Monday, 28 May 2012

OF CELIBACY AND CHASTITY



While few are called to celibacy, all believers are called to be morally pure (chaste).

And chastity is not “no sex” but “no unlawful sex outside marriage”.

The crux of the matter is sexual purity—whether one attains sexual fulfillment through marriage or abstains from sexual relationships by virtue of one's gift of celibacy.


                                                                             
Not everyone has the gift of celibacy, like the apostle Paul. For most, marriage is the norm as we are wired that way.

In 1 Corinthians 7:7, Paul writes: “But I wish everyone were single, just as I am. Yet each person has a special gift from God.”

In citing his own unique situation, Paul does not condemn those who seek to be married. In fact, he says those who cannot control themselves should “marry rather than burn with passion”.

Addressing the issue of moral purity, Paul affirms in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5:
God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. Then each of you will control his own body *and live in holiness and honor— not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways.

Footnote: *Or will know how to take a wife for himself; or will learn to live with his own wife; Greek reads will know how to possess his own vessel.

Notice from this passage in 1 Thessalonians, it is implied that self-control is, in a sense, made easier when a man has a wife. At least, he will not be so easily tempted (hopefully) when his wife is sexually available to him. (The reverse is also true: when a lady has her husband to meet her sexual needs).              

Elsewhere, in Hebrews 13:4, we read:
Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.

So the contention that moral purity can be attained only through sexual abstinence (as in celibacy) is untenable since, in God’s eyes, what goes on between the sheets on the marriage bed is above reproach.

Paul, though he was single, asserts that apostles have privileges too, including the right to get married (1 Corinthians 9:5). So celibacy is certainly not an invariable requirement for serving God, even if it is service of the highest order.

After all, God created us male and female, each with distinctive features and having a natural affinity and desire for the opposite sex.

We shouldn’t be ashamed of sex because it is God’s fantastic idea – and not a creation of Hollywood or Playboy. He meant it for intimacy, recreation and procreation.

It’s only when sex is outside marriage – be it fornication or extramarital sex – that it becomes impure.


                                                                   
'Safe sex' is not just about putting on a protective sheath. To be safe from God's judgment, we have to follow His laws.


                                                                            
RELATED POSTS




Sunday, 27 May 2012

SINGLE AND FULFILLED


Singles should embrace life to the full for God's glory

                                                         

Believers who are single should view singlehood as a wonderful state where they are able to serve God wholeheartedly, free from the concerns of family life and having to please their spouses (1 Corinthians 7: 32-34).

They should not be unduly pressured into getting hitched although marriage is the norm for most people. Not everyone can be celibate (Matthew 19:10-11).

Through marriage, one becomes intimately connected with a soul mate, the one with whom you can share your deepest hopes, aspirations, joys and fears.

Apart from companionship, marriage is God’s way whereby natural sexual desires and needs can be fulfilled. Hopefully, it will also protect against sexual temptation.

However, relieving sexual tension should not be the main motive for getting married.

It is better to deal with the pressure of desire rather than get hitched to the first person who comes along and then contend with an unhappy marriage.

In fact, believers should embrace wholeheartedly whatever their present state — single or married. Take it as an opportunity to glorify God with whatever gifts He has endowed them.

If a potential mate comes along, then one can pray, test the waters, see whether there is any “chemistry” and wait for God’s timing.

Transiting from singlehood to the married state should be viewed as positively as remaining single.   

Singles should be open to whatever changes God may bring into their lives, including the possibility of a life partner.

But they should not succumb to societal or family pressure to get married. Neither should they be preoccupied day and night with getting married —  and miss out on all the opportunities to live a happy, fulfilled life for God’s glory.

While they are waiting for Mr or Miss Right to appear, they should go out and enjoy the company of friends. Make new friends in a group setting, offline. Be actively involved in serving God.

Or even enroll themselves in a Bible study course or various personal development courses. Travelling and reading also add new insights and perspectives to life.

They should not be living in the future — what life might bring — but seize all the opportunities life presents to them in the present. Carpe diem!

Saturday, 26 May 2012

BURDEN OF JOY

Who wants to have a burden when we can have blessing? But how about a burden which brings joy?


We are often reminded that calling, vision, mission and passion are important for effective ministry. But how about having a burden?

When news reached Nehemiah’s ears that the walls of Jerusalem were in ruins, he was sad and burdened.

That’s because he recognised that it was an affront to God’s glory to leave the walls in a state of neglect.

We can surmise that must have been walking close to God to discern His will. Though he was just a cupbearer, he prayed that he might be an instrument to fulfill God’s plan.

God has given each of us special gifts and talents – whether it is natural or spiritual. And the Holy Spirit shows us that these talents He has endowed us with should be used to meet a specific need (or needs).

If we pray for God to show us His will, over time He will confirm it to us – by placing in us a burden for a particular area of ministry, be it teaching, witnessing or social work (Proverbs 3:5-6).

It is a positive and constructive burden – just like a pregnant mum carries a child for nine months in her womb.

Sometimes a burden can be very discomforting. God called Jeremiah to preach an unpopular message – that God’s judgment will befall God’s people unless they repent. Because it was a hard message which they were not willing to hear, much less accept, he had an unenviable job.

But if I (Jeremiah) say, "I will not mention him or speak any more in his name," his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot (Jeremiah 20:9).

Apart from morning sickness early in pregnancy, mothers feel the strain in the back as the baby’s weight increases. But the moment she thinks of the baby’s arrival, the anticipated joy lifts the burdens away.

Christ endured the shame and agony of the cross because He envisioned the joy that would be His when many, many lost souls would be reconciled to God through his sacrificial death.

This is the kind of burden God would have us carry. It involves self-denial and sacrifice. It often means moving out of our comfort zone. It may even mean persecution.

But we do not need to carry this burden alone. It seems paradoxical that Jesus says His yoke is easy and we’re to let Him to share our burden:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Now, we do not have to go around with long faces all day just because we’re carrying God’s burden. But when nobody watches, in our prayer closet, the burden consumes us as we cry out to God.  

As we rejoice in what He has already accomplished in our lives, we want to experience more and more of His glory. We want to move to the next level as He moves in strange and miraculous ways.

Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy (Psalm 126:5).


Wednesday, 23 May 2012

WHEN DREAMS GET DELAYED OR DASHED

What happens if the dream or vision God has placed in our hearts faces a setback? It seems as if we have come face-to-face with a brick wall.

Sometimes we get discouraged that we’re not moving any closer to the vision God has placed in our heart. We may even think of giving it up.

                                                                        



However, if a vision seems slow in materialising, wait patiently; for it will surely take place (Habakkuk 2:3).

William Carey, who had a vision for lost souls, faced this predicament. After labouring many years in India, his printing establishment and manuscripts were destroyed by fire. But he persevered. Later, this self-educated cobbler translated and printed God’s Word into 40 different languages and dialects. If Carey lacked the faith or patience to cling on to the vision God gave him, he would not have seen the fruits of his labour.

And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
(Hebrews 6:11-12).

Wait on the Lord,
And keep His way,
And He shall exalt you to inherit the land.
(Psalm 37:34).

Yes, faith and patience are needed if we are to possess the Promised Land, if we are to come into the fullness of the inheritance God has in store for us.


But we also have to ask ourselves: “Have I heard God correctly? Is it God’s will indeed, for example, for me to leave my job and go to China to teach? Have I sought the counsel of my church leaders or trusted friends? Have I rushed through the decision-making process? Is it like a ‘spur of the moment’ thing after I was challenged by someone? Have I waited over a period of time for God to confirm what I thought was a clear leading from Him? 

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

STIR UP THE GIFT

It's not automatic. Just because we have been given certain gifts or talents, it does not mean they will spontaneously bloom and come to fruition. We need to play our part – rekindle them or stir them up day by day.



And the reward for utilising the gifts God has bestowed on us is MORE work, MORE responsibility. He will enlarge the cords of our tent. Our life will impact and influence more and more people, even those in faraway places.

We will be like a tree providing shelter, nourishment and succour to many who come to perch on our branches.

Rivers of living water will gush forth from our lives as we become channels of His blessing. It’s torrential and unstoppable.

God will do so many great things in our lives – what we cannot possibly think or imagine!

But only if we stay close to Him, like the branches which remain connected to the vine, drawing nutrients from it.

                                                               
        
                                                                 Fan into flames 

References

2 Timothy 1:6
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.

Philippians 2:12
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;

Matthew 25: 21, 29
His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’
‘For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.

Isaiah 54: 2
Enlarge the place of your tent,
And let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings;
Do not spare;
Lengthen your cords,
And strengthen your stakes.

Psalm 2:8
Ask of Me, and I will give You
The nations for Your inheritance,
And the ends of the earth for Your possession.

Psalm 1:3
He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.

Jeremiah 17:8
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit.

John 7:38
He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.

Ephesians 3:20
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us …

John 15:5, 16
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

“You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.

IS SELF-CONFIDENCE DESIRABLE?

That depends on how you define it. Is your confidence mainly grounded in yourself or God?

No one will ever listen to you or follow you if you lack confidence. Can a general lead his army into battle if he lacks confidence – that which reflects guts as well as clear thinking, enabling him to map out a strategy to fight his enemies?

Confidence is not only desirable but crucial and necessary.

A person’s confidence is a reflection of his or her self-esteem*, which is often built on past experiences, successes, achievements and the commendation he or she receives from others.

But confidence has its drawbacks. Too much confidence can lead to pride. Overconfidence (when a person has absolutely no anxiety) can also cause poor performance, according to Yerkes-Dodson Law. Athletes realise that when they are overconfident, they tend to train less. As a result, their performance suffers.

The apostle Paul revealed that he was quivering in fear when he shared the Good News with those at Corinth (1 Corinthians 2: 1-5):

When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

Elsewhere he states that his competence is from God and not from himself (2 Corinthians 3: 4-6):

 Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant —not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

So much for confidence or rather, the lack of it in a spiritual leader. With knees knocking and butterflies fluttering around in his stomach, he still became the greatest apostle of all time and the one who was largely responsible for setting the tone of New Testament (NT) doctrine as he wrote most of the books in the NT.

One may lack the credentials which the world usually looks up to. But when it comes to the work of His kingdom, it’s God’s empowerment that matters most.

Let us bow down in humble adoration before God. Let us lay down all our achievements and degrees as well as our inborn gifts and talents at His feet. And ask Him to make them subservient to His special anointing on our lives.

David relied on the sling and five stones to slay Goliath. He had to lay down the heavy, cumbersome armour and sword weapons traditionally relied upon to win a battle.

Let us rely primarily on the Holy Spirit rather than place our confidence on what we have achieved or our natural giftings. And then make confident strides into battle and advance His kingdom.

“The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31).



RELATED POST:*
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SELF-ESTEEM AND PRIDE?

Monday, 21 May 2012

GETTING OFF THE FAST TRACK


Shifting into a lower gear in life might mean better health, quality of life and relationships. After all, even if you win in the rat race, you are still a rat.

By Anna Teoh and Dr Lim Poh Ann

Today, the prevailing philosophy in life is the bigger the better—bigger paychecks, bigger cars and bigger houses. While there is nothing wrong with being rich, it is dangerous when far too much time and energy are expended towards selfish economic goals to the neglect of values, personal health and relationships.

Even as we watch TV advertisements of fancy cars or view our neighbour’s house renovations, if we’re not careful to monitor our thoughts, we too might get sucked into this materialistic whirlpool.

Choosing Lifestyle over Life

We’re living in a world stuck in fast-forward. Always on-the-go, we’ve become a society accustomed to fast food, drive-in outlets and instant coffee.

When the chairman of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, wanted to set up an outlet in Tokyo in the early 1990s, consultants advised him against it as it was impolite (by Japanese culture) to drink from cups while walking on the street. 

However, Japan’s first Starbucks opened to overwhelming response as the trend was in keeping with the people’s fast-paced lives.

We too often justify ourselves: We need to work hard for financial security and to provide for our family’s needs. But, in doing so, are we choosing a lifestyle over a life?

Too Tired!

Hectic, demanding and fast-paced lives. That’s the way most people live their lives today. After work, they come home too tired to talk to their spouses and children. They rush through a silent dinner, watch television and go to sleep.

People have little time for their friends and family members, much less for God, exercise and personal development. Family devotions are rare and time is cut back on prayer.

Sleep deprivation is rife as people spend time on the computer to catch up on work or their hobbies (including social networking) before retiring for the night.

The Affluenza Epidemic

Apart from the global flu pandemic, there is another epidemic. “Affluenza”, coined from the words “affluent” and “influenza”, is a condition characterised by constant striving for more wealth. Highly contagious, it is a socially-transmitted disease. Symptoms include compulsive shopping, high debt, overwork, obsession with "having it all", extravagance and stress.

Jane Austen once said, "A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of." But her claim is increasingly being challenged today. Money has the power to make people happy, but only when they are rising from the low-income to middle-income group. After their basic needs are met, more money could make people less happy and more worried!

Instead of attaining a better quality of life, they end up feeling perpetually dissatisfied. Thoughts are continually focused on amassing more things and enhancing appearances while relationships with God and man are sidelined.


These misplaced priorities could have been avoided if they knew the value of contentment: “Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content” (1 Timothy 6:6-8). 


Downshifting

Downshifting, a behavioral and lifestyle trend, is fast gaining acceptance. Downshifters voluntarily choose to abandon their fast-paced, financially-driven lives in exchange for lives at a slower pace. Basically, the live-to-work principle is being replaced by the work-to-live philosophy.

Downshifters often enjoy better health, more fulfilled personal lives and improved relationships. It may mean cutting back on working hours, being content with less money in order to embrace a more balanced and wholesome life. Work is seen as just one area in life; the other areas such as personal development, family, spiritual, physical, and social aspects of life are also emphasised.

Carl HonorĂ© makes a convincing case for slowing down in his book, In Praise of Slowness. He challenges the conventional view that faster is better. The philosophy of the Slow Movement, he says, is “not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savoring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting.”

Ways to Downshift

Downshifting does not necessarily mean a total lifestyle change. You can start by incorporating minor changes in your life such as:

1.    Reduce expenditure on unnecessary items. Resist compulsive shopping by leaving your credit card at home, and save yourself the stress of settling debts.

2.    Practice frugality. Make a list before you shop for groceries. Browse through catalogues for promotions. Consider budget local holiday destinations (a camping trip is fun and less hectic compared to joining a tour group). Try giving handmade items.

3.    Value functional utility over status when choosing goods.

4.    Avoid wastage. Cook just enough, turn off the lights when not in use. Save water by doing the laundry when the load is full.

5.    Decorate your home keeping simplicity, elegance and functionality in mind. Browse through websites and magazines to jumpstart your creative juices.

6.    Try growing your own vegetables if you have space for gardening. Not only are they healthier compared to pesticide-laced vegetables, you also save money.

7.    Buy local food. This helps minimise food miles (distance over which food is transported to the consumer) which has an impact on climate change.

8.    Reduce hours spent at work and commuting. If possible, try not to work overtime. Consider switching jobs or relocating to optimise use of time.

9.    Donate, reuse or recycle old items. Many churches have a drop-off corner for used items. Buy quality second-hand goods.

10. Allocate quality time each day to be spent with your family. Impart godly values to your children through your actions.

11. Set aside time for prayer and meditation. This helps you take stock, re-focus and get in touch with God and your inner self.

12. Do not try to keep up with the Joneses. Remember, your identity as a child of God is secure and not dependent on the amount of money you have. Instead, seek God and live out His calling for your life. 

Benefits of Downshifting

1.    More time to spend with your loved ones, leading to more fulfilling relationships.

2.    Opportunities to contribute to the community through your time, talents or resources. Knowing your neighbours better helps in outreach.

3.    Making your money stretch further can be challenging but rewarding.

4.    Having more time for exercise, sleep, prayer and reflection improves physical and mental health. You are less likely to suffer from infections or stress-related chronic conditions, such as heart disease or depression.

5.    Adopting a slower pace of life reduces your carbon footprint, thus benefitting the environment.

6.    You’ll have less regrets on your deathbed. No one ever regrets not having spent enough time at the workplace in the final moments!

Trade-off

Some people choose not to downshift, fearing uncertainty or losing out in terms of the world’s goods. After all, the materialistic mantra, “He who dies with the most toys wins” still holds true for many. However, if they recognise what they stand to gain in the trade-off – better quality of life and relationships – they might then reconsider.

"The truly rich are those who enjoy what they have," according to a Yiddish proverb. Are you enjoying what you have or are you caught up in the rat race?

Lily Tomlin quips: “The trouble with the rat race is, even if you win, you are still a rat.”

 "And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Mark 8:37). So let’s set aside time to reflect … and see how we can get off the fast track to lead more meaningful lives.


 The above article was first published in Asian Beacon magazine, December 2009, issue 41.6

HOMOSEXUALITY: SHOULD FAITH REFLECT CURRENT THINKING?

A blog reader, John, commented that Christianity as a "progressive religion" has to open up to new thinking and challenges today:

"Why I say this is because homosexuality, transgender, lesbian, bisexual issues are prevalent today. The Catholics are dead against it, but here we have the Anglican Bishop Gene Robinson who is openly a homosexual. Now who is right and who is wrong?
Could God the Almighty who created men and women, Heaven and Earth, have made a genetic mistake? Or is homosexuality a sin?"

Reply:

God created man as male and female with distinctive features and having a natural affinity for the opposite sex. God put in man sexual urges and desires for the opposite sex.

God condemns unnatural sex both in the Old and New Testament. He sent fire and brimstone to rain down on Sodom because its inhabitants practised sodomy.

Romans 1:26-27 states very clearly: 

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.

In the same way, the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

As to whether we are born gay, many of the initial studies, which were highly touted as "proof" for a biological (genetic) basis for homosexuality, have been contradicted later by more thorough studies.

The Bible states very clearly that there is no provision for any alternative lifestyle for sexual fulfillment apart from a monogamous, heterosexual relationship between a man and a woman who are committed to one another by marriage. 

Though the Bible is firm and unequivocal in its stand on homosexuality, how we approach the homosexual as a person is strikingly different. We hate the practice as the Bible does not condone it. But we love the homosexual, putting ourselves in his or her shoes, that he or she has already suffered enough, having to face the pressure from society’s disapproval.

Just as how Jesus dealt with the loose women who crossed His path, we must treat the homosexual with love, compassion, empathy and a non-judgmental attitude. We need to treat sexual sins, such as homosexuality, as if they are non-sexual ones such as greed or lying. God’s forgiveness is equally open to those who commit sexual or non-sexual sins.

                                                                       


RELATED POSTS

MARRIAGE: GOD'S IDEA

RESIST AND REACH OUT