Tuesday, 31 July 2012

IS POVERTY SYNONYMOUS WITH PIETY?


Is poverty a virtue?

                                                                     
The phrase “as poor as a church mouse” seems appealing to those who think that poverty is a virtue.

Believers have often been taught that money and piety do not go well together, just like oil and water:

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. * Some people, in their eagerness to get rich, have wandered away from the faith and caused themselves a lot of pain” (1 Timothy 6:10).

And so it is easy to overreact – to embrace the notion that poverty is synonymous with piety.

While being rich should not be our primary focus, we should not embrace a scarcity mentality either.

As God’s children, we have to think big and expect great things from God.

In the account of the Feeding of the Five Thousand (Luke 9:10-17), Jesus tested the disciples, challenging them to feed the multitudes at the end of the day when everyone was all tired and hungry.

To the disciples, it was inconceivable for Jesus to tell them, "You give them something to eat," when they were “stuck” in a remote area with no easy access to food.

When it comes to ministry, we too, like the disciples, have often been driven to despair on account of our own insufficiency.

When the disciples protested that it would cost a bomb to feed everyone, Jesus asked them what they had. They answered, "We have only five loaves of bread and two fish,” a little boy’s lunch.

Looking at the circumstances, they saw no way out except to send the people away to fend for themselves. But Jesus said, "Give them to me." And as they say, the rest is history. Jesus blessed the loaves and fishes, multiplied them and fed the multitudes.

Until the disciples were willing to commit to God whatever little they had, God did not move. Similarly, He is able to work mightily when we commit our “five loaves and two fishes” (time, talents and resources) for His use.

Embracing an abundance mindset — as opposed to a scarcity mindset — involves learning to walk by faith, tapping into His infinite resources, enjoying His blessings with gratitude and being a channel of His blessings.

We have to think big, move out of our comfort zone, envision great things for His glory — even what is humanly impossible — whether it’s in the church, community or marketplace.

For He is able to “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).

If we can do it on our own, what need is there for supernatural strength? As the Psalmist instructs us: “Blessed is the man whose strength is in You” (Psalms 84:5).

A pastor in a small town heard clearly from God to build a multi-storey church without any financing from a bank. Many thought that he had gone mad. But he stuck to his guns. Amazingly, God's provision came through a rich widow who funded the purchase of the building. If the God we believe in owns everything, including the cattle on a thousand hills, what is this miniscule project to Him?

Footnote:

*       It is the love of money which is a root of all kinds of evil. Money, in itself, is not evil.
In fact, being neutral, money can feed a family, fund a child’s education, support God’s work and so many other good causes.

SELF-EXAMINATION: HELP OR HINDRANCE?

Certain conditions have to be fulfilled before self-examination is useful. Otherwise it is mere introspection.




                                                                       
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts:
And see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
(Psalm 139:23-24).

Here the psalmist asks God to examine him to see whether there is anything which offends Him.

He asks God to not only scrutinise his outward conduct but his innermost thoughts. What are his motives and goals? What occupies the forefront of his thoughts and imagination? What is the focus of his affections?  

Such a prayer implies that he does not trust himself. He knows the corruption of his own heart – that it is often open to self-deception and presumptuousness.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

To use our intellect to search our hearts would be counterproductivejust as using a faulty thermometer to detect fever would yield unreliable results. 

Elsewhere in Psalm 19:12, the psalmist acknowledges his hidden faults and asks that God forgives him.

When we come into God’s presence, the Holy Spirit convicts us on the areas in our lives where we have sinned. Often this comes about when a particular verse or passage speaks to us directly.

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realise what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” (2 Timothy 3:16).

No discussion on self-examination will be complete without alluding to the role of conscience.

It is that God-given faculty which tells us whether our thoughts, feelings or actions are morally right or not. It has no executive powers; it does not cause a person to do the right thing or cease to do the wrong thing.

We should live by this rule: “If our hearts (conscience) do not condemn us, we have confidence before God” (1 John 3:21).

But conscience has to be continually sharpened by Scriptures so that its moral standards consistently remain high. A clear conscience is reliable only if the heart is feeding on truth. “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17).

If we continually suppress the voice of consciencewhen it tells us we heading the wrong wayseared conscience will result. It is no longer effective then as a moral plumbline.

                                                                  
To recapitulate, self-examination is helpful if we are humble and acknowledge that only God can show us where we have gone wrong. Being humble implies that we distrust ourselves and do not depend on our own intellect in the process of self-examination. Also, certain conditions have to be fulfilled for conscience to be reliable.

Finally, self-examination is helpful only if we are willing to repent and change our lifestyle once we know we have sinned:  “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God” (Psalm 51:17).

Depending on the circumstances, self-examination can be a help or hindrance in our spiritual transformation.

“Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1Timothy 4:16).


Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5).


The Unexamined Life Is Not Worth Living — Socrates.



RELATED POSTS

SHOULD WE BE SIN CONSCIOUS?

Should believers banish (completely get rid of) sin consciousness in our lives?

IS REPENTANCE MERELY CHANGING ONE’S MIND?
Some say that believers only need to change their mind (ie. correct their past erroneous thinking) when they repent. Is this what the Bible teaches?





Monday, 30 July 2012

KINGS OR SERVANTS?

Though we are supposed to reign like kings, we are also told to be like servants. How do we reconcile these two positions? The believer's identitya biblical perspective. 


How should believers see ourselves? Though there are various metaphors the Bible uses to help us understand our identity, it can get confusing at times.

From the viewpoint of relationship and intimacy, we are to see ourselves as sons of God, our heavenly Father (Romans 8:14-15).

With regards to discipline and suffering, we are to see ourselves as soldiers, athletes and farmers (2 Timothy 2:3-6).

When it comes to spiritual sensitivity, we are to be like sheeplistening intently to the voice of the Chief Shepherd (John 10:27).

But though we are supposed to reign like kings, we are told to be like servants. How do we reconcile these two extreme positions?

Because we identify ourselves with Christ’s resurrection, we now reign like kings. But with regards to the practical outworking of our faith, we are to be like servants.

“God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). 

We have victory over sin, death and Satan on the basis of what Christ has done for us at the cross. As for the latter, Christ “disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross” (Colossians 2:15).

We are more than conquerors in Christ. We do not have to fight for victory; we just have to enforce the victory that is already ours.

But we should also remember what Jesus shared about ministrywe are to serve because He came to earth with an attitude of a servant. And since no servant is greater than the master, we should emulate the Master (Mark 10:45, John 13:16).

Christ illustrated what He meant by a servant’s heart by washing the disciples feet just before going to the cross. This attitude of humility is described in Philippians 2: 5-8:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
              even death on a cross!

Some think believers should be guaranteed success and wealth in this world. They should travel first-class, stay in hotel suites, be driven in limousines and live in mansions replete with swimming pools and private theatre.

However, there is no scriptural support that we deserve a lifestyle befitting that of royalty. We are only reign like kings with regards to our new position in Christ as outlined above.

Moses, the prince of Egypt, was commended as a hero of faith. All the riches, power and pleasures inherent in this privileged position did not stop him from fulfilling God’s calling to lead His people out from Egypt. He chose shame and disgrace instead of earthly wealth and honour because he looked to greater reward to come with the eyes of faith (Hebrews 11:24-27).

Of those listed in the hall of fame in Hebrews chapter 11, there is a category of people who did not receive any earthly reward or deliverance. Instead suffering and persecution were their lot (Hebrews11:36-39).

These unsung heroes of faith are not often quoted in sermons. For human nature is like this: We want to hear more about those who have experienced blessing, deliverance and fulfillment of God’s promises in their earthly life (Hebrews 11:33).

To recapitulate, with regards to our position as believersbeing raised together with Christwe reign like kings but with regards to the practical outworking of our faith, we are to be like servants.

It is incorrect to say, “Since we reign like kings, we should be guaranteed a lifestyle befitting of a king.” To swing to the other extreme is equally incorrectthat we are insignificant, defeated and powerless just because we are lowly servants.

Ultimately, we are called to be faithful with what we have been entrusted (Parable of the Talents). “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10).

Whether we are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors or teachers, how have we been living our lives as faithful servants?  http://goo.gl/WW2Ca5

“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
(Luke 17:7-10)



RELATED POSTS: 

DISCOVERING OUR IDENTITY
Once we have resolved some important questions about our identity, we are well on our way to enjoy sound psychological health. We are also well-positioned to live out God’s calling for our lives. Otherwise our lives might be stuck in the doldrums.

SAINT OR SINNER?
Is the believer essentially a saint or sinner? If he is a ‘saint’, why is he still struggling with sin?

THE ABUNDANT LIFE 
What does Jesus actually mean when He says, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly?" What does the Bible say about abundance and riches?

SELF-ESTEEM AND PRIDE
Many make the tragic mistake in not recognising the difference between self-esteem which is positive and pride which is negative.
http://bit.ly/1dP95jq

Saturday, 28 July 2012

WHY COUPLES QUARREL


Personal differences and external forces may trigger marital conflict. 

Understanding the underlying dynamics of these two factors is often the first step towards conflict resolution.

There are many reasons why conflict is likely among married couples.



Firstly, the sexes are wired differently. We may not fully agree with John Gray (author of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venusthat men and women are as different as beings from different planets. But understanding the gender difference in communication styles and emotional needs is often the first step towards building a happy marriage.

Basically, women tend to be more emotional. Their talk aims at intimacy. Men, however, are usually more practical and task-oriented. They focus objectively on the solution to the problem.

Secondly, differences in personality, values, socio-economic background and family upbringing can drive a wedge between married couples. Tensions can arise for Chinese couples of different dialects as each dialect has its own traditions and attitude towards money, which may set the stage for conflict (say, for example, one is Hokkien and the other is Cantonese).

Thirdly, we are all imperfect individuals and, as such, are likely to falter and sin. We will never be able to meet one another’s expectations. We all have our follies and foibles. We will have to look to Christ, the perfect One.

The key is to acknowledge that differences will always be there, learn to accept what cannot be changed and then celebrate our diversity.

Apart from personal differences, the stress of earning a living and raising a family aggravate an already tense relationship.

Workplace stresssuch as tight deadlines, unrealistically high goals or sales targets, being chided by the bosscan result in an explosive situation at the end of a working day. 

How children are raised is another potential flashpoint. One parent may be lenient while the other may be strict. So a clash of values, whether love should be soft or tough, results.

Often both parents have to work if the couple chooses to stay in the city where amenities are easily accessible. As inflation drives the prices of houses, education, healthcare, food and transport upwards, this dual income trend has become increasingly prevalent.

It is wise for a young couple to stay away from their parents when they are starting a family of their own to minimise the potential of in-law problems. But not all couples are able to leave and cleave. Some have to stay with either of their parents for economic reasons or otherwise. For example, a grown-up son may be a ‘mummy’s boy’, still tied to her apron strings.

When the child (or the couples’ parent) falls sick or gets hospitalised, then the stress level is raised further. The couple then becomes the “sandwich generation”, responsible for looking into the needs of those before and after them, besides earning a living.

One spouse may have to take leave (or even stop work) to handle the problems at the home front. The family income may drop and thus the couple's bone of contention may shift to one of finance.

When the stress of daily living compounds personal differences, even a mature couple, who were once lovey-dovey, can be tested to near breaking point. Can love, romance and fidelity—values they cherished so much before getting hitched—sustain their marriage?

Young couples must be cognizant of the fact that conflicts in marriage are likely to arise. As such, they must be well-prepared to adapt to each other and commit everything in prayer to God—their strengths, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies.

When external forces threaten to add fuel to the conflict, they need to solve the problem together rather than treat one another as enemies.

God’s plan is for a man and woman to leave their parents and be joined together intimately in a permanent relationship. They are to be “one flesh” for as long as they live on this earth (Genesis 2:24). A firm belief in this God-ordained institution of marriage is the basis for a lasting relationship.  http://bit.ly/2x1B1kj


                                                                       
The apostle Paul held a high view of marriage, comparing it to the relationship between Christ and the church: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives must submit to your husbands in everything. And you husbands must love your wives with the same love Christ showed the church” (Ephesians 5: 21,24,25).

If married couples embrace the principles of mutual respect, submission and love, the likelihood of marriages ending up on the rocks is lessened.


                                                                    

 RELATED POSTS

“USE AND THROW” MENTALITY
In these days when we're accustomed to a "use and throw" mentality—what with the advent of styrofoam boxes for food takeaways—commitment in marriage is becoming increasingly rare.
http://bit.ly/2k79L2U

RESOLVING MARITAL CONFLICT
Singles and married couples alike will learn valuable lessons as they witness the reconciliation of two broken people in the movie, "FIREPROOF". God can heal a broken relationship—even if it seems irreconcilable—if we follow His ways.

HAPPILY EVER AFTER
Marital bliss, like trouble-free motoring, depends on one thing: Follow the prescribed manual.

LOVE AFFAIR GONE AWRY
Anna Karenina, a romantic drama set in Imperial Russia, depicts a love affair with a tragic ending. Sin has a price. You may be sure of that. “Sin will take you further than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay and cost you more than what you are willing to pay.”
http://bit.ly/2yLOoqZ

MARRIAGE COMPARED TO RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CHRIST AND THE CHURCH

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 

For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

(Ephesians 5:22-33)

Thursday, 26 July 2012

AN EYE FOR SMUT OR BEAUTY?

It all starts with the eye, the gateway which allows evil to creep surreptitiously into the mind.

                                                                       

Many have hardly any qualms about watching pornography these days, a habit which has spawned a worldwide multi-billion dollar industry. It is even seen as harmless and educational.

The glorification of eroticism has never been so open and excessive as it is today. Tantalising images are easily available online. Obscene DVDs are hawked in the pasar malam (night market), disguised as children’s educational wares, while suggestive music video clips bordering on soft porn invade the living room of couch potatoes.

It all starts with the eye, the portal which allows evil to creep surreptitiously into the mind.

When Jesus recommends plucking out one eye (Matthew 5:29), He is merely exaggerating. His purpose is to warn us that our eyes can affect our eternal destiny. It’s better to be one-eyed in heaven than to have both eyes in hell.

 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29).

Sound amusing? But Jesus is dead serious.

“I will not set before my eyes anything which is base,” proclaims the psalmist (Psalm 101:3). It is a call for purity and holiness in our personal lives.

What was Jesus trying to say in the following passage?
The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23).

He is stressing the point that the eye, though it is just one tiny little organ, is crucial to the overall health of the body.

A “healthy” eye is able to perceive that which is pure, honourable and of spiritual value. It is not just physically sound. When we set our eyes and mind on the positive, *  it edifies our inner man. Light enters our soul and we, in turn, are able to radiate that light from within us (Matthew 5:16).

If we allow our eyes to linger on corrupt things, darkness will fill our soul. If this habit is not nipped early in the bud, we will soon be consumed by and addicted to base things. Vile thoughts, which fill our minds almost every waking moment, will distract us from any positive endeavour. By then, Satan has already ensnared us – all because we are not aware of the destructive effects of viewing smut.

We will not be able to spontaneously serve God with a clear conscience. It’s important especially for leaders (and those aspiring to be leaders) to set their house in order in this area if they want to be effective. How can they lead and minister if they themselves have no peace and are still struggling to overcome sexual sin in their personal lives?

Believers who have fallen into this porn trap should confess their sins and renounce them, preferably before a minister/ counsellor.

Often those who are addicted to porn need help from others in their walk back to freedom. Thereafter, they should make themselves accountable to a mature person who can continue to encourage them and monitor their progress.

DWELL ON THE POSITIVE AND LOVELY:
  *    Read and meditate on good books, including the Bible; watch epic movies with positive themes; view glorious sunsets, waterfalls or other majestic sights of nature; worship, pray and fellowship with others.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9).


Whatever negative thing we “sow” in our lives – by allowing our eyes to view that which is base – we will reap (Galatians 6:7).


“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:5-6).


May we all choose life and peace.



Related post:  
YOUTHFUL PASSIONS.
Why does the Bible single out the young – especially young men – when it comes to keeping ourselves morally pure?



Wednesday, 25 July 2012

LOVE: WORDS, FEELINGS OR ACTION?


The basic motivating force in love is a desire to give.

Billionaire investor and philanthropist, the late Sir John Templeton, is well-known for devoting millions toward increasing our knowledge of unlimited love through scientific research and education. 

Agape, he says, is “love that gives you joy and helps you grow by giving love. You don’t grow much by getting love; most growth in life is by giving love.”

Everyone, Templeton adds, should give more thought to how to be more loving. He honours Mother Teresa, the first winner of the Templeton Prize in 1973, as the greatest example of lifetime love.

Let’s now consider several scenarios to see whether love is truly evident or not.

ACTION BUT NO WORDS

Recently I visited a grieving couple whose teenage son perished in a car accident. What do you do when you set out to comfort someone in grief but your mind draws a blank?

All I could do was look them in the eye while grasping their hands. For a few moments, the gaze, touch and silence “spoke”, as if in empathy.

Words did not matter; what was important was being there for them when they needed emotional support.

Looking back, I wish I had some comforting words. But then again, when love is the motive, are words necessary?

WORDS BUT NO ACTION

One cannot love without giving one’s time, energy or resources. This is because love requires action, not mere words.

“Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16).

FEELINGS BUT NO ACTION

Some may think that loving God is that wonderful feeling we experience when we are caught up in heavenly worship.

But it’s more than that. Jesus makes it plain: “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching” (John 14:23). Love me? Then obey me.

Wonderful worship without obedience is not love.

LOVE WITH ULTERIOR MOTIVE

One may give something precious to someone but love is absent because of tainted motives (1 Corinthians 13:3).

A casanova woos a lady with a promise of marriage. He showers her with expensive gifts and whispers sweet nothings in her ears. Then, after gaining her trust, he asks her for money to settle his debts. Completely besotted, the naïve lady, thrilled by the imminent sound of wedding bells, gives him half her life savings.

LOVE PERSONIFIED

 If love is difficult to grasp, we have to admit that God made it so much easier for us through Jesus. Fleshed out in a person—the God-man Jesus—love is no longer a vague concept.

We see love personified in Jesus who, while dying at the cross, entrusted Mary to John’s care (John 19:26, 27). He was selfless, thinking of his mother, even at the lowest point of His life.

And His last words, Forgive them for they know not what they do, can only come from One completely free from bitterness towards those who whipped, ridiculed and hung Him at the cross.

This is the perfect example of love: A God who gave of himself. He loved us so much that He became man and died on the cross for our sins. To those who believe in Him, He offers a new life — our sins forgiven, the right to become a child of God and a secured place in heaven when we die.

When man's examples of love fail us, we just have to look to Christ at the cross.


RELATED POST:
THE JOY OF GIVING