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!