Chosen and Loved

Deuteronomy 7:6-9

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his chosen possession.

The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, because you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. 

Deuteronomy 10: 12-16

What does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

The Lord your God belong to the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.

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We all want to be chosen. Deep in our hearts, we know we want to be that person that someone sets his eyes on. To be showered with affection by the ones we love and care about.

And so we go great lengths just to have this affection. We try too much, and to hard. We want that approval. That pat on the back. That “job well done.” We long to be the recipient of someone’s “Out of all the people in this world, I chose you. There’s something special about you, that I just can’t take my eyes off you.”

But we are looking for this affection in the wrong places, from the wrong people. For whatever affirmation this world can give us will never be enough. There will always be that thing that we will always look for. Somehow, there will always be that void that we will always try harder and harder to fill. Nothing in this world can ever satisfy.

Because only God can.

Because He chose you.

Because He loves you.

 

 

 

Eternities

Chapters Read: Deuteronomy 1:1 -5:32

Ask now about the former days, long before your time, from the day God created human beings on the earth; ask from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything so great as this ever happened, or has anything like it ever been heard of? Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking out of fire, as you have, and lived? Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, signs and wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? 

You were shown these things so that you might know that the Lord is God; besides him there is no other. From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you. On earth he showed you his great fire, and you heard his words from out of the fire.

Because he loved your ancestors and chose their descendants after them, he brought you out of Egypt by his Presence and his great strength, to drive out before you nations greater and stronger than you and to bring you into their land to give it to you for your inheritance, as it is today.

Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on earth below. There is no other. Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the Lord your God gives you for all time.

— Deuteronomy 4:32-40

Why wait for Lazarus to die?

This post is inspired by a question that a friend of mine raised in one of our discussions. Before reading through, please note that all the answers written here are based on my own understanding of what is written in the Scriptures. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I believe in the Holy Spirit, who gives us the wisdom to understand, little by little, the truths about God.

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Question:

Why do you think Jesus waited for Lazarus to die before he went to him to do something about him?

 

Answer:

For me the answer was given in John 11: 41-42, when Jesus prayed the following words to the Father: “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

 Yes, Jesus could have rushed to Lazarus’ aid when He heard of his sickness, but he stayed where he was for two more days in order to establish the following people’s faith in Him, as the Messiah:

  1. His Disciples — “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.” – John 11:14-15
  • They were closest to Jesus and had seen Him perform one miracle after another, and yet they still questioned His timing and decisions. In verse 8, they expressed fear for His safety, when they shouldn’t, because Jesus knew what He was doing. My take here is that Jesus thinks that their faith in Him at this point was still shaky, that they hadn’t fully grasped the idea of Jesus as the Son of God, and what He was about to do in order to save them.
  1. Martha – “Your brother will rise again… I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die, and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” – John 11:25-26
  • Martha was the busy servant. In Luke 10:38-42, she made sure that Jesus got the best reception and service when He visited their home. She knew that Jesus could have healed her brother, but after voicing out how she felt (v.21) she accepted that perhaps God had a better plan. In v.27, she declared her belief in Jesus as the Messiah. This was her point of salvation.
  1. Mary – “When Jesus saw her weeping…he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled… Jesus wept.” – John 11:33-35
  • While Martha was busy, Mary was the one sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to His teachings. In Luke 10:42, Jesus said that Mary discovered the one thing that that’s worth being concerned about. It’s interesting that though Martha expressed the same grief about Him not arriving before Lazarus’ death, it was when Mary said these words with weeping that Jesus became “deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” I think this is because it grieved Jesus to see that though Mary had learned the secret of intimacy, her faith in Him was still not strong enough to trust His plan and timing.
  1. The Jews (who came along with Mary) – “Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, had seen what Jesus did, and believed in him.” – John 11:45
  • It wasn’t an accident that these Jews came and grieved with Mary, and followed them to witness how Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. As Jesus had said, he arrived at this time so that everyone who would witness this miracle would believe in Him, and be saved.
  1. Everyone who will hear the news – “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him…” – John 11:48
  •  When they heard the miracle that Jesus had done, they became alarmed that everyone would start believing in Him. But this was Jesus’ plan–that by raising Lazarus from the dead, His glory would be revealed, and people would come to know Him, and believe in Him.
  1. Lazarus — “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” – John 11:4
  • Jesus had not only revived Lazarus’ physical body, but also his soul and spirit. I believe (though it wasn’t really stated) that by being the instrument and recipient of Jesus’ display of power and goodness, he was the one who had been impacted and changed the most.

Conclusion:

Through Raising Lazarus from the dead, God’s glory was revealed, and Jesus was able to let people know and believe that He is Messiah. That He is the Resurrection and the Life.

 

My Personal Takeaway:

You could be:

A Disciple—walking closely with God but still living in fear and having difficulty in trusting His decisions, or

A Martha—busy doing good works to please God without fully understanding who Jesus is, or

A Mary—having an intimate relationship with God but sometimes finding it hard to find joy and trust in His timing, or

A “Jew”—has witnessed how God has moved in the life of another person, or

A Hearer—someone who has heard of God’s Word and works through another person, or

A Lazarus—one who has experienced God’s miracles…

Whatever stage of spiritual walk you’re in, God will not stop doing great things to remind you and show you who He is. It could be through bad things, like sickness or suffering the pain of losing a loved one, or good things like healing and revival, but no matter what we experience, we should always trust in Him—in His timing, His ways, His purposes.

Leadership Pains

Chapters Read: Numbers 23:1 – 36:13

Moses said to the Lord, “May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”

So the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit of leadership…”

– Numbers 27:15-18

 

I think this is the most painful point of Moses’ leadership–the realization that God’s word is final. He won’t make it to the promised land. But instead of questioning the Lord, Numbers 27:15-16 showed Moses’ humility. As he had done numerous times during their journey in the wilderness, he interceded on Israel’s behalf. He loved his people enough to ask the Lord to take care of them by appointing someone capable of leading them, as a shepherd to a sheep.

I heard this from Dr. Sam Chand in a conference that I recently attended: “If you’re not bleeding, you’re not leading.” He called this BLEEDERSHIP. And this was true not only for Moses, but for every leader recorded in the Bible. It remains true today. Pain is necessary because without it, we won’t develop into the people God intended us to be. As Dr. Chand also said, “You will grow only to the threshold of your pain.”

And maybe this was what God meant when He said that the spirit of leadership is in Joshua. That he’s a man of so much pain capacity–strong enough to win victories for the Lord, yet humble enough to serve His people.

Balaam’s Donkey

Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the Moabite officials. But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, it turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat it to get it back on the road.

Then the angel of the road stood in a narrow path through the vineyards, with walls on both sides. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. So he beat the donkey again.

Then the angel of the Lord moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat it with his staff. Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me three times?” 

Balaam answered the donkey, “You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.”

The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?” 

“No,” he said.

Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell face down.

~ Numbers 22:21-31

 

This story struck me so much that I had to pause from reading to reflect. I don’t know what insights you would have drawn from this passage, but this is mine: We are Balaam, while the donkey is the Holy Spirit.

We are people with so many goals and dreams. And once we’ve set our minds on doing something, especially if we think it’s a matter of grave importance, we won’t let anything get in our way of accomplishing it. “Focus on the prize ahead,” we would say, and in our heads we would pray for the Lord to help us get there, without actually pausing to really seek His will regarding these plans. And these are the times that we have made God our donkey, expecting Him to carry us to that destination, while we hold the reins.

And as Balaam’s donkey tried to protect Balaam from the dangers that his blinded eyes could not see, the Holy Spirit who knows what’s ahead of us has been prompting us again and again to pause and rethink our actions. And like the way Balaam had beaten his donkey for bringing discomfort and “making a fool of him,” we grieve the Holy Spirit every time we think we know better and take Him for granted.

 

“Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”

I tried to replace this line with, “Am I not your God, who have always carried you, to this day? Have I been in the habit of making a fool out of you?”

And then my heart started to break. Who am I to think so little of my God? After everything He’s done to preserve my life, why do I still disobey Him? Why can’t I let go of the reins and surrender completely to his ways? Why do unanswered prayers make me feel foolish and defeated when I didn’t really ask for His will in the first place?

But after all these mistakes, He still uses stories like this to remind me that He’s still with me, no matter how stubborn I have become. That disappointment is His way of telling me that I’m walking the wrong way, and protecting me from the dangers that my human eyes cannot see. That I must seek His will first before making rash decisions that would just hurt me in the end.

 

 

“What have I done to you to make you beat me three times?” 

When the donkey asked this question, I was reminded of how Peter denied Jesus three times in the New Testament (John 18:15-27). I think it was out of shame and fear. He was afraid to get hurt, to be beaten and put to death, as they did his Master. He was afraid to be labeled a fool for being a disciple of Jesus, and so he lied and lied and lied, and grieved God’s heart.

 

“Peter, do you love me?” The Lord would ask him three times in John 21:15-19. Try replacing Peter with your own name. How will you respond?

From Slaves to Conquerors

Chapters Read: Numbers 21: 1 – 22:20

 The Lord said to Moses, “Do not be afraid of him [Og king of Bashan], for I have delivered him into your hands, along with his whole army and his land. Do to him what you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon.

 So they struck him down, together with his sons and his whole army, leaving them no survivors. And they took possession of his land.” ~ Numbers 21:34-35

 

The Moabites said to the elders of Midian, “This horde [Israelites] is going to lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field.” ~ Numbers 22:4

 

Overcoming the fear in their hearts when they first saw the giants they would have to face in order to claim the promised land (Canaan), the Israelites went on and marched to obey the Lord’s command.

As I was reading through this story, I have observed a notable shift from chapter 20 to chapter 21. In the former, when Israel asked Edom to allow them passage to their country, promising to not touch anything, Israel turned away after seeing the large and powerful army that marched against them. It was only in the next chapter that Israel mustered enough courage to face the armies that stood in their way as they went on. And this courage led them to victory.

What caused the shift?

I think the pivotal point happened in Numbers 21: 2, after the Canaanites attacked and captured some of them on the way. It was when their helplessness led them to call upon the Lord, saying, “If you will deliver these people into our hands, we will totally destroy their cities.” And they had been invincible since. The Lord had granted them victory against the strong armies of Sihon king of the Amorites and Og king of Bashan. This why Balak, the king of Moab at time, feared Israel so much that he ordered his messengers to summon Balaam and bring a curse upon Israel’s army.

If the Lord had not promised to be with them in these battles (Numbers 21:34), the Israelites would not have enough courage and will to face the armies that threatened them. They would have just turned away from their path, as they had done with Edom, and in turn make their journey to Canaan much longer than intended. Surrendering their fear and helplessness before the Lord granted them not only the courage and will to fight, but also the promise that they would be victorious over anything would have to face, and most importantly, the assurance that the Lord would be with them through these battles.

While reading through Israel’s victories, I was reminded of their past, and it made me pause and marvel at the greatness of God’s hand in their lives. They were born slaves. They labored in a foreign land day in and day out, beaten and starved. They had no idea who they were. That they were God’s chosen people. Who would have thought that these people who bowed before foreign masters would be able to wield swords and win wars?

The Lord knew what they were destined for from the very beginning. And despite their sinful and stubborn hearts, the Lord, in His mercy and faithfulness, still found a way to speak to them and lead them to become the people that He had intended them to be.

And that God who had been mighty enough to deliver Israel from his enemies is the same God who is at work in our lives today.

 

Maybe now you are in bondage (physically, emotionally, or spiritually), or maybe you feel like you’ve been wandering in the wilderness for so long, losing hope of finding the way out. Or perhaps you currently in the middle of a great battle, not knowing where to draw the courage and strength to keep fighting. No matter where you are today, always remember that there is a God you can call on to. Refuse to be enslaved by your situation, lift your head, and take His hand. Believe that as long that He’s at your side, there is nothing you can’t conquer.

Overconfidence and Familiarity

Chapters Read: Numbers 16:1 – 20:27

But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”  – Numbers 20:12

Aaron will be gathered to his people. He will not enter the land I give the Israelites, because both of you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah.” – Numbers 20:24

The sad story in Moses and Aaron’s journey is that they were not able to set foot on the promised land. After all those years of leading and attending to the needs of the Israelites in the desert, the Lord withheld from them the opportunity to enjoy the land the He had prepared for them. Why? Because of disobedience.

As I was reading these chapters, I saw two attitudes that might have led Moses and Aaron to disobedience–overconfidence and familiarity.

The Lord’s instruction was clear: to gather the Israelites, and speak to the rock in front of them for the water to come out of it so the people can drink. But Moses, consumed by his impatience and anger for the people, struck the rock twice with his staff.

I call this overconfidence because Moses decided to take the matter in his own hands. He thought his own version of resolving the problem was better than what the Lord instructed him to do. Maybe he felt that “speaking to the rock” was too soft, that the Israelites needed to see the weight of their incessant grumblings. But no matter how good his intentions were, disobedience is disobedience.

Another thing is that I think Moses became too familiar with the Lord, that he believed that he will be forgiven for anything. This is a dangerous way of thinking. While it’s true that the Lord is merciful, we must never forget that He is also just. He will not let disregard of His commands go unpunished.

But this was one mistake. Why were the Israelites forgiven over and over, while Moses and Aaron (Aaron didn’t even do anything!) were given a very grave penalty?

It’s because they were leaders. They were expected to inscribe the Lord’s commands in their hearts so they would do well to obey them, and serve as an example to the people they are leading.

And so let’s all be watchful of our actions. If someone wrongs or offends you, do not act in anger. Allow God’s word to rule your heart before taking action, for God sees everything. As His word says in Romans 12:19:

“It is mine to avenge; I will repay.”