Saturday, January 30, 2010

Before the Big Speech

This is a continuation of my personal commentary on the book of Matthew.  

In chapter 4 Jesus began his ministry.  He called the disciples and began preaching and healing people from their sicknesses.  Those who were following John the Baptist shifted their worship to Jesus, just like what John encouraged them to do.  The crowd got larger and seemed to be constantly anticipating for what Jesus had to say.  By tradition the Jews tell stories to their children and family for that matter.  Every Jew has heard the stories about Abraham, Moses, and all their forefathers and their sojourn in the wilderness with God.  This time the crowd sensed that Jesus offered a twist from what they've been used to hearing.  His style also evoked authority which is unlike the other rabbis they've listened to.  Beyond his stories and manner of speaking, He also healed the sick.  All these fueled their curiosity even further.   They might have wondered, "Who is this man?"  There was no doubt this crowd was ready to absorb any announcement that Jesus would tell them. 

He Saw the Crowds
Jerusalem at this point in time, has been under the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire.  If you remember when Jesus was born, King Herod, knowing that he was not the legitimate king of the Jews, was threatened when the Magi said that the true King has been born.  If we start calculating from a milestone that we all are familiar with - the birth of Jesus, and given that Jesus is now a teacher himself, were talking more than thirty years of not having a ruler of their own.  They've heard about the coming of their king and Jesus appears to be the one who has been prophesied to come and save them.  Now they are all ears to Him.

"Now when he saw the crowds..."  Jesus saw the crowds.  Have you ever wondered what He saw in the crowds of people who were following Him?  These were people who had a taste of Jesus' preaching and healing.  They were people from various walks of life.  Jesus, aware of this diversity in His audience, decided to address the people's plight to prepare them to listen to the rest of what he had to say.
Most of the people following Him were in what one would consider a dead end situation.  They must have been in such predicament for their lives with no hope of change in sight.   In the crowd were teachers of the law and scribes who looked forward to the day when the political situation is reversed.  They hoped that they would have dominion over their Roman enemies.  They longed to have control over the economy of their own land.   Some of them were poor with nothing, fishermen, or carpenters, etc. who hoped that someday their social status would be elevated.  Their minds were full of thoughts of abundant food, life of ease and comfortable homes as the mansions that their conquerors lived in.  Maybe they even thought of having a different outfit for the day other than their one and only robe which they used as comforter at night.  In their minds was a picture of themselves in costly robes as they've seen their Roman conquerors were wearing.  There were those who were mourning having lost family from whatever cause.   Christian artist, Jason Gray, calls them in his song, "All the Lovely Losers."  They were people who were poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness.  Some of them are those who were helping those in need: merciful; pure in heart; peacemakers and those who are persecuted for righteousness.   Jesus saw these in the crowd a picture of hopeful people longing for change.

He Went Up On a Mountain Side...
What did Jesus do when He saw the crowd?  "He went up on a mountain side..."   Jesus made Himself visible to everyone so that they would hear Him.  This was very important, He had a message.  His message was not predictable.  Everyone had to have the chance to hear Him carefully.  In these days this would be translated as having stood on a stage or platform equipped with a top-of-the-line sound system.  Without instructions given, all phones were silenced.  Everyone looked up to Him with anticipation.

...and He Sat Down
After seeing everything, He positioned Himself to address them.  What was striking here is that He did not just spoke to them as a teacher but someone who was one of them.   Jesus joined the people where they are. This I would think is an expression of His deep compassion for the people. He was not going to stand there and teach the people.  His feelings dictated his actions to take a different course..."and He sat down."  Remember that this event happened in a place where the Jews considered it self-defiling to walk the road the Samaritans walked.  However, Jesus from the very beginning was already different and this was not the time to be a slave to tradition.  He sat with the people just like a friend to a friend, His hands on their shoulders saying, "I see you and I'm here for you." 

Jesus was very deliberate with His actions and manners.  He came as an expression of God's love to His people and He lived that way. 

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Daily Ponderings: Malachi 4:1-2

"Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire," says the LORD Almighty. "Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings." ~ Malachi 4:1-2
Stubble:  the basal part of herbaceous plants remaining attached to the soil after harvest.

by Helen Lewis

Once upon a life
A plant so full of potential
Now decapitated by the enemy
You have lost all your senses

Ruin has become your path
You have lost control of what you'd become
Your ability to drink life is lost
The light had ceased to be a gift of energy

You're a standing corpse
Constantly deteriorating
Moisture from the rain and dew
Now support those that seek your destruction

Life has left you
Your roots now refuse to anchor
And leaves withdraw from light and warmth
Your choice and influence are no more

With winter and rain...
Your chance is decay
With summer and heat
Your chance is fire and destruction

Soon no more
Just like him who is arrogant and an evildoer
Soon its ashes trampled by the righteous
And become dust under his feet

Made to be a hand of your maker
To give shelter and love
Now you're ashes - trampled,
Blown away and forgotten

I call on the Lord: awake my soul
Lest I'll be harvested by the enemy
Fill me with living water
And open my heart to the light that gives life.
~ o ~

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Daily Ponderings: Exodus 20:20

 "Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning." ~ Exodus 20:20
Two days ago, after a long period of contemplating, I offered to perform one little task for a ministry at church. This task is new for me and it would stretch me.  John Ortberg said in his video, "It All Goes Back in the Box", that when we try to get out of our comfort zone we expose our strengths and weaknesses.  Now I sit in the scary situation of scrutiny.  And who is my greatest critic but my own.  At this point my weaknesses flood my mind and I see my strengths disappearing.  Even as I wait to see if I will be allowed to do it, I feel like I'm now an open target.  Deep inside a part of me says I should withdraw my offer; the other side says to stop being an observer and get in the salt mines.  I am aware that there are many people who are more capable to do the job and maybe this is not where I should be.  If it turns out that someone else should do the job, then I will still have progressed myself by having been forced to look at my own weakness in terms of my attitude and acknowledging that I need to be transformed; to get rid of the things that are between me and God. 

Father, your words are so true and they guide me.  Help me to obey You with trembling.  Teach me not to be afraid of the things of lesser consequence for You are with me.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Daily Ponderings: Ecclesiates 3:1-8

A Time for Everything
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
 Life on earth is seasonal.  That's what this one long sentence tells us.  Seasons change to allow life to complete a necessary cycle.  For most plants, winter brings life to rest as spring brings all the vigor of life back.  Some plants die so that new seeds can develop.  This is God's design. 

In this life, we seem to favor stability because it makes us feel secure.  On the other hand, change threatens us because it brings us into an unknown situation.  Our natural reaction is to overcompensate for the change in an attempt to make us more prepared for any future change.  We buy insurance policies when we experience disaster; we hoard stuff when we foresee a shortage; we get a face lift when our facial skin elongates to touch the ground; dye our hair when they gray, we go green (change the bags we use) to save the earth from global warming, etc.  No matter what we do to prevent them, as King Solomon found out, it is a chasing after the wind.   In reality it is the seasonal changes in our lives that make us stronger and better prepared for any change.  The seasons of life are laid by God to make His creation know that He is God.  He manages the world and all that is in it.  He makes all things beautiful in His time.

I believe that the above verses in Ecclesiastes were written for us so that we will not entertain fear when changes happen in our lives.  Does your boss upset you?  Does your job frustrate you today?  Nothing is new to God.  All things that are happening now, He already had seen them happen before.   It is God's design that we should trust and depend on Him so that we can live in peace.  Be still...He is in control.

Father, hold me as I walk this life.  Help me to appreciate your blessings in every season and teach me to follow your lead.  Teach me to choose well regardless of my circumstances. 

Monday, January 18, 2010

Daily Ponderings: Malachi 1:13b-14

"When you bring injured, crippled or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?" says the LORD.  "Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king," says the LORD Almighty, "and my name is to be feared among the nations. ~ Malachi 1:13b-14
Offering sacrifice has been a part of the old world since time immemorial.  For the monotheistic Hebrew people, animal sacrifices were made as an offering of thanksgiving for blessing such as rainfall, good harvest, birth of a child, etc.  Sometimes they were made to make God happy or to appease Him for sins they had committed.  The animals offered were not your ordinary animal from the herd; they were the best of the best.  God was very particular about this.  Remember Cain and Abel?  Cain brought "some of the fruits of the soil" while his brother, Abel, brought "fat portions from some of the firstborn from his flock".   God is not going to settle for the ordinary because He is God.

In this day and age, what do we offer to God as sacrifice?  Since we neither bring our first harvest from our crops nor the firstborn from our flock, what are the things that we offer to God then?   Theoretically, this is very easy.  We've heard it preached in the pulpit many times; bring your tithes and offerings to the house of the Lord.  So we write a check and assume that our job is done.  Sorry to disappoint you but the scripture says that that's not enough.  We are urged to bring our bodies, holy and acceptable, as offering to God.  For our bodies to be acceptable to Him, we need to be in the best of our best behavior and doing the best of our best deeds.  It says in Malachi that if you still can do better than what you're already giving or doing then you are cheating God and He is very put out.

Oh my Holy God, I am yours.  Teach me daily to strive towards holiness.  Help me to do my very best for you and for others for this is pleasing to you.  I cannot do this on my own, so help me.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Guide To Starting Your Ministry

This is a continuation of my personal commentary on the book of Matthew as a result of my ponderings.  I'd like to point out here that I am indeed enjoying this exercise.  It is exciting to see how certain verses which I already have read before are now showing me something new.  The problem is writing my thoughts in English.  I seem to think in Ilocano (my native dialect) and yet, having been detached from that culture for twenty years, I can't speak straight Ilocano anymore.  I'm linguistically messed up. :) That should explain a lot of things, ha! 

John's ministry was in full swing.  People were confessing their sins and repenting.  He was preparing the way for the coming Messiah.  Jesus on the other hand was already at the right age to begin in ministry.  He has publicly shown His obedience by submitting Himself in baptism and survived Satan's temptation without blemish.  Jesus was preaching here and there but John was still the superstar.

Reading verses 12-17 we can trace the model that Jesus adopted in launching His ministry.  The model may be old but it is applicable and worth considering in this day and age.

Step 1.  Put yourself under an authority
Remember that John the Baptist was the pioneer evangelist.  He was the first one telling people to repent and announcing coming of the Great One in this story.  When his ministry was fruitful, Jesus did not try to take the leadership role by competing with him; he stayed behind John but not idly.  He supported John and he got busy preparing Himself for the right time.  He worked on His personal "spiritual infrastructure".  

It is often difficult to put ourselves behind someone who is less than us.  Our tendency is to fight our way into that role by competition or indifference.  Jesus' example speaks humility.  In humility we shrink ourselves so that life might be more beautiful - a Helenist definition.

Step 2.  Step in when the need arises.
Verse 12 indicates the event that prompted Jesus to step in.  John has been imprisoned and his ministry is now jeopardized.  He moved from Nazareth to where John was preaching in greater Galilee.  He was prepared and ready.  Notice that he continued from where John left off.  He preached the same message, "Repent..."  Sometimes in our desire to make a mark, we change things for our personal promotion.  May it be that we will always remember the reason that we've been called, regardless of the magnitude of the responsibility that we have.

Step 3.  Organize your team
After Jesus positioned Himself for the ministry, the next thing He did was to organize His team.  He called those whose hearts were already prepared.  It would be hard to ask anybody to do something that they themselves are not convinced of.  Since we can't all be ministry leaders, most of us would play the team players.  To the team players, here's what to consider:
  • The call requires commitment (v. 19)
  • Your commitment is a sign of your obedience (v.20)
  • In obedience adjustment in your priorities is necessary (v.22)

Step 4.  Do the work the right way
Jesus preached in the synagogues, the traditional place of teaching.   He not only taught the people in order to heal them spiritually with his messages but he also healed them physically from their sicknesses.  This is the way to reach those who are lost.  Spiritual transformation is foremost of our objectives, but no less is involvement in meeting their needs.  Sometimes our ministry is obstructed by our unwillingness to care and serve those who we minister to.  We act as if our job is only limited to teaching them the words of God per se, rather than a way of life. We are supposed to teach them how to put these teachings into action by the way we live.  This is called discipleship. 

Jesus Christ came in this world in human form so He could teach us how to live.  Now I encourage you to use your imagination... what did it require for Christ to become a man and live among us?  It required a lot of love and humility.  Love and humility are also required from us when doing any work for God.  This is not an easy thing to do, knowing our human tendencies, but the scripture says, " on towards the goal to win the prize for which God called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Phil 3:14).

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti: Letter from Shelley

My friend Shelley Actis wrote an email this morning regarding Haiti.  She gave me the permission to post it here. 

"Dear Friends and Family- Thank you for all of your prayers as I traveled recently to Haiti. Praise God that He brought me home safely 6 days ahead of the earthquake. The Haiti that I left last Thursday, is simply not the Haiti that stands today. Please continue to pray without ceasing for the loved ones that were left in the wake. It has become so much more real to me having just been there and getting to spend time with those precious people. Praise God that the missionaries and families that I got to work with are all safe!! Some of their friends and extended family members have not been reached as of yet. Pray for His peace to pierce their hearts until they receive word. Port au Prince was once a city of hope, where people would flock in search of a better life. This came at a great cost, leaving behind loved ones in the villages, living on a pittance and in horrible conditions all in the hope of finding a better future. Praise God that He gave us a human spirit with great resiliency. Pray that He will raise up Godly workers to intercede on the Haitians behalf. I had the privilege to work alongside some of those precious workers while I was there. Kristie and Jean Jean Mompremier with UCI are missionaries there that are in the process of packing up their school bus with supplies and making the 6 hour trek to help out. If God so lays it on your heart to help out with those efforts, I can ensure you that your donations will be used with the utmost care. You can visit their website  to get to know them further and put a face with your prayers. Thank you for all the love and prayers that you have poured out to me, I deeply appreciate each and every one of you in my life.  Love in Christ,  Shelley"
 Shelley and Matt Actis are missionary appointees to Columbia along with their four daughters.  They plan to leave for the field in July.  We've worked hand in hand in Belize in the summer of 2008.  Since then, they've worked in Haiti as team leaders.  Leaving his job as a high school teacher in Clovis, Matt is preparing his family to move to Columbia to work as full-time missionaries. 

Daily Ponderings: Psalm 18:2

The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. ~ Psalm 18:2

An injured Haitian boy: Scared and holding tightly on what's left
  (Photo from BBC News- January 14, 2010)

Yesterday we heard about the catastrophic earthquake that shook Haiti.  Today the world gets a glimpse of the extent of devastation on so many lives.  Why does God allow these things to happen?

Like a father to his son, God is constantly trying to get our attention as we tread this life.  When we begin to get distracted or when our attention is focused away from Him, He makes His almighty presence known to us.  He does this in big and small ways so that we go back to Him like a child to his father and say, "You are my refuge and my deliverer." 

When everything is gone and life seems hopeless, my God, you are my shield and hope.  Father, take our Haitian brothers and sisters under your wings. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Daily Ponderings: 1 Peter 2:9

 "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."  ~ 1 Peter 2:9
 If you are a follower of Christ, by God's grace you have been granted permission to approach your God directly.  Indeed you are a priest.

In the days of Moses, priests were a special group of people who were designated to offer animal sacrifices to God.  Animals were brought to the temple by the people for the forgiveness of their sins.  However, when Jesus Christ died on the cross He offered the one and perfect sacrifice for all.  He offered His own blood (not of an animal) that qualified you and me to become a child of the Most Holy God.  Now therefore, out of gratitude for this new life, we are called to offer our bodies as living sacrifices.  It is no longer poured-out-blood that pleases Him but a holy life that honors His name. 

 My God, how then shall I live this life?  Grant me wisdom and understanding so that I will choose to please you.  Your word is a lamp to my feet and the light for my path....

Sunday, January 10, 2010

River to Desert

Rivers or any stream of water is often used in the bible to symbolize an environment of abundant provision (Psalm 1:3) and of life (Revelation 22:1).  Things that sustain life seem to be available near the river.  Life is easy and enjoyable with little to crave for.  Back in chapter 3 of Matthew we saw the dramatic convergence of the Holy Trinity by the Jordan River.  John the Baptist, who was of the same faith, was with Him.  John's fans, who were prepared to accept Jesus, were there.  It was at the river where the Spirit came down to join Him.  It was at the river where the Father announced His approval of Jesus.  Emotionally, this was indeed a high-moment for Him.

Chapter four brings Jesus to a different setting and audience.  He was brought to the desert to be tempted by--who else--Satan.  The desert is a place of scarcity and adversity.  Very few consumable life-forms exist there and those that happen to be in the area are all focused on survival and the fight for whatever is available.  Some life forms are naturally adapted to the desert and call it their home.  Those that thrive in there are equipped with specialized  survival mechanisms.  The desert is not a place for wimps. Great effort is required to withstand the adverse environment.  The desert is where Jesus was brought to shortly after His emotional-high moment.   I've wondered why was it necessary for verses 1-11 to be written in the gospel?   What am I to learn from Jesus' experience?

Jesus modelled the way to deal with temptation and He was subjected to the most extreme scenario.  When I was still doing plant research, I was trained to judiciously choose treatments in my experiments that would reveal the greatest effect in order to show the trend with clear drama.  A trained scientist would see the slightest change in plant behavior but to the general eye it might seem like nothing.  Jesus was exposed to an extreme situation so that all we could see His point clearly.  In the previous chapter, He showed us the way to live in a place of abundance and comfortable provision.  Then, in these verses, He shows us the way to live so as to withstand scarcity and adversity.  We can use these extremes to figure out our God-approved response. 

Temptation 1.  His spiritual position is challenged against His physical need.

"If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread."
Jesus has been fasting. Forty days without food nor water is awfully long. He was dehydrated, and depleted of whatever was in his system prior to fasting. In His human form, there is no doubt He was at the verge of dying. Photographs by the National Geographic magazine of people dying of hunger are close to what I imagine Jesus looked during this period. There would have been very little physical strength left.
Satan did not deny that Jesus was the Son of God.  He merely asked Jesus to prove it by using His power to turn stones into bread.  He was aware that Jesus is fully empowered and that He can do anything if He decides.  Instead, He said,  'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.' 

Jesus, hungry and thirsty,  responds to the sweet temptation of food by quoting the scriptures.  The right things He knew and believed before his circumstances changed still remain.    In his faintest vocal strength He made it loud and clear that bread is not enough.  Satisfying our physical need is not the sole necessity in maintaining life.  Live on-there is more to life than food.
Temptation 2.  His Spiritual position is challenged against his pride

"If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: "'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'"
Satan, knowing that Jesus was keen on conforming to the scriptures, incorporated some scriptural truths in his appeal to Jesus. Again, he acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God and yet he invites Him to prove His influence by throwing Himself down. After all, he says, the angels are all at attention waiting to do something for you. They won't even let you touch a stone. Whenever we become vulnerable in any way, we tend to camouflage it by unleashing our remaining strength. Back in my younger years, I was a member of a club called "Dress Up Nicely When Broke." The idea here was to protect personal pride. This was exactly what Satan wanted Jesus to succumb to. 

"It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" When He said this, Jesus is probably extremely weak and barely holding Himself up.  I remember a time when my family was on a six-hour layover in Frankfurt from Istanbul.  The airport was extremely busy all the seats were occupied.  I ached to find a place to sit and lay my back on anything solid.   Satan's invitation to a comfortable alternative to a chaise lounge was painfully inviting.  And yet Jesus, standing on His wobbly knees from starvation, turns to Satan, maintains his righteous obedience to God, and rejects his offer.

Temptation 3.  His spiritual position is challenged against material glory.

"All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me."
Finally, Satan tests Jesus with the ultimate weakness of men - control of vast material glory.  Coincidentally, Satan, as he lures Jesus to fall, also reveals what he desire to have.  He wanted Jesus to come on his side.  He wanted Jesus to shift His allegiance to him.  But Jesus said, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'"

Satan failed and yet he continues to pursue those who follow Jesus.   Make sure therefore that if you choose now, choose the winning side - Jesus. 

Jesus had a very clear pattern in the way He responded to temptation.  God remained as the standard of His righteousness.  Jesus persisted in obedience regardless of His condition.  When exposed to adverse circumstances, He acted according to what He believed. 

Temptation is part of living.  We are shaken all the time; sometimes the impact is harder than other times.  Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger III, before landing the Airbus A320 in the Hudson River in January 15, 2009 had only one thing to say to the 155 passengers to protect themselves from the unexpected event: "Brace for Impact!"  Temptation shows itself before it affects us but it is important to identify it sooner to allow time to brace yourself.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Single Story = Stereotype

Stereotypes are incomplete, oversimplified opinions based on prior assumptions.  Stereotypes are labels given to a situation, group of people or individual.  Having lived in three different countries, I must admit that I have been both a culprit and victim of this dangerous mistake.  Fortunately, I had the opportunity to find out for myself some truth behind the lies that I've convinced myself to believe. 

With little information at my disposal, I believed that American missionaries living in the Philippines were those who could not make it financially in the States.  Living in a developing country would elevate their status.  What a noble way to look and feel rich, I thought.  When I met Tim he was a short term missionary.  I can't forget a conversation we had when I asked, for some reason I can't remember, how much money he had.  His response was, "Yes, I have four hundred dollars in the bank."  For this story to make sense, I should say that at the time of this conversation, I was an independent person, working on my PhD dissertation, with a good job and satisfactory income.  His response confirmed my original opinion about missionaries.  Years later and after we got married, I found out the other financial story of people going on a mission when we as a couple applied to go and become full time missionaries to another country.  Tim had to quit his good-paying-job as a computer programmer to go begging churches for support.  Missionaries in fact can be those who are financially self-sufficient people with a goal to serve others and to please God in humility.  There was no better way for me to learn this truth than becoming a missionary "appointee". 

Based on prior assumption, when one disagrees with us we oversimplify the reason by saying that the other person dislikes us.  That is but one possible story.  Could it be that the other person sees something within my blind spot and that to disagree with me is a mere expression of concern?  To come up with an original closer-to-truth opinion, find out about the other story.  Research always reveal the unknown or unimagined.  Without it, we allow ourselves to live in a bubble of half truths or lies. 

Get a cup of coffee before watching this video for a more enjoyable viewing experience.  :)

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Resolve

A Resolve*
 For Every Morning of the New Year... I will this day try to live a simple sincere and serene life repelling promptly every thought of discontent, anxiety, discouragement, impurity and self-seeking cultivating cheerfulness, magnanimity, charity, and the habit of holy silence exercising economy in expenditure, carefulness in conversation diligence in appointed service, fidelity to every trust and a child-like trust in God . *From a 100-year old post card courtesy of my friend Soni Gaurano.
 This quote is very inspiring.  It was probably written by someone who thought about life so carefully.  This person longed for significance.   On the contrary, we live in a culture where we are encouraged to resolve to change our own situation in order to change the way we feel about ourselves.  

Recent polls listed the Top Ten New Year's Resolutions as follows:
1.  Spend More Time With Family and Friends
2.  Fit in Fitness
3.  Tame the Bulge
4.  Quit Smoking
5.  Enjoy Life More
6.  Quit Drinking
7.  Get Out of Debt
8.  Learn Something New
9.  Help Others
10 Get Organized

I see an obvious problem with this list; only one (#9) is not self-focused  The rest all seem selfish.

Our relationships almost always determine the way we live.  The way we relate with our God and the people around us make us either content or wanting.  Therefore if I can change the way I live so that I would love more- God, family, neighbors, those I encounter in my walk - then I believe that life can yet become significant.

Love never fails. ~ 1 Cor. 13:8a

Friday, January 1, 2010

Fearless John The Baptist

This is a continuation of my commentary on the book of Matthew as a result of my personal devotion.

Sermon of John the Baptist by Jan Brueghel the Elder

Decades have passed after Jesus was born; a man named John became the focus of attention in all of Judea.   In many ways, this man was very special.  He's sticky in the sense that once you met him you can't get rid of the thought of him.  This man is the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, now turned into a superstar.  He was John the Baptist, the pioneer evangelist; the man who paved the way for Jesus. 

John was Unique 
He was not your ordinary guy who would just conform to the world in order for his ministry to succeed.  He carried himself in unconventional manner.  Often times, Christians try to be like the people they minister to.  It was not the case for John; he made himself different and he stuck out.  

  1. Location for his ministry - The Dessert of Judea (v.1):  John did not teach in the traditional places like the synagogues or at the city gates.
  2. Clothing - Camel's hair with leather belt (v. 4):  I think that wool and linen were the traditional materials.
  3. Food - He ate locust and honey (v. 4):  Not a real vegetarian
  4. He attracted people not only so people would listen to him but also they subjected themselves to baptism and confession (v. 5-6)
  5. He recognized those whose with wrong intentions (v. 7-10)
  6. He was not afraid to tell the truth.
JKF once said that conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.  We often do what is already established and shun the opportunity to break them at the expense of progress.

John had a Message 
Produce in keeping with your repentance (v. 8):  John made a clear point that repentance results in something.  Repentance is not just a concept to assimilate; instead it is a process that causes change.  Repentance is not proclaimed by words but rather announced by the transformation that it yielded to. 

Beware, your genes cannot save you  (v. 9):  He said to the Pharisees and Sadducees,  who were clothed in obvious superiority, that it is not enough that they are related to Abraham in order to be considered righteous.  Abraham pleased God through his faith and obedience therefore the same standard will be applied to his offspring.  John said that God does not need Abraham's biological offspring to fulfill His promise.  (For us who are not connected to the Jewish lineage, this is the very hope that we hold unto.) 
The Great One is coming to save you (v.11-12):  John's ministry was booming.  He was undoubtedly a celebrity in his time.  He had fans following him wherever he went.  In his position it would have been easy to wallow in his success and forget his purpose but he did not.  At the peak of his career, he announced to his fans that he is not the man.  He told them that the Great One is coming.  The Great One has power beyond him that he is does not even qualify to be His valet.  How many time have we seen people who when they get to the top forget that there is a ceiling above them.  But John was different, he knew his limits and it was not for him to hide.  He paved the way for Jesus to start his ministry by preparing the hearts of the people.  He contrasted himself against Jesus (v.11-12) to allow his followers to consider him correctly so that Jesus would get the appropriate glory.

When God puts us in a position of power, He wants us to exercise it to the fullest without forgetting our original purpose and our relationship with Him.

John Dunks Jesus into the River
Baptism is derived from the Greek word bapto or baptizo which means to wash or to immerse.  In slow-motion picture imagine this:  John holds Jesus' crossed arms tucked against His chest with one hand.  The other hand support His back just like the way your pastor does in your bath-tub size baptismal...  Wait a minute.  If baptism is a representation of death to old self and rising anew, then I would imagine something more splashy than that.  If submitting to baptism was considered an act of obedience then it must have required more struggle than pinching your nose to avoid inhaling water and changing your clothes later on.  I'm imagining John tripping Jesus.  He falls into the water while John makes sure that he is all the way immersed.   Jesus struggles for balance and air before he stands up.   I am not really sure about it because they were not recorded in the bible.  One thing is sure, when Jesus came out of the water; whoever was there witnessed something sensational.   It was more dramatic than watching from an IMAX theatre with complete surround sound effect.  The heaven opened and the Spirit of God came down and it lighted on Jesus.  Then God announced, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." 

The chapter ends with the physical appearance of the Holy Trinity in one place.  We see Jesus being filled by the Holy Spirit.  God the Father with his own voice authenticates His relationship with Jesus and His pleasure towards Him.  Authority, title, and honor have just been given Him. This scene reminds me of the recent knighthood of Patrick Stewart.   Interestingly, these events mark the preparation of Jesus for His ministry.  At this point He is given the power and authority that He needed to carry out His mission.

January 1, 2010

The year 2010 begins now.  May God be with us all throughout this new year.  May He bless us with wisdom, health, love and many more beyond what we can imagine! 

Happy New Year!