Friday, May 29, 2009

Before the New After the Old

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17 NAS)

Old and New Back in those days when I was still being paid a handsome wage monthly, I used to indulge myself with luxury goods to satisfy my own wants. After weathering many trials and going through difficult times, however, I have learned that living a fruitful life is not all about living in riches, but about living for the Lord in all circumstances.

True living is not about accumulating material wealth where moth and rust destroy (Matthew 6:19). It is about living our lives dedicated for the purpose of God, where true satisfaction is derived by serving the Lord whole heartedly, not by the riches of this world, but by the grace of God, fulfilled and content in the fullness of His sufficiency.

Jesus, in the Gospel of Luke, told a parable of a rich man who tore down his barns to build larger ones to lay up enough grain and goods to last him for many years while he relax from labor to eat, drink and be merry. God, however, decided that on that very night his soul would be required of him. Who then would inherit what the rich man had prepared (Luke 12:16-21)?

Some of us, before becoming Christians, are like the rich man in the parable. We lived our lives as if there is no tomorrow or as if it does not matter whether there is a future, because we know we will one day still have to die. Our lives before we have Christ were therefore all about accumulating wealth for ourselves to satisfy our own desires while alive, a process consisting of meaningless daily routine and hard work till the day we breathe our last.

After receiving Jesus as our Lord and Savior, however, we ought now to live our lives anew in the Lord, because our old selves have passed away and new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17). As believers, therefore, we should no longer be worried about what we will eat or what we will wear, for life is more than food and the body more than clothes (Luke 12:22-23). Our Father knows our needs; He will take care of us and add to us the things we need. Our lives should therefore be to seek first the kingdom of God (Luke 12:24-31).

Paul, in his epistle to the Ephesians, exhorted the Christians to lay aside their old selves and be renewed in the spirit of their minds to put on the new selves which in the likeness of God, created in righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24). We should therefore lay aside our old selves of lusts, deceit and selfishness, and be renewed in our minds in the likeness of Jesus, to live our lives holy and righteous. We should no longer live as though there is no tomorrow, for we know what awaits in the future.

Our lives have been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20), and we should in return, present our lives as holy and living sacrifice to the Lord, which is our acceptable spiritual act of worship. We should not conform to the ways we have lived in the past, but we should be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we will be able to stand the test and prove what is the will of God (Romans 12:1-2).

Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord ... to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:1-5 NAS)

Dear Lord, thank You for enabling us by Your Spirit to put off our old selves and put on the new. Help us Lord to put aside all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander, and like newborn babies, having tasted of Your kindness, seek to know You more through Your word. Change our hearts Lord that we may not listen to the world, but with willing hearts offer ourselves as spiritual sacrifices acceptable to You, to seek first Your kingdom, and not our own desires. Use us Lord for your work, as we lay aside the old of our past, and live anew for the future, holy unto You.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Oaths and Promises

But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but let your yes be yes, and your no, no; so that you may not fall under judgment. (James 5:12 NAS)

Oath During a daily devotion recently, I came across a scriptural passage concerning an oath made by a group of Jews which amused me. The passage was about some forty Jews who conspired with the chief priests and elders, and bound themselves under an oath to kill Paul, saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed him (Acts 23:12-16). If these Jews had kept their oath, they would probably be dead long before Paul was beheaded years later after that oath was made.

All of us know what it means to the Jews about keeping oaths. Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew said:

"Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, `YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.' But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, `Yes, yes' or `No, no'; anything beyond these is of evil." (Matthew 5:33-37 NAS)

Oaths or vows, whether good or bad, bear serious consequences. If we make an oath, we are required to fulfill the oath or be held accountable for what we have promised. In our context, this may mean the fulfillment of our marriage vows, our contractual agreement with our employers and business partners, or even our pledge as citizens to serve the country. All these are of course for the greater good, but if we should fail in keeping with what we have vowed or agreed to do, we will certainly be held accountable. Likewise, if we promised God something, we should also seriously consider how we should fulfill our promise. We know God is gracious, but we should never abuse His love for us.

This message concerning the need to keep our oaths is no doubt difficult to accept, and probably the reason why James advised us not to swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath, but to let our yes be yes and our no be no, so that we may not fall under judgment (James 5:12). This advice is not new; for Jesus Himself had taught these same principle concerning oath, that we should let our statement be 'yes, yes' or 'no, no', for anything beyond these is evil (Matthew 5:33-37).

In the parable of two brothers, Jesus gave the example of a man who had two sons. The second son promised to work in the vineyard, but did not go. The first son on the other hand said he would not go, but afterward regretted and went. Which of these two sons, therefore, fulfilled the will of his father? The first son, of course, and Jesus said to the self-proclaimed righteous people that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before them (Matthew 21:28-31), for they were the ones who had truly repented.

The Lord's teaching concerning oath is not about making sure we do not get caught in the entanglement of fulfilling agreements and commitment in all areas of our lives. It is about fulfilling what we must fulfill, such as our vows to our spouse, our agreements in contracts, our roles as citizens and more, depending on the different circumstances and requirements, but beyond that, we should not tie ourselves down to oaths, or be bound to unnecessary arrangements. We must, above all, never make an oath to do evil.

Dear Lord, teach us not to make unnecessary vows that bind us to fulfill what may not be a part of Your plan for our lives. Help us Lord to discern what is good and what is bad when we are required to make an oath or keep a promise. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for You alone O Lord deserves all glory and power, now and forever. Amen.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Out in the Midst of Wolves

Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16 NAS)

Wolves All of us have experienced ups and downs in our lives, but few have heard of the in and out of living the Christian life. This hypothesis however is undeniable, because much of Christian living is about in and out.

When we are out of a job, for example, we tend to be very much in the Lord, because our survival depends on Him. As Christians, we have been exhorted to reveal Christ in our lives and to live out the nature of Christ and Christ Himself in us and through us (Ephesians 5:1-2). Although we are in the world, we are not of the world, because Christ has chosen us out of the world (John 15:19). We have been sent out as sheep in the midst of wolves to reach the world for Christ (Matthew 10:16). Jesus told the disciples that signs and wonders will accompany them, and they will be able to cast out demons in His name (Mark 16:15-18). Peter, while in the prison, was woken up by an angel and taken out of the prison to the city (Acts 12:5-12). All these are just a few illustrations of the many examples and events that show how intertwined the concept of in and out is associated with Christian living.

While I was still a young Christian, I was very zealous in reaching out to the pre-believers to bring them to Christ. After a few months, however, I discovered witnessing was not as easy as I thought it to be because there were many obstacles in the way. As a new Christian yet untrained in the word of God, I was easily shaken in the faith because of persecution from friends and family. Like a sheep in the midst of wolves, I was unequipped to fight the battle because I was lacking in the knowledge of God's word, and I was not shrewd enough to handle the many bombardments from people who were atheists, agnostics, anti-Christians and of other faiths.

Zealousness for the Lord and for His work is important, but we must always remember that without the full armor of God, we will not be able to withstand the flaming arrows of the evil one (Ephesians 6:16). Living out and knowing the word of God is therefore crucial, because God's word is the sword of the Spirit, which is a part of the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18). Our struggle is "not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12 NAS). We, like sheep in the midst of wolves (Matthew 10:16), must therefore be strong in the Lord to face the attacks of the evil one and his allies. We must be equipped as trained disciples of the Lord to grow in wisdom and in the knowledge of God's word so that we can stand firm and stay unshaken. If we therefore hope to bring pre-believers out of darkness, we must first live in the light and walk in the Lord according to the word of God.

Dear Lord, strengthen us in Your word that we may be prepared to defend our faith as we put on the full armor of God. Help us Lord to be shrewd in handling the attacks of the evil one and his allies, so that we may stand strong in the midst of wolves. Draw us close to You Lord more and more every day that we may reveal more of You in us to show to the world Your everlasting love. Empower us Lord by Your Holy Spirit as we continue to study Your word and grow in You.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Hard or Easy Way

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matthew 7:13-14 NAS)

Crowd or the Cross We have all at one time or other been given a choice to choose between a difficult road or an easy way out. While the soft or easy way out may seem to be the more sensible choice, the outcome of such a choice however usually ends with disappointment or bears little fruits. The hard choice or road on the other hand usually offers better promises and rewards.

While I was still an undergraduate, I used to choose for my written assignments, topics that were difficult and not so popular among other students because common topics seldom get good grades from the teachers. The reason was obvious. Too much of the same thing lacks originality, and without originality a student's hard work cannot be recognized.

Taking the difficult road however is never easy, but if we are ready to fight the good fight to achieve the goal at all cost, then our reward and prize await us. If we choose to take the easy road or the short cut, we may not yield the results we hope to achieve in the end, for what goes with the crowd need not necessary be what is right, and it is usually the narrow way that leads to life. The path of the crowd is not the same as the path of the Cross. The crowd tells us to rely on ourselves and to follow the world, but the Cross tells us to rely on the Lord and follow Jesus. The crowd suggests we bear our own burdens and earn our worth, but the Cross suggests we nail our burdens at the Cross, for Jesus is our worth. The crowd proposes we do much to achieve, but the Cross presents God's completed work through Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior.*

The Bible clearly states the words of wisdom when the author of Proverbs said "there is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death." Many of us tend to choose the easy path or the soft route to achieve our goals or desires. However, what seems right to a man following a road that is wide and broad often leads to the way of death and destruction (Proverbs 16:25; Matthew 7:13-14). What appears foolish to a man following a road that is hard, narrow and difficult, on the other hand, leads to life eternal (Matthew 7:13-14). All of us must therefore be ready to take the hard route which leads to life, and give up the soft route which leads to destruction.

Dear Lord, help us not succumb to the pressures of the world to follow the crowd, but to look to the Cross and follow You. Strengthen us Lord as we walk the path that is narrow which leads to life, knowing that we can always rely on You to see us through. Keep us O Lord from straying to the other path which is wide and easy, but leads to destruction and death. Thank You Lord for letting us nail our burdens to the Cross, for You alone is our worth.

* Igniter Media. "The Crowd or the Cross" in Igniter Videos: Sermon Illustrations, Accessed April 26, 2009. Texas: Igniter Media Group.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Beginning to End

"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last." (Revelation 22:13 NKJ)

Incomplete All of us at some time or other probably have experienced beginning something and not completing it to the end. Take writing a book, for example. We hope to make it known to the world, but somewhere along the way, something happened that requires us to abandon our writing permanently. How would we feel? What if, as an employee, we have worked extremely hard on a project, and just when we are ready to launch the end product, we are told by our boss that the project has been abandoned? How would we react? Do we blame God for not letting us achieve what we have set out to accomplish, or do we see it as God's way of molding us in preparing us for His purpose?

Over the past few years, God has been teaching me what it means to do my best, and let Him do the rest. Whether as an employee or a freelancer, I have on many occasions experienced incomplete projects fulfillment and business deals falling through. Although through the process of it all, I have gained new insights which in themselves deserve some small celebration, it was the lesson on not expecting things in our lives to go our way that is most precious.

Many of us live our lives believing that ‘what we do is what we will get in return.’ Although there is much truth about reaping what we sow, and being rewarded when we do good or punished when we do evil (2 Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 6:8), it is ultimately God Who will decide what is best for us. Moses' life is a good example of what this means. He went through the wilderness as a shepherd before he was ready to do the work of God, even though long before that he felt up to it to do the task as a prince.

The Bible teaches us not to run a race without aim, but to run in such a way to win the prize, so that we ourselves may not after having preached to others, become disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). We are to "run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1b-2 NKJ).

Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last (Revelation 22:13). What we need to understand therefore is our purpose in this journey on earth, not the destiny or the end of the journey, which God must decide for Himself, His will for us to fulfill (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). Our part is therefore to play our role, to learn what we need to learn as we are molded for God's purpose, and to leave the result and outcome to Him.

Dear Lord, teach us not to question why certain things in lives do not go the way we want them to go, or why we do not get to reap the rewards we worked so hard to receive while we are here on earth. Stir in our hearts Lord and cause us to understand the role we are to play in Your will, while journeying here on earth. Help us Lord to run the race till the end of days, as we day by day continue to gaze on You, the Author and Finisher of our faith.