Milestones of Faith

Genesis 35:1-4; 35: 9-12

Jacob led a life of constant wrestling with God. It was a life filled with schemes that often met his desires by hook or by crook. By the time Jacob yielded to God completely, he had been through many agonizing experiences that brought him sorrow and depression. He had lost his wife Rachel, and his daughter Dina was raped. His other sons pillaged and terrorized a community. In his old age, his sorrow was great because of a long rift from his brother Esau whom he tricked to get Isaac’s blessing.

Despite the life he led, God blessed him, and changed his name to Israel, which means, “Triumphant with God.” This name change effectively erased his own estimate of himself. From God’s point of view, the covenant with Abraham will not be broken. Jacob is blessed because His God is not any other god or himself, but the God of his fathers Abraham and Isaac. This is evident in his acknowledgement that in all his distress God never left him. Thus in Paddam Aram – he builds another altar to mark this milestone in his faith journey. God changing his name to Israel fortifies the covenant, extending to him the blessings due to Abraham’s descendants.

In acknowledging God to be His ever present companion “in the way I went”, Jacob witnessed to God’s faithfulness, which did not depend on his good acts  or right conduct. God was faithful to him because that is God’s character. It is who God is. God is faithful.

How many times have I failed, or refused, or forgotten to build those altars of praise, thanksgiving, and worship that should have commemorated His grace, goodness and glory?  Yet God is faithful.

Today, I praise God for every gift of peace and gladness in my heart; for every sadness that led me to Him; for every twenty-four hours of breath and health; for every problem which made me strong; for every failure which humbled me; for every timely and exact provision; for his shield and protection against evil and man’s cruel intentions; for every precious moment of the living Word which is my guide and strength; and for the imperfections of family, friends, community and country which make me kneel before Him in intercession.

Today, I am building an altar of praise through this expressed witness of thanksgiving. As I do so, I will remember those milestones in my faith journey and thank God for my blessings. This is indeed a Merry Christmas, and my golden year, a Happy New Year.

God Trains His People for a Purpose

1 Samuel 16-18:5

David faces different challenges every day as he tends his father’s sheep. Foremost among these challenges are the loneliness of isolation and the danger of wild animals that prey on his flock. What David learns in the field is valuable as preparation for his future task as King. He first has to gain confidence and learn how to be brave before God lets him face Goliath – this Philistine who “insults the army of the living God.” He has to be alone for long stretches of time to become meditative and sensitive to God’s voice.

David’s call is to protect and preserve the land God gave Israel. His basic ground training for leadership is guiding and leading foolish animals to safety and provision. This he does expertly and with pride, that when Saul tells him you-are-just-a-boy-how-can-you-fight-Goliath, he replies boldly:

    “Your majesty, I take care of my father’s sheep. And when one of them is dragged off by a lion or a bear, I go after it and beat the wild animal, until it lets the sheep go. If the wild animal turns and attacks me, I grab it by the throat and kill it.

    “Sir, I have killed lions and bears that way and I can kill this worthless Philistine. He shouldn’t have made fun of the army of the living God. The Lord has rescued me from the claws of lions and bears, and he will keep me from the hands of this Philistine.”

David’s confidence comes not merely from his knowledge of what he is capable of doing. He does not boast only of his own strength. He repeatedly stresses that God is the secret of his successes. When Goliath mocks him, saying,

    “Do you think I’m a dog? Is that why you’ve come after me with a stick? Come on, when I’m finished with you, I’ll feed you to the birds and wild animals.”

David faces up to the challenge and says,

    “You’ve come out to fight me with a sword and a spear and a dagger. But I’ve come out to fight you in the name of the LORD ALL-Powerful. He is the God of Israel’s army, and you have insulted him too!

    “Today the LORD will help me defeat you. I’ll knock you down and cut off your head, and I’ll feed the bodies of the other Philistine soldiers to the birds and wild animals. Then the whole world will know that Israel has a real God. Everybody will see that the LORD doesn’t need swords or spears to save his people. The LORD always wins his battles, and he will help us defeat you.”

In all of David’s life as King, through his rise and fall, God is his captain and his shield, the promoter of his causes, the ONE who goes before him in his battles. When this is not the case, he loses the fight. He becomes a poor steward of his skills, and he is defeated. He fails to listen to God’s direction on his leadership, and he gets surrounded by more enemies.

David’s rule is one of the bloodiest times in Israel’s history. But David’s training, interests and ambitions not merely coincide with those of God’s, but rather are God’s own causes. God in His goodness has determined long time ago, that King David, will go down in history as “a man after his own heart.” David fails, falls and flounders but his weaknesses highlight God’s might and strength. His victories promote God’s agenda. His mistakes give way to God’s judgments. His failures underscore God’s mercy. Whatever skills and talents David have gained through the years are never for his self-actualization but for the fulfillment of God’s plan to bless him and Israel. The word “bless” is an understatement, because in order to do this, God has to work through him, a man, using even all the limitations of his earthly life.

Questions to Ponder
Read Also: Psalm 139
1. What are your natural abilities? Have you thought about who gave you those abilities and why?
2. How do you nurture those abilities? Do you take care to become better at them? Do you discipline yourself in order to develop them towards excellence?
3. What skills have you gained through the years in all phases of your life? How are you using those skills now?
4. Have you ever pondered on how God has blessed other people through the abilities, training, and skills He has given you? Or are you using your skills and abilities to the detriment of others?
5. Have you ever praised God for all his blessings in and through your life? Or do you consider yourself self-made?

Heaven

“Jesus said to his Disciples, ‘Don’t be worried. Have faith in God and have faith in me. There are many rooms in my father’s house. I wouldn’t tell you this, unless it was true. I am going there to prepare a place for you. After I have done this, I will come back and take you with me. Then we will be together. You know the way to where I am going.” John 14: 1-4

We know the way – Jesus is the way – Jesus is the way to heaven – Jesus is the way to the Father. We know, but we’re not yet in heaven. Jesus will have to come back and take us with him. Our knowledge prepares us for heaven – makes us study and learn and live the ways of heaven here on earth until Jesus comes back and takes us. Regularly, we remember in church that Jesus is coming again – in the Holy Communion of Saints.

Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t even know where you are going, how can we know the way?” The answer is that if we know the way, then we know where we are going. If we believe that Jesus is the way, and follow the way, then we know we’re going to heaven – to occupy the rooms being prepared for us. Knowing illuminates our destination. Knowing shows us a path – points us the direction. So we walk the way – Jesus – to heaven, and we are held on our way while we keep ‘joined’ with Jesus.

Why do we stray then if we already know the way? Christians call this backsliding – literally going back, but not unintentionally; sliding back to a previous way – that is. This happens because we take heaven for granted.  At least at the moment, we think that heaven is still an abstract concept (up there), and we like to refer to it as “sa kabilang buhay,” without actually believing in a life beyond. This is simply an expression for many.  Most of us can’t grasp the truth that all of us have eternal destiny – heaven or hell – or we don’t value eternity. At least at the moment, life is all there is to us, life that we can touch and see and feel and hear and smell. Heaven is a reality beyond, difficult to grasp, like air itself. We don’t crave for heaven, or we think we don’t. Our flesh craves for the enjoyment this world offers. But the things we most wish for are stuff that only heaven can give – deep joy, lasting peace, true love, and concrete happiness. Yet we insist on living at the moment, mistaking the world’s panaceas as heaven itself. We think we have joy but it doesn’t last. Peace is not at all attainable. True love is mostly the stuff of fiction. Happiness runs out of motivation.

When Jesus comes back and takes us, would he find us where we should be? Would we have moved on closer towards our destination? Or would he arrive and for a moment strain his neck looking for us, since we got lost somehow and would not be found? How far would we have strayed that there wouldn’t be enough time to go back?

Jesus is the way – the ONLY WAY wants us to keep walking THIS WAY – because he will come back and take us. When he comes, we should be where we should be, or we will miss heaven. The alternative destination should never be an option.

If God is not Sovereign

“The ocean is roaring LORD! The sea is pounding hard. It’s mighty waves are majestic, but you are more majestic and you rule over all.” Psalm 93:3-4 CEV

If God is not sovereign a house will be full of chaos. Tempers flare at the slightest provocation. Sometimes, reason is waylaid and all past hurts and bitterness surface, that the anger of the moment turns out only to be just “the tip of the iceberg.” If God is not sovereign, it will be harder to forgive.

But old hurts and feelings may dominate and rule the day yet in the end, we can run to God and tell all – including the reasons, however illogical, for our own lapses in judgment.

If God is not sovereign, the war in Israel right now would not have a framework. All events going on in the World would be chance events, wrought by chance, propagated by chance, would probably have their day by chance.

But God’s sovereignty makes us understand that there’s an end to all of this, since He has been in control from the beginning of time. He holds the universe in His hands. While we think about the probability of war and Armageddon, God has long ago thought about delivering man from all that the evil of this world can possibly do. He even conquered death. God has given His Son so that those who believe in Him may live even if they die, and so, their lives are not a matter of chance, and are not in vain.

If God is not sovereign, we have a reason to grumble about disorder, the lack of beauty, a dearth of quiet and peace, a shortage of space. We will see every circumstance as unsatisfactory, and each season will only usher in more misfortune.

But God’s sovereignty makes us see beauty in disorder, and our heart is at peace even if the daily news bombard us with endless tales of suffering. In our limited space we can find profound connection with the One who created the world and the universe. We will appreciate the blessings of both sun and rain, and we know that every storm and hurricane is a reminder of God’s mighty power over all that man can ever do or accomplish.

God’s sovereignty teaches us to be still – enables us to hope – makes us pray unceasingly. God is mighty and even those who think this isn’t true aren’t exempted from His grace.

How to lose Faith

At that time, Hanani the seer came to Asa, king of Judah and said to him: “Because you relied on the king of Aram and not on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Aram escaped from your hand. Were not the Cushites and Libyans a mighty army with great numbers of chariots and horsemen? Yet when you relied on the Lord, he delivered them into your hand. 2 Chronicles 16:7

During the 36th year of King Asa’s reign in Judah, he courted an ally against Israel – Ben-hadad, king of Aram. Previous to this, in his long reign, Judah was more peaceful and there were only a few wars. In fact, he won over two noted wars – against the Cushites and the Libyans because, as Hiram said, he ‘relied on the Lord.’

During Asa’s reign, where there was peace, there was also prosperity. The walls of Jerusalem were fortified, and Asa ‘did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” But at the end of his reign as king, during the war against King Baasha of Israel, he secured the support of Ben-hadad.  “Asa then took the silver and gold in the treasuries of the Lord’s temple and of his own palace and sent it to Ben-Hadad King of Aram, who was ruling Damascus. ‘Let there be a treaty between me and you,’ he said, ‘as there was between my father and your Father. See, I am sending you silver and gold. Now break your treaty with Baasha king of Israel so he will withdraw from me.'”

At the outset, this action was mercenary. King Asa bribed Ben-Hadad to drive away the Israelites from the borders. Of course Asa gained an edge in this war because King Baasha of Israel eventually abandoned his task of setting up walls that would prevent Asa’s constituents from leaving Judah. King Asa then used the materials Baasha’s men left to fortify the borders of Judah.

What Asa did seemed logical, after all, Judah had the money to pay an ally and people were prosperous enough to not want to engage in any war. Better hire warriors to do the fighting for them.

But God was not pleased. Why?

Sometimes, it is easier to rely on a logical solution to a problem. If we have the means, why not exhaust everything in our means to make sure we get what we want? We hold on to what we can see, and are not predisposed to seeking God’s help all the time. We may say after passing a difficulty that God has blessed us. We may even say that we prayed. But did we really? How much is the percentage of our relying on God as compared to the percentage of our relying on our own solutions?

As in the case of the Kings of both Judah and Israel, Christians must commit themselves to God and seek him in times of need and plenty. But our faith is often fragile and vulnerable to attacks from within and without. In Asa’s case, even a history of God’s faithfulness which he witnessed in his time didn’t make him more faithful in his old age. At the end of the day, he was full of himself, and angry at God.

But maybe it is easier to rely on God when one is up against the wall or is completely needy. It maybe more difficult to rely on God when one has the means to use in times of hardships. Asa used the treasures of the temple of God to pay an ally for his country’s protection. When he got ill, he did not seek God but relied solely on physicians. This is not to say that relying on physicians is wrong but if that was the only thing he relied on, then there was something wrong with his faith. Asa’s pattern of unbelief is due to a refusal, a passivity, a rejection of what is possible beyond one’s reality. Because these were his hard realities: He was face to face with a  stronger enemy, so where could he turn? He was afflicted with disease, so what would he do?

God told Asa after refreshing his memory of what He did and is still able to do, “When you relied on the Lord, he delivered them into your had. For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” God reminded Asa that Asa was witness and participant in those events. But Instead of acknowledging God’s merciful acts in the past, Asa got angry with God’s messenger.

Many Filipinos will often say “Nasa Diyos ang awa, nasa tao ang gawa.” But for true Christians, it is not just God’s mercy God gives us, but God’s judgment, God’s grace, God’s provision, God’s protection, God’s love.  He holds our lives in his hands. He knows the number of the strands of our hair.

Asa got angry because he was being judged by God himself. He was being judged because he ‘relied on the king of Aram and not on the Lord.’ That was what was wrong with his faith. His heart was not fully committed, and God is a jealous God.

In this chapter of the book of 2 Chronicles, God’s promise is ‘strength’ and the condition is commitment. When we begin to see how our faith begins to falter, let us go back and remember God’s goodness throughout our personal history. Then let us check our hearts. Is it fully committed? Or do we persist on our ‘pagkatao’, on our stubborn belief that we are in charge?

May God help us.

Critical Situations

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’ ‘Dear woman, why do you involve me?’ Jesus replied, ‘My time has not yet come.’ This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.” (John 2:1-11)

Was it time for Jesus to reveal his glory? He made the answer very clear to Mary. 4“Dear woman, why do you involve me …My time has not yet come.” But Mary knowing that this is the Son of God attempted to involve him in a critical situation. “They have run out of wine.”

Jesus said that it wasn’t yet His time, and yet, he responded to what was the actual need of that moment. He responded out of recognition of a critical need which could embarrass the bridegroom. In His changing of the water into wine, only the bridegroom was given the credit. The master of the banquet who tasted the wine didn’t even know that the host had run out of wine.

Jesus alone can override his own time line. He has his own time but time is also in his hands. In this passage, Jesus could have simply stuck with his time line – and reveal himself when he should. But it seems to me that in solving a critical situation, He risked his own time line. This is one more a demonstration of how much he cares.

Rain of Grace

A field is useful to farmers if there is enough rain to make good crops grow. In fact, God will bless that field. But land that produces only thorns is worthless. It is likely to fall under God’s curse, and in the end, it will be set on fire.” Hebrews 6:4-7 CEV

To drink the rain that falls on the ground, to yield good fruit, to be fertile and always ready for each day’s blessings – why is this not always happening?

Everyday, grace is sufficiently bestowed – rained upon us, as if we deserve it. And what do we do? We are like the roads which hold the rain for a while but then get rid of it in the sewers. We can, but we don’t drink in the rain, because our hearts refuse to be rained on. We think that we have what it takes to be truly human. We believe in our sufficient strength, our good acts, our benevolent intentions, our religious rituals, our commitment to our vows. But “life is difficult.” And in the face of trials we sometimes lose hope. When faced with temptations, we fall on the wayside, presented with options we go astray. In fact, we are often unwise that we have often detoured from our life’s main road.

If are without wisdom, what we will become in the end are immature people. We will cover ourselves with enough masks to camouflage our inadequacies.

God wants to bless us – but we need to drink in His rain of grace all the time. We need to live on, by, and of His love. We need to stop living in our own might. Our efforts should be towards a growing understanding of how God wants us to conduct our lives. For us Christians, It cannot be as how the world does it, or according to what the world approves of, or based on whether we have a good feeling afterwards. We need to live in God’s grace, completely dependent on his provisions for righteousness.

This is not easy. Sometimes this is even impossible for us human beings, but this is how it should be.