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.
Jim Eliott is very well-known for his statement “He is no fool to give what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” When Jim Eliott made this statement he may have been applying Mark 8:36-38, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels." With these questions, Jesus challenges us to think about our real focus in life. Do we live for the things of this world? As Christians, we believe we will live with Jesus Christ in eternity. However, how is this fact lived out in our daily lives? Are we living in anticipation for his commendation when he comes again in glory? Are our lives focused on the temporal things of this world? Or do we live with one eye on eternity? He is no fool to give what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. Our focus in daily life determines how we live our daily lives.
People without God have nothing better to live for. So their lives are portrayed by chasing after earthly things – eating, drinking and material possessions. The more they have, the more successful they seem to be. There is nothing wrong with eating, drinking and having material possessions. However, the point is that should not be the main goal of our lives. We should live for what is eternal and not what is temporary.
That means we refocus whatever we do to reflect Christ’s Kingdom. If you are a businessman, apply Christian principles to your business. If you are a worker, work like your boss is Christ himself. In the home, inculcate Kingdom values in your children. Train them to have values and concerns and priorities and relationships as citizens of God’s kingdom. I am sure we are concerned that our children get a good education, job, etc. That is not a bad thing but that is also not the only thing in life. Our children should also learn to put Christ first. It is good to celebrate good grades, goals and the achievements of our children at home. However we should also celebrate Kingdom values such as godliness, humility, purity, stewardship and self-sacrifice.
In the use of our time and money, we should be kingdom-focused. That means we set goals for our giving. I am always edified by news of churches’ outreach ministries to the people around them. That is really being kingdom-minded. To fund those programs, God’s people need to give. It is only because many Christians cultivate a generous and giving spirit that makes all that possible. I am sure that if everyone was kingdom-focused all, ministry needs will be met and even more new ministries started.
Perhaps, it is also good for us to think specifically about how we can make some needed changes that reflect our kingdom focus. What can we do to be a better steward of our mind? Not our time but our mind. Perhaps we can keep track of our entertainment time? That means checking to see how much time we spend on TV, games, net surfing, etc. Then we compare it with the time we spend reading the Bible and prayer daily. If the gap is wide, we need to cut down on our entertainment and use the time for our spiritual pursuits. After all, which one has temporal and which one has eternal value?
Is there some thing we can do to invest in a ministry? We could go for training, check out our church ministries and set goals, find out the needs and opportunities for outreach. There is always something we can do for God’s kingdom. The work is never finished.
Keeping our focus on the kingdom is a mark of a follower of Christ. That is what Jesus is reminding us of as he says “what good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” Our heavenly father knows what is truly valuable and will rust away or be eaten by moths. He has created the whole universe in such perfect order. Surely we can trust in his ability to define the worthy things we should focus on, in this life.
Friday, September 3, 2010
We choose to follow God’s will and we also need to choose the right attitude. Now maybe you might ask me, “does not the two go together? When we choose the will of God, doesn’t it automatically follow that we will choose the right mind-set?” My answer would likely be “10% yes but 90% no!”
This is because of the sin nature within us. Its like the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Cognitively, we know we have to do the will of God. Yet many times, our weak flesh lets us down. The world’s mindset is that success is measured by how much wealth we have or how convenient & easy life is for us. Do anything different from that and you will be counted as unsuccessful. Tragically, some 21st Century city churches adopt this mindset too. Success is measured by the size and most number of programs offered to members. We end up with people who go church-shopping to see which church offers them the best for themselves.
But Jesus says here (v34), "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself & take up his cross and follow me." What did He mean? What does it mean to "take up a cross?" What does it mean when someone says, "I will take up my cross & follow Jesus?”
First of all, Jesus tells us that "taking up our cross" is something that we do voluntarily. Jesus calls us and challenges us but it is our choice. That is why I say we need to choose the right mindset. Taking up our cross and following Jesus is always a voluntary choice we must make.
Taking up our cross is not an accident that happens to us, or something unavoidable that we must face. For instance, I have a weak heart. I have to eat carefully and take medication and go for checkup regularly. It’s a condition I have to live with for the rest of my life. It’s a burden but it is not a cross I take up for Jesus. I cannot say that this is my cross to bear because I didn’t volunteer for a weak heart. Imagine if I am driving a car along the highway and a sudden storm causes a tree to fall and trash my car. So now I need a new car and the insurance company refuses to pay saying it is an act of God. And for the next four years, I stinge and save to pay the installments. I cannot call the installments my cross to bear because the accident was not my voluntary act and something I chose to do for Jesus.
Cross-bearing is an act of love that we freely choose. It is a price that we pay or a task we undertake out of love. For Jesus it meant going to a cross to die because his love for us compelled him to do so. For us, it means reaching out to people who are unlovable, unlovely and who may never return our love. We keep on loving because that’s what Jesus did.
I am very sure you will have heard of the story of Jim Elliott. In 1955, with other missionaries, he started to reach out to the Auca Indians in the jungles of Ecuador. The Auca Indians at that time were a murderous tribe that killed any outsiders they came into contact with. In reaching out to the Aucas, Elliott and the other missionaries sacrificed their own lives because the Aucas killed them in Feb 1956. Their martyrdom became known worldwide and continues to be an encouragement to many missionaries. After their deaths, there were many conversions to Christianity among the Indian tribes of Ecuador. After Elliot's death, his wife Elisabeth and daughter Valerie also reached out to the Auca Indians and lived among them. Because Elisabeth Elliott was willing to forgive the Aucas for killing her husband, many of the once-murderous Aucas came to receive the Lord Jesus Christ. It is an amazing story of the amazing love of God.
That is what we mean by cross-bearing means. It means having the mindset of taking the love of God to the very ends of the world. It means to reach out and touch the lives of people around us who are hard to love. It means a mindset of self-denial and self-sacrifice. It means paying the price regardless of the hardships we must endure.