My Rock and My Fortress

Psalm 18, being titled under ‘The LORD Is My Rock and My Fortress’, opens beautifully with a line from the psalmist,

I love you, O Lord, my strength.

Personally I’d often hear God as the source of strength, but reading that sentence right there, I think it’d be wise to also ask ourselves, ‘Is God the object of our strength?’, that is, when He is all we have, shall we be satisfied in Him?

Not simply asking for gifts and being grateful for them, but rather see Him as of supreme value, more than the gifts themselves. Can we do that — should we do that? To be grateful towards the Supplier of the Strength even more than the strength itself, is that even possible?

The psalmist continues,

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

God is his all, he wouldn’t be alive without Him — he wouldn’t really be living without Him. He is our rock, our fortress, our deliverer, our shield, the horn of our salvation, our stronghold.

Of having steadfast hope the psalmist also writes,

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:3)

What makes him stand like a tree, with such strong leaves, flourishing? The chapter writes, the delight of the law of the LORD, to which he meditates day and night (v. 2). The way of the Lord excites him, to which he says,

This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.’ (v. 30).

The thing that brings him most pleasure is nothing short of perfection — the truth, one that shields those who finds rest in Him. He then continues,

For who is God, but the Lord?
And who is a rock, except our God?‘ (v. 31).

Answer: no one! May as we think we have much, we see Him as our only strength; and may when we have little, in Him, we have all we shall ever need.

The psalmist then closes with a testimony, that He lives,

The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock,
and exalted be the God of my salvation‘ (v. 46).

And again, blessing Him, for His gracious act of salvation,

For this I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations,
and sing to your name.
Great salvation he brings to his king,
and shows steadfast love to his anointed,
to David and his offspring forever.‘ (v. 49-50)

In Jesus Christ we see such beauty unfiltered, blasting like a ray of sunlight — He is the ‘wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption‘ (1 Corinthians 1:30),  ‘the image of the invisible God‘ (Colossians 1:15), ‘the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature‘ (Hebrews 1:3).

It is amazing to see how His word — His perfect word — testifies of Christ consistently with such grand and radiant attributes. Who is like Him? No one! Who deserves all praise as He does? No one!

He is the Only One who says, ‘.. call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.’ (Psalm 50:15).

To Him be all glory, who gives us life and breath and everything, who shows us what love is, who delivers us from death and brings us to Him that we may have life everlasting — full of abundance beyond all measure — giving us the best gift He could ever give, Himself.

May we praise you forevermore, O LORD, our Rock and Fortress.

That word above all earthly powers,
No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through Him who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His Kingdom is forever.

(A Mighty Fortress Is Our God)

Amen.

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On Movies

People say it is wise to read books since life is short.

Somehow, books transports you to places and gives you the opportunity to be in other people’s shoes. May it be a detective duo uncovering the identity of an evil professor in 19th century England, a hobbit going through hills and mountains bearing himself a magical ring, a group of young adults exploring the vast world beyond a wardrobe — books offer a passage to what limitless possibilities. As long as someone thinks of it and puts it on paper to be read, it’s as if a new world can be constructed in a flick of a finger.

Now, that’s exactly how I feel about movies.

Whenever I see Shawshank Redemption, I feel as if I am part of Andy Dufresne inner circle, laughing every time he shares the story of how he made fun of the guards.

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Or joining Cooper and Brand in interstellar travel, traveling through the complex nature of time and space in order to find a new home for the sake of humanity.

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Perhaps entering the world of Inception, exploiting the world of dreams with Cobb and his crime circle.

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These feelings may even last until the last credits roll, following even to the way home, taking up a distinct space on the mind.

Roger Ebert, a renowned film critic, testifies of the same thing:

Movies are the most powerful empathy machine in all the arts. When I go to a great movie I can live somebody else’s life for a while. I can walk in somebody else’s shoes. I can see what it feels like to be a member of a different gender, a different race, a different economic class, to live in a different time, to have a different belief.

The first memory of movies that I have was watching The Green Mile at a cinema that I still go to even until this day. It was 1999, which means I was only four, and I remember that I was half scared seeing a convict played by Michael Clarke Duncan opened his mouth and hundreds of dark-colored particles came out after he supernaturally healed a prison guard played by Tom Hanks.

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I still remember the moment when I was getting ready to watch the first Harry Potter movie after reading about it on a magazine. It is rather surprising to realize that I was only six, and it happened over 16 years ago. Whoa.

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The cinema looks completely different now. It was once surrounded by dark blue wall, having a large selection of arcade games near the left entrance with their blaring arcade-y sounds, and there was a section near the line of movie posters where people can see photos of shots that are in the movie they were about to watch. Now the cinema looks much more elegant with better lighting and a dark cream and golden tone covering the walls. There are also more studios and a distinct room filled with arcade machines so the blaring sound of the games wouldn’t fill the atrium anymore.

The place may have changed, yet the memory remains timeless.

As I got older, I realized that some movies aren’t only moving pictures where the main character hops around until two hours pass and a happy ending is presented. Some seem to want to talk about tough topics. Off the top of my head, the Oscar-winning musical drama, La La Land for instance seems to focus on the topic of achieving one’s dream. The same could be said for Whiplash which portrays a realistic and rather brutal depiction of working hard to make it to the top.

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It’s as if those kind of movies speaks, that the lines that were uttered when combined with the moving images captured by the camera, the looks and expressions of the characters are trying to calmly whisper a voice that transcends the realm of the movie itself — the voice of the filmmaker.

Directors and screenwriters seem to have a way with relating to human emotion, getting us to cry on moment’s notice, ignites laugh, or even contempt. Their creative approach in doing so testifies of a certain truth that binds all audiences — the human part in each one of us.  Of great movies, George Ebert says, “The great movies enlarge us, they civilize us, they make us more decent people.”

The way movie communicates about the mysterious, the sacred, the beautiful, and how all these elements relate on a personal level, I think is the main source of awe. In a way, my whole worldview is shaped by these things I watch over the years, tested and polished, in order to find the answer of what makes us human.

Movies and the Christian Faith

One of the reasons why I like to watch movies is that I can think most clearly when I am feasting on these moving pictures. While this may sound like going to the movies isn’t a relaxing activity for me, it actually is.

After long hours of sitting in a classroom or an office, for instance, it is such a great moment to just lay back with a bag of popcorn and drink on each side of the armrest, and reflect on life itself. Being a follower of Christ, I’d feel stimulated whenever a movie explores the theme of love. Not exclusively on romantic love, but rather on a higher kind — a lasting, and an eternal kind. Just like when Brand, a character from Interstellar says of love:

Love is the one thing that we’re capable of perceiving, that transcends dimensions of time and space.

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That line really did an impact on me. Contemplating on the theme of love biblically, I find this to be consistent to the Christian faith. Jesus says of the greatest commandment, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31).

About love, John writes, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10).

In the great epistle to the Romans, Paul writes, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” (Romans 8:35). He continues, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39).

The eternal and inscrutable love of God, bestowed unto His creations and His people, O how mighty and mysterious is this truth! O how this should change how we view our relationship with other people who are also created in God’s image, and most importantly, how our all devotion should be directed to Him alone.

Another example would be paternal love, a theme that can easily be found in most family movies. Of parents the Jesus says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11).

The captivating love between a woman and his son portrayed in the 2015 movie Room for example, a portrayal that surely is an effective tearjerker, when compared to God’s Word should then invite us to meditate on a love that is more transcendent, that even the strong bond of a mother and her child don’t come close. O how this should point us to the inscrutable love of Our Heavenly Father!

How immeasurable is this love! May we join Paul contemplating with other Christians, “.. the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,” (Ephesians 3:18-19). O how such knowledge should compel us to love God more!

These are several examples of why movies are really precious to me. For me, these movies are great because they make most of Christ. Even though the directors don’t intentionally mean it to be so, the messages that they’re trying to deliver for me are whispers of deep yearning for something transcendent, Something awe-inducing in which all pleasure dwells, the One that deserves all praise and honor, the Trinitarian God Himself.

In the end, I love watching movies because they make me a believer. I hope it does the same to you too.

The Experimentation Years

As a young adult living in the 21st century, I often hear that the teenage years are the crucial moments where one can explore the world to figure out who they really are — the things they like and what they would like to do when they grow up. Many teenagers are given the freedom to do all sorts of things — taking classes, applying for internships, or maybe even backpacking through Europe — to answer the big question, “What am I going to do with my life?”

This liberty of experimentation encourages us to see everything the world offers so that we may know ourselves better. Thus many nurture romantic relationships, apply to their favorite schools, choose career paths, believing in their hearts that it is the right thing to do. However, this exploration journey might not be forever a smooth sail — relationships may end with heartbreaks, school applications replied by rejection letters, and wrong career decisions leading up to frustration.

Sometimes we are unconsciously experimenting with our own lives, following the demands of our culture, with the hope that we’ll get the much-aspired answer to the question of our identity. Shall we find it in relationships, academic reports, or our professional accomplishments? Or have we been looking in the wrong place all this time?

Experimenting with the Heart

People have a lot to say about hearts. The heart is a delicate thing, they say. When we are about to make important decisions, we’re told that we should follow our hearts. “Go with your gut!” they say.

The Bible also has a lot to say about hearts. Ever since the fall, the disobedience of Adam and Eve has led humans to eternal death (Genesis 3, Romans 5:12). Jeremiah says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). The famous reformer and theologian, John Calvin, goes even further, saying that the human heart is a “perpetual forge of idols.”

Naturally, our instinct tells us to follow our hearts, for it is the moral compass we’re commended to rely on. On the other hand, the Bible sees things quite differently; instead of trusting it, we’re presented to the only solution that only God can accomplish – change it, and follow Him instead.

God says, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27). God is the solution to our heart problem.

Timothy Keller says, “If you try to put anything in the middle of the place that was originally made for God, it is going to be too small. It is going to rattle around in there.” None of our heart-forged idols — our relationships, study, or career — can ever fit to the God-shaped hole. We can experiment all we want, but none will quite fit. Ironically, in this search, our natural state fails to distinguish things that are truly beautiful and mere vanities (Romans 1:21-23).

About this C. S. Lewis says, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

We are far too easily pleased, indeed.

New Heart and Our Identity

Only a restored heart, the gift of salvation given by grace through faith, can point us to the only One who truly matters, God Himself. It is through Christ, “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature” that we’re enabled to know Him (Hebrews 1:1-3).

In our search for fulfillment, look at Christ who humbled Himself, not counting “equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philipians 2:6-7). Fix our eyes on the One who came to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15, John 3:16), by “making peace by the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:20).

About this Paul testifies, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philipians 3:8).

The experiments can now end. Our identity is found in Christ. What are we supposed to do with our lives? Glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.

This is the gospel. This is our identity.

The Gospel and the Christian Life

 

“If I’m not showing grace . . . have I forgotten the grace I’ve been shown?” – John MacArthur

Someone once wrote that one of the biggest lie many Christians believe is thinking that they don’t need the gospel. Despite its very definition, the “good news” is popularly seen only good for people who are non-Christians, while for those who have believed in the gospel, it is often sidelined, replaced with a list of dos and don’ts instead, like so:

“Don’t lie! Don’t drink alcohol! Pray before sleep! Pray before meals!”

While they are commendable exhortations, it is unfortunate that despite such long to-do list, we might be missing the point, that is, the gospel.

What’s the gospel?

The Bible says that in the beginning was one God, co-existing in three different persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In Him is the perfect fellowship of love, each person indwelling harmoniously with each other. And in His glory is made manifest through creation, where He created the whole universe and everything in it. Continue reading

Reflections on Baptism

Yesterday, July 15th 2017 was the day of my baptism after years of embracing the Christian faith. I personally never thought that day would never come, to have fellow families and friends showing their support by witnessing this moment.

Looking back, years prior I was still reading my Bible in secret, fearing if my family were to find out. The Bible was a NKJV New Testament Gideon Bible, with a two-column side-to-side translation in Indonesian language. I would normally read before sleep, illuminated with a night lamp with yellowish hue placed above my bed. I would place the Bible beside my head pillow, start reading, and put it there for the rest of the night after I had finished. This fear-induced nighttime ritual was really challenging, and now that I think about it, was quite silly. Despite my own anxieties at that time – which were immense – it is not right to fear for my family to find out that I was practicing the Christian faith. As a matter of fact, I think my fear at that time was the fear of shame – one of the worst kind of fear.

To finally have the same people I once feared for expressing my beliefs coming to my baptism was beyond words. For years I thought that they were the problem, while it had actually been me. It felt easy to position myself as a victim, to feel self-righteous, for I was the only Christian in my household. But the problem had actually been shame – ashamed of embraching the gospel of Christ – making it even a worse kind of fear. But perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18), and this perfect love is shown in Christ.

The desire to be baptized had been there ever since the moment I read the Bible for myself. At that time, however, I thought of being baptized as nothing more of a commitment, as if I have something to prove. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with a commitment that comes from a pure heart, my desire, on the other hand was self-centered and was highly contrary to God’s Word.

According to the Scripture, baptism is a symbol of “having been buried in him … you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God” (Colossians 2:12). It is also written, “The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him;” (2 Timothy 2:11). Baptism glorifies Christ, that we may boast in His death and resurrection, in which all our hope rests. The death and the resurrection of Christ – the gospel – is our sure foundation (1 Corinthians 15:14). If baptism was the proclamation of our self-sufficiency, it would diminish the glory of Christ, the very thing that awakens our heart to the incomprehensible beauty of God.

Therefore baptism is more than a personal commitment, but a proclamation of the glory of God, an expression of faith that relies solely on God’s grace. The baptism is a one-time event, as Christ had died and rose once and for all, that we may be set free from the enslavement of sin, and live eternally with Him, in whose presence is the fullness of joy.

I could have seen baptism as the proclamation of the confidence that was similar to Peter’s just before he was about to deny knowing Christ three times (Luke 21:33). But may our confidence rest in the finished work of Christ instead, and in Him who intercedes for us (John 17), as He also prayed for Peter lest his faith fails (Luke 22:31).

My journey towards this moment hadn’t been a smooth sail. In the past there had been countless moment of unbelief and constant failure. Yet God’s faithfulness prevails, for “if we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13). It is Him who works within us and it is His righteousness that is imputed to us, so that all may be made right as we know our place as His creations, and worship Him as Our Creator, forever.

Baptism screams nothing but God’s faithfulness over people who least deserve it; it screams nothing but God’s grace. May this hymn be our daily prayer,

“My heart is filled with thankfulness
To him who reigns above,
Whose wisdom is my perfect peace,
Whose ev’ry thought is love.
For ev’ry day I have on earth
Is given by the King;
So I will give my life, my all,
To love and follow him.”

Amen.

Baptism

Merciful Father

Father, I am a sinner.

I just realized that in all the times when I would suddenly feel an insurmountable amount of guilt, I haven’t truly acknowledged that I am a sinner.

I’d have thought that I did good.

Prayers? Check. Reading the Bible? Check. Helping others? Check.

Then a deep sense of guilt would start creeping in, ruining the “good vibes” I had going. That morbid feeling whispers, “You’re a sinner.”

It is when the reality finally hits me, it feels like I have finally sobered up. It is when I am finally aware of my fallen nature, I start losing hope, leading up to the questioning of my faith – questioning God.

I’d then forget how I could claim that I am truly a Christian. That moment years ago, when it was the unlikeliest moment for me to confess my faith, I declared publicly, “I believe in Jesus Christ.”

What is wrong with me? I pray, I read the Bible, I help others, yet my heart is all hard and cold.

I forget how it feels to know Him personally. I forget His goodness. I forget who He truly is. Then doubting His existence will be the most logical choice. It feels so easy to give in, I can’t help it.

But He is truly merciful. Even in times like these, when my heart is so blurred that I can’t see Christ, He draws near.

He reminds me that He is the only reason why I believe. He is the reason why I could confess my faith. He is the reason why I could see how sin is just by the door, and I feel fear; a fear that I’d stray from Him.

So in all my weaknesses, I choose to forget Him completely – forgetting the Only One I should fear – silently wishing that hope and peace will start rushing in.

But in all my weaknesses, I also choose to forget that He is my hope, and He is my peace.

I’m trying to forget the Only Source of joy with the hope that I could find it in something else. I am exchanging God for mere vanities – praises, accomplishments – shouting, “I am the god of my own life”, hoping that I’d gain hope and peace knowing that I have it all.

Yet, in all my weaknesses, I am deeply unaware that although it might seem that I have much, I actually have nothing.

All these things just prove that I am truly a sinner. My heart condemns me, and it wins.

Or does it?

Apostle John writes, “For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.” (1 John 3:20).

God recognizes our guilt. He knows.

Now it all comes down to one question, “Do we trust Him to bear our guilt? Do we trust Christ?”

Thankfully, in all our weaknessess, He remains faithful.

“When I fear my faith will fail
Christ will hold me fast
When the tempter would prevail
He will hold me fast”
(He Will Hold Me Fast, Matt Merker)

In all our helplessness, He keeps reminding us that it is Him who saves us. By witnessing such mercy, we see His true worth – how unworthy we are, and how grand He is.

“Prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.” (Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, Robert Robinson)

In all these things that we may see as evil, He uses it for good. Christ made sure of it through His sacrifice on the cross, so that we may come to the Father, and call Him, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15).

It is by His Spirit that we are enabled to confess that He is God (Matthew 16:15-17, 1 John 4:2).

It is by His grace that we are given the faith to repent (Ephesians 2:1-8).

It is by His goodness alone, to which we deserve not even a drop, He shows that He is God, and we can rejoice in Him (Romans 9:14-18).

Father, we are sinners, and Your Son came for this very reason, to save sinners. It is through the cross that we see the worst of punishments, that Christ endured Your holy wrath that should have been lavished upon us. It is a torture none of us can even start to imagine, Lord. Remind us of such torture when we’re drawn to sin, that these filthy acts are the reason why Christ came, and why You sent Your Only Son to die for us, the ones who can present nothing but filthy rags.

Father, I have never witnessed any miracle as Christ healed people – opened the eyes of the blind or made the lame walk. But may I never forget this miracle, that You changed my heart, opened my eyes to witness Your amazing grace, so that I may walk in the path of righteousness – a path covered with Christ’s blood – that I may live like Him, losing my life, that I may gain it in You, Lord.

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24-25)

Thank You, merciful Father.

 

Spurgeon on the Gospel Humility

We would have it so happen that, when our life’s history is written, whoever reads it will not think of us as “self-made men,” but as the handiwork of God, in whom his grace is magnified. Not in us may men see the clay, but the Potter’s hand. They said of one, “He is a fine preacher;” but of another they said, “We never notice how he preaches, but we feel that God is great.” We wish our whole life to be a sacrifice; an altar of incense continually smoking with sweet perfume unto the Most High. Oh, to be borne through the year on the wings of praise to God to mount from year to year, and raise at each ascent a loftier and yet lowlier song unto the God of our Life! The vista of a praiseful life will never close, but continue throughout eternity. From psalm to psalm, from hallelujah to hallelujah, we will ascend the hill of the Lord; until we come into the Holiest of all, where, with veiled faces, we will bow before the Divine Majesty in the bliss of endless adoration.

C. H. Spurgeon