Treasure the Transient

The Japanese has a traditional custom of enjoying the transient beauty of cherry blossoms. They called it, “hanami.”

hanamiRecently my wife and I made a trip to Tokyo. We saw groups of young people, families and men in their business suits having an outdoor party under the full plumage of the white, pink and red cherry blossoms. They were enjoying a “hanami” under the flowering trees.

The beauty of these cherry blossoms only last about a week or two. The window of viewing and enjoying them is short.

Undoubtedly these cherry blossoms taught us to treasure the transient.

Besides these flowers, many other things in life are transient. They too fade.

Treasure the transient while you can – your health and mobility, your marriage partner, good friends and your children while they are still small and playful.

There is a poem was written by a terminally ill young girl in New York Hospital. She has only 6 months left to live. She will never make it to prom, graduate from high school, or get married and have a family of her own.

She has an important message to say to everybody in her poem, “Slow Dance.”

Have you ever watched kids on a merry-go-round?
Or listened to the rain slapping on the ground?
Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight?
Or gazed at the sun into the fading night?

You’d better slow down
Don’t dance so fast
Time is short
The music won’t last.

Do you run through each day on the fly?
When you ask, “How are you?”
Do you hear the reply?
When the day is done, do you lie in your bed,
With the next hundred chores running through your head?

You’d better slow down
Don’t dance so fast
Time is short
The music won’t last.

Ever told your child,
We’ll do it tomorrow?
And in your haste,
Not see his sorrow?

Ever lost touch, let a good friendship die
Cause you never had time
To call and say,’Hi’

You’d better slow down
Don’t dance so fast
Time is short
The music won’t last.

When you run so fast to get somewhere,
You miss half the fun of getting there.
When you worry and hurry through your day,
It is like an unopened gift …
Thrown away.

Life is not a race
Do take it slower
Hear the music
Before the song is over.

So the Psalmist prays:

“Lord, make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; let me know how transient I am” (Psalm 39:4 NASB).

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Broken Made Beautiful

We throw away things that are broken. Furniture, appliances, precious objects and even relationships – once they are broken, we give them up and throw them away.

We condemn the broken. We see them as of no value and not worth repairing. So we throw them into the rubbish heap.

Broken made BeautifulBut not the Japanese. They have an art of repairing broken pottery with powdered gold. They treat breakage as part of the history of the object and sought to repair it rather than hide it. The result is the broken object is made beautiful and appreciated with greater value.

This Japanese art form is called “kintsukuroi” meaning, “to repair with gold.”

The Bible is full of “human kintsukuroi” – people whose lives are broken but repaired not with gold but with grace.

Let me highlight a few of such stories.

Zacchaeus was a tax collector (Luke 10:1-9). The money collected he gave to the hated oppressor, the Romans. The extras he kept for himself. That how he became very rich. Everyone saw him as a crook. He was despised. He had no friends. He was very lonely. He was a broken man.

One day he saw a crowd of people welcoming Jesus. He climbed up a tree to see Jesus. To his great surprise Jesus stopped by the tree and said, “Zacchaeus!” Come down from there! I must stay at your house today!” (That is as good as saying, “I want to mend your broken life today!”)

Zacchaeus must have thought, “How does Jesus know my name?” God knows our names. Jesus does. He knows the names of the 47 people who died at the bomb blast in Egypt. He told us not even a sparrow falls to the ground without his knowledge (Matthew 10:29).

What stunned Zacchaeus even more was the fact that Jesus wanted to spend time with him.

But the crowd were not so happy. They murmured – “This man cheats and steals from his own people! He doesn’t deserve Jesus!”

Zacchaeus must have heard what the people were saying about him. So he said, “Listen! I will give half of everything I have to the poor! And if I cheated anyone, I will pay them back four times as much!”

Jesus said, “Today, salvation has come to this house!”

Paraphrased that means, “A broken vessel is now made whole and showing it by making restitution.”

The Samaritan woman was a broken woman (John 4:1-26).

She is a five-time divorcée. Her married life was broken five times by five men. She had five rejections. She knows what it means to love and receive no love in return.

Even worse people deemed her a loose woman. Gossips went –

“Have you heard? She’s got another man. They say she would sleep with anyone.”

It is why she came to draw water from the well only in the heat of the noon sun when no one is around. Other women come to the well at cool of the sunrise. But for her, it is easier to endure the heat of the sun than the heat of scorn.

She was so broken. Jesus came for people like her. In fact Jesus was waiting for her at the well to offer her Living Water.

The Samaritan woman was amazed Jesus knew everything about her. She thought Jesus would be angry. She thought Jesus would deem her worthless. She thought Jesus would just get up and leave. But Jesus didn’t. Instead she saw an inexplicable grace in Jesus.

Suddenly the shame of her tattered marriages disappeared. Suddenly the pain of rejections vanished. Suddenly her brokenness was glazed over by her awareness – “The Messiah has come! God is here! This Jesus cares … for me!”

In the excitement of her discovery she forgot her water jar and ran to tell everyone in the city.

The broken vessel became a precious vessel, an unlikely evangelist that brought an entire city to Christ.

Then there was the penitent thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43)

He was a man whose life was broken by wrong choices, wrong company and wrong values. Yet it was never too late for God to restore his brokenness.

With his dying breath he prayed for mercy and asked Jesus to remember him in the new kingdom. Jesus heard that prayer and said, “Today, you shall be with me in paradise.”

In that instant he was heaven-bound. The broken was made beautiful smiling in paradise.

It proves what Jesus said about the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). As he was walking home, rehearsing what he was going to say, his father saw him and ran towards him. Even before he could say “I am not worthy to be called your son,” his father put on him a new robe, a ring and sandals – signifying his full restoration.

Jesus told this parable to tell us the broken can be restored again.

He restored the prodigal daughter caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1-12). Men dragged her before Jesus demanding she be stoned.

And Jesus the only one qualified to stone her said, “Anyone here who has never sinned can throw the first stone at her.” 

One by one the accusers dropped their rocks and left. And Jesus said, “Has no one condemned you? … Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

Here is a vessel broken by moral failure, shame and abuse. Jesus restored her not by temporary earthly gold but by permanent divine grace to give her a new beginning.

Story after story we see the broken made beautiful.

We all have cracks in our lives caused by sin, shame, pain, guilt and misery. But we can take heart for Jesus came to heal the broken-hearted.

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalms 34:18)

The broken can be restored and made beautiful.

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Dawn Of A New Day

The acclamation “Christ is risen!” encapsulates the joy of Easter.

The resurrection forms the cornerstone of our faith. Take that away and our faith will be worthless, our preaching will be in vain and we will be of all peoples the most pitiable.

But the truth is Christ has died, Christ has risen and Christ is alive forevermore.

Knowing that He is alive dominated the lives of those early Christian believers. It transformed their sorrow to joy, their fear to courage and their despair to hope. It propelled them to witness, motivated them to serve and compelled them to give, even their own lives.

For the early believers and for us, the resurrection is the dawn of a new day. It says 4 important things. 

  1. No Longer In Sin

“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (I Corinthians 15:17).

 The fact that Jesus is risen means we are no longer in sin.

If Jesus had not risen we will still be asking “Was His death sufficient coverage for the sins of the world? Did the Almighty God accept His sacrificial work on the cross? Was His mission successful?” If Christ had not risen, we can never know for sure.

Just like in 1999, the body of George Mallory was discovered high on the slopes of Mount Everest. It raises the question, “Did George Mallory and his companion, Andrew Irvine managed to conquer the summit of Mt Everest in 1942 some 30 years before Sir Edmund Hillary?” Whether they succeeded or not, we would never know because neither of two men return alive. And the success of their climb remains a great mystery today.

Just so, we would be in the same dilemma if Jesus had not risen. There is no way we can know for sure that Jesus’ mission to save the world was successful.

The resurrection is proof of God’s acceptance of Jesus’ atoning work. Henceforth we are no longer in sins.

And that should thrill us because we are now debt-free, penalty-free, wrath-free, condemnation-free and sin-free.

  1. No Longer Fear Death 

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (I Corinthians 15:26)

If we were honest we have to admit that deep within we fear this last enemy because death pounces on us in sudden and unexpected manner like the terror bombings in two Coptic Churches on Palm Sunday in Egypt. That is frightening. Death renders everything in life so fragile and final.

As the huge stone rolled in front of the rock tomb on the evening of Good Friday, the followers of Jesus must have said, “It’s the end! The worst possible thing that could happen to our Lord has happened.” The enemies of Jesus must have sighed with relief saying, “It’s finally the end of that trouble-maker.”

They all knew death is the end. The cross provides that final visible reality. No one survives crucifixion. But on that first Easter Sunday morning, Jesus came back to life. The huge stone was rolled away, not to let Jesus out but to let people in, so they can see Jesus is not there.

He is risen. He has overcome death. He has conquered the last enemy. He has taken away the sting of death. Henceforth we no longer fear death.

  1. No Longer Alone

Knowing Jesus is risen and is now alive means we can have His continual Presence.

Jesus’ last promise is “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20)

That means we no longer walk alone in life. He walks by our side. He is our constant guide and companion.

In our darkness hour, He is besides us. In our sorrowful moments, He is there with us. In our joyful hours, He is there celebrating with us. We are no longer alone.

  1. No Longer Labor In Vain 

The apostle Paul says, “And as for us (if there is no resurrection) why do we endanger ourselves every hour?” (I Corinthians 15:30).

It is precisely Jesus is risen that we are willing to labor even more. It’s only thing that makes us willing to suffer, endure all hardship and serve Him at any cost.

But if the grave is the end and there is no resurrection, then there is no reason for such sacrificial labor.

The truth is Christ has risen. We are serving a risen Lord and living Savior.

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (I Corinthians 15:58). 

Easter is the dawn of a new day because He lives!

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Will You Be A Donkey?

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Passion Week.

Often we remember the palm branches (hence the name Palm Sunday) and the children shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” Seldom we remember the donkey Jesus used as He rode into Jerusalem.

donkeyJesus chose to use this animal not because it is the best animal or the most efficient way to do the job.

The donkey was chosen so that the people might identify Jesus with the prophecy of Zechariah.

This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to the Daughter of Zion, “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Matthew 21:4-5).

550 years earlier God already had a plan for this donkey to play a part in His redemptive plan. He also has a plan for us to play in His redemptive work.

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).

We have been chosen not only for blessing but also for service. You are not a nobody in God’s plan. God knows you by name and He has a plan for you. Just as He had plans for the donkey, He has prepared in advance the good works for you to do.

You may not be someone significant, influential and successful in the eyes of the world. Remember, Jesus, the Anointed One used a lowly donkey. Just like He used fishermen to turn the world upside down; He chose a tax collector to evangelize and former prostitutes to win cities; He used a child with a few fishes to feed a multitude; He chose lowly shepherds to announce His birth; He chose me, who has no university degree and no work experience to become a pastor. If He can use a donkey, surely He can use you!

Donkeys are workers. Will you be a donkey for Christ? On that Palm Sunday, the donkey carried the Presence of Christ into the city. Will you be a bearer of Christ’s Presence? Our Lord needs people who are prepared to become donkeys for Him to carry His Presence to certain marketplaces, certain cities, and certain parts of the world.

The Master still has need of donkeys. He wants to enter certain places. He needs a ride. He issues the call, “I have need of him!” Will you answer that call? Will you give the King of kings a ride? Will you chauffer the Lord of lords? Will you do your humble bit in this great work of proclaiming salvation to the lost world? To lift up Jesus so that He can be seen by crowds and draw people to Himself.

Will you be a donkey for Christ?

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WWG

WWGIt’s not a misspell. Not WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) but WWG (Wrestling With God).

Who dare enters such a match. Jacob did in Genesis 32:22-32. All of us too if only we knew.

Last night I had a WWG.

My life was in a mess. I was not pleased with what I have been. I did things that I was not proud of. Esau is now coming to get even.

In this confrontation I knew I had placed my family in grave danger. I was in a tight spot. I was able to come out of a bad situation with some deceitful ingenuity. But not any more. To minimize collateral damage I divided the advance party in two groups in case one were attack the other could escape. I thought I could appease my avenger with a train of presents that I was sending ahead of me. I was counting on my wit, relying on my cleverness and trusting my ingenuity. I was called “deceiver” not for nothing.

Now my own flesh and blood, my twin brother is my archenemy. And he is coming to me with a vengeance.

I could not sleep. I was having insomnia. My mind was troubled. I kept thinking of all manner of ills and evil coming my way. Even the rippling sounds of flowing water at Jabbok River could not soothe my fears and anxieties. In fact I could see 400 negative thoughts and suggestions rumbling towards me.

Just when I was feeling where is God in all this, a man came out of nowhere. He looks like he was walking on water like the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters. He is strong. His eyes are inscrutable. There seemed a familiar fear about Him.

He grappled hold of me and I of him.

A wrestling match ensued. He threw a submission hold on me. I was not just about to give up. Then He did a body press, the weight of his glory was unbearable. But I held on.

We wrestled through the night. The longer we wrestled the more I recognized who I was contending with. I was having a WWG.

As dawn was about to break, He gave a hip attack. He went for my hip socket. It was excruciating. I felt the pain was hard to endure but even harder still is the blessing I haven’t yet received from Him.

In spite all the punishing head butt, knee drop, shoulder chops and elbow smash, I refused to give up until He given me His blessing.

I said to God, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!”

He was greatly pleased with my response. Then He asked my name. Name speaks of character. He wanted my character to change. He wanted to give me a new name. I had to surrender my fears, my past hurts and most of all my utter reliance on intellect, clever plans and human maneuvers.

When I woke, everything seemed different. My fears of Esau dissipated. My worries for my family vanished. Even the frightening thought of losing my life was gone. I was ready to meet Esau and his company of 400.

I wrestled with God.

I won. But I think He let me.

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Bane of Bribery

There was a day when turning the newspapers I read several reports of bribery locally and abroad.

These include high profile cases in China, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia and even our supposedly least corrupt Singapore. They ranged from high officials, top businessmen, and professionals, even Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau staff to low-level employees.

Bribery is so prevalent that it is deemed an ultimate bane of every society.

The Bible gives us insight as to why it is so widespread.

Some people think a bribe works like magic; they believe it can do anything” (Proverbs 17:8 GNT).

A secret gift calms anger; a bribe under the table pacifies fury (Proverbs 21:14 NLT).

“A person will do wrong for a piece of bread” (Proverbs 28:21 NIV).

The Bible is not condoning bribery but telling us why it happens so often. It is because bribery often works.

Many people turned to bribery thinking it is a fast road to high position, power, control, results and the help they need. All of which doubt the goodness of God to provide.

In giving the Laws to His people, God make it clear:

“Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent” (Exodus 23:8 NIV).

Bribery perverts justice and is the fastest lane towards a decadent society.

A wicked man accepts a bribe behind the back to pervert the ways of justice” (Proverbs 17:23 NKJV).

A leader who seeks bribes destroys himself, his family and his own country. And we have seen it.

By justice a king gives a country stability, but those who are greedy for bribes tear it down” (Proverbs 29:4 NIV).

When bribery becomes a way of life for civil servants, business people, executives and professionals, it harms the entire community for it destroys trust, made us cynical and distrust the very people we should regard as principled and honorable.

Even before the Law of Moses, Jethro gave this advice: “Find some capable, godly, honest men who hate bribes.” (Exodus 18:21 TLB)

This Midianite father-in-law of Moses saw with crystal clarity that a society could only be strong if the leaders do not take bribes.

This Good Friday we are again reminded that the Son of God was betrayed over a bribe of 30 pieces of silver.

Bribery is the bane of society. I thank God that ours is a society that has zero tolerance for bribery.

Don’t take bribes. Don’t offer bribes.

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Marriage Trees

Have you seen two trees that are conjoined?

There are such trees.

PUBLISHED by catsmob.comTwo trees adjacent to each other first grow separately. As they mature in size, they often touch each other. As they move and sway in the wind, the bark on the touching surfaces is scraped off. Once the cambium of these two trees touches, grafting happens and the two trees are joined together.

This natural phenomenon is called inosculation. It is common to see two trees becoming conjoined by their branches, trunks and even roots.

And that can only happen when two trees are growing in close proximity, which permits physically touching, rubbing and intertwining.

Such trees are known as “marriage trees.” Often colloquially referred to as “husband and wife” trees.

The term is obvious, which highlights the biblical truth about marriage.

“And the two shall become one flesh so then they are no longer two, but one flesh” (Mark 10:8).

conjoined tree2Like two separate trees, the husband and wife need be in frequent contact, touching each other and becoming physically, emotionally and spiritually intertwined, sometimes aided by the winds of change and adversity.

With this constant “rubbing” of contact, care and communication, there could be a gradual development of relational “grafting.”

Just as phenomenal as these “husband and wife” trees, a man and a woman could show such union in their marital journey that astound onlookers.

May your marriage union be as stunning as those marriage trees.

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