Oaks of righteousness

The prophet of Isaiah uses some powerful images of God’s strength in our lives.  One such image in Isaiah 61:3, the prophet says his people will be called “trees (or oaks) of righteousness, the planting of the Lord to display his glory.” God’s righteousness is compared to oak trees. Oak trees are big and strong. They withstand strong winds and still remain rooted and unmoved.

Throughout our lives, we will face many challenges. Sometimes, the pressures we might face can be insurmountable. It feels like we are going to fall. We might feel like giving up. If you’ve had some ethical dilemmas where you had to make tough choices, sometimes, we might make some wrong choices in life, and there is guilt and shame.

As people who need forgiveness and redemption, we don’t want these pressures, our sin, guilt and shame to take us down. In these times, God can give us strength to stand up under the pressures. It’s not in our own power or might, but it’s under God’s righteousness. God’s strength and righteousness can hold you up and be your source of strength.

We can rely on God’s righteousness, confess our sins and trust that God forgives.  Then, like a strongly rooted tree we are under the attentive care of the strong and mighty arm of the Lord Almighty.

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God prunes us like a gardener

I’ve planted tomatoes, squash, and other vegetables in past seasons. This year, nothing. Only a raspberry bush that had already been growing. Like a good gardener, I pruned it and tended to it carefully. As a result, I got to harvest some ripe and sweet raspberries. Branches that did not grow fruit needlessly took up nutrients that otherwise could be used by branches that do bear fruit. I snipped these off.

The Gospel of John talked of gardening. In John 15:1-4, Jesus said,

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.”

Jesus is like a vine in a plant/tree; Father God is like a gardener who tends the garden. A good gardener must prune and cut out branches that do not flower and bear fruit in order to give more nutrients to the rest of the other branches on the tree/plant. Why? So that nutrients can be redirected to branches that are growing fruit. More nutrients means more fruit. This passage made sense to me because I have done pruning which helped the plant grow more fruit. My personal experience gardening gave a better understanding of the writer’s intent in John 15:1-8.

Does this mean that we might also need some pruning in our lives? Sometimes, we might feel unfruitful in our personal ministry and life. This might mean that our personal lives needs a little pruning. Do you see areas of your lives where things might be distracting your attention from spiritual growth? If you do, God may be speaking to you about needing to do some gardening in your personal life. God has recently spoken to me about this in my own life.

We are his sheep and know his voice

How many Christians can say that we know God’s voice? We don’t necessarily hear an audible voice but we ought to recognize the Holy Spirit speaking to us in our hearts (inner being).

Jesus said in 10:4 “…his sheep follow him because they know his voice”). Contrast this with v.12-13

The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”(John 10:12-13, NIV)

In today’s world, who might be represented by the hired hand? There are lots of other voices in this world telling us what we ought to believe and how we should think.  But they don’t really care about us.

Jesus is like the true shepherd because he owns us.  We belong to Jesus and we ought to know his voice.  “Hired hands” might claim they speak on behalf of God but they do not truly care about us.  They may speak some truths and say things we may agree with.  But their hearts are not for us as God’s heart is for his own children.  We follow Jesus, our Father and our guide (Spirit).

“Lord, thank you for being my father. I belong to you; and I follow no other.  I may hear the voices of this world, but these voices are not your voice. Give me discernment so that I may recognize your voice and not be confused with the voices of the world.  Amen.”

Walking in the light

jesus-light3Jesus was teaching Nicodemus about living in the light and being born again into the kingdom of God.  He said in the Gospel of John, ch. 3:20-21,“Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God” (NIV).

As human beings, all of us fear being exposed of our sinful or unlawful acts because we feel shameful of our sinful acts, habits or practices. We are guilty of breaking the moral, and even, civil laws given to us by God or society. But if we enter into the merciful courts of God’s presence, there is nothing God cannot delete from His list of our wrongs.

Walking in the light of Christ means that we are to daily confess to God all our sins—yes, telling God everything we have done, said, or thought, that day or week. It means exposing everything to God means we are walking in safety—not in fear like walking on hot coals.

But what if our fear overtakes us and we run and hide away from God’s light?  The Holy Spirit wants us to learn to trust that it is safe to expose our sins to God and to trust that God’s grace is always forever merciful. The Spirit wants us to have more courage and boldness to walk in the light of Christ.  Yes, this is a hard thing to do.  Even though I have been a Christians for decades, I still find it a constant challenge for me to trust that God and man can be merciful. Perhaps it comes from my Asian heritage, which is a shame-based culture.

Prayer: Lord, constantly be my lighthouse to shine into my darkness so that I may contemplate my sins within your perimeter of light and become cleansed by your gift of forgiveness.

Wear God’s righteousness like a robe

Isaiah61:10 the prophet uses an image to speak of God’s righteousness (also 2 Cor. 5:21; Job 29:14; Rev. 19:8):

“For he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

God’s righteousness is a powerful image of God covering people with his righteousness, which is compared to a robe. We can wear God’s righteousness like a robe. Allowing his robe of righteousness wrap around you is like allowing the Lord love you. No more having to try to earn your righteousness by being better. God’s salvation and righteousness doesn’t work that way. God wants us to be so comfortable and secure in God’s righteousness that it should feel like we are wearing it like our own clothes. Wear God’s righteousness like your everyday clothing, like blue jeans and your favourite piece in your wardrobe.

Isaiah’s image means that the Lord’s righteousness sits as beautiful and naturally as a garland or crown on your head, or like jewels that signifies how you are loved and significant you are. What makes us regal and sons and daughters of God is not our own human strength. It’s about God and his righteousness. When we truly believe it and practice it in our daily lives, it can transform your outlook on life. Why?

1/ God’s righteousness erases your guilt and shame and you won’t need to care about the accuser who wants to lay more guilt, and sin on your conscience.

2/ You don’t need to prove to be someone you are not. You don’t need to pretend because God loves you and accepts you just as you are. Total acceptance. God’s grace and mercy is sufficient for you and you know it.

Happy Father’s Day

It was nice to get kisses from my daughter today in church.  I lost count how many she gave me.  I’m not a perfect Dad and I admit it, but I still get kisses anyway.  Fatherhood can be the most wonderful thing a man can experience, especially when we fathers love our children.  Sometimes we fail. We all  have our shortcomings but we are blessed we have a Father in heaven who redeems and gifts us with mercy when we do fail.  St. John Chrysostom said: “God loves us more than a father, mother, friend, or any else could love, and even more than we are able to love ourselves.”  When we follow God who loves us with a perfect love, He gives us fathers a fresh start every day.  Happy Father’s Day!

God’s calling is really about God

jesusfishermenMany church-going Christians seem disengaged today… disengaged in the sense that we are not living out an engaged relationship with Christ within the church.  Most Christians never move from the pew to service; but God calls each Christian to move into some form of service to Christ within, and outside, the church.  God gives us an internal “spiritual” calling to love and serve the Lord.

Many Christians become wrapped up in fear and a sense of inadequacy, and put up a wall between God and his calling. We feel more comfortable keeping God and His calling a safe distance from ourselves.  Why? Because we’ve been deceived  into thinking that it ought to begin with ourselves.  Today’s popular theology unwittingly teaches that this calling is about us… but it’s really NOT about us.  We are only participants but we act like we are the “star players in the game” of service and ministry.

One reason for our fears of inadequacy is that we think we have to measure up to God’s standards of holiness.  God’s calling is a holy calling.  We haven’t seriously considered God’s holy calling for what it really is because we think we have to first measure up to God’s standard of holiness.  The truth is: we don’t measure up, and no one ever will.  But God has already taken that into consideration and given us enough grace to walk into this calling and see it to completion. Jesus called some rough and simple fishermen like Peter, James, John and Andrew into the ministry, didn’t he?

God’s salvation was given to us and made possible when he cleansed us of our sins. So the holiness that God expects is not due to our own conduct or actions.  It is not due to our good works or good deeds.  God’s work of sanctification is not the same thing as our life of walking in God’s holy and righteous laws.  Our human acts of love, mercy, kindness, etc. are already expected of all followers of Jesus. It’s a given.  It was expected when we first came into a love relationship with God in Christ. We should be compelled to obey because He has been so gracious and loves us so much.  We can never repay God for his gift of forgiveness.

So how can we, as sinful human beings, possibly match up to God’s standards of holiness? We can’t.  First and foremost, it is really about God’s work of cleansing of our sins.  Only God can make us holy.  That’s what Paul is talking about when he talks about the gift of forgiveness by grace through faith.  It starts from God. It is ONLY God who makes it possible.  It’s all about God—and it is NOT about us.

Paul said in Ephesians 2:9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”  If God’s call to salvation began with God, then he will also complete the calling to serve Him.  Paul said: “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

If God calls each of us to be engaged with the Lord’s kingdom work and service, then we can ask the Lord to help cast our fears aside to have faith that God will empower us for service in His love.  God wants us to simply obey and follow him, and when we fail or fall, we get up and start again. God enables us to serve in His God-given holiness; then, God enables and empowers us through his Spirit and gifts.

Devotional: Property of Jesus – John 17:6-19

propertyJesusHave you seen those varsity university T-shirts that says, e.g., “Property of USC”… “Property of name of [your university/college]”. It means I’m a student here at this college/university. I’m on their team, and I’m proud of it. It also means, “I belong here.” It makes a statement. Or when young people are dating, sometimes the girl will wear the jacket or piece of clothing that belongs to the young man. Maybe some of you remember those days?

People want to belong. As human beings, we all have a desire to belong somewhere, maybe an organization, and to belong to someone…someone we love. When we know we belong, there is comfort in that. We were designed and created to belong to God. God didn’t make us, then just drop us on earth and left us alone to fend for ourselves. God is not like that. God wants us to know that we belong to Him, and knowing we belong to God allows us to know that we are God’s children forever.  If we are in Christ Jesus, we belong to God. We are the property of God.  We are made one with Jesus, and God the Father and are united in him, through the Holy Spirit. In John 17:6 told his followers that “they were yours and you gave them to me.” This means that Father God gave us to Jesus. And in John 17:10, Jesus says it again in another way: “All mine are yours, and all yours are mine.”

When we belong to God, it is something special associated with belonging to God.  This implies that we are under his care. We are protected by God.  In v. 12, Jesus prayed to the heavenly Father, “I protected them in your name that you have given me.”  When we are under God’s protection, we cannot be shaken.  In Jesus’ prayer, he was praying that God would protect us from the evil in the world.  Jesus cares for our complete well-being that he prays that they may have the same joy that Jesus had (17:14), that is, joy even in the midst of our hardship and suffering. This is the heart of God our Father.  God cares for us beyond what we can understand.  Just as a father or mother cares for the complete well-being of their children, God our Father also cares for us.  Jesus cares for us.