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.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

An act of God.

12Apr09 Acts 10: 34 - 43 NKJV

Him God raised up on the third day . . . v.40

This morning as the cool morning sun gradually emerged from the hill-tops overlooking Pearl Garden, I was sitting among the congregation attending our annual Easter sunrise service. I listened quietly when one of our members read the passage about Peter testifying as a first-hand witness of the Lord's resurrection to the household of Cornelius in Caesarea.

It occurred to me that Peter's testimony was full of references to the acts of God in the earthly ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It was God who anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power (v 38).

God was with Him (v 38b).

After he was killed, God raised him up on the third day (v 39).

It was God who showed the resurrected Lord Jesus openly to selected witnesses (v 41), witnesses whom God had chosen, so that they could even eat and drink with Him.

Finally, it was God who ordained the Lord to be judge of the living and the dead (v 42).

In other words, everything that leads up to Easter, and thereafter, is an act of God. This Easter, I am persuaded that we are not commemorating nor celebrating any human act, nor any man-made event. Instead, as we sat there under the cloudy morning skies, as the sun began to peek over the top of the eastern hills, as the reading of this passage from Acts chapter 10 was clearly heard, it was an act of God.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Doing great things.

11Apr09   John 14: 11-14 NIV

He will do even greater things than these . . .

Last night a mild mannered elderly brother came all the way from Sandakan to share his testimony and sing to us at our Good Friday service.  His name is Dannis.  He is 55 years old and he has just retired from work.  He told us that, in contrast to many people who have entered retirement,  his real work is just beginning. 

With a simple acoustic guitar strapped to his shoulder, Dannis gave a sincere and touching testimony of his life.  As a young boy, he followed his elder sister to church and grew up among the Christian community, getting acquainted with many lessons about Jesus Christ. He was active in music and singing.  He also took Bible Knowledge in his Form Five exams. However, he didn't read the Bible very much for himself.

Subsequently, as a young working adult Dannis drifted away from his Christian beliefs and fell into depression.  At the persuasion of a colleague, he joined a syncretistic religious group that appeared to involve themselves in occult practices.  He went around wearing some kind of amulet around his neck.  After some time, Dannis began to fall strangely ill. He developed a growth on the left side of his neck, below the jaw. Strange rashes began to appear on his skin. He didn't know what was going wrong.

The last straw came, when the leaders in this group began to teach that Jesus did not die on the cross. Although Dannis didn't read the Bible very much, his years of having been brought up in the Church meant there was this part of his belief that he could never compromise - that the Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross for the sins of the world. He could not agree with them.

So Dannis left this strange occultic group. With the help of a Christian sister, he began to read about how God healed his children of severe illness. He attended meetings where the preachers prayed for his healing. He was advised to discard the amulet that he continued to wear around his neck, and to renounce all the occultic practices that he had involved himself in.  However, in spite of going from one healing meeting to another, feeling somewhat embarassed that he appeared to be going forward so many times for prayers, Dannis was not cured of the lump on his neck.

It was late in the year 1986, and one day a doctor friend who returned from the UK brought Dannis to see a specialist who diagnosed the lump on his neck as goitre. The growth was so large that it was pressing on his wind-pipe, making it difficult for him to speak and sing. An operation was scheduled several weeks later but Dannis was apprehensive about the prospect of having to go under the knife.  Eventually, he defaulted.

One day in early 1987, while dressing up for an occasion, Dannis was surprised to notice that he could button up his shirt collar when putting on his necktie. He had not done that for a long time, not with the goitre on his neck. On taking a closer look at the mirror, he discovered that the growth has disappeared! Dannis did not have that painful lump under his jaw anymore. How marvellous.  The specialist who examined Dannis earlier was called to have another look at him again.

"It has completely gone away.  I don't know how it happens.  It's a miracle . . .", the specialist remarked.

Today, by the grace of God, Dannis goes around the country, being invited by churches to share his testimony about his miraculous healing. He has also been blessed with a new gift from the Spirit: the gift of composing songs of praise for the Lord.  He told us that when the inspiration came, sometimes he would only take five minutes to compose a song.  

And last night Dannis sang to us a beautiful song that he had composed about the love of Christ and his sacrifice for us, in a sweet voice, accompanied with the cheerful strumming on his acoustic guitar.  In his mild and simple manner, Dannis is bringing edification to many Christians in churches all over the country.

"I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.  He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father."  v 12
Dannis has begun doing great things for the Lord.

Be imitators of God: walk in love.

10Apr09   Ephesians 5: 1-2 NKJV

Therefore be imitators of God . . . 

Having just returned from Good Friday Service in church, I'm pondering over the message, the songs, the drama and the video that were presented there, reminding us of the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus. Besides having been led through an hour of meditation on the passion of Christ, this year's Good Friday prompts me to go a step further: that is to think of living the rest of the Christian year in practising the love of our Lord.

"And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God, for a sweet smelling aroma" v.2

Over the recent years, there has been much emphasis on adopting contemporary practices in our church, so that young people will find it relevant to their lifestyles.  A difficulty encountered in attempting to do so is that young people's tastes and trends do not remain very long.  They keep changing.

Contemporary tastes are largely based on imitations by young people, of well-known artistes and their forms of music, hair-styles and dressing, being spread around the world by today's highly efficient and pervasive media.  What used to be hip and trendy among Christian youth back in my MYF days thirty years ago is laughably "out" today. The imitators of Beatles and Elvis of the 60s, the bell-bottom pants of the 70s, the baggy look of the 90's etc all look comically anachronous today.

In short, the trouble with being contemporary is that it is temporary. 

Tonight, on Good Friday, I am persuaded that my life must adopt a type of unchanging contemporary practice, that is, to imitate God. There is one part of my life that must not be subject to the changing trends of young peoples life-styles: it is by walking in the love of Christ.  It remains the same every year. 

The trend set by our Lord Jesus is that we should walk (live) like he did: in sacrificial love. Just as he loved us. Just as he has given himself for us. Just as he has offered himself as a sweet aromatic sacrifice to God. We must imitate this love in our church. 

It is contemporary with God.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Salt: flavour or fidelity?

09Apr09   Matthew 5: 13 NKJV

You are the salt of the earth . . .

As young Christian students back in the 70s, we were often reminded by our seniors in the Christian Fellowship, and occasionally by preachers in Church on Sundays, to endeavour to bring flavour to the world around us. We were to live our lives as salt of the earth. We pondered over how to be "tasty" Christians among our school-mates, in our predominantly non-Christian asian traditional families and in our neighbourhoods.  Salt was invariably linked to flavour.

Last year, when preparing a sermon that required me to talk about OT sacrifices, my attention was caught by another, perhaps more fundamental, dimension of salt:

" . . . every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt.  Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavour, how will you season it?  Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another." Mark 9:49, 50
Salt is unchanging. In chemistry, we say that it is a highly stable ionic compound. It does not decompose easily. Salt remains as salt, through boiling and frying, in water and in sauce, under baking and roasting. It stays the same under all circumstances, for a long, long time. In other words, salt has high fidelity. In Old testament sacrifices, salt symbolises God's unchanging covenant with his people.

"All the heave offerings of the holy things . . .I have given to you and your sons and daughters with you as an ordinance forever; it is a covenant of salt forever . . ." Numbers 18: 19
"Should you not know that the LORD God Of Israel gave the dominion over Israel to David forever, to him and his sons, by a covenant of salt?" 2Chronicles 13:5
So, it is not so much the flavour of salt but rather the fidelity or the faithfulness of salt that we should be concerned about when we remember the Lord's teaching. Like hi-fi salt, we should not LOSE our flavour. We remain as salt, even when cooked or boiled, and stay the same under all circumstances.  In our Christian living,  our words should bear testimony to our unchanging character, particularly when we are called upon to answer criticism from unbelievers:

"Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one." Colossians 4:6

Dearly beloved brothers and sisters,  let us remain unchanging and unchangeable, as salt of the earth. Let us be Christians of high fidelity.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The likes of delights.

07Apr09    Psalm 111: 1 - 10 NIV 

"Great are the works of the LORD, they are pondered by all who delight in them." v.2

One day I visited Changi Airport in Singapore accompanied by my old Singaporean friend. To our delight, we found out that the first Airbus A380, the largest passenger aircraft in the world, had landed. That afternoon it was carrying out some trials, and was expected to take off and land several times throughout the day.

The viewing gallery was busy with expectant visitors like us, eagerly waiting to get a glimpse of the huge double-decker aeroplane. While looking for a spot to get a good view of the aircraft, we met with another friend who came with a visitor from Hong Kong. They were photographers. And they told us that they had come especially to take some pictures of the awesome plane.

Suddenly the A380 appeared in the distance. It appeared to taxi towards one side of our long gallery, making many of us hurry towards the tall windows over there. Our Hong Kong friend ran quickly, with cameras, lenses and accessories dangling around him hoping to shoot a good photo. Alas! the plane moved behind a block of building, hiding itself from view. All of us stood there, somewhat disappointed, waiting for it to appear again.

We spent what felt like the next half an hour hurrying from one end of the large viewing gallery to another whenever the A380 re-appeared, only to see it stop again for some reason at some place, and never taking off at all.  Eventually we got tired of waiting and left, while the Hong Kong man decided to stay on.

We marvel at great feats and accomplishments. Here in our country, we feel proud of making our own motorcar, having the tallest building, reaching the summit of Mt Everest and sending an astronaut into space. 

We are delighted in the great works of man.

Reading Psalm 111 today reminds me of taking delight in the great works of God too. In this Psalm, the writer recalled the wonders of God done for His people in the OT. He provided food for them (v.5). He showed them His power (v.6). And he had never forgotten his covenant with them (v.5, 9).

Likewise, let us ponder over what great works God has done among us. His providence, His protection and His power - in times when nothing else could have helped us. Let us always delight in His works in our lives.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Table No.1

06Apr09 Hebrews 10: 24,25 KJV

"And let us consider one another . . ."

It is always an honour to be asked to sit at the most prominent table in a feast. Last Saturday evening, my wife and I attended the 35th Anniversary Dinner of the Christian Fellowship of our alma mater, UPM. We were directed to sit at Table No. 1.  It was the first table in front of the banquet hall, with the best view of the stage, and it was reserved for the oldest batch of alumni who graduated almost thirty years ago.  We felt rather important. 

That was, until a flash-back of the history of our CF was presented on the large screen. In a somewhat dramatic manner, the presentation began with a montage showing a herd of dinosaurs. It was aptly used to impress upon the audience how old our CF is.

And sitting there at Table No. 1, we felt a fleeting moment of discomfort: we were alumni, and we're being likened to those dinosaurs. As the presentation progressed, the feeling of being old and dated (or carbon-dated . . .) sank in further. Since we left UPM, the 'P' has been changed from "Pertanian" to "Putra". So the farmers have now been replaced by the princes. How clever! As for guests at Table No. 1: we felt obsolete.

Then there were the statistics. The university had only five faculties in those farmer days. Now, in its princely era, it has nineteen. There were only six residential colleges and CGs, compared to the present seventeen. Now, Table No. 1 felt small.

And, oh dear, must they do that? They displayed old photos which successfully reminded us how much we've aged. We've grown considerably larger, mostly at the waist, and more wrinkled. And for many of us, our hair was either greying or gone.  And Table No. 1 felt old.

There is, however, one characteristic which had not changed, and in this we rejoice: we still held fast to our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We could still sing and pray together, just like we did on campus almost thirty years ago. And we had not forsaken the Lord. It didn't matter any more that we were likened to paleontological fossils, for our faith, hope and love abides. Table No. 1 felt the joy of being reunited in Christian fellowship with one another after so many years.

After the dinner, one of the bible verses which we often quoted during our CF days on campus took on renewed freshness:

"And let us consider one another, to provoke unto love and good works. Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but all the more as you see the day approaching. "

For this, we're indeed grateful for all the pains taken by the current executive committee of the CF to bring together so many believers in the Lord, both students and alumni dating back to 1982.  I understand that they did all this while having to prepare for final exams which is just around the corner. It was indeed a sacrifice on their part, to bring about an evening of Christian encouragement and joy.

Brothers and sisters, whether we sit at Table No.1 or No.10, let us always consider one another!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

A Peaceful neighbourhood.

Romans 13: 1-7 NKJV

"Let every soul be subject to the authorities . . ." (v.1)

This morning, I brought my family to visit my father's grave at a Chinese cemetery in Kajang. It was a quiet cool and sunny morning, and many families had already arrived to pay their annual customary respect for their departed loved ones. The cemetery appeared busy and, in some places, even crowded, with people burning paper money and other offerings to the departed souls, while others were clearing the graves of weeds, undergrowth and rubbish.

In spite of the busy activity, the cemetery came across to me as a very peaceful place. A "neighbourhood" of so many families who put on some of the best behaviour one can encounter on any ordinary day. People worked and talked quietly without complaining. There were no disturbances nor arguments of any sort. They even walked carefully, making sure that they didn't tread on the graves of other families.

What a peaceful neighbourhood.

Then, I realised that peaceful neighbourhoods, like this cemetery in Kajang, is brought about when people live in fear. Fear of punishment. Fear of angry spirits. Fear of misfortune. In a Chinese cemetery, traditional non-Christian Chinese families are very careful and particular about not offending the departed souls (a.k.a. spirits, souls or ghosts). No careless stepping or walking over the wrong places. No silly talk. No coarse joking. Burn the paper-offerings and "pray" to the ancestors' spirits solemnly.

Perhaps, they will bless your family this year. Otherwise, woe betide you all. Offending the spirits may bring illness, disputes, financial troubles and the like. So, behave yourself and get "their" approval. Misbehave and be afraid, be very afraid.

This morning, I am reminded of Romans 13. The apostle wrote that, similarly, rulers (kings, governors, officers etc) are a terror to those who do evil. Do good and we will have praise from the authorities. Avoid living in fear all the time. A ruler is a minister from God, entrusted with the task of executing wrath on any one who practises evil. In this passage, doing good refers to obeying authorities while doing evil means committing offences.

Let us create a peaceful neighbourhood. A peace that is not confined to a brief annual visit to the cemetery but, instead, one that lasts the whole year round. A peace that is not brought about by some fear of offending angry departed spirits, but by doing good in obeying authorities instituted by God.

Friday, April 3, 2009

An essential cardio workout . . .

03Apr09 Fri    Lamentations 3: 40 - 41 KJV

One Wednesday evening back in 2007 at a prayer meeting in church, my pastor asked us what prayer meant to each of us. A common question, I thought, for I've heard such questions being asked from time to time. Nevertheless, the answers were far from trivial.

When it came to my turn to share, these verses from the Lamentations of Jeremiah came to mind:

"Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD. Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens."

The prophet Jeremiah wrote these words at a time when the Israelites were suffering from the wrath of God. He fervently confessed the sins of his own people and urged them to turn again to God - by lifting up their hearts with their hands.

While we are more accustomed to lifting weights with our hands in the gym, it is essential to add a new cardiovascular workout to our routine - to learn to lift up our hearts to God in our prayers. In some of the older churches, worship on Sunday and the Communion at the Lord's Table is carried out with a call by the leader:

"Lift up your hearts."

And the congregation will respond:

"We lift them up to the LORD."

Have our daily prayers become stale and routine lately? Let us lift up our hearts to God.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A change of heart.

02Apr09 Thur    1 Samuel 10: 1 - 9 RSV

Be turned into another man.

Samuel anointed Saul with oil and predicted a series of events that Saul would encounter soon after, as a sign of God's choice and calling. It was also to be the time for Saul to be empowered and transformed.

"The Spirit of the LORD will come mightily upon you, and you shall prophesy with them, and be turned into another man." (v. 6)

". . . when he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart." 
(v. 9)

It appears that being transformed by God's Spirit involves, and invariably results in, a change of heart and mind. In a similar manner, the apostle Paul in the NT calls upon the Christians at Rome to be transformed, by the renewing of their minds. (Romans 12: 2).

Do you need a change of heart?

A 100,000 mile oil-change and service

01Apr09 Wed   1 Samuel 7: 1 - 17 RSV

Put away, direct and serve . . .

Samuel prophesied, telling the Israelites that they should put away idolatry from among them, direct their heart to the LORD and serve Him only.

When the people of Israel obeyed God, they gathered at Mizpah to fast and pray, confessing their sins, the LORD delivered them from the marauding Philistines - though initially Israel was almost overcome with apprehension and urged Samuel to perform an offering and cry out to the LORD. (v 5 - 11)

Coming across this passage today appears to me as a reminder from the Lord to send myself for a spiritual check-up, perhaps like sending an old vehicle for a 100,000 mile service. After being a Christian for 34 years, it's time to stop and do some soul-searching, to put away idols that have subtly, perhaps unwittingly, been allowed into my life, to direct my heart to the Lord and to serve him only (v. 3).