Feb 23, 2009

Of Trees and Fruit

Uncle Chiong Seng in his sharing last week struck a chord. He said that we often become so engrossed by the manifestations of the Spirit, and yet, show no interest in the fruit of the Spirit. Like the Jews of old, we too can be excited by signs and miracles. The constant refrain of the Jews was “show us a sign”. Many followed the Lord to see and feed at His miracles. And we may not be far behind or different. Yet it is in the fruit of the Spirit that really matters. Of a truth, its by the fruit, that a tree is known.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers (Psa 1:3)

In the Old Testament, the focus and depiction of blessedness was more towards the tree being well-watered, well-leafed and prospering; fruit-bearing was perhaps scantily alluded to in “the yielding in its season”. Or perhaps it is in our human nature, to so read the psalm, in such a way, that it favors ourselves the more. The deceit of our hearts?

And he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, 'Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?' And he answered him, 'Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure.Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"(Luk 13:6-9)

In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, "May no fruit ever come from you again!" And the fig tree withered at once. (Mat 21:18-19)

The Lord is much more exact and severe in His assessment. He certainly leaves no doubt in His requirement and disposal; bear fruit or else!

To think, that a tree, taking up space in a vineyard, being well watered, well-manured, in the sunshine of His love, tended to by the Vinedresser, never knowing drought and prospering; full of promising leaves yet bearing no fruit. A sterile tree? A rogue plant?

And although fruit bearing, is not quite about service and ministry, it does however evidence itself through service and ministry!

You will recognize them by their fruits. (Mat 7:16)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:22-23)

Let us by His grace, bear the fruit of His Spirit.

God bless.


Feb 16, 2009

Of love and friendship

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (Joh 15:13)

Love and friends; great subjects to talk about. Everybody has an opinion; who does not know about love and friendship. Love and friendship are much confused and abused today. We have so mangled the word that we can both declare love and yet be diametrically opposed, in each our propositions. Man has learnt to love both puppy dogs, spiders and pornography. The rhetoric surrounding love is beyond superfluous, of every shade under the sky; our songs heartily resounding. The words may be the same, but the meaning and intent not quite. Of greater perplexity is our ability to define love and friendship with two or more variants depending on whether we are on the giving or receiving end. “It’s only a song” does also provide latitude and shelter. Jesus said “greater love has no man than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends”. Jesus our Lord died for sinners, He called His friends. The pious establishment hated his being the friend of sinners. How controversial but definitive; His love and friendship. Is love’s distinction, to be decided by the willingness to lay down one’s life?

No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. (Joh 15:15)

But now He calls me His friend. He proved His love by laying down everything for me. From His condescension from being the only Begotten of God, to becoming a babe, raised in the house of a common carpenter; born to die the death, not of a common, but despicable criminal, cursed to a cross, bearing on Himself, and in my place, all of my sin. The Son chose to lay down His all, for me. Eye-witnesses had so laughed; “Himself He could not save, His friends?”And immediately after the fact, there was no celebration, no honor guard, no medal of honor, nothing to proclaim or glorify His doing so. I was not even born yet.

I once had a head-on with another friend, who said “he would rather die than…” With audacious flair, I pegged him by confronting, that if he will not stay alive for, do not pretend to even imagine, that he would be willing to die. In the passion of youth, dying always seems easier to declare. At the outset of life, it is so much easier to commit to dying! In a blaze of glory! Romeo and Juliet! Alexander! the brave die young! The Preacher records that it better being a live dog as opposed to a dead lion. When as a younger man, I would pridefully disagree; the lion is still king, if only for a day! What good, the greater number of days but as a dog? “A day in the sun is better than a lifetime of mediocrity!”; “a flash in a pan still beats plain dirt”. Of a truth, today, I am more a dog, the dog who has returned, so frequently from his own vomit. A poor excuse, but a live dog nonetheless, for now. Dying for whatever was easier declared when I was loose-lipped and young. The countless professions, and dedications? Of vows and promises, loud and however sincere. To live for Him? He died for me, me dying for Him? Most times, I have found, that I am not, even willing, to live for Him.

He says He is my Friend. But am I, His? If love is to be validated by one’s willingness to lay down one’s life? He has also asked me to die; to lay down my life, to carry my cross and follow Him. The seed must die. But can I? Am I? “For me to live is Christ, to die is… gain?” , “I am crucified in Christ ? and the life that I now live?” “whoever loses his life for My sake?” Been at the foot of the cross? Sure, I’ve been there; but on a cross? Calling Him friend, is not quite all to being His friend. My friendship with the Son looks more like a one-way street. It is more blessed to give than to receive?; but I am quite content to receive alone.

But I have this against thee, that thou didst leave thy first love. (Rev 2:4)

First love? They say; we’d never forget our first love. True? When I first saw His love for me, everything was so simple! At the foot of the cross, for the first time; could anything else command me? Was He not, everything? But now ? How dim the passions glow? How slow the heart responds? How hard of hearing? How deep the need to plumb? How often I’d forget, even to remember? How afar off, we stand warming ourselves, with other flame? When did it all fade ? How did the glory of the Son dim by detraction? Have I not forgotten? And how far is forgetting from leaving? Have we left even without knowing? As to the how come, I would submit, that it has much to do with our eyes.

"Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the LORD, "I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. (Jer 2:2)

There is comfort and assurance in Jer 2:2. Despite all our offenses, youthful and otherwise, He remains ever faithful. He remains our Friend. His love is from everlasting to everlasting. It is a good thing that neither love nor friendship is dependent on us. It is good that He remembers. Here, by His grace, we stand, but why cannot our love be evermore a shade closer to His? Why can we not, be more responsive to, and ever mindful of, His love? Is it truly impossible to be held sway by our first love? Is it necessary, that we forever need to be in a wilderness, tried and tested and humbled incessantly to encourage our cleaving to Him ?

And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect. (Lev 26:12-13)

God bless.


Feb 10, 2009

Pics & Vids

Here are some pictures from the CNY Open House we hosted 2 Saturdays ago. It was great fun preparing and cooking.

Ashley buying apples..

Ashley throwing apples..

New way to chase flies..

Feb 9, 2009

The Book 3 - Sitting at the Lord's feet

The bible is a compendium of 66 books; 39 in the Old Testament with 27 in the New Testament.

In the canonized bible, we have only 4 Gospel records. The words recorded as spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ in the bible is therefore not quite so numerous. Perusing His interaction with the people, would show that He is, of few words. With people He healed, His remarks were usually clipped; never a long lecture. With the woman caught in adultery, there was no tongue-lashing. With Nicodemus, a teacher of the law, a short discourse that was found difficult to understand. Only the self-righteous Pharisees and Scribes got more than the usual. To the general population, He spoke in short parables. His longest teaching record would be His Sermon on the Mount. And yet He taught as no one before Him, or after Him. He said however that He is to be found to say a great more in the book of Psalms. We are more familiar with the words of Paul, Moses, Isaiah, Peter or John; not quite with the Lord’s, possibly because there were not so many to start with. But what would be the effect of dwelling on His words?

In the episode where Martha complained about Mary’s lack, in helping with work, the Lord could have either chided or commended Martha, but confirmed that Mary had chosen the better part. So we now, all profess to want to be Mary and not Martha. We promulgate the desire to sit at the Lord’s feet. We have so warped an understanding that we have missed the boat entirely or gotten into the “wrong” one. We certainly do not know what we have propositioned for. Sitting at the Lord’s feet is not a demure, relaxing, taking it easy, basking in His glory excursion. It is definitely most unwise to use the notion as a convenient prop for not being in His service.

Sitting at His feet necessitates putting ourselves at His feet (a footstool for starters?), coming under His all-searching eyes, His impeccable scrutiny, and His transcendent all-knowing. Sitting with the Light will allow no room for darkness, blemishes, creases, denials, excuses, indiscretions, complicities; just complete nakedness. Which is the more severe, sitting before a Consuming Fire or before an open-door to a smelting furnace? We have opted for a sitting, not quite a quick pass. Staying at His feet and listening to Him would summon our complete being. No mitigations whatsoever; no distractions, no detractions, no tiredness, nothing whatsoever besides. And if He should speak, this is no negotiation. He is our Redeemer; He has bought and owns us. He is our Lord; we are His “servants” properly translated; slaves. He is the LORD; His word is our command, not a request. We have so translated “servants” in place of “slaves” to make the relationship more palatable and inoffensive to our sensitive self-images. The day has not dawned when it would be high-fashion to acknowledge oneself to be nothing but a slave. And with presumptuous debonair, we continue to propose, negotiate, vary, defer, delay, choose, and even ignore. We have really forgotten our standing, our positions before Him. We do not recognize the Risen Lord, sitting at the right hand of the Father, crowned with absolutes, at whose feet, every knee shall bow or shall be made to bend, and tongue confess that He is the Lord, to the glory of the Father. Without reducing or impinging on the significance of His manhood, His cross, His death, His burial, we do have a tendency to be fixated on who He was, and not who He now is; the Risen Lord seated at the right hand of the Father. Is He truly the Lord we worship, or some cuddly imagination we made up, of our own? Idolatry in motion?

Sitting at His feet, puts us in the Potter’s hand. It is when the Potter can express His will. He can alter, break down or make over, whatever and however, He wishes. He can make a vessel for honor, another for common use, but all holy, set aside and dedicated only for His own purpose, for His own glory, according to His will. And for those vessels that do not, who will not submit to the Potter’s designs; of what use will they be? Who would keep broken cisterns? Will a potter be satisfied with a deformed cistern? Which potter will use clay that will not be molded? Will the perfect Creator-Lord of the universe become stagnated with His designs for a mere vessel? Can a vessel ask the Potter “what doest Thou?” But we do.

But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. (Isa 64:8)

Will the Lord continue sitting with a group of blind, or deaf, or lame or bed-ridden fellows and not be able to heal them? It is probably we, who are more comfortable to “have” some disability, to excuse having to even come near Him. Do we really want full restoration? He will heal and clean us up, with water or with fire, and, we will be cleaned. He may choose to refine 7 times over, His vessels of silver. He will smelt and beat out His vessels of gold. We have forgotten the era of the master-craftsman. Time was when the craftsman was renown for his work. The value of a masterpiece depended on who the master-workman was. Its value appreciated by who the owner is. Works of art, inspired by the Spirit, worked by the Son to the glory of the Father. And after His handiwork, what new tasks, challenges and testing await us? Is it not written, that every work will be tested by fire, to see if it will last? Further trials by fire? Further gifts and talents to work and account for? To be the greater slave? He will prune His branches also so that they will bear more fruit. And fruit meant for others’ edification.

But still we would gloss over those words; that branches that do not bear fruit are cut down and cast into the fire, that all dross will be removed, that we shall be holy because He is holy and that without holiness, no one can see Him. In the presence of the Consuming Fire, fine gold will never tarnish. Drawing nearer to His presence is already awesome; care to sit at His feet?

Compare the writings of Paul, James, John, Peter and all the rest put together, with the Sermon. Which texts really leave us stumped? Can all the combined knowledge of the world scratch the surface of Logos? Envisage a personal session, 101, with the Lord. Will we walk away untouched? Will we be able to walk at all? The Psalms declare that before His presence, mountains will wax, that trees and all creation will sing, hills will fall down and valleys will rise up, the sun and moon will bow down! Moses spent some time getting the two tablets of the Law. His face remained aglow after his conference. They had to cover the afterglow! Does our interaction cause us to come away with anything resembling a glow or a tremor? Is there, the dimmest of glows, even in the deepest recesses of our hearts? So the earth did not move, but was there any movement in our hearts? Can one come away from a meeting with the LORD and not be affected in the slightest? If Jehovah was in the room, would we not have known it? On seeing Him, Ezekiel fell on his face, John as if dead! If there was not the presence, then it could never have been the LORD.

Solitude does not exist in our dictionary. The appropriation of time, alone with the LORD, in His word, in prayer or in silence, has become a rarity, if not extinct. The Lord himself dedicated to much time seeking solitude, seeking His Father. He needed to spend more time with the Father than sleep. His food was to do His Father’s will. We know nothing about the need for solitude. And yet, it was at these times, and away from all else, that He communed with His Father, re-energized Himself with power to do His will, sought out His Father’s will. Our ignorance of solitude premises also that we know so little about communion, power and seeking the Father’s will. When shall we begin to learn, what it is, to seek the LORD, alone in solitude? Do we know of secret places, of secret times, of “coming away” as in the Song of Solomon?

And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul. (Jer 32:38-41)

A Mary or a Martha? My human spirit tells me; it’s safer staying busy in the kitchen.

Had your quiet-time? With the LORD? Sitting at His feet?

God bless.


p.s. At the morning watch, Uncle Hing Lai prayed an interesting prayer line; perhaps the Lord does not show Himself to us, in our present conditions, because He knows it would literally kill us. He has to hide Himself, to prevent and protect us. Still, we need to seek Him.

Feb 2, 2009

The Book: Pt2- People of the Book

The LORD will establish you as a people holy to himself, as he has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the LORD your God and walk in his ways. And all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the LORD,.. . (Deut 28:9-10)

Identified with monotheistic Abrahamic religious communities, Christians in the early centuries were also accorded the style; “people of the Book”. This description does not come across powerfully and significantly to us , until we recognize that in earlier times, books and literacy were not really commonplace. A populace with a low number of elitist scholars, high illiteracy, discrimination against women and primitive market-economies; the association and identification with a book would be exceptionally weighty . These peoples’ lives were so identified and linked to; welded, not just tied, to governance by their book. To see them, deal with them and to know them; everything could be predicated by that book. That book was their real, if not public, persona, their civil identity, their religion; their life.

Time has passed by. This same description of Christians may be good only as a historical fact. Current findings will call that name, for today’s generation of Christians, a misnomer. Christians are not readily identified with the bible. We do not carry our bibles. We evade, avoid and protest the religiosity of, the necessity to be seen with bibles. We snicker at, and can be, quite uncomfortable with bible-thumping preachers. Our bibles lay in dust, if we remember where we last saw or placed them. Many bibles are sought only before the “churching” hour. Some of us are afraid to be seen to be, just so puritan, and it spoils our fashion. There is little need to actively so publicize our identities. It is incongruent with our earthly success. Carry a bible? dressed in Armani? With our latest LV? We will rather be seen, wearing a Nike, sporting the latest hand phone or ipod, or a Beemer, just not an ordinary bible.

Is “living by books” a thing, modern people do ? Consider that, for hobbyists around the globe, volumes of magazines are printed, all year round, to explain, to exposit, to spell out the "how to", together with the latest “don’ts”. Fashions are dictated for the latest in human-wear, cars, homes and every other adventure under the sun. Health literature prescribes the latest breakthroughs, regimes and methodology for food , cooking and exercise. Advertising instructs on when you have “arrived” and how to “get with it”. Professional bodies mandate complicity by generating manuals, journals, schedules and digests, to proudly fill ever-expanding libraries. Students physically force themselves to plough through volumes of texts and references, as if their lives depended on it. All governments around the world profess their own constitutions and laws. It is a fact that books circumscribe our lives; we all live by some book, just not usually the bible.

Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life(John 6:68)

A casual stroll across the shelves in a bookstore will take us to the “chicken-soup for Dummies” section. We have been so swamped by the secular psychology and even churchmen of the same ilk, subscribe to the “5 steps from”, “7 secrets of” and “10 ways to”, “across in 30 seconds”, and the “3 minute” whatever. Chicken- soup for the less than capable, of digestion, and simplified help for dummies. This proposal and approach aggrandizes the apparently successful, accomplished expert, who has so distilled and simplified collective wisdom, in and for, a very busy world. It is inexpedient to devote hours to personal study or self-examination. Their condensed, reconstituted wisdom is the easy, intelligent choice. The band-aid is quickly morphed to become the quick-fix, touted then to be the concise, the condensed, and the complete. Such “clever” schematics have so effectively crept into and permeated our lives, that we frequently mimic the language and approach of these latest gurus and psychoanalysts.

Quiet-time is misunderstood and reduced to be a “x” minuted reading of some text, preferably in the morning, a quick prayer for the day, making an attempt to “listen” and “you’re done, see You tomorrow!” Conversion is mistaken for a one-time, if sincere, superstitious, inoculation “sinner’s prayer” rather than a continuing journey marked by grace, of on-going transformation and sanctification by the Holy Spirit, through His word. Belief is divorced from repentance, and “following after” a negotiable consideration, despite the fact that repentance, is the critical proof of conviction by the Holy Spirit, the prerequisite preceding belief. To believe on His Name is not the repetition of a simple “I believe”. “Following Him” is non-negotiable, not to mention “taking up your cross”. We also behave as if, it is permissible to accommodate our own “sabbaticals” in our walk. Peter’s and Paul’s injunction to examine ourselves, to see if we are in the way continually, cannot be seen to be onerous in view of an eternity before us. We have evaded and denied the need of consistent, personal dwelling on scripture; why waste such precious time? Meditating 24x7 on scripture is pious cliché and is practically too unrealistic. The Divine’s explicit directive to so meditate on scripture is considered too archaic for modern-day.

Yet it is plainly obvious that one does not swallow one’s food, neither do we gulp choice wine. A love-relationship is not described by quick-times, quality-times or a pre-formulated get-together regulated on a time-watch. A fine, meaningful meal of choice cuisine, is not found at a drive-through. It is definitely not tabled with regurgitated food. In the Sermon on the Mount, did the Lord not teach about giving what is holy to dogs, casting pearls before swine? In the parable of the Sower, did He not say that the Kingdom of Heaven is likened to a field, for merchants in search for fine pearls?

And still, we will find enough gumption to protest that it is all, so difficult, so boring, so tiresome, so cramping, demanding even, on our lives. In the interim, we are persuaded that our “busyness” is tantamount to our “being successful” and haloed. We are cheered on; to be the pace-setter, the go-getter, the work-smarter, and the consummate winner-cum-leader. We take pride in, give praise to, and with crowning glory voraciously pursue earth-bound trophies. Our presumed highly-charged personalities find little merit or warrant, for quiet, unassuming and inconspicuous dedication to the word. We can be hassled, but not by study of the word. People of the Book or people of the world?

To be “people of the book” has been regarded as trite; “Who would base his life entirely on one book? What foolishness, to declare oneself with a book? Which retard or oxy-moron would attest his entire personality and life, by a book? Is it not insane to shackle oneself to the bible? Why should a man deny and relinquish his dexterity, his genius, his spirit, his mind, to do obeisance to a book? What foolishness, to sacrifice ones independence and rationality? The brilliance and wisdom of generations, of poets and philosophers, scientists and statesmen, geniuses and prized laureates, nullified by a rag-tag bunch of lesser, unknown, mostly less educated or accomplished authors? if authors they could be called. Why? by sheer volume alone, of authors, scripts and acclaim, the bible would lie buried in obscurity. To declare the bible as relevant, inerrant and all-sufficient is preposterous.” The Christian has to go beyond mere words to invoke and defend his bible. To proof the accuracy, faithfulness and unimpeachable witness of the bible requires more than study alone. And when we do not read, much less study the bible or our lives fail the living truths, is nothing awry?

Without making the book an idol, is it not time to start, first by carrying, then carefully reading our bibles? Are we truly convinced, that our “busyness” is reason sufficient, to procrastinate the complete reading of the whole bible? Do we not, consider it strange and an embarrassment when we struggle to find the placement of some more remote texts? When will it be, when we do not have to rake our minds, to be able to recall, what we last read? How are we going to be able; to first know, to defend and live out, the tenets of our faith and salvation, when we do not know what they really are? Is life eternal so secured that we can be trivial? How do we confirm, for no-one but ourselves, our relationship with the Most High? To relate, is not about spending time together, but being together, of one being. Relating does not invite as much compulsion as love. The reality and temperature of our “love”-“relationship” with the LORD can be quite telling. Is the relationship merely a figment of our own imaginations? A recent adage is that Christians who are “so earthly good, are not much heavenly good”. James is more caustic; he calls them apostates and adulteresses!

The love of and dedication to the bible is a strong indicator, a proper barometer, for a right and living relationship with the LORD. There is probably no better temporal confirmation. No true child of His, will not love His bible. The reading, studying and obedience to, becomes living proof of the professed and sanctifying love. The reading and study means nothing, if not translated by living thereto. The bible can be likened to our Royal Charter; within its paper pages lays the security of promised provisions for a filial relationship with the Almighty; to know Him, to love Him, and to know Life. Heaven begins here on earth after our conversion, not after physical death. To know Him is to love Him. Do we know Him? Do we love Him? His word?

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him, who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them, you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption, that is in the world, because of sinful desire. (2Pe 1:3-4)

By the LORD’s grace, we will make the descript as “people of the book” a glorifying truism.

God bless.