Archive for May, 2012

Why the church?

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

“God’s perfection means that He is complete in Himself. He lacks nothing; He has no flaws. He is perfect in all the characteristics of His nature. He is the basis for and standard by which all other perfection is to be measured (Job 36:4; Psalm 18:30; 19:7; Matthew 5:48).

“By contrast, man’s perfection is relative and dependent on God for its existence. As applied to a person’s moral state in this life, perfection may refer either to a relatively blameless lifestyle (Genesis 6:9; Job 1:1; James 3:2) or to a person’s maturity as a believer (Philippians 3:15; James 1:4). Because perfection in this life is never reached, man will continue to sin (Phil. 3:12, 15; I John 1:8). A believer’s perfection in the next life, however, will be without sin (Ephesians 5:27; Colossians 1:28; I Thessalonians 5:23).”
Hayford’s Bible Handbook

“Christians are not perfect, just forgiven.”
Anonymous

“Why the church?” is a question often comes to mind when the raw humanity of the church is revealed. In the same way the the kingdom is here but not yet, we are perfect but not yet. Christians, evangalical or not, church going or not, are just as flawed as anyone else. Through the lens of Christ, we are made perfect (Hebrews 10:14); through the process of santification, we are being perfected (Philippians 1:6, 3:12-15), but on this earth, we will never be perfect (1 John 1:8-10).

In Ethics, we studied the concept of dirty hands (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirty_hands). No matter what we do, even with the best moral or spiritual interest, will result in getting our hands dirty (Isaiah 64:6). Because of this, the grace of God is always relevant. It is just as relevant before you were a Christian as when you became a Christian and even after you’ve been a Christian for many years. The grace of God is still relevant. It will always be relevant, especially for the church.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
1 Corinthians 12:27

 If christians are not perfect, the church is not perfect. Yup, I’ve said it. The church is not perfect. Don’t get stuck on this fact. The church is still God’s; it is built on Christ and established by Christ (Ephesians 2:19-22). We should all just admit that we’re not perfect, deal with it and move on to what Christ has called the church to.

Read more:
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/dirty-hands/

Give

Monday, May 28th, 2012

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure you use will be the measure you receive.”
Luke 6:37-38

In it’s immediate context, this verse talks about not judging our enemies but loving them and doing good to them. Here Jesus is talking about the principles of treating others graciously, whether it is our enemies or our brother. The principle is that whatever we give to others will be given to us. The examples that He uses to illustrate this are judgement, condemnation, forgiveness and generosity. This verse gives practical meaning to the Golden Rule, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31) The Golden Rule now makes sense because our actions come around. The equivalent modern day saying goes like this: “whatever goes around comes around”.

In ancient times, they had some sort of standard metric measurement but these were not precise. These measurements could be honest and dishonest. Also, commodities such as wheat were gathered and traded in baskets. Traders who were not generous or were dishonest would use bad scales, fill a basket load of wheat and not shake it to level it or pack it down. Generous traders on the other hand would use good measurements, filled a basket and shook it, leveled it, packed it down and heaped it on. In the same way, Jesus tells us to be generous in our giving. Because the measure that we use is the measure that we get. This principle applies to both the good and bad that we hand out.

The challenge that God puts before us is to “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” These are some questions that we need to ask ourselves about how we have been relating to others, particularly our enemies:

  • What have I been handing out? What have I been giving?
  • What have I been getting? What has been poured onto my lap?
  • How much have I been giving or getting (both good and bad)?

Blind leading the blind

Monday, May 28th, 2012

He also told them a parable: “Someone who is blind cannot lead another who is blind, can he? Wont they both fall into a pit? A disciple is not greater than his teacher, but everyone when fully trained will be like his teacher.
Luke 6:39-40 (NET)

Following a teacher in Jesus’ time isn’t like following someone in Twitter. Following meant that you learnt the teachings of the person by imitating what the person does and says (and understanding and agreeing with it). It wasn’t an academic study on an intellectual level, it was more like an apprenticeship – experience based training. By the end of the training, you would walk and talk like the teacher. If the teacher was good, you would turn out good. If the teacher was bad, you would turn out bad. If the teacher was blind, you would be blind too. The principle here is that we become who we follow. That’s scary isn’t it?

Jesus poses 2 question to us in this passage:

  1. Who are you following?
  2. Where are they taking you?

He wasn’t talking to the Pharisees or rebuking them in this passage, He was talking to His disciples (Luke 6:17,20,46). He was imparting the kingdom’s values of being gracious to those who oppose them – to love their enemies (Luke 6:27-36). This passage is sandwiched between a passage about not judging, not condemning but forgiving others (Luke 6:37-38) and not being a hypocrite by judging our brother’s flawed perception (Luke 6:41-42). So why is Jesus talking about a teacher-disciple relationship when he is talking about judging?

Because the teacher-disciple relationship is built on imitating. The disciple imitates the teacher. The question he poses in the passage is this: who do you imitate? If you respond to the judgmental opposition by judging them, we have imitated them. If we respond to a judging brother by judging him without examining ourselves, we have become like him. We end up falling into the same pit they just fell into. In fact, they led us there!

It is easy to respond to judgement with judgement. Afterall, whatever goes around comes around in greater measure (Luke 6:38). Whenever we do that, we bring out the fruit of where our roots lie (Luke 6:43-45), it shows who we have been imitating. Jesus’ answer to this challenge is this: do what He says (Luke 6:46-47). This verse adds value and reason to the practical application of love that He said earlier in Luke 6:27-31. Those are the things we need to do, we need to respond to hate, judgement and condemnation with practical love. Just like our Father does (Luke 6:35-36).

But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by his life?
Romans 5:8, 10 (NET)

Puffed up

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.
1 Corinthians 8:1

Nothing is worth anything without love. Whether it is spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:3) or knowledge (1 Corinthians 8:8-11), love brings life to it. Anything done without love is of no value. In 1 Corinthians 8, the knowledge that brings out liberty is to be restrained by the love for others. Our liberty is worth nothing without love. In 1 Corinthians 13, the spiritual gifts that bless the body are to be practiced with love towards others. Spiritual gifts practiced without love is worthless. Love doesn’t add value to knowledge or gifts, it is the value of the knowledge and gift. Like knowledge, anything without love puffs up. If creates body without mass, size without power; there is no real capacity to perform effectively without love.

What about the other areas of my life? Are my finances managed with love? Do my priorities show love toward others? Is my work done in love? What good is my life if love is not shown? The success and failure of all things stands on love.

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
1 John 4:8

Eulogy

Monday, May 21st, 2012

Dennis loved God’s Word. He would spend hours wrestling with the word of God, grappling with text and context to know the Living God behind the Living Word. Through the Word, his life was brought into submission to Christ. He rooted himself so deep into the bible that every word from the book was life and sustenance to him. From this position, he expounded God’s word with authority and understanding, and with wisdom and grace. His ministry was a mere extension of his person. As a speaker, he infected hundreds with his contagious desire for more of God and brought thousands into God’s kingdom. The depth of his pastoral and pulpit ministry was only a shadow of the great height of his close friendship with God. 

He loved people with a practical and sacrificial love. All that he had, he used for the cause of Christ. He lived as if his talents, finances and possessions were never really his. His house was a haven for the outcast, the sinner and those who hated God’s church. His kitchen was filled with food, not for himself, but for others. His car was a taxi for anyone who would trust him with their life. He wasn’t rich, nor was he in lack, but he was generous. He drew people into the kingdom by loving them. He cried with those who were mourning and laughed with those who were celebrating. He walked with people at every stage of life. He was real. He was not pretentious, he was not aloof, he was not plastic, he wore no mask. He pleaded grace for his weaknesses and attributed his strengths to God. As a pastor, he led with the heart of a servant and served with the heart of a king.

The people closest to him knew that he had three priorities in life: to be a great husband, to be a great father and to be a great pastor. This he accomplished, by the grace of God, by being an exceedingly great follower of Christ.

Man of action

Monday, May 21st, 2012

A garrison of the Philistines had gone out to the pass at Micmash.
Then one day Jonathan son of Saul said to his armor bearer, “Come on, lets go over to the Philistine garrison that is opposite us.” But he did not let his father know.
Now Saul was sitting under a pomegranate tree in Migron, on the outskirts of Gibeah. The army that was with him numbered about six hundred men. Now Ahijah was carrying an ephod. He was the son of Ahitub, who was the brother of Ichabod and a son of Phineas, son of Eli, the priest of the Lord in Shiloh. The army was unaware that Jonathan had left.
1 Samuel 13:23 – 14:3

When Israel saw that the Philistine army came up against them in a huge multitude (1 Samuel 13:2, 5), they went and hid in caves and pits (1 Samuel 13:6-7). Saul’s army of 3000 men was certainly no match against the tens of thousands of Philistines. Whats more, only Saul and Jonathan had swords, the rest of the army had farming equipment for weapons (1 Samuel 13:22)! The army, frightened and discouraged began to withdraw. Saul, under stress, faltered by taking over the office of the priest and was severely rebuked by Samuel and told that his kingship would not last.

Meanwhile, Jonathan saw the anxiousness and discouragement in the army and decided to take action.

We might be led to think that Jonathan was impatient and did not seek the Lord’s favour before battle, but God was with Jonathan (1 Samuel 14:13). While Saul was waiting for an answer with Ahijah, the priest, Jonathan made things happen and Saul saw the Philistine army dissolve before his eyes, so quickly and so much that he had to interrupt Ahijah to jump into battle (1 Samuel 14:18-19).

What happened to Saul, the man of action we see in 1 Samuel 11? The Philistines had already felt the wrath of God (1 Samuel 6) in plagues and the might of Israel in war (1 Samuel 7). They would have heard of the slaughter that Saul laid on the Ammonites. Saul had no reason to hold back! Perhaps he lost his confidence after Samuel’s rebuke (1 Samuel 13:14). Saul probably felt like God’s favour was no longer on him and he needed to obtain God’s favour again. Or it might be that he had learnt his lesson after being rebuked and he didn’t want to rush ahead without first seeking God appropriately. Whatever the reason, Saul was subject to what we now know as analysis paralysis.

Jonathan on the other hand was a man of practicality. He was an activist. He saw a solution to the problem and he was on it. He didn’t delay or hesitate. He made a plan and stuck with it and the Lord was with Him. He went with the ability that God had already given him (Judges 6:14) and brought victory to the Israelites.

You could say that Jonathan didn’t believe in being in the center of God’s will, there was simply no such will; there was no need to seek for a distinct immediate will of God. If the Ark of Covenant was with them, it meant that God was already with them. Victory belongs to Israel. This is Jonathan’s wisdom. If God gave us wisdom in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30), we are responsible to use it. Proverbs is full of references to the role of wisdom in daily life. We need to be men of action as Jonathan was and not succumb to analysis paralysis. “Waiting on God” is no excuse for indecisiveness or lack of wisdom.

Similarities and differences

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Then they too will answer, Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not give you whatever you needed?
Matthew 25:44

The sheep on his right whom the King described as righteous asked the question. The goats on the left whom Jesus described as accursed asked the same question. They both earnestly did not know when they had seen the King in need! There was no connection between Jesus and their brothers and sisters in need. Had they made the connection, things might have been different. But exactly which of the hundreds of people we meet daily is a brother and sister in need? How do we tell a genuine need from a fraud? Was it my Dad who needed $700 for investing in his business? Was it my brother who needed $350 for his bills? Maybe it was the beggar on the street looking for some spare change?

Once while we were waiting in a taxi queue (in Singapore), we were approached by a lady asking for some money. She said that she is an ex-convict who is currently with an organization helping other convicts like herself and proceeded to show us some legal papers. She shared her life story of a good-for-nothing husband who is still serving his prison sentence and told us that she has a young daughter to look after. She has trouble looking for a job because of her criminal record but she has been trying. After the lengthy story, I wasn’t convinced that my contribution to this woman could make any difference and I didn’t feel right giving her any money. So I rejected her and walked away. My wife on the other hand stayed on to listen to her and asked for her name. She started a conversation with her and gave her $10. She also prayed for her and then we went on our way.

While I thought that it was certainly possible for her to find a job and that it wasn’t worthwhile providing a small donation without a more long term solution, my wife thought that $10 was a small price to pay to help someone on need, show some acceptance to her and have the opportunity to pray for her. However, we later found out that this lady was a fraud. The organization she spoke about didn’t exist. We had no way of verifying if the story we had been told about her husband and daughter was true.

Who was right and who was wrong? Was the woman wrong? Was I wrong? Was my wife wrong? Maybe we all were wrong! I am certain that the lady had a legitimate need. Even though she went about defrauding people of money, she needed the money. But giving money to her would encourage her fraudulent behaviour and promote criminal activity. What is right and wrong? These are real world issues for a generation that is called to love people practically with a generous spirit.

There is no easy answer, but by the grace of God, may we be counted in His flock.

Playing host

Monday, May 14th, 2012

Then the king will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.  Then the righteous will answer him, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?  And the king will answer them, I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.
Matthew 25:34-40 (NET)

We often focus on the later part of this verse, skipping past the opening invitation: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” But read it again and again, and we might glean something important.

Jesus is described as the king who “comes in his glory and all the angels with him”, who assembles all the nations before him and “will
sit on his glorious throne” to judge the world (Matthew 25:31). We have a picture of the arrival of a majestic heavenly king who comes into the king’s court surrounded by angels and takes His seat on a huge shining golden throne, ready to judge the inhabitants of His kingdom. What splendor and grandeur! This is the same Jesus who invites the sheep to come to Him – to join with Him, to be by His side, to fellowship and with God. This is a personal invitation from a glorious and mighty God for us to join Him, to sit and judge with Him.

He says to them, “You who are blessed by my Father.” Jesus’ unique identity as fully the Son of God and Son of Man (Matthew 25:31) is revealed here. But more than that, the value and position of those He calls “righteous” is revealed here. They are blessed! They are so blessed that they are called to join in His inheritance – the kingdom that has been waiting for them since the creation of the world. Their position in this world since its creation is one of dominance (Genesis 1:26-29). Their position in His future kingdom is much the same. This is their rightful inheritance.

But lets not skip past the message of this passage. The inheritance comes because of the things they did for “one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine”. It wasn’t the things they did for the general population of brothers or sisters in need that caught the King’s eye, it was for “one of the least”. It was the compassion, love and generosity shown toward each individual, even if it was toward multiple individuals. That separates (characterizes) the sheep from the goats.

The love that we are called to have is one that extends practically to people (Luke 10:27), because that is the King’s love. His love for His people is so great that whatever is done for the lowest of His people is done for Him, in fact, He calls His subjects “brothers and sisters”. He calls them siblings! To be a sheep, we must love His sheep. We must love the lowest of His sheep.

Vision

Friday, May 11th, 2012

When there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but the one who keeps the law, blessed is he!
Proverbs 29:18 (NET)

This verse is often used when speaking about a church mission or personal goal. As always, my goal is to find out whether our usage and understanding of this verse is true to the original meaning of the verse. The NET notes writes that “The Hebrew word “vision” (from the verb חָזָה [khazah, “to see”]) refers to divine communication to prophets (as in 1 Samuel 3:1) and not to individual goals or plans… He also notes that in the book of Proverbs there is no mention of prophetic teaching with wisdom as a guide. So he emends the word to “guidance” following the LXX (Proverbs [ICC], 512).” The second part of this verse gives us another clue that it isn’t an individual / personal call, goal or plan involved but to return to God’s His word/law, the concrete form of revelation, to attain blessing.

This verse works to highlight the cause of chaos and blessing and to contrast the two, with the key cause being God’s revelation, both prophetic and concrete. The provision of prophetic revelation keeps the people from running wild and causing chaos (as it did to call people back to God in Judges); the provision of written revelation brings God’s blessing. Both have their place and both are needed!

May I treasure them and learn to love them both.

Suitable helper

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
Genesis 2:20-22

It is obvious that men need help. Adam was no different. God didn’t say why Adam needed a helper, but there was a need for one. Since there wasn’t any suitable candidate, God created a helper. A being whose motivation for creation was not just fellowship with Him but also help for men. Our wives are our helpers. They enable us to do the work God has given to us. They sharpen our emotions and wits to prepare us for all facets of work (Proverbs 27:17). They are our greatest asset and they are God’s favour on us (Proverbs 18:22). Our wives propel us into greater things in God.

Thank you God for my wife. She is my helper. I know that I like to think that I don’t need any help, but God knows better.