You really want God to give you something, but He not only turned you down, He told you flat-out “Enough! Speak no more about this!”

 

Sounds harsh?

 

Tell that to Moses. Recall that God had used him to bring His people out of Egypt with the endgame of bringing them to the Promised Land. But because of a tragic rebellion, the first generation died out in the wilderness over the next forty years. And who was their leader all through that arduous time? Moses.

 

When the forty years were up, the second generation was to enter the land. But because Moses made a seemingly innocuous disobedience to God’s instructions, God barred him from entering the Promised Land (read it in Numbers 20).

 

Moses pleaded with God, only to be rebuffed. “That is enough. Do not speak to me anymore about this matter” (Deuteronomy 3:26).

 

Harsh? Try unfair.

 

As if to rub it in, God allowed Moses to climb up a mountain and gaze at the land, “flowing with milk and honey”, from afar. God told him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, “I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over to it” (Deuteronomy 34:4).

 

Harsh? Unfair? How about painful? To be denied your heart’s desire? To be denied the culmination of faithful service?

 

Do you feel like God is being harsh and unfair to you?  This pandemic is loaded with stories of heartbreak and unanswered prayer.

 

But if we doubt God’s goodness, that’s because we have not read the rest of the story.

 

Many centuries later, Jesus climbed up another mountain. There as He was praying, “the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus” (Luke 9:28-30).

 

Wow! Moses died without setting foot in the Promised Land. But centuries later, God gave Moses something far better. He was in glorious splendor. He got to meet Elijah. Most of all, he had an audience with Jesus in all His cosmic majesty!

 

If there is a blessing you are longing for, but God has not yet given it to you and perhaps He has no intention of giving it to you, trust that His goodness is really greater than we think.

 

He has done it for Moses. He will do it for you and me.

 

Someday, like Moses, we will at last see Jesus face to face. All the blessings God had promised us will become complete reality. All the shalom God intends for us will be ours. And we will be in a place where there will be no more curse. No more crying. No more death.

 

Choose life. Choose Jesus Christ.

The goodness of God is greater than you think

In fact, the goodness of God will never, ever end!

Shalom to you.

Photo credit from Christian Truth Center

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I’ve been heavy-hearted lately as I scrolled down my newsfeed. What used to be a landscape teeming with life has morphed into a valley of the shadow of death. If death welds a sickle, then covid is that sickle.

 

Just the other day, a good friend posted that he had to bring his covid-positive mother to another city because the medical facilities would be better there.  Then another good friend, a pastor whom I dearly love and respect, was stricken with covid himself. Another had to camp outside a hospital waiting for a bed to be vacant.

 

Multiply this several months over, I might as well be reading hospital records. Not all have happy endings. Sometimes the foray into those records leads to the morgue.

 

How to cope? I’ve learned an important secret from a time when Jesus couldn’t mourn a personal loss as He served a large crowd who sought, nay, stalked Him for healing. The on-line equivalent would be posts and PMs bombarding Him for answers, relief, and deliverance.

 

Jesus had just heard that John the Baptist had been beheaded, the grisly outcome of a woman’s machination and her husband’s spinelessness. It may surprise you that Jesus and John were relatives. The popular view is that they were cousins. Their respective mothers, Mary and Elizabeth, were kinswomen.

 

Recall also that John had the unique role of being the long-prophesied forerunner of the Messiah. Jesus Himself lauded John as more than a prophet and that among those born of women, there was none greater than John.

 

Thus, news of John’s execution must have hit Jesus hard. He withdrew by boat to a solitary place. Yet when the crowd learned about His whereabouts, they followed Him on foot, without considering to give Him some me-time.

 

When Jesus saw the crowd, He could have told them off “C’mon guys! Gimme a break!” Lessen men would burn out, even melt down.

 

Prolonged exposure to humanity’s woes would weigh down anyone’s spirit. We see it in the haggard countenances of the front-liners. Where there is doom-scrolling, compassion fatigue won’t be far behind.

 

We also get to wish we can wave some magic wand and make all the pain go away, but are reduced to crying out to God, wondering if He will give the thumbs up or thumbs down. Sure, there are the miracle stories; a person recovers and attributes it to the goodness of God. But what about those who didn’t? What is the logical – and unspeakable – inference? Hey, Christians should be critical thinkers, too.

 

But we see Jesus, His heart breaking for losing John and for the large crowds, the sheep without the shepherd. He reached out. He even fed them; this was the famous feeding of the 5,000, and that’s just the men. Intriguingly, Facebook allows no more than 5,000 friends in your timeline.

 

What’s the secret? It was that Jesus loved the solitary places. It was His time to be alone and be still, to allow Himself to grieve, to commune with His Father.

 

Digital detox is good, but is far better when done in the presence of God. In our own sacred nooks – be it your attic, a park bench, a church sanctuary – there, we can curate our own healing, recover our moorings, and abate any creeping cynicism.

 

The by-product is that I no longer need to dread my FB. As I re-engage my world through FB, I can have the inner resources to comfort, to nurture, to intercede. This comes from drawing from a Well that never runs dry, even though hospitals are running out of beds and oxygen.

 

There are the gray and blah days when we can all use a good cheer. But there is the Good News that Jesus has come to seek and save the lost.

 

Do you know this Jesus?

 

Footnote:
The main passage is Matthew 14. That Mary and Elizabeth were relatives is supported by Luke 1:35. Jesus’s high commendation of John is found in Matthew 11:7-15.

 

​Photo credit from Forbes

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Is covid wearing us down? Do the nights of worry appear endless? Are our hearts fainting from the latest obituary?

 

For some reason, God does not spare us from life’s problems, both trivial and tumultuous. But He does provide a place of safety.  This episode from the Gospels tells us where.

 

It has been a long day. Jesus had been healing the sick among a great multitude which was tailing him and his men. With that finished, Jesus told his disciples to get into a boat and go to the other side of a lake. Then he dismissed the crowd and went to a mountain to pray, all by his lonesome.

 

Meantime, the disciples’ boat ride was no picnic. They were being battered by fierce winds and waves. They were still somewhere on the lake, in the wee hours of the night, straining with all their strength at the oars, yet not getting anywhere! Their hearts must have frozen at the prospect of the boat capsizing and them drowning in the cold murky waters.

 

But that wasn’t what terrified the disciples. It was the sight of Jesus walking towards them… walking on water!

 

“It’s a ghost!” they wailed. Jesus bellowed, “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.”

 

Remember, Jesus was not at the boat, but he was at a mountain, praying. Let us be at rest, assured that he is still praying, this time for you and me.

 

He is neither blind nor unsympathetic to our plight. Endure in the hope that he will come to our rescue, even if he has to walk on water. He will bring the grace to help in his strong arms. He will never be a minute too early or too late.

 

Going back to Jesus, most of us know what happened next. Peter dared to walk on the water towards Jesus. But upon seeing the winds, he panicked and began to sink.

 

Can you imagine Jesus letting him thrash on the water for a while, just to teach him a lesson?

 

Can you hear Peter screaming between gulps, “Je… blub blub blub!… help m…blub blub blub!”

 

But our Lord was no sadist. He immediately caught Peter and together they went to the boat. Keep in mind that Jesus’ strong arms were supporting Peter. Despite the fierce winds and waves, as long as Peter was embraced by those strong arms, he was in the safest place of all the universe.

 

When gushes of doubt and terror assault our hearts, our Lord is there to seize our hands. He will hush the wind and calm the sea. May we soon land at the shore of our heart’s desire.

 

Just remember, when Jesus was holding Peter on their way back to the boat, Peter was in the safest place of all the universe!

 

In much the same way, the storm of the pandemic may still be raging.  We may step out in faith but falter. But as we cry out to the Lord and allow Him to carry us through, we can’t be any safer elsewhere. True safety is in the arms of Jesus!

 

​Photo credit from In His Presence Daily

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Can you talk about Mr. X in his presence? Of course.

 

Can you talk about Mr. X when he is not around? Absolutely! Not always in a good way… but yes.

 

Now look at the same communication from a divine perspective.

 

Can you talk about Mr. X in God’s presence? Yes.

 

Can you talk about Mr. X outside of God’s presence?

 

See the difference? There is no sound-proof booth on earth that works against God. Not that God is a nosy eavesdropper. But He is everywhere and hears everything, even what we whisper in the bedroom or scream over the kitchen table.

 

Here is an important principle: If we please God with our tongue, chances are we please our spouse with our tongue. It is crazy to think that we hurl verbal abuse at our wives and still think God is smiling at us. It is even crazier to speak “God talk” on Sunday — peppering our speech with “Praise the Lord!”, Bible verses and even churchy terms — and spew sarcasm towards our spouse on Monday. Pardon my bluntness, but that is insane!

 

Carol Mayhall said, “I am convinced that if we dwell deep with God, the overflow is going to consistently seep into our conversation.” So how do we cultivate a tongue that pleases God and thus please our spouse?

 

Jesus had that covered. “Out of the abundance of the heart, his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

 

He enumerated the gunk that fills a heart and thus fills a tongue: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean. ” (Mark 7:20-23, see also Matthew 15:17-20).

 

Jesus really laid it out straight, didn’t He? So while we are being told to say this and don’t say that, we are focusing on externals. Why not go to the root and see what is in our hearts? Before you change your speech, change your heart.

 

Do you want to speak to your spouse in a way that pleases God? First, fill your heart with good things. If you continue to stock your heart with emotional trash, then it will be an uphill climb to tame your tongue. But if you fill your heart — better yet, let God fill it for you — then being a wise, gentle and encouraging spouse will be your very nature!

 

We hear of having a vision for our businesses and our marriages. But it also helps to have a vision for our own tongues. What kind of tongue do you want? Be specific, What does it sound like? Here’s what I wrote in mine:

 

A tongue that will refresh other people. People will feel safe to approach me and talk to me, knowing that what I will say has been tempered by God, giving light to his eyes and hope for his heart.

 

I am still a long, long way from my goal. But I pray that as I spend the rest of my life with Lucy, the Lord will tame my tongue to refresh her too, every day.

 

Photo credit from Riverside Christian Reformed Church

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“I worked so hard on that report,” Bob told me, “but when my boss didn’t like it, he threw it away. I mean, literally, he hurled the papers to one side and they landed on the floor. This never happened to me.”

What do we do if we are of relatively humble rank and means… and we are insulted or misunderstood? Integrity is needed in the heat of this kind of battle. We usually think of it as being scrupulously honest or keeping one’s promises. But to suffer offense without sinking to the level of the offender is part of it, too.

 

I have three principles. The first may surprise you.

Get as much physical rest as you can. You may be expecting something spiritual like praying or reading your Bible every morning. But usually the most practical advice is the most spiritual. Experience proves that we are most prone to ill temper when we are physically worn out.

 

So if we remain physically fresh and alert, we have better chance to keep our emotions – and our tongues – in control. Thus, try to get eight hours of good sleep every night. Keep yourself in shape by eating healthy and getting regular exercise.

 

Be utterly convinced that God will make things right at the end. “What kept me under control,” Bob confessed, “is that when my boss was saying all those things, I know that God was in the room and heard it, too. If I answer back, malaking gulo [it will create a big mess]. I was praying silently, ‘Lord, please be the one to vindicate me.’”

 

Let us make up our minds that we have a sovereign and just God, then entrust our reputation in His hands. This doesn’t mean we don’t give our side or tolerate grave abuse. The point is that we should not suppose that it is all up to us to justify ourselves, as if God has abandoned us to fend for ourselves.

 

Repay evil with good. Bob didn’t stop with holding his tongue. Rather than harboring resentment and moping in his cubicle, he remained alert to his boss’ needs and responded readily to new instructions.

 

What eventually happened to Bob? Well, the horrible boss eventually retired, and Bob got a better boss! What’s more, the new boss gave him new opportunities and he prospered in his career.  Imagine what would have happened had Bob retaliated or quit.

 

May we be known as people with integrity amidst insult, because we trust God to make it right in the end.  Just you wait and see.

 

Photo credit from Career Addict

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When our cherished dreams go unfulfilled, in one sense they have died. This is all the more true in this time of covid. That is why we need to reconnect with Easter.

The wonderful news is that death does not have the final word. Christians worldwide celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We believe that He died, was buried and rose from the dead. In this way, He validated His claims to be the Son of God, Lord and Savior of the world.

 

Let us embrace the world as it really is, not as how we want it to be. It is great to dream big and set goals. But reality can be so totally different that it breeds frustration, anger, or despair. It sounds like a big gamble, but sometimes we have to let go of cherished dreams before we can discover loftier ones.

 

I will be honest: it is scary to surrender our failed dreams. Will we be doomed to drift through life? What is in store for us in the future?

 

Dr. Gordon Smith offers this sage advice: “God will lead us every step of the way, but He leads us one step at a time. God knows the end from the beginning, but we in our finiteness can’t even see what lies around the corner.”

 

We cook up great dreams for ourselves, but God has far more wonderful dreams for us. Since He is in full control of people and circumstances, we can be sure His goals for us will come true. We must believe this even if, for the meantime, the path is dark and difficult.

 

Remember, one cannot have Easter without the Cross. Even if our present life is the product of poor choices, God can use even that for our blessing. As long as we entrust ourselves to Him, no failure is final or fatal. In due time, He will redeem even our heartaches and disappointments.

 

Death could have barred Jesus from being with us in our triumphs and tragedies. But the good news of Easter is that He overcame death so that indeed He can be by our side. Not only in this world, but with God for all eternity. May God open doors of blessing for you, just as He opened the door of a tomb that fateful Sunday.

 

Photo credit from Father Kevin Eastbrook

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It was time for the Last Supper. Jesus and His disciples arrived at the room that was prepared for them. In those days, the chief footwear was sandals. After walking along dusty or muddy roads, someone who entered a house would need to have his feet washed.

 

The normal hospitality would be that (1) the host would provide water so that the visitor can wash his feet, (2) the host would be the one to wash the visitor’s feet, or (3) the host would instruct a servant to wash the visitor’s feet. It is said that for option (3), it was the lowliest servant in the household who would do the washing.

 

Now let’s eavesdrop on the Last Supper. When the apostles all arrived at the dining room, surely they saw that all of their footsies needed washing. But each one played dumb and waited for the other guy to offer to wash his feet.

I can even imagine Peter harrumphing, “Ain’t no way I am gonna clean up Thomas’ toes. In fact, he should be washing mine!” Nobody volunteered, so they went on to their dinner with appalling disregard of courtesy, let alone hygiene.

We are further told that the apostles were arguing who among themselves was the greatest. Think about that for a moment. Jesus was about to die an excruciating, horrible death. And here are these guys bickering who would be Top Banana of the bunch.

Then, to their amazement, Jesus — their Teacher who cast out demons, healed the sick, multiplied fish and loaves and even raised dead people — took off His outer garments, wrapped a towel around His waist, stooped down and began to wash each of their smelly, dirty feet.

Why did Jesus do that? Well, the very first verse of John 13 said it all: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”

What can we learn? A lover does not ignore the beloved’s need. Jesus saw the need for the disciples’ feet to be washed. The disciples ignored it and expected the other guy to do the washing. But Jesus didn’t just let it pass. He took action.

A lover finds no task beneath him. But here’s what’s even more mind-blowing:  Jesus loves us to the end, too. But this time He didn’t use water…

Photo credit: Payton Minzenmeyer

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I recently read this the story of African-American singer Marian Anderson. She started in a poor section of Philadelphia and sang in a church choir. People saw her innate talent and raised one hundred twenty-six dollars in pennies, nickels and dimes (remember these are poor people) to send her to voice lessons.

 

At eighteen, she sought to be mentored by a famous instructor but was rejected. She then sang in a town-hall concert but received scathing reviews from the critics. There was one time in Washington, D.C. where she was barred from singing because of the color of her skin.

 

Anderson wallowed in self-pity until her mother said, “Marian, I want you to think about your troubles and your failures a little—and pray a lot.” Then the mother said something she never forgot: “Marian, you must learn that grace comes before greatness.”

 

In time, Marian Anderson became a famous opera singer, performing for the Eisenhowers and their guests in the White House. She was also appointed a delegate to the United Nations and received a Medal of Freedom. These happened because she took her mother’s lessons to heart.

 

In this Holy Week, what are the lessons we must take to heart? The Bible is laden with encouragements and promises about grace before greatness. Here are but a few:

· “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12).

· “Let us not become weary of doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

· “Consider [Jesus] who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:3)

 

Devotional writer Stephen Davey reminds us, “Learning to fail, yet to persevere, comes as we learn to live a life of faith. Times of trial are not only necessary to teach us humility, but they remind us where our true possessions lie—in Christ. What better example than Christ—the Model—who shows us that grace comes before greatness…. humility before honor.”

 

Take time to ponder at Jesus Christ, Who went through astonishing opposition and difficulties, even the ignoble death on the cross. You may be in a very exasperating period of your career or of your life altogether.

 

But even painful times are a gift from God. He specializes in redeeming the pain, if you will learn the lessons well. In time, that crown of thorns on your own head will be transformed to a crown of honor.

 

P.S. That’s Marian Anderson in the top photo.

Photo credit: Philadelphia Magazine

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