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Show Mercy

Religion is empty if it is void of mercy.

Jesus said, “I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.” (Matthew 9:13 NLT)

True religion consists; not in external observances: not in meats and drinks and shows of sanctity, not in little particular opinions and doubtful disputations, but in doing all the good we can to the bodies and souls of others; in righteousness and peace; in visiting the fatherless and widows. Notice that Christ’s thoughts, words and actions are always filled with mercy and grace, tirelessly promoting the conversion of souls: the greatest act of mercy imaginable; saving a soul from death.

Are our thoughts, words and actions filled with mercy?

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Knowing Me, Knowing You

I have a question. How well do you know yourself? Or rather how well can you know yourself?

Take me for an example, i think i know myself but truth is, I don’t know myself at all! I can be such a paradox, a living oxymoron. Sometimes I’m passionate, sometimes indifferent. Next, I think I’m smart, but end up making the most foolish decisions later. At times, I’m full of faith, and the next moment, threaten to leave God. In control, lose control. At peace, worries my head off. Likes this, hates that. Says this, does that. And the list of my contradictory and capricious behaviors continue.

We can be so unpredictable. So… ever changing. And how can we possibly say we know ourselves when we can’t even imagine what kind of person we will be tomorrow? Yes, we know ourselves from the present and past tense but tomorrow? Who will we be tomorrow?

In this life-long quest of finding our identity, I’ve known a lot of friends who have “changed,” detoured and sidelined from the person I’ve “known” them to be (note that I’m using these terms loosely simply because I may not even know who they really are in the first place) because they were trying to assume the identity of those (good or bad) around them. We imitate, duplicate, replicate. As the old saying goes, “Monkey see, monkey do.” But see, that’s the problem. Imitating limited human beings is as good as duplicating a pirated VCD (think substandard, blurry movies, choppy audio, with silhouettes of people’s head in view). That makes us as good as pirated imitations, I guess.

“Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” – 1 Corinthians 11:1

The Bible tells us to imitate Christ. And here I am talking about discovering ourselves. How ironic! How can we possibly discover our identities by imitating Him?

I don’t think the Bible is just asking us to merely imitate Christ’s appearance, actions and conduct as a person. I believe this scripture calls for a time of soul-searching, if our hearts (our very essence) and desires (our life’s purpose) reflect God’s. We are created in His image, as His reflection after all. What else are we supposed to do other than to reflect Him and to resonate with what matters in His heart? To do anything else is really likened to a broken mirror that reflects a different image than what is shown! How frustrating it must be for that mirror when it fails to serve the very purpose it was created for! Maybe that’s why sometimes we’re so frustrated with our lives. Maybe.

In my humble opinion, this is our identity: a holistic reflection of Christ in all aspects of life and chasers of what’s in His heart (in our work, in our lives, in our families, in our ministry, in the goals and focuses of our lives, in our dreams and aspirations). A life that is full is a life that has experienced the fulfillment of His purpose here in this existence.

From now on, this shall very well be my life mantra, “The more I know Christ, the more I know myself. The more I reflect Christ, the more I serve my purpose.”

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The Stove that Lost its Fire

The stove in my kitchen stopped working a year ago. It used to work really well. With just a turn of the knob, we have fire coming out of the stove. Not anymore. Well, it still dispenses gas but it needs to be manually lit with a spark gun. Won’t get no fire from my stove unless you have another existing source of fire to light it up. You can call it half-broken or half-working (depends on if you’re an optimist or pessimist).

And just now, as I was preparing to cook my lunch, my stove suddenly decided to work again without the help of the spark gun! I had fire at the turn of a knob again! Do old things really fix themselves over time? Boy, ain’t I glad I didn’t decide to throw it away the moment it stopped working! And I beamed like a madman when it worked.

Sometimes, in life, we lose our fire too.

Probably, we too were once burning with fiery passion for a certain cause. Loving God, serving in the church, loving people, giving sacrificially, chasing after our dreams and ambitions, making a difference in the world because of what we believed in and so on. Inevitably, along the way, obstacles appeared: rejections, disappointments, unrealistic expectations, betrayals, shortcomings, persecutions and whatever that can deter our will to continue. And just like my stove, slowly but steadily, we burnout. We lose the last bit of the spark in us to reignite the fragile fire that once burnt so ferociously. No longer do we want to accomplish new things, go new heights and face new mountains. Now, we’re left cold, indifferent, confused, hurt, bitter, discontented and caught up with the “normal” life when you know deep down, you were made to be more than this.

Well, whatever state you’re currently in (be it 0 degrees or 100 degrees), don’t throw yourself away. I repeat, don’t throw yourself away. Like my stove, all you need is just an existing, external source of fire to light you up again. It may take a while for you find that Source of fire and I’m not saying it will be quick nor easy. But whatever it is, don’t throw yourself away. Don’t throw that passion away. Don’t throw that dream away. Who knows? One day, like my stove, you might end up finding that fiery, unquenchable flame in yourself again? And when that day comes, you too, like me, will beam like a madman.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” – 2 Timothy 4:7

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” – Galations 6:9

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The Grace for my Todays and Hope for my Tomorrows

“Mom, I’m so glad you raised us up as Christians. I just can’t imagine life without Jesus,” I blurted out one day when I was having a conversation with my mom.

It was a genuine statement, not meaning to condescend other religions or beliefs, but humbled to be called a child of God and to have a wretch like me be made a treasure that’s worth His very own life. I find myself asking the question of “What if I was never a Christian?” so much more especially when Easter is just around the corner.

I’ll probably still be clueless. Not knowing what is my purpose in life, wandering aimlessly like the rest of world, working my life away day to day hoping that my future will be better tomorrow and not knowing if I’ll ever reach my fullest potential or at least accomplish the reason for my existence. Would I choose to live safely in my small, comfort zone or would I live life stepping out into an adventure of reaching out to others and making a difference in the world? When would I know if I’d lived “enough?” When would I ever know if I was… good “enough?”

I’ll probably still be hopeless. Broken with every guilt and shame I’ve tagged on along a life of mistakes. Waking up everyday knowing that everything that I gain, accomplish and achieve under the sun is rotten and stained with selfish sin and will all soon fade and be utterly meaningless when I die. Worse, where would I find the strength to carry on if I lost the things that matters most to me before I first die?

I’ll probably still be restless. Anxious about life and the afterlife, asking “What if I die today?” and not knowing if I’ll end up in heaven or hell or in a nirvana of emptiness or being reincarnated as a cockroach in the next life only to be stepped to death and be caught again in the pitiful and cursed cycle? If we live to die, then why live in the first place?

These are exactly the reasons for such a statement.

Him.

He is my reason because I am His and the God who has made everything made me the apple of His eye.
He is my reason because it is He who defines who I was, who I am and who I will or can ever be.
He is my reason to live simply because He gave His life in exchange for my death, so that I can live for Him.

He is my reason because He is the grace for my todays and hope for my tomorrows.

“Yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.” – 1 Corinthians 8:6

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Fruitty Business

I have failed. Again. After two years of much restrain and self control, I went berserk yesterday and roared at the delivery guy who made me wait the whole day for him, falsely accused me of not being home and was utterly rude. Technically speaking, I have every reason to be upset and every right to give him a piece of my mind. And I did. And I was the spectacle of the neighborhood when I roared at him at my front porch (if you know me, you’ll know that God has blessed me with a loud and pitchy volume). And it violated my conscience.

You see, I remember losing my cool two years ago screaming at another guy who ticked me off and I discovered it is not cool at all when I lose my mind and self control. Doing so never fails to make me feel like an uncivilized barbarian or a total idiot. Hence, to avoid the sleep-robbing-violation it does to my conscience, I vowed to never do so again in the future.

And yesterday I failed. Miserably. It was also the day that made me question if I’m a genuine Christian.

Ironically (or not), I was preparing to blog a post on the manifestations of the fruit of the Holy Spirit if we are real Christians. I guess God decided to use yesterday’s incident so that I can take a long hard look at myself in the mirror even as I write this.

“You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” – Matthew 7:16-20

Ouch.

If you read the Scripture right, going to church, reading the bible, praying and doing all sort of spiritual stuff does not make you more “Christian”. If you are for real, it’ll be undeniable and evident from the inside out. It will show. Just like a real tree and it’s fruits. Everyone will be able to identity what kind of tree you are by looking at the fruits you produce in your conversations, actions, behaviours, the principles and values that you practice and stand for. And the next scripture gives us exactly a list of these fruits that should be evident in our lives if we’re to call ourselves Christians.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” – Galations 5:22-23

There’s a Sunday School song that teaches us to remember these fruits and it’s deeply imprinted in my mind because I’ve been singing it since I was a kid. Now that I’ve grown older, I find myself asking, “Are these fruits evident in my life?” Well, judging by the incident, I definitely need a larger dose of patience, gentleness and self control. Add on kindness, goodness, peace and love (that’s almost all of them).

But there’s no need for me (or for you too, if you, like me, lack some of these fruits I’m your life) to feel utterly hopeless and guilty because I believe the manifestations of these fruits are a process until Jesus returns. It is Him who makes us perfect, not by our might, strength nor self-righteousness so that we can’t boast about it.

“But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.” – 1 Peter 5:10

How about you? Which fruit do you need most to be evident in your life so that the world can recognize which vine do you belong to?

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Center Point

“If the sun was to move even the slightest bit, the whole solar system and all the planets will go off tangent and will start crashing into one another,” said the ever intelligent Ps Shawn as he was preaching at this morning’s church service.

He wasn’t there to give us a lesson on astronomy though. He used that as an illustration to show the importance of a center point. An anchor that holds everything together. In the context of astronomy, he was referring to the sun and how it holds together the laws of the universe (gravity, heat, proximity and etc). In the context of life, he was refering to the power of the cross and how Christ holds together our lives (emotion, physical, spiritual and every other aspect).

But all too often, and very naturally, we trade our center points with other more “tangible” and earthly things. Fame, money, success, family, health, wellbeing, power, pleasure and so on. Guess what? All these are are mere “temporals” and they’re bound to fail one way or another. It’s just a matter of time they fail, and when they do, our worlds come crumbling down (the same way planets crash if the sun fails to stay put).

So, why should we set Christ and what He has done on the cross for us as our center point? What’s so significant about Jesus’ crucifixion on the cross? To answer that question, Ps Shawn gave us a short English lesson on each of Jesus’ final words when he was hanging there on that cross. The famous final three words,

“It is finished.” (John 19:30)

The word “It” refers to the sacrifice for sins, “is” refers to an ever-present notion that never expires nor changes and “finished” (from the Hebrew root word “Tetelestai”) refers to:

1. An act of completion/perfection (when nothing else can be added)
2. A transaction/deal made final (when nothing else can be changed)
3. A notion of paid in full (when nothing else can be compensated anymore)

So, when Jesus uttered the words, “It is finished,” it means:

1. It is utterly arrogant for us to think that our good works/actions (which the Bible calls filthy rags) can make God forgive us more because Jesus has already completed/perfected the “work” part by dying on the cross for us.
2. It is utterly offensive to think that our works/actions (be it good or bad) can ever change God’s mind to forgive us when Jesus has already sealed the deal with God. His body and life for ours. That was the deal. Not (and never) our works for our salvation.
3. It is utterly foolish to work/serve harder in order to “pay” God more for our forgiveness when Jesus has already paid for our ransom in full.

For these three words, I am thankful. Thankful because I can never outdo what Christ has done for me out of His eternal love for me. Thankful because I can never be holy or evil enough to make God change His mind about me, always the apple of His eye. Thankful because I can never repay God enough yet nothing can ever rob me from His promise of undeserved salvation.