A Beautiful Exchange

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To all who mourn in Israel He will give: beauty for ashes; joy instead of mourning; praise instead of heaviness. For God has planted them like strong and graceful oaks for His own glory. – Isaiah 61:3 TLB

(Studies shown that in the Biblical times, it was the custom for people in great mourning and difficulty to lay down in pile of dirty ashes.)

Today marks a new beginning: a new chapter, a new hope, a new milestone, and a renewed spirit. “For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?” (Isaiah 34:19A)

Matthew 9:17 cautions that ”no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved.”

So in order for the new to arrive, we have to get rid of the old.

The bumps and curves of life in the past year may have left us wounded with hurts and crushed by disappointments. We may even wallowed in that stinking puddle of pain, anger, bitterness and resentment. In our sub-consciousness, we may even be angry with God.

Yet our loving and gracious God doesn’t want us to remain in the ashes of the past; He wants to trade our brokenness for healing and restoration; He wants to exchange our ashes for the better (beauty). A beautiful exchange that wasn’t merited; His promise is far greater than the sum of our past, failures, mistakes and agony.

But that can only happen if we let go of what has been holding us back, and let God does His Work. Only then can we experience true freedom when we have totally release what we have been holding in our hands- if you need to forgive someone or even yourself, forgive; if you need to get rid of an unhealthy habit, rid of it; if you need to overcome the carnal nature of the flesh, crucify it.

It all boils down to a choice, we have to choose not to let what has happened to define us, and allow God to use those things to refine us. All our tears and heartaches are not without purpose, for our desert experiences seek only to draw us closer to Him so that we can learn to trust Him more.

So don’t waste another day sitting in the ashes, for we have a future ahead that can be filled with beauty. God has already done a beautiful exchange, we just need to trade up and return to Him as a new ‘wineskin’.

“I have wiped out your transgressions like a thick cloud And your sins like a heavy mist. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.” – Isaiah 44:22 NASB

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Let Jesus In (Teach Me What I Cannot See)

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P.S. May this be my e-gift to all this season.

“Teach me what I cannot see.” – Job 34:32

While seeking God for a specific Word during my stroll in the park one night, I received the following impressions on the above Rhema word.

We all have Holy Spirit residing in us, but how many of us so often seek His counsel in every aspect of our daily lives? And how often do we pray such a prayer, “Teach me what I cannot see.”?

We all know that God possesses all-encompassing Wisdom and Higher Knowledge as an infinite Sovereignty. And He sent His Holy Spirit, as a Helper, to reside in each of us. He will teach us all things, and bring to our remembrance all that God said (John 14:26).

Yet, we as finite beings of a fallen nature, living in the natural world, have eyes that only see the physical. In other words, there is limitation to what we can see with our eyes: our own limited abilities and understanding. Sometimes we have our own blind-spots, and can be blind to certain truth. Sometimes we can be so self-focus when we are inward-looking. If we are honest, we live by sight far often than we live by faith. With our inherent weaknesses, it is contrary to reason to teach ourself what is correct and what is true, in such a way our understanding will be very much flawed.

So when we request for someone to teach us, it takes great humility to acknowledge that this person has greater knowledge and understanding, which only God makes the mark. He says in Jeremiah 33:3 ESV, “Call to Me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” Who in the world have such deep insights?

Some of us may reason, “Doesn’t He (God) see everything I do and every step I take?” (Job 31:4 NLT). Yes, God knows every details, but as a loving Father, He doesn’t want to breathe down our neck nor forcefully coerce a confession. We will be willing to learn if we are first convicted and be open to changes. God is willing to teach us. When we seek His Teachings, it will be a life-changing process that will transcend boundaries and empower us supernaturally, relying and depending only on the Living source.

It is now time to reflect- What dull your spiritual senses?

  1. What do you SEE? 

(a) What have veiled your eyes?

(b) Did you fail to see God’s handprints in each details of your life?

(c) Did you overlook His Will for you?

(d) Have you missed His Way?

 

  1. What do you HEAR? 

(a) What have blocked your ears?

(b) Have you been missing His Voice?

(c) Did you lose that sense of Familiarity in hearing Jesus?

 

  1. What do you FEEL? 

(a) What have choked your heart?

(b) Are you not able to feel His Presence near?

(c) Are you not able to feel the heartbeat of Jesus?

(d) How is your compassion quotient?

 

  1. What do you UNDERSTAND? 

(a) What cause your spiritual antenna to be defective?

(b) Have you been spending time in His Word daily?

(c) Have you been living your life with what you have learnt?

(d) How is your relationship with God?

 

It would be good to pray along with these verses prior to doing our own reflection:

“How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults (Psalm 19:12 NLT). Put me on trial, Lord, and cross-examine me. Test my motives and my heart (Psalm 26:2 NLT). Teach me what I cannot see.” (Job 34:32)

When A Gift Becomes An Entitlement 

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Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. – 1 Peter 2:16

Recently Singapore launched a 50-page “Do’s and Don’ts” education booklet for the Chinese visitors to Singapore, reminded me of a few incidences that even the locals can be ugly- Since the Land Transport Authority (LTA) implemented the Priority Queue system at bus interchanges, I had been curtly annoyed by elderly folks who cut my queue from behind without gesturing to give way, some even knocked unto me without a word of apology. As much as I accord respect to the frail and the elderly, but I must confessed it is hard to condone such ungracious mannerism. Have it not been Holy Spirit to rein me in, I think I may retaliate with a sharp glare at them.

In the same context, as Christians, we are given the gift of freedom through our salvation. And as the sons and daughters of God, co-heirs with Christ, we can enjoy everything God has provided (1 Timothy 6:17B). As much as we are blessed in many ways as a result of this relationship, if we are not careful, we will also abuse such blessing when we expect our rights as a form of entitlement.

In today’s culture, the entitlement mentality is rampant in our society. You will hear discontentment shouting, “I deserve better!”, “I deserve more!”, “I’m entitled to more than I’m getting”, “What else are you going to do for me, God?!?”, “When is my prayer going to be answered, God?!?” and the list goes on. (Pause for a moment to imagine how God feels when His children are throwing fists at Him? Put yourself in His shoes and look at your kids treating you the same……)

The drawback to such expectation is, we feel that we deserve something from God and that He owes us something! But nothing could be further from the truth- God owes us nothing.

Which of you whose servant comes in from plowing or shepherding in the field will say to him, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat?’ Instead, won’t he tell him, ‘Prepare my meal and dress yourself to serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what he was told? So you also, when you have done everything commanded of you, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” – Luke 17:7-10

The bible says our wages of sin is death and we deserve to pay our dues. In other word, what God owes us in wages is death! Have it not been for the mercy and grace of God, we would go to hell. Thanks be to Jesus Christ who died on the Cross for our sins that we can now live as free people. Such a great gift cannot be an extortion to demand our rights. We should instead response with gratitude that we now have an eternal life with Jesus and be thankful for everything- Blessings from God are His gifts out of love for us to enjoy, it is not meant to be entitlement for more.

 

Courtesy photo (P1030904) taken by Rachel Hong @ Bandung, Indonesia, August 2017.

Keeping Secrets

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When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Finally, I confessed all my sins to You and stopped trying to hide my guilt.  I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”  And You forgave me!  All my guilt is gone. – Psalm 32:3, 5 NLT

Sometimes I encounter friends who would share something with me but end up hushing me to keep them a secret. And I often wondered, if it is meant to be a secret, it is better not to share with me in case I may forget to honour my promise to retain confidentiality. Not only is it a burden to keep promises (because we may fail any time), it is also a burden to keep secrets, for fear of being found out one day if confidentiality is breached by careless and loose tongue.

I am thankful that having served as a former cell group leader had trained me to abide by “professional-spiritual” ethnics in protecting my cell members’ trust in me. And the bonus of shepherding a group had limited my capacity to remember so many things shared with me. Every time, I would feel burdened for them having to keep “secrets”, and I had witnessed how they wasted away with moans and groans all months (or even years) long, to the extent they are numbed and crushed. Like Psalm 38:8 in the bible warns, “I am benumbed and badly crushed; I groan because of the agitation of my heart.”

Whether secrets or not, we all will pay a price for sins or disobedience- even if we can fool men, but we cannot deceive God who can see or know every secret things in our lives.

Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel, whose deeds are in the dark, and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?” – Isaiah 29:15

And the more we try to hide, the more darkness will lurk in every corner of our soul., for our soul is not meant to ingest sin. At the end of the day, there will always be something gnawing inside us relentlessly.

The murderer arises at dawn; He kills the poor and the needy, And at night he is as a thief.  (Job 24:14). In the dark, thieves break into houses, but by day they shut themselves in; they want nothing to do with the light. (Job 24:26). Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. (John 3:20)

It is needless to suffer the miseries of unconfessed sins. Ephesians 5:11 exhorts to have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy. (Proverbs 28:13). If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9). Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:16).

Remember, as the Chinese proverbs goes, “There is no paper that can contain a fire.”

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, – Acts 3:19

Offenses. Cold Love.

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For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. (Matthew 12:34B) What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? (James 4:1) For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and evil of every kind. (James 3:16)

We all have people in our lives who hurt us, and we hurt others too, consciously or unconsciously. And when we are offended, we are inclined to react or retaliate unchristlike. The fact is, hurting people hurt people- the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.

So what is truly residing in our heart? Imagine Jesus, who know our innermost thoughts, probed, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?” (Matthew 9:4)

Sometimes, people are most critical in the area of their deepest emotional need- It may be their indirect way of needing affirmation, seeking love and requesting for help. As Dr. Gary Chapman puts it, we all have our love language- when we understand this, we can respond more positively. So whenever we hear criticism or get an unwarranted retort, James 1:19 reminds us, “You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” That means it is time to listen- as he or she may be inviting you to respond to their need in order to make them feel loved.

On the other hand, we have to be mindful that if our heart is full of malice, envy, and contention, we are easily liable to be provoked and hurried to any evil work. And the root of such evils stemmed from unresolved issue of pride, anger or bitterness from injustice or unforgiveness, and rejection. It can penetrate and wound any dimension of the soul. And the danger is, Jesus had warned that, as we near the end of the age, a majority of people will be offended to such a degree that they fall away from the faith.

“Then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another… and because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” – Matthew 24:10-12

Many will be offended; the love of many will grow cold, if we allow any offense to remain in our hearts. The above verse has warned that for an offended soul, betrayal, cold love, and hatred go hand-in-hand. Instead of dealing with the offense, people carry them until the weight disables their walk with God and incapacitated of overcoming their own. People do not usually stumble over boulders, but over stones– the relatively small things— which the  accumulation of all small little things can be injurious to the soul, which will demand you to retaliate in the flesh.

It is time to take a honest inventory of our heart. Let God perform a “surgery” on your heart (and yes you may need to have the “surgery” daily), “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)

Each day we are faced with occasions for taking offenses- we are either given the opportunity to be offended by something, or to exercise overlooking offenses. Proverbs 19:11 says, A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” May the purity, peace, gentleness, teachableness, and mercy of being Christlike be demonstrated in all our actions, and the fruits of righteousness abound in our lives.

It Is Time To Let Go

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A teacher took a pouch of gems and asked, “Class, how heavy do you think this pouch of gems is”? The class was clueless to guess its weight. After a while, the teacher broke the silence, “It actually depends on how long you are holding it.”

“If I hold it for a minute, it is bearable.”

“If I hold it for an hour, I will start to feel the trembling of my arm.”

“If I still hold it for another day, my arm will break!”

“It is the exact same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.”

We love to carry “baggage” don’t we? As the days passed, the longer we piggyback this “baggage”, irrespective whether we pick up any thing along the way, the heavier it gets, till we are bent over from carrying it. With feeble arms and wobbling knees lugging this “baggage”, we will reach a point when we can barely move. Yet, we do not want to let go……

Wouldn’t you be doing yourself a disfavour to be incapacitated by such a “baggage”? Your “baggage” can be unforgiveness, bitterness, hurt, memories of the past, anger, even past relationship, and the-whatnots.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. – Galatians 5:1

“Why not try giving away your “baggage” to Someone who can help you unload and deal with your “baggage”?” Look for Jesus.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.” (Jeremiah 31:25)

…… let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. – Hebrews 12:1B-3

It is time to let go, and let God. It is more liberating in doing so.

The Wilderness

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Just as I thought I had left Egypt years ago, instead of being whisked into a promised land of milk and honey, all I see was mountains and snakes at every turn. I had trod into an unfamiliar territory- another wilderness! When I finally woke up from my “deep slumber”, alas I was standing at a verge, with the army of the Egyptians hot on my heels, facing me is the Red Sea! There is no way of escape.

At that crucial moment, I cried out as hard, as much, as long, to the Almighty to save me and deliver me from my helplessness… By a bat of an eyelid, I found myself on a Rock, my three enemies no longer pursued me. God finally broke the long chill of the silent nights, “Do not let your heart be troubled. TRUST in God, trust also in Me.” (John 14:1) reinforced with Proverbs 3:5-6 “TRUST in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He’ll make your paths straight.” His voice resonated with the word “TRUST”.

In the silent mire of abyss, my impatience got the better of me, I doubted God had heard my prayers. But I ended up with a megaphone blasting my ears, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?!” (My hairs really on stand…) By this, God has shown me that even a mustard seed of faith can move mountains and they shall be moved! Thence, my faith skyrocketed to a new level.

Much as “snakes” tempted me into taking a court action and discouraged me in my unemployability, just as much God has faithfully sustained me with His blessings and His double-portion strength in each and everyday. By His Grace, He gave me a gift of an encouraging Spirit that I could be optismistic; He gave me a vision of conquering the “Goliath(s)” in my life; He spoke to me His Promises that I could profess victory; He shown me that He is a God of Multiplication when He impressed me with a scenario where Jesus multiplied 5 barley loaves of bread and 2 fishes to feed the 5000 people full; He inspired me to compose a poem that Jesus can still a nasty storm; and He led me to pray with prayers I had never prayed before.

Instead of cowering under pity-blankets as I would in the past, I would recall how the Lord delivered me from the slavery land of Egypt years ago and His never-failing faithfulness. I drawn near to Him and He draws near to me. My turning point came when I confessed of a cherished conviction, in repentance I cried to the Living God, “Help me!”

No doubt God is teaching me something. No doubt He brought me closer to Him so that I can hear Him better. No doubt He is disciplining me through His refining fire to keep me going from strength to Strength and from faith to Faith. I can rest unto God’s Peace, “Peace I leave with you; my Peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) and His Faithfulness, “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given to you.” (John 15:7)

I am thankful that God has been there. I am also thankful for the people who has helped eased my burdens. I have been through the dark tunnel a few times and God has been there. And God is not hard of hearing- Our tears are precious to Him for He is especially close to those who are crushed in spirit. Just be still and let God be God. He will walk on the water and grabbed you before you could sink just as Jesus rescued Peter from drowning when His faith failed him.

“The more secured you are in Christ, the stronger you stand even if your whole world came crushing down. Your security is not found in transient things but in Him alone.”