Thursday, April 23, 2015

Beyond reach: Will I really inherit eternal life?

God promises us "an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay." (1p 1.4) Jesus said to "store up your treasures in heaven where moth and rust cannot destroy them" (mt 6).

Lord, I'm so grateful for this inheritance, BUT I'm afraid. I'm afraid that it is not only beyond the reach of change and decay, I'm afraid it is beyond my reach too. I stumble and fall, get back up again, then repeat... The treasure is there, the inheritance is there, BUT what about me? Will I be there?

"And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation" (1p1.5)

You have promised to protect me. Right now, at this very moment, you are PROTECTING me by your POWER. You have said you will continue to do so UNTIL I/We receive the SALVATION that will be revealed on the last day. Father, I'm holding you to your word. Keep on protecting me and make sure I receive the final salvation you have promised. I trust you. Help my faith to remain strong through the many trials I have now and that lay ahead. Help me to prepare my mind for action and to exercise self control (1p1.13) and to live a life of obedience. Keep the treasure for me and my brothers and sisters and KEEP US for the treasure. We can't do it without you. Amen

Friday, April 17, 2015

Our inheritance: eternal life; a question of values, what is in your hands?

What is in your hands? What are you holding onto so tightly? Our hands and our hearts are made to hold onto only one thing at a time. Jesus said, "a man cannot serve two masters for he will inevitably hate the one and love the other. You cannot serve both God and Mammon (riches)."

Peter wrote that we have a "priceless inheritance" (1Pet 1:4). God wants to give us something that is wonderful beyond anything we can imagine, but first we need to "let go" of some things so that we can receive it. One day a young rich man comes to ask Jesus how to "inherit eternal life". Here's what happened:

Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question: “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “Only God is truly good.  But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother.’” The man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” When Jesus heard his answer, he said, “There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was very rich.  When Jesus saw this, he said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!  In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” Those who heard this said, “Then who in the world can be saved?” He replied, “What is impossible for people is possible with God.” Peter said, “We’ve left our homes to follow you.” “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God,  will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.”  Luke 18:18-30

This young rich ruler had something in his life that he valued MORE THAN JESUS, more
than the eternal life he wanted Jesus to promise him. His hands and his heart were full of money. He had no room for Jesus. Compare him to Zacchaeus who after meeting Jesus said "I'll give half of all my riches to the poor and repay everyone I have cheated 4 times over." (He probably needed 1/2 his money to repay the people he had overcharged for taxes). Zaccheus valued Jesus above all else. Jesus said "today salvation has come to this house."

Not so, the rich young ruler. He went away sad "for he was very rich". This has to be one of the strangest sentences I have ever heard. Say it outloud 3 times "he became very sad, for he was very rich". It doesn't make sense to us, because we like him value money so highly. We think surely money will make me happy. How can this be? He wanted eternal life. He wanted to follow Jesus, but his hands and his heart were full of the "love of money". To love Jesus he had to stop loving riches.

What's in your hearts? What's in your hands? What are you holding onto that keeps you from loving and following Jesus? It's probably not riches. It might be a relationship that you know is wrong; a grudge you are holding onto, a person you refuse to forgive, a goal that you know is not from God... what is in your heart? Do you value it so much that you will walk away from Jesus, walk away from eternal life, walk away from the priceless inheritance God has prepared for you?

Don't let this sentence describe you: She/he became very sad, for she/he was very (rich/resentful/hurt/addicted to sin/involved in a wrong relationship/________. (you fill in the blank.) Please don't let this happen to you.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

I have an inheritance: how to become an heir of God

What will you leave behind? After you and I have left this world and our children go through the shoeboxes full of knicknacks stored in our closets, what will they have? My mom and dad are in their 90's. Their life savings and probably their house will be eaten up by expenses of providing care for them over the next few years. Our inheritance (there are 6 of us)  from mom and dad won't consist of material goods, but rather in the example of their lives, their 70+ years of marriage, their honesty, integrity and love. As inheritances go - that's a pretty good one. Still sometimes I wonder, what would it be like to be heir to a great fortune, to be royalty.

In 1Peter 1:3-5 Peter says that we have a "priceless inheritance, that is kept in heaven for us". I'm wondering "what's is this inheritance?" I have the feeling that if I understand what this inheritance is, it might change something inside of my heart, so I want to explore the topic.  Here is what Peter wrote:

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see. 1 Peter 1:3-5

How do I become an "heir"?

If you want an inheritance you first have to be an heir. Li Ka Shing is the richest man in Hong Kong, worth billions, but it means nothing to me, because my name is Smith. I'm not his heir. I won't inherit even a dollar from him. Peter starts by saying "It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus from the dead." 

God's inheritance is reserved for those who are "born again" into his family. All of us are born into the family of mankind, but sin has made estranged and separated us from God. Jesus told the religious leader (John 3) "unless you are born again you cannot see the kingdom of God".  When we cry out to Jesus to save us, the Holy Spirit does a mighty work inside of us, igniting us, bringing us to life, causing us to be "born again." We are born into the family of God, the kingdom of God. We become "heirs". When I reached out to God the first time my prayer was something like
"God IF you are there, please please help me. My life is so broken. Jesus I dare to believe that you love me because you died on the cross for my sins and rose again. Please help me."
After that I think I cried and fell asleep. When I woke up, I had the same set of problems that I had the night before, but something in my soul had changed. Out of control areas of my life, like my temper, began to change. I was soooo hungry - I would stay up almost all night filling in Bible Study booklets someone had given me. My family began noticing that I was different.

This new birth is from God. Peter says "it is by his great mercy" that we are born again. You can't earn it or deserve; you can only ask for it, cry out for it. In Romans 10 it says "Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved."  Calling means to "cry out", "scream for help". A drowning man doesn't make long beautiful speechs. Between mouthfuls of water he screams "Help!".  God is merciful. Cry out to him and he WILL save you. I love the song "Turn Around" by Matt Maher. In the song he says,

You don't have to move, love will come to you. All you gotta do is 'turn around'. 
When I turned back to God I had no strength for even one step. I had nothing to offer God. Like the prodigal son, clothed in rags, starving, impoverished - all I could do was turn around. In the story of the prodigal son, it says "his father saw him while he still a long way off and ran to him". You don't have to move, love will come to you. All you have to do is turn around."

Do want to become an heir of God? Turn around. Cry out to him. He will come to you and help you. His Spirit will cause you to be born again. He will forgive ALL your sins, and change you from the inside out. Believe. Cry out! Even if your prayer is only "God IF you are there, please please help me" - He will answer that prayer.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

God GETS me: 1 Peter 1

When I was young (a long long time ago) I learned a song that went like this:
"Nobody likes me. Everybody hates me. Guess I'll go eat some worms."
Sometimes it feels like that, especially when you are a foreigner living in a strange place, especially if you live in the home of someone from a different culture. Sometimes it feels like "nobody GETS me, noone understands me."

Last Sunday was Easter and we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus and Pastor Ruel shared from the first letter Peter wrote (1Peter). Here is how the letter opens.

This letter is from Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. I am writing to God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy
It is easy to imagine he is writing to Filipino brothers and sisters who are living as foreigners in Hong Kong, Saudi, UAE, Malaysia, Singapore, Kuwait, etc. Life as a foreigner is hard: separation from loved ones, feelings of displacement, the stress that comes from day to day living in a foreign land, listening to Cantonese and HK English, dealing with HK culture. Yesterday on the minibus a little boy behind us was talking about the "Kweilos" sitting in front of him. Being a foreigner also means being deprived of the foods you love, not watching silly Pinoy TV shows, and NOT being able to walk down an unpaved road in shorts, a tank top and flip flops. Living as a foreigner can be tough.

The first thing I want you to know is: God GETS it. He understands you. He had Peter write a letter to you, to those of us who "live as foreigners". In fact Peter writes "the Father knew you and chose you long ago" . The Father knows me. He understands exactly what I am going through. He knows how hard it is to live as a foreigner is a strange land. And
           (sound of car tires screeching as we slam on the brakes)
He chose me for this life. God chose you long ago to belong to him, to know him. He knew where you would live and the fact that you ARE where you ARE is part of his plan.

The 2nd thing I want to point out is: living as a foreigner is a choice.  Breaking News: Not all of the "foreigners" Peter wrote to were "foreigners". There is some debate about this, but many scholars think the word "foreigners" might be a reference to followers of Jesus who lived in these areas. Their lifestyles, their outlooks on life, their values and their character were so different from the people around them that seemed like "foreigners." The Christians were persecuted for following Jesus and the society around them saw their devotion to Christ as a threat.

If you or I returned to our country of origin, would our Christian life be so radical that we seemed "foreign"? How can I be "foreign" in a good sense and not a bad sense?

Here is my dilemna: Some Christians seem "foreign" because they are just plain "weird". They can be opinionated, bigoted, judgmental and unloving. They are radical, but not in a beautiful way. Other Christians blend right into the culture so much that you can't recognize them, buying into the culture of trying to look sexy or wealthy or hip. (If you don't what "hip" is - ask your grandmother). God wants you and I to be "foreign"  in the right way, living as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, living rightly and loving people radically.

Heavenly Father, You are behind this "foreign life". You chose us for this life. You understand what it feels like. Jesus, you lived like an OFW for 30+ years and died on the cross so that we could become citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. You rose from the dead so we could experience God's great mercy. Thank you for understanding our dilemna. Help us today to be "foreign" in the right sense of the word; to live lives of radical in integrity and love, to be sacrificial in the service we give others, to be bold in explaining your love to those around us.  Amen.