Of Hand-Washing and Heart-Warming

It is a good habit to wash our hands before eating. But in the days of Jesus, the Pharisees strictly observed their tradition of washing their hands, their utensils etc before the meal. And they questioned and criticised Jesus and his disciples how come they did not observe this tradition. How did Jesus respond?

Matthew 15
3 And He answered and said to them, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death.’ 5 But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,” 6 he is not to honor his father or his mother.’

Jesus criticized the Pharisees for outward observance of tradition without really obeying God’s commandment. They gave diligently to tithes to the temple and would use this as an excuse to withhold giving to their parents.

Jesus further said:
And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7 You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you?
8 ‘This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far away from Me.
9 ‘But in vain do they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’”
10 After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them, “Hear and understand. 11 It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.”


God is more concerned with the condition of my heart – what I do and what motivates my action is much more important that what I say.

Let me beware of putting too much emphasis on outward appearances – following traditions, the customary way of worship – the form without the essence.

When I sing songs during worship service, do I mean what I sing? When I give tithes, is it from a heart of gratitude and response to God’s goodness? Do I go to church as a matter of habit? Is my ministry out of expectations put on me by friends, pastors, church leaders?

Jesus explained the parable to Peter:

17 Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? 18 But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man.
19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. 20 These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”

But what comes out of my mouth proceeds from the condition of my heart. Are my thoughts pleasing to God? Is my motive pure? Do I really love God with actions? How do I treat our neighbours? Actions speak louder than words. But even actions ultimately result from the heart. How is my heart? When I honour God with my lips, is my heart near to God? Do I worship God in vain because of shallow observance of tradition?

Let me beware and remember: Things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart. How is my heart?

Create in me a clean heart, O God and renew a right spirit within me to sustain me. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Lord and Redeemer. Amen

Musings from the Garden

The parable of the sower is a familiar one for many: 4 kinds of soil with 4 results. Only 1 seed = gospel (good news of Jesus) yet there are two categories of the results: the saved and the unsaved.

Matthew 13
18 “Listen then to the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one sown with seed beside the road.

20 The one sown with seed on the rocky places, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution occurs because of the word, immediately he falls away.

22 And the one sown with seed among the thorns, this is the one who hears the word, and the anxiety of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.

23 But the one sown with seed on the good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces, some a hundred, some sixty, and some thirty times as much.”

I used to wonder a bit about what is the difference between soil 2 & soil 3. One thing is similar: both are affected by the concerns of the world = affliction, persecution (v.21) and anxiety of the world (v.22). The difference is soil 2 falls away. The person received the good news with joy but he turned away from his belief when hardships come. Soil 3 becomes unfruitful. This person is like the plant that grows with the thorns. The cares of the world prevent him from bearing fruit:1) fruit of the Spirit; bearing fruit like 2) sharing the gospel to make disciples of people.

To be like soil no. 3 is to be like a believer of Jesus yet not bearing the semblance of Jesus. To be unfruitful is like having no joy, no patience, no love, no peace, no faithfulness, no gentleness, no goodness or kindness and no self-control. To be an unfruitful Christian is because his focus is on the “anxiety of the world” and the “deceitfulness of wealth” not on the ‘Power of the Word.”

To be fruitful, I need to ‘hear’ (really listen, read and study) the Word, ‘understand’ (really live and apply it to my daily living). To be fruitful is to bless my neighbor as I obey God’s command to love him with all my being. How do I bless my neighbor? I love them like Jesus loves me. I forgive as I am forgiven. I give as Jesus gives. I multiply the gifts and make more givers out of my giving = that is making disciples of all nations. That is the great commission of being a fruitful follower of Jesus. So help me God.

Today is another day to bear fruit and be fruitful, dear friend.

To Fear or Not to Fear

To fear or not to fear… What are you afraid of? What makes your knee weak with fear? What shakes your composure and keeps you awake at night? Is it fear of sickness? fear of loneliness? fear of loss? fear of death? fear of rejection? fear of financial insecurities? fear of the unknown?

Psalm 112 tells the secret to a life of no fear. Fear the Lord and have no fear. The Christian life is not a pure smooth path of roses. It is not all sunshine. There will be darkness v.4 but even in darkness, light dawns for the upright -for the gracious, compassionate and righteous – these are the characteristics of those who fear the Lord. v. 6 tells us the righteous will never be shaken – they will stood firm and have no fear of BAD NEWS because their hearts are steadfast, trusting the Lord. v.7 This implies that there is bad news BUT we will have no fear even when things are bad.

Sometimes we are tossed and turned by waves of fears. It is so difficult to be steadfast – to be steady, to be secure and to ‘not be shaken’ and have no fear of the darkness, the bad news of life. What to fear? or rather Who to fear? Fear the Lord – not the kind of being afraid – but the kind of obedience – finding great delight in his commands! Turn your fear of the dark into steadfast unshakeable security by fearing the Lord of light. Even in darkness, light dawns. Even with bad news, there is no fear!

Psalm 112
1 Praise the Lord.
Blessed are those who fear the Lord,
who find great delight in his commands.
2 Their children will be mighty in the land;
the generation of the upright will be blessed.
3 Wealth and riches are in their houses,
and their righteousness endures forever.
4 Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.
5 Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely,
who conduct their affairs with justice.
6 Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
they will be remembered forever.
7 They will have no fear of bad news;
their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
8 Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear;
in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
9 They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor,
their righteousness endures forever;
their horn will be lifted high in honor.
10 The wicked will see and be vexed,
they will gnash their teeth and waste away;
the longings of the wicked will come to nothing.

#fearless #FearOfTheLord #wisdom #readthebible

Looking through the eyes of…

The word crisis in Chinese is 危機. The first word means danger 危險. The 2nd word is opportunity 機會. Question, when there is a crisis, how do you respond? Do you focus on the problem, how bad the situation could get? Or do you see it as an opportunity for growth – to learn something new? To grow stronger as a person?

In the Old testament, there was a story about the crisis of the wandering Israelites as they were about to end their journey from slavery and enter into prosperity.

Numbers 13:17-33
Moses sent spies to explore Canaan to check out the people whether strong or weak, few or many, whether towns are unwalled or fortified, soil fertile or not. He also asked them to take sample of fruits.

The 12 spies returned and reported to the whole Israelite community showing them the fruit of the land. It’s really a land flowing with milk and honey! BUT the people there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. (vv. 27-28)

They said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are. The land we explored devours those living in it. (How did they know that? Did they see?) All the people we saw there are of great size… We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (vv. 31-33)

God promised to give them a land flowing with milk n honey. And they found that it was just that: a good fertile land with large clusters of grapes – so big they had to be carried on a pole by 2 men. Instead, they chose to focus on the big giants and forgot they had a great mighty God who could take care of the giants.

How often does fear of people, what they might do, takes our eyes off God? We look at ourselves like tiny grasshoppers ready to be stepped on and die. And we think people look at us the same. We fret and dare not go into unchartered territories because we forget God’s promise never fails.

We also choose to look at all probabilities how we could fail and not on the possibilities how God would work. We look at the giants and forget the grapes.

Seeing Truly

In John 9:1-23, Jesus healed a man born blind. This miracle story is not only about physical healing to see but also an eyeopener; the spiritual lens and insights on life and living.

John recorded many “signs” that Jesus did in his presentation of the ‘good news.’ This particular sign was narrated in much details – from the ‘perspectives’ of the different people who witnessed or heard of the miracle.

I remember our seminary professor had our class role-play this story in groups: disciples (v. 2), neighbours (v. 8), Pharisees (v.13), Jews (religious leaders) and the man’s parents (v. 18).

I realised that our professor wanted us to present the story through the ‘eyes’ of each group of people.

1) The disciples were interested in the why. They asked Jesus, why the man was born blind, was it because of his sin or his parents’? Their question implied their understanding of suffering and sin. The man was born blind because he was being punished for his sin or because his parents sinned.

Today, many believe the same. It is sad to hear people telling friends who are suffering or sick to repent and be healed. While it is true that sin has disastrous consequences, not all deformities, diseases or sufferings are God’s means to punish sinners. God ‘allows’ sufferings to transform his children to be more and more like Jesus. Sufferings are God’s means of ‘sanctification’ in his children for his glory.

Jesus answered his disciples: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (vv. 3-5). Jesus gave lessons to gain from the man’s blindness – for God’s works to be revealed – so that people would see and gain spiritual inSights. Jesus is the light of the world – those who know him will see clearly.

2) The neighbours focused on how. How was it possible that this blind man got healed? Is this really the blind man? How was he healed? “How were your eyes opened?” (v.10) Their question showed that their focus was on the physiological – what is doable, how things are done. They were like reporters seeking to find out the truth – the veracity of the miracle.

3) The man was brought (he did not voluntarily go) to the Pharisees. (v. 13) The Pharisees’ concern was the legality of the act of healing. Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath. It was illegal to work on that day. v. 16 This man is not from God because he violated the law of the Sabbath. The debate came out of it: How can a sinner do such signs? The blind man said: He is a prophet.

4) The Jews (v.18 – referring to the Jewish religious leaders) called the man’s parents to verify that the man was really born blind. The reason was because they did not believe the miracle happened. The parents’ answers tell us that their concern was being put out of the synagogue if they were to admit their belief in Jesus as the Christ. (v. 22)

Unbelief: that is the cause on all the issues raised by these people… neighbours, Pharisees, Jews. They did not know Jesus. They could not accept and did not believe He could heal because they could not see Him for who He is.

How we live life and how we overcome challenges we face each day are affected by our perspectives: a point of view. What you choose to focus on determines how you respond and solve a problem.

Pastor Johann Lai once preached about perspective on suffering in life. Many pondered on ‘WHY’ God allows sufferings to come into their lives. Why Lord am I sick with cancer? Why Lord do I have to bear the abuse? Why me? The important take-away I got from that sermon is: Instead of asking why, ask ‘HOW?’ How, Lord? Help me to go through this suffering. How can I grow from this trial? How will I surpass this crisis? “How” directs our focus to the source of our strength and wisdom – the Creator who made us in His own image… we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

It is not easy when we cannot see the future. It is also not easy even when we do see the present. But when we look back to HOW God see us through all the challenges of the past, then we can move forward in trust and hope.

HIndsight: understanding of a situation after it happened… synonym is wisdom learning from the past.
Foresight: ability to judge correctly what will happen in the future… synonym is wisdom planning for the future.

The Holy Spirit gives wisdom when we ask. James 1:5 says
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

Today is another new day to ‘see’ better. We don’t know what’s for tomorrow. We can ask God for wisdom to live wisely. The Holy Spirit is our guide and counsellor. We pray that the Spirit grant us discerning eyes to see clearly – to focus on the important things – things that matter to God.

Dear Lord, all-wise loving Father, I praise you for you are gracious and merciful. Enable me today to see what you see so I may live wisely. Amen.