Thursday, December 16, 2010
As we complete our observations on the identity and ministry of the pastor as a transforming leader, I believe it is also good to look at some pitfalls he should be careful to avoid. Being a transforming leader means extending God’s Kingdom. This is something that will meet with resistance from Satan. It behooves us to remember that spiritual conflict is also involved and that Satan will do whatever he can to bring the transforming leader down. Sometimes it can be through the pastor-leader’s fleshly weaknesses or by transforming virtues into vices, like steadfastness into stubbornness, patience into indecision, etc. The pastor-leader must not forget that he is still not fully transformed and is still prone to sin. If he does not walk carefully, he too can fall. The tragedy, as we can see in current examples, is that his fall does not only affect himself but also the church people whom he ministers to as well. That is why he is a special target of Satan. Therefore, it is good to consider the following which are some examples of pitfalls the pastor has to heed:
NOT EXPECTING CONFLICT AND NOT HANDLING IT
In dealing with people, the pastor must expect conflicts to arise as all believers are “works-in-progress” and therefore prone to sin. We can see from Paul’s example that he does not avoid handling it (The dispute between Euodia and Syntyche in Phil 4:2, 3 and factionalism in 1 Cor 1:1 – 13). The pastor-leader should be sensitive enough to know the hostile under-currents that develop and threaten the harmony and continuity of the project.
At the core of the pastor-leader’s ideology should be the thought that Christ is the head of the church and every believer, including the leader, a member called to perform a specific task. Blackaby (Spiritual Leadership) tells us that the leader must guard against thinking only he has the ability and the depth of insight to run the organization successfully. If not careful, he becomes unteachable in his pride and impatient with his followers. He must also remember that Jesus should get the glory and should humbly direct all praise to Jesus. All this simply means he should not consider himself a leader but as a member of Christ’s body who serves by leading.
PROJECT VS. PEOPLE
We have earlier seen that in God’s Kingdom, people matter above programs. While the goal of transforming his environment and extending God’s Kingdom is a laudable one, he should look at the forest and yet not forget the trees that make up the forest. Nehemiah 5 gives us one biblical example of maintaining people sensitivity against being goal-oriented. Halfway through the rebuilding of the wall, the people brought their social and economic problems to him. Rather than rebuking them for distracting him from a “great project”, Nehemiah takes time off to mediate and solve their problems. He knew that the well-being of the people and not the project should always be uppermost in the leader’s mind. The modern-day pastor should bear this always in mind and guard against thinking only of the goal and brushing the people aside.
I think the leader of a great church will just need to put into practice two commandments of Jesus – The Great Commission and the Great Commandment. All other considerations of the Christian leader will spring from these two commandments.
OBEYING THE GREAT COMMISSION (Matt 28:18-20)
The pastor-leader must have a passion for souls. He must have a passion for God’s agenda. If he is seeking God’s will daily, he will be totally committed to mission and evangelism because people are what God is concerned about and God’s concern should be his concern. Therefore, local as well as foreign missions should be spearheading the ministry of the church.
Having evangelized and brought people into God’s kingdom, the next step is to disciple them so that these new converts can continue to grow in their faith. There is a biblical injunction that believers are to grow in their relationship with Christ (2 Pet 3:18) and also in spiritual maturity. The aim is discipleship and therefore the pastor’s ministry of teaching, preaching, visitation, etc., should bear this aim in mind. In Christian life, a believer is already backsliding if he is not moving forward. I believe one of the reasons why factionalism and friction is found in the church is because of the immaturity of church members who put their agenda before anything else. An idle mind is the devil’s workshop and the devil is always busy at work when Christian minds are idle.
OBEYING THE GREAT COMMANDMENT (JOHN 13:34-35)
Mother Theresa once said “I am God’s pencil; a tiny bit of pencil with which he writes what he likes.” The pastor-leader should also see himself in this light, as one in whom God’s compassion and love is written for the people to see and be touched. By adhering to the Great Commandment, the pastor-leader will thus keep his focus on God’s ways and not his own. To the secular leader, the ends justify the means but the pastor-leader has to ensure that both the means as well as the ends please God and glorify him. Paul was a good example of a pastor who was focused on God’s way and not his own in ministry. That is why he said “Everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.” (1 Cor 10:23-24).
In obeying the Great Commandment, the pastor-leader also should not end up setting himself over his followers. Thus, in love, he must be willing to make himself accountable for the decisions that he makes. Nor only that, he should also make himself accountable for the mistakes of those whom he delegates responsibility to. A person gets disillusioned when he sees support not forthcoming from the leader but is strengthened when the leader charges to his own account the blame accruing to his subordinate.
Obeying the Great Commandment also means attending to the needs of his followers. The church leader must never forget that he is above all, one who is called to pastor God’s people. We have already seen one image of the pastor as a shepherd, one who tends God’s people. Unlike the secular leader, who sees failure as unforgivable and is quick to sever the weakest links in the organizational chain, the pastor-leader is willing to slow down and come alongside the straggling ones to lift their spirits or tend to their hurts or lead them to rest so as to prevent lives being broken. I do not think a church ministry is worthwhile if lives are shattered and relationships broken in achieving its goal. The pastor has to remember that he must love his people because they are God’s sheep entrusted to him. The pastor should remember that leadership is not a status symbol or position of power but a responsibility and service.
If the pastor desires to transform his environment, he must therefore model obedience to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. Only when he is an example of obedience can he then speak with authority to his members. Love always brings about a positive response and so out of love, people will respond by giving and working towards growth of the church ministry in missions and planting churches.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
In this segment, we will look at the characteristics that make the transforming leader effective in his organization of the people in carrying out their God-given vision.
A GOOD RELATIONSHIP WITH HIS CONGREGATION
A very important, if not the most, feature of the transforming leader’s ministry is his relationship with his congregation. He is able to nurture a special leader-follower relationship that induce devotion and emotional attachments that stirs up a drive to accomplish greater things for God’s Kingdom in pursuit of their shared vision. The following are some characteristics that result from this feature.
- Esteem. The pastor should prompt respect and regard from those whom he leads. It makes his task easier to mobilize people towards the vision and I am sure followers will bring to bear great effort to the vision and expect no other reward that to emulate their leader and take pleasure in a shared victory. However, while many may admire qualities such as excellent oration, outstanding intellect or charismatic character, I think to have a good relationship with his followers, the pastor should manifest gifts of grace that displays God’s workmanship in him, such as nobility and godliness. Leaders who exhibit a good blend of both will appeal to their followers.
- Trust. The pastor inspires trust because his followers believe that he prayerfully pursues God’s agenda and walks according to God’s ways. They trust in his competence, uprightness and strength of character. His followers affirmation of his leadership should however be balanced with the leader’s honesty, accountability and humility to the trust engendered. In this way, a cultic situation can be averted where the leader induces slavish and blind devotion. Many Christian leaders, such as John Wesley, Hudson Taylor, etc. have had their ministries expanded because they were able to inspire their trusting followers to carry forth their visions into other areas.
- Love. Charismatic leadership has many qualities in it – persuasiveness, eloquence in handling God’s word, knowledge, faith, self-sacrifice. Yet Paul tells us that it is worthless if without love (1 Cor 13:1-3). The love described is agape (self-sacrificing) love and the leader should model this to his followers so that they too may reciprocate in love to him and to one another.
One aspect of a pastor’s ministry is to influence people for good. In this regard, he works to expand God’s kingdom by inspiring others to the same vision. One such example is Hudson Taylor who remains the most widely used of God missionary in China's history. During his 51 years of service there, his China Inland Mission established 20 mission stations, brought 849 missionaries to the field (968 by 1911), trained some 700 Chinese workers, raised four million dollars by faith (following Mueller's example), and developed a witnessing Chinese church of 125,000. It has been said at least 35,000 were his own converts and that he baptized some 50,000. His gift for inspiring people to give themselves and their possessions to Christ was amazing. Today his legacy lives on through the work done by the Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF). This aspect of influencing/inspiring others remains very important in pastoral ministry if the pastor’s vision is to have any lasting impact in the life of the church.
The Bible addresses the church as the body of Christ (Romans 12:4-6). In any team endeavour, solidarity enables the team to manifest its strengths and its people to effectively use their gifts and talents. Just as Jesus prayed for all believers to be united (John 17:22-23), the pastor should make a core belief of his ministry. Groups have dynamics in their relationships and often these dynamics are affected and perhaps even upset when new members join as others leave. The pastor should remember to repeat the vision so as to ensure the complete unity of the people. When he is diligent in keeping the people united in one common purpose, creativity abounds and dynamic energy is exuded with the result of people having synergy and enthusiasm to attain the goal set.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
DERIVING/DEFINING THE VISION
I sincerely believe that all transforming leaders are led by a vision and the vision has to be a God-given one. This is because as a spiritual leader, the pastor’s people are God’s people and his duty is to steer them towards God’s purposes. Whatever dreams and visions the pastor may have will have to be subordinated towards God’s will in the ministry he has been entrusted with.
Basically, having a vision means forming a picture of a future reality and being willing to work in the present towards the reality of that future. I personally think this should form part of a pastor’s theology – being future-oriented. God himself desires change. After all, He looked at the formless chaos and decided to form the universe and man, bringing beauty and excellence out of nothing. Even when man sinned, God did not maintain the status quo but gave us a hope-filled future through the work of Jesus on the cross. Much of the Old Testament prophets, as well as New Testament writers maintained an eschatological outlook (Isa 4:2-6, Ezek 34:24-31, Joel 3:16-21, Zeph 3:11-20, Matt 25:31-34, Mk 13:26, 1 Thess 4:13-17, Rev 21:1-5,). Thus, as God’s obedient servants, we too should envision how we can qualitatively work towards redeeming the future for God’s purposes. Most important of all, to be a leader, we have to look at and to our Supreme Lord for the vision.
Nevertheless, I would like to qualify the word ‘vision’ here. This should not be understood here as a ’The Word of the Lord came to…” variety of commissioning of the pastor to go forth as God did with the prophets in the Old Testament. Rather, vision may be properly interchanged with dream, mission, purpose, direction, plan, objective, long-term goal, etc. Therefore, a vision projects a future condition, presenting a picture of a changed organization and compels action. Thus, a vision may emerge as the pastor reflects on God and His designs for the church. This vision will undoubtedly be influenced by factors such as values, characteristics, strengths, weaknesses, etc as well as communication and feedback from leading members of the church. Although I refer to the pastor only, I think it is also important to note that the pastor should not seek a vision for the church in isolation. Rather he should do this in concert with a team of leaders and matured Christian members of the church, through fasting, prayer and fellowship.
COMMUNICATION THE VISION
Having defined the vision, the pastor will have to communicate it to his congregation. This is because the church is not an autocracy where the leader speaks and people obey but a community called to serve God’s purposes for this world. Therefore, it is important for the church to be co-partners in the vision. Transforming Christian leadership requires this shared sense of destiny. Hobgood (The Once and Future Pastor) tells us that “there is no point in a pastor’s giving voice to a vision of the church’s future direction if there’s no one to hear and no one to get excited by it.” The wise pastor will not pitch his vision over the heads of his congregation but at their hearts to gain acceptance. Therefore, getting the church people to buy into the vision requires loving patience with warm, open communication. The Bible describes God’s people as royal priests, a holy nation, precious, etc. That means they are equally important to God as the pastor is and he should never lose sight of this truth.
What the pastor needs to keep in mind is that the vision is God’s vision and that change is God’s work. The pastor’s job is to just faithfully communicate this vision to the people. Perhaps a better way to articulate this is to say that the pastor is to be the channel through which God’s vision is imparted to the people. I believe that the key is to encourage followers to grow in their relationship with God. As God’s channel, that means the pastor has to maintain the following:
- Be faithful to his prophetic office. This office is sometimes described as “an extraordinary ministry of special inspiration, of discernment of the meaning of events already revealed, or in some cases, yet to be revealed (Blackaby in ‘Spiritual Leadership’). Preaching seeks to “inspire, devotion dedication, loyalty and discipleship to Christ.” Through the preached word, we encounter Jesus, the revealed word. With the help of the Spirit, it results in changed lives.
- Be faithful to Christ in his own life. The pastor also has to give a good witness of God’s work in his own life lest he cause members to stumble resulting in a negative reaction to any vision by him.
Monday, November 15, 2010
In the secular understanding of leadership, more often than not, leadership is defined by the results obtained while the leader’s character is not given much, if at all any, prominence. However, in the church, this should not be the case. Character should be the most important criteria if not the most. That is why we should give it prominence by looking at it first in our study. The character traits that we see in an outstanding leader stems from his identity and the best model to form our identity as a pastor-leader should be Christ. In the Bible, the two clearest images that we see of Christ are servant and shepherd.
A. A SHEPHERD'S HEART
A Christian leader must have a heart that is attuned to his followers’ needs and welfare. In secular society, we often hear the maxim “you need to break some eggs to make an omelet.” The implication is that it is justified for lives to be broken and people hurt in the attainment of an objective. Yet Jesus never saw it that way which is why he introduced the concept of the shepherd-leader.
When Christ painted a picture of the relationship of himself with his followers as shepherd and sheep (John 10), it was a picture that his listeners could relate to. Even in the Old Testament, God is seen as a shepherd (Gen 49:24, Psalm 23) respectively by Jacob and David. What was the shepherd’s duty in those days? In a dry and rocky land, he had to look for grass and water; he had to protect his flock from the weather and from bandits and wild beasts. He also had to look for and recover any sheep that had strayed away. Sometimes in carrying out his duties, he had to travel far from human company living alone with maybe just a bag containing his necessities. Very often, the sheep pen was a cave in the hills with only one opening and the shepherd himself slept across the opening. Robbers and wild beasts had to go through him if they wanted to plunder the flock. This paints a picture of what a true shepherd is - devoted, selfless and fearless at the same time.
Thus, while the leader seeks to advance God’s Kingdom, as a shepherd-leader, he should be willing to move at the pace of the weaker members. Sheep, by nature, suffer from defective vision as well as stress and fear. That is why Christ portrayed his followers also as such so as to affirm his own shepherding vocation. From the shepherd’s image given earlier, we can see that compassionate love should be the distinguishing mark of the shepherd. In Mark 6:31-34, we see Jesus modeling this example of a shepherd-leader. He had asked his disciples to come away for a retreat with him to find rest. However, many people got wind of his destination and so, Jesus finds even more people clamoring for help as he reaches his destination. Yet Jesus “had compassion on them” (Mark 6:34). The implication for a shepherd-leader is that success in ministry is not to be at the cost of people’s lives. Instead, my belief is that the leader should be willing to subjugate his own interests to the needs of his followers and be willing to even slow a project’s pace if it means that the weaker ones can also partake of the vision and share in its success.
Stowe in ‘The Ministry of Shepherding’ describes shepherding as a challenging opportunity but paints an interesting outcome – like shepherd, like sheep. He tells us that “the godly shepherd can produce an exemplary godliness in his flock. His faithful discipleship will be mirrored in theirs. His ethical patterns will become theirs. Through shared concerns for this common cause, they will be welded in a spiritual union until the commander and unit are almost one and the same thing.”
B. A SERVANT’S SPIRIT
The Bible describes the church as a living organism, the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27, Eph 4:12). That means Christ is the head and all believers, including the pastor-leader, simply his servants, playing equally important parts to build up the body toward maturity and extending God’s Kingdom. Thus, the leader does not lead but serves Christ by leading, i.e. his primary objective is to serve his master.
In the Old Testament, all the great men of Israelite history are called servants. Although secular society rejects the idea of a leader as servant, biblically it is not an inferior calling. In fact, in the New Testament, Jesus makes it very clear that leadership is about serving and not being served (Mark 10:45). He then models it (John 13:1-17) showing that leaders are servants who stoop to minister from the servant’s position and bring cleansing to the body.
In the following examples, we can observe some secular presumptions of leadership that should not be carried over into our theology of pastoral leadership. The study is based on Matt 20:25-28.
1. Relationship with the led. The ruler is ‘over’ those he leads. He is above and distinct from those that he leads.
2. Command. The secular leaders ‘lord it over” and “exercise authority” over their followers. This is a command-type authority telling others what to do, demanding conformity of behaviour.
3. Mode. Secular leadership involves issuing orders and passing on decisions the leader has made.
4. Power. Behavioural conformity is obtained by levying sanctions and coercive means.
Instead, the example of the Lord shows that the pastor-leader should be humble in heart and submissive to God. According to Finzel in ‘Empowered Leaders’, the servant-leader’s purpose is not his own glory but to make the worker successful. He should consider that the church members are there not to serve him but the mission of the church and that his role as leader is to facilitate their effectiveness in the fulfillment of the church mission.
Finzel emphasizes that servant-leaders must be willing to live lives filled with submission on many levels: submission to authority, submission to God, to principles of wise living, etc. Inability to understand submission indicates arrogance and self-sufficiency. Again the best model held before us is Jesus who always acknowledged his submission to the Father’s Will (John 5:30). Another biblical example of submission to emulate is Joseph, who was totally submitted to God’s Will no matter what circumstances, prison or privilege, he found himself in. “The Lord was with him” (Gen 39:3, 21) and this enabled him to serve God well. In fact, even after his elevation to Prime Minister of Egypt, Joseph remained submitted to God’s Will. As a result, he could forgive his brothers and reassure them of his forgiveness, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50:20)
Sunday, November 14, 2010
One thing to note as we look at any church around us is that it is always purposely formed. It could have been due to the vision of a denominational pastor who sees the harvest in an area not exposed to Christ. It could have started with a few families gathering for Bible study, mutual fellowship and encouragement. They then later decide to gather for regular worship and eventually form a church. It may also be the result of a Christian layperson who disciples a group of young people. Later, these young people win others to Christ and, in due time, they set up a church so that they will be able to worship together regularly. As time goes on, they, and we have many such examples, also become blessings to the world outside their gates, as they build schools, community outreaches, charity homes, etc.
Although there may also be other reasons for churches being formed, one thing should be very clear – the church’s existence is due to a person or a group of like-minded persons having the vision of transforming the environment by expanding God’s kingdom in their midst. From this then, we need to note that for the church to perform the mandate given them by Jesus (Matt 28:18-20); she (I prefer to use the feminine pronoun in referring to the church) needs to pay close attention to the issues of leadership. This is because to form a community, one needs to have one or more persons committed to leading people to form these communities.
This article suggests that just sending forth any person who volunteers will not do. In fact, leadership or administration is mentioned as a gift of the Spirit in Romans 12:8 and 1 Cor 12:28. Tidball in ‘Skilful Shepherds’ tells us that the original word translated as leader means a “ship’s helmsman” and refers to the gifts necessary to steer a congregation. It therefore has to do with “the sensitive uniting of people towards a common goal”, which is God’s agenda for this world.
Therefore this article, posted in parts over the next few days, looks at the pastor as someone who, more than guiding and protecting the flock, although these are also tasks of prime importance for a church leader, also has to be a transforming spiritual leader. This means that he, through God’s empowerment and guidance, is able to transform the hearts and minds of those to whom he ministers so that they will catch his God-given vision and strive to fulfill the visions that the transforming leader articulates. I think Henry and Richard Blackaby clearly define it by quoting Robert Clinton’s book ‘The Making of a Leader’ that “the central task of leadership is influencing God’s people towards God’s purposes.”
Thursday, November 4, 2010
From the Old Testament, we know that the priests were not exceptional models of morality and integrity. Aaron built the Golden Calf (Exodus 32-34), his sons Nadab and Abihu disobeyed God by offering unconsecrated incense. That was at the beginning of the priestly ministry. Later, in 1 Samuel we read that Eli’s sons, were also corrupt and were replaced by Samuel. The sins of the priests were one reason for the exile (Micah 3:11; Jer 1:18; Ezekiel 22:26). Psalm 110:4 promised a future messiah “The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek." The Ten Commandments were not just about God’s Law but a sign of his covenant with Israel. They were to be his people and he would be their God. But Israel broke this covenant over and over until God allowed them to be conquered and taken into exile. Yet, despite their unfaithfulness, during their exile, they get a wonderful promise. Jer 31:33 says "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the LORD. I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
God does not change and, in his grace, God shows a future where his people will not break the new covenant because God will write the law on their hearts. The old covenant had been engraved in stone; the new covenant will include a revolutionary change in will, heart, and conscience. It will be an internal covenant. The law now becomes a principle of life (cf. Ro 8:1-4), a part of the nature of God's people. That is what we learn from Romans 8:1-4, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” The core of the new covenant is God's gift of a new heart when we are born again. The motivation for obeying God's law is inner knowledge of his will, coupled with an enablement to perform it - all founded on the assurance that sins are forgiven.
The priests of Israel were but dim shadows of the one Great Priest of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. The writer of the book of Hebrews understood this perfectly. That is why he said confidently “They (meaning the priests) serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle, ‘See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.’ But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises.” (Hebrews 8:5-6)
Therefore, throughout the book of Hebrews, we see the writer emphasizing the perfection found in the priestly character of Christ:
• Heb 5:5 - Christ as Priest is appointed and chosen by God
• Heb 7:20-22 - He is consecrated with an oath
• Heb 7:26 - He is sinless
• Heb 7:23-24 - His priesthood is unchangeable
• Heb 9:25-28 - His offering is perfect and final
• Heb 7:24-25 - He intercedes continually for his people.
So we can see that the priestly role of Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of the priestly ministry that began with Aaron and his sons. Looking at what we have learnt, in a sense, Christ did not supersede the priesthood although he did away with the old system of offerings. Just as Aaron is a type of Christ, we are also a type of Aaron’s sons who are to carry on Christ’s priestly work. Christ instituted the church, that is his body, to be the priests today. That is why 1 Pe 2:9 says “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” As Christians, we have a priestly role to play. We worship God as one body to proclaim the true God to a world that does not know him. We offer our prayers and our lives as sacrifices to show pre-believers what it means to live in a covenant relationship with God. We also offer God’s Word to people to help them find healing and blessing from God. That is what we do as a royal priesthood and holy nation – mediators between God and man.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Whenever the Israelites camped in the wilderness, they would set the Tabernacle up first and then they would set their own camps up around the Tabernacle. That meant the tabernacle was in the center of the camp. This was how the kingdoms of those days and even the Assyrians and the Babylonians camped. When their king marched with them, his camp was always in the center. The symbol is very clear. The Israelites the one true God as their king and their God was one who dwelled with his people.
The tabernacle also symbolized that their God was holy and to be approached carefully. This is seen by the encampment. The Israelites could enter the courtyard to bring their sacrifices but only the Levite priests could enter the holy Place. While the Levite priests could enter the Holy Place, only the High Priest could enter the most Holy Place and even then once a year. Even the decorations and furnishings showed this. The courtyard frames had bronze supports but the tabernacle supports were silver. And even then, on entering the tabernacle, the furnishings were of gold not silver. The curtains to the courtyard were embroidered but did not have cherubim. The curtains at the entrance of the Holy Place had cherubim which were embroidered into them. But the curtains at the entrance of the Most Holy Place had cherubim not embroidered but woven into the cloth – the work of a master craftsman. It was symbolic of the majesty of their God who was pre-eminent above all things. But despite his majesty and holiness, God had chosen to bless the Israelites by dwelling among them. The location of the tabernacle, its structure and materials all symbolized this.
When we look at the Tabernacle as symbolic of God’s presence, obviously we can conclude that Jesus is our Tabernacle today. That is why in Matthew he is called Immanuel which means “God with us”. This is most clearly seen in John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” In English, it is not so clear. But the word translated as ‘made his dwelling’ comes from a root word that is translated as tabernacle. So v14 translates literally as “Jesus became human and tabernacled among us”. Moses’ Tabernacle pointed to this future, where God would dwell among man. Of course, today God lives in his people, the body of believers called his church.
What are the practical lessons for us to learn from. First God’s care is demonstrated in our day-to-day circumstances. Light, life and food all come from a sovereign God who lives in and among us. Our circumstances and daily blessings are not by chance or luck but God’s provision to us as an act of grace and mercy. Therefore, we need to look to God first. Our priority is to seek God first in all aspects of our lives.
The Tabernacle reminded the Israelites that God chose them. They did not choose him. Similarly, we too did not choose God. God chose us to be recipients of his love and grace. We are not to be proud and think we are one-up on non-believers like some Christians think. Instead, we should be humble before God and give him first priority in our lives.
Finally, the Tabernacle was seen as glorious holy and pure. The Israelites were to model themselves after their God by being holy and pure reflecting the glory of their God as symbolized by the Tabernacle. They had to learn which articles were clean or unclean, right or wrong, etc.
Similarly, the church, that is the body of Christ, must also be seen as holy and pure. The church is the dwelling place of God. It is not a voluntary association for the members to do as they see fit. The church is to be structured according to the will of its king, the Lord Jesus Christ. Many Christians don’t do that. Church to them is like a country club where their own wants come first. Jesus Christ lives in us and so our church, our homes and our families must reflect his beauty and glory.
Monday, October 25, 2010
Wow! Today I have found out that no matter how liberal in thought and broad-minded people claim to be, they will reserve their RIGHT to censor you just because they are in charge. And despite censoring you, they will post all sorts of judgments on you and presume all sorts of conclusions about you. And of course you have already been muffled by then.
I guess that is why Jesus gave us the Golden Rule! Do unto others as you want them to do to you? That means if we want someone to act justly to us, we ourselves must act justly towards others even if we do not receive justice from the ones we act justly to. If we want to have a right to be heard on our thoughts then we too must give others the right say their piece without judging to condemn them even when their thoughts are jarring to our sensibilities.
That's sad but it is life, real down-to-earth, no-up-in-the-ivory-tower kind of life. I have to learn this for myself and especially not get bogged down in vain and preening arguments.
That is why I have learned one thing and that is never let someone else's actions ruin your day. Life is too good to let others pull you down, no matter how unjustly they act against you.
But still my heart begs this question - I wonder, who will watch the watchers who claim to watch out for us?
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
To understand how God views work, we can look at Col 3:22. The context of this chapter begins from v1-17 with some rules for holy living, like seeking after heavenly things, mortifying the earthly nature, consideration for other Christians, etc. Then from v18, Paul shows how our holy living is manifested in the way we treat others, beginning first with our family members. Then from v22, he moves on to the people we transact with in our working life. Imagine what would you say if you were writing to slaves? From a Christian viewpoint, the idea of a person owning one another is abhorrent. So if I had any advice to give to slaves, I would probably say “guys, you have to look after your rights. You better organize your own unions and make sure you fight for your rights. Don’t get bullied. Look for loopholes and make sure you aim to get out one day.” But what does Paul say? V22: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” He’s saying, “You’re a slave so make sure you are a good slave. In fact be the best slave possible. Do all that your master tells you to. Go the extra mile by pleasing your master even when he is not around.” And if you had to talk to the masters, what would you say. I probably would say, “hey buddy, you’re a Christian and God created all of us equal in his image. So how can you own slaves? That is sinful and you’re a hypocrite!” But what does Paul has to say? Eph 4:1 “Dear masters, be fair and good masters. Do the right thing for your slaves.”
And sandwiched in between these two verses in v23, we have our key verse for today. Its position is interesting isn’t it? After all, each one is somewhere between master and slave. We may be a top executive but we still answer to shareholders and partners. Or we may be at the bottom and yet not slaves because our boss does not own us. So in that sense, v23 refers to everyone of us who works in this 21st Century world. And what does Paul say? “Whatever you do…” In other words, “wherever you right now.” So what is God telling you right now in this verse? Don’t wait until you get that dream job before you put your heart into it. Don’t wait for that promotion before you put in a good day’s work. Don’t wait until you have your own company before you put your heart, mind and soul into your work. Whatever you do – that means whether you work part-time or fulltime, or your boss is a slave-driver, or you’re just a store-room clerk that no one can see working, work at it with all your heart. That is somewhat hard to take in when we think of it. I mean can we put all our heart into our work? We can put our hearts into taking care of our family. We can put our hearts into serving in church ministry. But when it comes to work, I am not sure if it applies all the time. A lot of us might think, there is nothing significant that I do so why put my heart into it? My boss doesn’t know I exist in the store-room so why work so hard? I just prepare the accounts for the boss to check and if some figures are wrong, it is not my fault because he should check it. And anyway, even my boss doesn’t put his heart in to it when the CEO is not around. And he doesn’t care! When the company goes on hard times, I will be the first to go. Or else he will cut my bonus. Or else he will outsource my job and I end up working 60 hours for the new boss. What’s the big deal? Why should I work hard now when my boss does not care for me? I am just going to do enough to get by until a better opening comes around. That is exactly the work attitudes that many of us encounter in our lives in the secular world.
But Paul gives us the reason why we ought to out our hearts into whatever we do. He says do it “as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” In other words, when you go to work up tomorrow morning to work, put your heart into it as though God is your supervisor or your best customer or your CEO or chairman of the board. But again, this raises the question that we ask ourselves always when faced with this point. This is not ministry, it is just work, it’s not significant. But Paul gives us a new perspective and motivation for giving your all at work when he says “since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.”
And suddenly we are faced with a very broad context because he is saying that as a Christian, ultimately we have to give an account for every single part of our life to our Lord Jesus. And one day we will be rewarded for every single part of our life in this world and that includes our work. Not just for what we did in our marriage, or in church ministry, or raising our children. In other words, your earthly boss may reward you with a bonus or extra leave or a promotion but never forget you have a big boss up in heaven. God does not compartmentalize our lives and he is going to measure our faithfulness in every single part of our lives and that includes our working life. Don’t be deceived by thinking this is between you and your supervisor or your employer or your Company Chairman. God is saying that “No! You’re a Christian and your whole life is a test of your faithfulness to God. I am interested in your working life and faithfulness in your work is faithfulness me, your Heavenly Father. And I will reward you for your faithfulness.” The point is this – what you do is not as important as how you do it. The significance of your work is not measured by your job description and details. It is measured by whether you put your heart into your work now wherever God has placed you somewhere between being a master and being a slave. We are so focused on what and where but God is focused on the how and the diligence and the fact whether you are putting your heart into your work now.
And then to reinforce the idea, Paul tells us in v24, “It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Just as you serve him in your marriage, in your finances, in your church ministry and in your friendships, you are to serve him in the same way in the marketplace. He is your ultimate rewarder. Ultimately, you are accountable to him. He is your permanent boss and we are to serve him in our current jobs with that in mind. We are not to worry about what we do or where we work but how we do our jobs today, now. With that in mind then, let us think of what are the implications of Col 3:23 when we go to work tomorrow. I’d like us to consider 4 points that we can glean in our study of this verse.
1. What you do now has eternal implications even if it has no obvious value
The first is that your work has eternal implications even if it has no obvious value, per se. Your work, whatever it is now, has eternal implications even if it has no eternal value to anyone. The reason I am saying this is because we get too hung up on the eternal value of what we do. We think of evangelism as having eternal value. We think that maybe if we are a doctor now that has eternal value because we save lives and heal the sick. Or maybe we think that counseling people has eternal value because we heal people’s minds and attitudes. And perhaps some of you may be thinking, “exactly, pastor! That has eternal value. But look at what I am doing. I type letters for my boss. I call people and sell them things. I wash the toilets and cook for my employer. I buy and sell the stocks that my clients ask me to. How can this thing that I do have eternal value?” But that thought is so wrong. Because if we take what God is saying here in Paul’s letter as the truth, it means that, every piece of work that we do in the marketplace is significant. Significant not in the sense that it has eternal value for someone else, but it has eternal implications for you and certainly that means your work attitudes has an eternal value for you. Your heavenly father is going to watch you work tomorrow. And he will measure and judge your faithfulness to him with the faithfulness that you show towards your job tomorrow. By seeing how you give your all in your workplace tomorrow. Whether you come in on time, whether you work when the boss is not around, whether you take things from the office for your use at home. All these are going to be some of the signs of your faithfulness and God is going to be watching. And he is going to reward you according to the attitude and heart that you put into your job tomorrow, not just what you put into your ministry on Sunday or your family responsibilities.
2. How you perform at work is as important as where you work.
The second implication is how you perform at work is just as important as where you are working. We are always focused on where we work aren’t we? We see our friends have better jobs or the grass is greener over there. Or we think if only I had my own company, that is where I can perform well. If you have those thoughts, perhaps God might be saying, “Hold up my child, just take a step back and do a rethink.” Its OK to ask God for a transfer or a promotion or even to bless your efforts to start a new company. God may well do that for you in the future but what about now? God is more concerned with how you are performing right now, not just when you get that dream job or that professor’s chair or that IPO. We tend to pray far more often prayers like these, “Oh Lord help me to get that promotion or help me get another company because my boss is real nasty, etc.” How often do we pray, “God I want to do my work today really well! Help me to put all my heart into my work today and I will let you decide when I get that promotion or that transfer or that new job, etc?” If what the Scripture verse is to seen as true, that means how I do my job tomorrow wherever I am is more important than where I am. How I do my job wherever I am is more important than where I am.
3. Your performance at work is just as important as your Christian character and witness.
The third point is this – our performance at work is just as important as our conduct at work. Now what am I saying here? It simply means you cannot claim to be a Christian of great character and yet slack off when you are working. There are some Christians who may have this attitude. They think, “Who cares about this job anyway? I am not going to be in job very long and it has no value as far as God’s Kingdom is concerned.” I believe God might have something different to say to an attitude like that. Poor performance in your workplace is never balanced out by great Christian character. It should not be offered as an excuse in place of bad performance. Don’t say “Boss I know I did not get the job done but praise God I did not steal the pens.” Our Christian character should be a given. It is a given that we should not steal the pens, we should start work on time, we don’t take credit for others’ work, etc. However in addition to that the question is “how are we doing our jobs?’ The question is not “are you a nice person?” The question is, "are you getting the job done?" Are you being faithful to your supervisor or boss or company in doing the job they hired you to do? And you cannot make the excuse, “But that is just the world. It is just secular, it’s the marketplace, it does not matter.” No, to God, your performance matters as much as your character. Yes, God has called you to be a man or woman of great character in the marketplace. Yes, God has called you to be a good Christian witness in your office. But God has also called you to work at your present job with all your heart and to put your all into your present job. And when you put your all into the job, you can be sure that you are getting the job done. It is as simple as that. So telling God that what you do is not significant is not going to work for you.
4. Putting your heart into your work allows God to bless your work.
We come now to the last point which is if you want God to bless your work than you need to put your heart into your work. What do we mean by this? If you were a Christian counsellor and a couple were to come to you and say, “We want God to bless our marriage. Can you tell us what we can do so that God will bless our marriage?” how would you reply? I am sure you probably say that’s great and I can show you how you can get God to bless your marriage. And then you would take out the Bible and you would tell them that all they have to do is read the Bible and conduct their marriage according to the principles found in Scripture. This is because God blesses obedience and he cannot bless disobedience. In the same way if you come to me and say, “I want God to bless my work from tomorrow”, I would reply, “that’s great. So tomorrow, you have to go to your workplace and do your work with all your heart because that is what Scripture tells you to do.” Obeying the Scriptures is one sure way of ensuring that God will bless your work. But you cannot go to work tomorrow and put in half the effort or just enough to get by and then expect God to bless your work. You cannot do that and then ask God to bless you by giving you a better job like your neighbor has, or a workplace environment like another neighbour. If you’re not being obedient to God now, you cannot say, “God give me that job I been asking for and I know I can do put my all into my work over there.” God may answer, “well that is well and good and maybe I will do it someday but what about now?” Are you putting your heart into your work now? God can bless your work now but he cannot bless your work until you handle your present job the way he has asked you to in Scripture. He can only bless your work if you invite him into your workplace and acknowledge that he is the big boss that you are accountable to. And when you become accountable to God, you will want to put your heart into whatever your work is. And when you do things this way, you position yourself to receive the blessing of God.
You see the difference between what we think and what God thinks about work? With us, it is always about where we are and how much we get. With God it is about how we do at where we are right now. So when we go to work tomorrow, God will be looking at us. And when he sees us doing our job with all our hearts, he is going to be thrilled. He is going to be so proud of you because you’re being obedient to his Word. You’re showing him that “yes, you work for the Lord.”
I want to close with a story that happened to me in my early years at the Helping Hand. One of my first assignments in the Helping Hand was working for the catering department. We provided buffets for church weddings and small groups, etc. So there we were setting up the buffet tables and laying out the food when a church staff came to us. He told us that someone had messed the toilet up and he told my staff in-charge to help clean it up before the wedding started. So my staff called me to help him and while cleaning up the toilet and mopping it dry, I kept going on and on about how unfair the staff was. We did not mess the toilet up, we are the caterers and the toilets were not our responsibility and we should have just told him so. I complained that the staff was just taking advantage of us. Finally, when we finished, my staff looked at me, smiled brightly and said, “Its OK Luke, we work for the Lord not for men.”
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
At a CG I recently visited, the topic of discussion was on Jesus calling his disciples “the salt of the earth”. Someone shared that salt dissolves and dissipates into the dish to which it is added. The dish itself is very much larger than the tiny amount of salt that is added. Yet, it is able to influence the taste of the dish. In the same way, Christians can exercise influence over a body of people much larger than themselves.
In what ways can we as Christians influence a body of people larger than us? I believe God has entrusted us with the task of preserving his goodness in this world. So we must always reflect to see how we are doing this. Being Christians, it is very natural to attract the attention of people around us. Our colleagues, relatives and friends observe our values that come out in the things we are passionate about. Do we engage them with bawdy jokes and stories just to be one of the crowd? They will see how we treat others in our midst - the foreigners, our subordinates, even how we attend to our children. They watch and they see how we act and react to circumstances. If our desire is to live up to the salt that we are in Christ, then every moment people see us is a glorious moment to show them the goodness of God. Therefore, we must commit ourselves to preserving God’s goodness around us. This is because we may be the only Bible these people will read.
Another thing that surfaced was that salt has healing properties. I remember, in my younger days, whenever I had a tooth taken out, the first thing my mother did was to dissolve salt in water and make me gargle and wash the cavity out. It was to help the healing process. During Jesus’ time, salt was used as an antiseptic. I remember reading somewhere that when little babies were born, they were given a saline bath to ward off infection. Christians too can bring healing into people’s lives. There will always be people around us who need acceptance and comfort for their failures and brokenness. They need people who will hold them up, speak healing words and let them know, even though down, they are still not crushed and beyond hope.
Different dishes require different amounts of salt. So it is with people we attend to. How much we give of ourselves to non–Christians depends on what is going on in his or her life. It could be that the person has some special need for compassion or comfort or some other unique need in some way. That involves a sacrifice of time and resources and makes us vulnerable.
However, just as salt has to interact with the dish to influence its flavour, we too have to interact with people to influence their lives. Salt is no use if it remains on the shelf or in the shaker. In the same way, Christians cannot influence the world if we simply remain in our churches and small groups. We exist for the purpose of being involved with non-Christians. We need to manifest a willingness to go out and let non-Christians enter our lives. We need to know them as people honestly and earnestly. That is why one of our core values is “Outreach for Christ”.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. (Isa 55:8)
I have been caught in many situations where I lamented “If only God would speak to me clearly now”, “if only I was like some others who seem to believe they understand exactly what God thinks and what he would do in every situation.” However, I do believe that God’s ways and thoughts are far beyond our ability to fully understand all the time. If we are unable to read one another’s minds, except through calculated guesses, we definitely cannot read God’s mind.
Nevertheless, there are ways that God gives us glimpses into his thoughts and desires. I believe these are the ways:
1. Through His written Word. The Bible has been given to us by inspiration from God. It teaches us what is true. It points out wrong things about our lives and guides us into doing things right (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Therefore, if we seek God’s will and way, it is best to begin by saturating our minds with God’s Word.
2. Through prayer. Prayer is not about presenting a shopping list to God, it is a dialogue with our loving Heavenly Father. Prayer focuses our thoughts and attunes us to all that God is. Thus, we are prepared to hear what he might say to us. Does God speak to us through prayer? I believe he does, but with a still small voice that is more sensed than heard.
Yet, there are times when, in trying to discern God's will, nothing seems to come to you through the Bible or prayer. I believe there are also indirect ways that God makes his will known:
1. Circumstances. God works through providential circumstances. He will create opportunities, e.g. through open and closed doors, and then place it all in our paths - in order to direct your steps or confirm a particular direction. We should pray and ask God to confirm the steps then. It is also important to discern if the opportunity presented is against God’s revealed will. In doing so, we can make sure that the situation before us in not coincidental.
2. Good Judgment. God has given a sound mind, able to weigh pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses, threats and opportunities. We should use it. In times like this, I mentally check-off pros against cons, strengths against weaknesses, etc. This way I can discern which side outweighs the other. However, there is a need for caution. Our perceptions are not always objective (Jer 17:9). Thus, in a real sense, judgment is limited in how far it can direct us along God’s path, even if our hearts are at peace with our conclusion. It is always best to check the decision with other means, such as God’s revealed Word, counsel of others, prayer, etc.
3. Advice of Others. The advice of mature Christians is highly regarded, “The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice” (Prov. 12:15). Yet, it is seldom sought in these days of individualistic expressions of faith. The advice of other mature Christians in Christ’s body is more objective than ours. They have their own experiences and knowledge and the wisdom to be gleaned from them is valuable.
Monday, September 13, 2010
A lthough things are not perfect
B ecause of trial or pain
C ontinue in thanksgiving
D o not begin to blame
E ven when the times are hard
F ierce winds are bound to blow
G od is forever able
H old on to what you know
I magine life without His love
J oy would cease to be
K eep thanking Him for all the things
L ove imparts to thee
M ove out of "Camp Complaining"
N o weapon that is known
O n earth can yield the power
P raise can do alone
Q uit looking at the future
R edeem the time at hand
S tart every day with worship
T o "thank" is a command
U ntil we see Him coming
V ictorious in the sky
W e'll run the race with gratitude
X alting God most high
Y es, there'll be good times and yes some will be bad, but...
Z ion waits in glory...where none are ever sad!
Friday, September 10, 2010
2 Tim 1:8b-10 “But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, 9who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
Notice that Paul says God has saved us and called us to a holy life (V9). That means we should live our lives befitting that as children of God. We may not be a Paul who calls himself a herald, an apostle and a teacher but we can all emulate the examples of Lois and Eunice who not only taught the Christian life but lived the life in a way that Timothy caught it from them. That is what we should do, all of us.
I am sure all parents do not want their sons to grow up and become drug addicts or have their daughters emulate Paris Hilton. They would want their children to reflect their parents and bring honour to the family. It is OK in wanting that because God also expects his children to bring him honour. What is not OK is to make them feel small and unaccepted when they don’t live up to their parents’ expectations. That is the good thing about God – he never expects more from us than what we can give him. Christian faithfulness is to be faithful witnesses of Christ in every area of influence where we find ourselves with people who do not know Christ. Also faithfulness is not just talking about Christ but walking to show that he is in our lives. Our works must measure up to our words.
How do we do that? One way is that we should strive to be good examples to one another. Just as Paul was a good testimony and a role model to Timothy, so Timothy must have been a good example to those who came behind him. All of us are Christians because of someone’s effort. Therefore we too should make the effort to ensure that the people around us know what a Christian looks like. Say what you like, we are all examples and the only difference is whether we are good examples or bad examples. Why not chose to be good examples especially so when we have a loving Heavenly father who loves us and imparts his grace to help us live for him.
And we should be living our lives now because we never know how our influence can have eternal implications and impact the Kingdom of God. Faithfulness is each one of us living the Christian life now and not looking to do it in the future. I keep thinking of William Carey. He was born into a Christian home but he never really knew Christ. Much later while he was working as a cobbler, he had a genuine conversion experience through the faithful witnessing of a fellow cobbler. From then on, he was on fire for God and about fifteen years later in 1793, he sailed to India as a missionary. Today we call him the father of modern missions and study his life as an example of missions. But William Carey laboured very hard and it was at least seven years before he had his first Indian convert. Imagine plodding on for 7 years before you bear fruit. Today, if we experience the same thing, we will say maybe this is not God’s calling because there is no fruit and God is not blessing our work. But because of Carey’s perseverance and others like him, today we have many Christians in India. And William Carey wrote these words in a letter to his nephew “I can plod and persevere. That is my only genius. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.” Carey calls himself a plodder, one who moves slowly but surely. And if you read Hudson Taylor’s story it is the same thing, he persevered in China and because of people like him today we have many Christians in China. The way we live our lives when we purpose to live our lives as a blessing to the people around us can have eternal implications for the Kingdom of God. Is that not worth doing? You may think that you are one person and you won’t make a difference. I would like to share a story of this seminary classmate of mine. He was from India and a vice-president with an international bank but he gave it all up to come to Singapore to study theology so that he can help the church in India to grow. He had become a Christian because another Christian was faithful in living for Christ and witnessed to him. We may not achieve the great things of Paul the apostle. We may think we may not be like Paul the apostle or we may not be William Carey but we can be like Lois or Eunice. Christians who model the Christian life so that it is caught by those around them. Christians who witnessed whenever they could to whoever they could around them. That is what many Christians have done before us and may God help us to be faithful so that those behind us may find us faithful examples.
Thursday, September 9, 2010
“So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.” 2 Tim 1:8, 9
Paul exhorts Timothy not to be ashamed of witnessing or suffering for the Gospel. Perhaps this is a good time to try and understand what the Gospel really means to us. Every year, we remember Good Friday. We know that our entry into heaven was secured at a high price. Yet if our thinking was just to stop there, that we are now forgiven and that we are going to heaven, I think we are missing the point. Because the other aspect of our salvation tells us that we are also God’s children. That is what we are told in John 1:12 “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Children of God – what an awesome thought! Is there another faith where we can find the thought or teaching that God can be addressed as Father? Even in the Old Testament I think the Israelites never dared addressed God as father. Yes - God was addressed as the Lord of Hosts, the Almighty One but never as a heavenly Father. Yet that was how God himself perceived his relationship withy those who accepted him, even the Israelites. In Jeremiah we learnt of how the Jews were conquered and exiled. God, speaking through Jeremiah, promised to restore them and then he said these words, (Jer 31:20) “Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him," declares the LORD. He is a God who has compassion for his children. He is a tender-hearted God who has the interests of his children in his heart always. He is always filled with compassion for his children. That is why when Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them to pray, his opening words were “Our Father” We are the children of a God who cares for us. And because we are the children of a God who cares for us and lives for us we therefore we can have confidence to live for him.
Monday, September 6, 2010
One thing we can evidently say about Nehemiah – he was a man totally attuned to God’s agenda. We see this as his story unfolds in the book of Nehemiah when he hears of how the walls of Jerusalem are in ruins. He must have been a good and sensitive listener because Nehemiah responds with “when I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven” (Neh 1:4). But his is not a mourning of passive despair. Instead, he is filled with what Billy Hybels calls ‘holy discontent’. Such ‘holy discontent’ is not contented with merely crying and wringing the hands helplessly but a spur to do something about the cause of his mourning. Nehemiah gets a vision of how he can use his life purposefully for God’s Kingdom – by restoring the ruins of Jerusalem’s walls. And we know how Nehemiah’s vision ends – in a great work which sees Jerusalem’s ruined walls and gates restored in 52 days.
As we go about the activities of our spiritual life, we too will hear stories of people with shattered and ruined lives. In fact, every church is filled with them – people with errant and wayward children, non-believing and absentee spouses, life-threatening or terminal medical conditions, self-destructive habits and behaviour, etc. Do we listen sensitively and pray to God for them? Do our prayers move us to examine ourselves rigorously, to see if there is any part we can play to restore their lives?
Even if we have no tangible resources to offer for the alleviation of another’s distress, we can still offer time and ourselves. When we cannot “do” for others, at least let us “be” there for them. Just being there and listening to them is already doing something for them. Over time, this will make a difference and translate into authentic and trusting relationships. Many of us have heard the maxim, “people don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care.” I have found to this to be a tried and true maxim in that almost all afflicted people are able to come up with solutions to their problems or the strength to live with it. What they need most is just someone with whom they can articulate their grief and pain and have the assurance that they will not be judged at all. Over time, our steadfastness in caring will build a trust within which growth and change can happen.
Time - that is something we find hardest to give. We are often tempted to “quick-fix” the other’s problem and then get frustrated because the other person will not move at our set pace. We end up hurt and forget the hurting person is not us but the one we are helping. In these situations, it is important just to accept the person unconditionally. After all, is that not how Christ acts with us too? I am sure we all have occasions where we stubbornly cling on to our wayward ways despite knowing the fallacy of it all. Does Christ’s love decrease on those occasions? I am sure it does not, so let us pray for the grace to be likewise with the people whom he points in our direction for us to help. Let us hold on to the promise of Gal 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
Saturday, September 4, 2010
1. Faith is the ability to not panic.
2. If you worry, you didn't pray. If you pray, don't worry.
3. As a child of God, prayer is kind of like calling home every day.
4. Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.
5. When we get tangled up in our problems, be still.God wants us to be still so He can untangle the knot.
6. Do the math. Count your blessings.
7. God wants spiritual fruit, not religious nuts.
8. Dear God: I have a problem. It's me.
9. Silence is often misinterpreted, but never misquoted.
10. Laugh every day, it's like inner jogging.
11. The most important things in your home are the people.
12. Growing old is inevitable, growing up is optional.
13. There is no key to happiness. The door is always open.
14. A grudge is a heavy thing to carry.
15. He who dies with the most toys is still dead.
16. We do not remember days, but moments. Life moves too fast, so enjoy your precious moments.
17. Nothing is real to you until you experience it, otherwise it's just hearsay.
18. It's all right to sit on your pity pot every now and again. Just be sure to flush when you are done.
19. Surviving and living your life successfully requires courage. The goals and dreams you're seeking require courage and risk-taking. Learn from the turtle -- it only makes progress when it sticks out its neck.
20. Be more concerned with your character than your reputation. Your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely what others think you are.
In conclusion, we can see the cross is a paradox. To the world, it stands as a symbol of death. However for Christians, it is a symbol of eternal life. We know that things like power, possessions and privileges, look like success to the world at large. However, they are actually failures in God’s eyes. This is because we know that no amount of earthly success will carry us into eternity. Further, we cannot carry our symbols of earthly success into heaven. As the text asks, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his own soul? What can a man give in exchange for his soul?” The answer to both questions is: nothing. Now Jesus is not telling us to give up everything. He is just telling us this world does not offer everything for a real life. Only He offers something worth striving for. Only He gives what is necessary for us to find life.
When we choose Jesus over the things of this world, we are not exchanging one form of slavery over another. In comparison, the cross of faith that we carry is light when compared to the yoke of sin we once bore. This is because Jesus himself grants us the grace to carry them. That is why we can choose to align ourselves to the Will of God. The Holy Spirit empowers us to do so, as we walk in faith. By the Holy Spirit, we can put on the right mindset and focus in the life choices we make. We will take up our cross, which is our Christian responsibilities, and see them for what they really are - the source of our freedom in Christ. When we take on the burden of charity, we are freed of the weight of greed. When we take on the burden of humility, we are freed from the weight of arrogance. When we take on the burden of mercy, we are freed from the weight of anger and guilt.
Let us pray that our Lord will make us bold in choosing the right side. That as we deny ourselves, the reality of his power and care will be visible to the people around us. Let us pray that he will help us to choose the right side.