Daddy blog

I started this blog when I was following the Life Journal Bible reading plan on YouVersion. (I've since completed that plan.) At that time, YouVersion didn't provide any way for people to respond to my notes, other than to "like" them. So this blog is here to remedy that problem. You may comment on my notes here in the comment section.
I also have a general blog.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

What do you do with your knowledge about Jesus?

Christmas Day, 25/12/12

S: Matthew 2:1-12 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, in the time of King Herod, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem saying, “Where is the one who is born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was alarmed, and all Jerusalem with him. After assembling all the chief priests and experts in the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem of Judea,” they said, “for it is written this way by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are in no way least among the rulers of Judah, for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod privately summoned the wise men and determined from them when the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and look carefully for the child. When you find him, inform me so that I can go and worship him as well.” After listening to the king they left, and once again the star they saw when it rose led them until it stopped above the place where the child was. When they saw the star they shouted joyfully. As they came into the house and saw the child with Mary his mother, they bowed down and worshipped him. They opened their treasure boxes and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. After being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back by another route to their own country.

O: The chief priests and experts in the law had knowledge about where God had predicted the Messiah would be born. When bloodthirsty King Herod asked them, they could give him the answer: Bethlehem.

Yet, unlike the "ignorant shepherds" out in the field, unlike the "learned pagans" who came from the east, they did nothing about that knowledge!

A: Many people know about Jesus. They know that He was born in Bethlehem. They may even believe that he lived a perfect life and died on the cross for our sins. But if you don't take action and live in light of that truth -- put your faith in Him, and follow Him -- if you just go on living your life just like everyone else, then you would be like those chief priests and experts in the law.

Many "Christians" are willing to take Jesus as "Saviour" but not as "Lord". "Lord" means that we actually follow what He says. That we present our own bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God -- which is our reasonable service. That we are not conformed to this present world, but that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we can test and approve what the will of God is -- what is good and well-pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

I don't claim to do that perfectly, but as St. Paul wrote, "Not that I have already attained this—that is, I have not already been perfected—but I strive to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let those of us who are “perfect” embrace this point of view. If you think otherwise, God will reveal to you the error of your ways. Nevertheless, let us live up to the standard that we have already attained." (Philippians 3:12-16)

P: Father, thank You for Your Son whom you sent as a baby but who grew up to die on the cross for our sins and save us! May I live totally for You! In Jesus' name, amen.

Actually, the Magi might not have been pagans. They could have also been Hebrews descended from those exiles who did not return with Zerubabel, Joshua, Ezra and Nehemiah from the exile in Babylon.
Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

God sees the heart


S: 1 Chronicles 17 When David had settled into his palace, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Look, I am living in a palace made from cedar, while the ark of the Lord’s covenant is under a tent.” Nathan said to David, “You should do whatever you have in mind, for God is with you.”

That night God told Nathan the prophet, “Go, tell my servant David: ‘This is what the Lord says: “You must not build me a house in which to live. For I have not lived in a house from the time I brought Israel up from Egypt to the present day. I have lived in a tent that has been in various places. Wherever I moved throughout Israel, I did not say to any of the leaders whom I appointed to care for my people Israel, ‘Why have you not built me a house made from cedar?’”’

“So now, say this to my servant David: ‘This is what the Lord who commands armies says: “I took you from the pasture and from your work as a shepherd to make you a leader of my people Israel. I was with you wherever you went and I defeated all your enemies before you. Now I will make you as famous as the great men of the earth. I will establish a place for my people Israel and settle them there; they will live there and not be disturbed anymore. Violent men will not oppress them again, as they did in the beginning and during the time when I appointed judges to lead my people Israel. I will subdue all your enemies.

“‘“I declare to you that the Lord will build a dynastic house for you! When the time comes for you to die, I will raise up your descendant, one of your own sons, to succeed you, and I will establish his kingdom. He will build me a house, and I will make his dynasty permanent. I will become his father and he will become my son. I will never withhold my loyal love from him, as I withheld it from the one who ruled before you. I will put him in permanent charge of my house and my kingdom; his dynasty will be permanent.”’” Nathan told David all these words that were revealed to him.

David went in, sat before the Lord, and said: “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my family, that you should have brought me to this point? And you did not stop there, O God! You have also spoken about the future of your servant’s family. You have revealed to me what men long to know, O Lord God. What more can David say to you? You have honored your servant; you have given your servant special recognition. O Lord, for the sake of your servant and according to your will, you have done this great thing in order to reveal your greatness. O Lord, there is none like you; there is no God besides you! What we heard is true! And who is like your people, Israel, a unique nation in the earth? Their God went to claim a nation for himself! You made a name for yourself by doing great and awesome deeds when you drove out nations before your people whom you had delivered from the Egyptian empire and its gods. You made Israel your very own nation for all time. You, O Lord, became their God. So now, O Lord, may the promise you made about your servant and his family become a permanent reality! Do as you promised, so it may become a reality and you may gain lasting fame, as people say, ‘The Lord who commands armies is the God of Israel.’ David’s dynasty will be established before you, for you, my God, have revealed to your servant that you will build a dynasty for him. That is why your servant has had the courage to pray to you. Now, O Lord, you are the true God; you have made this good promise to your servant. Now you are willing to bless your servant’s dynasty so that it may stand permanently before you, for you, O Lord, have blessed it and it will be blessed from now on into the future.”

O: David had the right heart -- he saw that God had established his rule in Israel and he was living in a comfortable palace, yet the Ark of the Covenant where God's official presence was was still housed in a tent. So he wanted to honour God and build God's Ark a proper temple. Nathan the prophet also thought it was a great idea.

However, God did not allow him to do so, as David had killed too many people. (See 1 Chronicles 22:8).

Nonetheless, God saw that David's heart was in the right place, even though his proposed action wasn't the right action in these circumstances. Therefore God richly rewarded David anyway.

In governmental affairs in modern human rights, we recognise that governments must not try to legislate thought crimes. This is because human beings cannot judge one's heart -- only God can. Therefore human governments cannot criminalise thoughts and intentions -- only actions.

I just got reprimanded recently for good intentions in trying to be helpful to someone, but my actions turned out not to be exactly in the way that the person wanted, and so that person was frustrated with me instead. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" but God can and does correct our actions. But God also does see our heart intentions, whether good or bad.

God sees our hearts in their full measure. He can indeed and does judge our hearts -- whether our intentions are good or bad. Jesus reminded us that all sins begin in the heart -- e.g. Matthew 5:21-28.

A: So we should continue to study the scriptures to learn what God wants of us, and intend good.

S: Thank You, Father, that You see our intentions and reward us accordingly. In Jesus' name, amen.
Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Works and Grace -- both and, not either or.


S: Titus 3:5-8 “He saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Saviour. And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life.” This saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on such truths, so that those who have placed their faith in God may be intent on engaging in good works. These things are good and beneficial for all people.

O: Various people over the centuries have emphasised works to the exclusion of grace and grace to the exclusion of works, but the Bible actually teaches both -- it is both that God saves us not by our works but by His grace, and that all who have truly placed their faith in God's salvation would be intent on good works.

So it is not either works or grace, but rather, both works and grace should be evident in the life of a follower of Jesus Christ.

A: Jesus died to save us -- now let us live for Him!

P: Father, thank You for Your amazing grace! Now we want to live for You! In Jesus' name, amen.

Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A loving community


S: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who labor among you and preside over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them most highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the undisciplined, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient toward all. See that no one pays back evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all. Always rejoice, constantly pray, in everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not extinguish the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt. But examine all things; hold fast to what is good. Stay away from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself make you completely holy and may your spirit and soul and body be kept entirely blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is trustworthy, and he will in fact do this. Brothers and sisters, pray for us too. Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss. I call on you solemnly in the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters. 28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

O: Paul holds forth a lofty goal to shoot for us here as a Christian community.

It's relatively easy to do good to those who treat us well, but man, is it hard to repay evil with good! Yet, that's what Christ taught us, and Paul now reiterates.

The Thessalonians were urged to even greet each other with a holy kiss! Now, that'd be hard to get away with in our current societal norms here in Malaysia. I remember when I first came back to Malaysia after many years in USA -- how I missed being hugged at church! But the principle stays the same regardless of what culture you find yourself in: be friendly and hospitable.

A: Is it hard to act in the manner urged by Paul in the above verses? Yes, certainly. But it if you aim at nothing, you'll certainly hit it. How much better it is to aim high and achieve something good, even if it's not perfection.

P: Father, this is a tall order to live up to, but I trust that if I abide in You, You will bring me closer and closer to the image of Christ. In Jesus' name, amen.

Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Get your priorities right


S: John 12:23-26 Jesus replied, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to receive glory. What I'm about to tell you is true. Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only one seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves his life will lose it. But anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it and have eternal life. Anyone who serves me must follow me. And where I am, my servant will also be. My Father will honour the one who serves me."

O: Jesus used hyperbole many times, in order to make an emphasis. So, he might not be telling us to hate our life, but we must prioritise correctly -- if we are caught up in "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" in this world, then we may find ourself losing the true purpose of life instead.

In the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-20,Matthew 13:1-23,Luke 8:1-15), Jesus pointed out that some people receive the Word of God at first but the cares of this world choke out their faith like undesirable weeds choke out a desirable plant.

A: Therefore, we need to get our priorities right. I personally struggle with this as well. My wife has been a good person to remind me that I need to put my time with God first. There's nothing wrong with doing my job, reading my science fiction, doing my exercises, etc. but if I'm doing that in neglect of what God wants of me, then it becomes bad.

P: Father, thank You for Juliane who reminds me to spend time with You. In Jesus' name, amen.

Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Live in a state of readiness


S: Mark 13:31-37 No one knows about that day or hour. Not even the angels in heaven know. The Son does not know. Only the Father knows. Keep watch! Stay awake! You do not know when that time will come. It's like a man going away. He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge. Each one is given a task to do. He tells the one at the door to keep watch. So keep watch! You do not know when the owner of the house will come back. It may be in the evening or at midnight. It may be when the rooster crows or at dawn. He may come suddenly. So do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone. 'Watch!'

O: Throughout the centuries since Christ ascended to heaven, we've had people hyperventilating about specific times that they expect Him to return or for these end-time events to occur, in spite of the warning that nobody except the Heavenly Father knows when it'll be.

A: However, Jesus' main point here was that we should always be ready. We're not supposed to be trying to predict when He's coming back, but rather to "Keep watch! Stay awake!"

We are to daily take up our cross and follow Him. When we are tempted, we are to submit to God and resist the devil. If we give in to temptation and sin, we are to confess and receive God's forgiveness rather than wallowing in our sins.

P: Father, thank You for your forgiveness through the sacrifice of Your Son. In Jesus' name, amen.
Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

God's True Zionism


S: Micah 4:1-2 In the future the Lord’s Temple Mount will be the most important mountain of all; it will be more prominent than other hills. People will stream to it. Many nations will come, saying, “Come on! Let’s go up to the Lord’s mountain, to the temple of Jacob’s God, so he can teach us his commands and we can live by his laws.” For Zion will be the source of instruction; the Lord’s teachings will proceed from Jerusalem.

O: Zionism is a dirty word in my country because to most Malaysians, Zionism means oppression, killing, subjugation of the Palestinians under the harsh boots of the Israelis.

I do not want to get into the political debate here, but just want to point out that the true spiritual Zionism of the Bible that is being fulfilled in Jesus Christ, however, is that all the nations of the world will eventually worship the Lord God Creator of the Universe, whom, during Micah's time, was only known to the rest of the world as the God of Israel.

Hence, we do not in a literal sense “go up to the Lord’s mountain, to the temple of Jacob’s God”, but in a metaphorical sense, we do, because we want Him to teach us His commands and we want to live according to the way He wants.

So, it is in that way that “Zion will be the source of instruction; the Lord’s teachings will proceed from Jerusalem.” -- not military rule or oppression from the Israeli regime, but rather, the loving rule of the Messiah, Jesus, the King of the Jews, who was sent to save the whole world -- all nations.

This is the true Zionism: that we follow the God of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the One who taught us to love our enemies, and forgiveness, and grace.

A: Therefore, let us daily pray for our nation, and help our nation become more and more conformed to the One who was earlier known only as the God of Israel, but whom we now want to be the God of Malaysia, the God of Indonesia, the God of Singapore, the God of every nation in the world!

People and realms of every tongue
Dwell on His love with sweetest song;
And infant voices shall proclaim
Their early blessings on His Name.

P: Father, may Your kingdom Come, may Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven! Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess! Every nation, every tribe, every tongue! In Jesus' name, amen!
Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Scout's Motto


S: Matthew 25:1-13 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of the virgins were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish ones took their lamps, they did not take extra olive oil with them. But the wise ones took flasks of olive oil with their lamps. When the bridegroom was delayed a long time, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look, the bridegroom is here! Come out to meet him.’ Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’ ‘No,’ they replied. ‘There won’t be enough for you and for us. Go instead to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ But while they had gone to buy it, the bridegroom arrived, and those who were ready went inside with him to the wedding banquet. Then the door was shut. Later, the other virgins came too, saying, ‘Lord, lord! Let us in!’ But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I do not know you!’ Therefore stay alert, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

O: The motto of the Boy Scouts is “Be Prepared”. It may have been based on this parable, since Robert Baden-Powell came from a Christian background.

A: We don't know when our life will end or Jesus will come again. Therefore, we should always be ready to meet our Maker.

Every day, let us be motivated to follow what God teaches us. If we fail, we must quickly repent and receive God's forgiveness available through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, get back up and get back to following Him. Let's keep short accounts with God. Let's walk in the Spirit. Let's live in the way that pleases Him.

P: Father, thank You for Your grace and forgiveness. Help us to daily take up our cross and follow You. In Jesus' name, amen.
Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

How you live affects the efficacy of your prayers


S: 1 Peter 3:7-12 If you are a husband, you should be thoughtful of your wife. Treat her with honour, because she isn't as strong as you are, and she shares with you in the gift of life. Then nothing will stand in the way of your prayers. Finally, all of you should agree and have concern and love for each other. You should also be kind and humble. Don't be hateful and insult people just because they are hateful and insult you. Instead, treat everyone with kindness. You are God's chosen ones, and he will bless you. The Scriptures say, “Do you really love life? Do you want to be happy? Then stop saying cruel things and quit telling lies. Give up your evil ways and do right, as you find and follow the road to peace. The Lord watches over everyone who obeys him, and he listens to their prayers. But he opposes everyone who does evil.”

O: If a husband doesn't treat his wife right, it will affect the efficacy of his prayers. If anyone does evil, it will also affect the efficacy of his prayers, for “The Lord watches over everyone who obeys him, and he listens to their prayers. But he opposes everyone who does evil.”

We usually apply this only to husbands and wives, but as my pastor pointed out recently, it actually applies to all our relationships.

A: As James tells us, "The fervent prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective". So if we are not walking right with God, our prayers will be hindered.

However, if you're not right with God right now, praise God that "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."

P: Father, when I am tempted to sin, may this remind me of yet another negative consequence. In Jesus' name, amen.
Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Take the first step of faith


S: Joshua 3:13-16 The priests will carry the Ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth. As soon as their feet touch the water, the flow of water will be cut off upstream, and the river will stand up like a wall.” So the people left their camp to cross the Jordan, and the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant went ahead of them. It was the harvest season, and the Jordan was overflowing its banks. But as soon as the feet of the priests who were carrying the Ark touched the water at the river’s edge, the water above that point began backing up a great distance away at a town called Adam, which is near Zarethan. And the water below that point flowed on to the Dead Sea until the riverbed was dry. Then all the people crossed over near the town of Jericho

O: The Lord told them what to do -- step into the water. But the Lord also told them that the miracle wouldn't start until they took that first step of faith.

These people were the children of the people that saw the crossing of the Red Sea. The oldest of them were children when that crossing happened, and the ones younger than 40 were not even born yet. So they never saw this miracle before.

They had been told of the miracle, so they had a rational reason to trust that God could do such a miracle. But they had to take that first step of faith themselves -- that first step into the water -- before the miracle would happen.

A: God's not asking us to irrationally have faith. Our faith can be based on rational evidence. We have heard of the miracles God has done. We've heard the testimonies. But we often still need to take that first step of faith, that first step of obedience, before we see the miracle in our own lives.

P: Father, lead me step by step, and may I follow You all of my days. In Jesus' name, amen.

Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Pray for healing AND see doctors


S: Sirach 38:1-14 1Honour the physician because of necessity, and because the Most High created him. 2For all healing is from God, and so he will receive gifts from the King. 3The expertise of the physician will lift up his head, and in the sight of great men, he will be praised. 4The Most High has created medicines from the earth, and a prudent man will not abhor them. 5Was not bitter water made sweet with wood? 6The benefits of these things is recognised by men, and the Most High has given this knowledge to men, so that he may be honoured in his wonders. 7By these things, he will cure or mitigate their suffering, and the pharmacist will make soothing ointments, and he will form healing medicines, and there will be no end to his works. 8For the peace of God is upon the surface of the earth. 9Son, in your infirmity, you should not neglect yourself, but pray to the Lord, and he will cure you. 10Turn away from sin, and direct your hands, and cleanse your heart from every offence. 11Give a sweet offering, and a memorial of fine flour, and fatten your oblation, but also give a place to the physician. 12For the Lord created him. And so, do not let him depart from you, for his works are necessary. 13For there is a time when you may fall into their hands. 14Truly, they will beseech the Lord, so that he may direct their treatments and cures, for the sake of their way of life.

O: This is a passage from the Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach, which is in the Catholic and Orthodox Bibles but not in the Protestant Bible. [See footnote] However, the Protestant Reformers nonetheless considered these books to be good Christian books, though they did not consider them to be scripture.

This passage shows a good balance between praying for healing and seeing doctors for treatment. The Bible is very clear that God can and does heal miraculously, but it also shows that God doesn't always heal miraculously, but we should use medical knowledge as well, for example, Paul advised Timothy to use wine medicinally because of his weak stomach. [1 Timothy 5:23]

Many people go overboard in one direction or the other -- some saying that there is no longer any possibility for miracles today, while other say that you must never see a doctor for treatment but only rely on "doctor Jesus".

A: We should both pray for healing and get medical help when we need it. If God chooses to heal you miraculously, thank Him. And if He chooses to heal you through a doctor, thank Him as well.

P: Father, thank You that You have given us intelligence to do research and learn how Your world works. Thank You also that You do intervene in our lives and hear our prayers. In Jesus' name, amen.
Footnote: The leaders of the Protestant Reformation rejected these books from the Bible because they are not in the Hebrew Masoretic text preserved by the non-Christian Jews, and Protestants wanted an Old Testament that was not "contaminated" by the Catholic church. The reason they are not in the Masoretic text is because they either were not written in Hebrew or Aramaic or if they were, the Hebrew or Aramaic is lost and we only have the Greek, and the non-Christian Jews were in the process of removing all Greek influence from their scriptures because the New Testament was in Greek and the Christians were using the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, to back up the claims of Christ.

Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Living in the real world


S: Philippians 4:1-3 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stay true to the Lord. I love you and long to see you, dear friends, for you are my joy and the crown I receive for my work. Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. And I ask you, my true partner, to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News. They worked along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are written in the Book of Life.

O: Even in the first-century church we find sincere believers facing disagreements and personality conflicts. So it should not be surprising that we see that today.

We're living in the real world, and when we are in close contact with other people, differences of opinion will arise.

A: When we find ourselves in conflict, we should seek to reconcile and forgive, just as Christ has taught us to. Don't let our anger drag on. (See Ephesians 4:26)

P: Father, when we are upset with others, help us to forgive and reconcile. In Jesus' name, amen.

Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Saints in a Fallen World


S: Philippians 2:14-15 Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticise you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.

O: God has called us to be saints in a fallen world. It is not surprising that bad things happen around us, because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

However, God did not leave us in this horrible hopelessness, but has called us out of darkness into His marvellous light.

A: I personally find it very easy to get caught up in all the complaining about the boss, the government, etc. It's not that we shouldn't work to improve things, but complaining and arguing in a destructive manner doesn't help things.

Constructive criticism, working out solutions, etc. those are definitely things we as followers of Jesus should be involved in, but all too often, I find myself joining in with others to just complain, complain, complain, and sometimes even initiate the complaining myself!

P: Father, help me to live in such a way as to be salt and light to the world, to be part of the solution rather than to be part of the problem. May we keep a good and Godly attitude. In Jesus' name, amen.
Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Not yet perfect, but working on it


S: Philippians 3:12-14 I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

O: We are caught in between the now and the not yet. Jesus calls us to perfection, but we are not there yet.

A: Instead of giving this up as an impossible goal, we should be motivated to continue improving. One of the wonderful things that Christ has won for us on the cross is forgiveness of sins. Hence, we can repent and get back up when we fall, and resume the journey to the image of Christ that God is calling us to.

It's so easy to become complacent in our walk with Christ. I struggle with this myself. But let us be encouraged and daily take up our cross and follow Jesus.

P: Father, sometimes I get discouraged by my sinful tendencies. Thank you for reminding me that even when I'm not faithful, You are faithful, and will carry us on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. In Jesus' name, amen.

Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Are you afraid of death?


S: Philippians 1:20-24 For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honour to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me.24 But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.

O: If you have put your trust in Jesus for your salvation, you no longer need to fear death. Of course, your faith in Christ should be evidenced by your life, for, as Jesus' brother James tells us, "Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”" (James 2:17-18)

But generally speaking, if you are walking with Jesus, you should not have any reason to fear physical death, for physical death is only the door to eternal life with God.

This is the reason that believers through the centuries have stood up to persecutors and tyrants who demand that they recant their faith on pain of death, and even today, our brothers and sisters in Christ who live under anti-Christian conditions in many countries face the same thing. People are still being martyred today -- just look at the frequent reports from sources like Mission Network News, International Christian Concern, Voice of the Martyrs, Persecution Times, Christian Persecution Info, and Compass Direct. In fact, many sources report that more Christians have been martyred in the last century than in all previous centuries. This is partly due to the fact that there are more Christians today than ever before.

A: When I see what our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world have stood up to and continue to stand up to for their faith, and coupled with the assurance that if we die in Christ, we would live forever with Him, I am dismayed at how timid I am to stand up for Jesus.

I know, I've seed Christians who have been obnoxious in the way they try to share the Gospel, and we must bear in mind that we must be winsome in the way we share Christ's love. But how much of my timidity is because of fear of people instead of fear of God rather than tactfulness and sensitivity?

P: Father, let me see the world through Your eyes. Help me to recognise the opportunities to share the love of Christ and to take those opportunities and not let them slip away.

Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Thursday, September 13, 2012



S: Romans 14:1-23 Welcome all the Lord's followers, even those whose faith is weak. Don't criticize them for having beliefs that are different from yours. Some think it is all right to eat anything, while those whose faith is weak will eat only vegetables. But you should not criticize others for eating or for not eating. After all, God welcomes everyone. What right do you have to criticize someone else's servants? Only their Lord can decide if they are doing right, and the Lord will make sure that they do right. Some of the Lord's followers think one day is more important than another. Others think all days are the same. But each of you should make up your own mind. Any followers who count one day more important than another day do it to honour their Lord. And any followers who eat meat give thanks to God, just like the ones who don't eat meat. Whether we live or die, it must be for God, rather than for ourselves. Whether we live or die, it must be for the Lord. Alive or dead, we still belong to the Lord. This is because Christ died and rose to life, so that he would be the Lord of the dead and of the living. Why do you criticize other followers of the Lord? Why do you look down on them? The day is coming when God will judge all of us. In the Scriptures God says, “I swear by my very life that everyone will kneel down and praise my name!” And so, each of us must give an account to God for what we do. We must stop judging others. We must also make up our minds not to upset anyone's faith. The Lord Jesus has made it clear to me that God considers all foods fit to eat. But if you think some foods are unfit to eat, then for you they are not fit. If you are hurting others by the foods you eat, you are not guided by love. Don't let your appetite destroy someone Christ died for. Don't let your right to eat bring shame to Christ. God's kingdom isn't about eating and drinking. It is about pleasing God, about living in peace, and about true happiness. All this comes from the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ in this way, you will please God and be respected by people. We should try to live at peace and help each other have a strong faith. Don't let your appetite destroy what God has done. All foods are fit to eat, but it is wrong to cause problems for others by what you eat. It is best not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else that causes problems for other followers of the Lord. What you believe about these things should be kept between you and God. You are fortunate, if your actions don't make you have doubts. But if you do have doubts about what you eat, you are going against your beliefs. And you know that is wrong, because anything you do against your beliefs is sin.

O: In Galatians 4:10-11, Paul tells us that there really no special days, yet here he tells the Romans “Some of the Lord's followers think one day is more important than another. Others think all days are the same. But each of you should make up your own mind. Any followers who count one day more important than another day do it to honour their Lord.” So what's the deal with that?

A: There truly are some things which are right and wrong, but being right or wrong about these secondary matters is not as important as being flexible and being able to keep fellowship in spite of the disagreements.

We are all imperfect, and our understanding of scripture, God and the world is imperfect. So we must leave room for other believers to disagree with us about secondary matters, even while recognizing that someone might be factually wrong.

I used to be an anti-Charismatic Bible-literalist Evangelical who held all kinds of prejudices against Pentecostals, Catholics, Calvinists and various other kinds of Christians. But God brought me into contact with many Pentecostals, Catholics, Calvinists and various other kinds of Christians who demonstrated a true faithfulness to Jesus and a genuine desire to follow Him. Over the years, I have had to drop these prejudices and recognize them as my brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.

I have more in common with people committed to following Jesus from other denominations than with people in my own denomination who are just "Sunday Christians".

One pastor I have had in the past like to say, "We can agree to disagree agreeably". That's a good thing to keep in mind!

P: Father, Jesus prayed that we Christians may be one even as You and Jesus are one. I echo that prayer. In Jesus' name, amen.

This old Indonesian Christian song to the tune of "Red River Valley" exemplifies this sentiment:

Translation of the lyrics:
I don't care what church you're from
As long as you stand upon His Word
When your heart is like my heart
You're my brother and my sister

Here's a nice rendition of the same song in Bahasa Batak:
Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Democracy and God's establishment of authorities


S: Romans 13:1-7 Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honour you. The authorities are God's servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God's servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience. Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honour to those who are in authority.

O: This passage is one of those which caused faithful Christians to unquestioningly support the ruling king of their day even though the kings were evil. An example of such a Christian was Thomas Moore (1476-1535), who served under the evil king of England, Henry VIII, who, for totally selfish reasons of his own, declared the Church of England independent of the Catholic Church.

Moore was the Chancellor of England under King Henry (something like Prime Minister, but since Henry was an absolute monarch rather than a constitutional monarch, he had to obey whatever Henry decided, and he was appointed by Henry and not democratically elected.

However, he could not with clear conscience abide by King Henry's claim to be the head of the Church of England instead of the Pope. King Henry also kept murdering his wives so that he could marry other women, which Moore could not approve of.

Thus, Moore was faced with a dilemma: he believed that the King was divinely appointed and as a good Christian, he had to be subject to him. On the other hand, the king commanded him to do something which is against God! So how could he resolve this?

He tried to come to some kind of accommodation -- he tried to resign as chancellor, to retire from politics, etc. However, eventually, he had to recognise what Peter and John had recognised way back in Acts 4:9: "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God."

As a result of his principled stand due to his faith, he was convicted of treason and executed.

Even though I am not a Roman Catholic and do not have allegiance to the pope in Rome, Thomas Moore is nonetheless one of my heroes of the faith as a result of his principled stance according to his conscience even unto the point of martyrdom as best as he understood what it meant to follow Christ.

A: Romans 13:3-5 clearly states that a God-established authority is supposed to punish evildoers and commend people who do good. When a government ceases to do that, it no longer has the divine right to rule.

In a real democracy, we the people have the responsibility to choose the government. Therefore, as Christian voters, we must vote for those who will do what is right. We must not continue to support evildoers just because we will personally benefit even to the detriment of the country at large.

Therefore, as believers, we cannot support a corrupt and evil government.

P: Father, as we face the upcoming elections in Malaysia, we pray for people who will do what is right to be elected, and for the corrupt and evil to be brought down. We pray against the vote rigging and cheating that the ruling BN always does, that in spite of their total control of the TV, radio and newspapers, enough people will realise what is going on and vote for a change anyway, in big enough numbers that we can overcome the cheating. 55 years is too long for any one party to control the country. We pray for our brothers and sisters who are being oppressed, and pray that we may have the courage to take action to bring about a more just government in our country. In Jesus' name, amen.

Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Big Picture


S: Matthew 16:21-28 From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead. But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!” Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.2 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father and will judge all people according to their deeds. And I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.”

O: God sees the big picture, while we don't. It didn't make sense to Peter for God to allow Jesus to be killed. After all, wasn't He the Messiah God sent to save the Jews? Surely the Son of David would throw out the Romans and restore the Davidic Kingdom?

But God's plans were bigger than that. He wasn't just interested in political salvation for the Jews -- He was interested in eternal salvation for all peoples!

A: Sometimes as we are trying to serve God, things seem to go wrong. But we need to recognise that we don't know the big picture, and keep trusting Him.

P: Father, to keep on trusting You in adverse circumstances is difficult. When I'm faced with such a situation, remind me that You are in control! In Jesus' name, amen.

Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!


Mark 9:23-24 Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

Matthew 17:19-20 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”

O: These two passages appear to be describing the same incident.

In this year's 40-day fast leading up to Malaysia Day, the NECF (National Evangelical Christian Fellowship) in Malaysia has chosen the theme of Jubilee because it will be the 50th anniversary of the formation of Malaysia from Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak.

On 16 August, the passage for our prayer & consideration was Matt 17:20.

I have been suffering from a pinched nerve which causes shoulder pain for a few weeks, and during the student fellowship's TGIF Friday prayers, I shared about this and student leader Michelle Foong prayed for my healing. Since I haven't yet been healed, she has been messaging me encouragement and also continuing to pray for me in following TGIF prayers.

This is in line with 14 August's NECF meditation "In Luke 24:49 the Lord asks us to tarry until there we are clothed with power from on high. Nothing happens when there is no power from on high. The secret to powerful and effective prayer is tarrying with God in prayer until…. . This is what we call tarrying prayers. In tarrying prayers, God sets the time needed to wait upon Him. We do not know how long it will take but if we tarry, God will show His agenda and prepare us for what is about to come. Then at His set time we will experience a great influx of His power and authority and will have the ability to speak to mountains to be cast into the sea because we have received the authority to do so."

Honestly, while I still intellectually believed that God can heal, over the years my faith has faltered. So God used this young lady Michelle to encourage me! I told her father this, and I would be proud to have my daughters grow up to be like Michelle.

A: God knows that our faith is not much sometimes. God nonetheless honoured the faith of that father who told Jesus, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!" He had that little mustard seed of faith that God could use.

So, even when our faith is weak, trust God!

P: Lord, I believe; help my unbelief! In Jesus' name, amen.

Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Trusting God through years of suffering


S: Genesis 45:3-8 “I am Joseph!” he said to his brothers. “Is my father still alive?” But his brothers were speechless! They were stunned to realise that Joseph was standing there in front of them. “Please, come closer,” he said to them. So they came closer. And he said again, “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither ploughing nor harvesting. God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser to Pharaoh—the manager of his entire palace and the governor of all Egypt.”

O: He may have been a bit too brash in his younger days, but all the evidence points to Joseph having been a faithful follower of God throughout his years from his youth.

And yet, terrible things happened to him. He was sold into slavery by his own brothers, then he was falsely accused of attempted rape and spent more than 2 years in jail for a crime he didn't commit.

During all that time, there was no indication that God told him, "Don't worry! I've got a plan for all this -- you'll one day be Prime Minister of Egypt and save everyone from starvation in a famine!" Joseph just had to trust God and remain faithful through year after year of hardship.

Even then, Joseph could be considered one of the more privileged saints -- at least he got to know in this life what his suffering was for. Hebrews 11:35-40 gives examples of other saints who died in their suffering, never to see on this earth the purpose for their suffering. These had to just trust that only in the resurrection will they see God's purpose.

A: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honour beside God’s throne. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

As Jesus said, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:7)

P: Father, in times of trouble, teach me to keep trusting You and to take one day at a time. In Jesus' name, amen.

Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Specially Chosen!


S: Romans 9:25-26 Concerning the Gentiles, God says in the prophecy of Hosea, “Those who were not my people, I will now call my people. And I will love those whom I did not love before. And, “Then, at the place where they were told, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’”

O: We were once strangers, foreigners to God's chosen nation, but now we've become naturalised citizens! We have been adopted by God to be part of His family! We did not first choose Him but He chose us! He knew us in advance and chose us to become like His Son! What a wonderful privilege!

A: Now that we have received such wonderful grace, that while we were yet sinners, God loved us so much that Christ died for us, let us love Him back and follow Him!

P: Thank You, Father, that while we were still your enemies, you first loved us! Thank You for Your forgiveness! May I never forget that and remain motivated to follow You! In Jesus' name, amen!

Note: I am highlighting one side of the Calvinist/Arminian debate in this post, that is, God's election. I personally believe both in God's election and human free will -- it is both that we choose God and God chose us.
Here is a pro-Calvinist (God's election) article.
Here is a pro-Arminian (human free will) article.
Here is an article that seems to have a view similar to mine.

Different sincere followers of Christ can have different interpretations of that truth, especially in secondary matters, and we must not allow that to break our fellowship, as Romans 14 points out.

A tragedy in the past is that churches have split and even wars fought between Christians because of secondary doctrinal matters.

When I was doing my Ph.D., I joined the Graduate InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (now known as Graduate Christian Fellowship) and was amazed to find Arminians and Calvinists, Catholics and Baptists, Methodists, Assemblies of God, Eastern Orthodox, etc. all united in Christ working together to reach the campus for Christ.

It was a beautiful picture of the united body of Christ!

After our meetings, we often repaired to a coffeeshop or something and many times, there were theological arguments over some of these very issues. But they were done in a spirit of brotherhood and never split the fellowship because of the good attitude.

By the way, I certainly am not saying that you must not discuss disputed topics. For example, I wrote this reflection some time ago.
Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Righteous indignation?


S: Psalm 119:125-128 Give discernment to me, your servant; then I will understand your laws. LORD, it is time for you to act, for these evil people have violated your instructions. Truly, I love your commands more than gold, even the finest gold. Each of your commandments is right. That is why I hate every false way.

O: The Psalmist was filled with righteous indignation at the evil people he saw, just like we Malaysian Christians often are seeing what the UMNO-led government is doing. We Malaysian Christians have risen up to join our Muslim fellow citizens in denouncing the evil perpetrated by UMNO ever since the British left. We have denounced the corruption, the anti-democratic actions, etc. and large numbers of us have participated in the pro-democracy BERSIH rallies.

However, see what it says in verses 127-128. Do we truly love God's commands more than gold? Do we truly hate every false way and follow God's righteous commandments? Have we ourselves given bribes? Do we pirate movies and software? Do we truly love others as ourselves?

A: Even while we follow God's injunction to defend the defenceless and to stand up against injustice, we must also constantly remember that God first calls His own people to follow Him.

P: Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. In Jesus' name, amen.

Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Idle Idols


S: Isaiah 44:6-20

O: We Chinese-Malaysian Christians are sometimes still very Chinese-Malaysian in our beliefs and not Christian enough. Many of us Chinese-Malaysian Christians hold very superstitious views about idols. Many of us fear the idols we see around us and think that somehow they might "contaminate" us with negative spirituality.

However, this, and many other other passages in the Bible make it clear that idols are merely wood, gold, etc. and they do not do anything -- idols are idle!

Yes, it is true that there are demons, but the Bible makes it clear in passage after passage that idols themselves are only bad because people worship them instead of the LORD God.

A: Do not fear idols. Worship only the LORD God. Fear the LORD God and walk in confidence in Christ.

P: Father, thank You that greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world! In Jesus' name, amen.

Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Fear Not Idols

This article was published in CBC News issue 40 (the newsletter of Community Baptist Church) and an abrdiged version was published in Asian Beacon. For many years, the article was available on the CBC website, but in the recent CBC website revamp, all the old CBC News articles had been removed, so I'm republishing this here.
Here in Malaysia, many Christians fear that idols, pictures of dragons, phoenixes, etc. have evil spirits behind them. I think that these beliefs are based on Chinese traditional beliefs and are contradictory to Scripture, as well as harmful for our Christian testimony.

For example, some Christians fear their family's religious altars might cause them demonic harm, and in exhibiting that fear, cause non-Christians to think our God is not so powerful. Many people have, after becoming Christians, destroyed valuable antiques just because they happen to have dragons and phoenixes decorating them – and hence needlessly giving some non-Christians more excuses to ridicule Christ. In many cases, people destroy clothes and household items that have images of dragons and phoenixes on them, even though nobody has worshipped those items, and there is no way for a non-Christian to make the mistake of thinking that the Christian worships those items.

That said, I have to also keep in mind 1 Corinthians 8:1, "Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." I want to be careful to say this in love and not in a "pride in my own knowledge" manner that will end up being more harmful than beneficial.

There are many injunctions in Scripture that speak against worshipping idols. I have no quarrel with that. But let us examine passages that talk about the nature of idols:

Habakuk 2:18-20
"Of what value is an idol, since a man has carved it? Or an image that teaches lies? For he who makes it trusts in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak. Woe to him who says to wood, 'Come to life!' Or to lifeless stone, 'Wake up'' Can it give guidance? It is covered with gold and silver; there is no breath in it. But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him."

Jeremiah 10:2-5
This is what the LORD says: "Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the sky, though the nations are terrified by them. For the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter. Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good."

Isaiah 44:9-20
All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame. Who shapes a god and casts an idol, which can profit him nothing? He and his kind will be put to shame; craftsmen are nothing but men. Let them all come together and take their stand; they will be brought down to terror and infamy.

The blacksmith takes a tool and works with it in the coals; he shapes an idol with hammers, he forges it with the might of his arm. He gets hungry and loses his strength; he drinks no water and grows faint.

The carpenter measures with a line and makes an outline with a marker; he roughs it out with chisels and marks it with compasses. He shapes it in the form of man, of man in all his glory, that it may dwell in a shrine. He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. It is man's fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, "Ah! I am warm; I see the fire." From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, "Save me; you are my god."

They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand. No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, "Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?" He feeds on ashes, a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, "Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?"

Deuteronomy 4:28
There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell.

Psalm 115:4-8
But their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but they cannot smell; they have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but they cannot walk; nor can they utter a sound with their throats.

The tone of all these passages is one of derision, not of fear. The idol is portrayed as nothing. In the New Testament, we see, indeed, that Paul also says in 1 Corinthians 8:7 "Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one."

Hence, the reason that Paul advised people not to eat food offered to idols was not because there's any power in idols, but in order not to cause someone to stumble. (1 Corinthians 8:7-13.)

Therefore, there is nothing to fear from the presence of a picture of a dragon or phoenix, statues of Kuan Yin, Ang Kong, or Buddha, or a Chinese calendar in the house, except for the caution that it might stumble someone. This is why I have no objections to my parents' statues in display cases – they are clearly shown as objects of artwork, and not as shrines of worship.

Yes, demons are real, and demons do possess people, especially if the person has opened himself up to demonic influence by playing with the occult. But a believer who doesn't worship any idols should have no fear of idols. We should only be sensitive not to cause a weaker brother to stumble.

Chinese traditional belief teaches that the soul of the ancestors reside in the ancestral tablets and altars. This is very similar to the belief of many Chinese-Malaysian Christians' belief that evil spirits are present in idols.

As we have seen from the passages above, the Bible clearly teaches that idols are mere objects – works of human hands that have no power. If you as a Christian think they have power, you must seriously ask yourself, "Did my beliefs in this matter come from the Bible, or from non-Christian Chinese beliefs?"

"But wait," some may say, "how come in 1 Samuel 5 the idol of Dagon fell down before the Ark of the Covenant? Doesn't that prove that there is a demon inside that statue that was forced to worship God in the Ark?" Why should we believe there is a demon in the idol of Dagon? Can God not cause a statue to topple over, demon or no demon? If idols were really houses for demons, why did all the other passages talk of idols in the derisive manner shown above?

Another person may say "God puts His special presence on the Mercy Seat of the Ark. Demons imitate God. Doesn't that mean demons would inhabit idols?" Just because demons sometimes imitate God does not mean they can do everything God can do. In fact, we know for a fact that they cannot do everything God can do. Scripture talks of demons as inhabiting people, and in one occasion, pigs. I know of no Scripture talking about demons inhabiting idols (if you know of any, do let me know), yet I know of many passages that talk of idols as just dumb inanimate objects.

In his book A Biblical Approach to Chinese Traditions and Beliefs, Pastor Daniel Tong from Singapore said:

    The idea that demons reside in idols gives us cause for alarm, and indeed many have gone about destroying idols for fear that if they did not, the spirits would somehow cause them harm.

    ...Note that this thinking is not in line with the teaching of the Bible and only serves to give the wrong impression that the devil is very powerful, while our God and we, the children of God, are weak. The teaching that evil spirits reside in idols is an animistic perspective not supported or encouraged by the Bible, which holds clearly to the perspective that idols are nothing but the work of our own hands. Understanding this frees us from the fear of being confronted with and attacked by demons every time we encounter an idol.

    The Bible teaches that when people make offerings to idols, they are, in fact, making offerings to the demon/s behind the idol (1 Corinthians 10:20). That is to say, the image of the idol serves merely as camouflage to deceive a person into worshipping the devil, something most would not voluntarily do.

    ...When a person is caught up in the worship of the devil in this way, these disguises become for that person an idol, as he sells his "soul" in worship to the devil. Which brings us to the point that it is precisely our worship that the devil is after and if we understand this, we understand that demons are not present in idols but in the hearts and lives of all who bow down in worship to those idols. Idols are nothing. The focus of our worship is everything.1

I see a lot of harm done by this fear of idols, dragons, phoenixes, etc, which, as I have described above, I believe is un-Biblical and derived from Chinese traditional beliefs rather than from God's Word. Remember that "greater is He who is in you than He who is in the world" (1 John 4:4.)

Some people argue that while idols are made of inanimate matter, people worshipping them will give demons the "right" to inhabit them. I don't think this is Biblically sound, but even if it were, it still does not mean that just because an item has a picture of a dragon or phoenix on it that it therefore means that a demon inhabits it.

1 Corinthians 10:25-28
Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it. If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience' — the other man's conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another's conscience?

We can eat meat that has been offered to idols without question, as long as it won't cause someone to stumble. In the original context, the Pagan saying, "This has been offered in a sacrifice," meant he was basically telling you, "Come and participate in my worship of my idol." That was why the Christian should not eat it for the sake of the other man's conscience: the Christian was free to eat the food and no harm would have come to him. However, he might have caused the Pagan to stumble because he would have thought that the Christian was participating in worshipping his god, and no longer faithful to Christ.

So there's nothing wrong with the meat. We're neither better nor worse off if we eat it (1 Corinthians 8:8). Some people say, "Just say grace before eating any food that may have been offered to idols and you'll be fine," as if saying grace would "disinfect" it of demons (or germs)! But that is not what the Bible teaches.

A similar application can be made to clothing and other items with phoenixes and dragons on them. Some people fear that just because there is printed on a bowl a picture of a phoenix or dragon. We have already shown that there is no reason to fear idols, and this is even less than an idol. "But someone may have dedicated that bowl to a demon before!" Firstly, these items are mass-produced in factories, so it's unlikely that anyone has used them in idol worship. But secondly, even if they had been used in idol worship, so what? The principle from eating meat offered to idols applies here. If it is not likely to cause anyone to stumble, go ahead and use the item!

In fact, sometimes not eating will cause someone to stumble. How many parents have thought that Christianity was against respect for parents and family unity because their Christian sons or daughters suddenly refuse to participate in the family meal because the food may have been offered to the ancestors?

Yes, I know, some parents have adapted, because as the child continues to show respect and love, they have become reconciled and will even provide a "non-offered-to-idols plate" for the Christian. But I also know of others who have been unnecessarily pushed away from Christ by such actions. Remember the principle in Scripture is "do not cause someone else to stumble." The offence of the Cross is enough – let us not add unnecessary offences to hinder people from coming to Christ!

I hope this has been helpful. As I said before, I am very cautious that I don't become one whose knowledge has puffed me up, but rather one who is sharing the truth in love.

1. Appendix D: Images of Worship, A Biblical Approach to Chinese Traditions and Beliefs, Daniel Tong, Genesis Books, Armour Publishing Pte Ltd, Singapore, 2003.

Here are some reviews of this book by Ivan Lee, Maranatha Resource Ministries, and Select Books (Singapore).

Saturday, July 7, 2012

It's OK to feel down sometimes


S: Psalm 119:81-88 I am worn out waiting for your rescue, but I have put my hope in your word. My eyes are straining to see your promises come true. When will you comfort me? I am shriveled like a wineskin in the smoke, but I have not forgotten to obey your decrees. How long must I wait? When will you punish those who persecute me? These arrogant people who hate your instructions have dug deep pits to trap me. All your commands are trustworthy. Protect me from those who hunt me down without cause. They almost finished me off, but I refused to abandon your commandments. In your unfailing love, spare my life; then I can continue to obey your laws.

O: Among some Christian circles, people are told that it is unspiritual to ever have "problems" or to feel down. The Psalms give ample evidence that this is not Biblical.

The psalmist was certainly feeling down. He didn't let it drive him away from God, however -- he ran to God instead. He kept the faith, and asked God to protect him.

It is true that since I have come to know Jesus, I have changed from being a mostly introverted and depressed person to becoming a mostly happy and outgoing person. However, this deep joy doesn't mean that you never feel down, and we should not condemn people for feeling down. Feeling down in itself is not a sin.

A: When you feel down, run to our Father in Heaven!

P: Father, thank You that You are our comfort and our salvation. In Jesus' name, amen.
Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Monday, July 2, 2012

Hey, there, mighty hero!


S: Judges 6:11-12 Then the angel of the LORD came and sat beneath the great tree at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash of the clan of Abiezer. Gideon son of Joash was threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites. The angel of the LORD appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the LORD is with you!”

O: Israel had once again stopped following God and so God allowed the Midianites to terrorise them, reducing them to starvation and forcing them out of their homes to hide in caves in the mountains.

Imagine how Gideon would have felt! Here he was, cowering in a winepress to hide from the Midianites, trying to thresh his grain where there was no wind to blow the chaff away.

Then here comes this angel and he greets him as a "mighty hero"! "Who me? What mighty hero?!!"

But we know what happened: God used Gideon and a tiny army of 300 men to defeat the mighty Midianite an Amalekite army described as "a swarm of locusts" and camels "as numerous as sand on the seashore"!

Gideon was no "mighty hero"... except that God had commissioned him and God was with him! God even deliberately reduced his 32,000-strong army to 300 men “You have too many warriors with you. If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength.”

A: Have you felt inadequate to the task that God has called you? I certainly have. Yet, if He has called you to the task, then you're a "mighty hero" -- "I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:13)

P: Father, when I feel discouraged by the challenges I face, remind me that, if I am doing what You want me to do, then I, too, can be a mighty hero. In Jesus' name, amen.

Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Blessings with challenges


S: 2 Kings 4:8-37 tells the story of the woman from Shunem who was hospitable to the prophet Elisha. She always hosted Elisha whenever he came to Shunem, so Elisha wanted to appreciate her somehow.

She still had no children, and her husband was already old, so Elisha prophesied that she would have a child by that time the following year.

She said, “No, my lord! O man of God, don’t deceive me and get my hopes up like that.” But sure enough, the woman soon became pregnant. And at that time the following year she had a son, just as Elisha had said.

But then, some years later, the boy collapsed and died. She quickly went to see Elisha, but everyone who asked her on her way if anything was wrong, she would tell them, “everything is fine.” The Lord Himself chose not to reveal to Elisha what the problem was, but he could tell she was troubled.

However, when she got to Elisha, she said, “Did I ask you for a son, my lord? And didn’t I say, ‘Don’t deceive me and get my hopes up’?”

Elisha immediately told his apprentice, Gehazi, to go lay his staff on the child's face. However, this didn't revive the child, so Elisha went into the room, shut the door, and prayed to God. Then he lay down on the child’s body, placing his mouth on the child’s mouth, his eyes on the child’s eyes, and his hands on the child’s hands. And as he stretched out on him, the child’s body began to grow warm again! Elisha got up, walked back and forth across the room once, and then stretched himself out again on the child. This time the boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes!

Then Elisha summoned Gehazi. “Call the child’s mother!” he said. And when she came in, Elisha said, “Here, take your son!” She fell at his feet and bowed before him, overwhelmed with gratitude. Then she took her son in her arms and carried him downstairs.

O: The Shunemite woman had already give up. She thought she would never have a child. But God had other plans -- she was to be rewarded for her hospitality to the Lord's prophet.

However, God isn't just interested in making our lives happy -- He wants to train us to perfection. Character is ultimately more important in eternity than temporal happiness.

That's why James 1:2-4 says “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”

Things have been generally going well in the last year. Just recently, however, I faced some challenges. But I can trust God that He will carry me through.

A: When trials come, don't despair! God is still in control. Trust Him to use those trials to grow your character.

Thank you, Lord,
for the trials that come my way.
In that way I can grow each day
as I let you lead,

And thank you, Lord,
for the patience those trials bring.
In that process of growing,
I can learn to care.

But it goes against the way
I am to put my human nature down
and let the Spirit take control of all I do.
'Cause when those trials come,
my human nature shouts the thing to do;
and God's soft prompting
can be easily ignored.

I thank you, Lord,
with each trial I feel inside,
that you're there to help,
lead and guide me away from wrong.
'Cause you promised, Lord,
that with every testing,
that your way of escaping is easier to bear.

I thank you, Lord,
for the victory that growing brings.
In surrender of everything
life is so worth while.
And I thank you, Lord,
that when everything's put in place,
out in front I can see your face, and it's there you belong.

Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Easier said than done


S: 2 Corinthians 13:11 Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you.

O: When you read this, do you find yourself saying to Paul, "Yeah, right! Easier said than done!"?

It's true, these things are not easy. They do not happen overnight. Salvation is instantaneous, but the fruit of the Holy Spirit take time to grow.

A clue to this is "grow to maturity". This clearly doesn't happen overnight, but involves following Jesus, studying the Bible, praying, meeting together with other believers for fellowship and encouragement, consistently, over the the course of time.

A: Therefore, we need to daily "take up our cross" and follow Jesus. Even Jesus took time each morning to spend with God the Father. How much more we "normal" human beings need to do that!

I must admit I don't always succeed every day. There are days when I am so busy and harassed that I neglect this. There are even days when I'm just lazy. But we also serve the God of second chances. So when we fail, we can repent and get back up. True, we've lost yesterday's opportunity to grow, but we can resume the right course today.

P: Father, thank You that since You have begun a good work in us, you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. In Jesus' name, amen.

Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Balance, Diversity, and Tongues


S: 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, 15-20, 27-31 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. ... Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. ... Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

O: There is a lot of legitimate diversity in the church. We have different gifts, but we are part of the same body. It's not right to denigrate anyone else because they don't have the same gifts, and it is not right to insist that everyone must have the same gifts.

One of the things that have been of contention between Christians in the last century is the issue of speaking in tongues. Some groups insist that all must (or at least should speak in tongues. Other groups forbid tongues and other supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit, by applying a misinterpretation of 1 Corinthians 13:10. But 1 Corinthians 14:39 clearly says that's wrong.

A: We must hold a balance in the diversity of gifts, and continue to fellowship with brothers & sisters in Christ who have different gifts, and even different beliefs in secondary matters from us. (Regarding different beliefs in secondary matters, see Romans 14.)

P: Father, help us to hold a Biblical balance and to love one another. In Jesus' name, amen.
Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Standing around praising God


S: Psalm 47:1-2, 5-7 Come, everyone! Clap your hands! Shout to God with joyful praise! For the LORD Most High is awesome. He is the great King of all the earth. ... God has ascended with a mighty shout. The LORD has ascended with trumpets blaring. Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King over all the earth. Praise him with a psalm.

O: The people of God spend a lot of time "standing around praising God." Several non-Christians have mentioned this to me as an argument against Christianity.

One friend says that in his religion, in heaven, they get to eat as much as they want, sleep with as many virgins as they want, indulge in pleasure as much as they want, all without the negative consequences these excesses would have on earth, while in our Christian heaven, we just stand around praising God.

An Atheist friend says that Christianity's God is so insecure and egotistical since He wants people to praise Him all the time.

However, I personally can testify that some of my most wonderful experiences in life thus far have been times when I was immersed in the presence of God in worship, standing around praising God, clapping, shouting, singing, dancing before Him, worshipping God in a most intimate way, paradoxically in the midsts of a crowd of other people worshipping Him. (I say "paradoxically" because it is perhaps paradoxical how intimate a connection I have felt with God while in a crowd of other people having a similar intimate connection with Him!)

My early Christian experience was in a more traditional style of church, where there was good Biblical teaching, but people did not worship "in the Spirit." When I first heard "praise and worship" music, it was on tape (remember those things? ^‿^) and the music did not appeal to me.

However, the first time I entered a Charismatic church, I felt something. I didn't know what it was, and I felt it again the next few times I went. I think now that it was because I had already been filled with the Holy Spirit even before I first stepped into a Charismatic church, and so my spirit resonated with God's presence in that house of worship, and that was what I was feeling -- the manifest presence of God.

Now, I would be the first to admit that there are many excesses of the Charismatic movement and we do need solid Biblical grounding in addition to the experiential aspect of the Holy Spirit. It's both-and, not either-or. We need true experience with the manifest presence of God through the Holy Spirit, and also solid Bible study and meditation on the Word of God.

So, when you see time and time again the saints write in the Bible things like "praise the LORD!" it is an expression of this exuberant intimacy, this call to worship that is part of this very personal love relationship between the believer and God. It's not that God is so insecure that He needs to be buttered up. It's like when you're in love, you express your love spontaneously as part of the intimacy and relationship. I'm in love with God, and so I praise Him!

A: So, come, everyone! Clap your hands! Shout to God with joyful praise!

P: I worship You, Almighty God! There is none like You! I worship You, O Prince of Peace! That is what I want to do! I give You praise for you are my righteousness. I worship You, Almighty God! There is none like You!

Note: "Hallelujah" means "Praise the the LORD".

Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The God of Second Chances


S: Hosea 14:2-4 Bring your confessions, and return to the LORD. Say to him, “Forgive all our sins and graciously receive us, so that we may offer you our praises. Assyria cannot save us, nor can our warhorses. Never again will we say to the idols we have made, ‘You are our gods.’ No, in you alone do the orphans find mercy.” The LORD says, “Then I will heal you of your faithlessness; my love will know no bounds, for my anger will be gone forever.

O: This is the moral of the story of Hosea. This is a message repeated time and time again in the Bible: God doesn't want evil people to go to hell. He would much rather they repent and turn to Him. He loves us and wants to save us!

A: So, if you've lived your life up till now turned away from God, or if you once had followed Him but strayed into the wrong paths, it is still not too late -- turn around! You can still call upon God and receive the forgiveness Jesus' death of the cross has bought for you!

P: Thank You for the cross, the mighty cross,
That God Himself should die for such as us,
And every day we're changed
Into Your image more and more,
Yes, by the cross we've truly been transformed.
And we're so amazed, and we give You praise
That You would save us at such a cost.
We're so amazed, and we give You praise
For the power of the cross,
For the power of the cross!
Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)