Tuesday, August 31, 2010
(Pictures taken off the Internet)
As mentioned earlier, from our study of Mark 8:31-38, we can see three principle that will guide us in discerning how we can choose the right side and make the right choices in life. The first principle is to choose the will of God above all. In Mk 8:29, Peter had just proclaimed that Jesus is the Messiah, the long expected savior of God’s faithful. After that proclamation, Jesus explains to his close friends that there is more to salvation than feeding the hungry or leading a political revolution. He tells them that being the Messiah also means he must suffer and die and then rise again from the dead. However, Peter does not want to hear about suffering and dying. He finds that unacceptable. He takes Jesus aside and “rebukes” him strongly, “C’mon Jesus. You’re God. You don’t need to suffer. We came to you to escape suffering. We came to you to escape the oppression of the religious leaders. This is crazy talk. We’ve seen what you can do; we know no one can beat you.”
What is Jesus’ response? “Get behind me, Satan! You are thinking in human and not divine terms”. Peter’s words were actually a temptation to Jesus. Jesus clearly knew about the suffering of the poor and the oppressed people of Palestine. He had divine power and could have overthrown, if he wanted to, the Roman Empire and taken over the government. He could have fixed all of the social injustices and cured all of the diseases of the world. To use modern terminology, he could have created a society where the standard of living was beyond anyone’s expectations.
But that was not his objective. Jesus’ objective was to do the will of the Father. That is why he rebuked Peter with these words, “You do not have in mind the things of God”. To Jesus, the will of the Father was most important above all. Think about it for a moment. The Bible tells us that Jesus was God himself. Yet he obediently followed his Heavenly Father’s will. And if Jesus, the perfect and sinless man chose to put obedience to God above all, then can you and I live a God-pleasing life by doing anything less?
Let us study a little astronomy. Look at the first picture above of the earth. The total area of the Earth, including the oceans, is approximately 510 million sq km. The diameter of the earth is 12K+ Km. Is that big? It sure does, especially to me from a little red dot called Singapore. Let us consider the sun in picture two. Big as the Earth is, you could actually string 340 Earths around its centre. So imagine your neck as the sun. You have to string 340 pearls of Earth together to make it go round your neck. In fact, 1.3 million planet Earths can fit inside the Sun. Do you think that is big? Let’s look at the third picture. Consider Sirius, one of our neighbours, only 8 light-years from Earth. 1 light-year is measured as the distance it would take for an object to reach its destination in 1 yea, travelling at the speed of light (186,000 miles/second). It is almost twice the size of the sun. But even that is nothing compared with Arcturus in picture 4 with a diameter 25 times that of the sun. Even bigger than Arcturus is Aldebaran which is 36 times the diameter of the sun. And even that cannot compare with the giant stars like Beteigeuze and Antares. To them, the sun is even smaller, just one pixel in the picture as you can see. Are you impressed? And who designed all this? Genesis 1:1 says God is the maker of Heaven and Earth. We read that in the Apostle’s Creed too. Not only did he create the world, he also sustains it by his power. Think of the wisdom that would be needed to keep all that in order. He is the same God, who so loved the world that he gave his one and only son Jesus Christ so that whoever among us believes in him would be saved. Imagine God, the all-powerful, all-knowing maker of Heaven and Earth, becoming your kind and loving Heavenly Father. Isn’t that an awesome thought? Surely we should be choosing to follow his Will above all.
The question is whose will do we really follow in life? Is it God’s will or the world’s? If we want to know whose will, all we have to do is examine what we do with our time and money. I heard Tim Keller preach this once. Tim is a Presbyterian pastor in New York City and I love to hear him expound God’s Word. He said that if anything that replaces God as the object of your heart’s affection, that object becomes your god (small g). Are there any other gods that we serve - golf, cars, money, careers, online gaming, anime watching, pornography, high fashion, even our own talents, etc? We should think about what is really the central object of our heart’s affection. Who really sits on the throne in our hearts - God’s will or our own? Would you stop coming to church near exam time? Then your exam results and not God sits on the throne of your hearts. Do we work (even pastors) ourselves to exhaustion to the point where the Bible and prayer becomes just an option in our daily life? Then our careers are now our idol and replaced God’s will for our life. Do you rush back from school and go online immediately to chat, play games online or download videos for hours, ignoring Jesus who wants to chat with you? Then your internet activities have become your idol. When we place anyone or anything above our Almighty God, we are choosing to disregard God’s will and follow that false idol’s will.
Monday, August 30, 2010
In Genesis, we read the story of Joseph as a slave in Potiphar’s house. Potiphar was the captain of Pharoah’s bodyguards. He trusted Joseph so much he made him manager of his household. Joseph carried out his assignments well. However, because he was young and probably good-looking, he attracted the attention of Potiphar’s wife who attempted to seduce him. However Joseph refused to give in to her and answered, “How can I do such a wicked thing and sin against God (Gen 39:9).” Joseph made a choice and, as history shows, he chose to the right side to be on.
The challenge to take the right side still confronts us today many times in our lives. Whose side are we on in the daily decisions of our lives? There are so many choices that seem right to us. How do we know we have chosen to make the right decision? In Mark 8:31-38, we can find the answer. We see Jesus himself confronting his disciples with their very understanding of him. It is only with the power of understanding Christ that, after his resurrection, they were able to make the right decisions in life. Only then could they choose the right side to be on as they carried out their mission in life. However, the text itself is not a dummies’ guide to choosing the right side. Instead, we can we can see three principles that should guide our decision-making. When we consistently follow these three principles, we can be sure we are choosing the right side and making the right choices in life. Over the next few days, I will post what I believe to be the 3 principles that should guide our decision-making in life.
Friday, August 27, 2010
The H1N1 pandemic, like SARS a few years earlier, is a reminder to us of our own mortality. That day the Lord calls us before him is a day we all anticipate, although we also know it comes on us stealthily and suddenly. Nevertheless, it is a day we can prepare for. In reading 1 Thess 4:1-18, we are reminded that as we live on earth, there are dangers to avoid and duties to take on. If we follow faithfully our Lord’s guidance, we can be sure that we will not be caught ashamed when the Day of the Lord is upon us.
Live a Balanced Life (vv3-8) – Avoid spending disporportionate resources and effort on things we do for pleasure. How much time do we spend on our entertainment or on eating even? Measure that against time we spend on reading God’s Word. That should give us some idea of how important our spiritual life is to us. We should also avoid being obsessed by our work life. God has given each of us creativity. Unfortunately, when it is tarred by sin, we tend towards workaholism. This subjects us to burnout and nervous disorders leading to a barren life, despite our material abundance.
Be involved in things that matter (vv9-12) – While we are to avoid the excess of working for our keep until we burnout, it does not mean we avoid ministering in God’s name. I believe God expects us to be involved and has called us to be his partners in making him known through ministry and mission. How involved are we? Are we using our gifts to his glory in ministry?
This life is not the only one we have (vv13-18) – We should live keeping our eyes on eternity. Many people, Christians included, live as though only the earthly life matters. Our journey through this life should be lived in the light of the Gospel. Each day is a day that God calls us to the obedient life that reflects his glory and truth. Sometimes, this obedient life will cause the world to think disparagingly of us and even ridicule us. This is something Jesus received and told us that we will too. But he also reminded us that God’s favour is on us when we live our lives to please God, regardless of the world’s attitude towards us.
So as we ponder about balancing the work life and recreational life with the spiritual life, or even our temporal work life against our ministry life, we can see that we need divine wisdom, above all, to bring things into balance. We all need this wisdom, even pastors, and it can only come from above. To attain this, we need an uncompromising attitude of prayerfulness. This consists of continuous and continual prayer. How much time and how many times do we spend on daily prayer? Excluding our prayer before meals, our prayer in church and with our CG friends, how much time do we devote to prayer daily and weekly?
Regular prayer is victorious prayer. I read this somewhere “unless we know how to bend our knees before God, we will never stand upright before Him on the Coming Day.” Seeking to live a God-pleasing life without seeking God’s will can be futile and fruitless. The only way to overcome the flesh, the world and the Devil is by drawing on heavenly resources. These heavenly resources are ours through reading and reflecting on God’s Word and through prayer.
May the Lord’s praise be with us when he comes to take us home!
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
What does Jesus expect of me when he tells me to take up my cross and follow him? What did he show by carrying his cross? I think it means he showed his love for me who was his enemy, hostile to God and deserving of whatever I had coming to me. So then should I not follow his example to love those who are unloving to me? Perhaps 1 Cor 13 would be a good way to describe cross-bearing for Christ.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but do not take up my cross and follow Jesus, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not take up my cross and follow Jesus, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but do not take up my cross and follow Jesus, I gain nothing.
Taking up my cross and following Jesus means being patient and being kind. To take up my cross and follow Jesus means I will not envy, I will not boast, I will not be proud. I will not be rude, I will not be self-seeking, I will not be easily angered, and I will keep no record of wrongs. To take up my cross and follow Jesus means I do not delight in evil but rejoice with the truth. To take up my cross and follow Jesus means I will always protect, always trust, always hope, and always persevere.”
Its easy to say but so hard to do all the time. That is why I praise Jesus that he accepts me totally and unconditionally, even when I fail him.
I remember reading the sports pages of one particular weekend in 2009 which were dominated by (then) English League soccer champions Manchester United’s 2-1 win over their arch-rivals Arsenal. Among the reporters comments were ‘Arsenal were clearly the better side’, ‘they (Manchester United) were lucky to win’, etc. I did not see the match but from the neutral reporters, what emerged was that Manchester United never gave up. They kept moving forward even though Arsenal displayed greater skills and speed. Ultimately their resilience in the face of a seemingly superior opponent paid off. Reading these reports, I get an echo of Paul’s words in 2 Cor 4:8, “hard pressed on every side but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed.”
Does this verse hold true in our lives? In these challenging times, we will be hard-pressed and perplexed by events like divorce, financial failure, retrenchment, children’s waywardness, etc. If Paul’s words are to hold true, then it is important to let God help us face, accept and resolve the pain of our stressful crises and then move us on.
First, we must acknowledge God as sovereign and the ultimate source of all we have. This means we can trust him to provide what we need to overcome our challenges. Thus, as we wait on God’s timing to deliver us, we should also look for a new job if we are retrenched and not act paralyzed by despair; seek sound advice to manage our finances so that we are not crushed by financial failure; join a parents’ support group so that we do not feel abandoned when our children become independent, etc. God, in his sovereign power, works through all our circumstances. I also think it important that our daily schedule be as normal as those days where we do not face these challenges. In other words, go to bed and wake up at the usual time. Go out and engage in some positive pursuits during what used to be your working hours. Don’t stay up late ‘unwinding” on the internet or cable TV. Keep in contact with other people, pastors, church friends and others, who can encourage and pray for you.
Above all, we need to keep our eyes on the goal. That is what the Manchester United team did – keep their eyes on the goal they were shooting for. Our goal is ensure that our fellowship with God is maintained at all times. It is always good to keep close to God and to dwell in his presence. We should pray and read the Bible often to seek God's Will and to act accordingly rather than act according to how our emotions tell us to. He will not fail us and if our challenges are due to us failing him, then we should all the more seek him because we know he loves and accepts us unconditionally. The right spiritual attitudes will determine if we overcome or are overcome by our challenges. May we then avail ourselves to his grace and live as overcomers to glorify God.
May Christ’s blessings abound in all whose hope is in him and in him only.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
It was a late night after my seminary class gathering. As I walked into the waiting area to catch the next train home, these words which formed the SBSTransit thought of the day caught my eye, “the first duty of love is to listen.” This was one of the most famous quotations of Paul Tillich, an eminent Protestant theologian. He died about forty+ years ago but his thoughts on how theology should correlate the gospel to modern culture, by answering the questions thrown up by that culture, are still influential enough to be discussed in seminaries today.
The words of Tillich could well have been echoing God’s admonition to us in James 1:19 that we are to be slow to speak and quick to listen. From my past years of ministry, I have come to realize that many people, including myself, have the habit of speaking more and listening less. When someone comes to us to share a problem, we are prone to break into the conversation and immediately suggest a solution instead of allowing that person to finish. When someone makes what we think to be a simplistic or unworkable suggestion, we pre-empt the person with our own conclusions and brush off the suggestion without allowing the idea to be fully articulated. That is why I really admire my former theology professor for his reaction when he realizes he has unconsciously broken into a conversation thread. He would immediately apologize and ask that person to continue with what he was saying. Would that more of us, including myself, were sensitive like him to the times we are too quick to speak.
People talk to us for many different reasons. They may be seeking comfort from some inner struggle or relief from sorrow. They might simply be nervous about some impending situation. And sometimes, they just need to vent their emotions. Many times they come to us not seeking solutions but mainly a warm heart and sympathetic ear. The act of talking becomes a cathartic moment for them, helping to lift their fears and burdens. We need to determine their need at the moment so that we may know how to react. We can never be a good listener if we are jumping to conclusions as others are talking. We should let the other person tell the whole story before we respond.
We can develop in our listening sensitivity and we should develop it because God has called us to minister to one another in our community. Parents are natural listeners. They listen raptly in adoration as their children recount the things they just did or describe to them the work they put in to finish their latest drawing. Parents too are naturally inclined to put aside their own needs in order to listen intently so as to help their child work through a difficult situation. We also have the example of God to follow. We come to him all the time with our fears and frustrations, unfulfilled hopes, unrealistic expectations and demands, etc., and we come with confidence knowing that he listens to every word that we say. We can be assured that he does not brush aside our feelings in the manner that we are wont to do to others. Thus, we have the ability and we have the example to emulate.
If we are to be known as disciples of Christ who listen to their master’s command to love one another, then Tillich’s reflection should not be a burdensome chore to us. Rather, it should fill us with joy to know that, humble and small though our efforts may seem, God is using us purposefully in this community. We may not be trained counselors able to offer profound wisdom about overcoming adversity but we can listen with intent and sensitivity. We may also find that many times, that act of listening is enough for effective ministry to one another.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
In our hectic world it seems that there is no such thing as "quiet time," but there is a way to find and protect such periods of tranquility, especially time we spend with our God, in prayer. Establish - or re-establish - your prayer life with a considered plan of action.
- Introduce yourself to God in prayer. Tell Him what's on your mind. Tell Him you are ready to begin - or begin again - a prayer relationship. Don't worry about saying it right, being in the right place, or at the right time. Come as you are.
- Don't worry. Don't try so hard that your quiet time becomes a burden. It should be a joyful time when you are with God.
- Make friends with silence. Begin a day's devotional time by sitting quietly. Set aside a few minutes for quiet communion with God, unworried by words and unhurried by agenda. Don't worry about saying anything or accomplishing something.
- Approach God confidently. Come to your quiet time with anticipation. Expect to meet God. Expect that He will take what you say into account. Expect that He will be able to do something about what you say.
- Read the Bible. Read it not only for information, but for your own transformation. Ask, when you have read a portion of the Scripture, What would God have me learn from this about Him? About myself? About how I live as His servant?
- Pray the Lord's Prayer. Say it in a fresh new light. Say each petition separately, and then contemplate what that simple phrase means, and what God's response might be.
- Prime the pump. Use other prayers to get you going when you just can't seem to begin your own prayers - or if you are unaccustomed to praying. Collections of prayers are available at any Christian bookstore. Hymnals and worship books contain useful prayers. Periodicals devoted to daily devotions, such as The Upper Room or Our Daily Bread are valuable sources. See such prayers as supplements to your own. Read them slowly and meditate on them. Concentrate on their meaning. Don't let the archaic language of ancient prayers delight you - or distract you.
- Sing songs. Hymns and praise songs can enrich your quiet time. Listen to tapes and CDs. Sing your favorites. Instead of reading a Bible passage, sing it to a favorite tune - or in your own musical terms.
- Use the Psalms as cue cards. They can help you bring a wide range of emotions into your devotions. Add your own personal verses to the ones of the psalmist.
- Use the newspaper. Come to God with the daily press and broadcast news programs; and pray for the sorrows and needs of the world. Turn them into fervent prayers.
- Prioritize. Make prayer a big enough priority that you plan it in your daily life, even when it's not easy.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
In Isaiah 53:5, we have the promise “…by his wounds we are healed.” We know that even after becoming Christians, we do not have disease-free lives. Nor do we have healing every time our organs break down. What then is the healing that Isaiah refers to?
Healing is defined as “to become whole and sound”. In this regard, I believe healing refers to the act of restoration to wholeness that God seeks to bring about in his crowning act of creation, i.e. us. When sin burrowed in and became rooted in our lives, it marred the very image he created us, that image which God said was “very good.” It is true that when Christ suffered and died for us, he did it so that our sins could be forgiven by trusting in him as Saviour. However, Christ’s sacrifice also made possible our reconciliation with God and the Holy Spirit’s residence in us. Through all these heavenly riches, the healing of our sin-scarred image is made possible. I guess that is why GRACE forms an apt acrostic for God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.
In Richard Foster’s “Life with God”, he says grace is something God invites us to experience. Grace is more than just forgiveness of sin, which is what we tend to think it to be. Grace is experiencing the richness of God in helping us live an overcomer’s life. We are now able to overcome the sins that make us dishonour God. We are now able to overcome the hurt of others by forgiving them. We are now able to learn to live on less so that we can give more to God’s work or to others more in need. We are strengthened when we face financial crunches like debt, failed investments and falling property rates. We persevere through issues like job loss or instability, conflict at work, etc. We learn to do good even to those who victimize us in school.
In some of these cases, it could be due to our own fault arising from our disobedience of God’s laws. If so, we need to confess it to Christ, ask for forgiveness and resolve the wrong especially if others have also been hurt. It could also be due to others’ wrongdoing (spouse’s abuse, work-related stress, fraud by people we trusted, etc. It could also just part of our earthly life, e.g. cancer, physical/mental breakdowns, accidents or death of loved ones. In times like these, when we are innocent of wrongdoing, it can be easy to let discouragement overcome us. Yet, it is in times like these that God lavishes his grace on us to carry us through such trials. His grace will lift our heads to look up in faith and be assured that God is good, even when life is not good.
In 2009, I have no doubt that many of us will face such trials. To live the overcomer’s life is simply to maintain God’s perspective in all circumstances. His perspective is for our trials to make us “mature and complete” (James 1:2-4), i.e. making us whole and sound. Our trials are the very means of our healing, through God’s grace. Therefore, let us maintain God’s perspective and continue reading His Word and listening to His Spirit. This will help us answer questions such as “what would God have me do?”, “what does God think of me?”, etc. We also need to persevere in our life together because that may well be the means through which his grace enables us to grow in Christlikeness. It may also be the means for us to seek godly counsel from others around us and who have our interests at heart. When we do all these things, we will be cooperating with God as he brings about the healing of the stained image of Christ in us.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
The following article was written by Sue-Lynn Teo, one of our Powerhouse+'s powered-up young people.
Someone once asked me “When you became a Christian, how was your life transformed?” I was quite stumped at that moment, but as I reflected on it I was reminded of Galatians 5:16-18 “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature… If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law”.
As I meditated on these verses, I realised that even born-again Christians like me struggle with issues of how we live a holy and pleasing life to the Lord (Romans 12:1). The lure of the world and its sinful desires seem much too attractive and we sometimes can get pulled back in. As a university student studying overseas, the temptation of drugs, alcohol, clubbing and getting drunk just to experience a ‘high’ were more real. I have to admit that at one point, I found myself swayed to conforming to worldly desires. Why wake up so early to go church on Sunday when I can go clubbing with my friends till late on Saturday? Why spend time serving in ministry when I can enjoy other more ‘exciting’ pursuits? I lived the life of a Sunday Christian, coming to church and being ‘holy’ but on other days, being no different from a non-believer. Looking back, I realised that I was choosing to live my life ‘somewhere between’ that of the sinful nature and that of the Spirit. Not willing to surrender my all to God, I gave him only a part of myself.
In retrospect, I realised two things. Firstly, no matter how hard I tried, I could not be free from sinful desires. I remember trying to change my outward attitudes and actions by my own effort. More often than not, I failed to see any real change. I could not deal with the two conflicting forces by myself and if I relied on my own strength, I would inevitably fall back to my sinful life. My own effort to change my external actions and attitudes without an inward working of spirit could not lead to lasting and true transformation. Indeed, an outward change of actions and attitudes can only result from the inward workings of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
The apostle Paul proclaimed to the Galatian church that Christ has set us free from sin and the law. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1). The image of a prisoner’s chains being broken away as he is released from life of captivity comes to my mind. He has to carve out a new path in his life and start afresh, making the conscious decision everyday to resist his old ways.
It dawned on me that transformation was not a “one-off-overnight-thing”. Rather it was a process that I have to go through to truly live a life worthy of the Lord. Luke 9:23 reminds us that we must deny ourselves and take up our cross daily and follow Him. We have to surrender our whole selves to God, not just a part, and wholeheartedly follow Him. Not just today, not just on Sundays but every day of our lives.
Indeed, only a transformation from the inside out can enable a lasting change so that we can truly use our lives as living testimonies to His name. I encourage you, my brothers and sisters in Christ to make every effort to live a life by the spirit. Then, the power of Christ will help you control your sinful desire, the words of Christ will be in your mind, the love of Christ will be behind your actions.
Saturday, August 14, 2010
Just last Monday, we celebrated our National Day, the most important day for us as a nation. It was 45 years ago that Singapore became a sovereign nation. This was after an unsuccessful experiment at federalism with our neighbours which began when all of us achieved independence from Britain in 1963. Fortunately, we have been spared traumatic experiences like wars, ethnic killings, etc when we achieved sovereignty. Nevertheless the future did look uncertain, in 1965, for a nation that was a hodgepodge of ethnic groups, with no resources to sustain a viable economy. By the grace of God, we have weathered these obstacles to become one people moving progressively in the 21st Century.
As Christians, we have our own personal “National Day”, the day we are born-again. It is the day, the Bible tells us, when God “rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13, 14).. The Almighty God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth chose us to be his children and the recipients of his love. It is something to marvel at and to render all praise for God for his mercy.
Just as a nation seeks to grow in riches as it moves on from independence, so too must we Christians grow in ‘riches’ as we move through Christian life. A Christian’s perception of riches, however, is unlike that of the world. God’s Word reminds us that true wealth is not about being abundant in cash and material possessions. Rather it is about being abundant in the blessings of peace, joy and spiritual growth.
Therefore, we should always seek to determine our heart’s attitude to see what kind of blessings we seek after. What absorbs most, if not all, of our daily energy? How do we respond when the sermon speaks to our attitudes regarding material possessions? What is our priority – increasing our possessions or worshiping God and spending time with family and friends? Do we own our possessions or do our possessions own us?
Christian literature reminds us to maintain a thankful attitude daily towards God. Being grateful to God daily gives us a proper perspective of life. It will help us establish benchmarks on how we are progressing in our spiritual life. If we do this throughout the day, we will be grateful for the things we already have instead of being preoccupied with what we do not have. Our hearts then will not be compelled to increasingly seek after material things at the expense of our relationships with God, our family and friends. By faith, we should put God first in all things. After all, God has promised us “but seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt 6:33).
When we seek after God’s Will and live according to his principles, we will find ‘happiness, prosperity and progress which, defined in biblical terms, translates into joy, a life governed by grace and peace and progress in spiritual growth. This is what Christ died to achieve for us. That is why we know grace as the acronym for ‘God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.’
May His blessings abound in all whose Hope is in Him and in him only.