Friday, July 29, 2011

This Side of Paradise

And He said to him, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise." (Luke 23:43 NAS)

This Side of ParadiseIn a 1967 episode of the sci-fi TV series Star Trek titled ‘This Side of Paradise,’ a story was told of starship USS Enterprise arriving at a planet called Omicron Ceti III, a Federation colony. The mission was to evacuate all the colonists from the planet, which has been bombarded by cosmic rays for several years. What the starship crew discovered, however, was a thriving community in perfect health with no desire to leave their home. Unknowingly, they were actually under the influence of plant spores which were keeping them in good health and in a placid state of happiness and contentment.

Under the spell of the spores, starship first officer Spock, a half extraterrestrial humanoid known for not expressing emotions, responded to the love of an old friend, Leila. All the starship crew members eventually became affected by the plant spores as well, except for James Kirk, captain of the starship. In his attempt to return his crew members to sanity, Kirk provoked and stirred up strong emotions in Spock to restore him to his senses. Once Spock recovered, he created a device to send subsonic frequency through the crew’s communicators, which irritated them enough to end the spores’ influence.

Like the Star Trek's story of a paradise that promises happiness and contentment, the Bible also mentioned of a place where there shall be no tears or sorrow (Revelation 21:3-4). The word ‘paradise’ according to an article at Keyway.ca is derived from the Greek word paradeisos, which originated from an ancient Persian term meaning wooded park. This word is found only three times in the New Testament in most Bible translations (Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 12:4; Revelation 2:7), referring once to God’s abode in heaven, and twice to the future Kingdom of God on earth.

Where exactly is the paradise mentioned in the Bible had been discussed by many people with varied conclusions. Some suggest it is not where God dwells, but a place in the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:3-4). Others say it is the Garden of Eden or one like it since ‘paradise’ in Hebrew means a fenced garden (Genesis 3:23-24; Revelation 2:7). What is important to know, however, is simply this—paradise is where our Lord is present. So long as we are in His presence, we need not fear where we will be. The only way to get to paradise is to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (Luke 23:42-43; John 14:6). For as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name (John 1:12).

In the meantime, before we meet our Lord face to face, let us not forget there remains on this side of paradise a mission we have yet to fulfill. Who will be in the presence of our Savior depends on us bringing them to Christ (Matthew 28:19-20). Just as Captain James Kirk in the Star Trek story knew what had to be done while on this side of ‘paradise,’ as believers of the Lord we ought also to know our mission here on earth. Like Kirk who provoked Spock to stir up strong emotions, let us also seek to challenge our fellow believers and ourselves to do our part in the Great Commission. Unlike the device which sends subsonic frequency to irritate the crew into recovery, however, let us not irritate but gently encourage and nudge one another to action by showing the right direction.

Rather than be influenced by the ‘spores’ of enticement from this world, let us put to death our earthly entanglements and lay aside the love and draw of this world (Colossians 3:5; Hebrews 12:1). Remember always to take up the shield of faith to defend by the word of God against the ‘cosmic rays’ and bombardment of the evil one (Ephesians 6:16). Be shrewd, that we may not fall prey or under a spell to vices created to mislead us (Matthew 10:16; 24:11-13).

Remind us dear Lord of our mission here on earth while waiting to see You face to face some day. Help us not be influenced by the ‘spores’ of this world that we may not be misled into believing the lies of the evil one. Stir our hearts Lord that we may encourage and challenge one another to fulfill Your call to the Great Commission.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Battle Within

but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. (Romans 7:23 NAS)

The Battle WithinAll of us know what it means to derive pleasure and satisfaction from what we do for a living. Some of us however may never get the chance to do what we really like, and we know what it means to feel the drudgery of doing the things we dislike.

I have experienced both satisfaction and drudgery as a writer for a corporation. During the first five years with the corporation, I derived much joy and pleasure writing different kinds of technical and marketing documentation. The satisfaction of completing each piece of written work assigned was in itself a reward to me, and when the department received praise for the work I’ve done, I felt gratified.

Things changed however after I was transferred to another department in the sixth year working in the corporation. These days, I no longer get to see the final copy of my written work before it is published, by which time the content would have been completely modified beyond any semblance of what I had written. This shift of events and change in work process have since put me in a precarious position. With a new supervisor installed who is almost always dissatisfied with my work, writing has become a drudge more than a joy. All my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted in the past, behold all was vanity and striving after wind (Ecclesiastes 2:11).

Perhaps, like me, some of us may be feeling the drudgery of doing the things we dislike or no longer like. Within us, we may feel it meaningless to continue doing what we have been doing and disheartened because of the precarious position we are in. A war may be waging inside of us even right now, calling us for a decision to give up and move on or to stay and learn how to derive satisfaction even amid drudgery. In our hearts, we may be contemplating or tempted to just continue doing the things we have been doing with a changed attitude that no longer give of our very best, but such is not according to the word of God.

The Bible teaches that in whatever we do, we are to do our work heartily as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord we will receive the reward of the inheritance (Colossians 3:23-24). We are also told to do all things without grumbling or disputing that we may prove ourselves blameless and innocent children of God, above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation among whom we appear as lights in the world (Philippians 2:14-15).

Understanding this, we should hold fast to the word of God and not give up easily. Though a war may wage within us to suggest we turn astray (Romans 7:23), yet we must not waver. The Lord is the One who leads the way; in His will we shall walk and prevail. Instead of feeling perplexed or anxious for anything, let us in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving make our requests known to God. Let the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

Rather than rely on earthly praise or accomplishment to feel gratified, let us be content and boast only of our weaknesses that the power of Christ may dwell in us (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Let us not live our lives in drudgery, but be thankful in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). These things the Lord had spoken to us that in Him we may have peace. In the world we have tribulation, but take courage, He has overcome the world (John 16:33).

Dear Lord, forgive us for sometimes living our lives in drudgery as if there is no God. We know Lord even amid our struggles, You reign supreme and know the plans You have for us. Help us Lord to do all things without grumbling or disputing, that we may prove ourselves blameless, innocent, and above reproach. Lead us in Your will Lord that in You we will prevail. Grant us Your peace which surpasses all comprehension that in our troubles our hearts and minds will be guarded in You.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Reaching the Palace

The Palace“Stay focus and concentrate, Christian. Keep to the track and don't stray or we will all be lost! Remember, you were the one who chose this path, and we are now counting on you to reach the place.”

“Oh, cut it out Sue, you worry too much; a little sidetrack will not do us any harm. Look at what the other way offers. All our hearts' desires of freedom, pleasure, material goods, just about anything you want, and look at what we are facing now walking this narrow path? Nothing, but trouble!”

Christian, Suanne, Esmond and Lori have been walking the woods for several hours and were tired after climbing down the narrow valley with steep sides and rocks cutting through the hill. The path ahead offered two different ways, one to the left, and the other straight. The way to the left was a big city, brightly illuminated with joyful singing and festivity, and the people were enjoying themselves feasting, drinking, and dancing. The way straight, on the other hand, was a narrow path, seemingly endless and leading to nowhere with nothing of pleasure or interest to entice the four siblings to continue the journey.

"Christian, you know the instructions of the elderly man at the temple," said Lori, the youngest in the family, earnestly. "We are to continue our journey until we reach the palace or we will be denied our inheritance."

"No, I don't believe we have to follow the instructions of that elderly man too strictly. He never did specifically tell us when we are to arrive at the palace, so I think it will be fine for us to reach there a little later, maybe after dinner?"

"I don't think so, Christian," said the younger boy Esmond impatiently as he readied himself to continue the journey. "I believe the elderly man is telling us not to stop at anything that distracts us and to concentrate on reaching the palace."

"Esmond and Lori are right," Suanne insisted. "We should continue our journey till we reach our destination or we may fall prey to temptations and be disqualified."

"Alright, if all of you insist, I'll follow," Christian replied in an aggravated voice, expressing annoyance.

So the four continued on their journey as fast as they could as it was nearly sunset and the sky was becoming dark. Christian, who was no longer taking the lead, tagged along behind the three, and after a short distant paused to look back. What he saw shocked him.

The brightly illuminated city was raining brimstone and fire out of heaven, and all that surrounded the valley, the vegetation and the inhabitants of the city were up in flames. The smoke from the furnace was ascending to the sky, and everything in the land were completely burned and destroyed.

“Look!” Christian exclaimed. “The city—it’s being burned to the ground! This must be an act of God, a punishment similar to that of Sodom and Gomorrah! I was so foolish to have wanted all of you to visit the city!”

The three looked in the direction Christian was pointing and saw all that was happening to the city. Lori, deeply grieved at the lost of so many lives, wept. Suanne tried to console her.

“My brother and sisters, let’s not delay any longer, lest all of us perish like the inhabitants of the city!” said Esmond in great urgency. "Be quick and run to the palace as fast as we can to be saved!"

Christian, Suanne, and Lori became alert and immediately ran towards the path leading to the palace. From a distance, the four could now see in the dim light, a silhouette of a palace glowing brighter as they drew nearer.

When the four finally arrived at the palace, they saw hosts of heavenly angels standing at the gate. A voice like thunder spoke from the throne, “Well done, good and faithful servants! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your Master's happiness!”

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Therefore ...

Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding. (Proverbs 2:2 NLT)

Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path. Don't get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil. (Proverbs 4:25-27 NLT)

You can enter God's Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose the easy way. But the gateway to life is small, and the road is narrow, and only a few ever find it. (Matthew 7:13-14 NLT)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Broken Faith

And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had told him, "Before a cock crows today, you will deny Me three times." And he went outside and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:61-62 NAS)

Judas and PeterEvery time I read the Bible passage where Simon Peter denied the Lord three times (Luke 22:55-62), my heart would be deeply stirred. I have often wondered how Jesus and Peter must have felt during those moments. It must have been really heart wrenching and devastating. Peter must have been very disappointed with himself because he knew deep within him, he still loved the Lord, yet he has denied Jesus. Peter must have also felt himself like a betrayer as he looks at the eyes of Jesus, which must have pierced through his heart, knowing how the Lord must have felt then as well, betrayed by one whom He cared.

Despite the sense of guilt, Peter did not fall away or despair, probably because of two reasons. The first is, Jesus prayed for him (Luke 22:32), and the second, because Peter genuinely received the Lord from the start with a repented heart (Matthew 4:18-19; John 1:42-43). Judas, on the other hand, although has followed the Lord as one of the twelve, never really did repent or receive Jesus wholeheartedly (John 12:6; Luke 22:3).

On the night just before He was betrayed, Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail, and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32). But Peter replied, “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!” Jesus then answered, “I say to you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me” (Luke 22:33-34).

The events thereafter became history with Peter heartbroken for denying knowing the Lord three times, his return to former trade as fisherman (John 21:1), his restoration after a conversation with the risen Christ (John 21:15-17), and his taking the lead to strengthen his brothers (Acts 1:15-17).

Unlike Peter, Judas felt remorse after seeing Jesus had been condemned, which eventually drove him to hang himself (Matthew 27:3-5). The reason for his despair is not because the Lord did not pray for him, but because right from the beginning, Judas did not genuinely receive the Lord. His remorse was not an indication of repentance but of overwhelming guilt. The fact that Satan was able to enter into Judas suggests the condition of his heart (Luke 22:3). Likewise, his evil intent revealed his true character when he objected to the pouring of costly perfume by Mary on Jesus' feet.

Judas Iscariot said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?” This, he said not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it (John 12:3-6).

Judas’ unrepentant heart left him in desperation, which was why the word of God said, “Woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born” (Matthew 27:5).

The turning point for Peter came about when he met and conversed with the risen Lord at the shore by the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1, 15-17). With a broken spirit and contrite heart, Peter confessed his love for the Lord three times when Jesus asked him “Do you love me?” That was what made the difference between the two ending of a broken faith, one of despair and eventual death, and the other of greater strength through acknowledgment, repentance, and eventual acceptance by the Lord.

Dear Lord, help us to respond like Peter when we at times fail You. Do not let us be in despair Lord, but bring us back on track as we confess and repent of our sins. Remind us Lord to always check our hearts to know our intents for doing the things we do. Restore and renew us Lord as we look ahead to draw closer to You.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Preferential Treatment

My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. (James 2:1 NAS)

NasreddinA story was told of a populist philosopher and wise man by the name Nasreddin who lived in Turkey during the 13th century. One day, Nasreddin was invited to a banquet. Not wanting to be pretentious, he wore his usual daily clothes to the place, but discovered everyone ignored him, including the host. Nasreddin then went home and put on his finest coat and returned to the banquet. This time, the host immediately came over, and Nasreddin was cordially greeted by everyone and ushered to a table with lavish food and drinks.

When the soup was served, Nasreddin dunked the sleeve of his coat into the bowl and said, "Eat, my coat, eat!" The startled host then asked Nasreddin to explain his strange behavior.

"When I arrived here wearing my other clothes," explained Nasreddin, "no one offered me anything to eat or drink. But when I returned wearing this fine coat, I was immediately offered the best of everything, so I can only assume that it was the coat and not me who was invited to your banquet."

Like the story of Nasreddin, the Bible also spoke about not judging a person by how he or she is dressed (James 2:1-9). If a man comes into our assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, do we pay special attention to him and say, "You sit here in a good place"? If there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, do we say to the poor man, "You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool" (James 2:2-3)? If we do, then we have made distinctions among ourselves and become judges with evil motives (James 2:4).

Regardless rich or poor, all of us who have received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are heirs of the kingdom. This is a promise from the Lord to all who love Him (James 2:5). We should therefore not dishonor the poor, nor give honor to the rich (James 2:6-7). We should also not judge a person by how he or she is dressed or hold our faith with an attitude of personal favoritism (James 2:1-4). Instead, we should love our neighbor—the ones who come to us or to our assembly—as ourselves (James 2:8). If we show partiality, we are in effect guilty of committing sin (James 2:9)!

Nevertheless, there is nothing wrong with dressing up for special occasions. In fact, the Bible spoke of a special occasion by which inappropriate dressing can lead to getting ourselves thrown out. This is the occasion when our Lord as the Lamb returns to claim His chosen people as His bride (Ephesians 5:27; Revelation 21:9). In that day, Christ will come as King, and if He sees anyone not in proper ‘wedding clothes,’ He will have that person thrown outside into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 22:11-13). For the ‘wedding clothes’ required of the bride of Christ is the garment of salvation, given only to those who believe in Him. This is the robe of Christ’s righteousness—bright and clean—wrapped around us covering our guilt and sin, washed clean by His blood on the Cross (Isaiah 61:10; Romans 3:24-25; Revelation 19:7-8).

The day of our Lord's return shall come like a thief. Let us therefore be always prepared, for blessed are we who keep awake and remain clothed that we may not be shamefully exposed (Revelation 16:15).

Dear Lord, forgive us for sometimes giving preferential treatment to certain people, while showing partiality to others. Cause us to remember Lord that regardless rich or poor, all of us who received You as Lord and Savior stand equal in Your sight. Help us therefore not to dishonor the faith to show personal favoritism or judge anyone by the way one is dressed. Prepare us Lord for your return and wrap us in Your robes of righteousness to stay white and clean in the garments of Your salvation. Cleanse us Lord from all unrighteousness that we may present ourselves to You blameless and without spot.

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