking against the authorities. He was simply protecting me from being beaten by a group of men. Both my younger son and I were punched and kicked as we held on to him so tightly like any mother or a close brother would. While they pulled away my son, they screamed with hatred, “We shall return!”
That day, if not for Amy, I would have gone crazy from overwhelming sorrow. I had never felt such pain since the time my husband was sentenced to die for a crime he didn’t commit. It was a trump-up charge by the authorities.
Ever since that day my husband and I gathered a group of people to fight against injustices for all the farm workers, we were targeted. We could no longer stand in silence to watch the employers and land owners exploited these helpless humans. They were treated like slaves, toiling all day for a meagre pay. All we want was to tell the bosses that they depended on the workers too. And to remind them that it was God that gave them ability to get wealth.
Every time I wanted to give up, there would be people like Amy and so many poor souls coming to lift up my spirit. Even my younger son fought back tears, telling me to fight on. I would never forget those words he said to me, “Don’t let papa down!”
Just as I was feeling that we are fighting a losing battle, I heard some noise outside my house. It was Joseph, a man known for his compassion, came to see me with many people. “Erica, we came here to tell you something,” he spoke gently. “There are now more and more workers joining your, “Justice for Workers” campaign and we have decided to have you continue leading us. As for your safety, we have already kept in touch with some good people in high places and they said they would support your cause,” he added. There was a thunderous applause as Joseph finished. I felt as if a bright light just dawned on me. I know the battle was not over yet but it was a huge relief for me.
“Can I suggest something to you, Erica?” Joseph asked politely. “Can we change the name from “Justice for Workers” to Justice for All” campaign?” The reason is that we would also want justice for your husband and for your oldest son,” he added and patted me on my shoulder to console me.
Deep down I knew that it would be a long battle to change a corrupt society. It would take a strong group of righteous people who feared only God to fight. And to win the battle, it entailed those who were willing to sacrifice, even their very lives!
I asked myself a deep question occasionally, “Do I want to hold on to my life or am I willing to give it away for the sake of others?” Although it was so extremely difficult, but inside me, there was this little glow of satisfaction that I just couldn’t explain.
One day, my younger son excitedly told me about a Person who claimed to be the Messiah who was passing by. It was the opportunity I wouldn’t want to miss. There was already a large crowd there and so we stood a distance away.
Then I saw Him. Just by looking at His eyes, I could sense He was somewhat different from the rest of us. He stood upright and spoke in a booming voice,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
The Messiah paused. Those last few words touched me deeply. It was as if Jesus the Christ explained that unexplainable satisfaction deep within my soul. It seemed absurd to be happy as being persecuted. But then, I understood exactly what the Messiah meant – I was in the centre of what God was doing and it fitted right in with Him. Right there and then, I didn’t care if I got any applause from men. All I wanted was the approval of God, even if it meant giving my life!
The eight and the last beatitude of Jesus speaks of being persecuted for righteousness and for Him. As Jesus also mentions prophets of old, he means sacrificing of lives as well. Many of those prophets died doing the will of God.
Depending on which country you live in right now, those words of Jesus may mean a lot or may not mean anything at all. In some countries today (Yes! Twenty first century!), there are still persecution of Christians, imprisonment, torture and even deaths as they preach the good news of Christ! For many other countries, Christians are free to worship and preach the Word to others without being persecuted or harassed. However, the ills of complacency and neglect in reaching the lost often follow this comfortable freedom.
A believer in Christ can make a choice to either be a true disciple of Christ or be someone who lives comfortably waiting for a pie in the sky.
The latter will choose not to get ‘dirty’ for God and others but cruise along life uninvolved in the things of God. These Christians may be happy once in a while but will never experience the true satisfaction that God offers in being a disciple of Christ. Regret awaits them when they leave this earth. Even when many of these grow old, their past apathy will haunt them greatly.
To those who choose to do the right thing, the tears that they sow will not go unnoticed by God. They will reap in joy! The hardship, suffering, torture and martyrdom for Christ, to God, it is of great honour! Sometimes it is such oxymoron when we glance at the beatitudes, but when we look closely, they were gems beyond the natural eyes. To the uninformed and ignorant, these were foolish sayings but to those disciples of Jesus Christ, the joy they found in God, is irreplaceable, priceless.
Next: You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world!
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
That night, I cried myself to sleep again. There was really nothing I could do anymore. My heart resigned to the fact that they would not be reconciled again, ever. It was terribly frustrating. The next morning, I woke up thinking about the good old days. I hate my mind sometimes for not shutting down when I wanted to forget everything. I still remembered vividly the days when my younger sister and I were carried by our dad’s strong arms and my mom would jokingly wanted to be carried too. We often went picnicking and as we scampered around under his watchful eyes, my own eyes would catch hold of tender hugs and kisses of the two lovebirds. I felt such peace and security when my parents did that. It was a little like heaven on earth.
Those days were gone. Why people could love each other so much previously and then turned so nasty a little later on? It was bewildering and overwhelming. I felt helpless and distressed. As I prayed for them, I was brought to remembrance how I was a successful mediator between few disputing friends in different times and situations. Could I do the same with my parents? Yes, there was a mention of the dreaded ‘D’ word but if I give up, it might become a reality. That to me would be disastrous!
“Wake up, dear! Time for school,” my mom called in her usual sweet voice. I called her, “the master chef” as she could cook delicious meals throughout the day, deserts, appetizer you named it. When I greeted her that day, it was not her usual cheery self anymore. That sad look on her face broke my heart to thousand pieces. That day, it did something inside me. I was fired up to be a mediator, by ‘hook or by crook’. It would be my greatest task, the most challenging and emotional one thus far, I thought to myself.
“Hi, dad!” I spoke as he opened the door for me. He was staying in his friend’s house. Although separated from my mom just few weeks ago, he looked distraught and messy. “How is your sister?” he asked sadly. I knew he would bring up this topic of her favourite daughter. “She is not good, dad. Her grades are down and I heard crying from inside her room,” I told him the truth, the whole truth. “I am so sorry, June. I know it would affect both of you but..,” I saw drops of tears from his eyes. We hugged and cried together.
“I know this is between you and mom but just tell me what can I do, anything, so that both of you could come back together?” I asked softly but firmly. In my heart, I was willing even to die to see them reconciled. “I know even though you can talk it over with mom, it would not be back to good days straight away, no matter how I wished,” I quickly added before he could give his excuses.
“It is not that easy, June. Can your mom accept the person I have become? Yes, I know I was not like before but she has to come to term with who I am,” he blurted.
“But will you accept her as she is the same you wanted her to accept you?” I chipped. “Can both of you let God do the changing?”
“I don’t know. We are just not compatible anymore,” my dad raised his voice in frustration, sounded confused. “Dad, it is not about compatibility but about taking the lead to make things right. “Can you do it for me, for Sue?” I pleaded. An unexpected silence ensued. Although his ego refused to let him nod his head, I could see his heart was willing to give it a try.
"I don’t know how now, after I had said some nasty things to her,” my dad surprised me with those words.
“Dad, I stayed with mom and I know for a fact she is devastated with what had happened! Give it a good try,” I pressed. From the bag that I brought, I took out some freshly baked cookies, taken (or stolen) from mom for my dad. “Dad, I have to go now. These are for you,” I said and hugged him again.
I was awakened by someone rushing into my room. “Sue, can’t you have the courtesy to knock first? What happened? Tell me?” I demanded. “June! June! Come out to the hall and see for yourself!” my lovely sister said and roughly held my hands to lead me out.
What I saw that day I would not forget for the rest of my life! They were hugging so tight no ants could even pass through! I knelt down and cried! They saw and both of them knelt with me and together with Sue, we ‘entangle’ ourselves, promised never to disentangle again!
My dad brought me to see a ‘Man’ who everyone thought was the Messiah promised long ago. He would be like the Saviour of mankind. We went there early just like our usual picnic days! I was happy beyond measure! A large crowd was there already when we arrived. I saw the Person my dad brought me to see and hear. I felt the presence of God so real when he stood up to speak.
He taught, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Jesus the Christ paused.
I felt two pair of gentle hands on my back. Turning around, I found out it was my parents’ hands and they were in tears! “He is speaking of you,” my dad whispered! And when I looked again at Jesus, I saw he was looking at me and smiled. Those were the best days of my life!
How many people in the world today desire peace! Most if not all! Countless people are peace lovers but sadly not many dare to be peacemakers. In the beatitude, Jesus taught the connection between peacemakers with sons (or daughters) of God. If you profess to be a child of God, you are called to be peacemakers! The message is plain and clear.
There is a difference between worldly peacemakers and a Christian one. Yes, we must stand for peace and we must also try our best to make peace with two disputing parties. Yet, our call is of a higher nature! We are called to help reconcile the lost to God. We reach out to those whose lives are empty without God and are anxious without assurance of the love of God. This peace that God gives the world will never understand until they are made right with God.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives (John 14:27).
Oh, the joy and satisfaction of seeing wrecked lives reconcile with the peace of God! But greater joy would the one who ignites and starts that process of reconciliation!
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:18-20).
Next: Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Mat 5:10).
Thursday, July 5, 2012
The word retreat has a negative connotation especially in regards to war and also in business. If a nation is retreating in a war, it most probably means they are on the losing side. If a business is in the same situation, they are not doing too well. However, many use this word, retreat, for something good. When someone is in a retreat, he or she seems to be enjoying a holiday or a breather. When a company does a leadership retreat, it actually speaks of employees or key staff going some place together to get new strategies, for awards and perhaps renewing of its mission.
What about retreats in a church setting or to an individual Christian’s life? Although no one normally takes retreats for a long period of time, it is so necessary for us Christians periodically to take short breaks or pauses to ponder over our walk with God. In the setting of a church - a church camp or a seminar. Or even time-outs on our own for a day or two. Normally, God speaks in these retreats. Not that God doesn’t speak at other times but in these focussed moments, we listen. Christians today are a distracted lot because we live in a fragmented world of many ‘noises’. Worldly philosophies and unbiblical opinions are ‘shouting’ loudly everyday through the screens of televisions and computers. Busyness of the day adds to the confusion in our minds, what is of God and what is not.
What are the benefits of “retreating” as we journey on forward in our walk with God? The first benefit is that,
1. We calm down.
At a retreat, away from the hustling and bustling of professional or college life, we let our minds be at ease. It is like taking a refreshing sip of cool water after a scintillating long walk in a hot day. Like a father who comes home from a hard day’s work to finally being welcomed by his lovely wife and his adorable young daughter. In a hive of activities of creating everything in the earth, the sun and moon, God looked back and ‘rested’ at all His marvellous creations. God created the garden for man, a perfect environment for rest and retreats. It was fairy-tale like beginning. When mankind fell, they were restless, always looking for ways to survive on their own. Those who depended on God got their respite while those who rebelled, suffered.
When Jesus restored us back to God through His death and resurrection, we now have the privilege to rest in God’s presence. The closer we are to God, the less anxious we become. That where retreats help to achieve. Six days of work were scheduled for mankind and one day of rest was chiseled in stone. Work is honourable but overwork dishonours God!
In a research recently, doctors found out that fifty over illnesses were directly related to stress. So, let us all calm down as we take our ‘retreats’.
When we are calm, then the next benefit is that,
2. We see things in a different light.
When you take a plane to Singapore from Kuala Lumpur, you cannot see anything while on the way there. When you take a bus, you will manage to see a great number of things while you travel along. If you want to see more, or even feel the pulse of the people, you drive and stop at certain places. If you want to smell the flowers and see butterflies and bugs, you walk!
As we slow down in a conducive environment, we begin to see many things we may not have noticed during our stressful day work.
King David’s life always paints a picture of utter trial and turmoil in his life, yet maintains an internal compass that always points to “true north.” Whereas most of us look for happiness based on external circumstances in our lives, David has discovered a deeper joy grounded in his inner self. Taken from THE GREAT PURSUIT: The Message for Those In Search of God, by Eugene H. Peterson and Randall Niles (NavPress 2007).
There are many scriptures confiming his calmness in spite of his trials (Psalms 32:3-7; cf. 3:1-8)
Let us learn from him when he said, “Know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD will hear when I call to him. In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Selah” (Psalm 4:4).
What makes David different from so many who go hysterical when face with troubles? His quiet times with God. His retreats so to speak. His bedtimes when he chose to let God do the talking and him the pondering and obeying.
This leads us to the third benefit when we do our retreats,
3. We listen clearer.
Today, even if we have a good budget to buy a smartphone, it still presents a tough choice with so much of packed-in state of the art technology in different phones and not forgetting the spectacular advertisements! Someone jokingly said that product catalogues are from the devil, luring us to buy what we don’t need with the money we don’t have to impress people whom we don’t even know or like.
‘Noise pollution’ today is killing many wise decisions that we ought to make. Every day, thousands of messages criss-cross our path and we must therefore learn the art of holy listening. Anything that goes against the Word of God must go to the bin. What is allowed to pass through our minds are godly values and healthy ‘titbits’. How do we discern which is which when we often make choices through our selfish desires, whether what we choose benefits us. Most of the time, we jump to conclusions without a clear thought process. As a result, we make mistakes. Some small mistakes can be pushed aside but greater ones could cost us greatly.
The answer - retreats! Say ‘STOP!’ to all the noises once in a while and take time-outs to do processing and filtering. That’s where we practice holy listening. As we calm down and seeing things in God’s perspective, we will be ready for the voice of God. This is not suggesting that God only speaks at retreats but at those quiet moments, we listen clearer.
God’s voice through His Word could be our determining factor whether our sojourn on earth is God’s best or wasted opportunities. Listening to God is an art where once upon a time in Israel only prophets could hear while the rest indulged in disobedience. Their call to be the light to the Gentiles went unfulfilled. Even the disciples of Jesus at one time could not discern the voice of God, a case of so near yet so far. But when they did, they turned the world ‘upside down’. It all happened when they gathered for a retreat as commanded by Christ before His ascension (Acts 2).
God loves to speak to His children but are we listening?
After we are able to hear the voice of God in a retreat, the fourth benefit is that,
4. We can process slowly.
Another word for the above is meditation. Many Christians rush through their devotion time (if you could call it devotion) and miss out on the meditation part. They swallow whole the Word of God as a duty without chewing on it. Rushing through with God never works in this life. The mountains were Moses’ training ground. For prophet Elijah, it was the cave that saved his remaining ministry as God spoke in a still small voice. King David’s finest years in forging a close relationship with God were when he was a shepherd boy. He trusted God to kill Goliath while the great army of King Saul cowed in fear. Like Moses, the higher grounds were our Lord Jesus’ connecting place with His Father.
This step is vital for our preparation for action. It is not a place per se or even time spent in retreats that counts, it is whether we have the assurance of God’s Word. It is like Habakkuk who in spite of troubles everywhere managed to rejoice in the Lord. After the meditation in his own retreat, he was assured of the plan of God (Hab. 3). The Psalmist who was angry with God because of unrighteous prospering came out of God’s sanctuary with the clear understanding of God (Psalm 73).
Many Christians today know all about God but still fall short of knowing God! Do you know God and know what He wants from you? You won’t be clear until you meditate in His presence. Unless you are clear, the next and last benefit of this article would not be impactful to you.
5. God will use you for His glory.
God desires to fellowship with His people. It is up to us to create time, go to certain quiet places to hear from Him. And when our hearts are ready, God not only presents us His plan but calls us to do His bidding. Unfortunately, there are so many half-baked believers of God who barely scrape through the surface of God’s best for their lives. It is like the Israelites who tasted the manna from heaven but died wandering in the desert.
The earth is not a play ground while we enroute to heaven. Rather, it is a training ground for us in God’s heavenly plans. The King of kings is looking for anyone who is available, willing, adaptable and long suffering to do His work. Are you the one? Truth be told that you cannot be one until you build a close bond with God. That’s where retreats are vital bridge-builders. They may link us to God’s master plan and our little humble part that He allows us to play.
Retreats are not sure proof of all the benefits mentioned in this article. We can be all alone in a quiet cool cave for a week and yet our minds are restless. What makes the difference? Our trust in God that He holds the key to the best things in our life. The world may give us pleasure but never rest. Everything that this world gives us is temporary, but God gives us inheritance for eternity which we can enjoy forever. If our heart is set on things above, then a retreat will help to streamline our priorities in life. To filter out all the noises of the world and absorb in God’s Word in all its fulness.
Let us move on powerfully and effectively for God! Let's retreat!
Let us move on powerfully and effectively for God! Let's retreat!
Friday, June 15, 2012
I saw that smile again. Why I had to come to this stage that I had to envy some poor soul? The unfortunate one as I often thought of him just had a fall, breaking his leg. He had also lost his father few weeks ago. Here I was having everything in life a man would want. It just didn’t add up. I had a great family, a booming business and also good health to boast with but deep down I was depressed. Why?
Truth be told, many times I was tempted to ask him but ego stopped me. Perhaps I was afraid to approach him for some ‘unneighbourly’ things I had done. I didn’t even offer help when his father passed away. Even though he was poor, his wife even at times gave us some fruits whenever there had some extras. But I got no time for them, because I didn’t want to lose time mixing with poor people. My business had taken most of my time, eating even into my family’s life.
My mind was preoccupied with all the farm workers, making sure they worked and oh, the financial part of the business, no one could get a single extra dime from me. Lately, I had been drinking and feasting, mixing with some tax collectors, wanting to gain some favours from them. My wife might not know but I had started fooling around with women with all my accumulated wealth.
It just drove me crazy to see the glow in this man. Was not happiness found in wealth as I always had thought? How come it was not? To make matter worse, this guy next door constantly ‘knocked’ on my conscience door of my heart. Yes, I did cheat a little in my business but wasn’t that the norm? It didn’t fit at all to whatever I was having in life. This family had almost zero in terms of pleasure but they seemed to enjoy life.
I had had enough. As I was thinking hard, a voice spoke, “Good Day! Gordon!”
“Ehhh, Good!” I replied in haste. He stood there smiling as usual. “That rotten smile again!” I thought to myself. “Can I ask you a question?” I put my anger to good use. “What makes you….happy?” I asked, drowning my ego for the time being.
“God!” he answered. I froze in his one word answer. “Okay. I got to go. See you around,” I quickly turned away from this guilt-ridden conversation. As I walked just a bit, he shouted, “Will you like to go to Olive Avenue for a meeting with a Man who claimed Himself to be God this evening?” I stopped. “Huh?”
I walked on without looking back. I had heard of that Person who had healed many sicknesses and diseases. It was like unheard of miracles being performed by Him. “Why not?” I whispered softly to myself.
The crowd was unruly as I arrived to the venue to meet with this Man, many claimed to be the Messiah who was to come. Everyone just wanted to get a glimpse of Him. From afar, I saw Him. This Man had even a greater glow than my neighbour next door.
And then he spoke.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
When He paused, the one word, “God” rang in my ears like a bell. My heart felt like exploding inside, so much of guilt and shame stirring within. Then I saw him. My neighbour, Timothy knelt with his hands raised. I saw tears flowing freely. It was not sadness but a life that filled with the joy of God. Did he see something I didn’t?
Then I turned to look at Jesus. His eyes locked mine. At that moment, I was repentant and for the first time, I felt pure! I knew what happiness really was. That day, an encounter with Jesus changed my life forever. I saw what Timothy saw. God!
No other values of Christianity have been challenged so strongly, passionately and subtlely than purity. What was being considered promiscuous behaviours twenty years ago are now accepted in today’s society. Although no Christian is perfect in purity, God desires us to walk with a clear conscience. He loves all of us to have healthy relationships, first with Him, then with everyone.
Jesus Himself simplifies the complicated 613-law system of the Jewish people into two relationship laws which sum up all the laws and regulations the Old Testament writers speak about.
(Mat 22:37-40) Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
In another place, Jesus emphasises good relationship as he speaks these words below...
(Mat 7:12) So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
We live in a broken world! So common today to see and hear of broken relationships and of dysfunctional families everywhere. To make matter worse, we have the Hollywood movies, TV shows and product advertisements suggesting young people to live life free. Do whatever you want as long as you don’t harm anyone.
Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God. To see God means to experience the reality of God every day. A truly happy and fulfilled life knows that God is with us. That God is pleased with us. Peace and joy flood our inner being every day. In contrary, people with impure heart live with shame and guilt. They always play the guessing game not knowing whether God accepts them or not. Their conscience pricks them throughout the course of the day. If their hearts are not settled, eventually they will go from bad to worse. The Bible even said that these people’s consciences can be seared (1 Timothy 4:2). They would go on living a lie.
To be pure needs determination. It is hard. However, we are not without help. The Holy Spirit resides in a Christian and those who keep in step with Him, will grow the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
(Gal 5:22-23) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control….
Next: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God (Mat 5:9).
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
“Please forgive my son. I beg you,” the elderly woman knelt and sobbed in front of my small little abode. My head screamed for justice but my heart looked with pity. Both of us were broken deep inside, burden so heavy that only God could have understood. There were no more tears left in my eyes.
Elizabeth, just few days ago, was a proud mother to Phillips, her only son. Without a slightest hint to her, Phillips was a farmer by day and a thief by night. To Beth, he was a good filial son, expert in making her laugh.
That fateful day, something went seriously wrong. My son, Bryan woke to find Phillips searching for his spoils. They got into a scuffle and my beloved son was unintentionally killed. Phillips knelt at Bryan’s body, frantically trying to revive him but to no avail. Out of great fear, he ran away while constantly muttering something like, “It was not me! It was not me!”
As the commotion woke us up, I was shocked to see Bryan in a pool of blood. I didn’t know how long I held on to his lifeless body. My husband tried with all his might and words for me to let go but I prevailed. When I did let go eventually, the whole world had gone blank. There was like no one inside me. Emptiness was all I got.
My husband and I cried buckets of tears every minute. We tried to be strong for our youngest daughter but it was like a gigantic task. Then this lady came begging at my grieving house. I let out a heinous whisper which I regretted later, “Mother of a murderer!”
Initially, I tried to drown out Elizabeth’s words, telling her to just go. For a while I was unflinchingly unforgiving, and then I saw through the crying face into her broken heart. We are in different circumstances, yet the same cut in the heart. A cut so deep only a loving mother would understand. Both of our worlds were torn asunder.
With my approval, my husband ushered Elizabeth into the house and we hugged for the very first time. “Please forgive us. I know I am not worthy to even come here. Have mercy on my son. He wanted to kill himself this morning but I stopped him in the nick of time,” Elizabeth cried as she pleaded. “We can be your slaves for the rest of our lives but just let him live,” she added within sobs.
I sensed a supernatural strength blew into my grieving soul. Yes, I cannot bring back my son, but do I want to kill off another ‘son’?
“I will forgive your son. Give me some time,” I offered some kind of a temporary solution to ease both our burdens a little. “I will wait for it as long as I am still alive,” Elizabeth hugged me tighter.
That afternoon, my husband brought me to hear a “man” many presumed to be a prophet from God and some even said he was God incarnate. This ‘person’ had done wonderful miracles in many places and he was in this side of town.
When we arrived, there was already a large crowd waiting eagerly just to hear firsthand from him. Still crying and aching from the inside of me, I wanted to find relief, perhaps from this man of God. He stood up after a while of waiting, and spoke. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
Jesus, the man they called Son of God, paused. His penetrating eyes caught mine. I felt he was looking directly at me.
“How did he know what happened?” I thought to myself, tears streaming down my eyes. “I thought God would not even care,” I continued to be carried away in the world of my own. Jesus’ words and eyes made significant impact deep inside my sorrowful soul. It felt like a born again experience, a regeneration.
I saw my husband cried too. He came over to hug me and whispered, “Blessed are the merciful. That’s us!” We hugged for some time and as I opened my eyes, I saw them. They stared at me, waiting for my nod of life. I smiled for the very first time since the deadly incident. Then I saw them approaching where we were standing. Elizabeth pushed her son, Phillips, nearer to me. He knelt and uttered, “Please forgive me! I cannot undo anything but I will do what needed to be done. I will serve your family like any son would. I pledge my life for your family. God is my witness.”
I lost a son that I had but I found one back that was lost.
When Jesus speaks of the fifth beatitude, he knows that he will be the greatest example of showing mercy* than anyone in the world. The Creator who made the universe is about to become a sacrifice for His creations. The King will give His life for His subjects. His trial will be a mockery and injustices towards Him will pile high into the heavens.
When humans show mercy, it would forever fall short of what Jesus had done. His sacrifice is like a billion dollars to our one hundred bucks of mercy. It’s like comparing eternity with a mere 100 years of pilgrimage here on earth. And that sometimes we even took great pride when we forgave others thinking we had done God proud.
We appreciate God’s mercy more when we do the same with our lives. In fact, when we are saved, we are to become more like Christ. Showing mercy is a significant part of a godly life as we live in the midst of injustices and oppressions. Depending on the degree of the hurt, forgiveness usually takes a process of time and effort. More so, it depends on our willingness to let go and how far we want to go and glorify God!
*There is a difference between mercy and grace. When you hurt someone and that someone forgives you, that’s mercy. When you hurt someone and that someone forgives you and still treats you as loving as before or even more, that’s grace. God shows us mercy by wiping our sins away and sets us free. God shows us grace by creating a godly family for us and giving us a share in His Son’s inheritance! In other words, everything we have today is a product of God’s grace! We simply fall apart without His mercy and grace! So, be merciful!
NEXT: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God
Thursday, March 8, 2012
I was looking at the dwindling wheat and tears fell from my eyes. Since it was not in my nature to blame God for my predicament, I continued painfully to trust my Provider. My husband had to toil day and night to provide food on the table. Both of us needed to be strong in order to take care of my two lovely sons. Their future was our concern. To me, anyone that bothered not about the next generation would be a selfish fellow. For God had spoken so much about passing to the next generation, His Word, His wisdom. I strived then to be an exemplary mother.
As I knelt there in prayer, I heard a sweet call of my name from outside. My husband had been my constant strength in the midst of difficulties. I considered him my fortress. As I open the door, two smiling boys rushed to fill my arms of love. They just loved spending time with their awesome dad. Danny and Tom might not understand what we went through but to see them happy was a worthwhile sacrifice.
The central theme for both of us was following God’s Word. It was the only foundation that we built our lives upon. We constantly thirst for more of Him to impart and impact our kids. One question always stood out as a motto in our lives: How could we give when we ourselves were not filled?
“Darling, I had a rough day today,” my man let out a sigh. While the boys left to play, I hugged him tight. “Tell me, I am a good listener,” I said, hoping my love would comfort him.
“I was happy this afternoon to receive my pay for the week, at least it was not cut like before with all kinds of unclear taxes. My arrogant boss had seen my commitment to his farm and decided to spare me the cut. I know he is not a man of integrity but I thank God, he did something good for me today,” he spoke gently.
“That’s good news but…” I chipped in, eagerly waiting for the rough part.
“Yah, there was a ‘but’. After that, as I strolled home whistling God’s praise, a friend came to me with a sad story. He told me that he needed some money to pay off his landlord where he owed for quite a number of months. He sounded quite desperate. He is an honest man as far as I know. I was struggling between our own lack and the gentle voice of God tugging at my heart,” my husband spoke slower.
In my heart, I already knew the outcome of that encounter. “How much did you lend him?” I probed.
“Half of my pay,” he said softly, looking at me. Although he was strong in leading our home, he wanted some sort of approval from me. He always desired that we were on the same page. It would be tough for us but I gave him a hearty approval. I held him tighter and uttered, “I am SO proud of you.” In my mind, all along, I wanted my husband to do what was right in the eyes of God all the time, even in the midst of difficulties. He let out a smile that melted my heart. We might have suffered lack but deep within us, we were fulfilled. We felt like we were in the centre of God’s great purpose for our lives. Indeed, the joy of the Lord was our strength!
“Hey, Sweetest Darling, you know what. I heard of a man from God coming into this side of town which many said is the prophesied Messiah. Can I have a date with you this evening?” my husband asked with a booming voice.
When we arrived to the place, there was already a crowd, all anticipating what this “Messiah” would say to them. We park ourselves at a corner with the two boys, looking forward for the sweet gentle voice of God which we always longed after.
A well-built man stood up and declared, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
Jesus paused and we stood speechless. Every word seemed like fire burning deep into our souls. My husband and I were like empty vessels, thirsting for more of God. And those words ignited in us a frenzy of emotions, coming from Jesus the Messiah Himself. It was like, ‘Wow, God knew what was in my mind and what we did for Him!’ kind of a feeling. Our physical (wheat) vessel needed filling, so was our spiritual vessel. I raised my hands and said softly, “God, you are truly my Provider!”
The encounter with God that day greatly boosted our confidence to continue being righteous man and woman of God.
The fourth beatitude suggests a life of consciously following every instruction of God. It is choosing to be a willing vessel for God’s glory. Today unfortunately, many Christians have conformed to the patterns of this world, being in sync with its standards. They live their life depending on circumstances and their own constant-changing feelings. Some have also argued away the truths from the Bible with worldly philosophies and fear of men.
The only fulfilment we can find as Christians is by living and relying on the solid ROCK of God’s Word as the only foundation. All other ways are shifting sand. We may stand firm on them for a while but eventually we will crumble. Even the seemingly righteous acts that flow out from the world are nothing but selfish agendas.
The prophet Isaiah declared long ago, “..all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;.. (Isa 64:6). Jesus lambasted some Pharisees for being like whitewash tombs, a depiction of lovely on the outside but dead men’s bones on the inside (Matthew 23:27).
A voice says, "Cry out." And I said, "What shall I cry?" "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever." (Isa 40:6-8)
Apart from God’s Word, everything will fail. The above verses are so relevant for today’s generation where there are so many godless people who are striving to find fulfilment and meaning to life, not knowing they are like grass that would soon wither. God told Isaiah to present Him and His Word confidently to the lost world. In essence, God proclaimed, “Either you stand on My Word or you fall, period.”
Usually, people do things guided by their innate beliefs. When they believe something contrary to the Word of God, then they will do and behave likewise. In the same manner, the Christians who hold on to the Word of God, they will do accordingly. We must not be afraid of our weaknesses. God is our Provider. God will fill our inadequacies with His power and grace as we act. He will empower us when we go for Him.
(Isa 40:28-31) Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
NOTE: Righteousness could have a two-fold meaning. First, we are righteous because Christ died for our sins. That’s our position in God. The second meaning is found in our actions. Due to our righteous position, we do righteous acts. Position of righteousness doesn’t mean that automatically righteous acts will flow out from our beings. We have to practice what we believe in. Someone said this, “Even when we are on the right track, we will get run over when we stay still.”
Next: Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Friday, January 27, 2012
An older preacher told the story of a young minister interviewing for his first pastorate. The Pulpit Committee had invited him to come over to their church for the interview. The committee chairman asked, "Son, do you know the Bible pretty good?"
The young minister said, "Yes, pretty good." The chairman asked, "Which part do you know best?" He responded saying, "I know the New Testament best." "Which part of the New Testament do you know best," asked the chairman. The young minister said, "Several parts." The chairman said, "Well, why don't you tell us the story of the Prodigal Son." The young man said, "Fine."
"There was a man of the Pharisees name Nicodemus, who went down to Jericho by night and he fell upon stony ground and the thorns choked him half to death.
The next morning Solomon and his wife, Gomorrah, came by, and carried him down to the ark for Moses to take care of. But, as he was going through the Eastern Gate into the Ark, he caught his hair in a limb and he hung there forty days and forty nights and he afterwards did hunger. And, the ravens came and fed him.
The next day, the three wise men came and carried him down to the boat dock and he caught a ship to Nineveh. And when he got there he found Delilah sitting on the wall. He said, "Throw her down, boys, throw her down." And, they said, "How many times shall we throw her down, till seven time seven?" And he said, "No, but seventy times seven." And they chucked her down four hundred and ninety times.
And, she burst asunder in their midst. And they picked up twelve baskets of the leftovers. And, in the resurrection whose wife shall she be?"
The above incident may not be true but the confusion of the Word of God is often true in Christians today. Believers everywhere today are ‘nibble nibble’ Christians rather than wholesome ones. Their Bible reading or hearing, most of the time on Sundays only, is like fine dining instead of continuous nutritious chewing and digesting. One well-known preacher in the United States went so far to say that the Americans have become illiterate in Bible knowledge.
The term ‘Crayon Christianity’ is aptly applied to this generation of believers. The maturity level in the Word stopped when they left Sunday School. The rest is just nibbling from every nook and corner, hardly able to distinguish right from wrong.
Today’s Christianity has been challenged with greater intensity. Atheists are slowly gaining mass appeal. The famous atheists used to be some nerdy, thick-spectacled professors having debates with high and mighty theologians concerning high and mighty issues of faith. This scenario has begun to change; young and old are now starting to be interested in hearing famous atheists challenging the Bible and its doctrines. Richard Dawkins wrote “God-Delusion” and sold about 2 million copies. Christopher Hitchens who wrote “God is not great” had a great following, young and old alike. People like television host, Bill Maher, actor Ricky Gervais and also singer Lady Gaga had mass appeal. These famous people are not only atheists (maybe Lady Gaga has a slight Roman Catholic background), they are incredibly intelligent and well-versed with today’s world.
There are hosts of others who are coming up to challenge the way Christians live for Christ and the biblical standard and if we are ill-equipped, then we may waver in our living for Christ. It is not enough to just nibble God’s Word on Sundays. We must chomp and gulp His precious Word every day, taking self initiative, self feeding your way to maturity.
God is preparing and equipping His army of believers who are able to stand firm on His Word and withstand every challenge against it. There is no excuse whatsoever for Christians today not to be equipped in God’s Word as God has provided more than enough resources for us.
Let us consider few things we need to do in order to be well-equipped…
1. We have to seriously think of learning apologetics (how to defend our faith).
Read books like “More than a Carpenter” and “Evidences that demand a verdict” by Josh Mc Dowell and “Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel. (These three books are quite sufficient, not only to defend our faith, it will also strengthen our faith)
Below are a few quotes from two famous atheists challenging what the Word of God is saying,
“That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”
“Exceptional claims demand exceptional evidence.”
The Bible may, indeed does, contain a warrant for trafficking in humans, for ethnic cleansing, for slavery, for bride-price, and for indiscriminate massacre, but we are not bound by any of it because it was put together by crude, uncultured human mammals.”
Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.
I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.
Religion is about turning untested belief into unshakable truth through the power of institutions and the passage of time.
Believers in the Lord must progress by the day, both in the Word and in spirituality. When we first became Christians, we were like babies naturally craving for milk. Often it is provided by mature believers in the church. After a certain time in the Lord, we will have to find truths for our own life, to satisfy a greater thirst for God. Although we still need teachers and professors to deliver deeper truths to us, all of us can connect to the Holy Spirit and learn from the Master Teacher. It is more about the attitude of learning rather than a matter of intelligence. Do you want to learn? Or do you still want to depend on the ‘bottle’ or ‘handouts’?
2. Read daily the Word of God, book by book.
While it is not wrong to nibble the Bible here and there every day, but to get a good wholesome picture of the text, we need to read it systematically. Many Christians today may not know the many connections between the Old Testament and the New. We must understand both Testaments in order to get a complete picture of what God is doing. Although the Bible is a library of sixty six books, they all present a same theme, “the world is fallen and God is the Saviour”. Since history began, there are no other writings or literatures which were compiled by more than forty writers who mostly didn’t know each other, spanning more than three thousand years and yet could arrive at the same theme. It is indeed a mind-blowing miracle.
When we read a novel, it is often completed within a day or two. Even remembering its plots and subplots. When it comes to the Bible, we jump from Exodus to Nehemiah, from Ephesians to Jeremiah. Worse, we flip randomly and viola! God has spoken!
3. Read to understand and not read to complete a Christian duty.
Jesus’ main idea of telling parables is that the people may understand the message of the kingdom, especially the parable of the soils. He wants to turn the religious mindset of the people upside down. The main point of God giving us the Bible is that we can understand a little about God yet enough to live an abundant, fulfilled life. Due to the frantic pace of life today, we rush through a passage of Scriptures or two, happy that we have done our duty. Thinking that would solve our life's woes!
This fallen world will never satisfy us. Only God’s Word is able to penetrate deep into the desires of our souls. That's why there are so much worries in our lives! We worry because we do not read His Word. We do not trust what God said because we read out of duty. Let us read to hear God’s voice. Only when we are absolutely clear, then we can able to move forward.
4. Apply what you read – Allign your heart and actions with the Word of God.
The more you do God’s Word, the greater you learn. Often times, Christians are ‘holy’ on Sunday but worldly on the other days. They wasted their God-given talents living carelessly. Jesus always challenges people to do His Word. The parable of the wise and foolish builders illustrates that clearly. The one who builds his house on the rock is the one who hears God’s Word and put it into practice. It will stand firm against the storms of life. Contrast to the one who hears God’s word and does not practice it, he builds his house on sand. The house will certainly collapse when the tide hits (Matthew 7:24-27).
Humans are wired to fulfil God’s purposes. If we don’t hit it, we feel awful. Material things, fame or glory will only satisfy us for a short while. In the end, we will always come back to this question, “What is my ultimate purpose in life?” “Have I done what I was created for?”
Therefore, serve God to the best of your ability, both inside and outside the church. It is more outside the church than inside where most of the Christians are working or studying. Devote your skills, finance, and intelligence to the purposes of God in your life. Do not be like the Israelites during the Exodus who wandered in the wilderness for forty wasted years! They knew what God had said but did not act on His Word. Every one of them died on the sand in the desert except Joshua, Caleb and the younger generation.
Understanding the Bible is not that we can outsmart people who don’t. It is about serving God’s purposes on earth. When we are confident and ready, God will then use us for His kingdom and His glory!