Monthly Archives: April 2014

No Doubt

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One of my weaknesses in the Christian journey is that I am a doubter. My sense of assurance is very very weak so much so that when I was in grade school I would pray the sinner’s prayer everytime and anytime it was offered during chapel service or classroom devotion sessions. I would accept Jesus everytime there is an invitation to open our hearts to let him in.

Then one of our Bible teachers, when asked about assurance to salvation, encouraged me that we would only worry if the money we had put in our pocket is still there if we knew for sure that we put it in in the first place. He was saying that since I am very concerned about the status of my salvation, that goes to show that there is salvation to begin with. However, this did not wane my doubting spirit. But instead made me question what would happen if there were a hole in my pocket?

There was even a time when I was abroad for a few years that I felt God had totally neglected me. I felt like I was left like a dump when some friends in separate yet continuous incidents had put me on the sidelines of their lives. And I had reflected such to the Lord. I felt like if I do something slightly stupid, God would call out his other reserves and rearrange back to the benches and I’d be simply forgotten. I felt like I wasn’t special enough to have God’s attention. I felt I wasn’t good enough to the people around me so I felt like God, too, wouldn’t care much if I am but an average.

So my subconscious decided to make a scene to sort of wave my hands high and catch a glimpse of a God who might have his eyes pass my way. I served tirelessly at church, I showed more love to the underprivileged, I was resolute at making a better version of myself. But this was tiring. As I try harder, the doubt gets stronger. What if I’m not doing enough? What if this isn’t what God really wanted me to do? What if he’s not looking at me to begin with because I’m one of those he had warned in Matthew 7:21 calling him Lord but not really qualified to enter his kingdom? What if all these things I am thinking of is but a conspiracy of sorts?

Indeed, my doubt was fueled by my insecurities. What started as doubting if I am saved trailed off to doubting if there is a God who is the object of my ordeal to begin with.

A few years ago, a church nearby is organizing a Doubt Night and just by the name of it, I know I have to be there. Pastor Dennis decided to put together a casual gathering for those who have questions about the Christian faith. The church was located near a university where Christian doctrine find itself swimming with philosophical musings. At the back garden end of that cafe which sold imported Belgian beers, Pastor Dennis with a tall cold glass on one hand talked about Christianity like I’ve never heard of before, meaning not as a rigid pathway or solid set of by-laws. I looked forward to every meetings because my doubting heart found solace. One of the most powerful things he told me was that God’s grip on me is tighter than my grip on him. It’s like two people holding each other’s wrist, not hands. If I slip and let go, he won’t, perhaps even if I deliberately do it.

This is grace. This is what saving faith is all about. It’s not about how tight I clutch my salvation in my pocket. It’s not about if there’s a hole in my pocket. It’s not about how assured I am in my heart that he is there and he won’t leave even if my door’s open. It’s not about how faithful I am in believing. But it’s about faith in a God who is more faithful, more gracious, more saving that I can really imagine. This realization made a verse which I’ve memorized since young transform with real meaning: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is a gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8.9) I knew I never had a hand on my salvation, yet I thought I had a hand at keeping it, thus my insecurity and fear that I might lose it.

Then today, in this book I’m reading, a verse on shepherds and sheep nailed what I am learning. “Jesus said, ‘My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and NO ONE SHALL SNATCH THEM OUT OF MY HAND. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater that all; and NO ONE IS ABLE TO SNATCH THEM OUT OF THE FATHER’S HAND.” (John 10:27-29)

No Doubt Remains   your love never failsYour Love Never Fails

No one, nothing, not even me, can snatch myself out of the security of being in the Shepherd’s. I admit that my insecurities still show through. Oftentimes in my prayer, I still tell God love me more. Like a child, I tell him, “God, make sure you don’t leave me okay?” I clutch on to him in fear that one day he decides to walk farther. And sometimes I feel that he does. But that’s just feeling. That’s just what my insecurities say and often I allow them to reflect on what is the truth that God has clearly promised of never leaving me nor forsaking me because it was not I who chose him, but it was him who took me in the first place. And he’s not a God-investor who has a diversified portfolio which he can risk at his fancy. Nor is he a God-trader behind a big stock board waiting to buy or sell at the slightest dip or rise of his children’s market value. Because when he bought me at the highest price, he decided to keep me forever.

Father, thank you for the security I have in you. When doubts curry back up, would you remind me of my value in you and your value in me? It is because of you investing in me, that I have value. And what is valuable to you, you wouldn’t let go, ever. Your grip on me is tighter than I can ever feel. O Lord, you won’t let go, you’d never let go of me. I know there will be times when I’d say, “Love me more.” And you’ll answer, “I am already loving you a lot, yet for sure you’ll feel more of that.” Thanks, God. 

–April 14, 2014

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Not Stopping Mid-Chapter

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In the streets today are palm-leaf holding crowds. These ornate and decoratively-folded  leaves of palm (or coconut, I would suppose) have become staple items for religious Filipinos during this time of the year. Celebrating Palm Sunday a week before Easter meant buying these 20-inch wands from vendors right outside the church. Then at the priest’s signal, as though an unction, devotees would wave the palm leaves in unison. The rustling of the leaves are in themselves a melodic chorus.

I remember growing up with these palm wands drying on our window grates. I suppose our devout Catholic Ae (my beloved grandaunt and nanny) simply forgot to take them down even months after Lent. And perhaps it wasn’t until the cooler -ber months ushered in that she was reminded of the Lent that has since passed and perhaps, too, that the Christmas tree this time should already be given its due focus.

The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all recount the entry of Jesus to Jerusalem. It was a festive entry on a small donkey as a great multitude took branches of palm tress, went out to meet him, and cried out: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel!” (Matthew 21:8-11; Mark 11:7-10; Luke 19:37; John 12:12-14)

One wonders, could the story have ended with “Happy Ever After” if that were the last scene of the act? Could it be a better ending if Jesus was coronated right after such grand entrance and eventually reign Israel and the world as befitting of him? Or, if he had wanted a more cozy conclusion, could he have just stayed in the welcome comforts of the house of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus–his dear friends one of whom didn’t even withhold the costliest of perfumes to be poured on his feet–and continue on with his teachings and fellowship?

However, as history has recorded, the events that transpired after were anticlimactic yet similarly engrossing that if it were a book being read, only a master novelist could have authored it so succinctly.

Jesus entered Jerusalem–or the world, for that matter–for one purpose and that is to go to the cross to do what no one else can do. Yet he did not let the noise of the palm-waving crowd take his eyes away from his purpose. Perhaps it was the first time on earth that he experienced such a frenzied mob who actually acknowledged him as God and King, instead of mere probable guesses every time he does a healing crusade. John 4:29 records the woman who ran to her friends after her encounter with Jesus at the well, “Could this be the Christ?” (John 4:29). Yet no first-time nor special recognition can distract him from his calling. He was single-minded about his mission.

Had Jesus chosen to back out of his calling, there wouldn’t be any Christians. There wouldn’t be a church. There wouldn’t be anything to base love upon. There wouldn’t be a redemption story in anything. There wouldn’t be hope for the future, joy for today, and peace for tomorrow.

I confess to being easily-distracted by power and attention. I crave them and am positively charged by the affection of people. Yet if these palm leaves of power, attention, and affection were to be my driving force or my guide ropes, then I am bound to trip, if not totally fall.

palaspas

So I thank Jesus that we’re different. He didn’t stop half-way on his journey when it seemed like it could have been the sweet perfect ending. He completed it. He went through the whole plotline of being betrayed and beaten, of having a crown of thorns buried in his head, of dragging a wooden cross on his own death march, of being crucified. Jesus chose not to be overwhelmed by the pomp and pageantry of Palm Sunday, nor the fatal kiss and garden drama on Thursday, nor the death verdict on Good Friday, nor the darkness on Black Saturday. He focused on Easter Sunday, when the redeeming value of the cost of his sacrifice will never betray him, nor time, nor anyone.

This Lent, I am reminded of the single-minded and straight-bound vision of Jesus. And of my own fickleness. Just as our loving Jesus fixed his eyes forward and far, may I, too, settle not on the passing comforts of this world, nor worry on the pressing burden of the cross. Yet look  forward down and further out into eternity to see a hope that is not fickle like myself.

Knowing that my frail will can only transport me thus far, I know I have to gaze on Jesus–the author and the perfecter of my faith–who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

There is an upward call. There is a heavenly citizenship. And I know I won’t be needing a palm wand to bring me there.

–April 13, 2014