Sunday, February 01, 2015

Asleep In The Light: Living Between The Now And The Not Yet

Romans 13 
11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe your selves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.


Every morning when I get up, I look at the iPhone and wonder: “What time is it?” and I know the drill, the routine: 7 a.m. Wake up, 7.15 Clean up (take a bath), 7.30 Dress up and get ready for work.

One of the features of modern life is that we are slaves of time. We wear watches, set alarms on our phones, schedule meeting through Microsoft Outlook calendars. We keep careful track of the passing time. It tells us when we need to do something and how to prioritize our activities. But it is far more important to know God’s timing, the kairos moment, the moment of opportunity or moment of decision presented to us today.

Let’s see what we have covered so far in Romans. The apostle Paul shows us how the gospel changes our relationships for the last two chapters: You should owe no one anything but the debt of love. Chapter 12:9, Let love be genuine. Love one another with brotherly affection. Verse 14, Bless those who persecute you. Repay no one evil for evil. Verse 20, If your enemy is hungry, feed him. Chapter 13 Give to the government what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Owe no one anything, except to love each other.” And now today in verse 11, he says, And this—do all this, love like this—because you know the time.  

Because you understand the present time in which you are living in.

Friends, do you know what time is it?

The Bible divides human history into ‘this age’ (represented by darkness, violence, sin, pain and death) and ‘the age to come’ (represented by light, righteousness, peace, love and life). But there’s more that: The age to come or the kingdom of God has already broken into our world through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of King Jesus. The Holy Spirit is poured out on God’s people from every nation and tribe called out by the proclamation of His good news. So at present these two ages overlap.

Even as we celebrated Christmas last December, our joy is not complete because we remember that our world is still broken by terrorism, natural disasters and poverty. We are looking forward with hope for the return of our King Jesus, when the old age will finally disappear, and the new age of God’s reign will be fully realized. That’s why there is always a tension living in this interim period between night and breaking dawn, in the already and not yet kingdom of God.

The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. That’s the time in which we live.

And Paul says: It is now time to get up, sleepy heads.
Why? Because Verse 11: our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Wait a minute. I thought we are already saved when we first believed the gospel. Why did he say our salvation is nearer now than before? That seems to imply that we are not yet saved.

Actually, ‘salvation’ is a broad, comprehensive word that covers God’s act of rescuing us in the past, present and future. Salvation means that we have been rescued from the guilt of sin (justification) and we are being rescued from the power of sin (sanctification) and we will be rescued from the presence of sin in our future (glorification). What this means is that our future and final salvation when Christ will return to resurrect our bodies and bring us home is much nearer now. Every passing day brings it closer and closer.

In some Christian circles, a lot of energy and attention is spent on figuring out when Jesus will come back. They may not be able to tell you the exact hour and day. But based on charts of earth quake frequency, natural disasters, eroding moral values in society, the rise of microchips/nanotechnology and escalating violence in the Middle East, we are told: “See all these signs? Jesus will come back very soon (give or take 10 – 50 years). We are living in the last days.”

We are living in the last days, alright. But so did the early Christians. When God’s kingdom came, the new age had already come. This whole period since Jesus’ death, resurrection, exaltation and gift of the Spirit until the present time is called “the last days”, God had nothing else on his calendar before Christ’s return. It would be the next big thing in redemptive history. And it is in this sense that Christ is coming ‘soon’. So be watchful and alert, because we do not know the time.

How then shall we live? It is not enough to understand the time; we have to live and act accordingly. Three things: Wake up, clean up and dress up.

Verse 11: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber.

There is a provocative, no-nonsense song sung by Keith Green a Jewish Christian called “Asleep in the Light”. The lyrics are especially relevant for us who live in an urban culture of affluence and comfort where it is so easy to just sit back and be spiritually passive towards people in need.

Apathy is our constant danger. Here the song goes like this:

Do you see? Do you see?
All the people sinking down?
Don't you care? Don't you care?
Are you gonna let them drown?
How can you be so numb?!
Not to care if they come
You close your eyes,
And pretend the job is done

"Oh, bless me, lord!
Bless me, lord!"
You know, it's all I ever hear!
No one aches,
No one hurts,
No one even sheds one tear,
But, he cries,
He weeps,
He bleeds,
And he cares for your needs
But you just lay back,
And keep soaking it in

Oh, can't you see such sin?
The world is sleeping in the dark, 
That the church just can't fight,
'cause it's asleep in the light!
How can you be so dead?!
When you've been so well fed
Oh, Jesus rose from the dead!
Come on, get out of your bed!

Come away! come away!
Come away with me, my love!
Come away from this mess,
Come away with me, my love!

Don’t sleep walk in the dream world of more comfort, more entertainment, more fluff and more glitz of this age. Don’t spend your life busy chasing shadows. There are exciting, new purposeful activities that await us with a brand new day. Jesus is calling us to live in a way that points forward to the age to come.

2: Clean up. You know the day is almost here… verse 12: “So let us put aside the deeds of darkness”. Turn away from the kind of things people do under cover of darkness.

And what are these deeds of darkness? Let’s be specific here. Let’s not hide behind abstractions and generalities.

Verse 13: Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. He’s not talking about people outside the church. Paul is talking about ‘us’. Contrary to decent Christian behavior is lack of self-control in the areas of drink, sex and social relationships.

In the Bible, wine is often associated with abundance, celebration and joy. When Jesus joined a wedding party, he turned water into wine. Drinking in itself is not the problem. But excessive drinking leads to drunkenness and addiction and substance abuse. You are no longer in control. You are now a slave to alcohol. Money that should be used to support a family or children education gets wasted to buy beer. Husbands get drunk, go home and physically abuse their wives. So wives get up and leave for their own safety. And a family is broken and children suffer.

If that’s you this morning, God is calling you to put aside this sin and come back to Him.  

And Christians don’t think of sex as something dirty and shameful. No, sex is God’s idea! He made us male and female, and gave us the good gift of sexuality. It’s a sacred gift to be shared within a marriage covenant, a relationship of exclusive commitment and faithful trust.

That’s why we don’t treat it casually. Not because we see it as dirty, but because it is so precious and sacred.

Right now as we speak, sexual immorality is an epidemic sweeping across and destroying God’s people. It has come to the stage that even in some churches, it’s an open secret that young people (even leaders) are sleeping around with their girl friends and no one says a word. People just politely close one eye and pretend it’s alright. Is it any surprise that in one church, out of a group of 30 youths, only about 2 of them remain as Christians a couple of years after graduation?

That tragedy can happen anywhere if we do not have a culture of repentance, a culture of confessing our sins to each other, speaking the truth in love, a culture of accountability and church discipline. 

Guys, porn is not harmless fun. It is a deadly addiction that changes the way you look at women – it dehumanizes women and makes them into an object to be used and exploited. It changes you – it harms you, it robs you of joy, fills you with guilt and leaves you jaded and lifeless when it comes to pursuing God and his kingdom. But you are not alone.

Check out this video 

Sin thrives in secrecy, and it spreads in silence. But it dries up and dies when exposed to light.

If that’s you this morning, don’t be naïve to think that you can overcome it on your own. You need help and you are not alone. You may need to get an accountability software like XXXChurch or Covenant Eyes to filter content and protect your children, and get a brother, small group or your wife to be an accountability partner to walk alongside you to recovery and freedom.

And let us also put aside infighting, dissension, division and jealousy. How can we apply this?

I am struck by two things as I look at the members list of CDPC Puchong – for its diversity (ethnically, culturally) and for the fact many of them are what I’d call “solid Christians”. They are not the ones who say “Aiya, never mind… whatever you say, pastor! Cincai lah”! They are mature and discerning in their faith, serious about God’s word and actively serving others.

You can see that in our worship style, one week it would be Bahasa songs, another week it’s liturgical, and the next week it’s vibrant contemporary, and the next week, you have lots of Getty’s songs. And the range of in-house preachers – some are manuscript preachers, others are strong in exegesis, and yet others are into experiential learning and practical application. Naturally, some styles work for you and others don’t. Even if you don’t like my style, the good news is you only need to endure it once in 2 months!  And I’m very thankful to God for that mix.

It is a real blessing but it can also be a stumbling block if we are not careful. Because when you have gifted and diverse people with different agendas, personalities, hot buttons and interests that are not aligned, that can be an explosive formula in the test tube if we do not keep the main thing as the main thing… if we major in the minor things and minor in the major things… if we lose sight of Christ’s call to make disciples of all nations for the sake of fighting over grey areas, disputable matters. 

In fact, that’s exactly what Paul is going to talk about in the next chapter. How will God’s people love each other when they disagree on disputable matters? Phil will preach on that next week.    

In the crucial, essential things, unity. In the non-essential things, diversity. In all things, charity.

Because the night is almost over, the day is near. If we are not proactively killing sin, sin will be killing us. We need to clean up our act.

Not so that we can earn God’s favor to be loved by Him, and adopted as children of light. Live like this, do all this because you are already loved by Christ, and adopted into God’s family. Be holy like this, because you already belong to the light. He already loves you and died for you to forgive you, pour His Spirit in you and transform you. Now, live in light of that reality.

1 Thessalonians 5: “But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

3rd point: Because of the hour, we must not only get up and clean up, we must dress up as well. Look at verse 12: We must take off our night clothes, the deeds of darkness, and put on instead, the armor of light.

Church, when we come together as a community and a family centered on Jesus, when we covenant to help each other follow Jesus, we are not signing up for a Star Cruise package in Port Klang. I haven’t been on a cruise but it sure sounds like a lot of programs and fun activities, lots of good food and entertainment. And sometimes church can feel like that, doesn’t it?

But the Christian life is not a cruise ship, it is a battle ship. When we follow Jesus, we have signed up for spiritual warfare. If you don’t get that expectation right from the start, you’d be surprised and disappointed when you get on the boat and think: “Why am I sleeping in the bunker instead of a luxury suite? Hello Captain, how come the rations you provide do not include wagyu steak and abalone soup?” What’s more… you’d get very angry when you look outside for some nice fireworks, all you find are bombs exploding, bullets flying by and everyone busy fighting. “What’s going on here? I want to complain to customer service!”

When we follow Jesus, we signed up for spiritual battle against systemic evil in the world, against personal sin in our own heart and against demonic powers in the spiritual realms. As soldiers of the kingdom, put on the armor of light. The faster we realize this, the better because we need a war time mentality… It doesn’t mean you go looking for ways to get killed. But you won’t shy away from situations where you might get shot either. Gospel ministry is not a walk in the park, it is hard work. Even dangerous work… Our Commander has given a task and we obey it even if it’s inconvenient.

When we pray, do not we often say “God, please help this or that to go smoothly!” Instead of smoothness, perhaps we need to pray more for boldness: “Lord, I know that as I make disciples and fight sin in my life and my family, it’s not gonna be smooth sailing but please give me boldness and courage to press on when things get rough and when the gospel is not well received.”

Pray like this, because we can do it only by the sheer grace and protection of Jesus himself.

Look at verse 14: “clothe your selves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” Put Christ himself on as your armor, lay hold of him, cling to him like the shirt or dress that you wear.  How do you clothe yourselves with Christ? You put your faith and trust in Him, love Him and hope in Him. Faith, love and hope… You get connected to Him. Immerse yourself in Him. Cling on to Him.  

When we stumble and fall, when we succumb to sin, THAT sin again, there is a small window of opportunity for us to respond. Response One: Do we run away and hide? Like children who have angered their parents, we stay away from God for some time. We avoid Him for a few days and wait for His anger to simmer down a bit. Response Two: Or do we try to buy Him off? We bargain with Him: “Oh please forgive me God. I promise, I promise I’d do quiet time five times a day for the whole of next week.”.  

No matter what your theology is, both responses show that you don’t really experience the gospel. When you fall down, don’t avoid Him, run to His embrace. Cry out to Him to pick you up and heal you. Don’t run away, run to Him. Christ loves you and gives Himself up for you so that you can be forgiven. Have you ever talked honestly to God about your sin?

“Lord, I’m sorry my temper has exploded again just now! This hectic schedule in office and house moving is really getting on my nerves. Help me by your Spirit to be self controlled, help me to rest in you in the middle of this crazy week. Help me detect early signs of this volcano eruption. I don’t want to blow up in front of the kids.”

And don’t try to bribe God or buy him off. That’s so insulting because nothing we can offer is more valuable, more precious than Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. And it has already been paid. He loves and died for us even while we were enemies. How much more will He embrace you and save you now that you are His child!

This is not easy message today. If you are heavily convicted this morning, if you are so sick of yourself for failing again and again; and you are just waiting, waiting for the day when God will get so fed up, when He will just give up on you, well, then the good news is that day will never come.

Nothing you can do can make Him love you any less. Nothing you can do will make Him love you more. Come and find grace again and again at the cross of Christ. For nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, — absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus has embraced us.

Run to Him this morning.

In the movie Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, there is a great battle called the siege of Helm’s Deep. It was a dark and rainy night. The good guys were surrounded inside a fortress, fighting off wave after wave of horrible Orcs. They suffered heavy casualties and the enemies were about to break through the last line of defense. All seemed lost but instead of going gently into the night, Aragorn and his riders geared up for one final blaze of glory. And just then, just as they charged out against impossible odds, a new dawn has broken. Gandalf and the calvary arrived with the glorious sun behind their back, blinding the enemies and sweeping the forces of darkness away.

Today it seems like we are losing the war on sin, we feel drowsy and our strength almost spent… But the night is nearly gone, and the day is almost here. Don’t go gently into the night. Don’t waste your life sleep walking. Put on the armor of light. Clothe yourself with the beauty and righteousness of Christ. What will motivate you to press on and obey? It comes from knowing and experiencing the grace of Christ day in day out. It comes from being fascinated by and captured by a living relationship with Christ.

When that happens, you will attempt great things for God and expect great things from God. When that happens, you will help others see and savor Christ. It’s not going to be smooth and easy, but a new dawn will soon break forth and it will all be worth it. For we shall then meet Christ face to face.


PS: Let me close with an old Irish prayer called Saint Patrick’s Breastplate: it is a prayer for spiritual warfare, a prayer for protection, to put on the armor that is Christ…  

Christ be with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ within me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

What Gift Shall We Bring That’s Fit for A King? (Matthew 2:1-12)

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;for out of you will come a ruler    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Disclaimer: Credit goes to Soo Inn's Ecommentary for much of the materials in this message. 

Christmas is feel good time.

And it’s starting to look a lot like Christmas when shopping malls and radio stations start to play all time favorites like “Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light…” or you hear kids singing: “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas”… Nostalgic music that brings back sweet memories … You know Christmas is near when TV stations begin to show Christmassy scenes of gently falling snowflakes, romantic kisses underneath the mistletoe, children opening presents in front of a Christmas tree.

Christmas is feel good time. It is time out from our busy work schedule as we holiday for awhile in the world of carols, family dinner, gift exchanges and of course, a shopping spree. For a little while we turn our eyes away from the pains of the world and the pains in our own hearts.

Indeed we feel we deserve a little break, don’t we? There is so much wrong that is in the world. There is so much grief in our lives. 2014 has not been an easy year at all for most of us. Some of us have lost a mother, a father or a dear friend this year. Our national airline has tragically lost two planes with passengers and crew on board. The Sedition act is not going to be repealed after all, but instead it will be strengthened according to our Prime Minister. And we have seen how this piece of legislation can be used to suppress academic freedom and dissenting voices in the opposition.

Yup, 2014 has not been easy. And we really need a break. Because the New Year will be upon us soon enough with its rude call to get on with life. By the way, welcome to the world of GST in 2015.

So Christmas is a much needed emotional break. Christmas is feel good time.

But not for this guy King Herod. When he heard that Jesus had been born, he didn’t feel good at all. Indeed the Scripture records for us that:

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed...” (Matthew 2: 1-3)

But hold on for a second: Why should he be frightened? He was so paranoid and insecure that he tried to kill Jesus by slaughtering all boys aged two and below in Bethlehem. Similar violence against children happened again last Wednesday when the Taliban murdered more than 130 children in a school in Pakistan

So on one side of the ring, you have king Herod armed to the teeth with soldiers, weapons and unimaginable wealth. On the other side, you have a small, vulnerable baby. It was a no-brainer who would win this showdown.  

Except that this is no ordinary baby.

Herod was afraid because he was just a puppet king. He was appointed by the Roman empire. He didn’t have the support of his people.

Christmas meant that the rightful King of Israel has come. The kingdom of God is at hand. So Herod’s cruel reign was under serious threat. No wonder he was fearful.

Because the coming of the Messiah means that liberation has begun. The return of Israel’s king is at near. He is not far away, looking down from the outside. The Son of God is fully involved. He has entered our world. He has moved in to our neighborhood.

And because of that, every oppressive tyrant is in grave danger. Herod, the Taliban, Satan, sin, death, racism, disease, greed, bigotry - every oppressive value system is at risk. The King has returned. The rule of God had once again broken into our story, bringing its promise of healing and hope, of light and life, of holiness and love.

Why do Christians celebrate Christmas? Is it just a feel good time? It feels good but not that “escape from reality” kind of good. We celebrate the birth of Jesus because we remember the beginning of God’s campaign to reclaim the world for Himself. It is worth celebrating because Christ’s cosmic invasion to overthrow evil has started.

And every Christmas is a reminder that there is a war going on in our broken world.

It began with the birth of Christ. The decisive victory was won at the Cross when Jesus died to take away the sins of the world and rose to life again three days later. But the final victory over evil will be achieved one day when Christ returns. Far from feel-good escapism, every Christmas then is a renewed call to battle for us as followers of Jesus.

There is so much wrong in the world. There is so much that is broken in our own lives. The battle rages on!

And sometimes, following Jesus means not doing what feels good, but what is right even if it costs us something. You probably know that our brother Hwok Aun works as an economics lecturer in UM. Interesting things have happened in the university recently with Azmi Sharom a law lecturer being charged for sedition for giving his legal opinion in the media. And I’m very encouraged to see Hwok Aun doing what he can to stand in solidarity with Azmi for academic freedom and support student activism even though it might be seen as a career-limiting move. And I saw his Facebook status the other day: “Folks, you can stop asking whether I am in trouble. Of course I am. If we do not stand up against injustice, we are all in trouble. I've stopped wondering if I'm doing anything to jeopardise an academic career.”

His story is another real life example that reminds us of the fact following Jesus in a broken world is not always happy and clappy. It could be costly to do what is right. But it is even costlier if we do not stand up against injustice. What happens in Pakistan this week could one day happen in Malaysia if we allow religious extremism to shape our nation.

So Christmas is a wake up call that God is with us. He is among us. Stand firm through prayer, through love, through the gospel. Be salt and light in every sphere of life through the power of the Spirit and the Word. As we enter the year 2015, there are new opportunities to serve in the Name of Christ.

Now contrast Herod’s response with the Magi or wise men that came from afar to pay respect to the newborn King. Who are these people? They are most likely Gentiles, eastern astrologers who look for signs in the alignment of stars, planets and comets not unlike the ones we have today. For them, the birth of important kings is often associated with heavenly omens. That’s cutting-edge science and technology in those days. These star gazers are non-Jews wise and knowledgeable in astrology. And you might expect them to be opponents of the newborn King of the Jews like magicians and sorcerers who once opposed Moses and Daniel in the Old Testament scriptures.

But the most unexpected thing happens: They came from afar, risking their lives and possessions. They didn’t know much about Jesus, but they sought Him out anyway. Jesus was probably one year old when they finally presented him with expensive gifts befitting a king. They searched for him at great cost and worshipped Him. There’s a very ironic thing going on here: In Matthew’s Gospel, the Gentiles are now “his people” whom Jesus will “save from their sins”. He will be king not only of the Jews, but of all nations. This is the hope of Isaiah 60: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you… Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” This is a partial fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that the nations will come bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

This is not an endorsement of astrology, of course. The bible clearly forbids that. But the point is: God met these Gentile Magi precisely where they were, using whatever access to knowledge that they had – in the form of a star. Should we be surprised that God leaves us a witness in the starry sky above and the moral law within our hearts? Witnesses that point us back to the wisdom and power of the Creator? God has left us traces of general revelation in every culture, sign posts that point us back to Himself.   

At the end of the day though, that Christmas star could not lead the Magi all the way to their final destination. They needed to stop and ask for directions: “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” And it is only in Scripture, God’s written word, His final and ultimate revelation, that they found the way to Jesus. Hundreds of years earlier, the prophet Micah (5:2) has left them with the most important clue that the Christ will come from the town of Bethlehem, from among the clans of Judah. And this ruler is no ordinary king because his origins are from ancient times.

Friends, we can’t find Jesus on our own terms. We need God’s own self-revelation to find the way to salvation.

Some years back, we did our first Alpha course in CDPC Subang. It’s just an opportunity for people (skeptics, seekers, new believers, even long time believers) who want to explore the Christian faith to come together and have a safe space to ask questions. It’s a friendly place to have a conversation about the big questions – is there more to life than this? What is our final destination? Where do we come from? Who am I – really? The meetings start with a simple meal, then we watch a video presentation where these topics are discussed, and the highlight is small group discussions where people feel free to ask and talk about anything and everything. If that interests you, I would like to invite you to come for the next Alpha course on 17 Jan 2015. Sign up with me or google CDPC Puchong online.

Anyway, I was leading a small group with some very eager seekers who ask tough, challenging questions. Three of them left behind a high paying, prestigious consultancy career to go on a spiritual journey, backpacking in China for months. A mountain climbing friend invited them to come for Alpha. We had a really engaging time sharing our views of life and the question of God from various angles. We didn’t pretend we have all the answers. We could laugh at ourselves. We don’t take ourselves too seriously.

Eventually, we realized that our discoveries in science and technology, our knowledge and rationality could only take us so far. It’s the same with our personal relationships. You can only guess what’s on my mind until I truthfully reveal it through spoken words. In the same way, we can only get so far following the star of human wisdom. To understand God’s mind, we need Him to reveal Himself to us through His inspired word. And that sparked a hunger in us to dig deeper into the Bible, ask God to speak to us through it and see what He has to tell us.

Friends, it is only in God’s revealed word that we come to a real encounter with Christ this morning. So may I invite you to explore together what God’s word has to say about the big questions in life? Talk to us about the Alpha course. We’d be delighted to hear from you.

A little boy was sitting quietly, deep in thought one Christmas morning. His family was busy unwrapping presents that they have given each other. Then, he said: “Everybody gets a present on Christmas day, but what about Jesus? Why didn’t He get a gift? I thought it was His birthday!”

Funny isn’t it? Every one gets a gift on Christmas day except the birthday boy.

The Magi came and presented Jesus a tribute fit for a king. Say, what gift will you bring to the King of kings? Perhaps, the best tribute we can bring Him today are not gold, incense or myrrh. There is a nice Christmas song that goes like this (I’ll Give My Heart):  

Whose is that star
We've seen in the
You're not the least

Who is this Child
This Baby Boy
Who but the Son of God
Could bring so much joy

What can I give
What can I bring
What is a gift
That is fit for a King
I'll give my life
Not just a part
I'll give my all to Him
I'll give my heart

The best gift we can give to King Jesus is not gold but our lives! Not just a part, but our whole hearted devotion to Him and His kingdom. He is not a tyrant like Herod who lies and kills in order to keep power. Jesus is the kind of King who gives up power and becomes vulnerable in order to serve. He’s the kind of King who would sacrifice His own life on the cross to save us from our sin, guilt and condemnation. And He rose again in victory three days later so that He can make all things new.

Which King is ruling your life right now? Is your heart controlled by pride, self-promotion, lust and greed this Christmas? Do you think more about yourself than others? Do you crave for wealth and control over the people around you? If so, then sin is in the driving seat of your heart.

If you have never followed Jesus or recognized Him as King and Saviour, would you hear the call of His kingdom this morning? He’s calling each and every one of us here to follow Him, to join this kingdom of peace and justice that will one day overthrow all evil and wipe away all sorrows. Give your life to Him so He can cleanse it, renew it and purify it. 

As we gather this morning, we also come as a community of diverse people from various cultural, socio-economic, ethnic backgrounds gathered around the King and His kingdom. And there’s nothing that Jesus loves more than His bride, the church that He gave up his life for. 

So I think the best birthday gift we can give Him is to present ourselves as His people purchased by His own blood, as the bride whom He loves. Some of us have made a commitment to follow Christ and express that decision publicly through baptism. Some of us have been baptized as infants and today publicly confirm their faith before God and His people. Some of us have experienced what it means to live and grow together in a community, to serve God together with our unique abilities and to be spiritually accountable to one another. There’s a beautiful depth in relationship and growth in discipleship that is only possible when we commit and covenant with one another to serve the King as a body.  

What can we give, What can we bring
What is a gift, That is fit for a King
We'll give our life, Not just a part
We'll give our all to Him, We'll give our heart

Picture of the Magis bringing tribute to Christ by HeQi 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Exploring Life's Big Questions!

 All are welcome. A safe space for exploring Life's Big Questions. Fantastic food. Engaging conversations. Happening on 17 January 2015 (Saturday) 6.30 pm at City Discipleship Presbyterian Church (CDPC Puchong)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Community Of Truth & Love: Growing Together In The Gospel

Ephesians 4: 11 – 16

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Today, there are lots of discussions on how we can grow the church. Some say you gotta know your market segment and meet their felt needs. Others say the key is to have a network of cell groups where real community happens. Some say forget about church, just meet at Starbucks and have spiritual conversations. Others say lets bring back ancient religious symbols to give people a sacred experience. Still others say: If it brings people to church, does it matter how you do it as long as it’s ethical?

I’m not saying all of them are wrong. In fact, we can learn lots from them. For example, we have a children’s library because we discern that people in Puchong have young families and there is a need we can meet. And we do have covenant groups where close bonding and relationships are formed, sometimes over Starbucks or Coffee Bean. During Good Friday/Easter, we do appreciate time-honored tradition of The Stations of the Cross filled with sacred symbolism.

But having said that, it would be silly to start construction on a building without first knowing what kind of structure we plan to build. An apartment is different from a bungalow. They all have different blueprints, different materials, uses and shapes. The process of building will depend on what you want to build. (Picture courtesy of He Qi Art)

The same goes for building a church. Because a church is not a profit making entity. It’s not a multi-level marketing company. It is not a social club. It’s not a Rotary Club where people come together to provide social services. In fact, a healthy church is unlike any other human organization because it’s not devised by men. 

The church is God’s idea. It is a central theme in the biblical salvation story – the church is a new humanity created by God the Father, she is the Bride loved and redeemed by God the Son and she is the new temple in whom God the Holy Spirit dwells.

So it only makes sense to see what God’s word has to say about how He wants to grow His church. We should look to God’s instruction manual to build His church since it’s His design. Otherwise, looking back in 10 years’ time, we may end up building in vain. So that’s what we will look at together as we consider church membership today.
1) How does the church grow?

The Greek word for church is ekklesia, a gathering or a congregation of people for displaying God’s glory and sharing His gospel in the world. And the Scriptures use various metaphors to describe her: We are branches of the same vine, sheep of the same flock, brothers and sisters in the same family, stones built in the same building and, from the passage we read just now, we are members together of the same body.

It means all of us are connected to the Body of Christ though we have different functions, abilities and roles. And the entire body grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work (v16). If any member is cut off from the body, it will shrivel and die. Every member is joined and held together by every supporting ligament. We are all needy people. And we are needed. Our lives are inter-dependent. We rely on each other to grow. The hand cannot say to the foot, “I don’t need you”. And we receive instruction and nutrition from Christ himself, who is the head.

Now, how does the body grow? How do we grow into Christ-likeness? Paul tells us in verse 11: Christ himself gave us leaders (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers) to equip his people for works of service, so that the body may be built up. Verse 15 says: “speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Christ”. Speaking the truth in love is HOW we build the body up.

But what does “speak the truth in love” mean? Is it like when your wife asked: “Do I look fat?” you will tell it as it is, but gently: “Well, dear, let’s just say you are horizontally endowed. Don’t worry, there’s more of you to love.” You tell the hard facts, but do it in love. That’s partly true, yes. But crucial to spiritual growth of the church is we need to speak biblical truth to each other. We need to feed each other with truth about God. Spiritual truth of His promises. Encouragements from what Christ has done on the cross. Confront sinful patterns with the truth in love.

You can tell by looking at the context: In verse 11 all the leaders that Christ has given to equip us are all truth agents: apostles and prophets are the authoritative, foundational witnesses to the truth (their teachings are now preserved for us in the Bible), the evangelists (who do the work of evangelism with the truth of the gospel), the pastors and teachers (who take the truth and use it to feed and protect the flock of God). Every one of them equips us with God’s truth. They are truth agents who equip us for ministry.
We can also see in verse 14: “speaking the truth in love” is put in contrast with childish thinking, being easily deceived and swayed by every wind of false teaching. As we speaking God’s truth in love, it transforms us, strengthens us, comforts us and gives us a stable anchor and unity in sound doctrine. That’s how we grow.
Another way to put it: The core business of the church is to grow people into mature, disciple-making disciples of Christ by teaching them to obey everything that He commanded. We are talking about people growth and gospel growth. God’s word is like seeds that we sow. It’s like rain that nourishes us and makes us bear fruit.

If this is not happening, it doesn’t matter how much programs, how many members, how big is the budget and how grand a building we have – there is no spiritual growth.

How do we help each other grow into the measure of the fullness of Christ? Answer: by speaking truth about God and about Christ in love. Both are crucial: Truth and love. Truth without love is judgmental and puffs up in pride. But love without truth is confused and compromising. We need to learn the art of listening well in order to understand, not judge and feel what others feel. We also need to learn the courage to speak a word of truth in love even when it may get uncomfortable. God’s truth comforts and assures us. It can also challenge and call us to change.
This can happen in many wonderful ways in CDPC Puchong:
1)      It can happen in small groups when we gather for covenant groups, youth groups, Sunday school, ministry meetings and one-to-one Bible study.
2)      It can happen when we read prayers and the Bible with our children and spouse. Or in daily conversations as we eat and drive to school.
3)      It can happen during water cooler conversations at the work place with colleagues.
4)      When people prayerfully speak God’s truth in love from the pulpit, in class rooms and training workshops. When worship leaders lead us in worship grounded in Scripture. When pastors, teachers and evangelists model how to faithfully read and apply the Scriptures, we are equipped to serve others.
5)      Or when we follow up with new comers at the children’s library over lunch or invite guests on Sundays to our homes. Perhaps just over Kopitiam, when we discuss what we learnt during sermon and invite God into our conversations.

There are endless possibilities but what happens is the same: God’s people prayerfully speaking God’s word in love to someone else… That’s what the Holy Spirit would use to cause people to grow and bear fruit. That’s our core business. Everything else supports it.

Who will do the works of ministry?

If a guest walks in here and asks you: “Who is the minister around here?” How would you reply? What’s the correct answer: Rev Wong? Pastor David? But the biblical answer to “Who is the minister around here?” is: “All of us are. All of us do the works of ministry. All of us speak the truth in love”.

Yes, God has given some members of the church with the gift and responsibility to lead and equip God’s people. But look at verse 11: Equip them to do what? For works of ministry… For works of service… So who are the ministers? Only the pastor or teachers who do the equipping? Nope, a minister is a servant so all of us serve by doing ministry.

There is a die-hard belief that only full time, paid people have a ministry or only what happens on the pulpit on Sundays count as ministry or only “specially-called, specially-trained” people have a ministry. The main function for the rest of God’s people is to assist a few who can do “real ministry”. We support with our time, energy, prayer and finances so that full time, ordained pastors-teachers can do the really important thing.

But that’s not the model given in God’s word. Leaders equip God’s people to minister. God’s people do the ‘real ministry’ of speaking the truth in love to each other. Of encouraging and comforting each other. Of challenging and correcting each other. As members of the Body of Christ, we all have various spiritual gifts and roles that would enrich and are needed by others. The hand cannot say to the foot, “You don’t need me anyway so I can sit back, relax and enjoy the show”. The apostle Peter says: You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people so you could show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. We all are called and have ministry as prophets, kings and priests in the world.

For example, let’s imagine a discussion about the Children’s Library. Some people would look at it and say: “I’ve been around for four years. It’s wonderful to see so many families come to read and borrow books. But how do we reach them with the gospel? It’s just not happening yet.” Others look at it and say: “You know what we need first of all. We need to encourage and mobilize more people to support the work. Strategically, we need more librarians, story tellers and befrienders.”  Still other say: “But you know what’s even more important: Have we thought about children who cannot read or come from poorer families or with special needs? How can we serve them too?”

If we are not careful, we may misunderstand each other: “That fella is always thinking about evangelism, what about serving the poor?” or “That fella is always thinking about social justice, but who’s going to do the work?” But in truth, each one has a unique perspective because the first person has a prophetic ministry (how can we evangelize?), the second person has a kingly ministry (how can we get organized strategically?) and the third person has a priestly ministry (how can we sacrificially serve others?) And we need all of three contributing to the same Children Library so it can be more effective in serving others and evangelize. And we need each other to make the best decision (blind spots). That’s why as part of the church membership class next month, Tom will discuss about how we can serve and use our spiritual gifts to build up each other.

If prayerfully speaking God’s word in love is what brings spiritual life and all of us are ministers called and gifted by God, how would that change the way we think about church growth?

Here are important mind shifts: It means our priority is in equipping people for evangelism and to make disciples, rather than running events, attending committee meetings, managing property or organizing programs. Yes, we do need to be responsible stewards of our resources and finances. But we cannot be so caught up in running programs and committees that we lose sight of our core business in making disciples. Rather than to start with gaps in our ministries and programs and see how people can fit into them, our priority is to start with people and where they are at; and then consider how we can help them grow in spiritual maturity and what gifts and ministries look like for them.

A newcomer (let's say, Wendy): She is a solid Christian, a teacher and has a passion for evangelism in her network of colleagues and students: “David - how can I serve?” Do we look around and see a gap in the worship/music ministry: “OK, you can plug the gap here?” Or do we see her gifts and encourage her to pursue evangelism? That’s the test. (Ministry Mind shift ppt

Lastly what is the goal of our ministry in CDPC Puchong?

Every process has an end product. So what is the result from our process of speaking the truth in love with each other? What is the goal of our ministry?

The first goal of our ministry is the building up of the body of Christ. Verse 12: Christ gives leaders to the church "for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ."  It means we are in the business of raising up mature Christians - equipping disciples who do interpersonal ministry wherever they are. The fruitfulness we are after is that people are trained and sent out to make disciples, plant new churches and make an impact in the work place. In this hectic and mobile world, people don’t remain in the same place for very long… There will always be people who come and go for work, for studies, for relocation. And that’s ok… The priority is not that this church will grow in size and budget. That’s secondary. The priority is that we want to produce and export mature disciples who speak the truth in love wherever they are – to Australia, Vietnam, Norwich and beyond. The church should function like a body where every member serves in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The second goal of our ministry is the unity of faith and the unity of the knowledge of the Son of God. Verse 13: "until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God." That’s why in November (as part of church membership) we will have conversations on “Basic Beliefs”. There are lots of things that Christians can agree to disagree about (small or big government, GST or no GST, different opinions about rap music, organic food, football teams etc). But at the same time, there are historic doctrines of the Christian faith shared by believers across the ages – we need to have unity of faith, unity in knowledge of Christ and what he has done for us in the gospel.

Why is such a unity and foundation important? Look at v14: So that we will no longer be infants. We should be humble and be child-like in faith. But we should never be childish in our thinking. We should not be tossed back and forth by winds of popular opinion or cultural fads: “It’s not cool to preach about sin and judgment in this day and age. Relax and forget about it”. The opposite of having unity in faith and knowledge is to be naïve and easily conned by craftiness of people in deceitful scheming. I do consider myself a ‘charismatic’ Christian – I believe God works miracles, heals and delivers people from bondage today. But I don’t think it’s spiritually healthy for us to chase after signs and wonders, to be obsessed with the latest phenomenon that comes to town like holy laughter, holy bark, holy roar, gold teeth/gold dust. Some of these movement leaders were exposed with marital and financial scandals. Don’t be naïve. Be centered on the gospel.

The final goal of our ministry is that the church becomes mature like Christ. Verse 13: Build up the body "until we all attain… to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ." A common feeling among Christians is that they only get prayed for and visited by when they’re sick or in trouble. Of course, we are all people in need of help, friendship and prayer. It takes courage to be open to share needs and find help. But we shouldn’t have a culture where people pray only when reacting to crisis. The goal of ministry is also about pro-actively encouraging people to move forward in holy living and spiritual maturity whether they have problems or not. We want to be comfortable teaching and praying for one another even when things are going well that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (Colossians 1:28)

We aim for the body of Christ to grow into the full grown stature of Christ, the mature man. We are not yet there. It’s work in progress. We want unity in faith, we want to equip the saints for ministry so that the church reflects in our character, our spiritual life, our service, our relationship the fullness of our Lord Himself. We want to the world to see Christ magnified and lifted up through us.