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?