Wednesday, December 4, 2013

This World is not My Home







































On the first night of the Easter Conference 2009, the speaker Rev. Dr Albert Ting asked his audience “does God still manifest his glory today and how is it manifested in your daily life?” As I was reflecting on his challenge, I cannot help but think that for God’s glory to be manifested in our lives, the first step is to examine the values we live for.

I once read an article that explained how the values the early Christians lived as a people were so different from the culture they were in.

1. They refused bloodthirsty entertainment.  They wouldn’t go to gladiatorial events because they believed it defiled humans who were created in the image of God.  This made them appear to be anti-social.

2. They empowered women by showing their value and dignity in places of learning and service which had previously been exclusively for men.  Christians held women in high regard and treasured them rather than viewing them as just a step above expendable children and servants.  

3. They were against sex outside of marriage.  This was considered odd and against the prevailing Roman culture which viewed sex as a fleshly desire similar to eating or sleeping.

4. They were exceptionally generous with their resources.  They had no social classes and shared what they had with one another and welcomed others with a hospitality that was not seen in Roman society. 

5. They were radically for the poor.  In a time when the poor and downtrodden were viewed as getting what they deserved, the early Christians were aggressively committed to loving and serving the marginalized.

The early Christians adopted these values because they considered themselves set apart by God.  Today, these values are seen as general values adopted even by non-Christians.  This is how we manifest God’s glory as Christians, influencing the culture and not being influenced by it.

Imagine if someone were to follow us around for a week or so.  Would they see a distinct difference in the quality of our life, or would it look pretty much like everybody else’s life?

1. When they listened in on your conversations in the office or at lunch or in the gymnasium, would they hear gossip, backstabbing, crude or foul language or dirty jokes?

2. What if they sat beside us as we were alone in our homes and rooms?  Will they see us going for those Internet and TV shows that we forbid our own children to go for?

3. If they followed us around as we did our daily work, would they find us wasting company time or money or losing our temper when things go wrong?  Will they see us humiliating people or cutting corners on jobs when no one is looking?

4. If they were to sit at the dinner table in your home, would they be surprised at how insensitive or inattentive we were to our children?

If non-Christians see us, do they see us as a separate people with separate values? Or do they see us as people exactly like them with the exception that we pepper our talk with ‘Praise the Lord' and we go to church on Sundays.  They should see a distinct difference in the values that we live by, the way we walk in this journey of life to our eternal home.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Who's Feeling Blue?





































 
Are you feeling sorry for yourself? If so, welcome to the club. In a fit of depression, the painter Van Gogh cut his own ear off. Many sports, movie and pop stars sink into depression when their fame dims. Some kill themselves while others turn to drugs. I was shocked by my sister’s comments once, that many people use anti-depression pills to function ‘normally’ in the marketplace. It does seem depression is rife in our society.
 
How do we recognize depression? From observation and personal experience, one symptom is loss of hope. One feels there is no future and the mind becomes preoccupied with despair and pessimism. It causes loss of self-esteem as one thinks oneself to be a failure in life.
 
Emotions too become difficult to handle. I have seen tears, fear, anger overwhelm a person over the most minor incidents. It also leads to a lack of self-control. Some cannot eat while others indulge in overeating. Some cannot sleep while others sleep for long hours yet wake up to a chronic fatigue. Depression can lead to isolation from others; social activities are dreaded and phone calls are not returned. Sometimes, this is aggravated by well-meaning but insensitive remarks like “just move on”, “Jesus has given you the victory” “give up that pity party”, etc. Extreme depression can even lead to suicidal thoughts. Think back to Elijah crying out in 1 Kings 19:4, “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life” because he saw no hope.
 
How would I deal with severe depression? I am not an expert but a good start would be to connect with our Lord regularly each day. I can praise him, seek him out in his Word and listen intently for his still small voice. God knows my thoughts anyway so I might as well be honest and tell him exactly how I think and feel. It’s best to lay my fears, frustration and all negative feelings before his throne of grace. After all, Christ is always listening.
 
I also believe one must pluck up the courage to ask for help. This is a tough act but we must be open to receiving another’s helping hand. Pastors especially need to awaken to this truth. They are so busy fulfilling the needs of others that they suppress or ignore their own need for help. It is the fear of being seen ‘unspiritual’ or ‘lacking in faith’. We should just ask. Christians generally are willing to help if they find the objective achievable. They might also counsel us of the primary things we should be focusing on instead of sweating over the ‘small stuff’. Helpers give us perspective. We should attend to the essential and be ‘thick-skinned’ and ignore the non-essentials even when there is pressure to do them and plaudits gained. Such counsel aids our healing tremendously.
 
Finally, grieving for any loss, whether it is the loss of self-esteem or the esteem of others or any other form of personal loss, does help tremendously. Grieving is cathartic, normal and a great aid to recovery. Elijah grieved, ate and slept. Only after that was he ready to listen to the gentle whisper of God. It worked for Elijah and should work for us too. Hearing God’s voice assures us of his care and compassion for his children. In that still small voice is the hope of the meaningful future our Lord Jesus has planned for us if we are willing to focus not on self or circumstances but on our sovereign Lord.
 
Cast all our anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Moving Forward, Staying Together


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
At our ECM last Sunday, 67% voted in favour of taking up auditorium and ancillary space in the PCS Hub. The requirement of a 2/3 majority was determined by the EDC even though the EDC was empowered to just call for a simple majority vote. Behind the decision was the thought that a weighty decision such as this was not to be taken lightly by just a simple majority vote.
 
Am I disappointed that the resolution was not carried by a greater majority which would indicate unwavering support? I am not. God’s sovereign hand is over all matters of man. Further, I have met with some of those who voiced their disagreement with the move. They too are God-loving, Christ-following Christians who prayed over the matter and I respect their decision to vote according to their conscience as they sense God’s leading. One would have to be self-righteous to dismiss their voices as misguided. I surely do not and I am thankful to God for their maturity in being transparent about the concerns in their hearts.
 
However, I believe God still wants us to move together as his people whichever way one voted. The less-than resounding majority is simply an invitation to not just look to our Lord, but to actually LEAN on him, in this challenging moment. With sincere affection, may I hearken all of us to the big picture that he desires for us - to love our neighbour as we love ourselves (Luke 10:27b). Jesus wants us to love God and love people, in that order. He reinforced this application to our relationship with fellow believers, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
 
Our Lord’s desire for His Body is that we love and be concerned for each other even when we do not agree with one another. That is how we bring glory to God and validate our discipleship by pursuing unity out of humility and service, even when we do not get our way. That’s why the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write "If you have any encouragement from being united in Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Phil 2:1-3).
 
Jesus’ message to his church is very clear - we are ONE BODY regardless of different opinions. What God desires is that we love one another no matter what has transpired. We cannot maintain un-christlike attitudes toward people with whom we worship Christ together. We should choose to be loving and kind even when we feel otherwise. God has commanded this of us and he will provide the grace for us to obey, if we yield to his Spirit’s leading. Whatever has happened, God knows all about it. Yet, he will tell us it does not change His Word that we are to love one another.
 
It is best to stay forward-focused by looking up to Heaven as we will spend eternity together having been connected as members of the Body of Christ. That is always better than looking at life through a rear-view mirror. As we press on, one day we will reap the fruit of perseverance and praise God with joy, having seen his overcoming grace at work in this journey.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Comfortably Numb?



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Bible promises eternal life with Christ forever to all who have trusted in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. What implication does that have for us now?  Do we live the same self-indulgent life we lived before? To counter that self-centred attitude, the Apostle Paul says “you are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep but let us be alert and self-controlled” (1 Thess 5:5-6).
 
Our response to Christ’s return is to ‘be alert and self-controlled’. Why? As ‘sons of the light’ we should not live like those who belong to the darkness. Night and darkness are normally symbolic of drunkenness, lustful and depraved activities. As children of light, we are to live disciplined and restrained lives, and forgo anything that threatens to dampen the Spirit’s influence over our lives.
 
Drunkenness or activities of the flesh are not the only things we are warned against. Verse 6 tells us of another activity associated with night that we, as children of light, should guard against. We are not to be asleep like others but alert and self-controlled. While the warning here may refer to unbelievers who are ignorant of Christ’s coming, it should also be a warning to us not to be spiritually apathetic.
 
If you have done a long drive overseas, you will know the importance of keeping alert every second. You can be alert one minute and yet doze off soon after. You start by thinking the road ahead is clear and straight so you just need to step on the gas and hold the wheel straight. After a while, you are so comfortable, you get drowsy and you think you can afford to close your eyes a second or two longer. Before you know it, you have closed your eyes for maybe more than that, long enough for you to drive off the road or crash into another car. We never fall asleep immediately but we drift off because we become insensitive to our surroundings. If we are not watchful in our spiritual attitudes, we will also drift away. Slowly, we become lethargic and comfortably numb about spiritual issues. We start thinking we don’t really need to read our Bible and pray everyday. Or we do it with a Daily Bread quick-fix and a prayer for the day. We are happy because we have done our spiritual duty. Perhaps we start compromising on ethical issues at the workplace. We don’t fall away immediately but church becomes boring, Christian Education is irrelevant and CG becomes dull. We don’t want to fellowship and we begrudge the time we spend in church.
 
What do you do when you get sleepy when driving?  Perhaps you might wind down the window and let the cold air wake you up. Perhaps you might sing along with the radio or ask a passenger to keep talking to you and making sure you answer back. In the same manner, if you start finding church or the fellowship boring, pray and ask God to renew your spirit. Find someone to share your problem and make yourself accountable to him for your spiritual life. Our response to the coming of Christ is to be alert so that we will not be ashamed when he returns and to be self-controlled so that we bear a good witness.
 
We certainly have to take the promise of Jesus' second coming seriously, not indulgently.

Called by the Unchanging One


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
In the last General Elections in Singapore in 2011, we witnessed the fall of some mighty big guns of the ruling PAP party, two ministers and one mayor. This was something that no one would have predicted would happen just five years earlier. It was unthinkable that this could happen on the Singapore political scene. Yet it happened. It is a reminder to us that the one unchanging constant in life is change. Indeed in the last decade, we have witnessed many changes in life and circumstances as we were buffeted by the global financial failure of the banking system, Euro and US currency instability, the terror of ideological extremism, the devastation of diseases such as SARS, avian flu and many other disasters.
 
Psychologists tell us that change is stressful and I am sure we all agree with them. Even positive changes such as promotions, birth, etc, are stressful in their transitory stage. How then do we cope with these stressors? Depending on our own faculties and abilities is no answer as many have found. Perhaps the answer lies not in ourselves, resilient as we are, but in the Unchanging One who is our God. What are the unchanging attributes of God in which we can find the answer then?
 
God is unchanging in his unconditional love for us. No matter how we feel or where we are, whether we can see the resolution of our problem in this life or not, we know that his love is with us. We may abandon him, stop doing daily devotion and even fall into sinful behaviour and yet he does not stop loving us and stands ever-ready to welcome us back into fellowship with him. This is a wonderful assurance to us, that despite our flaws and failings, he does not waver in loving us. How do we respond then to such love? Do we fold our arms and take his love, care, sustenance and provision for granted? That would almost be like the Me-ology that we have learnt about in Cat & Dog Theology. Rather his unconditional love makes it safe for us to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in striving to become better children of his, who honour him with their lives.
 
God is unchanging in his commitment to make us his agents of change in this world. The Bible reminds us that “we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Eph 2:10. We are saved not to sit back and indulge in our old ways but to fulfill his agenda for the redemption of man and creation. Think about it, an omnipotent God has called you to be his partner. In calling you, he has not left you to your own devices but instead promises you his presence at all times. Does this thought quicken our hearts as we reflect on it?  Responding to God-ordained changes is the best way to overcome the stressful changes that we experience in our temporal world.
 
What does our belonging to a local church mean to us?  Is it just a place to sing songs and hear a message on Sundays?  Or do we see ourselves as being divinely called to a community through which God intends to restore others, still in darkness, to fellowship with him.  We can be very sure that there is no accident to our being part of the church. We can be sure that God has a plan for our local body, whichever one we belong to. So then even as we live our individual lives in obedience and trust, let us also seek the Lord to know his agenda for our community and ask for the grace to fulfill his will.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

In All Our Sorrows, Jesus Wept





































Last Tuesday, Elder Peter called me with the sad news that his daughter, Jessica, had passed away and is now in the Lord’s keeping. My heart broke - for him, for his family and for everyone who knew Jessica and loved her. My wife taught Jessica in Sunday School when she was in primary school. I used to help her teach sometimes. Jessica had her endearing ways. I remember her most for her Mona-Lisa like smile. It’s the kind of impish, lovable smile that made me think something funny was happening over my shoulder that I could not see but she could. When a young person is taken from us, there will always be sadness.

As I prepared for the night service, I asked our Lord Jesus “What would you say to the Chuang family as they deal with their loss?” And as I meditated, two words came to mind, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). I was reminded me that, amidst all our pain, God is still present and active. He has not abandoned us and remains our hope.

The context of this verse is about two women, Mary and Martha dealing with their brother’s, Lazarus’, death. Lazarus fell sick. Why he fell sick, we don’t know. But he does die quite suddenly. What is obvious is that Mary and Martha are very troubled. Not knowing what they can do, they do the one sensible thing - they call for Jesus. When Jesus arrives and saw Mary weeping, ‘he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” Then Jesus wept. Why? Was he crying because Lazarus was dead? I don’t think so. After all, in a few minutes, he would raise Lazarus from the dead. No, Jesus wasn't crying because Lazarus was dead. He wept because he understood the desperate brokenness of these two women who had just lost their beloved brother. Jesus’ tears came from the fact that this was not the way it was supposed to be. This is not what God intended for humanity. God made us for something else. He made us for life and not for death. Death was not part of life when God created man.

That is why we are averse to death, because it is not natural. Scriptures teach us that God created man to be in a loving relationship with him, with our world, with ourselves and with each other. Yet, we also know such relationships have been broken. That is why Jesus came. His death and resurrection was to fix all broken relationships. One day, all things will be made new because he has conquered death on the cross. One day, there will be no more mourning, no more pain, no more tears and no more death. Creation will finally be as it was created to be. We will experience joy and fellowship again with the loved ones death took from us in this life.

Some people have asked me, “How do you believe in a God that allows something like this to happen?” I believe there is a better way to look at this. I am so thankful that God saw our broken and sinful world and decided to do something about it. The truth is that God loves us despite our sinful state. The proof is seen in him sending his only Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for us - so that we may experience a better life and home with him when we pass on from this earth. This is our God – kind and loving.

Further, we have a God who weeps with us. We have a God who is deeply troubled with the way the world is. He is not a God who sits, out of reach, high up on a throne, unattached and unmoved by the plight of humanity. As he did with Mary and Martha, he sits with us in our darkest hour and grieves alongside us. Jesus wept. Amidst all sadness, Jesus is present and involved. God is grieved too as he feels our sorrow.

Remember these two words when we face trials of sorrow and pain - Jesus wept. Amidst all our sadness, he is present and still involved in our lives.

Goodnight, sweet princess Jessica. Flights of angels and our glorious Lord Jesus hath winged thee to thy eternal rest.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

SO WHAT?



















After studying in theological college, I came to understand that it can be very easy to slip into a knowledge acquisition mode in theological study. The pursuit of knowledge becomes an end in itself and every profound truth is eagerly grasped and filed away in the mind for future regurgitation at some opportune moment. This was brought home to me in a class discussion when a classmate leaned over to me and cynically said, “we theologians can take something simple and easily make it complicated.” How true, which is why I am very grateful for those of my teachers who constantly challenged us to ask ourselves what we will do with the knowledge that we learn. My theology professor constantly reminded us that theology seeks to apply truths to life and thought in order to guide us on how we ought to live accordingly. Another lecturer was always bringing in a “so what now that you have learnt all this?” dimension during our class tutorials.

As we come to church every Sunday, as we listen to the message and participate in Christian Education lessons, I believe the “so what now that you have learnt this?” aspect of Christian Education can never be over-emphasized. All that we study and hear is to help us know Him better, not know about Him better. After all God did not give us a book so that we can gain more knowledge of Him as we would read an encyclopedia for expert knowledge on a given subject. Instead, He gave us His living Word to walk with us and guide us in our daily lives. We experience His still small voice when we read his Word, whether it be comfort, rebuke or exhortation. Yet at times it can be hard to hear His voice and so we fail to obey the “so what?” part.

Do you find it a problem to hear His voice sometimes?  I must admit it happens to me many times. One of the problems I believe is the busy-ness of daily life. With our fast-fix mentality, we want to hear God enlighten us the moment we pray and read our Bibles. When we spend our Quiet Time, we start with prayer or reading our Bibles mechanically. We do not make it a habit to practise quietness before God. God tells us, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10). Being still is not just about finding a quiet place without any distracting noise. It is also about the heart and mind being still before him. That means letting go those anxious thoughts about your financial problems or that nasty neighbour next door or that mean colleague in the office, legitimate concerns though they may be. It is about being willing to let go of those selfish desires and motivations, although they may cost you since many others have the same motivations. This is how we can listen to God’s voice more effectively. Once we have heard his prompting, it becomes essential that we obey what He has said to us. The Bible was meant to be obeyed, not just for the sake of hearing his voice. Then when we obey, we are leaving behind the Bible knowledge acquisition part of our faith and crossing over into the “so what?” realm of our faith. When we do so, we will then manifest our faith in our daily lives by being a blessing to the people around us.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Called By the Unchanging One


 



















In the last General Elections, we witnessed the fall of some mighty big guns of the ruling party, two ministers and one mayor. This was something that no one would have predicted would happen just five years earlier. It was unthinkable that this could happen on the Singapore political scene. Yet it happened. It is a reminder to us that the one unchanging constant in life is change. Indeed in the last decade, we have witnessed many changes in life and circumstances as we were buffeted by the global financial failure of the banking system, Euro and US currency instability, the terror of religious extremism, the devastation of diseases such as SARS and avian flu and many other disasters.
 
Psychologists tell us that change is stressful and I am sure we all agree with them. Even positive changes such as promotions, birth, etc, are stressful in their transitory stage. How then do we cope with these stressors? Depending on our own faculties and abilities is no answer as many have found. Perhaps the answer lies not in ourselves, resilient as we are, but in the Unchanging One who is our God. What are the unchanging attributes of God in which we can find the answer then?
 
God is unchanging in his unconditional love for us. No matter how we feel or where we are, whether we can see the resolution of our problem in this life or not, we know that his love is with us. We may abandon him, stop doing daily devotion and even fall into sinful behaviour and yet he does not stop loving us and stands ever-ready to welcome us back into fellowship with him. This is a wonderful assurance to us, that despite our flaws and failings, he does not waver in loving us. How do we respond then to such love? Do we fold our arms and take his love, care, sustenance and provision for granted? That would almost be like the Me-ology that we have learnt about in Cat & Dog Theology. Rather his unconditional love makes it safe for us to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in striving to become better children of his, who honour him with their lives.
 
God is unchanging in his commitment to make us his agents of change in this world. The Bible reminds us that “we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Eph 2:10. We are saved not to sit back and indulge in our old ways but to fulfill his agenda for the redemption of man and creation. Think about it, an omnipotent God has called you to be his partner. In calling you, he has not left you to your own devices but instead promises you his presence at all times. Does this thought quicken our hearts as we reflect on it?  Responding to God-ordained changes is the best way to overcome the stressful changes that we experience in our temporal world.
 
What does our belonging to a local church mean to us?  Is it just a place to sing songs and hear a message on Sundays?  Or do we see ourselves as being divinely called to a community through which God intends to restore others, still in darkness, to fellowship with him.  We can be very sure that there is no accident to our being part of the church. We can be sure that God has a plan for our local body, whichever one we belong to. So then even as we live our individual lives in obedience and trust, let us also seek the Lord to know his agenda for our community and ask for the grace to fulfill his will.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Heart of the Matter is the Matter of the Heart


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I have always been captivated by this verse, The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart I Sam 16:7b. God’s leaders are not necessarily to be equated with characteristics of people that our world system elevates. This verse shows it so. Israel's King Saul had disappointed God. He started well enough but succumbed to folly and arrogance. He was no longer God’s man and God had taken away whatever hold he had on Israel. So Samuel is sent to anoint a new king: “you are to anoint for me the one I indicate” (1 Sam 16:3).
 
Samuel obeys – “then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice” (1 Sam 16:5). Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely he is the one?" But the Lord said "No. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” God makes it clear in this passage that the people he chooses to do great things for him are called on the basis of inward character, not on the basis of outward impressiveness. In fact, the things that impress us aren’t impressive to God. The thing that God looks for is the quality of the heart.
 
Why is the condition of a person’s heart such a big deal? Don’t we often hear that the leader’s private life has no bearing on his ability to perform well on the job? However, the leader’s private life does matter to God regardless of his ability to perform well in leadership. Look at Solomon – he started well but ended badly. He became half-hearted in his devotion to God. So the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates” (1 Kings 11:11).
 
Whatever else qualifies people for leadership, no one is qualified for greatness – by God’s standard – until his or her heart is ready. The leader’s prayer and focus of effort must center here – in his or her own heart to be wholly devoted to God. Skills, intelligence and hard work are all a part of the package but God reminds us that, in the final analysis, one thing makes the difference. God looks at the leader’s heart.
 
David had a heart wholly devoted to God. Because he was a man after God’s own heart, David never gave up on his relationship with God. This is precisely what was godly about David’s heart. God did not give up on His relationship with David, either. Nor does He give up on us. No matter where we are, or what we have done, or where things appear to be headed at any point in life, He is calling us to move on. All we have to do is follow.
 
In the end, we become what our own desires make us. This is why Jesus stressed the importance of the pure heart and the clear eye (Matthew 5:8; 7:5). Success in life is to be focused on one thing – Jesus called it as “seeking first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33). If this is not first, we end up a divided heart, with divided loyalties. We end up not knowing where to turn or where to move to.

Monday, June 17, 2013

God’s Sheep are to be Fed, not Fleeced.






















The pastor, specifically one who desires to please God by ministering to God’s people, must always examine that what he preaches and teaches is the Gospel truth. At the same time, his actions and thoughts are to be beyond reproach. Both the message (visible) and the motive (invisible) of the pastor must be pleasing to God. That’s why Paul emphasized in 1 Thess 2:5-6a that the pastor’s heart must not have mercenary motives when it comes to preaching the Gospel, “you know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed, God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else. As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you.” Paul may well have been challenging the Thessalonian Christians to examine his life for any mercenary motives in bring the Gospel to them. Even though he had the right to financial support from them, he did not avail himself to this right, out of love for his flock.

Preaching the Gospel can be a cover for greed as 1 Thess 2:5 reminds us. Even the right message of the Gospel can still be preached with the wrong motives as Phil 1:14-19 shows us. More than that, God’s Word is clear that greed is a sign of a false teacher, “but there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them, bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping” (2 Peter 2:1-3). In those early days of the New Testament church, they had itinerant preachers who went around preaching and teaching because the Greeks loved philosophy and debate. These preachers had rich patrons who paid them well for their flattering messages. However, the pastor must be careful not to compromise on the Gospel message just because he desires not to offend the rich members of his church. Paul was careful not to take advantage of his brethren by accumulating wealth through them. He challenges the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:33-34 with, “I have not coveted anyone's silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions”. The same words are echoed to the Corinthian church in 2 Cor 12:13-14, “How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong! Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.

In Singapore, Christians are free to practise their faith without much scrutiny from the authorities. There is very little to hamper the propagation of our faith. Although that is good, it also means that anyone with great charisma can actually preach a ‘gospel’ that draws people to him to make a lot of money from it.

Paul was above reproach in money matters and that was why he could challenge the Ephesian, Thessalonian and Corinthian congregations to examine him and show if he had profited in any way from being their pastor. He never displayed any semblance of manipulating his sheep for gain. The Christ-serving pastor should emulate Paul’s example to avoid any semblance of taking advantage of fellow Christian brethren for financial gain.  In my former ministry to drug addicts, I realized that in helping people, especially rich people, there arise situations that can ensnare us in greed. When I ran a halfway house in the Philippines, I had a Singaporean staff who requested his salary be paid as an honorarium. This was innocently granted but he twisted the facts by playing on the words. He told many Filipino Christians that we did not give him a ‘salary’ and that he had to depend, by faith, on ‘love gifts’ from our ministry. By doing so, he ended up getting many times over and above his regular salary from rich and well-meaning Filipino Christians who assumed wrongly that he got little or nothing from his ministry labour. When I found out, I told him that he would get a regular salary in SG$ and I made sure the local churches knew that all our Singapore staff were paid a salary in SG$. On another occasion in the Philippines, I once made the chance remark to the mother of an ex-addict resident of our Christian ministry about liking a well-known dim sum restaurant. That very Sunday after church, the parents asked me to join them for lunch. I thought this was no big deal and that I wouldn’t mind a nice home-cooked lunch. However, they told their driver to drive straight to the dim-sum restaurant that I had mentioned a few days earlier. There, they ordered enough food to make sure I had a feast. Since then, I have learnt to be careful about expressing my likes to the people I minister too, although sometimes I forget. Some years back, I posted on my Facebook seeking to buy a used Ipod Nano that I could listen to as I took my walks. A few days later, a church member dropped into my office to give me a new Nano that she had bought online for me. Wow! I was so stunned I almost forgot to thank her for that lovely gift. I still have it, using it to listen to mp3 sermons. J Christians are very inclined to love their pastor and to want to ensure his needs are met. Therefore, all the more the Christ-serving pastor should exercise his self-control and ensure that he does not manipulate the goodwill of his people to get his material wants.

Paul did not demand support from the Thessalonians, “As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you” (1 Thess 2:6b). In fact, Paul worked to support himself rather than demand support from the Thessalonians, “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you” (2 Thess 3:7-9). Those with apostolic authority had the right to make monetary claims upon those that they led but as we examine Paul’s life, we can see that he was very sensitive about money matters preferring to work to support himself. He wanted to be sure that no one could accuse him of being just a religious salesman like those who sold talismans, snake oil and healing plaster. Of course nowadays, pastors receive a salary and I find nothing wrong in that. Nor am I saying that pastors should be paid a pittance to keep them at poverty level. That would be another disaster in the making and I will share on that at another time. However, the pastor must always understand that he has been placed in a church to shepherd God’s flock. The one who is a faithful steward will not run away when the going gets tough because he is a shepherd of the sheep and not just a hired hand.

As I said earlier, Christians are gracious people with the tendency to love their pastors and be generous to ensure their pastors’ needs are met. There is nothing wrong in that. However, that is why all the more pastors should be Christ-serving men of God who exercise Christ-like self-control and godly wisdom to ensure that they do not manipulate the goodwill of their people to get their wants. The Bible cautions all leaders "Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case and will exact life for life" (Prov 22:22-23). While it is in the nature for real sheep to be fleeced, the sheep that God entrusts to his shepherds are to be fed, not fleeced.