What are you proud of…

What is the world’s standard of success? Money? Fame? Wisdom? Strength? Influence? What are the things people boast about? Parents are proud of their children – their academic achievements and their careers. Athletes take pride in their medals and trophies. Popularity, fame and fortune are the pride of movie stars and celebrities. These measures of success can be deceiving. They often offer a false sense of security.

In the Old Testament, Jeremiah, the prophet, was called by God to speak words of judgement to the southern kingdom of Judah. Jeremiah was caught between the wrath of God and the sins of his people. In Jeremiah 9, he said:

1 Oh, that my head were a spring of water
and my eyes a fountain of tears!
I would weep day and night
for the slain of my people.
2 Oh, that I had in the desert
a lodging place for travelers,
so that I might leave my people
and go away from them;
for they are all adulterers,
a crowd of unfaithful people.

3 “They make ready their tongue
like a bow, to shoot lies;
it is not by truth
that they triumph in the land.
They go from one sin to another;
they do not acknowledge me,”
declares the Lord.
4 “Beware of your friends;
do not trust anyone in your clan.
For every one of them is a deceiver,
and every friend a slanderer.
5 Friend deceives friend,
and no one speaks the truth.
They have taught their tongues to lie;
they weary themselves with sinning.
6 You live in the midst of deception;
in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me,”
declares the Lord.

God condemned the people for their lies. They deceive themselves and they lie to one another. Their sins lie in their self-deceiving sufficiency – they ignore God (v. 3). God warned Jeremiah in v. 4 to beware of friends and family because even people close to him are liars and traitors.  Again refusal to acknowledge God is the sin that God condemns.

7 Therefore this is what the Lord Almighty says:

“See, I will refine and test them,
for what else can I do
because of the sin of my people?
8 Their tongue is a deadly arrow;
it speaks deceitfully.
With their mouths they all speak cordially to their neighbors,
but in their hearts they set traps for them.
9 Should I not punish them for this?”
declares the Lord.
“Should I not avenge myself
on such a nation as this?”

10 I will weep and wail for the mountains
and take up a lament concerning the wilderness grasslands.
They are desolate and untraveled,
and the lowing of cattle is not heard.
The birds have all fled
and the animals are gone.

11 “I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins,
a haunt of jackals;
and I will lay waste the towns of Judah
so no one can live there.”

12 Who is wise enough to understand this? Who has been instructed by the Lord and can explain it? Why has the land been ruined and laid waste like a desert that no one can cross?

13 The Lord said, “It is because they have forsaken my law, which I set before them; they have not obeyed me or followed my law. 14 Instead, they have followed the stubbornness of their hearts; they have followed the Baals, as their ancestors taught them.” 15 Therefore this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “See, I will make this people eat bitter food and drink poisoned water. 16 I will scatter them among nations that neither they nor their ancestors have known, and I will pursue them with the sword until I have made an end of them.”

God’s punishment for his disobedient people is to banish them into exile – to be conquered by enemies leaving their land in devastation and desolation.

 

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God calls to all the wise, the strong and the rich not to be deceived – not to find security in the things of this world – wisdom, health and wealth. These things do not last. The people in Jeremiah’s time, fooled themselves into a false sense of security. They thought they are wise, they are strong and safe. They said Peace, peace when there is no peace (Jer. 8:10).

Instead of boasting of wisdom, strength and wealth, what are they to boast about?  God said: If you want to brag, then brag that you know me. Be proud that you are wise enough to know who I am. What kind of God am i? I am the Lord, the one who is kind, just and righteous. I am an advocate of the poor, the needy and the oppressed. I am concerned that kindness, justice and righteousness be executed among my people.  These things I delight – these 3: kindness, justice and righteousness – these are important to me. Be proud that you know me and be proud that you are ‘kind’ like me, ‘just and fair’ like me. Delight = take pleasure in doing right on earth. Delight in what the Lord delights. This is what you should boast about. Be proud that you are in a relationship with the Lord of kindness, justice and righteousness.

25 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh— 26 Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab and all who live in the wilderness in distant places. For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart.”

What is circumcision? Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology defines circumcision as:

Removal of the foreskin or prepuce of the male genital organ, whether for religious reasons or as a purely hygienic measure. Circumcision was practiced in the ancient Near East by the western Semites, including the Ammonites, Moabites, Hebrews, and Edomites. The procedure was rejected by the east Semitic peoples of Mesopotamia, the Canaanites, and the Shechemites.

The Old Testament. The special meaning of circumcision for the people of Israel is found in Genesis 17 and occurs within the context of God’s renewed covenant promise to Abraham, following the initial contractual relationship (Gen. 15). On the second occasion, God again promised lands and offspring to the still childless patriarch, and gave him the sign of circumcision, which was to be imposed upon Abraham and his descendants as a token of covenant membership ( Gen 17:10 ). For the Israelites circumcision was a religious rite and was intended to mark the beginning of covenant solidarity for Abraham’s descendants rather than describing the historical origins of the procedure.

Circumcision of the heart is more important to God than outward circumcision of the flesh. It is more than ritual and external compliance of the law. It is not about the form but the essence. To be uncircumcised at heart is to be unkind, unjust and wrong.

Success by the world standard does not last. To be kind and compassionate to the poor – this has eternal value in the eyes of God. To defend the rights of the oppressed, to speak for the voiceless, to help the helpless, to defend the defenceless, these are close to the heart of God. To be circumcised in the heart is to take delight – to take pleasure, to boast and be proud of knowing God. To know God is to know the person he is. Know that He is the Lord who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth for in these (kindness, justice, and righteousness), He takes delight.

What are you proud of, my friend?

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True Worship

Luke 7:36-47 tells the story of Jesus anointed by a sinful woman.

37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tear. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

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The woman saw herself as a sinner kneeling at the feet of Jesus. She cried because she knew how unworthy she was and how merciful Jesus is. She was a prostitute and He was the great teacher. Her great need for forgiveness compelled her to worship with tears in humility at the feet of her Saviour. The greater the sin, the greater the love, the deeper the gratitude.

The Pharisee on the other hand was the self-righteous observer – judging and critical of the incident: How could Jesus, the teacher and prophet let a sinner touch him like that?!

Jesus praised and affirmed the woman with the assurance that her sins ‘though many’ have been forgiven. Jesus criticised Simon, the Pharisee for being a hypocrite: condemning another for what he himself failed to do.

Food for thought:
Worshipping the Holy God is kneeling at his feet – in humble realisation of what a great sinner I am. In Isaiah 6:5, he declared: “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.

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A truly grateful heart remembers how great a debt Jesus paid for me on the cross. Every good thing I receive comes from the Father of heavenly lights… nothing is to be taken for granted.

Silent reply

Isaiah 36
21 But the people remained silent and said nothing in reply, because the king had commanded, “Do not answer him.”

22 Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary and Joah son of Asaph the recorder went to Hezekiah, with their clothes torn, and told him what the field commander had said.

What happened here? Why were the people silenced? Why did the king command them not to answer? Answer who? Why were the palace officials in mourning?
What did the field commander say to the people?

Read Isaiah 36:4-20. King Sennacherib of Assyria attacked Judah and sent his field commander to deliver an insulting message – to demoralise and taunt the people. King Hezekiah was given a message for him to surrender and submit to Assyria. The people were being convinced not to believe Hezekiah when he said that God will deliver them from Assyrian attack.

What do u do when people insult you? What is our natural response when we are forced to listen to unpleasant words and unwelcome news? Is there not an urge to cry out? or run away if cannot take it anymore?

It is hard to be silent in the face of oppression. It is not easy when people wrongly accused us or threaten us or oppress us with words. Each time I face this kind of situations, I often think of Jesus when he was silent during his trial. In the reading today, the people were commanded to be quiet – not say a word in defense of their king and God. The officials were so grieved, they tore their clothes in mourning.

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How did King Hezekiah stay strong in the face of difficult challenges and insults? It is his knowledge and faith in his God – the God who is his first and last resort. In the next chapter, we read how Hezekiah lamented and grieved. He knew how the Assyrians insulted God and he believed God will himself avenge them. The king sent messenger to Isaiah for him to pray for the people to God.

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Today, I am still learning the virtue of silence… to keep quiet even when the urge to speak or cry out – to defend myself is great. It is hard, sometimes when I cannot utter the words, when I have to swallow the words, I let my tears flow instead. God sees. God knows. He uses such situations to transform me into the likeness of Jesus – to be meek and calm and at peace in the face of harsh and wrong accusations.

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How about you, dear friend? Take heart, God sees. God knows. God is with you all the way – he will see you through.

 

Juggling life…

I often feel that life is pulling me in two different directions. Pride and self-pity… Confidence and doubts… security and anxiety… It seems to me like walking on the balance beam. I need to stay in the middle to keep from falling off.

Each time I think of this dilemma, I remember a Chinese song I learned from Youth summer camp at  church. The lyrics are taken from Isaiah 30:20-21.

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The Easy-to-Read version reads: The Lord might give you sorrow and pain like the bread and water you eat every day. But God is your teacher, and he will not continue to hide from you. You will see your teacher with your own eyes. If you wander from the right path, either to the right or to the left, you will hear a voice behind you saying, “You should go this way. Here is the right way.”

Living the blessed life is about staying on the right path – making the right choices. But it is easier said than done. In the world today, it is no longer just black and white. Many things have become grey.  World views and moral values are constantly changing. Aside from external influences, man in his sinful nature constantly struggles with the good and the bad, the right and the wrong. Even Christians are not exempt from this struggle.

God puts me in circumstances to teach me how to walk the balance beam. When I become proud and self-dependent, God gives me lessons of humility. When I am burdened with anxiety, God shows me he is faithful to provide for all I need. Such a fool to be worried and fearful for the what if’s of life that never happened. Indeed, in the midst of adversity and challenges in life, God’s Word is a comfort for those who take time to read and study it. If only we will listen attentively to his voice and obediently follow his call to walk in his path, we will surely stay on the balance beam.

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Which ball do you think will bounce back?

I’d like to add faith to the 5. As a Christian, faith in God is more than a ball that I juggle with. Life’s circumstances often made it seem difficult to keep all the balls up in the air. It is not about which balls will bounce back. It is about having God’s hands juggle the balls with me. Surely, God keeps all the balls up in the air. And even if any falls, it bounces back.

Good king, bad king

Of Lion’s head and a mouse’s tail… Pride and prejudice?

2 Chron. 29 Hezekiah was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. His mother’s name was Abijah daughter of Zechariah. 2 He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done.

32:24 In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. He prayed to the Lord, who answered him and gave him a miraculous sign. 25 But Hezekiah’s heart was proud and he did not respond to the kindness shown him; therefore the Lord’s wrath was on him and on Judah and Jerusalem. 26 Then Hezekiah repented of the pride of his heart, as did the people of Jerusalem; therefore the Lord’s wrath did not come on them during the days of Hezekiah.

2 Chron. 33 Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-five years. 2 He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites.

12 In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors. 13 And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God.

There are many stories of good kings and bad kings in the Old Testament – 1 Kings; 2 Kings; 1 Chronicles; 2 Chronicles. Each account started with the same phrases -his age when he became king, length of reign, whether the king did what was right or evil ‘in the eyes of the Lord’.

So with Hezekiah and Manasseh:
Hezekiah started at 25 and reigned 29 years. Manasseh started at 12 and reigned 55 years. H did right and M did evil.

There are 4 long chapters written of the many accomplishments of Hezekiah in his 29 years of reign. There are only 20 short verses summarising Manasseh’s 55 years as king.

How did they end? They both died of course. Yet one great difference is that the good king turned proud (32:25) and the bad king humbled himself. (33:12)

In both, God had a response. When Hezekiah had pride in his heart and did not acknowledge the kindness God shown him, God’s wrath was on him. When Manasseh humbled himself, God was ‘moved’ by his entreaty. He listened to M’s plea. When Hezekiah repented of his pride, God’s wrath did not come on them during his days. (Question: does it mean it came in the days after his reign? Implication: our pride has consequences.)

Lessons to learn:
When all is well and we have so many accomplishments under our belt – even those of purifying the temple (ch.29), leading the people in worship in the Passover (ch.30), raising funds (ch.31), winning battles (ch.32), beware of pride. What a good capable person I am! I did it all – I am a good king, I did great things for my people and for God. So with us Christians, even the things that seemingly to be of the Lord, for the Lord, to the Lord – these doing and giving and being, successful things can become our idols – which makes us proud and forgetful. We forget that all good things come from the Lord – even the heart for doing right and being right in the eyes of the Lord. All by grace and mercy of God..

When all is not well, when we did badly, when we are hopelessly in the deep dark pit of evil and sin, there is hope. God listens to the humble heart – to the entreaty and plea of even the most evil king – reigning badly for 55 years. God is moved (33:13a). He brings us back to him – He restores us to knowing that the Lord is God. v.13b

Beware of pride and prejudice. Repent and be restored. Let me not forget.

In search of blissful contentment…

Have you ever watched a baby sleeping quietly in his mother’s arms? Such picture of blissful contentment…

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King David wrote Psalm 131.  What did he say?

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David does not strike me as a proud man. So I was intrigued when he said: My heart is not proud, Lord. My eyes are not haughty. (Psalm 131:1a). It does not seem like a humble man to say of himself as being not proud, is it?  I used to believe that humility is something one loses when he thinks he has it. But that is not the case here. Why?

He said something more that helps to explain the context – where he’s coming from when he said he’s not proud. He said: I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. (131:1b)

David prayed: “I am not proud, Lord.” That he addressed God as Lord, showed his submission before a greater person. David was not ‘ambitious.’ In simple terms, he did not strive to understand great matters – things that are beyond his understanding… things too wonderful for him to comprehend.

v. 2 gives us further context – that of contentment. Contentment of a weaned child. What does that mean? What is a weaned child? Why did David use that metaphor?

What is the significance of weaning a child in the Bible? Gen. 21:8

Answer: According to Jewish custom, the time when a child is weaned is cause for celebration. A weaned child has survived the fragile stage of infancy and can now eat solid food rather than breastfeed from his or her mother. (https://www.gotquestions.org/weaning-child-bible.html)

To be weaned like a child is to be off the needs of this world. To be off the need for significance, for affirmation, for self-righteousness and self-reliance. A weaned child is content in his mother’s arms. He knows he will be given solid food instead of his usual milk.

There are four significant themes in the 3 short verses. First is that of pride. David confidently prayed that he is not proud – not in his heart nor in his eyes. Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. (Matt. 12:34b) When I read haughty eyes, what comes to mind is looking down on others. Haughty eyes imply that I am better than you are. David was neither proud nor haughty. He was the humble shepherd boy who fought Goliath in the name of his God who helped him fight the lions to protect his sheep. He was the humble servant and musician of King Saul. He spared Saul’s life time and time again even when Saul tried to kill him.. even he was already anointed by Samuel to be king to replace Saul.

Second word is ambition. David does not think important to know all there is to know, to understand things that are beyond him. He neither had ambition to fight a giant nor to become a king. Why?

Contentment: Because he is content like a weaned child. Godliness with contentment is great gain. When has a weaned child ever sought to be wise, all-knowing, powerful and influential? There is calmness and quiet in the soul when there is contentment… no striving, no struggling, no contentious spirit.

Application:
Pride is at the heart of man. We are all proud by nature. Even in our good works and ministry in the name of God, even as we know the value of God’s approval, perhaps we seek more the approval of men. We might even think more of ourselves than what God thinks of us. Adam was lured into wanting to be like God. Pride and ambition often get us into a state of dissatisfaction, of anxious striving and chasing after the wind.

Contentment is being at peace like a weaned child – getting satisfaction and peace from knowing that his needs are taken care of. As God’s children, we are called to dependence on God for all our needs and wants. We trust and we rest.

Finally, we declare our hope. We know it is possible to attain such state of complete peace. We call on others to go on the road with us in hope… hope in the Lord who provides us with everything that we need and call us to be everything that we hope to be.

Psalm 131
A song of ascents. Of David.

1 My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
3 Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.

I don’t understand your mind…

“I don’t understand your mind.”

“Yes, whatever you wish.”

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These are two difficult sentences for me. The first one is difficult to accept. Why? Because it implies that my mind is complicated. The person who said it, cannot understand me.

The second sentence is difficult to give. Why? Because it means that I am saying yes to a wish that might not be the same as mine.Am I being difficult to understand? 😀

I will make it clearer. The first sentence is difficult for me to hear because hubby said it to me.

The second sentence is what I said so we will not get further into another argument. And I do mean it. It is not easy. It takes lots of practice… 30 years and I’m still trying to perfect it. Not by a long shot!

My two-cents thought on midlife crisis revolves around these two sentences. It is not one way street though. I too often do not understand his mind. I just do not say it as often. When menopause and andropause meet, that is about the perfect formula for a midlife crisis. For those who do not know what andropause mean or do not believe in it, I assure you that it exists. Don’t take me wrong. I am not saying hubby has it. Do not tell him I did. I will deny it. I am saying that I was/am menopausal. I often wonder if I am still in it or already out of it.

Bottom line.. regardless of menopause or andropause,
“I do not understand your mind” is not only a probability. It is a reality in human relationships.

“Yes, whatever you wish.” is the antidote to crisis. It is based on the principle of pleasing my neighbor. Take note that it is not about being people-pleaser, it is not about being afraid to say ‘No.’ It is not said for fear of rejection. It is not uttered because of fear of failure – that i do not meet the expectations of others. I say “yes, whatever you wish.’ to hubby because I submit to his authority. I submit to him because the Bible teaches me to do so. I submit to him because I love him and respect him.

Respect… that is the most wanted and needed ingredient in a marriage – the one thing a wife must give her husband and the one thing hubby values most.