Monday, September 1, 2014

Getting Real about Giving


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The Old Testament teaches a tithe of 10% to God. It was a type of income tax given for the use of supporting the theocratic government of Israel. The people were legally required to give tithes to feed the Levites, the widows and orphans. In churches today, some people have asked, “Are we supposed to tithe 10% of our salary before CPF deduction or after CPF deduction?” I actually do not believe that New Testament teaches a compulsory tithe of 10%. That is legalism. It hardly has the essence of grace or heart-righteousness permeating Jesus’ teachings. That is why Paul does not talk about tithing a fixed portion of income. Instead, he says Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made (1Cor 16:1-2). The key phrase to observe is “in keeping with his income.” I believe we should not stick to giving a fixed portion of income to God but according to the level of our prosperity.
 
Therefore, 10% is not a Christian’s obligatory tithe but a starting-point for giving. That margin should generously increase with increase in our prosperity. For a person earning $1000, giving 10%, i.e. $100 and living on the balance of $900 might be a struggle. However, if we earn $10000, will giving $1000 and living on $9000 be as much a struggle for us? Not likely. In fact, we can just as easily live on $7000 and give $3,000. How much will we give then if we earned $25,000 a month, or more than that, and how much of that are we willing to live with?
 
When it comes to living and giving, the question is all about our priorities. Is the money we give to Christ a forethought stemming from our prosperity or is it an after-thought stemming from our material wants? Does our money go first to Christ sacrificially and after that, then we decide how the rest will pay for our bills and lifestyle? Or do we decide on how to finance a ‘good’ lifestyle first and then decide on how much to give to Christ? It is simply a matter of priority. Do we give out of surplus or leftover? Christ first or lifestyle first? If you struggle with these thoughts, be encouraged. Struggling means the Holy Spirit is working in you. So pray and ask God to enlighten you on the ways to put Christ first.
 
That is the whole point of our lives isn’t it? It is not about how much we want to live comfortably or what we leave our children. The point is Christ. He becomes the paradigm by which we live. He becomes the pattern by which we can live a life rich in grace. Scripture tells us “though Christ was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). Christ, who was worshiped in heaven, chose to walk this earth so that we, who had lost everything, could have what mattered; eternity with God who loved us first.
 
Christ gave everything so that we might live. Scripture testifies that having been given so much by Christ, we need to give thanks in every area of our lives. Let us pray that even as Christ has given us so much, may we grow to have that same gracious attitude to God’s work that Christ has towards us.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Suffering For Jesus











































In Acts 5, we read of the Sanhedrin punishing Peter and the other apostles for preaching Jesus. After whipping them, the Sanhedrin released them. After suffering about 40 lashes each, what was the apostles’ response? Acts 5:41 tells us, “the apostles left the Sanhedrin rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” Even after being beaten badly, they continued their task of proclaiming the Gospel as 5:42 tells us. To them the Gospel was worth suffering and dying for.
 
As I reflected on this, I realised that suffering for Christ is nothing new under the sun. As the early apostles were persecuted and their blood shed for Christ, we see the same thing happening today. Christians are being ostracised, thrown out of their homes, made to pay special taxes and even having to sacrifice their lives for Jesus. What was once done to the Jews during the Holocaust is now being done to Christians on a global scale.

On martyrs, my mind can help but be drawn to one extraordinary woman whose story I had read. Many would have read or heard of Wang Ming Dao, unofficial architect of the house church movement in China from the 1950s onwards. Despite government oppression and persecution, the house churches in China grew as they were led by men such as him and others. His wife was Deborah Wang or Auntie Wang as friends called her. When Wang Ming Dao was sentenced to prison for what the government called “anti-revolutionary activities”, his wife also had to follow him into prison. For twenty years, she lived in a Northern Chinese prison, where winters were very cold. She lived with insufficient food and winter clothes. She only saw her husband three times in those 20 years but she never complained and never lost her faith. When they were released, their home continued to be used by their Christian friends. Even after her husband died, her spiritual strength never diminished and she said, “I will not be lonely; I was not lonely before”, implying she found Jesus to be all-sufficient for her life. What a remarkable woman! She too rejoiced because she had been found worthy of disgrace for that name.
 
We may not have to suffer for our Christian faith like the apostles or Deborah Wang. Yet, we can be sure that the world will always examine Christians critically. We are labelled ‘lousy Christians’ or worse still ‘hypocrites’. We may not be jailed or beaten but we can be sure that we will also be ridiculed, disliked, become unpopular, etc. as we live out our Christian life. God has already forewarned us of this in 2 Tim 3:12 where Paul writes, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Sometimes you may have to live out your faith by refusing to lie for your boss, or pilfer the company goods like your colleagues do, or stand up for the weak ones who are bullied in your office. When you do all these things, you can be sure that people will not be happy and they will look out for ways to retaliate and make you suffer. Be encouraged! The resurrection reminds us we serve a risen Saviour and that this life is not all there is. We have a better one awaiting us in Heaven. After having lived our earthly life for our Lord, we can look forward to hear his commendation, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Come now and share your master’s happiness.”
 
May the Lord bless us to witness and live for Him as so many others have gone before and done for us.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

On Solid Rock I Stand: The Bible on Financial Accountability

On Solid Rock I Stand: The Bible on Financial Accountability:                                         In 1Cor 16:1-2, Paul tells the Corinthian Church to...

The Bible on Financial Accountability

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


In 1Cor 16:1-2, Paul tells the Corinthian Church to take up an offering for the poverty-stricken Jerusalem Christians, "Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made." After this, he introduces the principle of financial accountability in 1Cor 16:3-4, “Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me.” With the letters of introduction, Paul is making sure there will be no opportunity for financial mismanagement. If he needed to go, these representatives of the Macedonian churches would accompany him as witnesses. This would avert any accusation of him committing embezzlement. In other words, the churches that made this offering were to form an audit committee. The ones receiving the funds would have to be accountable to them.
 
It is unfortunate when Christian ministries lose their testimony because of financial mismanagement. The opportunity for mismanagement is great simply because Christians are a giving and sharing people. These words were said to me by a non-Christian, ‘you Christians are a very charitable people.’ I used to run a Christian home for drug addicts in the Philippines called the House of Hope. One day a friend invited me to a dinner gathering with his church friends. As I sat down, he introduced his friend to me and mentioned what I was doing in the country. Immediately his friend reached into his pocket and counted off P$10,000, worth about SG$500+ then. He gave it to me, saying “Use this for your good work helping our people.” Then he went to the next table and encouraged his other friends to take up an offering for my ministry. That’s typical of Christians, charitable by nature.
 
Sadly, that is also why there are pastors and Christian leaders who are so motivated in enriching themselves, they use all means to squeeze money from their flock. The apostle Peter warned Christians in 2Peter 2:3, “In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up”, about false teachers and preachers who would deceive the church for their own profit. In the phrase “these teachers will exploit you”, the Greek word translated as ‘exploit’ is ἐμπορεύομαι, (em-po-rio'-om-ai). From this, we get the English word ‘emporium’ meaning ‘a centre of commerce or a market’. It implies trading or making a deal for profit. Peter says these teachers will ‘em-po-rio'-om-ai’ Christians, meaning they will sell and trade Christians off for profit. The King James actually translates it more accurately with “these teachers will make merchandise out of you…” To these false teachers, their flock were not sheep to be spiritually fed but lambs to be slaughtered.  No believer should want this to happen to his generous giving. Therefore, he should also hold the church or ministry accountable for the way they use his charitable giving. Faith is not blind so we do not give blindly.
 
I am glad that, having worked with four treasurers in our church, I know HPC takes its financial accountability to its members seriously. That’s why we can be perceived as slow in disbursing money and making financial decisions. The main aim is not only to ensure money is used wisely but also to ensure no financial decision comes back to bite us, years down the road. By then, everyone would have forgotten the circumstances that led to the decision. It will then be tragic to see church leaders point accusing fingers at each other in order to avoid blame. Thus, members can help by scrutinizing the expenditure statements to make sure money is used wisely and blamelessly. I believe it pleases our Lord Jesus Christ when members act responsibly in this way

Sunday, July 13, 2014

What Does World Cup Soccer Teach us about the Church?



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
In the past month, the world was struck by fever; World Cup fever. In some countries, work stops when their national team plays. Bosses will note bloodshot eyes and more employees on medical leave after all those late night live telecasts. I remember watching my first live World Cup final in 1974. West Germany (as Germany was then known as) played Holland and Germany won. I believe history will repeat itself tomorrow morning. J
 
Soccer is a team sport like basketball, cricket, etc. One thing to learn from team games is that the team must play well together. There may be some superstars who win games on their own but that is rare. By and large, a team is only as good as its team performance on the field. The 2014 German soccer team shone with their team-work while superstar-driven teams like England with Rooney, Portugal with Ronaldo and a Neymar-less Brazil failed miserably. That is why managers like Jose Mourinho of Chelsea and Sir Alex of MUFC discipline their stars to play for the team rather than their own glory.
 
The other thing to learn from team games is that you can make a difference, whichever position you play. In the 1974 World Cup, Germany won because of goals by Paul Breitner and Gerd Muller. However, the win was also because their goalkeeper, Sepp Maier, was in top form. Further, Berti Vogts their defender marked the Dutch star, Cruyff, out of the game while their elegant captain, Beckenbauer tidied and swept up the Dutch attacks that crept through German cracks in defence. It was the effort of all eleven players playing together as a team that enabled West Germany to win the World Cup. Team games are encouraging – no matter what our position is, we can make a difference.
 
In life too, there are many situations where we have a part. Team sports help us see that whatever part we play, it is a necessary part. The part we play may well mean the difference between winning and losing, failure or success. So, while not every person is a star, every person can make a difference, a positive contribution.
 
In 1 Cor 12, Paul likens the Corinthian Church to a team. Actually, that is what we are - a team of God’s people at work. We are many individuals with each one having different parts to play. Yet everyone is needed to make sure God’s work is done properly. Many miss this idea of a church as a team. Some think of church as just a service they attend. If there are ‘good’ speakers or they have good friends there, they will attend regularly. Yet, they may not be too concerned about the well-being of the church. As long as they do their personal quiet time daily and read Christian books, they presume everything is well in God’s Kingdom and their spiritual lives are going well.
 
However, in 1 Cor 12, Paul teaches us the church is many people, but not just a crowd of people. It is an assembly of people who have surrendered to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Thus, we are identified not only with him but also with one another. So we organize ourselves according to the Biblical pattern to accomplish the purposes that Jesus established.
 
Hope PC is a team of many members, organized for the purpose of God’s Kingdom. That is Paul’s conclusion in 1 Cor 12:12, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.” Now that we know that, what is our response? Each of us must be involved for our church to make a difference in God’s Kingdom. Do we want our church to make a difference in God’s Kingdom? I am sure we do. So will you step forward to make that difference?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Power of the Resurrection

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 




In John’s Gospel (John 20), we read the account where Mary Magdalene discovers that Jesus was alive and the tomb where he was laid after his death from crucifixion was empty. She returns to tell Jesus’ disciples, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18) and relate Jesus’ own words to them. Yet, apparently Mary’s good news did not strengthen them. This is seen in John 20:19, “the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews.” It is quite ironic, isn’t it? Mary’s message meant Jesus had conquered death but they were only concerned with self-preservation. If we were to form a Disciple Search Committee to look for disciples to carry Christ’s message, I doubt these disciples would be high up on the list of candidates. Yet Jesus did not shunt them aside but continued to entrust his Good News to them.
 
Jesus’ action, in standing by his disciples, demonstrates the truth of the saying, “God does not call the qualified. He qualifies the called.” Nowhere is this seen more clearly than here. Jesus appears before his disciples and gives them the Holy Spirit. From now on the Holy Spirit would live in them and empower them to do the task he had assigned them – “as the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” This is the life to which they were, as we today too are called – to extend forgiveness in his name thereby bringing life to others. There can be no higher calling than that. With God there is no Plan B. He calls us and empowers us through the Holy Spirit to fulfill our calling. When we receive the Lord Jesus as our Saviour, the Holy Spirit comes to indwell us forever. That means Christian ministry is not just for the strong, the powerful and the qualified because God works in and even through our failures and weaknesses. When we move beyond fear of circumstances and uncertain outcomes to embrace our calling, God’s Spirit empowers us to participate in HIS mission.
 
In Rick Warren’s book, ‘The Purpose-Driven Life’, his opening words were ‘It’s not about you’. That’s right; it’s about the Holy Spirit working in and through us. So when we are called to serve, we need to remember; it’s not about us. It’s about the Holy Spirit working in and through us as we humbly submit to his leading and guidance. We walk in faith. We do not think of what we cannot do but what God can do through us.
 
This is the way I look at it. God is sovereign over all things meaning he will accomplish his purpose for his creation, with or without us. Yet, out of love, he has called us to partner him in bringing life to others. Imagine a millionaire who invests resources in training and developing our talents by sending us to the best schools of learning. After we have been trained, the same millionaire goes on to use more of his resources to open up markets to enable us to use the talents he has developed in us. He willingly gives all that we need to succeed. That’s grace - it’s not about us but God working in us.
 
Resurrection Sunday bids us “Arise”. Jesus Christ did arise from the dead about 2 centuries ago. He gave the Holy Spirit to his disciples so that they would arise and bring his message of forgiveness far and wide without fear, which they did. How about us?  May each one of us arise to fulfil all that God has called us to do!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Choose Right, Live Right Part 2

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
“He is no fool to give what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” When Jim Eliott made this statement, he may have been applying Mark 8:36-38, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels." With these questions, Jesus challenges us to think about our real focus in life. We believe we will live with Jesus Christ in eternity. How is this fact lived out in our daily lives? Are we living in anticipation of his commendation when he comes again in glory? Are we focused on the temporal things of this world? Our daily focus determines how we live.
 
People without Christ have nothing better to live for. So their lives are portrayed by chasing after earthly things – eating, drinking and material possessions. The more they have, the more successful they think they are. There is nothing wrong with eating, drinking and material possessions. However, that should not be the main goal of our lives. We should live for what is eternal and not what is temporary.
 
That means refocusing whatever we do to reflect Christ’s Kingdom in our daily lives. If we are businessmen, we apply Christian principles in the conduct of our business. As workers, we work keeping in mind that Christ is our true boss. In the home, we inculcate Kingdom values in our children. We train them to have values and concerns and priorities and relationships as citizens of God’s kingdom. I am sure every parent is concerned that their children have a good education and future. That is not a bad thing but that is also not the only thing in life. Our children should also learn to put Christ first. It is good to celebrate good grades, goals and the achievements of our children at home. But parents should also celebrate the fruit of godliness, humility, purity, stewardship and self-sacrifice in their children.
 
In the use of our mind too, we should be kingdom-focused. We may need to think intentionally about making needed changes to reflect our kingdom focus. What can we do to be a better steward of our leisure and entertainment? That means intentionally checking how much time we spend on TV, games, net surfing, etc. We compare that with the daily time we spend reading the Bible, prayer and Christian fellowship. If the gap is wide, we need to cut down on our entertainment and use the time for our spiritual pursuits. After all, which one has temporal and which one has eternal value?
 
In choosing Jesus over the things of this world, we are not exchanging one form of slavery over another. The cross of faith is light compared to the yoke of sin we once bore. This is because the resurrection power of Jesus empowers us to bear it. That is why we can align ourselves with God’s Will. The Holy Spirit empowers us to do so, as we walk in faith. We put into practice the right focus in life. We will take up our cross, i.e. our Christian responsibilities, and see them for what they really are - the source of freedom in Christ. When we take on the burden of charity, we are freed from the weight of greed. When we take on the burden of humility, we are freed from the weight of arrogance. When we take on the burden of mercy, we are freed from the weight of anger and guilt. In Him, we find the power to live right.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Choose Right, Live Right





































In the hours before Jesus was crucified, we see examples of cowardice by his disciples. They fled as he was arrested, Peter denied him. The only apostle present at the cross where Jesus died was John. Yet, in the early days of the church as seen in Acts, we see these same disciples acting as lions proclaiming Christ. What made the difference? It was the fact that they knew Jesus was not dead but risen. His resurrection and victory over death energized his disciples. They now had the courage to make the right choices in life. They now knew how to live right because the resurrection gave them the power to do that.
 
This is a daily challenge that confronts us today too. Do we live as a citizen of Heaven or of Earth? There are so many choices that seem right to us. How do we know we have chosen to make the right decision? In Mark 8, we see Jesus himself confronting his disciples with their very understanding of him, “but what about you… who do you say I am?” (Mark 8:29). It is only with the power of understanding Christ that they were able to make the right decisions in life. Only after Jesus’ resurrection, did the disciples know how to make the right decisions to live as citizens of heaven as they carried out their Christ’s mission for them.
 
Our choosing to do the will of God should guide our decision-making. When we consistently follow this principle, we will see the resurrection power is working in us. We will see God’s grace empowering us to live right.
 
Peter has just proclaimed in Mark 8:29 that Jesus is the Messiah, the chosen one. After that proclamation, Jesus explains to his close friends that there is more to salvation than feeding the hungry or leading a political revolution. He tells them that being the Messiah also meant he must suffer and die and then rise again from the dead. However, Peter does not want to hear about suffering and dying. He finds that unacceptable. He takes Jesus aside and “rebukes” him, “C’mon Jesus. You’re God. You don’t need to suffer. We came to you to escape suffering. We came to you to escape the oppression of the religious leaders. This is crazy talk. We’ve seen what you can do; we know no one can beat you.”
 
What is Jesus’ response? “Get behind me, Satan! You are thinking in human and not divine terms”. Peter’s words were actually a heady temptation to Jesus. Jesus clearly knew about the suffering of the poor and the oppressed people of Palestine. He had divine power and could have overthrown, if he wanted to, the Roman Empire and taken over the government. He could have fixed all social injustice and cured all of the diseases of the world. To use modern terminology, he could have created a society where the standard of living was unimaginable.
 
But that was not his objective. His objective was to do the will of the Father. That is why he rebuked Peter with these words, “You do not have in mind the things of God”. To Jesus, the will of the Father was most important above all. Think about it for a moment. The Bible tells us that Jesus was God himself. Yet he obediently followed his Heavenly Father’s will. And if Jesus, the perfect and sinless man chose to put obedience to God above all, then can you and I live a God-pleasing life by doing anything less?
 
Genesis 1:1 says God is the maker of Heaven and Earth. We read that in the Apostle’s Creed too. He is the same God, who so loved the world that he gave his one and only son so that whoever among us believes in him would be saved. Imagine God, the all-powerful, all-knowing maker of Heaven and Earth, becoming your kind and loving Heavenly Father. How awesome is that to you? Surely his Will must be worth following.
 
Whose will do we really follow in life? Is it God or the world? If we want to know whose will, all we have to do is examine what we do with our time and money. I heard Tim Keller preach this once. Tim is a Presbyterian pastor in New York City. He said that if anything replaces God as the object of your heart’s affection, that object becomes your god (small g). Are there any other gods that we serve - golf, cars, money, careers, online gaming, anime watching, pornography, high fashion, even our own talents? The list goes on. Let us think about what is really the central object of our heart’s affection. Who really sits on the throne in our hearts-God’s will or our own?  Would you stop coming to church near exam time? Then your exam results and not God sits on the throne of your hearts. Do you work yourself to exhaustion to the point where the Bible and prayer becomes just an option in your daily life? Then your career is now your idol and has replaced God’s will for your life. Do you rush back from school and go online immediately to chat, play games online or download videos for hours ignoring Jesus who wants to chat with you? Then your internet activities have become your idol. When we place anyone or anything above our Almighty God, we are choosing to disregard God’s will and follow that false idol’s will.
 
No amount of earthly success will carry us into eternity. We cannot even carry our symbols of earthly success into heaven. So, let us rest in Christ and in Him, find the power to choose boldly on how to live right.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Person God Uses

 
How can we be used effectively by God? In the confrontation with the prophets of Baal, Elijah prayed: “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command” (1 Kings 18:36). In this prayer, we see how God can use a person effectively.
 
The person God uses is filled with a passion for God’s glory – “Let it be known that today YOU are God in Israel”. Elijah cared only for one thing - God’s glory. He could well have been thinking of the ruined altars, dead prophets and priests in Israel and in his heart prayed, “enough is enough, this day let the people see that you truly are God.”
 
The man God uses is fully convicted that he is God’s servant – “and that I am your servant.” A servant does not tell his master what to do or argues when his master tells him the plan. He just goes ahead and does it. When God told Elijah to hide in the Kerith Ravine, he does that immediately. When God tells him to go and see Ahab, he does the same. This was Elijah’s attitude throughout his life – a life that was surrendered, yielded and emptied for the master’s use.
 
The man God uses does only what God tells him to do - “I am your servant”. To know God’s plan is to know his purpose and to know his purpose is to be able to do his work successfully. I think this is the key to being of effective service. We normally ask God to endorse our steps but I am sure Elijah consulted God every step of the way. The text just tells us that he went appeared before the people but I am sure that while waiting, he was praying. We note that he did not unveil the contest details earlier when he told Ahab to assemble the Baal prophets for the contest on Mount Carmel. It could be that Elijah himself, at that point, did now how this contest was to be fought. It could be that while awaiting the people to assemble, Elijah was in prayer up on that cold mountain, seeking God’s Will. He had seen God lead him for so many years. So he waited on God to show him the remaining steps so that everyone would see it was the hand of God and not of Elijah that brought about the defeat of the false prophets of Baal.
 
If we want to accomplish God’s purposes, first we need to pray. It was the hard work of praying for the people on the mountain that turned their hearts to the true God. That is a good lesson for us on how Elijah succeeded. His nature and circumstances are no different from us. What made the difference was that he was willing to commit time to discern what God’s will was. Then, once he knew he went ahead and did it.
 
We all know how this story ends. God sends down fire to consume the sacrifice of Elijah, proving who the true God was. Normally, we pray to get God to endorse what we want to do. But Elijah prayed to find out what God’s will was. Then when he found out what God’s will was, he went ahead and did what God wanted done. That’s how a servant of God gets God’s Word done. Perhaps, that is how we need to see ourselves. We should ask our great God for a humble heart to do what he requires of us, whether big or small. God may well choose us not to do great things like Elijah but tasks that are insignificant in the eyes of many people. Yet, let us do them anyway. What is important is that we let God use our lives the way he wants to and not the way we want to.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Jesus - A Picture of Grace





















It is interesting that John, the Gospel writer, chose to sandwich the trial of Jesus (John 18:19-24) between Peter’s first and subsequent denials of Jesus. So, even as Jesus appeared before Annas the High Priest, Peter had already denied him. Before that, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas had already betrayed Jesus, despite having been Jesus’ close companion for three years. Even as Jesus was arrested, all his disciples ran away. After investing three years of his life in them, Jesus finds none of his followers faithful to him. There he was the most powerful person in creation and yet here he had no support. What aggravated the situation even more was the fact that he was being tried on unjust charges. What would you and I do if we in Jesus’ unfair position? When life is not fair, we do everything in our power to make it fair for us. At that moment, Jesus could have showed his power and called down ten legions of angels to defend himself but he did not. If he had defended himself, we will have to agree that he was justified in doing so. However, had he done so, we would still be lost in our sins.  If he did not shed his blood on the cross, salvation would still be out of our reach and we would still face an eternity in Hell.

What we have here is a wonderful picture of the kind of grace and mercy that God extends to us sinners. Although Jesus was equal to God the father, he did not cling to his rights to defend himself from humiliation, shame and death. Instead, he willingly embraced his destiny because only then could all of us be reconciled with God. One commentator described love as a whole-hearted commitment to the other person’s welfare and well-being. I am sure many people have met a guy or girl who made them feel all warm and nice as they keep each other company. But what we see is that, to Jesus, love was more than a fuzzy-wuzzy warm feeling kindling in one’s heart.  It was a commitment to ensure that we would go to Heaven whatever it cost him to ensure that. The world says “love your neighbours but hate your enemies” but Jesus says, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44).  The world says “do to others what they do to you”.  So, if others hurt us it is justified for us to hurt them back. However, Jesus says “do unto others what you want them to do to you.” So if we want to be loved, we must go out and love others first. If we want people to forgive us, let us learn to forgive others first.  That is why, in the Bible, we will find many instances where it teaches us, “do not be overcome by evil, instead overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21), “do not repay evil for evil and insult for insult, but with blessing…” (1 Pet 3:9). Jesus did not just teach these things to his disciples and ordered them to follow his teachings, as the world often does. Instead, he lived out his teachings as John 18 shows us.

Therefore, the question posed to us is how much are we like our Master, who gave his life for us? Do we love only those who love us? Do we care for the well-being of only those important to us? Do we only forgive those who we deem ‘worthy’ of our forgiveness? Or do we want to be like Jesus, extending grace and mercy to all who come across our path.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A New Hope



 















In my childhood, on the days leading to Chinese New Year, there were long queues at the bank for new dollar notes for hongbaos. Department stores were crowded by people buying new pillows, new sheets, etc. The house would be cleaned thoroughly - every piece of furniture, every corner, door, window etc. Many re-painted their house to coincide with Chinese New Year. People would bring their children to buy new clothes and get a haircut. There would be a rush for CNY goodies and bakkwa at the last minute. That is a lot of things to do in such a short time. Is it also your experience?

The tradition of Chinese New Year is the old has gone, the new has come. So we give new money, we wear new clothes and we want the house to look new. It is a celebration of newness. Thus, I understand the need for last minute shopping. Things bought at the last minute are still new in the New Year. The last-minute shopping displays the willingness to get ready for the arrival of the New Year. The emphasis on newness is embraced and celebrated with the newness that it brings. So, we need not think negatively of people who do last-minute shopping.

Children are usually excited by the newness surrounding them. The idea of newness should excite us too. “Then I saw a NEW heaven and NEW earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea”, Rev 21:1. At the end of the Bible in Revelation, John the Apostle gives us a vision of the final stage of God’s redemption plan. We are promised a hope of newness. This should make us excited and restless for the coming of this newness that will be eternal.

In the first 20 chapters of Revelation, John uses dramatic symbols to show God’s judgments on creation, the war between the satanic forces and God’s people and the final defeat of Satan. John then closes with the final judgment where everything that is not of God is thrown into the lake of fire. If the Bible ended here at Rev 20, God’s people would face a dreary existence. Much of creation would still be devastated. However, as we turn to Rev 21-22, we see John describing the glorious inheritance awaiting all of God’s people. For the Christian, judgment day is past since Jesus took the judgment we deserved. Instead, at the end of history, words of blessing await us - ‘Well done good and faithful servant’, ‘Let the little children come to me’, ‘Nothing can separate you from my love’, etc. A new creation will replace the present heaven and earth. The word ‘new’ means unworn, unused, fresh, original, etc. God is making all things new because he wants all things new, the best, for his children. Isn’t that the same with you? If you had something new to use or wear, would you want to go back and pick some old clothes to wear?

The Bible describes the Christian as a ‘new creation’. This newness is a miracle wrought by God. At the beginning of this Chinese New Year, let us continue to embrace this newness as we continue our journey of faith together. Let me close by wishing all of you XinNianMengEn, AiZuGengShen. May the blessing of this new life given to you by our Lord Jesus bring a deepening of your love for him.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Facing the Future Together

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Numbers 21 tells of a new generation poised to enter the Promised Land. The old generation, because of unbelief, had been judged by God as unworthy to enter the Promised Land (Num 14:20-24). They were now all were dead. It was a new chapter and new generation in Israelite history.
 
Yet one thing remained unchanged – the same God of their fathers was with them. When the King of Arad attacked them, they turned to him (Num 21:1-3). The same God who had delivered their fathers from Egyptian slavery again delivered them from their enemies. When they rebelled against God and had to face the consequences of their sin, they confessed to God that they had sinned (Num 21:7). God graciously forgave them by telling Moses to make a bronze serpent. Those who looked up at it in faith did not die of snakebite poisoning. This God is the same faithful God who provided their disobedient parents and grandparents with food and water. And this same faithful God gave his one and only son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for us. He did it so we can be reconciled with him when we look at the cross in faith and say, ‘yes, I believe that Christ died for my sins.” This same God is with us today as we worship him and pray to him. Isn’t it comforting to know that same all-powerful God who parted the Red Sea is in our midst and walks and talks with us today?
 
We have just moved into a New Year. I am sure all of us think of new starts when we come in to a new year. We do not want to answer “same old, same old” when others ask about our life. Do we look forward to all the challenges, opportunities and blessings that will come our way in 2014? We should because the Christian life is an ever-moving forward life. To move forward is to grow, which is God’s plan for us – that we may be conformed to the image of his son Jesus.
 
How are we to face 2014? Some people will face it with apprehension and feelings of intimidation. The global economy has recovered a little but no one can predict how it will go. Singapore’s economy is very much dependent on the global economy. All it takes is for commodity prices to increase and our exports to decline and we will face job uncertainty. Just like the Israelites in Numbers 21, we face trials from without. Despite an uncertain future, we can face it if we walk in faith with God and with one another. That is how the Israelites overcame their challenges, united as a people with the blessing of God.
 
God expects us to walk through uncertain circumstances as a body of Christ, not on our own. Shrinking resources and an uncertain global economy pose a threat to our community life together because in uncertain times, the tendency is to give up on our life together. We want to use more and more time protecting our personal rice bowls. But God means for us to face it together. We honour him by doing it together. When was the last time you had a meaningful fellowship with someone outside your own fellowship of church friends? When was the last time you went up to someone outside your regular circle and invited them to lunch? Uncertain though 2014 may be, we can look forward in faith because God is with us. May we always remember that we belong to God’s people; pilgrims on a sacred journey to our eternal destiny with our glorious Lord Jesus.