Jan 16, 2012

No Civilian Pursuits

2 TIMOTHY 2:3 - Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him

While the above verse is part of the letter he wrote to the young Timothy, his son in faith and mentee, the letter was read to everyone at the church of Ephesus. Hence, what Paul has in mind when he referred to as a soldier was not only a full-time, ordained minister (Timothy wasn't), but everyone one from all walks of life. Today, that includes university students, professionals, business-owners, artists, stay-at-home moms, retirees, etc. That includes you and I. Therefore, soldiers of the cross, the question for us is what type of civilian pursuits distract us from our one and only aim to please our Commander-in-Chief? Indeed since we march under the banner of Jesus Christ, we are bound to win the war against the world, flesh, and the devil, just like Joshua of Nun and his army of the past. No doubt about it. The question is, which of the world's niceties, heart desires, and devil's temptations often take our eyes off our holy ambition to please him?

Jan 14, 2012

First thing first

"I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not, how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished ...
I saw, that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God and to meditation on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, whilst meditating, my heart might be brought into experimental communion with the Lord. I began therefore, to meditate on the New Testament, from the beginning, early in the morning."
Source: Autobiography of George Mueller, compiled by Fred Bergen, (London: J. Nisbet Co., 1906) pp. 152-4.

Jan 3, 2012

Seek First, then Understand

PROVERBS 2:4-5 - If you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.

Even a cursory reading of the above verse tells us something rather odd with the sequence. The rigor and intensity with which we seek the knowledge of God is a prerequisite of finding and understanding it. Often people think the other way. They want to understand it first, then assign a value to it in proportion to their understanding. But that's not the case here. Pursue God, then you will be glad to be found by and in him. The Bible uses lots of 'appetite language' (CS Lewis) or emotive words to describe this orientation: Long, thirst, faint, delight, love. The bottom line: Seek him earnestly, then you will be satisfied in him. 

Jan 2, 2012

Sharing Lives and the Gospel

1 THESSALONIANS 2:7 - But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. 

What comes across as the maternal side of leadership the Apostle Paul highlights above, as opposed to the authoritative side, is indeed critical for effective Christian leadership at church. Children are like sponges, and they absorb the examples of their parents, primarily mothers while they are still young. Here Paul says that sharing lives that are in line with the Gospel is almost as important as the Gospel itself. What an insight for leaders!

A Tamed Conscience

ROMANS 2:15-16 - They show that the work of the law is ywritten on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, aaccording to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. 

What we call conscience is not a reliable guide. They can both accuse or excuse us depending on what we feed it daily. When someone tells us "just listen what your heart tells you", we are taking a huge risk heading that advice. For as intelligent being, we can slowly but surely tame our conscience to become our defence attorney rather than prosecutor. In longer-term, categories of sin no longer exist in our mind. Sinners become oblivious of sins. Folks, conscience is flaky. Go to Christ, the Incarnate Flesh, instead. Everything will be laid openly before the judgement seat of Christ one day.

Nov 20, 2011

A God Talk with My Daughter

For some reason, my 9-yr old daughter Tiffany likes to ask deep questions at night. To be precise 15 minutes before she falls asleep. Here is what went on a few hours earlier, which started with a question around the story of Ananias and Saphira, on which my sermon this morning was based. We saw a YouTube cartoon on the story the night before, then talked about it in the car briefly on the way home from church. Little did I know it led to a deep theological chat after she finished her prayer (don't get me wrong, it's not every night the conversation goes to doctrinal channel, sometimes it's more mundane, earthly, girly, or just plain kids talk).

Tiffany: Dad, did Ananias and Sapphira actually drop dead?

Me: Yes, they did.

Tiffany: Why?

Me: Because they lied to God. They sold the house for, say, 10, 000...

Tiffany: What? That's so cheap. Even cars are more expensive!

Me: Okay... let's make it 100,000. They then gave some of the money to the church and keep the rest for themselves - all is well. But their sin was they told everyone at church they gave all the money because they want to be praised. They lied to God.

Tiffany: How did Peter know that?

Me: The Holy Spirit told him

Tiffany: Is this the same Peter who healed the man from birth?

Me: Yes, the apostle Peter. Do you know why people today didn't drop die even though many lie to God?

Tiffany: I don't know.

Me: Because God is patient with us since Christ has died in our place.

Tiffany: O, of course, I understand that. But why did't God make us love Him?

Me: Because God doesn't want us to program us like robots who love Him

Tiffany: Huh, robots?

Me: Yeah, if have Tamagochi or a robot that you program to love you, then it does have to love you.

Tiffany: O I see. That's why He creates heaven, for people who love Him.

Me: Yeah, but not everyone wants to be in heaven.

Tiffany: What??? Not everyone. I always picture heaven like that nice place in Bali. Why wouldn't they?

Me: They want heaven, but they don't want Christ Jesus.

Tiffany: That's crazy! It's Christ Jesus who created heaven.

Me: Yeah.

Tiffany: Is there any bad people in heaven?

Me: Heaven is not for nice people. But for people who believes in Jesus Christ, even though they used to be bad or nice.

Tiffany: What do you consider 'believe'?

Me: You admit you are a sinner, and need Jesus to save you, then you give your life completely to Him to be changed.

Tiffany: Now I know why we need the church ... To tell people about God, Christ, heaven, and the likes.

Me: Yup!

Tiffany: But my friend ________ who is Buddhist said that Buddhism is better than God. What should I say to her?

Me: It's not that Buddhism is better, but salvation is only found in Jesus, the God who came to earth and lived among us.

Tiffany: Hmmm.... I am afraid she won't listen to me.

Me: Well, you need to pray for her, Tif. It's late now. Why don't we stop there, and you close your eyes...

Tiffany: Ok, nite dad. I'll tell you about the book fair at school on the way there tomorrow.

Oct 7, 2011

Tripp on The Grace of Confession

I found these wise words provide profound insights primarily for married couples. They are taken from Chapter 5 of Paul Tripp's "What did you expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage" page 73-80. Personally, I found these quotes directly relevant to me and my marriage.

The chapter is part of what he called "COMMITMENT 1: We will give ourselves to a regular lifestyle of confession and forgiveness", in which it talks about the grace of confession in 8 points:

1. It is a grace to know right from wrong
"The Bible is God's ultimate measuring instrument. It is meant to function in each of our lives as a spiritual tape measure. We can place ourselves and our marriage next to it and see if we measure up to God's standard"

2. It is a grace to understand the concept of indwelling sin
"One of the most tempting fallacties for us - and for every human being in this fallen world - is to believe that our greatest problems exist outside us rather than inside us . . . We live with flawed people, and our lives will be complicated by their brokenness. Despite this, the Bible calls us to humbly confess that the greatest, deepest, most abiding problem each of us faces is inside, not outside, of us. The Bible names that problem - sin. Because sin is self-focused and self-serving, it is antisocial and destructive to our relationships. Here's where this goes: it requires each of us to say that our greatest marital problem exists inside us, not outside us."

3. It is a grace to have a properly functioning conscience
"It is a sign of God's grace when our consciences are sensitive and our hearts are grieved, not at what the other person is doing, but at what we have become. That sensitivity is the doorway to real and lasting change."

4. It is only grace that protects us from self-righteousness
"The deception of personal righteousness is huge wall in the way of marital change. Here's how it works: the husband views himself as righteous and views his wife as a sinner in need of help, and the wive views herself as righteous and views her husband as a sinner in need of help. So neither feels the need for personal change . . .But there is hope! Grace decimates our self-righteousness . . . When a husband and wife quit arguing about who is the more righteous and begin to be grieved over their respective sin, you can know for sure that grace had visited their marriage."

5. It is a grace to see ourselves with accuracy
"To see ourselves with accuracy is the opposite of self-righteousness . . . I have been amazed to watch an angry husband angrily declare that he is not angry! I have watched a bitter spouse bitterly refuse the thought that she might be bitter . . . Many married people are like the Pharisee in the temple who thanked God that he was not like the other sinners around him. They need the grace of an accurate self-assessment."

6. It is a grace to be willing to listen and consider criticism and rebuke
"All of carry inside ourselves an inner lawyer who is easily activated and quickly rises to our defense . . . Healthy relationships have two essential character qualities. First is the humility of approachability. When both people step out from behind protective walls and open up to the perspectives and help of others, each individual - and their relationship - will be given an opportunity to grow and change. The second is the courage of living honesty. Not only do we defend ourselves from the opinion of others, but we avoid uncomfortable moments by failing to say what needs to be said. In the fear of disagreement, tension, and rejection, we choose to be silent about things that, if addressed in love, could be used to bring new insights to one another and a fresh start to the relationship."

7. It is a grace not to be paralyzed with regret
"I am persuaded that fear of regret is something that keeps us from facing things in ourselves that we need to face. Confession not only calls us to loo at ourselves in the present, but it also calls us to access the past."

8. It is a grace to know that we can face our wrongs because Christ has carried our guilt and shame
"You see, confession shouldn't be this scary thing we do our best to avoid; and sin, weakness, failure should not be the constant elephant in the room that husbands and wives know is there but cannot talk about. . . Because of what Jesus has done for us, we do not have to hide or excuse our wrongs. We are freed from posing as if we are perfect, when in our heart of hearts we know we are not."

Oct 3, 2011

You Shall be My Witnesses

Last Sunday I started a new sermon series on the Book of Acts, after nearly 2 years of waiting for this moment. I am excited at the prospect of learning about how God moved in the past using a tiny group of largely uneducated peasants to bring profound transformation to the world as we knew it then.

Granted Acts is a history book written by a human author, but unlike other history books, the divine Author of the book continues to work until this very day bringing the same kind of revival in many places. Imagine reading the New Testament without the book of Acts, and we will be confused as the critical bridge that bring the Gospel from Jerusalem to the world is absent.

Chapter 1 of the book summarizes the sequence of God's plan of salvation (a Lucan theme) into fruition. There are four main strands that emerge: Jesus returned to heaven (ASCENSION) – The Holy Spirit came (PENTECOST) – The Church goes out to witness (MISSION) – Jesus will come back (PAROUSIA).

The book of Acts started with the Ascension but its theme never ends until Parousia. In the opening chapter of his commentary on this book, Derek Thomas suggested that we should compare the first and last chapter of the book. In Chapter 1 we will find a small ragtag band of disciples anxiously waited for the Lord, not knowing what to do with the message of the kingdom of God that they have heard in the last three years when Jesus was still living and walking among them. But in Chapter 28, we find quite a different scene. The Apostle Paul was waiting for the verdict of his imprisonment in Rome (yes, Rome in Italy) to proclaim the exact same message, the kingdom of God, the truth of Jesus Christ, the Gospel.

The Church of Jesus should know that Acts does not end in Chapter 28, so to speak. But every church should be an Acts 29 church, carrying on the continuing words and deeds of Christ who by his Spirit working through his redeemed communities.

That's why the book, wrote John Stott, should not be named Acts of the Apostles (too human-oriented) nor Acts of the Holy Spirit (too divine), but Acts of Jesus Christ who continues to teach and work by his Spirit through the Apostles and every post-apostolic church thereafter.

We unfinished business to do. Stop gazing at the sky, withdrawing from the world to be close to God. That is an unbiblical posture. The Christ who has ascended to heaven has given us a mission for us to do, and He will be with us in His Spirit until He returns to earth. The mission is to be His witnesses to those in our neighborhood (Jerusalem), city (Judea), and to those who are of different backgrounds and orientations (Samaria), and those who live far far away from us (ends of the earth). The words of the prophet Isaiah popped up in my mind:

It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
but I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.
Isaiah 49:6

Sep 5, 2011

Baxter on Pleasing God vs Men

Around this time last year, I stumbled across a classic work written by Puritan giant, Richard Baxter, who is well known by most as the author of the Reformed Pastor. The title of his book is "Directions against Inordinate Man-pleasing", which is a remarkable reading. What I found most valuable is a section called "The Advantages of Pleasing God rather than Men", in which he listed 12 points. As I went through each point, it dawned on me that it would take for me to be able to tick off all points. As I've got to the final point, I was convinced that it would take me a lifetime to (even) try to accomplish it given the presence of indwelling sins within me. The difference of those who are in Christ is that we are no longer enslaved to please men.

Here are the 12 advantages of why we should aim to please God rather than men.

1. If you seek first to please God and are satisfied therein, you have but one to please instead of multitudes; and a multitude of masters are hardlier pleased than one. 

2. And it is one that putteth upon you nothing that is unreasonable, for quantity or quality. 

3. And one that is perfectly wise and good, not liable to misunderstand your case and actions. 

4. And one that is most holy, and is not pleased in iniquity or dishonesty. 

5. And he is one that is impartial and most just, and is no respecter of persons, Acts 10:34. 

6. And he is one that is a competent judge, that hath fitness and authority, and is acquainted with your hearts, and every circumstance and reason of your actions. 

7. And he is one that perfectly agreeth with himself, and putteth you not upon contradictions or impossibilities. 

8. And he is one that is constant and unchangeable; and is not pleased with one thing to-day, and another contrary to-morrow; nor with one person this year, whom he will be weary of the next. 

9. And he is one that is merciful, and requireth you not to hurt yourselves to please him: nay, he is pleased with nothing of thine but that which tendeth to thy happiness, and displeased with nothing but that which hurts thyself or others, as a father that is displeased with his children when they defile or hurt themselves. 

10. He is gentle, though just, in his censures of thee; judging truly, but not with unjust rigour, nor making your actions worse than they are. 

11. He is one that is not subject to the passions of men, which blind their minds, and carry them to injustice. 

12. He is one that will not be moved by tale-bearers, whisperers, or false accusers, nor can be perverted by any misinformation.

Jul 15, 2010

Customized, not mass produced

Disciples cannot be mass produced.
We cannot drop people into a “program”
and see disciples emerge at the end of a production line.

It takes time to make disciples.
It takes individual, personal attention.
It takes hours of prayer for them.
It takes patience and understanding to teach them
how to get into the Word of God for themselves,
how to feed and nourish their souls,
and by the power of the Holy Spirit how to apply the Word to their lives.
And it takes being an example to them of all of the above.

LeRoy Eims, The Lost Art of Discipleship Making

May 28, 2010

Run away from the sin and to the Cross

“Let the sorrows of your Saviour on the cross move you. Imagine his cries and groans on your behalf, till your heart breaks. Daydream about how much love he showed you as he hung naked in your place. And see if the baits and lures of the flesh don’t grow ugly and repulsive. Will you give your hours to fantasizing about and dwelling on and longing for the vile things that nailed the Lover your soul to the cursed tree? . . . Fill your affections with the cross of Christ, and there will be no room for sin. Then, when the flesh fishes for your affections, you’ll spit on its pretty lures.”

Kris Lundgaard, The Enemy Within, P&R, 1998, p. 97