Friday, 27 June 2014

BUT GOD, WHY ME?

Making sense of trials
When believers go through trials and tribulations, it’s natural to ask God, “Why? Why does this have to happen to me?” Sometimes, God remains silent and fails to grant us relief from our suffering.


                                                                     
A successful professor bought a BMW for his son. But calamity struck. While putting the car through a speed test, the young man met with an accident and perished. The professor’s wife also died in the car crash.

Distraught, the professor found life meaningless since he had lost those closest to him. After coming to terms with his sorrow, he decided to use his expertise in organic farming to help poor farmers improve their livelihood. The grief he had experienced helped him to empathise with the lot of the marginalised.

Similarly, when Job was afflicted, he did not get any clear answer from God why the Creator had allowed him to endure such pain.

When the apostle Paul was given a thorn in the flesh, he sought relief from God but was told: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). God had allowed him to endure suffering that he might not be too elated over abundant revelations (2 Cor. 12: 7) and that the power of Christ may rest on him (2 Cor. 12:9).

Notice in the above two instances, God had allowed Satan to have a hand in causing affliction to these great saints.
We are never meant to know all the ways and workings of an infinite and almighty God. And we will never have full understanding this side of eternity as to why He allows believers to go through trials.

“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely” (1 Corinthians 13:12, NLT).

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways higher than our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9). We are like clay in the hands of the Master Potter.

Sometimes He reveals His secrets to prophets (Amos 3:7). But if He chooses not to do so, He has every right for He is sovereign. “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings” (Proverbs 25:2).

The purpose of suffering is that believers might experience what their Master had to go through and, in the process, become spiritually mature. Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8).

In 2 Corinthians 4:8, the apostle Paul confesses, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair.” If the great apostle was perplexed amid trials, who are we that we’re able to figure everything out?

HOW TO PROFIT FROM TRIALS
Trials and tribulations teach us a lot, especially in the areas of character development and personal growth. We need to see adversity as something positive, ask for wisdom to overcome them—and develop faith and patience as we wait for the fulfillment of God’s promises.

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:2-8).

“Then you will not become spiritually dull and indifferent. Instead, you will follow the example of those who are going to inherit God's promises because of their faith and endurance” (Hebrews 6:12).

THE EXAMPLE OF JOSEPH

God gave Joseph a dream that he would be great—his family members would come and bow down to him. But far from travelling down easy street towards his objective, he landed himself in hot soup. He was thrown into a pit by his jealous brothers and later sold off to slave traders.

Then he was imprisoned, being falsely accused for trying to sleep with Potiphar’s wife (whereas it was the latter who tried to seduce him). While in prison, God was with him and caused everything he did to succeed (Genesis 39:23)

Joseph maintained a positive attitude through thick and thin—that God was with him through it all. And, because of his faith, he moved from pit to prison to the pinnacle of power in Egypt. He finally rose to the position of governor of Egypt, second in rank to Pharaoh.

Such a position came with great authority. After interpreting Pharaoh’s dream that seven years of famine would follow seven years of plenty, he moved ahead with plans to build storehouses to stockpile grain. 

When famine struck, his brothers came to Egypt to buy grain. As a mark of respect, they bowed down to him. Thus Joseph’s dream was finally fulfilled against seemingly impossible odds.

As a result of God’s dealings in his life, Joseph was able to say to his brothers: "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Genesis 50:20).

From Joseph’s life, we learn that God uses trials to enlarge us—that we might be able to fulfill our potential for His glory.

FINDING PURPOSE IN PAIN

Even though we may not understand why God has allowed trials to be our portion, we can take comfort in this: God has a purpose when He puts us through painful experiences. 

God disciplines us for our good in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12: 10b-11).

Perhaps some notable quotes may help us find meaning in adversity:

Crisis creates opportunity – Chinese proverb.

The fact is that life is either hard and satisfying or easy and unsatisfying – Richard Leider.

For everyone praises endurance but few are prepared to endure –Thomas A Kempis.


The more his body is reduced by suffering, the more his spirit is strengthened by inward grace – Thomas A Kempis.

 The above article was published in Asian Beacon magazine, June-July 2014, issue 46.3


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Monday, 23 June 2014

RECALLING HIS MERCIES

Trials may be discouraging and overwhelming. But as we recall God’s past faithfulness to us, our faith is strengthened.


                                                                     
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.

One way by which our faith is strengthened is by recalling God’s past goodness towards us.

                                                                         
After the Israelites crossed the river Jordan, Joshua instructed them to take twelve stones from the river and set them up on land as a memorial (Joshua 4:1-7). This was not only to commemorate the crossing but to remind the people of the miraculous power of God. If they face any trials in future, these memorial stones will remind them of God’s deliverance.


Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

(Psalm 103:1-5).




Every trial is an opportunity for God to reveal His faithfulness to us.

In time to come, we would have built a storehouse of precious memories of His goodness towards us.

When the next trial comes, our faith is steadfast because we reflect on His past mercies.

But then I recall all you have done, O Lord;
    I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.
    They are constantly in my thoughts.
    I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.

(Psalm 77:11-12)

Concerning God’s faithfulness, what was the psalmist meditating about in Psalm 77?

He was reflecting on how God miraculously delivered His people from their enemies—even by making a way of escape for them through the sea (Psalm 77: 14-15, 19-20).

In the exodus account, the people of Israel were fearful because they were locked in a tight situation. The Red Sea lay ahead of them, rendering escape impossible. Behind them, the army of Pharaoh—with their horses and chariots—was closing in on them, relentless in hot pursuit.

Terrified, they cried out to Moses: “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? (Exodus 14:11).

It was true that Pharaoh’s army was behind them and the Red Sea was before them but they had forgotten one thing: God was above them.

Moses, demonstrating great faith, answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14: 13-14).

And, as they say, the rest is history. As Moses lifted his rod over the sea as if to “divide it”, in obedience to God’s command, a miracle happened. Moses’ symbolic act was instrumental in the unfolding of God’s deliverance of His people. He was God’s co-worker. The sea parted and the people of Israel were able to pass through it as if it were dry ground. When the army tried to cross over, the walls of water on either side collapsed on them and they were drowned.

Next time, when we face trials, let’s not forget to reflect on God’s past mercies and faithfulness towards us, just like how He dealt with His people long ago.


                                                                        


RELATED POSTS

OVERCOMING CRISIS
Who or what do we turn to when crisis strikes? Where do we place our hope and trust?

HOW TO OVERCOME WORRY
http://bit.ly/1dM42oI



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Wednesday, 18 June 2014

ONE SWALLOW DOES NOT A SUMMER MAKE

Just as the sighting of a single swallow in the sky does not necessarily mean summer has arrived, one or two verses cannot form the basis for sound doctrine.

                                                                         

You can judge the maturity of a Christian by the way he allows scriptures to impact his thoughts and life. Whereas a mature believer’s thoughts and life are shaped by the WHOLE counsel of God’s word, both the Old and New Testament, the same cannot be said of those who fondly cling on to their pet verses.

In many cases, it is possible to build any “doctrine” we want if we muster support from our favourite passages, conveniently neglecting contrasting viewpoints from other verses.

However, just as the sighting of a single swallow in the sky does not necessarily mean summer has arrived, one or two verses cannot form the basis for sound doctrine.

Let us now consider some instances where we can veer off the right track if we are fixated on or enamoured with our pet passages:

If perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18), does it mean we don’t have to fear God anymore? “Fear of the LORD is the foundation of true wisdom. All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom” (Psalm 111:10). http://bit.ly/1iFjeql

Just because we are saved by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), does it mean we can now rest easy and do nothing? Truth be told, we also need to play our part—work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2: 12). “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). http://bit.ly/1d3txfc

While it is highly unlikely any born-again believer will continue to pursue a sinful lifestyle because God's seed remains in them (1 John 3:9), the possibility of believers falling away (apostasy) and receiving damnation is real (Hebrews 6:4-8). http://bit.ly/SFapBp

Just because believers are no longer under law but under grace (Romans 6:14-15), does it mean we can be above the law? A paradox is found in apostle Paul’s argument: “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law” (Romans 3:31). Jesus puts it succinctly: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). http://bit.ly/1d0B0M3


RELATED POSTS
IS FEAR POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE?
Many a time fear has been bandied around as something negative. But fear has its positive side as well.

FAITH VS WORKS
Do we have to work out our faith after we have been saved?

FAITH-WORK COMBO

Did Abraham please God merely through faith?


CAN TRUE BELIEVERS DENY THEIR MASTER?
Is it biblical to say that true believers will not deny Christ?

SHOOTING OURSELVES IN THE FOOT
Five ways believers could possibly jeopardise their eternal destiny

FREE FROM THE LAW?
Are believers free from the law?



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Friday, 13 June 2014

CAN TRUE BELIEVERS DENY THEIR MASTER?

In light of the pressure faced by persecuted Christians in the Middle East, this is an important question that needs to be asked.

Many of us think it is highly unlikely that genuine Christians will deny God except under extremely trying circumstanceslike when a gun barrel is pointed at one’s head.

However, it is possible for true believers to deny Christ because God gave every man a free willthat which ultimately determines whether His grace is efficacious for man.

Furthermore, various push and pull factors can cause even genuine believers to deny Christ whose blood was shed for man's sins.

Push factors include use of duress, blackmail and threats to one’s family, property, security or survival. One example is forced denial through gunpoint.

Pull factors include the lust for power, riches and fleshly pleasures. Initially this ‘pull category’ merely causes believers to backslide. As the spiritual decline worsens, the heart may become hardenedand satan has a veritable foothold in their lives. Evil indulgences and sinful pursuits may then lead to a ‘point of no return’where even genuine believers may deny God.

In the Parable of the Sower, the seed which fell among thorns represents those who receive God’s message well at first but later get choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures. The result is that they fail to mature and bear fruit, unlike the seed which fell on good soil (Luke 8:14-15).

The predisposing factor for believers to deny God is their sinful nature. While there is no sin that God’s grace and mercy cannot avail, we must not swing to the other extreme and underestimate the reality of our inner nature.

"The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

Referring to the ugliness of our sinful nature, theologian John R. W. Stott states: “Indeed, an honest and humble acknowledgment of the hopeless evil of our flesh, even after the new birth, is the first step to holiness. To speak quite plainly, some of us are not leading holy lives for the simple reason that we have too high an opinion of ourselves.” Men Made New (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1966), p. 74.

Denial of one’s faith is possible

“If we deny him, he also will deny us” (2 Timothy 2:12b). Paul was certainly addressing a young believer in his letter.

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1).

‘Bought by the precious blood of Christ’ (1 Peter 1:19) refers to true believers whose lives have experienced God’s forgiveness and cleansing.

Peter spent so much time moving around and living with the Master. He had the enviable privilege of witnessing His miraculous power and Transfiguration (with James and John of the inner circle). He confessed that Jesus was the Christ when others were not sure. We would think he would be the last person to deny Christ. But we are sadly mistaken.


                                                                     
So when people tell me that those who deny Christ were never really converted in the first place, I am truly puzzled. How are we going to reconcile this misguided stance with the evidence from scriptures, biblical examples and contemporary examples that show that it is possible for believers to deny God?


                                                                        
Denial of one’s faith will increase amid end time persecution

“Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers. And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:9-13).

In the above Olivet Discourse, Jesus was addressing his disciples, telling them what to expect during the end times (or rather the beginning of the end).

A state of apostasy is worse than a state of ignorance

“For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Peter 2:20-21).

God can overlook lapses of faith but denial is more serious

“If we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself”
(2 Timothy 2:12-13).

Impossible to restore believers who commit apostasy

“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned” (Hebrews 6: 4-8).

Everyone means all—no exception—Christians or pre-believers

“So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).

What is the fate of believers who deny Christwhose faith does not endure till the end?

“For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,
‘Yet a little while,
    and the coming one will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one shall live by faith,
    and if he
shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.’
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (Hebrews 10:36-39).
Jesus’ teaching implies that only those who do not give up their faith amid persecution will be saved
“Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers. And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:9-13).
Humility needed

The purpose of sharing this post is to warn believers: We mustn’t think that we are so strong that we will definitely not turn away from God (1 Corinthians 10:12). Instead let's “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) so that we may be preserved from this tragic state where we deny the Master who bought us with His precious blood.

Lest we say it won’t happen to us, let’s remember what happened to Peterhe denied the Master three times.

“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Let us emulate the tax collector’s humility. He, who would not even dare to look up to heaven, beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner’ (Luke 18:9-14).

Of course, it would not be fair if I fail to allude to the fact that God who began the good work in us will bring it to completion one day (Philippians 1:6). Neither should I fail to mention that God gave a reprieve to Peter even though he denied Him three times.

However, we need to play our part too:

  • Build ourselves up in our most holy faith (Jude 1:20).


  • Be all the more diligent to confirm our calling and election (2 Peter 1:10).


  • Bear fruits that befit repentance (Luke 3:8).


  • Make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him (2 Peter 3:14).


Lastly, let’s cry out to God that He will enable us to remain strong and steadfast in these perilous and tumultuous end times. “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge” (Psalm 16:1).


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SHOOTING OURSELVES IN THE FOOT
Five ways believers could possibly jeopardise their eternal destiny

SAVED AND SECURE?

Is there eternal security for believers if they deny God or continue living in sin?



REPETITIVE SINNING
What fate awaits those who sin repeatedly after they have believed?


MOTHER OF ALL BATTLES
A clear understanding of the ongoing battle between the “old man” and “new man” is essential before we can walk in victory.


SAINT OR SINNER?
Is the believer essentially a saint or sinner? If he is a ‘saint’, why is he still struggling with sin?

CAN A GENUINE CHRISTIAN COMMIT APOSTASY?
Solid meat. Hard sayings. Many will rationalise that Hebrews 6: :4-8 does not refer to believers; they were unregenerate in the first place. Is it so?

SUBTLE ENTANGLEMENTS
We have heard of turtles getting entangled in fishermen’s nets. As they can no longer roam in search for food, some may eventually die. Somewhere along the way believers too get entangled in various pursuits which either impede progress or lead them off the intended spiritual path.


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