2017年2月20日星期一

Lord, Grant Me a Leap of Faith!

Genesis 22:1-18
Abraham Sacrifices Isaac as Burnt Offering
After much ordeal, Abraham finally received God’s promise of a descendant through Sarah at the age of 100. The son’s name was Isaac. But what was about to happen proved to be the greatest test of his life. God tested Abraham by giving him a command, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Gen. 22:2).
This echoes the first time God called Abraham, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you” (12:1).
In the first call, God requested that Abraham give up his old identity and culture so that he would embrace a new identity and promise. Fast forward 25 years to our present story, God wanted Abraham to give up that very promise. Abraham was now being asked to give up his blessed future.
How can Abraham be the father of many nations if he sacrifices Isaac? In the past, Abraham experienced God as just, loving, and faithful. Has God changed? The pagans of Canaan did sacrifice their sons to the gods. Could Abraham’s devotion to the LORD match the pagan’s devotion to the gods? Would Abraham let go of his God-given precious son?
God do tests people so that the depth of their reverence and obedience to Him can be shown (Exod. 16:4; Deut. 8:2). Scripture does not indicate whether Abraham had an internal struggle. It only documented his actions. Abraham “rose early in the morning” (Exod. 22:3). This shows that Abraham was determined to act promptly.
But, at the same time, his past hurt was brought back to mind, because he also “rose early in the morning” previously to send Ishmael away into the wilderness (21:14).
What should Abraham tell his wife and son regarding this unreasonable request from God? Abraham was all alone as he faced such a sad and tragic moment!
Abraham cut the wood for sacrifice, gathered two servants and his son, saddled his donkey and set out on the journey. They travelled for three days. What kind of conversations did Abraham have with his son? En route, did Abraham waver and thought of turning back? This was a desperate journey!
Abraham placed the wood of the burnt offering upon Isaac and held the fire and the knife in his own hands. Isaac carrying the wood up the mountain as the sacrifice typifies Jesus carrying the cross up the hills of Golgotha. The difference is that Jesus knew his mission but Isaac was ignorant of it.
“Behold, the fire and the wood,” said Isaac to his father. “But where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”
Abraham could not tell Isaac what he was told by God but he showed great faith. He said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (v. 8). The word “provide” means “see” in the Hebrew original. On the dark road toward sacrificing his own son, Abraham used the eyes of faith to “see” that God will “see” him.
When Abraham reached atop Mount Moriah, he built an altar, set the wood in place, tied up Isaac, and placed him on the wood of the altar. Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife. He raised his arm, ready to plunge the knife into his son…
At that instant, an angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven and said, “Abraham! Do not harm your own son!”
Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw a ram caught in a thicket by his horns. He took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of Isaac.
Abraham’s action of taking up the knife to plunge into Isaac shows that he was ready to offer the sacrifice. In fact, the sacrifice was already made and God had accepted it. The reader also understands that God was not at all interested in the practice of child sacrifice of the Canaanites.
God said to Abraham, “Now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (v. 12). This echoes verse two, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love.”
Romans 8:32 alludes to this story, “God who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
First, God unreservedly sacrificed His Son on the cross for us to bear the penalty for our sins so that He may rescue us from sin and death. In response to God’s love, we ought to offer ourselves up to be used by God.
Pay Any Price, Offer Up our Future, so as to Cling on God
The story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac tells us that the greatest test in life does not come from difficulties in life, adversities, loss, and pain. The greatest test comes from paying a great price in order to carry out the word of God although all that we can see is a gloomy and grim future.
One who passes such a test is worthy to be called a “God fearer” and meets the requirement of loving the LORD with all his or her heart, mind, soul, and strength. Trusting in God and giving Him thanks amidst adversity and pain are ordinary feats of faith. A more positive manifestation of faith is one who is willing to obey His command and pay the price to offer up his or her future to God.
Abraham’s sacrificing of Isaac is akin to sacrificing himself and his own future because Isaac was his only legacy. When we offer up our time and money to God, it is akin to offering up ourselves because we exchange our time and energy for money. Thus, time and money are actually our lives! Abraham was actually offering up his own volition, his rights, and his hope of the future.
Actually, if we truly believe that God is love, just, and dependable, we will resolutely obey his command. Abraham told his servants, “I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you” (v. 5).
Abraham believed that Isaac might not necessarily be killed. Or, perhaps, God might raise Isaac from the dead. He believed that God had a way to honor His promises, which was that Abraham would have many descendants through Isaac.
“We will come again to you” reveals his extraordinary faith – a faith that believes to the end, a faith that is unafraid of death, and a faith that even transcends over death.
The instructions that God gave to Abraham may seem unreasonable and appear to contradict His promises. How could Abraham become the father of many nations through Isaac if he dies?
Abraham must now decide between God’s promises and God Himself. The LORD is both hidden and majestic. Abraham did not try to solve the mystery. Instead, he strove to accomplish God’s command, because allegiance to God is the highest manifestation of faith.
Abraham was loyal to God and decided that offering everything up to God was more important than insisting upon God’s promises. Being loyal to God by offering everything up to Him is out of “reverence”, but insisting upon God’s promises is out of “fear.” For example, one may be fearful of losing the much treasured career, beauty, health, wealth, property, cars, family, and loved ones. Abraham reveres God and is therefore not fearful of losing his most beloved Isaac.
Today, God is also calling us to obey His command. He wants us to worship and serve Him reverentially and sacrificially. Are we willing even if what He wants us to give up includes money, ambitions, the things we love, and our direction in life? Are you willing to pay the cost of faith? Let us cling on to God, revere Him, and be unafraid to lose our beloved “Isaacs.”
Let Go and then Experience Jehovah-Jireh
Abraham saw a ram caught in a thicket and took it to replace Isaac as the burnt offering. He named that place “Jehovah-Jireh” as a memorial to a God who “sees” humanity so that humanity may see Him, experience Him, and truly know Him (v. 14).
When Abraham once again dived into the deep ocean of faith, he experienced the marvelous grace of God – he “saw” the substitutionary burnt offering ram. Not only did God prepare for him a ram, He also proclaimed blessings upon Abraham, so that his descendants too would be greatly blessed and through him all the nations of the earth would be blessed (vv. 17-18).
“Jehovah-Jireh” shifts the focus from Abraham’s obedience to God’s action. The emphasis is, first of all, God blesses those who obey Him by preparing for them and providing their needs, so that they may regain what was lost. Abraham was blessed because he obeyed God’s word. Secondly, through what God has prepared, He reveals Himself so that human beings may meet Him, experience Him, and know how true He is.
2 Chronicle 3:1, records that the Temple was built on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. For God’s people, the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac was the prototype of Temple offerings. This story reminds the people that they should come to offer to God, to serve Him, and to worship Him. The lives of those who come to worship and serve God are characterized by continual obedience to God to overcome unreasonable encounters in life. They believe that God will certainly “see” them through the adversaries and finally reveal Himself to them.
Faith and obedience are inseparable. James 2:21-23 says, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’ —and he was called a friend of God.”
Let us “obey, let go, and be committed” in worshipping and serving the Lord, thereby, we will certainly experience God’s doing and providence. Today, what binds many believers the most is the insistence that everything must be according to their timing and will. This is being self-centered rather than God-centered.

Let us obey God’s guidance by offering up to God our beloved “Isaacs,” including our time, our energy, our money, and our plans for the future. This way we will be released from the chains and burdens in our lives, and experience Jehovah-Jireh! This is the promise given by God to every worshiper: you will see God’s work manifested in your lives.

2017年2月13日星期一

Lust, Caution

Judges 16:15-30
Samson and Delilah
Judges 13-16 records the story of Samson. An angel prophesied that Samson would be a lifelong Nazirite. The Nazirite vow is a holiness vow where the person must refrain from drinking wine, eating unclean food, touching corpses, and shaving his head. Besides being a Nazirite, Samson’s mission was to be an Israelite judge to lead his people to fight against Philistine oppression (Judg. 13:4-5).
Samson had three defining characteristics: long hair, Herculean strength, and sexual lust.
Samson saw a Philistine woman at Timnah and fell for her at first sight. He married her against the wishes of his parents (Judg. 14:1-2). Then, he saw a prostitute in Gaza and became intimate with her at night. The enemy came to ambush him but he was not at all afraid of them (16:1-3). He woke up in the middle of the night and dismantled the doors of the city gates. He carried the doors up the hills of Hebron. He was so arrogant that his enemies feared and hated him at the same time!
Cherish the Source of Your Power
After this, Samson went down to the Valley of Sorek and “fell in love” with a Gentile woman there by the name of Delilah. The leaders of the five city-states of the Philistines met with Delilah to convince her to lure Samson into divulging the secret of his unusual strength. They promised her a great sum of money. It was an offer that she could not refuse. So, she took the bribe and set out to seduce Samson into sharing the secrets of his Herculean strength.
Delilah said to Samson, “Please tell me where your great strength lies, and how you might be bound, that one could subdue you?”
Samson replied, “If they bind me with seven fresh bowstrings that have not been dried, then I shall become weak and be like any other man.”
So, the woman bound up Samson accordingly. When the Philistines came to arrest him, he immediately broke free from his bondage.
Delilah complained that Samson had lied to her. So, for a second time, she asked for the secret of his great strength.
Samson said, “If they bind me with new ropes that have not been used, then I shall become weak and be like any other man.”
So, Delilah used this technique to bind Samson. When the Philistines came to attack Samson, he immediately broke free from his bondage.
Again, Delilah murmured at Samson, “Why did you deceive me again?” She demanded that Samson tell her the truth.
Samson replied, “If you weave the seven locks of my head, and… weave them together…” (v. 13). The Hebrew text is written in such a way that Samson did not complete his sentence. This shows that he was afraid. By mentioning his hair, they are getting closer to his secret!
So, Delilah waited until Samson fell asleep. Then, she took the seven locks of his head and wove them into the fabric of the loom. In ancient times, the women worked the loom. The fabric of the loom represents Delilah’s hair. The weaving of his hair with the fabric of the loom speaks of Samson and Delilah’s interwoven love.
When the enemy came, Samson immediately broke free from his bondage.
From then on, Delilah nagged and pestered Samson everyday to reveal his secret. She said, “If you truly love me and want to be with me, then you should tell me the truth.”
Samson was worn out by the daily nagging. He could not bear her accusation that he did not love her. So, he told her truth, “I did not shave my head since I was little. If you shave my head, then I will be powerless.”
Samson’s love for Delilah betrayed him. Love is transcendent and redemptive. But when one is in rebellion against God, love becomes distorted and results in indulgence and destruction.
Samson slept at Delilah’s knees. While he was asleep, Delilah called for someone to shave Samson’s head. He became powerless because God had left him. Yet, he did not realize it. He did not appreciate or cherish the power that God had given him. This time, when the Philistines came to arrest him, he was powerless to resist.
But Delilah had repeatedly attempted to pry into the secrets of Samson’s strength. Could it be that he was not at all suspicious of her?
Samson had no reason not to be wary of her but he loved Delilah and could not resist her tears. Perhaps he was gambling on her not being malicious! Or, perhaps, all these while, even though Samson did not restrain from lust and, in fact, broke almost every stipulation of the Nazarite vow, his strength did not leave him. He would naturally think that everything would still be alright even if his head was shaven.
Or, perhaps, Samson thought that all his accomplishments were achieved entirely out of his own talent and effort. He no longer cared about God’s presence. No wonder he did not even realize that God’s Spirit and power had left him (v. 20)!
Samson did not cherish the supernatural power that was given to him. He also never acknowledged that God was the source of his strength. Ironically, it was his Philistine enemies who recognized the divine source of Samson’s supernatural power. A person who does not care for his or her own relationship with God can never be a successful leader.
Today, do we also repeatedly show contempt for the source of our strength?
Many non-believers desire what we have. They want to dispossess us of our spiritual treasures, yet we take these for granted. We ought to internalize the power from above through prayer, study of scripture, worship, and fellowship, but these are precisely what we often neglect.
The Devil deceives us through busyness and self-deceit. He misleads us into thinking that even if we do not pray or read the Bible or worship or fellowship with others, we can still live our daily lives and the strength and blessing from God will continue to be with us. Until one day, when we have exhausted the grace that God had supplied to us, when we are utterly defeated, when we fall and crumble, then we finally realize that God’s power has left us.
Now is the time we ought to firmly grasp the channels of strength so that our lives are always connected to the Lord. Let us live a life that is victorious!
Do Not Run Away from God but Consecrate Yourself to Be Used by Him
The Philistines plucked out Samson’s eyes and imprisoned him in Gaza. There, he was tasked to grind the mill. Grinding the mill was the task of women, donkeys, and cows.
Previously, Samson indulged in the lust of his eyes; now, he was blind. Formerly, he freely mingled with women, but now he was made to work like a woman. Once, he killed people like a mule, but now he worked like a donkey. Before, he likened his wife to a heifer, but now he did the work of cows. Gaza was the place of his greatest success, but now it became the place of his greatest humiliation. He destroyed the gates of Gaza with his bare hands, but now he could not escape from Gaza. In fact, he would meet his end in Gaza.
When the Philistines celebrated the harvest at the Temple of Dagon, the god of grain, they brought Samson out for their entertainment; to foster the festive atmosphere! In the past, Samson destroyed much of the Philistines’ grain. At that time, there were many Philistines of note gathered in the temple. The roof alone accommodated 3000 Philistines.
Previously, Samson fell and was oblivious of God’s absence. Now, with his hair growing back, God was planning a counterattack. This time, the Philistines were the ones who were oblivious!
When Samson arrived at the temple, a child led him to stand in between of two pillars. Wrapped around the pillars, Samson offered his final prayer, “O Lord GOD, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes.”
Samson humbled himself. He recognized that God was the source of his strength. He entrusted himself into the hand of God and was even willing to die with the Philistines (v. 30)! God heard his prayer and gave him strength because God wanted to use him to destroy the Philistines and save the Israelites.
Samson held to the two pillars and pushed with all high might and the whole temple collapsed! Many Philistines were killed in this incident. Samson killed more Philistines in his death than in his life. Dagon, the Gentile god, also “died.” Dagon which was highly exalted by the Philistine was not truly god. The final victory belongs to Yahweh. Samson and the Philistines perished together.
Samson was the most gifted among all the judges. He was more of a warrior than Deborah. He was more courageous than Gideon and Barak. He had a far better pedigree than Japheth. Yet, his has the most tragic ends. Why?
Samson often said, “If you do such-as-such to me, then I will become weak and be like any other man” (vv. 7, 11, 17). This reveals that Samson was wavering between a Nazarite and an ordinary person. God had chosen him but he was determined to run away from his calling so that he could live his life of indulgence.
The story of the rise and fall of Samson highlights that the result of giving in to temptation is fatal. Fame, wealth, and sex are some classic examples of temptation. Church leaders and all believers ought to be careful not to fall into the trap.
God and Samson were in a covenantal relationship. Although Samson breached the stipulations of the covenant, God still used him. God knew the weaknesses of Samson. Likewise, He knows our weaknesses. He can use our weaknesses to advance His plan of salvation. The weakness of humanity or other factors cannot thwart God’s work. God is faithful and loving. He will certainly accomplish salvation and execute judgment.
God’s people have a holy calling. They should be loyal to God and enjoy His blessings. If they are not steadfast to God’s calling, He will still use them but their lives will be filled with conflict and pain, just like Samson. But if God’s people are loyal to Him, then they will surely enjoy the inexhaustible grace of God.
Today, since God has chosen you to be His child, you are no longer an ordinary person. If God has chosen you to be a leader, then you are no longer an ordinary believer. Are you willing to be steadfast in your ministry and be faithful to the mission that God has entrusted to you? The grace of God is sufficient for you!

2017年1月19日星期四

Love Me Tender Love Me True

Luke 16:19-31

The Rich Man and Lazarus

Jesus began the story by giving a name to the beggar. He calls him “Lazarus,” which means “God is my help.” But He did not give the rich man a name. Jesus shows personal concern for the poor. He knows their names and elevates their position. The rich man, however, was curtailed by Jesus. Although he was well-known in his community, yet he was nameless. 

The story does not say that the rich man was a treacherous person or a murderer or anything like that. So, what was wrong with him?

Verse 19 depicts the rich man as wealthy, powerful, draped in exquisite clothing, (purple robe and fine linen are equivalent to today’s designer brands), and having a feast every day. In those days, the rich threw sumptuous feasts to establish patronage, to display their wealth, and to rub shoulders with the other rich and famous.

In verses 20-21, we find Lazarus, the poor beggar, at the rich man’s gate. In contrast to the rich man’s splendid apparel, Lazarus was covered with sores and filth. The rich man is depicted as being “active,” constantly throwing feasts. Lazarus is depicted as being “passive,” helplessly laid at the rich man’s gate in order to pick up the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table.

The rich man ignored Lazarus. He did not inquire of Lazarus’ situation nor did he invite Lazarus to any of his feasts. The dogs, deemed unclean by the Jews, came to lick Lazarus’ sores. This scene gives more depth to the poverty, marginalisation, and misery of Lazarus.

The Scripture is silent on whether Lazarus was a godly person or whether he did good deeds. Additionally, Lazarus was not given a single line of dialogue in the story. This shows that Lazarus was only a supporting role. In contrast, the rich man talked a lot. He is the protagonist; we shall focus our attention on him.

Three verses pass quickly and, in verses 22-23, the rich man and Lazarus were both dead. Lazarus was carried by angels to be placed in Abraham’s bosom. Before, he was placed at the rich man’s gate. The rich man, on the other hand, received a proper burial but found himself suffering in Hades! While they were alive, there was much inequality between the two. Death was supposed to be the great equaliser. But here we find that death brought a great reversal instead!

An analysis of the format of the story shows that the emphasis is on the fleeting nature of the rich man’s glory in the present life. We know this because the story allocates only three verses to this part (vv. 19-21). In comparison, the story spends ten verses on the eternal blessings enjoyed by Lazarus in the afterlife (vv. 22-31).

The rich man’s purple fine linen was symbolic of his aristocratic status. But his days of seemingly endless splendour and feasts passed away rather quickly. Now, he discovers that he does not occupy a special place with God. Lazarus was hungry when he was alive on the earth. Now, he finds himself enjoying a feast in the bosom of Abraham.

In those days, to sit “in the bosom” of another meant to recline next to that person for a meal. Luke often depicts God’s salvation and blessing as going to a feast. During a feast, seating arrangement was an indicator of status. In the past, Lazarus was marginalised and lonely. Now, he is seated next to the great Abraham. In the past, Lazarus was in a humble state. Now, he is distinguished.

Verses 24-26 also stress that the rich man was situated beyond a great chasm which no one can cross. He could only watch the feast from afar like an insignificant person. This echoes Lazarus being cut off beyond the rich man’s gate while they were alive!

Now, the rich man cannot even request for a drop of water to cool his tongue. At least, Lazarus had dogs licking his sores. Paradise and Hades are so near yet so far! Now only does the rich man see Lazarus. He did not see Lazarus while he was at his gate!

The fates of the rich man and Lazarus are completely reversed! This reversal is even apparent in the order in which the characters are mentioned. In the present life, the rich man is mentioned first. But in the afterlife, Lazarus comes first.

When the rich man sees Abraham from afar and notices Lazarus in his bosom, he feels uplifted because he thinks that God will have mercy on him based on God’s covenantal relationship with Abraham. The rich man calls out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame” (v. 24).

The rich man pleas for Abraham to take pity on him and show mercy but did the rich man take pity on others and show mercy while he was alive?

“Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed,” replies Abraham, “In order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us” (v. 26).

It is an irony that just as the rich man chose to be separated from Lazarus in the present life; he must continue to be in this state of separation after death.

Then, the rich man remembers that he has five brothers who are still alive. So, he makes a second request to Abraham, asking him to send Lazarus to warn his brothers so that they will not suffer the same fate (vv. 27-28).

The manner in which the rich man addresses Lazarus is very condescending. This shows that he still thinks of Lazarus as a “lowlife” whom he can just order around to relieve his discomfort. The rich man’s fault is in his hardened heart. He is incapable of compassion.

But Abraham says, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.”

The rich man does not concede the point. He insists that Abraham dispatch Lazarus to warn his brothers. His family will certainly repent if they get to witness a miracle like the resurrection from the dead.

Abraham says to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

How is it that nothing would change even if someone should rise from the dead?

If we return to verse 19-21, we will discover that the disparity in social classes and cultures led to severance of ties. The rich man’s heart was hardened and he was very cold toward Lazarus.

The rich man and his family members were wealthy but they disregarded the teachings of the Bible. They did not want to associate with people who are of a lower class or whom they consider to be unclean. They did not want to have anything to do with the poor. They did not notice Lazarus though he begged and even died at their gate. Thus, even if the beggar would rise from the dead, they would still not notice him.

The rich man and his family did not consider someone like Lazarus to be a truthful witness, since he is from the lowest strata of society. Lazarus was a person of no consequence. A beggar who rose from the dead would still only be a beggar. The rich would not pay attention to him.

The fates of the rich man and Lazarus were completely reversed. This is because the rich man was wealthy but he was immoral. He lacked compassion and his heart was hardened. Thus, he was judged by God.

Lazarus represents those who are oppressed but yet awaiting redemption by God. Moses and the Prophets taught the rich man to show love and compassion toward the poor (Deut. 15:1-11; Isa. 58:7). If the rich would obey Moses and the Prophets, they would not need Lazarus to rise from the dead. They would naturally approach the poor, build a relationship with them, and help them.

Conclusion

In the preceding text, Luke 16:14-15, we learn that our present story was told by Jesus to the Pharisees. The rich man who did not pay heed to Moses and the Prophets actually represents the Pharisees who opposed Jesus. They did not receive Jesus because they did not seriously listen to Moses and the Prophets. Later, these religious leaders would not believe in Jesus even after He rose from the dead. They were deceived by the wealth, status, and power of the world. Jesus would rise from the dead and be exalted by the Father, but these religious leaders would be judged.

Jesus was warning them that if they did not repent and reset their priorities, which was to accept Jesus as Lord and Christ and to take care of the disadvantaged, then they too would suffer the fate of the rich man. If they did not repent and bear fruits, then they could not expect redemption in the afterlife just by claiming to be children of Abraham.

If a rich person does not show compassion for the poor, then his or her wealth carries no weight in the afterlife. Instead, such a person will be judged by God. The rich man and his family in this Lukan story had no hope because Lazarus did not rise from the dead to witness to them. Their hearts were hardened. But we who are readers of this story today are full of hope. Abraham rejected the rich man’s request but God answered ours by raising Jesus from the dead and He revealed the truth to us. We also have the whole Bible to unveil the salvation and teaching of Jesus Christ. This is the challenge to us today.

Application

Those who have not received Jesus Christ and have not placed your trust in Him are now presented with a golden opportunity to do so. Those who accept the free gift of salvation accomplished by Jesus Christ on the cross will be saved, inherit eternal life, and have a relationship with God.


We should open up our homes to neighbours and friends for small group meeting so that they can hear the Good News and enjoy the fellowship. Those who have yet to join a small group, please begin to do so today. This is how we can build relationships with others, live a life of fellowship, and put into practice the great commandment of loving God and loving our neighbours (Mark 12:28-34).

2017年1月9日星期一

Sailing Out to Deeper Waters

Luke 5:1-11
Jesus Calls the First Disciples
According to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus’ ministry is threefold – healing and deliverance, preaching and teaching of the Word, and calling and recruiting disciples.
A multitude swarmed to hear Jesus preach the Word of God in Galilee. The crowd was so overwhelming, pressing Jesus on every side, that there was insufficient space for Him to preach. How would Jesus breakthrough from such a constraint?
Jesus Wants to Get into Your Boat
Jesus spotted two boats by the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Some fishermen were washing their nets. Jesus got into Simon Peter’s boat and instructed him to put out his boat a little from the land. There, Jesus sat down and preached to the crowd on the shore.
This picture of Jesus sitting on the boat shows that there is a fisherman going about his catch.  But it was the hearts of men, rather than fish, that Jesus wanted to captivate!
Today, many people bring all sorts of need to us.  Jesus wants to borrow a boat from you to meet the needs of the people. He wants your boat, mine, and that of the church. Are you willing to allow Jesus to get into your boat, so that He can make use of your life and your resources (e.g., time, money, abilities, etc.)?
It is indeed the right season, especially those who are middle-aged, to stop lingering around in our little world of self-centeredness. We need to stop indulging in all kinds of pleasure. We need to stop crying “I am hurt!” all the time. For all these just bring damage and waste to our lives.
Let’s welcome Jesus into our boats now! He will be the captain of our voyage and steer us to an amazing world. Let us embark on a journey where we live for Him!
Peter was a fisherman, but he was washing his net instead of making of catch. His labour for the whole night was in vain. This symbolises defeat or failure in our lives. Nets had to be kept in good condition, so they would be washed to remove weeds and then mended. Washing the net represents the repetitive, boring, and meaningless tasks in life.
Jesus wants to get into your boat. He intends to use you, direct you, partner with you, and assist you to have breakthroughs in your life. He wants to free you from the boredom and helplessness of “washing your nets”. He wants to offer you a solution, so that you may overcome the predicament of failing to make a big catch.
Are you facing helplessness and boredom in your life? Do you feel insignificant? Be quick to have Jesus onboard!
Begin by Knowing Our Inadequacy
After Jesus finished teaching, he asked Peter to put out his boat into deep waters and, together with his companions, let down his net into the waters. A mere carpenter led a group of professional fishermen to cast their nets!
Although Peter was a fisherman, he caught nothing after a night’s labour. If you were Peter, would you be willing to listen to Jesus’ instruction? Would you sail out to cast your net into deep waters again?
Reluctantly, Peter obeyed Jesus’ instruction and put out his boat into the deep and cast the nets there. What happened next?
Wow! Peter caught a large number of fish and his net nearly broke! A big catch also spells trouble.
Peter sought the help of his companions who were in another boat. They came and filled the two boats with fish. The boats were so full that they began to sink (v. 7).
The fullness of God’s grace and blessing were poured out upon them but the big catch filled their boats so much so that it brought them even more troubles to solve.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (v. 8)
Peter was awestruck at this miracle. He experienced God’s power and holiness, so he felt a sense of guilt and unworthiness in his heart. Thus, he confessed his inadequacy and sinfulness. Peter also knew that Jesus had healed the sick and driven out demons, but he was amazed that Jesus cared about his day-to-day routine and understood his needs.
This Peter’s response to Jesus is the first and foremost prerequisite for someone who is called by God to serve. Only people like this are able to submit to God and to genuinely rely on God. Peter knew that he was the one who needed God and not vice versa. Men need God’s intervention to bring changes to his life. And indeed, God is interested not only in saving us, healing us, but also in helping us in our daily activities.
We might have forgotten that we need God in our lives because we are utterly inadequate. Jesus intruded into Peter’s life in a wonderful manner to bring change and helped him to overcome his predicament through a miraculous big catch.
Jesus also promised Peter that would be a “fisher of men,” that is, a person who wins many souls for Him. In fact, Jesus had demonstrated what it means to be a “fisher of men,” when He sat in the boat and preached to the crowd gathered on the shore.
Today, Jesus has also unexpectedly entered into our lives. Let us bow down before the Lord and confessed that we are but mere lowly sinners. Jesus is the only one who can help us. Let us welcome our Lord to work in our lives to accomplish great things.
A Life Transformed is Transcendent
Jesus was a carpenter but He became a preacher of the Word of God and even guided fishermen to fish! Jesus transcended what He was thought to be before helping His disciples change and surpass their previous limitations. Jesus enabled Peter to cast his net and catch a large number of fish. This foreshadowed the fulfilment of Jesus’ prophecy that Peter would be a fisher of men!
Peter said in verse 8, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” But he and his companions subsequently forsook everything to follow Jesus (v. 11).
Since then, Peter’s tools were no longer boats and nets, but the Word of God and His power. As a fisherman, his purpose was to catch fish in order to kill and to consume. But, as a fisher of men, his aim was to give life to them. Peter transcended from being a fisherman to being a fisher of men; from killing to giving life; and from using fishing boats and nets to ministering God’s Word and power.
Peter’s decision turned him around. He was transformed from being weak and sinful to being useful and purposeful. He could now partner with God and devote himself to a new ministry.
Do you desire for such transformation in your life? Do you want to have an experience that is just like Peter’s? Do you want to experience a change or a reversal in life, so that you may surpass what you are right now?
Change Our Life’s Priority
Peter left everything behind to follow Jesus. He did not only give up the tools of his trade, but he became completely cut off from his old fishing career. There was a restructuring of his life’s priorities.
A change in life’s priority means that the things you once deemed important has now become insignificant in your eyes. Conversely, that which you once thought to be insignificant has now becomes very important to you!
Peter and his companions, once common fishermen, were no longer the same since they met Jesus. Their life’s priorities were turned upside down by Jesus!
In conclusion, Jesus causes men and women to change their priorities. If we do so, we will surpass our old selves. Peter and the other disciples left everything behind in order to follow Jesus. Their response challenges us to do the same today.
Let us follow Him with a commitment that is relentless. We must have no intention of turning back because God’s kingdom is our primary concern. Let us be in the service of God’s Kingdom by leading others to Him so that they too may have life.
Today, Jesus has already made inroads into our lives. He has caught us in unexpected ways. Let us come and bow before the Lord. Let us humbly confess that we are lowly sinners. Let us readjust the priorities of our lives. Let us allow Jesus to work in our lives so that He may accomplish great things through us!
Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people” (v. 10).
The Lord Jesus issued an invitation to His believers to partake in His identity and ministry. It is more than just encountering God, to feel or experience His goodness. More than that, we are to share in the work and mission of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the Master of our lives. He is not a servant who specialises in answering our prayers or meeting our needs. He wants to rearrange your priorities so as to maximise the use of your time, money, and abilities. He wants to shift our focus from self-gratification to the building of His kingdom on earth. He does this so that, as believers, we may become His genuine disciples. Our lives will not be the same anymore. We will be overturned. We will break through our current barriers and enter into His abundance.
Fear Not!
Jesus said to Peter and his companions “Do not be afraid!”

This is undeniably true. There is nothing of which we should be fearful! Let us not remain as spectators on the shore. Come! Let us get into our boats with Jesus onboard. Let us become His disciples and put out our boats into deep waters so that we may cast our nets as fishers of men!

2017年1月4日星期三

Let's Pray and Stand In the Gap

Genesis 18:16-33

Abraham prayed that God would not destroy Sodom

 “The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is very grave,” said the LORD. “I will go down to see what they have done.” (Gen. 18:20-21)

God is righteous. He hates sin. He judges and even destroys sinners.

Now, Abraham was close to God. He is known as a friend of God. The Lord promised Abraham that all the nations will be blessed through him. For this reason, God said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” (v. 17)

So, God gave Abraham the space to be an intercessor and even negotiated with him.

Abraham pleaded, “Yes, God certainly has the right to judge the wicked but will He also destroy the righteous together with the wicked? If there are 50 righteous people in the city, will God not spare the city and the wicked for the sake of the righteous?” (vv. 23-25)

Abraham’s concern was that the righteous suffering the same fate as the wicked was an affront to God’s righteousness. God should spare the wicked for the sake of the righteous. By doing this, Abraham shifted the discussion from God’s righteousness and justice to God’s mercy and grace. Righteousness and grace are equally attributes of God.

Will Abraham’s desperate plea on behalf of Sodom successfully avert its destruction?

Grace and Strength Can Be Harnessed through Prayer and Intercession

“If there are 50 righteous people,” declared the LORD, “I will spare the whole place.”

Abraham replied, “If there are 45 righteous people, will you destroy the whole city?”

Abraham clung on to God’s grace and boldly bargained with God. He reduced the requirement for the numbers of righteous people from 50 down to 45 and from 45 down to 40, then 30, 20, and finally all the way down to 10.

God patiently heard Abraham’s intercession and promised him that if there were 10 righteous people in the city, He would spare the place. What a pleasant revelation that 10 righteous people can have such influence over the fate of an entire city!

Abraham, humbly and reverentially, pleaded with God that He would show grace. God is not only just. He is also merciful. Although He could punish Sodom for its wickedness, He was also able to suspend judgment. God was willing to spare the wicked for the sake of the righteous.

Abraham’s act of intercession reminds us that we too need to diligently pray and intercede for others. We plead with God because He is full of grace and He hears our prayer. We should pray ceaselessly because we cannot take the grace and power of God for granted. Rather, these are harnessed these through prayer and intercession.

Are you a prayer warrior?

When you see poverty and outbreaks of diseases, wars between nations, violence and corruption, earthquakes and floods, are you an intercessor or are you indifferent? When you see weakness in the leadership of the church or a decline in the spiritual health of the saints, are you an intercessor or are you too busy minding your own business?

Perhaps we do not even realise that it has been a long time since we knelt down and prayed before the Lord. Or, perhaps, we are so satisfied that we cannot think of anything to pray for. If so, then we have become so conceited to think that we are such great problem-solvers. Nothing is beyond us.

Or, maybe, it’s a reflection of our lack of faith because we think that prayer is ineffective anyway since God does not hear. Another possibility is that we are so passive and lazy that we will not draw near to God and pray unless disaster strikes.

Jesus rebuked his disciples, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (vv. 40b-41a).

Peter reminded the believers, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Pet. 5:8-9).

The devil rejoices when we do not depend on God through prayer. We will gradually become detached from God. But when we pray unceasingly, the devil shall flee. So, let us pray to God, in times of trouble or otherwise, for our own spiritual health as well as for others. Pray that God will shower us with His grace.

What is your most pressing concern now? Turn to God in prayer and you shall receive His grace and power!

We Will Know God Better through Prayer and Intercession

Why did Abraham stop at ten righteous people? Why not bring the numbers down to five or even one? The clue is in God’s response to Abraham.

At first, God said, “I will spare this place” (v. 26). To “spare” is very positive and gracious. After that, God’s response became, “I will not do it” (vv. 29, 30). Now, this is a bit more neutral. In the final rounds of negotiation, God replied, “I will not destroy that city” (vv. 31, 32). “Destroy” is far more negative and harsh. So, Abraham knew it was time to stop.

All-in-all, God agreed that if there were ten innocent people there, He would spare the whole city. From this point alone, we can see that God was both just and gracious in His dealing with the city. The more Abraham prayed and interceded, the more he understood God’s nature and intention. Hence, he knew when to stop!

God told Abraham His intention to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah was to give him the opportunity to arbitrate and intercede on behalf of an entire people. Through this, Abraham came to know that God is both righteous and merciful. He also grew spiritually, which empowered him to treat others with righteousness and mercy.

Prayer helps to maintain a close relationship between human beings and God. When we pray, we will certainly come to an accurate knowledge of God and not think of Him as a tyrant.

The Bible is the Word of God that illuminates us to His mind and attributes. Yet, it is through prayer that we become even more sensitive to His heart’s intent. Through prayer we can come to understand His will. We will develop an intuitive knowledge of God. The more we know God’s mind, the more we can change our minds to be attuned to His.

Today, in what areas are you uncertain or hesitant? Perhaps you have forgotten to pray to God and trust Him.

Do you feel that your relationship with God is not very genuine and heart-warming? Perhaps you have forgotten to pray to God and trust Him.

Do you believe that you are too powerless to make a change and unable to have breakthrough in life? Perhaps you have forgotten to pray to God and trust Him.

Let’s Stand in the Gap

In the Old Testament, there were incidences where one person’s sin brought consequences to many people. Some prime examples include Achan’s sin, which resulted in Israel’s defeat in battle, and Adam’s sin, which brought the fall to all humanity.

Here, Abraham’s individual prayer represents a reversal of the concept of punishing the many because of the few! Abraham stood in the gap to boldly challenge God to be gracious to the whole city for the sake of the righteous few, and not destroy the righteous minority on account of the wicked majority.

Abraham’s earnest intercession shows us that he was resolute, serious, and wholehearted. Ultimately, God granted Abraham’s request and, so, the requirement for the number of righteous people was reduced to merely ten. What Abraham did was to fulfil his role as the intermediary through whom blessing would come to the nations. Unfortunately, Sodom could not even meet the basic requirement of ten righteous people and, thus, could not avert destruction!

In the following chapter, Genesis 19, two angels entered Sodom at night and were accommodated in Lot’s house. When the inhabitants of the city found out that two sojourners had just arrived at their city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, surrounded Lot’s house and demanded that Lot presented his two guests to be humiliated. Sodom was indeed wicked through and through!

The two angels struck the men of Sodom with blindness so that they wore themselves out groping for the door. At dawn, the angels forcefully evacuated Lot’s family from the city. Then, God rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulphur and fire out of heaven.

Often, we are very affected by adverse environments. When we see wickedness and wicked people all around us, we often become frustrated. Or, when the Christians or even leaders around us behave irresponsibly, we become disheartened.

Sometimes, we choose to quit. At other times, we choose to go with the flow. This is a very negative attitude, which causes people to be unable to breakthrough from the fog, the bitterness, and the chronic pain that is within their hearts.

People often complain, “If those who are irresponsible and corrupt enjoy wealth and status, why should I insist on doing my part? If most people are late to meetings, why should I come on time? If most people are not faithful in giving, why should I be the faithful fool?

These are real struggles that cannot be easily unravelled with just a few words. Yet, we should look at the positive side and continue to play our parts. Instead of cursing the darkness, let us be burning to light up darkness! This is to imitate Abraham who, though only an individual, successfully reversed the situation.

We believe that if only a few people are faithful to God, He will extend His grace and mercy to preserve the many. No matter what adversity we face at the workplace, in the church, or even in our own family, we can become towers of strength.

The existence of a righteous person mediated grace to an entire city! A person who is faithful to God can bring about transformation to his or her whole community! Are you willing to be such a person?

Today, are you wavering in your faith? May God help you to solidify your faith and be steadfast in carrying out the mission that He has entrusted to you. May you continue to maintain a close relationship with God. Do not be easily affected by others. Do not close yourselves up due to mere volatility in life circumstances. But stand in the gap to reverse the adversity!