Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The (Vain) Striving for Excellence

One of the many things we incorporate in our spiritual lives is the idea of doing good things unto others in order to gain the merit of God's grace. The most common answer you will get off of people if you do an impromptu street survey on "How They Think They'd Get to Heaven" is this: "I have been trying my best to do good all my life. I've been doing my best to be kind to other people and be a good person in society."

Most of us are wired this way... we strive for excellence in our daily living. Excellence in our dealings with others and excellence in our day to day behavior within society. We consider this a BIG must in hopes to get into the pearly gates to Heaven. We would always have it in us that as long as we do good to others; as long as we help other people and not harm them; as long as we strive to follow the 10 commandments faithfully, God will look at our lives and be pleased because we've strived for excellence!

Excellence is defined as follows:

1. the state or quality of excelling or being exceptionally good; extreme merit; superiority
2. an action, characteristic, feature, etc., in which a person excels

This actually boils down to the world's striving for Righteousness. This word is defined as morally upright; without guilt or sin. Any religion in the world will tell you that the way to "heaven" is to do unto others good and not bad, to at least have morals; to try to be without the guilt of sin. Some have strict guidelines to follow and most have rituals and practices to complete in order to gain personal excellence, or righteousness, that may lead a soul to heaven. 

  • Hinduism, for example, has the primary objective of Righteousness. This attained by following rituals and a wide spectrum of "daily morality" based on the notion of "karma".
  • Buddhism is the religion or philosophy that encompasses varied traditions, beliefs and practices which are largely based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, or Buddha. One of the principal teachings of Buddha is the Noble Eightfold Path which are to be developed in every individual. This Path includes the eight "Rights" that a person must perform in order to at least attain excellence in wisdom, ethical conduct and mental discipline.
  • Islam is the religion that adheres to the teachings of the Qur'an, which is a text considered by its adherents as the verbatim word of God; and to the teachings and normative example of Muhammad, the last Prophet of Islam. Believers of Islam adhere to its "Five Pillars" of the religion as obligatory acts for all. These are presented as the framework for worship and a sign of commitment to faith, and they include the recitation of oath, the ritual prayers, fasting during Ramadan, alms-giving, and the pilgrimage to Mecca. Believers are also to follow the Islamic Law which touches every aspect of life and society. Islam teaches of a Day of Judgment that will come whereby every individual will be held accountable for his/her deeds and will be judged by God accordingly.
  • Catholicism is the broad term for the body of the Catholic faith, its theologies and doctrines, its liturgical, ethical, spiritual and behavioral characteristics, as well as a religious people as a whole. Catholics believe in the direct and continuous organizational descent from the original church founded by Jesus, who according to tradition, designated the apostle Peter to be the first leader. This apostolic succession guarantees that present-day bishops and the Pope has infallible (incapable of erring) authority in matters of faith, morals, and the valid administration of sacraments. Believers adhere to the traditional administration of Seven Sacraments which are rites that consider God to be "uniquely active". These include infant Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. Though not every individual believer has to receive every sacrament, the Catholic Church affirms that these are necessary for salvation (as the modes of grace divinely instituted by Christ himself), for Catholics also believe that God will one day Judge a person according to his deeds. Worship in the church includes the use of sacred images and items, the veneration of Mary (as the "Mother of God") and the veneration of saints, including prayers for the dead and requests to the departed saints for intercessory prayers.
  • Judaism affirms the existence and uniqueness of God. It stresses performance of deeds or commandments, rather than adherence to a belief system. Judaism recognizes two kinds of "sin": offenses against other people and offenses against God. The mainstream of Jewish view is that God will reward those who observe His commandments and punish those who intentionally transgress them. 
  All are striving for righteousness, working towards the common goal of being rewarded in the end by a higher, supreme being. We all live our lives following rites, practices, beliefs, commandments, rules and regulations in order to make ourselves presentable on the day we die. It is the least we can perform while living, do good to others and do penance for any wrong we have done. We try to accumulate our little trophies and medals of "good works" in order to somehow be approved of by God.

That is NOT what God requires of us, though. Jesus Himself clarified that our striving for excellence by following commandments, rites or whatsoever it is we are following for our own righteousness to be developed is pretty much useless in the end. Listen to what Jesus told the young man in Mark 10 who approached Him and asked Him what he needs to inherit eternal life (or get to heaven, if we want to put it that way)...

"Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me." (Mark 10: 19-21)

Let us be reminded by Scripture that tells us this:

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. (Isaiah 64:6)

Our striving for righteousness is useless because no matter what good we try do for others and no matter what kind of ritual, tradition, commandment, and practice we religiously perform every single day of our lives they will only be as good as filthy rags before the throne of the Almighty God

What then is our hope, you ask? Here is our hope...

"Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. 
But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;"
 (Romans 3:20-23)

Are you still striving for your OWN righteousness? Listen to Jesus' call today, 

"Come, take up the cross, and FOLLOW ME."

Saturday, January 8, 2011

An Empty Throne (Part 2)

A physically empty throne presented Israel with the most trying (and horrible) times there ever was for her people. Everybody was following their own heart. Unfortunately for them, the reality of the heart is that it is so deceitful and desperately wicked! (Jeremiah 17:9) And when the bible tells us that each man in Israel went his own way, there's no doubt that their deceitful and desperately wicked hearts played a part.

The people of Israel were looking for something tangible, someone their human eyes and deceitful hearts can see sitting on the throne. Oh, but unfortunately for them, they have missed the mark greatly. Their hearts never understood their true state as a nation right from the beginning that God marked them as His and plucked them out of Egypt. Israel wasn't supposed to "see" an empty throne in their midst because the LORD GOD was supposed to be their King! What happened to this blessed people, though, was a sad rejection of the LORD.

"And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them." (1 Samuel 8:7)

Oh, but alas, the heart of man deceives him into seeing things differently. Instead of looking up to God as their King (and following every statutes He has ordained for them), Israel drowned herself in the thoughts of wanting to do it their way.

The real score of it was that there never WAS an empty throne for God reigned over His people! The fact of the matter is, Israel REJECTED her King! Because of this, we see the time in the book of Judges unfold. The total depravity of man took hold of Israel's heart and the nation spiraled down the drain with abomination after abomination!

Aren't we so much like Israel? Haven't we also looked at the throne as empty before us and live like there's no reigning king but ourselves? Not that the King of kings isn't reigning, but because we rejected Him who is sitting on that throne! God is erased from the picture leaving us with an empty throne and hearts that aren't afraid of the Sovereign.

The effect of all this to Israel was a life lived in autonomy from God and, of course, a life lived in sin... Sadly, we see the shadows of this in our time today as we live lives rejecting the REAL King who sits on the throne. As we read the last few chapters of Judges we see the evidences of  Israel's children living lives with an empty throne... and we see it in our lives today as well.

  • There was evidence of corruption in the family as children disrespected their parents. (Judges 17 records Micah stealing his mother's silver.) Furthermore, Micah's mother never punished him for what he did wrong. She instead blessed him.
    • Don't we see this rampant in our society today? Children are disrespecting their parents upfront and parents are not even moved by it. We join the world in the ridiculous philosophy of ego-preservation. We don't want to use punishment anymore to correct a mistake. We instead reward children using "positive" reinforcements because it might break their spirits if we punish them for what they've done wrong. We instead dwell in the "Jesus-loves-you-you're-okay-don't-do-that-anymore" foolishness! See the shadows of Israel's corruption in our time today? 
  • An evidence of spiritual corruption was clear when Micah made a graven image and a molten image and had a household filled with small idols and gods consulted as oracles. Micah even consecrated his own son as a priest without the Lord's command like that seen in Exodus 9.
    • With an empty throne, the heart is not afraid to do anything that seems right in its own eyes. God abhors idolatry and the commandment against it landed on number 2 in His given 10 ! (See Exodus 20) But hearts rejecting the seated King will resort to idols to meet the needs of the deceiving heart. We are to worship God in spirit (John 4:24)... we should not have any graven images and we should not convince ourselves that they only represent Him. God's anger burns against idolatry! And oh by the way, anything that takes your focus away from God is also considered an idol.
    • Furthermore, we see hearts that come up with consecrations made of man and not of God. We make our own priests and spiritual leaders that never are of God in the first place. We make up spiritual leaders that would cater to our sinfulness. Jesus had some really spicy words for them in Matthew 15!
  • The spiritual decay in Israel extends to those called to serve the Lord, the Levites. We see in Judges 17 one staying with Micah in exchange for silver, nice clothes and abundance of food. They're in it for the prosperity promised!
    • Don't we have a LOT of that today in our churches? So called "spiritual leaders" who have hearts only for prosperity? There's this other gospel infecting christians today. It's all about blessings, blessings, and more blessings when you have God in your life. Beware of them because they are actually on the broad way that leads to destruction! The gospel of Jesus Christ is not about having a good life but having eternal life in HIM!
  • There was evidence of moral decay as we see the sin of Sodom relived by Israel! Homosexuality was rampant. Also, murders and bitterness reigned, and rape and abduction of girls took hold of society by the neck!
    • We really don't need to have an IQ of >140 to see that these shadows loom in our society today. We see these sins and we are apathetic towards them. We tolerate and embrace sin like it's a harmless fluffy teddy bear. We no longer look at it eye to eye and say to its face "You're angering a Holy and Mighty God." We misunderstand the concept of love and twist its reality to make sin more acceptable. We say to ourselves, "Hey, we should accept them for God loves them too. We shouldn't punish the murderers and rapists and child molesters because it's a slap on the face of human rights." We deny the fact that the God of Scripture is a HOLY God who abhors and punishes SIN.
We ought to really examine ourselves if we are living lives as if the throne is empty. For Scripture warns us to "test ourselves" (2 Corinthians 13:5). Do you see an empty throne in you life? 

I pray that we will all come to a point where our depravity would crush us like never before and that godly sorrow will overcome us so we might come to repentance before the King of kings who reigns forever. He has, is and will be sitting on that throne no matter how you live your life. Do not erase HIM from the picture. Consider your ways then as you live your life before the KING.

Friday, January 7, 2011

An Empty Throne (Part 1)

I have just finished reading the book of Judges this morning after about a week of concentrating on it and I would like to share with you what I have learned from it. As you know, the book of Judges was written about a time when Israel has already gotten into the promised land. This book of Judges, however, records a sorry state of Israel right after Joshua's generation. 

I'm sure we're all familiar with Joshua's declaration in Joshua 24:15 as he said this: "...choose this day whom ye will serve... but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." The Joshua generation was wonderfully faithful! I love how the bible describes them as a people that served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and even all the days of the elders that outlived him. This was a generation of people who declared themselves, "We WILL serve the LORD, and we WILL obey His voice." This was a generation of people which had known exactly what the LORD had done for Israel and had been faithful in obeying God's commands.

Unfortunately, though, by the time Joshua was dead, the people of Israel forgot the instructions of the LORD pertaining to their taking of the Promised Land. Instead of conquering the land completely, the tribes of Israel failed greatly by failing to drive out the Canaanites as God specifically instructed. This paved a way to the people's desertion of their faithfulness to God.

The first and second chapters of the book of Judges recorded how the many tribes of Israel allowed themselves to just live together with the inhabitants of the land that God had given them. Because of this, Israel was led to compromise their faith, eventually forgetting about the Lord God, thus leading to the worst case scenario where the people of Israel turned their hearts to the other gods of the dwellers in the Promised Land. 

"And they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people that [were] round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the LORD to anger." (Judges 2:12)

In all the chapters of the book of Judges, we see that Israel didn't have a king that led the people as one. Each tribe of Israel went on their own way and did what they thought was right in their own eyes. The throne of the king was empty and without this godly leader, a generation arose which does not know the LORD.

"And the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, Hittites, and Amorites, and Perizzites, and Hivites, and Jebusites: And they took their daughters to be their wives, 
and gave their daughters to their sons, and served their gods. And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgat the LORD their God, and served Baalim and the groves." 
(Judges 3:5-7)

Because the people of Israel turned to other gods, God became angry and allowed them persecution in the hands of their enemies. But God didn't forsake Israel all the way. The "judges" that arose during this time were 12 individuals (on different spans of time) that were lifted up by God's own faithfulness to His people to help deliver them out of the hand of their enemies. Sadly, though, Israel's people had a vicious cycle of falling away from God after a short period of serving Him as their Lord when they were delivered from their enemy. 

Israel was stubborn and if we really sit and think about it, we are just like them in every single way. Look at their hearts and compare it to ours...

  • Israel thought they could still please God even if they did not set themselves apart from the ungodly things/people around them.
    • Aren't we just the same? Don't we try to convince ourselves that it's okay to mingle with the world and that we'll NEVER be in danger of compromising our lives as to living like the world? We go to church on Sundays, after all. So, we watch the same movies and TV programs as the world does, listen to the same music as the world does, play the same games as the world does, dress like the world and talk like the world. In the end, we really don't find ourselves any different from the world (and its evil) at all.
  • Israel cried unto God only when they were already oppressed beyond measure! After being saved from their difficulty, Israel again and again (and yet again) fell away from God.
    • How so much like them are we. We easily forget God and go merrily on our evil ways until we feel oppressed and hopeless from all the tribulations that befall us. We happily skip to the world's beat until such time our trials become so great. THEN, we call unto God like He's a 911 operator. Our prayers are mostly patterned this way: "Hello, God? I have an emergency. Please help!". Then we fall unto our knees to worship Him and call upon His name. We cry our hearts (and eyes) out for God to help us in times of our need. When the going gets so tough it becomes so easy for us to fall on our knees and to set a time for prayer to ask for God's help. And when God, with all His mercy and faithfulness, extends a helping hand, we easily say with our hearts and the way we live, "Thanks, God! By the way, see 'ya!"
  • The children of Israel could easily forget about God and the things that He has done for them.
    •  If only we are any better... but our hearts are so like Israel. We are as forgetful as them when it comes to the goodness of God and the awesome works of His hands in our lives. We tend to easily forget that it is Him who blesses us with the things we have in this life. It is Him who upholds us and gives us victories over trials. We forget that it is God Himself who promotes us, who gives us our talents and our skills. We forget that it is God who gives us all good things, and we act like "we just did it our way." Alas, our hearts easily forget like that of Israel. We easily become prideful and think of ourselves highly. We then would consider our successes as something that WE have accomplished by our own strengths and abilities. We easily forget about God's greatness and His mercy, that are the only reasons why we are still waking up each morning in each new day. Oh, but we are so much like Israel... stubborn, forgetful Israel.
  • Israel lived in those days without a king. There was an empty throne and every man did that which was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25)
    • Don't we love the life motto that echoes this fact about Israel's state? We have embraced with open arms the last two lines of the poem by WIlliam Ernest, "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul." We all are enticed about the idea of "being our own boss." We love to do things our way. We cringe at the idea of looking up to the One who is Sovereign and we despise the truth about His requirement to follow only HIS statutes. We live our lives with an empty throne in our hearts, thus we find ourselves doing everything wrong but considering it right in our own eyes. 

An empty throne leads to lives lived without guidance, without sovereign wisdom, without the fear of judgment. Let us acknowledge then the need for a king to rein in our lives, and not just any king for that matter, but the King of kings! Let's sit and think about this, shall we? For the book of Judges only shows destruction of lives whenever there is an empty throne.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Reason to Live

It's 2011 and I know the years have passed us by as quickly as one can snap one's fingers. Our lives is truly but a vapor, here for a while and then vanishes (James 4:14). Many of us are living this life pursuing vain and meaningless things (Ecclesiastes 1:2) and most of us will spend eternity in Hell wondering where we went wrong when we have, all this time, thought ourselves to be "christians".

This morning I was listening to a hymn that has really made me pause because the first couple of lines described my life. I grew up in a country that's been tagged as the only Christian nation in Southeast Asia but never, in all honesty, have I really lived up to that name. In fact, I breezed away in my own happy stupor of sinfulness and never really cared about the bits of truth about God that I was taught growing up. I'm living life just like the way the following lines in the hymn described it...

Years I've spent in vanity and pride
Caring not my Lord was crucified

Have you ever stopped and really thought about the reason for your living? Why does the Word of God tell us in Ecclesiastes that ALL is meaningless? Are you also living life right now caring not that the LORD was crucified?

Here is a video I came across with this morning that spoke to me like it's never done before. It's a very familiar song to us but I hope that as you listen to it today you will let it speak to you and change your life's point of view.

2010: The Year in Review

I'm blessed beyond measure to still be able to blog in 2011. The past year has been rich with experiences, lessons, trials but most of all, blessings and mercies from God. I'd like to take this time to list down the strongest (as well as weakest) twists in our life in the year 2010.

Life always has its ups and downs and since I want to save the best for last, I'd start with the weakest twists in the year 2010 for me:

  • I got excited about being pregnant again, but later found out it was a blighted ovum. (This turned out to be one mercy I cannot deny as God protected me from what was going to be a tragedy.)
  • I wasn't sharing the gospel to those I have always grieved about... (God willing, this year I'll be bold.)
  • We haven't been faithful with tithing. (God, help us realize this is stealing from You!)
  • We still have a lot of debt... (Above is the reason being!)
  • I haven't committed to serving the Lord through the church and others.
  • I allowed myself to be consumed altogether by bitterness and anger. (A learned behavior, unfortunately...but God has been working on this area to bring me victory over it!)
On the brighter side,
  • My husband landed a job as a dialysis RN in Houston.
  • I found a church family. (Finally...)
  • I left my nursing career to stay at home full time with the kids. (I'm blogging about it, too!)
  • We started homeschooling.
  • Little Ryan and Rachel were provided godly friends they can grow with.
  • I was given godly friends that made 2010's journey here a lot sweeter.
  • The kids are loving the Lord and growing in wisdom and knowledge of Him.
  • God has provided me with His strength for every single tribulation I've met.
  • I've been given grace to love HIM more and more.
I know there were much more blessings and mercies than what I've listed above. Those were only the highlights in 2010. I am praying to continue to become more and more in love with my Savior and to share His Truth to family and friends (even if some of them despise me already... hahaha). I am praying to see someone very, very dear to me fully grasp the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ this year. I'm praying to become a better steward of the children God has provided me and I'm praying to continue to walk according to His righteousness sustained only by His grace and new mercy each day.

My prayer is to see my own family, friends and relatives open up to the Truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ and to radically love Him above everything else that is in this lifetime! 

May the grace and peace of our Lord be with you all always... Be blessed now.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

My New Year's Wish For YOU

A new day has dawned upon you and me
And only one reason is there for this possibility
A new mercy has been given from God above
The very evidence of His great love

Another 365 days have passed
And we’ve come to greet this New Year at last
I know many will wish you all things good
I’d wish them all, too, if I should

But I’d like to wish you something new
Something to last you all year through
For good health and wealth may come and go
Even friends and family may also do so

What I would like to wish & pray for you
Is not as fleeting as happiness
Nor is it the promise of prosperity
But what Jesus alone offered for you and me

I wish you hunger only for God’s Word
I wish you thirst for what Jesus has for us assured
I wish you understanding of God’s will
To run only after that which pleases Him

I wish you Peace that Jesus alone can give
Unlike the one the world perceives
It is the kind that reaches eternity
The one that breaks a sinner free

I wish for you God’s saving grace
I wish for you to seek His face
These things I pray your eyes can see
As the only things that matter for eternity

When this New Year brings not the things you hope for
When plans and dreams aren’t working anymore
In the end when all there is are troubled seas
I wish you only the Prince of Peace.


With much love this New Year's Day and always... :)


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