Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Ephesians 4:14
Like many of you, this past year has been filled with a fair amount of change for me and my family. Included in those changes were providing foster care for a child for the first time, coming on board as an elder of this church, switching roles at work, and moving out to Tung Chung. In making each of those decisions, I spent time in prayer and felt the Lord’s leading to go in those directions. Nevertheless, some of those adjustments brought with them unexpected challenges and difficulties.
In the midst of those struggles, I started to doubt whether I made the right choices. Did I hear God correctly? Was God closing one door and telling me to head another direction? The convictions I had began to wane and I grew frustrated with my circumstances.
One day, it finally clicked. I am a bit ashamed to admit this as the solution is a basic and fundamental part of Christian living, but I realised I just needed to spend more time with the Lord. While most of my mornings begin in prayer and in the Word, I decided I needed to carve out some additional time in the morning to spend with God. And that is what I have been doing for the past month – a steady dose of reading the Bible, taking notes, and praying.
My surroundings did not suddenly completely change. I still encounter challenges and difficulties on a daily basis. The additional time with the Lord has reminded me to not be as focused on circumstances but rather on the unchanging God (Hebrews 13:8). And as simple as it sounds, that has made a tremendous difference in my mindset and my ability to persevere in moving forward.
Do you find yourself frustrated or in doubt about certain decisions that are currently impacting your life? If so, I encourage you to:
Blessed are those who dwell in Your house, ever singing Your praise!
Selah. Blessed are those whose strength is in You, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. Psalm 84:4–5
In Old Testament times, it was common for God’s people to long for God’s Temple in Jerusalem—they wanted to “dwell in” God’s house. People were spread throughout the land of Israel, and most people made a visit to the Temple only once a year—if that. They looked forward to going to Jerusalem in the same way we might look forward to attending a church conference or hearing a famous Christian speaker. It was an opportunity for them to experience a “spiritual high.”
This spiritual high is what the Psalmist calls being “blessed,” which simply means to “be happy.”
Happy are those who dwell in God’s house!
Who wouldn’t want to be welcomed in the company of God? Who doesn’t want to feel complete peace and acceptance in His home This is what all of our hearts are longing for.
In Ancient Israel, the people longed to go to a physical location because that was how they experienced God’s presence. Does this mean we should all schedule a trip to the Holy Land? Well… perhaps. But unlike Pastors Albert or Eric, I have not yet been to Jerusalem; that doesn’t mean I haven’t experienced the same blessing of God’s presence though.
Jesus has changed things. In the Old Testament, people longed to go towards God’s presence. Now, under the New Covenant, Jesus has brought God’s presence to us!
It used to be that people were blessed if their hearts “longed for Zion,” which meant they longed for the Temple in Jerusalem. But today, we don’t travel to get to Zion, Jesus has brought Zion to us.
We are blessed because Jesus has brought heaven to our hearts. Now we don’t go to His Temple: He has made us His Temple. 1 Corinthians 3:16
Take joy in the truth that God is with you. Even with your busy schedule, God doesn’t require you to go somewhere to connect with Him; instead He invites you to connect with Him wherever you are. It’s not about ascending to some holy location but giving Him the attention of your heart. There is no place you will go today where God is not with you. You can experience His presence, you can experience His joys, wherever you are. This comes not by a place but by the posture of your heart.
Today, we don’t just have the “Highways to Zion” in our hearts but in Christ, we have the God of Zion in our hearts.
This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our sins (debts), as we also have forgiven those who sin against us (our debtors). And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:9-15
The most familiar prayer in the entire world has statements that are inextricably linked: it is of course the model prayer that Jesus gave to His disciples when they asked His advice on how to pray. Jesus gave the prayer, which we now familiarly call “the Lord’s prayer,” as a model or guide not only for how we should pray but who God is and how we should communicate with Him.
Two lines that are heavily loaded are “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” The “as…” links the two statements together. Jesus was absolutely clear on this—we are to forgive and forgive and forgive! WHY? Because we have been forgiven and we go on being forgiven for the most appalling sins of pride, selfishness, self-promotion, greed, criticism of others, gossip—the list is endless.
Forgiveness is not so easy though, is it? Had forgiveness been easy, Jesus need not have died. Forgiveness means letting go. It means taking NO offence and harbouring no resentment or residue. It means allowing the offender to go free or, at the very least, takes the power out of the wrongdoing to affect one further.
However, there is always a cost to be borne. Inevitably, it will mean letting go of hurt pride, damage, emotional wounds, or even physical harm—and this is painful. There may have been many times when we have been unjustifiably hurt or devastatingly let down and have just cause to state our case in righteous anger. Abused children, cheating spouses, victims of injustice: all seemingly have the right to hit back, but Jesus makes it clear that this is not God’s way and it cannot be our way if we want Him to continue to forgive us. What a cost though... to forgive an abusing parent or tyrannical employer!
Yet, there is another cost that is much greater: the cost of not forgiving—of remaining offended, hurt, damaged, and harbouring resentment. The cost does not seem great at first. “I mean why should I forgive? Especially when what the other person did was so horrid or unjust!”
But the longer this goes on, the more it grows and goes deep. It begins to sour our relationships and niggles at us. Unforgivingness can sap away our strength, blind us spiritually, and even affect our overall health. We push the resentment down and try to forget. We can even kid ourselves that we have forgotten all about it but forgetting is not forgiving.
The stuff of resentment is still there and God will remind us again and again because He knows the damage it will do and the gap that being unforgiving will create between us and Him. It is true that, to forgive someone truly, seems to mean that one loses everything but to God, when we forgive, we lose nothing and gain everything.
So let us practice forgiveness by:
We’ve just had two consecutive weeks of baptism ceremonies at Island ECC and we’re going to have one more next week! That’s how much a typhoon can change our schedules.
We love Baptism Sunday at our church. It’s always so encouraging to see people share their life changing stories and then go in the water to boldly declare their faith in Christ. What always interests me about their stories are the little details. The small and seemingly insignificant moments that happen in a person’s life that point them to God. It could be a book, conversation, or small interaction between two friends or strangers. These little things can have a tremendous impact on people’s lives.
I’ve been studying the book of Acts over the last couple of months and something jumped out at me in the story about Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. It’s a very brief encounter between these two but there’s so much for us to learn from this interaction.
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”… Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptised?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptised him. — Acts 8:26-38
Everything in this episode hinges on one moment. In one flash of an instant, Philip has a choice. When the Spirit says to him to go join the chariot, he could have said no. He could have ignored this prompting. But he didn’t. He ran over to the eunuch and shared the good news of Christ with him. And upon hearing this news, the eunuch believed and immediately wanted to be baptized.
Isn’t that wonderful?
Just a quick conversation changed a life.
Saved a life.
How many times during the day do you sense the Spirit directing you to do something? If you’re hearing it, do you respond? If you’re not hearing it, are you listening?
Today, be open to what God would impress upon you by the Spirit. It could be anything. Giving up your seat on the MTR; opening the door for someone; saying hello; helping someone with a task; inviting someone to church; or… starting a conversation that could eventually lead to someone’s baptism!
Martin went to church with his family from time to time as he was growing up. His walk with God began more earnestly when he attended a Catholic boarding school in the UK and that gave him an opportunity to reflect. He kept these habits after returning to Hong Kong and met friends that brought him to a Chinese church. Martin finally recognised the power of prayer when he was facing issues relating to his family. Knowing God loves him, he has chosen to publicly declare his faith.