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31 March, Saturday – Easter Vigil

31 March – Easter Vigil 

Dear Readers,

The Easter Vigil Mass features a total of nine readings. It is an Oxygen tradition to have a reflection for each of these readings. This Easter, together with our regular contributors, we welcome back Steven and Rebecca, as well as guest contributor Kristel. It is a long read, but we hope that it will be an enjoyable and inspiring one!

Blessed Easter!
Desmond (on behalf of the Oxygen Team)
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FIRST READING

Genesis 1:1-2:2

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, and God’s spirit hovered over the water.

God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light. God saw that light was good, and God divided light from darkness. God called light ‘day’, and darkness he called ‘night.’ Evening came and morning came: the first day.

God said, ‘Let there be a vault in the waters to divide the waters in two.’ And so it was. God made the vault, and it divided the waters above the vault from the waters under the vault. God called the vault ‘heaven.’ Evening came and morning came: the second day.

God said, ‘Let the waters under heaven come together into a single mass, and let dry land appear.’ And so it was. God called the dry land ‘earth’ and the mass of waters ‘seas’, and God saw that it was good.

God said, ‘Let the earth produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants, and fruit trees bearing fruit with their seed inside, on the earth.’ And so it was. The earth produced vegetation: plants bearing seed in their several kinds, and trees bearing fruit with their seed inside in their several kinds. God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came: the third day.

God said, ‘Let there be lights in the vault of heaven to divide day from night, and let them indicate festivals, days and years. Let them be lights in the vault of heaven to shine on the earth.’ And so it was. God made the two great lights: the greater light to govern the day, the smaller light to govern the night, and the stars. God set them in the vault of heaven to shine on the earth, to govern the day and the night and to divide light from darkness. God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came: the fourth day.

God said, ‘Let the waters teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth within the vault of heaven.’ And so it was. God created great sea-serpents and every kind of living creature with which the waters teem, and every kind of winged creature. God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the waters of the seas; and let the birds multiply upon the earth.’ Evening came and morning came: the fifth day.

God said, ‘Let the earth produce every kind of living creature: cattle, reptiles, and every kind of wild beast.’ And so it was. God made every kind of wild beast, every kind of cattle, and every kind of land reptile. God saw that it was good.

God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves, and let them be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all the wild beasts and all the reptiles that crawl upon the earth.’

God created man in the image of himself,
in the image of God he created him,
male and female he created them.

God blessed them, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and conquer it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all living animals on the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I give you all the seed-bearing plants that are upon the whole earth, and all the trees with seed-bearing fruit; this shall be your food. To all wild beasts, all birds of heaven and all living reptiles on the earth I give all the foliage of plants for food.’ And so it was. God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good. Evening came and morning came: the sixth day.

Thus heaven and earth were completed with all their array. On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing. He rested on the seventh day after all the work he had been doing.
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Responsorial Psalm 103:1-2,5-6,10,12-14,24,35

R/: Send forth your spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth.
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God’s Creations

How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you have made them all.

The first reading brings us back to the beginning of time, how God created the world out of nothing. For me, being in nature is one of the most basic, yet greatest reminders of God’s amazing creation.

I had the opportunity to climb Mount Rinjani a couple years ago. It is known to be a difficult hike, but one that is well-rewarded with beautiful views. I thought I had trained hard and prepared well for it, but we cannot always predict and plan everything to the detail; especially when dealing with the elements, we just have to go with the flow and adapt to the best of our abilities, and trust in God’s plan.

It was a very humbling but edifying experience for me. I was one with nature during that 3-day hike – camping outdoors, no toilets nor showers, no electricity. Amidst all that simplicity, you learn to appreciate the little things even more. The guides and porters whose livelihoods depend on this mountain were like superheroes to me. Their loads and responsibilities were far greater than ours, yet they carried it all so effortlessly. They were completely selfless and generous, and their primary concern was just making sure we were well taken care of, and helping us reach the summit.

By God’s grace, I made it to the top. Standing at 3,726 metres, my breath was taken away by the sheer beauty of this mountain. Basking in all that glorious majesticness, you can only marvel at how amazing God’s creation is. This was 100 per cent nature, nothing man-made about it. I was completely overwhelmed and filled with wonderment and gratitude.

But I had also struggled a lot, especially while trying to summit; without the help of these guides I probably might not have made it. At one part of the journey, one of them saw I was shivering and took off his jacket for me, leaving himself with just a thin long-sleeved shirt and a blanket in the freezing temperatures. He had selflessly insisted, “If you are okay, then I am okay.” These are moments when I see Jesus in people, and a great lesson for me to try and be like Jesus to others too.

The beauty that surrounded me in the mountains was not just in the amazing views, but also in the people. This is exactly God’s creation, the earth and mankind. I was initially worried that I was not prepared enough for the hike or that I was not fit enough, but God had sent me these angels to guide me and carry me. We often fear that we are not good enough. But we are God’s creation, and He has a plan set out for each and every one of us. We just have to trust in Him. And no matter what, we are always enough for God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Kristel Wang)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray that we will grow in faith and learn to place our trust in You. We pray that we will always be appreciative of all the little things, and never take anything for granted.

Thanksgiving: Dear Lord, thank you for all your wondrous creations, the beautiful earth and all its creatures you have entrusted unto us.

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SECOND READING

Genesis 22:1-18

God put Abraham to the test. ‘Abraham, Abraham’ he called. ‘Here I am’ he replied. ‘Take your son,’ God said ‘your only child Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him as a burnt offering, on a mountain I will point out to you.’

Rising early next morning Abraham saddled his ass and took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. He chopped wood for the burnt offering and started on his journey to the place God had pointed out to him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. Then Abraham said to his servants, ‘Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there; we will worship and come back to you.’

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering, loaded it on Isaac, and carried in his own hands the fire and the knife. Then the two of them set out together. Isaac spoke to his father Abraham, ‘Father’ he said. ‘Yes, my son’ he replied. ‘Look,’ he said ‘here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Abraham answered, ‘My son, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.’ Then the two of them went on together.

When they arrived at the place God had pointed out to him, Abraham built an altar there, and arranged the wood. Then he bound his son Isaac and put him on the altar on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and seized the knife to kill his son.

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven. ‘Abraham, Abraham’ he said. ‘I am here’ he replied. ‘Do not raise your hand against the boy’ the angel said. ‘Do not harm him, for now I know you fear God. You have not refused me your son, your only son.’ Then looking up, Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush. Abraham took the ram and offered it as a burnt-offering in place of his son.

Abraham called this place ‘The Lord Provides’, and hence the saying today: On the mountain the Lord provides.

The angel of the Lord called Abraham a second time from heaven. ‘I swear by my own self – it is the Lord who speaks – because you have done this, because you have not refused me your son, your only son, I will shower blessings on you, I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants shall gain possession of the gates of their enemies. All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants, as a reward for your obedience.’
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Responsorial Psalm 15:5,8-11

R/: Preserve me, God, I take refuge in you.
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Journey Mercies

“I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

We will never understand God’s ways. I was on a snowboarding trip recently and was riding really well. Really well until I attempted to jump off a ramp and sufferred a nasty fall which kept me out of action for the next few days. That was the first time that I had ever gotten injured; I had made it through National Service and a lifetime of sports and physical activity without any such incidents.

During my recovery, I had plenty of time to reflect on what God was trying to teach me through this experience. Was I overconfident? Probably. Had I taken my good health and fitness for granted? Quite likely so. Was I prideful with regard to my snowboarding ability? Yes I was. Was there a good outcome to all of this? Absolutely. Upon reflection, it dawned on me that God was showing me my limits, and teaching me how to act in a sensible and deliberate way. I believe that God was protecting me from further injury as I was planning to attempt even more reckless runs and jumps during our trip.

My injury also provided an opportunity for God’s love to be manifested through others as my friends took care of me and nursed me back to health. Allowing others to care for me and letting God work through their hands gave me a deep sense of peace and contentment in spite of my weakness. Sometimes it is in our weakness that God shows his greatest power.

This Holy Week, let us recall Jesus’ immense suffering and sacrifices for us as we go through our own trials in life. May we always see the good in every situation, and bloom powerfully beyond our wildest imagination.

(Today’s Oxygen by Anonymous)

Prayer: Heavenly God, we pray that you will give us strength in our weakness and hope for our futures.

Thanksgiving: We thank you Jesus, for the instruments of your love scattered all around us. May we never lose sight of your unwavering care.

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THIRD READING

Exodus 14:15-15:1

The Lord said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to me so? Tell the sons of Israel to march on. For yourself, raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and part it for the sons of Israel to walk through the sea on dry ground. I for my part will make the heart of the Egyptians so stubborn that they will follow them. So shall I win myself glory at the expense of Pharaoh, of all his army, his chariots, his horsemen. And when I have won glory for myself, at the expense of Pharaoh and his chariots and his army, the Egyptians will learn that I am the Lord.’

Then the angel of God, who marched at the front of the army of Israel, changed station and moved to their rear. The pillar of cloud changed station from the front to the rear of them, and remained there. It came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. The cloud was dark, and the night passed without the armies drawing any closer the whole night long.

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove back the sea with a strong easterly wind all night, and he made dry land of the sea. The waters parted and the sons of Israel went on dry ground right into the sea, walls of water to right and to left of them. The Egyptians gave chase: after them they went, right into the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.

In the morning watch, the Lord looked down on the army of the Egyptians from the pillar of fire and of cloud, and threw the army into confusion. He so clogged their chariot wheels that they could scarcely make headway. ‘Let us flee from the Israelites,’ the Egyptians cried. ‘The Lord is fighting for them against the Egyptians!’

‘Stretch out your hand over the sea,’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘that the waters may flow back on the Egyptians and their chariots and their horsemen.’

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea and, as day broke, the sea returned to its bed. The fleeing Egyptians marched right into it, and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the very middle of the sea. The returning waters overwhelmed the chariots and the horsemen of Pharaoh’s whole army, which had followed the Israelites into the sea; not a single one of them was left. But the sons of Israel had marched through the sea on dry ground, walls of water to right and to left of them.

That day, the Lord rescued Israel from the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. Israel witnessed the great act that the Lord had performed against the Egyptians, and the people venerated the Lord; they put their faith in the Lord and in Moses, his servant.

It was then that Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song in honour of the Lord: …
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Canticle of Exodus 15

R/: I will sing to the Lord, glorious his triumph!

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The Desert Journey Is Really Hard

The Lord is fighting for them against the Egyptians

In preparing the reflection for today, I watched Ridley Scott’s Exodus, which was released in 2014. For 90 odd years, Hollywood has produced various movies depicting Moses’ parting of the Red Sea to free the Israelites from the clutches of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Over the years, CGI and animation techniques have improved. I was reading up on the technicalities of how this scene was created over the years. Can you believe that in a 1923 version, the effects were made by 2 slabs of jello?!

Today, as I read the verse and watch the film, what stood out for me was when the Israelites lamented and blamed Moses for bringing them out of Egypt. Though life in slavery was intolerable, but faced with dark clouds, a tumultuous way ahead and with no rainbow in sight, they felt that being in Egypt was better. “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Like us today, the Israelites saw and felt with their own human eyes and hearts, and they were afraid and unsure of what was ahead of them. ‘It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!’

Slavery was bad but the eating was good. Who can blame them? They were in slavery for 400 years. They may have been so numb to the hardship that they simply gave up. As the saying goes, ‘better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.’ We can get so comfortable with our pain and fears that we are too paralyzed to move on. Or are we so cosy in our comfort zone that we never think about making things better? Yes, change is never easy, change is not fun, change is downright scary but in this case, there is a ‘guaranteed return on investment’ — God’s promise.

I ponder on my life — my own journey to the Promised Land, I recognize that even as I make the journey forward, many a time I cast an eye back and wonder if I should have left my ‘Egypt’. I have often questioned if life would have been different had I stayed there. Things would not have been great but perhaps, it won’t be as dry and painful as it is now. The journey ahead to my Promised Land is certainly no shady, tree-lined boulevard either. The desert journey to get there is truly hard. And hearing the homily last weekend by my parish priest kept bringing home the message about dying to self – the true essence of the Christian life, in which we take up our cross and follow Christ. Dying to self is part of being born again; the old self dies and the new self comes to life.

And so I plod onwards on my journey, dying each day to myself, and looking ahead to God’s covenant with us.

As we await the coming of Easter in just a few moments dear brothers and sisters, draw strength from knowing that though things maybe a bit bleak now in your lives, though you may not understand why God has led you to where you are in your life journey today, know that God is with us and for us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Lord, getting through the pain of the cross is possible only by going hand in hand with You. As you lead us out of the parched dryness of our own deserts, give us the courage to not look back, and the hope to keep moving forward. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for clearing the way ahead of us and leading us to where we are today. We may not understand your ways, but we trust that it is the better way.

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FOURTH READING

Isaiah 54:5-14

Thus says the Lord:
Now your creator will be your husband,
his name, the Lord of Hosts;
your redeemer will be the Holy One of Israel,
he is called the God of the whole earth.

Yes, like a forsaken wife, distressed in spirit,
the Lord calls you back.
Does a man cast off the wife of his youth?
says your God.

I did forsake you for a brief moment,
but with great love will I take you back.
In excess of anger, for a moment
I hid my face from you.
But with everlasting love I have taken pity on you,
says the Lord, your redeemer.

I am now as I was in the days of Noah
when I swore that Noah’s waters
should never flood the world again.
So now I swear concerning my anger with you
and the threats I made against you;

for the mountains may depart,
the hills be shaken,
but my love for you will never leave you
and my covenant of peace with you will never be shaken,
says the Lord who takes pity on you.

Unhappy creature, storm-tossed, disconsolate,
see, I will set your stones on carbuncles
and your foundations on sapphires.
I will make rubies your battlements,
your gates crystal,
and your entire wall precious stones.
Your sons will all be taught by the Lord.
The prosperity of your sons will be great.
You will be founded on integrity;
remote from oppression, you will have nothing to fear;
remote from terror, it will not approach you.
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Responsorial Psalm 29:2,4-6,11-13

R/: I will praise you, Lord, you have rescued me.
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You Are Never Alone

His anger lasts a moment; his favour all through life. At night there are tears, but joy comes with dawn.

 My baby has just hit a developmental leap. His level of awareness of his surroundings has surged and he now realizes there are things, situations, and sounds he feels afraid of. One of the major changes to him now is the awareness that I have left the room or space that he is in. This separation anxiety can strike even when he awakes suddenly from a nap. So he cries with an urgency that shocked me initially.

I began to reassure him of my presence by calling his name, speaking to him, and popping in his line of sight as I buzzed around the house doing my chores. I found myself telling him “You are not alone my darling” every now and then.

As I said this to him, I reflected on the readings today. In it, God tells his people in Isaiah that He is ever with them.

“I did forsake you for a brief moment, but with great love will I take you back.

In excess of anger, for a moment I hid my face from you.

But with everlasting love I have taken pity on you, says the Lord, your redeemer.”

Being a mother to my son has been a humbling journey and a process of unlearning the old ways I thought about love. As imperfect humans, we cannot help but operate on the duality of rewards and punishments, giving and withholding. I unconsciously love this way sometimes. But with my beloved son, there is never any withholding of my love and tenderness. Even in my exhaustion; my frustration with decoding his cranky and clingy needs; the external stressors of work-family balance, with God’s grace, I still manage to find the energy to attend to him. Even if it should mean forgoing my own needs, my me-time, or delaying my rest. What more of our heavenly Father who is perfect and all Love?

“my love for you will never leave you and my covenant of peace with you will never be shaken…”

Of course, this cannot be a one-time lesson in love. Many of us have been loved imperfectly in our lives and relationships. We have been angered, hurt and short-changed of our affections. But deep within us, I believe we all have a ‘dark memory’ of how perfect love feels like and should be. This subconscious awareness is the seed that triggers our lifelong search for what we call ‘true love’. Perhaps, like me, you have found human relationships tried and wanting. Perhaps, you are still trying to forgive and mend, or forget broken relationships. Maybe you think you have waited too long to be loved properly and are on the verge of giving up. Maybe you feel too broken to hope for more.

Do take heart that there will always be onward growth in your life. This is God’s promise to his sullied ‘bride’ Israel. God’s pity over his people is his great sorrow and sympathy for the mistakes you and I have made in our search for love and fulfilment. And His swift and immediate action is forgiveness and redemption.

Just as I will never leave my baby’s side, just as he is constantly on my mind as I buzz about the house doing a million things for the family… God is whispering gently to you “You are never alone my beloved.” Every now and then, He checks in on you by calling out your name, sending angels to encourage and journey with you, tugging you into his embrace with a longing and ache that you find impossible to be filled by the world’s distractions. This is your Abba Father who says, “Come back to me: I have loved you with an everlasting love.”

 (Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord, I pray for the courage and grace to love myself as you have loved me.

Thanksgiving: I will praise you, Lord, you have rescued me. In my ignorance I have neglected you, but you never forget me.

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FIFTH READING

Isaiah 55:1-11

Thus says the Lord:

Oh, come to the water all you who are thirsty;
though you have no money, come!
Buy corn without money, and eat,
and, at no cost, wine and milk.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
your wages on what fails to satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and you will have good things to eat
and rich food to enjoy.
Pay attention, come to me;
listen, and your soul will live.

With you I will make an everlasting covenant
out of the favours promised to David.
See, I have made of you a witness to the peoples,
a leader and a master of the nations.
See, you will summon a nation you never knew,
those unknown will come hurrying to you,
for the sake of the Lord your God,
of the Holy One of Israel who will glorify you.

Seek the Lord while he is still to be found,
call to him while he is still near.
Let the wicked man abandon his way,
the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn back to the Lord who will take pity on him,
to our God who is rich in forgiving;
for my thoughts are not your thoughts,
my ways not your ways – it is the Lord who speaks.
Yes, the heavens are as high above earth
as my ways are above your ways,
my thoughts above your thoughts.

Yes, as the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.
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Canticle of Isaiah 12

R/: With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
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Fully connected to God

Pay attention, come to me; listen, and your soul will live

We live in a world where internet connectivity is important. Indeed, it is almost inconceivable for a person to own a phone without mobile internet. We look for places with strong wifi signals and for each other to be in touch with one another. I remember once when my friends were totally completely clueless as to what to do when the hotel which they were living in did not have wifi. If we, who are so dependent on internet connectivity, can become so clueless in its absence, that means as Christians, we need to be in constant communion with God to be sure of what he desires of us.

Being in connection with God means that we need to be in constant communication with God. Just as data is often sent between a mobile phone user and his friends, we also need to communicate with God in prayer. The Church has a huge treasury of prayer which we can tap on to be in connection with God. Be it through quiet meditation, the use of Scripture to encounter God, or the use of song to bring ourselves to union with God, there is an important need for us to find the most suitable way to be with God and then continue.

This also requires us to be part of a community where we get to live out our lives in joy and happiness. Community living allows us to discover what it means to appreciate our faith as we journey with each other to discover what the will of God is for us. As we continue to reflect on our Easter Vigil readings, let us discover the great plan which God has for us in the Scripture readings and allow it to unfold in our lives.

(Today’s Oxygen by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for us to remain connected to you in prayer and in worship as we enter into the wonderful love you have shown us.

Thanksgiving: We pray for those who continue to share the faith with others.

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SIXTH READING

Baruch 3:9-15,32-4:4

Listen, Israel, to commands that bring life;
hear, and learn what knowledge means.
Why, Israel, why are you in the country of your enemies,
growing older and older in an alien land,
sharing defilement with the dead,
reckoned with those who go to Sheol?
Because you have forsaken the fountain of wisdom.
Had you walked in the way of God,
you would have lived in peace for ever.
Learn where knowledge is, where strength,
where understanding, and so learn
where length of days is, where life,
where the light of the eyes and where peace.

But who has found out where she lives,
who has entered her treasure house?
But the One who knows all knows her,
he has grasped her with his own intellect,
he has set the earth firm for ever
and filled it with four-footed beasts.
He sends the light – and it goes,
he recalls it – and trembling it obeys;
the stars shine joyfully at their set times:
when he calls them, they answer, ‘Here we are’;
they gladly shine for their creator.
It is he who is our God,
no other can compare with him.
He has grasped the whole way of knowledge,
and confided it to his servant Jacob,
to Israel his well-beloved;
so causing her to appear on earth
and move among men.

This is the book of the commandments of God,
the Law that stands for ever;
those who keep her live,
those who desert her die.
Turn back, Jacob, seize her,
in her radiance make your way to light:
do not yield your glory to another,
your privilege to a people not your own.
Israel, blessed are we:
what pleases God has been revealed to us.
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Responsorial Psalm 18:8-11

R/: You have the message of eternal life, O Lord.
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Growing Old In A Foreign Country

…why is it that you are in the land of your enemies, that you are growing old in a foreign country…

 It’s been a long time since I last contributed to Oxygen. Last summer, my family and I moved back to New York after having lived in Hong Kong for over a decade. The journey has been long and oftentimes arduous. There has been an endless list of ‘to dos’ which, whenever one task is completed, a few more emerge. We’ve had to tie up many loose ends while trying to find new routines to follow. There have been many goodbyes and farewells said while trying to amalgamate into a new community. For my kids especially – they’ve had to start over in a new school while trying to navigate in an entirely foreign system. The list can go on and on… but the truth is…

My absence from writing has less to do about my life circumstances and more to do about my spiritual condition. I concluded that of all the things that have been going on with my life, contributing to Oxygen required me to sacrifice the most. I had grown tired of committing the time and energy to preparing the devotionals. I no longer wanted to be held to writing deadlines. I didn’t want to be accountable for studying and then interpreting scripture. Even more so, I didn’t want to write about standards and values that I myself could never live up to. I simply just don’t like to write. And so, I opted for the path of least resistance. I quit.

While I’ve found myself with more free time, that ‘freedom’ has come at a price. I’ve ended up devoting less time to God’s Word and have become a lot more anxious about the future. I’ve become more pre-occupied with the decisions and actions needed to be taken. And even bitter when things haven’t gone my way. It has been tiring and I’ve grown weary.

In the second passage from today, we read an excerpt from David’s song of praise to God. David’s passionate declaration of his love towards God was grounded on his view as to who God was to him… “my rock, my fortress and my deliverer… in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:2) Despite being under siege by his enemies and on the verge of defeat, David turned towards God to ask for deliverance from his troubles… “The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help.” (Psalm 18:4-6). And so God, in His infinite mercy, responded. He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. (Psalm 18:16-19)

A few weeks ago, I felt a desire to catch up on some old Oxygen contributions. Upon loading up the website, I came across the call for volunteer writers for this upcoming Holy Week. Maybe this was God reaching down from on high and taking hold of me.

(Today’s Oxygen by Steven Su)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for forgiveness for all the times we’ve turned our backs to You. May the Holy Spirit guide us according to Your will.

Thanksgiving: Lord, we give thanks to You for Your great mercy. As we journey through this life, may we see that we are all living in a foreign country and that Your kingdom will be our eternal home — made possible not on our works, but through the sacrifice of Jesus.

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SEVENTH READING

Ezekiel 36:16-17,18-28

The word of the Lord was addressed to me as follows: ‘Son of man, the members of the House of Israel used to live in their own land, but they defiled it by their conduct and actions. I then discharged my fury at them because of the blood they shed in their land and the idols with which they defiled it. I scattered them among the nations and dispersed them in foreign countries. I sentenced them as their conduct and actions deserved. And now they have profaned my holy name among the nations where they have gone, so that people say of them, “These are the people of the Lord; they have been exiled from his land.”

‘But I have been concerned about my holy name, which the House of Israel has profaned among the nations where they have gone.

‘And so, say to the House of Israel, “The Lord says this: I am not doing this for your sake, House of Israel, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I mean to display the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned among them. And the nations will learn that I am the Lord – it is the Lord who speaks – when I display my holiness for your sake before their eyes. Then I am going to take you from among the nations and gather you together from all the foreign countries, and bring you home to your own land.

‘“I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed; I shall cleanse you of all your defilement and all your idols. I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead. I shall put my spirit in you, and make you keep my laws and sincerely respect my observances. You will live in the land which I gave your ancestors. You shall be my people and I will be your God.”’
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Responsorial Psalm 41:2-3,5,42:3-4

R/: Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you, my God.
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Protect His Kingdom

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.

When I read this passage, one of the first things I noticed was how God isn’t asking Ezekiel to ‘watch’ over His people. Rather, He is commanding Ezekiel to do it and protect the faiths and lives of Israel’s people. “Be their watchman”, He orders.

To put things into perspective, we need to understand that back in those days, watchmen were sentinels, posted along the outermost walls of a city. They were tasked with keeping an eye out for enemies both within and outside the city. Without them, a kingdom would fall into the hands of her enemies, her people’s lives ended or they would be forced into slavery. Basically, lives will be completely ruined.

We know that God has told us to defend his kingdom.

But what does this mean for us, the modern-day layman who doesn’t belong to an armed force? What enemies are we keeping an eye out for? What kingdom are we trying to protect?

The answer — We are in charge of keeping watch over the kingdom of God. This kingdom is the one that lies in our soul.

Our enemy — sin

Our weapon — The Word of God.

I try to make it a point to read the Bible every day. For me, it is how God talks to me and lets me know which turnings to take along the path He leads me. Not only does reading and hearing His word keep me from straying (too) far from that road, but it is also the best form of defence against the spiritual warfare we face everyday. The ways of the world are such that it is okay to tell white lies to save your back, promiscuity is perfectly normal, forgive but don’t forget, the list goes on and on.

It’s not enough to just read it though. We have to practice what we read and pray as well, just like Jesus commanded in Matthew 26:41 (NIV)

“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”

Brothers and sisters, as we prepare to celebrate Easter tomorrow, let us begin anew our journey towards God. Let us rebuild and strengthen our defences against sin. Let us pray we never fall asleep as we keep watch over God’s Kingdom that dwells in our hearts.

(Today’s Oxygen by Rebecca Grace)

Prayer: God, our holy Father, give us the strength and the willpower to stay awake to protect and defend your Kingdom against the evils of the world.

Thanksgiving: We thank you God, for the season of Lent, which has made our spirits stronger and brought us closer to You and to your son Jesus.

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EPISTLE 

Romans 6:3-11

When we were baptised in Christ Jesus we were baptised in his death; in other words, when we were baptised we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life.

If in union with Christ we have imitated his death, we shall also imitate him in his resurrection. We must realise that our former selves have been crucified with him to destroy this sinful body and to free us from the slavery of sin. When a Christian dies, of course, he has finished with sin.

But we believe that having died with Christ we shall return to life with him: Christ, as we know, having been raised from the dead will never die again. Death has no power over him any more. When he died, he died, once for all, to sin, so his life now is life with God; and in that way, you too must consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.

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Responsorial Psalm 117:1-2, 16-17, 22-23

R:/ Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

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Images of God

Death has no power over him anymore

There is a saying that a person is ‘a chip off the old block’ if their behaviour and, sometimes, even physical resemblance is similar to their parents. Indeed, the way people behave can sometimes tell us a lot about their upbringing and the company they hang around with. Similarly, as Christians who have experienced the death of the Lord on Good Friday, we also get to experience the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus.

The joy of being an Easter people means that we get to live in confidence that the sufferings which we go through on Good Friday, whilst tremendous and seemingly overwhelming, are actually nothing compared to the glory of the Resurrection which we will go through. All of us are going through or have been through suffering. Be it through the challenges we face at work, being a caregiver to a loved one, or even the financial problems, these things overwhelm us and make us realise how challenging it is to stay sane amidst these problems. We must remember that there is a reward to be seen at the end of the suffering, and this is how we enter into the life of Jesus more closely.

Just as Jesus went through much suffering when He was alive, we also have to go through suffering on this world. Yet, the suffering of this world will allow us to appreciate the joy which the Resurrection will bring to us once the suffering is relieved. The Epistle reminds us of the need to stay strong on our task and to never lose sight of our heavenly goal – which is to return to heavenly union with God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I pray that you let us see that our problems are slight and that you will take care of us.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all who bring hope to this world.

 
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GOSPEL

Matthew 28:1-10

After the sabbath, and towards dawn on the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala and the other Mary went to visit the sepulchre. And all at once there was a violent earthquake, for the angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled away the stone and sat on it.

His face was like lightning, his robe white as snow. The guards were so shaken, so frightened of him, that they were like dead men. But the angel spoke; and he said to the women, ‘There is no need for you to be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said he would. Come and see the place where he lay, then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has risen from the dead and now he is going before you to Galilee; it is there you will see him.” Now I have told you.’

Filled with awe and great joy the women came quickly away from the tomb and ran to tell the disciples.

And there, coming to meet them, was Jesus. ‘Greetings’ he said. And the women came up to him and, falling down before him, clasped his feet. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee; they will see me there.’

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Nothing to Fear

Do not be afraid.

It is interesting how, in today’s gospel, the first words Jesus speaks to the women were comforting words of reassurance. “Do not be afraid” he said, before giving them further instructions to pass on to the apostles. At almost every CER I have served, He inevitably sends me one of the prophet Isaiah’s well-known verses to reassure me that He is indeed lifting me up each and every day and giving me eagle’s wings to soar. For indeed, Christ has conquered death. So what else have we to fear?

In the past, I never truly understood or connected with the significance of Easter. It was just Christ ‘waking up’ after three days in the tomb. But now, Christ’s resurrection is more than just a physical one fo rme. I truly believe that His resurrection is a daily reminder that we must die to ourselves each and every day — at home, at work, in ministry. And in dying to ourselves, we are to surrender all our attachments to sin, to pride, envy, anger, sloth, greed, lust and covetousness. Easier said than done, especially when we also have to die to our loved ones, parents, colleagues, bosses and anyone else we encounter each day on our mortal journey here on earth.

If you think about it, we ‘die’ each night we lay down to sleep and are ‘resurrected’ each time we arise to a new day. How is it then that many of us are able to face each day with a strength and conviction that allows us to get out of the door? I think it is because we have some semblance of a ‘plan’, boring as it may seem – have breakfast, read the papers, head to the office, have lunch, attend meetings/do our work, head home, have dinner, watch some TV/surf the net, then go to bed. And the cycle repeats itself again. IF indeed we arise the next day.

But brothers and sisters, have you ever thought about those who are in depression, out of work, in counselling, or with nothing to look forward to each day? How would these people feel upon waking up in the morning? Some would dread having to face a new day with nothing to do, with no friends to meet up with, no-one to talk to. Life for them would literally be a ‘prison’ or a tomb of sorts, with darkness all around to engulf them. Perhaps that is how the apostles and Jesus’ followers felt after His death on the cross. That all was hopeless and life was going to be futile, not worth living at all.

Christ’s resurrection was more than just a physical ‘statement’. It symbolised an awakening of the spirit within his apostles and followers and it gave them the courage to persevere amid all kinds of challenges as they went about evangelising to the rest of the world. Today, as we prepare to welcome Christ again in his physical form, let us all take courage and live out our calling – to be prophets and evangelisers, to proclaim to the world that Jesus Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Abba Father, we thank you for the gift of Jesus Christ, for His sacrifice on the Cross and for fulfilling the promise He gave to us.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Father for reawakening in us the spirit of your son, Jesus Christ.

 

Tuesday, 30 January – The ABCs of Parenting

30 January 

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2 Samuel 18:9-10,14,24-25,30-19:3

Absalom happened to run into some of David’s followers. Absalom was riding a mule and the mule passed under the thick branches of a great oak. Absalom’s head caught fast in the oak and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule he was riding went on. Someone saw this and told Joab. ‘I have just seen Absalom’ he said ‘hanging from an oak.’ Joab took three lances in his hand and thrust them into Absalom’s heart while he was still alive there in the oak tree.

David was sitting between the two gates. The lookout had gone up to the roof of the gate, on the ramparts; he looked up and saw a man running all by himself. The watch called out to the king and told him. The king said, ‘If he is by himself, he has good news to tell.’ The king told the man, ‘Move aside and stand there.’ He moved aside and stood waiting.

Then the Cushite arrived. ‘Good news for my lord the king!’ cried the Cushite. ‘The Lord has vindicated your cause today by ridding you of all who rebelled against you.’ ‘Is all well with young Absalom?’ the king asked the Cushite. ‘May the enemies of my lord the king’ the Cushite answered ‘and all who rebelled against you to your hurt, share the lot of that young man.’

The king shuddered. He went up to the room over the gate and burst into tears, and weeping said, ‘My son Absalom! My son! My son Absalom! Would I had died in your place! Absalom, my son, my son!’ Word was brought to Joab, The king is now weeping and mourning for Absalom.’ And the day’s victory was turned to mourning for all the troops, because they learned that the king was grieving for his son. And the troops returned stealthily that day to the town, as troops creep back ashamed when routed in battle.
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Mark 5:21-43

When Jesus had crossed in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered round him and he stayed by the lakeside. Then one of the synagogue officials came up, Jairus by name, and seeing him, fell at his feet and pleaded with him earnestly, saying, ‘My little daughter is desperately sick. Do come and lay your hands on her to make her better and save her life.’ Jesus went with him and a large crowd followed him; they were pressing all round him.

Now there was a woman who had suffered from a haemorrhage for twelve years; after long and painful treatment under various doctors, she spent all she had without being any the better for it, in fact, she was getting worse. She had heard about Jesus, and she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his cloak. ‘If I can touch even his clothes,’ she had told herself ‘I shall be well again.’ And the source of the bleeding dried up instantly, and she felt in herself that she was cured of her complaint. Immediately aware that power had gone out from him, Jesus turned round in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ His disciples said to him, ‘You see how the crowd is pressing round you and yet you say, “Who touched me?”’ But he continued to look all round to see who had done it. Then the woman came forward, frightened and trembling because she knew what had happened to her, and she fell at his feet and told him the whole truth. ‘My daughter,’ he said ‘your faith has restored you to health; go in peace and be free from your complaint.’

While he was still speaking some people arrived from the house of the synagogue official to say, ‘Your daughter is dead: why put the Master to any further trouble?’ But Jesus had overheard this remark of theirs and he said to the official, ‘Do not be afraid; only have faith.’ And he allowed no one to go with him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. So they came to the official’s house and Jesus noticed all the commotion, with people weeping and wailing unrestrainedly. He went in and said to them, ‘Why all this commotion and crying? The child is not dead, but asleep.’ But they laughed at him. So he turned them all out and, taking with him the child’s father and mother and his own companions, he went into the place where the child lay. And taking the child by the hand he said to her, ‘Talitha, kum!’ which means, ‘Little girl, I tell you to get up.’ The little girl got up at once and began to walk about, for she was twelve years old. At this they were overcome with astonishment, and he ordered them strictly not to let anyone know about it, and told them to give her something to eat.

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If only I had died instead of you! Oh, Absalom my son, my son!

There is a common view amongst many of my elders that being a parent today is much harder than it’s ever been before. There are many factors that go into this opinion. One of those reasons is that kids have so much more information and means to access it, despite whether that information is age appropriate or not. TV, movies, internet and video games are constantly inundating our children with images of sex, violence and the ills of society. Further more, social media has given kids tools to easily communicate with one another, express themselves (whether solicited or not) and receive instantaneous feedback. It has also allowed kids a platform to create their own desired branding suitable (or not) for the online popularity contests.

In a 2011 study done by Dr. Larry Rosen a professor of psychology at California State University, it concluded that the overuse of Facebook could lead to the development of psychological disorders amongst teens (more prone to narcissistic tendencies, anxiety, depression). All of this – coupled with a serious breakdown of the traditional family structure (higher divorce rates and out of wedlock births) – makes raising “good” kids a real challenge today.

Although I agree society is becoming more connected and hence more complex, I would think it must have been just as equally difficult to raise kids in the past as it is today. The existence of wayward children and negative external influences originate from the beginning of mankind. Consider Adam and Eve when they ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge and how they specifically disobeyed their Father the Creator. Consider also Satan and how he finds a way to tempt them. When we examine our own lives – how many times have we thought that we know what’s better than our parents? Or what they are telling us just isn’t relevant in today’s age? How many times have we rejected our parents and their love for us?

As we examine the readings from today and yesterday, we learn about Absalom, the third son of David. Without question, Absalom was a problem child. His envy of his father and brothers drove him to do great evil. Not only did Absalom attempt to overthrow his father’s reign, he also ordered the death of a half bother Amon in revenge for the rape of his sister Tamar (2 Samuel 13: 23-38). Yet, despite all the defiant and vengeful acts, David loved Absalom dearly and was willing to forgive him for all of his transgressions. Who does Absalom remind us of? How often do we sin and yet, our Heavenly Father continues to forgive us and pour out His love onto us? Paul teaches us, “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)

As parents with two young boys, my wife and I worry a lot about whether we’re doing all that we can to raise our kids in a safe, healthy and loving environment. However, we also don’t want our kids to become too sheltered so that as they get older, they are incapable of dealing with problems and finding solutions for themselves. We want them to acquire a sound moral standard and have the conviction to stand up for what they believe in. Yet, we also want them to respect the viewpoints of others and be empathetic to others’ plight. We want them to grow up to be caring and thoughtful members of their community and not succumb to negative peer pressure, doing things that could be detrimental to themselves and/or others. In light of this ever evolving and increasingly complex society that we live in, how are we supposed to best raise our kids? How do we find the right balance of creating a nurturing environment without over sheltering them from the world? If we examine the gospel reading from today, the answer is very simple. Like Jairus, we need to introduce Jesus into our children’s lives.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Steven Su)

Prayer : Heavenly Father, we pray that you grant parents the wisdom, patience and energy to accept, to be firm and fair with, to concentrate on, to develop, to encourage and to forgive our children. We pray that our children grow up leading a Christ-centered life.

Thanksgiving: Our Savior Jesus Christ – we thank you for letting our children come to You. Allow us not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to them.

3 September, Sunday – By Whose Standards

3 Sept

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Jeremiah 20:7-9

You have seduced me, Lord, and I have let myself be seduced;
you have overpowered me: you were the stronger.
I am a daily laughing-stock,
everybody’s butt.
Each time I speak the word, I have to howl
and proclaim: ‘Violence and ruin!’
The word of the Lord has meant for me
insult, derision, all day long.
I used to say, ‘I will not think about him,
I will not speak in his name any more.’
Then there seemed to be a fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones.
The effort to restrain it wearied me,
I could not bear it.

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Romans 12:1-2

Think of God’s mercy, my brothers, and worship him, I beg you, in a way that is worthy of thinking beings, by offering your living bodies as a holy sacrifice, truly pleasing to God. Do not model yourselves on the behaviour of the world around you, but let your behaviour change, modelled by your new mind. This is the only way to discover the will of God and know what is good, what it is that God wants, what is the perfect thing to do.

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Matthew 16:21-27

Jesus began to make it clear to his disciples that he was destined to go to Jerusalem and suffer grievously at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, to be put to death and to be raised up on the third day. Then, taking him aside, Peter started to remonstrate with him. ‘Heaven preserve you, Lord;’ he said ‘this must not happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.’

Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it. What, then, will a man gain if he wins the whole world and ruins his life? Or what has a man to offer in exchange for his life?

‘For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and, when he does, he will reward each one according to his behaviour.’

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You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.

When growing up, my parents had pretty high expectations for my siblings and me when it came to education. I will always recall a particular incident while in elementary school, when I was about eight years old. After getting a 95 out of a 100 score in a math quiz (which was one of the top grades in the class), I proudly called my dad at work to tell him the good news. His response was “what happened to the other five points?” Quite a defeating blow to the ego at the time!

With hindsight and time, I now understand why my parents set such high expectations. They were the typical first generation immigrant parents who believed that in order to get ahead (or more like escape one’s despairing position) – they placed their hopes in the success of their kids and their education. Good grades meant good schools. Good schools meant good jobs and hence financial stability.

In the Gospel reading today, when Jesus foretells His death to the disciples, it must have been a very difficult thing for them to accept. Peter, in particular, seemed quite bothered with the idea that Jesus was to be tortured and killed by His enemies. Out of concern and love for Jesus’ “well-being”, but without the right standards to evaluate from, Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him for saying such things. That should have entitled Peter a perfect score – if that was an exam being administered based on our earthly standards. Instead of praising Peter for his concern and kind words, Jesus responds with – “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.” Jesus knew that Peter’s understanding of the way of the Lord was myopic, at the time. As Peter was still relying on his own values and not that of God’s to dictate his beliefs and actions.

How often do we act and behave from our own worldly standards – rather than being guided by God’s code? Way too often – if I were to answer that question for myself. One could argue that His benchmarks are way too high – how will we ever expect to achieve them? But we need to remember that God’s standards are lofty because He is: a Holy Father (John 17:11), a Righteous Father (John 17.25), the just and mighty One (Job 34:17) and most importantly our Loving Father (John 3:16). Rather than feel defeated each time we come up short, maybe we should remember that the only way we can ever meet His expectations is through Jesus.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Steven Su)

Prayer – Lord, we pray for the children around the world who do not have access to basic education – the great equalizer to all. May you show your grace and mercy and enable them to learn Your Word.

Thanksgiving – Heavenly Father, we give thanks to you for giving us goals in life. Help us to focus our ambitions on You, through Your Son Jesus Christ.

28 June, Wednesday – The Usual Suspects

St. Irenaeus, bishop, martyr

Irenaeus (c.130–202) was a disciple of St. Polycapr of Smyrna. He was ordained in 177. He was Bishop of Lugdunum, Gaul (modern Lyons, France). He worked and wrote against Gnosticism, basing his arguments on the works of St. John the Apostle, whose gospel is often cited by Gnostics. He dispatched evangelists, including St. Ferreolus of Besancon, and St. Ferrutio of Bescancon. He is considered the first great Western ecclesiastical writer and theologian, and he emphasized the unity of the Old and New Testaments, as well as Christ’s simultaneous human and divine nature, and the value of tradition. He is a Father of the Church, and was martyred for his faith.

28 June 2017

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Genesis 15:1-12,17-18

It happened that the word of the Lord was spoken to Abram in a vision, ‘Have no fear, Abram, I am your shield; your reward will be very great.’

‘My Lord,’ Abram replied ‘what do you intend to give me? I go childless…’ Then Abram said, ‘See, you have given me no descendants; some man of my household will be my heir.’ And then this word of the Lord was spoken to him, ‘He shall not be your heir; your heir shall be of your own flesh and blood.’ Then taking him outside he said, ‘Look up to heaven and count the stars if you can. Such will be your descendants’ he told him. Abram put his faith in the Lord, who counted this as making him justified.

‘I am the Lord’ he said to him ‘who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldaeans to make you heir to this land.’ ‘My Lord,’ Abram replied ‘how am I to know that I shall inherit it?’ He said to him, ‘Get me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove and a young pigeon.’ He brought him all these, cut them in half and put half on one side and half facing it on the other; but the birds he did not cut in half. Birds of prey came down on the carcases but Abram drove them off.

Now as the sun was setting Abram fell into a deep sleep, and terror seized him. When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, there appeared a smoking furnace and a firebrand that went between the halves. That day the Lord made a Covenant with Abram in these terms:

‘To your descendants I give this land,

from the wadi of Egypt to the Great River,

the river Euphrates.’

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Matthew 7:15-20

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Beware of false prophets who come to you disguised as sheep but underneath are ravenous wolves. You will be able to tell them by their fruits. Can people pick grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, a sound tree produces good fruit but a rotten tree bad fruit. A sound tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor a rotten tree bear good fruit. Any tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown on the fire. I repeat, you will be able to tell them by their fruits.’

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“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves”

The first time I ever watched Kevin Spacey in a movie was in the 1995 suspense thriller The Usual Suspects. Spacey plays the role of Verbal Kint, a physically crippled, small time con artist who survives a gang related massacre. This sets the stage for the rest of the movie, with Verbal narrating the events leading up to this violent incident. Throughout the movie, the audience is led to believe that a ruthless, shadowy villain by the name of Keyser Söze was behind this crime while Verbal feebly watches as things unfold. However – during the last five minutes of the movie, it’s revealed that Verbal fabricated the story to cover up his evil deeds and was in fact Keyser Söze.

Jesus directly warns his disciples of those who appear to be in sheep’s clothe but are wolves in disguise. Their intentions are not to live harmoniously with the rest of the flock and follow our beloved shepherd, but to separate the weak and unsuspecting and devour the vulnerable. For as Paul wrote – “for such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness.” (2 Corinthians 11: 13-15)

How do we recognize and guard against these antagonists of our faith? Jesus commands that we must first know who they are by examining their actions as “…every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit.” Our ability to discern good fruit from bad fruit would only be enhanced through the study of the Bible, prayer and fellowship. In time, those evil-doers will be revealed by their methods (2 Peter 2: 1-22) and doctrine (Galatians 1: 6-10).

The final line in the Usual Suspects is narrated by Spacey where he states “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. And like that, he’s gone”. Let us not be tricked by the devil and his false prophets. Let us arm ourselves with the word of the Lord, shielded by His grace and joined with other fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. For as with Abraham, the fruits of our faith in Him are eternal and everlasting life.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Steven Su)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for the wisdom to recognize and subdue the wolves in our lives.

Thanksgiving: Lord, we give thanks for the power of your teachings and the grace of your new covenant – through the death and resurrection of our savior Jesus Christ.

26 June, Sunday – Having No Regrets

26 June 

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1 Kings 19:16,19-21

The Lord said to Elijah, ‘Go, you are to anoint Elisha son of Shaphat, of Abel Meholah, as prophet to succeed you.’

Leaving there, Elijah came on Elisha son of Shaphat as he was ploughing behind twelve yoke of oxen, he himself being with the twelfth. Elijah passed near to him and threw his cloak over him. Elisha left his oxen and ran after Elijah. ‘Let me kiss my father and mother, then I will follow you’ he said. Elijah answered, ‘Go, go back; for have I done anything to you?’ Elisha turned away, took the pair of oxen and slaughtered them. He used the plough for cooking the oxen, then gave to his men, who ate. He then rose, and followed Elijah and became his servant.

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Galatians 5:1,13-18

When Christ freed us, he meant us to remain free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. My brothers, you were called, as you know, to liberty; but be careful, or this liberty will provide an opening for self-indulgence. Serve one another, rather, in works of love, since the whole of the Law is summarised in a single command: Love your neighbour as yourself. If you go snapping at each other and tearing each other to pieces, you had better watch or you will destroy the whole community.

Let me put it like this: if you are guided by the Spirit you will be in no danger of yielding to self-indulgence, since self-indulgence is the opposite of the Spirit, the Spirit is totally against such a thing, and it is precisely because the two are so opposed that you do not always carry out your good intentions. If you are led by the Spirit, no law can touch you.

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Luke 9:51-62

As the time drew near for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely took the road for Jerusalem and sent messengers ahead of him. These set out, and they went into a Samaritan village to make preparations for him, but the people would not receive him because he was making for Jerusalem. Seeing this, the disciples James and John said, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to burn them up?’ But he turned and rebuked them, and they went off to another village.

As they travelled along they met a man on the road who said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus answered, ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’

Another to whom he said, ‘Follow me’, replied, ‘Let me go and bury my father first.’ But he answered, ‘Leave the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.’

Another said, ‘I will follow you, sir, but first let me go and say goodbye to my people at home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’

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No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God

Regret can be quite a debilitating emotion. Most people suffer from bouts of regret from time to time.  Whether feeling like some decision or action could have been taken differently, which would have made a change to a particular situation. Or whether things could have been handled differently or said more gently. These ‘what-if’ scenarios play over and over in our minds… potentially to the point that it questions our sense of purpose, ability or sincerity. As a result, we can become paralyzed in these thoughts and actions.

Yet, regret can also give us a great opportunity for self-reflection and improvement. We just need to realize that when we’re looking back, we are considering the past with all the added benefits of experiences of the present. So, rather than beating ourselves up today for something we might have done yesterday, we should use these experiences to figure out what we can do better at tomorrow.

God wants us to live a life without regret, shame and guilt. That is why He gave us the Bible that contains His life restoring Word. That is why He promised us eternal salvation. That is why He sent his one and only son Jesus to die for our sins. As Paul (who wouldn’t have been able to do Christ’s works if he remained paralyzed by guilt for his prior persecution of the early Christians) writes – “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.” (Phil 3:13-15)

(Today’s Oxygen by Steven Su)

Prayer – Heavenly Father, we ask that You examine our hearts and help us to get rid of any guilt or doubts that might linger. Help us to look back at our decision to follow You as the most important decision in our lives.

Thanksgiving – Lord, we give thanks to You for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That only through Him, can we look forward to Your promise of eternal salvation.

30 April, Saturday – Building Conflicts

30 April – Memorial for Saint Pius V, Pope

Antonio Ghislieri (1504-1572) was born to impoverished Italian nobility, the son of Paolo Ghislieri and Domenica Augeria. He worked as a shepherd as a boy, and received an excellent education in piety and holiness, including a scholastic education from a Dominican friar. He joined the Order in 1518, taking the name Michele. He studied in Bologna, Italy, and was ordained in 1528 in Genoa.

He was appointed teacher of philosophy and divinity in Genoa, and was a professor of theology in Pavia for 16 years. He was the Master of novices and prior of several Dominican houses, and he worked for stricter adherence to the Order’s rule.

He was an inquisitor in Como and Bergamo, and the commissary general of the Roman Inquisition in 1551. On Sep 4, 1556, he was ordained Bishop of Nepi and Sutri against his will. He was Inquisitor in Milan and Lombary in the same year, and created cardinal on Mar 15 the following year, made Grand Inquisitor on Dec 14, 1558, and was part of the conclave of 1559. He was appointed Bishop of Mondovi, Italy on Mar 17, 1560. As bishop, he worked to lead his flock with words and examples, and served as a continual messenger encouraging personal piety and devotion to God.

He became the 225th pope in 1566, and immediately faced the task of enacting the reforms of the Council of Trent. New seminaries were opened, a new breviary, new missal, and new catechism were published. Foundations were established to spread the faith and preserve the doctrine of the Church. He spent much time personally working with the needy. He built hospitals and used the papal treasury to care for the poor. He faced many difficulties in the public forum, both in the implementation of the Tridentine reforms and interaction with other heads of state. He created 21 cardinals. At the time of his death he was working on a Christian European alliance to break the power of the Islamic states.

-Patron Saint Index

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Acts 16:1-10

From Cilicia Paul went to Derbe, and then on to Lystra. Here there was a disciple called Timothy, whose mother was a Jewess who had become a believer; but his father was a Greek. The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of Timothy, and Paul, who wanted to have him as a travelling companion, had him circumcised. This was on account of the Jews in the locality where everyone knew his father was a Greek.

As they visited one town after another, they passed on the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, with instructions to respect them.

So the churches grew strong in the faith, as well as growing daily in numbers.

They travelled through Phrygia and the Galatian country, having been told by the Holy Spirit not to preach the word in Asia. When they reached the frontier of Mysia they thought to cross it into Bithynia, but as the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them, they went through Mysia and came down to Troas.

One night Paul had a vision: a Macedonian appeared and appealed to him in these words, ‘Come across to Macedonia and help us.’ Once he had seen this vision we lost no time in arranging a passage to Macedonia, convinced that God had called us to bring them the Good News.

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John 15:18-21

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘If the world hates you,
remember that it hated me before you.
If you belonged to the world,
the world would love you as its own;
but because you do not belong to the world,
because my choice withdrew you from the world,
therefore the world hates you.
Remember the words I said to you: A servant is not greater than his master.
If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too;
if they kept my word, they will keep yours as well.
But it will be on my account that they will do all this,
because they do not know the one who sent me.’

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Day after day the churches grew stronger in faith and increased in number

The church that I attend has been undergoing a redevelopment plan that has been ongoing for as far back as decades. As I have been told, this project has been deemed rather ‘controversial’ over the course of its long history. As one could imagine, there are many stakeholders in a major redevelopment plan such as including the church leadership, the pastoral staff, the administrative and support teams, the deacons, the congregation, adjacent neighbors and government building commissions; all of whom have their own views and opinions, myself included. Having only attended this church since I started seeking and, eventually accepting Christ, I personally feel that I have a vested interest in its outcome. Yet the most important stakeholder that we need to focus on is God and whether this plan is in line with His plans!

Conflict can, and often does, arise within the church setting. The early Christians faced disagreements such as whether to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles (as we read about on Thursday’s reflection). In time, they resolved their differences through obediently following the promptings of the Holy Spirit in guiding them to the answer God wanted. They allowed His Word to show them the truth.

Whenever there is conflict in a church, it is the responsibility of each believer to seek to resolve these tensions. First and foremost, the parties need to have the right focus – which is on God and not on themselves. They also need to consider their own role in the conflict and be willing to work with the other individual(s) to address the problem in a loving manner. The point is not to win an argument, but rather to improve the ministry when His people handle it in a Christ-like manner.

Brothers and sisters, the church is more than just a building where people gather. It is a collection of God’s people, that serve as the body of Christ, doing His work in a world that desperately needs its Prince of Peace.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Steven Su)

Prayer – Heavenly Father, we pray for Your will to be done in our church communities. May the power of Your Holy Spirit guide us as we seek to glorify You in all that we build.

Thanksgiving – Lord, we give thanks for our church families who encourage us throughout our time on this world.

29 April, Friday – Picked

29 April – Memorial for Saint Catherine of Siena, Virgin and Doctor

Catherine (1347-1380) She was born in Siena and was the youngest child in a large family. At the age of six, she had a vision in which Jesus appeared and blessed her. Her parents wanted her to marry, but she became a Dominican tertiary. Seeking perfection, she entered the Third Order of the Dominicans when she was still in her teens. She was a mystic and stigmatist. She received a vision in which she was in mystical marriage with Christ, and the Infant Christ presented her with a wedding ring.

In 1370 she was commanded by a vision to leave her secluded life and enter the public life of the world. She wrote letters to many major public figures and carried on a long correspondence with Pope Gregory XI, urging him to reform the clergy and the administration of the Papal States. She burned with the love of God and her neighbour. As an ambassador she brought peace and harmony between cities. She fought hard to defend the liberty and rights of the Popes and did much for the renewal of religious life. She also dictated books full of sound doctrine and spiritual inspiration. She died on 29 April 1380.

She was counsellor to Pope Gregory XI and Pope Urban VI. She was proclaimed Doctor of the Church on 4 October 1970.

-Universalis and Patron Saint Index

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Acts 15:22-31

The apostles and elders decided to choose delegates to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; the whole church concurred with this. They chose Judas known as Barsabbas and Silas, both leading men in the brotherhood, and gave them this letter to take with them:

  ‘The apostles and elders, your brothers, send greetings to the brothers of pagan birth in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia. We hear that some of our members have disturbed you with their demands and have unsettled your minds. They acted without any authority from us; and so we have decided unanimously to elect delegates and to send them to you with Barnabas and Paul, men we highly respect who have dedicated their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accordingly we are sending you Judas and Silas, who will confirm by word of mouth what we have written in this letter. It has been decided by the Holy Spirit and by ourselves not to saddle you with any burden beyond these essentials: you are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols; from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from fornication. Avoid these, and you will do what is right. Farewell.’

  The party left and went down to Antioch, where they summoned the whole community and delivered the letter. The community read it and were delighted with the encouragement it gave them.

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John 15:12-17

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘This is my commandment:
love one another,
as I have loved you.
A man can have no greater love
than to lay down his life for his friends.
You are my friends,
if you do what I command you.
I shall not call you servants any more,
because a servant does not know
his master’s business;
I call you friends,
because I have made known to you
everything I have learnt from my Father.
You did not choose me:
no, I chose you;
and I commissioned you
to go out and to bear fruit,
fruit that will last;
and then the Father will give you
anything you ask him in my name.
What I command you is to love one another.’

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It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you.

T was quite a troublemaker in high school. He had a tendency to get hauled into the principal’s office for a variety of infractions. It got to the point where he was eventually expelled from the school which we both attended and sent off to boarding school. Although we were casual acquaintances at that time, it wasn’t until when we entered college (after he got things back in order) that we became close friends. In fact, we didn’t even go to the same university. It just happened that one day he called me during a term break and we decided to get together to catch up. I didn’t choose T to be my friend. In actual fact, I was initially hesitant to meet up with him, but I’m glad I did. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have reconnected and I wouldn’t have developed such a strong friendship that endures even till this day.

In many ways, my Christian walk has been a similar experience in that I never proactively initiated a relationship with God before becoming a believer. Yet there were numerous times that I had been introduced to Him in my youth, but was just too proud and self-centered to accept Him. I had this view in my mind that being a Christian meant something completely different than what I realize it to be now. Yet He never stopped seeking me out. For that, I am eternally grateful.

As C.S Lewis writes – “In friendship…we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another… the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting – any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you”, can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another”. The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Steven Su)

Prayer – Lord, we pray for our friends who are non-believers. We pray that you use us as your instruments to reveal to them Your truth – that Your one and only son, Jesus, died on the cross for their sins. And so there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Thanksgiving – Father, we give thanks to you for the friends in our lives that have stood by us through times of joy, happiness, pain, sorrow and growth. May these relationships endure this world and into eternity.

28 April, Thursday – Us and Them

28 April – Memorial of Saint Peter Chanel, Priest and Martyr

Saint Peter Chanel (1803 – 1841). He was born in France, at Cuet (near Belley), in 1803. He had been a priest for three years when he was accepted by the Marists, a missionary order. He was sent out to evangelize the island of Futuna in the Pacific, where cannibalism had only recently been banned by the local ruler, Niuliki. At first all went well, and Father Chanel and his lay assistants made many converts; but as he learned the local language and gained the confidence of the people, Niuliki became jealous and fearful; and the baptism of his son and his son’s friends was the last straw. While Father Chanel’s companions were away, Niuliki sent men who set upon him and clubbed him to death. His mission had lasted only three years: he is the first martyr of the South Seas.

-Universalis

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Acts 15:7-21

After the discussion had gone on a long time, Peter stood up and addressed the apostles and the elders.

  ‘My brothers,’ he said ‘you know perfectly well that in the early days God made his choice among you: the pagans were to learn the Good News from me and so become believers. In fact God, who can read everyone’s heart, showed his approval of them by giving the Holy Spirit to them just as he had to us. God made no distinction between them and us, since he purified their hearts by faith. It would only provoke God’s anger now, surely, if you imposed on the disciples the very burden that neither we nor our ancestors were strong enough to support? Remember, we believe that we are saved in the same way as they are: through the grace of the Lord Jesus.’

  This silenced the entire assembly, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul describing the signs and wonders God had worked through them among the pagans.

  When they had finished it was James who spoke. ‘My brothers,’ he said ‘listen to me. Simeon has described how God first arranged to enlist a people for his name out of the pagans. This is entirely in harmony with the words of the prophets, since the scriptures say:

After that I shall return
and rebuild the fallen House of David;
I shall rebuild it from its ruins
and restore it.
Then the rest of mankind,
all the pagans who are consecrated to my name,
will look for the Lord,
says the Lord who made this known so long ago.

‘I rule, then, that instead of making things more difficult for pagans who turn to God, we send them a letter telling them merely to abstain from anything polluted by idols, from fornication, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has always had his preachers in every town, and is read aloud in the synagogues every sabbath.’

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John 15:9-11

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘As the Father has loved me,
so I have loved you.
Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments
you will remain in my love,
just as I have kept my Father’s commandments
and remain in his love.
I have told you this
so that my own joy may be in you
and your joy be complete.’

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He made no distinction between us and them, for by faith he purified their hearts.

The neighborhood where I grew up in New York was considered to be one of the most diverse places in all of the United States. Within a few square miles, there is a wide range of ethnic groups including Asians (Chinese, Korean, Indian), Latin Americans, African Americans, Caucasians, Jews, etc. The neighborhood had this clustering effect, where one group would live, work and play in one part of town, while the other groups would do the same just adjacent to each other. Easily – you could walk from one end of the neighborhood to the other and feel like you’ve traveled to different continents around the world.

What made for great diversity also, at times, made for harsh stereotyping and social exclusion. Those same neighborhood groupings manifested themselves amongst the different social groups at school. It was easy to befriend the kids who looked and dressed like you because of the similarities in language, cultural experiences and ‘values’. What was harder was finding commonality with the other kids who were different to you. Many times, there was an ‘us or them’ feeling that permeated in the school halls.

In the first reading from today, we are told of the debate that the early Christians had on whether Gentiles were to be considered eligible to receive the Gospel. The Gentiles didn’t follow the Mosaic laws. They weren’t circumcised and ate ‘unclean’ foods. They were considered heathen to the Jews at the time. Yet the Apostle Peter made the case that God saw no distinction between the Gentiles and the Jews. Paul and Barnabas backed him up by detailing signs that God showed them. James referenced scripture. For by faith He had purified their hearts and baptized them with the Holy Spirit. So in effect, there is no ‘us and them’. There simply is just us.

Today, let us celebrate the differences of the people around us. For all of those differences, we are all the same – broken people who are wonderfully loved by our Almighty Creator and have been given the gift of eternal salvation through Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Steven Su)

Prayer – Lord, we pray for the people and the places in this world that are suffering from conflict and division. May You help them heal their differences and find commonality through You. 

Thanksgiving – We give thanks to the peacemakers in our homes, schools, churches, workplace and communities.

27 April, Wednesday – Declaring Our Dependence

27 April

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Acts 15:1-6

Some men came down from Judaea and taught the brothers, ‘Unless you have yourselves circumcised in the tradition of Moses you cannot be saved.’ This led to disagreement, and after Paul and Barnabas had had a long argument with these men it was arranged that Paul and Barnabas and others of the church should go up to Jerusalem and discuss the problem with the apostles and elders.

  All the members of the church saw them off, and as they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria they told how the pagans had been converted, and this news was received with the greatest satisfaction by the brothers. When they arrived in Jerusalem they were welcomed by the church and by the apostles and elders, and gave an account of all that God had done with them.

  But certain members of the Pharisees’ party who had become believers objected, insisting that the pagans should be circumcised and instructed to keep the Law of Moses. The apostles and elders met to look into the matter.

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John 15:1-8

Jesus said:

‘I am the true vine,
and my Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch in me that bears no fruit
he cuts away,
and every branch that does bear fruit
he prunes to make it bear even more.
You are pruned already,
by means of the word that I have spoken to you.
Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.
As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself,
but must remain part of the vine,
neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine,
you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me, with me in him,
bears fruit in plenty;
for cut off from me you can do nothing.
Anyone who does not remain in me
is like a branch that has been thrown away – he withers;
these branches are collected and thrown on the fire,
and they are burnt.
If you remain in me
and my words remain in you,
you may ask what you will
and you shall get it.
It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit,
and then you will be my disciples.’

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Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.

As a father, I really like it when my kids come to me to ask for help. It makes me feel like I’m needed in their lives. It’s good to know that my kids place their trust in me to help them through the problems that they otherwise couldn’t (yet) solve on their own. However, as a son, I find it quite difficult to turn to my own parents for help. The last thing I want them to think is that I’m incapable of figuring out problems for myself. The dilemma we all face is our constant desire for independence, while still remaining in a loving situation with the ones closest to us.

In the Gospel reading from today, Jesus is trying to teach His disciples about the importance of remaining connected to Him through the Word. Even Jesus declared that He was only doing what His Father had commanded Him “so that the world may learn that I (Jesus) love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.” Whoever loves Christ should lean on Him for strength, ask Him for wisdom and obey His commands.

That is quite a contrast to how most of us are conditioned to live by our society. We are told that as individuals, we need to be independent and to love ourselves first; that our primary goal is for our own self-fulfillment. That we are entitled to the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Is there anything wrong with that?

Nothing. Except that it fails to see that the road to eternal happiness is the road paved by the Lord. And as we travel that road, we either opt to follow the world or be led by Jesus Christ. Even as undeserving, sinful people, we are blessed with the goodness and mercy of a God who has promised us eternal salvation when we remain in Him. As the United States Declaration of Independence states – “…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”

Brothers and sisters, let us be reminded that the Lord has granted us numerous blessings, especially the freedom of choice. Do we choose to worship the fleeting things of this world or be slaves to Christ?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Steven Su)

Prayer – Lord, we ask that You soften our stubborn hearts and help us to constantly seek You out in our daily lives.

Thanksgiving – Father, we thank you for being an eternal God that has blessed us more than we can possibly understand. May the truth of Your sacrifice be self-evident to all men and women of this world.