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.

Portrait of the Damned

God’s spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled.” Galatians 5:22-23

Portrait of the Damned

The face is glum as always

Drawn lonely drooping lines

On sides of lips convey besottedness

To things unhappy such as pain.

Each day a blot of black on blue

And bluer still it goes,

“Hello to hatred unresolved.”

The perfect host

Hugging fears the moment they approach.

Why! complaining is a truer friend,

Praise, the unwelcome stranger.

Sleek patronage in honesty’s proud name

Dances with all liars

And woe to happy, loving, good…

They can’t be real.

(JCB, October 1, 2009)

By prayer we mean

God always does what he says, and is gracious in everything he does. Psalm 145:13

Prayer is coming to God fully aware that God already knows what is in our hearts and minds. We come to Him in prayer because His presence compels us to beseech Him. We call on Him because He’s there and He is involved in our lives whether we like it or not.

We come because all that He wants to give us is already there for the taking. We come because as His children, we belong to Him and are comfortable in telling Him everything. To Him we laugh, we cry, we murmur, we shout, we ponder, we act, we despair, we hope.

We make Him happy when we seek Him. We give Him gladness when we obey and follow Him. We allow His love to flow even more when we run to Him for help.

When we come to God in prayer, we experience the mystery of our being – in Him – and we realize even more that without Him, we are nothing. But as we come, we affirm our meaning. Jophen Baui

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.

Animated

“Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsion of selfishness.” Galatians 5:16, The Message

Three words grab my attention in Eugene Peterson’s version of Galatians 5:16. Freely, Spirit, Compulsion.

Freedom defined is disentanglement from any bondage – and in the modern sense, this also means “unaffected” by forces other than “God’s Spirit.” To be animated and motivated by God’s Spirit is to consciously move, and live, and have our being in Him. We can only be “slaves” to God’s Spirit if we gain complete freedom from anything in this world – love of money, friends, desires, influence, power, prestige, lovers, food, body, wants and even charity and good works. These are in fact our source of “compulsions” because we are naturally selfish and want to satisfy every whim and will to either prove or affirm our existence.

To be free is to be “born again” literally, so that our “natural” selves can be changed. Only God’s Spirit can accomplish such change. God’s grace is that we realize how much we need God in the process and His unconditional forgiveness frees us even from the pangs of our own conscience. We are “normally” unrighteous, but as we move, and live, and have our being in God, this normalcy changes and we begin on a journey to reformation.

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.