Unfairness of Mercy

31 January 2014

Lamentations and Ezekiel depict a lot of the Lord’s anger and punishment on His people Israel for their sins. In fact, a lot of the Old Testament is about God’s hatred and punishment of sin. Many people ask me how this God in the Old Testament could possibly also be the same God that Jesus portrays in the New Testament. But actually, i don’t find much difference. Jesus taught also about the wrath of God and warned about the punishment that would come, but it is easy to overlook such warnings when a lot of emphasis is on the love of God and the forgiveness of sins. It isn’t wrong, but there is a tendency for people to misplace the loving kindness of God against the wrath of God – thinking that the two cannot possibly co-exist – or that it would be unfair for God not to show mercy.

The loving kindness and mercies of God were understood well by King David. When asked if David would choose to receive punishment in the form of plagues or the sword of the enemy, David chose plagues, because David recognized that the Lord is merciful. He did not say to God – how cruel are you to make me choose between such terrible things to receive as punishment! Can’t you just forgive me? I said i’m sorry already!

David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands.” 2 Samuel 24:14

The author of Lamentations, despite bitterly recounting the punishment and scorn of the Lord on the house of Israel, was writing in reverence of the Lord. Never once did the author accuse the Lord of being unfair or overly brutal in His judgement. He could only ask for the Lord’s mercy and ends in this prayer:

You, Lord, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation. Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long? Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return; renew our days as of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure.”

I am always grateful for the accounts in the Old Testament as they remind me of showing reverence to the Lord in how i live my life. Although i am covered by the enduring blood of the Lamb, it is good for my soul to appreciate how deep and merciful the Lord is to me. There is a thin line between asking and receiving mercy from God and of simply expecting mercy from God. The latter cries out – it is not fair that i should suffer so much! But i am quieted when the Spirit reminds me that it was utterly and completely unfair for Jesus to die for my sins, and the incomprehensibility of how the Lord would do this to Himself for my sake helps me see how incomprehensible it should be for God to show me mercy. But He did.

And i can only gasp, How great thou art, how merciful and great thou art in loving me the way you do.

Our unique gifts

30 January 2014

I believe that we have all been given specific talents unique to us. We are all created uniquely and also told in the Word that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.  That’s enough for me to say with confidence that i have a unique character and gifting which was given to me by God.

Sometimes these may be passions and skills, sometimes it may be a quality of our character such as leadership or teaching or encouragement. I believe God gave me and all of us unique gifts and in varying shades and degrees to build up the body of Christ and His kingdom. We are told in scripture that together we make up the body of Christ whilst we each represent a different part of the body.

I am warned however that we also have an enemy who’s mission is to come, steal and destroy. That means “stealing” away  our unique gifting so that we are no longer effective. This “stealing” could come in various forms such as whispering discouraging statements to make us feel inadequate, or the reverse by making us feel complacent about our skill so that we do not take the time to sharpen our “tools” and hone them further to become more effective.  Another way would be to re-direct our special gifting for selfish or wrong purposes. I am after all not only called to “enjoy” the gifts but am expected to use it to benefit of other people.

We have a responsibility to protect our gifts and skills that have been given to us by God and to some, that may simply mean loving ourselves more and appreciating how we are different from others and intentionally so, in order that we make a beautiful harmony. To others, it may mean stepping up and putting to use our specific talents instead of hiding them away or under utilizing them.

So whatever gifts we have been given, i know they are firstly something to be proud of and they are not to be compared with others as God has apportioned them according to His good and perfect will. Just think about how we have five fingers that all kind of serve the same function and look similar. Some are shorter and some are used more often, but we really function perfectly when we can use all of them. My little finger is not inferior to the rest just because it is the smallest and shortest and weakest in strength – but at times that can be exactly how i feel when i am comparing myself to others. Actually our little finger is very important to help us form a firmer and tighter grip on objects. Secondly,  I also know there is an enemy who will do anything to blunt and take away the gifts we have been given if we are not careful in defending and honing them.  Lastly, i am made to enjoy using the gifts and in fact the gifts are all specially created to be enjoyed in their highest form when i use them for His glory. I chose to use the phrase “for His glory” instead of “for His Kingdom”, because even though they actually mean the same thing, i want to remind myself that as long as i dutifully exercise my gifts while acknowledging that i do so with Him in mind, it does not matter whether i see immediate “Kingdom” results, but rather, right there and then, i know that He is already delighted, and it is up to Him to direct it to bring about His Kingdom.

Father, thank you that every good and perfect gift is from you. I thank you for the way you have uniquely crafted me and formed me so fearfully and wonderfully. I ask that your Holy Spirit remind me daily how i am to use my gifts to bring You glory and how i am to enjoy and delight in doing so because it is also in Your good and perfect will.

Understanding Scripture

29 January 2014

I was reading a post by an athiest who titled his post “Why I am not a Christian”. The writer was obviously quite well educated based on his writing but his attempts to dis-credit the bible and the life of Jesus were surprisingly juvenile.

I haven’t read the book “God delusion” by renowned atheist Richard Dawkins or books of Stephan Hawking to prove God doesn’t exist. Although based on quotes i’ve seen from the books aiming to de-bunk faith, i realised most of them had no real appreciation of the depth and meaning of scripture in the bible.  i’m also reminded about my own struggle with scripture and the apparent contradictions in the bible.

My understanding of scripture after coming to faith has improved, but I don’t understand everything. It seems that the journey in understanding scripture never really ends even as a believer. Jesus taught in many parables and many in His day, even His disciples, did not understand the meanings. When asked why Jesus spoke in parables, Jesus replied “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. That is why I use these parables, For they look, but they don’t really see. They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand. This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah that says,

‘When you hear what I say, you will not understand. When you see what I do, you will not comprehend. For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes— so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and let me heal them.’

I am reminded that i can also sometimes be as hasty as the examples above and that i would be naive to think i could understand completely and fully the scriptures in the bible.  Without a humble  heart, the words of the bible will simply be incoherent ramblings of mad people.

Christian or non-Christian, both i believe can fall into times of having a hardened heart to scripture. A Christian may have read the same verses and memorized them, but the word no longer lives because they may have quenched the Spirit by hardening their hearts with pride or self-righteousness.

Holy Father, may my eyes and heart ever be open and soft to your Words. May each line of scripture speak and bring life into my being. Inspire me and encourage me in Your Word Lord. 

God of Justice

28 January 2014

I was reading a short chapter in a book about poverty and was reminded of the great chasm especially between the well-resourced population and severely under-resourced population today.  Technology keeps blistering ahead and people are making millions even billions creating new funky apps and programs. Yet with all this intelligence so little progress is made bridging the social injustices today. I’m not doing a great deal in making today a better world myself – in fact most of my time is not spent thinking about these issues. But as I prayed about it, God gave me the word “Justice”.

As i looked up the general meaning of the word “Justice”, the following definition was provided:-

Justice is a concept of moral rightness based ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion, equity and fairness, as well as the administration of the law, taking into account the inalienable and inborn rights of all human beings and citizens, the right of all people and individuals to equal protection before the law of their civil rights, without discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, color, ethnicity, religion, disability, age, wealth, or other characteristics, and is further regarded as being inclusive of social justice.

That was A LOT for me to take in with just one word. I wouldn’t have necessarily thought of justice encompassing such a wide definition.  But as i looked at the word again, i realised this is also the word used to describe God.

Something deep in our souls scream out for “Justice”.  God is not to blame for the injustices, and He has said that there will come the day of judgement and also a day of restoration of everything that was lost.  But in the meantime, God is asking me and all of us to bring justice into the world. He is asking us to be par-takers and His hands and feet. His inaction to bring about swift justice is not due to His weakness but to His great mercy and patience. While people blame God for injustice and even argue that He does not exist because there is injustice – God patiently endures – not wishing that we should perish in judgement, but is giving us time to repent and change our ways. The sad story is not only the subjects of injustice – in fact, the real tragedy is us who are not doing anything about the injustice. Let’s be clear that it is not about works, but let’s also be clear that God is a God of Justice. Jesus said, ” “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?”…. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Father, keep my heart open and my ways open to your leading in participating toward justice in this world. Bring me forward and may my heart and will be at your command. Forgive me when my heart is cold and warm it up again so that i never cease to strive for Your justice.

Power of the tongue

27 January 2014

One of the most difficult things to control is the tongue. Careless and harmful words easily spring out from the tongue if I am not careful. It is easy for me to think that careless words do not do any real damage, but it could actually do more harm than i perceive. I found that even if wrong words i spoke did not harm anyone, it ends up stirring up emotions and negative feelings in me. For example, if i’m angry and i say something in anger because i am angry, i get even more angry – or sometimes i may be talking about a situation or circumstance in a judgmental way and before i know it, negative sentiments that may seem out of proportion are evoked and created.

All of this harms my spiritual connection with God. I find it so much harder to pray and hear God when i had just engaged in meaningless banter or negative talk. And i realised that i actually sometimes need to ask for God’s forgiveness and restoration before i can begin to pray meaningfully to Him.

The bible in fact is full of verses telling me to keep hold of my tongue and watch my speech. Whether i sometimes “innocently” have a slip of the tongue or intentionally engage in crude talk – spoken words carry power – to harm and destroy or to bless and build up.

Psalm 141:3 Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!

1 Peter 3:10 For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit;

Proverbs 18:21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

Proverbs 15:4 A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.

Matthew 12:33-37 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

James 3:10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.

Proverbs 10:19 When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.

Matthew 15:11 It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”

Father, forgive my careless words and restore my relationship with You again. Help me to keep close watch and have heightened sensitivity to the words i choose to speak and when i should choose to be quiet. Let me lay any and all frustrations, anger or hurt at your feet and quench and extinguish my impulse to speak evil.

The return of the unclean spirit

26 January 2014

The parable of the return of the unclean spirit in Matthew 12:43 has never really been understood by me until i read it again tonight and realized what Jesus was talking about.

The parable goes that an unclean spirit when out of a person, only to return to that same person with seven other evil spirits – causing the state of the man later to be worse than the first. It bewildered me for some time how and why Jesus talked about this. The state of the man after the first unclean spirit had left him was described as a “house” and when the unclean spirit had decided to return to that “house” it found “the house empty, swept and put in order”.  The word “empty” then stood out to me and i realized Jesus was meaning that something was missing in the house. The presence of God.  Then it all made sense to me.

Without the presence of the Holy Spirit living in a believer, it is an invitation for evil to return and it is far worse for a person to think he has cleaned up his act and put everything in order but forget to invite and rely on the One who made it possible in the first place.

Jesus healed many people during his ministry and we read many people were healed from diseases and incapacity. The startling warning of Jesus was that it was easy to cleanse and heal someone but it was no guarantee of the future  destiny of that person. Jesus once asked – is it easier for me to say your sins are forgiven or to heal you and perform a miracle? Jesus also said, an evil and twisted generation seeks for a sign – but no sign will be given.

People often challenge faith by saying – If only God were to do this or appear in front of me or give me a sign – i will believe! Oh how i realize now the deep mercy and patience of God in NOT giving and showing those “signs” sometimes. Such people are probably going to be much like the man in the parable – who may start to believe and get their act together, but have no real acceptance of Jesus into their lives – which will prove disastrous eventually.

I need to be constantly aware of my need to keep my “house ” occupied by my Lord. My house shall not be empty, for my Savior shall dwell in me and make my body a living temple of God.

Revelation 3:20 says “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears and listens to and heeds My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will eat with him, and he [will eat] with Me.”

Father, Son and Holy Spirit, may you make my house a permanent and constant dwelling of your presence and power. May i always seek to acknowledge your presence in me to protect and defend my soul and to transform my life to your delight.

Making use of time

25 January 2014

If there is one thing i have grown to take quite seriously in the last few years, it is time. When i was younger, i really had less care or concern about how i was using my time. Hours could fly by just watching tv or doing nothing. But as i get older, i realised that there is fierce competition for my time. I get upset when i don’t have enough time to rest, or do something i like. i get protective over my time at home and the time i need to spend at work. There are people to meet, things to do and tasks to complete. And often, i am rushing and scurrying to manage it all in the limited time i have.

There simply are days when it feels there isn’t enough time in one day. But i will always remember one thing my pastor preached some time back – and it was that God has given me enough time to do what i needed to do everyday. God didn’t give me time to do everything i “wanted” to do, but there is always enough time to do what needed to be done. So i always remind myself to use and plan my time wisely, to choose how i allocate my time and to protect it when i need to. Time with family is precious, so i guard it against work –  which in Hong Kong, tends to eat up a lot of people’s lives. Time with God is also becoming more important to me this year as i try to let it take priority over the “other things” i “want” to do. It’s in the times when i choose to slow down and choose to be with God, when i am given wisdom over how i should allocate and use my time wisely – in the way God intended when He gives me each day.

Ephesians 5:15-17 

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Psalm 90:12

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Luke 14:28

For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?

Ecclesiastes 3:8

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

Colossians 4:5

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.

Help me Lord to use my time wisely and to protect it so that it is not lost or used to my harm.