My Father Who Art in Heaven

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It’s Father’s Day around the globe and people would pay homage to their fathers today. I would like to use this brief opportunity to give my father a praise that he deserves. My father taught me the practicalities of life. Without his labor and discipline, I might not be where I am today. He might not be perfect, just as I am not a perfect son, but he’s all that I need and will ever need. If the LORD wills, I hope to be like him – a father with hits and misses; nevertheless, a good father indeed. I thank God for him.

This Lord’s Day, we should give the honour ultimately to our heavenly Father. The Bible expressly and commonly speaks of God as our “Father.” In the Old Testament, God is a father to the Israelite nation (Deuteronomy 32:6; 1 Chronicles 29:10; Jeremiah 31:9; Isaiah 64:8; Proverbs 3:11-12; etc.). He called them His children (Exodus 4:22, 23; Deuteronomy 1:31; Hosea 11:1; Psalm 103:13; etc.). The New Testament addressed God the same way in many occasions; too many that it would take another blogpost to cite all of them. In this way, God reveals Himself in a language that we could understand, that is, in relation to us. He came down to our level and communicated to us in a way we can comprehend, like a father talking to his infant child. If our earthly fathers reflect our heavenly Father, then how great a loving Father our God is, for the original is way better than the copies. And, if our words only correspond to how our minds could conceive reality as God accommodates to us, how great a Father our God is in all His perfection!

In order to show this truth, I will use some analogy drawn from the life of my father.

When my father got laid off as a worker from a manufacturing company, he bought a tricycle from his post-employment benefit fund. My father worked day by day to ensure that our needs would be attended for. How much more is our heavenly Father! He knows and provides everything that we need as His children, both physically and spiritually (Matthew 6:31-33). “Those who seek the LORD lack no good thing” (Psalm 34:10). Our Lord Jesus Christ reassures us: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matthew 6:25-27). Since God is our Father, we will be content with what we have and confident that our needs will be satisfied because we know that it is our Father in heaven who provides. A brother of mine posted recently in Facebook this chunk of gold: we possess everything because we belong to Christ who belongs to God (1 Corinthians 3:21-23). Whatever He provides us we should use for His glory and for the care of our brothers and sisters in the faith.

During my student years (up until I found a job), my father became proud of me whenever I achieved something good. He always speaks well of me in front of his peers and relatives. He is very pleased with me. How much more is our heavenly Father! To borrow from a popular line from Timothy Keller: “because I am in Christ, the Son in whom the Father is well pleased, I am now a son in whom the Father is also well pleased.” This stops me from seeking validation—and even redemption out of my created idol—from other people’s impressions. Why would I enslave myself under the spell of others’ approval if the Heavenly Father already smiles upon me as one of His beloved sons because of His beloved Son?

Back when I was a child, my father fashioned a walking crib out of rattan wood and attached wheels to it so that I could learn to walk. I could also remember when I received a failing grade in college. He was disappointed at first but he understood and hoped that things would eventually turn out good. A father will not disown his own. From the very beginning up until now, he supports me in every step of the way. How much more is our heavenly Father! Because of God’s work without and within us, we may freely and humbly walk with Him. In our walk in this valley, we might stumble in many times and in many ways, but God will lead us by the hand like a father to his child. Even if we fail, He remains faithful. We already received the verdict in Christ, and because of His Son, God is our merciful Father. “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13-14). And, He is there to support and strengthen us with His grace “for He has said ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, the Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6). There will be times when the Father will discipline us but He does so because He loves us and wants us to share in His holiness (1 Corinthians 11:32; Hebrews 12:5-11).

All of these benefits we enjoy only because of Christ. It was sin that stripped us from the loving communion of God and made us children of wrath. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:3-5). In Christ, we are adopted as sons and daughters; His Father became our Father. And, by being united with Him, we receive all the love that the Father has for the Son. Because of Christ, we are made heirs to the inheritance; it is has been sealed to us by the Holy Spirit, our guarantee. The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are, indeed, children of God (Romans 8:15). See what all of that means! “Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God” (1 John 3:1).

This is our identity. We should be fully conscious of our identity. We are sons and daughters of God. Once, we belonged to the family of the devil. We were sons and daughters of disobedience. But now, we are transferred to the family of God, so we should live as sons and daughters being conformed to the image of His Son. We are now sons and daughters, just think of that! We are admitted to the presence of the Father because we are reconciled to Him through Christ. The throne is no longer veiled to us and we have an access to the Father. In times of distress and sorrow, we can cry for deliverance. We can pour out our hearts to the Father who listens. We can cast all of our anxieties to Him because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). Our response to these truths is to admit our total dependence to God like a child who relies entirely to his father. And since we are adopted into His family, we should care for the Father’s house. We should look out for the needs of our brothers and sisters in the faith. Share in their joys and sorrows. Care for them as if they are your blood kin. Finally, just as we aspire to be like our fathers, we should strive to be like our Father as He leads us to the path of holiness (Galatians 4; 1 Peter 1: 14-16; 1 John 3).

In Christ, We Have True Freedom

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Too many poems, hymns, and novels were written under the melody of liberty. Truly, the sound of freedom is music to the ears. Tears will be brought into the eyes and smiles will be painted in the lips of those who will hear the words of emancipation. It is sweeter than honey; it is more beautiful than the breaking of dawn. But to us who has seen the beauty of the Lord, there is nothing more magnificent than the freedom that we now possess because of Jesus Christ.

But, what are the things which belong to such freedom? I’ll give some examples from the abounding grace we found in God’s love:

1. We are free to know the truth about God. Because of Christ who became Word made flesh, we have known the Father. We, who were once “slaves to sin” (John 8:34), have seen the light and known “the truth, and the truth [has set us free]” (v. 32) because the Son has set us free (v. 36) and also, the Truth Himself (John 14:6).

2. We are free to come to God. Because of Christ who is the only-begotten Son, we are adopted as sons and daughters of God. We now enjoy the freedom to draw near to Him through prayer for we know we have a Father who listens to the cries of His children. We know with full assurance and without doubt that he will provide us with all things necessary for body and soul, and will also turn to our good whatever adversity that will come to us in this valley of tears (Heidelberg Catechism 26). “We did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but we have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15).

3. We are free from the bondage of sin and the tyranny of the devil. Because of Christ who does not have sin yet became sin for us, we are now freed from the miry pit and accusations of the Devil. Before, we were “dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world” and “once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-3). But because of the riches of God’s grace and His love for us, He “made us alive together with Christ” (v. 5) and through His precious blood, He redeemed and “freed us from all the power of the devil to make us his own possession” (Heidelberg Catechism 34).

4. We are free from the reign of death. Because of Christ who is the Lamb who died, death has been defeated and we are now freed from its power and condemnation (Romans 8:1-2). Our physical death is no longer a thing to be frightened of because it already has lost its might. “’Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). To us who believe in Him, death now serves as an end of sinning and entrance to glory and joy in communion with God (Heidelberg Catechism 42).

5. We are free from our guilt. Because of Christ who is our High Priest who continually intercedes for us, we are free to “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:21-22) since we have confidence “to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh” (v. 19-20).

6. We are free to live a life in service to the Lord. Because of Christ who is our righteousness, we are justified in the sight of God. Christ’s perfect performance is imputed to us as if it were our own. We are freed from living out of slavish fear or constant failure. We are free to live a life, a living sacrifice, that is pleasing to His eyes. We are empowered by the Spirit to live with filial fear and joy. And even if we fail, He remains faithful. He will pick us up and bind us together to walk again in the path of holiness. Because of what our Lord did, and because we are in Him, “we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him” (Ephesians 3:12).

Indeed, now, “the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). Therefore, we should “live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (1 Peter 2:16).

“Love God, and do as you please.”

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“See what we are insisting upon; that the deeds of men are only discerned by the root of charity. For many things may be done that have a good appearance, and yet proceed not from the root of charity. For thorns also have flowers: some actions truly seem rough, seem savage; howbeit they are done for discipline at the bidding of charity. Once for all, then, a short precept is given thee: Love, and do what thou wilt: whether thou hold thy peace, through love hold thy peace; whether thou cry out, through love cry out; whether thou correct, through love correct; whether thou spare, through love do thou spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.” (Augustine of Hippo, “Seventh Homily on 1st John”)

Brief Thoughts on Gethsemane

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Today marks what is traditionally called as Good Friday. This is the day when the Lord Jesus Christ was arrested and later crucified at the cross. It fits the occasion to read the Passion narratives in the gospel accounts.

The night in the garden of Gethsemane always remains a poignant scenery to me. In Matthew 26:35, the disciples firmly resolved that they will never leave the Lord no matter what.

“Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you,” they said.

Came the crowd with swords and clubs to arrest Jesus. What did they do?

“Then all the disciples left him and fled” (v. 56b).

Consider that these men left all to follow Him yet left Him for they knew not what. I cried because I know that if I would be in that moment, I will also do the same.

It is a testimony to human weakness. There might come times when we believe we are standing firmly in our faith only to find ourselves caving in when hard circumstances meet us. We are reminded of Peter who resolved strongly yet ended up weeping bitterly at disappointment of denying the Lord. But in spite of men’s weaknesses, Christ took the cup of wrath and offered Himself as a peace offering at the cross. The Word who became like us is the same High Priest who sympathizes and knows our weaknesses. Praise be to the One who was forsaken by His people yet is the One who will never forsake His people.

Find Rest for All Our Striving

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After the Fall, we had set our minds into rebellion against God. We ran away from our original purpose and intended end. We suppress the truth in our unrighteousness. The struggle would only stop if we lay our intellectual arms down and consecrate our minds into service for the LORD:

“Once we recognize that our minds are meant to think God’s thoughts after Him, we will begin to find rest to all our striving.”

— K. Scott Oliphint

Gracious Bruises

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“We love to wander from ourselves and to be strangers at home, till God bruises us by one cross or other, and then we `begin to think’, and come home to ourselves with the prodigal (Luke 15:17). It is a very hard thing to bring a dull and an evasive heart to cry with feeling for mercy. Our hearts, like criminals, until they be beaten from all evasions, never cry for the mercy of the judge.

Again, this bruising makes us set a high price upon Christ. Then the gospel becomes the gospel indeed; then the fig leaves of morality will do us no good. And it makes us more thankful, and, from thankfulness, more fruitful in our lives; for what makes many so cold and barren, but that bruising for sin never endeared God’s grace to them.”

—Richard Sibbes, “The Bruised Reed”

La La Church

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Photo from the movie “La La Land”

Yesterday, the Academy revealed its list of winners for the much-coveted Oscar awards. It also has its share of unforgettable moments especially when the announcement of the Best Picture award gone out of proportion—Steve Harvey style. Moonlight bagged the Big One over La La Land, which is an early crowd-favorite (mine also). I was able to watch the latter when it hit the local theater. I have to admit, it is seldom for me to watch a romantic tragedy—how much more a musical! But for a movie that promised to offer a stark reality about dreams and commitments, well, I think that’s worth a watch. And it was. The cinematography and choreography—accompanied by a string of songs—are a treat for the moviegoers. The film’s plot followed the lives of two budding Hollywood prodigies, Sebastian and Mia. Sebastian started as a fledgling musician who desires to saturate the music scene with jazz in all of its purity while Mia spent her stay to audition for an actress role while serving coffee.

I don’t intend to write a review of the movie but I was moved to write about something that Keith, played by the singer John Legend, said to our lead actor which we could connect to the life of the church today. I could barely recall one of his lines: “How could you save jazz if it is dying? How could you be a revolutionary if you insist to be a traditionalist?”

At the back of Keith’s mind, he believes that to tweak jazz is to save it. Change is good if it is done for the better. It is even inevitable given that we are participants to a history that is still unfolding. We should not be afraid of change. It could be turned into a useful tool; the church has profited from the boom of technology. Martin Luther welcomed the advent of the printing press and utilized it to distribute his writings widely. He also employed it to produce Bibles in the local language so that all could read God’s Word. In the same manner, we use social media, blogs, and podcasts to proclaim the gospel in every language and nation.

Eventually in the movie, Sebastian started to embrace the change since it helped him boost his career as a band pianist. It has reached to the point that Mia confronted him and said that this was not his dream; success has diverted him to what he truly loves. But he is unmoved; people loved him in what he does. That’s all that matters right now. The church may suffer with such pragmatic philosophy—change is always better. However, when change becomes the end rather than a servant or when it becomes the controlling factor rather than faithfulness, the church loses its identity.

Instead of being a witness to the world, we just become a choice among other options for the world. Instead of being not of the world, we blend with the world. Instead of being guided by biblical principles, we adopt the philosophy of the world. Just look on how the modern church resorts to gimmickry just to draw multitudes. Worship services are suited to the outsiders’ preferences and every sermon becomes an entertaining talk. Some even employ pop psychology in their sermons to make themselves more appealing to their hearers. Just look on how best-selling “preachers” put a smile on their faces and tell their audience “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” There is no call to repentance. There is no doctrinal substance. There is only a “Christianized” mix of health-and-wealth prosperity gospel. All of these things we do for the hope of proselytizing those outside our camp.

While God might use such instances to draw His people, these are not the ordinary means in which He brings His lost sheep to the flock. The church is not called to be trendy but to be faithful. Sadly, much of the efforts to “relativize” the church tend to diminish the value of the faithful preaching of Word. Ministers are called to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2) and to preach not ourselves but “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23; 2:2). It is through the faithful preaching of the Word that God quickens the unbelieving heart for “faith comes from hearing , and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The gospel alone is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). This should take preeminence in our mind as we engage the outside world. This should be our main concern—the center of it all. We leave the results of our preaching and evangelism not in our well-devised programs but with God.

Also, we must worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:24). We honor God by honoring Him according to His Word and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40). Finally, we are called to make disciples by teaching the Bible, administering the sacraments, and fellowshipping (Matthew 28:19, 20; Acts 2:42). These tasks seem to be boring and ordinary but God chooses the weak over the strong of this world. Change should be a servant to the Word, not the other way round. We don’t need to dress the gospel with the cloth of contemporary gloss. The gospel remains relevant, in and of itself, all throughout history.

On the other hand, just as Sebastian initially thought that the good ol’ jazz is much better, the church may also catch the “nostalgic bug.” She might think of the “glorious days” of Christianity. Just think of the time of Reformation, or that of the English Puritanism, and you might say “Oh, gone are those days!” or “How I wish we’re same as before!” There is nothing wrong with setting up models of the faith but I think that when we turn this into a golden-age mentality, it does more harm than good to the church of today. Nostalgia usually brings into us those things that we only chooses to remember, thus creating an image of a “more-to-be-desired” state. By this, we turn a particular age as an embodiment of the ideal. We might get ourselves enamored by the past and forget to appreciate the contributions of the present church. We might also forget that the church of today has its own problems and issues that we need to attend.

However, there is no golden age. In this side of history, the church remains to be a body of flawed sinners dependent on God’s grace. The church of the past also shared a list of problems and sins. Just look at the accounts of Israelite nation, and even at the times of the apostles, immorality and arrogance waved their hands at the corner. Prophets arose to prosecute the people and call them into repentance. In light of the disturbances and infidelity, Paul and John wrote to the churches. And boy, the Reformation is not a walk in the park. You could see Luther calling those who didn’t believe in His view of the Lord’s Supper as unbelievers. Even Puritanism wasn’t able to lead England into its full potential; we shake our heads with regret at how secular Europe is now. However, God works through this broken church. Just look at the growing churches in Africa and in Asia and be amazed on how God is calling our lost brothers into the fold.

Yes, there is no golden age. The antidote for this unhealthy view of church history is a right understanding of God’s providence. At times, the Old Testament prophets recalled the prosperity of Israel before the exile. How they wished the days weren’t gone! But they believed in the outworking of the sovereign Lord, the Lord who called them out of Egypt and will redeem His people. We could also recall Augustine’s The City of God. He wrote the book partly in response to those who fault the Christians for the fall of Rome. However, he wrote the book mainly to give comfort to the weary church—Rome in all of its glory, a “golden age” if you like, is not the triumphant Church. The only golden age we should look forward to is the age that will come.

The tides will change but the Lord who has authority over all things, in heaven and on earth, is the same Lord who said that He will build His church and not even the gates of hell will prevail against it (Matthew 28:18; 16:18). What brings us more comfort and strength to persevere is that He is also with us always to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). We respond to this truth by being faithful to what God wants the church to be, that is, humbly submissive to His Word.