Spiritual Weight Issues

The reading of the Word is a very important discipline in our spiritual growth – often referred to as feeding. Let me first established why the Word, i.e. the Bible, is referred to as spiritual food. In John 6:48, Jesus declared the second time after v.35, “I am the bread of life.” This life refers to the spiritual life. If we examine the context of the book of John, in John 1:14 the relationship between Jesus and the Word was established, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. So in summary:

Word –> Flesh (Jesus) –> Bread of Life (spiritual food)

Measure of Maturity

The analogy of a new believer as an infant taking milk, a softer spiritual diet can be found in 1 Cor 3:2 and 1 Pet 2:2. I find Heb 5:13-14 an interesting verse on the type of diet signifying the growth stage of the person, “For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” What is the word of righteousness? Just like how we have length and height measurements for babies & children to chart their growth, the answer to this question is key to knowing how to gauge spiritual maturity. Righteousness is lived out in relation to others around us as it deals with how we treat others – our speech and actions. It is a practice, i.e. doing, with a constant choice of good and evil.  So the measure of maturity is the outworking of the Word. Just like a child, it is not the measure the quantity of milk and food it takes to gauge healthy growth but the processing & assimilation of the intake to the body.

Underweight

stick_figureAs the term underweight suggests, this condition means there is insufficient or no food intake. This describes the spiritual condition of a child of God who never or hardly feeds on the Word. I have friends who will take photos of mouth-watering food but never take a bite of it due to various reasons. The photo was for social media, i.e. to show others, and not for personal consumption. We can have food laid out before us, but if we do not put it into our mouths, chew and let it go into our body, the food has nothing to do with us. If I read the Bible out of obligation or sat through a church sermon glazed and dazed, without the Scriptures getting into my system, I am not feeding.  As you can imagine, in such a situation, my spiritual weight will be like a stick figure, frail and weak. Perhaps so malnutrition for some that the stick man cannot even stand.

Indigestion

stick-figure-pain-bad-43830486This is another extreme. It is not difficult to overeat in Singapore, both in the physical and perhaps in the spiritual too. There is no shortage of teachings, preachings, and testimonies, be it through churches, online resources, and/or seminar/conferences. Most of us have more books, CDs, MP3s then we can keep up. We keep stuffing ourselves thinking that this will help us grow. Yes, to a certain extent. Just like our physical bodies, any amount over and above what our body needs, overfeeding will first lead to indigestion. Bloatedness with gas with discomfort and the food that is supposed to be good for us becomes a burden to our system. I am reminded of Paul’s wisdom 1 Cor 8:1b “Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.” I love NKJV’s translation “Knowledge puffs up”. It gives the image of gas and air, putting up a false image of being well-fed and perhaps to growth but the person is still as skinny as a stick figure.

Obesity

7936195

Continual stuffing eventually leads to a build up of excessive nutrients and fats causing obesity. You need a big quantity of food for each meal and will starve if the intake does not match up. Yet this hunger is not healthy. In fact, this is killing the body. Spiritually this can be true too. You are still feeding and having a larger appetite for the Word than ever before. Without an active lifestyle and workout, the excess food becomes fats weighing us down that we cannot even walk or run properly, as good as a dead person without the intended use of the body. While feeding can be a very fulfilling process, sweat and burn it off so that you can take more to keep a healthy spiritual weight, light enough to sprint and run a marathon but enough fuel to keep the body in good shape for the long haul. May we all develop good and strong spiritual muscles by doing the teachings of the Word!

I leave you with the wisdom from James.

James 2:14-26

14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

18 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.” 19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

 

Make Friends through Worldly Wealth

Make Friends Through Worldly Wealth

“And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings. ” – Luke‬ ‭16:9 ‭NASB‬‬

This verse has always been a challenge in understanding the heart of what Jesus was trying to get at as it looks contradictory to many of His teachings. The image of the command to “make friends by means of wealth of unrighteousness is what the prodigal son did. It is only the last week that the Holy Spirit helped me to finally understand what Jesus was driving at. I believe unrighteous wealth refers to worldly wealth rather than wealth that is gained by scrupulous means. Worldly wealth is unrighteous as they are not of God and they will not exist in the eternal kingdom of God.

It is interesting to note that Jesus just before this command states one attribute that His followers do not match up to the world – shrewdness. “…for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.” – Luke‬ ‭16:8‬b NASB.‬‬ These were teachings based on the parable of the Unjust Steward who used his shrewdness to safeguard his own future after he was caught mismanaging his master’s wealth. He safeguarded himself by giving favors to make friends through his position as the steward at the expense of his master.

I see a parallel that Jesus is drawing, the earth bound servant versus the sons of light, i.e. believers. A servant who is concerned about his worldly future makes use of his limited time to ensure a life he wanted ahead. We as sons of light have an eternal future to look forward to and there are ways to lay up treasures in heaven while here on earth. Eternity definitely is a stronger cause of action than the less than 100 years of earthly life. If it is so, it does not make sense that the sons of light are not making full use of their worldly wealth that are given to them to lay up heavenly treasures.

Jesus implies in verse 9 that the heavenly treasures in this context are the friends gained through worldly wealth. I have read many commentaries on this verse for the second part “they will receive you into the eternal dwellings” and somehow the understanding did not sit within me completely although I can see where they are coming from. In some Bible translations, a footnote is used to explain “they” means “you”, referring to the believer who will enter into heaven.

Here’s my understanding of verse 9 after a whole lot of re-reading of the chapter, meditation and asking the Lord. “They” refers to the friends gained through worldly wealth. These friends are able to welcome the believer into heaven because they become believers themselves. The worldly wealth was a bait for a greater purpose – the Great Commission. The bait is used with genuine love for these friends and not selfish gains. The treasures in heaven is not worldly wealth but people whom we love in this world. This reminds me of Apostle Paul’s declaration that “I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.” ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭9:22b‬ ‭NASB‬‬

A word of caution was given by Jesus after this statement ending with two distinct choices – God or mammon. World wealth is not our master but Lord Jesus Christ. Worldly wealth is a tool given by the Lord to further His kingdom through us. Jesus is not giving us a negative example or a model to learn shrewdness through the parable. Instead He wants us to see the poverty of our intentional living on earth as compared to one who has only earthly goals. A sobering thought to consider with a warning to have God as god and not the tool of worldly wealth.

“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” – Luke 16:1-13

I pray that all of us have a company of friends in heaven waiting for us and we in turn wait for many more to join us!

Secret to a Deep Foundation

Secret to A Deep Foundation

Secret to a Deep Foundation
The pots are sitting of the foundation of a house that were swept away by the Tsunami in Dec 2004, Batticaloa, Sri Lanka. Photo taken by Pauline Phoon in Feb 2005.

“”Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great.””‭‭Luke‬ ‭6:46-49‬ ‭NASB‬‬

There is a desire and cry for many to go deep with the Lord. Most, if not all, will consider reading and knowing the Word as priority to growing deep. It is a great starting point but definitely not an end. Otherwise it is no different from studying in a college and graduating with a certification after exams to test the student’s understanding and knowledge of the topic.

Key in verse 47: “Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them”

This is a description of the person who has a deep foundation. There is no secret here as to how this person built his deep and firm foundation. There are three action words – Come, Hear and Act. In Greek, they are in present continuous tense and should be read as:

“Everyone who is coming to Me and is hearing My words and is acting on them…”

Step 1 – Coming to God

Knowing the Word of God is only one-third of the process of going deep if it can be mathematically apportioned. Before knowing the Word is an important step — drawing near to Jesus. Reading the autobiography or even cyber stalking a person is not equivalent to knowing the person. Simply reading the Bible is gaining knowledge about Him without knowing Him in person. Jesus has given each believer the entry into the presence of God through His blood. We can attend a dinner hosted by our nation’s president, but it is our decision to go up to introduce ourselves and get to know him on a personal level. The Word is the roadmap to finding God in person. It points us to Him and not an end to itself. There must be a relationship built where a two-way communication is possible. The going to God is the first step of initiating the relationship as all believers have access to His Presence.

Step 2 – Getting to Know

After expressing our desire to know God when we approach Him, we incline our ears to listen. Listening is an important aspect of getting to know a person. This is the time when we know the heart of God, and how we can please Him. Reading the Word is not just about the text and info, but through it to connect with God. In the stillness of God’s presence, we meditate on the Word, allowing the Holy Spirit to direct our thoughts and understanding towards our Beloved.

Step 3 – Walking with Him

The final part is the one that seals the first two steps. It is only when we walk life in obedience to His teachings and instructions that we truly know Him. It is when you work or live with a person that you truly know the person. It is the same spiritually that we work alongside with Him and get to know Him through the Holy Spirit living within!

These steps help me to demystify the process of growing deeper spiritually. They are simple and easy to understand but it is a continuous cycle that goes on in our entire life since it is impossible to know God 100% as He is infinite while we are finite.

Jacob – the Blessed Wrestling Schemer

TJACOB-3For many years, I find it hard to reconcile Jacob’s blessings and his scheming ways. I am a firm believer that the end does not justify the means and the life of Jacob seems to suggest otherwise. The recent weeks, Jacob is once again brought into focus.

Jacob was grabbing hold of Esau’s heel at birth (Gen 25:26). This was why he was named Jacob, meaning “he catches by the heel, i.e. he supplants”. These twin brothers were already at war within the womb, causing their mother Rebekah much distress (Gen 25:22). The first round winner was Esau as he emerged firstborn of the womb, pushing himself out before Jacob. This is not surprising as Esau was possibly stronger physically, who grew up to be a hunter. The fight did not stopped there. Jacob still wanted to be the firstborn. He quickly bagged in the win for round two when he traded his bowl of red lentil soup for the birthright of Esau. The final victory was with the aid of his mother Rebekah. Jacob deceived his own father, Isaac, and received the firstborn blessing. Very unorthodox means of getting to the ends which are hard to accept as acts that lead to blessings.

God did not intervene in any of these sibling rivalry. Some people believed that it is already ordained for Jacob to be blessed so God chose not to intervene. If it is ordained, all the more there is no need for Jacob to do what he did as the prophecy will come to pass without him helping God in such manner. Surely there are consequences to sin, even King David lost a son because of his adultery and murder after his genuine repentance. Why is Jacob favoured despite his scrupulous actions?

“His heart.”

This was from a still, soft voice within that I wanted to brush off as ridiculous. Yet there was a solid and deep truth that I cannot dismiss flippantly. Surely God looks at the heart and how can it be that a scheming man has a good heart? It was almost like a court room within me and I was a prosecutor of Jacob whom I never met! It is of course a losing battle in this court room and out of it, I learnt a precious lesson.

Jacob’s heart was fixed on eternal blessings and never swayed by the present. He knew what was valuable and precious – the birthright and firstborn blessings of his father. It was out of the deep longings of his heart that he took every opportunity to grab hold of them.  This same longing of the heart was seen in how he was willing to work another 7 years for Rachel after being cheated to marry Rachel’s sister. The final fight was at Bethel. His fight for eternal blessings which only the Lord can offer. It left him with a limp but with a new name and locked him into his eternal blessed destiny. This encounter ended Jacob’s trail of scheming narratives as I believed his heart was finally filled to the brim by God. This was his destiny.

His trickery of both the birthright and firstborn blessings led to his exile from the house, a fugitive. He did not enjoy the blessings he schemed for during those years. A man who was described as “a peaceful man, living in tents” (Gen 25:27 NASB) now found himself cast into the “wild world” and in the open field to shepherd sheep even though he was still under the protection of his extended family. A modern day drastic career change will be from a computer guy to a construction worker overnight. The birthright to his father’s inheritance was with Esau since he was on the run. This does not look like the blessed life he fought for. Having to leave home is the consequence of his scheming ways.

Rather than seeing him as a cold-blooded man, Jacob was a hot-blooded man fixated on what his heart’s desires. He pursued hard and even prevailed against God. It is interesting that the Bible described him as peaceful and some versions use the word “complete” for a schemer. Peaceful perhaps meaning that he does not shed blood as compared to Esau who is a hunter. The description of Jacob was not negative. His name that describes him as a supplanter is not a negative word in military terms but one of strategy. Comparing Jacob’s heart attitude with how Esau despised his birthright, Jacob’s thirst made him the man whom God used to bless the nations.

Do I desire God’s blessings enough to contend with Him throughout the night, knowing that I would never prevail? I wish I can give a loud yes but in full honesty, my prayer would be “God give me the portion you have for me”. The thought of putting up a fight with the Lord for blessings would never crossed my mind. This sounds like a very submissive and obedient prayer but is this a true reflection of my heart? Maybe it is a coverup. Perhaps I dare not believe that God will give me the desires of my heart or that He has my interests covered. If it is so, then I am not honest with Him with my heart. Or I know that the desires of my heart are not aligned to his? Whichever is the case, the hypocrisy of my heart is revealed. Jacob, despite his immature and unorthodox ways, was true to his heart and to God, believed in it and walked it.

This is a repentance call for me. It is so easy for my heart to be distracted and won out, hiding behind the word “resignation to God’s will” when the tough gets going or I am swimming against the tide. The fear of failure holds me back from engaging the Lord in a wrestle for blessings. It is not about winning, but it is a matter of how desperate do I want it. Jacob set his heart on the blessings of God and this gave God the opening to correct his ways, repent and change. So the key is to set my heart towards God and with that, He can do His work within me so that His promised destiny for me can be fulfilled as He moulds and shapes me along the way.

 

 

Peace in Storm

Mat 8:23-27; Mar 4:35-41
Jesus could sleep in the storm because He was certain of His authority over it. On the flip side, the storm obeyed Jesus because it was unable to ruffle His feathers. In a way, Jesus had to sleep to calm the storm, demonstrating His complete restedness in God. Perhaps this is not a show to the storm but a lesson to us about the restedness in God despite circumstances.

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” – ‭‭John‬ ‭14:27‬ ‭NASB‬‬

This peace is power in the Kingdom of God. Nothing can shake His people if we grab hold of this peace, not even in the strongest and most devastating storms. It is not just silence or absence of conflict. But one that is completely rested in God’s sovereignty over creation and the devil.

Peace I need. Peace I receive.

Worship or Barter – Faith or Fear

A moment whereby something connected while I was in the kitchen tonight.

Worship by nature requires sacrifice from the worshipper to the object of worship, who is God. Sacrifice means there is no expectation to get back what was given. What was given, was given. In exchange for the pleasure and favour of God.

Many times when I check my heart, what I offer to God is often with condition. When I give up my time to get work done, I expect God to “return” me my time in the way that I can finish it or have a time extension. Even money wise, there are time when putting money into the offering bag expecting God to bless many folds. Sounds very much like investment to me but I do catch myself in this mode at times.

Some may say I am too hard on myself as God promises that He will bless us. In His Word He did talk about many fold blessings. Yet when I look into the heart of these barter I make with God, the root of it is faithlessness. It is driven by fear and not faith. If I am resting on the promises of God completely, I do not even need to consider and calculate the value in which I will get in return before putting it in. When I am in complete rest and total trust in God, I can give everything without the barter bargain.

Faith, faith, faith.

 

Neither Offensive or Defensive

Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?” He said, “No; rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the LORD.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, “What has my lord to say to his servant?” The captain of the LORD ‘ S host said to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. (‭Joshua‬ ‭5‬:‭13-15‬ NASB)

This is a familiar passage to many. Perhaps we are like Joshua, very edgy about battle strategy as the world seems hostile. Joshua verbalized an unconscious thought process within whether to take the offensive or defensive mode when issues confront us. 

Interestingly, the Captain did not swing him to neither but revealed his identity as the captain of the hosts. I believe at that point in time, it was a timely reminder for the paradigm shift in his mindset. 

As the army of God we belong to him. We do not need to go on the offensive to attack mode, neither do we need to cover our faces to hide as defense. We move forward as Joshua did and miracles of God take place. We stand and start from a position of victory. This is a powerful understanding if we internalize and apply. 

Destiny of Orphans

For my father and my mother have forsaken me, But the LORD will take me up. (‭Psalms‬ ‭27‬:‭10‬ NASB)

This Psalm by David reflects his innermost cries to the LORD with verse 4 of him desiring to be in the house of the LORD all the days of his life. 

Verse 10 caught my attention where often times quoted to illustrate us as adopted children of God. As I looked at David’s life from this aspect, the times his family were mentioned, they had very low regard of him. David’s family were never mentioned after his defeat of Goliath. Even when he became the king of Judah and later, of Israel, there was no mention of his parents and siblings joining him in his kingdom. As this verse suggests, they abandoned him. 

It is amazing how this boy without the guidance and protection of natural parents grew up to be upright and full of wisdom. God was His father. God brought him up, trained him and equipped him. Perhaps he may not be who he was if his parents were present and God would not have been able to have full liberty in executing the molding process. 

Family situations and attitudes towards a person might be formative, but their absence puts the child in the hand of God resulting in a totally different outcome. 

Front and Right

Psalm 16:8-9

 I have set the Lord continually before me;
Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices;
My flesh also will dwell securely.

I find the directions of front and right a little confusing when during a surface reading of verse 8. Yes I know that God is omniscient and all around, but as a limited human, I can only focus on one direction at a time. It seems very contradicting that King David had the Lord before him and state a fact that God is at his right hand.

Keeping the Lord continually before him is a personal choice that King David made. God is all around, but he chose to put God in front, meaning that in all things he only see God and God is his priority.

We all learn a little about God here. God chose to have His presence known to King David on his right. God could have chosen to be in front of David so that it would be easier for David to choose God. To keep Him in sight since we human operates mostly under the principle of “out of sight, out of mind” especially in the hustle and bustle of modern day life. Our God does not force Himself upon us. He gentlemanly waits on the right side. A place He is always close enough but never intrusive. He waits for our invitation for Him to lead when we place Him in front. He is after our hearts, and not just our actions.