Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Abram Scored Low in Character and Integrity, But Why He Was Called the Father of Our Faith? (Genesis 12:1-5)

God told Abram: ‘Leave your country, your family, and your father’s home for a land that I will show you. I’ll make you a great nation and bless you. I’ll make you famous; you’ll be a blessing. I’ll bless those who bless you; those who curse you I’ll curse. All the families of the Earth will be blessed through you.’ So Abram left just as God said, and Lot left with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot with him, along with all the possessions and people they had gotten in Haran, and set out for the land of Canaan and arrived safe and sound
(Genesis 12:1-5, The Message)

Abram (later named as Abraham) was from somewhere in modern-day Iraq and most likely from a tribe of moon-worshippers. Nothing in the Bible indicates what kind of person Abram was, either his personality or moral behaviour that attract God’s attention among so many pagans. In fact, few chapters ahead suggest that Abram was flawed in his character and integrity.

But God called Abram anyway. Abram, this childlike seventy-five-years-old, would be an ancestor of a great nation someday, and through him God would bless all the nations. All Abram had to do was leave everything he had ever known and follow this mysterious Voice to a new country. It was not an easy task. The Voice doesn’t mention, by the way, where this new country is, or how long it will take to get there.

Amazingly, almost unbelievably, Abram obeyed the Voice. Whatever his shortcomings, Abram, no doubt, had an astonishing capacity for belief. He was faith-full. He risked his whole life on the conviction that God’s promise will come true. Again and again, Abram made a mess of things (if you followed our Bible Studies on the Book of Genesis, you’ll know how frustrated I was about Abraham’s character and conduct). But he always returned to this first conviction: God’s promises are true. That trust and capacity for belief are what made Abram the father of our faith. God’s promises to His people – Christ-followers – are always true… The question is… Do you believe?


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Monday, January 30, 2017

God Who Confused and Scattered the People (Genesis 11:4-9)

Then they said, ‘Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower that reaches Heaven. Let’s make ourselves famous so we won’t be scattered here and there across the Earth.’ God came down to look over the city and the tower those people had built. God took one look and said, ‘One people, one language; why, this is only a first step. No telling what they’ll come up with next—they’ll stop at nothing! Come, we’ll go down and garble their speech so they won’t understand each other.’ Then God scattered them from there all over the world. And they had to quit building the city. That’s how it came to be called Babel, because there God turned their language into ‘babble.’ From there God scattered them all over the world.”
(Genesis 11:4-9, The Message)

God’s first command to humanity was, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28). In other words, spread out across the earth. When people spread out, it isn’t long before they start speaking different languages and creating different cultures. That seem to have been God’s plan all along – to have not only one language but many languages and cultures, of every tribes and nations, each praising God in its own way. Unity comes from diversity, awesome! John the Apostle saw the future: “I saw a huge crowd, too huge to count. Everyone was there—all nations and tribes, all races and languages” worship God (Revelation 7:9).

But the people in Genesis 11 had other plans. Not God’s plan. They didn’t want to fill the earth. They wanted to stay right where they were and become great – maybe even as great as God, so they thought. They began building a great tower that would reach to the heavens – challenging God’s authority by having one language and one culture… “Unite we’re strong!” dare to challenge God.

God had other plans for them. God confused their language and scattered them to all the earth. It was a punishment, certainly. But it was also a mercy, for it forced the people out of their delusion of self-sufficiency (Richard Dawkins wrote God Delusion, I’ve read it. But I think it was he who is in delusion!), and into something richer and more adventurous. Imagine the future with me when all the people from every tribe and nation “standing, dressed in white robes and waving palm branches, standing before the Throne and the Lamb and heartily singing:

Salvation to our God on his Throne!
Salvation to the Lamb!

(Revelations 7:10)
Isn’t panoply is more awesome than monoculture?


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Saturday, January 28, 2017

Remember This When You Look at the Rainbow (Genesis 9:12-16)

God continued, ‘This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and everything living around you and everyone living after you. I’m putting my rainbow in the clouds, a sign of the covenant between me and the Earth. From now on, when I form a cloud over the Earth and the rainbow appears in the cloud, I’ll remember my covenant between me and you and everything living, that never again will floodwaters destroy all life. When the rainbow appears in the cloud, I’ll see it and remember the eternal covenant between God and everything living, every last living creature on Earth.’”
(Genesis 9:12-16, The Message)

In the Old Testament no less than the New Testament, God’s anger is always answered by God’s grace (I think Joyce Meyer’s 2013 book, God is Not Mad at You can be perceived as half-true. God is mad at you and your sins but He is ready to forgive you if you would only repent of your sins and come to Him. Now, I also think Joyce’s book is great for repented-sinners and for those who “haven’t truly received God’s love because they’re afraid of His anger and disapproval.” Thus, if you’re with and in Christ, God is far from mad at you, He calls you His sons and daughters. This is grace).

The worldwide destruction of the Flood was followed immediately by the promise of hope, His grace. Never again, God promised, would He sent the kind of flood that Noah and his family had just experienced through. And the sign of that promise was a bow in the sky – God-size bow – a rainbow.

It is worth noticing that the bow is aimed to shoot its arrows up toward heaven, not down toward earth. The bow is not a threat against humankind that says, “The arrows of God’s anger are going to rain down on you again!” No! This bow is aimed to shoot – metaphorically – at the heart of God. It is as if God is saying, “I cross my heart, I promise.” In this covenant, God puts Himself on the hook.

There are some two-sided covenants in the Bible, in which God’s people agree to hold up their end of the bargain. This covenant is ALL God. But there is another covenant – New Covenant – that is more important than this one… Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for you and you don’t have to do anything, just receive by grace through faith. This is ALL Christ. So when you look at the rainbow(s) today or tomorrow, remember God’s grace, remember the New Covenant.


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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Don't Treat God's Wrath as Something Cute (Genesis 6:11-14, 17-18)

As far as God was concerned, the Earth had become a sewer; there was violence everywhere. God took one look and saw how bad it was, everyone corrupt and corrupting—life itself corrupt to the core. God said to Noah, ‘It’s all over. It’s the end of the human race. The violence is everywhere; I’m making a clean sweep. Build yourself a ship from teakwood. Make rooms in it. Coat it with pitch inside and out… I’m going to bring a flood on the Earth that will destroy everything alive under Heaven. Total destruction. But I’m going to establish a covenant with you: You’ll board the ship, and your sons, your wife and your sons’ wives will come on board with you.”
(Genesis 6:11-14, 17-18, The Message)

Many Sunday school tend to treat Noah’s flood as children’s story. Cute. The ark floats atop the rising waters, a smiling giraffe poking its head through the upper window hole. But the story of the Flood is a story of God’s wrath. Not a cute event, but a disastrous one.

God’s wrath is not an easy or pleasant thing to contemplate. But it expresses itself throughout the Bible – the New and Old Testament. God’s wrath is part of God’s love, not the opposite. In human level, if you love someone, you know how your anger burns against anything that would harm that person. “God’s wrath,” as my colleague once said, “Is reserved for that which seeks to destroy the people he loves.” Sin destroys lives, relationships, and happiness. The anger of God is the anger of surgeons who cut away cancers rather than see them consume their victims.

In Genesis 6, what I learned is this: God pours out His wrath by finally giving people what they want (if you read 2 Thessalonians 2:11, you won’t be too puzzled. See also people’s hard heartedness in John 12:37). The people of Noah’s time wanted to live beyond God’s grace, without God. So God finally lifted His retraining hand – the hand that restrained the floodwaters. In the end, the people got exactly what they wanted, and it was the end of them. Sad.

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This Post Is for (Gonna-Be) Murderer... I Mean... You! (Genesis 4:3-8)

Time passed. Cain brought an offering to God from the produce of his farm. Abel also brought an offering, but from the firstborn animals of his herd, choice cuts of meat. God liked Abel and his offering, but Cain and his offering didn’t get his approval. Cain lost his temper and went into a sulk. God spoke to Cain: ‘Why this tantrum? Why the sulking? If you do well, won’t you be accepted? And if you don’t do well, sin is lying in wait for you, ready to pounce; it’s out to get you, you’ve got to master it.’ Cain had words with his brother. They were out in the field; Cain came at Abel his brother and killed him
(Genesis 4:3-8, The Message)

The brokenness of the post-Fall world reached a new level in the relationship between Cain and Abel, the first brothers. One day they both brought their offering to God. Abel, a herdsman, brought an animal; Cain, however, brought fruits or/and vegetables.

God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and rejected Cain’s. Cain was furious – whether furious at God or Abel, the Bible doesn’t clearly say. Nor the Bible explained why God rejected Cain’s sacrifice, but it seems likely that it was due to the state of Cain’s heart that stood between him and God (NOT like what I heard from a pastor that said it was because of the type of offerings, vegetation versus animal sacrifice. It was not about technical part, it was about the conditions of the heart. See that Abel brought “choice cuts of meat” the best! But Cain probably brought an ordinary sacrifice, not the best).

If you do well,” God admonished Cain, “won’t you be accepted?” God followed the question with a stern warning: “And if you don’t do well, sin is lying in wait for you, ready to pounce; it’s out to get you, you’ve got to master it” or as New King James put it: “you should rule over it.”

Even as God looked into Cain’s dark heart, He gave the first murderer a choice. But Cain chose to enslave himself rather than master his sin. Cain let it ruled over him. His barbaric act was a manifestation of a deeper sin inside. Each of us may have the same anger or hatred toward one another – family members and friends – but each of us also has the same choice as Cain. God says, “You’ve got to master it” or “You should ruled over it” because He knows, with and in Him, we can. What’s your choice? What we do with it is up to us.


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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Why Christians Need to Work Hard[er] (Genesis 3:16-19)

This picture represent "work hard" nothing to do with the Scripture quotes :P

[God] told the Woman: ‘I’ll multiply your pains in childbirth; you’ll give birth to your babies in pain. You’ll want to please your husband, but he’ll lord it over you.’

He told the Man: ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from, ‘Don’t eat from this tree,’ The very ground is cursed because of you; getting food from the ground will be as painful as having babies is for your wife; you’ll be working in pain all your life long. The ground will sprout thorns and weeds, you’ll get your food the hard way, planting and tilling and harvesting, sweating in the fields from dawn to dusk, until you return to that ground yourself, dead and buried; you started out as dirt, you’ll end up dirt.’
(Genesis 3:16-19, The Message)

Before Adam and Eve sinned, the earth was perfect. Have you read that in the beginning the earth watered itself? Read Genesis 2:6. Everything changed, however, after that first sin [second, if you count the fall of Satan]. Now cursed, the ground produces thorns and thistles more easily than fruits and vegetables. Since the Fall, work has been struggle – a push back against a hostile world.

Work is not the result of the Fall, remember that fact. Even before they had sinned, Adam and Eve had the job of taking care the Garden. From our modern perspective, it’s hard to imagine what such work might have entailed if there were no weeding, no tilling, no pulling rocks out of that ground. But whatever that work entailed, we can be confident that it was a work of cooperation with the earth, free from the frustration and futility of the work we experience where the weeds always grow back, no matter how many times we pull them (I asked my mother about it).

Because of sin, everything is harder than it has to be. Work is harder. Childbirth is harder. Relationships are harder. And yet this is still our Father’s world, and He still calls us to work hard to gain rewards and fruits from this world. Today, in Christ, working hard with faith can lead to great things!


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Sunday, January 22, 2017

God have No Hidden Agendas (Genesis 3:1-6)

[The serpent] spoke to the Woman: ‘Do I understand that God told you not to eat from any tree in the garden?’ The Woman said to the serpent, ‘Not at all. We can eat from the trees in the garden. It’s only about the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘Don’t eat from it; don’t even touch it or you’ll die.’’ The serpent told the Woman, ‘You won’t die. God knows that the moment you eat from that tree, you’ll see what’s really going on. You’ll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging all the way from good to evil.’ When the Woman saw that the tree looked like good eating and realized what she would get out of it – she’d know everything! – she took and ate the fruit and then gave some to her husband, and he ate.”
(Genesis 3:1-6, The Message)

The serpent promised Eve new eyes to see what God sees. Adam and Eve got a new perspective after they ate the fruit – yes, they were! – but it wasn’t God’s perspective. The serpent taught them to doubt God’s goodness, to suspect hidden agendas beneath the straightforward commands God gave for their happiness. The serpent taught them, in short, to find misery where God had intended only good from them. For us.

No longer comfortable with their new knowledge and perspective, Adam and Eve hid from God. They believed that the shame they were experiencing must reflect God’s true view of them. The serpent, after all, had told them that eating the forbidden fruit would open their eyes. The terrible irony is that before they ate the fruit, Adam and Eve already had a god-like view of the world they inhabited. The serpent took away the very thing he promised to give.

Since that day in the Garden, our perspective has been shewed. We find it very hard to believe what may be the simplest, most fundamental truth of all: God loves us, and He wants what is best for us. Don’t forget that!


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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A Leader Who Earn My Respect: When I Think of Tok Nan (1944 - 2017) I Think of King Cyrus

Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Datuk Amar Haji Adenan bin Satem (27 January 1944 – 11 January 2017) or as the people called him, Tok Nan, was the fifth Chief Minister of Sarawak. He officially took the oath of office in a ceremony held at Astana on 28 February 2014. He was born in Kuching, Sarawak during its occupation by Japan in World War II. He received his early education at St. Joseph's Primary School, and later at St. Joseph's Secondary School. He once worked as a journalist and teacher before pursuing his studies in law at the University of Adelaide, Australia. I like what The Coverage writes about him, “Talk about Malaysia’s Barisan National (BN) political party and most will reply with an endless barrage of hate and disapproval. In Sarawak however, one BN man is apparently doing all the right things to capture the heart of Sarawakians.” Yes, I wish Tok Nan doesn’t represent BN at all, but like it or not, we all love him as a person and leader of Sarawak!

When I think of Tok Nan, I think of King Cyrus the Great (600 or 576 – 530 BC). This pagan king is important in Jewish history because it was under his rule that Jews were first allowed to return to Israel after 70 years of captivity. Before Cyrus issued a decree to free the Jews, prophet Isaiah already prophesied about him 150 years before Cyrus lived (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1, 4; see also 41:2-25; 42:6). King Cyrus also very active in assisting the Jews in rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem under Ezra and Zerubbabel. Cyrus restored the temple treasures to Jerusalem and allowed building expenses to be paid from the royal treasury (Ezra 1:4–11; 6:4–5). Besides his dealings with the Jews, Cyrus is known for his advancement of human rights, his brilliant military strategy, and his bridging of Eastern and Western cultures. He was a king of tremendous influence and God used him mightily.

Tok Nan was a Malay and a devoted Muslim as far as I know. These facts don’t stop us from respecting and loving him as a person and leader. Sarawakians' love for him doesn’t affect by his race or religion, we love him because he genuinely loves the people. As YB Baru Bian writes in his Facebook account: “We have lost a CM (chief minister) who truly cared about Sarawak and Sarawakians of all races, ethnicity, and religions. He chose to carry on with his role as CM even though his health was declining. He did his best for Sarawak and I had the greatest respect for him.” That’s why when I think of Tok Nan I think of King Cyrus.

Let me explain. The Jews honored Cyrus as a dignified and righteous king even though he was a pagan king; people from different races and religious honored Tok Nan as caring and chief minister berjiwa rakyat even though he was a devoted Muslim. In history, King Cyrus was thought of as a ‘messiah’ and liberator; Tok Nan was our answered prayer when we asked for a leader who fears God and ruled people justly. King Cyrus unites his conquered nations; Tok Nan represents the true spirit of 1Malaysia. God’s use of Cyrus as a “shepherd” (Isaiah 44:28) for His people illustrates the truth of Proverbs 21:1, “The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases”; no doubt God raised up godly leaders such as Tok Nan in the midst of our corrupt government. I personally believe Tok Nan’s heart is in the hand of the Lord too.

When I think of Tok Nan I think of King Cyrus. But then again, they are totally different. Tok Nan doesn’t rule on his ‘throne’ like Cyrus. Tok Nan loves to be with the people. He walks among us. He eats moderately and he speaks our language. He was not a power-hungry leader like many leaders today (read 10 Reasons Why Adenan Satem Is Winning The Hearts Of Sarawakians). I don’t know much about politics or about his personal life, but what I do know is that Tok Nan has my respect. I will remember him as a champion of Sarawak rights and a model for a righteous leader. Thank you Tok Nan for everything and may God have mercy on Sarawak. Lord, raise up leaders like him! Amen.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

It Was the Day When the Man's World Made Good (Genesis 2:18-22)

I use this picture because the almost-real first humans in the internet are not appropriate :P

God said, ‘It’s not good for the Man to be alone; I’ll make him a helper, a companion.’ So God formed from the dirt of the ground all the animals of the field and all the birds of the air… but he didn’t find a suitable companion. God put the Man into a deep sleep. As he slept he removed one of his ribs and replaced it with flesh. God then used the rib that he had taken from the Man to make Woman and presented her to the Man. The Man said, ‘Finally! ...
(Genesis 2:18, 20-22, The Message)

Throughout the Creation story, a phrase repeats over and over again: “God saw that it was good.” The day was good. The night was good. The seas were good. The dry land was good. The trees, the plants, the mountains, the rivers, the birds, the fishes, the land animals, human beings – God saw all of it and affirmed that it was good (Imagine “like” and “love” bubbles come out through Creation FB page).

So I was a little curious when God declares that something is not right, not good. “‘It’s not good for the Man to be alone,” God says. He healed the Man’s loneliness by creating a companion out of the Man’s very flesh and bone. His rib. “Finally!” the Man said (or in other translation “At last!”). That little exclamation is telling. It is the day when the Man’s world was made good!

This was before the Fall, remember.

The Man had the delights of the Garden of Eden spread out before him. He even had the full presence of God. And yet in the absence of another human being with whom to enjoy it all, the Man couldn’t truly enjoy it! Everything is good, but not enough. Something was missing until… the Woman.

This is the story of humankind that God creates in His own image. Because God is the God of Trinity (or more accurately, (3) Tri- (1) Unity), we are made to display His being, His relationshipness. We are made for relationship, not for self-sufficiency. It’s not good for us to be alone.


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Monday, January 2, 2017

Made to Reflect the Original (Genesis 1:26-27, 31)

God spoke: ‘Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature so they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, and, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.’ God created human beings; he created them godlike, reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female… God looked over everything he had made; it was so good, so very good!
(Genesis 1:26-27, 31, The Message)

Being human mean we are prone to do errors, to sin. But there’s a lot more than that! We are all made in the image of God. That urge to create, to bring order out of chaos, to make our mark on the world; the anger we feel in the face of injustice, the pleasure we feel in the face of beauty, the hope we feel for a better future – all of that is the image of God finding expression in us, human beings.

It is true that the image of God we express is distorted, even fractured. But there it is nevertheless, shown when we interact with one another, burst forth in our longings for more. God’s image in us forever calls us back to the One who is its original.

That realization changes the way we look at ourselves (Look at you!). It also changes the way we look at others. “There are no ordinary people,” C. S. Lewis wrote, “You have never met a mere mortal.” Once you open your eyes to see the original God and start seeing the image of God in yourself and others, the world will never looks the same again. Yes!

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Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Life still Speaks, The Light still Shine (Genesis 1:1-5)

First this: God created the Heavens and Earth – all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss. God spoke: ‘Light!’ And light appeared. God saw that light was good and separated light from dark. God named the light Day, he named the dark Night. It was evening, it was morning – Day One
(Genesis 1:1-5, The Message)

There was only “a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness.” There was only dark. And then there was everything, spoken by God into existence only by His voice: “Light!” or “Let there be light!” With those words, light shone out of the darkness, order out of chaos, and the emptiness was filled with good, beautiful things – thing that gave God pleasure.

It was so good, so very good!” (1:31) God said. It wouldn’t be long before the perfection of the natural order would be contaminated by sin and death, but this first two chapters – Genesis 1 and 2 – reminds me (in fact all of us) of my longing to see God and for the perfection of Heaven. The Creation story also tells me that everything in this universe – every single thing – is of supernatural origin. Everything created echo God’s voice that says, “Let there be…

First this: God…” reminds me of “The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word. The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one. Everything was created through him, nothing – not one thing! – came into being without him. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out” (John 1:1-5, The Message). Oh, now we know, that it was the Word that set things in motion, and that Word still speaks… for the Word is “The Life-Light” Christ. He was with God from the beginning – first. Indeed, He was God, shining in “a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness.” The Word, the Life still speaks. The Light still shines. Halleluiah!


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