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.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

More than the eyes can see.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Let Us Imitate God

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Joyful Procession vs Thankful Progression

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Rehoboam's mistake, and his mitigation.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Are you with God?

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Endurance and Encouragement

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

If I have not . . .

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Under the shadow of God.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Between obedience and expedience.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

The lips of a priest.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Christian Convocation.

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Every spiritual blessing

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Thursday, July 9, 2009

A name above every name.

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Saturday, July 4, 2009

Combat Training

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

One man's meat . . .

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Be Strong and of Good Courage

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Consecrated Life.

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Commandments of men.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Filled with the Spirit - to do what?

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Monday, June 8, 2009

A Grievious Question

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Empty discussions and stupid speculations.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Not so obvious

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Indispensable and Honourable

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Some trust themselves

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Answer a fool, or not?

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Three Amens

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Suffer little children.

Tue 19May09:   Matthew 19: 13 - 15 KJV

Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. v14

Parents with little children at home can understand what it means to suffer.  Their yelling and screaming, their fighting over toys, their dangerous antics and unrelenting obstinacy.  It does build character in a parent!

Tonight I am looking at another meaning of the word "suffer" with respect to little children. In the KJV, this 17th Century english word means "let" or "allow".  Thus, the Amplified Bible puts v14 as follows:

But He said, Leave the children alone! Allow the little ones to come to Me, and do not forbid or restrain or hinder them, for of such [as these] is the kingdom of heaven composed

In this story, the Lord Jesus had left Galilee and had arrived on the coastal region of Judeaea, where He met large crowds of people who followed him around.  Along the way, he was tested with tricky theological questions by some Pharisees regarding a controversial issue about the legality of divorce. Even the disciples were confused about this issue and had to be advised further by the Lord. (v10)

While everyone was preoccupied with questions of the Mosaic Law, with issues that matter in heaven, some people brought a group of little children to the Lord.  They asked for Him to lay His hands on the children and to pray for them.  Couldn't they see that they were interrupting a very serious conversation among adults?  Obviously, that was a very inappropriate time to bring in those noisy and naughty little children to ask for the Lord's blessing.  It's not surprising that the disciples rebuked them!

But the Lord surprised everybody.  He told them to allow these children to come to Him, "for of such is the kingdom of heaven".  This reminds me of something that the Lord had taught the disciples earlier while they were still in Galilee, when they had asked Him, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?".  (Matthew 18: 1)  He called a little child, brought him into their midst, and said:

Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.  Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. v3, 4

It looks like the disciples didn't learn their lesson well enough when they rebuked those who brought the children for the Lord's touch and prayers. They had missed the whole point: that it was these very humble and simple children that exemplify the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Dear Christians, have we been busy with theological polemics?  Have we been preoccupied with giving profound answers to tricky questions? Are so caught up in proving our point in debates and controversies that, like the disciples, we've missed the whole point about the kingdom of heaven? Let us remember to suffer little children among our midst, and to humble ourselves to be like them.

For of such is the kingdom of heaven.

Monday, May 18, 2009

In whom is no deceit.

Mon 18May09:  John 1: 43-51 NRSV

Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit! v47

Nathanael was skeptical.  He had not believed Philip that this person can be the someone, "about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote".  Especially when he came from Nazareth, a town from which, in Nathanael's view, nothing good could emerge.  Until he heard those words in v47 above. 

A remarkably accurate description indeed. He asked the Lord how He got to know him. The Lord told him that He saw him under the fig tree even before Philip went to call him! Nathanael's skepticism turned into amazement, and he realised that Philip was correct.

Nathanael replied,"Rabbi, you are the Son of God!  You are the king of Israel!" v48

This evening, I'm awakened by the Lord's description of Nathanael.  He was a true Israelite.  In him there was no deceit.  You don't encounter people of such high integrity very often.  A person like him should make a very a good friend in life.  Nathanael was a person who must have been known to all his friends in Galilee as a forthright, sincere person who, for instance, would never resort to deceitful words to gain political expediency.  

Here was a man whose words you can always trust.  And when he exclaimed openly that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, the King of Israel, the people around him should probably take notice.

Christians, let us emulate Nathanael.  Let us endeavour to come across to people around us, particularly our own brothers and sisters in Christ, as forthright sincere people of high integrity. In our fellowship with one another, and our interaction with the world around us, let us say things with Christian honour.

Let us be people in whom there is no deceit.

Honest conversation.

Mon 18May09: 1Peter 2: 11-15KJV

Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. v12

In the English of the KJV, translated in 1611, the word conversation refers to our behaviour, our conduct or the way we live our lives rather than our talking to one another.  Thus, having "honest conversation" is  translated as living "good lives" in the NIV and having "honourable conduct" in the NKJV.  And, using its original connotation, such honest conversation should be shown in our good works which are seen by our non-believing friends, or the pagans (NIV) or simply "the others" (CEB).

It is noteworthy that Peter tells us in verse 11 to regard ourselves as strangers and pilgrims in this world, through which we sojourn, and that we are to stay away from fleshly desires which war against our souls.  Falling prey to such desires or lusts would be detrimental to our honest conversation, particularly when we are surrounded by "other" people who slander us as evil-doers.

Reading from verses 13 and 14, it appears to me that a basic element of our honest Christian conversation would be to live in submission to authorities, Kings and governors alike.

Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him as punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. v13, 14

Dear Christian, this is the will of God.  It is by such good conduct, by doing well in our lives in submission to authorities, that our honest conversation should become obvious to the Gentiles of this world, so that they will eventually glorify God on the day of the Lord's return and so that we may put to silence the "ignorance of foolish men" (verse 15).

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Kindlers of fire, lighters of firebrands.

Sat 16May09: Isaiah 50: 10 - 11 NRSV

But all of you are kindlers of fire, lighters of firebrands, . . . you shall lie down in torment. v11

A reminder tonight that we should be on guard against going along carelessly with our whims and fancies, including what "seems good in our eyes".  The warning is stern here, that if we kindle our own fires and light our own firebrands instead of trusting in the name of the LORD and relying on His name, then we shall receive from his own hand a tormenting end.

Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant, who walks in darkness and has no light, yet trusts in the name of the LORD and relies upon his God? v10

Perhaps, to the prophet Isaiah, a person of such unwavering faith seemed hard to come by.  Let us learn likewise not to waver in our faith, even when in times when we journey through darkness and have no light.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Flee and follow.

Fri 15May09:  2 Timothy 2: 22-26 KJV

Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, v22

Sometimes, the things that young people strongly go after may be detrimental to Christians. Today, I am reminded to flee from them, "youthful lusts".  Instead, like the young pastor Timothy, Christians are to go after righteousness and similar things like "faith, charity, peace" together with people who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

Let us flee from desires which turn us away from God's righteousness.  Instead let us follow the things of God, calling on the Lord with a pure heart. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Prayer Item No. One.

Tue 12Apr09: 1Timothy 2: 1-9 NIV

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority  v1,2

In this pastoral letter, the apostle urges the believers in Timothy's church to ask, pray, intercede and give thanks for everyone, particularly for rulers and authorities.  He considers this a high priority, for he uses the words, "first of all".  Paul wanted the church at Ephesus, whom he left under the care of Timothy when he travelled onwards to Macedonia, to make give their foremost attention to such prayers.  Not just any prayer, but prayer for people, especially for kings and those in authority. 

That must be their Prayer Item Number One. 

And our yearning in these prayers? "That we may live quiet and peaceful lives in godliness and holiness." verse two says.

Has there been much disquiet in our lives recently, especially concerning those who rule and who are in authority over us?  Let us pray, and intercede, and give thanks for them. In doing so we aspire to lead godly and holy lives, peacefully and quietly in this land through which we sojourn.

This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time. v3-6

Dear Christians, let us likewise urge one another to pray for "everyone" in our churches. In particular, let us pray and intercede for our kings and ministers and representatives who are in authority, including those who, lately, are in contention for authority.

Let's make this our Prayer Item No. One.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Obeying Authorities

Sun 10May09: Romans 13:1 - 7

On the occasion of my eldest son's arrest and detention by police last Thursday night, and his subsequent release on the afternoon of the next day.

Our heartfelt thanks to our pastor and church members' prayerful concern, to many friends in Penang and all over the country who stood by him in the darkest hour of his participation in social activism, and especially to Mdm W who vouched for his cooperation and bailed him out.

And last, but not least, our grateful appreciation to the friendly lawyer Mr T, who went out of his way to pay several visits to the police station in the early hours of the morning, keeping in touch with a chief inspector, and eventually making it a point to attend to his release on police bail.  Mr T has insisted that he should not be rewarded!  May God bless him for his sacrificial kindness.

This post is a reproduction of a sermon which I had preached recently on 22Mar09 in a small church in Ipoh, which I strongly feel is relevant in reminding ourselves how Christians should exercise self-control in the matter of submission to authorities, at a time when we hear so many outcries against perceived injustice all around us.

Civil society is largely a result of people obeying authorities.  When my daughter visited Nagoya and Hammamatsu, Japan last year, she was impressed by the peaceful society there, particularly by how civic-minded and law-abiding the people were in those cities.  Traffic was very orderly.  Bus drivers were courteous and patient.  Public facilities were maintained in tip-top condition.  People queued up for almost everything, including waiting for the lift at the lobby!  They would leave their purses, bags, phones etc at their tables and walk away to buy food at cafeteria counters.  The Japanese were almost always proud of their obedient and civil way of life.

Similarly, when my wife and I paid a short visit to Hong Kong back in autumn of 2004, we found out that Hong Kong was one of the safest cities in the world for tourists to visit.  We walked up and down Nathan street and Jordan Road in Kowloon.  We visit night markets. We took countless train rides and a couple of ferry trips to Hong Kong Island. People waited for pedestrian lights to turn green before crossing roads. Like Japan, but perhaps in a very different manner, Hong Kong was, to us, a largely law-abiding civil society.

I am also reminded of remarks made by a former colleague back in 1996 after he returned from a business trip to Oman and Abu Dhabi.  He was very impressed by public safety in those Muslim countries and cities he visited.  People didn't even lock the doors of their homes at night! Burglaries were virtually unheard of, something which my friend attributed to the harsh punishments meted out under the Islamic Laws of those places.

Of course, I must not forget to mention our very own next door neighbour, Singapore - a "fine" country -  where citizens or foreigners alike get fined, and even jailed, for any offence committed.  Trying to bribe a policeman would appear to be a very foolish thing to do indeed in Singapore!  As a result, we can allow our daughter to study there and stay alone in a rented room on her own, with very few friends and relatives, without having to worry much over her safety.

Dear Christians, when civic minded people in society obey authorities, and when civil servants who hold authoritative office enforce the law justly, the likely result is a civil society, as opposed to anarchy.  This morning's scripture passage asks for our attention, and our devotion, to this area of Christian living  - our lives with respect to Government authorities and their governing officers.

1. Authorities are Ordained by God
Consider verses 1, 2:  In the first part of verse 1, Paul calls on every soul (Gr. psuche = being) to subject (Gr tasso =  submit) himself to authorities, while in the second part he asserts that all authorities are appointed, or ordained, by God, and on the basis of this assertion, he makes his  call for Christian submission to governing authorities.  As such, he adds, those who resist (Gr antitassetha = "anti-submit") authorities are virtually resisting God's ordinance, and consequently bring judgment on themselves. Note the tone of Paul's words: he used the third person plural, referring to people collectively, rather than any person individually.  By implication, he appears to be calling the Christian church to avoid becoming "one of those" people.

Please allow me to explain what I have gathered about the historical background surrounding the apostle's words, in the course of preparing this sermon on Romans 13:

1.1 A Historical perspective
It is believed by many that, in this passage, the apostle Paul was giving pastoral advice to the Jewish Christians in Rome, telling them not to withhold taxes or to be involved in anti-Roman protests in sympathy with Palestinian Jewish nationalism brewing back in their homeland.

Now in the early years of the church, Christians and Jews were viewed as one group by the Roman Imperial government. Born within the Jewish synagogues in Rome, the church had  enjoyed the status of religio licita (literally meaning lawful religion) within the fold of Judaism.  But, in response to their perceived civil disobedience, the Emperor Claudius had in AD49 issued an edict ordering these Jews/Jewish Christians, to be exiled from Rome. As a result, many of these exiles were forced to go back to their homeland in Palestine.

Around the time when Paul wrote this epistle, these exiles had been allowed to return to Rome again and it was likely that, through their family and business relationships with people back home, the Jewish Christians might have got themselves involved in anti-Roman activism being promoted by the Palestinian Jews.  One of their aims was to fight for the removal of Roman gentile rule over the Jews, the people of God in Palestine.  In addition, during the early years of Emperor Nero, AD65 - 58, there was a popular outcry against taxation by two prominent Roman historians: Suetonius and Tacitus.

Now the church in Rome had a significant number of Jewish Christians and this was most probably a cause for much concern for the apostle Paul, for there appeared to be a real risk of these church members falling headlong into anti-Gentile and anti-Roman sentiments and activism.  In fact, this could be seen as a significant part of the circumstances surrounding Paul's command to the Roman church to renew their minds, and not to conform to the world around them (Rom 12:2) and his subsequent teaching in Rom 13 about the hazards of disobeying authorities ordained by God.

1.2 Its Implication
From the historical perspective briefly discussed above, it can be seen that the apostle Paul wanted the Christians in Rome to refrain from anti-government protests and activism on the basis of verse 2, that, despite many injustices and shortcomings, the Roman Imperial government remained an authority ordained by God and as such, the Roman rulers were to be regarded as ministers of God.

Likewise, today, we must conscientiously call upon Christians everywhere to exercise self-control and refrain from anti-government sentiments and stay away from participating in demonstrations, particularly in rioting and violence.  In other words, Paul's assertion in verses 1 and 2 implies that Christians must avoid attempts at defying or resisting authorities, i.e. "anti-tassetha" or anti-submission.

Of course, we do not ignore the cries of innocent and often helpless victims of social injustice, usually at the hands of cruel and corrupt government officials.  One must bear in mind, however, that the officials of the Roman empire were no less corrupt than what we see around us today.  Think of tax-collectors like Zaccheus who cheated so many people, and of Pontius Pilate who washed his hands in a bowl of water.  And the Roman Emperors were no angels either!

Thus, it is obvious that, like the Jewish Christians of the early church in Rome, Christians today are called to live out a paradox - to regard authorities as ordained by God, to submit to them and not to resist them, despite the obvious evils inherent in those very authorities. Indeed, it is a heavy cross for Christians to carry in our pilgrimage through this world.

Christians, let us regard government as authorities ordained by God.

2 Rulers are ministers of God
In verse 3, Paul tells us that rulers, the people who govern, are a "terror", a source of fear if you like, to those who do evil.  "Do good, and you will have praise from the authorities", he says.  He tells Christians to avoid living in fear of punishment all the time.  And the basis here, is that rulers are ministers "from God" -  sent to avenge wrongdoing, to execute his wrath on those who practice evil (verse 4).

I must hasten to point out at this juncture, that I am surprised at these words - because they are coming from the apostle Paul - a person who had been badly treated on many occasions by rulers and officials, both Jewish and Gentile.  Let us consider briefly an account of some of his bad experiences, in 2Cor 11, at the hands of government officials:

2.1 In spite of Paul's experiences of injustice
In 2 Cor 11:23 - 26, we read that Paul was flogged with 39 stripes on five occasions at the hands of the Jews.  He was beaten with rods three times by the Romans.

Once he was stoned. 

And he was often living in peril of plots to destroy him - by his countrymen and by foreigners. He also lived in danger of robbers and from false brethren. And he was often put in prison.

On one occasion in Damascus, the governor put the city under a curfew to arrest Paul, who had to escape by being let down in a basket through a window over the city wall (2 Cor 11: 32).

In spite of these traumatic experiences, it is remarkable that Paul did not harbour any bitterness against government officials, but instead he could tell the Christians at Rome that rulers are ministers from God, sent by God to carry out punishment on "him who practices evil". 

2.2 Its Implication
Few, if not none, of us today have suffered such unjust punishments and terrifying experiences from authorities, as those experienced by Paul at the hands of corrupt Roman officials and of vengeful Jewish religious leaders. As such it should be considerably easier for Christians today to regard kings and ministers, governors and officials as people who administer God's punishment on law-breakers.

Note that Paul uses the term "good" to refer to lawful behaviour in this passage -  in contrast to good works, good behaviour, good motives etc.  Likewise, the term "evil" carries the meaning of law-breakers, the people who infringe laws are referred as those who do evil.

Brothers and sisters, let us do good by obeying the law.  Like Paul, let us regard rulers as ministers of God.

3. Christians are Subjects of God
In verse 5, we read that we must be subject to authorities, not only because of punishment mentioned earlier in verses 3 and 4, but also because we want to maintain a clear conscience towards God.

"Therefore you also pay taxes", verse 6 goes on to tell us.  In Greek, this sentence is written by Paul using the indicative, meaning "Therefore you also are paying (or you also have been paying) taxes", rather than the imperative which carries the meaning, "Therefore you also must pay taxes".  This implies strongly that Paul knew, or at least he would have assumed, that the Roman Christians have been paying taxes all along - a big issue indeed, particularly for Jewish Christians involved in anti-Roman activism at that time!

And Paul follows on with his command "to render to all their dues": taxes (Gr phoros = direct tax), as well as customs (Gr telos = indirect tax).  It reminds us of the reply that our Lord Jesus gave in Luke 20: 21-25 to those spies who were sent by the chief priests to ask Him the cunning question, "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?".

"Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" - this saying continues to ring true among Christians today.

Note that the practice of rendering to all what is due to them had already existed within the temple courts of Jerusalem - where people changed their Roman coins at the money changers' tables for gold shekels (Hebrew "currency") to be used as offerings in the temple.

Remember also the difficult times surrounding the birth of our Lord Jesus, when Joseph and Mary had to obey the decree of Caesar Augustus (Luke 2) to return to their hometown Bethlehem, to register under a census taken throughout the Roman Empire.  How they had to suffer -  the long arduous journey, with Mary about to give birth and no rooms were available at the inns. Under such trying circumstances, they had to render to Caesar the fear and honour due to him as Emperor.

Then there was also a Roman Law that authorized a Roman soldier to stop any citizen in any place within the Empire and order the citizen to carry his armour for him - up to a journey of one mile.  Obviously, this was a very unpopular law, and there could have been many Roman soldiers who abused this law, using it to extort favours from the Jews.  In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord Jesus taught, "And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two." (Matt 5:41)

All in all, verses 5 - 7 seem to be telling us, "We are God's citizens.  Therefore we do good by submitting to authorities ordained by God."

We obey authorities not because of their just and fair practices, but on the contrary, we do so in spite of injustices and cruelty on their part, regarding them as ordained by God.

We do our utmost to avoid breaking laws, and thus stay away from living in fear of punishment enforced by rulers, and governing officials, because we regard them as ministers of God.

And finally, we show the world that we are subjects of God's Kingdom, by submitting ourselves to worldly kings  -  a way of doing good in our Christian living.  We subject ourselves to authorities and their officials not only because because of our fear of punishment, but also because of our yearning for a good conscience towards God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, in these trying times in our country, when innocent people appear to be wrongfully arrested and locked up for speaking up in protest against perceived injustices and unlawful practices, let us exercise restraint and self-control.  Let us heed the call of the Apostle Paul, in Romans 12:21,

Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Of Weak Knees and Drooping Hands.

Thur 07May09:  Hebrews 12: 3 - 13 RSV

My son, do not despise the LORD's discipline . . . Proverbs 3:11

This chapter of Hebrews elaborates on the wisdom writings of Proverbs 3, telling us that as God's children, we have to respect and submit to His discipline, even more than we respected our earthly fathers when they disciplined us.  If we are not subject to any discipline at all, verse 8 says, then we are like illegitimate children!

For the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights. Prov 3:12
Of course, discipline is painful and unpleasant, verse 11 goes on to acknowledge.  However, it will subsequently the "peaceful fruit of righteousness"  to those who have been trained by it.

Although I have read this passage, and its associated source in Proverbs 3 many times before, I realise for the first time today that we should look at episodes of painful discipline from the Lord as a course of training.  It is meant to strengthen us and to keep us spiritually fit, eventually to bear the fruit of righteousness in our character.  And verse 12 goes on to say that we should strengthen our hands and knees, and press on in the race (refer verse 1).

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, and fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. he will come and save you."  Isaiah 35: 3

This reminds me of some Saturday mornings when I bring my mother to a physiotherapy centre near my home for rehabilitation (or rehab, as my daughter, who is a physiotherapy student in Nanyang Poly puts it).  Over the last couple of months, with the expert advice and gentle persuasion of the physiotherapist, my mother has been able to recover considerable mobility to her knees and hip joints.  In the course of the treatment, she has had to endure a lot of pain when trying to regain some range of movements to "feeble knees" which had not been moved for a long time because of the pain she suffered from osteoarthritis.  Ironically, by moving those parts that hurt, under the physio's supervision, eventually they don't hurt so much anymore!

. . . lift your drooping hands, and strengthen your weak knees and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed v 13

Dear Christians, are there among us who are going through episodes of painful discipline from the Lord?  Let us take it as a course of training for righteousness. Like physio rehab, we must work those limbs that are lame, so that they will not be put out of joint altogether. 

Fearless factor.

Wed 06May09:  Isaiah 41: 10 KJV

Fear thou not; for I am with thee . . . v10

As a young Christian in Form Five, I would get up very early in the morning to pray and to read the scriptures before getting ready to catch the 6:15 Foh Hup bus from Taynton View, Cheras to my school MBSKL downtown.  Getting up so early in the morning, sitting all alone by myself in the living room posed a difficulty for me: I was afraid of ghosts!  

I was involved in divinations and psychic practices before I believed in the Lord Jesus, and I had stayed briefly in a haunted house a few years earlier.  Hence, there was a fear factor in being alone while everybody else was still asleep.  I turned to the Lord in prayer, somewhat desperately, asking for his protection from evil spirits, using whatever words I could find as a young believer who didn't know how to pray very well.  Coincidentally, and I believe that it was allowed by God's will, as I opened my old King James Bible, I came across Isaiah 41:10.  

I had not read this verse nor had I heard it being preached in sermons before. That morning  in 1976, it leapt out of the page at me. Whilst I do not encourage Christians to go to their Bibles for random messages like some kind of fortune telling machines, I am persuaded that coming across this verse in Isaiah 41 on that occasion was God given.  It was a very personal message, for in the English of the KJV, the "thou" and the "thee" refers to the second person singular. It spoke to me personally and it relieved me of the fear factor I was facing.

For the next minute or two, I read with great joy and confidence that God was with me. I wasn't alone. He was my God, right there at a time of looming apprehension.  He would strengthen me and help me. He would uphold me with his righteous right hand.  Some versions of the Bible translates the last part as his "victorious right hand"

fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. (RSV)

This morning, thirty-three years later, as I begin work, I am reminded of this verse again.  The fear factor has since left me.  Today I am no longer a fearful person, sorely afraid of spirits.  By the victorious right hand of God Almighty, who is with me, the fear factor has ceased.  

God has become my fearless factor.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Be careful for nothing?

Tue 05May2009:  Philippians 4: 4 - 7 ESV

 . . . do not be anxious about anything v.6

I'm often troubled by anxiety whenever it's exam marking season.  And this week is one of those times again.  This morning I woke up thinking whether I'll ever finish the stack of scripts on time before another stack comes in later in the day.  Deadlines are tight, unintentional mistakes are not tolerated and reviewers are almost absolutely merciless with their demands.  Trying to finish work in a hurry and doing it very carefully at the same time is a somewhat dreadful experience for me - three times a year!

And so the anxiety mounts.  As I was preparing to go to work, I am reminded of this short passage in Philippians 4, especially verse 6.  I remember that in my early years as a Christian, I memorised it from the KJV, which goes rather differently as follows:

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God

Be careful for nothing?  That seemed odd.  Should Christians  live recklessly in the name of God? I was puzzled.  It took me some time before I realised that this 17th century English expression meant "don't be full of care", i.e. we should not be filled with worries or anxieties over anything in our lives.  For me, this morning, that includes the drudgery of marking carefully under tight deadlines.  It looks like, whilst I've to be careful for every item I'm marking, I shouldn't be full of care in the course of carrying out the task over this coming week.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus v.7

Yes, by prayers, by requests and with much thanksgiving, I shall trust God to grant me peace. Peace that will guard my heart and my mind in Christ. 

So, in the old English language of 1611, let us be careful for nothing!

Monday, May 4, 2009

For a moment, and forever.

Mon 04May2009:   Isaiah 54: 1 - 10 KJV

In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the LORD thy Redeemer.  v8

As I was reading this passage just before going out for lunch today, my attention was drawn to the sharp contrast between the past and the future of the afflicted people of Israel.  They had been chastised by the hand of the LORD and, as a nation, they were likened to a barren woman "who did not bear", while God was likened to the husband who had forsaken her for a short time.

For the LORD hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God.  For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. v6,7

Firstly in verse 7,  the small moment of Israel being forsaken constrasts distinctly against the great mercies by which the people were to be gathered by the Lord again. It tells me that, the same merciful Lord continues to gather His people to him today.  If we have displeased Him, the smallness of being momentarily forsaken cannot be compared with the greatness of being gathered back to Him again.

Secondly in verse 8, and as a parallel image to verse 7 above, there is a distinct contrast between God hiding His face from Israel "for a moment" and the "everlasting" kindness with which He will show mercy.

Thus, the act of God forsaking his people is incomparable to the act of His reconciling them together with Him, while the hiding of His face cannot compare with the showing of His mercy.

We can put our trust in the everlasting mercies of God. The God who had sworn to Noah in ancient times that the earth will never again be overwhelmed with a great flood is also the same God who  has sworn again here:

. . . so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee. For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the LORD that hath mercy on thee. v9, 10

Dear Christian, let us draw near to God.  His wrath is for a moment. His mercies are forever.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

For God so loved the world, so what . . .

Sunday, 03May09:  1 John 3: 16 - 24 NIV

. . .Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. v16

This morning it was my turn to read the New Testament Reading, taken from the passage mentioned above.  Then, at the beginning of the sermon, my pastor asked the congregation whether we remember what John 3: 16 says.  As expected, most of us raised our hands to indicate that we've no problem quoting the verse:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Then it was followed by the question, "Who knows what 1 John 3: 16 says?".  

Nobody knew.  

And it was despite my having read it just a while earlier.  I must have read it so badly that nobody understood me. Or perhaps, as usual, most of the congregation were not paying much attention so early in the morning.  And I, even I who read the passage aloud to everybody, could only manage a vague recollection, and I had to turn to the passage to take another good look at the verse again!

Regardless of what caused the rather pitiful ignorance on our part, it is noteworthy that the Lord has allowed the bible to be numbered in such a way that 1 John 3: 16 is an elaboration of the implications of John 3: 16.  That is, if we acknowledge that God has given his only Begotten to die for us, then we ought to die for our brothers.  This is the "so what" of John 3: 16:

The Son of God laid down his life for us, SO we ought to lay down our lives for our brethren. 

Now it is hard for us to agree heartily to this "so what" obligation of 1John 3: 16.  It demands incredible courage and sacrifice, which we rarely come across all our lives.  Nevertheless, I believe that God will grant us courage should the occasion arise one day for us to sacrifice ourselves to save a brother or sister.  May God have mercy on us.

It is also interesting to note in this morning's passage that the verse immediately following 1John 3: 16 appears to have suddenly stopped talking about dying for one another.  Instead it talks about material possessions.

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? v17

I'd like to interpret this sudden departure from the "so we ought to die" issue, as indicating that we begin learning this "so what" obligation by first showing the love of God compassionately to one another: by sharing our possessions with fellow brethren in need.  In other words, we must first learn to lay down "things in our lives" before we can lay down our lives.  This appears to be the prelude, the ongoing daily practice, if you like, towards laying down our lives eventually, should God predestine us to do so one day.

And this is the command: to believe in thename of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. v23

Dear Christian friends, God loved the world so much that he gave his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ who has laid down his life for us.  So, let us lay down our lives for one another.  Let us begin by showing God's love in sharing our possessions in compassion with the needy brother or sister.  This is the "so what" of John 3: 16.

Encouraged, when we know each other's state.

Philippians 2: 19 - 30 NKJV

But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state. v19

Yesterday was a day of joy and encouragement.  My wife Chooy Lin and I met with many of the brothers and sisters whom we fellowshipped with together back in the late 70s and early 80s in the MYF, under the teaching and care of our faithful, diligent and exemplary missionary couple John and Lori Robb. 

The occasion where we were all reunited was the 25th Wedding Anniversary Celebration of one of our dear brothers, Patrick and his wife Germaine , a memorable and meaningful service conducted in the River of Life Sanctuary in Segambut, KL.  I must say I was somewhat shy and tongue-tied when my wife and I greeted Patrick and Germaine at the door at lunch time, and so too, when we said good-bye to both of them at the end.  Perhaps, after such a long separation, it's the awe of meeting in person this tall, dark and handsome brother with high nose and deep-set eyes, resembling an Asian version of a James Bond star.  And initially, we couldn't recognise Germaine, who has grown noticeably slim and very graceful indeed after all these years!

And so many of the MYF'ers were there.  Our beloved brother Pooi Han was one of the first people to walk over to us, and he greeted us heartily.  I haven't met him since 1983!  In my busyness in looking out for the others, I didn't manage to talk very much with him and I hope to meet up with him again soon for a good chat.

Likewise when Yoke Har came out of her way to greet us in the hallway, I was at a loss on what to ask her. The usual "How have you been getting on all these years?" eluded me.  And I forgot to ask about her church, or her family.  I must make up for it the next time, I guess.

Finally, we spent some good time of fellowship with David and Dorcas, Bob and Li Yuen (whom I mistook for another person at one stage), Lai Lin, Yoke Har, Francis Chin, who remembered me well for having often "disturbed" him whenever he worked in the church, and also Alex and wife and his pretty daughter.  Sorry, for having difficulties recalling who Alex was, although he looked very  familiar indeed.  And likewise also Rocky (got the name right, I hope).

[The photo above taken with kind help from Kim Fah, using David's camera, and conveyed by kindness from Patrick, added Sun, 3May09 3 pm]

Well, there was some consolation though, for I was not the only person who failed to remember some people.  David Lim, in his usual cheerful disposition, put his hand on my shoulder, smiling at me, told me he couldn't remember when I was together with them in the MYF.  Eventually, with further elaborations about some of the events when were present together, he recalled who I was, including some help from those crooked front teeth of mine!

Another very pleasant surprise, which deserves a separate page of testimony on its own, was meeting with a dear brother from Serdang Baru AOG, Hee Kim Fah: a school mate from MBSKL back in the 70s, who let me park my bicyle at his house many times when I went home from campus on holidays, and a kind brother who rode his old trusty Suzuki motorbike to visit me and cheered me up when I was ill in hospital in my third year in UPM, mid 1981. God has blessed him indeed: he is CEO of a multinational company now!

As I am writing these words, I am reminded of the words of the apostle Paul in Philippians 2: 19, quoted above.  Yesterday's reunion gave me a better understanding of how Paul felt when he was separated from the Philippian brethren. He had to send his faithful helper, Timothy, to see them and to bring back news about "the state" they were in.  As for all of us MYFers yesterday,  we were blessed by the Lord having the opportunity to meet one another face-to-face, and I believe that we were mutually encouraged when we got to know the state each of us were in, after having been separated for a couple of decades.  I think the apostle Paul was likewise trusting the Lord to meet the Philippians face-to-face and have the same mutual encouragement as ours too.

But I trust in the Lord that I myself shall also come shortly. v24

So we shall look forward to meet those of you who'll be coming to Kampar on the first weekend of June for your church camp, albeit briefly again, because we've been invited to join another church camp in Cameron Highlands that same week.  After that we hope to meet more people when John Robb visits again towards the end of the year to preach at Yoke Har's church, and possibly to have fellowship at David's home again(?).  Like Epaphroditus, another dear brother to the apostle Paul, we shall long to meet another again.

Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need; since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. v25,26

So, to all our dear lost and found brothers and sisters, we salute you all for having remained faithful in the Lord all these thirty years, particularly Patrick and David Lim who serve full-time in the ministry of the Gospel of Christ.  We thank Patrick and Germaine for their diligence and patience in putting up the event, and also for their dear children's candid and enlightening presentations.  Please forgive us for any shortcomings in our manners, our words or our lack of thoughtfulness towards anybody, and also for having lost our way and arriving late, in that brief but thoroughly pleasant and refreshing reunion yesterday afternoon.

Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me. v30

Dear brethren, let us receive one another with all gladness and learn to hold each other in high esteem.  May God Bless You all.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Greet one another

Thur 30Apr09:  Romans 16: 1 - 27 ESV

Greet one another with a holy kiss, all the churches of Christ greet you. v16

This morning I met a colleague at the lift who greeted me, "Good Morning . . ." cheerfully.  I notice that she is probably the only one around the office who  makes it a point to be polite and to greet everybody she meets, though sometimes she appears to do so somewhat formally.  Nevertheless, it's always a pleasant encounter to meet such well mannered people who wish you a good day ahead. 

In contrast, I find that such good manners are gradually disappearing from our fellowship in the church, particularly from among the young people.  It's hard to find church members who would return my greetings politely, much less those who would greet me first, when we meet.  It seems to me that wishing someone a good  day is getting out of trend.  Instead, people tend to just nod or gesture a little when meeting each other on a Sunday morning.  On isolated occasions, there were those who would ignore you altogether.  Is this another one of those "contemporary" things going on in the church?

Perhaps, we can learn from the example of the ancient writings of the apostles in the NT.  Paul sent a long list of greetings to fellow believers at the end of his epistle to the Romans:

Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. Greet also the church in their house. v3 - 5

Greetings, or conveying greetings appear to be a common practice expected of Christians in the early church.  We are familiar with Paul's epistles, for example which almost invariably begins with a greeting like that in Romans 1:

To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Rom 1:7

Of course, the shortest greetings I have come across in the NT is, perhaps, the one from James, who wrote, "To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion, Greetings!" (James 1: 1).   And besides conveying  greetings in words, there are at least four occasions when NT Christians are reminded to greet each other with a "holy kiss" (Rom 16:16, 1Cor 16: 20, 2Cor 13: 12) or with a "kiss of love" (1Pet 5: 14).  This, I guess,  is probably similar in nature to the practice of "touching faces" in middle eastern culture today.

Greeting one another is a helpful and beneficial practice in our church.  It is commanded and exemplified by the apostles in the NT.  To me, it's be a fundamental practice that should be inculcated among Christians, young or old alike, lest we fall under reproach from the world.

Beloved, let us greet one another.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Waterless clouds, late autumn trees.

Wed 29Apr09:    Jude 1 - 25 NKJV

 . . . They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; v12

When Jude asked the readers to build themselves up in their most holy faith, and to pray in the Holy Spirit, it was done with great concern over the alarming presence of some ungodly people who had "crept in unnoticed" (v4) among them.

These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.  v19

While reading the chapter this morning, it appears to me that this epistle possibly contains the most vivid and detailed descriptions about ungodly people in one single chapter, compared to any other epistle in the NT.

These ungodly people were characterized by Jude as showing the following behaviour:

  • they turn the grace of our God into immorality
  • they deny the Lord Jesus Christ
  • they defile the flesh, reject authority and slander even angels
  • they speak evil of what they do not know
  • they corrupt themselves with their animal instincts
  • they have become like Cain who killed his own brother,
  • and like Balaam who deceived others for his own gains,
  • and also like Korah who perished in his rebellious ways.
  • they are grumblers, complainers, going after their own lusts;
  • they utter boastful words, while also flattering others to gain advantage;

To me, the most vivid description of all is that in v12, quoted above, referring to such people as waterless clouds and late autumn trees.  They are like clouds, but they carry no rain. They are like trees, but, alas they don't bear fruit.  In fact, v12 goes on to refer to these fruitless trees as "twice dead" and uprooted.  And in the following v13, Jude calls them

Raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.

The disturbing thing is that these people have crept quietly into the church, professing themselves to be church members.  No wonder, Jude began his epistle by saying that he found it necessary to exhort the Christians to contend earnestly for the faith.  In some newer versions of the Bible, this verse is translated as " . . . to defend the faith".

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, I urge you to join me in devoting our lives to defending our faith.  I beseech you to learn the teachings of our Lord and the ancient writings of the New Testament, so that we may be capable of defending our faith earnestly, even to contend with false believers who teach otherwise, by promoting upright Godly Christian thinking and living in our church.

Let us build ourselves up in our most holy faith. Let us pray in the Spirit. And let us keep ourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The First Breakfast.

Tue 28Apr09:    John 21: 1 - 14 NKJV

Jesus said to them, "Come and eat breakfast." v12

The Lord had already appeared to the disciples behind closed doors twice, besides having appeared initially to Mary Magdalene just outside the tomb.  They had seen him face to face. He had spoken with them.  And they had inspected his wounded hands and side.  Even doubting Thomas had stopped doubting.

Well, after everything is over,  it's time to catch some fish again, Peter thought.  He told the other disciples that he'd like to go fishing, and they went out in the boat together with him.  Sadly, it turned out to be a disappointing trip for they caught nothing throughout the night.

The next morning, Jesus appeared to them again, standing on the shore, but they didn't recognize him.  They realised who he was only after they caught a very large haul of 153 large fish at his advice to cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat. 

"It is the Lord!" . . . v7

On coming ashore, they saw that Jesus had already prepared breakfast for them, with fish grilling over burning coals, along with some bread.

Jesus told them to bring some of the fish that they had just caught and join him for breakfast. He served them bread, followed by fish.  They were too afraid to ask him, "Who are you?".  They knew it was the Lord.

This was an unforgettable breakfast, a breakfast by the sea.  It was the first breakfast with the risen Lord.   The Lord is risen indeed.  It was a significant event for the disciples that day, and it is the sole reason for our faith today, and our hope in looking forward to our own resurrection at the Lord's return one day.

But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.  1 Cor 15: 20-22

Dear Christians, let us hold fast to our hope in the Lord, that one day we shall also be made alive from the dead like him.  The Lord is our firstfruits of resurrection.  It was witnessed at the first breakfast.  He is risen!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Auspicious sayings vs Authentic blessings

Mon 27Apr09:    Psalm 37: 3 - 6

Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. v4

Last Saturday evening my family attended the wedding dinner of one of my wife's nephews at Syuen Hotel Ipoh.  It was a grand occasion, taking place in a very grand, charming colonial style building which has been very carefully preserved over the decades.  We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly with the food, the music and songs, and the joy of meeting up with so many cousins and their families and some hometown friends.

In the midst of the very happy and noisy chatting, my attention was drawn to the many "auspicious sayings" uttered by the MCs, as is the normal practice of traditional Chinese community everywhere.

Besides that, much pain was also taken to ensure that as many auspicious symbols as possible were put in place to bring about good fortune, good health, long life and great success in the coming years of the bride and groom's married life.  For example, all the eight courses of food at the dinner table carried auspicious sounding names.  The colour red, or at least pink, was made prominent in the decor of the banquet hall. And everybody was expected to be careful not to utter any words or make any careless remarks on ominous subjects such as death, illness or loss. 

It occurs to me now that such traditional Chinese practices appear to be based on the belief, or the  assumption, that by making such utterances heard and by having such symbols made prominent at the wedding, one can bring about the fortunes that one hopes for.  At best, it seems like wishful thinking, and at its worst, it resembles some occultic incantations.

In contrast, I remember Psalm 37, a psalm that has brought me comfort in times of setbacks and assurance on occasions when I questioned my own failure to get what I desired.  Instead of relying on wishful auspicious utterances, or symbols of good fortune, as a redeemed child of God in Christ Jesus, I must trust in God our Father, do good and depend on his faithful providence:
Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness v 3

And instead of being consumed by the pursuit of my own delights in life, this Psalm tells me to be delighted in God himself instead.  And I will get what my heart desires.  I don't need to utter empty auspicious sayings wishfully, in the hope that somehow, from some unknown source, my desires for good things in life will be fulfilled.  Instead, the Psalmist writes that God will bring about good things in life, if I commit my way to Him:

Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it pass.  He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light.  And your justice as the noonday.  v5, 6

Dear Christian, please join me in living a blessed life. Instead of depending on wishful auspicious sayngs, let us live by God's authentic blessings.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Is your garden full of weeds?

Fri 24Apr09:    James 1: 19 - 27 RSV

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only . . . v22

I had a classmate, back in Form Five in MBSKL, who would always display a sticker on his pencil-box stating, "A man of words but not of deeds, is like a garden full of weeds."  He wasn't a Christian, and he didn't appear very religious.  But he took this statement as a maxim in his life, seriously.  

After I believed in the Lord Jesus, I was reminded of this classmate's maxim in life when I began to learn from James chapter 1 -  to be a person of deeds. 
. . . he who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts, he shall be blessed in his doing.  v 25

Words that have been heard, received, agreed upon or affirmed with our lips need to be matched by our actions, our deeds and our walk in Christian living.  Words which lie idle in our thinking, and not carried out in our doing can be likened to weeds in our garden of life.

This morning I received an email from an old Christian teacher, Shirley Ng, who's visiting her relatives in Melbourne, telling me that she enjoys helping her sister to weed their garden.  And each time she does the weeding, she's reminded likewise to remove "weeds" from her own life, a task which, she says, is "backbreaking".  Some of those things which Shirley has to constantly weed out are bad habits in life. 

Today, I'd also like to liken my life to a garden that requires constant weeding.  A tiring and unpleasant task indeed, but if neglected, Christian life will be full of talk and little action.  It will become a garden full of weeds.

Let us not be hearers who forget, but instead be doers who act.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Behold, your feet.

Wed 22Apr09     Romans 10: 13 - 15 RSV

Behold, on the mountains the feet of him who brings good tidings, who proclaim peace! Nahum 1: 15

Recently, my wife and I resumed our evening hikes up a hill to the Batu Berangkai waterfalls, on the southern fringe of Kampar town.  The slow, short hike takes us about twenty minutes to arrive at the lowest and the most popular section of the falls, where we'd sit down quietly to watch the water tumbling and rushing down over the smooth slippery rocks, while some families and young people take a dip in a quiet pool nearby.

Most of us hike up the cool narrow winding road to keep ourselves fit. My wife and I think it's good for our hearts, literally.  After returning home, however, I am reminded of another part of my body that supported me all the way up the hill, but which I have not been very mindful of. They are my feet.  My beautiful feet.  

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace, who brings good tidings of good, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns." Is 52: 7

The same pair of feet which faithfully brings me up Batu Berangkai appears to have been taken for granted and neglected for some time now.  And the Bible says I need to pay some attention to my feet, by carrying the gospel along with them as I hike up the next hill in life.

When Joel prophesied about the great and terrible day of the LORD, saying that the sun will turn to darkness and the moon to blood, he wrote that all who call upon the name of the LORD shall be delivered from the terror. Joel 2: 28  This prophecy is later explained and expanded on further by the apostle Paul in Romans 10, as follows:

But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without a preacher?  And how can men preach unless they are sent?  As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!" Rom 10:14, 15

We are reminded to pay some attention to our feet, to keep them in good shape, by always being prepared to preach the good news , the glad tidings of our faith to people around us.  Indeed, " . . . having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace;" (Eph 6: 15) is part of the armour of God that Paul commanded the Ephesians to put on in their Christian lives. 

Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, "Behold, your God!"  Isaiah 40: 9

So, Christians, let us renew our attention to keep our feet beautiful, to put on the footwear of proclaiming the gospel.  Let us get up on the mountain and lift our voice again.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pay-back time.

Tuesday, 21Apr09:    Romans 12: 17 - 19 NIV

It is mine to avenge; I will repay . . . Deut. 32: 35

Flashback: memories of some not so pleasant incidences  . . . 
1978, squatter area behind Peel Road, Pudu:  It was very dark at night.  I almost collided with a bicycle without lights coming swiftly towards me down a narrow path.  I had my bicycle lamp switched on, and so the cyclist should have noticed me easily.  Instead of apologizing, he swore at me with some very strong expletives.

1991, PJ: A rich man's luxury car arrived and double parked closely to a family car, with occupants still inside, even when the other car is about to leave the bay. When the father of that family protested, the rich man retorted, "Can't you reverse out the other way?", and walked across the road without looking back. The poor father and his family were left wondering how to get their vehicle out of the narrow space.

Last week, on the PLUS Highway, coming back from KLIA:
It was drizzling and the road was getting wet.  Thankfully, the highway had recently been upgraded and it's now three lanes each way until Slim river.  I decided to keep below the 110 kmh speed limit while driving on the middle lane, so that I can avoid slow heavy vehicles on the left lane, while still allowing fast cars to overtake on the right.  

Suddenly, a pick-up lorry came very near to my car from behind. The driver honked, and flashed its headlamps furiously and repeatedly at me, apparently demanding that I move over to the slow left lane. But I was almost at 100kmh already. And he could have easily overtaken me on the right-hand lane!  Notwithstanding, the angry flashing of headlights continued. After a couple of minutes, he decided to overtake me on the left and disappeared into the distance.

A few days ago:
My wife and I were in our car, just having passed a traffic intersection, in the newer part of our home-town, when out of nowhere a very fast Honda passed us on the left and cut in front of our car, with very little room to spare. I had to slow down quickly to avoid knocking into the Honda, which sped off soon after that.

This afternoon:
At the same traffic lights intersection as a few days ago.  I was approaching the junction when a white car came out from the left hand side road and stopped in front of me, blocking my way.  I had to stop too, thinking it would cross in front of me. No, instead the unfriendly looking driver stared angrily at me, expecting me to avoid him when it's my right of way on that road. Apparently, he wanted to drive on my side of the road to reach some road-side stalls nearby!  I gave in to his demand, and swerved out of his way, but he continued to turn and scowl me as I passed his white car.  

etc etc

Do such incidences leave you seething in anger? It does leave me feeling somewhat vengeful.  Instinctively, I wish to get back at them, to give them a piece of my mind at least, and perhaps with a piece of two-by-four on their heads, if possible.

We always wonder when, if at all, God in heaven will punish these rascals for the injustice they do to others. When will they get their retribution? When is pay-back time?  The answer from the apostle Paul here, quoting from the book of Deutoronomy, is to leave it for God's wrath to repay them. "I will repay . . ." is the reply from God our Father who sees everything.

The rest of Deuteronomy 32: 35, which is not quoted in Paul's writing here, says:

In due time their foot will slip;
their day of disaster is near
and their doom rushes upon them

So, will there be a pay-back time for those who do evil? Yes, and indeed, for such people, that time is very near, even rushing upon them.

Knowing this helps me to understand why the Apostle taught us to refrain from taking revenge, but instead to do the contrary, by feeding our enemies when they are hungry, and giving drink to them who are thirsty. (Prov 25: 21,22).  Of course, I'd find it easier to hurt my enemies than to help them, and this is an ongoing lesson to be learnt in our walk with the Lord.

Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.  Rom. 12:21

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Fear and Gladness, Doubt and Belief

Sunday, 19Apr09     John 20: 19 - 31 KJV

 . . . the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, v19

That Easter Sunday evening, the doors were shut, perhaps even bolted.  The disciples were afraid of the Jews.  The Lord's body was missing from his grave, and the Jews could be looking everywhere for them, to arrest them, accusing them of having stolen the body.  The disciples were full of fear.

Then suddenly, Jesus appeared and stood in the midst of them!  He showed them the wounds on his hands and his side.  He pronounced peace upon them and imparted the breath of the Holy Spirit on them, and commissioned them, 

"As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you" v21
When the disciples' saw the Lord, they were very glad indeed. 

However, Thomas was not among them.  For some reason, he was not hiding in that house together with them that Sunday evening.  Perhaps, he couldn't make it there, and the angry Jews had already launched a man-hunt for them. Probably he was holed up in some other home, waiting for the frenzy to die down, before making his way to meet up the other ten disciples in their safe-house.

And there was doubt.  Thomas couldn't believe his ears when they told him, "We have seen the Lord." (v.25).  Or rather, he wouldn't believe his friends.  He would not believe them, unless he saw the Lord himself, and touched the wounds on the Lord's hands and side.  For the next eight days, Thomas and his friends stayed indoors: in fear of the Jews, in gladness of having met the resurrected Lord in person and, for Thomas, in doubt of what his fellow brethren had told him. 

Finally, came belief.  The Lord appeared in their midst again, this time telling Thomas to inspect his wounds, to touch them and to stop being sceptical of His resurrection.  Thomas answered with those famous words, "My Lord and my God" (v 28).

"Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." v29

Thus, for the disciples, those eight days after the first Easter was an emotional one. There was paralysing fear and exhilarating gladness. There was also nagging doubt for Thomas.  But at last, there was enduring belief. 

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Same Gift.

17Apr09   Acts 11: 1-18 NIV

For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
Acts 1: 5

The apostle Peter, when criticized by the Jewish Christians at Jerusalem, had to explain his reason for having had meals with the household of Cornelius the Centurion. He recounted "everything to them precisely as it had happened" (11: 4).

Peter told them that he accepted the invitation to visit Cornelius' household in Caesarea only after the Lord gave him a vision in which he was asked, three times, to partake of unclean meat. Naturally, Peter refused, but each time hearing a voice from the Lord tell him, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean" (10:15; 11:9)

He told the Jews that when he arrived in Caesarea, he learned that Cornelius had seen an angel appear in his house, telling him, "Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. 14He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved." (11:13).

And Peter said that as he began to deliver that message to Cornelius' household, the Holy Spirit came upon them "just as it had happened to us at the beginning" (11: 15). 

It was the same gift. Peter could recognise it easily.  What happened to the audience in Cornelius' house that day was a repeat of that which took place in Acts chapter 2 on Pentecost day. I'm not sure about the blowing of a violent wind within the house, nor do I think it likely that tongues of fire appeared once more, to rest on each person's head.

But when Peter told the critical Jews that it happened to Cornelius' house just as it happened to themselves at the beginning, obviously he had seen and heard them speak in other languages, as the Spirit enabled them. It was the same miraculous phenomenon. It was the same Holy Spirit of God.

When Peter realised that the same gift was given to the Gentiles as it had been given to the Jews, he remembered the words of the resurrected Lord Jesus in Acts 1:5 (quoted above).  As reluctant as he was, he had to accept the fact that God had given the same gift to the Gentiles, the "goyim", people who until then were regarded as outside the kingdom of God. Seeing the gift of the Spirit being poured out upon Cornelius' household made Peter remember that he was very small in the sight of God. 

". . . if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?" (11: 17)

The apostle Peter must have remembered what he had said earlier in his long sermon on Pentecost Day. He had called upon the God-fearing Jews from "every nation under heaven"  that day at Jerusalem, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call" (2; 38, 39) 

Now, at last Peter knew the full implication of his Pentecost message. The same promise, the same gift is to be received by all whom the Lord our God calls - including those Gentiles.  Today this gift is also available for people everywhere who repent and believe in the Lord Jesus.

It's the same gift. You can receive it too.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Better life? Better than life.

16Apr09    Psalm 63: 1 - 11  KJV

Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. v3

Recently, a number of my colleagues have resigned.  Some of them, with post-graduate degrees, have gone over to a new university nearby to teach.  Others have moved on to other types of work, saying that they are tired of teaching. There were a few who have not found another job yet, and they are relying on their savings, financial investments, private tuition etc for the time being.

All of them have left for one common reason: dissatisfaction with life at their current place of work, arising from a perceived "badness" of working conditions and management practices.  They have all gone for a better life.

I have not been spared from similar unhappiness too. In fact, I've been outspoken in raising some issues where many of my ex-colleagues have preferred to remain silent over the eleven years I've worked here.   I would also like to move on to a better life.

This morning, I am reminded of Psalm 63. The opening verse is a passionate, nay, even desperate plea to God. It appears to be written by someone who is thirsty, who is dissatisfied in life.

O God, thou art my God, early will I seek thee;
my soul thirsteth for thee,
my flesh longeth for thee
in a dry and thirsty land,
where no water is;  v.1
There is a difference though, between the Psalmist and many of us. He is not thirsting for a better life. He is not yearning for better working conditions, or a higher standard of living. Instead he is thirsting for something better than life.  He is thirsting for God, and for His love. In verse 3 he says that God's loving kindness is the better choice. 

Dear Christians, have we been lost in seeking a better life?  Let us seek God instead. The world around us is like a dry and thirsty land, without any water.  Let us rise up early each day to seek God, to thirst for Him in our souls, and to long for him in our flesh.  And together with the Psalmist, we can lift up our hands in His name and bless Him with our lips.

God's loving kindness - it's better than life.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Rejoice and Weep.

14Apr09   Romans 12: 15, 16 NKJV

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.  v15

This afternoon I had long conversation with a faithful Christian brother. He has an impressive Chinese name which, when translated loosely, literally means "the strong hero". Let me call him Brother H in this post.

Brother H is a humble man. He rarely, if ever, boasts of his abilities or accomplishments. Nor does this strong hero despise others who are weaker than him. Talking to him brings me no anxiety at all, for I don't have to be worried about what he would think about my failures.

So, I was able to share with Brother H some of the burdens in my heart. He was both attentive and understanding in listening to my long-winded complaints about difficulties recently encountered at work and some other frustrations in life.  At the same time, Brother H also shared my joy when I told him how I managed to get in touch with several dear long-lost brothers and sisters with whom I fellowshipped in the Lord almost thirty years ago.

As much as he was willing to listen, Brother H was also willing to share his burdens with me.  Recently, he has been facing some nagging difficulties with a family member at home and he was feeling exasperated over this person's reluctance to listen to his reasoning.  He also felt annoyed at times when church members behave rather selfishly, not showing the kind of Christian love for God that he wished they would. I could offer him no comfort save to listen with some empathy.

"Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble . . ." v 16

All in all, this afternoon's was a pleasant and fulfilling time of humble Christian fellowship. Brother H and I could rejoice with each other's joys and weep with each other's sorrows. There was no proud talking at all.  For me, it was a long refreshing conversation with a humble brother who does not set his mind on "high things".

In his own way, Brother H has indeed become a strong hero for God.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Peace like a river.

13Apr09   Isaiah 48: 17 - 22

Oh that you had heeded my commandments!
Then your peace would have been like a river . . . v 18

One of the first Christian songs that I learned to sing in my early Christian days in school was a simple Negro spiritual that goes, "I've got peace like a river (3x), in my soul." Back in the 70s we often sang it during Wednesday Chapel Services and at our Friday CF meetings in MBSKL. And we'd always sing very heartily indeed. 

In those days, Christian young people were very keen on experiences of peace, joy and love that God gives to every one who sincerely turns to Christ in his heart. Testimonies of new Christians would invariably include at least a mention of how peace came into their hearts after they believed on the Lord Jesus and opened the door of their heart to Him.

And so, with the accompaniment of an old guitar, we'd sing "Peace like a river" together, loudly and cheerfully. 

Today, I had the opportunity to turn aside from my work and ask myself - what had happened to this river of peace which my Christian school-mates and I used to talk so much about in those good old MBS days?  Thirty years have passed, and it appears that all the hard knocks in life, and the hectic pace of both work and family, have hardened my heart somewhat.

Instead of making melody in my heart about having peace like a river from God, I am occupied with struggling upstream to gain profits offered by the world. In this OT passage, as the prophet Isaiah rebukes the unfaithfulness of Israel, he speaks forth the word of the LORD:

"I am the LORD your God,
  Who teaches you to profit,
  Who leads you by the way you should go." v17

Brothers and Sisters, it's time to let God teach us to profit - His way, the way that we should go.  It is time to go back to our good old days, to take heed of God's commandments, and to sing "I've got peace like a river in my soul" with gusto again.