Eyes on the Prize: Persevering to do God’s Will

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised. (Heb. 10:36, NIV)

Welcome to the third and final part of this series on fulfilling your purpose! If you have not read the first two posts in this series, you can read them here: The Big Picture & Follow the Leader. Fulfilling purpose is a journey, one that lasts a lifetime. And my prayer is that you, my dear reader, will not be cut short amid your days. Rather, you will live long enough to complete the work the Lord has committed to you and fulfill His purpose for your life. But if you must fulfill your purpose, then you must learn to persevere – that is, to patiently endure every trial or challenge and ensure you do what God desires of you.

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Follow the Leader: Keeping Your Eyes on Jesus

Hello, friend! Welcome to part two of this series on fulfilling purpose. If you have not, you can read part one here. What I intend to emphasize here is simple – the only way to surely fulfill purpose is to follow the leader, Jesus Christ. The Bible variously commends the Lord Jesus as the “author and finisher of our faith”, “the firstborn from the dead” and “the forerunner”, who has gone ahead of us into the presence of our heavenly Father. There are at least three reasons why you should keep your eyes on Jesus in your pursuit of purpose as a child of God. We will look at each one in turn, briefly.

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The Big Picture: Your Purpose through God’s Eyes

Hello there! Thanks for coming by. This write- up is part one of a three-part series discussing practical issues around our purpose as children of God. Purpose is a big theme within the Christian faith, and rightfully so. Understanding that each one of us was created by God for a specific reason is an important foundation for every human being, and indeed, every child of God. It is a truth worth stating at every opportunity – that every human being is created by God to fulfill a specific purpose on the earth. Fulfilling our purpose ultimately brings God pleasure and glory.

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Genesis 3: Thoughts on the Fall

This morning, I read chapter 3 of the biblical book of Genesis as part of my daily devotion. This chapter chronicles the fall of humanity through disobedience to God’s instruction and subsequent eviction from the garden of Eden. I would like to share a few thoughts that came to mind as I meditated on this story this morning. I would suggest you take a few minutes to read the chapter before proceeding even if you are familiar with the story.

Adam and Eve had only “Thou shall not”, but that was the very one they decided that “they shall”. It was the beginning of man’s disposition to do the very thing he has been commanded not to do, the things he knows he ought not to do. We still see this trait in many of our lives today, even in little children, signifying that we all carry a fallen nature. But how did we fall from being God’s royal representative on earth to this corrupted nature we are all born with?

It all started with the tempter’s manipulation – the serpent who drew Eve’s attention to God’s command and then, in an act of rebellion, contradicted God’s statement “You will not surely die” (vs. 4), making God out to be a liar. With her attention now drawn to the fruit, Eve was pushed on by her own desires and became attracted to the forbidden fruit, thinking it “good for food” and “pleasant to the eyes” (vs 6). She also believed the tempter that the fruit would indeed make her wise. What a tragedy!

Guess what? In our battle against iniquity, it’s still the same modus operandi in place today: the tempter draws, our desires push, and before you know it, we’re reeling in the mire of sin (see James 1:13-15). But there were three questions God asked Adam & Eve after the fall, that can help us break the cycle of rebellion against God, and live lives that truly honour our heavenly Father. Let’s check them out.

1. Where are you? (vs. 9)

You cannot sin while standing in God’s presence. You must first depart before entertaining sin. In fact, listening to the tempter only happens when you are not mindful of God’s presence. So if you stay in prayer, and keep your heart full of God’s Word, you have the first barrier to sin. Like the Psalmist said, “Your word have I hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Ps. 119:11)

2. Who told you? (vs. 11)

The voices you listen to, especially the ones you spend much time with and pay attention to, whether in movies, on the internet, on radio or social media, those are the ones that determine your actions and the direction of your life. They automatically instruct your mindset and introduce ideas you may not even be conscious of into your mind. So, whose voice is feeding your thoughts? What are they nurturing within you?

3. What have you done? (vs 13)

There are 3 steps to sin: the tempter draws, our desires push, and then we yield. The first two steps can always happen, but the third step is where we have influence, where we can pause to say: “What am I about to do?” This third question shows God placing responsibility for the fall on human beings, not the tempter. Adam had deflected, blaming Eve (and God), and she too blamed the serpent. But God always holds us responsible!

This is why Jesus came and died a shameful death on the cross, taking the fall for our sins and giving us His untainted victorious life in exchange. If you have not accepted his sacrifice for your sins, you need to do so now, confess Him as Lord and embrace new life in Him. After you accept Christ, the responsible to choose still lies with YOU! God gives us the power to choose through Christ: the power to say “No” to sin and “Yes” to righteousness. We must choose right!

This is where I draw a curtain on my sharing from Genesis 3 today. I hope it blessed you. I would love to hear your thoughts as well…please share in the comments. Stay blessed, and stay victorious!

Ecclesiastes: how the world really works

We all have a dainty picture of how our lives should pan out, of how all of life should operate. We expect to do good and experience good, to love and be loved, work hard and prosper, build up wealth and enjoy it. We expect that good things should happen to good people, and evil people should reap the work of their hands. And we’re not alone in our thinking. Large portions of the Bible hold and teach the same viewpoint – that it will be well with the righteous, and that the wicked will eventually self-destruct.

But no sooner are we born into the world than we begin to experience the unfairness, instability and imbalance that characterizes this fallen world of ours. The very idea that life can be random and not predictable, that our faith doesn’t guarantee happier lives, or that a relationship with God doesn’t mean we will get all we want, can be discouraging or depressing in our pursuit of purpose. We are all shocked with this reality at some point in our lives and may even begin to question the meaning of life.

This search for meaning is what the book of Ecclesiastes is all about. The writer explores critical themes of our lives and declares with a brutal finality that “All is Vanity!”. He draws from his own experience of pleasure and wisdom and wealth and introspection, and then arrives at the discomfiting truth that all human endeavour and accomplishment ends with a sobering submission – death and return to the dust. Whether rich or poor, powerful or weak, wise or foolish, careful or carefree, all will end up in the grave.

He goes further to examine the static nature of our world through its various encounters with humanity. At its best, the rise and fall of kingdoms and nations mirrors the rise and fall of sea waves. From where things come, there they return. We are rather minute in the grand scale of things, even though we would like to exaggerate our own impact on the earth. Then the writer goes on to strike a final chord, which is for me, the most disconcerting note of all: nothing is guaranteed in life.

The strong does not always win. The smart does not always get wealth. The fastest does not always win. Nothing guaranteed; nothing assured. So, he encourages his readers to enjoy their days and take pleasure in whatever blessings they have received from God: food, family, friendship, wealth – whatever it is they are privileged to have, knowing well that nothing is guaranteed, and that all good gifts come from above. It is somewhat of a contrarian view, asking people to enjoy knowing nothing is assured.

Yet this seemingly conflicting counsel is the hallmark of the book of Ecclesiastes: asking us to give our best in all we do and rejoice in all we have after painting us a picture of gloom. He closes the book in a similar manner, calling the young to remember their God in the days of their youth and asking everyone to fear God “because this is the whole duty of mankind”. It is a call, not to despair, but to hope and trust in God who gives us all things richly to enjoy.

The book of Ecclesiastes is an adventure into realism and invitation to humility, seeing that we will all die and be forgotten someday, and we cannot even control the outcomes of the life we are living. It is an invitation to abandon worry and fear and sorrow, to embrace joy and diligence and faith, not slacking in our daily work but giving our best, not careless in the way we live but honouring God, knowing that we will all give an account of our lives to Him someday and receive appropriate rewards for all we do.

Jonah – the prophet who rebelled

The Bible is full of the stories of many prophets, many of them with eponymous books in the Bible, full of the messages God sent them to deliver to various recipients. While a few of them had some of their personal stories told, majority are known mostly for the messages they delivered. But one man included among the prophets is known more for his own story than for his message – his story of disobedience no less. From resisting God’s instruction to taking offence at God, Jonah’s story is more like a 21st century millennial than an Old Testament prophet, one we will do well to pay attention to in our days.

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Discipleship: the call to surrender

When at first we identify as Christians, most of us have an incomplete or incorrect understanding of what it means to be a Christian. We may at first think it is a call to be good people, or an invitation to permanent happiness. We may be overwhelmed by the power of God, and expect that it will be used in our favour, or be conscious of our shortcomings, and hope that being Christians can help us improve and be our very best, possible even living perfect lives. But as the scales fall off, and we see the light of God, we begin to recognize that the call to be a Christian is not at all about our selfish desires: it is all about Christ.

Let us step back a minute, to the very beginning of time, where God made man in his own image, with the intent to have them rule over creation and be God’s representative on the earth. That was a moment of perfection – a chance for us to be the very best God wanted. But we ruined it. All of us – through Adam and Eve – ruined that moment of perfection and chose to go after what we felt we didn’t have (knowledge of good and evil), ignoring the very thing we had access to (the tree of life). Humanity became debased and the pursuit of selfish interests was born. We lost focus on pleasing God and became self-pleasers.

Fast forward several centuries and Jesus steps into the picture. He is the image of the living God: a 2.0 version of the man God had made, except this version did not fall short again. He succeeded where Adam failed. He resisted where Adam succumbed. He was the archetype of the new humanity God wanted to bring forward: the overcoming species that would fulfill man’s original purpose of ruling creation while remaining in submission to God. Where Adam tried to acquire his own wisdom by eating the fruit, Jesus rejected all advances and stayed true only to the words of His heavenly Father. Finally, the Son is here!

It was this Jesus that God set forward as an example of the new humanity. When he called men to follow Him, they often started out thinking like Adamic beings. They imagined He was another Adam – a conquering victor who subdues his enemies by instilling fear and imposing violence, who outshines his foes and obliterates his contradictors. But in a shocking act of divine irony – this Jesus surrendered himself to be killed by His enemies. The very one who had been promised as a Messiah, having manifested divine powers, allowed Himself to be crucified on a cross – the most demeaning form of capital punishment.

Hung on a cross for no sin of His, this Jesus began the path to “Saviourhood” by becoming like the worst of sinners. He laid down his life by faith, and the Father proved him to be the One by raising Him from the dead. Having risen, he again calls people to follow him and be like Him. But here lies the contradiction: we all love a powerful Saviour capable of healing the sick and raising the dead, feeding the hungry and giving hope to the hopeless. But who wants to follow, talk less of become like, a Saviour who debases Himself and serves like a slave, who takes punishment for sins he did not commit and blesses those who hurt Him?

Yet walking that path is the very essence of the new humanity. Deliverance from the debased nature within us begins from rejecting the very thing that makes us who are, so that we can embrace and begin to become like who He is. Neither our good works nor our evil actions are acceptable before God, because they all come from a fallen nature. Only the works that are done by the Son, through the Son and for the Son, are acceptable. We are not called to be better versions of ourselves. We are called to surrender our lives, take up His life and be like Him, to live by and take instructions from His Spirit. Not just once, but every day.

This is the call to discipleship: a call to surrender our lives and be like our Master Jesus. This is what it means to be a Christian – one whose life is modeled after the faith, love and service of Christ, who rejects every thought that originates outside of God, and depends on the written word of God as his daily bread. Being a Christian is not a cute thing to do or a faith to adopt in order to improve the world or our personal wellbeing. It is a call to an overhaul, a call to die daily and embrace new life continuously, a call to sacrifice, submission and service that translates to joy and hope not only for this life, but eternally.

The Home Stretch

Last Sunday, I observed my toddler drifting off to sleep on our way back from church. He’s always determined, it seems, to stay awake through the journey home, a journey of about 30 to 40 minutes depending on the traffic condition. On the drive home, I glance back a few times to check if he’s awake and believe it or not, he’s usually awake for at least two-thirds of the journey. But something ‘magical’ always happens in those last few minutes, and by the time we’re home – he’s fast asleep. It’s hardly ever more than 10 minutes of sleep that he gets, but he is never awake by the time we get home.

And that takes me to my point: finishing any effort – a marathon, a project, a course, whatever it is – always requires a commitment to see through what you started. Perseverance is a powerful virtue in the development of our character, one we must all strive for in our daily lives. It is the deliberate choice to follow through, no matter the adversity or difficulty we face. And it is often the last bit of effort we need to put in that seems to sap our energy the most. Like my son, it is those last few minutes of staying awake till we’re home that is the hardest. That is when the lure of sleep is greatest and determination to stay awake is greatly tested.

Whether learning a skill, getting an education, acquiring experience, building a relationship or working at any defined project, we must learn to persevere through the difficult seasons. Difficulties can help us persevere as we truly define what is more important to us – the ease we crave, or the goal we desire to achieve. While some efforts have a clearly defined end point, others are continuous, like building a relationship. But we must recognize that the gain we seek from nurturing those relationships do not come without persevering through difficult seasons.

As a Christian, perseverance is most important to us because the kingdom we are looking for is heavenly, not of this earth. What God has promised us are not things we can get in this world. So we wait with hope and walk by faith, trusting that what God has promised, he will perform. We look forward to the return of the Lord Jesus and the transformation of our bodies, knowing that His coming is nearer now than when we first believed. And we choose to live as strangers and foreigners in this world, ambassadors of another kingdom. We do all this, knowing that this age is rolling up to a close, and that we are on the home stretch to inheriting God’s eternal kingdom.

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised (Heb 10:35, NIV)

But he who endures to the end shall be saved (Matt. 24:13, NKJV)

And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed (Romans 13:11, NIV)

Does God Understand?

Does Jesus really understand my struggles? Can he actually relate when I am torn between choices or struggling to obey God’s will? Does it make sense to Him or does He shake his head in disdain as I start to lean towards wrong choices? How do I receive His grace?

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Trusting Him in the Dark

Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God.
Isaiah 50:10 NIV

Sometimes, the righteous walk in the dark. They deal with uncertainty, feeling their way around and wondering if God has abandoned them. People who revere God and obey His word do find themselves in such places, not because of sin or disobedience, but because we live in a fallen world. But God uses those times for our good.

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