Wednesday, November 25, 2009
“I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.”
After his opening salutations, Paul’s first words to Timothy were to remind him that it was his grandmother, Lois, and mother, Eunice who had handed down to him the Christian faith he believed in. These were just ordinary women who we know did not do extraordinary things for the Christian Church. But we can see their faithfulness in witnessing faithfully to their children the true Christian faith. The fruit of their faithfulness was seen in Timothy’s life despite the fact they did not set out to plan for him to take over from Paul. I think that is a good lesson for us to learn that faithfulness is not dreaming of doing great things for God tomorrow but doing the mundane for him today.
We all have what some people call a sphere of influence - a small circle where our actions affects another person’s life. We have our own families, we work in an office with other colleagues, we play games with people of similar interests, we have our neighbours, and so on. We can share about what God has done in our lives and then leave it to God to touch their hearts. And we should not be ashamed to share the Gospel. What is it that motivates us to share the Gospel? Think about it, what would motivate you to share the Gospel with those people in your sphere of influence? I know some literature puts the burden on us to witness because if we do not people will go to hell, etc. That is true and valid but let me give you one more reason why I think you should share it – because the Gospel is true. That is right; you should share the Gospel because it is true and has worked in your life. That is what a witness does, just tell what is true and what he has seen. Think about it, if something is true and good for you, don’t you want to share it with your friends? When you go out to Telok Ayer market and you eat char kway teow and you find it to be so good, don’t you talk about it with your friends over the next days? When someone wants to eat roti prata wouldn’t you suggest some place where you know the roti prata is good? So if you can share something about the goodness of the food that you have eaten then why not share the truth about the God who has been good to you? All of us are Christians because someone near us took the trouble to share the Gospel with us and we were touched by God. That is all that Lois, Timothy’s grandmother and Eunice, his mother did. They faithfully carried out their ministry – to share the Gospel with their own household. Their simple faith and faithfulness made a significant difference in God’s Kingdom. And that is what we all can do, no exceptions, faithfully witnessing whenever we can to whoever we can.
Friday, November 20, 2009
While preparing for a lesson on Hebrew festivals, I came across an interesting observation in Leviticus 23. Leviticus 23 is also considered the Jewish religious calendar and in it, we find seven annual festivals which the Israelites were commanded to observe. The calendar begins in March-April with the observation of Passover, followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread. After that comes the Feast of Firstfruits and the Feast of Weeks, more familiar to us as Pentecost. These are the Spring Feasts and following them are the Fall feasts, from Lev 23:23 onwards. The Fall feasts are Trumpets, the Day of Atonement and Tabernacles which are observed in September/October. Just after the Spring feasts (Lev 23:1-21) are declared we find the exhortation “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God." (Lev 23:22)
In fact, it seems that this verse stands right in the middle of the chapter after Pentecost in spring and before Trumpets in the fall. Pentecost actually celebrates the end of the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest. It is a time of joy and thanksgiving over the bountiful harvest that God has given. Perhaps, the verse is positioned here to remind the Israelites that when they go about their elaborate observations to worship their God, they should remember that there are people who are not blessed with similar abundance.
The lesson too for us is this - as we go about our regular worship and small group meetings and thank God for the bounty he gives us, we should give thought to those people in our midst who have little or nothing. True religion is a practicing sacrificial religion. In the verse, God commands the field-owner to give up what was rightfully his so that others less fortunate may also be provided for. That is exactly what Jesus did for us. When we were lost and poor, alienated from God, Jesus did not hold on tight to his rights as God but sacrificed his life so that we may be redeemed.
True religion is one that involves sacrifice on our part. And sacrifice means there is a cost involved. If we give up something that does not cost us anything, we cannot say we are making a sacrifice.
John Wesley once said “Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” That is a good maxim that Christians ought to follow. Every Christian should strive to be a great ambassador for Christ to a watching world. We should examine ourselves to see whether what we do makes a positive impact on the people around us. Sometimes, our Christian community is the only witness to the world about what God is like. We are the ones who show that God cares for each individual regardless of the person’s gifts and abilities. That his compassion extends to those who are dispossessed, disenfranchised and marginalized. He expects those who have more to give to those who have little. When we do this, we are continuing a tradition of embodying God’s character and compassion to the world.
One of my TTC lecturers once said that God has no hands and feet. He was telling us that God’s agenda for this world can only be fulfilled by our hands and feet. If we do not come forward, the work is not done. In fact, as we reflect further, we should remember that each one of us is a Christian because someone took the trouble to share the goodness of God with us. It is therefore only right that we should go out and share God’s goodness with someone else. In doing so, we manifest what the true Christian religion is all about – caring sacrificially and sharing with those around us.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
In studying from the book of Leviticus recently, I came to understand, in a deeper way, what our salvation meant - having a God walking with us and dwelling in and amidst us. Many Christians have it backwards by thinking that salvation is all about being able to go to Heaven and living with God forever. To a certain extent, this statement is rhetorically correct but adopting it unthinkingly leads to a subtle misunderstanding about our faith. One may even begin to think that having gained one-and-for-all forgiveness, we are now free to live our lives as we like. Sadly, that is how many Christians self-sufficiently live; content to leave God on the shelf, until such time when he is needed again to resolve a problem.
The Bible teaches us that before Adam fell into sin, God walked with him and Eve. Sin led to a separation in this fellowship but because of Jesus Christ, we are now redeemed. The question is what does being redeemed mean to us? For one thing, it allows us access to God’s presence. But the access has a purpose to it – that we be changed into the image of man as he was originally created before the Fall. This image is exemplified by the life of Jesus Christ, who lived a life wholly pleasing to God.
God’s love for us is not limited to time in eternity where we spend heaven with him. God’s love for us means he is also very interested in the lives we live right now. He is very concerned that we be restored to the holiness he originally created us to be. That is what real freedom means – to be holy and wholly separated unto God through Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, in many Christians, the idea of personal holiness is being marginalized. To them, the concept smacks of self-effort, legalistic and Pharisee-like. The thought is that since we are forgiven, we just need to remember Christ’s love and we will be transformed. That may sound true but I would to clarify that to remain a passive receiver of the love of Christ will not transform us. Transformation comes through a Spirit-quickened response to Christ’s love.
Thus, what is also needed in our quest to become what God had created us will require what Adam did with God before the Fall – daily intimate communion. That means a regular pattern of communication with God. Applied personally, it simply means a daily pattern of prayer and reading the Bible. It also means to read the Bible as God’s Word thereby making it a personal encounter with God. This will help us to align with what God wants to do in our lives. His Word is many things to us - a mirror that reflects what is right and good; a seed, if planted well, reaps abundant fruit, a sword that slashes through facades and reveals God’s reality; a lamp to guide us through darkness and adversity; and bread that quenches the hunger of our souls.
Our failure to establish a pattern of communion with God leads to a lowering of our understanding of God and his ways. This, in turn, lowers our concept of God's holiness and our understanding of sin which simply means to miss God’s mark. We may find ourselves tolerating more than we should and becoming used to things that should repel us. By communicating with God directly, we will find ourselves growing in our appreciation of God's holiness. This will help us to cooperate with the Holy Spirit, through prayer, to grow in righteousness and purity.
If we say we love God then this is what we should do. Our God does not expect a performance-based faith from us. Yet Jesus also did say “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15). If we love him, communion with God through his word and prayer will not be a performance or a drag - it will be the most natural thing for us. If your love is golf, how hard it is to get going to play a game? If you love golf, would you call a game of golf work or a chore? I sincerely doubt that.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
In a book I once read, I remember the author looking across the dinner table at his wife and, in a moment of extreme vulnerability, asking her “Is there anything I could do to be a better husband?” As his wife drew into a pensive mood, he wondered if perhaps she could be rewinding all those horrible husband moments to lay on the table as a prelude to squaring the accounts. After what seemed like an eternity to him, but was actually only a brief moment, she looked at him and said “Just cherish me a little more.”
Feeling pretty pleased with himself, the writer purred, “That’s what I do. Can you give me a specific way I can cherish you more?” Immediately came not one but three examples, “Affirm my opinions,” the wife said, “Don't get upset so easily,” and finally “Be kind and considerate to me.” As I was reading the wife’s rejoinders, I could not help thinking that perhaps that is what Jesus might say to me if I were to think too highly of my love for him. Probably my wife too might be keeping these three examples for her moment with me one day.
When we say we love someone that person’s interests and priorities becomes ours too. When Jesus was on earth, he never failed to model this, manifesting his love for his Heavenly Father by putting his Heavenly Father’s will first. We need to remember that it is very important to reflect this perspective of faith in the way we live our lives. Do we consider our Lord’s will in ALL that we do or do we selectively decide the matters that we consult him on? Do we accept READILY and not get upset when his voice jolts us out of our comfort zone to take that leap of faith? Do we consider his feelings FIRST or do our own feelings have pre-eminence in our own lives? After asking these questions, I must admit that I find it hard to answer in the positive.
The word “cherish” is a very beautiful word carrying with it heart-warming images of love, care, affection, tenderness, protection, etc. In fact, when I read of God’s love in the Bible, I have no doubt that his love for us is also a cherishing kind of love, a love that makes each one of us the ‘apple of his eye’. We can never return his love measure for measure but the least we can do is to cherish and hold dear the relationship his grace and love has made possible for us.
How do we show that we do really cherish this relationship? I believe a good starting point is submission to his sovereignty. In all that we do, we submit to his approval and review and we await his correction, not his rubber-stamp. We cultivate a mindset of dependence on him. The attitude of dependence should not be difficult because we are always dependent on someone throughout our daily lives. When we take the bus or train, we depend on the driver’s ability. When we take our lunch, we depend on the cook’s ability so why not also engraft this ready attitude of dependence into our relationship with God. After all, right at the beginning, he already knows how the end will turn out. He has already factored in all the possibilities, and his option is always the best. So then, why not hold dear the relationship we have with him by submitting dependently to his ways and thoughts? When we do so, we will be able to echo confidently the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 16:11 “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”
After listening to George Verwer, I have often asked “What keeps George going?” Listening to George preaching with so much gusto and fire led me to ask this question. Despite fifty-odd years serving the Lord in mission posts all over the planet, George continues to serve with the same fervour he had at the very beginning of his ministry. Enthusiasm still gripped his voice and the spark still gleamed in his eyes as he spoke about missions and the winning of souls for God’s Kingdom. Most people would be jaded or lukewarm after doing the same things for many years, but not George. Perhaps then, we should also reflect on the qualities that kept George going on in ministry and see how his example may serve to inspire us so that we do not flag in ministry.
Obedience. In his first message George said, “I need to be reminded that what I am doing is commanded by God. I want to make sure I am in a God thing”. I believe George, while planning God’s work, was always willing to defer his plans to God’s Will. After all, if God had a part for George in his perfect plan for all creation, then surely George cannot go wrong in submitting his plans to God. That is the attitude we should have when we make plans. The starting point for all our planning must be God’s sovereignty. Making plans without submitting them for his review, correction and approval is an act of arrogance on our part. While we may still achieve our objectives, yet we may still miss out on some blessings that God already had in store for us.
Authenticity. In another posting, I touched on George’s ‘tell it like it is’ manner. George expressed this manner even when talking about himself. He shared with us about his own ‘grace awakening.’ For years, he had been too blunt to the point of being insensitive. He shared about misjudging people by thinking they were lazy or did not have a vision when actually they were struggling with inferiority or baggage from overbearing families, etc. Finally God had to break him on this and helped him to learn about grace by reading more and learning from other Christians. I was really encouraged by George’s authenticity, his willingness to put aside masks and fronts so as not to appear vulnerable. We too should pray for the grace to be authentic Christians. We can ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to us the real truth about ourselves. Let us not lie ourselves about any issues because doing so will only hinder our development. Let us pray for courage and grace to truthfully assess ourselves and grow as a person.
Enthusiasm in learning. Somehow it seems George never stopped learning. In all his messages, he always referred to good books he had read as well as those he was still reading. However, to George, his reading habits were not merely an exercise of knowledge acquisition. Someone once said the Dead Sea was so named because water flowed in but nothing flowed out. With George, I guess whatever flowed into him, flowed back out to bless the lives of other people. Perhaps, that is why he was always reading. To George, there was always something that he could learn that would be useful in ministering to other people. Perhaps, that is also the reason why he continually recommended books to his listeners; books he felt would give them ‘value-added’ spiritual lives.
There are other qualities that those of you who have heard him may have noticed as well. It would be impossible to list all of them here but I hope these will be sufficient to inspire us to aspire to the life of obedience and servanthood exemplified by George. As one Missions Conference chairman described him, George remained a faithful steward, a fiery spokesman, a fervent servant. In closing, I would like to echo what George himself said, “At the end of the day I believe all of us want to please God - in our lives, in what we do, the way we use our time, the way we spend our money.” George exemplified this ethos in his life by depending on the Holy Spirit whom he called the Chief Executive Officer of all missionary work.
Friday, November 6, 2009
I once had the joy and privilege of hearing George Verwer give a series of sermons on missions at a Missions Conference. As he spoke one thought kept running through my mind. How did he do it? From scratch, he built a missionary organization, Operation Mobilization (OM). Todate, OM has been the channel through which more than 100,000 people has served in the mission field. The ministry’s ships, Logos II and Doulos (see above picture), still navigates the world’s oceans, distributing Christian literature and delivering the gospel message in various languages and in various forms wherever it docks. Even as I write, OM has commissioned a new mission ship, LogosHope, even though George no longer helms OM. OM currently has over 4,000 missionaries spreading the gospel in over 100 countries, and counting, on this planet. That is really a wide-spread and far-reaching ministry. I don’t think even George had any inkling of the mighty ways God would use him in ministry for over forty years.
After listening to George’s messages delivered at the church conference as well as at our church, the following are some reflections on how George did it. Or perhaps I should say how God did it through George.
George made himself available. From the moment of his conversion, George availed himself to whatever ministry was open to him. He shared the gospel with his college mates. During his summer holidays, he would, together with his friends, travel to Mexico and distribute copies of John’s Gospel. George knew that Christian living was dynamic and based on action for God’s kingdom. Obedience to God did not mean sitting in an office, dreaming big visions and then waiting for the ‘right moment’ to get them done. George bloomed where he was planted and did what he could, whenever he could, wherever he could. He knew the secret of obedience was to get up and go. It does seem to have a simple ring to it – God calls, George goes. The same possibility exists for us. Will we respond in the same way?
George had a ‘Kingdom of God first’ mindset. I guess I should be glad that I was not a local church or denominational leader when I attended the conference. Listening to his plain-speaking ‘tell it like it is’ manner, I would probably cringe when George pointed to strictures and rules that tended to isolate or separate the local church or denomination from other co-labouring organizations. I think, George always thought first of whether an action had an impact on God’s kingdom first. To him, an action’s positive impact on God’s Kingdom was more important than judging whether the action was ‘politically correct’ or if it conformed to the church system and rules. George’s attitude echoes Paul’s words in Phil 1:18, “What does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” We could do with such a mindset in ministry by concentrating on the major issues that unite us rather than be distracted by the minor issues that threaten to divide us. To paraphrase what George said, “we can have unity in diversity.”
George was a team player. While most people saw George as Mr. OM, I doubt George saw OM as a one-man-operated agency. It was awesome to know he already had an army of tens of thousands of people backing him up in prayer regularly. Yet, after the first talk, he still stood outside the door, diligently giving out prayer letters to enlist even more prayer warriors. Even when he started out handing out gospels, he did not do it alone but with a team. George mentioned people whom he brought along on his trips. With them, he cultivated a Paul/Timothy relationship, mentoring them for leadership. George has now passed the OM baton to others and moved on to holistic ministries reaching out to the abused and marginalized. Yet, OM continues to thrive and expand its ministries. This is perhaps the greatest legacy of George’s team attitude, something we should emulate. Will the ministries God has entrusted us with thrive after we are gone or will they collapse because we did not do our part to ensure other people could carry the baton too?
I am also very sure George did not just keep the ministry going through passion, charisma and drive. Rather, he knew that it was God doing the work through him. All he had to do was obey. As his website says, George walked ‘emphasizing the need to worship God, live in fellowship with one another by walking in the light, and live a disciplined life of victory as forgiven, repentant, Cross-centered Christians.’ George as been doing ministry now for fifty years, and counting. That is a lifetime for most of us. He is a good example about walking a life that pleased God and doing the things that were close to God’s heart. We many never achieve the harvest that George did but let us emulate his life and attitudes anyway.
For more on George Verwer, please go to www.georgeverwer.com
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
“Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” I John 3:18
A few years ago, in my hurry to leave for college, I left the house without exchanging a few words with my mother who was now staying with my wife and me. That was what I would normally do but because she was in the toilet, I felt I could not wait and left. While on the way I regretted what I did. The thought crossed my mind that, her being eighty-eight years old (at that time), anytime I left the house might be the last time I ever saw her again.
MY fears were realized soon enough. Just a few hours later, the neighbours called to say she had fallen down. She was conscious but they were afraid to lift her up. I rushed home and together with my wife we called an ambulance to bring her to hospital. After a few weeks stay in hospital, we thank God she recovered and returned to our home.
I praise God that, in his mercy, did not allow my regret and guilt to become permanent. I was glad that our God is one who ensures that our failures do not mean the end of the world for us. Then it would become so easy to be entrapped by dejection and depression. It is an amazing God that we have, one who stands ever ready to forgive and forget our failures, something that we ourselves may not be prone to do.
I have also learnt that these are the small bits of faithfulness that God blesses most – when we manifest love by giving our presence instead of merely holding warm thoughts and affections in our hearts. Our presence is the most important thing that we can give to the people that we say we love – our spouses, our parents and our children. How much of ourselves do we give to them? It is a tough question that we need to ask ourselves regularly. This is because, in the busyness of our daily lives, we may give less time to them as we want to destress and unwind through some personal hobby or pursuit. We may even comfort ourselves by saying that the remaining time we give them is ‘quality’ time, whatever that means. I think they will find it more meaningful if we give them ‘whatever’ time. That way we send a message that they are very dear to us.
I once read that abuse in the family also includes the aspect of mere neglect which is providing for a person’s needs but neglecting to give personal attention and talking to him or her. That statement was an eye-opener. It is so easy for us to open our wallets to provide for a person’s sustenance but greater is our need, and harder for us, to open our hearts and increase our sensitivity to give of ourselves to those we love. After all, we have the example of our Lord Jesus to follow. He did not just give us physical life and all that we needed to sustain that life. More than that, he gave us himself so that the lives we have may be complete and abundant. Surely we can do no less for the ones that we say we love.