Sunday, December 27, 2009

What Mary kept in her heart, Part 1

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Friday, December 4, 2009

Hungry, and don't know what you're eating?

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Terrible times in the last days.

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Of falling rain, rising floods and buffeting winds.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Take no thought, make no boast.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

A time for mourning.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A matter of life and death.

Tuesday, 29Sep2009. Philippians 1: 21 - 24, 3: 4b - 7 NIV

I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 1: 23, 24

The apostle Paul was torn between life and death. For him, to go on living in this world is to labour fruitfully for Christ, but to die and be with Christ is far better.

On one hand, he had all the reasons to live and to enjoy a meaningful and prestigious life in this world. He was a true Jew, born into a respectable family, of the tribe of Benjamin, a "Hebrew of Hebrews". He was highly educated, a practising Pharisee who persecuted the Christian church with great zeal. And no one could find fault with him with regards to keeping the Mosaic Law. Therefore, he said of himself,

If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more. 3: 4b

Yet, on the other hand, after he became a Christian, the apostle Paul realised "the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ" (3: 8). Twice in 3:7-8, he stated that he considered all his accomplishments as "loss" for the sake of the Lord.

I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 3: 8

So what was Paul's conclusion? He wrote in 1: 24, ". . . but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body."

Dear Christian, let us emulate the apostle in choosing between life and death. Let us say together with him, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." Galatians 2: 20 NKJV

Monday, September 28, 2009

More than the eyes can see.

Monday, 28Sep09: 1 Chronicles 28: 9, 10 NIV

And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind v.9

King David had done everything within his power to ensure that his son, Solomon, would be successful in building the temple of the LORD. In 1 Chronicles 22, we read that he had recruited immigrant labourers and skilled masons, stonecutters and carpenters. He had men skilled in every kind of work - "craftsmen beyond number" (1 Chronicles 22: 15)

He had also imported many tons of cedar wood from Tyre and Sidon. He had taken great pains to allocate a hundred thousand talents of gold and a million talents of silver. Altogether it was virtually impossible to measure all the bronze and iron, wood and stone that were made available. King David wanted to make sure that there were adequate resources for the mammoth task ahead of Solomon, down to the smallest iron nail! (1 Chronicles 22: 4, 14)

However, it appears that gold and silver alone was not enough. There was something missing. Something more than the eyes can see.

And this could only be found in Solomon's heart and mind. When commissioning Solomon for the divine task, Kind David knew there was a vital, crucial requirement: Solomon was to have wholehearted devotion and a willing mind (1 Chronicles 28: 9).

. . . for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.
Dear Christians, let us remind ourselves that our God searches our hearts and understands our motives. God wants more than the things we prepare with our hands. We need to have more than our eyes can see. We need wholeheartedness and willing minds.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Let Us Imitate God

Sunday, 27Sep2009. Ephesians 4: 25 - 5: 2 NIV, TEV
(Sermon delivered: Wesley Methodist Kampar on 09Aug09, Ipoh Garden Baptist 27Sep09)

Introduction
One of the most demanding tasks for parents when bringing up children is to teach them to understand reason - the "why" behind all the things they should or shouldn't do. Very often this appears possible only after the child has begun learning how to talk, usually when they're about two years old. This ability to reason continues to develop in them, perhaps even throughout their adult lives, to enable the individual to make decisions and choices in life.

The ability to reason is also necessary for Christians to understand and put into practice the teachings of our Lord and of his apostles. In today's passage, the instructions in verses 25 - 32, calling Christians in Ephesus to put an end to their old way of life, and to replace them with a new one, is based on some assertions and elaborate reasoning explained by the apostle Paul in the preceding verses of 17 - 24.

Firstly, Paul asserted that:
  • The thoughts of the Gentiles (heathen) are futile
  • Their understanding is darkened (v.17)
  • Their hearts are hardened (v.18)
  • They are separated from the Life of God (v.18)
  • And they live without restraint (v.19)

In contrast, Paul reasoned with the Ephesian Christians:
  • You did not learn about Christ in that way (the way of the Gentiles, as asserted above)
  • You have heard, and you were taught, with certainty, the truth in Christ:
  • to put off - the old self which is corrupted by deceitful desires
  • to renew - your attitude / hearts and minds (TEV) v.23
  • to put on - the new self after God's likeness, which is righteous and holy in His sight.
Thus, on the basis that "you did not learn Christ that way", every Christian is called to abandon his old person and to adopt a new God-like one. This is a call to everyone who believes in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, that we should imitate God.

This morning's passage presents to us a three-fold call to imitate God - a call to abandon the old self (v 25 - 31), along with a call to adopt a new self (v. 24 - 32) and finally a call to assume a vigilant life (v.27 and 30)

I The call to abandon the old self.
"put off" v.22 (NIV)

Verses 25 to 31 tells us to put off the things of the past:
  • No more lying, v.25
  • No more sinning in anger, v.26: this includes, in v.31, no more bitterness, pasion, anger, shouting, insults, and hateful feelings of any sort.
  • No more stealing (NIV) or robbery (TEV) v.28
  • Ans similarly, there is a call to cease using harmful words (TEV) v. 29 or unwholesome talk (NIV).
II. The call to adopt a new self.
"put on" v.24

In contrast to the call to abandon our old person, and intertwined within the same passage, from verses 24 to 32, is a call for us to put on a new person, to be "renewed in the spirit of your minds" as verse 23 says:
  • Start telling the truth v.25 - "everyone" (TEV), "each of you"(NIV)
- to fellow believers
- because we are members of the body of Christ.
  • Start working v.28 - "doing something useful with own hands" (NIV), "earn an honest living" (TEV)
- to help the poor (TEV)
- to share with those in need (NIV)
  • Start using helpful words, v.29 - words that build up, that "do good to those who hear" (TEV) or "benefit" (NIV)
  • Start being kind and tender-hearted, v.32 - "compassionate" (NIV), and forgiving one another
- as God has forgiven us, in Christ.

And finally, in the midst of these two calls, there is:

III. The call to assume a vigilant life.
We are called to be vigilant in our actions
  • v.27 Do not give the Devil a chance (TEV) or a foothold (NIV)
- this verse may be understood in the context of v.25 - quoting Psalm 4: 4 - "do not sin in your anger"

In your anger, do not sin. When you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Psalm 4: 4
  • v.30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit (NIV) or make God's Spirit sad (TEV)
The Holy Spirit of God is a seal or mark in us to "certify" his ownership over us. It is also a "guarantee" of our redemption on the day of the coming of the Lord.

Conclusion
Ephesians 5: 1, 2: Let us imitate God, as beloved children, and live a life of love, as Christ loved us by giving himself up for us - as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Joyful Procession vs Thankful Progression

Friday 11 Sep 2009. 1 Chronicles 15 and 16

And the children of the Levites bore the ark of God on their shoulders; by its poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the LORD. 15: 15

A Procession of Joyful Celebration
In 1 Chronicles chapter 15, we read about David bringing up the ark from the house of Obed Edom to Zion, the City of David (1 Chron 11: 5). This was carried out in a procession "with great joy" (15: 25). The procession was characterised by the following:
  • It was a large assembly - of the children of Aaron and the Levites, about 550 of them besides the captains of thousands.
  • It was a sacred task - the heads of the Levites, Zadok and Abiathar the priest and six other Levites sanctified themselves and their brethren.
  • It was to be entirely Levitical - only Levites were appointed as singers, and only the Levites could be musicians who played strings, harps, cymbals and trumpets. Again, only the Levites could be chosen to "raise their voice with resounding joy" and to be doorkeepers (15: 23, 24).
  • It was a joyful celebration - King David himself was in the procession, whirling in his dance and playing music (15: 29).
A Progression of Thankful Commemoration
In contrast, after the ark arrived and was installed in the tabernacle, the loud, joyful and spontaneous celebration was replaced by a more orderly and meticulous order of sacrifice and psaltery in a very carefully planned progression of thanksgiving.

As we move into 1 Chronicles chapter 16, we read about the giving of thanks for the ark in the tabernacle that David had erected for it, "to commemorate, to thank, to praise" (16:4). In this chapter, we can notice clearly an orderly progression of steps from beginning to end of David's thanksgiving service:
  • Firstly, the service began with burnt offerings and peace offerings
  • When this was completed, David then blessed the people in the name of God.
  • Then the appointed Levites carried out their duty to minister, commemorate, thank and praise the LORD using strings, harps and cymbals. Trumpets were blown regularly.
  • After this, David handed over to Asaph, the chief musician, and his brothers, a psalm that David had composed, to thank the LORD (16: 8 - 36)
  • Finally, all the people said, "AMEN" together and praised the LORD
After the thankful commemoration service was over, Asaph and his brothers remained in the tabernacle to minister regularly as required daily: as gatekeepers, to offer burnt offerings regularly in the mornings and evenings, to give thanks and to sing to the LORD.

So, while 1 Chronicles 15 records a Joyful Procession that brought the ark back to the City of David, the following chapter 16 depicts a Thankful Progression of commemoration and dedication in the tabernacle of the LORD.

Let us ask God to help us learn from 1 Chronicles 15 and 16 today: to distinguish Procession from Progression, to know when to come out in Joyful celebration and when to assemble for Thankful dedication.

And like the Levites who continued their priestly duties as gatekeepers, and performers of daily burnt offerings, in giving thanks and in their singing to the LORD, let us learn to continue likewise to worship our God in awe and reverence from day to day.

Rehoboam's mistake, and his mitigation.

Friday, 11 Sep 2009, 2 Chronicles 10: 1 - 11: 23 NIV

But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him.
10: 8

Jeroboam the rebel had returned from his Egyptian exile after the death of King Solomon. Along with his supporters in Israel, and as a condition for their loyalty to the new King, he had demanded that King Rehoboam son of Solomon reduce the burden of harsh labour that his father Solomon had imposed on them.

Rehoboam first consulted the elders who had served his late father. They advised him to treat Jeroboam and his supporters kindly and favourably. Jeroboam's faction happened to comprise the majority of "all Israel" apart from those who lived in the towns of Judah (10: 3, 17).

"They will always be your servants", the elders told Rehoboam wisely.

Rehoboam, however, did not like this advice. He did not like the idea of giving in to the demands of a rebel. And he sought "second opinion" from a group of young men who had grown up with him.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Young people go for contemporary ideas. They are tired of outdated ways of doing things. The wisdom of old men is completely irrelevant to them. It appears that this was already an issue among the young men of King Rehoboam's days.

And so, Rehoboam rejected the outdated elders' advice and adopted the more contemporary ideas of his buddy friends. When Jeroboam's delegation returned for his answer three days later, Rehoboam's reply was,

My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions . . . 10: 11, 14
This was a grave mistake. It resulted in a permanent split in the kingdom of God's people. The angry people of Israel stoned Adoniram, a commander under Rehoboam who was in charge of forced labour. And King Rehoboam was forced to flee in his chariot to Jerusalem in the south.

From that day, Israel in the north was described as being "in rebellion against the house of David" comprising Judah and Benjamin in the south (10:19).

King Rehoboam wanted to regain control over the northern kingdom of Israel. Soon after he arrived in Jerusalem, he gathered 180,000 warriors in preparation for his campaign against Jeroboam. But he was told not to proceed with the attack, in a prophecy from Shemaiah, a man of God.

This is what the LORD says: Do not go up to fight against your brothers. Go home, every one of you, for this is my doing. 11: 4

This time, it appears that King Rehoboam did the right thing. He and all his 180,00 fighting men obeyed the word of the LORD, abandoned their march and returned home.

In doing so, King Rehoboam had mitigated the severity of his initial error of rejecting the elders' advice. Although he would never be able to recover the loss of the northern kingdom of Israel, Rehoboam went on to fortify the cities of Judah and establish a large family by the grace of God. God gave him wisdom to rule over Judah successfully.

He acted wisely, dispersing some of his sons throughout the districts of Judah and Benjamin, and to all the fortified cities. He gave them abundant provisions and took many wives for them. 11:23

The lesson that can be learnt from today's reading is twofold. Firstly, it is costly to ignore the Godly wisdom of elders among the people of God. And secondly, inspite of our mistakes, we can mitigate the severity of the consequences by our subsequent obedience to His word.

May God help us to obey Him, even after we have rejected Him earlier.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Are you with God?

Wednesday, 09 Sep 2009. 2 Chronicles 15: 1 - 3 NIV

The LORD is with you when you are with him. v.2

I've often heard of people wishing one another, especially in Church and also during farewells, "May God be with you". During my undergraduate days in the university, we would sing "God be with you till we meet again . . ." .

Some years, later I read somewhere that the expression "Good-bye" had evolved from a contraction of "God be with all ye " in old English. So, each time we say good-bye to somebody, we are actually wishing God's presence to be with that person.

Little did I know that there is a verse buried deep within the OT that tells us another side to this common benediction: that we should be with God!

When Azariah son of Obed was sent to prophesy to King Asa and to all Judah and Benjamin, his message was not merely "God be with you." Instead, he added, " when you are with Him".

If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you. v2

This is a lesson for me: I shall learn to be with God the whole of today.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Endurance and Encouragement

Sunday 16Aug09 (Ipoh Garden Baptist Church)
Romans 15: 1-13 NIV

This post was completed on Tue 08Sep09

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. v4

During my early years as a young believer in the 70s, I was often impressed by accounts of church revival. Together with my fellow members in the Christian Fellowship, we often yearned for similar revivals in our church, revival in the manner of great preachers like Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley, John Sung or Billy Graham.

In today's passage, however, the Apostle Paul commends to us something more beneficial, more desirable and more abiding than revivals or renewals. It is Christian Endurance and Encouragement. Taken together, these elements appear vital and critical to the health of today's churches - in an increasingly ungodly word, where many believers are growing cold and are falling away from their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

This morning, let us ponder over a call by the Apostle Paul to the church at Rome to endure patiently in bearing with one another's failings, and to encourage one another with the Scriptures, to put our hope in God.

I Christian Endurance v 1 - 6

Christians often pose the question, "Who is my neighbour?" when narrating the Parable of the Good Samaritan, a parable which teaches us that the Samaritan showed kindness to a Jew - someone who is more of an enemy than a neighbour. Thus, our notion of a "scriptural" neighbour would be some kind of outsider, or foreigner, or an enemy of some sort.

Here in verse 2, however, the word neighbour is used by Paul to refer to our fellow believers in our church! We are asked to please our brother and sister, our "neighbour", to build him up. This is Christian Endurance.

Today we can teach ourselves three things about Christian Endurance from these six verses:

Firstly, Christian Endurance comes by pleasing our fellow believers, our brothers and sisters. Verse 1 tells us to bear with the failings of the weak. The NKJV uses the term "scruples of the weak", probably referring to the sensitive conscience of the believers who are weak in faith, as explained earlier in Romans 14: 1 - 4. Furthermore, verse 2 urges us to please our neighbour, to build him up.

Secondly, Christian Endurance comes by following the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. Verse 3 says, "Even Christ did not please himself". Verse 5: "As you follow Christ Jesus . . .", and verse 6 says, "just as Christ accepted you". In particular, verse 3 explains that the kind of endurance shown by our Lord Jesus fulfilled a prophecy recorded in Psalm 69: 9,

"The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me"
This reminds us of how our Lord endured reproaches in his ministry among the Jews in Palestine. For example, at his trial before Pontius Pilate, soldiers mocked him, stripped him, slapped him and spat on him. When he hung dying on the cross, the people ridiculed him, taunted him and challenged him to descend from the cross to prove that he was the Son of God. Such was the example of great endurance exemplified in our Lord's earthly ministry.

Thirdly, Christian Endurance comes by turning to God for his blessing. Verses 5 and 6 records a benediction from the Apostle, a form of prayer for God's blessing on the Roman Christians, that they will have the endurance to be united and to glorify God with one heart and one voice.

Brothers and Sisters, this morning the word of God calls us to be a people of great Endurance. We are to seek from God, the ability to endure as a united fellowship in the Body of Christ. We are to follow the example set by our Lord Jesus Christ, who did not please himself while he was among his people on earth. And we are to bear patiently with our "neighbours", the failings of our fellow believers, and in doing so, to build up our brothers and sisters in the Church.

II Christian Encouragement v 7 - 13

Beginning from verse 7, there is a distinct change in the subject of the Apostle's writing. Paul appears to shift his attention from Christian Endurance to Christian Encouragement. He moves from talking about pleasing our neighbour to talking about putting our hope in god.

While verses 1 - 6 points us to the past - the example of our Lord Jesus, verses 7 - 13 points us to the future - the prophecies of God's overall plan of salvation to include Gentiles as part of His people, the real Israel.

So, while v 1 - 6 talks about the strong bearing with the failings of the weak in the Church, v 7 - 13 talks about the Jews and the Gentiles in the Kingdom of God.

Similarly, while verses 1 and 2 tells us to please one another, v 7 tells us to accept one another in the Lord.

Also, while the first six verses teaches us how to build up, to edify one another, the next seven verses teaches us how to accept and encourage one another in our hope in God.

Finally, while verse 5 refers to God as the God of endurance (and encouragement), verse 13 refers to God as the God of hope

So, as we move on to the second half of today's pasage, we shift our attention to how we can find encouragement in the Scriptures - for our hope, our future, remembering, from v.4, that it is by "the encouragement of scriptures" that we might have hope.

A bold assertion
In v. 8, Paul asserts that Christ has become a servant of the Jews, to bring the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to their fathers, the patriarchs. Quite surprisingly, the next verse follows with the grand divine purpose: so that the Gentiles may also glorify God for his mercy! This must have been almost insurmountable for the Jewish Christians, both Hellenistic and Palestinian Jews, in the Roman Church to accept and to agree with.

In an apparent attempt to support his bold assertion with Scriptural basis, and perhaps to bring encouragement to the Gentile Christians in the church, the apostle quotes from four distinctly different parts of the OT:

  • 2 Samuel 22: 50 (cf Psalm 18: 49) (from David's song of deliverance from the hand of Saul): "I will give thanks to you among the Gentiles"
  • Deuteronomy 32: 43 (from the Song of Moses, just before invoking his final blessing on the people of Israel): "Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people"
  • Psalm 117: 1 "Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles, laud him, all you people"
  • Isaiah 11: 10 (a prophecy about the Messiah, referred to as the Root of Jesse): "And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, who shall stand as a banner to the people, for the Gentiles shall seek him, and his resting place shall be glorious"
Why did Paul put so much emphasis on, and paid so much attention to this matter of the Gentiles being included under God's mercies?

An elaborate explanation
In order to understand Paul's concern for the acceptance of Gentiles by the Jewish Christian community, it is helpful to take a brief look at his background and, particularly, what he had written in the earlier chapters of this epistle. Of all the epistles written by Paul, this epistle to the church at Rome probably carries the most complete explanation of his understanding of the Gospel and of his instructions for Christian living.

Paul was a Hellenistic Jew, who grew up in Tarsus in Cilicia, and subsequently came to Jerusalem as a young scholar (Acts 8). As such, he was able to understand the sentiments of the Jews on one hand, and also the circumstances surrounding the Gentile Christians on the other. And earlier, in chapters 1 to 3, Paul had repeatedly emphasised that all people, both Jews and Gentiles, can be reconciled to God: all people, including the Jews, have sinned, all have fallen short of God's glory.

Then in chapters 4 to 8, Paul wrote at length about God's salvation in Jesus Christ, how we are made righteous, justified by Christ's death, how we can become dead to sin and be alive in Christ by putting our faith in Him, how we're set free from sin and become, instead, slaves of righteousness, living by the leading of the Holy Spirit.

And the Gospel of salvation doesn't stop there, for in chapters 9 - 11, we can see a broader view of God's plan of salvation for the world. In chapter 9, for instance, Paul pointed out that the election of God's chosen people in the NT Church is solely by His promise, and by His mercies alone, just as it had been with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the OT:

  • just as Isaac was a child of God's promise, born to Sarah and Abraham in their old age, by the great faith of Abraham, today we are children of God's promise of salvation in Christ.
  • just as Abraham's natural offspring, Ishmael, born out of his taking Hagar as second wife, was not recognised as God's child, today not all descendants of Abraham are God's children, asserting, "Not all descendants of Israel are Israel" Rom 9: 6

"It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned" Genesis 21: 12

  • and just as it was Jacob, and not Esau, of the twin sons of Isaac, was chosen by God even before they were born, today we are likewise chosen by God's mercy alone.
Sadly, chapters 9 and 10 also records Paul's elaboration on his deep sorrow for the Jews who rejected Jesus as their Messiah, a sorrow so deep that he wished he could be accursed from Christ if that could bring salvation to his fellow Jewish kinsmen.

However, in chapter 11, he turned from sorrow to hope and praise for God when he pointed out that, one day, when the full number of Gentiles have come into God's Kingdom, all Israel will be saved.

This, then, is our great Hope. This is our Christian Encouragement. We are the real Israel, called by God's mercies and chosen by His promise to be His people.

Conclusion
Today, we are reminded and called to practise Christian Endurance - to please our "neighbour", our fellow brother and sister and not to please ourselves, just as our Lord Jesus did not please himself but endured much insults and hostilities from the Jews.

In doing so, let us build up and edify one another continually. It is this on-going edification that is vital for the church to survive the ungodliness of the world in these last days.

Secondly, today we are called to promote Christian Encouragement - to put our hope in God, to trust him with all joy and peace, to overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our hope comes by the encouragement of Scripture - from God's promise to Abraham, his promised son Isaac, his chosen offspring Jacob right down to the tribe of Jesse, to King David, and finally to the fulfilment and confirmation of that promise in our Lord Jesus Christ. By faith in Christ, we Gentiles have, along with the Jews, become God's chosen people.

In this we have hope: our inheritance is from God.

---- Completed on Tue 08Sep09 ---------

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

If I have not . . .

Tuesday 28July09 1 Corinthians 13: 1 - 13NIV

and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. v2

This morning I read a letter written by a grandfather to a newspaper editor expressing his dismay at being treated rudely by a teacher at his grandson's school.

He had been asked to go to the school to fetch his grandson home because the child had fallen ill from food poisoning. At the school office, he was required to sign some papers. The teacher who attended to the procedure refused to talk to him, neither replying his greetings nor acknowledging him when he said, "Thank you" before leaving.

In his own words, this grandfather deplored the rudeness of that teacher,

"Not once during the whole procedure did he look me in the face. His movements and attitude throughout were perfunctory and he behaved as if I had the audacity to impinge on his peace and privacy."

It appears that whatever education and training that this teacher has undergone, and whatever experience and knowledge that he has acquired, are all in vain: for he doesn't have any kindness in his heart. Without the goodwill and good manners arising out of a kind heart, this teacher has become worthless. In the sight of pupils and parents alike, he is nothing.

Similarly, the apostle Paul writes in verses 1 - 3 that he would be nothing if he had no love in his heart.

Without God's love, it wouldn't have mattered if Paul could speak in all the languages of men and angels. Without love, it wouldn't have meant anything if he had all the wisdom, understanding and knowledge of all the mysteries of this world.

Nor would it have mattered at all if Paul had such great faith that he could move mountains. And even if he had given away all his possessions to the poor, including giving up his own body to be burned, Paul said of himself, without love, "I am nothing"

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. v.4-7

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, let us be concerned about having God's love in our hearts. It is that which matters most. Let us beware, lest we fall into the same error as the rude school-teacher who had no kindness in his heart.

If I have not the love of God, I am nothing.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Under the shadow of God.

Monday 27July09 Psalm 91: 1 - 16 NKJV

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty v1

It was sometime in early 1981, in my fourth semester in University. I was admitted to University Hospital in Petaling Jaya for severe abdominal pain. An operation was performed and the surgeons discovered that I had suffered from a perforated appendix. After the appendectomy, I was put on intravenous penicillin, among other medications, and was confined to rest in bed for about five days. A drain tube was attached to my abdominal cavity, the peritonium, and led to a pump in a large glass jar on the floor, draining out what appeared to be pus that had accumulated from the infected appendix.

The post-operative pain was very bad and I had little sleep on the first couple of nights during recuperation. Many church members and varsity CF members visited me to cheer me up. Some of them brought cards, others gave me books, while others brought gifts. An old missionary lady from Canada serving with the OMF, Miss Ferne Blair, brought me a jar of vaseline for my cracked lips and prayed for me. I enjoyed the atttention very much, and was beginning to feel somewhat important!

Then one afternoon, a brother named Eddie came to visit me. He was alone. And he came in empty handed. After having got used to receiving gifts and cards from virtually every brother and sister, I was about to feel a little "disappointed" with Eddie, when he greeted me,

"Brother Peng You, I have not brought you any thing today, but I have brought you something more valuable than gifts. I'd like to share with you Psalm 91."

And he proceeded to read Psalm 91 to me. I was very moved and encouraged, particularly by the first two verses and this special gift from brother Eddie has stayed with me all these years.

This morning I am reminded of Eddie's special gift: to dwell in the shelter of the Most High and to abide under His shadow. Then I can say with the Psalmist,

"He is my refuge, and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust" v2

Dear brothers and sisters, let us live under the shadow of God Almighty.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Between obedience and expedience.

Tuesday 14July09: Mark 6: 14 - 29 NIV

Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. v20

Herod was in a dilemma. On one hand, he respected John the Baptist and regarded him as an upright and holy person. He liked to listen to John's teaching. On the other hand, he was often perplexed by what he heard, particularly on obedience to the law of God.

John had been telling Herod that it was unlawful for him to have married Herodias, the wife of his brother Phillip (v18). However, Herod feared his wife Herodias, and didn't want to spoil his good reputation among the military commanders and leaders of Galilee, should he divorce her on the advice of a lowly poor man like John.

John the Baptist: a man known for spending much of his time in the wilderness, dressed in garments of camel hair and eating locusts with wild honey, a man almost unheard of among the circles of Galilean high society.

For his boldness, John was sent to prison by Herod at the behest of Herodias who was infuriated by his rebuke and, if not for Herod's intervention and protection, would have succeeded in getting John executed.

So, whilst Herod respected John the Baptist and protected his life in prison, he could not bring himself to take the step of obedience to God regarding his adulterous marriage to Herodias. He didn't want to offend his political friends. He simply had too much at stake. Herod had to choose between obedience and expedience, between what is politically advantageous and what is right and just.

It was a dilemma. As Herod continued to delay his decision, John continues to languish in prison.

Sadly, as the story in this passage goes, eventually, in a moment of carelessness, Herod was forced to order the execution of John the Baptist. At last he made a choice, although it was not entirely his choice to begin with. For the sake of maintaining his expedience with his friends in high society, the army generals, the lords and the influential leaders of Galilee, and particularly for the sake of keeping his hasty promise to Herodias' daughter, Herod had to forgo his obedience to God. He had to forsake his good friend John the Baptist. He had to have John beheaded. At last, Herodias got to carry out her grudge against John the Baptist.

At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: "I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter." The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. v25, 26

What a tragedy, of such a powerful man in Galilee who showed such weakness and cowardice in the face of choosing between obedience to God and expediency among men.

Herod chose expedience over obedience. What would you choose today?

Monday, July 13, 2009

The lips of a priest.

Monday 13July09: Malachi 2: 1 - 9 NKJV

The law of truth was in his mouth, and injustice was not found on his lips. v6

The LORD rebuked the priests for having departed from the Law and causing many Israelites to stumble. He reminded them of His covenant with Levi, which they have corrupted, a covenant of "life and peace" (v.5) which Levi kept in fear and reverence towards God.

The law of truth was in his mouth,
And injustice was not found on his lips.
He walked with Me in peace and equity,
And turned many away from iniquity.

The sons of Levi had kept the covenant by their words. They spoke forth, justly, the "law of truth". They walked with the LORD. And all that they had said and done was founded on the basis of one divine requirement, "the lips of a priest":

For the lips of a priest should keep knowledge,
And people should seek the law from his mouth;
For he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts

Indeed, the covenant of God with his priest is to be kept by their speaking forth his knowledge to all the people of Israel. It is from the mouth of the priest that the people seek God's teaching. And thus, the priest, by keeping such divine knowledge in his lips, performs his duty as the messenger of God.

Dear Christians, today we have also been called by God to priestly duties. We can read in 1 Peter 2: 5, 9 that we have been chosen, and are being built up, as a "royal priesthood". Yes, indeed, we are priests to our Lord and King. We are messengers of God. Like the Levitical priests in the OT, the truth of the Gospel should be found in our mouths, "turning many away from iniquity".

The lips of a priest - they should keep knowledge.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Christian Convocation.

Sunday, 12Jul09: Jude 24, 25 NIV

To him who is able to keep you from falling . . .v 24

To convoke is to call people together, to assemble formally in one place. Thus, a formal assembly of people for some official ceremony is called a convocation. In some traditional churches, the term convocation refers to an assembly of clergy in a diocese. And we are all familiar with the convocation of university students, with their family and faculty members, on graduation day.

During convocation, three kinds of presentations are noteworthy. Firstly, each graduand walks up on stage to be "presented" to the Chancellor of the university by the Dean, as having fulfilled all that is required of him in his course of study.

Secondly, the graduand is "presented" with his scroll by the Chancellor - an instrument by which the graduand is conferred a degree from the University: be it a Bachelor's, Master's or Doctorate degree.

Finally, the graduand is "presented" to the entire audience in the convocation hall, not the least to his parents, guardians, family and his friends.

Every Convocation of graduating students is an occasion of great joy and celebration. The graduand looks back at the years of hard work that is now behind him with a great sense of accomplishment. His family and friends are all very proud of him. And the faculty of lecturers look at each convocation with great satisfaction.

We Christians, too, have our convocation. It can be likened to our graduation day, a day when we will be presented before the glorious presence of our God:

To him who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy - to the only wise God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ ourLord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen
Let us look forward to our Convocation. On that day, all of us who have been kept from falling, who are without fault, will be presented before our glorious God. It will be a day of great joy.

Every spiritual blessing

Sunday 12July09: Ephesians 1: 3 - 14 NIV

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ v.3

This morning my Pastor pointed out the many blessings that God has bestowed on all of us who believe in Jesus Christ. I have read this passage many times before, but this is the first time I realise that I have missed an important conjunction,"for" in v. 4, which explains Paul's assertion about spiritual blessings in heavenly realms.

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight

This word "for" appears to be a gateway in this passage that allows us to traverse a list of of blessings which God has already blessed us with, as follows:

  • we have been chosen in Christ, even before Creation, to be holy and blameless in his sight,
  • we were predestined to be adopted as his children, through Christ,
  • we have been redeemed (the pastor said, "purchased, bought back") through his blood, and are forgiven of our sins
  • to us have been revealed the mystery (plan - kept secret from Israel for a long time), of his will, a very long term plan, to be fulfilled in the years to come.
  • we have an inheritance from God's riches, and
  • we have a guarantee, or seal, of that inheritance - the Holy Spirit
And throughout the passage, these blessings are recounted by the apostle Paul repeatedly with the expression, "according to the pleasure of His will"(v. 5, 9, 11).

Dear Christians, we are indeed a blessed people. We have an inheritance from God, guaranteed by His Spirit who is in us. Let us ponder over every spiritual blessing that God our Father has bestowed upon us according to His divine purpose.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A name above every name.

Thursday 9Jul09: Isaiah 45: 22 - 25 NKJV

Look to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth! v22

In verse 23 of this passage, Isaiah prophesied that God, having sworn by his own name, had spoken in righteousness that to Him every knee shall bow and every tongue shall take an oath (or vow, or swear NIV). The apostle Paul, when writing about the judgment seat of Christ, quoted this verse in Romans 14: 11, from the LXX:

As I live, says the LORD, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.

I pondered over the meaning of "every tongue take an oath" and "every tongue confess to God". What shall every one vow and confess on the day of judgment? What is this great confession that God had spoken of through his prophet Isaiah in the OT, so great that God had even sworn to it by his own name?

Later, on reading Philippians 2: 9 - 11 (NKJV) I found the answer. The apostle Paul wrote that, because our Lord Jesus had humbled Himself in obedience to the point of death on the cross, therefore God has highly exalted Him by giving Him "the name which is above every name".

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

So, dear Christian, all beings, regardless of where they exist, whether in heaven, or on earth or even beneath the earth, shall kneel and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!

The Lord Jesus Christ. The Name above every name.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Combat Training

Sunday 5Jul09: 1 Samuel 17: 1 - 58 HCSB

More than twenty years ago, when I was an English Teacher in a small village school in Pahang, my Senior Assistant, Cikgu Mat Din, told me about his experience with the Japanese Army during the Japanese occupation of Malaya in the early 1940s. He and a few friends from his village were ordered to teach Bahasa Melayu to a high ranking Japanese Army officer, who offered to teach them Karate in return.

On the first day of Karate training, Cikgu Mat Din and his friends were told to bring a dog to the training centre. Very reluctantly, as it was against their religion to touch dogs, they were forced on pain of death to obey their Japanese commander and brought a hungry looking dog with a rather bad temper. The lesson for that day was simple:

They just watched their Japanese commander kill the dog . . . with his bare hands!

When I heared Cikgu Mat Din's story, I had a better idea of how well-trained the Japanese army were. This reminded me of an OT character who had similar training as a young man. He is David, the man who defeated Goliath.

"Why did you come down here? Who did you leave the sheep with?"

David's eldest brother, Eliab, scolded him for coming to the front line and asking questions about Goliath. For the past 40 days, nobody had dared to step forward to accept Goliath's challenge. It appeared that Israel was headed for defeat and disgrace.

Then came David. He offered to fight Goliath, the daunting giant.

"Don't let anyone be discouraged by him; your servant will go and fight this Philistine!" v.32

He was just a youth. A ruddy and good looking "young boy". His father had merely sent him to the frontline to bring some grain and bread for his brothers who were fighting in the Israelite army, not to fight the Philistines. Nobody was convinced that he could be THE one to step forward and take on the fearsome giant.

King Saul was sceptical. David was "just a youth" while giant Goliath had been a warrior since he was young.

Goliath despised and cursed David, and perhaps felt somewhat insulted that Israel sent a young boy to fight him.

When the Philistine looked and saw David, he despised him because he was just a youth, healthy and handsome. He said to David, "Am I a dog that you come against me with sticks?" Then he cursed David by his gods. "Come here," the Philistine called to David, "and I'll give your flesh to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts!"
v. 42 - 44

David eventually killed Goliath with just one sling shot. The stone sank into Goliath's forehead and he fell forward, facedown to the ground.

What was the secret behind David's courage? It was combat training: a special type of elite commando training which none of his brothers in the regular army had undergone before. Verses 34 - 36 tells us that David ran after lions and bears that came to attack his flock. He would strike them down and rescue his sheep. He would grab them by their fur, strike and kill them.

"The LORD who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine." v37

None of his brothers were aware of this. There was probably no other soldier nor officer in the Israelite army that day who had undergone such elite combat training. And when David stepped forward to face Goliath, he had the capability, and the presence of the LORD, to kill the giant.

Dear Christians, sometimes God puts us through difficult combat training. We may have to undergo similar training like David, to learn to rescue sheep and lambs from the mouth of lions and bears, running after them, striking them down, pulling their whiskers and neutralising them. The difficulties and struggles we face in life can be likened to "lions and bears'', which are meant to prepare us for some final showdown with a Goliath later on.

Let us take our combat training seriously. God who rescues us from the paws of lions and bears will one day rescue us from the hand of giants!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

One man's meat . . .

Sunday 28Jun09: Romans 14: 1 - 12 NIV

[This post was in progress until 29Jun09]

One man's meat is another man's poison. So it's often said by my primary school teachers. This morning I had the privilege to preach the Sunday sermon at Ipoh Garden Baptist on this passage Romans 14. When I was first given the text, this old adage came to mind.

On closer inspection, however, it became more like,

"One man's meat is another man's vegetable"!

Here's the text to my sermon this morning:

Introduction:

Some things are practised differently among some Christians in Church.

At an International Students' Conference at UM back in 1982, I met an Indonesian brother who thought it was necessary to wash, bathe and change into clean clothes each morning before keeping his Quiet Time. He was somewhat unhappy seeing me do my Quiet Time before washing up!

Some Christian communities, e.g. Indian Christians, feel strongly that they should be well dressed for worship service in church on Sundays. The men and boys would invariably put on long sleeved shirts with neckties. To them, it is disrespectful to God to wear casual clothes on Sundays.

Similarly, there was a Church in Bidor town which my family attended back in 2002, which encouraged all the brothers to wear ties during worship. Again, failing to do so indicates a lack of respect for and honour to the Lord.

At one time, in some Baptist Churches, e.g. in USA, women were discouraged from wearing pants, and only skirts were allowed. This was done out of concern for the command in Deuteronomy 22:5, "A woman is not to wear male clothing, and a man is not to put on a woman's garment, for everyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD your God".

And here, in our own country, there are some churches like the Bible Presbyterian, which do not use musical instruments during worship. There's even a church in Bukit Beruntung which does not sing any hymns or choruses, but instead uses only the Book of Psalms for singing during worship.

And the list goes on.

This morning let us look at the apostle's teaching on disputable matters in church.
Verse 1 in Romans 14 tells us, "Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters". The KJV translates disputable matters as "doubtful disputes" while the TEV uses the term "personal opinions". Let us see how we can accept one another's persuasion and conviction in such disputable matters.

Let us ponder over how we can accomodate our individual differences, on matters that don't really matter!

I Some of us are different from others

verses 2, 5 and 21

Some of us are stronger in our faith:
v2: his faith allows him to eat everything. These are people who can drink some wine, eat some meat and regard some festivals as the same as other days. And they can still live with a clear conscience.

Others among us are weaker in our faith:
v2b: his faith is weak, he eats only vegetables. In contrast to the stronger in faith, these are people who cannot bring themselves to accept a broader interpretation of some disputable matters. For such people, it is wrong to eat meat, it is not right to treat special days, feasts or celebrations as the same as other days in the year. And for some, it is an ungodly practice to drink wine.

In this morning's passage, the terms "stronger" or "weaker" should not be seen as referring to "superior" or "inferior" Christians, as we often tend to see. Instead, the apostle Paul was referring to some people whose conscience were troubled (the weaker in faith) when they see others apparently taking liberties in some matters of Christian living (the stronger in faith). It must be emphasised here that the stronger in faith are not to be seen as better Christians that those who were weaker.

What really mattered here in Romans 14 was not what some people believed or observed in such areas of Christian living. Whether they were "stronger" or "weaker" in their faith was not a cause for concern in this passage. Instead it was how these people treated one another that caused problems. The Apostle Paul pointed out that those who were weaker judged those who were stronger in faith. At the same time, those who were stronger despised those who were weaker in faith.

It was this issue of Christians' passing judgment and showing contempt to one another that is being addressed in this morning's scripture passage. Here, and also elsewhere in the NT, the apostle Paul teaches clearly on how Christians should be careful about not offending one another on such disputable matters.

Let us look more closely into two examples.

Firstly, the example of taking food. In 1 Corinthians 10: 25 - 33, the apostle Paul instructed at length, how some Christians who were stronger in faith could actually give thanks for food that were served to them when they eat at the homes of non-believing friends, regardless of whether they had been offered on the altars of idols prior to dinner time, believing that "the earth is the Lord's, and everything in it" (1Cor10: 26, Psalm 24: 1).

Yet, Paul taught them that they should be mindful of the presence of others, including Christians who were weaker in their faith, whose conscience would be badly troubled if they saw fellow believers taking such "offered" food, usually meat. Furthermore, the non-believers conscience may also be affected, when they see Christian friends apparently violating their own beliefs about idol-worship. So, out of consideration for people with weaker faith and conscience, a precaution is necessary:

But if anyone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience' sake— the other man's conscience, I mean, not yours. 1 Cor 10: 28, 29

Secondly, the example of observing sacred days. "One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike", verse 5 says.

In Jewish practice of OT times, the first day of each month, the New Moon, was to be regarded as a holy day. The New Moon was associated with the sabbath (Isaiah 1: 13). It was celebrated as a new beginning and was marked by sacrifices to God (Numbers 28: 11-15), and by the sound of trumpets (Number 10:10, Psalm 81:3). The most significant New Moon was that of the seventh month of the year, (Lev 23: 24, 25 and Numbers 29: 1-6) when no work was to be carried out. Also, in Ezekiel 46: 1, 3, the new moon is to be regarded as a special day of worship.

It was not surprising, therefore, that there were Christians in the NT, probably the Hebrew Christians, who would hold strongly to the view that holy days such as the New Moon should be strictly observed in the Christian church. These were the "weaker in faith", in contrast to others who were stronger, who would regard everyday as equally holy to the Lord. On this matter, in comparison with the matter of taking food, the apostle Paul teaches those who were weaker to show some consideration to those who were stronger. In Colossians 2:16, 17, the apostle Paul wrote:

. . . do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

The TEV translates Col 2: 16 as "let no one make rules about what you eat or drink, or about holy days, or the new moon . . ." The weaker in faith, while being fully convinced in their persuasion that they should observe certain days as sacred, should refrain from "making rules" out of their persuasions and from imposing such rules on everyone else.

Some eat meat, others eat only vegetables. Some regard certain days as sacred, others regard everyday the same. Some drink wine, others abstain from wine. (N.B. In 1 Tim 5: 23, Timothy was urged to take wine to alleviate his stomach ailments.)

Let us accept that some of us will be different from others.

II Each of us is to decide for himself

verses 5, 6 and 12

Each one decides his own convictions:
v5 - he is to be fully convinced in his own mind. Each one of us is to "make up his mind firmly", the TEV translates. Let not anyone be doubled minded over disputable matters. Instead, let each one decide and make up his own mind and uphold his own persuasion and convictions on such matters.

Each one decides his own commitment
v6 - he is to regard, eat or abstain etc to the Lord and to God, with thanksgiving. Each of us is to live out his convictions thankfully towards God. Each member in the church lives to the Lord, not for his own self, but, instead for the sake of God. We are reminded by the Psalmist in Psalm 23:

He leads me in paths of righteousness, for his name's sake.

An old French version of the Bible translates this verse as " . . . for the cause of his name". So, whether we observe certain sacred days, or observe all days; whether we eat meat or refuse to eat meat; and whether we take wine or abstain from wine, each of us does it to the Lord, for the sake of His name.

Each one decides his own conscience
v12 - he is to give account of himself to God eventually. Each of us is to decide how we are going to explain to the Lord on judgment day, to give an account of our choices, our persuasions and our convictions on such disputable matters, and on how we have maintained a clear conscience in observing such convictions.

. . . all of us must appear before Christ to be judged by him. Each one will receive what he deserves, according to everything he has done, good or bad, in his bodily life 2 Cor. 5: 10 TEV

III All of us are destined for God

verses 7, 8 and 10

All of us live and die for our Lord
v7,8 - all live, and all die to the Lord. In v9, we can read that our Lord Jesus died and lived again to be Lord over both living and dead. None of us are to live for our ownselves in our Christian lives. Remember Paul's testimony in Philippians 1: 21,

"For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain."

All of us belong to our Lord.
v8 - all belong to the Lord. The word "belong" carries the sense of a servant or slave in this passage. Recall that v4 says (TEV) "Who are you to judge someone else's servant? It is his own Master who will decide whether he succeeds or fails. And he will succeed, because the Lord is able to make him succeed."

All of us will be judged by God
v10 - all will stand before the judgment seat. Note that v11 is a reference to Isaiah 45:23, "will kneel and confess (vow, or swear) that He is God"

Isaiah 45: 22, 23 KJV:

22Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.

23I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear*.

* The LXX translates verse 23 as " every tongue shall confess to God"
(A Greek translation of the OT, including the apocrypha, dated around 300 BC, about the time of Alexander the Great. Traditionally believed to involve 72 scholars who translated the Pentateuch for Ptolemy II Philadelphus, 285 - 246 BC. Septuaginta (LXX) means 70 in Latin)

Also, in Philippians 2:10
"so that at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth"

Two noteworthy questions are asked by Paul here: To the weaker in faith, "Why do you judge others?" and to the stronger in faith, "Why do you look down on others?".

Christians, if we believe that all creation, whether in heaven, on earth or even under the earth, will kneel at the name of Jesus, and that all will confess (vow) to God, and affirm that He is God, and that there is no one else, let us refrain from passing judgment and from showing contempt.

Conclusion
(1) Our meditation this morning is on matters that don't really matter e.g. eating certain food, observing sacred days and abstaining from wine. They are called "disputable matters" in v1 (NIV) or "doubtful things" (NKJV) or simply "personal opinions" (TEV). On such matters, what really matters is to let each one be fully convinced "in his own mind" v5.

. . . let no one make rules about what you eat or drink or about holy days or the New Moon festival or the Sabbath. Colossians 2: 16 TEV

(2) At the same time, let us also remember Paul's exhortation in 1 Cor 10:23 NIV on being sensitive to those whose conscience may be troubled by our "strong" faith:

Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible, but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.
(3) Finally, let us remember that we shall all appear before our Lord Jesus Christ, to be judged by him. Each of us live and die to the Lord. We all belong to the Lord, as slaves to a Master. And each of us shall have to give account of our lives to Him.

So, why do we judge our brothers? Or why do we despise our brothers?

(4) Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us accept one another's beliefs, persuasions and convictions on disputable matters. On doubtful disputes, let the stronger bear with the weaker in faith. And on matters that don't really matter, let the weaker refrain from passing judgment on the stronger.

May God help us all.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Be Strong and of Good Courage

Tuesday 17June2009: Deutoronomy 31: 1 - 8 NKJV

(At last, this post was completed on 27Jun09, ten days after it began!)

Introduction

Last week a beloved brother called Francis, a leader of a Church in Ipoh with whom I fellowship occasionally, fell very ill. He had severe abdominal pain. And the doctor had to arrange for him to be admitted to the hospital. A very delicate operation had to be scheduled to remove a blood clot from his abdomen, along with a section of his intestines. The surgeon told his family members that it was a very risky operation and the patient could die during the surgery.

Just before the operation, Francis spoke what appeared to be his last words to his family, asking them to make arrangements in case he couldn't survive the surgery, including making sure insurance policies and wills were in order. His wife broke down and cried.

Those were very frightening last words. They demanded great courage from all the family members. Everyone had to be brave and strong in facing the impending circumstances. Thanks be to God, the operation was performed successfully by the skilfull surgeon and brother Francis is now recuperating in hospital. Soon he will be able to go home to his family.

Tonight, we read about a person in the OT who was about to die. His name is Moses, and in Deutoronomy 31, he was, like our brother Francis, saying his last words to his "family" - the nation of Israel. And like Francis' family, all the people of Israel were probably frightened. Perhaps, some of them broke down and cried too.

So, Moses began to speak to all the people of Israel, reminding them of great things that God had done in their midst, and assuring them that God would continue to fight for them through their new leader Joshua.

In tonight's message, we will first look at how Moses recounted the victory that the LORD had given to them over the Amorite kings. Secondly, we will see how he reassured them that the LORD would likewise go ahead of his successor, Joshua, in conquering the Canaanites across the Jordan, and that He would never forsake them. Finally, we will ponder over how the Lord is also with us today, helping us to withstand and overcome our enemy, the devil, as a people of God.

I God was with Moses v 1 - 2
- in defeating the kings of the Amorites

Sihon and Og's story:

Earlier in Numbers 21: 21 - 31, it was recorded that Moses had made a request to King Sihon, king of the Amorites, who occupied an area of land east of the Dead Sea and the River Jordan, for permission to pass through his kingdom. King Sihon lived in the city of Heshbon. Instead of replying the request, King Sihon and "all his people" attacked the Israelites suddenly. God was with Israel, however, and in fulfillment of God's promise in Deut 2: 24, 25, Israel defeated King Sihon that day and conquered the land of the Amorites.

This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you upon the nations under the whole heaven, who shall hear the report of you, and shall tremble and be in anguish because of you. Deut 2: 25

This land, east of the Jordan, was later allocated by Moses to the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Mannaseh (Numbers 32).

Subsequently, in Numbers 21: 32 -35, the Israelites went on to capture the city of Jazer before venturing north towards Bashan, on the east of the Sea of Galilee, south of Mt Hermon where there was fertile land for cultivation. Og, the king of Bashan led his army to battle with the Israelites at the city of Edrei, north east of Jazer.

Now King Og was a giant of a man. Deut 3:11 tells us that he had a bed about 12 feet long by 6 feet wide. It was possible that there were similar "giants" in his army, and this could have caused some apprehension among the Israelite soldiers. Nonetheless, the LORD promised Moses in verse 34 that He will help him defeat King Og and conquer his land, just as he had done to King Sihon.

Do not fear him, for I have delivered him and all his people and his land into your hand; you shall do to him as you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who dwelt at Heshbon Deut 3: 1
And indeed, the Israelite army went on to kill King Og and his family, annihilated his army and occupied the land.

In both campaigns, the LORD's promise, "I have given them into your hand . . ." (Deut 2:24 and 3:2) was fulfilled and these victorious battles against Sihon and Og would later become the basis on which Moses made his call to his successor, Joshua, to be strong and of good courage in carrying on the campaign against the Canaanites who lived on all the land across the Jordan river.

II God was ahead of Joshua v 3 - 8
- in destroying the Canaanites:

Whilst the promise given to Moses, regarding the Amorites on the east of the Jordan, was "I have given them into your hand . .", the promise given to Joshua regarding the Canaanites over on the west of the Jordan was more personal:

And the LORD, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed Deut 31: 8

See also:

  • verse 3: "The LORD your God Himself crosses over before you; "
  • verse 4: "the LORD will do to them as he did to Sihon and Og" and
  • verse 8: "And the LORD, He is the one who goes before you."

In his address to all Israel, Moses called upon them to be brave and strong, and not to be afraid of the Canaanites. The Canaanites were an idolatrous and wicked people comprising many tribes spread all over the land on the west of the River Jordan, stretching from the region north of the Sea of Galilee all the way to the south-west of the Dead Sea. The LORD had earlier made a promise to Moses and to Israel, at the conclusion of giving the Law and his covenant, in Exodus 23:23 that, ". . . My Angel will go before you and bring you in to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites and the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will cut them off."

Now, Moses has seen with his own eyes this promise being fulfilled, as the Amorites were defeated and destroyed. And this fulfillment of Exodus 23:23 will continue to include the destruction of the Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and the Jebusites. The assurance that God "goes ahead" of them and that God would always be with them was made loud and clear to all Israel:

Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you. v.6

Then, turning to Joshua, in the presence of all Israel, Moses reiterated this promise of the LORD going ahead of him and always remaining with him:

Be strong and of good courage, for you must go with this people to the land which the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them to inherit it. And the LORD, He is the one who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed. v8

III God is among us
- in delivering us from the evil one.

Today Christians are likewise taught in the NT that our Lord Jesus is always with us, just as God had always been with Moses and Joshua and the Israelites in the OT.

In the last chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew, the Lord Jesus said to his disciples:

"All authority has been given to Me in heaven and earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you;

and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Matthew 28: 18 - 20

And just as Moses called upon the Israelites, and upon Joshua, to be brave and strong, the apostle Paul in the NT called upon the Corinthians church likewise, "Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong." (1 Cor. 16 13).

Today our enemy is no longer the Amorites nor the Canaanites, but it is the devil himself:

Be sober, be vigilant; because our adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. 1 Peter 5: 8 - 10

Conclusion

Christians, sometimes we fall into similar circumstances like Moses did. Like him, we may encounter times when a good leader has to leave our church, or when a beloved brother or sister passes on to be with the Lord. There may be times when we are left feeling helpless and apprehensive in the face of adverse circumstances.

In such times, let us remember the testimony of Moses' victories over Sihon and Og. Let us recall his exhortation to Joshua, that God would go ahead of him and also remain with him in his ongoing battles with the enemies, the Canaanites, a host of people who worshipped Baal, who practised temple prostitution and who sacrificed even their children on the altar.

Let us remember that today, even as our enemy, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion seeking to devour us, our Lord Jesus has promised to be with us. Let us encourage one another to remain steadfast, brave and strong, resisting the devil even in times of suffering.

But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen and settle you.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Consecrated Life.

Sunday 14th June 2009: 1 Samuel 16 : 1 - 13 NIV

Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me. v5

Those were the words which the prophet Samuel spoke to Jesse and his sons. He had just arrived in Bethlehem, and he wanted them to be present at a sacrifice. He consecrated them and invited them to the sacrifice he was performing.

In doing so, Jesse and his sons were set apart from their worldly life for worship and for the service of God on that occasion. This involved carrying out a ritual of cleansing. For example, we find in Leviticus chapter 1 that those who came to the tabernacle to offer burnt offerings were required to present a live animal without blemish, lay hands on the head of the animal, slaughter it and prepare it for burning on the altar of sacrifice. The priest would sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice around the altar and then, methodically put the parts of the sacrifice animal on the altar to be burned in offering to God.

In such elaborate manner, Jesse and his sons were set apart from the rest of the world. They were prepared for worship and for serving God at the sacrifice, particularly for Samuel to carry out the work that God had sent him to do that day in Bethlehem: to choose and anoint one of Jesse's sons as the next King of Israel, in place of King Saul.

Sadly, after the sacrifice, none of Jesse's sons were accepted by the LORD. It was neither Eliab, nor Abinadab, nor Shammah. Nor was it any of the other promising, strong and healthy brothers present, for the LORD did not want them to judge merely by appearance.

Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart. v7

Instead, there was someone else who was not there with them. He was David, the youngest son, who was still out in the field, tending the flock of sheep. And Samuel told Jesse to send for him.

Now, David wasn't yet consecrated for the sacrifice that day. He had not gone through any rituals of laying on his hands on and presenting of any animal for burnt offerings. He had just been brought in from the fields. He had not been set apart for that occasion of sacrifice that Samuel was conducting.

Instead, he had done something that none of his brothers had. He had consecrated his whole life to God. David, the youngest boy in Jesse's family, was referred to as a man after God's own heart (1 Samuel 13: 14). In the NT, the apostle Paul spoke of King David in his gospel message at the synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia in this way,

After removing Saul, he made David their king. He testified concerning him: 'I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.' Acts 13:22

In fact, none of the Kings in Israel who reigned after David were comparable to him, who lived "after God's own heart". For example, the LORD rebuked King Jeroboam who succeeded David thus,

but you have not been like my servant David, who kept my commands and followed me with all his heart, doing only what was right in my eyes 1 Kings 14: 8

Thus, whilst Jesse and his sons were consecrated by Samuel for the sacrifice that day, leaving the youngest boy, David out of the consecration, while each of the sons were presented for Samuel's evaluation, and while David was still out in the fields tending the sheep, God had already chosen David. Little did Jesse, nor even Samuel, realise that David was a man of God, a man who was not just consecrated for an occasion but who, instead, was consecrated all his life.

Then the LORD said, "Rise and anoint him; he is the one." v12

Christians, today we are reminded likewise to follow David's example. We are chosen by God to be set apart from this world. We are a holy nation. We should live as consecrated people of God, not just for some occasion, but for life.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 1Peter 2:9
Let us live as a people who belong to God. Like David, let us live consecrated lives.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Commandments of men.

Thur 11Jun09: Matthew 15: 1 - 20 NKJV

And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men v9

The commandments of men. They are passed off as doctrines of God by the scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem. It's a hypocrisy, one that has been prophesied earlier by Isaiah:

Inasmuch as these people draw near to Me with their mouths, and honour Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men, . . . Isaiah 29 : 13

The Lord pointed out publicly that Isaiah was prophesying about them. Isaiah had prophesied correctly, he said. These scribes and Pharisees, highly respected and authoritative leaders of Jerusalem, were the real hypocrites, the fulfillment of the ancient prophecy.

Their sin: to take the teachings of men and to pass them off as doctrines of God.

These hypocrites had taught that young people can be exempted from honouring their parents if they declared that whatever they could give to their parents had been dedicated to the temple. This was a "commandment of men", formulated by the scribes and Pharisees, and passed off as a doctrine of God. This counterfeit doctrine had trampled upon one of the Ten Commandments, the very original teaching of God, as pointed out by our Lord, in Exodus 20:12

Honour your father and your mother.

In the words of our Lord, they have made the commandment of God "of no effect" by their traditions.

Christians, let us beware of such hypocrisy. It is a sin to pass off any man-made idea as God's teachings, making God's commands of no effect over our lives. When such man-made commandments are taught, emphasised and promoted long enough, they become traditions which trample upon the original teaching of God.

The hypocrisy and blindness of the scribes and Pharisees were unimaginable. They could ignore one of the most fundamental commandment given through Moses in promoting their own man-made tradition. And they were offended when the Lord Jesus rebuked them publicly. (v12)

The commandments of men. Let us ensure that they do not evolve into doctrines of God.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Filled with the Spirit - to do what?

Wed 10Jun09: Exodus 35: 30 - 36: 1 NKJV

See, the LORD has called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri . . . and He has filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom and understanding v30, 31

We often hear of Christians who are filled with the Spirit, who show great talents in the Church when exercising the gifts of the Spirit. Some are skilful administrators while others are far-sighted leaders. Then there are evangelists full of courage and preachers full of persuasion. We are also familiar with teachers who patiently bring across difficult lessons in life, sometimes over many years.

And let's not forget the humble brothers and sisters who are gifted servants, who excel in showing kindness, alongside those great men and women of prayer who bring about supply, healing and miraculous deliverance by their intercession!

This morning, however, I realise from this passage in Exodus that there are yet other people through whom the Spirit of God works, people who are neither apostles nor prophets, teachers nor preachers nor workers of healing. Nor are they gifted in helps and administration, nor varieties of tongues nor interpretations. Instead they are gifted artistic workmen. Or, as some would call them, artisans.

. . . in knowledge and all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of artistic workmanship. v31-33

In those times, people like Bezaleel and Aholiab were filled with the Spirit. They were "filled with skill to do all manner of work . . ." (v35). These artistic works ranged from engraving to design, from tapestry to weaving, from carving wood to cutting jewels.

Filled with the Spirit? To do what?

Perhaps, that's our question in today's Church too. The Lord may fill us with the Spirit to do work skilfully, work which may not have anything to do with teaching, praying, or evangelism. Just skilful working for His own purpose.

Notice in Exodus 36:1 the purpose of the Spirit filled skills of Bezaleel, Aholiab and all the other gifted artisans:

And Bezaleel and Aholiab, and every gifted artisan in whom the LORD has put wisdom and understanding, to know how to do all manner of work for the service of the sanctuary, shall do according to all that the LORD has commanded.

It was for the building of the elaborate tabernacle of God, and it had to be done exactly in the way the LORD has commanded. Likewise, let us walk with God like Bezaleel and Aholiab, and all the other artisans.

When God fills us with His wisdom and understanding, to do "all manner of work", let us do it skilfully in obedience to his will.

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Grievious Question

Mon 08Jun2009  John 21 : 18 17 NKJV

Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" v17 

They had just had their first breakfast after the Lord's resurrection (see my earlier post).  The Lord asked Simon Peter a personal question, twice.  The first time, 

"agapas  me  pleon toutwn"
(you-are-loving-me more of-these?)
 
whist the second, 

"agapas  me"
(you-are-loving me?)
  
To both questions, Simon Peter answered, 

"nai kurie su oidas hoti philw se"
(yes, Lord, you have-perceived that i-am-being-fond-of you)

I am reminded of teachings which point out Peter's "philw" (i-am-being-fond-of) in response to the Lord's "agapas" (you-are-loving-me).  Peter was honest with the Lord.  He could love the Lord with only a friend's love, "philw", not God's unconditional love, "agapas me".  He wasn't ready. Certainly not after he had denied the Lord thrice recently.  And he was forthright with the Lord.

The Lord did not forsake Peter for want of Godly love.  Instead, with only a "philw" from Peter's reply, the Lord asked him to feed His Lambs and tend His sheep.  Notice also that the Lord addressed Peter with his real, personal family name: Simon son of Jonah, instead of his given name, Peter.  He was asking the "real" Simon a very personal question rather than the "rock" Peter.  And Peter shows Christians today his example of being real with the Lord: "philw se".

It appears that God can use the inadequate Simon, the disciple who could not manage to love the Lord with "agapas".  His third question thus became, 

"simwn iwannou phileis me "
(SIMON OF-JOHN you-are-being-fond-of me?) v17

This was a grievious question.  Peter was saddened that the Lord had to ask him again, for a third time.  And this time it was about the obvious, "phileis me" rather than the difficult "agapas me".  Simon, son of John, was made to affirm once more: 

"Lord, You know all things: you know that I love You."
(. . . philw se)  v17b
And the Lord told Peter a final time to feed his sheep.

Dear Christians, are we grieved when we have to search our souls and find that we are inadequate?  Like Simon Peter, we may only manage a friendly fondness for our Lord instead of the Godly unconditional love for Him.  Nevertheless, like Peter, our weakness is sufficient for the Lord.  He did not have to say yes to "agapas me".   Instead, it was sufficient to say yes to "phileis me".

The grievious question: it took away Peter's grief.