Archive for July, 2011

My foothold

Friday, July 29th, 2011

When I tried to understand all this, 
it troubled me deeply 
till I entered the sanctuary of God; 
then I understood their final destiny.
Psalm 73:16-17

This Psalm was relevant in Asaph’s time and is still relevant in ours. Asaph, the writer of the Psalm had almost lost his foothold when he envied the wicked. The wicked are not necessarily immoral. They might not be rude or malicious to us. But they are characterised by just one thing: in their pride, they do not acknowledge God (Psalm 73:6-11; Psalm 10:4).

One of the greatest ills of society is the problem of envy and it all begins as a simple exercise of seeing (Psalm 73:3). How quickly our vision falls from the heavens toward ourselves. Our unbelieving neighbour is always smiling and looking fabulous with a big house, 2 polished cars and a boat while we are struggling to put a smile to our face (Psalm 73:4-5,12). In a flash, the tables have turned and we forget our place. Our vision gets blurred: our heavenly God has no earthly use to us. It made no sense to Asaph then and it still makes no sense to us now.

Then Asaph had a revelation and all it took was to enter “the sanctuary of God”. His sanctuary is the place where He dwells. In the Old Testament, it was the travelling tabernacle in the wilderness (Exodus 25:8-9) and later the Temple in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 22:19, 29:21; 1 Kings 6:14-16). The promised land was also a symbolic sanctuary (Exodus 15:17; Psalm 114:1-2). In the New Testament, it is God’s heavenly dwelling (Hebrews 9:24) and now His presence with us (Ezekiel 37:26-28). We are God’s walking sanctuaries! Where ever we are, we are in His presence. We walk around with the power of revelation on us constantly.

In God’s presence, things become so much clearer. Our twisted perspective is suddenly and radically corrected. Asaph then understood, comparing himself to the wicked as like comparing apples and oranges. We are 2 different beings with 2 different uses and 2 different destinies. The wicked are destined for destruction and disappear like a dream (Psalm 73:18-20), while we are destined for glory and are held in God’s reality.

When my heart was grieved 
and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant; 
I was a brute beast before you.
Yet I am always with you; 
you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel, 
and afterward you will take me into glory.
Psalm 73:21-24

Even in our inability, weakness and failure, our position in God has never changed. When we are beaten down by our own trouble, our eyes are veiled and we struggle violently to get back to Him, our God holds us and guides us. He will take us there. We have such confidence in knowing that being in God is not dependant on us holding on to Him but the other way round.

Asaph regained his foothold.

Whom have I in heaven but you? 
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail, 
but God is the strength of my heart 
and my portion forever.
Psalm 73:25-26

I am taken by Asaph’s value of God.

Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Joseph Medlicott Scriven

Trials of many kinds

Monday, July 25th, 2011

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1:2-4

Yes, the bible does mention trials that come from sources other than persecution. I identify with Barne’s definition of a trial as “anything that will try the reality of religion”. Temptation, suffering, difficulty, troubles, hard decisions are all trials. We know trials from experience. No one in this life is so privilaged that he/she doesn’t experience trials in one form or another. Trials are just part of life. We get not just one kind of trial once, but we experience different kinds of trials many times over. In fact, we are promised trials and troubles and not because God is displeased with us but because life simply is full of them (John 16:33).

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
James 1:12

This verse speaks volumes when I remember what Doc John said many years ago, “The key to a successful christian life is… (pause for dramatic effect) perseverence”. The crown of life is not won because we got it easy or had a smooth ride. It is won by persevering through trials. Without a race, there will be no prize.

Some days will be easier, other days will be tough. We sail through our good times and persevere through the tough times, and when we look toward Christ, it is all worth it.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, 
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage (our life is a pilgrimage, Genesis 47:9)
As they pass through the Valley of Baka (tears/weeping)
they make it a place of springs (older translation: wells)
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength, 
till each appears before God in Zion (our final destination of pilgrimage).
Psalm 84:5-7 (notes in italic are my own)

We read these verses often without taking note of the first verse. It doesn’t say “Blessed are those who have the strength to persevere” or “Blessed are those who draw strength from God” but it says “Blessed are those whose strength is in you“. In other words, we have no strength of our own. Our strength is in God.

Persevering might seem like a difficult thing. But the famous poem Footprints in the Sand reminds us that we often don’t even know it when God is making it easy for us.

The more we get together…

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

κοινωνία (koinonia) is much harder to achieve than I first imagined. Koinonia is not just superficial gathering of like minded people. Koinonia describes a bond that is genuine, deep and rich. Acts 2:42 is the first instance of koinonia, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship (koinonia), to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:43-47 goes on to paint a picture of the koinonia that the early christians experienced. It was more than a physical gathering, more being united in purpose, more than like mindedness.

Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation (koinonia) in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation (koinonia) in the body of Christ?
1 Corinthians 10:16

1 Corinthians 10:16 speaks of same kind of connection in a the level of intimacy that reaches into the spiritual; a depth of bonding that is matched by our communion with God. But friendships and relationships are not as simple now as they were when we were kids. Things are no longer “your friends and my friends and my friends are your friends” as the nursery rhyme says it is. Church these days look like a sea of uninterested people and social groups that we try to navigate into or between. What has happened to the magic and mystery of koinonia? Where is the koinonia that the diverse early church experienced? 

True friends are hard to come by, when they do, they are treasured. To my friends in foreign lands, you are greatly loved.

“John 13:34 Jesus said ‘love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.’ Sin then is anything that leads to the breaking of relationships – thoughtlessness, apathy, neglect, anger, non-reconciliation, etc”
Rev. Luke Thurai

Arrows and indecision

They said that the time is coming when there will be no more indecision and I will be shooting arrows.

Natural as nature

Friday, July 15th, 2011

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Matthew 6:25-34

There are verses in the bible that need no ripping apart and no exegetical analysis to find out what it says about God and about us. Look at the birds, look at the flowers and look at the grass, God’s providence is as natural as nature is to us.

Sometimes I forget God’s providence and begin fretting. My ears fall deaf to the birds chirping in the morning, and my eyes go blind to the grass growing and the flowers blooming. When we fail to see God’s providence, we fall into worry. When we fail to see the beauty and wonder in nature, we lose perspective of God’s sovereignty.

Harlem

“Walk that line
Torn apart
Spend your whole life trying
Ride that train
Free your heart
Midnight up in Harlem”
Derek Trucks – Midnight in Harlem

The best songs creep up to me from behind and drop on me like a ton of bricks. Like Adele’s Hometown Glory. This is another one of them. It is strange that the songs that speak immensely to me always speak of a belonging and a city.

Preoccupation

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” ”
Luke 21:34-36

It has been 2000 years since the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and His first return. Here we are in 2011, staring at each other, waiting and wondering about His second coming. This monumentous event has become a distant and insignificant event that doesn’t fit into our busy calendars. If we don’t get the Facebook invite to attend His second coming, how would we know if He is or isn’t coming? The first Christian had an urgency that we are unfamilar with. They didn’t just wait, they anticipated (Phillipians 3:20).

In Luke 21, we have a picture of the wrath of God being poured out in His coming. Jesus says, “For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written.” (Luke 21:22) Not quite the bowl of cherries that we were expecting. He is coming with a huge stick for those who do not put their faith in Him. Let us not be unaware of that.

That isn’t the only thing that we need to be aware of. We need to be sensitive to His coming. Not that we will know the time and date (Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32) but we will certainly be able to tell. It will be as obvious as the change in seasons, from winter to spring. When we see the signs, we are not to be ignorant, but we will “know” for sure (Luke 21:25-31). The evidence will be so compelling, beyond reasonable doubt, that the only conclusion we can make is: Christ is coming.

Jesus wants us to be “careful”. To be expecting. To be anticipating. I am reminded of a tennis player awaiting the opponent’s serve – with eyes wide open, hands firmly gripping the racquet, legs in an open stance and mind carefully calculating his strike.

The opposite He mentions is to “be weighed down…“. The words used here literally mean to “be made heavy”. It is not difficult to see how excess weight can affect a tennis player’s performance. But the excess weight Jesus speaks of is not in the body, but in the heart and mind. It is to be dull, distracted and unfocused. Essentially, to be preoccupied with something else – having a weight in your heart. Jesus names 3 preoccupations:

Carousing is the preoccuptation of self-indulgence.”Enjoy life while we still can” is the mentality. They will literally party like there is no tomorrow. They will aim to achieve every frivolous desire that they can from their bucket list.

Drunkenness is the preoccupation with relief. When things get messy and chaotic, many would rather hide and shield themselves. They don’t want to deal with all that, it is just too hard. They would rather numb themselves at the bottom of the bottle.

Anxieties of life is the preoccupation with worry. It is not unreasonable to ask how they will meet the basic necessities of life, “What will we eat? What will we drink?” but that will be their only concern. Worry will consume them.

For them, that day will come suddenly. Not because of a lack of evidence or signs, but because of preoccupation. Being preoccupied, their senses are dulled to the things around. Their minds are stupefied as if they were anesthetized. They are practically asleep to the world, deaf to the gospel being preached, blind to the whole universe waving at them.

It is coming, and it is coming to the whole world. Absolutely no one is exempted.

No Facebook invite is going to be sent. You won’t receive an invitation in the mail. Just “watch, and pray”.