Of dreams, signs and wonders…

Prophets are people who can interpret dreams and display signs and wonders (miracles). In modern times, fortunetellers – people who can tell the future to make you rich; people who foresee what will happen to your life, your family, your job, your wealth. What if their predictions came true? How are children of God to respond to them?

Deuteronomy 13

1 If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, 2 and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” 3 you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. 5 That prophet or dreamer must be put to death for inciting rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. That prophet or dreamer tried to turn you from the way the Lord your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you.

vv.1-2 tell us of the conditions and terms of these ‘prophets.’ Two ifs – if there is prophecy or prediction, and if the prediction came true, third if (implied) the prophet says: Let us follow other gods and let us worship them. v. 3 says ‘you must not listen to the words of the prophet or dreamer.’ Which words? The words telling you to worship other gods – this is idolatry. Why? Because even if the signs and wonders and predictions came true, God is testing you to see whether you love him fully with your heart and soul – that He comes before all the miracles that happened. Why? v. 4 Because it is the Lord your God you must follow and him you must worship. How? We are to keep his commandments and obey what He says, serve him and ‘hold fast’ (stick like epoxy) to him. v. 5 God told the Israelites that they were to kill the prophet or dreamer who tried to lead them into idolatry.

Application:

We are often enticed by miracles, signs and wonders. These things attract us and lead us astray from God. Anything that we put before God, anyone we prioritize before God, these are idols. They are not necessarily carved objects of wood or stone placed on the mantel – that we pray to or bow to. But when these things or people lead our heart and soul from following God, when they occupy a big space in our thoughts, then they became our idols.

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We need to ‘kill’ these ‘idols’ – kill meaning ‘get rid’ of them. God said ‘ you must purge the evil from among you.’ To purge is to discard, to cleanse, to clear, to remove.

What idols do I need to rid myself of? What takes away my attention from God? How am I distracted from seeking God? from praying to Him? from listening and obeying Him? What or who do I love more than God? Lord, help me to see my idols. Enable me to love you and follow you only.

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The Good Old Days

When life is hard and you’re down in the pit, how do you cope? When all you have is taken from you, when you are not in the best of health, when ‘friends’ mock you, when you wish you were not born or hope for death sooner, what do you do?

I’ve been reading Job the past week. His first response when he lost everything was praise (Job 1:21) He went through a week of silence (2:13), then he had lots of conversations with his friends. Before that he had a short conversation with his wife: You’re foolish. Should we only accept the good from God and not the bad? (2:10)

He also had lots of one-sided conversations with God. God did not reply him until chapter 38. It must be difficult to hear nothing from God and all condemnation/justification from his friends on why he’s suffering.

Job coped with having lots of self-reflections as well. He spoke out his thoughts to his friends even though they were not good counsellors at all. He told them: you’re all sorry comforters. What a comfort you are to me. (16:1-2, 19:1-2)

Today I read chapter 29. Job thought of his better days. He recalled the good old days when God blessed him with good things, when friends and family were with him. He remembered the good things he did, how he helped people. He reminisced how he was treated by people all around him – how their favours were upon him.

I believe this is one good way to cope when one is in the valley of the shadow of death. When I was deeply in despair, when all seemed dark and grey, it helped me cope to remember the past when God saw me through. It helped me to focus on God’s faithfulness – that He always comes through for me. It is good to look back and remember.

Dear friend, when the way is dark and the tunnel seems long and unending, when you cannot see what is ahead, it is good to look back – to remember there is a Light behind you. Jesus said I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life (John 8:12). It does not mean that we will not experience hard times, but it is an assurance that we will find our way when we get lost. Jesus shows us the way to go through dark times.

 

Where is God when it hurts?

Question… If you were to wake one day and all that you have were taken from you in an instant: all your possessions, your wealth and even your children, how would you respond? If you were left with nothing but pain and suffering, physical, mental, emotional torture in your soul, what would you do? If you believe in God, what would you say about him? What would you say to him?

Job is a Biblical character known for his great suffering sandwiched between his two great periods of prosperity. (See Job 1:1-5; 42:10-16) He started very wealthy. He had lots of animals and servants. He died at 140 – an old man full of days. He was greatest of all men in the east. Why? Aside from his great external resources, he had great internal values.

He was “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.” (1:1) Job was first and foremost described as a good man. He had great integrity. There was no guilt in him. He believed in God and because of his belief, he did not want to do anything wrong to offend God. He even made daily sacrifices for all his ten children – saying perhaps they have ‘sinned and cursed God in their hearts.’ (1:5)

So what started his suffering? Who started it? It all started when God ‘bragged’ about Job to Satan: Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.  Well, of course he is good – you have blessed him so much. Take away everything. He ‘will surely curse You to Your face.’ 

This was the first challenge. God ‘allowed’ Satan to test Job. (1:12) “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” `

What happened then? Long story short, in a day, no more oxen and donkeys; dead sheep and camels… and last but not the least, goodbye sons and daughters! (see 1:13-18)

What did Job do? Job stood up, tore his clothes and shaved his head. That was the custom of their day when one is in mourning. He fell to the ground and worshiped. What did he say?

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked I shall return there.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

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What was the challenge again? Take away everything from him and he will surely curse you to your face! Ding! Round one goes to God. Job did not curse God. He blessed God. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God. (1:22)

Job did not sin. Curse God – that is the sin. How about blame God? Surely, God caused his trouble. To blame is to ‘ascribe unseemliness to’ (NASB footnote). To blame is to credit responsibility for something wrong. Yes, God was responsible for it. He allowed Satan to take away all that Job had. (1:12) Job blessed God because he knew one truth: He came into the world with nothing. When he dies, he takes nothing to the grave. All that he had came from God. If God is the one who gave, he also has the right to take away. There is no wrong in that.

Job knew his God. The God who gives. He did not know God’s conversation with Satan. He did not hear God said “Only do not put forth your hand on him.” But we do. We need to remember that even in suffering and trials, God extends his mercy.

So here comes round 2 of the challenge: God again praised Job to Satan. (2:3) Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” Yes, but a man would do anything to save himself. “However, put forth Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh; he will curse You to Your face.” (2:5)

God said “Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life.” Again God is merciful.

Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.  And he took a potsherd to scrape himself while he was sitting among the ashes.

What happened next? Mrs. Job had something to say to him: Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die (2:9). End your misery!

You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?

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Job was consistent with his knowledge of God. Just as God gives and takes away, God gives both the good and the bad. Another truth to learn.

So here are the two important lessons we can learn from Job’s response to sufferings.

Our Being

In suffering, we need to remember our being. We came into the world in our birthday suit. When we leave this world, we take nothing with us.

Our God

Our life begins and ends with nothing. Everything in between comes from God. Through this lens comes a different view to suffering. Just as God allows suffering, he extends his mercy. Suffering does end.

Our World

The reality of the world is that it is filled with both good and bad. It started very good. God created all things good. Sin came into the world because of man’s disobedience – because of the desire to be like God. God in his mercy still made animal covering for Adam and Eve to cover their nakedness. God in his mercy sent His Son Jesus to die for our sins. There is so much evil in the world, so much suffering because of so many bad things sinful men do. Man has a choice to do good or do evil. God allows it.

Shall we accept good from God and not adversity? This lens helped Job in his suffering. God is in control. He gives and he takes away. He gives good and he allows evil. He allows evil and he extends mercy. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Where is God when it hurts? He is with me in my suffering. He loves me. He loves you too.

 

Joy of a different kind

Question… what makes a joyful church? What do churches of today celebrate about? Anniversaries mostly. They are happy when they have built bigger and grander places for worship and assembly. They pride themselves for being mega churches with thousands of membership and being globally known all over the world. They raise their hands in praise to the sound of grand accompaniments, with worship leaders in big air-conditioned and beautiful sanctuaries – in much comfort and ecstatic feeling of being together with so many people – so festive and elating. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being big in resources whether human or material.

Yet a blessed church is more than just about the external and the quantifiable – the tangible ‘blessings.’ In the early church recorded in the book of Acts, it was a different kind of joy that believers celebrate. I previously wrote about their joy of sharing their resources – there was no needy person among them because they had one ownership of everything they had. Everything they had they gave to benefit the whole church.

Another kind of sharing that brought them joy is the joy of sharing in the suffering for Jesus’ name.

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Acts 5
41 So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

So what happened here? After Jesus ascended to heaven, the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost and they were empowered to speak the good news of Jesus. Peter preached and thousands believed in Jesus. The early church led by the apostles of Jesus was growing in numbers. Miracles were happening – the sick healed, the needy provided for, thousands were added to the church (Acts 5:12-16) in spite of deep and severe persecutions from those who opposed Jesus. The apostles were imprisoned, threatened and flogged. (5:18, 40) Even after all these, Peter still preached and condemned them for putting Jesus on the cross. The temple leaders were so enraged they wanted to kill the apostles. They were released only because Gamaliel, a Pharisee, a respected leader stood up to give this advice:”stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.” (38-39)

So how was it to be ‘rejoicing’ after being imprisoned, threatened, flogged and shamed? For what? These believers had a different kind of motivation – they pride themselves for being ‘considered worthy’ – that they were good enough to suffer for the cause of making Jesus known.

Today, many of us believers are too comfortable living our faith – we only hear of persecutions in other places – of lives being taken, of imprisonments, of the horrors of suffering for being Christian. Yet it is often those suffering Christians who are more joyful than those who are living freely and comfortably. How sad…

So how do I apply this lesson? I need to be more grateful for the things I take for granted – freedom to worship, freedom to share God’s Word, freedom to make my life count – to further the cause of the gospel. I need to beware of taking life too easy – complacent in my comfort zone. I must learn to choose joy when things are not to my liking or expectations. Suffering or problems in life are relative – there is always the issue of comparison – with what or with whom are we comparing our issues and challenges?

To reflect… how do I rejoice when life is not easy? What do I consider to be worthy to be joyful for? What causes me to celebrate? What is the purpose of my existence? Motivation and purpose of living – this directs our perspective and influence us in the way of joyful living. Is it for the cause of Jesus?

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Good kings.. Bad kings..

I’ve been reading lives and reigns of kings in the Old Testament. Bad kings did evil in the sight of God. Good kings did what was good in the eyes of God. Other than just these two ‘seemingly’ simple statements of good and bad, what more concrete means and ends do we see to differentiate the good from the bad kings?

Today I read about King Hezekiah. How did he started out as a king? How did he end? In the Old Testament, 2 Chronicles 29-32 recorded his reign.

In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the Lord and repaired them. (29:3)

At 25, Hezekiah initiated the worship of the Lord. God’s temple was in ruins – it’s been a long time since people worshipped God in his temple. The king called on all the people to ‘consecrate’ (make themselves clean and holy) fit to worship God. This was through temple worship – offering sacrifices to God. He called on all Israel to celebrate the Passover. He prayed for the people whose hearts were intent to seek God to celebrate and eat the passover meals even though they did not go through the purification rules. God heard his prayer and healed the people (30:18-20).

There was great joy in all the land as they worshipped the Lord. Altars and idols were destroyed (31:1) The people gave so much of their gifts, there were heaps of them. (vv.5-9)

This is the summary of what Hezekiah did during his reign:

Thus Hezekiah did throughout all Judah; and he did what was good, right and true before the Lord his God. Every work which he began in the service of the house of God in law and in commandment, seeking his God, he did with all his heart and prospered. 2 Chronicles 31:20-21

To do good, right and true before God with all his heart, in law and in commandment, that is the mark of a good king. What comes from the reign of a good king? People are called to be holy to worship God. People destroy all the idols they have. People worship in joy and giving – giving all that they have.

We truly need to pray for our ruler in the land: that he will have the fear of the Lord – to do good, right and true before God, that all he does he will seek God with all his heart. When a leader loves God, he sets an example to the people to love and worship God with all heart, soul and mind. He encourages the whole nation to follow God’s ways. He calls on the people to do what is right, and give their best to God. God will surely prosper the works of his hands, heal his people and heal the land. Amen.

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Ask what you want… what to pray for?

If God were to tell you: Ask whatever you want me to give you, what would you say? How would you feel? What would you think? Wow, really? I can ask whatever I want? You will give whatever I ask for? What would you ask for? Perhaps, tough question, right? It seems to me I need to ask wisely – think carefully what to ask for. It’s not like the genie’s 3 wishes. There is no number to it. It’s an infinite question from the infinite God for you to ask in infinity.

King Solomon was asked the very question: Ask whatever you want me to give you. (2 Chron. 1:7)

Read 2 Chronicles 1:1-12, 1 Kings 3:1-15

The background of the story was that Solomon, son of David was crowned king of Israel. He went to Gibeon, where the tabernacle of God was to offer a thousand offerings on the bronze altar. All Israel was with Solomon – the commanders of soldiers, the judges, the leaders and all the heads of families and they worshipped at Gibeon.

That night, God appeared to Solomon in a dream and told him to ask whatever he wants. How did Solomon reply?

“You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.”

God’s Character. Solomon acknowledged God. His first response was to affirm who God is and what God did. He knew God to be very kind. God showed great kindness to his father David. How so? God promised David to have his son, Solomon to be king. Now that promise is fulfilled. Solomon is king after his father.

God’s Promise. Solomon claimed and remembered once more God’s promise and what God’s plan for him was: That he is to be king over his people. What kind of people? People who are as numerous as dust of the earth. This was God’s promise to their forefather Abraham – that Israel would become a nation as numerous as the sand on earth.

“Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

God’s Purpose: Solomon asked for wisdom so that he may fulfil God’s purpose for him – to be a leader to God’s people.

Implications to Solomon’s prayer:

  1. Great task: Solomon knew his calling. He is to be a good king to his people. He needs to be wise to lead wisely.
  2. Great people: Solomon knew the object of his calling. He is to lead a group of great people – God’s chosen people – as the dust of the earth and stars of the sky, too numerous to count.
  3. Great humility: Solomon knew his limitations. He knew he was young and inexperienced. He would need help from God to be a good king – to know how to rule with justice and righteousness. To be just and righteous is to be able to differentiate right from wrong.

For who is able to govern this great people of yours? This question is one great concern for one great responsibility! Solomon knew the great task, great people and great God he has. Solomon recognised all these in relation to his own self. His own self-worth – that God was kind to his father and kind to him – to give such honour – putting him as king. Yet this humbled him – instead of making him proud – thinking he must be capable enough as God made him king. His humility pleased God. His love and desire to be a good king to God’s people pleased God. His acknowledgement of God’s kindness and promise pleased God. So how did God respond to his prayer?

11 God said to Solomon, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, possessions or honour, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, 12 therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, possessions and honour, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.”

What a wise Solomon to ask wisely for wisdom to know right from wrong – to do what God wants him to do.

What can we learn from his prayer?

In prayer, we acknowledge who God is and what He has done for us. We remember his past deeds of grace and mercy. We claim his promise to us. We call on him to help us do rightly and wisely what he has called us to do.

The heart of prayer and prayer of the heart – this is important to God. God sees the motivation of our asking. God calls us to ask what we want. He longs for us to seek him with our concerns. God knows all our needs even before we ask him. Just as He gave to Solomon, he gives more than what we ask or need.

In the daily grind of life, we too need wisdom to know right from wrong. To do right and be right… It is getting harder in today’s world of gray: right and wrong is no longer absolute. What is right in God’s eyes is not popular with the world now. What is wrong has become rightly justified – explained with human reasons and perspectives. The world value system is turning upside down. Or rather, God’s kingdom has really turned upside down – the world has become right side up!  More than ever, Christians need wisdom to discern and differentiate right from wrong.

I believe that the prayer for wisdom to be right and do right is one prayer God will surely answer.

Lord, teach us to number our days so that we may present unto you a heart of wisdom. Amen.

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Post Birthday Musings on life… given or taken…

Yesterday as I sat in our living room, looking around the walls of my home, I thought and prayed: Let me remember this day in this moment of peace, security, contentment and joy. Let me not forget that all that I have are by the grace and mercy of God. Let me remember always the God of grace and mercy who has taken care of me through 56 years of life.

On the first day of my life, God saved my mother from bleeding to death. What a different life I would have if I were to be an orphan on my birthday.

On the first year of our marriage, on the 5th month of my pregnancy, I lost our baby boy – Gabriel – our little angel. When the medical staff came to our room to ask what to do with the body telling us they named him (If I remember right, it was Jose) hubby and I didn’t even know what to do nor did we think to bring him home to bury. The thought and feeling of what would have been, could have been, should have been … I do not know how to put a word to it. For years, I looked at other parents with boys with envy and longing. I went through years of prodding and hints, subtle or not, pressure from my mom-in-law to bear a son – so that her son would be taken care of – like she would be in his old age. If Gabriel were with us today… he’d be 30 years old… there would be no Hannah, no Abi and no Mimi. I cannot imagine nor do i want to ponder on how life would be without my three girls!

On the day that I learned that i had cancer, I thought and prayed, Lord, if you still have anything else for me to do on earth, you will see me through. If not, I am at peace with it. Today, it’s been almost 9 years since I had lumpectomy, since 34 sessions of radiotherapy, 7 years of cancer med maintenance and more than 10 years of annual mammography and ultrasound. Each negative result is God’s grace and mercy, His gift of life to me.

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Today, my prayer is Teach me Lord, to number my days so that I may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12) Let me live wisely to make use of each opportunity – each moment of each day to live out your purpose for me. Let me “Be very careful, then, how to live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Help me not to be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” (Eph 5:15-17). So help me God. Amen.

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