Wednesday, 31 October 2012

BLESSING vs. RESPONSIBILITY


Is there anything wrong with a “gospel” that says, “Come to God for all the goodies”?

God wants to bless His children and included in this package is health and wealth, besides protection and security (Matthew 6:33, Jeremiah 29: 11 and 33:6).

However, it’s so easy to be mesmerised by the gifts that we forget the Giver. If we’re not careful, we might choose blessing and comfort over God’s calling.

When life revolves around our security and success, and God is the One who helps us fulfill our dreams, we are worshipping God primarily because we want to get something. Taking the “health and wealth” gospel to the extreme is like turning God into the genie of Aladdin’s lamp.
Why do some people highlight the blessings we can get from God and downplay the role and responsibility of believers?

No right thinking believer disputes the fact that we are saved by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). What is crucial is that which follows. What’s next? Genuine faith has to be evidenced by works: "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead" (James 2:26).
Paul echoes this need for personal responsibility – to work out our faith with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). In a similar vein, believers are exhorted to produce fruits in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8, 10 and 7:19). 
As a baby boomer, I used to read books by authors such as A. W. Tozer, Thomas A’ Kempis and George Verwer – all of which emphasised the cost of discipleship. But many books today are of a different genre, proclaiming the message that we can come to God for all the goodies we need in life – and at no or little cost to us.
If we pick and choose from scripture what we think is good for us – neglecting those parts we think are harsh and demanding – we will get a distorted view of God’s intended message to us.

We cannot allow the “health and wealth” gospel to overshadow that which is so central to Christ’s teaching – the challenge of discipleship: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). 

Monday, 29 October 2012

WISE AS SERPENTS


Examining the multiple meanings of the phrase, ‘wise as serpents’.

Serpents, creatures which personify Satan, are cunning and devious. It was a serpent which tempted Eve and subsequently brought about the downfall of man in the Garden of Eden.

Jesus, who sent out the twelve disciples on a mission to reach out to their fellow men specifically told them:  “Here I am sending you out like sheep with wolves all round you; so be as wise as serpents and yet as harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).  *  





They were reminded that people may shut the door on them, oppose or persecute them. But they were not supposed to retaliate. God, who was constantly on their side, would vindicate them. They need not fight their own battles.

Isn’t it strange that believers are exhorted to be like these slithering, elusive animals? But we are not to be evil like serpents. We are told to emulate snakes with respect to just one of its characteristics – wisdom.

In what areas of our lives should we grow in wisdom?

First, we should be wise up by preparing ourselves against deception. Jesus warns that deception will be a prominent feature during the end times (The Olivet Discourse, Matthew 24).

Believers have to be wise – in fact, extremely vigilant and discerning – if they want to stand up against deception in these last days. Satan is like a roaring lion who seeks to devour the weak and unwary (1 Peter 5:8).

And even the elect – supposedly mature leaders – can be deceived. If leaders are deceived, don’t you think the flock will fare even worse?

“For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many” (Matthew 24:5).

“For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24).

That is why it is so important to go back to basics. Be like the Bereans:

“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” ( Acts 17:11).

“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

Second, we should live circumspectly – with a sense of destiny in mind. We should seek to discover our primary calling and purpose in life:

“Live life, then, with a due sense of responsibility, not as men who do not know the meaning and purpose of life but as those who do. Make the best use of your time, despite all the difficulties of these days. Don’t be vague but firmly grasp what you know to be the will of God” (Ephesians 5: 15-17).

Third, we should live with a sense of urgency in light of Christ’s second coming like the ten virgins who had oil in their lamps (Matthew 25:1-13). We should be on our toes and pull up our socks, spiritually speaking. We cannot depend on the spiritual highs and experiences of yesteryear. How has our relationship with God been recently? Has it been vibrant and fervent? The oil in the lamps is likened to the Holy Spirit. Are we filled with the Spirit?

Fourth, how have we been using our time, talents and resources? Is it for the advancement of God’s kingdom?

Lastly, we should conduct ourselves wisely towards outsiders and be ready to give an account to those who need to hear the Good News:

“Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:5-6).

“Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you” (1 Peter 3:15b).

So there are many different ramifications to the phrase 'wise as serpents'.
                             -----------------------------------------------------------------------
Footnote:
*   We see a parallel here in the Parable of the Unrighteous Steward (Luke 16: 1-13). Though both the serpent and steward are evil, we can learn much from them in the areas of wisdom and shrewdness, respectively.
Jesus commended the steward for his shrewdness: “For the children of this world are considerably more shrewd in dealing with their contemporaries than the children of light.
In essence, we are told to learn positive things from evil characters both the serpent and steward and use what we have learnt for noble goals.



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PULLING UP OUR SPIRITUAL SOCKS
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Thursday, 25 October 2012

IS SEX A SPECTATOR SPORT?


Some of us pride ourselves that we are liberated and mature. We love to watch movies with special rating – “for mature audience”. After all, maturity implies we are free to watch or do what we like, including watching others having sex.

By the same token, in the name of freedom, some even blog about their sexual trysts. They provide the world a window into their bedroom. Their reasoning is this: “No one is harmed. We are just sharing. Is there anything wrong?”

In this respect I do see their point– their actions do not intrude into the privacy of others, unlike paparazzi who target celebrities for personal gain using zoom lenses. It is not that they are prying into the lives of others. It’s the reverse. They are letting others into their private world.

Well, it seems we are free to do what we like provided we’re willing to be subjected to the laws of the land.

Even the Bible tells youths that they are free to enjoy themselves. After all, they are only young for a transient phase of their lives. But there is a catch to it. Just read on.

You young people should enjoy yourselves while you're young. You should let your hearts make you happy when you're young. Follow wherever your heart leads you and whatever your eyes see. But realise that God will make you give an account for all these things when he judges everyone” (Ecclesiastes 11:9).

The other aspect to consider is this: We think we are free to broadcast our sexual acts to the world but have we considered the effects our actions will have on others? How will those who view such acts be impacted, especially those who are young 1 and uninitiated?

If we keep on arousing our sexual desires when the time isn’t right yet, it may create havoc in our lives. We might be consumed by lust 2 almost every waking moment and lose our focus and direction in life.

We must never underestimate the power of the eye 3 as it is a most important portal through which things, both good and bad, are being fed into our minds. If we continually feed our minds with smut, we will reap what we sow.

To be fixated on an act which lasts a few minutes and forget the rest of what makes a harmonious marital relationship would be a grave mistake.

Sex is wonderful if it is viewed as the icing on top of the cake. But we must not forget the rest of the cake – sharing of ideas, opinions, victories, burdens, leisure and fun times which are inherent in any happy and stable marital relationship.

Sex, as the Bible sees it, is one of the many ways whereby a couple – committed to one another in a heterosexual relationship within marriage – share intimate, private and pleasurable moments together.

In the name of freedom, one can extol the virtues of sex being a spectator sport. But sex, as God intended, is never meant to be broadcast to the world.

In a sense it's a “sport”, being an aerobic activity which strengthens our heart – but it is meant to be private.

Footnotes:
1 Youthful  Passions
Why does the Bible single out the young – and especially young men – when it comes to keeping ourselves morally pure?

2 Run Before You Fall

There’s no point praying for strength if you are walking towards sexual temptation or indirectly acquiescing to it.


 3 An Eye for Smut or Beauty
It all starts with the eye, the gateway which allows evil to creep surreptitiously into the mind.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

MONEY: ROOT OF ALL EVIL?


Is money the root of all evil? Or is it the love or the lack of money which drives people to commit all kinds of evil?

Prosperity often conjures in our minds negative feelings. Perhaps these sentiments stem from the fact believers have often been reminded that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil”.

But closer examination of this oft-quoted verse (1 Timothy 6:10) reveals that it is referring to the love of money, not money per se.

Money, in itself, is neutral. In fact, it is needed to fund missions, build orphanages and provide food for the needy through soup kitchens.

Furthermore, it’s the lack of money which often drives people to commit all types of evil. People in dire need of money may cheat, rob, murder or prostitute themselves.

So we need to debunk the premise that money, in itself, is evil when it is the love of money and the lack of money which cause evil to flourish.

If believers develop an aversion towards prosperity and the creation of wealth, then who will fund the many activities which bring about the good of man, whether it’s missions or social work?

“Remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:18).

So believers – including businessmen, entrepreneurs and tycoons – need to recognise the fact that their wealth has a vital role to play in God’s kingdom and God is the One who has blessed them abundantly.  

If the church wants to make a significant dent in society, it has to discard the notion that poverty is piety. “There have been three factors that have changed society far more than anything else, namely violence, knowledge and wealth. And the greatest of these is wealth,” emphasises C. Peter Wagner in his book, “The Church in the Workplace”. Indeed, wealth is the indispensable “fuel” for social transformation.

Many would immediately react and say, “Tut-tut … another proponent of the prosperity Gospel.” But Wagner offers no apology. He believes that for the kingdom of God to advance in the 21st century, two things have to be in place: productive workplace ministers and transfer of wealth.

“A poverty mindset is not just a psychological problem,” stresses Wagner. It “hinders the people of God from stepping up and taking their rightful dominance over God’s creation.”

Citing Deuteronomy 28:11 and 3 John 2, he affirms that it is God’s will for His people to prosper. To him, prosperity has four facets: material, spiritual, physical, and social. However, this teaching in no way undermines the need for spiritual insight, prayer and spiritual warfare before society is transformed.

So wealth has a vital role to play in the overall scheme of things in God’s kingdom. And the creation of wealth – through hard work, innovation and honest means – should be viewed positively.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

RELIGION AS A MEANS OF GAIN

We are told to earnestly covet the spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:31). Strong language indeed. But when it comes to riches, we are warned not be covetous for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (Luke 12:15).


                                                                    
There are some ministers today who have all the trimmings and form of religion but inwardly harbour an ambition for the world’s goods. They may have started out well but, along the way, got bedazzled by riches.

Their ethos is coloured by material comforts and well-being far above spiritual considerations. These are the bad apples among the television evangelists and larger-than-life ministers who manipulate or pressure people to give to “God’s work”. We have to be wise stewards of our money and be wary of supporting their spiritual empire or lavish lifestyle.

The mantra of these proponents of the “prosperity Gospel” goes something like this: “Name it and claim it”; “The more you sow, the more you’ll reap.” All these affirmations are positive. Believers use it frequently. But even good things can be hijacked to serve selfish motives such as  greed and ambition.

Characteristically, they will cherry pick verses to support their stance on the “prosperity Gospel” whilst downplaying the centrality of the cross and its demands (self-denial). Using religion as a means of gain, they manipulate the truth for personal ends.

By making a stand against the prosperity gospel, we are not implying that money is evil, God doesn’t bless believers, poverty is good, laziness is a virtue or that ministries can flourish on sunshine alone. What is seriously wrong with the prosperity gospel is the use of stratagems such as ‘seed faith’, ‘name it, claim it’, ‘the more you sow, the more you’ll reap’ for personal gain and lavish lifestyles, often with little accountability. Paul strongly rebuked those who preach Jesus as a means of financial gain, referring to them as men “depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain" (1 Timothy 6:5).

When the ‘give that you might prosper’ message is overemphasised—and transparency and accountability lacking—financial scandals may result. This has already happened in some megachurches where massive funds from church coffers have been diverted towards fulfilling questionable goals and personal ambition. These fallen leaders initially start out with good intentions. But, along the way, as power, fame and money increase, their heavenly focus steadily diminishes and they get sidetracked from their noble pursuits. Such leaders, who are often hero-worshipped and surrounded by an elite ‘inner circle’,  are then tempted to dip into the church funds and whitewash their acts through sham bond investments and “round-tripping” transactions.

The covetousness of these leaders mirrors that of the servant of Elisha, Gehazi:
“After Naaman was healed of his leprosy, he offered Elisha
payment for making him clean again. Elisha refused his payment, knowing
that God should receive the glory for this miracle. Naaman went on his way
praising God. However, Gehazi could not understand how Elisha could refuse
Naaman’s generosity, and therefore decided that it would be foolish to allow
this opportunity to slip by. Gehazi chose to use the situation to make a profit
for himself.” 

Believers have to be discerning during these end times – be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves.





Monday, 15 October 2012

RUNNING ON EMPTY



What do we do when our spiritual and emotional tanks are empty?

Most of us don’t wait till the warning light flickers before filling up our car petrol tank. We don’t fancy being stranded in an isolated place so we tend to proactively fill up our tanks way ahead.

But how about filling our emotional and spiritual tanks? What priority do we give it in our lives?
No one can see our inner state. But the strength of our inner man is revealed during adverse circumstances.

Our character is like a tea bag. Its strength is revealed when we are put in hot water. If we faint in the day of adversity, our strength is small (Proverbs 24:10).

Some people primarily find their solace and strength through a personal relationship with God whereas others tend to be more dependent on others for their emotional well-being. The latter fill up their emotional tanks by depending on someone else – be it their spouse, lover, relative, friend or counsellor.

Couples mustn’t be so lovey dovey that their own individual devotional time with God suffers. If we cling on to another person, like a vine, for emotional strength and stability, it means we are weak. We have not been able to develop our own relationship with God to a level that can sustain us through bad times.

While periods of intimacy and romance between couples are important, we should not neglect building our own vertical relationship with God. People, no matter how close they are to us, are imperfect and fallible. They may fail us when the crunch comes.

How do we find strength in God?

By spending time with God in prayer, meditation on the Word and worship.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35).

“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
    As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
    they make it a place of springs;
    the autumn rains also cover it with pools” (Psalm 84:5).

Saturday, 13 October 2012

YOU CAN COUNT ON ME



Sure we would like to hear that from our children. But is it wise to depend on our kids to provide for us when we retire?

Many parents invest a lot of money into their children’s education, hoping that the latter will look after them when they retire.

But is this a wise move?

Undeniably, responsible parents have to provide the best education possible – within their means – for their children.

But what about giving them a top class higher education which significantly erodes their own limited retirement fund? Will the degree that their children acquire be an adequate “insurance” for the parents in their twilight years?

After graduating, the children may be able to fend for themselves. But, in most cases, after paying for the home, car and daily necessities, they can barely support their aged parents.

It’s more likely that children today will need financial aid from their parents – whether it is to pay for the deposit towards the purchase of their cars or houses – in view of the escalating cost of living, especially in the urban areas.

What if relationships turn sour? The parents, having spent almost all of their retirement nest egg on educating the kids, will be left high and dry financially. It’s heartbreaking but this has happened before.

I know of an elderly couple who not only financed their son’s tertiary education but transferred the ownership of the family home to their son. After the transaction had been completed, they were chased out from that home. In utter dismay, this couple had to turn to the church for help. In a neighbouring country, laws have been enacted to compel children to perform their filial duties.

Young people now are highly mobile. They hop from one company to another, move to another part of the country or even migrate. The reasons offered include searching for greener pastures or providing a better education for their own kids. In other words, they also have to look after themselves. In their quest for upward mobility, upward nobility is often set aside.

Family therapist Lisa Sum said it was important for society to understand the needs of the youngsters, as times had changed.
“Today's young need to work to make ends meet,” she said. “So, some send their old parents to homes, and their children to nurseries, to cope with the rat race.” (Source: Star 8th October 2102) http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2012/10/8/nation/12140508&sec=nation

With weakening of traditional family structures, rapidly changing demographics and the breaking down of values due to the rat race, it is more likely that ageing parents will have to be responsible for their own financial well-being rather than count on their children.

In view of all these factors, parents will need to reexamine the long-held belief that investment in their children’s education is a safety net for their golden years.

Footnotes:

  1. Many children, out of gratitude for their parents supporting them through university, will continue to provide materially for their parents till the latter pass on.
  2. If money is no object and the parent’s retirement nest egg is ample, granting the children the best tertiary education possible will then be most proper thing to do.
  3. There has to be a balance in the allocation for these three different areas as parents plan for their retirement: debt reduction, children’s education and retirement nest egg.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

FACING DEATH POSITIVELY


If we are not ready to face our Maker, it means we have to start realigning our life goals.

A pre-believer once told me, “You Christians rave so much about heaven but how many of you really want to get there early?” That statement shook me. It forced me to rethink about my values and goals in life. 

Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there.” – Steve Jobs.


How can we have a positive view about living and dying? We can certainly learn a lot from the apostle Paul. Though he longed for heaven so he can cease struggling in life, he welcomed life as an opportunity to serve others.

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body” (Philippians 1:20-24).


In fact, believers whose hearts are truly alive towards God consider themselves dead to their own agenda, just like how Paul described his life:

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Sometimes God welcomes his servants when death is imminent. Such was the case of the martyr Stephen who died of stoning:

“But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.“Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55-56).


 Homecoming isn’t so bad after all when you have a grand reception waiting to welcome you. “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).


Try out this test: “Are we ready to face our Maker?” 

If we are not ready, it means we have to start realigning our life goals and objectives to that of the Master Potter.

Are there still many earthly cords (or cables) which continue to tie us down to earth – like those which held Gulliver down?

Only when we have ‘set our house in order’ ready to leave this earth if He should call us home will we be able to shout like Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:55: “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?”

To arrive at that point when we’re able to shout like Paul, we have to mean serious business with God.

Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel Prize winner in Literature, held a highly positive view of death. He wrote: “Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.

Believers who have been walking closely with God will have the peace and assurance that better times await them in the hereafter.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

 And that glorious hope is one that transcends positive thinking.


RELATED POSTS:

MAN PROPOSES, GOD DISPOSES.
We often take for granted we’ll be greeted every morning by birds and light streaming into our room. But how sure are we that we’ll wake up tomorrow?

SETTING OUR HOUSE IN ORDER
How many of us prepare ourselves to meet our Maker, even when death isn’t looming on the horizon?
http://limpohann.blogspot.com/2012/10/setting-our-house-in-order.html



LONGEVITY: REWARD FOR FAITHFULNESS?
http://limpohann.blogspot.in/2012/07/longevity-reward-for-faithfulness.html



Monday, 8 October 2012

TRUTH HAS WINGS

Let us dwell on the whole truth, not half-truths. 


The cross represents the foolishness of God. But even the foolishness of God is greater and more sublime than the wisdom of man.

What does the cross accomplish for man?

It demonstrates the LOVE (mercy, grace) of God. Through the blood of Christ shed at the cross, our sins are forgiven.

It also demonstrates the JUSTICE (righteousness, wrath) of God. God cannot overlook sin. Sin has to be punished and Jesus became the scapegoat. He took the penalty for our sins.

In the cross, we see the two contrasting attributes of God – His soft side and harsh side.

Is God soft? Yes. He is loving, merciful, gracious, quick to forgive, slow to anger.
Is God harsh? Yes. He is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). A God of justice and righteousness.

He is both soft and harsh. Truth has wings. One major truth has to be balanced with the other.
Love and mercy are important attributes of God. But He is also a God of justice and righteousness. “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you” (Psalm 89:14). He is the Lamb of God and the Lion of Judah as well. He who once rode on a colt as a man is now ensconced on His heavenly throne as the King of Kings.
The story of the six blind men who felt different parts of an elephant is highly instructive. Each perceived the pachyderm differently. Its trunk was likened to a snake, leg to a tree trunk, tail to a rope, ear to a fan, tusk to a spear and body to a wall. So what is an elephant like? We can only perceive correctly when we have a composite picture.
The four Gospels portray various facets of Jesus – as King (in Matthew), as servant (in Mark), as the perfect man (in Luke) and as the Creator, God incarnate (in John). Their accounts complement one another, giving us a composite picture of His nature and work.

Is all the foregoing merely to tickle our minds?

No. Not at all. A wrong picture of God may have deadly consequences.

Thinking erroneously that He is always meek and mild may prove disastrous when we’re confronted by God the judge at the end of our life journey or when Christ returns (Hebrews 9:27, 1 Peter 4:7, 17). 


                                                                               
It is wise not to “cherry pick”. Tozer warns: "Heresy is not so much rejecting as selecting.” By examining the whole Bible, we do not dwell on half-truths or emphasise one truth at the expense of another equally fundamental truth (Acts 20:27). 

So let us dwell on the whole truth, not half-truths. Because truth has wings.