Thursday, November 17, 2011

What Has Roti-prata got to do with witnessing?

I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you.’ 2 Tim 1:5

After his opening salutations, Paul’s first words to Timothy were to remind him that it was his grandmother, Lois, and mother, Eunice who were responsible for the Christian faith he believed in. These were just ordinary women who we know did not do extraordinary things for the Christian Church. But we can see their faithfulness in witnessing faithfully to their children the true Christian faith. The fruit of their faithfulness is seen in Timothy’s life although I am sure they did not plan for him to take over from Paul. And I think that is a good lesson for us to learn that faithfulness is not dreaming of doing great things for God tomorrow but doing the mundane for him today.

We all have what some people call a sphere of influence - a small circle where our actions affect other people’s lives. We have our own families, we work in an office with other colleagues, we play games with people of similar interests, and we have our neighbours, and so on. We can share about what God has done in our lives and then leave it to God to touch their hearts. And we should not be ashamed to share the Gospel. What is it that motivates us to share the Gospel? Think about it, what would motivate you to share the Gospel with those people in your sphere of influence? I know the literature always puts the burden on us to witness because we don’t want people will go to hell or Jesus will not come until everyone has heard the Gospel, etc. That is valid. But let me give you one more reason why I think you should share it – because it is true. That is right; you should share the Gospel because it is true and has worked in your lives. That is what a witness does; just tell what is true and what he has seen. Think about it, if something is true and good for you, don’t we want to share it with your friends? When we go to the Maxwell Road market and eat the chicken rice, and we find it to be very good, don’t we talk about it with our friends over the next days? When someone wants to eat roti prata, wouldn’t we suggest some place where you know the roti prata is good? So if we can share something about the goodness of the food that you have eaten then why not share the truth about the Bread of Life that nourishes our soul? All of us are Christians because someone near us took the trouble to share the Gospel with us and we were touched by God. That is all that Lois, Timothy’s grandmother and Eunice, his mother did. They faithfully carried out their ministry – to share the Gospel with their own household and because of their simple faith and faithfulness, it made a significant difference in God’s Kingdom. And that is what we all can do, no exceptions, faithfully witnessing whenever we can to whoever we can.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Prayer - The Greater Work

Today, perhaps you are wondering how you can be involved in mission. There is a very powerful way you can be involved – prayer. You don’t even need to leave home to do it. Oswald Chambers once said “Prayer does not fit us for the greater work, prayer is the greater work”.

There was this old lady named Dorothy Clapp in the 1950s. Everyday she prayed faithfully that God would use the students across her home to touch the world. Eventually God answered her prayers. One of the students was George Verwer, a name familiar to you. I heard him preach at a mission conference and also in our church. George told us, “This lady near my high school, put my name her Holy Ghost hit list. She not only prayed that I'd become a Christian, but she prayed that I'd become a missionary and then she sent me this Gospel of John through the post.” The rest is mission history. George went on to start Operation Mobilization and through the Logos 2 and Doulos ships brought the gospel message to millions of people world-wide. The successor ship to the Doulos is the Logos Hope where two young men from our church, Greg and Daniel, are serving right now.

There are many other such prayer testimonies but the bottom line is, prayer works! Things happen when God’s people pray faithfully. Where do we start in praying for missions? Matt 9:38 is a good start, “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field”. Our church is already supporting some missionaries. Perhaps the time has come to pray for more of our own missionaries, beside Greg and Daniel, to go out. God’s method for preaching the gospel is not merely programs, pamphlets or radio although these mediums are helpful and effective. His primary method is to send people. Pray for missionaries that are in the field. Read their prayer letters and pray for their concerns. I used to send out prayer letters every month when I ran a home ministering to drug addicts in the Philippines. It always meant a lot to know there were people faithfully praying for me. Pray for our field missionaries’ children, their spouses, their health, their well-being, etc. It is very easy for us to forget missionaries are also normal people. They have the same fears as we do. When I was in the Philippines, I too struggled with stress, loneliness and anxiety. Normal people do that when they are transplanted out of their comfort zones. We need to recognize that and so we need to pray for our missionaries. Let them know they do not stand on their own.

We should pray for countries where people have never heard of God’s great love and we should also pray for people to go and tell them. Pray for open doors for the gospel – open opportunities, open hearts, open minds – willing to receive. The OM ships are able to go into many countries and send teams ashore because of many people praying for their mission. George Verwer understood the need for prayer. At one mission conference, he would stand at the exit door. As we were leaving, he would shake our hands as we were leaving and then give each person a prayer letter.

We cannot change people’s hearts. Only God can, so we must be willing to pray for our mission, missionaries and mission fields.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Witnessing With Our Lives For Life

2 Tim 1:8, “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.”

In this verse, 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. On Good Friday, we remember that our entry into heaven was secured at a high price. Jesus, God himself, had to die so that we might be forgiven of our sin. Yet if our thinking were just to stop there, i.e. that we are now forgiven and so 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!

I wonder if there is another religion with the thought or teaching that God can be addressed as Father. Some religions think of a deity that is very powerful that can destroy them anytime. So when they approach their deity, they do so out of craven fear and trembling. They pray asking that their god will not harm them or hurt them in any way. Some others may teach that god can be manipulated. So if they make the right offerings and sacrifices and mumble the right words to please him, they can manipulate him to get what they want. Even in the Old Testament, I think the Israelites never addressed God as father. God was acknowledged as the Lord of Hosts, the Almighty One, etc 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". He is a God who has compassion for his children. Do we get the picture here? A tender-hearted God who always has the interests of his children in his heart, a God 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”. Our omnipotent God cares for us and is also our Heavenly Father. Therefore, as children of an omnipotent God, who cares for us, we can have confidence to live for him. So then let us be what we are, children of an all-powerful God, and live for him alone.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Elijah – A Man Like Us

Jesus called Elijah one of the greatest prophets in Israel. Yet, the Bible does not say much about him. We are told only that he is from Tishbe in Gilead. Bible maps shows that Tishbe is in the centre of Gilead, (Num 32: 28-32) on the rugged side of the Jordan River. The land is sparsely populated, a wilderness. No wonder, Elijah’s manner of dressing was described as strange as he wore “a garment of hair, with a leather belt around his waist” (2 Ki 1:7-8). The image of Elijah was that of a mountain man, a country bumpkin especially when compared with the slick city people from Ahab’s palace.

The lesson from Elijah’s life is that everyone is useful to God as his instruments, even those seen as obscure. Elijah was called, out of obscurity, to deliver Israel from idolatry. We can see he had a heart zealous for God’s agenda and God’s glory. What brought this about?

If we look at the text of James 5:17, 18, we read that Elijah prayed and the rain stopped. Then he prayed again and the rain came down. Such powerful prayer is not the fruit of a man who prays occasionally. It can mean only one thing - long before he appeared in King Ahab’s palace, he was already praying for God’s glory to return to Israel. What do we do when we see something that is brings dishonour to God but yet is beyond our power to do anything? We pray because nothing is impossible with God.

Basically prayer is seeking to know God’s Will and purpose so that we can re-align our will with his. I believe that when we pray and especially when we pray earnestly, God’s Spirit will take control and lead us to do the very thing that we are interceding for. I think that is how Elijah probably received his calling. As he prayed, he came to see God’s Will clearly and stepped forward to do God’s Will.

The people had been warned by Moses that they will have to endure judgment by God if they turned to idolatry (Deut 11:16, 17). So as Elijah prayed, and with the full knowledge of Scripture, he could see even more clearly God’s Will - no rain in Israel. God was leading Elijah to do something greater than what Elijah himself could have asked for or imagine.

Prayer changes things and us. This is the power of prayer. It is a relationship that we continue through every part of our lives. It is being in constant communion with Someone always ready and always wanting to listen to us and talk to us. In that communion, we are slowly changed to seek God’s Will above ours. Perhaps this is a change in ourselves that we are not prepared to make. Confronting Ahab in his own palace was not easy for Elijah but he did it out of obedience. Obedience to Someone who is greater and more powerful than we can ever imagine, yet Someone who is more loving and merciful than anyone we can ever hope to meet on earth.

God has a plan for our lives, greater than we can ask for or imagine. He wants us to proclaim his wonder, his power and his love wherever we are and be surprised at his power as we do it. Such a plan can only be discerned through prayer. Why wait?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Obeying Authority

On 7 May, we remembered Mothers’ Day and voted in our General Elections. Reflecting on the 4th Commandment “Honor your father and mother…”, my mind was drawn to Martin Luther’s Catechism on the 10 Commandments where he expands this, “we must fear and love God so that we will neither look down on our parents or superiors nor irritate them, but will honor them, serve them, obey them, love them and value them.”

Its interesting how Luther expands the 4th Commandment to include obedience of all lawful forms of authority. There are biblical injunctions to obey the different spheres of authority – home (Eph 6:1), workplace (Eph 6:6), church (Heb 13:17), government (Rom 13:1). Normally, we get turned off by the word ‘authority’ because we think of someone dominant and forceful, who compels us to do what we don’t want to do and not do what we want to do. Our fallen condition makes it easy for us to disobey our authority figures because the ‘I’ comes first. Or we may respect them but it is always tinged with dread.

However, we need to remember God has instituted authority so that the peace is kept and his blessings of safety and stability flow to the people. More than that, institutions like schools and infrastructure may also be built providing prosperity. I believe disobedience of any lawful authority is disobedience of God himself. This is because God rules and orders the world through parents, teachers, managers, ministers, etc.

Nevertheless, this is not a blank cheque for authority to demand blind and cringing obedience. Obedience is qualified by the principle of Acts 5:29, “we must obey God rather than man.” Institutions of authority do not have the mandate to supplant the authority of God. When that happens, we must courageously obey God than man. However, this does not give us a blank cheque to disobey the authority anytime we do not agree with them. More often that not, our disagreement is based on mere opinion rather than facts which prove the authority has superseded God’s authority. Or we look at the perceived flaws of the authority figure and we amplify them to justify our disobedience. We look at our parents and we think, ‘they don’t understand our generation”. We look at the flaws in temperament or conduct of a church leader and we tell ourselves, “he’s not worthy to be a Christian leader”. We blow up the unfulfilled promises of the government so as to excuse our disobedience. While each case’s grievance may be true, we need to tinge our judgment with grace and also reflect on the good the authority figure has accomplished. Being fallen creatures ourselves, it would be unfair to expect our leaders to be saints. Therefore, Acts 5:29 is always to be used judiciously and only after much prayer and biblical reflection.

Being Christians, we live by Kingdom principles. Our Lord Jesus came and lived a life of love, grace and truth. He taught his disciples to give oneself away rather than grasp for more. That is the Gospel, difficult to follow but promising blessing to those who do. Gethsemane shows us Jesus was willing to obey and trust in the Father’s plan. Can we do any less with earthly authorities who remind us of the heavenly authority, Jesus Christ our Lord?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

God is Still on the Throne

The news has been riveting these few days. A massive sea-quake sent 10-meter waves crashing into north-east Japan. The earth movements caused havoc even in Tokyo. This affected the stability of nuclear reactors raising fear of Chernobyl-like radiation contamination in the surrounding areas. Japan is now reeling from this triple whammy.

As is usual amidst such devastation, our minds turn to God. How can a good and loving God allow such suffering to happen? If God is omnipotent, why did he not stop the tsunami? If he could stop the tsunami and he did not, can he be called a good God? One is not deemed faithless in asking such questions.

The answer is found by turning back to the Garden of Eden. At the dawn of creation, God made everything perfect and created Adam to oversee creation. God however gave Adam a choice – to follow Him by not eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. As we know, Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree signalling their rejection of God.

The result of their disobedience brought sin into the world. We normally connect sin with moral evil such as murder, robbery, lying, etc. However, sin not only affected mankind but God’s creation as well. Just as humans are subject to organ failure, ageing, etc, God’s creation is now subject to tsunamis, plagues, cyclones, etc. It would not be like this if Adam and Eve had not sinned.

Nevertheless, the Bible reminds us sin and evil are temporary because God has an ultimate outcome for a broken mankind and earth. “Creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God”, Rom 8:21. We are the sign that this deliverance of creation will come to pass.

However, we are also the sign that God is not helpless in this world. Devastation like this should spur us to share the Gospel urgently with people in our circle of influence. When was the last time we took the trouble to share the Gospel with someone? Are we fervently praying for someone to receive the Gospel? After my mother became a Christian, she prayed for nine years before I received Christ.

We can also respond to disaster with acts of compassion. Perhaps, when communications and transport have stabilised, there might be more relief teams looking for help to get medical and home-rebuilding care to the affected people. If we are suitably qualified, we should consider taking time off to help. Another way would simply be to give financial aid to established organizations sending in aid. In the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, millions of people gave millions, perhaps billions, of dollars to provide medical aid and practical aid that enabled boats and homes to be rebuilt. We can also help to ensure such financial aid is forthcoming to the Japanese in their time of need. Such acts of compassion show that God is still on the throne. God did not cause the tsunami – a fallen creation did. However, God moves the hearts of his people to respond with love and compassion because God is love (1 John 4:8). Let us respond as children of love.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Saved By Grace

Almost 20 years ago, a group of Hong Kong women were arrested for drug trafficking and were sentenced to death. Two of them were over the age of 18 years. They came from two extreme families. Abigail was from a dysfunctional home and Grace (names have been changed) was from an over-indulgent one. At the age of four, Abigail’s parents were separated. She was left with her grandma but was ill-treated by her uncles and cousins. At 14, she ran away from home and cohabited with a man who used her for ill-gotten gains. She was mistreated by the man and at the age of 18, she ran away to another man who obtained a passport for her and sent her to Thailand to smuggle drugs. She was caught at Changi Airport together with Grace.

A Christian counselor came from Hong Kong and ministered to them. Abigail told me that for the first time, she experienced the love of God. She readily accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Saviour and eagerly shared her new-found faith at every opportunity. During her time on death row, she led four other women to the Lord. I visited her and the other prisoners on death row once a week. They were asked to memorize one verse per week, but she would memorize the whole chapter. She loved the Lord dearly. Together with Grace, they prayed that their lives would be spared.

One night, Grace dreamt that she and Abigail were at a prayer meeting and Hymn 18 was sung. The next morning, Grace shared her dream with Abigail. They turned to Hymn 18 but did not know it. They wondered whether the number 18 had any significance. On 15 May 1993, the Superintendent of the women’s prison stood outside their doors and told them that they would be executed on 18 May. Now everything became clear to them. With peace in their hearts, they thanked the Lord for preparing them.

Abigail’s parents came together to visit her during her final few days. On the last visit before her execution, she told her parents that she did not blame them for the present situation she was in. She shared with them the love of God and urged them to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Before they parted company with their respective parents, she and Grace sang a hymn to them. Both sets of parents broke down and cried, but seeing how much peace their daughters had, they were able to leave with some measure of good cheer.

That night, a lady counselor and I stayed with them. I decided to look at hymn 18 again. As I read the stanzas of the hymn, they proved to be extremely meaningful. Suddenly, I remembered the tune and we began to sing it. The girls were so filled with the joy of the Lord.

Hymn 18: Face to Face
Lord of life, beneath the dome, Of the universe, Thy home,
Gathering us, who seek Thy face, To the fold of Thy warm embrace.

And I shall see Thee, face to face, Tell the story – Saved by grace,
And I shall see Thee, face to face, And tell the story – Saved by grace.

While deepening shadows fall, Heart of love, enfolding all,
Ascend thru the glory and grace, Of the stars that will veil Thy face.

Some glad day, sorrow will cease, Some glad day, all will be peace,
Then no more tears shall dim our eyes, What a meaning, there in the skies.

They thanked the Lord for not only telling them of their homecoming but also of what awaited them in heaven. As they walked up to the execution chamber, it was clear to all that they did so with the deep peace of God in them.

The above true story is from “Shoes Too Big” by Rev Henry Khoo. He served in Changi Prison’s Death Row and help usher many condemned people into the glorious presence of our Lord Jesus. Before she was hanged, Abigail also wrote to the man who had involved her in drug-smuggling to say she forgave him for what he had done to her.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What Child is This? (Part 2) - Wonderful Counselor

He will be called Wonderful Counsellor. One of the attributes of God is omniscience which means all-knowing. Human rulers need a cabinet or group of counsellors but God does not need any because he is all-wise. Jesus is all we need to guide us in life. The description of Christ as a perfect guide to life is emphasised by the word Wonderful. In the original language, the word means a miracle, a marvel, unusual or extraordinary.

The Gospels testify that Jesus was indeed a marvellous guide and teacher, a ‘Wonderful Counsellor’. In his public ministry, people were even more amazed at His counsel. At the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Matthew tells us: “…the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” The people were amazed because Jesus taught them as though He were God Himself by giving wonderful counsel to His own people.

We all need good counsel in this life. Yet we can be guilty of turning away from God’s Wonderful Counsel by not attending church and Bible Class. Or like King Ahaz in the Biblee, we turn to the counsel of this world and ignore what the Bible teaches us. It is important for us to hear, read and study God’s Word. We should also do this in our own daily schedule. The Holy Spirit uses God’s Word to convict us of sin so that we might repent and put our faith in Jesus, who was born to save us from our sins. The Spirit uses God’s Word to cleanse our minds from the foolish counsel of this world and replace it with the Wonderful Counsel of the Lord Jesus.

The baby boy prophesied by Isaiah was conceived in Mary’s womb. He was given the name “Jesus” because He would save us from our sins. We also call Him “Wonderful Counsellor” – and we will continue to be blessed by His Wonderful Counsel as we hear, read, study and believe His Word.

Monday, January 10, 2011

What Child is This (Part 1) - Introduction

Do you think that the world is a better place today? If you do, you might belong to a minority. Powerful governments are unable to act against the leak of secret documents. The world leaders at times seem like toothless tigers unable to solve political and economic crises. The Korean peninsula seems to be a ticking bomb. If war breaks out there, is Singapore safe? After all, we are not out of reach of North Korean missiles carrying nuclear bombs. Do you leave your house door unlocked all the time? If you do, you probably belong to a small minority. Or maybe you have a few fierce dogs prowling outside your front door.

The news tells us that there is a sense of confusion and helplessness as we look at the world situation. In fact, many governments don’t seem to be able to cope with the changing political and economic landscape. Many people look for peace inside and around them, but cannot find it. Who can such people turn to in this confused and insecure world to give them peace?

In Isaiah 9:1-7, the setting was also that of political instability and confusion. Assyrians raiders were invading from across the border. Ahaz, king of the southern kingdom of Judah, had shown a lack of faith in God. When an alliance of Northern Israel and Syria invaded his territory, he did not turn to God for deliverance. It was a time of political insecurity and spiritual darkness much like the world situation today. Isaiah 8:22 describes it “Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.”

Darkness is also a description of sin. People who are lost think they are enlightened but do not realise their minds are filled with darkness. Like King Ahaz, they want to depend on their own efforts rather than trust in God. For King Ahaz and the people of Judah, judgment was coming soon in the form of the Assyrian invaders. For sinners, judgment comes on the day they have to stand before God. But against this gloomy background of judgment and unbelief, we see the light of God breaking through. Chapter 9 has a beautiful picture of salvation being painted by God through Isaiah’s prophecy in v1&2, “nevertheless there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress… The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”

That is a wonderful promise isn’t it? And this promise came true literally at the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, and the child of this promise. The Gospel of Luke tells us about the angels who brought the news of the birth of Jesus to the shepherd. The light of their glory shone brilliantly and literally pushed away the darkness. Henceforth, there was to be no more living in the darkness of sin. There was to be no more being burdened by the weight of sin. Instead God’s people would live in joy (v3), “they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest” as God has given them victory over darkness and sin. God’s people will live in victory (v4) and peace (v5). How will God achieve all this for us? What Child is this who can bring such blessing to God’s people? The four-fold names given to the child of promise will show us what Child is this.