Wednesday, May 23, 2012

God Uses Mustard Seed-sized People

I read that the mustard plant in Israel is actually a weed. You know what you usually do with weeds. When you see them in your garden, you just rip them up and throw them away or burn them. You won’t find weeds in a nursery or flower shop. They are seen as useless. I read that is why in Israel the rabbis banned mustard seeds from being sown in gardens because they would overwhelm the natural plants growing there. What is the picture before us here today? God uses the things that are unimpressive to overwhelm the natural, i.e. sinful world and bring about God’s order in this world. That is why no one can ever use an excuse like “I am not ready” or “I am too young” to avoid serving God. No one is ever too young or unequipped that God cannot use him or her. All a person needs is to be faithful and available. God’s grace will help us to make his Kingdom a reality to those around you.

I never dreamed that one day I would go to Bible College and become a pastor. If fifteen years ago, anyone had told me I would be a pastor, I would have laughed derisively at the idea. Fifteen years ago I was still in the Helping Hand and just five years on the road to recovery from a long-term drug habit. I used to look out each morning at the people going about their work in the morning and I would ask God, “These people have so many skills to offer you. What can I do for you, God?” After I finished my program, I was asked to become a staff-helper. My work was like that of an office boy. I kept the files, cleaned the tables, mundane things like that. But God gave me opportunities to grow in my service there. When the staff in charge of the publications resigned, I was given the task of writing and editing the newsletter articles. When the admin staff resigned, I was given the task of writing letters representing the ministry. When they needed staff to run a halfway house in the Philippines, I was sent there and I learnt to preach. God used the process of growth to slowly shape me. In all these tasks of preaching, teaching, writing, never did I think I would ever be good at them. Even today, I dare not say I am good. However, I walk in the faith that God has not finished working with me. I believe that as long I keep busy doing the ministry that I can do know, he will continue to lavish his grace on me and help me to grow even more.

I believe this is the principle of God’s Kingdom. God uses people who make themselves available.  And while using them as his instruments, his grace also empowers them and helps them to grow so that he can use them more effectively still. God can help you to grow if you are not busy in his kingdom. So you are never too young or too inexperienced to start being useful to God. Never think of what you cannot do. Think first of what you can do and just do it. Trust in God’s grace to help you do the things you think you cannot do.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

You Are A Priest

1 Peter 2:9 gives us a good picture of how we are to act in the world, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

As the chosen people of God, we are called to declare the praises of Jesus Christ who is the reason for our being born-again. How do we do this? As 1 Peter 2:9 calls us to be a body of priests, the question then is, “what does it mean to be a priest?” In October, we Protestants normally celebrate Reformation Sunday on the last Sunday. This is to remember the Protestant Reformation which occurred around 400 years ago which gave us our Reformed faith. Church history tells us about 400 years ago in Germany, a monk named Martin Luther began to meditate on certain truths of the Bible, ideas that had been lost for centuries. He brought these ideas back into the Christian faith. One of the most radical of these ideas was what he called "the priesthood of all believers." In those days, the church taught that there was a body of men set aside to be a special group of priests. They taught that these men were the only ones who could act as intercessors between God and ordinary men. Martin Luther buried the idea. He taught from the Scriptures that there is no such doctrine at all. Martin Luther might well have had 1 Peter 2:9 in mind when he expounded this idea. Instead every person who comes to know Jesus Christ is made a priest under God and that he or she joins with the great high priest, Jesus Christ himself, in a ministry of mercy, blessing, and service to a broken and disordered world.

A priest is basically someone who helps others to see the presence of God as they commune with one another. Practically speaking, for us that would mean to look to the needs of others and to help them fulfil that need. This is the ministry of helps, of extending mercy to one another. A few years ago, I was very encouraged by our church members. Isaac, one of our youths, had contracted a kind of cancer that affected young people. As a result, his life became a series of chemotherapy cycles, blood tests and hospital stays. It can be quite a traumatic experience for any 17-year old boy. What encouraged me were the actions of many of our church people. There were offers to ferry them to hospital for the chemo sessions, the visits and other practical help. I am very sure that the family was very encouraged and strengthened by the fact that many other people also were standing with them in this moment of adversity. That is what believers in a community do for one another. They look at others’ needs and they examine themselves to see how they can play a part in fulfilling that need. That is the work of a priest, to reflect God’s love in the broken lives of others. This is the offering of spiritual sacrifices, mentioned in 1 Peter 2:5, “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” This is our ministry, yours and mine; this is the calling to which God has called us. Aren’t you excited that God has called you into this ministry?

The people of Luther’s time were very excited. They were radically impacted by this idea of being a priest of God. It brought about what we call the Protestant Reformation. And out of the Reformation arose a new zeal for God’s work. Mission organization later arose that called people into the mission fields, ordinary men and women like you and your children. These were not just organizations that brought the Gospel. They were concerned for the needs of the people they ministered to. Orphanages and hospitals were built, schools were commissioned. Christians were caught up in this ministry of the priesthood of believers. It was an exciting idea that led to exciting times. And we who form this community of believers are also to be seen as a priesthood, a body of Christians that looks to the needs of others. May the beauty of Jesus be seen in his priesthood of believers.

Jesus Christ, Our Cornerstone

In the Old Testament, God dwelt among his people, the Israelites. As they travelled to the Promised Land, they carried with them the Tabernacle. They encamped with the tabernacle at their centre symbolizing God dwelling with them. When they settled into the land Solomon built a temple. When Solomon’s temple was commissioned, the glory-cloud of God filled the temple, again symbolizing that God was dwelling among his people. But in 1 Peter 2:5, we see a radical shift in this idea for the NT disciples, “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”  God would no longer dwell among his people. Instead, God now dwelt IN his people because of the work of Christ on the cross. Peter describes Jesus as the cornerstone of the church (1 Peter 2:5a), “see, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone”.

Two ideas spring from the word ‘cornerstone’. One is ‘a stone representing the nominal starting place in the construction of a monumental building, usually carved with the date and laid with appropriate ceremonies’. A second definition is ‘something that is essential, indispensable and forms the chief foundation on which something is constructed or developed’. The first definition is seen in the fact that Jesus Christ, our cornerstone, constructed the church through his death and resurrection. However, Jesus is not just the founder of the church but he is also the foundation on which we, the living stones that form the church, are built. This illustrates the second definition.

In this life, all of us are builders. We build our lives and we also seek to build the lives of those around us. To build a life, we need a cornerstone too. The question is who is our cornerstone?  If we are not building our lives on Jesus then we are must be building our lives on something else.

Do we know what our cornerstone is? One way is by tracing our thoughts when the chips are down. When we go wrong, who or what do we turn to? Is it our own personality, our own morality, our own intellect, etc.?  In my former ministry at the Helping Hand, I observed something interesting. Many of the residents were able to follow the program faithfully while in the program. They woke up early each morning to read the Bible and pray. They would write what they learnt in a journal. Before morning chapel, they would go early and prepare themselves in silent meditation. This attitude would also be seen in their work. They served willingly and even cheerfully when given extra duties. They become shining examples of the delivering power of Christ. But yet when they finished their program, they would relapse almost immediately. Why?

It could be that the cornerstone of their faith was not Jesus Christ. Could their cornerstone have been obedience to the ministry rules? They wanted a trouble-free stay so they followed the program faithfully just as they used to while in prison. But when the program ended, their cornerstone was taken away. Without that cornerstone, their freedom became shaky and immediately they fell from grace.

What is the cornerstone on which our faith and our church stand on?  Is it Jesus Christ?  Is it our own intellect?  Is it the programs that are offered? Is it our service to the church ministry? If it is Jesus Christ, we will endure whatever may threaten or afflict us. “…the one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame” 1 Peter 2:6b.