Psalm 23 remains to be the most popular chapter in the Bible.  The psalmist’s way of declaring himself as one who is in need of a shepherd echoes universal pathos of dependence and at times helplessness.

We are like sheep in many ways.  We need to be taken to a safe place so we can drink freely.  We get scared by so many things and without a shepherd to guide us, we will just be following the next sheep or person ahead of us.

Sheeps are direction-less. And in many ways, so are we.

The most poignant of this Psalm is toward the end :  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”

Walking through the valley.  This could picture still having some semblance of strength to walk through it.  Maybe the remaining strength is no longer enough for you to run through it, thereby escaping all the associated fears of the moment.  But the psalmist declares “even when I walk…”

Many times in our lives – when we go through our difficulties – it can be likened to a a very slow walk.  You are moving to a certain extent, but the pace could really kill you from anxiety.  But I think the action described here is not merely poetic.  Because in the real sense, when difficulties arise, the pace could be so fast that many times it feels like a rug has been yanked from under your feet.

You walk.  This shows the daily walking, breathing, living along with the trial that surround you.  You go through the valley.  It could be dark – and the surrounding mountains are too high to be scaled upon by whatever measure of strength left in your body.  So you walk. One step at a time.

You see shadows and these shadows may actually point you to the light or may keep you from seeing the light.  The shadow is all around you as you walk through the valley.

What is the valley of death that you are walking on right now?

A failed marriage perhaps. A lost opportunity for love?  Health concerns that seem to keep on coming back?  A family dispute that will take you nowhere? A financial meltdown?  Death in the family and you wonder how you would ever cope without this precious life to love you?  Failed and lost dreams?  These and more are shadows as you walk through the valley.

Of death.

But the psalmist does not end there.  He bravely declares, “I will fear no evil… For you are with me…”

I will not fear.  This signifies decision that has been made from the most resolute part of the heart.

I will not fear, not because I can command the shadows to go away.

I will not fear, not because I have the strength to walk through the darkness.

I will not fear is a statement based on the confidence of who he is walking with.

And this is our secret.  We go through the shadows. We walk through the valley and many times, the shadows hide the precipitous cliffs and difficult traverse.

But we do not go through it alone.

We never go through it alone, and this is what the psalmist is highlighting for us.

For You our Lord, is with me.  Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

So hang on dear friends.  The Lord knows exactly where you are, right under the shadows, painfully walking through the valley. He has been there. He knows how it feels like – and because He has gone through it – we are never alone as we traverse this valley filled with shadows of the unknown.

Friends may walk with you for awhile. Brothers and sisters may even grow weary of lifting you up. But HE who came down to be like us, will never leave you hanging. He will never leave you to drown in your fears.

As you walk – He is walking with you.

May you ever experience the loving, tender,compassionate and healing presence of the Lord as you go through the shadows of the valley of death.

In Jesus’ name.

AMEN

Advertisements

Someone from Pakistan sent this to me.  I am posting this here because I support the merit of this article. And though I am not Jewish, like Ben Stein, I am also asking those same questions:

Isaiah 55: 5 – 7 SEEK THE LORD, WHILE HE MAY BE FOUND.  CALL UPON HIM WHILE HE IS NEAR. LET THE WICKED FORSAKE HIS WAY FOR HE WILL ABUNDANTLY PARDON.

Subject: Remarks from CBS Sunday Morning (everyone should read!)

I only hope we find God again before it is too late!! image001

The following was written by Ben Stein and recited by him on CBS Sunday Morning

Commentary.

My confession:

I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish.  And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees, Christmas trees..  I don’t feel threatened.  I don’t feel discriminated against. That’s what they are:  Christmas trees.

It doesn’t bother me a bit when people say, ‘Merry Christmas’ to me.  I don’t think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto.  In fact, I kind of like it  It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn’t bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu ..  If people want a creche, it’s just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

I don’t like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don’t think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians.  I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period.  I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country.  I can’t find it in the Constitution and I don’t like it being shoved down my throat.

Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship celebrities and we aren’t allowed to worship God as we understand Him?  I guess that’s a sign that I’m getting old, too.   But there are a lot of us who are wondering where these celebrities came from and where the America we knew went to.

In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different:  This is not intended to be a joke;  it’s not funny, it’s intended to get you thinking.

Billy Graham’s daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her ‘How could God let something like this happen?’ (regarding Katrina) Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response.  She said, ‘I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we’ve been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives.  And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out.  How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?’

In light of recent events… terrorists attack, school shootings, etc.  I think it started when Madeleine Murray O’Hare (she was murdered, her body found a few years ago) complained she didn’t want prayer in our schools, and we said OK.  Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school.  The Bible says thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself.  And we said OK.

Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn’t spank our children when they misbehave because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr Spock’s son committed suicide).  We said an expert should know what he’s talking about.  And we said OK.

Now we’re asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don’t know right from wrong, and why it doesn’t bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.

Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out.  I think it has a great deal to do with ‘WE REAP WHAT WE SOW.’

Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world’s going to hell  Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says.  Funny how you can send ‘jokes’ through e-mail and they spread like wildfire but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing.  Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace.

Are you laughing yet?

Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on

your address list because you’re not sure what they believe, or what they
will think of you for sending it.

Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of us than what God thinks of us.

Pass it on if you think it has merit.  If not then just discard it… no one will know you did.  But, if you discard this thought process, don’t sit back and complain about what bad shape the world is in.

My Best Regards,  Honestly and respectfully,

Ben Stein

Praise is an act of Faith

January 12, 2009

Yesterday, my wife and I attended Crossway Church. It is one of the congregations we go to when we are not doing circuit visits.

The worship leader was Aron. I knew his style, selection of songs and overall approach. When he started leading the worship, I knew that it was going to be difficult for me. I was in too much pain to be singing fast and upbeat praise songs. I was looking forward to the sobered hymns and réflective music. I closed my eyes and tried to sing as well but no words came out.
I heard Aron encouraging us to remember the good deeds of the Lord.  I remembered the Lord’s kindness and thanked Him again and again for what He has done and continues to do.  I remembered Hebrews 1:3 – how everything is being sustained by His name.

My quiet meditation would be interrupted more by the disruptive mental images in my mind. Pictures, words, frozen moments of our continuing challenge would wrestle my attention away from my praise.

It was difficult – and in a moment, my praise turned to despair.  There I was, in the midst of a very praise-filled congregation, alone and un-reached in my desolation.

I whispered “Lord, I cannot sing…”

He gently whispered back…”focus on WHO I AM and not on what you are going through right now…”

It was a divine answer that I needed to hear again.  Focus on WHO the LORD is.  FOCUS on HIS character and not on the ongoing trials no matter how difficult it would seem.

PRAISE the LORD because of WHO HE IS and not only BECAUSE OF WHAT HE HAS DONE.  Many times when we just focus on the latter, we would eventually find ourselves focusing on what HE HASN’T DONE YET. We will also find ourselves focusing on things that are still waiting for resolution, loved ones that need to be healed, freed from their bondage, dreams that are still yet to be fulfilled.

FOCUS ON WHO CHRIST IS.  I slowly recalled the nature and character of Christ. And out of pain-wracked heart, a small praise came out of my lips that could barely open up to sing.  I was not singing like I used to, but my heart was lifted up in praise.

Praise is always an act of faith.

We know this more intuitively and subjectively when it gets to be more difficult to praise because of the hardships we go through.  But the praise of the Lord is NEVER diminished by the overwhelming odds stacked against us.  We praise GOD for WHO HE IS. WE PRAISE HIM even if the answer may be a NO or a NOT YET.  We praise HIM because of HIS NATURE and HIS CHARACTER.

Praise is always an act of faith.

Yesterday, this subjective reality, was my objective reality.

Have you ever experienced this?  Have you ever considered that when you are just about to really throw in the towel and give up, that is when something happens to lift you up?

I have read this somewhere, when I was a lot younger, that the night is at its darkest when dawn is about to break forth…

I remember waking up my boothmate (Booth 1010!) Aaron Bennis at 3 am, during my senior year, just to show him a phenomenon I had never seen before.  I woke up at 3 am (we were located in the Piney Woods of Texas!) and saw a very clear delineated line of darkness and light.  It was the one of the most spectaculars things I have ever seen. It was as if the heavens were a blank slate of black and white.  The edge of  the blackness  – was really at its darkest… or maybe it could have been inherent, or the juxtaposition of darkness and light highlighted the dramatic contrast of each.

It is similar to what we experience from time to time.

A parallel to this is when “God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.”

When we have just given up.  When we have thrown in the towel. When we don’t want to fight anymore and just surrender everything to Him (shredded threads and all…) and suddenly, His mercy is made manifest in our lives.  The mercy and grace is made “perfect” because there is nothing left to distract us.  In our utmost dependence on Him, God’s strength becomes perfect for us.

Recall the experience of Mary crying at the sight of the opened tomb and with just the graveyard clothes left by Jesus.  Consider Mary Magdalene, just waiting for the angry stones thrown at her – just waiting for them to hit her shame-racked body.  Consider the disciples who rowed for about 8 hours through the night, tired, discouraged maybe wondering what was going to happen next – and only to be deathly afraid at the sight of Jesus walking on water.  Consider the widow and her son who prayed as they cooked their last meal and knew that there won’t be any meals afterwards and how they readied themselves to die of hunger…

When you look at the scriptural evidences… it seemed that the night is at its darkest, just when the light is about to break through.

I must admit that I do not want to sound pollyanna-ish about the whole thing. The last thing I would want is to minimize what you are going through. Some of you may have lost your homes due to the recession.  Thousands have lost their jobs and have wiped out their savings and other bank accounts.  I know of a father who lost his precious 2-year old son on Christmas day.  We hear of thousands of OFWs who are facing potential job loss because the world’s economy is running to the ground.

It is very dark right now.

But I submit to you – light is about to break forth.

Never lose hope even if your heart is tired of hoping.

Never stop praying even if every part of your body would like to deny the existence of the ONE who can make all things possible.

And in the words of a well-loved statesman… “Never, never, never quit…”

This is not a hope that is based on the theology of tomorrow – or the incantations of the superstitions.

This hope is firmly grounded on WHO Christ is.

Securely fastened in His unconditional love not just for some, not just for the righteous – but for all of us.

So stop fighting my friend.

Jim Elliot, one of the 5 missionaries killed in the jungles of South America as they tried to evangelize the Auca Indians wrote: ” I open my hands to give what I cannot keep, to gain what I may never lose…”

Open your hands to give all the pain and sorrow that you cannot keep.

Open wide your hands to receive mercy and grace that you in Christ will never lose…”

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen.

” Would I Be Enough?”

January 7, 2009

Driving home late one evening, about 2 weeks before Christmas 2008, I felt a stirring within me.  I was having a quiet driving conversation with the Lord and I was telling the Lord how Christmas has become a season for self-centeredness and consumerism.

How it was easy to lose the real reason of the season when the preparation of the heart involves looking at physical gifts, expensive gadgets and awesome parties, to name a few.

Since I was talking with the Lord, I asked the Lord what gift He would give me.

I started naming those gadgets I had been salivating for quite some time now:

Xperia – yes Lord, that is such a nice phone and wow all the features are really good.

OMNIA – wow Lord that is also nice..

iPhone – that one too… wow just one of those cool nifty gadgets and I knew it would be a real awesome break!

But then I felt the Lord asking me a question:  ” If I were to come wrapped in a present, WOULD I BE ENOUGH AS A GIFT?”

There was a pause.  “Am I Enough?”

The following morning, I shared this conversation with Wifey over breakfast. It was a very powerful reminder that the real reason for the season is not those cool laptops, cellphones, parties etc… the real reason is JESUS HIMSELF.  He is the gift.

Little did I know that when the Lord asked me that question, He was already preparing me or giving me what I would need as we experienced what I have called “the bleakest period” of my life in recent years.

The huge problem is still not over.  I can already begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I was asked by a friend how I was doing and that simple question became such a profound question that it literally hurt inside as I tried to answer the simple question.

On the eve of Christmas day, I found myself staring at the horrors of pride and un-forgiveness.  Pride does hurt and makes the righteous fall. Unforgiveness makes one sink deeper than what is imaginable.

I remember driving home with Wifey a little past midnight… with tears literally blinding my eyes.  And as I drove, I heard the question “Am I Enough? Am I enough?” being asked of me.  It was not asked in a condemnatory way but I knew that answering that question would give me the strength to make it through the deepest valleys.

As each day slowly progressed, as each painful moment was slowly played out – I found myself answering “Yes, you are enough!  Yes, you are enough!

I didn’t want anything else. I didn’t long for the parties and the sumptious dinners.  No I did not want anything else – not even the solution to our dilemma. I only wanted Christ.

On Christmas day, like a bruised reed, I got up from bed and with no schedule for the day, just watched FOX news as they showed the Christmas sermon of Ptr. Rick Warren.  I briefly smiled when he started using Hebrews 11:6, a passage I had used for one of the retreats I had conducted recently.

But what really struck me was when he said ” Do not exert too much energy focusing on the solutions to your problems… focus on WHO HE IS. FOCUS on CHRIST alone…”

It was definitely a message for me.  I was too weak and too hurt to find any solution – and that was the perfect state to just seek Christ alone.  Lord, yes you are enough. You are more than enough!

We are almost there, but not quite.  The other night I felt like I went through an extensive open heart surgery.  It was clearly needed – and the heart can only be healed through such an extensive heart operation.  I even praised God for allowing it to happen.  The “heart stitches” have been done – and in its most fragile state, utmost tenderness must be done to ensure its proper healing in the days to come.

Yes… our healing is on its way.

Yesterday as Wifey and I went to the mall to get some of our groceries, I was very surprised to hear the Christmas songs still being played in the mall.  I missed Christmas.  It all just came and went.  It was a long vacation here in this country – made longer in our anticipation to see the end of what we were going through.

I found myself humming the songs “O Holy Night…”, ‘Come All ye Faithful…”

I was singing again.  My wounded heart is able to sing again – and it was my wife who quietly pointed it out to me when she said “Hubby is singing again…”

I smiled quietly.

Yes Lord… thank you.. You are the only Christmas gift I would ever want in this lifetime.

Lord, you are more than enough.

Serenity Prayer

January 4, 2009

This is my first post for 2009.  The Christmas break is ending soon and it seemed like it just came and went.  Now the Christmas lantern needs to be taken down and other christmas decors need to be put away.  I had barely enjoyed the lights and now it is back to the usual grind.

Let me share with you this Serenity Prayer.

May it usher peace in your hearts during those dark and discouraging moments.  I read this again and again tonight, and the more I did, the more I realize its simplicity and its profundity.

God, grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time,

enjoying one moment at a time:

accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;

taking, as Jesus did,

this sinful world as it is,

not as I would have it:

trusting that You will make all things right

if I surrender to your will;

so that I may be reasonably happy in this life

and supremely happy with you  forever in the next.

AMEN

Reinhold Niebuhr

After an instructional flight with Capt Harris and Wifey

After an instructional flight with Capt Harris and Wifey

Today is our 10th Wedding Anniversary.

I could not even begin thanking the Lord our God for what He has allowed us to experience all these years.  My life has been so meaningfully enriched since we first knelt as a couple and was prayed over as husband and wife.

I remember all the challenges we faced early on and the difficulties that followed when 4 months after our marriage, my wife became an orphan when Mama died.  Her only sibling lives in Malaysia and I remember the late nights and the early morning cries because of the grief her small heart could not contain…

I remember so many moments… precious moments that would be, to borrow Max Lucado’s phrase…”eternal instants…” Moments that made time to stand still.  You just breathe in that moment and savor its detail, and allow its subtle fragrance be infused in your well-being.

Eternal instants… my wife and I have many of those.  Quiet walks, crying over a movie (The Notebook!), walking the dogs, early morning brewed coffee… little things that may seem so ordinary and insignificant.  But when love is in those ordinary and insignificant things – they take on an extra-ordinary quality.

Thank you Lord for sustaining us through.

Ours is a relationship that could only boast of You.

Thank you Sheila.

If God would allow me one wish… then it would have to be this:

“Lord, let me hold her hand for all eternity….”

Lovey, I love you today

More than yesterday

Less than tomorrow!