Friday, October 29, 2010

Heart of Conversation

The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep." (John 21:17 NIV)

Jesus and PeterWith so little time available at hand to do so many things, I am frequently left with not much time to engage in conversation with my friends and family members. This, I know, is not good or helpful in caring for others and in bringing others to Christ.

A heart to heart conversation is so important when it comes to expressing care, and although there are many ways of communicating across a message today, nothing beats a personal conversation with another. This is because a conversation face to face requires presence, and presence means taking time to communicate with each other. We may be able to get connected with someone via phone call, email, instant messaging or social network, but we cannot read the other person's state of mind unless we are engaged in conversation face to face.

In the Bible, we read about what the apostle Peter did after he denied Jesus three times. He was deeply grieved (Luke 22:56-62), and it was not long before he went back to his former trade as a fisherman (John 21:1). When Jesus appeared at the shore, however, Peter was quick to jump into the water and get to shore to meet Him (John 21:7). After the disciples had finished eating breakfast of bread and fish, Jesus conversed with Simon Peter (John 21:15-17 NIV).

"Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?"
"Yes, Lord," Peter said, "you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."

Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?"
He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."

The third time He said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?"
He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."

The conversation between Jesus and Peter shows the kind of heart to heart talk that engages one to become stirred up from within, leading to repentance, forgiveness and restoration. It is the kind of conversation we can engage in to lead others to Christ—a conversation for action. If we genuinely care for someone, we will want to spend time and engage in conversation with that person.

In bringing others to the Lord, therefore, let us find time to converse with others and tell them how we feel and what the Lord has done for us. It is through such witness, the sharing of thoughts and feelings, that people will know we are speaking from our hearts, not just telling them about Jesus in order to group them into the Christian faith. Like Simon Peter who responded to the Lord in confessing his love, let us also express the love we have for others by speaking from our hearts that they may desire to know more about Christ and His love. In similar ways, we can also nurture the young in faith—the lambs and sheep—by feeding and taking care of them, while at the same time restore the backslidden by redirecting them back to the right path.

Thank You, dear Lord, for showing us how we should engage in conversation to restore a soul. Grant us Lord the wisdom and sensitivity to the leading of Your Holy Spirit in knowing how we should converse with another. Forgive us Lord for the many times we fail to spend time with our friends and family to engage in heart to heart conversations. Create in us Lord the desire to care for Your sheep, the ones that have been saved and the ones that have yet to be saved. Renew us Lord in Your love, and restore to us the burning desire to be fishers of men, not just to group the unsaved into the fold, but also to feed the saved in helping them grow in spiritual maturity.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Grace or Works

"But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are." (Acts 15:11 NAS)

Martin LutherOne of the first published writings by Protestant reformer Martin Luther in 1520 was A Treatise on Good Works. In it, Luther put up an argument on the topic of justification by grace through faith, not by works. He said if we think by doing good we can be well-pleasing to God, we are lowering God to the level of a broker or a laborer who does not dispense His grace and kindness without payment. Luther addressed in his writing the essence of good works and their fundamental relation to faith. He emphasized that the believer should not need instruction on good works, but should on his own accord at all times do good as his faith and confidence teaches him. The only reason such instruction becomes necessary is because not all of us have equal faith or are mindful of the need to do good works.

Long before Martin Luther wrote and spoke about good works, the churches in the first century also argued on the topic of salvation by grace or by works. It was then Simon Peter, the former fisherman turned apostle, who stood up in the presence of believers and Jews of Jerusalem to make the first recorded theological statement on the subject of salvation by grace in the New Testament.

After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, "Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are." (Acts 15:7-12 NAS)

We know we have been saved by the grace of our Lord Jesus, therefore, we ought also to teach the same to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Not that there is a need to do so, since as believers good works should come naturally according to our faith and confidence (Ephesians 2:10), but because not all of us have equal faith or are mindful in doing good works. God knows our hearts and has given us His Holy Spirit to dwell in us as an affirmation of His gift of salvation, cleansing our hearts by faith. Let us therefore not impose unnecessary practices on others—especially new believers—to put upon their necks the yoke we ourselves cannot bear.

The Bible is very clear on the topic of salvation that it is by grace we have been saved through faith; and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). We have been saved, not on the basis of deeds done in righteousness, but because of His mercy, that by His grace we may be heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:5-7). We need not worry therefore to think that God would expect payment from us to earn our salvation; not when His only Son had already paid it all (Matthew 20:28; 1 John 2:2; 4:10).

Thank You dear Lord for dying on our behalf that we may freely receive Your salvation. We know O God that by our own efforts, even with all the good works we have done, we cannot earn Your forgiveness or be reconciled with You. Only by Your grace alone Lord have we been saved through faith, and not by our own works. Put in our hearts Lord the desire to do good works that we may on our own accord at all times do good naturally, rather than because we are instructed to do so. Help us Lord not to overburden our fellow brothers and sisters to put a yoke on their necks beyond they can bear, but instead nurture them in your ways to do good according to their faith and confidence.

Friday, October 15, 2010

End of Rope

Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? (Matthew 6:26 NLT)

Knot at End of RopeLivelihood is a concern for many, especially for those who are struggling to make ends meet or have hit rock bottom. Whether we have enough to eat, drink or wear are therefore matters of genuine concern. Even if we know life is more than just food and clothing, we cannot help but to sometimes worry about our next meal or how we can have enough to feed ourselves and the people under our care.

Some years ago, I was faced with the situation of hitting rock bottom. I was at the end of the rope, unable to provide for myself and my family, so I cried out to God, and He heard me and answered my prayer. He provided for me and my family, and granted me a job that is beyond a doubt given by Him because it met every of my specific request in my prayer—a perfect fit.

This is why Jesus said in Matthew 6:25-33 (NLT) that we should not worry about our everyday life—whether we have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear (v.25). Look at the birds. They do not plant or harvest or store food in barns, for our heavenly Father feeds them (v.26). Are we not far more valuable to Him than them? Can all our worries add a single moment to our lives (v.27)? Why do we need to worry about our clothing (v.28)? If God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers, He will certainly care for us (v.30). So do not worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear (v.31)? Our heavenly Father already knows all our needs (v.32).

The lyrics of a song in foreign language describe these verses very well. It states:

Flowers of the wild
Dressed up beautifully
Birds of the air
Never for livelihood keep busy
Our gracious heavenly Father
Watches over them daily
He loves the people of earth much more
And prepares them for the road to eternity

All that we need
Our heavenly Father already knows
The worries within our troubled hearts
Let Him on our behalf dispose
Our gracious heavenly Father
Takes care of us each day
He loves us much more
And prepares us for eternity way

Instead of worrying unnecessarily, therefore, let us trust in God and hold on to Him in times of need. Even if we have come to the end of the rope, let us tie a knot and hang on in faith. God knows our needs; He will certainly care for us (Matthew 6:30). Just as God provided for me and my family in times of need, He will also take care of us and supply all our needs from His glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).

As for some of us who have been blessed with much and have little or no worry about livelihood, let us not be conceited or fix our hope on the uncertainty of riches. Let us instead, as good stewards of God, do good and be rich in good works to be generous and ready to share, for it is God who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17-18).

Thank You dear Lord for always being on the lookout for us to ensure our needs are met. Help us Lord not to worry too much about what we shall eat, drink or wear, or about tomorrow. Open our eyes Lord that we may see within Your creation how much more You love and care for us. Remove from us Lord the worries within our troubled hearts that we may not be too overly concerned about our livelihood, but instead trust in You completely. Move our hearts Lord, we who have been blessed with much, to be willing to share what You have given us with others. Do not let us be conceited Lord to put our hope on the uncertainty of riches. Instead, direct us Lord that we may as good stewards of Your wealth do good and be rich in good works.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Reaching Forward

but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13b-14 NAS)

Reaching Forward and UpwardMy colleagues and I were informed recently that there will be some organizational restructuring for the division we are currently working in. Each of us will soon be reporting to new supervisors and managers, and the division will cease to exist. In a short span of two days, everything relating to how we work changed, and we are currently all feeling disoriented and somewhat apprehensive because of the uncertainty of our job scope in the future.

The first thing that came to my mind when I received the news was the Bible verse "forgetting what lies behind ... I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13-14). That set my heart at peace, despite being a little apprehensive. This is because since the day I started work at this place, I was assured that this job was God-given—an answer to a specific prayer. It was in a time of need that God provided this job as the means of my and my family's livelihood.

Like me, many of us may have faced similar situations where after a long period of stability, something unexpected happens that changes the way we live. Such unexpected event can come in many forms and may include the loss of a job, restructuring at the workplace, an ailment or someone in the family who falls sick and needs special care. In such situations, we often feel ourselves at a lost because of the uncertain future. We may tell our soul, "Be still and know that God is in control" (Psalm 46:10), yet be unable to remain calm.

In times like this, we must learn to be like Abraham.

By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:8-10 NAS)

Like Abraham, we must confidently take the step of faith in reaching forward to what lies ahead, even when we are unsure where we are going. By faith, we should adapt to new environments and continue to look toward God as the architect and builder of our future (Hebrews 11:8-10). Rather than look back to the past, let us forget what lies behind and press on toward the goal for the upward call of God (Philippians 3:13-14). Let us do whatever needs to be done from our heart without grumbling or disputing, that we may prove ourselves blameless, innocent and above reproach, knowing that from the Lord we will receive our reward (Colossians 3:23-24; Philippians 2:14-15).

Teach us dear Lord to always be ready to accept changes in our lives and to adapt positively in handling unexpected situations and new environments. You O Lord are the architect and builder of our lives, for You alone know what lies ahead. Help us Lord to forget what lies behind so that we can press on toward the goal of our upward call. Instill in us Lord a willing heart to do whatever is required to be done without complaining, that we may stand blameless and above reproach.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Coping with Bereavement

Sarah died ... and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. (Genesis 23:2 NAS)

Psalm 62:1The last few weeks have been difficult as I comfort my wife in her grief over the sudden death of her elder sister to heart attack. Although we know without a doubt that she is now safe in the presence of our Lord, the feelings within remain difficult to contain.

Many of us who have lost our loved ones would know how it feels like to be overwhelmed with sorrow. Although we are aware that death has no victory or sting on those who are in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:55), yet we cannot help but feel grieved within. Such feelings are not something we can control or remove just by wishing them to go away. However, if we dwell too deep into feelings of sadness, despair or desperation, we can end up in despondency. We may even become depressed to the point of devastation if we allow our feelings to rule our lives.

Handling bereavement is not easy because our feelings and memories continue to linger on for days, months and even years. When Sarah died, Abraham mourned and wept for her (Genesis 23:2), and after that he rose from before his dead and did whatever is necessary to ensure a decent burial (Genesis 23:3-20). Abraham then went on to live his life to a ripe old age and God blessed him in every way (Genesis 24:1).

Like Abraham, we may be deeply grieved when we lost someone we loved, and it is understandable for us to mourn and weep. However, we ought to after that rise from our state of sadness and do whatever is necessary to put to a close our sorrow and the sad chapter in our lives. We should then continue to live our lives for Christ our Lord and walk faithful in God.

Rather than dwell in despair, therefore, let us wait in silence for God alone (Psalm 62:1). Let us forget what lies behind and reach forward to what lies ahead (Philippians 3:13). We need not doubt or be fearful, for it is a trustworthy statement that if we died with Christ, we will also live with Him (2 Timothy 2:11). For a little while we may be grieved and our hearts may be troubled, but we ought not to dwell too deep in our sorrow because excessive grieving is not good and can lead to devastation. As children of God, we need not succumb to devastation or feelings of negativity because in Christ we have been set free, and in Him we have victory (1 Corinthians 15:57; 1 John 5:4).

Just as King David knew when he should grieve and when he should stop grieving over his child’s impending and eventual death (2 Samuel 12:16-23), let us also know when to stop letting our emotions and feelings overwhelm us. If we have a loved one who is critically ill, let us fast and pray, and seek God for mercy. If our loved one departs, however, let us not let our emotions and feelings run wild, otherwise it may overtake us and lead us to despair. We may be hurting within our hearts, yet we must always remember that to all who love God, God causes all things to work together for good according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

Let us believe in God and believe also in Jesus, for we who believe in Him shall some day live with our Lord in dwelling places prepared for us (John 14:1-2). In that day, there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, and God Himself will live with us, and we shall be His people (Revelation 21:3-4).

Dear Lord, You alone know our deepest feelings, our grief and our pain, and You comfort us in our sorrow at our point of need. Help us Lord not to let our inner feelings overtake us. Strengthen us Lord that we may hold fast to the assurance that to all who love You, all things work together according to Your purpose. Remove our grief Lord and direct our hearts and minds to see beyond the grave to look forward to the day when we shall see You face to face. In that day Lord, we shall live with You forever, in the place where there shall be no death, sorrow, crying or pain.