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?

Boundaries or Barriers

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These bars seem constricting. They keep people from lugging big bags onto escalators. They are wide enough for carry-ons to go thru. These are safety measures so travellers don’t get hurt when huge heavy luggages fall off narrow steps on escalators.

In life, many seemingly inconvenient boundaries are God’s hedges on His children. We need to be trusting that his ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts are not our thoughts..but so much more.

He gives us enough space to get us through with what we need along the way. Let us not carry too much but travel light.

Jesus said my yoke is easy n my burden is light. Are u travelling light, my friend?

Jeremiah’s Dilemma

Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. What a dauntingly great task he had in the darkest times of his people’s history.

Words of grief:
Jeremiah 4
19 Oh, my anguish, my anguish!
I writhe in pain.
Oh, the agony of my heart!
My heart pounds within me,
I cannot keep silent.
For I have heard the sound of the trumpet;
I have heard the battle cry.
20 Disaster follows disaster;
the whole land lies in ruins.
In an instant my tents are destroyed,
my shelter in a moment.
21 How long must I see the battle standard
and hear the sound of the trumpet?

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These words in quotations are God’s verdict on Judah… God’s judgment of their guilt. They are guilty of forsaking God – intent on doing bad because they do not know God.

And Jeremiah continues with what he sees: sceneries of desolation and devastation – because of God’s judgment on the people.

23 I looked at the earth,
and it was formless and empty;
and at the heavens,
and their light was gone.
24 I looked at the mountains,
and they were quaking;
all the hills were swaying.
25 I looked, and there were no people;
every bird in the sky had flown away.
26 I looked, and the fruitful land was a desert;
all its towns lay in ruins
before the Lord, before his fierce anger.

27 This is what the Lord says:

“The whole land will be ruined,
though I will not destroy it completely.
28 Therefore the earth will mourn
and the heavens above grow dark,
because I have spoken and will not relent,
I have decided and will not turn back.”

29 At the sound of horsemen and archers
every town takes to flight.
Some go into the thickets;
some climb up among the rocks.
All the towns are deserted;
no one lives in them.
30 What are you doing, you devastated one?
Why dress yourself in scarlet
and put on jewels of gold?
Why highlight your eyes with makeup?
You adorn yourself in vain.
Your lovers despise you;
they want to kill you.

31 I hear a cry as of a woman in labor,
a groan as of one bearing her first child—
the cry of Daughter Zion gasping for breath,
stretching out her hands and saying,
“Alas! I am fainting;
my life is given over to murderers.”

How it grieved Jeremiah to visualise scenes of his suffering people – like a woman in labor – groaning in pain and gasping for breath about to faint from the oppression of being conquered and taken into captivity in a foreign land.

To heed God’s call to be a prophet is indeed a challenging one. Jeremiah was sent to speak to a people who would not listen. How does one keep doing something where there seems to be no improvement or change?

10 To whom can I speak and give warning?
Who will listen to me?
Their ears are closed
so they cannot hear.
The word of the Lord is offensive to them;
they find no pleasure in it.
11 But I am full of the wrath of the Lord,
and I cannot hold it in.

BUT … Jeremiah is compelled to speak out because when God calls, He fills Jeremiah up. How is it like to be full of the wrath of the Lord that it becomes uncontrollable? Wrath of God overflowing from inside out!

On one hand, Jeremiah speaks for God to the people about His wrath. On the other, he grieves at the sight of devastation, desolation of the land and people he loves. What a dilemma! No wonder he was known as the weeping prophet!

Here’s a link of lessons we can learn from Jeremiah…
https://www.gotquestions.org/life-Jeremiah.html

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.

First n Last

This morning after I drove Abigail, my daughter who’s interning at the hospital, I dropped by Mt. Carmel to put flowers in my parents’ crypt/vault. When I got out of the car, ‘Oh no, I’m in my shorts and sleepwear.’ It’s Ok, I always put on my underwear. 🙂 Such a lazybone that I am, lately I’ve been driving Abi and Mimi in my pyjamas. Good thing, only two ladies and the guard were at the place this morning.

As I got back in the car, I saw another car stopped and out came an old man probably in his 70’s or early 80’s wearing rubber shoes and shorts, holding a bunch of flowers wrapped in newspaper. He walked slowly, head down – a poignant scene of a man remembering his departed loved one – perhaps his wife? It reminded me of my father and all the fathers who grieved the loss of their wife.

My father was 13 years older than my mom. Yet my mom passed away 4 months and 9 days earlier than he did. God’s timetable is different from ours. It is not ‘FIFO’ – an accounting principle called First in First Out. Goods bought first are used first. God often uses LIFO principle.. last in first out.

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Our God is full of paradoxes. His kingdom is about living through dying (John 12:24), about strength in weakness (2 Cor. 12:29, 2 Cor. 12:10), where foolishness of the world considered wisdom, and wisdom of the world foolish (1 Cor 1:25,27), where first is last and last is first (Mark 9:35).

Everyday everywhere God is speaking to us. He is God of the universe yet He also lives within us. He is the big creator and the still small voice inside my heart. Am I listening attentively?

The Powerfully Good and Loving Avenger

Many of us know who The Avengers are: a team of superheroes, appearing in comic books published by Marvel Comics, who inflict punishment on bad people to avenge the afflicted.

In the Bible, God is the first and last Avenger. He is the ultimate Avenger even when evil seemingly is in control in today’s world. Read from Nahum the prophecy concerning Nineveh – the great populous and capital city of the Assyrian empire. Today it is Mosul, Iraq.

Nahum is one of the minor prophets. When I was young, I rarely read from these books of the minor prophets – except for the story of Jonah because he was eaten by a big fish. Today, as I read Nahum, I am reminded of who God is and what kind of God he is.

God is slow to anger (v.3). He gives 2nd chances. Refer to Jonah’s story, when God sent him to Nineveh to tell the people to repent. When the city repented, God relented.

Nahum 1
1 A prophecy concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.

2 The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;
the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath.
The Lord takes vengeance on his foes
and vents his wrath against his enemies.

3 The Lord is slow to anger but great in power;
the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished.
His way is in the whirlwind and the storm,
and clouds are the dust of his feet.
4 He rebukes the sea and dries it up;
he makes all the rivers run dry.
Bashan and Carmel wither
and the blossoms of Lebanon fade.
5 The mountains quake before him
and the hills melt away.
The earth trembles at his presence,
the world and all who live in it.
6 Who can withstand his indignation?
Who can endure his fierce anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire;
the rocks are shattered before him.

7 The Lord is good,
a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him,

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8 but with an overwhelming flood
he will make an end of Nineveh;
he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness.

He is a jealous and avenging God – who will not leave the guilty unpunished. v. 2
He is slow to anger but great in power. v.3
He is master of all creation.  vv.3b-6
He is good – he is a refuge – a shelter when the storm rages. v.7a
He cares for those who trust in him. v.7b

Theodicy is the defence of God’s goodness and love and power in spite of existence of evil. It is about why a good, powerfully loving God permits evil. The passage above affirms God’s character. He is slow to anger (patient). He is powerful and able to do everything and anything because he created all things. He is good and hates evil. He will punish the wrong. He is loving because he cares for those in trouble. He is the ultimate Avenger. He Himself will defend the defenceless, help the helpless and speak for the voiceless.

Let us take comfort in this assurance that our God is powerful, patient, loving and good. He is able to carry me through – as the song tells us. He is able!

He’s able, He’s able,
I know He’s able,
I know my Lord is able
To carry me through.

He healed the broken-hearted
And set the captive free,
He made the lame to walk again
And caused the blind to see.

He’s able, He’s able,
I know He’s able,
I know my Lord is able
To carry me through.

What is prayer about…

16 years ago today, my mom visited me at the hospital after I gave birth to my youngest. She was not feeling well and told us that her urine was pinkish. Not many days after, while I was still having my geh-lai (within first month after childbirth), she had kidney failure. My sister and I cried on the phone when we realised that mom was seriously ill. She had dialysis for the next 6 months until her kidney transplant in Feb. 2003. Dialysis is a long hard road to travel. 3x a week she spent at least 5-6 hrs – travel time, prep time (which included repetitive piercings/needle insertions when veins collapsed), dialysis – blood pumped out, purified and pumped back into the body – a process of at least 4 hours, then tests, clean up and pack up. Doctors advised that transplant is the way for a better quality of life. Mama was hesitant about having a transplant. So she prayed. As she prayed, she read of Hezekiah’s story.

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2 Kings 20
1 In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”

2 Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, 3 “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

4 Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: 5 “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the Lord. 6 I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.’”

This morning as I read this story again, what struck me was ‘Before Isaiah had left the middle court,’ What does this mean?

In v. 1 Hezekiah was fatally sick – about to die. Bad news! Isaiah – God’s messenger told King Hezekiah to prepare to die.

v. 2 Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord. To face the wall perhaps to be alone with God? To face the wall to think about his life and impending death? To hide his tears? It doesn’t matter. What matters is he prayed. What do you do when you know you will die soon?

v. 3 Just one sentence only, 1 request – REMEMBER, Lord what I have done, remember that I followed you wholeheartedly and faithfully. This is an action word for the Lord – he prayed for God to do something. To remember. His prayer is for God’s mercy to remember. He called on God to remember that he did right. Yet he did not ask God to heal him. He just wept bitterly. Hezekiah knows that God knows.
How do you pray?

v. 4 So Isaiah went to deliver one short message and he must have left after or while Hezekiah prayed. Before Isaiah left the middle court, God sent him back to the king with an answer. God answered so very fast! It is not much as how soon the answer came but what the answer is about.

v. 5-6 God’s answer:
1) Who is Hezekiah? He’s the ruler of ‘my’ people.
2) Who is the Lord? He’s the God of your father David.
3) What did God say:
3.1. I have heard your prayer. 3.2. I have seen your tears.
3.3. I will heal you. How?
3.3.1. On the 3rd day you will go out of bed to my temple.
3.3.2. I will add 15 years to your life.
3.3.3. I will save you and your people from your enemy.
3.4. Why? v.6b for ‘my’ sake and for the sake of ‘my’ servant, David.

1) God’s answers to our prayers are about relationships – who we are to him and who he is to us.
2) God answers us according to what he sees and what he hears.
3) God answers in specifics – in promises of future things that he will do.
4) God answers for his own sake and for the sake of his children. God promised David that he will not fail to have an heir on the throne. God keeps his promises.

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My mom agreed to go through the transplant based on this assurance from God’s Word. God gave her another 13 years. It is not exactly according to the answer that Hezekiah got. God answers our prayers in different ways at different times according to his sovereign will but always for his own sake! For his glory and for the sake of his children.

This story is not about the ultimate answer to all fatal illness. It is not telling us that our stories will be exactly like Hezekiah’s story… we know this because not all prayers of Christians for healing get answered. This story is about the point of prayer. Prayer is relationship between God and the pray-er. It is about who God is to me and who I am to God. It is about God seeing and hearing what I want to say to him – all i have in me – my joy, my grief, my pain. Prayer is about God’s Words, promises and things he will do – for HIS sake – for his purpose and for the sake of his children.

Teach me Lord, how to pray for your sake. Amen.