Friday, 29 March 2013

THE SUBTLE DIFFERENCE



We are told to be wise as a serpent. However, we should not behave like a snake. The former is positive but the latter is negative.

In fact, if we slither like a snake on the ground, we are possessed by the evil one and in need of deliverance.

We are taught to emulate certain positive characteristics of animals, in this case the wisdom of the serpent.  But we should not lose our senses/reason and behave like an animal.

WISE AS SERPENTS

ANIMAL-LIKE BEHAVIOUR

ANIMAL-LIKE BEHAVIOUR

During my school days, when the class became rowdy and unmanageable, my lady teacher used to shout, “Now boys, don’t behave like animals!” The message was loud and clear. It was a rebuke. We were to behave ourselves.

How can we ever attribute the following scenarios in church to the work of the Holy Spirit? A person slithering on the ground like a snake?  A person barking like a dog? A person crowing like a cockerel? A person fidgeting non-stop and jumping around like a monkey? In these instances, the people involved have lost control of their senses. They no longer think rationally.


From a biblical viewpoint, animal-like behaviour usually does not have a positive connotation. *

   
Animals are lower than man in God’s hierarchy. In fact, in the creation account in Genesis, man was told to take dominion over the animals and was given the authority to name them. Why should we lower our dignity and emulate animals?

Is there any instance in the Bible where a person loses his senses and behaves like an animal? Yes. God punished a proud king by turning him into an animal but this reference has a negative connotation:

When King Nebuchadnezzar boasted about his great achievements, God taught him a lesson. He was driven to the field where he ate grass like an ox. Later he came to his senses, repented and acknowledged God as supreme. Once he humbled himself before God, he was reestablished as king (Daniel 4:28-37).

Doesn’t nature teach us that we shouldn't stoop so low that we suspend our senses and reason to behave like animals? Won’t people think we are out of our mind if we crawl on fours like a dog?

While exercising the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we should be in full possession of our rational faculties. Amid spontaneity and loosening of inhibitions, there should be order and peace, not bedlam and confusion (1 Corinthians 14: 26-33).

There are several reasons why some believers behave like animals and even endorse such behaviour in church:

First, people are naturally hungry for supernatural manifestations. Some are willing to be zapped by any supernatural force – if only they could feel their bodies tingle or shake. Some could have come from a conservative church background and want to opt for a “change”. Their mantra could be something like this: Life is mundane, we want signs, we want power, we want God to “show up”. But are signs and wonders invariable when God shows up? Can He not work in quiet ways?


                                                                        
Second, lack of discernment and understanding of scripture. We need to be discerning – test every spirit to see whether its origin is from the Holy Spirit (1 John 4:1).

Third, lack of vigilance with regards to the prevalence of evil. Satan prowls around like a roaring lion seeking to devour some naïve souls (1 Peter 5:8). Not every supernatural manifestation is of the Holy Spirit. Not all that glitters is goldNo doubt evil spirits do not lurk in every painting, vase or figurine but we have to be alert and be aware of its existence.

Deception is rife during the last days and even the elect (those who are supposed to be mature and discerning) can be fooled (Matthew 24:4,5,24).

However, that does not mean we should close our minds to the manifestations and working of the Holy Spirit.

Footnotes
*    No doubt, we have been exhorted to be wise like serpents, bold as lions and to wait upon God so that we can rise up with wings like eagles. In order to fight against the Midianites, God told Gideon to choose 300 brave warriors who cupped water with their hands and lapped it up like dogs. They were tough and resilient like dogs, unlike those who knelt down to drink water. In these four instances, we are to taught to emulate certain positive characteristics of animals; we should not lose our senses/reason and behave like animals. 

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Thursday, 28 March 2013

THE POWER OF THOUGHTS


We become what we think about most of the time. Aligning our thoughts to God’s word is one of the most powerful tools of self-transformation.

A man is literally the product of his thinking. Based upon this important truth, author James Allen wrote his acclaimed self-help book, “As A Man Thinketh”. This view concurs with what the Bible says in Proverbs 23:7: “As a man thinks in his heart, so does he become”.

How did Apple start? When Steve Jobs thought out of the box and created his prototype computer in a humble garage. Every big corporation was first conceived within someone’s tiny little, fertile mind.

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.Ralph Waldo Emerson

While it is true to say we are the product of our thoughts, we can achieve much more than we can ever think, imagine or conceive when God adds another dimension to our lives.

                                                                


Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).

God can do a wonderful work in our lives so that we move not only in the realm of the natural but the supernatural. He can do amazing things in and through us that have not crossed our mind before – even great things that we have not conceived before.

But before we can come under His blessing and favour, we have to fulfill certain conditions:

Firstly, we need to acknowledge the fact that His wisdom is far superior to our limited human understanding:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,

    and he will make your paths straight.
(Proverbs 3:5-6).

Secondly, we need to recognise what He says we are capable of doing. In other words, we need to have a sense of self-esteem based on what God thinks of us.

Gideon saw himself as defeated, bereft of hope, as the Midianites invaded his homeland. Offering no resistance to the enemy, he was threshing wheat when God spoke to him through the angel, “The LORD is with you, you mighty man of valour … Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?” (Judges 6:12, 14).

Earlier he had thought he was incapable of leading Israel against their enemies — coming from the weakest clan and being the most insignificant in his family. All that changed when God called him and gave his self-image a boost.

One can see a cup as half-empty or half-full and, in both instances, one is right. Gideon saw himself as “empty” when he was threshing wheat. But when God called him, his mind was renewed. He then saw himself anew, and was filled with courage and boldness. And, as they say, the rest is history.

Thirdly, we need to bring every wayward thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). Unless our thoughts are positive and pure *, we will not be able to experience His blessing and favour.

The end result of fulfilling all three conditions is that we will be able to experience the reality of the following verses:

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
    and
no mind has imagined
what God has prepared
    for those who love him.”
(1 Corinthians 2:9).

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).

     ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Footnotes:
*   Positive and pure thoughts

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
(Philippians 4:8)
“The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.”
(James 3:17)

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE


If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. However, there are exceptions to the rule.

Many people have been cheated by ponzi schemes which promise high financial returns initially. These investment scams do not have a credible business model to sustain high yields. So after a period of time, creators of such schemes simply take the hard-earned money of investors and disappear.

You should smell a rat when you are approached to invest in such schemes. When an investment vehicle promises fantastic returns in a short period, it is probably what you have been suspecting from the very beginning – too good to be true.

                                                                         



If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” also applies to issues in the spiritual realm: 

  • Eternal security for believers even if they deny God or continue living in sin
         http://bit.ly/1mIQKvq
       


  • Futures sins automatically forgiven when we believed in Christ
        http://bit.ly/1dXOjBB
        

Belief in eternal security is wishful thinking. And so is believing that our future sins are forgiven at conversion. Both are examples of the statement: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

However, some things that appear incredible are, in fact, trustworthy:

  • It may sound too good to be true but it is a fact: Salvation is by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). God declares us righteous based on our faith in the cleansing blood of Jesus.


  • It may appear incredible but Christ, through His death at the cross, forgave our sins and healed our diseases (Psalm 103:1-5).


  • This may be wishful thinking to some but it is true: Jesus offers hope to those who grieve over the death of their loved ones.  *

 *    Footnotes: 

Jesus visited Martha to console her while she was grieving over the death of her brother Lazarus. Besides sharing her grief, He offered hope. Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25).

Everything about the Christian faith hinges on one thing: “Did Christ rise from the dead?” If Christ were not raised, then the faith of believers is futile as they are still guilty of their sins. And Christians are among those most to be pitied for clinging on to a false hope (1 Corinthians 15:17,19).

Is Jesus making an empty promise to Martha? Or is it true that since He defied death – proving that He is divine, not just a great teacher – He is able to offer eternal life to all who trust in Him?

Atheist-turned-believer Lee Strobel shared about his journey of faith: “I used to consider the resurrection to be a laughable fairy tale. After all, Yale Law School had trained me to be coldly rational, and my years of sniffing for news at the Chicago Tribune had only toughened my naturally cynical personality. But intrigued by changes in my wife after she became a Christian, I spent nearly two years systematically using my journalistic and legal experience to study the evidence for the resurrection and the credibility of Jesus' claims to being God. I emerged totally convinced and gave my life to Christ …” (Lee Strobel in “God’s Outrageous Claims”, page 170).

Beyond objective evidence, many Christians can testify to the reality of Christ’s resurrection power His guidance, provision and healing. Indeed, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.





Tuesday, 26 March 2013

FAITH, FEELINGS, CIRCUMSTANCES



The greater our faith, the more we are freed from the tyranny of our feelings and external circumstances.


                                                                      
Tossed about in the storm, Pi, the main character in the Award-winning movie, Life of Pi, questioned why God had allowed him to be shipwrecked for so long. It seemed chances of being rescued were grim. Later, he landed in an island paradise filled with meerkats and realised that God had been with him through it all, preserving his life and meeting all his needs, even though there were times when he was truly perplexed. 


                                                                                                                                             
When adversity strikes and we are unable to cope, our feelings tell us that God is far away.

Our external circumstances tell us that we are in deep trouble. It is as if we are tossed about by the waves in a turbulent sea.

But we need to have faith in God’s promise that He will never fail or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

Faith should overrule our feelings and external circumstances.

                                                                        

Now what is the difference between true faith and positive thinking? Positive thinking is “free floating”; it is not hitched to something solid whereas faith is focused on an object – a fact.

Faith rests in God’s word – to be exact, in God’s character and the promises in His word.


                                                                          
Faith can also rest in a defining moment in our lives when God’s reality touched us, just like how He touched Moses’ life.

Moses was born a Jew but later adopted into Pharaoh’s family. He had all the privileges inherent in his position as prince of Egypt – servants at his beck and call, access to the best libraries and tutors, sumptuous feasts and all kinds of entertainment to indulge his senses.

What made him identify with his humble background and not the palatial world of splendour, power and riches? What made him give up all these benefits of royalty and become a fool in the eyes of the world?

I believe the burning bush experience – when God called him to lead the Jews out of Egypt – left an indelible mark in his life. It was this watershed experience in his life that made him see things differently. What he valued and lived for changed dramatically. Forsaking riches, honour and pleasure, and risking the wrath of Pharaoh, he chose to lead the Israelites out from Egypt in obedience to God. He lived for ‘as yet unseen’ rewards because he knew that the God who called him is faithful and will honour his faith.

“By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:24-27).

Now one might reason, “Hey that’s Moses, I am not him and God has not showed up in a burning bush experience to me.”

Well, we can all grow in faith. If we earnestly seek him, go deep into His Word and obey Him:

  • “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
  • “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).
  • “He that has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me: and he that loves me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him” (John 14:21).


As we continue to draw near to God, He will draw near to us and make Himself real to us. Let us leave it to His sovereign will whether He chooses to manifest Himself to us in a spectacular way or not.

But even if He does not, He works in quiet and mysterious ways, affirming, guiding and blessing us as we walk by faith.

They say faith is like a muscle. At first we believe God for small things. One day, when our faith grows so big, it may even move mountains.

The greater our faith, the more we are freed from the tyranny of our feelings and external circumstances.



                                                                          





Sunday, 24 March 2013

SCIENCE AND FAITH



Award-winning movie, Life of Pi, reignites the debate: Can man’s great understanding of the world around him enable him to find meaning and purpose in life?

In the award-winning movie, Life of Pi, by director Ang Lee, we catch this exchange over the family dining table. Pi, a young boy then, shares with his parents his search for the living God which has led him to explore three major religions of the world.

Santosh Patel, in an attempt to tone down his son’s spiritual hunger, says, “In a few hundred years science has taken us farther in understanding the universe than religion has in 10,000.”

Pi’s mother, Gita Patel, replies, “That is true. Science can teach us more about what is out there, but not what is in here.”

Can man’s great understanding of the world around him enable him to find meaning and purpose in life?

Man’s great scientific knowledge enables him to tap into vast reserves of energy hitherto unknown to his forefathers (read atomic energy). He may hold the key to the fountain of youth – what with advances in the field of stem cell therapy – or may even be able to indulge his fantasy as a space tourist in the near future.


                                                                               


But can his great intellectual prowess give him satisfactory answers to the metaphysical questions of life?

Is man a product of creation, a handiwork of a Supreme Being? Or is he just a chance conglomeration of atoms and particles?

What is man’s purpose in life? Is it just to go through the cycle of life – being born into the world, getting oneself educated, finding a job or business, getting married, raising a family, finally dying and leaving an inheritance or legacy?  

In another scene in the movie, the naïve boy Pi tried to get up close to a tiger which was caged. He wanted to offer a piece of meat to the beast through the bars of the cage. In the nick of time, his father pulled him away, chiding Pi for the dangerous situation he had put himself in. The lesson he wanted to instill in Pi was that animals are driven only by their instinct.

Later, Pi learnt that even a fierce Bengal tiger could be tamed when the two were stranded in a boat, adrift in the ocean after a shipwreck. The notion that animal behavior was merely instinctive was being challenged.

Science sees man as another animal, albeit the most intelligent of them all. But is that all? Does not man have a spirit? A “God-breathed” spirit within which sets him apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. Do animals pray? Do animals have souls which live on after they pass away?

Ironically, two world wars – and an imminent third – have demonstrated that man often behaves instinctively like the Bengal tiger in the movie. And when he robs, rapes and murders his own kind, he has lost his sense of reason, something which science cannot adequately explain. At the push of a button, he can launch a nuclear warhead to exterminate thousands. Isn't man more akin to the animal kingdom, driven by his own selfishness and lust for power?  

While it is true science enables man to understand a great deal of the world around him, it does not have adequate answers for the troubling metaphysical questions that confound philosophers and scholars through the ages.

One who stands out among this distinguished group of people is Blaise Pascal, a 17th century French mathematician, physicist and philosopher. He objectively studied the concepts of vacuum, invented the syringe and created the hydraulic press. Yet he recognised this truth: “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.”

Unlike other scientists, Pascal believed that “we know the truth, not only by the reason, but also by the heart.” Man cannot know God through the rational process — no matter how great his intellect. Faith, the means by which man comes to know God, is not against reason; it transcends reason. Reason may help to build faith but it (reason) can never ultimately bring a person to know God.

Here was a genius who happily discovered that God can be known – through faith – and that knowing Him is not incompatible with science or reason.

Like other fellow scientists, Pascal looked for the absolute truth in science. But he eventually found it elsewhere. He found peace and assurance in Christ as he lay on his death bed. He knew for certain he would meet His Creator, who with outstretched arms would be welcoming him to heaven.

Pascal will be remembered as one of the few scientists who knew how to reconcile his faith in God with his knowledge and understanding of science. He knew the rightful place of reason and faith – and how best to apply these two faculties in his quest for scientific knowledge and God. He extensively exercised his reasoning in his scientific pursuits. But as far as knowing God is concerned, he was wise enough to tread along the path of faith.

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