Building Strength

The Bible, from the Book of Genesis to the Apocalypse of John is.. quite diverse. But ultimately, if you could condense the purpose, you could say that the Bible is an invitation. An invitation firstly, to enjoy an intimate fellowship with God, despite our sins, through Christ Jesus, now and forever. Secondly, an invitation to walk in His Way. An invitation to trace His footsteps, as we walk through the days of our life.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

‭‭John‬ ‭15:12‬

In His final message, mere hours before His arrest and crucifixion, and knowing fully well all that was awaiting Him, the Lord leaves those who follow Him with a ‘commandment.’ Jesus commands, ‘love one another as I have loved you.’ We’re commanded to live like Jesus. We’re commanded to love like Jesus. And most of us in Christ, know this.

WWJD..? What would Jesus do..? That’s a question we often find that we ask ourselves in situations that confront us. And that perhaps is a good start, but.. how many times do we find that we know what Jesus would’ve done, yet find ourselves unable to do the same..?

Love the unlovable, He said and He did. Forgive the unforgivable, He said and He did. We know that Jesus loved, and that He forgave. But how many times, do we fall short of His standards..? At times, knowing what we are to do, and at times even desiring to do, but still.. unable to find the strength within to be like Him. While our minds know all we are to do, the strength to live like Jesus, comes not from the mind, but from our hearts…

..for the joy of the LORD is your strength.

Nehemiah 8:10

Is the joy of the LORD reigning in your heart..? Striving to be like Christ, is a noble pursuit, but.. we will only weary ourselves undertaking the impossible, without the strength of His joy. We may strive to keep ourselves pure and free from sin as He is, only to end up in frustration. We may desperately will ourselves to be more loving people, and maybe, just maybe.. we can turn our ways around to the eyes of those around us. But when we haven’t truly changed in places where the eyes of people cannot see.. in our hearts, it’ll only remain a sapping yet vain endeavour.

Joy though, does something that our meticulous efforts could never do. When we abide in His joy, the command to live like the Christ, no longer has to be seen as something that needs to be worked on, but instead as something that flows from within…

Have you ever noticed how in our moments of mirth, all that the Bible commands us becomes a little easier..? When we’re in a mood to celebrate, loving one another seems like the logical thing to do, doesn’t it..? We’re quick to give. We’re even quick to forgive. We’ve all had such moments in life, haven’t we..? Now joy is similar to mirth, except.. it is ever in our reach, even when the lights of our life have seemingly gone out, and all we could see around is darkness. Even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death…

In your presence there is fullness of joy;

Psalm 16:11

There is fullness of joy in His presence. And to all who desire to enter, in search of that ever available joy, the Holy One says, “Do not be afraid.” He says, “Come As You Are.” Through His work on the cross, the Lord has made a Way, where even the worst of sinners can enter into His presence and delight in His joy, taking away the yoke that was upon us. The unrighteous are freely welcome into His presence, for only His joy can lead us into a life of righteousness. And this is where the ‘command’ to live like Jesus, becomes an ‘invitation’ to live like Him. Nowhere is this message more apparent than in the tale of the Christ and a man named Zacchaeus, from Luke 19:1-10

Zacchaeus – the man who is remembered for climbing a sycamore tree to get a glimpse of Jesus – was a tax collector. To most of us, the term would hardly ring a bell. But to people in the New Testament times, those words spoke too much about the moral standing of a person. People held a tax collector in the same regard as a prostitute. They were commonly referred to as sinners…

When Jesus saw Zacchaeus perched on a branch, He calls him by name and tells him that He will be staying at his house. People around Jesus expected the righteous to avoid the presence of sinners. They grumbled among themselves, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner,” as though the Lord who can look into our hearts, hadn’t a clue. But Jesus was here with one purpose. To seek out a man lost in sin…

So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully.

‭‭Luke‬ ‭19:6‬

..and Zacchaeus received Him joyfully. The crowd could only see his past. They had no clue as to the heart of this man. Within him there was something new. Within him there was a heart filled with joy. Like the people in the crowd Zacchaeus must have expected Jesus to seek out the righteous, but to his surprise, he realised, “The Lord has come in search of a sinner like me…”

And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”

‭‭Luke‬ ‭19:8

And the joy that flooded his heart, produced something so beyond the belief of the people who branded him a sinner. Zacchaeus, who until now had extorted money from his people, no longer desired unrighteous wealth. He not only ventured to repay those whom he had defrauded, but even that which was rightfully his, he chose to share with the poor…

The message, “Come As You Are,” once again repeats itself over here, doesn’t it..? The Christ did not wait for Zacchaeus to make atonement for his sins before He welcomed him into His presence. Zacchaeus was welcomed as a sinner. But more importantly, this sinner no longer remained a slave to his sin. And how did that happen..? Was it the fear of the fire of hell to lead him into righteousness..? Nay, it was joy that did what fear could never do. Joy in Christ set Zacchaeus free from his sin…

Are you filled with the desire to be righteous..? Does the pursuit leave you feeling worn out, without the strength to take another step..? Remember, this was never something to be done in our own strength. Remember Zacchaeus. Remember the Lord who comes in search of those lost in sin, to welcome them into His presence. Remember the joy in His presence. Remember the strength to be changed that that joy does produce. Look to Him. His arms are open wide…

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

Philippians 4:4


Come As You Are

“The friend of sinners,” we call our Lord. But do we really believe that He is..? I mean, of course, as Casting Crowns would have us reminded, we do tend to forget that in dealing with others who we would be quick to label as a ‘sinner.’ Like we are any better..? That is a common failing, I agree. And we, in humility, need to seek His grace to help us be wiser to our faults, and compassionate toward those of others. But I wonder, are we quick enough to believe that He is a friend of sinners, when it is us who happen to fall into sin..?

Could we..? Should we..? At the end of it, I’ll leave it to you to decide. But there are certain things from the Bible that I feel lead to share. About us. About the nature of sin. With tales of guilt and shame. And with tales of love and grace.

There is something about sin, that the Bible finds is common among those who have fallen under its weight. The first to fall under sin in the Garden of Eden felt the same, so did people in the times of the Christ and so do people in our times.

When God created Adam and Eve, even though they had the will to choose, they were sinless. All they had to avoid to remain sinless and choose God over sin, was to abide by the one restriction He placed on them, saying “..of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.” But even then, they sinned. And once sin ensnared them, something changed…

..and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

‭‭Genesis‬ ‭3:8‬

The couple who enjoyed fellowship with God in Eden, could no longer dare to be in His presence. According to the Bible, they hid from His presence, even before God could confront them. They hid, being confronted by their own conscience.

At another point in time.. when the Lord began His earthly ministry, He went about to gather His disciples. And one of them was Simon Peter, a fisherman. After speaking to a crowd that was gathered on the shore to hear Him, Jesus lead Peter to fish in the deep. Peter and his companions had toiled all night, and found nothing in those waters. Even if he weren’t too eager, Peter decided to follow, where Jesus lead.

That decision transformed the life of this fisherman. But before the transformation, there is something that happened in the boat, that once again brings to light the nature of sin. When Peter hauled in a large catch of fish, which by all logic should not have been there, he could see that the One who was with him was more than a mere man. And at that realisation, the familiar feeling returned…

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

‭‭Luke‬ ‭5:8‬

Sin that made Adam and Eve hide from the Holy One in the Garden of Eden, made Simon Peter, plead for the Lord who’s presence he believed he did not deserve, to leave him. There is one thing in common between these tales from both Testaments: God comes in search of people lost in sin. Sin makes people turn away from God…

How often do we find that we, like Peter or the couple from Eden, shy away from God, because of our sins..? Even though we have access to the knowledge of the Good News that Christ Jesus brought into this world, when we fall into sin, how easy is it to fall into the same spiral of guilt and shame..?

Even if we know that our God is love, the memories that we carry remind us of how undeserving we are of His love. We’re reminded of the last time we had a fall. Maybe, the dozens of times we’ve fallen before then too. We’re reminded of His loving embrace that took us in despite our sins. But here we are again…

“Surely, my Lord deserves better. How many times will I disappoint Him..? If I come to Him now, He will forgive me and take me in, but what if I fall into sin once again..? Let me not trouble Him. I have to make myself better before I return to Him. I will deal with my sin, and then I will come to Him with some good deeds in hand, to show for the love and faith He has shown in me,” we may find ourselves saying. An appreciable desire perhaps, but we know where that pursuit takes us, don’t we..?

Further away from God we go, as we refuse to turn to Him. Either persisting in the same sin, or finding our condition worsen. All the while forgetting, that our Lord, He is a friend of sinners. All the while forgetting that He isn’t looking for good deeds of ours in return for His mercy. All God desires from us, is all Peter had within him in that boat with Jesus…

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 51:17

When God sees us, His children, broken in spirit and our hearts crushed by guilt and shame, He yearns to embrace us. And to embrace the sinner, the Holy One came in the form of a man, lived a sinless life, and died on the cross. The blood that He shed, He shed to cleanse us from our sin. Sin that once had the power to turn us away from the love of God. Power that sin has no more…

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:1

Are you troubled by your sin..? Are you unsure if you’re to turn to Him or not..? Are you afraid of God..? Are you afraid of being a disappointment once again..? Remember the words that the Lord spoke in reply to sinful Peter’s guilt filled admission:

And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid;”

Luke 5:10

In the end, knowledge defines our relationship with God. The knowledge of good and evil, causes us to turn away from God, knowing that by ourselves, we fall short of His holiness. The knowledge of Christ Jesus though, helps us turn to Him, knowing that in Him, we are made holy, as He is. Know Him: Jesus, the friend of sinners. Come to Him as you are. He will make you, what you are meant to be…

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭4:16‬

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭5:5‬

Tears In A Bottle

In moments of depression, you may believe you’re all alone. Who is there to see you while the tears flow..? How could someone see your tears, when those tears wait for opportune moments..? To spare you of the pity of those around..? They only flow when you’re all alone. In those lonely nights, you toss and turn and drench your bed in tears. But.. are you ever really alone..?

Life off late seems in my eyes like an unending journey through the Valley of Weeping. I can say with confidence that though things have seemingly gone downhill, His grace has upheld me in the joy of the Lord at most times. But I would be lying if I said that I have never been overwhelmed to the point of tears. Tears that come out of a suffering within, too deep to express in any other way….

And almost always these tears are shed in moments when there isn’t another soul in sight. But even when I feel alone in those moments, there is One who is present.. even if I fail to notice. One who does not fail to notice even a single drop of tear that is shed. In one of those moments of silent suffering, this verse from Psalm 56, spoke to my distressed soul….

You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?‭‭

Psalms‬ ‭56:8‬

But what about those tears that He sees..? Does He simply observe..? Is His heart filled with indifference..? When all seems lost and our eyes struggle to find a ray of light in the darkness, that could be how we see Him. But is God ever indifferent to our suffering..?

Through the Christ, God not only made an atonement for our sins, but through Him, God reveals His heart toward the children of man. Children who are loved without measure.

Jesus wept.

John 11:35

The shortest verse in the Bible, does a profound work in revealing the heart of God. When Jesus saw the tears of Martha and Mary and the people of Bethany, as they grieved the death of Lazarus, He wept. The Lord who knew that He was moments away from bringing Lazarus back to life, wept. The Lord who knew that this is the human suffering that He was to bring to an end, wept. The Lord knew, but still He wept. He wept, not because there was no future hope He could offer – for He Himself was and is our hope – but because He was deeply moved by the suffering and the tears of their present….

Does the Lord ever guarantee that our present will be free of suffering..? No. In fact, in John 16:33, He says that in the world we WILL face tribulations. No amount of religious living guarantees a life free of pain, in this life. But instead, He offers us something far far better. If we continue to look to our Lord for salvation, there is a future and there is a hope.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

Revelation 21:4

There is coming a day, when no more heartache shall come. Nor will there be any tear to dim the eye. The God who wept over the anguish of His children, didn’t stop with His tears, you see. He descended from His High estate, and took upon our earthly frame. He endured all the pain that we endure, as sojourners in this sin stained world. He endured even worse, as He took upon Himself the sins of all humankind and paid the price such sins demand, on our behalf, on the cross. All that He endured, He endured so that we could arrive at the gates of His Eternal Kingdom, where He could wipe away our tears, and tenderly tell us, “No more….”

Until then, as long as He feels it necessary that we walk through this Valley of Weeping, we can lean on Him for strength. If even for a moment our situations overwhelm us, we can rest in the fact that the God who wept over our suffering, never fails to notice even a single drop of tear. And He will never forget, for He has each one stored in a bottle….

Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

Psalm 30:5

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:34‬ ‭

The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭27:1‬

Voice of Thanksgiving

Perspective. Adversity is one thing in life that enables us to see things in perspective. When we lose our health, we begin to realise how blessed we were just to be fully able. When we lose wealth that we were so accustomed to, we realise how rich we were once and how we may have never truly taken to putting it to best use. When we go through a time of deep depression, what wouldn’t we give to be able to taste a moment of peace in our soul, one more time..? Peace we once failed to even notice.

When people come out of a season of affliction, when all that was once lost is restored, life seems far more brighter than before, even if all that we have, is no more than what we once did. Take the life of Jonah, for instance. In Jonah 2, we read of his prayer to God from the belly of the fish. As he concludes, there is one line that captures my attention.

But I with the voice of thanksgiving
will sacrifice to you;

‭‭Jonah‬ ‭2:9‬

Making a sacrifice, in order to serve someone else, isn’t something which comes easy to us. Our desires tend to take us on our own way, and to let go of that desire and instead spend on another, what we believe is ours – whether it be money, energy or time – isn’t something we readily do. And even if we do, how many times would we find ourselves doing it with ‘the voice of thanksgiving..?’

And that wasn’t what Jonah found himself doing either. In fact, he wasn’t even willing to serve God, at the beginning of this tale, let alone with ‘the voice of thanksgiving.’ Jonah turned his back on God, when he was called to serve Him, by being His spokesman in Nineveh.

The storm. Being castaway. The fish. We know what followed and that Jonah eventually found himself standing on the shore, heading toward Nineveh. But somewhere in between, we find the heart of this man transformed from that of one who thought it a burden to serve God and fled His presence, to one who willed to serve Him with ‘the voice of thanksgiving.’

When I was a child, when I was told of the story of Jonah, I always believed that this was the tale of a lesser man. I mean, if God calls me to serve Him, I would readily walk the path where I am lead, I thought. ‘What was Jonah thinking..? He must’ve been one big fool to turn his back on God.’ But it’s only as I’ve grown in faith, could I see that the tale of Jonah isn’t the tale of a lesser man, but of a man much like me.

How many times, when God has called me to serve Him with what I have, have I chosen to flee His presence..? How many times have I thought that what I have, is mine to use for my own pleasures, and to use it in His service, is to waste. Perspective. The right one, wasn’t something I had.

In the belly of the fish, Jonah who was almost stripped of all that he had, including his life, had time for contemplation. With his heart desiring a second chance to rejoice in all that he previously had, Jonah could see that all that he had were never in his power to either take or hold, but were given to him from God above. Jonah’s heart was transformed, from someone who believed it wasn’t worth to serve God, to a man who could see how grateful he ought to be to be able to.

Perspective. Jonah gained this, through the adversity in his life. I pray, that it is something I will gain through the adversity in mine, to serve the Lord with a voice of thanksgiving….

Once in our world, a stable had something in it that was bigger than our whole world.

C. S. Lewis

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