Friday, December 28, 2012

Practicing the Presence of God


Psalm 32:8, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.” One morning as I was reading Psalm 32 and meditating on this verse, I felt the Lord’s prodding – be God-oriented and direction-oriented instead of being merely activity-oriented and result-oriented. What does it mean to be God-oriented? Perhaps, it is simply avoiding being overwhelmed by our to-do list and daily pace of life so that we do not overlook encountering God in the minutes of our daily life.
In ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’, Brother Lawrence said, “I make it my business to rest in His holy presence which I keep myself by a habitual, silent and secret conversation with God. This often causes me joys and raptures inwardly.” He desired a lifestyle where he intentionally and consciously cultivated a deeper awareness of God’s activity in his lives. This is a good desire and I have asked the Lord to help us live this spiritual discipline out in 2013.
It involves habitually building in small pauses and breaks in our daily routines to turn and re-tune out hearts back to God. Before we pick up the phone, we breathe a prayer to the Lord to help us listen. As concerns pop up, we place those concerns in God’s hands before moving on to handle them. As we fulfil our daily tasks and responsibilities, we talk it over with God and dedicate each task to Him before we begin and after we complete it. When interruptions happen, we ask Jesus to help us be like him, who always had time for people who questioned and interrupted him. We set our mobile devices to alert us several times throughout the day so that we intentionally pay attention to God and live in his presence. It can just be for five minutes reading a short Psalm, praying or even simply revelling in his goodness. I would be glad to hear from anyone who can add more practices to these suggestions.
Ultimately, the desire to develop this awareness of Christ’s presence is to see God grow spiritual fruit in our lives. The fruit could be keeping company with Jesus through the day, receiving each daily moment as a God-given moment. It could be learning a new lifestyle of letting go of our need to control and compete and growing in awareness of our constant need of God. We learn to rest in his presence so that we see him even in those who needlessly sap our energy, irritate and anger us. We will reap the promise of Ps 32:8; that he will instruct us on the direction we ought to go as we orient our lives with Christ at the center. I am very sure God will grow even more fruit other than these as we continue to intentionally set time aside regular time for him daily.
However, it is important that we remember that the spiritual discipline is about personal relationship. It is not just an activity embedded with ritual and strategy. It arises out of a love for God that desires to live in a deeper union with Christ. Ultimately, it is about our life being a love letter to Christ, an expression that we love him and desire to remain wired to him alone throughout the day.
May our Lord Jesus be your great reward in 2013 as you remain in him and may you see the fruit of his tender care as you walk with him.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tragedy at Newtown

The tragedy that shook Newtown, Connecticut, and indeed the entire nation, defies analysis. What must have gone on in the mind of this young man for him to walk into a school of little children and wreak such devastating carnage numbs the soul. At the same time this was happening, I was under the surgeon’s blade for minor surgery. When I left the recovery room and returned home, among the first pieces of news on my phone was the news of this mass killing. Something within me hoped that I was still not clear-headed, but I knew deep inside that I was reading an unfolding story of horror and tragedy. What does one say? What is even appropriate without violating somebody’s sacred space and their right to scream in protest?

I am a father and a grandfather. I simply cannot fathom the unbearable weight within a parent’s or grandparent’s heart at such a personal loss. It has often been said that the loss of a child is the heaviest loss to bear. I have no doubt that those parents and grandparents must wonder if this is real or simply a terrifying nightmare. My heart and my prayers are for them and, indeed, for the family of the assassin. How his father will navigate through this will be a lifelong journey.
When a mass-killer like this ends by taking his own life, there is an even deeper sense of loss. Everyone wants to know, “Why?” Not that the answer would soften the blow but it would at least give some clue, some release to speak, to hear, to try to work through. But all we are left with is twenty-eight funerals and lifelong grief. To all of those who have suffered such loss, may the Lord carry you in His strength and bear you in your grief. You will be in our thoughts and prayers.
My own attempt at saying something here is feeble but carries a hope that somebody listening will make this world a better place. My heart goes back to Angola Prison in Baton Rouge where I met such people whose savagery took them to that destination. It was interesting to see a Bible in every cell and to hear many talk of how it had become their only means of life and hope. Someone with me said, “If we had more Bibles in our schools maybe we would need less of them here.” To the skeptic and the despiser of belief in God, I know what they will respond. I am quite convinced that the one who argues against this ends up playing God and is ultimately unable to defend any absolutes. Hate is the opposite of love and while one breathes death, the other breathes life. That is what we need to be addressing here. The seeds of hate sooner or later bear fruit in murder and destruction. Killers are not born in a moment. Deep beneath brews thinking and the animus that in a moment is uncorked. We are living in a society that nurtures hate on many sides with the result that lawlessness triumphs.

Even in ideal settings, killing can take place. Murder began in the first family when a brother could not stand the success of his sibling. The entire history of the Middle East–five millennia–is a tale of two brothers. Centuries of killing has not settled the score. Maybe in Adam Lanza’s case we will find a deep psychological reason behind what he did. But that does not diminish the reality that there lurks many a killer whose moment will come and the nation will be brought to tears again. We can almost be certain of that. Yes, we can discuss all the symptomatic issues—security, gun control, early detection signs, and so on. These are all worthy of discussion. But it’s always easier to deal with the symptoms rather than with the cause.

I wish to share what I think we must address or we head down the slope to a precipitous edge of brutality. The fiscal cliff is tame by comparison to the moral devastation ahead if we do not recognize the malady for what it is. Hate is the precursor to murder. Jesus made that very clear. Playing God is the dangerous second step where we feel we are the ultimate judge of all things and that we have the right to level the score.

Here, I would like to address our political leaders and media elite: You may personally have the moral strength to restrict your ideas to mere words but many who listen to you do not. To take the most sacred privilege of democracy and transform it into the language of aggression plays right into the hands of hate-mongers. This is not the language of a civil society or of wise leadership. It is not the ethos of a culture of co-existence. It is not the verbal coinage with which we can spend our way into the future. Our political rhetoric is fraught with division, hate, blame, and verbal murder. Our young are listening. Remember that what you win them with is what you win them to.

As for the entertainment world, what does one even say at a time like this? Calling for gun control and then entertaining the masses with bloodshed is only shifting the locus from law to entertainment. Do our entertainers ever pause to ask what debased values emerge from their stories? The death of decency is audible and visible in what passes as movie entertainment and political speech. This is the same culture that wishes to take away Nativity scenes and Christmas carols from our children. God is evicted from our culture and then He is blamed for our carnages. America is lost on the high seas of time, without chart or compass. The storms that await us will sink this nation beyond recognition if we do not awaken to the rapid repudiation of the values that shaped this nation. The handwriting is on the wall. Freedom is not just destroyed by its retraction. It is destroyed even more painfully by its abuse.

There is one more thing. It is so obvious but is seldom ever addressed. All these recent mass murders have been done by men. Many of them young men, yes, even mere boys. Jonesboro, Columbine, Virginia Tech, now Newtown. Is there something within our culture that doesn’t know how to raise strength with dignity and respect? Is this how boys are meant to be? From bloodletting in hockey games while thousands cheer to savagery in school shootings while thousands weep, we must ask ourselves what has gone wrong with us men? Where are the role models in the home? Is knocking somebody down the only test left for strength? Is there no demonstration now of kindness, gentleness, courtesy, and respect for our fellow human beings? One young man on death row in Angola Prison told me that he started his carnage as a teenager. Now in his thirties with the end of the road in sight, he reached his hand out to me and asked me to pray with him. Life was lost at the altar of power and strength.

The Bible only speaks of one remedy for this: the transformation of the heart by making Christ the center. Those who mock the simplicity of the remedy have made evil more complex and unexplainable. Every heart has the potential for murder. Every heart needs a redeemer. That is the message of Christmas. The world took that child and crucified Him. But by his triumph over death He brings life to our dead souls and begins the transformation within. Unto us a child is born and He shall save us from our sins.

Before the first murder was committed, the Lord said to Cain, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” To gain mastery over sin there is only one way. Just as Victoria Soto put herself in the way so that the children in her class might live, Jesus Christ put himself in the way that we all might live. That is the beginning of the cure for us as individuals and as a nation. All the laws in the world will never change the heart. Only God is big enough for that.

By Ravi Zacharias


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Believer’s Work – Witnessing (Acts 5:32)

What do we do with the Gospel given to us?  What did the believers in the book of Acts do with it?  They proclaimed it.  In Acts 5:32 verse 32, Peter’s response to the High Priest was, “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.” 
Peter calls himself and all the believers “witnesses”.  The word witness in the book of Acts is used about 12 times and its synonym “testify” about another 9 times so we know it is a key word in Acts.
What is a witness?  Basically, he is one who testifies of what he has personally seen and directly heard.  In a musical staged by HPC some 9 years ago, “The Witness”, all the songs spoke about the characters’ interaction with Jesus as he walked on earth.  All they said was what they had seen Jesus do and say. That is what a witness does, one who tells of what he has seen and heard.
In the same manner, if I only saw John holding a knife as he stood over the corpse of a cat, I cannot go to court as a witness and testify that John had killed the cat. After all I did not see him stab the cat. As a witness, I can only testify that I saw John standing over the cat holding a knife.  As to my opinion on whether John had done the killing that is for the court to decide. All I can do is to be a witness of what I had seen.
So maybe when pastors talk to you about “soul-winning for God’s Kingdom”, “evangelizing the lost” you may find that a bit daunting.  You may be right. However, while only some of God’s people are called to be evangelists and apostles, all of God’s people are called to witnesses.  And you can be a witness to what God has done in your lives.  Your story as a Christian has power.  There are people everywhere who need to hear about Jesus and how He can change their lives. You only need to talk to them; what happens after that is up to God. But your part is crucial, since God designed His message to flow from person to person.
Your story has power.  First, it's personal.  You don't have to memorize Bible verses, or worry about telling it correctly. You only need to share on how Jesus is at work in your life, helping you to bear with the challenges of life. Second, it is conversational.  It's not a sermon.  It can be shared over a cup of coffee or after a round of golf.  Third, no one can dispute it.  If you have joy, peace, and love in your life as a result of knowing Christ, that will be evident.  Fourth, it is interesting.  It's natural for friends to want to know more about each other.  Even if your friend is antagonistic to the Gospel, he or she may still be interested in why you value your relationship with a man named Jesus.  So be encouraged and be a witness even if you are afraid of being an evangelist.
We have been given a glorious Gospel of grace. The Christians of the early church, as seen in Acts, were given the same glorious gospel. They were willing witnesses to the Gospel of Christ. May we also be ever so willing to be witnesses of the glorious Gospel of our Lord Jesus.

Friday, September 21, 2012

True Worship


Ex 20:3-5a "You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God…”
When we talk about worship, what do we mean? Once, while studying the meaning of daily worship in a group, one person commented that he saw no point in discussing worship. To him, worship was what we did together in church on Sunday. Is that all worship means to us – gathering together and singing on Sundays? What is the short answer we can give to what worship means? I am sure we all have some idea but what is real worship? The answer will help us to understand what false worship is.
‘Worship’ comes from an archaic English word ‘worth-ship’ meaning ‘to ascribe worth or value to something or someone’. We worship someone or something because that person or object is valuable to us. That means, in the world everyone, Christians, non-Christians, atheists, politicians, millionaires, students, teenagers, etc. worships. Politicians worship power, millionaires worship money, atheists worship themselves and others may worship a force or a way of life. Thus, worship is a universal phenomenon. The only things that do not worship are animals because they have no sense of the spiritual. So for human beings, it is not whether we worship or not because everyone does, but what or who do we worship? Who is the pre-eminent object of our affections, the centre of our very lives and hearts? Either we worship the true God or we worship another god of our own making.
True worship is to attribute worth to a real Being, one who is truly there and also truly worthy of worship. False worship then is to attribute ultimate worth to an illusion which is not really there or it could also be a material object like a car, that dream home or money that cannot respond to our worship. It could also not be worthy, like another human being, who has the same frail and depraved nature as us.
Therefore what is true worship? I hearken back to a song which goes, “I’m coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about you, all about you Jesus…” Worship is all about God and his son Jesus. It must always be directed towards God and God only. As the above text commands, worship is to be expressed towards God because of who He is, what He has done and His worthiness.
We must then ask does worship help me experience God's presence in beauty and power in a manner consistent with his Word. In worship, am I in touch with the real God? We can have worship experiences that do not reflect the reality of God. They may reflect God in a distorted way. They may affect our emotions yet leave us empty once we exit the sanctuary. We may have swooned to the music and amen-ed our way through the message but yet exit without learning anything about the real God. True worship will send us out knowing we have been in the presence of the real God because we know something more of his greatness, his mercy, his compassion and his love. It will prompt us to respond by wanting to testify, by word or actions, in our daily lives, what he really means to us. Will this be your experience today?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Our Life Together

In 1st Thessalonians, as each chapter ends, we see Paul’s reminder that Jesus is coming again. First, he affirms and encourages their faith, then he challenges them to grow in righteous living on the basis of this truth – Jesus is coming again. We who have trusted in Christ have nothing to fear when he comes again. However our proper response to this prophecy is for us to note, as Paul reminds the Thessalonian Christians, there is a practical side to it. Christians are to live as children of the light, not children of the night. In I Thess 5:25-27, we can see some practical examples we are to apply to our life together to help us grow as a people of God awaiting Jesus’ return.
Intercessory Prayer (5:25). In the early Christian Church, prayer was a very most important practice. It should also be so in the life of every church. As every church faces challenges and pivotal moments, prayer should be of prime importance in the life of every believer. Acts 4 teaches us that corporate prayer unleashes the power of God. Paul, the Christian leader and apostle, needed the rank and file believers to pray for him. He knows that church leaders too are human and prone to sin. Surely we too can emulate this example. Satan desires to bring God’s church down and dishonour God and what better way than by bringing the leader down thereby stumbling many other people. Therefore, we too must pray together to ensure our leaders stand firm, people grow and the church prospers in its mission to build God’s Kingdom.
Fellowship with one another (5:26). What is our immediate reaction when worship ends?  Do we quickly gather our children and leave hurriedly for lunch and for the day’s errands?  Paul here reminds us that we are to spend time to get to know each other. In those days, the men would greet the men with a kiss and likewise the ladies with one another. I guess our modern application is that we should shake hands and take the time to fellowship with one another, especially those that are new. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul calls them “brothers” about seventeen times. They were family and so are we. What does a family do but spend time with one another. Our vertical relationship with God should translate into a horizontal relationship with our fellow believers. So we should make efforts to someone we do not know. Make friends with them and tell them we look forward to seeing them next week. There will always be people around who do not mind our fellowship.
Read the scriptures (5:27). Paul charged that this letter be read to the Thessalonian Church. He also gave the same instructions to the Colossian Church and these letters are today part of our canon of Scripture, God’s inspired Word to us. In this letter, Paul had written on some very important matters and so he instructs the Thessalonians Church to read it out when the church gathers in worship. The Word of God governs our life. It is the most important thing in our spiritual lives and we must always ensure that it is read and it is taught in our churches.
Blessings (5:28). Paul ends his epistle with a simple prayer: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen" (v28). Grace is the means by which God’s goodness like peace, salvation, forgiveness, maturity stirs in our hearts and enable us to follow him – it is all grace.
The Christian life is not a list of do’s and don’ts although in his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul has mentioned many specific responsibilities for every believer in the local church. But behind all the instructions and commands, lies the question, “what is our main priority in life?” On reflection, I think the key word here is submission. Are we willing, as children of a loving and kind Heavenly Father, to submit to His Will, to accept that he knows what is best in our lives and live lives that will please Him?  If we can accept this, then his instructions to us are not burdensome and we will eagerly look forward to what God is telling us to do.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Why Bother with Expository Preaching?

Someone once said that if you do not preach expository sermons, then you run the great risk of preaching impositionally, that is you start imposing your ideas and your bias on people instead of God’s word.

JI Packer defines expository preaching as “the preaching of the man who knows Holy Scripture to be the living word of the living God, and who desires only that it should be free to speak its own message to sinful men and women; who therefore preaches from a text, and in preaching labours, as the Puritans would say, to “open” it, or, in Simeon’s phrase, to “bring out of the text what is there.”[1]

This means that the preacher first unpacks the Bible’s meaning as carefully and as clearly as he can and applies it to himself and then to his congregations.  In this way, the preacher always remains under the authority of the Bible.  He allows it to instruct him, correct him and shape his thinking before he even puts pen to paper (or finger to keyboard).

In this way, the Bible remains in the driver’s seat of the sermon, it dictates the content of our message.  Unfortunately in some churches, it is the preacher who is in the driver’s seat, the Bible is either found in the passenger seat where it pops up for a quick word now and then or worst of all, the Bible is not there at all.

Expository Preaching
God’s Word over the Preacher to the Congregation

Dangerous Preaching
Preacher over God’s Word to the Congregation

There are many other types of sermons that are preached in churches. Topical preaching which systematically reviews topics such as prayer, grace or Trinity.  Biographical preaching which takes the life of someone in the Bible and draws lessons from it.  These may be helpful if done occasionally and as long as they are primarily anchored and drawn from specific passages in the Bible within their contexts.

Increasingly today, many churches preach needs-driven sermons which answer the felt needs of the congregation such as the need for security or prosperity or health using various promises from different parts of the Bible.

The problem with these approaches is that when the preacher exhorts the congregation, he will never preach more than what he already knows.  But more dangerously, the preacher will often choose passages to back up points that he has already decided upon.  In this way, the Bible becomes no more than a proof text for the preacher.  Instead of his thoughts being shaped by Scripture, he merely uses Scripture to support his thoughts.[2]

This was exposed most frighteningly to me when I visited a church and the preacher made point after point using passages which were totally out of context and even worse, used different versions of the Bible to best suit his message when one version disagreed with him.  The sermon was primarily drawn from motivational and self-help material but then dressed up in the language of the Bible to legitimize it. This was not God speaking his word through the preacher but the preacher merely speaking his ideas and dressing them up as God’s word.

The preacher had failed in his divine responsibility to preach God’s word.  He had used God’s word unfaithfully and carelessly.  He had not heeded the warning that Paul gave to Timothy: "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth." 2 Tim 2:15

"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,  so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge:  Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” 2 Tim 3:16-4:4

We must preach the Word. We must correctly handle the word of truth. The Bible must remain in the driver’s seat in our churches and our sermons must be faithful to it so that the authentic voice of God can be heard.

As Mark Dever says in his book “What is a healthy church?”, “…God intends the church to learn from both Testaments, as well as from every genre of Scripture-law, history, wisdom, prophesy, gospels and epistles.  An expositional preacher who moves straight through the books of the Bible and genres of Scripture, I believe, is like a mother who serves her children food from every food group, not just their two or three favorite meals”.[3]

Written by Rev Andrew Ong
Bethany-Trinity Presbyterian Church

P Adam, “Speaking God’s word”, IVP 1996
C Green & D Jackman, “When God’s voice is heard” IVP, 1995
D Jackman, “ Why Bother With Expository Preaching?” November 19, 2010
M. Dever, “What is a Healthy Church?”, Crossway Books: 2007
J I Packer , “Expository Preaching: Charles Simeon and Ourselves”, Churchman 074/2 1960,
W Philip. Ed “The Practical Preacher”, Proclamation trust media, 2002 
HW Robinson, “Expository Preaching: Principles & Practice (IVP, 1980)

[1] J I Packer , “Expository Preaching: Charles Simeon and Ourselves”, Churchman 074/2 1960, pg 1

[2] HW Robinson, “Expository Preaching: Principles & Practice (IVP, 1980), Pg 20

[3] M. Dever,“What is a Healthy Church?, (Crossway Books: 2007), pg 64.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Importance of Expository Preaching for Today

While the Bible scholar in his study seeks to understand what the Bible meant, the Christian in the pew asks what the Bible means. Thus the preacher in the pulpit is charged to ask and answer both. Admittedly, the exposition of Scripture has become increasingly more challenging to practice and justify in today’s postmodern culture where truth is relative, ethics are situational, and authority is often questioned. To some, postmodernism seemed to have render the Bible as antiquated and irrelevant.

Sociological studies have shown us that both the unchurched and church people often have a consumerist mindset. For every sermon that we preach, they are asking, "Am I interested in that subject or not?" If they are not, it does not matter how effective our delivery is; their minds are most likely to check out. This may pressure some to preach what the people want to hear rather than what God wants to be proclaimed. But if we are to be faithful preachers of God, then we must take heed Paul’s counsel, "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions" (2 Timothy 4:3).

Another challenge that preachers face is that they do need to skillful in communicating God’s truth given that that believers often clamour for sermons to be kept short, interesting and relevant. Our media-saturated congregation wants to watch the preacher instead of just listening, “feel” the message rather than reflect upon it, and sometimes adopt the posture of a critic rather than one who is ready to obey and respond. A student in a seminary asked Dr. Kennedy: “What is the most challenging thing you have ever done in the ministry?” His answer was, “Prepare next Sunday’s sermon.”

Eugene Peterson once shared how he was at the point of burnout at Christ the King Presbyterian Church in Belaire, Maryland. He went to his Session and told them that he can’t go on. His Session was wise and told him to list the things he went into the ministry to do. He listed, preaching, visiting the sick, sharing the Gospel, and the things that the Bible teaches us is our work. His Session told him, “You do those things you were called to do, and we will do the rest.” Guess what? Not only was Peterson renewed in his ministry, but he stayed over 30 years at that church. According to Peterson, if God has called you to preach, then do not rush from meetings to meetings, or be reduced to just telling some good stories. The preacher must expound the Word of God or else he has failed in his calling. Haddon W. Robinson reminds us that "When a preacher fails to preach the Scriptures, he abandons his authority. He confronts his hearers no longer with a word from God but only with another word from men."

At this juncture, I would like to highlight the priority of expository preaching. Expository preaching is simply preaching that is true to the Bible. This method presupposes an exegetical process to extract the God-intended meaning of Scripture and an explanation of that meaning in a contemporary understandable way. According to G. Campbell Morgan, pastor of London’s Westminster Chapel and “the prince of expositors” taught that a sermon is limited by the text it is covering. Every word from the pulpit should amplify, elaborate on, or illustrate the text at hand, with a view towards clarity. He wrote, “The sermon is the text repeated more fully.” A sermon’s primary function is to present the text. While exposition is not the only valid mode of preaching; it is the best for teaching the plain sense of the Bible.

It is therefore the call of the preacher to proclaim what God has said, specifically in the Bible. His role is to proclaim what God would have His children know NOT what the preacher would have God’s children know. In a sense, this is how it works: The preacher steps back and simply allows the meaning of the text to hit the ears of the people. Indeed, the preacher plays an important role. With his knowledge of God’s Word, learning of Hebrew and Greek, access to Bible commentaries and foundation in biblical theology, he needs to expound on the Bible passage and teach it to his congregation members who do not necessarily have his level of training and bible literacy.

In “The Expository Genius of John Calvin”, Steve Lawson encourages us that “The greatest seasons of church history — those eras of widespread reformation and great awakening — have been those epochs in which God-fearing men took the inspired Word and unashamedly preached it in the power of the Holy Spirit. As the pulpit goes, so goes the church. Thus, only a reformed pulpit will ultimately lead to a reformed church. In this hour, pastors must see their pulpits again marked by sequential exposition, doctrinal clarity, and a sense of gravity regarding eternal matters. This in my estimation is the need of the hour.”

Indeed, after you have preached the Word, I trust that what you are after is not that your members shall say, ‘What an excellent sermon!’ That is a measured failure. I pray that you would desire them to exclaim, ‘What a great God!’ Surely it is something for men not to have been in your presence but God’s. All preachers, whether great or small, are loved when they faithfully open up the Word of God and feed the lambs of Jesus. And this becomes our legacy, not that our images are recorded in hall of fame on a church wall, but that our hearts are buried in that place where we took our stand, spent our years, and gave our lives to preach the Word.

Rev Tan Cheng Huat
EP Moderator (Singapore), 2010-2012

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Where is our Focus?

What is the reason for our daily service to our Lord Jesus? What brings us to our office and place of ministry each day? Is it an obligation arising from what Jesus has done for us? There is a question that pricks my mind, “Is it possible to serve the Lord out of habit rather than out of love?”

Luke 10:38-42 gives us a story that takes place in Bethany. This was where Lazarus lived with his two sister, Mary and Martha. This home had hosted Jesus many times and where he was loved and accepted. Both sisters are delighted to see Jesus but their delight in seen in different ways. People have different temperaments - some are active always needing to be busy, never able to sit still. Others, like me, are thoughtful, willing to sit back and think things through before acting. Martha was a very activity-oriented person but her sister appears to have more of a thoughtful nature. I believe that many times when we reflect on this passage, we end up with a false dichotomy. We believe every Christian has to make the choice – to be a worker like Martha or a worshipper like Mary. However, I believe that misses the point. I believe Christ would want us to imitate both the good points of Mary and Martha in a good balance.

Mary is content to sit at Jesus’ feet soaking up the Word, and being still before him. There is nothing wrong with that. Martha obviously was a great hostess. To make her guests feel welcome, she would prepare a meal for them. It’s a privilege to cook a meal for the Master. Is one right and the other wrong? No! Duty and Devotion are both necessary but there must be a balance.

Every action and every relationship has a basic focus. If it loses its focus, it will fail. Look at the MRT. It lost its focus – from moving people to retail. If we follow the Commission of Inquiry, I believe that is the only logical conclusion to come up with. When we lose our focus, we run into trouble.

Martha lost her focus and so she resorted to self-pity. V40 says - “But Martha was distracted…” The word “distracted” means “to be dragged away.” Maybe Martha wanted to sit beside Mary and wanted to hear Jesus herself but she was dragged away by her sense of her “duties.” Anxiety over the meal has robbed her of the joy of her service to the Lord. I visit people at their home and sometimes I have to tell them to come and sit down and fellowship with me rather than serve goodies after goodies. We should be responsible but we should not let it be the benchmark for our importance. The problem was not Martha’s work but her attitude. She did not have a balance between doing and listening.

That may well be our challenge today. We become so busy with the everyday things of life that we neglect the most important. People believe that modern inventions like smartphones and IPads, we will be able to save more time. In fact, it’s the reverse. We have less and less leisure time. I look at our church people and I can see most of them are overworked. They work too many hours. Stephen Covey once said, “People expect us to be busy, overworked. It’s become a status symbol in our society – if we’re busy, we’re important; if we’re not busy, we’re embarrassed to admit it. Busyness is where we get our security, it’s validating, popular and pleasing, it’s also a good excuse for not dealing with the first things in our lives.”\

What is the focus of our lives? Is it not our relationship with Christ? Is it not to grow as disciples of Christ? Feeding our families, maintaining our jobs, promotions, etc., all these are very important. But they must be balanced by things of the Spirit and God’s Kingdom. So the question God is asking us is “What about you?” Where is your focus at this time? Are we building our lives and giving ourselves over to non-essentials – things that are here today but tossed out tomorrow?

Friday, July 27, 2012

God's Favour

When Jesus came out of the water at his baptism, the Holy Spirit descended on him and the voice of God proclaimed “you are my Son whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). That was a sign of God’s favour being on him on him. The Psalmist in 84:11 also says “The Lord bestows favour and honour”. What is the meaning of ‘God bestowing his favour’? Most times, we tend to equate God’s favour with material possession and privilege. I believe that is a wrong understanding. God’s plan is unique for each one of us. That is why some of us are millionaires and some are not. So are the non-millionaires non-recipients of God’s favour? The psalmist’s reply will definitely be no! Look at Ps 84:10 “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” That’s a powerful image of godly contentment.

What he is saying is “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God (and have ‘nothing’) than dwell in the tents of the wicked (and have ‘everything’).” He knows what God’s favour is. Doorkeeper? That’s fine! After all, it’s from God so it must be good. He is content with what God has given him and where God has brought him. Will that sound good to us? If God is our everything, we will also know the same satisfaction and contentment with where God brings us.

In Psalm 84:8-12, we can see some common elements that identify what God’s favour really is.

Purpose – v9, “Look with favor on your anointed one.” The Hebrew word for “anointed one” is mashiach, a word that is often used to refer to Jesus – the Messiah, Anointed or Chosen One. We too are God’s anointed ones, chosen as instruments in the redemption of the lost. The glorious truth is that we are not just taking up space here on earth. There is a point to our lives. We have an anointing from the King of Kings. I recall back to the time when I wanted to commit suicide. I wrote a goodbye note to my mum saying, “Just cremate me and throw the ashes down the toilet. There is no purpose to my life.” Now I know there is a point in living. God has chosen me and given me a purpose to live.

Protection – v11. The beginning of verse 11 states, “For the LORD God is a sun and shield.” Two interesting terms—sun and shield. ‘Sun’ reminds us that God is our light and illumination. Therefore, the darkness of this life, the devil, discouragement, etc. cannot overcome us. Instead, as our shield, God guarantees us victory over sin and death.

Provision – v11. The psalmist continues, “No good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” God is a generous, gracious God who provides his children every good thing! Does that mean that God will give us a fancy condo, an exotic car, lots of cash? Those are the good things of the world. What are the good things of God’s Kingdom then? Let us look at our Lord Jesus himself. Jesus came to establish a relationship with us. The story of Martha and Mary reminds us it is a good relationship to be treasured above all else. Jesus also established a good, blameless reputation for himself, his accusers could find nothing wrong with him and even Pilate called him an innocent man. “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men,” (Luke 2:52). More than that, Jesus left a lasting legacy for all to follow – his disciples who would be known by their love for fallen man. These are the real blessing of life as God’s favour rests on us - things like good relationships, good reputation, a good legacy to leave behind. That is a guaranteed provision because we enjoy his favour.

Don’t be fooled. Never exchange blessings of eternal value with things of temporal value.