Too Good for the World

Hebrews 11:26-38 (NIV) Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

Hebrews 11 is one of my favorite chapters. Some commentators have described it as a hall of fame for men and women who exhibited their faith in God. Yet, we can be gripped by a thriller-like description of the lives of these men that we skip one thing that really defined them. One of the most profound statements about these heroes of faith is mentioned almost anecdotally. “The world was not worthy of them” (Hebrews 11:38). What was so special about these men and women that, so to speak, made them too good for the world?

I think that what makes them special is that their singular focus was on heaven. This, however, does not mean that that they were “too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good;” far from it. They were grounded in the realities of their times. They lived, raised families, conducted business; they were as human as anyone could be. But they were not attached to this world. As a matter of fact, very few people could have even noticed that these people actually existed. They were not politically powerful or economically affluent. It seems some were even homeless and “wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground” (Heb. 11:38). So, by this world’s standards, they were really insignificant.

But this did not matter to them. Their allegiance was to Jesus Christ. They lived for God and not this world—and whatever it presents. Could the same be said of us? Are we singularly committed to the cause of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Is our faith in God the grid through which we see everything else? Or have we blended with the world so much that it seems like this is where we truly belong?

The world was not good enough for them

The City and God

Hebrews 11:16 (NIV). Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

What emotions does the word “city” evoke in you? Are they feelings of hope, energy and excitement; or fear, despair and loneliness? Some people are energized by the city. It provides space to nurture and fulfill their dreams. Others find it as a necessary evil. It is a place where they need to be in order to survive. Still others view the city with suspicion. They consider it to be to be disruptive to what could otherwise be a normal life—whatever that life is.

I recently participated in a research on faith and the city, exploring the areas of collaboration between Christian organizations and urban authorities in my city. One of the questions we asked the research participants was rather philosophical: “Is the city home?” We were surprised by some of the responses. Many people in my city do not consider it to be “home.” Although many of these people have been in the city for all their adult life, they still have strong attachments with their ancestral homes—villages where they will be buried when they die!

But what has the city got to do with faith? The notion of cities is pervasive in the Bible—for good and not-so-good reasons. The word “city” appears over 600 times in the English Bible. If we consider that a city is a place where everything is amplified—whether it is production, consumption, population, wealth, poverty, power or vulnerability—then we have to take cities seriously. God does take cities seriously.

How then should Christians engage with their cities? I think one of the helpful motifs when it comes to engaging our cities is the “city of God” which He has prepared for His people (Heb. 11:16). This should motivate us to love our cities. God has a special purpose for your city. You should therefore, pray for your city. Get involved in initiatives to transform your city, one small step at a time. Also, let your city motivate you to long for the perfect city in heaven.

God has a special purpose for your cityPrayer

Lord, I thank you for my city! I pray that you help me to see my city through Your eyes. Help me to love and seek for the flourishing of my city. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

Faith – Beyond Positive Confession

Hebrews 11:1-3(NIV). Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews is encouraging the believers to remain faithful to the God who called them. Faith is one of the subjects that widely preached about, especially in my part of the world. For some, faith is kind of a currency that one needs to get whatever they want. It is like some kind of magic that one needs in order to leap into the unknown and the impossible. According to some preachers, faith is all about feeling and thinking positively about ourselves and circumstances—and our potential to become or achieve anything we want. We are the objects of faith. We are essentially taught to trust in ourselves.

This, however, is different from biblical faith, whose object is the Triune God. Faith is the confident hope; the promised good beyond us. This hope is more than mere optimism; it derives from God. Faith—genuine faith—is our response to God’s promises. But if the character of the One who promises were flawed, we would have no confidence in Him. So, essentially, our Christian faith is premised on the unchanging character of the living God, the creator of heaven and earth. We can believe in His Word because it is consistent with who He is.

Christian faith begins and ends with God. It is Him who sets the agenda. It is Him who knows the end—the goal, the purpose, the consummation—of all things. It is the almighty God who is in charge of every single detail. Our role, therefore, is to respond to Him in obedience and trust. This trust is based on our relationship with Him as our heavenly Father. He knows what is best for us even though it might not seem to be what we really wanted.

Sometimes our faith will result in us accomplishing great things, humanly speaking. At other times our faith in God could result in us losing the very things we hold dear, including our own lives. In other words, it is God who sets the agenda; not us. Faith is not about us winning or losing but rather honoring God with our lives and everything else.

And without faith it is impossible to please God

REFLECTION

In what ways can the faith of those who went before you motivate you to keep trusting in God?

PRAYER

Dear heavenly Father, You are faithful. Your Word is trust worthy. Please teach me to trust in You, especially during times when things may not be going my way. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

Fake Shepherds

Acts 20:28-30: Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.  Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.

In recent years, the world has been introduced to a phenomenon of the so-called fake news, that is, news that intended to misinform and mislead in order to influence public opinion on certain national or global issues. Sadly, the perpetuation of false information is not only limited to the public arena but it is also pervasive in the church.

Jesus declares that “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). This is in contrast to the fake shepherds. He calls them “thieves and robbers” (John 10:8) or “the hired hand (John 10:12). They are basically selfish and have no interest in the welfare of the people who follow them. Apostle Paul refers to them as “savage wolves.” They are greedy. They have no fear of God. They use the name of God to advance their own selfish interests. Instead of pointing people to Christ, they draw away disciples after them (Acts 20:30). Their mission is to advance Satan’s agenda, that is, to “to steal and kill and destroy.”

Their methods are also clear. They distort the truth of God’s word. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies. Like a thief, they can be sneaky, secretive, and manipulative. Others are bold and forceful like robbers. Many are indifferent or even hostile to those who attempt to correct them.

When we commit ourselves to godly leadership of a local church that faithfully teaches the Word of God, we will be able to discern these fake shepherds. More importantly, we should emulate the life and teachings of the Good and Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

Be shepherds of the church of God,

The Risk of Following Jesus

It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.

Before I became a Christian, everything I heard about following Jesus Christ was good and attractive—and I think this experience is shared by many other believers. But as I started reading the Bible, I realized that Jesus does not promise that the journey will be easy for those who would want to follow Him. One has to take serious considerations about the implications of being His disciple. He, in fact likens following Him to carrying the cross on a daily basis. Our concept of the cross has been distorted due to the time and culture gap between us and the time of Jesus. For us it is a harmless or even beautiful artifact or piece of jewelry.  But during the era of the Roman Empire, only those who were about to be executed carried their crosses to the place of crucifixion. So, carrying the cross is akin to dying—and on a daily basis.

Those who take a stand for what Jesus stands for risk being hated, called names, ostracized, treated unjustly, imprisoned or even killed. The story of Joseph of Arimathea illustrates the kind of boldness every believer needs in order to identify with Jesus. Although, he was among the most respected people in the Jewish religious establishment, Joseph risked his reputation and perhaps his carrier to identify with Jesus. Hitherto he had been a secret disciple of Jesus. But Joseph was not alone. There were two other women following. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph had been with Jesus right for most of His public ministry. They followed their Master to the end.

Why would anyone risk being shunned by family and close friends, arrested or killed for the sake of Jesus? It is not because of what the world could offer us in this life but rather of what Jesus promises us both in this life and the life to come. Although we might lose everything—including our own lives, when we have Jesus we have everything.

Have you ever had to make hard choices for the sake of following Jesus? How are you going to live for Him today; this week?

when we have Jesus we have everything

I Want to See

Mark 10:46-52 (NIV)

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

 

It probably started like just another day for blind Bartimaeus. He goes to his usual place hoping that some kind souls would help him out with some little money but then something happens. He hears that Jesus is passing by accompanied by a large crowd of people. Could this be his turning point? Could the One who has performed many miracles change his life?  Jesus hears the cry of Bartimaeus and stops. Jesus calls for him. When he is asked what the Lord would do for him, he responds that “I want to see.” He is aware of his condition. He knows that only the Lord can change it.

One of the stated ministry objectives of Jesus Christ was to open the eyes of the blind. Bartimaeus’ physical blindness reminds us of our own spiritual blindness. There are many things that can blind us blinds us from seeing things God’s way.

One of them is our culture.  Our culture conditions us to think and act in certain ways. Sometimes some of these ways are not consistent with God’s Word. The cultural practices we may consider to be “Christian” may actually be detestable before God. The Bible cautions us against being conformed to the standards of the world (Rom. 12:2). It is, therefore important for us to be aware of our cultural prejudices as we study God’s Word and seek to follow Him.

The other reason why we can be spiritually blind is because of our sinful tendencies—wanting to have our own way rather than the Lord’s. The Bible calls it the “hardness of the heart” (Mark 10:5). As we continually submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the spiritual scales that blind us get removed and our desires become more and more aligned to the will of God.

We must acknowledge the sheer fact that we are human and limited in many ways. Sometimes we can have faulty expectations from the Lord. Paul says that our knowledge is partial (1 Cor. 13:9). We, therefore, need to go to the Lord every day and ask Him to open our eyes to see things as He sees them.

PRAYER:

Dear Lord, open my spiritual eyes so that I may see You clearly. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

I Want to See.jpg

Freedom Is Not Free

Ephesians 2:1-2, 13,14 (NIV)

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. … 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,

Some years ago, I visited the War Memorial of South Korea and bought a mug lid. On it was written the words: “freedom is not free.” The word “peace” carries different connotations. Socially, it could mean the absence of conflict. At a personal level it is taken to mean tranquillity. But the biblical concept of peace is richer and profound. It carries the idea of completeness and wholeness—where everything finds its purpose in God.

True peace is found in having the right relationship with God. This spiritual dimension of peace affects both the social and personal realms of life. We, of course, know that the world is not as it should be because of the effects of sin. Our relationship with ourselves, others and the rest of creation is broken because our relationship with God is broken. This means that any human attempt to bring peace to this broken world is at best temporal and superficial. It is a quick fix that has no lasting effects.

In Ephesians chapter 2, Apostle Paul paints a picture of our state without Christ—and it is not an impressive one. Here is the sampler of the catalogue: we were dead in transgressions, gratifying the cravings of our flesh, deserving of God’s wrath, separate from Christ, without hope and without God. But thank God that through the death of Christ on the cross, our freedom was secured. Christ is indeed our Peace. Through Him our relationship with God is restored. And it doesn’t end here! Our other relationships too have been redeemed. Everyone and everything finds meaning and purpose in Him.

Freedom Is Not Free.jpg

Prayer

Dear God, I thank you for the cross of Your Son Jesus Christ. In Him I find freedom, and peace and life. In His name I pray, amen.

When God Does not Answer

Psalm 83:1 (NIV) O God, do not remain silent; do not turn a deaf ear, do not stand aloof, O God.

God answers prayers. There is nothing impossible with Him. But there are many times I have come before God, garnered all the faith I could, prayed my heart out, and trusted that God would answer me but things did not end up the way I expected. There are other times when I have wondered whether I should even bother praying at all. If God did not answer me the other day, how sure am I that He will do it this time around? Someone even wonders whether God is listening or I am simply talking to myself.

In the article, “Jesus’ Unanswered Prayers,” Philip Yancey writes that “Jesus, too, had unanswered prayers.” For instance, when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before he was arrested, He pleaded with the Father all night to save Him from the impending suffering. It was such an intense moment that His “sweat was like drops of blood falling on the ground” (Luke 22:44). Of course, Jesus knew that the Father could do what He has asked Him to do, but He still surrendered to the Father’s will. And as Yancey says “When Jesus prayed to the one who could save him from death, he did not get that salvation; instead, he got the salvation of the world.”

When God does not answer us in ways we expected, it is not because He is indifferent or unable to give us what we asked for. It is because he has something better for us. Our role is to bring our desires before Him and let Him do as He pleases.

Prayer

Dear heavenly Father, teach me today to trust in you love, power and wisdom even when thing may not go the way I want. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

O God, Do Not Remain Silent.jpg

Dying to Self

Mark 10:35-45 (NIV) Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”…They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”…Jesus called them together and said…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.

Many of us do not want die. We, in fact, spend much of our energy and resources trying to preserve our lives. Ironically, in the course of doing all this we may end up wasting our lives away. That is why the call by Jesus to die to self is antithetical to everything we know and live for. It is a radical call. It is unnatural. It is not how the world works.

In today’s passage, the two disciples, James and John, come up with a rather ridiculous request to Jesus—and they do not expect Jesus to deny their request. They want each of them to sit at either side of Jesus in His coming Messianic kingdom. They certainly are ignorant that Jesus’ going to Jerusalem will lead to death and not political triumph. They also obviously are not fully aware of the implications of following Jesus, which include suffering and pain. Jesus then responds to all the disciples that true greatness is achieved by selfless service.

From God’s point of view, greatness is measured by willingness to die to self and serve others. The way to greatness is through selfless service. The Word of God exhorts followers of Jesus Christ to emulate His example of humility as we serve one another. He was God from all eternity but he freely gave up His divine privileges to become like us. He who created the world lived like a slave and died the death of a worst criminal.
On the day of the Passover before His crucifixion, he washed the feet of his disciples. This was a menial job meant for household servants. After the exercise, Jesus told the disciples an important lesson: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” This can only happen when we stop pursuing self-serving interests but serve others. It happens when we allow God to use us to accomplish His purposes rather than us using God to accomplish our purposes.

whoever wants to be first must be slave.jpg

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for showing us the way to true greatness. Please help me to live humbly as a servant of others. In Your name I pray, amen.

 

God and Money

God and money.jpg

Mark 10: 17-22 (NIV) As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”…. Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

One thing that was common in Jesus’ ministry is that different people approached him with all kinds of questions—and He responded to them according to the genuineness of their intentions. This time He is approached by a wealthy man with an age-old question. What does it take for one to enter the kingdom of God? There is something striking about this encounter. Jesus’ loving eyes see something wrong with this man.  Although he has been keeping the law religiously, his heart is tied to his wealth. His wealth is effectively the god that he is serving.

Many years ago, as college students, we went for a retreat where a missionary was one of the speakers. I cannot remember much of what he said but he made a comment about money that went—more or less—like this, “you should always look at money as if it is stones.” I think what he meant was that we should not let our hearts get carried away with the love of money. But since we considered him and other missionaries more financially privileged than us, we never took his comment seriously.

Our sentiments towards the missionary notwithstanding, the Bible severally warns about the temptations of money. Pastoral leaders should not yield to the temptation of serving God as a means to get rich (1 Tim. 6:5). Those who try to follow Christ but remain attached to the pursuit of wealth and worldly pleasures get choked and are unfruitful (Matt. 13:22). Money can be an object of worship. We are warned that we cannot serve both God and money (Matt. 6:24). And the love of money is the root of all evils (1 Tim. 6:10).

So, what is it about money that makes many people feel that they do not need God? Truth is that money is not neutral. That is why we need to be intentional about how we relate to it and use it. All of us have something or someone our hearts are attached to. Unless we deal with that, we cannot truly follow Christ. Wealth and affluence are some of the gods of this age. What issue of your heart would you have Christ deal with as you follow Him? As followers of Jesus Christ we can have a healthy mindset towards money and wealth. We should not serve God for money but rather we should serve Him with all He has given us, including money, for His glory.

 

PRAYER

Lord Jesus, would you reveal to me the idols in my heart that could easily distract me from following you. In Your name I pray. Amen.