Monday, June 28, 2010

Everybody Matters to the Body





















I have often heard this argument from non-churchgoing Christians, “I don’t need to go to church. Once I believed in Him, I am in his spiritual body and so I can worship him anywhere.” I think this is more a rhetorical argument than anything else.

Col 1:18 tells us “And he is the head of the body, the church.” In the original language, the word translated as ‘head’ also means ‘source’ or ‘origin.’ That is why Paul referred to Christ as “before all things.” The idea here is to remind us that Chris is the source of life in the church, through the Holy Spirit. In Eph 4, we learn that Christ has provided his people in church with gifts so that the body of his believers will be built up and God is glorified. That is why we need to belong to a local body of believers. It is a question of obedience. The fact is that although all those who have trusted in Christ as Saviour are members of the universal church, yet we also have responsibilities to the local church. As members of the body of Christ, it is our duty to build up our local body of Christ and to strengthen it. We achieve this by:

Serving. Every Christian has a ministry awaiting him or her to serve in. It may include leading children or youth groups, visiting the sick and new visitors, leading the ministry committees, etc. God has given all of us at least one talent so let us use it.

Learning. We all need to grow in our faith and be able to communicate it clearly to others. We achieve this by participating in Bible study groups and faithfully attending Bible classes and worship as well as studying the Bible on our own.

Giving. Every Christian is expected to support the budget of the church ministry. We should give cheerfully without thinking of gain. Furthermore, we should give systematically and proportionally out of our income first and not out of our leftover money after we have taken care of all our other wants and needs.

Praying. Prayer does make a difference. We should pray on our own as well as with other Christians in our community. The answer to our prayers is dependent on the One who hears it, not on how well we say it. Thus, all we need is sincerity when we approach God who delights in seeing his children approach him.

Worshipping. In corporate worship, we encounter God. This means he meets with us and directly ministers to us, strengthening our faith, making us more aware of His presence, and refreshing our spirits.

There is still much of Christ’s work that needs to be done. It is our sacred responsibility to our Master to ensure it is done. Therefore, let us pray and ask God for the wisdom to see if we have done all that our Master has expected of us.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Death Has Lost Its Sting


Back when I was still growing up, I remember some of my friends loved playing with scorpions. They would normally cut the sting off rendering the scorpion harmless and then let it run over their faces and bodies. My friends would even throw the scorpions at some unsuspecting passerby to provoke consternation and make some laughs. Some of the scorpions were more that 4-inches long and so it was a fearsome sight to watch the scorpions running over a person’s face, especially since they would raise their tails at times as though they were getting ready to sting. But the scorpions could not sting any more and thus were no longer able to hurt anyone. Knowing this fact helped my friends and me from feeling any fear whenever these sting-less scorpions crawled over us.

I was reminded of this incident while ministering at a funeral for a friend who went home to glory after suffering a cancer relapse. For many people, death is a fearsome thing because it seems so final. A person’s history has ended. Yet, my friend was able calm amidst the knowledge of knowing her life was ending soon. She did not lament her relative short life (49 years) or complain about the ‘unfairness’ of it all. In fact, there was joy in her heart and she was able to bring closure to all her personal matters while she still had strength and a clear mind. What made it possible for my friend to weather this transition from life on earth to eternity unshaken and at peace? It was because of her relationship with her Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. She had total trust in his promises for her regarding eternity and life after death. Thus, she found death sting-less and no longer something fearsome to face.

The beautiful thing about our Christian faith is that death is not the final chapter in the history of an individual, but the beginning of a new life that was eternal. Whatever possessions, power and privileges, the one truth we need to bear in mind is that we too ultimately face death. However, as certain as we are that we will one day die, so can we be certain that we are going to rise again. The Bible tells us that Jesus, not only died for our sins, but rose from the dead and is living today. This fact, attested to by witnesses in history, is our guarantee that we shall also rise from the dead. Therefore, we can joyfully declare, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cor 15:55,56). Jesus has removed the sting of death and it is now no longer the fearsome sight that it used to be for us.

Therefore, our most important question in life is not “when will death come for me?” None of us can know that except that it definitely will come for us. The most important question we need to ask ourselves is “Will I be ready to meet Jesus when death does come?” My friend was certainly ready because of her trust in all the promises that Jesus Christ has made to her in God’s Word. May God continue to grant us the grace to be just as ready!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Does Jesus Live Here?












































It seems that there is a regular trend to publish books seeking to prove that God does not exist. Recent books in this genre include Richard Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion’ and Christopher Hitchens’ ‘God is Not Great’. However, instead of providing empirical data to prove God cannot exist, the writers invariably point to the acts of the followers of the different faiths as examples to prove their point. Some of the examples used are acts by the Christians in history such as religious persecution by the church, fleecing of money by Christian evangelists, irrational comments made by Christian figures, etc. Their choice of examples reminds us how important it is that our Christian walk matches up with our Christian talk.


To live in a blameless manner that will not detract from our Christian witness, we really need to depend on God’s power. Right at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus concluded his Great Commission to us, he also gave us this promise “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:20b). Jesus’ last words on earth reminds us that however good our intentions are, however great our gifts may be, all that they would be useless without the power that Christ offers through His continuing presence in our lives.

The goal of our lives is to become like our Master Jesus. Our gifts and resources are not our life’s centerpiece but God’s means towards our achieving this goal. Therefore, to achieve his goal, let us be bold and ask God to give us a witnessing lifestyle since that is how Christ lived. We can start this process by praying daily. Pray specifically about our attitudes toward our work and our colleagues. God listens and responds, and because he does, prayer changes things. Through prayer, we attain God’s perspectives which transport the acts of our daily lives from the temporal and physical world into the spiritual world. We can also start each day right by reading God’s Word to strengthen and encourage us. We reflect on what we read and then pursue ways to apply and obey it throughout the day. We also need to give priority to relationships. We get so distracted by the busyness of daily life that we marginalize and brush aside relationships. Relationships matter so let us give up some of our daily activities to build and reinforce our relationships, both with God and with our fellow man.

Ultimately, we must always remember our lives belong to God. As mentioned earlier, nothing that we have or have been given in this life is ours to own and use as we like. Not our gifts, not our resources and definitely not our children. Instead, we are stewards commanded by God to share what we have with those who do not have. If we make that choice to live with God at the center of our lives, we make it possible for him to use our lives to impact our surroundings. We will then be able to offer a pure version of Christian life, one that says ‘Jesus lives here’. This life will not a watered-down version which offers so much food for criticism to the detractors of our faith. It will be a life that will offer a life-changing invitation to come, see and accept the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Images of a Father


 




















Paul planted many churches, among them the church in Thessalonica. In a sense that made him the Thessalonian Christians’ spiritual father. Therefore, from Paul’s relationship as seen in 1 Thessalonians 2, we can see some images of what a father is like.

A father sacrifices to provide for his family (2:9). Paul did not desire to be a burden to the Christians in Thessalonica and so he worked hard to support himself. Rather than imposing his needs on his spiritual children, Paul took it on himself to work as a tentmaker for a living. Just as Paul demonstrated sacrificial giving for others in the Christian family, a father works hard for a living and demonstrates sacrificial giving for the sake of his own family.

A father’s life influences his family (v10). Paul was holy, righteous and blameless in his Christian walk. While an earthly father cannot achieve sinless perfection, he can influence his family by walking in faith resulting in a life not personified by sinful ways. This will result in a righteous life, a life of integrity marked by moral and ethical correctness. He will take care to be blameless meaning beyond reproach, maintaining spiritual habits that will acquire blessing from both God and man.

A father’s life inspires his family (vv11, 12). Paul was like a father to the Thessalonians (v11). While the characteristic of a mother’s love is tenderness and cherishing her children, a father’s love demonstrates strength in lifting up his children to pursue godly lives. To this end, he encourages them, comforts them and urges them. A father will not just make his children feel better in life but he will also make them want to do better in life. To do that, requires a face-to face element in his family relationships. He must be personally involved in the lives of his children. A father must be concerned for the Christian walk of his children just as Paul was concerned for the Thessalonians’ Christian walk (v12). Paul wanted God to be proud of his Thessalonian children, whom God has called “into his Kingdom his Glory”. Paul did his best to ensure they grew as Christians that would glorify the name they bore. Similarly, an earthly father would want to be proud of his children. He would do his best to ensure his children picked up right virtues, conduct and character to honour the name they bore.

Some of you may recall the TV comedy series “Under One Roof”. In many episodes, the family patriarch Tan Ah Teck would sometimes launch into his famous “Let me tell you a story about a long time back when I was your age…” routine. Then all his children will sigh as they thought another boring life story was coming up. However, I think this is a wonderful thing showing how a father can encourage his children from his own experiences. Every child needs to learn how to life a purposeful life and to do that, the child needs good role models to follow.

May all our fathers be faithful servants and caring fathers who will grow children that live and honour both their earthly and heavenly fathers whose name they bear.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Is God Silent?


































When Joshua and the Israelites crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land, the Bible tells us they also took twelve stones from the Jordan’s river bed. These stones were piled into a memorial to be a testimony of how God has worked for them. Joshua told the Israelites “the LORD your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The LORD your God did to the Jordan just what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God" (Joshua 4:23-24).

Testimonies and memorials are wonderful reminders us of God’s unchanging faithfulness to his children. As the line from ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’ goes “As thou hast been, thou forever will be”. Reminders of his past faithfulness strengthen us to keep going in the face of adversity. The reality of our Christian life is that there will be times when our world falls to pieces yet God is silent. We cry out to God but we seemingly get no answer. We feel ignored. Situations like these are not unique to us although we tend to believe and make it so. The Bible tells us that the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt for 400 years before being delivered in the Exodus. This means whole generations of Israelites cried out to God for deliverance but faced God’s silence to their needs. Wang Ming Dao, with other fellow Christians, suffered greatly at the hands of cruel captors for many years during the Cultural Revolution. For many of them deliverance was long in coming and for many of them, not at all.

They remind us of our own adverse times when God seems silent – the only difference between theirs and being the degree of adversity. In moments like these, we should turn to past victories and recall God’s blessings. Recalling those victories will produce renewed confidence for our lives because they are testimonies of God's faithfulness. The Bible itself is a track record of God’s accomplishments in his people’s lives. Therefore, we should read it to commune with him so that he may remind us of his faithfulness in the past and his promises of hope for the future. The Bible also reminds us that God has already delivered us from the penalty of sin that we deserved. This testimony of God’s greatest act of deliverance is our strength. This is our assurance that he will also deliver us from the presence of sin and evil one day. Let us then be faithful to him because surely he is always faithful to us.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

GOD – Our Answer Or Our Answer-er?

As I continue my journey in the ministry God has given me, I must confess I am still learning about how much grace God has availed to me by his presence alone. Many times, too many actually, I find that only in my moments of inadequacy and insufficiency do I really avail myself to the grace of his presence alone. I can still recall how, a few years back, an old friend in the terminal stages of cancer asked me to handle her funeral needs. Thus, it also fell to me, as the only pastor she related to, to walk with her through this final stage of her life – a daunting task indeed, considering my pastoral experience then. Her faith in my ministry has led me to seek God’s presence to a greater degree, to pray more fervently and urgently.


All of us face such pivotal moments in life. It may be about choosing a career or someone to marry. It may involve making some intricate choices for your difficult or special child. There may be a conflict in the office that has implications on your future prospects. Perhaps, your wife and children have to leave their friends behind as you uproot to another location for your career’s sake.

These moments are crossroads that signal to us the end of our own self-sufficiency. We realize that we need to turn to God for a clear direction. To realize this is good but our problem is we come to God on our terms. We crave to hear his mighty voice proclaim loudly the turn we should make. We tell him our needs but we demand an answer immediately. We search for verses that corroborate the answer we want. We desperately look for signs that God has answered our prayer. If you have ever acted so, welcome to the club, you are not alone.

Larry Crabb reminds us “Unless we become like little children who approach our heavenly Papa just to be near him, something in our hearts will keep us confused and frustrated when we ask God what we want” (The PAPA Prayer). This means that, in prayer, we approach God to hear what he has to say to us and not because we want him to give us what we ask for. We approach God because he is the answer to our prayer and not merely the answer-er to our prayer. There is a difference.

Think of how you would want your children to approach you. Will you not prefer your children to approach their papa/mama with adoration, just for the pure pleasure of being in the presence of papa/mama? Will it not warm your heart to know that your children their papa/mama with thanksgiving because of all the goodness they have ALREADY received instead of what they hope to get with their future requests? In prayer, God is not the audience, we are. God-seekers must seek to hear God first and not vice-versa. Therefore, let us then make seeking God our most important activity as Christians. Let us make this our prime pursuit in our journey through this life on earth.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Giving Second Chances to Losers

There are many people who inspire me when I read the Bible. I think of Caleb whose dogged devotion to God’s cause continued even after he reached eighty years. There is Joseph, who remained faithful to God even when the future looked bleak enough to cause despair. Luke is another inspiration, a doctor who could have lived comfortably, but chose to face the perils of the road and sea on mission trips with Paul. There is also Barnabas, the second-chance giver of the early church.

There were some losers that crossed Barnabas’ path but he never labeled them losers. He knew that these people needed a second chance. More than that, he went out of his way to ensure that these people got a second chance and did not remain losers.

Despite Paul’s conversion, many Jerusalem Christians remained apprehensive of him. After all, he had persecuted many Christians and was responsible for many Christians’ deaths. One could hardly fault the Christians for thinking Paul was one leopard that could never change his spots. Yet Barnabas believed in Paul and vouched for the authenticity of his conversion (Acts 9:27).

Barnabas was also responsible for restoring the ministry of John Mark. The first time Paul and Barnabas had set out on their missionary journey, he had deserted them. So when the next mission trip came, Paul refused to allow John mark to go along. In stepped Mr. Encouragement, Barnabas, to stand up for John Mark. So convicted was he that Barnabas was willing to break up with Paul to bring John Mark along.

The effects of Barnabas’ convictions resonate in history. John Mark went on to write his gospel. Paul not only wrote many letters to the New Testament church that became part of our Bible but was also responsible for planting churches on his many missionary journeys. In God’s sovereign plan, Barnabas was the instrument to ensure church history did not take a different turn.

In life, we will meet people who have lost faith in themselves and believe they will fail again. They need others to have faith in them and to tell them so. We can be a Barnabas by believing in them first and sometimes even before they believe in themselves. We can emphasize their strengths and help them see that they have what it takes to succeed. We can help to inspire them when they falter. Not many people are naturally resilient. They need someone to push and encourage them even when they are making mistakes and fumble. We can motivate them by pointing out the hope of the future—that a person is only defeated when he quits in the face of difficulty.

I believe this trait of encouraging the defeated and depressed is much-needed today. In an achievement-oriented society, it is easy to cast our eyes high to look at winners on their pedestals and fail to see those in the dumps. This is not what we should do. The parable of the lost sheep is to remind us that the ones who are strong and secure need less attention when compared to the ones who are weak and lost. This is how God’s heart works—beating for people like these. God needs people who will help others to rise up and walk in victory. If we are honest, we have to admit that once we too were defeated by our fallen nature and laden with guilt and discouragement. It was God who saw our predicament and saved us. He is expecting us now to go out and be his instruments to do the same to others.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Why We Worship Together

I once came across a thought-provoking comment by Warren Wiersbe in his book “The Integrity Crisis”. Commenting on the spiritual climate of Israel during Jeremiah’s time, Wiersbe says “the priests and false prophets peddled a popular brand of religion that gave the people enough experience to make them happy but not enough truth to make them holy.’ It is a statement worth pondering. It helps us to understand that, in corporate worship, the church needs to be a balance of both – an experience of God’s presence together with sound teaching of God’s Word to strengthen as we return back to the world.

It is true to say that God is always present in our lives but in our corporate worship of God, we gain a better picture of who God is and what He has done for our lives. We may be reminded of his sovereignty and power as we sing a hymn like “A Mighty Fortress is our God”. Our hearts may be moved to remember the immeasurable love and mercy of God as we partake of the bread and wine, commemorating an event that Jesus himself inaugurated with his disciples. As we hear the message, we are challenged to align our lives here on earth with God’s agenda and we respond meaningfully with songs like “Lord I offer my life”. When we experience God in this way, it may seem as if we are being lifted up to Heaven.

However, the ultimate goal of worshipping God is not merely the gaining of an emotional experience, per se. Were that so, it would be man-centred! We also need to encounter God in his Word. More than just being a motivational talk or a homily to soothe our fractured psyche, preaching is how God’s Spirit convicts and challenges us to bend our will to his. As we reflect and meditate on the truths of God revealed to us, we are moved to respond. We feel compelled to share Christ with some of our friends who still do not know him. We are moved to change some aspects of our lifestyle that affects our witness to the world. We are moved to confess that certain behavioural changes have to be done, if we want to live God-pleasing lives.

This is how we grow spiritually as a result of our corporate worship. It will prepare us for the week ahead in the way we live our lives. Our encounter with God in our corporate worship will challenge us to better efforts and greater heights in the works and witness that we do before God in our everyday lives. It is then that we become, in truth and in spirit, God’s people.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Living Above the Sun





One recurrent phrase running throughout Ecclesiastes is “under the sun”. Looking at Solomon’s life, one would think he had much to be proud of. He had achieved grand construction projects – edifices, gardens, reservoirs, etc. He had amassed tremendous wealth—gold, silver, livestock and the treasure of kings. He had acquired many means of enjoyment—a harem, men and women singers, etc. He had advanced the nation of Israel—there was peace and the respect and accolades of other nations. However, when he looked back, Solomon could only say “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”

Solomon’s reflection leads us to believe that if we live only for the purpose of achieving and acquiring in the realm of this world (‘under the sun’), we will remain empty. There is nothing wrong with acquisitions and achievements, per se, but if our happiness rests only on them, we need to re-think our priorities. Not doing so can cause us to become caught in an endless spiral because, no matter how much we achieve or acquire, we always will feel as though there is something more we want. We may even end up with, what some writers call, ‘destination sickness’ i.e., we arrive at the point of having accumulated and acquired all that we want, and then discover it is not what we want after all.

Instead of an ‘under the sun’ perspective, let us gaze above the sun. This is to move our thoughts into the realm of the spirit, the heavenly Kingdom of God. This is what God has planned for us—to be free from pursuit of the mundane, temporal and fleeting things found under the sun. His plan is for us to be his instruments—to promote his rule over his creation. We can see that Christians in this country, as well as in many others, have been blessed with much affluence. The question is what do we do about it? If we have an “above the sun” attitude, we will be able to see it as an unparalleled opportunity to pursue the interests of the kingdom of God who is above the sun. That is where our eternal treasures are to be stored. That is where our real master is found. That is what should always capture our eye. That is where we will enjoy the true blessings of God’s favour – in the realm that is above the sun

Monday, June 7, 2010

Ministering to the Sick (Adapted from an Unknown Source)

“…I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matt 25:40



In the early days of my ministry, I found it difficult to make hospital visits. What could I say that did not sound trite and hollow? With the patient hooked up to machines and stuck with needles, what demeanour should I adopt? However, studying Clinical Pastoral Care during my theological studies was of great help to me in overcoming this difficulty. This course showed how appropriate visits and careful listening can enhance the healing process of the patient. Further, this is a ministry of presence manifesting Christ’s compassion and mercy to the patient. The following are some skills of pastoral care that I learnt from my studies.

Be prepared – Do not get flustered by the machines and needles. Be calm and assuring. Smile when it is appropriate. Let your faith in the Lord radiate forth in the situation. This allows the patient to gain confidence from your presence.

Be attentive – Let the patient talk and be sensitive to the effect of the environment on the patient. Do not brush off any fear or apprehension as irrational.

Be comforting – Read scripture or write comforting scripture on a card for the patient to reflect on. Pray for and, if possible, with the patient. A gentle touch on the hand or shoulder as you pray has immense therapeutic value so do this when you talk to the sick or pray with them.

Be sensitive - Do not display over-exuberance, e.g., by praying in loud voices or joking boisterously. Do not stay too long as patients need to rest and recover. Sometimes, if the patient is asleep, it is best to just leave a card indicating you have dropped by. If you are unable to visit, send a sms or have a short conversation on the phone. This is definitely more appropriate than not paying any attention to the sick person that you are unable to visit.

Be God’s instrument – Establish a trialogue by bringing God’s presence into the visit. Share a testimony of how God has brought you through adverse circumstances.

To many people, hospital visits are the work of the pastoral staff and the patient’s close friends. Scripturally speaking, this is not true as we are members of one family – the family of Christ. Further, the aforementioned skills are something all people, both pastors and laity, have. It just needs to be exercised and polished through regular visits.

So just do it. It is a wonderful ministry because it enables us to reach out to not just the sick person but also to family members who may not be Christians. And when we do this ministry, we have the blessings of Christ who promised that extending such acts of mercy and compassion to the least of his brothers was equivalent to extending it to him (Matt 25:35-40).

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Godly Desires




















As a Christian, I have found it easier to live by aligning my goals with God’s goals. The trouble in doing this is that it is easier said that done. Too often, I expect things to be the other way around. Yet in the few times, I have managed to align my aims with God's aims and my wishes with his, I find myself more harmonious and less depressed. We all have godly desires. We want to be godly parents, we want to be godly spouses, we want to be godly bosses, godly practitioners of our professions. As parents and spouses, we want a happy and harmonious home. As bosses and professionals, we want congeniality and concord in our working environment. As good Christians, we want a church environment that will help us to grow, manifest our gifts and serve one another. These are godly desires but the truth is that there is no guarantee they will bear fruit. And despite having godly desires, we become a repository of frustration, bitterness and resentment at the people around us because they are ‘responsible’.

However, if we aim to be the spouse or the professional or the mother or father or Christian that God wants us to be, I believe we stand a better chance. This is also a godly desire but, unlike the ones mentioned earlier, this is not impossible. Why do I say that? God desires to build us into a person after his own heart. And if that is God’s desire for us, then surely it must happen! There is one stumbling block, however, to this desire of God. This obstacle is our own self. Nothing is impossible with God until it meets our own unsurrendered will. But if we cooperate with God, success is guaranteed.

Our main problem in life is that we expect our circumstances to change to suit us but never the other way around. We expect our spouses to be loving, we expect our children to be obedient, we expect our bosses and colleagues to be understanding and our fellow Christians to be Christ-like. Then we go berserk when they are not. Circumstances like these do not block us from our aim to be the person that God wants us to be. Instead, they are tests to our commitment to be the person that God wants us to be.

There will always be difficulties, struggles and trials in our lives as long as we are on this side of heaven. Yet, it is in such times of crisis like this that Christ-like character is needed. Why not then make the choice to depend on God’s grace to respond with Christ-like character even if the other party does not? In a domestic spat, why not respond to your spouse with greater acceptance instead of defending yourself? If your children are giving you a hard time, why not respond with a higher love instead of criticizing them? If your colleagues and bosses pick on you, why not respond with kindness instead of backbiting back at them. And when your fellow Christians let you down, which happens many times? Continue to reach out to them and do not give up anyway. These difficulties are opportunities for God to mold your character. So if your aim is, and I am sure it is, to be the person that God wants you to be, why not cooperate with God’s molding?

Become the person that God wants you to be. No one can block it but you.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Look At Anger




Man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” James 1:20

In the Bible, we regularly come across the term “God’s wrath”. It is used to describe God’s anger at injustice and profane acts. It is always seen as the righteousness of God in antipathy, as a holy God, to the impiety and unrighteousness of his people whom he has called into a covenant relationship with him. God’s anger is never seen as unjustified. Man too has anger, but are there circumstances and situations where we can say man’s anger is justified?

It is common for a person to justify his anger by saying “after all even Jesus displayed his anger.” Rhetorically speaking, that is true. However, if we examine the Bible and look closer at the incidents in which Jesus was angry, we will find it hard to justify our own anger. Let us look at two situations where Jesus was angry. The first is where he cleansed the Temple by driving out the merchants and moneychangers (Matt 21:12-13). The second is seen in the many occasions where Jesus rebuked the combined group of Pharisees, scribes, etc., for raising their own unjust regulations to the same level as the Laws handed down by God to Moses (Matt 23). He also termed them as honor- and applause-seeking hypocrites (Matt 6). Jesus was angry at them because of the way these parties exploited the name of God for their own gain. Moreover, their acts were unjust and resulted in the people under their care being oppressed and down-trodden. As we can see, Jesus’ anger was directed at people who perpetrated injustice and dishonoured God’s name and this compelled him to act against such acts.

Can we say our occasions of anger are of the same ilk? If we examine ourselves, we should honestly say that most of the times, we get angry only at ‘injustice’ performed against ourselves. Our anger normally begins with someone saying an unkind word about us or getting an unfair promotion over us or acting meanly to someone close to us, etc. We get upset, we seethe with resentment and sometimes we boil over into raging anger. But the example of Jesus was never to get angry at unjust acts directed personally at him. The greatest injustice done to him was to crucify him. As he hung on the cross, Jesus could have called down 10,000 angels to defend him. If he had done so, he would still have been found righteous. Instead, Jesus chose the path of meekness and prayed for our Heavenly Father to lavish his forgiveness on those responsible for his death. We tend to act the other way. We normally remain quiet when injustice reigns and afflicts people unrelated to us, responding and retaliating only against acts done to us or our family and friends. We can therefore conclude that our anger is a self-centred anger but Jesus’ anger is other-centred.

The Bible views our anger negatively. Yet there will be times when someone else's wrong words or actions harm us - a gossiping friend, a manipulating neighbor, a bullying colleague. The sting of their deeds can hurt terribly. But God’s desire and will is for us to forgive those who hurt us. Unforgiveness is a bitter root that poisons only us, not those who hurt us. Therefore, we should endeavor to channel our energy, when offended, in positive and not negative ways. Instead of using energy to nurse resentment and grudges, let us think of creative solutions to the problem and ways to improve our relationship with people who hurt us. God wants us to release our pain to him in prayer and commit the offenders to him. Let us pray for the people who have hurt us, even when they have not reconciled to us. Let us ask God to give us the grace to interact graciously with them when we encounter them.


WHY LET THE DEEDS AND ACTIONS OF OTHERS RUIN OUR LIVES?

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Reflection of Darius Tng




I am very impressed by our young people in church. This reflection is by Darius Tng, one of them.

At the beginning of the internship, I struggled with a concept regarding Godly behavior. On the 18th of Jan, I was sitting in the pews and listening to a message from Senior Pastor about focusing on God. I had a stumbling question in my mind - How am I to differentiate between forcing myself to produce godly behavior and using spiritual disciplines to achieve godly behavior?

Was not godly behavior supposed to be natural?

At that moment I was struggling to find the balance between this concept of godly behavior and spiritual disciplines. Keeping spiritual disciplines and refraining myself from doing certain things seemed like I was forcing myself to be a "better" Christian. All this while I had thought that a close relationship with God will automatically make one more Christ-like. As the days passed, I found myself caught in situations where I was tempted to act in an ungodly manner, especially at home. My patience grew shorter and I was easily irritated by my mom's nagging.

It was not until two weeks later that God spoke to me in one of the lessons with Bryan Lim and Pastor Luke. While going through the book ‘Life with God’, the author explained the importance of spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines present ourselves as living sacrifices to God that He might then take us and transform us. We are not dead sacrifices who are void of reason and logic. We are living ones that think, act and feel.

I learned that spiritual disciplines are steps of obedience that don't enable or force us to become more Christ-like. Instead they make us malleable to God's use and receptive to God's voice. Only God can change our behavior and turn us around. It is not by our own efforts that we become more holy but by God's will that we do. Simply put, 'The tools for transformation are the choices we make.' Every choice we make, whether at home, at the office or in the public is in itself a tool used by God to transform us every waking moment.

In the end God taught me an invaluable lesson. We do not achieve, it is God who gives.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ruins




Just after my graduation from theological college, my wife and I decided to take a trip to Turkey. It was a historical tour and we visited some of the sites of the ancient Greco-Roman civilizations. Most of the sites contained only ruins and provided only a glimpse of the glory of the city that existed then. Entire streets made of marble with buildings supported by ten-metre marble pillars had existed once where we now walked. It must have been an engineering feat to raise such magnificent structures considering that the only technology available was a pulley system fueled by raw human muscle-power. Yet for all that glory and magnificence, what we saw now was only a pale shadow of the cities as compared with the splendor of their heydays. Even the Grand Theater of Ephesus where Paul’s friends from Macedonia, Gaius and Aristarchus, faced a mob led by the silversmiths of Artemis, did not look like it could seat 24,000 people as it once could.

From history, we can see that most civilizations decline and fall by first decaying internally, which makes them weak and susceptible to foreign invasion and conquest. The same truth applies to our Christian life. No one ever falls from grace overnight. The early signs are probably things like being too busy to read the Bible or Christian literature, not praying, etc. In our busyness, we begin to forget the many blessings of God. We also begin to move away from regular fellowship with our church friends citing family commitments, etc. Too soon, we lose interest even in Sunday worship as our sense of the majesty and awesomeness of God diminishes and worship becomes mundane. At this stage, just a small spark is enough to trigger us and make us leave the community. I have seen even worse cases with the believer falling into sin to the extent of being almost helpless in looking for deliverance.

The Christian faith is like our muscles. They need to be exercised to be kept in shape. Years ago, I used to run regularly throughout the week. But now after many deskbound years of inactivity, I find it hard to start up again. Now, as I try to heed my cardiologist’s advice by exercising regularly, I found it hard going. The muscles would scream in agony at being subjected to the strain. As with our muscles, so it is with our Christian faith. We will find it hard to trust in God’s love, when crisis looms, if we have not exercised that trust through regular reading of his Word and obedience to the commands therein. We will find it hard to experience his healing and comfort when we face adversity, if we have not been faithfully communing with him in prayer. We will find it hard to even share our problems with our church friends, if we have not been communing with them in a shared spiritual life in our small groups, etc.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

CHANNELS OF BLESSINGS




What is the greatest need of any person? I believe it is the knowledge of where they will spend eternity. No matter how well they will deny, no one will fail to express this need when they are confronted with evidence of their mortality. Thus, we as Christians and people of God should cultivate this attitude – to see how we can play a part in fulfilling this long-term need of the people that God has placed in our midst.

Eph 2:10 tells us “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”. This verse tells us what we are saved for - to produce the good works that demonstrate salvation’s reality. While works play no part at all in securing salvation, Christians will prove their faith with good works. And the best work we can do for God is to point the people around us to Christ by sharing the Gospel with them. God has saved us so that we will go out and share the Gospel with others. We show that we belong to God’s family by being responsible members of the family.

If you were to see a child run out into the road, what would you do? I am sure you would run out and even risk your own life to pull the child out of harm’s way. There are many people, men, women and children, who are being pressed and pressured by sin, temptation and all the stress of world. They are dying without the Lord and it is our responsibility to rescue them from eternal death.

We Christians should always maintain an interest in the future of others. We need to remember that all people are creatures of God. Whether or not a person ever loves him in return, still God loves them so much that he gave his Son to for them and to carry their sins.

It is a sad fact that many people struggle with their need to understand and find meaning with their lives. In Singapore, it is estimated that there is one suicide a day. We Christians have found our meaning in life in Jesus Christ who offers us grace for each day and a secure hope for tomorrow. It is our duty and responsibility to point the people around us to the one person, Jesus Christ, who can help them into an understanding and meaning of their lives.

My friends, we are the beneficiaries of Christ’s ability and willingness to redeem us from our sins. But I am sure that all of us are Christians today because someone took the time to share the Gospel with us. It could have been a parent, a sibling, a friend or someone else. God used someone near us as a channel of blessing, to show his grace and love and bring us into his Kingdom. These people understood their responsibility as members of God’s family. Therefore, we too should remember to be responsible members of God’s family.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Run to Him, Not Away from Him



In preparing for an earlier sermon, I came to understand that real faith will always draw us to God. No matter how badly we have failed God, no matter how dire our circumstances may seem, no matter even how badly other people, especially Christians, treat us, real faith will draw us to God for forgiveness and comfort instead of away from him. Even when Peter did not meet the resurrected Jesus in Galilee (John 21) soon enough, he did not go back to Jerusalem in despair. He did go fishing but then perhaps, being a man of action, it would have been difficult for him just to sit around, while waiting for Jesus. The fact is that he remained in the area where Jesus wanted him to be and was, thus, able to learn for himself that real faith always brings about reconciliation and restoration with God, no matter how badly he had failed Jesus by denying him.

Judas Iscariot, on the other hand, did not have the real faith that Peter had. Matt 27:3, 4 tells us that Judas was filled with remorse after he saw Jesus condemned. Yet he could not bring himself to throw himself down before the mercy of God. Judas was willing to return his ‘blood money’ back to the chief priests and the elders. He was willing to admit he had sinned by betraying an innocent man. He was willing to even go to the extent of taking his own life. Yet all these actions only show that his was a false faith, willing only to resort to his own devices to make things right, instead of availing himself to God’s unfathomable mercy. Peter’s example shows us that genuine faith brings about a repentance which trusts only in the love and compassion of God.

The Bible has many verses that attest over and over again to God’s unbounded faithfulness, compassion and love. However, one of the best promises that make me unashamed to draw near to him is Isa 62:5b, “as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.” Parents are thrilled when their children are around, and a groom is thrilled by his beautiful bride’s presence. In the same way, I believe it thrills God to have me around. So then, it is better to be around him rather than be away from him.

Knowing what we know about God then should encourage us to run to and not away from him. We need not have to hide our mistakes and weaknesses. We should go to him without any intention of making him think we are anything other than who we are. After all, he knows us from the inside-out. Thus, we can let God help us deal with our failings. We can therefore deal with them honestly and openly and, in doing so, free ourselves from guilt and shame. We can always come before God’s throne of grace and know that we will find mercy in our time of need and strength to move forward once again. Since God rejoices when we come to him, we can imagine his joy in hearing our petitions and requests. Therefore, as children of a loving heavenly Father, let us not isolate ourselves from him. Rather, let us seek a close connection with him through regular times of prayer, worship and reading his Word.