Friday, April 30, 2010

Reading the Heart

And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. (Luke 4:16 NAS)

Reading the Heart "The best way to know me is to know my heart, and my heart is in my devotional writings."

This was what I told my online friends not too long ago. Over the past two years since I began writing devotionals, several people have told me they were able to read my heart through my writings. Although this may sound like a vulnerable position to be in, it is the way I hope my readers will get to know me and understand my thoughts.

Like the readers of my devotionals, I also frequently read stories written by others, to learn from them and at the same time give constructive feedback to push them on to greater heights. Once in a while, however, I would be lost for words to give any useful feedback to certain writers whose pieces were too beautifully written that I found myself inadequate to give any constructive comment.

All of us are readers. We read different kinds of writings every day. Some of us may read news, stories, and poems, while others may read devotionals and other text on paper or on the worldwide web. Few of us, however, will ever get the chance to read writings about ourselves written by other people, except maybe our biography or news about our accomplishments.

The Bible mentioned about One who, unlike us, is able to read writings about Himself which were written even before He was born. Jesus, while He was in the synagogue at His hometown, read from the book of the prophet Isaiah concerning Himself (Luke 4:14-24). He then said to all who were present, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

All throughout history and in this present day, and even in the future, there can only be One who is able to read writings written about Himself from ancient days to the day the world comes to an end. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End (Revelation 23:13). Jesus is the ultimate Reader, the One and only who is able to read our minds and hearts, and all that we write about Him (Matthew 9:4; 12:25; Luke 9:47; 11:17; 24:38; Psalm 94:11). He alone has the authority to affirm the things written about Him.

Unlike Jesus our Lord, we will never get a chance to read writings about ourselves before we were born. Neither will we be able to read the minds of other people. We can, however, read the mind of God and understand His thoughts and heart through reading His word, just as my readers were able to read my heart through my writings.

Like our Lord who was able to read from the Scriptures the book of Isaiah while in the synagogue, we can also read the Old and New Testament to understand God intimately. We can gain insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men (Ephesians 3:4-5). We can also know His will for our lives and discover many great truths in His word so as to understand ourselves better and find answers to the many issues we face in our daily lives.

Once in a while, however, there will be days when we may be lost for words while reading the word of God because of the overwhelming and piercing truth of the Scriptures. In days such as these, all we need to do is to remain silent and listen to what the Spirit of God has to say to us, and receive from Him the 'constructive feedback’, wherein is the lesson we need to learn to push us on to greater heights.

Instead of reading the many bad news from the news daily, therefore, let us make time each day to read the word of God and discover the bountiful blessings that come with it. Let us understand God’s mind and know His will for us by reading His word regularly and claiming the promises written within.

Open our eyes dear Lord that we may behold wondrous things out of Your word. Move in our hearts Lord as we read Your word each day. Grow in us O Lord an understanding of Your heart and mind. Renew and overflow us that we may in Your word read and hear by Your Spirit the things we need to know in order to walk rightly before You.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Sword of the Word

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 NAS)

The Count of Monte Cristo In the novel The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, a story was told about three devious characters who conspired to have a young and successful merchant sailor, Edmond Dantès, imprisoned for many years. With a pen, one of the conspirators wrote an anonymous letter to the authorities accusing Edmond of being a Bonapartist traitor. As a result, Edmond was condemned to the Château d'If, a prison fortress on the island of If, which he managed to escape from only after 14 years. A quote which explains the events that took place in the story very well is found in the spoken words by one of the three conspirators, Caderousse, who said "I have always had more dread of a pen, a bottle of ink, and a sheet of paper, than of a sword or pistol."

As much as a pen is able to usurp influence and power greater than the sword in putting one into prison according to the novel’s story, a pen, when use for good, can also set one free. A good example of this is the written word of God. The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword which can pierce and divide souls and spirits, of both joints and marrow, and even judge thoughts and intentions of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12).

Jesus, when tempted by the devil before He began His ministry on earth, defended against the devil by using the Scriptures, the written word of God (Matthew 4:1-11). Similarly, if we study God's word to familiarize its content, we can also use the written word of God to put forth a defense.

The Bible teaches that the sword of the Spirit is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17). We should therefore equip ourselves with God's word, and with the shield of faith extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one (Ephesians 6:16). No physical sword is needed to defend ourselves against principalities and the darkness of this world because 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). Only by being equipped with God's word can we be strong in the Lord to draw the strength of His might and put on the full armor in standing firm against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:10-11).

Dear Lord, stir our hearts to desire to study Your word that we may stand firm and defend against the devil and his dark forces. We know O God that in Your word is the power to set free those imprisoned in sin and to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Help us Lord to use Your word diligently for good and not for evil, to judge ourselves in our thoughts and intents, and write within our hearts all that we learn from Your word, to remember them and to put them into practice.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Keeping a Marriage

But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife. (1 Corinthians 7:10-11 NAS)

Broken Marriage "Whether mom or dad wins the custody, we lose."

This is a tagline often used in marriage counseling to discourage separation, coming from the children's point of view. Whether a married couple has children or not, however, a divorce always hurt the entire family.

Marriage is a bonding of two becoming one (Genesis 2:24; Mark 10:8). Separation splits and tears away one from the other, leaving each with only half (Mark 10:9). What has once been joined together, unfortunately, cannot become two again without hurting deep within, and this usually lasts a lifetime. Remarriage, while our former half is still alive, often ends with the recurrence of a non lasting relationship that creates greater hurts than before (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). This is because true love once given cannot be returned without hurt, and life as we know it cannot remain the same.

In a sermon on 'Keys to a Fulfilling Marriage', itinerant preacher Raymond Davey from Sydney, Australia suggested three ways of keeping a marriage: Truth, Trust and Tolerance, and five actions we can take to keep the marriage: Communication, Commitment, Companionship, Communion, and Completeness. This article is adapted from the principles shared by him in the sermon which we can put into practice to sustain a fulfilling marriage.

Ways to Keep a Marriage

Truth is about a husband and wife always being truthful to each other (John 8:32). We must not hide the truth from our spouse and we must never lie. Being truthful is important because our spouse has been given the inner spirit to sense untruth, and this can give rise to a breakup.

Trust is about a husband and wife trusting each other. If a husband and wife fail to trust each other, a divorce may ensue. If a spouse is unfaithful or is faithless towards the other, his or her spirit must take heed not to break the faith (Malachi 2:16).

Tolerance is about a husband and wife loving each other enough to tolerate and forebear each other's differences (Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:13). Differences can come from the way we think about something, the way we do things, our behavior and other areas. These can tear relationships apart if mutual love and understanding are absent.

Actions to Take

Communication is about spending time with each other, with our children and the family. If we do not communicate and spend time with each other to have heart to heart talk, as well as do things together, our absence may gradually not be felt any more, and eventually we will be ignored.

Commitment is about sacrificial love. If we love our spouse, we will be ready to do anything for our spouse, even to lay down our lives (John 15:13).

Companionship is about being there for each other to have and to hold, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.

Communion is about our union in marriage, the dutiful honor within the marriage bed of undefiled wholesome union between man and wife only (Hebrews 13:4; Ephesians 5:28-32; 1 Peter 3:1-7). Keeping this union undefiled and wholesome holds the key to a successful marriage.

Completeness is about keeping relationships prioritized in the following order: God, man and wife, family and children, work, ministry, and self (Mark 12:29-30; 1 Pet 3:1, 7; Ephesians 5:25, 29; 6:1-4; 1 Timothy 5:8; Matthew 15:4-7).

The Bible states clearly that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). We ought therefore to take heed in our spirit never to be faithless, break faith or deal treacherously (Malachi 2:16). As marriage ties the two to become one flesh, let us stay faithful to keep our marriage, and let God be the Lord of our household.

Dear Lord, please help us keep our marriage pure and undefiled to hold fast the union You have ordained. Instill in us Lord to always maintain truth, trust and tolerance in our marriage. Stir within us and overwhelm us Lord to express love one for another through communication, commitment, companionship, communion and completeness. Remind us dear Lord our priorities in relationship building, to always put You first above all else, before our spouse, children, family, work, ministry and self.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Guilt

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation; Then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness. (Psalm 51:14 NAS)

Guilt If I were to count the number of things I have to make right or repair in the house, I would have to plead guilty many times round.

Many of us, like me, may also have to plead guilty to many things. Some of these may all be wrapped up in the excuse of not having enough time. Beyond that, however, some guilt may go further than just the things we did not do or the things we have done wrongly. Guilt such as neglecting our loved ones or people we know is serious enough, but certain guilt goes beyond negligence, and may include sin, sinful behavior and betrayal.

Not too long ago, I heard a sermon preached on the topic of 'Dealing with Guilt'. The speaker shared four common reactions by people faced with guilt: Rationalize, Rebel, Resign, and Respond.

Rationalize is about finding excuses or consoling ourselves that we are not that bad, usually in comparison to others. Such rationalization puts off our guilt to acknowledge sin as expectable or perfectly normal, since no one is perfect.

Rebel is about being overwhelmed with guilt to feel that there is no more hope but to continue dwelling in sin, since we are already in it anyway. The more attempts by people trying to bring us back, the more we run away to find a way of escape.

Resign is about resigning to fate or destiny. Fate, to those who do not believe in Jesus, is about living out the fact that what had happened had already happened, and there is nothing we can do to change it. Destiny, to believers, is to acknowledge that what had been predestined to happen will happen and nothing is going to change anyway, so why bother.

Respond is about responding in faith to repent and resolve to walk rightly henceforth. This requires more than confession and asking God to forgive us. It is the acknowledgment of the wrong we did, and the respond to want to correct and do something about it. We cannot, however, do it alone by our own strength, and we need to seek God to create in us a clean heart and renew us with a faithful spirit within (Psalm 51:10).

Let us, therefore, like King David in Psalm 51, respond to God positively in acknowledging our sins and seeking His forgiveness. Let us not rationalize, rebel, or resign, but come before God with a broken and contrite heart to repent, resolve and be renewed with a faithful spirit within us (Psalm 51:17).

Dear Lord, forgive us for sinning against You and against the people You have brought into our lives. Help us Lord to acknowledge our guilt and sin poignantly, rather than deny or react negatively in irrational ways. Put within our hearts Lord to want to respond positively to seek Your forgiveness in repentance, henceforth, resolving never to do the wrong we did ever again. Thank you, God, for forgiving and cleansing us. Free us Lord from our guilt and renew us that our tongues may joyfully sing of Your righteousness.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Habitual Sins

For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor. (Galatians 2:18 NAS)

Fireproof (2008)In the movie 'Fireproof' (2008) by Samuel Goldwyn Films and Sherwood Pictures, Captain Caleb Holt (Kirk Cameron), a heroic fireman, was seen facing a marriage crisis resulting from a deteriorated relationship with his wife over various matters. Through his spiritual journey to reconcile the marriage, Caleb confronted his addiction to pornography. The storyline continued as it centered on this addiction as part of the conflict between Caleb and his wife Catherine (Erin Bethea). True to reality, the actor was able to convey the difficulty of overcoming the habitual sin in his struggle to avoid the images that cause him to lust.

Habitual sin such as pornography, gambling, drinking, smoking, drug addiction, gluttony and others is seldom easy to get rid of even with Christians who may be walking faithfully with God on everything else. Like Caleb in 'Fireproof', some of us may have overcome a particular habitual sin before, but may have fallen again into the same recurring sin because of the temptation to go back to our old ways of sinful indulgence. This may be due to strong enticement or an urge that lures us as once fallen creature to our former self. Such is often the overwhelming power of sin that draws us into habitual sin.

In the book by RBC Ministries, When We Just Can't Stop, Tim Jackson and Jeff Olson wrote that ‘addiction’ is an enslaving destructive dependency. Random House was quoted in the book defining addiction as "the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma." This definition helps us understand the extent of difficulty face by the ones who are addicted and usually helpless when it comes to pulling away from sin's enticement and urge. Notwithstanding this understanding, we must however still recognize habitual sins as an area we need to work towards getting rid of in the strength of the Lord.

Not too long ago, the Lord brought to my attention a passage in the Bible to understand it from a different perspective. Although the primary message of the passage is about justification by grace and not by law, it also teaches something about habitual sins.

But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly. (Galatians 2:17-21 NAS)

This passage states clearly that if we as believers in the Lord seek to be justified in Christ and yet are found to be sinners, we are in fact rebuilding what we have once destroyed to prove ourselves to be transgressors. But now that we have come to know God, how is it then that we turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things to want to be enslaved all over again (Galatians 4:9)? Just as the Bible says a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who repeats his folly (Proverbs 26:11), it is foolish for us to repeat the sins of our past. This being so and we having been crucified with Christ, we need no longer live in sin because Christ lives in us, and the life which we now live in the flesh should therefore be lived by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself up for us. We should realize that no matter how deep we may have got ourselves into trouble, when we cry out to the Lord, He hears us and is sure to deliver us. Nothing we can do will ever nullify the grace of God because Christ had not died needlessly.

If we are facing troubles of addiction and habitual sin, therefore, we should seek help. One of the places we can find such help is the web site of Setting Captives Free. Setting Captives Free is a ministry that provides free Christ-centered courses that aim to help people find freedom from habitual sins like impurity, over-eating, substance abuse, gambling, smoking and more. We should at the same time also pray and seek God earnestly to grant us the strength to overcome our habitual sins that we may live our lives victorious in Him.

Dear Lord, forgive us for sinning against You and against our loved ones. Help us Lord to overcome our weakness when we are faced with the overwhelming temptation that draws us back to our former ways. Remove from us Lord the ever enticing urge to rebuild what we have once destroyed, that we may no longer be transgressors, but be holy just as You O God are holy.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter!

Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life;
he who believes in Me will live even if he dies,
~ John 11:25 NAS ~

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday

It's Good FridayIn this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and
sent His Son [Jesus] to be the propitiation for our sins.
~ 1 John 4:10 NAS ~

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Quiet Time

Let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning; For I trust in You; Teach me the way in which I should walk; For to You I lift up my soul. (Psalm 143:8 NAS)

Quiet Time I wake up at about 5:30 a.m. every weekday so as to reach my workplace before 9:00 a.m. Between these times is when I wash up, do some stretching exercises, eat my breakfast and travel to work. All these daily routines are important to me, but the most precious of all is the time before breakfast when I spend quiet time with God. This is the time when I read a daily devotional, pray, praise, worship, and study the word of God. A regular prayer I pray at the start of each day is this—"Dear Lord, may your name be glorified through me in all I do this day."

Starting each day with God, to me, has many advantages. It sets within me a spirit that puts God first before all else and allows me to draw strength for the day. Many a times when I read God's word in the morning, I would receive new insights about certain things in the Bible or something concerning the faith, or some Christian principles I can put into practice. On other days, I may receive a warning or a teaching that spurs me on to want to know God better. In times like these, I often feel overwhelmed with God’s love and cannot help but to praise God from the heart for He has lifted up my soul. What a joy it is to experience God and know His lovingkindness at the start of each day!

The psalmist said, "Let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning; For I trust in You; Teach me the way in which I should walk; For to You I lift up my soul" (Psalm 143:8 NAS). Like the meals we eat everyday to sustain physical health, time with God is essential food for us to sustain our spiritual health. Spending time with God daily is important, and it is good to start it right from the beginning of a day. Like the meals we eat that sustain our physical health, time with God is essential food for us to sustain our spiritual health.

According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus left the house on an early morning while it was still dark and went away to a secluded place to pray (Mark 1:35). In our context today, a secluded or quiet place may be difficult to find, but we can agree with our family members to leave us alone during a specific time of the day to spend time with God. This of course may not be easy for some, especially for the ones who have to take care of the children’s needs first and prepare the breakfast for the one who is spending time alone with God. Regardless the timing that best suits the individual, however, we must all find time daily to be with God.

Dear God, forgive us for neglecting our quiet time with You. Help us understand deep within our hearts that spending time with You is the best thing we can have. Still our hearts Lord to desire to spend quiet time with You daily. We want to experience Your lovingkindness Lord for in You we trust. Teach us the way in which we should walk Lord that our souls may be lifted up each day.

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