Birds of the Same Feather

When I first went to aerobics class, I was stiff as a log. My waist hurt and my butt ached from all the twisting and shaking after each session. After years of doing it, I became better at it. How? Practice makes perfect.

I practice with my eyes on the instructor. What I see, I imitate as much as I possibly can. When the instructor takes a break in the middle of a number, I turn my eyes to the best classmate I have. Somehow their enthusiasm, thru their actions and their smiles inspire me. That they are having fun is evident because of their smiles and expression on their faces: they are so in sync with the music – to each beat and word of the song. They jump high, bend low, reach far and swing strong. I became better at dancing from watching and dancing with good instructors and passionately good classmates.

This morning this Chinese proverb comes to mind: 近朱者赤,近墨者黑. Be red when stained with vermilion or be black when stained with ink. Vermilion is both a brilliant red or scarlet pigment originally made from the powdered mineral cinnabar and the name of the resulting colour. The ancient Chinese is known for their calligraphy – we write with ink and brushes.  The proverb tells the value of keeping good company. The company that one keeps influences his thoughts, words and deeds.

It is said that birds of the same feather flock together. The English and Chinese proverbs seem to be similar yet they are different. The English proverb implies that people of the same interests, ideals and principles tend to do things together. The Chinese one goes a level higher. The company that I keep influences my interests, ideals and principles – for better or for worse. Paul warned the Corinthians about being deceived by false teachings about the resurrection. “Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.” 1 Cor. 15:33-34

The Greek philosopher Epictetus said: The key to success is keeping company with people who uplift you; whose presence calls forth your best. Be near a godly person and you will learn to be godly. Follow Christ and you will be fitting of the name Christian.

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The Good Christian Life

Guide to Christian Living…

Paul taught clear steps to the Thessalonians how to live at peace with one another. Read and see the progression – the steps to the good Christian life:

1 Thessalonians 5

12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.

(Appreciate our pastors and ministers of our spiritual well-being. Respect and value them – affirm and encourage them.)

Live in peace with each other.

Peace – this is the goal of Christian relationships – to live in harmony and love with one another. How to live in peace? The next few verses are the key.

14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.

– Admonish those who are gossipers, troublemakers.
– Encourage the down-hearted, strengthen those who want to give up, embolden the anxious and fearful.
– To be patient with everyone is to be considerate of the needs of others; to persevere in helping and thinking of the welfare of another.
– Do not take revenge. Instead forgive in active love – doing good for our neighbours.

How to do all of the above? What is the 3-in-1 ingredient to good Christian living?

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16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

God’s will for his children is to live a joyful and thankful life in Christ Jesus. We need to live a prayerfully joyful and thankful life. A joyful heart is a grateful heart as a thankful heart is a happy one. Praying continually means to be in constant communication with the Lord – not just asking for things but listening attentively to the Holy Spirit – who alone gives us the spirit of joy and gratitude. The next verse points us to this important truth.
How to be joyful, thankful and pray always?

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.

Listen to the voice of Holy Spirit – our teacher and counsellor – as we listen and obey His voice, we will be able to discern what is true and good from what is false and bad.

A Quiet Life

Love one another… of a different kind…

As I read the passage below, one word came to mind. Read and tell me what stands out for you when Paul told the Thessalonians to love one another. How are they to love one another?

1 Thessalonians 4
9 Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

Who taught them to love? God did (v.9).
Who did they love? They love their fellow Christians – throughout Macedonia (v.10a).
How are they to love? (v.10b) More and More…
How?

LEAD A QUIET LIFE. v.11a
How?
1) Mind your own business v.11b
2) Work with your hands. v.11c

In fact, Paul taught them to aspire (make it their goal) to lead a quiet life. How does one live a quiet and peaceful life? What does it mean to mind my own business? Does it mean to be indifferent to the needs of others? Of course not. It means not to meddle in other people’s business when it’s not needed. One word comes to mind: Gossip.

Gossip wreaks havoc and disrupts a quiet life. It takes two to gossip. When there is no one to listen, then the noise dies down.

Another way of looking at minding my own business is to occupy myself with worthy work. Work with my own hands means to keep busy – but not be a busybody.. Idle hands came out of idle minds which lead to idle gossip.

V. 12 : When I am busy with work, I earn myself a living – I do not depend on others for my needs and I win the respect of outsiders (non-believers) – by being productive and not gossiping about fellow believers.

Love one another more and more – aspire to lead a quiet life, mind my own business and work with my hands. So help me, Lord.

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Only Fools Worship Idols

Sometimes or unfortunately often times, common sense is no longer common. This morning as I read Isaiah, I am reminded of the folly of idolatry. In a nutshell, the simple question is why does man worship the idols he makes with his own hands? Where is the sense in worshipping the thing that you are superior to? 
 
Read and see how simple the reasoning is: how silly the whole process of making and worshipping idols!
 
Isaiah 44
9 Those who fashion a graven image are all of them futile, and their precious things are of no profit; even their own witnesses fail to see or know, so that they will be put to shame. 10 Who has fashioned a god or cast an idol to no profit? 11 Behold, all his companions will be put to shame, for the craftsmen themselves are mere men. Let them all assemble themselves, let them stand up, let them tremble, let them together be put to shame.
 
12 The man shapes iron into a cutting tool and does his work over the coals, fashioning it with hammers and working it with his strong arm. He also gets hungry and his strength fails; he drinks no water and becomes weary. 13 Another shapes wood, he extends a measuring line; he outlines it with red chalk. He works it with planes and outlines it with a compass, and makes it like the form of a man, like the beauty of man, so that it may sit in a house. 14 Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. 15 Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. 16 Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.” 17 But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god.”
 
18 They do not know, nor do they understand, for He has smeared over their eyes so that they cannot see and their hearts so that they cannot comprehend. 19 No one recalls, nor is there knowledge or understanding to say, “I have burned half of it in the fire and also have baked bread over its coals. I roast meat and eat it. Then I make the rest of it into an abomination, I fall down before a block of wood!” 20 He feeds on ashes; a deceived heart has turned him aside. And he cannot deliver himself, nor say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?”
 
Idols come in many forms. It is not just about graven images or statues made of wood or stone or marble. Idolatry is more than just bowing and kneeling to the physical things or pictures that can be touched or seen. It goes deeper. It can be greed or desires for wealth, recognition, success, power and influence.
 
In a nutshell, it is anything and anyone that takes the place of God in our heart. Even church ministries or doing good or being good can be our idols if we give these things, ideas, ideologies, service first place in our life. Idols are what we make with our hands, what we think in our minds, what we desire in our hearts – whatever that takes away our focus on God – whatever that does not pleases God but pleases man or pleases only me – this can be an idol.
 
What is my idol? What do I make with my hands and treasures in my heart that takes precedence over everything in my life? How am I obeying God’s greatest commandment? Do I love God with all my heart, soul and mind? Do I love my neighbour as myself? These two are the litmus papers of idolatry.

 

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Cause for Joy in Troubles

Praise and rejoice in troubles… huh?  Would it be not good enough if I did not complain about my suffering?  Praise God?  This is just logical human reasoning, isn’t it?  Well, Paul thought and taught differently.

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2 Corinthians 1

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

He told the Corinthians the following reasons why it is right and possible to rejoice in trouble:

1) v. 3 God’s Character: Our God is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort: when we are in trouble, let us firmly trust that our God sees, our God knows, He is compassionate (e.g. showing sympathy and concern). He is the Father of our Lord Jesus – the one who suffered shame and agony on the cross for our sins.

2) v.4a God Comforts: Our compassionate God comforts. His awa (Filipino term for pity) is manifested in His actions – He finds ways to comfort us: through His Word, through our Christian brothers and sisters, through answered prayers. Of course, we need to be able to open our eyes and ears to be aware and be attentive to these.  We cannot say there is no comfort in His word if we do not read His Word, can we?  We cannot experience the comfort of the community of faith – company of brothers and sisters in our journey if we isolate ourselves in a corner, can we? We cannot expect God’s answer in prayers if we do not pray, can we? Or even if we pray, if we are unwilling to listen to His answers (even a No), it does not mean that He did not answer, right?

3) v. 4b God’s purpose:  the key words ‘SO THAT’ – this is the reason for our suffering.  I am encouraged and comforted when I remember this verse in times of hardships.  I know I should not waste my suffering but remember it, most especially the journey of God’s presence and comfort through it all.  Is it not that those who go through grief are more able to empathise with those grieving? Is it not those who were sick are more able to sympathise with those who are sick?  Surely those who are comforted by God’s comfort in troubles, are most credible to say to others: It’s ok not to be ok. I have been through this before, I know how it feels and I experienced how God comforted me when I was in trouble.

4) v.5 God’s enabling: Proportionate share of sufferings and comfort with Christ.  This is our great assurance that we can never ‘out-suffer’ Jesus Christ.  But if we share abundantly in sufferings, we are just as sure to share in the comfort He experienced in God the Father. Jesus came into the world to be a man, to be like man. He grieved when his friend, Lazarus died. He was alone when all his friends abandoned him on the way to the cross. Jesus was sad when his disciples betrayed him and denied him. He experienced the ultimate shame and pain on the cross. He was thirsty. His heavenly Father turned his face away from him. Jesus went through the ultimate sufferings – forsaken by God because of the weight of the sin of the world on Him.

5) v.6-7 God’s lesson: He wants us to learn patient endurance in our sufferings alongside His other children.  Whether we are distressed or comforted, we share the same goal and same God in our suffering e.g. to be patient in our endurance. v. 7 Paul said ‘our hope’ for you is firm: Paul and his companions in sufferings are hopeful; hopeful and assured that the Corinthians share in his/their comfort just as surely they share in sufferings.

6) v.8-10 God’s presence in Paul’s personal experience: Paul gave them his own example; how he went through ‘great pressure’; even far beyond their ability to endure; even to the point of being in despair – just about hopelessly giving up on life; perhaps thinking that they’re going to die: v. 9 said it’s like a death sentence.  Again the key word is ‘that’ we might not rely on ourselves but on God.  How often we try to work things out on our own? I do!  I find my own ways, react or act on my first instinct only to find it does not work; then I say Lord, help me. It’s only when I am at the end of my wits; at the end of the rope; hanging by a thread that I will reach out to grasp God’s hands; the hands of One who raises the dead.  This is our hope – that just as God delivered us in the past, He will continue to help us through our journey.

7) v.11 God’s grace: Ultimately, sufferings lead us to pray for one another to experience God’s gracious favour and together we give thanks to our God of comfort who grants us His comfort in His grace.

Are you going through tough time, my friend? Be comforted. Be encouraged. God comforts. God assures that He is near to all who call on Him in truth. (Psalm 145:18)

The Lord promised: ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’ (Jeremiah 33:3)

Pray to God and experience His grace. There is cause for joy in troubles.

Standing for What is Right

It takes courage and much integrity to stand for what is right – to say ‘No’ to what is wrong even when the whole crowd is saying ‘Yes’.  Peer pressure is not only an issue for adolescents or young people struggling for acceptance in school. Have you felt the need to go against the ‘majority’ in your workplace, in your church, among your friends to fight for the people who are in the ‘minority’ who cannot speak for themselves?

There is no ‘neutrality’ in any issue where there are 2 sides. ‘If you are not for us, then you are against us.’  When God gave the laws to Moses in the wilderness to govern the lives of the Israelites, His intentions are to achieve justice and mercy – especially for the marginalized – the poor, the needy and the foreigner or stranger in the land. God wanted them to remember that they were once poor, needy and a foreigner – slaves in the land of Egypt. As they were shown mercy, they need to do the same. As God sent Moses to speak out for them, they need to do the same to help others.

To ponder:

1) It is easier to go with the status quo; to be in my comfort zone – to be at ‘peace’ and not ‘rock’ the boat.

2) When I see injustice or wrong, am I brave enough to speak for those who could not defend themselves? At the expense of incurring enmity for myself or even if not enmity, am I willing to forgo the favor of people or rewards that I could have for the sake of those who need my help?

3) If the situation were reversed, if I were the one who needs help, how would I feel if no one stood with me or speak up for me? Do unto others what you want them do unto you.

Exodus 23

Laws of Justice and Mercy

23 “Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness.

2 “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, 3 and do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit.

4 “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. 5 If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it.

6 “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. 7 Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty.

8 “Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent.

9 “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.

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Soaring like an Eagle

Tired? weary? burnt-out? Afraid? Doubting? Where is God? What’s He doing? Does he not see what I’m going through? Life is a continuing struggle to persevere. Even for God’s children, the path is not smooth and plain. There are mountain-top trek and deep valley experiences as well. Life is wearisome too… like fighting battles – overcoming temptations; rising above depression; giving up addictions; maintaining relationships. All these make even the young grow weary; even the passionate grow cold; even the determined and strong stumble.

When you are feeling down, who do you turn to? What do you do when you are tired? Where do you find assurance and comfort?

Read Isaiah 40 and be encouraged!
Read, Observe, Reflect and Remember….
What kind of God do we have?
1) God’s word endures forever: He always keeps His promises. His word never fails. v. 8
2) God is powerfully in control. v. 10a He rules with a mighty arm.
3) God rewards and recompense. v. 10b To reward is to give according to achievement. To recompense is to make amends for losses. Di tayo lugi sa kanya.
4) God is our shepherd. v. 11 He embraces us in his arms – close to his heart. He is gentle – with those that Have young. I see how dogs are so taken care of these days by their owners – esp the small ones – how their owners hold them close to their hearts. Even more so our God – like a shepherd holding the lamb in his arms. Is it not such a comforting picture to ponder?
5) God is the awesome creator. v. 12 Look at nature… the waters, the heavens: the sky, the clouds, the sun, moon, stars, the earth, the mountains and the hills. God made them all.
6) God is wise. v.13-14 Can we even fathom/imagine His great wisdom, knowledge, understanding and counsel?!
7) God is without equal. v. 25 No one and nothing like Him.
8) God sees and God knows. v.26-27 He calls forth and names each starry host. Your way is not hidden from the Lord. Your cause he gives regard. He is concerned with your concerns.
9) God never tires. v.28 He is the everlasting God. His strength goes on forever.
10) Bottom line: v.29-31

God gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;

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Application:
1) Read God’s Word. His Words are true. What He says, He always does. No broken promises.. no empty words…
2) Remember who God is – powerful, wise, gentle, loving, never weary, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent.
3) Those who hope in the Lord – those who wait in hopeful expectancy – they will get new strength to walk – take the next step… one foot in front of the other. They will even soar – to soar is to fly – rise high… like the eagles! Have you seen how eagles fly? They do not continuously flap their great wings. They just spread them out and soar! They ride on the winds. Remember the song: The Wind beneath my Wings. Let God be the Wind beneath your wings – how small they might be. Then you can soar – like eagles.

Hope in the Lord – to hope in such an amazing all-knowing all-powerful God is to wait with gladness and walk (even run) with power – power that will not make us weary or faint.

Let us go to him in hope that He will carry us through – like the gentle Shepherd. Let us make Him the wind beneath our wings so that we can soar like the eagle.

Read Isaiah 40 again…

1 “Comfort, O comfort My people,” says your God.
“Speak kindly to Jerusalem;
And call out to her, that her [e]warfare has ended,
That her iniquity has been removed,
That she has received of the Lord’s hand
Double for all her sins.”
A voice is calling,
“Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness;
Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.
“Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
And all flesh will see it together;
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
A voice says, “Call out.”
Then he answered, “What shall I call out?”

“All people are like grass,
and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
7 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God endures forever.”

9 You who bring good news to Zion,
go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem,
lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah,
“Here is your God!”

10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,
and he rules with a mighty arm.
See, his reward is with him,
and his recompense accompanies him.
11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?
Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,
or weighed the mountains on the scales
and the hills in a balance?
13 Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, 
or instruct the Lord as his counsellor?
14 Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him,
and who taught him the right way?
Who was it that taught him knowledge,
or showed him the path of understanding?

25 “To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.
27 Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?

28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

The way of the eagle… Eagles soar because they fly above the storms. They do not flap their wings continuously because they do not struggle against the storm.  Those who wait upon the Lord will be like eagles. They rise above the storm.

To wait upon the Lord is to hope with joyful expectancy that God will do as He promised. This hopeful and eager waiting takes us to new heights, give us new strength to soar like eagles. We will run on renewing energy and untiring strength. We will walk and not be faint. Soar like an eagle, my friend!