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)

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.

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.