Forgiveness

It has been a very reflective 2016 for me thus far, at times poignant. If there is a key or prominent word that keeps occurring, it would be Forgiveness. There has been many quotes from the bible about how we have received forgiveness, especially with Good Friday and Easter recently. After his resurrection, when Jesus appeared to his disciples, he said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:46-47 ESV). I am ever grateful for his love and forgiveness for me but I realised it is not that simple. The other key word is repentance, without which forgiveness would not be in effect.

A big shopping mall is giving away a free gift to the first 100 customers who walk in when it opens tomorrow. Even though the gift is free, the person has to go there to get it. Of course, there will be other considerations like whether it was worth the effort and time, etc. However, it is clear that you need to go to the mall and meet the conditions to get it. In a way, repentance is the condition, the state of heart, mind and spirit that will enable one to receive forgiveness.

When I was younger, I have always thought that I was not good enough and weak willed. I find myself guilt ridden because I thought that I was not able to overcome temptations. Every time I fell, I would ask God to forgive me and somehow it would be like a hopeless vicious cycle that I would once again be asking God to forgive me for the same sins. It was even worse when I realised that my list of wrong doings kept growing. Eventually, I gave up. I gave up not only from asking for forgiveness but also from believing that I would ever be able to overcome. To add to this sorry state, I would not forgive myself for all that has happened and considered myself a hopeless case.

Many years later, I realised that as hopeless as I thought I was, it was really my pride that was the real problem. I have placed the judgement (sentence) on myself and made the decision to go it alone blaming it on my `hopeless’ state. It was I who chose not to believe in the saving power of God for my weaknesses and failures and went ahead on my own schemes and ways. It was I who decided to be the judge and controller of my past, present and future in my so called hopelessness, ironic isn’t it? I thought I could ride through my life with all my imperfect and sinful nature and carve out a decent life with some christian values thrown in. I cringed when I think that I could have gone on the rest of my life in that state.

All the years of growing up in a christian family and environment means nothing if I never really experience repentance and forgiveness in its true sense. It is like what Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36 ESV). A repentant person would be like this, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32 ESV).

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 ESV) and he said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26 ESV). I came to this point like Martha, “Do I believe?” Will I be like Martha who said she believed even though her brother Lazarus has been dead for four days? Clearly my situation was not as drastic as hers but to believe that God will deliver me from my perceived hopelessness was drastic for me. I found it really, really hard to believe as it has been so long, so very long that I am weary just thinking about it.

I realised that my inability to forgive myself stems from my thinking that I can be the judge of who is deserving of forgiveness. This seems utterly ridiculous as who am I trying to be, God? Not only was I unrepentant, I was high and mighty too. It’s like I am stuck inside a deep, dark and murky well and someone came to rescue me by lowering a rope for me to hold on to but I said, “No need I’m fine, just let me rot in here”. This is a prime example of foolish pride.

To truly believe in God, I need to repent – acknowledge and recognise my sinful nature and the need for deliverance (to be rescued) through Jesus Christ who has paid the price for me and through him I can receive the forgiveness of sins. I believed and stopped judging my hopelessness and lay myself down before God, warts and all. I received the forgiveness of my sins whom only Jesus can wash clean and I am set free! I am forever grateful for his love and grace for me and that he will continue the work in my life as I press on to live this life in his light and joy that I may be a blessing to others and let them know that indeed, Jesus saves and is coming again. I can now testify the verse quoted earlier, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed”!

Now I can say with much joy and gratefulness, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20 ESV) and Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10.10b ESV).

Reflection

Well, I am forgiven but it does not stop here as being forgiven also requires that I forgive others, among other things. It makes sense doesn’t it that as we have been forgiven, we should also forgive others. However, it is not so simple yet again. “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;” (Luke 6:37 ESV). This should be covered next.

 

Cock-a-doodle-doo, 3 strikes and you’re out!

Peter

Peter was one of the 12 disciples and there were many accounts on his encounters with Jesus in the gospel. One of them was the rooster crowing as a reminder of Jesus prediction of Peter’s denial of him. It was at the time when Jesus was betrayed and was about to be arrested and the following account was written in the book of John 13:36-38 ESV:

Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.

And indeed, soon after Jesus was arrested and was being taken away to be brought before the High Priest, and subsequently to Pontius Pilate, a Roman governor. The accounts about Peter’s reaction was recorded:

Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself. (John 18:15-18 ESV)

Peter Denies Jesus Again

Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed. (John 18:25-27 ESV)

Peter seemed like an impulsive and impetuous chap, at times `cocky’ (maybe this was how that term came about). For example, when Jesus was washing the disciples’ feet:

Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (John 13:8-9 ESV)

He was the one who drew a sword and cut off the ear of one of the men who came to arrest Jesus. He was also the first to walk on water to approach Jesus:

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” (Matthew 14:28-30 ESV)

Usually such a person in our company of friends will get shunned or made fun of for being arrogant or `cocky’. Often they will be caught in fights or arguments and get into all sorts of trouble. However, how did Jesus relate with Peter during his time with him?

There were several crucial times where Jesus had chosen 3 of his disciples, Peter, James and John to be with him when he went to the house where a child laid dead with her parents (Luke 8:51), and when he went up a mountain to pray (Luke 9:28) just before he was going to be arrested. Jesus also said to Peter, “Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32 ESV). It was expected that Peter would respond by saying, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” (Luke 22:33 ESV) and thereafter, he denied Jesus 3 times.

Look again at what Jesus said to Peter “and WHEN you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” He knew the heart of Peter and loved him warts and all. Later we will find that Peter became one of the great apostles and wrote some of the letters in the bible. There was a transformation over his life, he repented and was changing from being that `cocky’ chap to a great teacher and apostle of that time. Although snippets of his character do come about, he was learning and changing, ever obedient to the Word and the leading of the Holy Spirit. For example when Peter had a kind of a vision and saw on a sheet, all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” (Acts 10:12-15 ESV). Later Peter was told by the Spirit to meet a centurion (non-Jew) and to share the good news to him and the people around him. Peter realised what God was teaching him:

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. (Acts 10:34-35 ESV)

A life touched by Jesus should be one that leads to change and transformation towards being more like Jesus and abiding in his word more and more. Peter was clearly moving in that direction and indeed brought glory to God for all that he did till his death.

My prayer is that my life will continue to be transformed to be more like Jesus. That I will be able to turn and strengthen others. That through it all, I will be able to love and cherish God more and more for who he is and what he has done for me.

Pharisees and Chief Priests

bible-pictures-sadducees-pharisees

I tried to obtain wikis and dictionary meaning or definitions on Pharisees and Chief Priests but with the varying versions, I prefer to stick to what the bible says about them. The mention of these characters or `authorities’ appeared many times in the New Testament and they were more often than not, the bad guys, the enemies that sought to destroy Jesus for shaking their `turf’. They were not gangsters or thugs but learned in the traditions and regulations of the holy temple of the Jews called the synagogue.

With the backdrop of the Roman Empire ruling that part of the world, the Pharisees and Chief Priests were authorised by the Romans to let the people carry on with their temple and traditions as long as they keep the peace and pay their dues. It seemed like a good idea to let these `authorities’ take care of their own people so they relieve themselves the job of looking after them and focus on conquering the rest of the world.

So these `authorities’ had for a long time, held privileged and high positions over the people and the arrival of Jesus and his works somehow threatened their status. This was because his teachings and deeds were different from what they had been instructing the people to do. They were very upset as not only were his teachings and deeds different, they were against, upside down or right side up from theirs.

One incident that really made them flip was when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus was dead and in the tomb for four days and this was what Jesus did:

When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” – John 11:43-44 ESV

This was one of the most amazing miracles that Jesus did and many people witnessed this as they had all gathered for the mourning of Lazarus. I can imagine that if I was there to witness it, I would have fainted but would have glorified God for his mercy if I was able to remain conscious. Anyway, how did the `authorities’ react to this?

So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation. – John 11:47-48 ESV

Many who witnessed or heard about the miracle came to believe in Jesus but I was baffled at the indifference of these `authorities’. However, some of the officials who were subordinate to these `authorities’ believed in Jesus but their reaction was also baffling:

Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. – John 12:42-43 ESV

They chose something less when something far greater was shown. The prospect of losing their power and wealth was too hard to bear if they were to stand for the truth. So f0r them, truth which is eternal was not worth the loss of power and wealth which eventually come to nothing. I think I will go in circles trying to make some sense of their decision and reaction.

Let’s examine the state of mind of people addicted to drugs or alcohol where they would do anything to feed their addiction even if the deed was despicable, detestable or criminal. We might say they were under the influence or control of the drug or alcohol. So do we say that these `authorities’ were under the control of their power and wealth? I think not. It was a decision over what they love versus what they know to be the truth. They know there was no such thing as having both as it was one or the other. Some of them went really out of the way to ensure that what they love will not be threatened further:

So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus. – John 12:10-11 ESV

Reflection

I examine myself in the light of how we can easily allow the powers of status, wealth and pride to blind us from the truth. How I may choose the fleeting pleasures of this world over what is eternal or that has an everlasting impact and purpose.

With this, I pray that the eyes of my heart will be open only to see God and walk in the light of his love and purpose.

The Guilty Ones

guilty

Three men are on death row and today is the day of their execution. Two of them, Seau and Ican were hard-core criminals with a long history of violent crimes and the law finally caught up with them. They were not partners in crime but knew each other from past imprisonments and their notoriety. The third man on death row was not familiar to them, especially among the inmates as this man was never in prison before. They heard rumours about him as being quite prominent in that town and that he was powerful enough to help and influence many people. They also heard that he might be innocent and was blackmailed by some other powerful people who do not like him.

As they were about to be executed together, they were put in one place and chained side by side. Seau turned to face the third man and said, “Hey mister! What did you do to be here with us?” When he did not respond, Seau was annoyed and said, “I heard you had connections in very high places and helped many people, how come you can’t even help yourself? Such a shame to think that you could have helped us out of here.

Ican then raised his voice at Seau and said, “Why are you doing this to him? What has he done to you? If he is truly innocent, he does not deserve to be here like us! We actually deserve to die for what we had done. We are condemned to die and when we die, we are condemned! Can’t you even see that?”

Seau and Ican were two guilty criminals who were executed as punishment for their crimes. However, they were very different in character or attitude even at the point of death. Seau held himself up in a cocky way to chide and mock another person even though he was guilty as a rat for his crimes and was going to be executed. Ican was shocked at how Seau could still be `playing the fool’ at such a time. He saw how he was deserving of death for his deeds but pondered on what would become of him when he dies. He was both fearful and afraid.

This story was inspired by a passage from the bible as follows:

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” – Luke 23:32-43 ESV.

Reflection

I realised that even when we are guilty of our wrong doings, we may still choose not to have the guilt.

Just like Seau who had the pride to speak his mind even to the point of death. It did not matter at all that he had committed those crimes or what would become of him when he dies. He was even capable of chiding others who may be innocent or able to help him.

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18 ESV

Ican saw his state and knows he was doomed. He was in distress and at the end of the road. The uncertainty was eating him up. The passage stated that the man who turned to Jesus to ask for help was given eternal hope. The other guy missed it when it was just there for him, and it was free.

I pray for humility and wisdom.

The Golden Calf

Golden Calf

Why a golden calf was chosen to be an object of worship?

That was the `million dollar’ question I asked myself when I read how the Israelites decided to find an object of worship when they could not wait for Moses to come down from the mountain. With the backdrop of how God had used Moses to bring Israel, a nation under slavery out of Egypt, witnessing mind blowing miracles like parting of the Red sea and many more, why would they want to worship another god?

I thought these people were more mind blowing in terms of how ridiculous their decisions were.

Here are the accounts of what happened:

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” – Exodus 32vs1 ESV

Aaron who was Moses’ brother and assistant acceded to the people’s request and asked them to hand over their gold rings (must have been quite a lot):

And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” – Exodus 32vs8 ESV

(What happened after this will be left for another discussion. For now, the focus will be on the golden calf.)

Aaron was the one who fashioned the people’s gold (a precious commodity) into the image of a calf so it looked like he decided on the object at whim and the people accepted whatever that came out from their contribution. The calf could have been inspired by their time in Egypt where their gods had animal-like figures or it was just a harmless creature. However, I think they just wanted something else to worship. Yes, something else.

This habit was found repeatedly over the years in the people of Israel. For example, Jeroboam, one of the kings, decided to make two golden calves to put one in Bethel and the other in Dan within the kingdom so that the people will be distracted from going back to their old allegiance and remain with him (1 Kings 12:26-33). Some other kings also kept this form of idol in their kingdom among other objects of worship:

But Jehu did not turn aside from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin—that is, the golden calves that were in Bethel and in Dan. – 2 Kings 10vs29 ESV

Here is further evidenced that the people not only wanted something else, the golden calves have also become a form of distraction from God.

Reflection

The question I ask myself is, “What are the golden calves in my life?”

In other words, what is causing me to look away or be distracted from God?

The people in the biblical era were prone to their own ways and stubbornness but today, we are not spared from such distractions or attractions. The golden calves now comes in greater variety like digital and 3D and whatever that tickles the senses. However, I feel that the greatest distraction of all, especially in recent years will be our Golden Selves.

Tower of Pride

Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel_(Rotterdam)_-_Google_Art_Project

Source File: Pieter Bruegel the Elder – The Tower of Babel (Rotterdam) – Google Art Project

After the great floods, which you may have heard as the story of Noah’s Ark, the earth was populated again with a fresh set of creatures and mankind from Noah’s family as detailed in the book of Genesis 9 and 10. However, in chapter 11, mankind began to discuss among themselves about building something and they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:4 ESV).

At that time, all man speak one language and were united. That doesn’t sound too bad, right? Unity, teamwork and cohesiveness. Well, if the purpose was for something that was for good, there would be no need for God to be concerned. I believe it had to do with the part where they said “let us make a name for ourselves”.

God saw that they were beginning to do something that would lead to great destruction and had to intervene. It was there the people were put in confusion as they were suddenly given different languages and could not understand each other and had to go their separate ways. I imagined that there were several groups of people who congregate according to their different languages and then move to set up their own communities elsewhere. Thereafter that place became known as Babel, a place where God confused the language of all the earth. Hence, the tower they were building became known as the Tower of Babel.

Here are some questions I asked myself after reading these chapters:

Am I building any towers in my life?

What are my goals (at work, school or life)?

Where is God in my life?

Cousin It – No, It’s an Uncle

We all have that one eccentric relative who always says and does the strangest things. In your family, who’s that person, and what is it that earned him/her that reputation?

Uncle Willy was actually a step or half uncle, I can never figure that out. All I know was he had the same dad as my dad but not the same mom. He used to visit my dad who was ten years older and spent the time talking to him about his aspirations. I grew up seeing him do that with my dad until I was about 20 years old when he stopped visiting rather abruptly. What was eccentric about him was his love for martial arts, especially karate. He went to the Philippines to learn from one master and achieved a 7th degree standard. He started his own karate school in Singapore.

He was ambitious to get good disciples and make a mark in the martial arts community. My brother and his friend who were both 7 years older than I, became his first few students. I was already interested in martial arts due to going with my father to watch chinese kungfu movies frequently and the Bruce Lee craze. However, I was too young and my uncle does not take in female students. He always treat me like a fragile little girl and say, “How are you girl? Good or not? Study hard ah. Must take care of your father.” So I never bothered to talk much to him. He only wanted to tell my father how well he did at this and that and my father just went about with his hobby of cleaning bird cages and feeding the birds while my uncle rattled on at the table.

Anyway, his karate club had not many students but I heard it was because the training was too tough so some dropped out. I recalled my uncle related that a black belt student from another karate club came to join the training and asked my uncle permission. My uncle told him to spar with his red belter which was 2 levels below black before he can join. So he did and lost to the red belter rather swiftly. He was embarrassed and asked to join the training from the bottom as a white belter which my uncle accepted but gave him one level higher which was yellow. There were many other such tall tales but I must say he had some credible standing as he was asked to judge karate championships and was also given a leading role in a kungfu movie which was dropped halfway through filming, perhaps due to lack of funds.

Somehow, after his wife passed on due to illness, he became even more eccentric and took offense at anything people say to him. As long as you go along with his story or idea, you will be fine but the moment you go against the grain or say anything seemingly critical, he will clam up. It was no surprise he decided to stop communicating with my dad who hardly made any comments but because my dad came in a package of a whole family who do talk back to him or made some comments out of concern, he stopped visiting us. Soon, we heard he stopped talking to all the other relatives who faced the same treatment. It is sad to be proud and not able to listen to others. It is even sadder to cut off ties with family or relatives because of pride.

Proverbs 16:18 Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.

Cousin It – DP