Saturday, March 31, 2007


Romans 11:25-36

How sometimes we wish we could tame God. We want him to be like a domesticated animal, responsive to our beck and call and doing what we assign him to do, even allowing us to sit on him and steer him as we would a horse, donkey or buffalo.

How sometimes we wish we could study God. We want to put him in a box and/or under a microscope, studying his reactions in other that we might anticipate his decisions and actions, just like we’ve demystified, debunked and deconstructed so much of this world we’re in.

How sometimes we wish we could advise God. We want to counsel him and tell him what he should do in the running of this world, confident that things would be better if only he would listen to us instead of deciding things all by himself.

How sometimes we wish we could put God in our debt. We want him to shower down blessings in response to our sacrifices and acts of piety; after all, it’s only fair that one good turn deserves another.

How we wish.

The fact of the matter is, however, that God is God, and we are not. Paul recognised this reality when he burst into spontaneous praise of God’s greatness. We must too.

I hope this season of Lent has been a meaningful one for you. Even as we ponder upon the shocking truth that this magnificent and great God died for us in such a horrifying way, let us not forget: He is who He is.

May God’s grace be always with you.


Friday, March 30, 2007


Romans 11:11-24

In conventional horticulture, the usual practice is to insert a shoot from a cultivated tree into a wild one in order to produce a fruitful tree. Strangely in the passage Paul seems to have gotten his horticulture all wrong! He talks about grafting wild shoots into a cultivated olive tree! How foolish! How sacrilegious! How devoid of knowledge!

But wait! Verse 24 shows us that Paul was conscious of his “mistake” after all! He states that such a procedure is “contrary to nature”. In fact, the unnaturalness of it all is precisely the point. God is able to produce fruit out of things that would normally bear none.

This is the mystery of salvation: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Wild, uncultivated branches such as us have been grafted into a tree with strong roots, the Tree of Christ.

But the best has yet to come. The rejection of Christ by most of Israel has led to us being brought into God’s most beautiful work of art. Imagine the magnificence of the Painting when Israel comes back into the picture!

But we must not be complacent. Just like in the analogy of the vine Jesus used, (John 15) those who think that they can get away with living a selfish life without surrender to God will lose out in the end when the gardener cuts off the branches that bear no fruit. I don’t want to speculate on what that means, as I believe it’s nobody’s business (except God’s) who gets rewarded or punished and what exactly it entails. Nevertheless it’s a warning to all of us – we cannot just continue to live exactly like the rest of the world.

Have we really thought about how blessed we are to be able to share in God’s kingdom? Are we really making an effort to live out our lives in a radical Christ-centered way, or are we just going with the flow, getting caught up with the attractions of this world? How can this divide between what we do and what we should do be narrowed and closed?

Pen down any thoughts that have been provoked by the questions above. Read through them once you’ve finished, and write a “letter” to God (the length is up to you) about what you’ve jotted down.

Suggested Further Reading:
Ronald J. Sider’s “The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience”. The book explores the important question, “Why are Christians living just like the rest of the world?”

Thursday, March 29, 2007


Romans 11:1-10

The Israelites of the 1st century were definitely religious people. They offered sacrifices at the temple, prayed often, and did all they could to keep to the law set out in the Torah, among other rules. Members of one particular sect were notorious for their strict observance of everything “holy” – the Pharisees.

The beginning of Romans 11 shows Paul continuing to write about the subject of Israel. Paul tackles the issue of whether God has rejected Israel outright. The answer he gives is “No”, declaring that there is a “remnant” that are faithful to God and accept the Good News of Jesus Christ.

How sad it seems indeed that there is only a small group of Israelites walking in God’s path. It doesn’t make sense. How can it be that such a religious and devout people have gone off track? Romans 9:32 in The Message paraphrase states that “instead of trusting God, [the Israelites] took over. They were absorbed in what they themselves were doing. They were so absorbed in their “God projects” that they didn’t notice God right in front of them.”

God projects. How many of us today have lost our focus and placed our emphasis on doing what we consider Great Things for God? How can we tell whether we have fallen into the trap of self-centred spirituality? Well, one form of a selfish faith is one that is based on a reward scheme. We do good deeds in order that our “account” in heaven keeps accumulating points which we presume will lead to good health, material comforts, and other perks. For others, like the Pharisees, an outward show of religiousness is important in order that others will commend our piety and holiness. Still others practise a therapeutic form of Christianity. God must take away all my cares and worries. Worship is about feeling good and getting spiritual goose bumps – in order words, a “Prozac Jesus” religion. All these can either be done on purpose, or at a subconscious level where we do not realise our true motives.

We must not read Paul’s comments as just a criticism of his own people, but bear in mind that we too can be equally lured by the attractiveness of a phoney, or at least compartmentalized, unholistic spirituality. Are we in a state of stupor, with eyes that cannot see and ears that cannot hear (vs 8)?

The practice of the presence of our selves, instead of God, will lead us to burn out eventually. We must attempt to grasp for God’s “unforced rhythms of grace” (Matt 11:29, The Msg). No simple task, of course. I have found that it is so much easier to occupy oneself with church-related activities and neglect our relationship with our Creator. For many years I was so busy that unconsciously God got pushed out of the spotlight and into the shadows. Nowadays I have fewer opportunities to fill my time with such busyness; hence, I’m struggling with personal devotions and other simple spiritual disciplines.

Nevertheless, honesty is the only policy for knowing and serving God. He understands our battles and struggles with Him, ourselves, and others. No matter what the circumstances, let’s keep that in mind.

Lord, I’m sorry that I’ve been so busy with my various God projects that I’ve lost sight of your plan for me. If I can’t trust you and bare myself entirely to you, then who can I turn to? Please show me your path and guide me on the Way. Have mercy on me, a sinner-saint. Amen.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Romans 10:14-21

In recent history, the term ‘liberation’ has been used by revolutionaries around the world. These “freedom fighters”, from all ideologies (though mainly some form of socialism/communism), rose up to battle the evils they saw in their respective societies: poverty, injustice, racial strife, and so on. Calling themselves “liberation fronts”, from the Zapatistas in Mexico to the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, these rebels have used violence as their primary means of achieving the ideals they seek.

As followers of the Galilean carpenter and most radical teacher throughout history, Jesus Davidson, whether we like it or not, we have been recruited into what writer and performer Rob Lacey (author of the incredible retelling of the Bible The Word on the Street) has termed the Jesus Liberation Movement (JLM for short). However, instead of armed struggle and guerrilla tactics, our means of liberation involve a different kind of underground warfare, namely the spreading of the Greatest Story Ever Told. We’re part of a “quiet revolution of hope”, so to speak.

Who are we attempting to set free? It is the entire world, which God wishes to reconcile to Him. This is not just about getting butts out of hell though; this about furthering the “clandestine” Kingdom of God. It is a kingdom where love conquers all, and worldly concepts such as power, fame and wealth are pushed into the sidelines where they belong. This is a radical movement that just makes all other radical ideas seem tame and uninspiring.

Everyone is invited to join. Even those who seem hostile or indifferent to spirituality are welcome, and in fact God will reveal Himself through them! (vs 20) But how can people join this spiritual uprising if they know nothing about it? “How can they hear if nobody tells them?” (vs 14) Yes, we are the agents of God’s divine work in the world. When we pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, let us not just repeat in like a thoughtless mantra or magical incantation but hear the call to radical living in this fallen world.

All of us are called to this Liberation Life, no matter where we are. As our leader declared, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). This kingdom is like a mustard seed (Matt. 13:31) which seems insignificant and unspectacular compared to all the hi-tech gizmos and gadgetry that we “ooh” and “ahh” about today. But ultimately this seed will grow into a strong tree that will stand the test of time.

Let’s fight the good fight of the faith!

When you are faced with a situation this week that most people would tackle in a certain way, make a decision to act in a radical, Christ-following manner, asking yourself, “What would Jesus do?” and “What is Jesus doing?”

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Romans 9:30 - 10:13

"Mereka tidak mengetahui cara Allah memperdamaikan manusia dengan dirinya. Mereka cuba mengadakan jalan perdamaiannya sendiri; sebab itu mereka tidak berserah kepada jalan itu yang Allah telah mengadakan supaya memperdamaikan manusia dengan dirinya."
Rum 10:3 (Alkitab)

“They didn’t know God’s way of making peace with humankind. They tried to make their own way of peace; because of that they did not surrender to the way that God made to make peace between humankind and Himself.”
Romans 10:3 (translation of Alkitab)

The translation of the Alkitab highlights the fact that God’s great plan of redemption involves a path that we must travel. In Brian McLaren’s book “A New Kind of Christian”, one of the characters, Neo, makes a comment that when most Christians talk about Jesus being the way, it seems more like Jesus is in the way.

After some reflection, I would agree with that statement. I don’t know about you, but when I say that Jesus is the way, one of the pictures that come to mind is that of Jesus standing in the middle of a narrow road, allowing only those who have joined “the club” to go past him and enter the pearly gates of heaven.

This is a tremendously mistaken view of salvation and living out the Kingdom of God. The moment we think of Jesus as some sort of celestial bouncer, love ceases and fear sets in. The Message paraphrase by Eugene Peterson renders the last bit of verse 33 of Chapter 9 as, “If you’re looking for me, you’ll find me on the way, not in the way.”

“You’ll find me on the way.” Indeed our Walk with God is a lengthy Sojourn, a great Journey. We encounter God when we confess, “Jesus is Lord”, but that’s not the end of it. It’s not even the beginning of the end, but perhaps it is, the end of the beginning. Our years of confuzzled searching and striving are behind us, and the future beckons us to follow In His Steps.

Paul mentions a trap that many Jews fell into: legalism. However, just a cursory glance around the church is enough for us to realise that a lot of people are still running about, trying to gain spiritual points for heaven. Why do they do so? Many are afraid that at the end Jesus will stand in their way, blocking their path and refusing them entry to “come and share in [their] Master’s happiness” (Matt 25:21).

Such doubts and fears are understandable. In the performance-based society that we live in today, it seems totally illogical that God would give us the opportunity to share in his glorious work when we have not done anything to warrant such a gracious gift.

We must, however, always remember this truth: He is the Way, not in the way.

Think about your journey thus far with Jesus. There would definitely have been times when you have found yourself woefully inadequate to receive God’s grace. Thank Him for his gift of becoming the Way for us, and ask Him to help you learn to rest in Him, ceasing from the labour and the toil. Jot down your thoughts (which form essentially a prayer) somewhere.

Monday, March 26, 2007


Romans 9:19-29

Today, many of us resent the thought of living ordinary, unspectacular lives. There is a contemporary worship song with the title “The Potter’s Hand”. One line repeats itself a couple of times during the chorus: “I give my life into the Potter’s hand.” Singing this song as a teenager, while I knew the song was about surrender, what I really sang in my heart was something more like, “I give my life to you, O Potter, but you must make me into a beautiful pot!”

The illustration of the potter in this passage may be unsettling at first glance. It seems to imply that there are some that God makes into beautiful vessels while the rest of us are doomed to be ordinary, run-of-the-mill, generic, uncreative, plain brown pots. Medieval priests preached the idea that there was a divine order in God’s creation. Some of us were born to be peasants in servitude, while others were predestined to be rulers and aristocrats. Could this passage be a chilling piece of support for such theology?

Reading on, however, shows us God’s true intentions:

“I’ll call nobodies and make them somebodies;
I’ll call the unloved and make them beloved.
In the place where they yelled out, “You’re nobody!”
they’re calling you “God’s living children.”
- Romans 9:25-26 (The Message) -

God’s living children. That is who we are. The question, “Why did you make me like this?” (v. 20) is thus a complaint from a pot that does not realise its own purpose and potential. Would a lone pot be able to grumble and whine without reference to other pottery? Certainly not. It is our habit of comparing ourselves with those around us that yields dissatisfaction and disillusionment. “Oh, if only I could sing like V!” “What wouldn’t I give to have the looks of C!” “Sigh, I’m just not as athletic as A!”

God has shaped each and every one of us in a unique, inimitable way. In fact, in the “upside-down” Kingdom of God (Matt. 20:16), it is the most humble that have the greatest potential to be His most useful vessels (Luke 18:14).

Perhaps what we need to do is to ask the same question, albeit in a different way. Instead of a complaining “Why?”, let’s ask God a curious “Why?”

Ask God today, “Hmm… why did you make me like this, Lord? I’m sure you had a reason in mind!” Write down whatever comes to you. Remember, though, that this is just the beginning of the Search.

Sunday, March 25, 2007