Tuesday, 30 April 2013

UNPALATABLE TRUTHS

Minimising the significance of harsh truths has its dangers

To say that God is a consuming fire is most unpalatable. It pricks our ears. To many that image of God is more like the God of the Old Testament:
“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29).

But the book of Hebrews is in the New Testament; so it must be relevant to believers.

The apostle Peter reaffirms the truth that believers will be judged: “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17).

The trouble with many believers is that we prefer a God who is soft, loving and benevolent. Instinctively, we gravitate towards ministers who make God look like an indulgent celestial Santa Claus.

The respected theologian A. W. Tozer says: "Much of our difficulty as seeking Christians stems from our unwillingness to take God as He is and adjust our lives accordingly. We insist on trying to modify Him and bring Him nearer to our own image.”

Our attempts at giving God a makeover is tantamount to idolatry – entertaining thoughts of what God is NOT in our minds.

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.

Presumptuous faith and failure to discern and do His will may have disastrous consequences for many:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23).

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.

But it’s not only a harsh image of God which is difficult to swallow. Terms like self-denial, repentance and cost of discipleship are increasingly being watered down – to the extent they have little relevance for many believers. In an attempt to be more “seeker sensitive”, some leaders prefer to emphasise areas that are “safe” and agreeable such as blessings, comfort and success.

                                                                     
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).


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THINKING BEYOND 'GOD IS GOOD'


Is a worldview that ‘God is good’ adequate in helping Christians understand everything that happens in their journey of faith? Let’s learn from Habakkuk about a faithful God. Let’s learn from Moses how to move only when God’s presence goes with us.

                                                                    
How should believers view their relationship with God? Is it true they just need to embrace the belief that God is good and that He will always bless them?

There is nothing wrong in believing that God is good and desires to bless His children. “True humility and fear of the LORD lead to riches, honour, and long life” (Proverbs 22:4). “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). In general, God desires to bless believers with material abundance, honour, longevity and a bright future.

However, there will be seasons when believers fail to see such blessings in their lives. When they are undergoing trials and tribulations, the premise that ‘God is good’ seems like an empty creed — merely confessed and sung by them on Sundays. What are the other attributes or qualities of God they should cling on to?

They need to trust in a God who is faithful, like Habakkuk. Though the crops failed and the flocks vanished, yet he was not jittery. By faith, he rejoiced in a faithful God who will once again make him secure and sure-footed like a mountain goat (Habakkuk 3:17-19). God may not be good according to human expectations but He is faithful. In His own time, He will prove that He is faithful.

God's answer to Habakkuk:

“Write the vision;
    make it plain on tablets,
    so he may run who reads it.
For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
    it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
    it will surely come; it will not delay.
“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
    but the righteous shall live by his faith.

(Habakkuk 2:2-4).

Moses cherished God’s presence with him in all his endeavours more than blessings. If God’s presence did not go with him, he would not think of possessing the Promised Land — a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 33:15).

Moses once grappled with this issue: Should he go ahead to enter the Promised Land without God’s presence or should he venture out only when he sensed God’s presence? Being spiritually sensitive, he chose the latter. Because his attitude was correct, he was rewarded. The glory of God passed by and he was able to see God’s back (Exodus 33:13-23).

But the Israelites were not spiritually sensitive, unlike Moses. At first, they did not believe in the positive report given by Caleb and Joshua — that they were well able to possess the Promised Land. Thus they fell under God’s judgment and had to wander in the wilderness for forty years.

Later, in a turnaround from faithlessness and cowardice, they suddenly became gung ho. Presuming they were capable of conquering the Promised Land, they launched the attack without God’s presence — in the form of the ark of the covenant — and without Moses. They could not resist the blessings of the Promised Land, which beckoned to them to possess it. But they were defeated because God’s presence was not with them (Numbers 14: 20-45).

To recap:
  • We are merely taking baby steps in our faith walk when we believe in a good God who blesses us.
  • Spiritual maturity involves trusting not only in good God but a God who is faithful in spite of adverse circumstances. When trials assail us, we should rejoice by faith in His faithfulness, just like Habakkuk.
  • We should also seek to know God’s ways, like Moses. If God’s presence does not go with us, we should not venture out despite attractive blessings beckoning to us to go ahead. It is important to seek God’s presence rather than presume that — since He is a good God — the path of blessings must be right for us.

      Finally, is the path of God’s choice invariably lined with blessings?


  • “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12).
  • “Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt. This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah” (Genesis 13:10). Lot, the nephew of Abraham, chose the best land using his natural judgment. He did not realise that the place would later be destroyed by God for its repugnant sins like sodomy. The path marked by blessings might not be God’s choice.
  • Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).


FOOTNOTES:

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's;
He makes me tread on my high places.
(Habakkuk 3:17-19).

Then Moses said to God, “If you don’t go with us, then don’t make us leave this place.”
(Exodus 33:15).


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WHY WAIT?
Waiting for God’s perfect timing yields tremendous benefits whereas impatience may have drastic consequences.

'FEEL GOOD' TEACHING AND TRIALS
Does “feel good” teaching prepare believers to face trials?

Thursday, 25 April 2013

SINGLE-MINDEDNESS



Being so focused and determined that we have one objective in mind. Once Jesus and Paul knew for certain what God wanted them to do, nothing on earth could make them change their minds. They set their faces like flint towards Jerusalem.


                                                                     


“As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). He was clear in His mind concerning His mission in life. He was born to die for the sins of humanity. Deep down He knew what He had to do and where He had to head towards.

This was a fulfillment of Isaiah 50:7: “Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore I have set my face like flint”. Flint is a very hard stone. Jesus set His face like flint to go to Jerusalem with unflinching purpose and steely determination, undaunted by any opposition or suffering that lay ahead. As Jesus set His face towards Jerusalem, His feet followed the direction of His gaze.

                                                                     
Similarly, the apostle Paul resolved to go to Jerusalem despite conflicting advice from well-meaning believers: “And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:22-24).

Not even a stern warning could stop him from fulfilling his mission. The prophet Agabus, took Paul's belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles’’’ (Acts 21:11).

No matter what, Paul was absolutely determined to go to Jerusalem because he lived by this motto – obedience to the heavenly vision God had given him.

“Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance” (Acts 26:19-20).

Many things can cause us to deviate from the path God has set for us: Our own incessant inner chatter, well-meaning counsel from others, trials and tribulations, worldly cares and concerns. This may sound strange but sometimes what derails God’s plan for us is success – to be exact, pride and complacency which come with success. This happens when success gets to our head.

Once Jesus and Paul knew for certain what God wanted them to do, nothing on earth could make them change their minds. They set their faces like flint towards Jerusalem.



Are we clear in our minds God’s vision for our lives?

If so, are we advancing – slowly but surely – towards the intended goal?

Are we focused on finishing the course?

 “Let your eyes look straight ahead;
    fix your gaze directly before you.
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
    and be steadfast in all your ways.
Do not turn to the right or the left;
    keep your foot from evil” (Proverbs 4:25-27).



“Consider the postage stamp: its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing until it gets there.” – Josh Billings, American humorist.


“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.” – Henry David Thoreau.

And what is success from a biblical viewpoint? There are many diverse views as to what constitutes success but, to me, it is simply the progressive realisation of God-inspired goals. It is not necessarily the notion of success of the world – fame, power, money and comfort.

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Monday, 22 April 2013

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.


                                                                



REVIEW OF THE MOVIE “FIREPROOF” 

(Warning: this review has spoilers)

Review by Sharon Lim

Forget the Hollywood fairy tale where boy meets girl and they fall in love, marry and live happily ever after.

This movie is set in the middle of the Holts’ seventh year of marriage, long after the initial sparks of romance have fizzled out. Enter Caleb Holt, a fireman who is emotionally distant, does little around the home and has been addicted to pornography. His addiction and indifference take a toll on his wife, Catherine, who becomes disillusioned with their marriage. She starts getting attracted to a young doctor, Gavin Keller, whom she meets at work.

The tension between husband and wife escalates gradually, with constant shouting and snapping at each other. This worsens when Caleb insists on saving up a huge sum of money to buy a fishing boat, despite the fact that Catherine’s stroke-ridden mother needs expensive hospital equipment. During a particularly bad argument, Catherine throws in the towel. She wants a divorce and removes her wedding ring.

As Caleb relates the situation of his failed marriage to his parents, his father tells him to hold off the divorce for forty days. He urges Caleb to take up the “Love Dare”, which is a 40-day challenge to save his marriage.

At first, Caleb takes up the challenge rather reluctantly, doing daily acts of love like buying flowers and making a cup of coffee for his wife. His heart is not in it and he is merely doing it to please his father. By the time day 20 arrives, Catherine and Gavin have fallen in love, as she is made to believe that he has paid for her mother’s hospital equipment. Catherine is intent on divorcing Caleb.

At this point, Caleb is frustrated and the situation seems hopeless. However, his dad encourages him to give God a try. At his wit’s end, Caleb invites God into his life. He gets genuinely serious about changing himself, even to the point of smashing his computer (which he uses to feed his sexual addiction) with a baseball bat.

Catherine sees Caleb’s change of attitude but remains unconvinced. Days later, she finds out that it was actually Caleb who paid for her mother’s hospital equipment. Genuinely convinced of Caleb’s sincerity, she then puts on her wedding ring again.

The movie ends with both of them embracing in the fire station.

It is interesting to note that the crew of this film is made up of committed Christians. A collaboration between Samuel Goldwyn Films and Sherwood Pictures, the production relied heavily on church volunteers, with Kirk Cameron (Caleb) being the only professional actor.

Driven by Cameron’s belief that a man should not kiss a woman other than his wife, the producers got his real wife, Chelsea Noble, to replace Erin Bethea, his on-screen wife, for the scene where we see their silhouettes embracing and kissing passionately.

Recipient of the Best Feature Film Award at the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival, Fireproof opened in theatres on September 26, 2008, and was reported by the Wall Street Journal to be the highest grossing independent film in 2008 in the United States.

This movie is no Slumdog Millionaire, but its emphasis on the sanctity of marriage rings clear throughout. A must watch for married and courting couples who are seeking to overcome the “perturbations of love”, in the words of author C.S. Lewis.

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

True love isn’t seeking what’s best for you but what’s best for your partner. To make a success of marriage, you must first understand how to love someone and that comes from knowing God who loves us unconditionally.

The tagline in this movie “FIREPROOF” is Never Leave Your Partner Behind. For fireman Caleb, this means he should not leave his colleague behind while they are fighting a blaze. It can also mean he should not to leave his life partner but be tenacious in working through marital conflict.



Sunday, 21 April 2013

PERFECT AND IMPERFECT JUDGMENT



Believers have been given the ability to discern and judge. We should recognise the fact that we have the Holy Spirit in us and the mind of Christ.

“The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:15-16).

To think otherwise is to shortchange ourselves. In fact, Paul teaches that in future we will be judging the world and angels (1 Corinthians 6:2-3). What an awesome responsibility lies ahead of us. So we’d better get cracking – while we are still on earth we should exercise our God-given ability to judge.

Three instances when we are called upon to judge: http://bit.ly/19KGDgH

But lest we get swollen-headed, we need to acknowledge the fact that our judgment is, at best, imperfect. We all have blind spots. We must not think we have the last word on judgment.

While we have been empowered with the ability to judge, we need to acknowledge that our judgment is not infallible:
“Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God(1 Corinthians 4:5).

Only the Judge of judges will be able to deliver the ultimate verdict regarding a person’s character or so-called good works. Hidden motives behind a person’s actions will then be exposed.

For we will all have to stand before Him one day and give an account as to how we have lived our lives:
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Will our works be able to stand the test of fire?
“Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw — each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

Who knows, He might even “spew us out from His mouth”, like the judgment He pronounced over the church at Laodicea?
“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16).

Let us not be deceived us by those who say that Christians will not have to face judgment:
“For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And if the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (1 Peter 4:17-18).


Saturday, 20 April 2013

EASTER: CELEBRATION OF HOPE AND VICTORY


Easter celebration focuses on the resurrection of Christ. But can this claim that Christ rose from the dead be verified?

                                                                  
Tis’ the time again when Easter eggs add cheer to the holiday season. But amid this commercialism, let us not lose sight of Easter’s real meaning.

What has the humble egg got to do with Easter? At a glance, its well-decorated shell reminds us it’s about celebration. On further reflection, an egg bears within it the potential for a new life — a new beginning — though it may appear lifeless for a season.

When an egg hatches, a tiny chick gradually pushes its way through the shell. Just as the shell could not restrain the chick from emerging at the appropriate time, death could not keep Jesus within the tomb for more than three days. Defying death, He proved that He is divine — not just a great teacher or a founder of a major religion.

And that brings us to the reason for the season: Easter is the time when believers commemorate Christ’s resurrection, three days after His death by crucifixion at the cross.

From gloom to hope

The disciples fled in fear when their Master died. It seemed He had left this earth in shame and ignominy, like a common criminal. Moreover, it was pathetic His body had to be laid in a borrowed tomb. All seemed bleak and gloomy.

The turning point came when the huge boulder guarding the entrance to the tomb miraculously rolled away and Jesus rose again from the dead! A group of ladies who went to the tomb at dawn to anoint His body was taken aback by the angel’s declaration, “He is not here; he has risen!”

Death, where is thy sting?

The resurrection of Jesus is the epitome of hope. There is life after death for believers — everlasting life in heaven. Just as Jesus’ death is not final, physical death is not final for those who believe in Him.

Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies” (John 11:25). Can we think of any other promise that offers greater hope to a man when he passes through the valley of death?

Victory over sin

For believers, Christ’s resurrection gives them the power to live a victorious life. Sin’s power over them has been broken.

How is this achieved? First, believers identify with the death of Christ by dying to sin, which is symbolised by the act of baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead, even so believers are empowered by the Holy Spirit to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-11, Galatians 5:16). Set free from bondage to the inclinations of their sinful nature, they are able to resist Satan and no longer incur God’s wrath (Ephesians 2: 2-3).

Satan defeated

The resurrection of Christ also spelt the defeat of Satan. By defying death, Christ “disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities” and “shamed them publicly” by His victory over them at the cross (Colossians 2:15). 

Believers, now seated in the heavenly places next to Christ, rest in this exalted position of victory over the principalities and powers (Ephesians 2:6). The battle has already been won. Their task is to believe and enforce the victory that Christ has achieved for them at the cross (Ephesians 6:10-11).

Fact or fable?

By dying for the sins of man, Jesus demonstrated love beyond human comprehension. And by defying death, He proved what only divine power could possibly achieve.
Love tends to be soft and wimpy whereas power tends to be harsh and unforgiving. Only in God do we find these contrasting characteristics — love and power — fused together in perfect harmony.

But one may ask, “Is the resurrection of Christ a fact or fable?”

Everything about the Christian faith hinges on one thing: “Did Christ rise from the dead?” If Christ were not raised, then the faith of believers is futile as they are still guilty of their sins. And Christians are among those most to be pitied for clinging on to a false hope (1 Corinthians 15:17,19).

Atheist-turned-believer Lee Strobel shared about his journey of faith: “I used to consider the resurrection to be a laughable fairy tale. After all, Yale Law School had trained me to be coldly rational, and my years of sniffing for news at the Chicago Tribune had only toughened my naturally cynical personality. But intrigued by changes in my wife after she became a Christian, I spent nearly two years systematically using my journalistic and legal experience to study the evidence for the resurrection and the credibility of Jesus' claims to being God. I emerged totally convinced and gave my life to Christ …” (Lee Strobel in “God’s Outrageous Claims”, page 170).

Even sceptics, including highly skilled lawyers, have accepted Christ. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Sir Lionel Luckhoo, is the winningest lawyer in the world with 245 straight murder acquittals. With superior investigative skills, he did research on the authenticity of the resurrection and concluded: “I say unequivocally that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so overwhelming that it compels acceptance by proof which leaves absolutely no room for doubt” (Lee Strobel in “God’s Outrageous Claims”, page 171).

First-hand experience

Beyond objective evidence, many Christians can testify to the reality of Christ’s resurrection power — His guidance, provision and healing. Indeed, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

The apostle Paul counted everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8). Christ meant so much to him that he was willing to endure hunger, persecution and imprisonment for His sake.

Why would anyone sacrifice so much for his faith if it were not true? Consider Paul’s suffering: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10).

Well-known apologist, Josh McDowell, * wrote: “But the most telling testimony of all must be the lives of those early Christians. We must ask ourselves: What caused them to go everywhere telling the message of the risen Christ? Had there been any visible benefits accrued to them from their efforts — prestige, wealth, increased social status or material benefits — we might logically attempt to account for their actions, for their whole-hearted and total allegiance to this ‘risen Christ’. As a reward for their efforts, however, those early Christians were beaten, stoned to death, thrown to the lions, tortured and crucified. Every conceivable method was used to stop them from talking. Yet, they laid down their lives as the ultimate proof of their complete confidence in the truth of their message.”

Verifiable today

Today, the reality of the risen Christ can be verified by anyone who is open to His claims and willing to receive Him:

  •       Are we open to Jesus’ claim — “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one   comes to the Father (God) except through me” (John 14:6)?


  •       Are we willing to receive Him? “To all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).


When we place our trust in Christ, we don’t have to commit intellectual suicide; it is not blind faith. And we can experience for ourselves — first-hand, not second-hand through the testimonies of other believers — the reality of the power of the risen Christ!

Footnotes:

The above article was first published in the Asian Beacon magazine, April-May 2013, Vol. 45 No. 2

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