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.