Lessons of Job

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(Part 45)
(January 17, 2010)
Today’s readings
Isaiah 9:1-6
Psalm 97:1-6
We know that “the Lord is king” (Ps 97:1b, NAB) and so “the Lord reigns” (Ps 97:1b, RSV). But what kind of God is He? How does He reign?

God is awesome in His majesty, and it is right for us to fear Him and to be in awe of Him. “Fire goes before him, .... His lightnings lighten the world; .... The mountains melt like wax before the Lord” (Ps 97:3a,4a,5a). And so “the earth sees and trembles.” (Ps 97:4b). We stand in awe before a mighty God. We stand humbled in His awesome presence.

But the psalmist also tells us that “righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.” (Ps 97:2b, RSV). God is not an unjust taskmaster; He is Lord but does not lord it over His subjects; He has authority but is not autocratic. How does He reign? The Almighty is just and righteous! God establishes and upholds His kingdom “with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore.” (Is 9:7b, RSV).[1]

The Almighty Father gives us Jesus as king, and “upon his shoulder dominion rests.” (Is 9:5a). Jesus is “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Is 9:6b, RSV).[2]
 We look to the heavens and see God’s awesome creation. We look at Jesus and see God’s awesome love. God’s creation itself speaks of His justice and righteousness. “The heavens proclaim God’s justice” (Ps 97:6a, NAB); “The heavens proclaim his righteousness” (Ps 97:6a, RSV). It is Jesus who came down from heaven to bring the justice and righteousness of God, as his light dispelled the darkness and gloom (Is 9:1) and as he removed the yoke that burdened his people and broke the rod of their oppressor (Is 9:3).

We look to the heavens and behold God’s glory (Ps 97:6b). God’s glory is all around us, and in His rule we can rejoice. “The Lord is king; let the earth rejoice; let the many islands be glad.” (Ps 97:1). Jesus has indeed brought us “abundant joy and great rejoicing” (Is 9:2a).

[1] In the NAB, this is verse 6.
[2] In the NAB, this is verse 5.

(Part 44)
The story of Job has an interesting thing to teach us, among the many lessons we have already been learning. It is about true servanthood[1] and our life in community.

Community is about living and serving together as God’s people. It is about a relationship with God and with those persons who are our brethren. By the very nature of community life and service, our fraternal relationships are intense. We love God and we love each other. We are Christ to each other, and we find comfort and care from God through our brethren.

This is where the problem comes in. Simply put, individuals disappoint and fail us. We become so dependent upon the love and care of our brethren that when they do something we consider negative, we become distraught and disappointed and hurt. Consequently, some grow cold, some nurse their hurt, some quietly seethe in anger, some quit their service, some lay low, some fall away totally.

Interestingly, God allows such tensions and conflicts to happen in community.[2] Guess what? This is because God desires to bring us into a deeper relationship with Himself. Part of this is purifying our intentions--why we are in community and serving Him. But much more, such a deeper relationship involves a realization that in the end, it is He, and only He, who will never fail us. The only perfect loving person is God alone.
Why are we in community? Certainly because God called us and touched us. But it is also because we have a number of other reasons: feeling comfortable, enjoying friends, having satisfaction in accomplishments, having our needs met, and so on. These are not wrong. In fact, they indeed are part of the blessings of community life.

But to what extent does our emotional well-being depend on such? If we were to lose these things, would we still persevere in God’s call to community life and service?
Let us take a look at Job. He was a blameless and upright man, well regarded in the community, just in all his ways. I would say he would be the “perfect” community member and even leader. But he lost everything. Was it fair?

Since he was a good man, Job expected that God would bless him. It was simply part of the package. Satan in a way was right in his thinking about people, saying that Job was upright only because indeed God had blessed him. His three friends were on the same line of thought, saying that he must have sinned because God had punished him.

Job was left only with his life, his wife, and his three friends. But they were no comfort to him. His life was miserable. His wife nagged him to curse God and die. His friends accused him unfairly. Job must have been terribly disappointed with these people closest to him.

But Job remained steadfast in his relationship with God. Though Job questioned God, though he grappled with what had happened, though he despairingly just wished he had never been born, he never turned away from God.

God had stripped Job of everything. In the end there was no one else and nothing else but God. Know what? That is when God had Job where He wanted him. No longer dependent on material blessings, on recognition from peers and subordinates, or on a happy life. Job was no longer dependent on anything or anyone but God.
What would have happened if Job had been focused on, or drew his consolation and happiness from, the blessings? When he was afflicted, he would have fallen away. In the same way, if we are focused on anything or anyone other than God, we are in danger of being swept away.

Such focus on others other than God comes in subtle ways.
  • We do not like the household we are assigned to.
  • We do not like the leader placed over us.
  • We disagree with the decisions of those over us.
  • We disagree with the way decisions are made.
  • We do not like our service.
  • We do not like how life in community is handled.
  • We have a negative view of certain leaders.
Now do not get me wrong. Part of the dynamics of community life is that there indeed will be disagreements. But we have ways of resolving these. We have processes by which one’s dissenting opinion can be heard. In fact, handled correctly, such difficulties can be great avenues for growth in relationships and spirituality. Job grappled with God, and God intended that process to precisely be part of his eventual enlightenment. We can stand fast on what we believe to be right. We do not have to just give up our conviction.

But in the end, we need to surrender. And we surrender to no one else but God.
We need to ask ourselves. Why am I in community? Because I like the people? Who am I serving? The one over me? Why am I serving? Because the leader inspires me?

I am not saying that these do not matter. They do. But if such is our focus, then we have the wrong focus. If such determines our spiritual and emotional well-being, then we have misplaced our hope. Our focus and our hope can only be God.
Our human brethren will fail us, they will disappoint us. But Jesus never will. We serve under human leaders, but it is Jesus we truly serve.

Satan will seek to undermine us. We can lose what we consider important and precious to us. God will allow this, to test us. The testing can be severe, like Job. Or it can be much lesser tests, like our disappointments and hurts in community.

If we have our focus right, then we can weather the storm. If we are to be proven faithful, enduring and persevering no matter what, our hope and our trust and our joy can only ultimately be in God.
Community is God’s blessing to us. But that includes the positive as well as the negative things. It is part of the one package by which God desires to continue to form us.

Let us thank God for community. Let us thank God for the brothers and sisters that He gives us in community. Let us love and cherish them. And when the time comes when we face disappointments and trials because of our brethren, let us look to Him who will never fail us.

Like Job, in every circumstance let us always say, “blessed be the name of the Lord!” 
(December 30, 2009

 This lesson would be especially true for servant leaders.
[2] We of course have our free will, plus our own shortcomings.

(Part 43)
“Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.”
(Psalm 96:1)
December 29, 2009
The psalm reading for these last three days of the year 2009 is from Psalm 96. This reiterates and confirms the theme God gave us for 2010. Psalm 96 helps us prepare for the new year that is upon us in a few days.

God is the Almighty! “God is clothed with awesome majesty. The Almighty .... is great in power” (Job 37:22b-23a,RSV). He is the Creator-God, having “made the heavens” (Ps 96:5b).[1] As such, “splendor and power go before him; power and grandeur are in his holy place.” (Ps 96:6). God the Almighty is simply awesome!

Being so awesome, God is “to be feared above all gods” (Ps 96:4b). “Therefore men fear him” (Job 37:24a,RSV); “Therefore men revere him” (Job 37:24a,NAB). Our posture is reverential fear or awe. It is what makes us “bow down to the Lord .... (and) tremble before God” (Ps 96:9). It fosters humility, when lowly creatures come before their great Creator.

But this awesome God reveals Himself as just and righteous. “The Almighty .... is great in power and justice, and abundant righteousness he will not violate.” (Job 37:23,RSV). He intends to “govern the world with justice” (Ps 96:13b,NAB); “He will judge the world with righteousness” (Ps 96:13b,RSV).
The above are realities that impact on how we live our lives. We cannot discard, ignore or marginalize such a God. We have two basic ways of rightly relating to such a God -- worship and evangelization. “Sing to the Lord, bless his name; announce his salvation day after day.” (Ps 96:2). The two, as in this verse, go together.

By worship we acknowledge who God is, and who we are. God is great and what is due Him is to be glorified. “For great is the Lord and highly to be praised” (Ps 96:4a), so we “give to the Lord the glory due his name!” (Ps 96:8a).

By the work of evangelization, we acknowledge who God is, the Savior, and who we are, His instruments, and what we are called to do. We are to proclaim Christ to the whole world. “Tell God’s glory among the nations; among all peoples, God’s marvelous deeds.” (Ps 96:3). We are to do a worldwide work of evangelization, so that Jesus can properly be installed as King of people’s hearts and homes. We are to “say among the nations: The Lord is king.” (Ps 96:10a).

Worship and evangelization have to do with our relationships -- to God and to the world. These have to do with who we truly are -- God’s people and disciples, and God’s servants and instruments.
As God’s people and instruments, we are called to be like Him, that is, holy. We are to reflect the very image and likeness of God, in which we were created, and we are to be pure instruments that He can effectively use for His purposes. This is such a great privilege. For weak, sinful human beings such as us to be called to follow in the very footsteps of the Savior, and as His witnesses to allow people to see Jesus in us. Indeed we are called to be “splendid in holiness” (Ps 96:9a). 

This privilege God extends to us is cause for great joy. The Almighty God favors us as His people. He has saved us. He even uses us to be instruments of salvation for the world. This joy we live and this joy we share with the whole world and all of creation.
“Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;
let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them.
Then let all the trees of the forest rejoice”
(Psalm 96:11-12)
*     *     *

[1] NAB if Bible version not indicated.

(Part 42)
December 25, 2009
Today’s readings
Isaiah 52:7-10
Psalm 98:1-6
Hebrews 1:1-6
John 1:1-18
Job could not understand God. He had been blameless and upright (Job 1:1) but he was severely afflicted.[1] He had been just in his ways but seemed to suffer injustice. He thus even demanded that God answer him (Job 31:37b).

Elihu conceded that one truly could not understand God, and that God did not have to explain Himself to anyone. “The Almighty! we cannot discover him, pre-eminent in power and judgment; his great justice owes no one an accounting.” (Job 37:23).

Today people still do not understand God. But rather than leading them into trusting faith, many have gone the other way. Rather than accepting the mysterious work of a Creator, people accept the big bang theory of the universe[2] and the theory of evolution of the human species.[3] Rather than embracing the cross, people disdain and avoid suffering at all costs.
At some point in the history of humankind, God did reveal Himself more clearly. Whereas before no one saw or talked with God face to face, now they did. God revealed Himself through His Son Jesus, as “in these last days, he spoke to us through a son” (Heb 1:2a). In the mystery of the Incarnation, God became man. “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn 1:14a). Jesus is God, and in him we see the glory of the Almighty Father (Jn 1:14b). Jesus “is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being” (Heb 1:3a).

The glory of Jesus is that of the Creator-God. “All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.”[4](Jn 1:3). God created and sustains the universe, and His work is the work of Jesus, the Son “through whom he created the universe” (Heb 1:2b), and “who sustains all things by his mighty word” (Heb 1:3b).
Now the tragedy of the world is that even though God has already revealed Himself in human form through Jesus, the world still does not know Him and does not accept Him. “He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.” (Jn 1:10-11). The Creator-God has come into the world, the Creator has dwelt among His creatures, God has revealed Himself, but the world has been unmindful of Him.

The urgency of the task today, as it has always been, is to make God known. This is done through the work of evangelization, which is proclaiming the good news of the coming of the Savior Jesus into the world. This task is so important, is so critical, that Isaiah exulted: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation, and saying to Zion, ‘Your God is King!’” (Is 52:7).

With the birth of Jesus, the Savior has come into the world. That is good news! The shepherds who saw the new-born Jesus were “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (Lk 2:20). Those who await consolation and restoration should rejoice in Jesus. “Hark! Your watchmen raise a cry, together they shout for joy, for they see directly, before their eyes, the Lord restoring Zion.” (Is 52:8). The world that is afflicted in darkness and sin should rejoice. “Break out together in song, O ruins of Jerusalem! For the Lord comforts his people, he redeems Jerusalem.” (Is 52:9).

God has already revealed Himself. The Creator-God has dwelt among us. Jesus has performed his mighty deeds for all to see. “The Lord has bared his holy arm in the sight of all the nations” (Is 52:10a). This is the good news that we need to proclaim. We must work tirelessly, so that “all the ends of the earth will behold the salvation of our God.” (Is 52:10b).
Prior to the coming of Jesus, no one had seen God. People could try to understand God, and they could see, though imperfectly, who God is. After God revealed Himself to Job, he said, “now my eye has seen you.” (Job 42:5b).

But to us God has been more intimately revealed. By Jesus. “No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him.” (Jn 1:18). Jesus is God. God the Son has revealed God the Father. The two are one.

Thus we have not only received revelation about God, but we actually have seen God! In Jesus. “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14).
Jesus came into the world to win for us our salvation. This is the ultimate victory over Satan, sin and darkness. Jesus is theSavior of the world. Jesus’ “right hand and holy arm have won the victory” (Ps 98:1b).

What Jesus did for us on the cross is known to all. “The Lord has made his victory known; has revealed his triumph for the nations to see.” (Ps 98:2). It remains for the world to appreciate what Jesus has done, and accept the salvation that he has already won for us. Jesus’ sacrifice is a manifestation of God’s great love for us and His faithfulness to us (Ps 98:3a), according to His covenant. This is the good news we need to continue to proclaim, to a world still steeped in darkness and sin.

The Savior has come into the world. Jesus has already won the victory. We have been redeemed and restored. “All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.” (Ps 98:3b). May the whole world truly experience and live out that victory.
We rejoice in such a God. “Sing a new song to the Lord, who has done marvelous deeds” (Ps 98:1a). We worship the Almighty God. This is our proper response and what is pleasing to God.

When Jesus was to be born, God decreed that the proper posture was worship, and He commanded His angels to do so. “And again, when he leads the first born into the world, he says: ‘Let all the angels of God worship him.’” (Heb 1:6). This is exactly what happened at the birth of Jesus. “And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God” (Lk 2:13).
The shepherds were “keeping the night watch” (Lk 2:8) when suddenly “the glory of the Lord shone around them” (Lk 2:9).Jesus the Savior had been born. Now “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn 1:5).

If only Job had been there to witness the blessed event. We too were not physically there at that time, but every Christmas we do witness this blessed event. 

Today we celebrate Christmas. Oh what a glorious mystery! O come let us adore Jesus. And let us rejoice with all the angels and saints in heaven.[5]
“Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth; break into song; sing praise. Sing praise to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and melodious song. With trumpets and the sound of the horn shout with joy to the King, the Lord.” (Ps 98:4-6).
*     *     *

[1] It was commonly held that affliction was punishment for sin.
[2] The theory that the universe came out of some kind of tremendous explosion of pure energy that happened billions of years ago and resulted in the creation of the heavenly objects.
[3] The theory that we evolved from lower species, and among our ancestors are the apes.
[4] If ever the universe was formed out of a big bang, then that was the work of God.
[5] And with Job too, who would be in heaven, if he was a real historical character.

(Part 41)
December 24, 2009
Today’s reading is taken from Psalm 89, which is a lament over God’s promise to David. The psalm is very instructive as to the God who entered into covenant with us, just as He did with David.

First, there is the affirmation of the awesomeness of God, that there truly is none like Him. “Who in the skies ranks with the Lord? Who is like the Lord among the gods? A God dreaded in the council of the holy ones, greater and more awesome than all who sit there! Lord, God of hosts, who is like you?” (v.7-9a).

God is the Creator. The psalmist affirms: “you founded the world and everything in it.” (v.12b). Thus everything belongs to Him. “Yours are the heavens, yours the earth” (v.12a).

As Creator-God, He is all-powerful. “Mighty your arm, strong your hand, your right hand is ever exalted.” (v.14). He controls everything, even the destructive floods of Ondoy and the tsunamis. “You rule the raging sea; you still its swelling waves.” (v.10).
Awesome as He is, God reveals Himself as just and righteous. “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne” (v.14,RSV).[1] God rules as King of all kings, but the foundation of His rule is justice and righteousness.

As just and righteous King, God becomes our strength and shield. “You are their majestic strength; by your favor our horn[2] is exalted. Truly the Lord is our shield, the Holy One of Israel, our King!” (v.18-19). God is there to care for us and to protect us. He favors the weak and the lowly, giving them strength. He looks to the vulnerable and oppressed, protecting them with His shield.

Why does God do this? It is because He has entered into covenant with His people.[3] God’s covenant is one of love and loyalty. God’s “love and loyalty march before you.” (v.15b). God loves us and will stand by us. God cares for us and will provide for all our needs. Now unlike human agreements that are often broken, God, being the eternal King, has made an enduring covenant. “My love is established forever; my loyalty will stand as long as the heavens.” (v.3).
What an awesome blessing covenant is! What is our part? Our part is to obey. It is to not veer away from God’s will and commands. Thus can we continue to reap the fruit of His love and loyalty.

But what if we veer away? That is when we will be severely punished. “If his[4] descendants forsake my law, do not follow my decrees, if they fail to observe my statutes, do not keep my commandments, I will punish their crime with a rod and their guilt with lashes.” (v.31-33). If we do not respond also in love and loyalty, if we turn away from God, then He will afflict us with the rod and with lashes.[5] This actually is a manifestation of His love for us, as He desires for us to stop our infidelities and turn back to Him. Even as we turn away from Him, God is still loyal to us.

When we turn back to Him, God assures us that He will restore. He will restore us in His love and in our covenant with Him. “But I will not take my love from him, nor will I betray my bond of loyalty. I will not violate my covenant; the promise of my lips I will not alter.” (v.34-35).
What a wonderful God we have! Faithful and loving, patient and forgiving. Unfortunately we often take God for granted. When our life is going well, we neglect our covenant, and even veer away. Oftentimes it is only through suffering that we begin to truly see how fragile our lives are and how so very dependent we are on God. It is often in our affliction that we begin to truly see God in the fullness of His majestic splendor and beauty.

Job was a good and upright man, but He did not truly understand the Almighty God. Like many, he did good, and he expected blessings to be his natural reward. It was only when God turned his world upside down that he began to question, to search, to grapple. In the end, Job was just confronted with the grandeur and majesty of God. That was enough. Though he still could not know the mysterious workings of God, now he had entered into a deeper relationship with Him (Job 42:3,5). Now Job knew God better, and he was content.

We too will find our happiness in knowing God for the awesome Almighty that He is, and in knowing our proper relationship with Him, that of covenant. “Happy the people who know you, Lord” (v.16a). As we know God, as He teaches us His commands, then we simply obey, knowing that to obey is for our own good. This too is the way we find our happiness. “Happy the people .... who walk in the radiance of your face.” (v.16b).
Because God is the Almighty who is just and righteous, loving and loyal, our strength and our shield, our lives ought to be filled with joy. We can live victorious lives. “In your name they sing joyfully all the day; at your victory they raise the festal shout.” (v.17).

Because God is the God of our covenant, we obey Him and keep on the right path. This path is the path of holiness. We are to be holy as God is holy. We are to be part of “the assembly of the holy ones” (v.6b).   

Because God is the awesome and all-powerful Creator and King, we are to give Him worship and praise. When we do, we join with all of His creation, with the heavens and all the angels and saints. “The heavens praise your marvels, Lord, your loyalty in the assembly of the holy ones.” (v.6).

We worship the Almighty God on earth, and this is the way we prepare for all eternity in heaven.
*     *     *

[1] Verse 15 in NAB.
[2] A symbol of strength.
[3] Israel then, and now with us.
[4] David. We too are his descendants.
[5] Including destructive floods and other natural calamities.

(Part 40)
December 22, 2009
Today’s readings
1 Samuel 1:24-28
1 Samuel 2:1-8
Luke 1:46-56
What is the common denominator in today’s readings, as they relate to Mary, Hannah and Job? Both Hannah and Mary exult in the Lord who reverses fortunes, while Job experienced such a reversal of fortunes, twice over.

Hannah says God lays low the mighty, the well-fed and the mother of many, while lifting up the weak, the hungry and the barren wife (1 Sm 2:4-5). Mary says God lays low the rulers and the rich, while lifting up the lowly and the hungry (Lk 1:52-53). This is what happened to Job. From his lofty position he was laid low, and then he was restored to an even loftier position.

This is the mystery of a God who acts as He simply does, moving from one extreme to another. “The Lord puts to death and gives life; he casts down to the nether world; he raises up again. The Lord makes poor and makes rich, he humbles, he also exalts.” (1 Sm 2:6-7). Who can figure God out? “The Almighty! we cannot discover him” (Job 37:23a).
God however has constantly revealed Himself in the scriptures as one who loves the poor. He has “lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things” (Lk 1:52b-53a). “He raises the needy from the dust; from the ash heap he lifts up the poor” (1 Sm 2:7). Even in the case of Job, who was a rich man, God lifted him up from his affliction only after he had lost everything and became poor, and only after he had been sitting “among the ashes” (Job 2:8).

God raises the poor and needy, not just out of poverty, but to glorious heights. His intent is “to seat them with nobles and make a glorious throne their heritage.” (1 Sm 2:8b). Thus, from severe affliction, God raised Job to double what his wealth and prestige had been. Thus, as Mary exulted, God “looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.” (Lk 1:48a).
Why is this? This is the way of God Himself. This is the way of Jesus. Though he was God, he allowed himself to be emptied and humbled, and then he returned to eternal glory as Lord and King (Phil 2:6-11). From the heights to the depths and then back to the heights. Just like Job.

This is what we call the way of the cross. It is the way of discipleship. Just like Jesus who suffered “death on a cross” (Phil 2:8), we are called to die to self (deny self), take up our cross, and follow Jesus (Lk 9:23).

This is why suffering is redemptive. God chose to suffer, in order that Jesus might win for us our salvation. God allows us to suffer, so that, after gaining the purification that He intends for us, He might reverse our situation. Is it any wonder then that God allows us to suffer? Even when we are upright and blameless like Job?

But is this not unjust? In a way, yes. Just as it was unjust for a righteous Jesus to be crucified as a criminal. But “his great justice owes no one an accounting” (Job 37:23c).
In the end, we just rest in the knowledge that our God is just and righteous. In His justice and righteousness, He reverses people’s fortunes. He favors the poor and lowly. He raises the afflicted to great heights of glory.

Ultimately, since He is Savior, God brings us to heaven.

Let then Mary’s canticle be ours as well. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” (Lk 1:46). Let us join Hannah in singing praise to God. “My heart exults in the Lord, my horn is exalted in my God. I have swallowed up my enemies; I rejoice in my victory.” (1 Sm 2:1).

And Job? “Thus the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his earlier ones.” (Job 42:12a). “Then Job died, old and full of years.” (Job 42:17). In his latter days, Job simply rejoiced in the victorious life God had given him.
*     *     *

(Part 39)
December 21,2009
Today’s psalm (Psalm 33) again brings together what the Lord has been teaching us from 2007 until the present, through the themes and aspects of the themes that He has given us.

The starting point is the reality that God is Almighty! He is the awesome Creator-God. “By the Lord’s word the heavens were made; by the breath of his mouth all their host.” (v.6). God challenged Job: “And who shut within doors the sea” (Job 38:8a), to which the psalmist, acknowledging God, would now respond: “The waters of the sea were gathered as in a bowl” (v.7a).

As the Almighty, God is all-powerful. He created the vast universe with but a word. He keeps the billions of stars in their place, manifesting a great divine order in all the heavens. “For he spoke, and it came to be, commanded, and it stood in place.” (v.9).

As the Almighty, “pre-eminent in power and judgment” (Job 37:23b), God is all-wise, and His wisdom is way beyond ours, as far as the heavens from the earth. His ways are not our ways. God challenged Job: “Do you know the ordinances of the heavens; can you put into effect their plan on the earth?” (Job 38:33). This in fact is our problem. We have our own plans, our own ways, apart from God’s eternal designs. And so we fail. “The Lord foils the plan of nations, frustrates the designs of peoples.” (v.10).
What actually should our proper posture be before such an awesome God? It is awe. It is humility. It is reverential fear. “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all who dwell in the world show reverence.” (v.8).

But here is a reality that is startling: this awesome Creator-God, the Almighty, all-wise and all-powerful, is interested in us! We are His beloved creatures. He cares about our well-being. As such, He watches over us. “From heaven the Lord looks down and observes the whole human race.” (v.13). Awesome!

God is concerned about us because He created us and because He rules over us. He is our Creator and our King. As Creator, He desires only our good. As Creator, He knows us and how we tick. “The one who fashioned the hearts of them all knows all their works.” (v.15). As King, again He desires only our good. He is our protector and provider. As such, He spends His time “surveying from the royal throne all who dwell on earth.” (v.14).
As the Almighty and as King, God is just and righteous.[1] “He loves righteousness and justice” (v.5a,RSV). God is not a despot. He is not arbitrary in His ways. He is perfect, holy, and all-loving.

As Creator, God formed us in His image and likeness. As King, He desires that we walk in His ways and imitate Him. As we look to Him and find joy in who He is, we see that God calls us to be just and righteous as well. “Rejoice, you just, in the Lord” (v.1a,NAB); “Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous!” (v.1a,RSV).

Imitating the Lord is for our good. This enables the all-wise God to work out His eternal plan in us. We simply need to surrender ourselves to Him, knowing that “the plan of the Lord stands forever, wise designs through all generations.” (v.11).

Further, God has made many promises to us His people. He is committed to our welfare and to give us a future full of hope. He is faithful and will bring to completion what He has started in us. “For the Lord’s word is true; all his works are trustworthy.” (v.4).
So God has His plan for us. And being all-powerful, He can carry out His design. We simply need to respond. Many times we face woe because of our disobedience and going our own way. If we only let God have His way with us, then we would be fulfilled. If we only allow God to rule over our lives, then we will be well provided for. “Happy the nation whose God is the Lord, the people chosen as his very own.” (v.12).

How then do we proceed? Again we must know that He is God and we are mere creatures. This places us in a right relationship with our Creator and King. Many times we act as if we owned our lives and had no one to account to but ourselves. We look to our own wisdom and strength. These inevitably fail, and we are led to perdition and ruin. “A king is not saved by a mighty army, nor a warrior delivered by great strength. Useless is the horse for safety; its great strength, no sure escape.” (v.16-17).

Thus, realizing God is the Almighty, our response is awe. It is reverential fear. This is the proper response of creatures to the Creator, of subjects to the King. We know that on our own we are nothing. We are totally dependent upon God. When we look to God in this way, when we look to no one else except Him, then His favor will rest on us. “But the Lord’s eyes are upon the reverent, upon those who hope for his gracious help.” (v.18).

Life in this world is a valley of tears. There are many afflictions. For some, like Job or the writer of Lamentations, the afflictions are severe. On our own we are helpless against the onslaught of evil, oppression and injustice. All the more then that we turn to God. Only He is the Savior, the deliverer, the restorer. God is the all-powerful One who loves His people, “delivering them from death, keeping them alive in times of famine.” (v.19).
As we put ourselves in right relationship with God, as we realize who He is and what He does for us, this should lead us to gratitude and worship. “Give thanks to the Lord on the harp; on the ten-stringed lyre offer praise. Sing to God a new song; skillfully play with joyful chant.” (v.2-3). We can never thank God enough for all His blessings. We acknowledge all that He is by our worship. As God works His wonders in us, forming and transforming us to His ways, leading us to be just and righteous as He is, bringing us to redemption, then indeed “praise from the upright is fitting.” (v.1b).

Further, as we worship and place our lives in God’s hands where they properly belong, then we will have hope, joy and trust. These are the proper responses of people who have the Almighty Creator and the all-powerful King taking care of them. We need never be afraid again. Our God provides for us and protects us. “Our soul waits for the Lord, who is our help and shield.” (v.20).

Thus we “put our hope in (the Lord)”[2] (v.22b). Thus “in God our hearts rejoice”[3] (v.21a). Thus in Jesus’ “holy name we trust.”[4] (v.21b).

With hope, joy and trust in the Almighty God who is just and righteous, we have everything we will ever need in life.
*     *     *

[1] Our theme for 2010.
[2] Our theme for 2007.
[3] Our theme for 2008.
[4] Our theme for 2009.

(Part 38)
December 19, 2009
Today’s psalm (Psalm 71) brings together the different elements of our themes from 2007 to 2010. God weaves the many threads of the very important lessons He wants to teach us, in order to build the tapestry for our life and work in the years to come.

At the core of it all is who God is. God is the Almighty! He is awesome. There is none like Him. “You have done great things; O God, who is your equal?” (v.18d). Now God is not only awesome and powerful, He is also just and righteous. The psalmist proclaims God’s “power and justice” (v.18c-19a,NAB); His “power and (His) righteousness” (RSV). Being all powerful, God is other-worldly, distant, beyond reach. Being just and righteous, He is intimately involved in our daily life and struggles.

If God is almighty and all-powerful, then nothing is impossible for Him. If He is just and righteous, then we can call on His awesome power to help us in our need. And so what does that make of God in relation to us? God is our refuge and our deliverer.

The psalmist exclaims, “you are my strong refuge!” (v.7b). With confidence he proclaims, “Be my rock and refuge, my secure stronghold; for you are my rock and fortress.” (v.3). Thus he claims, “In you, Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.” (v.1).

But there are times when we will seemingly be put to shame,[1] when we will be oppressed and afflicted. At those times, we look to God as our deliverer. The psalmist prayed, “My God, rescue me from the power of the wicked, from the clutches of the violent.” (v.4). We precisely can call on God because He is just and righteous. “In your justice rescue and deliver me” (v.2a,NAB); “In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me” (RSV).

In fact, God does not only deliver, He redeems. God does not only lift us up from oppression and affliction, but He took on oppression and affliction in order to lift us up from sin. He does not only deliver our material and physical bodies, but He redeems our souls. The psalmist exults, “my soul, too, which you have redeemed” (v.23b).
In the face of an Almighty God who is just and righteous, who is our refuge and deliverer, who redeems our souls, what is our proper posture?

First, we must have hope in the Lord.[2] In the midst of lamentations, we look to God. “You are my hope, Lord” (v.5a). Since God indeed is our hope, then we must have hope in Him. “I will always hope in you” (v.14a).

Second, we must have our joy in Christ.[3] The Lord is in our midst, a mighty Savior.[4] He has redeemed us and brought about our restoration. He himself rejoices in us. If God saves us, restores us, and rejoices in us, then we too must rejoice in Him. “My lips will shout for joy” (v.23a).

Third, we trust in Jesus.[5] Because God is Almighty and He is committed to care for us, we can turn our lives over to Him, trusting fully in His divine mercy and grace. “You are .... my trust, God, from my youth.” (v.5b). Jesus, I trust in you.
Hope, joy and trust are important because life is not a bed of roses. On the contrary, life is full of pain and suffering. At times we feel truly hopeless and helpless about the circumstances of our lives. There is no light at the end of the dark tunnel. We have nowhere to turn. Like Job, we might even blame “the Almighty, who has made bitter my soul” (Job 27:2).

In the face of affliction, rather than turn away from God, we should in fact turn to God. When there is no one else, there is only God. Only He can raise us from the depths of our sorrow. “You have sent me many bitter afflictions, but once more revive me. From the watery depths of the earth once more raise me up.” (v.20).

Even though in the Old Testament the afflictions of the sufferer may be taken as a manifestation of God’s anger, still, it is to God that we turn, because He is our refuge. “I have become a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge!” (v.7).
If God is our refuge and our deliverer, if God indeed is our Savior, then our response is clear. We must give Him the worship that is His due, and we must share Him with the many others who live in a world of affliction and suffering. We recognize Him for who He is, the Almighty, and we proclaim Him to a world that is in need of redemption.

We worship God simply because He is the Almighty. “My mouth shall be filled with your praise” (v.8a). We worship God because He is faithful and we can truly turn to Him in our need. “I will also praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing praises to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel.” (v.22,RSV). We worship God tirelessly, ever growing in intensity. I “will praise you yet more and more” (v.14b,RSV); I will “add to all your praise” (v.14b,NAB).

We proclaim Christ, that is, we evangelize. We speak about the good news of salvation in Jesus. “I will speak of the mighty works of the Lord” (v.16a). This we do faithfully; “to this day I proclaim your wondrous deeds.” (v.17b). This we will do through the generations, until the Lord returns once again. We live “to proclaim your might to all generations yet to come” (v.18b).
If God the Almighty is just and righteous, then again our response is worship and evangelization. “O God, I will tell of your singular justice.” (v.16b,NAB); “I will praise your righteousness, yours alone.” (v.16b,RSV). “My mouth shall proclaim your just deeds” (v.15a,NAB); “My mouth will tell of your righteous acts” (v.15a,RSV).

We worship God and proclaim Him because what God does for us is overwhelming. He is our redeemer and deliverer. His mighty acts in our lives are too numerous to count. We look to “your deeds of salvation all the day” (v.15b,RSV); “day after day your acts of deliverance, though I cannot number them all.” (v.15b,NAB).

We acknowledge what God does for us as we worship. We proclaim what God does for us as we evangelize. 

The God and to the nations, we will speak about this Almighty God who is just and righteous.[6] “Yes, my tongue shall recount your justice day by day.” (v.24a,NAB); “And my tongue will talk of your righteous help all the day long” (v.24a,RSV).
*     *     *

[1] That is how it will look to the world, but in God we are never put to shame.
[2] Our theme for 2007.
[3] Our theme for 2008.
[4] Zep 3:17a.
[5] Our theme for 2009.
[6] Our theme for 2010.

(Part 37)
December 18, 2009
Today’s readings
Jeremiah 23:5-8
Psalm 72:1-19
Matthew 1:18-24
Crucial to the life of the world are the decisions and actions of those who rule or govern. In the world we often experience rulers who are corrupt, unjust and unmindful of the welfare of the people. But this is not how God intends it to be. God rules the whole universe, and He intends that humans who rule parts of it would do so according to His ways.

Today’s readings lead us to three rulers--one of the home, one of a kingdom, and one of the whole world. 

They are Joseph, Jeroboam[1] and Jesus. Joseph is the head of his family and rules his home; the Israelite king in Psalms rules the kingdom; Jesus is the descendant of David prophesied by Jeremiah who as messiah would reign over the whole world.

What is the common denominator? It is justice and righteousness.
  • Joseph was a “just” (Mt 1:19,RSV) and “righteous” (Mt 1:19,NAB) man.
  • The Israelite king was to rule with justice and righteousness. “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son! May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.” (Ps 72:1-2,RSV).
  • The messiah “shall do what is just and right in the land.” (Jer 23:5,NAB); he “shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” (Jer 23:5,RSV).
We also see that justice and righteousness not only go together, but they are often interchangeable.
  • “This is the name they give him: ‘The Lord our justice.’” (Jer 23:6b,NAB); “And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’” (Jer 23:6b,RSV)
  • “O God, give .... your justice to the son of kings” (Ps 72:1,NAB); “Give .... your righteousness to the royal son!” (Ps 72:1,RSV)
  • “That he may govern your people with justice” (Ps 72:2a,NAB); “May he judge your people with righteousness” (Ps 72:2a,RSV)
Further, justice and righteousness are of the very essence of a person. It is something that you are; it is something that you do. There is no dichotomy. There is no hypocrisy. One walks the talk.

Joseph was a just and righteous man (Mt 1:19). The messianic king “shall do what is just and right” (Jer 23:5). Being and doing need to go together. And so Solomon prayed: “O God, give your judgment to the king; .... so “that he may govern your people with justice” (Ps 72:1-2).
What is the result when we have a just and righteous ruler? Because justice and righteousness are of God, and because we act like God when we are just and righteous, the result is salvation.
  • “he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21b).
  • “In his days Judah shall be saved” (Jer 23:6a).
  • The king will “save the poor” (Ps 72:4b) and “saves the lives of the needy” (Ps 72:13b).
With salvation comes bounty and great abundance (Ps 72:3), defense against oppressors (Ps 72:4), help and rescue for the poor and oppressed (Ps 72:12-13), freedom from violence (Ps 72:14). Now are these not what we are looking for, as we live in a world of darkness and injustice and evil?

These good things can happen, as we look to justice and righteousness. God the Almighty is just and righteous. God reigns with justice and righteousness. We too are to imitate Him. We are to be just and righteous in all our ways -- in our home, in the nation, in the world.
*     *     *

[1] Jeroboam is not actually mentioned. But Psalm 72 was written by Solomon. It is a prayer for the king. Solomon certainly prayed it for himself, but since he did not use the first person in the psalm, then he was praying it for those who would succeed him as king. Because Solomon was unfaithful, God took the kingdom from him and gave it (10 out of the 12 tribes of Israel) to Jeroboam (1 Kgs 11:31).

(Part 36)
December 16, 2009
Today’s readings
Isaiah 45:6-25
Psalm 85:9-14
Luke 7:18-23
God is the Almighty!

God reveals who He is through the prophet Isaiah. He is the Creator-God. “For thus says the Lord, the creator of the heavens, who is God, the designer and maker of the earth who established it” (Is 45:18).

In a similar way, God also revealed Himself to Job. God asks Job a series of questions, speaking of His wisdom and power that are totally beyond the capability of Job. God starts off by establishing who He is -- the Creator-God. “Where were you when I founded the earth?” (Job 38:4a). 
God the Almighty is totally inscrutable, as His rapid-fire questions to Job indicate. Job could only feebly answer, “Behold, I am of little account; what can I answer you?” (Job 40:4). God presses on, speaking of His creations Behemoth[1] and Leviathan.[2] Job again answered, “I have dealt with great things that I do not understand; things too wonderful for me, which I cannot know.” (Job 42:3).

God is inscrutable; God is a mystery; God is the Almighty. Isaiah and Elihu both speak about the mystery of God.
  • God is hidden from us. “Truly with you God is hidden” (Is 45:15a). Elihu says He is “The Almighty! we cannot discover him” (Job 37:23a).
  • God is totally unique. “I am the Lord, there is no other” (Is 45:6b,18d,22c). Elihu says He is “pre-eminent in power and judgment” (Job 37:23b).
  • We cannot question God. “Woe to him who contends with his Maker; .... Dare the clay say to its modeler, ‘What are you doing?’ .... Woe to him who asks a father, ‘What are you begetting?’” (Is 45:9-10). Elihu says “his great justice owes no one an accounting” (Job 37:23c).
Now part of the mystery of God, which Job could not figure out, is God’s seeming tolerance or allowing both good and evil in the world. Indeed, God confirms this. “I form the light, and create the darkness, I make well-being and create woe;[3] I, the Lord, do all these things.” (Is 45:7). Job experienced both. God tremendously blessed him, and then God allowed him to be severely afflicted.

How are we to handle it all? Well, we cannot fully understand God, as we have already seen, because His ways are mysterious. This is why we need to turn to God’s revelation of Himself. And that is: He is just and righteous. And even more importantly, He is the Savior.
  • “It was I who stirred up one for the triumph of justice” (Is 45:13a,NAB). “I have aroused him in righteousness” (Is 45:13a,RSV).
  • “Only in the Lord are just deeds and power” (Is 45:24a,NAB). “Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength” (Is 45:24a,RSV).
  • “Let justice descend, O heavens, .... Let the earth open and salvation bud forth; let justice also spring up!” (Is 45:8,NAB). “Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the skies rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation may sprout forth, and let it cause righteousness to spring up also” (Is 45:8,RSV).
We cannot fully understand God. But we know enough, that He is the savior. In fact, we have not seen God, but God came to us in the form of a man, and He is Jesus. Jesus is our Savior. “Truly with you God is hidden, the God of Israel, the savior!” (Is 45:15).

God our Savior is a just and righteous God. He is totally unique. “There is no just and saving God but me.” (Is 45:21d,NAB). “And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me.” (Is 45:21d,RSV).

God tells Israel, and us who are the new Israel, that we have been saved by Him. “Israel, you are saved by the Lord, saved forever!” (Is 45:17). That should be more than enough for us. No more questions are needed. No more doubts ought to be entertained.
If we have such a God, one who is a just and righteous Savior, then this must elicit the proper response from us. Elihu, after speaking about God (Job 37:23), speaks about our proper response: “Therefore men revere him, though none can see him, however wise their hearts.” (Job 37:24). We respond in reverential fear and in humility.

What should we do?
  • We must continue to listen to His divine revelation. “I will listen for the word of God” (Ps 85:9a). It is God who reveals Himself to us, and who shows us the way we are to go, which is the way of peace. “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people” (Ps 85:8a,RSV). Job listened to God in silence and humility, and God restored him and brought him peace.
  • We are to be faithful to His revealed ways. God proclaims peace “to the faithful” (Ps 85:9b). We are to be obedient to His commands, and live a life of holiness.
  • We are to “trust in him” (Ps 85:9c). Whatever happens to us in life, we trust in Jesus who is just and righteous, and who loves us with an eternal love. “Turn to me and be safe” (Is 45:22a,NAB). “Turn to me and be saved” (Is 45:22a,RSV). In Jesus we are saved; in Jesus we are safe.
  • We to be loyal to the cause of Christ. “Near indeed is salvation for the loyal” (Ps 85:10a). We are to evangelize, proclaiming Christ to all, so that they might experience the salvation won for them on the cross. “Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land.” (Ps 85:9,RSV).
When we do the above, what is the result? Bountiful blessings! God restored Job’s blessings twofold. For us God assures:
  • Salvation and glory (Ps 85:10,NAB/9,RSV)
  • Love/mercy and truth/faithfulness, justice/righteousness and peace (Ps 85:11,NAB/10,RSV)
  • Abundance (Ps 85:13)
  • Prosperity and good fortune (Ps 85:14)
  • Vindication and glory (Is 45:25)   
 Job’s life was transformed from great adversity to great blessings. This is how our Savior acts. Jesus brings us from out of darkness into his marvelous light. He plucks us from death and into life -- an abundant life on earth, and eternal life thereafter.

If we are suffering great adversity, know that God can and will reverse our fortunes. He is the Almighty for whom nothing is impossible. Jesus makes the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers clean, the deaf hear, the dead raised to life (Lk 7:22). During his public ministry, Jesus brought wholeness to people as he “cured many of their diseases, sufferings, and evil spirits” (Lk 7:21a). God did the same for Job. God healed him of his physical affliction, removed his extreme suffering, and stayed the hand of Satan against him.

Perhaps most importantly, just as Jesus “granted sight to many who were blind” (Lk 7:21b), God opened Job’s eyes to truly see. “I had heard of you by word of mouth, but now my eye has seen you.” (Job 42:5). Because he saw God for who He truly was, Job was content. Job was secure in his full acceptance of the Almighty, trusting only in His justice and righteousness.
*     *     * 

[1] The hippopotamus.
[2] The crocodile.
[3] God permits evil for the sake of a greater good.

(Part 35)

December 10, 2009
Today’s readings
Isaiah 41:13-20
Psalm 145:1-13
Our theme this year is trust in Jesus. Why do we trust in Jesus? Well, simply put, because he is trustworthy. “The Lord is trustworthy in every word, and faithful in every work.” (Ps 145:13b). In other words, we can depend on him to come through for us in every way.

There are of course other trustworthy persons that we know. But the difference is this: we can trust these persons, but we cannot trust that they can deliver. Not because they do not want to, or they do not make the effort, but simply because they may at times be incapable. “The afflicted and the needy seek water in vain” (Is 41:17a).

It is only God who can say definitively, with 100% certainty, that He can help and that He can provide. “I, the Lord, will answer them: I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.” (Is 41:17b).
Thus we trust in God because He is God, and that reality brings with it certain immutable truths.

God is the Almighty. “God’s grandeur is beyond understanding.” (Ps 145:3b). People through generations “speak of the splendor of (His) majestic glory” (Ps 145:5a). As the Almighty God, He is all powerful and nothing is impossible for Him. People from their experience “speak of (His) fearsome power” (Ps 145:6a). As such, God can deliver.

So God is all powerful. But will He bring to bear His power to help us lowly sinners? Yes, because God is gracious and merciful, looking to the good of all. “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love. The Lord is good to all, compassionate to every creature.” (Ps 145:8-9).

In fact, Jesus came for us who are sinners, and gave his life for us. He is our redeemer. If Jesus came and gave his life for us, will he withhold any good thing from us? No![1] Here is God’s firm assurance: “I will help you, says the Lord; your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.” (Is 41:14b).

Fine, but how come there is so much injustice and evil in the world, with the good suffering and the wicked prospering? Well, much can be said about that, and we can never fully understand the workings of an Omnipotent God.[2] But here is the important truth: we can trust in God because He is just and righteous. People “sing of (His) justice” (Ps 145:7b, NAB). People “sing aloud of (His) righteousness” (Ps 145:7b, RSV).
What then is our proper posture before God?

First, we must not be afraid. Whatever the circumstance of our lives. Whatever affliction we are undergoing or challenges we are facing. Why? Because the all-powerful God is committed to care for us. He takes hold of us and will not let us go. “For I am the Lord, your God, who grasp your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.’” (Is 41:13).

Second, because we need never be afraid, because God is there to help us, then we must rejoice. God will bring good out of bad. God is rolling out His great plan for our lives. Even when we grieve due to affliction, loss and pain, we can still rejoice, for God is always at work in us.[3] We are assured: “you shall rejoice in the Lord, and glory in the Holy One of Israel.” (Is 41:16b).

Third, out of gratitude and joy, but more so out of being given the privilege of relating to the Almighty, we must give God the praise and worship that is His due. Worship is our proper response to the God who is Almighty and is all good. We must praise and bless His name every day and forever. “I will extol you, my God and king; I will bless your name forever. Every day I will bless you; I will praise your name forever.” (Ps 145:1-2).

Finally, we cannot keep such a God only for ourselves. If we have now discovered the true key to a blessed andabundant life, then our love for others[4] should push us to proclaim Him to them. If we have been brought out of the darkness of our lives but see that many more wallow in such darkness, then we must help bring His light into their lives. If we had almost given up in helplessness and hopelessness but were raised by Him and blessed, then we must want to share Him with others. Thus, we must evangelize, that is, proclaim the good news of the Savior Jesus Christ to the whole world. We must tell the world of such a God. “They speak of the splendor of your majestic glory, tell of your wonderful deeds.” (Ps 145:5).
When we trust in God and allow Him to act in and through us, then we will become the witnesses that God intends, empowered by the Holy Spirit to bring His good news to the ends of the earth.[5] God’s power is awesome. God does the impossible (see Isaiah 41:18-19). God intends that peoples be in awe of Him and His great majesty.

When we proclaim Him and His mighty works, then “all may see and know, observe and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this” (Is 41:20).
*     *     *

[1] See Romans 8:32.
[2] Ask Job; he has gone through it all before.
[3] This is why Paul can tell us to rejoice always. See Philippians 4:4 and 1 Thessalonians 5:16.
[4] Loving others is Jesus’ command.
[5] Acts 1:8.

(Part 34)
December 9, 2009
Look up to the sky on a clear night and what do you see? No, let me restate that question. What don’t you see? What you do not see are the billions and billions of stars, planets, and other celestial bodies. It is an awesome universe out there! Evolutionists says the ordered universe emerged out of the big bang and happened just by chance. No way! The expanse, orderliness, balance, grandeur and mystery of the universe can only be the work of a supernatural Being. Looking up to the sky and pondering the universe should point us to the Creator. “Life up your eyes on high and see who has created these” (Is 40:26a). 

Further, with our most powerful telescopes, how many stars have we found, counted and named? A minutely small number compared to what is out there. But in the case of the Creator, “He leads out their army and numbers them, calling them all by name. By his great might and the strength of his power not one of them is missing!” (Is 40:26b).

Such is our awesome God. He is the Almighty! “The Lord is the eternal God, creator of the ends of the earth.” (Is 40:28b).
A starting point in our proper relationship with God is beginning to understand who He is. He is other-worldly, He is eternal, He transcends time and space, He is all-powerful, He is unlike our idols and other gods. “To whom can you liken me as an equal? says the Holy One.” (Is 40:25). As such, our proper posture is reverential fear and humility.

At the same time, and this is the really amazing reality, this awesome Creator-God is concerned about us, even though we are as nothing before the vast majesty of the universe. Rather than giving in to despair and hopelessness in our affliction in the world, saying “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God” (Is 40:27b), we need to see the reality of how God acts in our lives. “He gives strength to the fainting; for the weak he makes vigor abound.” (Is 40:29).

Who indeed is our God? Do you realize what He does for you?
  • God is “merciful and gracious” (Ps 103:8).
  • God is just and righteous. “The Lord does righteous deeds, brings justice to all the oppressed.” (Ps 103:6).
  • God “pardons all your sins, heals all your ills” (Ps 103:3).
  • God “delivers your life from the pit” (Ps 103:4a).
  • God “surrounds you with love and compassion” (Ps 103:4b).
  • God “fills your days with good things” (Ps 103:5a).
 When we face life’s challenges, when we suffer and are afflicted, we must always remember the great Creator-God who cares for us. We must constantly count our blessings, big and small. We must never “forget all the gifts of God” (Ps 103:2b).

Further, this Creator-God has a face. It is the face of Jesus. God came down from His lofty throne and dwelt among us. God became one of us. In fact, God suffered and died for us. God knows what our suffering is like. 

In identifying with us, in showing us our proper posture, Jesus was “meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11:29b). In helping us in our affliction, Jesus invites us: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Mt 11:28). In fact, Jesus, as he has already done with the cross, bears the yoke with us and for us, as we walk in his ways and obey his commands. “Take my yoke upon you .... and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Mt 11:29-30).
As we look up to the heavens, as we learn from Jesus, we are continually challenged with the question: “Do you not know or have you not heard?” (Is 40:28a).

Job suffered greatly and he could not understand why. God did not explain but simply pointed to His great majesty. At this Job replied: “I have dealt with great things that I do not understand; things too wonderful for me, which I cannot know.” (Job 42:3). We will never fully know the extent and grandeur of the universe. We will never fully understand the mystery of God’s love, by which He sent Jesus to suffer and die for us. We will never have the full answer to why we, especially the blameless and upright, suffer in the world, while the wicked seem to prosper.

But that is how it should be, for we are not God. But when we simply accept Jesus and the salvation that he brings, that should be enough. “I had heard of you by word of mouth, but now my eye has seen you.” (Job 42:5). Our eyes will be opened, as we behold the awesome Creator-God who also is the suffering servant.
Bless the Lord, my soul;
all my being, bless his holy name!”
(Ps 103:1)
*     *     *

(Part 33)
December 7, 2009
In today’s gospel reading, we have an incident that caused onlookers to enter into their proper relationship with God, that of awe and wonderment. Jesus healed a paralytic. “Then astonishment seized them all and they glorified God, and, struck with awe, they said, ‘We have seen incredible things today.’” (Lk 5:26).
It was quite a drama. There was a big crowd listening to Jesus teach.[1] The friends of the paralytic, unable to get through the crowd, opened up the roof and lowered him right in front of Jesus.[2] The Pharisees murmured against Jesus forgiving the man’s sins. Jesus dramatically challenges them to consider what is easier--to forgive or to heal. Jesus heals the paralytic, who dramatically stands up and picks up his mat.

What a commotion such events would have caused! Indeed they saw and witnessed incredible things that day! And this led them to look on Jesus with awe, and to give glory to God.
The paralytic had been afflicted and was suffering, with no hope in sight. But then he had an encounter with the living God, who overturns situations, and brings healing, restoration and redemption. His being afflicted was what led to his being healed.[3] The affliction was thus a prelude to proclaiming the glory of God. In turn, his miraculous healingtouched the lives of the onlookers and brought them nearer to the right relationship with God.

Now this is what God does. He works miraculous deeds, which show His power and majesty and draw people to God. These miracles involve a radical overturning of what is not right to what is right and just. “The desert and the parched land .... will bloom.” (Is 35:1). Feeble hands and weak knees will be made strong and firm (Is 35:3). The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will leap, and the dumb will sing (Is 35:5-6a). The desert will burst forth with streams and the burning sands will become pools (Is 35:6b-7a). When such things happen, will we not indeed be awed, and say we have seen incredible things?

How else can God show us that indeed He is different from just any other powerful figure? In a world where many deities and worldly powers compete for our attention and allegiance, how does God truly stand out? This happens through His miraculous deeds, where the impossible comes to pass.

When these happen, then “they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.” (Is 35:2c).
Further, we live in a world of affliction and suffering, but such is only a prelude to experiencing God working in power to overturn our lot. In a way, just like in the case of the paralytic, and just as in the case of Job, it is our very situation of affliction that will prepare us to experience the wonders of God. When we realize that, we will even be able to praise God for our affliction, because then we can experience His power to restore and redeem. When we realize that, then we will no longer be afraid, as we look forward to God’s salvation. “Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.” (Is 35:4).

And what is this experience of God’s salvation?
  • It will be peace. Peace is shalom. This is a situation of everyone living in right relationship with everyone else, including God. As God is our savior, we are confident that “surely the Lord will proclaim peace” (Ps 85:9b).
  • It will be abundance and prosperity. Jesus came to bring abundant lifeThe Father desires the best for His beloved children. As such we can be confident that “the Lord will surely grant abundance” (Ps 85:13a) and that “prosperity will fill our land” (Ps 85:10b).
  • It will be justice and righteousness. God is just and righteous, and He calls us to be just and righteous. As such we can be confident that “justice will look down from heaven.” (Ps 85:12b, NAB). Another translation, in effect showing the interchangeability of justice and righteousness, says that “righteousness will look down from heaven.” (Ps 85:11b, RSV).[4]
  • It will be love and truth. “Love and truth will meet” (Ps 85:11a).
 Wow! These virtues are precisely what are missing in the world. There is strife and disunity, poverty, injustice, unrighteousness, hatred and lies. These are precisely what cause oppression, affliction and suffering. These cause people to despair and lose hope. 

But we have a Savior. God has redeemed us out of His great love for us. We just need to respond to His love, to accept His salvation. Then we must be faithful in living according to His ways. Then we must continue to be in awe of Him. “Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land.” (Ps 85:9, RSV).

God is already who He is. If only we would become whom God wants us to become, then we will experience His salvation. Once we decide to live according to God’s ways, then the process of redemption has started. And once the process of salvation has started, we need never be afraid, as we can fully trust in the promises of God and the unfolding of His plan for our lives. “I will listen for the word of God; surely the Lord will proclaim peace to his people, to the faithful, to those who trust in him.” (Ps 85:9).
God has shown us the way. It is the way of holiness. “A highway will be there, called the holy way.” (Is 35:8a). It is the way God has destined us for. It is the way of salvation. “It is for those with a journey to make, and on it the redeemed will walk.” (Ps 35:9b).

We live in a world of tears and sorrow. But God has another plan for us, just as He had for the paralytic and for Job. God’s salvation has come. And in that we can only rejoice.
“Those whom the Lord has ransomed will return
and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy;
they will meet with joy and gladness,
sorrow and mourning will flee.”
(Is 35:10)
 Yes, there are still many incredible things that we will see.
*     *     *

[1] The room was very crowded. “Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even around the door” (Mk 2:2).
[2] Imagine bits of straw and clay and other roofing materials raining down on Jesus and the crowd.
[3] In other words, if he was not afflicted, then there would have been no situation by which he would experience the mysterious and glorious gift of healing.
[4] The difference in verse number of the RSV from the NAB, being one verse behind in numbering, is due to the RSV not counting the superscription as a verse, which for the NAB is verse one.

(Part 32)
December 4, 2009
Today’s readings again give us insights into our theme for next year. We start off with a verse from Isaiah, that speaks about awe and reverence for God.
“When his children see the work of my hands in his midst, they shall keep my name holy; they shall reverence the Holy One of Jacob, and be in awe of the God of Israel.” (Is 29:23)
Isaiah refers to Jacob, and his children are the Israelites. God’s people will be in awe of Him when they see His mighty works. To see is to witness, to experience. The mighty works of God are all around us -- His awesome creation, thewonder of life, the many miracles one experiences from day to day.
Being blind
But the world is blind to these wonders. They are taken for granted. They are unappreciated. Worse, the world has become destructive of these mighty works of God. Just look at environmental degradation all around us, destroying God’s creation. Just look at the scourge of abortion, destroying life in the womb.

Since we are blind, we need to see. We need to have both physical and spiritual sight. We receive sight when we turn to Jesus.
Two blind men did just that. They followed and approached Jesus. Jesus touched their eyes “and their eyes were opened.” (Mt 9:30a). Isaiah says that “the eyes of the blind shall see.” (Is 29:18b).

In order for us to see, we need to turn to Jesus. In order for us to know where we are to go and how we are to live our lives, we need to turn to Jesus. Just like the two blind men who sought Jesus’ help, our prayer should be: “Lord, show me your way; lead me on a level path” (Ps 27:11).
Seeing God
When we do turn to Jesus and allow him to restore our sight, what happens? What is that right path that God has for us?

First, we will experience a reversal of fortunes, for the better. The world is in darkness and sin; we need to be brought into the light and to a life of holiness. There is oppression and injustice in the world; we need to experience the justice and righteousness of God. Knowing Jesus and allowing him to transform our lives will result in blessings.
  • The lowly and the poor will find joy (Is 29:19). The lowly and the poor today live miserable lives. But in Christ they will rejoice.
  • The unjust oppressors will be done away with (Is 29:20-21). These oppressors today commit injustices at will, with impunity, with no fear of being taken to account. Evil reigns. But God will exact judgment, in His time and in His own way.
  • Those who err in spirit will acquire understanding and instruction (Is 29:24). Many are lost, living according to the wisdom of the world, which leads to destruction. In Jesus we will be guided along the right path, receiving godly wisdom.
Second, our lives will be characterized by hope, joy and trust.[1]
  • We can hope in the Lord. “Wait for the Lord, take courage; be stouthearted, wait for the Lord!” (Ps 27:14). We hope because we see God’s love and care for us. God will never abandon us. His love and care are greater than what we experience even from our earthly parents. “Even if my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me in.” (Ps 27:10).
  • We will have joy in Christ. “I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy” (Ps 27:6b). Knowing that God is always there to care for us, knowing that we can always turn to Him in the challenges of our lives, such is cause for great joy.
  • We trust in Jesus. “Though war be waged against me, even then do I trust.” (Ps 27:3b). Because we trust, we need never fear. Fear is the opposite of trust. “Though an army encamp against me, my heart does not fear; though war be waged against me, even then do I trust.” (Ps 27:3). Why will fear be banished in our lives? If God is my savior who redeems me from darkness and sin, if God is my refuge to shelter me from harm, if God is my light to show me the way, then I need never be afraid. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom do I fear? The Lord is my life’s refuge; of whom am I afraid?” (Ps 27:1).
Third, when we see the works of God’s hands, when we become in awe of Him, then we will show Him proper reverence. We are creatures of the omnipotent Creator. We are sinners redeemed by the Savior. We are slaves of the divine Master. As such, our proper posture of reverence and awe brings us to worship. “I will sing and chant praise to the Lord.” (Ps 27:6c).
Fourth, having experienced the mighty hand of God, we will be led to proclaim Him to all. We become evangelizers. We must become like the two beggars who “went out and spread word of (Jesus) through all that land.” (Mt 9:31). Not even the stern warning of Jesus himself not to speak about the miracle they experienced could stop them![2]
Seeking God
 We are all created by God to be with Him eternally in paradise. Our being children of God is built into our DNA. Our souls yearn for God. Our spirits cannot rest secure until they rest in God. Thus the most natural thing is for us to seek God, to want to see Him. “‘Come,’ says my heart, ‘seek God’s face’; your face, Lord, do I seek!” (Ps 27:8). If we seek God, we will see Him.

When we do see God, when we humbly bow down in worship, when we are awed by the holiness of God, then we should also desire to be holy, as He is holy. When we see and are awed by God’s mighty works, we “shall keep (His) name holy” (Is 29:23). Holiness is God’s call to us. Holiness is what forms us in the image and likeness of God, in which we were created.

As we seek God, as we turn to Jesus, as we grow in hope, joy and trust, then we already have a foretaste of paradise in the here and now. “But I believe I shall enjoy the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living.” (Ps 27:13). But this is just a foretaste. We look forward to the fullness of life in the Lord in the heavenly Jerusalem that is to come.

Then will we dwell with our Father for all eternity. Then will we forever be praising Him. Then will we see Him face to face, in all His beauty and grandeur.
“One thing I ask of the Lord; this I seek:
to dwell in the Lord’s house
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the Lord’s beauty,
to visit his temple.”
(Ps 27:4)
Then will we rightly exclaim: The Almighty!
*     *     *

[1] Hope, joy and trust are our themes for 2007, 2008 and 2009, respectively.
[2] The two beggars disobeyed Jesus. Is it ever permissible to disobey Jesus? Check out my write-up on “Disobeying Jesus” last January 28, 2009.

(Part 31)
December 3, 2009
In today’s reading we first of all are brought back to our theme for this year, trust in Jesus. Our theme verse for 2009 says: “for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” (Is 12:2, RSV). Today’s psalm says: “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” (Ps 118:14, RSV).

We trust in Jesus because he is our Savior, and he puts strength in our minds and limbs, and he puts a song in our hearts. We trust in Jesus because he is the Prince of Peace, who brings the world the peace that they desperately seek. “You keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” (Is 26:3, RSV).  We trust in Jesus because we can build the foundation of our lives on him and know that he will being us to eternal happiness. “Trust in the Lord forever! For the Lord is an eternal Rock.” (Is 26:4, NAB). We trust in Jesus because he is just and righteous.
Isaiah speaks about the justice and righteousness of God. In fact, in today’s reading justice and righteousness merge and become one, becoming interchangeable in meaning. We see this from two different Bible translations.

“Open the gates to let in a nation that is just, one that keeps faith.” (Is 26:2, NAB). “Open the gates, that the righteous nation which keeps faith may enter in.” (Is 26:2, RSV.).
We trust that God is just and righteous. This is our faith. In turn, God desires that we too become, like Him, just and righteous. This assures the redemption of the remnant of God’s people. This assures our ultimate entry into heaven.

How do we keep the faith that allows us to enter?

First, because man has become proud in his own achievements and power, he has failed to be in awe of God and has gone his own way, living his life according to how he desires to. Thus we need to be humbled. The sooner we place ourselves in a right posture of humility before anawesome God, the better it will be for us. Because God does want to bring us back to Himself, He “humbles those in high places, and the lofty city he brings down” (Is 26:5a).

With humility and reverential fear, we will enter into a right relationship with God. We will bow down in worship. In turn, we will experience the fullness of His love. “Let those who fear the Lord say, God’s love endures forever.” (Ps 118:4).

Second, because it is often the rich and powerful that oppress the poor and powerless, if we are to put ourselves in the proper relationship to God, we must do justice to the poor. God loves the poor and oppressed and defends them. Ultimately there will be a reversal of fortunes. God cuts down the proud and lifts up the lowly. The lofty city will be “trampled underfoot by the needy, by the footsteps of the poor.” (Is 26:6).

Third, because we remain hard of heart, because we fall into infidelities, we oftentimes need to be chastised. This comes through oppression, persecution, affliction, pains, crosses. Such are intended by God to humble us, to discipline us, to purify us, to bring us back to Himself. “The Lord chastised me harshly, but did not hand me over to death.” (Ps 118:18). In fact, the Lord’s intent is to bring us to life.

Finally, we live our lives according to God’s ways. We carry the name of Christ, and so we need to live as true Christians. This is a life lived inobedience to God. This is a life lived in holiness and righteousness and justice. This is a life that proclaims to all how good the Lord is. “I shall .... declare the deeds of the Lord.” (Ps 118:17). This is a life of endurance and perseverance, especially in the face of suffering. In all these will be we truly blessed. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Ps 118:26).
When we live our faith in justice and righteousness, we will be able to face the daunting challenges of life. We will experience the hand of Godon our lives.
  • We can always call upon Him, especially in challenging times, and know that He will answer our prayers. “In danger I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free.” (Ps 118:5).
  • We have His protection and we need never be afraid. “The Lord is with me; I am not afraid; what can mortals do against me?” (Ps 118:6).
  • We can count on His help, and look to a victorious life. “The Lord is with me as my helper; I shall look in triumph on my foes.” (Ps 118:7). “I was hard pressed and falling, but the Lord came to my help.” (Ps 118:13).
  • He is our refuge and we need not rely on our own or on others’ strength or abilities. “Better to take refuge in the Lord than to put one’s trust in mortals.” (Ps 118:8).
 With such a life, we have everything that we need and should want. The Lord Himself is our savior. He is our strength and our song.

Let us always “give thanks to the Lord, who is good, whose love endures forever.” (Ps 118:1). “Open the gates of victory; I will enter and thank the Lord.” (Ps 118:19).

Let there be joy in our hearts every day of our lives. “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice in it and be glad.” (Ps 118:24). Let our mouths always proclaim “the joyful shout of deliverance” (Ps 118:15a).
*     *     *

(Part 30)
December 1, 2009
In today’s reading, Solomon prays for the king. “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son! May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice!” (Ps 72:1-2, RSV)

A king’s authority and rule come from God, the King of kings. Here Solomon looks to the Almighty and sees what kind of God He is, that is, one who is just and righteous, and so he asks for the virtues of justice and righteousness for the one who will rule over God’s people, and finally prays that the king would indeed rule with such justice and righteousness.
What is the effect of just and righteous rule?

First, the poor are defended, the poor saved, and the oppressor crushed (Ps 72:4). Those who suffer will experience redemption from affliction. “From oppression and violence he redeems their souls” (Ps 72:14a).

Second, there will be bounty, prosperity and great abundance in the land (Ps 72:3).

Third, the nations who witness what is happening will flock to him and bless him. In effect, he will be evangelizing, proclaiming the good news of just and righteous rule under God. Nations, seeking peace and prosperity, will imitate what he does, as “all nations call him blessed!” (Ps 72:17c, RSV).
The ultimate just and righteous king is of course our Lord Jesus Christ. Isaiah in today’s reading prophesies about the new shoot that will arise from the stump of the Davidic dynasty. Among his virtues is “the fear of the Lord” (Is 11:3a). Further, this king “shall judge the poor with justice” (Is 11:4a, NAB). Another rendering says, “withrighteousness he shall judge the poor” (Is 11:4a, RSV). The belt or band around his waist will be “justice” (Is 11:5a, NAB) or “righteousness” (Is 11:5a, RSV).

This prophecy about this rule of Immanuel finds ultimate fulfillment in Jesus.
When the king is just and righteous, he helps the poor and the oppressed, and he crushes the oppressor (Ps 72:4). By this he humbles the proud and lays low the mighty. “May his foes kneel before him, his enemies lick the dust.” (Ps 72:9). But being laid low is a blessing, as it puts one in a right relationship with God. This leads God to “decide with equity for the meek of the earth” (Is 11:4b, RSV). 

Aside from helping the poor and oppressed, here we see that the result of just and righteous rule will be peace and harmonySuch peace and harmony are radical, as those who ordinarily cannot come together, because one would devour the other, do so -- the wolf and the lamb, the calf and the lion, the cow and the bear, the baby and the cobra. “There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain” (Is 11:9a).

When something like that happens, that is great and amazing news. All peoples are looking for peace and unity. And so something like that cannot pass unnoticed. And when people see with amazement what is happening, they will be struck with awe, and give praise to the only one who makes such a thing happen, and that is God. “On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.” (Is 11:10). When the light of a nation shines forth like that, the whole world will be evangelized. Then “the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea.” (Is 11:9b).
What a day to look forward to! When the whole world is in awe of God the Almighty, when those who are sufferingwill be redeemed, when peoples will be humbled and live in obedience to God’s law.

Such a perfect world will not happen on this earth, but only ultimately in heaven. But even then, we must work so that peoples have a foretaste of what is to happen, and will look forward to being in the eternal presence of the God who is just and righteous.

“May all kings bow before him, all nations serve him.” (Ps 72:11). “May his name be blessed forever; as long as the sun, may his name endure.” (Ps 72:17a).
*     *     *
Postscript: Affliction and suffering can be blessings of God for our purification. When a nation suffers devastating floods and unimaginable massacres of innocent people, there is a cry for justice and righteousness. When we see that the rulers of the world who are unrighteous will not provide such justice, then in our helplessness and hopelessness we cry out to God. Further, we see that the only ultimate way is the conversion of peoples and the transformation of their lives, thus necessitating the work of evangelization.

God allows suffering to discipline, to test (like Job), and to purify His people. His aim to is to raise a nation that will be a light to the world.
*     *     *

(Part 29)
November 29, 2009
Today’s reading from the book of the prophet Jeremiah again points us to our theme for 2010.
“The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah. In those days, in that time, I will raise up for David a just shoot; he shall do what is right and just in the land. In those days Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure; this is what they shall call her: ‘The Lord our justice.’” (Jer 33:14-16)
Jeremiah had prophesied about the restoration of the Jewish nation, but this particular prophecy finds its fulfillment only in Jesus.

In the face of terrible affliction caused by the fall and destruction of Jerusalem, but in looking to God’s promises according to His covenant with His people, and in hoping for a reversal of their fortunes, God promises to raise a savior. That is Jesus.

The savior is a just shoot; he is the Lord our justice; he is righteous and just. Only in such a savior can we be safe and dwell secure.
Now God has indeed sent the Savior, His very own Son Jesus. As we accept Jesus as Savior and Lord, we are restored as God’s people. But this does not happen automatically. We need to do our part; we need to have our proper response. Today’s reading from the psalms show us the needed response.

First, we must have reverential fear for the Lord, which leads to being humble in His presence, for He is the Almighty and we are nothing. Apart from Him we are lost and know not the way. Only Jesus, who is the way, can show us the way. Thus our constant humble prayer should be: “Make known to me your ways, Lord; teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior.” (Ps 25:4-5a).

Second, we must be faithful to our covenant with Him. “The counsel of the Lord belongs to the faithful; the covenant instructs them.” (Ps 25:14). Living out our covenant allows us to enter more deeply into our life in Christ. Our obedience to our covenant enables us to grow in love and faithfulness. “All the paths of the Lord are faithful love toward those who honor the covenant demands.” (Ps 25:10).
What is the result of reverential fear, humility, and faithfulness to covenant?

The result is that we gain wisdom. Wisdom is knowing how to live according to God’s ways. It is what enables us to live lives of righteousness and justice. It is choosing the right path. If we “fear the Lord,” then “God shows (us) the way to choose.” (Ps 25:12). If we humble ourselves, then He “guides the humble rightly, and teaches the humble the way.” (Ps 25:9). If it is then God who guides us, then we will get to where He wants to bring us.

Where does God want to bring us? To the fullness of life according to His covenant promises. Because God is righteous and just, because His covenant is intended to pour out His blessings upon us, then we can look to a good life. “They live well and prosper, and their descendants inherit the land.” (Ps 25:13).
Job was severely afflicted but was restored, even double. We too in our affliction can look to God’s help and redemption. We, as the new 
people of God, the new Israel, will pass through this life’s valley of tears, but look to inheriting the land, the new Jerusalem, that God promises to His faithful people.
*     *     *

(Part 28)
November 26, 2009
If you thought the devastation of Ondoy was bad, look at Job. If you think the affliction of Job was severe, look toJerusalem. If you see that the destruction of Jerusalem was lamentable, look to the end of time.

Our readings today bring us to the end times. Both the book of Daniel and this section of Luke (21:20-28) are apocalyptic, that is, having to do with the end times. But they also have to do with the various important aspects of the theme the Lord has given us for 2010.
A common thread is the awesome majesty of God. King Darius recognized God as “the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be without end.” (Dn 6:27b). Jesus himself describes hissecond coming as “coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” (Lk 21:27).

Because of that, we have our proper posture, which is awe or reverential fear. King Darius, ruler of the whole world at that time, decreed that “the God of Daniel is to be reverenced and feared” (Dn 6:27a). Jesus speaks of awesome “signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and .... the roaring of the sea and the waves” (Lk 21:25), of “the powers of the heavens (being) shaken.” (Lk 21:26b).

But why do calamities and affliction come upon us? First, as punishment for sin. Jesus says that those “days are the time of punishment when all the scriptures are fulfilled.” (Lk 21:22). God’s justice and righteousness will be satisfied. If evil triumphs today, at the end of time “a terrible calamity will come upon the earth and a wrathful judgment upon this people.” (Lk 21:23b). But second, due to sin or not, affliction comes as purification. This is for sinners, but at times, as in the case of Job, seemingly especially for good people. God calls us to holiness, and affliction is what strongly propels us in this direction.

And thus we see that suffering is redemptive.
What then should our proper posture be?

We recognize who our God truly is. He is just and righteous. “He is a deliverer and savior” (Dn 6:28a). “God indeed is my savior” (Is 12:2a). God loves us, proving this by sending His very own Son to suffer and die for us on the cross, thus winning for us our salvation. If God has given us His very own Son, He will not withhold any good thing from us. So we can look to Him, as our deliverer, to deliver us not just from our sins but also from our suffering.

If that is the case, then we trust in God. Daniel was removed from the lions’ den, “unhurt because he trusted in his God.” (Dn 6:24b). We trust in God’s love for us, in His great plan for us, in His power to deliver us, in His faithfulness to our covenant. We might face great trials for the moment, but in the end, God redeems us.

In trusting God, we are able to endure our suffering. In fact, we rejoice in seeing, or knowing, that suffering leads to redemption. Daniel was attacked by the supervisors and satraps (the high government officials) and they caused his being “cast into the lions’ den.” (Dn 6:17a). But Daniel was miraculously protected by God from any harm. “This gave the king great joy.” (Dn 6:24a). As we see that the suffering that pains us actually leads to deliverance, redemption and holiness, then we too ought to rejoice.
As we know that God is the Almighty, that only He can fulfill our lives, that we are called to turn away from sin and become holy, that He will come again in glory at the end of time for the final judgment, then we must proclaim Him to the world. We must evangelize. And those we evangelize become evangelizers themselves, in ever widening circles, until a vast army is proclaiming Christ throughout all the earth.

Even King Darius, after witnessing the miracle of Daniel’s redemption, became an evangelizer. He “wrote to the nations and peoples of every language, wherever they dwell on the earth: ‘All peace to you! I decree that throughout my royal domain the God of Daniel is to be reverenced and feared” (Dn 6:26-27a).

The work of evangelization is intended to win the world for Christ. It is to prepare a people that will be faithful to God’s call and be among the redeemed when Christ returns in glory. We strive to give our all, reaching out to as many as we can. If possible, we look to all of creation and all the earth praising and exalting God above all forever (Dn 3:68-74).

In this difficult and challenging work, we continue to trust in Jesus, who commissioned us to evangelize. Know that Jesus remains with us till the end of time. And know that he sends his angels to assist us and protect us.[1] Daniel said: “My God has sent his angel and closed the lions’ mouths” (Dn 6:23a).
Ondoy, Job, Jerusalem, the end times. All have many lessons to teach us.

If you think you have suffered, think again. Jesus describes the end times in these words: “desolation, ... time of punishment, ... woe, ... a terrible calamity, ... a wrathful judgment, ... trampled underfoot, ... dismay, ... powers of the heavens shaken” (Lk 21:20,22-26). No wonder some “people will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world” (Lk 21:26a)!

But listen. Such apocalyptic images and writing are meant to encourage you and to inspire you! What? Yes! Look at the total picture. “But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” (Lk 21:28). Our suffering is just a prelude to redemption. Of that, we are assured by Jesus himself, who himself already showed us the way.

We will suffer in the world. We will be afflicted, oppressed and persecuted. But such is the privilege of following in the footsteps of our Master and Savior Jesus. We endure for a time, but we look to heavenly bliss for all eternity. 
*     *     *

[1] There are seven archangels, and three of them are mentioned in the Bible. One is Raphael, mentioned in the book of Tobit. The other two are Gabriel and Michael, mentioned in the book of Daniel (Dn 8:16, 10:13) and in the New Testament. Gabriel of course is well known as the angel who appeared to Mary and announced the coming birth of Jesus (Lk 1:26-38). Michael is prominent in the book of Revelation as the angel who fought and defeated Satan (Rev 12:7-9). Michael is the angel who is the protector of God’s people (Dn 12:1a).

(Part 27)
November 23, 2009
In today’s reading from the book of Daniel, three men of Judah, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego), glorify and bless God with one voice (Dan 3:52-56). What occasioned this?

The three had been cast into the fiery furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar for refusing to worship the golden statue he had set up. But God protected and delivered them, and they were not harmed at all.

Inside the furnace, Azariah prayed aloud. His prayer contains the various aspects of our theme for 2010.
The Almighty! Azariah starts and ends his prayer by acknowledging God for who He is. “Blessed are you, and praiseworthy, O Lord, the God of our fathers, and glorious forever is your name.” (Dan 3:26). “Let them know that you alone are the Lord God, glorious over the whole world.” (Dan 3:45). At the heart of prayer that reflects our relationship with God, manifested by Azariah’s beginning and ending in his prayer, is an acknowledgment of God and His awesome majesty.

Reverential fear and humility. Because of who God is, the three have the proper posture: “we, your servants, who revere you” (Dan 3:33b); “we fear you” (Dan 3:41b). “But with contrite heart and humble spirit let us be received” (Dan 3:39). We stand in awe of God, which leads us to kneel or prostrate ourselves in humility before Him.

Justice and righteousness. Azariah confidently calls out to God because he knows what kind of a God He is. “For you are just in all you have done; all your deeds are faultless, all your ways right, and all your judgments proper.” (Dan 3:27).

Redemptive suffering. What occasions the miracle is what the three have to suffer. They acknowledge that what is happening is due to the chastisement of God because of the sins of His people. “By a proper judgment you have done all this because of our sins” (Dan 3:28b). But after the extreme test the three had to endure, God reverses not only their situation but the situation of all Judah. King Nebuchadnezzar, who had commanded all to worship an idol, now acknowledged the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and gave protection to Judah in worshiping the true God (Dan 3:95-96).
What is our proper posture in the face of extreme suffering, in the face of seemingly impossible and hopeless situations? It is to trust in God (our theme for 2009). Why? The reason is simple: “those who trust in you cannot be put to shame.” (Dan 3:40c).

What is the basis for our trust? There are so many. Among these: (1) God is just and righteous. (2) In Him is “kindness and great mercy” (Dan 3:42b). (3) He does not “make void (His) covenant” (Dan 3:34b). (4) He keeps His promises (Dan 3:36). (5) He desires to manifest His glory to the whole world  through His signs and wonders (Dan 3:43).

But aside from trusting in God, we must ourselves become just and righteous. We must obey His commandments (Dan 3:30). We must turn back from sin and every kind of evil, by which we have departed from God (Dan 3:29). We must “follow (Him) unreservedly” (Dan 3:40b), be in awe of Him, and maintain our relationship with Him in prayer. “And now we follow you with our whole heart, we fear you and we pray to you.” (Dan 3:41).
Suffering is God’s gift to His people. Those He loves He chastises and disciplines. But if through our suffering we are brought back to Him, and if we continue to trust in Him, then we will experience redemption. And redemption is not only for us, but for the whole world.

God acts in mysterious ways. He uses our enemies and delivers us over to injustice. “You have handed us over to our enemies, lawless and hateful rebels; to an unjust king, the worst in all the world.” (Dan 3:32). At other times He uses natural calamities to afflict us. At other times, like in the case of Job, He allows Satan to oppress us. We often cannot understand why God has allowed us, His servants who revere Him, to “become a shame and a reproach” (Dan 3:33).

But God merely wants our repentance and our turning back to Him, and for us to live out our covenant in faithfulness. So God delivers us to our enemies, but He also delivers us from our enemies. “Let all those be routed who inflict evils on your servants” (Dan 3:44a).

The end result, for ourselves and for our enemies, and indeed for the whole world, is the shining forth of the glory of God. “Let them know that you alone are the Lord God, glorious over the whole world.” (Dan 3:45). The Almighty!

Even Nebuchadnezzar, the “unjust king, the worst in all the world” (Dan 3:32b), acknowledged that “there is no other God who can rescue like this” (Dan 3:96b). Indeed, he met the living God and experienced transformation. And he himself became an evangelizer! “It has seemed good to me to publish the signs and wonders which the most high God has accomplished in my regard.” (Dan 3:99). And God used him to proclaim His good news to the whole world, “to the nations and peoples of every language, wherever they dwell on earth” (Dan 3:98). 

In the end, King Nebuchadnezzar himself stood in awe of the Almighty.
“How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders; his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures through all generations.” (Dan 3:100)
We can never fully understand the mysterious ways of God, especially when we suffer. But God will accomplish His divine purposes for our lives and for the life of the world. We can only marvel and exclaim: The Almighty! Just and righteous is He!

Let us continue to bless the Lord, for He is “praiseworthy and exalted above all forever” (Dan 3:52a).
*     *     *

(Part 26)
November 21, 2009

Many verses in the Bible, especially the psalms, speak about our theme for 2010 and its various aspects. I suppose it is simply because the aspects of our theme speak about the basic truths about our faith. But it is delightful when we see the different aspects of our theme coming together in one passage (of several verses). 

Once again, we look to today’s reading (Psalm 9:2-19). In particular we look at verses 8 to 11.
The Almighty God. “The Lord rules forever, has set up a throne for judgment.” (v.8). The Lord is King over all, and awesome is He in His majesty. He is the Creator of the whole universe, and judgment over all belongs to Him.

Justice and righteousness. Our God is just and righteous. “It is God who governs the world with justice” (v.9a, NAB[1]). It is he who “judges the world with righteousness” (v.9a, RSV[2]).

Redemptive suffering“The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” (v.10). The just and righteous who are afflicted can expect to be helped and saved by God. This is our confidence: “you never forsake those who seek you, Lord.” (v.11b).
Because of all the above, we can trust in God.[3] “Those who honor your name trust in you” (v.11a).

If we trust in God, then we will always have hope.[4] “The needy will never be forgotten, nor will the hope of the afflicted ever fade.” (v.19).

If we have hope, then we will always have joy.[5] “I will delight and rejoice in you” (v.3a). Whatever happens in life, whatever we suffer through, we know that God is there. In fact, it is precisely in our suffering that God disciplines, guides and purifies us. Suffering, the way of the cross, is our path to becoming righteous and just. For all these, we truly can rejoice.
God gives us hope, joy and trust, and for these we should be grateful. God calls us to be just and righteous, and for that we need to turn to Him. God is the Almighty, and for that we simply need to acknowledge Him and humbly enthrone Him in our lives. 

As such, our proper posture, as creatures to the Creator, as sinners to the Holy One, as the lost that have been saved by the Savior, as slaves of the Master, is worship. “I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart; I will sing hymns to your name, Most High.” (v.2a,3b).

Further, as those who have experienced salvation and renewal, as those who are called to be God’s instruments for the world, we must evangelize. “I will declare all your wondrous deeds.” (v.2b).

Worship and evangelization. Such describe who we are, as God’s people, and what we do, as God’s co-workers. Such is what leads us to righteousness and justice. We worship in God’s holy presence, and so we grow in holiness. We go forth into the world to proclaim Jesus, and so we do justice to others, by giving them what is their due--the salvation won by Jesus for them.

God’s blessings for us: hope, joy, trust. Our proper response: worship and evangelization. “Sing hymns to the Lord enthroned on Zion; proclaim God’s deeds among the nations!” (v.12).

[1] New American Bible.
[2] Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.
[3] Our theme for this year 2009.
[4] Our theme for 2007.
[5] Our theme for 2008.

(Part 25)
November 18, 2009
Today’s scripture (2 Mc 7:1-31) always makes for fascinating reading. It is about the martyrdom of a Jewish mother and her seven sons, all in one day. The seven sons are subjected to gruesome and horrible torture. The book was written to encourage God’s people in times of persecution. Indeed, the book was popular among the Christians of the early centuries, who were subjected to persecution, and many of them were martyred.

Today Christians are still persecuted in many places in the world. Today there are still martyrs for the cause of Christ. But today, many Christians, especially those living in the First World, live a comfortable Christianity. They avoid pain and discomfort. And when a little affliction comes their way, they easily wither away.

But there will always be pain and crosses in life. It might be a devastating typhoon with severe flooding, like what Ondoy wrought. Or it might be so many other different things. For Christians, what is important is how they endure and persevere.
One thing that will help a lot is to understand a bit more why God allows such suffering, especially in the lives of the innocent. In a word, such suffering is redemptive.

First, suffering can be purification from sin and wrongdoing. “We, indeed, are suffering because of our sins.” (2 Mc 7:32). Many people will not turn away from their sins unless something drastic happens to them. Perhaps a serious illness, or an accident, or the loss of a loved one, or bankruptcy, or a devastating flood. But such events, painful as they are, are God’s way to get our attention, to teach us our lesson, and of course to turn us back to Himself. “Though our living Lord treats us harshly for a little while to correct us with chastisements, he will again be reconciled with his servants.” (2 Mc 7:33).

Second, such suffering can be redemptive not only for ourselves but for others. As there are many who do evil but do not know how to be otherwise because they do not know Christ, then it is left to those who do know Christ to make reparation for their sins. We then become sacrificial lambs, but in being so, become mediators and intercessors. “Like my brothers, I offer up my body and my life for our ancestral laws, imploring God to show mercy soon to our nation” (2 Mc 7:37a). The suffering of a just person can be redemptive for the unjust.

Third, such suffering brings us, who are all sinners, back to God and back to His eternal plan for us. It is the way of the cross, the very way God Himself chose. Jesus won salvation for us by going to the cross. There is no other way. Certainly not the gospel of prosperity, or the gospel of going to heaven in first-class comfort. “Through me and my brothers, may there be an end to the wrath of the Almighty that has justly fallen on our whole nation.” (2 Mc 7:38).
When we understand how suffering can be redemptive, then we no longer disdain suffering (that is, if suffering is for the sake of righteousness). We endure and bear suffering “courageously because of (our) hope in the Lord.” (2 Mc 7:20b). We endure and bear suffering, even unto death, without giving in to the ways of the world that can relieve our suffering, because we put “all (our) trust in the Lord.” (2 Mc 7:40).

We hope and trust in God, because He is merciful and He has a great and wonderful plan for us, which He wants fulfilled in our lives, but which our sins prevent from happening. So as a father to his child, God disciplines us in order to bring us back to the right path. Such discipline is often through affliction and pain. But even in the midst of the most terrible suffering, we are assured: “He never withdraws his mercy from us. Although he disciplines us with misfortunes, he does not abandon his own people.” (2 Mc 6:16).

What is our life on earth after all? It is preparation for our life in heaven. We are pilgrims merely passing through. We invest ourselves not in this life but in the next. We may suffer deprivation in “this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever.” (2 Mc 7:9a).

Given all these, we not only do not disdain suffering, but we embrace it with joy. Eleazar, a venerable old man also martyred, when he was about to die under the blows, uttered: “The Lord in his holy knowledge knows full well that, although I could have escaped death, I am not only enduring terrible pain in my body from this scourging, but also suffering it with joy in my soul because of my devotion to him.” (2 Mc 6:30).
Redemptive suffering. Suffering that leads to redemption. So very different from the wisdom of the world. So very challenging for us, to be able to take on God’s own wisdom, and see the value and blessing of suffering in life.

We suffer but for a moment, but we reap the joy of everlasting life, according to God’s plan for us. “My brothers, after enduring brief pain, have drunk of never-failing life, under God’s covenant” (2 Mc 7:36a).
*     *     *

(Part 24)
November 12, 2009
Today’s reading from Psalm 119:89-175 gives wonderful instruction by which we are to live according to God’s law, and is intimately connected with our theme for 2010. God does lead us in the way we are to go. If we follow, we make it all the way to heaven

The starting point, as with everything else, is who God is. He is the Almighty, and He is just and righteous. “You arerighteous, Lord, and just are your edicts.” (Ps 119:137). Such was also the prayer of that wonderful man Tobit. “You are righteous, O Lord, and all your deeds are just” (Tb 3:2a). Tobit, grief-stricken in spirit, started off his prayer to God with this. In our lamentations, whenever we have nowhere else to turn but God, this too must be our starting point.

We must always have this confidence: “Your justice is forever right” (Ps 119:142a). Righteousness has to do with what is right, as far as God is concerned. We are righteous when we are and we do what is right, that is, when our lives are right with God.

How do we know if we are living in the right? We look to God’s law. “Your justice is forever right, your teaching forever true.” (Ps 119:142).
Psalm 119 gives us various words for teaching. These are word, truth, edict, precept, decree, command, promise, law. The psalmist mentions these words over and over, in every verse. God’s teaching is very important, nay, crucial for our lives.

This points us to the importance of the Bible, which is the primary source of God’s teaching. This is why we have this in our covenant. We are to read the Bible every day. The aim is for God’s teaching in the Bible to permeate our lives. God’s word is what can truly change and transform us. If we do not read, meditate on and study the Bible, then we cannot truly know Christ and the life that he offers us.

“How I love your teaching, Lord! I study it all day long.” (Ps 119:97).
What are the fruits of knowing God’s teaching?

First, it gives us wisdom (Ps 119:98-100). Wisdom is not just knowing a lot of things in our head, but is knowing how to live according to God’s ways. With wisdom, we are able to “keep (our) steps from every evil path” (Ps 119:101a). With insight from God, we are led to recognize and to “hate all false ways” (Ps 119:104).

With wisdom, we recognize evil in the world. Then we hate what is wrong (Ps 119:128b), we hate hypocrisy (Ps 119:113a), we abhor falsehood (Ps 119:163a), we shun the path of the wicked (Ps 119:115a), we reject the ways of those who stray from God’s law and who are deceitful (Ps 119:118), we loath the way of the faithless (Ps 119:158a), we grieve at the disobedience of others (Ps 119:136).

As we live according to God’s ways, given a God who is just, as we look to God who is reliable in all His commands (Ps 119:151), then wisdom brings us life, and life in abundance. “Your decrees are forever just; give me discernment that I may live.” (Ps 119:144).
Second, it brings us to a proper posture before God the Almighty, which is awe or reverential fear. “My flesh shudders with dread of you; I hold your edicts in awe.” (Ps 119:120). Then we realize what is due to such a God, which is worship. “May my lips pour forth your praise, because you teach me your laws.” (Ps 119:171). “Seven times a day I praise you because your edicts are just.” (Ps 119:164). “Let me live to praise you” (Ps 119:175a).
Third, it helps us in our affliction. Trials, crosses and suffering will always be there in life. We cannot avoid them. So what needs to happen is for us to be able to face them and survive, even thrive. This can only happen as we know who God is (just and righteous), and as we look to His ways and promises.
  • God’s word is life. “I am very much afflicted, Lord; give me life in accord with your word.” (Ps 119:107).
  • God is our help and refuge. “Look at my affliction and rescue me, for I have not forgotten your teaching.” (Ps 119:153). We can hope in Him. “You are my refuge and shield; in your word I hope.” (Ps 119:114).
  • God gives us wisdom about suffering, which is discipline and purification for His beloved. “Had your teaching not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.” (Ps 119:92). “Though distress and anguish come upon me, your commands are my delight.” (Ps 119:143).
  • God comforts us whenever we are oppressed. When we are unjustly persecuted, we turn to the One who is just and righteous, and we know that God hears and answers the prayers of His faithful ones. “I have fulfilled your just edict; do not abandon me to my oppressors. Guarantee your servant’s welfare; do not let the arrogant oppress me.” (Ps 119:121-122).
 Fourth, it beings peace and joy to our lives. “Lovers of your teaching have much peace; for them there is no stumbling block.” (Ps 119:165). “I rejoice at your promise, as one who has found rich spoil.” (Ps 119:162). The bottom line for an abundant life in God is peace and joy. If we are peaceful and joyful, whatever our circumstances in life, then we have what God desires for us.
 Fifth, it assures us of our eternal reward, which we all long for. “My eyes long to see your salvation and the justice of your promise.” (Ps 119:123). 
 We are made in the image and likeness of God and we belong to Him. He is just and righteous and so too should we be. To live as a Christian is difficult and challenging, but God who called us guides us in the way we are to go. 

We look to Jesus, the Word who lives in us. We look to God’s word, the Bible, the enduring fount of wisdom and guidance. “Your word, Lord, stands forever” (Ps 119:89a).
*     *     *

(Part 23)
November 10, 2009
Today’s psalm reading (Ps 34:2-19) continues to teach us about looking to God who delivers the just. Our theme for 2010, taken from the book of Job, tells us about reverential fear (or awe) and the call to righteousness and justice. These are all interconnected.

The one who is holy is one who will fear the Lord. The one who fears the Lord is one who is on the way to holiness. “Fear the Lord, you holy ones” (v.10a).

Those who fear the Lord and who are growing in righteousness and justice are those who can call upon the Lord for help in times of distress. “Fear the Lord, you holy ones; nothing is lacking to those who fear him.” (v.10). “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. The Lord has eyes for the just and ears for their cry.” (v.15-16). “When the just cry out, the Lord hears and rescues them from all distress.” (v.18).
Life is full of struggles and pain and crosses. We will be afflicted, some way, somehow. Many times we will be tested and will be at the point of helplessness and hopelessness. These times are not necessarily bad for us. They are times that should lead us to God, and trust more in Him.

No matter what is happening to us and around us that weighs heavily on us, we have the assurance: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, saves those whose spirit is crushed.” (v.19). This is not just a pious statement, but it has been shown in the life of our Lord and Savior Jesus. He has gone through such anguish and torment. He was crushed in spirit. Still, he endured, and God came through for him.

So God will be there for those who fear Him and are growing to be just and righteous.
David in his psalm teaches us about the fear of God. “Come, children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” (v.12). In what ways do we show fear of the Lord.

First, we avoid sin and wrongdoing. “Turn from evil” (v.15a). But we do not only avoid sin, we also foster virtue. “Turn from evil and do good” (v.15a). In doing good, we are to work at justice, and “the Lord has eyes for the just” (v.16a). Justice is giving to each person what is their due as children of God. If we relate to others in this way, then the fruit is peace, that is, being in right relationship with everyone. There then need not be conflict in the world. Thus we “seek peace and pursue it” (v.15b).

Second, we guard our speech. “Keep your tongue from evil, your lips from speaking lies.” (v.14). James tells us about the power of the tongue (Jas 3:1-10), by which we can bless and curse. Satan is of course the father of lies (Jn 8:44). So we are not to speak evil of one another, and we are not to judge others (Jas 4:11-12). Such speech is what causes disunity in the body of Christ, which ultimately affects adversely its witness and its work.
When we do the above, then we will experience the fruit of God’s love and care. We will be saved from all distress (v.7), we will be delivered from our fears (v.5), we will not be shamed (v.6b), we will be radiant with joy (v.6a), we will have life and prosperity (v.13), we will lack no good thing (v.11b).

Wow! What a wonderful blessed life, even amidst adversity. We fear God, and we then need not fear anything else. We seek God and He answers us (v.5a). We are always secure, with the angel of the Lord encamping with us (v.8a). Nothing at all is lacking for us (v.10b).

What is unfortunate is that many do not know such a God. Many do not recognize His hand in the crosses that come our way. Many miss out on the bountiful blessings that come with clinging to Him and turning our lives over to Him. Many do not know how good God truly is. If we did, and we turned to Him, then we would be happy in life. “Learn to savor how good the Lord is; happy are those who take refuge in him.” (v.9).
What do we say and do in the face of such a great and wonderful God? The Almighty! Just and righteous is He!

With awe and great amazement, let us then bow down in worship. “I will bless the Lord at all times; praise shall be always in my mouth. My soul will glory in the Lord that the poor may hear and be glad. Magnify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.” (v.2-4).
*     *     *

(Part 22)
November 9, 2009
Today’s psalm (Ps 46:2-9) reading brings us back to the devastating flood wrought by typhoon Ondoy. The psalmist says “its waters rage and foam and mountains totter at its surging” (v.4a). We experienced severe flooding and landslides. A huge landslide happened just outside our compound in Antipolo, which blocked Sumulong Highway with big boulders, muddy earth and fallen trees.

In the midst of our affliction, when we laid helpless before the onslaught of nature, many rediscovered God. When there was no other place to turn, people turned to God. When the situation seemed hopeless, we found our hope in God. When the earth trembles, it is actually God’s voice that thunders (v.7b).

Indeed, who can figure out the Almighty? Who can fathom the inscrutable ways of God who allows misfortunes to happen, only to bring good out of them?
 Time and again, we suffer in the world. But such suffering purifies and is salvific. Such suffering brings us closer to God, makes us more dependent upon Him, leads us to trusting more in Him. If so, then such suffering, even as it causes great pain and affliction, is a blessing and is cause for joy.

What needs to happen is for us to accept that God is just and righteous. Whatever He allows to happen, it is intended to draw us closer to Himself, to set us back on the right track, to focus us on the things that really matter in life.

As such, even in the face of calamities and threats to our physical well-being, we trust and will not be afraid. Why? Because “the Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob.” (v.4b). “God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in distress. Thus we do not fear, though earth be shaken and mountains quake to the depths of the sea” (v.2-3), “though nations rage and kingdoms totter” (v.7a). If so, then nothing can ever again faze us. Not severe earthquakes or tsunamis, not world wars or global economic crises. Nothing at all.
Occasions such as Ondoy should spur us to evangelize. People need to understand what is truly happening. And people, as they are led to Christ, should find their comfort, consolation and joy in God. When people ask, Where is God in all this?, we must be ready and able to answer: “The Lord of hosts is with us” (v.8a).

Then, in the midst of grief and suffering, we must be able to issue the invitation. “Come and see the works of the Lord, who has done fearsome deeds on earth.” (v.9).
 The Almighty! Just and righteous is He.
*     *     *

(Part 21)

November 8, 2009
God is just and righteous, and so should we be. 

Today’s psalm tells us about the justice of God in caring for the poor. We learn a number of things.
First, it is amazing that God, who is “the maker of heaven and earth, the seas and all that is in them” (Ps 146:6), is mindful of the poor. No, not that it is not to be expected of God, who is pure love. But it is amazing that the Almighty, the Omnipotent One, the Creator of the whole universe, awesome as He is in His majesty, is concerned about the least among us, the nobodies of society. Those who are disdained by the world are cared for by God.

Second, poverty is the result of injustice. When people do not give to others what is their due or what is rightfully theirs, then they are impoverished. Then they do not receive what God intends for them, and they do not experience the abundance that God intends. There is more than enough resources in the world for everyone to live a life of dignity, but some take much more than their rightful share and deprive others of theirs.

Third, poverty comes in many forms. The poor are those who are hungry, those who are oppressed, those who are in prison, those who are blind, those who are bowed down, the stranger, the orphan and the widow (Ps 146:7-9).

Fourth, as the world fails in justice, it is God who stands in the gap. It is God who “secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free; the Lord gives sight to the blind. The Lord raises up those who are bowed down; ... The Lord protects the stranger, sustains the orphan and the widow” (Ps 146:7-8b,9).

Fifth, the Lord intervenes, but through other human beings, who become His instruments of love and caring. Such are those who are just and righteous, who act as God acts, who love as God loves. God secures justice for the poor by using the righteous. And here is the blessing if we are such: “the Lord loves the righteous” (Ps 146:8c).
Job was one such man.
  • He was just in his dealing with the poor. He did not deny “anything to the poor, or allowed the eyes of the widow to languish” (Job 31:16). “For I rescued the poor who cried out for help, the orphans, and the unassisted; the blessing of those in extremity came upon me, and the heart of the widow I made joyful.” (Job 29:12-13).
  • He was steadfast in his godly ways. He was clothed in righteousness and justice. “I wore my honesty like a garment; justice was my robe and my turban.” (Job 29:14). He lived righteousness and justice. “So long as I still have life in me and the breath of God is in my nostrils, my lips shall not speak falsehood, nor my tongue utter deceit! My justice I maintain and I will not relinquish it” (Job 27:3-4,6a).
  • He was the antithesis of unrighteousness and injustice. “Let my enemy be as the wicked and my adversary as the unjust!” (Job 27:7).
  • His confidence was such that he said, “Let God weigh me in the scales of justice; thus will he know my innocence!” (Job 31:6).
Thus did God recognize and proclaim the righteousness of Job. “Have you noticed my servant Job, and that there is no one on earth like him, blameless and upright, fearing God and avoiding evil?” (Job 1:8).
In Job we see reverential fear, righteousness and justice. Job is our model for right relationship with the Almighty.
*     *     *

(Part 20)

November 7, 2009
Today’s reading from Psalm 145:2-11 speaks about the greatness and goodness of God. Our theme for 2010 speaks about the awesome majesty of God. He is the Almighty! Today’s psalm reading teaches us about this awesome Godand what is our proper posture before Him.
First, “God’s grandeur is beyond understanding” (Ps 145:3b). And thus Elihu exclaimed: “The Almighty! we cannot discover him, pre-eminent in power and judgment” (Job 37:23a). Job himself, after God finally spoke to him, said: “I have dealt with great things that I do not understand; things too wonderful for me, which I cannot know.” (Job 42:3). Isaiah spoke for God in this way: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” (Is 55:8-9).

What does this tell us? We must let God be God. We do not conform Him to our  human image and likeness. We do not relate to Him according to our own human perceptions and priorities. As such, since we cannot fully understand Him and His ways, we must have faith.
Second, what we take in faith is that “the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love. The Lord is good to all, compassionate to every creature.” (Ps 145:8-9). What a wonderful God we have! Since we are such wretched sinners, since we are undeserving of God’s love, since we often fail Him and are unfaithful to His call, it is such comfort to know that He will not just condemn us or discard us, though He would be just to do so.

But what this also means is that we are to love others as God has loved us. God is compassionate to every creature, and so should we be. We are to love others as we love ourselves. We are to be merciful as God is merciful. For us to deserve the forgiveness and mercy of God, we too must be compassionate to others, including our enemies.
Third, before the awesome majesty of God, we simply humble ourselves in worship. This is to be our lifestyle, our daily preoccupation. “Every day I will bless you; I will praise your name forever. Great is the Lord and worthy of high praise” (Ps 145:2-3a). 

And in the light of His great mercy and grace, in the light of what God does for us as He pours out His blessings upon us, we must always be filled with gratitude. “All your works give you thanks, O Lord, and your faithful bless you.” (Ps 145:10). As Paul told the Thessalonians, “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thes 5:18).
Finally, we must not keep this wonderful God to ourselves. Rather, we are to proclaim Him to the whole world and to all the generations. We must speak about His “mighty works” (Ps 145:4); we must “speak of the splendor of (His) majestic glory, tell of (His) wonderful deeds” (Ps 145:5); we must “speak of (His) fearsome power and attest to (His) great deeds” (Ps 145:6); we “publish the renown of (His) abounding goodness and joyfully sing of (His) justice” (Ps 145:7).

In other words, we must evangelize and tell others about the good news of salvation in Jesus. We must witness to others about how God has powerfully changed us and continues to transform us. We are God’s work-in-progress, and we are His living examples of His greatness and goodness. By word and deed, we “speak of the glory of (His) reign and tell of (His) great works” (Ps 145:11).
We recognize God’s awesome majesty, and we should be filled with reverential fear. Then we humbly bow before Him in worship. Though we cannot fully understand God, we know in faith what a kind of God He is, and that is, He is just and righteous. He is merciful and compassionate.

We are fortunate and privileged to have such a God.
*     *     *


(Part 19)


Today’s reading from the book of Wisdom gives us an insight into the hidden counsel of God regarding suffering in the world. Why do people suffer in the world? Especially good people? Wisdom does not answer this directly, but gives us enough understanding by which we can move on in faith.

First we look at certain divine truths. One, that God’s “grace and mercy are with his holy ones, and his care is with his elect.” (Wis 3:9b). Two, that “the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them.” (Wis 3:1). Here we see the divine wisdom of God’s calling us to be righteous and just. This is the way by which we will experience His grace, mercy, care and protection.

But if that is so, if “no torment shall touch (us),” then why do we continue to experience affliction (v.2b), destruction (v.3), punishment (v.4a), chastisement (v.5a)?

The book of Wisdom gives us at least two reasons. 

One, God may be testing us, just like He allowed Job to be tested. Why? To see, just like in the case of Job, if indeed we will still be honoring and glorifying Him despite our trials and crosses in life. To see if we are worthy to be His children, disciples and instruments of His salvation, and will not turn away at the first affliction. If we pass the test, then we will be greatly blessed. “Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself.” (Wis 3:5).

Two, God is purifying us. We are purified by fire. This comes through affliction. There may be no better way to be purified than by the fire of affliction. “As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings, he took them to himself.” (Wis 3:6). When we are purified as such, we are formed in the way God desires us to become, and we become God’s sacrificial offering! We are worthy to be offered on the altar of God.

Such suffering is redemptive. It results in our salvation, and in the salvation of others whose lives God uses us to touch. “In the time of their visitation they shall shine” (Wis 3:7a).

Now such redemptive suffering results in some great fruit. These include hope (Wis 3:4), peace (Wis 3:3b), understanding of truth (Wis 3:9a), blessings (Wis 3:5a), and care from God (Wis 3:9b). While we may experience such fruit in the ordinary day-to-day circumstances of our lives, it is affliction and suffering that bring out the fullness of such fruit.

We truly hope when we trust in God despite our situation seeming hopeless. We truly are peaceful when we rest in God despite the intense turmoil in the world around us. We develop a deeper understanding of truth--about God, ourselves and the world--as we struggle, just like Job, with the trials and crosses that we encounter. We realize what blessings are, and we recognize the many blessings we receive, when we encounter deprivation and affliction. We surrender ourselves totally in God’s care, when we have reached the end of our human resources.

And so such should form our personal attitudes. Today’s reading from the book of Psalms gives us some direction.

First, be not afraid. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom do I fear? The Lord is my life’s refuge; of whom am I afraid?” (Ps 27:1). If the Lord is with us, who can be against us?!

Second, we are not afraid because we trust in Jesus. The opposite of fear, in a way, is not courage but rather trust. When we are afraid, then we lack trust in the God whose child we are and who is committed to care for us. “Though an army encamp against me, my heart does not fear; though war be waged against me, even then do I trust.” (Ps 27:3).

Third, focus on God the Almighty. Desire the only good, and that is God. Fix our eyes on Jesus, who leads us all theway to heaven. “One thing I ask of the Lord; this I seek: to dwell in the Lord’s house all the days of my life, to gaze on the Lord’s beauty, to visit his temple.” (Ps 27:4).

Fourth, as we focus on God, we give Him the worship that is His due. And because God gives us the privilege to enter into His holy presence, then this gives us great joy. “I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and chant praise to the Lord.” (Ps 27:6b).

Finally, given the many afflictions in life, given the temptation to give up or feel sorry for ourselves, we need to simply endure. “Wait for the Lord, take courage; be stouthearted, wait for the Lord.” (Ps 27:14).

When we fully trust in Jesus in this way, then we have the key to a blessed life, free of anxieties, faced confidently despite affliction, and rejoicing in suffering for the sake of Christ.

God bless you all.


(November 02, 2009)

"For to me life is Christ, and death is gain." (Phil 1:21) 


(Part 18)


Today's reading from Paul's letter to the Ephesians points us to a basic and profound meaning of righteousness. Simply put, to be righteous is to be holy. "So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacredin the Lord; in him you also are being build together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit." (Eph 2:19-22). Here is an amazing passage about who we have become in Christ.

We relate to the Triune God--Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are members of the household of God (we are His children), we are founded on Jesus who is the cornerstone, and we are a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. As God is holy, we too need to be holy.

We used to be strangers (not knowing God and not relating to each other as brethren) and sojourners (wandering in the world lost or with no definite direction or purpose). Now we are citizens of the kingdom. We are brethren to one another. We have made quite a transition. "No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant" (Heb 12:22-24a). Such is the reality of our new life in Christ.

Our heritage is the holy legacy of the apostles and prophets. Jesus himself is the one at the center of our lives, and holding it together. God dwells in us and in our homes. Do we realize how amazing this truly is? "Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (1 Cor 3:16). We not only dwell with God as His children in His kingdom, but God dwells in us! The holy God has decided to make our bodies the temple of His Holy Spirit! Jesus lives in us and through us. How can we be anything else but holy!

Peter puts it this way: "like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offerspiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1 Pet 2:5). This is our call. This is our destiny. This is what God intends for us, from all eternity.

God bless you all.


(October 28, 2009)

"For to me life is Christ, and death is gain." (Phil 1:21)

(Part 17)
Today's psalm reading again teaches us aspects of our theme for 2010.
God is just and righteous. Elihu understood this, as he told Job, "Surely, God cannot act wickedly, the Almighty cannot violate justice." (Job 34:12). Now we, as creatures of the Creator, belong to God. "The earth is the Lord's and all it holds, the world and those who live there." (Ps 24:1). In fact, we are created in God's image and likeness. As such, we too should be just and righteous.
How are we to be righteous and just? Righteousness is living according to God's holy ways. Justice is giving to the other person what is his due. How do we do that? To be righteous is to be "clean of hand and pure of heart" (Ps 24:4a). It is to be right with God by not being "devoted to idols" (Ps 24:4b), that is, anyone or anything that stands in the place of God as far as being the center of our life, our priority or our focus. It is to have integrity of speech, not swearing falsely (Ps 24:4c), not taking the name of the Lord in vain, and always speaking the truth.
On the other hand, to be just is to give to the other person what is his due. In relation to God, we are to "love the Lord" (Ps 24:6a). In fact, as Jesus teaches, we are to love God with our whole mind, heart, soul and strength. This what is due to God from His creatures. Further, we are to "seek the face of the God of Jacob" (Ps 24:6b). As we are made in the image and likeness of God, we need to strive to know what God looks like, that is, who He is and what His ways are. Then we are to seek to imitate Him. We are to be holy as He is holy. In that way can others see Christ in us. Thus can we act justly in accordance with God's purposes in using us as His instruments for the life of the world.
If we are righteous and just, then we are pleasing to God. Then He will bless us. Then He will give us our just reward. "They will receive blessings from the Lord, and justice from their saving God." (Ps 24:5). Because God is just, He will give us what we deserve. "He withholds not the just man's rights" (Job 36:6a). God will thus allow us to "go up the mountain of the Lord" and to "stand in his holy place" (Ps 24:3). This is the justice of a righteous God. This is the salvation of our "saving God."
The Almighty! Just and righteous is He.
God bless you.

(October 24, 2009)

"For to me life is Christ, and death is gain." (Phil 1:21)


(Part 16)


We continue with lessons of Job with today's readings. 

Given the havoc wreaked by typhoon Ondoy, our weather forecasters are more keen on being able to give accurate forecasts, so as to prepare people especially with potential heavy rains and flooding. In a similar setting in today's gospel reading, Jesus asks a question: "You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky; why do you not know how to interpret the present time?" (Lk 12:56). The world seems to be highly advanced as to science and weather forecasting, but is unable to read the signs of the times. The world is veering into destruction, has entered into the end times, but people go on their merry ways, unmindful of the disaster that can befall them.

This situation connects to Jesus' second question: "Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?" (Lk 12:57). Jesus calls people to live lives of righteousness, but they seem either unable to comprehend or unwilling to obey. Even for those who are already renewed, they still struggle with becoming righteous in conduct. One major reason is the effect of original sin, which is the flesh, a tendency in us to sin. "For I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh. The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want." (Rom 7:18-19). Even for those who want to do good or be righteous, they "discover the principle that when (they) want to do right, evil is at hand." (Rom 7:21). They know what is right, but they still sin. There is an intense inner struggle. "For I take delight in the law of God, in my inner self, but I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind, taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members." (Rom 7:22-23).

Are we then in a hopeless situation? By ourselves the  answer would be yes. We are slaves to sin. "Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body? (Rom 7:24). But there is hope, because there is a savior. The answer is Jesus. We have already been delivered by Jesus on the cross. He has won for us our salvation. We are now his slaves and no longer under bondage to sin. "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Rom 7:25a).

But the struggle continues. Having been redeemed by Jesus, we can live righteous lives. But being still influenced by the flesh, we can still sin. We know that Jesus has saved us, but our body is at times weak. There is a conflict between the mind and the flesh. How can our unruly flesh be tamed? One major way is through affliction. "It is good for me to be afflicted, in order to learn your laws." (Ps 119:71). Affliction brings discipline. Affliction purifies. Affliction makes us turn to God in our pain. Affliction moves us to cling to God who remains as the only one able to bring relief and consolation and restoration. Affliction convicts us of what is important in life and what our true priorities ought to be. "Before I was afflicted I went astray" (Ps 119:67a). Suffering caused by affliction is thus redemptive.

We have already been redeemed by Jesus. He calls us to live lives of righteousness. He is committed to teach us his ways through his laws. We must simply desire to obey. In God's commands we trust (Ps 119:66b). In God's word  we hope (Ps 119:74b). In God's teaching is our delight (Ps 119:70b). And it is God's word that helps us endure. "Had your teaching not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction." (Ps 119:92).

The Lord has much to teach us, as He leads us on the path of righteousness. Along that path will be affliction and suffering, as that path is the way of the cross. But along that path as well is our redemption. Let us then joyfully continue to learn the lessons of Job.

God bless you all.


(October 23, 2009)

"For to me life is Christ, and death is gain." (Phil 1:21) 

(Part 15)


Today's readings again point us to our theme for 2010. "The Almighty! Just and righteous is He." As we are children of God who are made in His image and likeness, so too should we be just and righteous. Yesterday (Lessons of Job Part 14) we looked at the righteousness of Job. Today we look at the aspect of justice as practiced by Job.

Our theme verse says, "The Almighty! we cannot discover him, pre-eminent in power and judgment; his great justice owes no one an accounting." (Job 37:23). Today's psalm verse says, "Therefore the wicked will not survive judgment, nor will sinners in the assembly of the just." (Ps 1:5). God judges us and metes justice according to our conduct. All are judged, and the goats are separated from the sheep. If we are to survive judgment, we must be just.

How are we just? Let us again look at Job, at the very same verses we examined yesterday in looking at his righteousness (from Job 31). But first, know that there is an interplay between being righteous and being just. If one is righteous, then one must be just. If one is to be just, then one must be righteous. What is the difference? Righteousness is being in right relationship with God and living a life according to His ways. It is being holy. Justice is giving to the other person whatever is his due. Righteousness is a state of being personally right with God. Justice is the state of doing right to others.

Job was a just man, and he knew it. "Let God weigh me in the scales of justice; thus will he know my innocence!" (Job 31:6). In what ways was Job just? Job acted in practical day-to-day ways that gave those he interacted with what was their due. One, he paid his tenants for the produce of the land (Job 31:39), thus giving just compensation. Two, he did not lust against a maiden or woman (Job 31:1), thus not violating their dignity. Three, he did not covet what belonged to his neighbor (Job 31:9), thus giving due recognition to what was his or not his. Four, he treated his servants well (Job 31:13), thus giving them due respect and proper compensation. Five, he cared for and provided for the poor (Job 31:16,19), thus giving them an equitable share of the world's goods. Six, he did not raise his hand against the innocent (Job 31:21), thus not oppressing the powerless. Seven, he did not trust in mammon (Job 31:24-25), thus not failing to be grateful to God for his abundance. Eight, he did not lapse into idolatry (Job 31:26-27), thus not depriving God of the worship that was due to Him alone. Nine, he did not wish or exult in evil for his foes (Job 31:29), thus not failing to love even his enemies. Ten, he offered hospitality to strangers (Job 31:31-32), thus giving them due consideration as children of God. Eleven, he did not abuse the land (Job 31:38), thus exercising proper dominion over nature and the environment.

Because God is just and righteous, He desires that we be just and righteous as well. But it is our choice. Unfortunately we are hampered by our human flesh and the lure of the world. But God's grace is sufficient, if we but take hold of it. So as today's reading in Romans says, "For just as you presented the parts of your bodies as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness for lawlessness, so now present them as slaves to righteousness for sanctification." (Rom 6:19b). So we choose. Now because God is just and righteous, our choice is ultimately a choice to be for or against God. There will be those who will choose one or the other. And so there will be division, as today's gospel reading shows. Jesus himself says he came to establish division, where "a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three" (Lk 12:52). Even the closest of relatives or brethren will be divided (Lk 12:53).

Such division happens even in Christian community, even among the closest of brethren and even among the highest of elders. Unrighteousness and injustice lead to division. If people choose to lie, to malign, to attack, to withhold just compensation, to refuse to pay just debts, to distort truth, to afflict the innocent, then there will be strife and division. For the unrighteous and unjust, there will be punishment, for "the wicked will not survive judgment" and "the way of the wicked leads to ruin." (Ps 1:5a,6b). They are the enemies of God.

But why is it that in the world the good suffer and the bad seem to prosper? That is something that we will continue to consider as we learn the lessons of Job. But suffice for now to know: "The Lord watches over the way of the just" and "Happy those who do not follow the counsel of the wicked" (Ps 1:6a,1a). Our call is clear: just and righteous should we be.

God bless you.


(October 22, 2009)

"For to me life is Christ, and death is gain." (Phil 1:21)  

(Part 14)


A verse from today's reading from the letter to the Romans tells us, "Freed from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness." (Rom 6:18). Today we look at the righteousness of Job.

Our theme for 2010 tells us that God is just and righteous. As children of God, we too must be just and righteous. In this we can look to Job who is a model of righteousness. "In the land of Ur there was a blameless and upright man named Job, who feared God and avoided evil." (Job 1:1). When he experienced terrible affliction and suffering, Job could not understand why. He had difficulty accepting what happened to him because "he was righteous in his own eyes." (Job 32:1). Elihu quoted him as saying: "I am clean and without transgression; I am innocent; there is no guilt in me." (Job 33:9).

Job looked over his life, examined his conscience, and found no unrighteousness. He confidently "challenged" God to judge him. "Let God weigh me in the scales of justice; thus will he know my innocence!" (Job 31:6). What was the righteousness of Job? How are we ourselves deemed to be righteous? Let us look at the varied and practical ways by which we, like Job, will be judged to be righteous (as expounded on by Job in chapter 31).

One, there should be no falsehood or deceit (Job 31:5). Two, we must not abuse the land or the environment (Job 31:38). Three, there must be just compensation for the work of tenant-farmers (Job 31:39). Four, we must not lust against a woman (or a man), whether in deed or in thought (Job 31:1,9). Five, there must be just treatment for servants or employees (Job 31:13). Six, we must love, care for, and share our resources with the poor (Job 31:16-17,19). Seven, we must not afflict the innocent or the poor (Job 31:21). Eight, we must not trust or find our security in wealth, or find our joy in material possessions (Job 31:24-25). Nine, we must not engage in idolatrous worship (Job 31:26-28). Ten, we must not find joy in the misfortunes of our enemies (Job 31:29). Eleven, we must be hospitable (Job 31:31-32). Twelve, we must not live hypocritical lives, as we hide our sins and guilt in order to gain the approval of others (Job 31:33-34). Such as these, very varied attitudes and actions, are what make for righteousness and holiness.

Job indeed was righteous. Why then was he afflicted? Why did God allow him to suffer terribly? Was God just in His ways? This was what precisely bothered Job. And so at the end of his discussion with his three friends, with all his protestations of innocence, Job exclaimed, "This is my final plea; let the Almighty answer me!" (Job 31:37c).

God does answer later, after Elihu's speeches. But God does not directly answer Job's concerns. Rather, God simply points to His great power and majesty. In all this, there is much for us to ponder. How inscrutable and mysterious are God's ways!

Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? There are many ways to answer this, which we leave for another time. But what is important, what will help us humbly accept and endure, is simply the truth that God is just and righteous. Elihu had it right, when he said, "Surely, God cannot act wickedly, the Almighty cannot violate justice." (Job 34:12). The Almighty! Just and righteous is He!

God bless you all.


(October 21, 2009)

"For to me life is Christ, and death is gain." (Phil 1:21)

(Part 13)


Another psalm that relates to our theme for 2010 is Psalm 99. "O mighty king, lover of justice, you alone have established fairness; you have created just rule in Jacob. Exalt the Lord, our God; bow down before his footstool; holyis God!" (Ps 99:4-5). The Almighty! Just and righteous is He.

Once again, and over and over in the psalms, we are confronted with the awesome majesty of God. Becoming aware of such majesty should result in reverential fear, in awe. "The Lord is king, the peoples tremble; God is enthroned on the cherubim, the earth quakes." (Ps 99:1). For many in the world today, including Christians, God is, well, just there. Yes He is God, but, people are no longer wide-eyed with awe. Many attributes of God are talked about, like love, mercy and the like, but not His majesty. People just go about their daily lives, with God in the background, called upon mainly in times of trouble.

But our right appreciation of who God is is the foundation for everything else. And before anything else, God is the great, awesome and holy God (Ps 99:3).

Do we wonder then that God, in His great love for us, desires to catch our attention? To bring us back to the right path? To lay us low so that He can lift us high? At times then, God uses the awesome forces of nature. These might be floods, earthquakes or the like. These do not discriminate between rich and poor, powerful or powerless. Then we realize our nothingness, our helplessness in the face of nature's onslaught. Then we realize our sin, whether in being party to the degradation of the environment (when we degrade God's creation, we degrade God and His wonderful plan for us), or whether just losing our focus, from God to ourselves. Then, hopefully, we realize that only God, who controls nature, holds our well-being in His hands. In our helplessness we discover the God of hope.

Our appropriate response to God's majesty is worship. "Exalt the Lord, our God; bow down before his holy mountain;holy is the Lord, our God." (Ps 99:9). When we worship, we acknowledge God for who He truly is. We place ourselves under His care and protection. We pledge to obey Him and live our lives for Him. We commit to proclaim Him to all the nations.

When we worship, we encounter the merciful, just and holy God. Because He is holy, God wants us His creatures to be holy as well. Because He loves us, He is merciful, including punishing us for our offenses and allowing afflictions to purify us. "O Lord, our God, .... you were a forgiving God, though you punished their offenses." (Ps 99:8). Because He is just, He will carry out His wonderful plan for us, established through all eternity. 

In the face of such an awesome God, in the face of the awesome forces of nature over which we have no control, we must simply bow down in humility, reverential fear and heartfelt worship of God. "Exalt the Lord, our God; bow down before his footstool; holy is God."  (Ps 99:5).

God bless you all.


(October 19, 2009)

"For to me life is Christ, and death is gain." (Phil 1:21) 

(Part 12)


Today's psalm is interesting, as it summarizes our three restoration themes, and introduces us to our theme for next year 2010.

In 2007 our theme was hope in the Lord. In 2008 it was joy in Christ. In 2009 it is trust in Jesus. All three are crucial for restoration, and all three help prepare us in facing the challenges of the greater work that is to come, accompanied by the afflictions that purify us. "For in God our hearts rejoice; in your holy name we trust. May your kindness, Lord, be upon us; we have put our hope in you." (Ps 33:21-22). In the midst of lamentations, our hope is in the Lord. Because of our restoration and God's raising a holy remnant, we rejoice in Christ. And because Jesus is our savior, we are confident and not afraid, as we trust in him.

For 2010 our theme is "The Almighty! Just and righteous is he." Justice and righteousness are crucial attributes that we need to hold on to, as we face the challenges of the massive work ahead. Whatever happens, we trust in the God who is just and righteous. "The Lord loves justice and right and fills the earth with goodness." (Ps 33:5) . How does God fill the earth with goodness, when the earth is full of darkness and evil? God does this through His human instruments. God does this through us as we proclaim the good news of salvation in Jesus. "Good news" results in "goodness" in the life of people and in the life of the world. This happens as we replace the "w" in good news to the "s" in goodness. The "w" is we, the "s" is the Son. We focus less and less on ourselves, and more and more on Jesus, who is the good news. We decrease, Christ increases. We humble ourselves, so that Christ may be exalted.

The reality is that we (all Christians) are crucial to the work of God in the world. We are His instruments. Thus we have to be formed in the mind and heart of God. We have to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and imitate him. As Jesus loves, we love. As the Father is merciful, so too should we be merciful. As God is holy, we strive to be holy. Now as the Almighty is just and righteous, then so too should we be. "Rejoice, you just, in the Lord; praise from the upright is fitting." (Ps 33:1).

Our formation begins with acknowledging God as the Almighty. "By the Lord's word the heavens were made; by the breath of his mouth all their host." (Ps 33:6). What God told Job awed him. "Where were you when I founded the earth?" (Job 38:4a). "And who shut within doors the sea" (Job 38:8a)? The psalmist acknowledges this. "The waters of the sea were gathered as in a bowl; in cellars the deep was confined." (Ps 33:7). Such acknowledgment, just as with Job, results in awe or reverential fear. "Let all the earth fear the Lord, let all who dwell in the world show reverence." (Ps 33:8).

As we are awed by God's majesty, acknowledging Him as the Creator who rules over the whole universe, then we acknowledge His power. "For he spoke, and it came to be, commanded, and it stood in place." (Ps 33:9). We rest assured that He has a great and wonderful plan for us, and He will carry it through. "But the plan of the Lord stands forever, wise designs through all generations." (Ps 33:11). God will accomplish His plan despite the opposition of the world and bad people under the power of the enemy. "The Lord foils the plan of nations, frustrates the designs of peoples." (Ps 33:10). As we grow to be His holy people, living in hope, trusting in His help especially in the most severe afflictions, then God delivers us--from sin, from afflictions, from bad people, from fear and anxiety, from hopelessness, from the darkness of the world. "But the Lord's eyes are upon the reverent, upon those who hope for his gracious help, delivering them from death, keeping them alive in times of famine." (Ps 33:18-19).

God has called us, chosen us, and entered into covenant with us. We are His people. We are His instruments. As we look to Him with reverence and awe, as we place ourselves totally in His care, as we carry out the mission He has given us, as we endure through trials and tribulations, then we will be fulfilled and happy. "Happy the nation whose God is the Lord, the people chosen as his very own." (Ps 33:12).

Because of who God is and because of what He has done for us and will continue to do for us, we rejoice and praise Him (Ps 33:1). We thank and praise Him (Ps 33:2). We worship with songs, instruments and joyful chants (Ps 33:3). We trust in His words and His works (Ps 33:4). We wait for Him, confident that He is our help and our shield (Ps 33:20).

God bless you.


(October 18, 2009)

"For to me life is Christ, and death is gain." (Phil 1:21)

(Part 11)


Today's psalm reading again speaks about the importance of two attributes -- justice and righteousness. We are thechildren of God. We are to imitate our Lord Jesus Christ and walk in his ways. God is just and righteous. So too must we be. "Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you just; exult, all you upright of heart." (Ps 32:11).

How do we become just and righteous? We must strive to be people "to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, in whose spirit is no deceit." (Ps 32:2). But we do sin. So what we need to do is to repent and confess our sin. "Then I declared my sin to you; my guilt I did not hide." (Ps 32:5a). When we do so, God forgives and restores. "I said, 'I confess my faults to the Lord,' and you took away the guilt of my sin." (Ps 32:5b).

There are those Christians who, just like the Pharisees, look good on the outside but are rotten on the inside. They might be serving in the Church or the poor, but they harbor unrighteousness deep within. They do not confess their sin, they persist in their wrongdoing, and so they remain in their sin. And since their sin usually would be not just against God but also against a person, then they persist in injustice. Then the burden of sin weighs down on them. "As long as I kept silent, my bones wasted away; I groaned all the day." (Ps 32:3). This is as God intends, so that they might find their way to repentance. "For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength withered as in dry summer heat." (Ps 32:4). God who is just and righteous wants to bring His people to repentance so that they too may become just and righteous.

Having gone back to God, we then live our lives by trusting in Him. God is committed to show us the way. "I will instruct you and show you the way you should walk, give you counsel and watch over you." (Ps 32:8). If we place our lives in His hands, God will protect us, instruct us, guide us, pour out His grace upon us, and preserve us from the enemy. "You are my shelter; from distress you keep me; with safety you ring me round." (Ps 32:7). What a wonderful situation that is! In the midst of the troubles in the world and storms in life that we inevitably face, God is there for us! Job was severely afflicted, but God was always there for him. As long as we remain in Christ, then we need never fear. Whatever happens, even as we are afflicted, as long as we are in a personal relationship with God, then we know that He is there to help and preserve us. "Thus should all your faithful pray in time of distress. Though flood waters threaten, they will never reach them." (Ps 32:6).

The choice has always been clear: life or death, joy or sorrow, trust or fear. People continue to make wrong choices. But only in God can we be secure and safe. Only as we live lives of righteousness and justice will we experience the full extent of God's love for us. "Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but love surrounds those who trust in the Lord." (Ps 32:10).

In the midst of a world of pain and suffering, how can you be happy? God has already shown us the way: repentance, forgiveness, restoration, justice, righteousness, trust in Jesus. "Happy the sinner whose fault is removed, whose sin is forgiven." (Ps 32:1). "Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you just; exult, all you upright of heart." (Ps 32:11).

God bless you all.


(October 16, 2009)

"For to me life is Christ, and death is gain." (Phil 1:21)

Part 10


Today's reading brings us to Psalm 19. It is all about God's glory. God told Job about His glory, and challenged Job regarding his knowledge (or ignorance) about His creative work, in and beyond the world (Job 38:1-38). In Psalm 19, David looks to the heavens and is awed, as the heavens point to their Creator. "The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky proclaims its builder's craft." (Ps 19:2). The heavens, in all their beauty and grandeur, speak of the power and wisdom of God.

But God is not just in the heavens. God is also actively present in the lives of people on earth. God is concerned about His people, His creatures. God wants them to experience His awesome majesty, but also to be able to live in abundance according to His plan. So God gives us His law, His commandments, His way of living. His law is perfect and trustworthy, and gives wisdom while refreshing the soul (Ps 19:8). God's awesome majesty results in reverential fear on our part, humbles us, and prepares us to receive and live out His word.

And His awesome majesty and His law point us to some of His essential characteristics, that He is righteous and just. "The fear of the Lord is 
pure, enduring forever. The statutes of the Lord are true, all of them just" (Ps 19:10). If the God who created the awesome universe is just and righteous, then, if we only follow Him and obey His law, we will never go astray. If the One who created the vast and limitless universe is concerned about us, then we know we are in the best of hands. If we are in the best of hands, then no adversity or suffering can ever faze us again. 

God bless you all.


(October 13, 2009)

"For to me life is Christ, and death is gain." (Phil 1:21)

(Part 9)


Today's psalm once again emphasizes our 2010 theme for us. "You, Lord, are the Most High over all the earth," (Ps 97:9a), and "justice and right are the foundation of his throne." (Ps 97:2b). The Almighty! Just and righteous is He.

Once again we confront the reality of our Almighty God. He is awesome. "Fire goes before him; lightning illumines the world; the mountains melt like wax before the Lord, the earth sees and trembles." (Ps 97:3a,5a,4). He is "Lord of all the earth" (Ps 97:5b). God is "exalted far above all gods" (Ps 97:9b), and "all gods bow down before (Him)" (Ps 97:7c). There is none like Him. Awesome is He in His majesty. The Almighty!

But our awesome and Almighty God is not above getting involved in our lives. He is not unmindful of our struggles and afflictions. He is not unconcerned about our well-being, especially given the darkness and evil in the world. "The Lord loves those who hate evil, protects the lives of the faithful, rescues them from the hand of the wicked." (Ps 97:10). These actions are about His justice and righteousness. God opposes the unrighteous, and God acts justly toward the faithful, giving them the love, protection and salvation that they deserve.

And if we are to be truly God's children, if we are to manifest the image and likeness of God by which we were created, if we are to follow in the very footsteps of Jesus, then we need to grow in becoming more like our God. We are to be holy as God is holy, we are to be merciful as the Father is merciful, we are to be obedient to God as Jesus was to the Father, we are to carry our cross as Jesus carried his cross, we are to love others as God has loved us. God is just and righteous, and so should we be. "Light dawns for the 
just; gladness, for the honest of heart." (Ps 97:11).

With such an awesome God who is just and righteous, all can truly rejoice. "The Lord is king; let the earth rejoice; let the many islands be glad." (Ps 97:1). In our reverential fear, humbled in His presence, purified by suffering, growing in justice and righteousness, we can only be filled with joy, as we bow down in worship before our Almighty God. "Rejoice in the Lord, you just, and praise his holy name." (Ps 97:12). 

God bless you all.


(October 10, 2009)

"For to me life is Christ, and death is gain." (Phil 1:21)

(Part 8)


Today's psalm provides a bridge between our themes for this year and next. It connects "Trust in Jesus" with "The Almighty! Just and Righteous is He." "Those who honor your name trust in you" (Ps 9:11a). And what is the characteristic of this God whom we trust? "It is God who governs the world with justice" (Ps 9:9a).

But where is the justice in a world where the good are afflicted and the bad prosper? Well, that is only according to our human minds and eyes, and not according to God's mind. "Now the natural person does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God, for to him it is foolishness, and he cannot understand it, because it is judged spiritually." (1 Cor 2:14). God is The Almighty! How then can such a wide gap be bridged? This can happen with our life in Christ. "For 'who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to counsel him?' But we have the mind of Christ." (1 Cor 2:16). We must put on Christ and no longer think as the pagans do. "Do not conform yourself to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect." (Rom 12:2).

How then can our minds be renewed? We keep going back to a foundational principle. "The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord" (Sir 1:12a). Thus we accept in faith who God is. "The Lord rules forever" (Ps 9:8a). He is the eternal God. He is Creator and King of the universe. He exists beyond time and space. He is omnipotent and omniscient. He is the Almighty! Our proper posture is awe and reverential fear.

Then we accept in faith that the Almighty God is just and righteous. For God, right is right and wrong is wrong, no matter how it seems in the world for the moment. "You upheld my right and my cause; seated on your throne, judging justly." Ps 9:5). Evil will be punished. "You rebuked the nations, you destroyed the wicked" (Ps 9:6). But this will happen in His own time and in His own way. For our part, and all those who try to do good and be good, we are assured that God "judges the peoples with fairness" (Ps 9:9b).

But we know that the good will be afflicted, oppressed and will suffer. What about that? We have already seen the many benefits of suffering, which is purifying and redemptive. But whatever it is, we simply rest on the reality that "the Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble." (Ps 9:10). And here is our assurance as we humbly trust in Jesus: "you never forsake those who seek you, Lord." (Ps 9:11b).

What is left to say and do? As we stand in awe and humility before the Almighty God who is just and righteous, we simply declare: "I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart; I will declare all your wondrous deeds. I will delight and rejoice in you; I will sing hymns to your name, Most High." (Ps 9:2-3).

God bless you.


(October 9, 2009)

"For to me life is Christ, and death is gain." (Phil 1:21)  

(Part 7)


In our past lessons, we have confronted the question, why do the good suffer? Why do bad things happen to good people? Today we add another question: why do evildoers prosper, while the just seemingly do not? Today's reading in Malachi gives us a lot for reflection.

When people see evildoers prosper while they in doing good struggle on and are even afflicted, they are tempted to reverse course. "Rather must we call the proud blessed; for indeed evildoers prosper, and even tempt God with impunity." (Mal 3:15). They begin to question their own chosen path of righteousness and obedience and service to God. "It is vain to serve God, and what do we profit by keeping his command, and going about in penitential dress in awe of the Lord of hosts?" (Mal 3:14). They begin to think their suffering and reverential fear of God are for naught. Why are the bad fulfilled while the good are afflicted?

When we begin to accept that, even when we do not say it, we are already defying God. "You have defied me in word, says the Lord, yet you ask, 'What have we spoken against you?'" (Mal 3:13). When we think and accept that, we are failing in humbly showing God reverential fear.

We cannot fully understand why the bad prosper while the good suffer, why those who tempt God with impunity are fulfilled while those who fear the Lord are afflicted. But here are the realities: (1) God certainly knows what is going on. "And a record book was written before him of those who fear the Lord and trust in his name." (Mal 3:16b). (2) Those who fear the Lord and trust in Him are favored by Him as His "own special possession" (Mal 3:17a). (3) God will act, and treat the good with compassion. "And they shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, my own special possession, on the day I take action. And I will have compassion on them, as a man has compassion on his son who serves him." (Mal 3:17).

God is just and righteous. He will not be mocked by evildoers. He will not forsake those who are faithful to Him. The day will come when the proud and all evildoers will burn in fire, while those who fear God will experience the sun of justice with its healing rays (Mal 3:19-20). "Then you will again see the distinction between the just and the wicked; between him who serves God, and him who does not serve him." (Mal 3:18). When will that happen? When will we see the bad punished and the good vindicated? "On the day I take action" (Mal 3:17). That time is entirely up to God. He is the Almighty. In the meantime, we persevere through affliction and suffering, and we trust in the God who is just and righteous. "The Lord watches over the way of the just, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin." (Ps 1:6).

God humbles our hearts through hardship (Ps 107:12a), and keeps us from becoming proud. When we realize what God is about, when we see how the end will be, then we must rejoice in God's discipline and divine wisdom. "Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you just; exult, all you upright of heart." (Ps 32:11). For us, we simply maintain our reverential fear of God, our awe of His divine majesty, our humility, our trust in Jesus, and keep on doing good, while rejoicing in redemptive suffering.

God bless you all.


(October 8, 2009)

"For to me life is Christ, and death is gain." (Phil 1:21)  

(Part 6)


In today's reading, Jonah gets angry with God, because the conversion of Nineveh was greatly displeasing to him (Jonah 4:1). Because of his anger, he wanted to die (Jon 4:3). Later Jonah again was angry with God, when the gourd plant giving him shade withered. Again he wanted to die.

Many afflictions happen to us that cause us to react in negative ways, at times even against God. We fail to see God's purposes. We disagree with what has happened, and consider things only according to our own perspective. We have set ways of accepting how God should act in the world, and if things do not happen our way, we react negatively. We become sorry for ourselves. Wittingly or unwittingly, we reject the very plan of God.

Typhoon Ondoy caused great damage. Among our brethren, one lost his father in the flood, a couple lost their house and all possessions, necessitating their entrusting their 5 children to other persons temporarily, still another had to wade through waist deep water (in other parts even deeper) for two days to reach his home and loved ones. There were of course over 300 deaths, and countless homes and personal possessions destroyed. Around the same time, in other parts of the world, there was the earthquake in Indonesia and the tsunami in Samoa that caused great damage and loss of lives.

How does one afflicted by such calamities react? It is proper to grieve and shed tears. But one must also learn the lessons that God is trying to teach. Detachment from possessions? Concern for our fellow men? Care for nature? Redemptive suffering? Reverential fear? Trust in Jesus?

One who has suffered must first of all place his suffering in perspective. Is he still alive? Others lost their lives. Is he still healthy? Others have been injured. Does he still have his home? Others have lost everything. Is he still living in the same place? Others have to relocate and enter into an uncertain future. Despite suffering, God is still there for us!

Further, one must never take it out on God. There can be a great temptation to do so. After all, does not God control nature? Why does God allow the innocent to suffer? But God's question to Jonah is His same question to us: "Have you reason to be angry?" (Jon 4:4). "Have you reason to be angry over the plant?" (Jon 4:9). Jonah said yes he has reason to be angry. This is in contrast to Job, who did not complain against God. And Job, in humility, finally accepted that he would not be able to fully understand God's ways, and simply accepted God's majesty and sovereignty. God then restored and blessed him twofold. On the other hand, we do not know how Jonah's story ends.

We need to trust in God's justice and righteousness, especially in the midst of affliction. His ways are not our ways. He is the Almighty! His plans are always for our good. God can comfort us, as He would want to, just as He provided Jonah a gourd plant for shade from the heat, which made him very happy. But God also sent a worm to attack the plant the next morning so that it withered, and without the shade Jonah became faint due to the heat. If this happened to us, our response should not be that of Jonah, who got angry and wanted to die, but that of Job, who said: "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!" (Job 1:21b). Job did not sin, nor say anything disrespectful of God (Job 1:22).

Jonah knew about God. "I knew that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, rich in clemency, loathe to punish." (Jon 4:2b). But he did not act in accordance with his faith. When the chips were down, so was his faith. God told Jonah: "You are concerned over the plant which cost you no labor and which you did not raise; it came up in one night and in one night it perished." (Jon 4:10). All good things come from God. At times, God allows the bad things to happen. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. "We accept good things from God; and should we not accept evil?" (Job 2:10b).

Whatever happens to us in life, whether good or seemingly bad, God is there for us. He is our comfort and He is our salvation. Let us simply trust in Him, knowing that He is just and righteous.

God bless you all.


(October 7, 2009)

"For to me life is Christ, and death is gain." (Phil 1:21)  

(Part 5)


Today's reading once again brings us to an encounter with destructive waters, as Jonah and the ship he is on were caught up in a furious tempest at sea. God "hurled a violent wind upon the sea, and in the furious tempest that arose the ship was on the point of breaking up." (Jonah 1:4). This happened because Jonah was avoiding God's call for him to preach against Nineveh.

God wanted Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach in order to bring that wicked city to repentance. God was showing His mercy. But in the process, God was punishing innocent people, the mariners and everyone else on the boat with Jonah. Favor the bad, but chastise the good? We cannot fully fathom the depth of God's wisdom. We can only rest on our conviction that He is just and righteous. God will accomplish His purposes, many times not according to our human wisdom and ways.

See what happened.

The mariners, frightened by the violent storm, cried to their gods (Jon 1:5). Jonah told them "I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land." (Jon 1:9). Ultimately, the mariners also cried out to the true God (Jon 1:14). They acknowledged: "you, Lord, have done as you saw fit." (Jon 1:14). They were "struck with great fear of the Lord" (Jon 1:16a). Finally, they "offered sacrifice and made vows to him" (Jon 1:16b). Wow! Such conversion of pagans! And founded on truths that took Job much discussion with his friends to realize: reverential fear; God acting according to His own sovereignty; acknowledgment of His power and control over nature; realization that their lives were entirely in His hands. Such deep conversion could not have happened if not for the calamity that was upon them!

Notice in particular Jonah 1:16. "Struck with great fear of the Lord, the men offered sacrifice and made vows to him." Reverential fear is our proper posture before God. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" (Prov 1:7a). Such awe of God in His majesty--seeing His control of the forces of nature, causing a furious tempest and then abating its raging--is the foundation of rightly relating to Him. Awe leads to worship. Awe leads to living out our covenant with Him.

It is worthy to note that basically the same thing happened to Jesus' disciples, in the incident of the calming of the storm at sea (see Mark 4:35-41). Storms get our attention, and put us in the proper posture of helplessness which leads to humility. Then we experience the awesome power and majesty of God, which brings us to faith and worship.

There is more. The mariners and Jonah were made to suffer, but their suffering resulted in Jonah finally surrendering to God's will. Jonah himself spends three days in the belly of a large fish. There he turned to God in his distress, and acknowledged Him once again. He preaches in Nineveh, causing the sinful city's conversion. Suffering is redemptive--for oneself and for others. And redemptive suffering paves the way for one's being used in the power of the Spirit to evangelize and bring about conversion of sinners. Notice how powerful Jonah's preaching was. Jonah himself was not a seasoned prophet but was quite reluctant, even fleeing from the Lord's command. Nineveh itself was very wicked. Jonah had just preached for a single day but the whole people and the king repented.

The majesty of God, redemptive suffering, awe of God, being humbled by the circumstance around us outside our control, the mercy of God--all these are the lessons contained in this very short story of Jonah. We cannot fully know the ways of God--why He allows Satan to severely afflict Job, why He afflicts the mariners in order to bring Jonah back to His plan, why He allows typhoon Ondoy to afflict His beloved people especially the poor. We can only be in awe of and humbled by His divine majesty. We can only trust in His justice and righteousness, and that He is in control and nothing happens just by chance. God is about His divine purposes, and is committed ultimately to the good of His people.

Let us make Jonah's prayer our own. When affliction comes, when the flood envelops us (Jon 2:4), when the waters swirl about us, threatening our lives (Jon 2:6a), when we are down deep in the pit, with the bars of the nether world seemingly closing behind us forever (Jon 2:7), let us turn even more fervently to God and be confident in His help. "Out of my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me; from the midst of the nether world I cried for help, and you heard my voice." (Jon 2:3). When our soul is faint within us, when we are ready to give up, when we start to blame God, when we are weary and hopeless and helpless, let us immerse in prayer, confident that God hears and helps. "When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord; my prayer reached you in your holy temple." (Jon 2:8).

Finally, let us reexamine our lives. What do we hold important? What are our priorities? How much do we pursue the idols of money, power, pleasure? (As many experienced with Ondoy, possessions and the treasures of a lifetime can be swept away and destroyed so easily). Do we find our comfort and security in such idols? "Those who worship vain idols forsake their source of mercy. But I, with resounding praise, will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay: deliverance is from the Lord." (Jon 2:9-10). When we turn to God, when we worship Him, when we live out our covenant, then we will receive His divine mercy. Then He will deliver us from our afflictions.

When Job had learned the lessons, God restored him and blessed him twofold. When Jonah had learned the lessons, God "commanded the fish to spew Jonah upon the shore." (Jon 2:11). Then he moved on to become a blessing to Nineveh. When we learn the lessons of Job and of Jonah, then we will experience the fullness of the deliverance of God and His divine mercy, and will be used by Him as effective instruments of evangelization.

There will be floods, there will be afflictions, but God is always there in the midst of the tempest. When we know our place, when we are faithful to our call and live out our covenant, even us we do not fully understand the ways of God, then we will experience the justice and righteousness of our God.

God bless you all.


(October 5, 2009)

"For to me life is Christ, and death is gain." (Phil 1:21)  

(Part 4)


In the aftermath of Ondoy, the nation is in collective mourning for the disaster that has befallen it. Many have lost possessions, even their homes, and have inadequate resources with which to rebuild their lives. Mired in the problems of the present, many wonder what the future holds.

As usual, it is not all bleak. There is a silver lining in every cloud. We have witnessed how the nation has also responded to help those afflicted. Here already is one blessing. The disaster has been a great opportunity to bring out the best in the hearts of concerned citizens. People have opened their hearts and their wallets to give. People have set aside their other concerns and priorities to help those in need.

The challenges are great. How to rebuild lives. How to prevent similar disasters. How to take care of the poor among us.

Much reflection will happen, and that is good. We are often so caught up in the swirling world around us that we fail to consider what is really important in life.

The most important, of course, is to be mindful of God and to live our lives in and for Him. God is in control of nature's forces. God has a wonderful plan for our lives and we just need to know such plan and align our lives with it. Suffering brings purification and helps align us with God's plan. We need to see what God is doing, even as we are unable to grasp the grandeur and majesty of His divine actions.

In today's reading, we look to the consolation Jerusalem extended to her afflicted children. "My children, bear patiently the anger that has come from God upon you; Fear not, my children; call out to God! He who brought this upon you will remember you. As your hearts have been disposed to stray from God, turn now ten times the more to seek him; for he who has brought disaster upon you will, in saving you, bring you back enduring joy." (Baruch 4:25a,27-29).

God is angry at us? Yes, for all our infidelities. For our unconcern for our fellow men, especially the least among us. For our degradation of the environment. "The flood shall sweep away his house with the waters that run off in the day of God's anger." (Job 20:28). But God is merciful. Even His chastisement is proof of His love and mercy, for it is intended to turn us away from greater disaster and bring us back to Him. So we bear our affliction patiently. God is forming us, and it takes some time to do that. In the meantime, we need not fear, because our lives and well-being are in His hands, and we are His beloved children whom He loves. In the meantime, we pray. We call out to God. We focus our minds and our hearts and our whole being on Him. We examine our lives. We repent of sin. We resolve to do better. We patiently wait for His deliverance. "Be still before the Lord; wait for God." (Psalm 37:7a).

God is our savior. Jesus already saved us through the cross. The Father continues to bring that salvation to us, through the crosses that come into our lives. We rejoiced in our salvation by the sacrificial suffering and death of our Lord Jesus. We continue to rejoice even in our grief over our Ondoy disaster, for our affliction brings us even closer to God. We look over the havoc wreaked by the flood, but in the dark ugliness of the muck and the mire, we see the radiance of God, who is our salvation. "The Lord sits enthroned above the flood! The Lord reigns as king forever!" (Psalm 29:10).

"Then the Lord addressed Job out of the storm ...." (Job 38:1). With every affliction there are lessons to be learned. I pray that we will all have the time to listen.

God bless and protect you all.


(October 3, 2009)

p.s. For easier reference, and for continuing study as we move into our 2010 theme, I am putting these reflections in a series "Lessons of Job." Part 1 was "Redemptive Suffering," Part 2 "Mighty is the Lord!," and Part 3 "Just and righteous is He."

"For to me life is Christ, and death is gain." (Phil 1:21)  

(Part 3)


"Justice is with the Lord, our God" (Bar 1:15a). Thus we read in today's reading. The book of Baruch is situated in the circumstances of God's people in exile in Babylon. Today's reading writes about the people's realization. "We, with our kings and rulers and priests and prophets, and with our fathers, have sinned in the Lord's sight and disobeyed him. We have neither heeded the voice of the Lord, our God, nor followed the precepts which the Lord set before us." (v.17). Their repentance eventually led God to bring their exile to an end.

God loves His people. He raised Israel and blessed them tremendously, according to the promises of His covenant with them. He was very patient with them. He endured their infidelities and rebellions and idolatries. But because He loved them, at some point God brought them to chastisement, in order that they might realize how they had gone wrong, and be brought back to their senses, repent, and thus be restored.

God's chastisement is a manifestation of His love! Many times, it is the only way by which a wayward people can be brought back.

The Philippines too is God's beloved. God has a special plan for this land. But we too have been disobedient and unmindful of the depth of His covenant. We go about our own ways, conforming more and more to the ways of the world around us. Before everything is lost, God sends chastisement, with the purpose that we become reflective of why such disasters happen, and in this way be brought back to the right path.

Why does God allow such disasters as Ondoy to happen to His people? Because He loves us and has a wonderful plan for us. Why do our people have to suffer? Because suffering is redemptive and is cleansing. Why must we suffer pain in life? Because it is the very way of Jesus, in order to come to glory.

God is just and righteous. God is all wise. God does not give up on His people. Let us repent of our infidelities, be faithful to our covenant, and rejoice in God's love for us.

God bless us all.


(October 3, 2009)

"For to me life is Christ, and death is gain." (Phil 1:21) 

(Part 2)


How does God get our attention? Especially in our current milieu of many worldly distractions? How does God get us to appreciate who He is, a God of power and might? How often would we look up to the heavens on a clear night, to contemplate the vastness and greatness of His created universe? How often do we thank Him for our life, the shelter of our homes, the food on our tables? And in the giant leaps of mankind in the fields of technology, how do we come to realize that we are really nothing apart from God, and helpless without His aid?

Man has become haughty. He looks to his great accomplishments. And he is unmindful of the God who is the source of all gifts. How can God once again humble man, for his own good?

The floods last Saturday brought to us the stark realization of our own helplessness in the face of nature's onslaught. But the waters are under God's control. "Thus far shall you come but no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stilled!" (Job 38:11). God allowed the floods in order to catch our attention, in order to teach us, in order to humble us. If we learn the lessons God wants to teach us, then the suffering wrought by the floods would have been a blessing.

Who is our God? He is the mighty and powerful King. "The Lord is king, robed with majesty; the Lord is robed, girded with might. The flood has raised up, Lord; the flood has raised up its roar; the flood has raised its pounding waves. More powerful than the roar of many waters, more powerful than the breakers of the sea, powerful in the heavens is the Lord." (Ps 93:1a,3-4).

Is it then surprising that calamities bring people to God? When there are calamities, the churches are packed. Unfortunately, after a while, people are back to their old ways, unmindful of God, relying on themselves, happily going about their own ways apart from the ways of God. And so time and again God reminds us. For our own good.

When we see the power of nature, we must see the power of God. When we realize our helplessness against the onslaught of the floods, we must realize our helplessness without He who is has power over nature. Then we must be led to worship God, and acknowledge in humility who He is and who we are. He is mighty King, and our lives are totally in His hands. We can trust in Him. "God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in distress. Though its waters rage and foam and mountains totter at its surging. The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob." (Ps 46:2,4).

Our people have suffered a devastating flood. God allowed it. Rest assured, God loves our people very much, and has a great plan for our land, to be a light to the world. If our suffering leads us to a greater realization of who God is, if it leads us to prayer and worship, if it makes us place our lives totally in His care, if we become mindful of all our blessings despite the problems of life, then what has happened to us is truly redemptive.

"The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over the mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is power; the voice of the Lord is splendor. The Lord sits enthroned above the flood! The Lord reigns as king forever! May the Lord give might to his people; may the Lord bless his people with peace!" (Ps 29:3-4,10-11)..

May the Lord always be your consolation and strength.


(September 30, 2009)

"For to me life is Christ, and death is gain." (Phil 1:21

(Part 1)


My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, peace to you all. It was just last Thursday at the Seniors Assembly that we talked about our theme for 2010. It is a very rich theme, and will take a lifetime to appreciate more fully. It is about the majesty of God, about redemptive suffering, about being awed and humbled in His presence. It seems God is not wasting time in getting us on our learning track. Last Saturday we experienced the devastating rains and flood. Many lives were lost, many homes and material possessions were lost, and many experienced pain and grief due to separation from loved ones, hunger and thirst, and uncertainty about the future.

Our first lesson is about the greatness and majesty of God and of His creation. "Who has laid out a channel for the downpour and for the thunderstorm a path to bring rain ...?" (Job 38:25-26a). "Have you an arm like that of God, and can you thunder with a voice like his? Adorn yourself with grandeur and majesty, and array yourself with glory and splendor. Let loose the fury of your wrath; tear down the wicked and shatter them. Bring down the haughty with a glance; bury them in the dust together; ..." (Job 40:9-13a). We cannot explain the heavy rains and flood. We find it hard to accept the devastation God has allowed to be wrought. We are bewildered. We are distraught. But God is just bringing home the point that He is the Almighty! Oftentimes He can only get His message through in situations of pain and grief, just like in the case of Job.

Our second lesson is about redemptive suffering. The authentic gospel is that of the cross, and suffering is its child. The only way to glory is through the cross. Only in suffering can we experience redemption. This is achieved through the suffering of Jesus, and through our suffering as well. We share in the sufferings of Christ. Now that is a great privilege! In fact, the great challenge to living the Christian life is a life of comfort and absence of pain. So when pain comes, especially extreme pain through such a devastation as this flood, then there is that great opportunity to grow in Christ. We offer up our suffering. We grow in such virtues as trusting in Jesus, hoping in the Lord, even being joyful in all circumstances. We are being purified, and we are walking in the path of Christ.

Our third lesson is about reverential fear (awe) and humility. What an awesome experience it is when the floodwaters rampage, and when we are helplessly tossed about. How humbling it is when we are no longer in control. How puny we truly are compared to the majesty of God. If in our fear and humility we cry out to Him and resign our lives and our well-being to Him, then we would have learned one aspect of what He wants to teach us.

Those who were severely and negatively affected now have to rebuild their lives. And that is the opportunity God gives us. We rebuild our lives on the foundation that is Christ. We turn ever deeper to God, and have greater zeal to bring other people to Him. No one knows when tragedy or calamity will strike. One must always be prepared, by being in a right relationship with Him. One must be aware that we all belong to the same family, and that we must be concerned about each other. We help each other out, not only when there is a calamity such as this, but even in ordinary times. And we must take care of the wonderful creation God has given us. Water, an elemental aspect of nature, is life-giving and essential to life. It becomes destructive when we severely disturb the ecological balance.

It is right for us to shed tears at the calamity we have all experienced. But our experience should bring us closer to God. And we should have just a little bit more appreciation of  His awesome majesty. Never forget: just and righteous is He! And in that we can rejoice.

May the Lord bless and protect His people.


(September 29, 2009)

"For to me life is Christ, and death is gain." (Phil 1:21) 


Renewing the Family and Defending Life