• Balancing Hope and Despair

    Ever have sleepless nights thinking of what you need to face during the next day? People often fear the night, but sometimes, your day might just be more fearful than the night. The turmoil you feel within may be unexplainable and without any solutions.
    The psalmist said, “why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God (Ps 42:5).

    I see three significant factors in this verse that are important for us to look out for. First, there is a recognition of his inner condition. Second, his reliance is on God alone. Third, he responded in praise. 

    Recognition

    The psalmist spoke directly to himself “why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” If you’re not able to recognize that you are in despair, you could end up continuing down an emotional spiral. In effect, you’ll be clueless regarding the reality that you’re in. And if you don’t know you need help, you won’t seek out help. Then of course, you’ll continue to live in turmoil and ultimately get into such a rut that it becomes next to impossible to get out. 

    Reliance

    It was a brief and powerful statement that the psalmist spoke to himself: “Hope in God.” It sounds too much like a cliché, but it is a simple and profound reality. All other sources of hope are temporary and feeble. God is your only source that is sustainable through life and beyond. 

    Praise

    In the midst of his turmoil, the psalmist says “for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” He recognized his pitiful condition, acknowledged his reliance on God, and responds in praise as he looks to the future. He’s confident that He’ll get through. He goes from despair to praise as he puts his hope in God. 

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    Read this post on Medium: https://alexigeorge.medium.com/balancing-hope-and-despair-from-despair-to-hope-to-praise-fa84f04cf304

  • Christmas again

    Ever wished someone would stand up for you and speak on your behalf? What about those things in life that are too much to bear? Some things are just too overwhelming. This is especially true for leaders, but everyone has such experiences. You just don’t measure up to the expectations of others. Life is just too much to handle. But no one would take that risk to stand up for you. Who would care enough for you to risk their reputation, status or life for someone like you? Of course, we know that Jesus took that extreme risk for us. But I am reminded of another example. 

    I’ve heard of missionaries who traveled to distant lands with their belongings packed in a casket! At first I was appalled and surprised. But these were people with such a firm commitment that they were sure that they would spend their entire lives in that land. They could think of nothing else. 

    But the casket also implied that they were willing to give their lives for the cause they came for. It wasn’t just a “project” among other projects. Or a short term assignment that they were to fulfill. They weren’t just giving up a part of their time, they were giving their lives entirely. There was no turning around. 

    On that first Christmas, Jesus came. He didn’t bring a casket, but there was no turning around for him. Once he was born as a human, he had to live his life as a human. He had to face everything that life as a human would present. He experienced sorrow, rejection, pain, loneliness, and all those difficult emotions that we hate so much. 

    I suppose that he could have just sent a representative. Or, he could show an image of himself to people. And during the time he was “visible,” he could share his message. In this way he would only be here long enough to communicate that message. It would be a low-risk approach. 

    But he chose to be born as a human. This was the only way he could know human life. He had to experience everything that we humans face each day. In this way, he became the perfect mediator between us and God. Thus it continues to be a Merry Christmas!

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  • Compel them

    Limited supply and limited room are often hindrances that we are familiar with. But in the Kingdom of God, he has thrown open the doors for all who would want to enjoy the benefits of the Kingdom.

    God says “come, enjoy, and dine with me.” To dine together implies more than an acquaintance. There is friendship, relationship, and in some instances, a deep sense of intimacy. 

    Jesus told the story of the man who invited guests to his banquet. Those who were invited gave excuses and refused to come. Then the master sent his servant to invite those who were needy and in distress. But even then, there was still more room left. “And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’” (Luke 14:22). The Jewish people of Jesus’ day had conveniently compartmentalized their relationships to keep the poor away. With this story, Jesus has effectively thrown down the gaps and walls that separated them. 

    Then, the master instructed the servant to “compel” them. The idea was not to force or coerce them. They just needed to be convinced of their welcome. They could not believe that this master would really welcome them. 

    In a society where there is such a divide, the people on the “lower” end would find it hard to trust the rich and wealthy. They’ve been the symbols of oppression, domination, and control for generations. 

    So when this wealthy man gives an invitation, those who are poor and downtrodden may doubt the genuineness of the invitation. So this man has to “compel” the people to come. 

    But it’s important to note that those who gave excuses were not compelled. They were simply ignored. They were bypassed. Thus the phrase “for many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14) The invitation may be for everyone, but the response will not be the same for everyone. 

    When the poor were invited, not everyone came. We know this because the servant said “still there is room.” So the master wanted to compel them. Those people couldn’t believe the master would invite them to dine with him.

    Still there is room. Compel them. 

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  • Unrestrained Mercy

    “As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain your mercy from me; your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me!” (Psalm 40:11) 

    But who would ever restrain mercy? The bigger question might be, “Why would anyone restrain mercy?” Maybe the person is undeserving of receiving any form of mercy. Could it be because what they’ve done is utterly despicable and clearly wrong? 

    Some restrain mercy from others because they don’t see their own neediness. They wonder why others can’t be “perfect” like them. Not everyone is willing to acknowledge their sinfulness. And that drives them further to restrain mercy from those whose sins are more external and visible. 

    Yet God who is full of mercy just won’t restrain his mercy. But his steadfast love and faithfulness also drive him to guide me in paths of righteousness. Now, that’s not always pleasing to me, but he knows that’s the best for me. 

    Unfortunately, we may resist his guidance and prefer our own ways. But this resistance only leads to more frustration and agony. As I continue in my own ways, it’s guaranteed to lead me into trouble This is where God’s steadfast love and faithfulness responds and brings correction. And we may misunderstand God’s correction and think that he is against us. But all along, he has our best interest in mind. 

    As we misunderstand his hand of correction, it reveals that we are blinded. We’re blinded by our own sins. David said, “My iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see.” The problem is that we only see God’s correction but we are blind to our own sins. 

    Even when we misunderstand God, he does not restrain his mercy from us. He has every right to reject us but instead, he chooses mercy and continues his steadfast love and faithfulness. He stays true to his character. 

    In fact, mercy clearly defines who we are as individuals and as children of God. This character of God is essential for us as we live as mere mortals in need of God. 

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  • Measured Love

    Jesus asked Peter “Do you love me more than these?” I wonder if he was talking about his friends that Peter went fishing with. Or, could it be the boats with which he earned a living? Maybe it was the fish that he caught which created an income for him and his family. 

    Whatever the case, Jesus wanted to know if Peter’s love for Jesus is more than other things in life. After all, Peter had left everything to follow Jesus. Now, he has returned to what he had left behind to follow Jesus. 

    Was three days too much time for Peter to wait for his master to return? Jesus had said he’ll be buried for three days and three nights! Then, he would rise again. Peter’s inability to wait caused Jesus to ask this probing, and disturbing question. 

    But why was this question asked only to Peter? Seven of the disciples were together in this fishing expedition. It seems clear that Peter was the initiator of this attempt of returning to their old trade (John 21:3). 

    But regardless of the variables, it’s surprising that Jesus repeats the question three times. Much has been said of Peter’s selection of the Greek word for love. But for Peter, he was grieved that Jesus kept repeating this same question. That saddened him as if Jesus wouldn’t believe him. Of course, he had just betrayed Jesus three times during some of the most difficult moments of Jesus’ life (Peter’s most difficult time as well). I’m sure Jesus understood that the situation was difficult for Peter too. 

    Yet after each repetition of the words “I love you” from Peter, Jesus’ reply is quite focused as Jesus said “feed my lambs” in v. 15, “tend my sheep” in v. 17.” This was the response Jesus expected. Peter was to feed his sheep. 

    When he was initially called, Jesus said “come follow me, I’ll make you fishers of men.” Now he says “feed my sheep.”

    For Jesus, he wanted Peter’s love to exceed his love for all others. That kind of love would lead to obedience. The instruction was to catch fish and feed sheep. 

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  • The measure of my days

    It was a nurse who said “I’ve seen plenty of deaths in my line of work. But this is too much. I’m just tired of constantly seeing death every day.” If anything, this pandemic season has shown us the brevity of life. Our values seem to have changed (for a while, at least). 

    In the midst of struggling with his enemies, David thought about the short span of his life. 

    “O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am. Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!” (Psalm 39:4-6) 

    Without this understanding, we’ll think too highly of life here on this earth. When we give so much value to the things of this physical life, they seem to get inflated. 

    But if we can remind ourselves of the brevity of life, this life will be set within an eternal perspective. In that perspective, the value of things gets re-assessed.

    What others think of us will matter less than what God thinks. The “losses” we incur get re-calculated into a new set of values. The investments we make here will get re-assessed. Basically everything gets evaluated with a different set of values when you consider the permanency of eternity and the brevity of this life. 

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  • Who’d ever want to fish for men?

    If you’re going to make a proposition, it ought to be attractive. The one on the receiving end should find it interesting enough to respond positively. 

    When Jesus called Simon and his brother Andrew, he simply said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19) Who would ever respond to such an invitation? But Simon and Andrew left their profession and followed him. 

    Could it be that Jesus was only seeking this special group of twelve men who would be his closest disciples and later Apostles? In that case, he would only want people who connect with such a call. These would be people who want to make a difference. 

    At another time, there is a record of Jesus calling several people to follow him. One person responded and said he needs to go bury his father first. Jesus said, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God. To another, Jesus said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62)

    Both of these responses give the notion that Jesus’ call to everyone included a commission to go and proclaim the kingdom. But who’d ever want that?

    Maybe Jesus only wanted those who were thankful enough to follow Jesus with such fervor? These are people who were so impacted by his ministry that they couldn’t resist telling others. Their testimony became the driving force that invited many others into the kingdom of God. 

    Could it be possible that those who are not willing to “proclaim the Kingdom” (Puts his hand to the plow), are not fit for the kingdom? Maybe the rest of the people who gathered were those who benefitted from the kingdom, but they were not necessarily part of it. Jesus said they were not fit for the kingdom. 

    Does this imply that those who are a part of the kingdom of God must be “fishers of men”? It seems the first-century believers were like that. Maybe it was after Constantine that the church became an institution, and the people were then “members” of that institution. 

    So come. Follow Jesus. He’ll make you a fisher of men. 

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  • Feeble and crushed

    That’s what David’s body felt like as a result of his sins. He makes a clear connection between his sins and his physical condition. The following are his words.

    There is no soundness in my flesh

    because of your indignation;

    there is no health in my bones

    because of my sin.

    For my iniquities have gone over my head;

    like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.

    My wounds stink and fester

    because of my foolishness,

    [6] I am utterly bowed down and prostrate;

    all the day I go about mourning.

    For my sides are filled with burning,

    and there is no soundness in my flesh.

    I am feeble and crushed;

    I groan because of the tumult of my heart. Psalm 38:3–8 (ESV)

    He understood the connection between sin and sickness. He went on further to list other woes in his life. His friends and relatives keep a distance from him. None of them wish to associate with him due to his sickness. His pleas for help go unheard. But he knew that God would respond. 

    “But for you O Lord, do I wait; it is you, O Lord, who will answer.” (Psalm 38:15)

    It’s not clear why his friends kept a distance from him. Maybe it was due to his sin or they could not stand being around him with all the sickness in his body. They might have gotten tired of his sickly condition. But it was clear to him that the Lord his God will respond to him in his time of need. 

    But we know that all sickness is not due to sin. Once when Jesus and his disciples were walking along, he saw a man born blind from birth. His disciples asked Jesus if the man was born blind due to his sin or the sin of his parents. “Jesus answered, ‘it was not that this man sinned, or his parents but that the works of God might be displayed in him.’” (John 9:3) 

    But Jesus also saw the connection between sin and sickness. Jesus said, “Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” (John 5:14) He said this when he saw the man whom he healed at the pool of Bethesda. 

    David understood that there was a clear connection between his sin and his physical condition. But he also knew that the Lord saw his distress and heard his sighing (Psalm 38:9). He also knew that it was the Lord who would hear his plea and answer him and deliver him from all his distress. Maybe it is all your fault. But he will hear you and deliver you. 

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  • Disciple-making by new disciples? 

    How absurd to think that a new disciple could make disciples soon after they become a disciple of Jesus. It ought to be clear that they’re just not ready. Look at all the training and experience I’ve got. Compare that with a complete lack of training that a new disciple would have. 

    But Jesus doesn’t seem so concerned about my training, experience, or knowledge. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus’ words clearly imply that those new disciples are to make disciples. This idea is inherent in his statement that new disciples are to obey the commands of Jesus. Now within this pericope, you find the command to go make disciples. 

    Throughout Biblical history, we see that God is less concerned about status, knowledge, or even competency. He seems to be interested in obedience. But what good is obedience with people who are totally incompetent, untrained, and unqualified? 

    Remember, our obedience is coupled with two significant factors within this text we’re considering. Jesus said, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore…” So it is clear that the command to “go” was contingent on the vital fact that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus. Jesus’ authority is the driving force behind our “going” in obedience to him. 

    The second factor is the promise that Jesus gives us, “And behold I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The previous paragraph mentions the driving force behind the “going” and now, we see the sustaining force behind the “going.”

    I’m not anti-intellectual nor do I de-value training — these are all important. But I believe that obedience to Jesus supersedes all other factors. 

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  • What do you want to be known for?

    For some people, at a young age, they get this feeling that they want to accomplish something in life. You’re looking to gain something. You see that others have certain things, positions, and accolades. So you set out to gain such things. Some will do just about anything to gain those things. It becomes their life goal and passion. 

    The words of the psalmist David made me think of the question “What do you want to be known for?” He said, “Trust in the Lord and do good, dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.” (Psalm 37:3) Rather than selling out to do great and impressive things, trust God, do good, and be faithful. 

    I was intrigued that something similar was the legacy of Jesus.  “…God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the Devil, for God was with him.” (Acts 10:38)

    When the disciples of Jesus reflected on the life and ministry of their master, they recalled that he “went about doing good.” The vast majority of the multiple thousands he impacted did not follow him. They simply received their healing and deliverance and went their own way. But he continued to do good for the people. 

    For more than two decades, I’ve been involved in the training of young men and women for the ministry. Many of them are often looking for special methods that will bring them success. Often, my response to them is, “be like Jesus and find ways to do good for the people in your community.” (Acts 10:38) That was the memory of the people about the ministry of Jesus. 

    So, what do you want to be known for? Where will you put all your efforts? Be like Jesus and look for ways to do good and to be a blessing for others. 

    Jesus never built an establishment, organization, or constructed a building. If he did, he would be remembered by that. Instead, “he went about doing good.” 

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