The Day I Decided to Cheat

I was never really good with Math. Whenever I see numbers on my test paper, I’d get instant headaches. So when I took my final exams in Statistics course, I was in a major spiritual crisis. I will never forget what happened that day. It was late in the afternoon, I was alone in my dorm room profusely sweating as I nervously took my old scientific calculator from the drawer and started scribbling the formulas at the back cover using pencil. I sighed a faint prayer of fake repentance while Jaci Velasquez was singing “I Get On My Knees” in the background. I didn’t want to listen to the song but I didn’t want to stop the player either.

After I copied the formulas, I neatly tucked the calculator inside my bag and started out of the door when I realized that I needed to say at least a little prayer. It was very unnerving. How do you ask God to bless your cheating? How do you say “Let me cheat just this one time, I’m sorry, bless me anyway and please don’t hold this against me?”

After so much hesitation, I went back inside, sat in my bed for a minute and mumbled, “Lord… ” Minutes passed and I was still speechless. I couldn’t form the words. I wanted to just get up and go but part of me remembered how Esau lost his birthright for a plate of food.

Jaci Velasquez’s song was still ringing in my head. “When I close my eyes, no darkness there; there’s only light… I get on my knees…”

Slowly, I took the calculator from my bag, ripped the cover apart, dropped it in my study table and went out of the door to face the dreaded numbers in my Statistics exam. I was a bit teary eyed as I walked into the exam room, not because I was going to fail but because I it was a difficult decision that I had to make.

As I quietly settled into my chair, I looked around the quite room to see how my classmates were doing. They had a uniform grim look on their faces. Then something caught my eyes. There on the white board in front of us I saw random formulas our professor wrote for us. The formulas had no names. The trick was for us to identify which one to use for the specific problems in the exam. Those were the same random formulas I wrote in the cover of my calculator.

I felt a lump on my throat as I silently said a prayer of thanks.

Protect the Source of Your Strength

Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued. Judges 16: 6

The story of Samson and Delilah is one of the most interesting stories of the Bible because for the most part, it reads like fiction about how a very strong man was subdued into submission by a beautiful woman. When I was a kid, I thought it was one of those fairy tale stories that were meant to teach us moral lessons in the end. Little did I know that the story was actually taken from the Bible and it contained richer spiritual lessons for our lives today.

One such lesson that struck me today when I chanced upon the passage was how Samson didn’t protect the source of his strength. On many occasions, we read of his loose morals. Like so many young people today, he was one who sowed wild oats wherever he went. He was young, he wanted to enjoy life and he wanted to explore the wonders of his sexuality. Whenever he saw a girl he liked, he’d do everything he can to get her even if it meant stirring up trouble. His extraordinary strength afforded him everything he ever wanted. It was probably the coolest thing in the world for a guy.

But the day of reckoning came faster than he expected. He met the beautiful Delilah and in a short period of time, his world crumbled down.

In his preoccupation with pleasure, Samson forgot to protect the source of his strength. He forgot that God gave him power to accomplish something greater than his escapades. His gifts were meant to deliver Israel, not create a harem of girls who swoon when they see him. He forgot that to maintain his power, he needed to keep his commitment and integrity as a Nazirite.

The tragedy of Samson’s life speaks loud and clear to us today. It teaches us to cover and protect the very things that make us strong. That includes our time of communion with God when we read our Bibles and pray; our fellowship with other believers when we attend church and discipleship groups; our commitment to our calling; our personal time of worship and a hundred other things that keep us spiritually strong and refreshed.

How are you protecting the things that keep you strong?

Human Billboards

You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 2 Corinthians 3: 3

If you’ve read the book of Acts lately, you’ll notice that Paul was literally a preaching machine. He was unstoppable. Everywhere he went, people got saved, lives were changed and history was altered. But not everyone was happy with him. Some of the Christians started to question his legitimacy as a preacher of the gospel and it came to a point when they asked him for a letter of recommendation from Jerusalem.

Paul’s answer to his critics was sharp. He didn’t need to produce a letter signed by the Apostolic team in Jerusalem because the lives of the people who were changed by his preaching were proof enough of the legitimacy of his ministry. Why should he carry around in his pocket a piece of paper when the people in the churches he planted carry around with them the signature of the life of Christ?

The text also gives us a glimpse of what a Christian is supposed to look like. Christians are supposed to be walking large-print letters, readable by all men. Our conduct should unmistakably point people to Christ and they should never have to guess if we are Christians or not. Like giant billboard ads, the message of our lives should be visible and readable and plain for everyone to see, not buried below a tiny asterisk.

Encouragement

And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God. 1 Samuel 23: 16

Have you ever thought that life is unfair because your boss doesn’t appreciate your hardwork? If so, you should read David’s life story. After devoting all his strength and valor serving in Saul’s army, the king tried to kill him. Not because he did something wrong but because Saul was jealous of his exploits.

If you’ve been through a situation when you gave your best to someone (or something) and in the end you walked away unappreciated, you’ll know how depressing it was for David to find himself running like a fugitive. At one point, he was so afraid of the king of Achicsh that the only way for him to save his neck was to pretend that he was insane.

http://view.picapp.com//JavaScripts/OTIjs.jsThe interesting part of the story happened when David was in hiding. Jonathan came over and helped him find strength in God. What exactly Jonathan did, I do not know but if we try and relate the story to our lives, we might find some clues.

The first thing that came to my mind is the fact that encouraging someone who has been through a lot is not something you can do in five minutes. The verse I quoted above says Jonathan went to Horesh. Where is that? I checked my Bible dictionary, Horesh means forest. Jonathan took the trouble to get out of his comfort zone and hike the mountains just so he can pray for a brother who was in deep trouble. He was willing to exert much effort and get tired in the process, if only to strengthen David spiritually.

The second thing we should notice from this verse is how Jonathan pointed David to God at the time when he needed help. Let this be a lesson for us all. When we try to encourage someone, let us point the person to Christ. Sometimes we think that as we long as we make the person laugh, we already did what we needed to do. Make no mistake. If a person needs a laugh, he could just turn on the TV or go to a comedy bar.

So how about us? When a brother is in trouble, do we even lift a finger to press the buttons of our cellular phones to send him a text message? Are we willing to buy phone credits (load) and place a long distance call to find out if he is okay? Do we even know where that person lives?

The Reasons Why I’m Not Coming

Most of us are familiar with the parable of the banquet in Luke 14: 16- 24.

A wealthy man threw a party and sent out invitations. When everything was ready, he sent out his servants to collect the RSVP cards but was disheartened to know that his esteemed guests were not coming. The reasons they were not coming make for an interesting study of the excuses we often make when we want to wriggle ourselves out of God’s call. One just bought a field, another was going to try out a newly bought oxen while the other one just got married.

Let’s break the story down using our own terminologies and see if we find ourselves in it. One guy bought real estate. This sounds big to me. He must have been a rising entrepreneur or a really dedicated career person and this was his first real possession. All his years of hard work finally paid off and he meant to enjoy it before he goes around rejoicing at other people’s parties.

The second one was tied down by the burdens of work. His oxen (a new-fangled farming technology at that time) represent how he must be on top of things at work. Maybe he just got promoted, he’s got responsibilities to attend to and partying was the last thing on his mind.

The third guy’s concern was his family. I know how we often hear people say that they will never sacrifice their families on the altar of success in the ministry or work or business or anything else. That sounds very reasonable and admirable at the same time. Family comes first, we get that. But this guy has lost all his manners when he got married. Attending a banquet and staying married are NOT conflicting things.

Now we are all aware that this story is a parable of God’s invitation for us to join his banquet in heaven. What’s very interesting about this is the fact that all their alibis were not sinful things. Never. I mean look at them again. There is nothing wrong with buying a piece of land, nothing sinful with being excellent at your job and definitely nothing unholy about keeping your marriage solid. For the record, these are good things, in fact, these are the very things we strongly pray about! Properties, a high paying job and a good marriage- who doesn’t pray for these?

So if that’s the case, what is wrong with this picture then? I guess the answer lies in the fact that they could have all gone to the banquet and still managed to attend to their individual businesses. I mean, whoever told them that obeying God is mutually exclusive with having a good life? Looking closely, you’ll find that their problem is the indifference behind their reasons. They didn’t care about the invitation and by extension, the didn’t care about the person behind the invitation.

You know what’s the most regrettable and heartbreaking part of this whole thing? They got excluded from the glorious banquet of God not because of some grave, despicable sins they did but because they were blessed with answered prayers. For some reasons, they got too caught up with enjoying God’s blessings that they forgot to maintain a right relationship with the blessor.

Interruptions

Story has it that in the middle of working on another masterpiece, Leonardo da Vinci laid down his brushes to answer a knock on his door. Outside was an elderly man who needed help with his water line. Da Vinci dropped what he was doing, picked up his tools and went out the door to help the old man. We don’t know if he made for a good plumber or if he was even able to finish the job. What we know is that the work of art that he started that day remained unfinished till the day he died.

Interruption. Everyone knows what it’s like. You start a personal project that’s very important to you and just out of the blue, some other things scream for attention and before you know it, you’re reduced to responding to the urgent needs around you. Some years later you realized your project remains unfinished. Where have all the hours gone?

Or maybe you set aside a time to read your Bible at a very convenient time but just when you were about to receive a very important revelation from God, your cellular phone started ringing. You dropped your Bible to check the message and realized it was just a funny Facebook update. You check your computer and before you know it, you’ve been surfing the internet for hours. Meanwhile, your Bible sat on the empty table, unread; and the revelation that would have changed your life vanished into thin air.

But not all interruptions are bad. When Jesus was on His way to Jairus’ house to pray for his sick daughter, a woman who’s been bleeding for 12 years interrupted Him. She crawled through the crowd to touch Jesus’ robes and when she did, she was instantly healed. Jesus stopped in His tracks to investigate the power that He felt came out of Him. We know how the story unfolded but what we often forget is that while this exchange was going on, Jairus was anxiously waiting for Jesus to wrap up His investigation and proceed to his house so his daughter can be healed.

I have a feeling that Jairus wished the woman didn’t interrupt them at all. His daughter was on the verge of death and the woman who interrupted them looked like she could survive a few more hours of not getting her miracle. Why Jesus lingered was simply beyond him. Then the news came and shattered his last hope for miracle. His daughter’s dead, he need not bother the Master! I could just imagine the look of accusation in his eyes. If only the woman didn’t interrupt them… If only Jesus hurried a little…

Few verses later, we learned that his daughter was resurrected from the dead, a far more glorious miracle than rising up from the sick bed. The interruption was intentional in the plan of God. Partly, it was meant to teach us that there are times when we have to give in to divine interruptions just so we can allow God to work out something.

But how do we know which interruption is from God and which one is not? Now that’s something that needs a lot of practice and fine tuning in our part. Learning to listen to the voice of God is not something we can learn from a blog or a book. We’ve got to do it, live it, and learn it ourselves.

Disclosure: This post is inspired by Joe McKeever’s “Interruptions: Blessings and Burdens,” posted on October 28, 2003

Help from Unexpected Places

Hagar had a good life. God promised her that her son Ishmael would have descendants that will be too numerous to count. Then a quick turn of events caused her and her son to be kicked out of Abraham’s household, sending them blundering in the wilderness without enough food and water to sustain them. With their supplies running out and the boy getting very weak of the journey, Hagar laid Ishmael under a shrub to die while she went a little farther to give in to her despair.

Who’s gonna hear her there? No one. They were alone in the wilderness, her son was dying and she has resigned herself to the same fate. All she could do was cry. No, it wasn’t a prayer, just plain, hopeless bleating. She was weak, too weak to even see her son draw his last breath. She was waiting for grief and despair to claim her. But she forgot one thing: God’s promise that Ishmael would be great.

In his dying state, Ishmael did something he learned from his father- he prayed to the God of the Hebrews. He prayed hard, in fact, the Bible says he lifted up his voice and cried. I know most translations would say it was Hagar who prayed but in the original Hebrew, the voice that was lifted up was masculine, indicating that it was Ishmael who prayed. Gen. 21: 27 confirms it, it says that the Lord heard the voice of the lad.

Hagar’s deliverance came from an unexpected place. It was brought about by a genuine prayer of a dying boy and the faithfulness of the God who never forgets any of His promises. Just when her last strand of hope was about to snap, God stepped in and by miraculous providence, a spring of water appeared near them and sustained them in the dessert. They were not going to die after all. Even if Ishmael’s posterity would grow to be the fiercest enemy of Isaac’s children for generations, God simply doesn’t abandon those whom a promised is made to.

You might sometimes find yourself in a situation where you are too discouraged to even get up and breath. Don’t despair. Even the castaways are never forsaken. They live on and they find hope in God. They find help even in unexpected places. Yes, even a dying boy’s prayer can be your ticket to deliverance. Just hang on and say a prayer.

Roads

There was only one Road, and it’s like a great river; its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door. You step into the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.

Do you realize that this is the very path that goes through Mirkwood, and that if you let it, it might take you to the Lonely Mountain or even further or to worse places?”

Bilbo Baggins, The Fellowship of the Ring

Oswald Chambers

If the Spirit of God detects anything in you that is wrong, He does not ask you to put it right; He asks you to accept the light, and He will put it right. A child of the light confesses instantly and stands bared before God; a child of the darkness says – “Oh, I can explain that away.” When once the light breaks and the conviction of wrong comes, be a child of the light, and confess, and God will deal with what is wrong; if you vindicate yourself, you prove yourself to be a child of the darkness.