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.

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.

Devotional: Hear the voice of the Good Shepherd

goodshepherd_blacksheepWhen we have troubles, do you ever get unwelcomed advice from friends? It might be from good buddies, sisters, and family. Yes, they mean well for us, and they might tell us things like “fix this in your life, or do this then things might get better” but they might not truly understand our situation… and likely never will. Sometimes, their voices might even be harsh because you might be seen as the “black sheep” in the family.  If things in life go from bad to worst, some friends might run away; not necessarily because they don’t like you, but they might not know how to help you. They might also be afraid for themselves (like a fear of catching a cold or the flu from others who are sick).  Yes, even our closest friends might never understand our deepest troubles. At times, we may be left feeling all alone even though they are trying their best to help. Nevertheless, we still thank God for good friends and their wise advice.

What I want to say is this.  Other voices can drown out God’s voice if we allow it.  The temptation for all Christians is to listen to the voice of others before we even consider hearing the voice of the Lord.  When Jesus wants to speak, we need to pay attention.  God is calling his children to listen first to the voice of our Father. His voice is gentle and kind. He’s not condemning, nor harsh (and it’s not that we never need correction or discipline). But even one spoken word from the Lord can supernaturally comfort and sooth our worries and fears.  Only God’s spoken word gives life and has power to restore the soul, and yet can bring correction with tender-like qualities.  All our human words cannot compare.

jesus-the-good-shepherdJesus said in John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd.”  God is calling his followers to listen to the voice of the Lord. Jesus also said in v.14, “I am the good shepherd, I know my own sheep and they know me.” The voice of the Good Shepherd can bring a word of peace to comfort the broken-hearted.

The Lord desires for us to be like sheep who are familiar with God’s voice such that when we pray, we will know it is the Lord who is speaking.  When we are attentive to God’s voice through listening-prayer, we get connected and hear the voice of the Father.  With the practice of spiritual disciplines and continual prayer, we can grow more familiar with the voice of the good shepherd.

The Holy Spirit has the supernatural ability to speak into your heart and bring his supernatural peace and presence (e.g., “Be calm. I will take care of this” might be something I might hear). And when you hear his spoken words, it can somehow bring just the relief you need.  A person can know without a doubt, that it was a word from the LORD. It’s part of knowing the voice of the shepherd.

Now, I’m not saying that all of us can hear his voice so clearly.  Sometimes when we are in the most desperate of situations, we might hear his voice unexpectedly.  At other times we might pray without 100% confidence, “Lord, if you are really there, then please speak to me. Lord, hear my prayers.”

I’ll end this long post with this.  No matter what we are going through, God hears your cry, feels your pain, and understands your deepest concerns.  When we are in our darkest valleys, the good shepherd can come in and take us by the hand to lead us.  With his rod and staff, he comforts us as he leads us higher from the lowest valleys and up through the rolling green hills.  When we begin to see the brightness of day, where green pastures flourish, and where streams of living water flow, we will know it is the Lord.  We will see our beautiful, gracious, loving and caring shepherd. Wherever your life may be going, continue to look to Jesus. He is there, leading you, guiding you.

Is there a doubting Thomas in all of us?

doubting_thomas1Post-Easter Sunday is time we look at the post-resurrection Jesus.  A reading we sometimes get to hear in church is one on doubting Thomas (John 20:24-29).  We often give Thomas a bad rap as the doubter because of what he said: “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will not believe.

Is there a “doubting Thomas” in all of us?  Many people in the world today are not much different from Thomas. The doubtfulness in Thomas represents what’s in most people in my generation. We are a generation that values being authentic.  To be an authentic believer, we need some proof and not just talk.  But even if you’re not a big doubter, there might be a small degree of doubt that exists in you. It’s natural for us to have some doubt about something.

But God already knows that many of us need an experience with God. This is why God comes down to us and pours out his love and gives us faith to believe the impossible. Without faith given to us from God, none of us would have any hope. If left to myself as a human being, I would probably have no faith at all…especially those of us who grew up in this post-modern age who are critical of everything. We question everything.

Yes, I’m a Thomas and I’m thankful that God loves his “Thomases” too.  God’s Spirit wants to work in the lives of people who need assurance of what we are taught to believe.  Although Jesus said in v. 29, blessed are those who have not seen but still believe, what this is, is faith… not blind-belief.  It’s God who gives us faith as we read God’s word, pray, and ask the Holy Spirit to fill us with himself because in his presence is fullness of joy.

Lent – chance to live a new life

lentI was impressed by an excerpt from an article by Sr Joan Chittister. She says Lent is not only about repentance, but also about making changes in our lives. She states:

Lent is a call to weep for what we could have been and are not. Lent is the grace to grieve for what we should have done and did not. Lent is the opportunity to change what we ought to change but have not. Lent is not about penance. Lent is about becoming, doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now.

Lent is a summons to live anew.

The first challenge of Lent is to open ourselves to life. When we “rend our hearts” we break them open to things we are refusing for some warped reason to even consider. We have refused for years, perhaps, to even think about renewing old commitments that we’ve allowed to go to dust — spending time with the children, visiting our parents, exercising, taking time to read good books. We’ve closed our minds, maybe, to the thought of reconciling with old friends whom we have hurt. We’ve refused to put the effort into reviving old spiritual practices like visits to church, meditation in the morning, the memorization of the psalms, that we allowed to die in our youth but failed to substitute for as we aged. We’ve failed to repent old abrasions, quick words, harsh judgements made in haste and expiated never. We have closed the doors of our hearts, as time went by, to so many of the things we need to live full and holy lives.

Lent is the time to let life in again, to rebuild the worlds we’ve allowed to go sterile, to “fast and weep and mourn” for the goods we’ve foregone. If our own lives are not to die from lack of nourishment, we must sacrifice the pride or the sloth or the listlessness that blocks us from beginning again.
(…full article)