Right choices

BULLETIN ARTICLE
17 March 2019
RIGHT CHOICES

Our choices in life speak a lot about who we are and what we truly believe. Our choices speak louder than words. If our choices and our actions contradict our words, we begin to look like hypocrites. We will lack integrity. People cannot take us at our word. But, if our choices and our actions match our words, we do not just say what we mean but we mean what we say. People will then have to take us seriously. The difference between the choices Abram and Lot make teaches us valuable lessons in making right choices.

Wealth very often drives a wedge dividing families. The circumstances that caused Abram and Lot to separate had to do with their wealth. To be sure, Lot became wealthy as a result of following Abram. They had accumulated much livestock and servants that the land they were living in was unable to accommodate them.

It was Abram who took the initiative first. He knew that the situation was unhealthy. Quarreling is not pleasing to God and would hurt family relationships and their testimony for the LORD. When Abram gave Lot the first choice, he must have guessed that Lot would choose the best for himself. Abram had the right to choose first. God’s blessing to Abram was the source of his wealth. Abram gave up his “first choice” right and allowed Lot to choose. To live a peaceful life is evidence of the mature Christian. The Apostle Paul says it this way – why not rather be wronged? Cheated in relation to disputes involving money and possessions – settle it amongst the Christian community rather than go to court. Pleasing God is more important than exercising personal rights. Abram chose to trust God when he yielded his “first choice” right to his nephew Lot.

Lot should have been grateful to his uncle Abram. He acquired his wealth while he was staying with Abram. Yet, he showed no gratitude. He should have refused to make the first choice as he owed his uncle everything – yet he only cared for himself. He chose the best for himself. He chose to please himself first. The Apostle Paul teaches us to not please ourselves but to please our neighbours for their good and to build them up in their faith (Rom 15:2,3). Even Jesus did not please himself. Lot made his choice by sight, not by faith. He saw what he wanted most – prosperity, comfort, pleasure and status. His desire for success and recognition from the world took precedence over pleasing God

What do we look for first when we make choices in our lives? Do we choose to put our conveniences and our interests first? Or do we choose the path that will bring us close to God by faith? Which of our rights are we prepared to give up for the sake of Jesus? We always need to trust God with the outcome when making the right choices.

Abram’s Deception – God’s grace

BULLETIN ARTICLE
10 March 2019
ABRAM’S DECEPTION – GOD’S GRACE

Abram responded to God’s call to uproot his family and go to a new land. He was commended for his faith. But, even the faithful are tested. And soon enough, Abram had his first test. The true character of a person is revealed when he faces trouble and adversity.

There was a famine in the land where Abram settled. Would Abram turn back towards Ur of the Chaldees and return to his old way of life? It would be tempting enough. You could even justify doing so for the time being – till things get better. “If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return” (Heb 11:16). Abram did not turn back for he had set his heart on following God.

The Christian is exhorted to stand firm by faith for “we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm” (2 Cor 1:24). 1 Cor 10:13 teaches us that “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it”. The Apostle Paul gave all of us clear instructions on using the Armour of God (Eph 6:10-18) and prayer is God’s pathway to partnership in building his Kingdom.

Abram did not seek God’s guidance through prayer. He failed to see that God will provide. Instead, he relied on his own understanding and judgment. He went down to Egypt to seek refuge from the famine. He used deception with Pharaoh of Egypt and his officials reasoning that because Sarai, his wife was beautiful, they would kill him to get her. So, he instructed Sarai to say that she was his sister. He rationalized that this was partly true – she was the daughter of his father but not his mother – (Gen 20:12). Abram, by this deception, exposed Sarai to great danger in Pharaoh’s household. It was an inexcusable conduct and one that dishonored God.

However, God is merciful and gracious towards Abram. Paul reminds us that God remains faithful even when we fail to trust him for “if we are faithless, he remains faithful” (2 Tim 2:13). Sarai was to be the mother of God’s promised seed, Isaac, from whose line would come forth Jesus – the Messiah and Saviour of the world. God protected Sarai and Abram even though Abram used deception against Pharaoh and failed to trust God.

There were consequences resulting from Abram’s deception. The riches acquired through this deception would lead to Lot’s separation from Abram. Abram and Sarai would also take a slave girl from Egypt, Hagar, and she would be a source of great pain and trouble to them and all their descendants. Not seeking God and nor trusting his promises will always lead people into trouble. Let us practice never to use deception but always to trust and obey our God.

Abram: A great nation

BULLETIN ARTICLE
3 March 2019
ABRAM – A GREAT NATION 

In the study of the first eleven chapters of Genesis the main topics covered are the creation (in the beginning), the first Adam, the fall due to the entrance of sin, the great flood and the development of nations and languages. In Genesis chapter 12, Abram is singled out by the Creator – the LORD – to be the leader of “a great nation”. The rest of the 38 chapters of Genesis is about Abram, renamed Abraham by the LORD, and his Hebrew family. The LORD told Abraham: “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations” (Gen 17:4). It is to Abraham’s descendants that the LORD will reveal himself and his unique Plan for Salvation.

It all starts with God’s call to Abram and Abram’s response to that call. The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” The LORD promised Abram that “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.” Now, Abram’s father Terah had settled the family in Ur of the Chaldeans. Ur was a busy port on the delta of the Euphrates River on the Persian Gulf. Archeological discoveries show that this was an advanced civilization with a complex system of irrigation. The rich in Ur lived in two storey villas with whitewashed walls and as many as 14 rooms. This was a comfortable life that God was calling Terah and his son Abram to leave. They came to Harran and here Terah died at age 205 and left Abram and family on their own.

The writer of the book of Hebrews looks back on Abram’s response to God’s call. “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:8-10). In the line of Abraham came the Messiah, God’s Son Jesus Christ – the Saviour of the world.

Today, Jesus calls us to follow him – “Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people”. At once, they left their nets and followed him (Mk 1:17, 18). To those who hear this call and obey, Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to mark them as children of God (Eph 1:13). Obedience means a turning away from our empty way of life, however comfortable and choosing to offer ourselves to God “as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Rom 12:1). Today, we must commit ourselves to obey God and follow Jesus, as taught in the Bible, in a renewed life of faith. If you have already done so will you, this week, renew your commitment to love and obey God where he has placed you?

One people, one language

BULLETIN ARTICLE
24 February 2019
ONE PEOPLE, ONE LANGUAGE

From the three sons of Noah, people were scattered to the rest of the earth. The three sons were Japheth, Ham and Shem. The descendants of Japheth moved to the distant land by the sea and not much was spoken of them. From Ham, came the future enemies of Israel who are the Babylonians with their mighty warrior, Nimrod. These Ham people were the Assyrians, Canaanites, Philistines, Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites. They settled into the places of Sodom and Gomorrah. These are names of those who treated the people of Israel, in future, with aggression, brutality and scorn. These are the people whose wickedness and sin were so grievous. These are the nations which will be subdued in the future by the Israelites and their land taken and become the holy land. From Shem, came the lineage of Abraham and the ancestors of the nation of Israel. The majority part of recorded Biblical history originated from Noah’s son Shem.

It was at the plain in Shinar that people formed their first rebellion after the renewal of the earth – after the great flood. They were the descendants of Ham who settled there. The curse pronounced by Noah on Ham (Gen 9:25) permeated down the generations of the Canaanites. Here is the first evidence of opposition to God and God’s command in Gen 9:1 to “be fruitful, increase in number and fill the earth”. These sons of Ham found Shinar, convenient and commodious, spacious and fruitful, to accommodate them. With mutual daring and resolution, they sought and plotted to “make a name for themselves and not be scattered” and to reach heaven. The motivation was to achieve greater honour and glory for themselves. As a group of people they collectively believed that physical and monumental height and greatness is the way to attain divine grandeur and power.

In spite of the offense they committed, God consulted and enquired with justice and fairness. He weighed their weakness and frailty with their sinfulness and abhorrent behaviour before he judged them for their offence. The righteousness of God was seen in terminating something that the people were doing that was impious. Impudent defiance must always be stopped. The wisdom and mercy of God was clearly seen in pronouncing a moderate judgement on the people. God does not deal with our sins as we deserved but always with compassion and forbearance.

When people are unified in purpose, great feats can be accomplished. But in God’s earth, feats of idolatry and apostasy will face divine intervention. One lesson that can be learnt is to avoid the sin of pride and arrogance and to be humble and rely on God to give us the name and honour. Another lesson that can be learnt is to exercise faith when God calls us to leave, “to be scattered”, and to accept the familiar for the unfamiliar. To live by faith is to leave behind what is known, what we have come to put our trust in and boldly move beyond our field of vision. This is always the way God leads us when we live the Christian life.

Rainbow in the clouds

BULLETIN ARTICLE
17 February 2019
RAINBOW IN THE CLOUDS

Noah blessed God by his altar and sacrifice. God blessed Noah by a special covenant. A new beginning, a fresh start, requires a statement of God’s promises and man’s commitment. It is a two-way binding accord, aligning mankind to God’s heart.

God’s commission to his creation from the beginning of life has been consistent. On the fifth day, to the living creatures in the water it was to “be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water” (Gen 1:22). On the sixth day, to the created male and female, it was to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28). To Noah and his sons, it was to “be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth” (Gen 9:1).

God restated the same creation commission of “be fruitful and increase in number” to Noah. God’s commission is covenanted by his promise of power and authority “upon every creature”, and the maintenance and subsistence of “everything that lives and moves will be food”. To Noah and to those who receive God’s commission, God will enable them to do his work by his gracious and bountiful provisions. Likewise, Christians should be willing and boldly respond to anointed and appointed commissions from the LORD, knowing that he will empower and provide all that is needed to “increase and multiply” his kingdom.

God’s covenant to bless Noah and his descendants, comes with some provisos. The key responsibility was for them to be accountable for life, the value of human life. Even towards the animals, they must not be barbarous and cruel. People should not take away their own lives nor that of others. The commission to “increase and multiply” life must surely be accompanied by a sensible proviso to preserve and value the multitude of lives so produced. There must also be a duty of love, care and maintenance when God gives the increase.

God’s covenant with Noah is marked with a seal, the beautiful rainbow, which is uniquely conceived and only possible by the One who created the heavenly firmaments and the earth. A rainbow so formed reminds all future generations that God will never cause another flood to destroy the earth. Seeing “my rainbow in the clouds” always brings delight, gladness and smiles. It appears soon after the rain when the sunlight breaks through the clouds. No one would disdain the sight of rainbows and many would eagerly look for it whenever someone reports of seeing one. Such is the response evoked by the sight of the rainbow. Indeed, God gave the rainbow to bring about hope and cheer to people all over the world. The appearance of “my rainbow in the clouds” represents God’s covenant with Noah of abundant blessings and of fruitfulness.

Wickedness abounds

BULLETIN ARTICLE
3 February 2019
WICKEDNESS ABOUNDS

God created Adam and Eve in his image for “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them”. From Adam and Eve, every person henceforth was birthed into Adam’s likeness and in Adam’s image according to Genesis 5:3: “he (Adam) had a son in his own likeness, in his own image”. It was through Adam and Eve, fallen and corrupt, that all of mankind became sinful and defiled, frail and mortal and found in their bodies and souls the fallen sinful nature. God’s image in people was badly corrupted. We see this steady decline from their son Seth through to Noah.

The corruption and degeneration of people increased in magnitude from Adam to Noah for 12 generations. With each generation, living an average of 900 years, until “the LORD said, ‘My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years’”. The LORD saw how great people’s wickedness on earth had become and he was very grieved. The abounding iniquity of wickedness was apostasy in God’s eyes. The rebellion resulted in (God’s)“heart was deeply troubled”.

Bible commentator Matthew Henry explained God’s decision “to wipe mankind from the face of the earth”, with the view that “the destroying of it was an act, not of an absolute sovereign but of necessary justice, for the maintaining of the honour of God’s government.” God saw the abounding wickedness in man’s hearts – their life principles were corrupt and their habits were evil and increasingly harmful to them and others. Sins were committed daringly and in defiance to God’s ways of holiness, purity and justice.

People failed many times, over and over again. Psalm 14:1-3 expresses God’s holy and just displeasure over deliberate and intended sins. God was “wearied” with their offenses (Isaiah 43:24), he was “grieved” with a people who go astray in their hearts and ignored his ways (Psalm 95:10). It was not just the stream of sins but the depth and width of it that God found exceedingly painful and intolerable. The stream of sins was full, constant and abounding. God had to put a stop to it.

Two men stood out in the genealogy from Seth to Noah – Enoch and Noah. Enoch “walked with God”, portraying a picture of equanimity and agreement (Amos 3:3) – “Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?” His close relationship with God presupposed godliness and righteousness, a life of communion, in compliance with his will and in concurrence with his designs. Noah also “walked with God”, righteous and blameless and he had close communion and always acted with God. He did everything just as God commanded him. Those who act on God’s behalf must take their leadings and teachings from him and carefully observe them. For he who saves and appoints us in our lives and habitations, should set the bounds and limits for our lives.

And sin came in

BULLETIN ARTICLE
20 January 2019

AND SIN CAME IN

In Genesis 3, the Bible records for us that God’s perfect world which he created “very good” was marred when Adam and Eve disobeyed and sinned in the Garden of Eden. This happened when the serpent raised doubt about God’s word and goodness in giving his command “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die”. Moreover, the forbidden fruit looked attractive in every way – it was “good for food, pleasing to the eye and also desirable for gaining wisdom”.

From this beginning when sin came in because of disobedience to God, mankind still struggles with sin. Often, sin appears attractive and we are enticed. Like Adam and Eve, we choose to disobey God because we do not believe his word to us. We also doubt his goodness in giving us his command when we think we know better and that we deserve better. In this light, every sin we commit is a sin against God. Thus King David’s cry to God when he was confronted by the prophet Nathan about his adultery with Bathsheba: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4).

Reflect on a time we sinned against God. In what way did we doubt God’s Word? In what way did we doubt his goodness? In our sin we become ashamed and hide away from God. Yet God calls out to us, “Where are you?

The Biblical account in Genesis 3 does not stop with the sin of Adam and Eve or the curses he imposed as a consequence of their disobedience. Indeed God had to punish Adam and Eve and expel them from the garden of Eden because he is a holy God who cannot tolerate sin.

Even in the midst of his punishment, we catch a glimpse of God’s grace to mankind. In Genesis 3:15, God speaks of one in the future who will “crush the head of the serpent.” Though mankind was disobedient, God still gave them hope for the future. This demonstrates God’s love for his creation. Reading Genesis 3:15 in light of the New Testament, we recognise this to be a prophecy about our Lord Jesus Christ and his victory over the serpent (satan). God’s grace is further shown as he himself made garments of skin for Adam and Eve and clothed them, covering their shamefulness (Genesis 3:21).

n his grace, God has granted us salvation from sin and eternal life and restored us to himself though we have disobeyed and sinned against him. In his grace, he has taken away our guilt and shame. Because of his amazing grace, we no longer have to hide from him, for when we confess our sins and repent of our sins, “he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

The image of God

BULLETIN ARTICLE
13 January 2019
THE IMAGE OF GOD

Of all creation, only mankind was made in the image of God – “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27). But what does it mean to be made in the image of God? Knowing this is important because it will guide our purpose and how we live on earth. It is not easy to describe the image of God in one simple statement. In fact, theologians think there are at least three ways for us to understand this. No one view is sufficient on its own to explain it fully; it may be better to consider them collectively.

The Substantive View

The image of God is located within each human and can be thought of in terms of some psychological or spiritual quality (i.e. substance). For example, the powers of reason and will. Furthermore, man is created for filial relationship with the divine and intended to exhibit familial traits of righteousness, integrity and holiness. Do we reflect God’s image by desiring to apply our minds to study God’s word – the Bible, – to reflect on what it says and to acquire wisdom? Do we live righteously and in holiness – before God and people?

The Relational View

The image of God is seen in the experience of a relationship. This includes a human being’s relationship to God, and his relationship with others. Humans are to know, to love and to obey God, to worship Him and to live in harmony with people. We are not meant to be lone islands for “no man is an island”; we must be in community. Do we reflect God’s image by the way we desire to draw close to God in fellowship and obedience and in the way we love and care for others?

The Functional View

The image of God is seen in what the human being does in ruling and control over creation. Man is the ruler of the earth, inasmuch as Yahweh (God) is the ruler of the universes. We are to rule responsibly, not for our own sakes, but for the welfare of the subjects – the creation we have been entrusted with. Do we reflect God’s image by taking care of the environment and the creatures and not exploiting them?

The term ‘image’ is also used in the parallel passages of the Synoptic Gospels about paying taxes to Caesar (Matthew 22:20; Mark 12:16; Luke 20:24). Some believe that Jesus implied in his reply that just as the coins belonged to Caesar because his image was on them, human beings who bear God’s image therefore all belong to God (and that even includes Caesar himself)! Let the understanding of how God has created us enable us to better fulfil our God-given roles and responsibilities. Let us bring glory to his name through all that we are, in all that we do, and in the way we relate to God and others.

Preach the gospel

BULLETIN ARTICLE – 30 December 2018

The Bible book of Acts, also known as the Acts of the Apostles, details what the disciples of Jesus did after Jesus died, resurrected and ascended into heaven. It is kind of like ‘Volume 1’ of a story that is not yet completed until Jesus’ second coming. We sit right in that era as well, between Jesus’ ascension recorded in Acts 1 and Jesus’ second coming. We are probably ‘Volume x’ of that story, as disciples of Jesus entrusted to continue the same acts of the early disciples. Hence, it is critical for us to take note of the key lessons in Acts and apply them in our life, work and Christian ministry. Here are two key lessons we can glean from Acts as we wrap up this yearlong study of the book.

1. The Scope of God’s work is all people everywhere.
The key verse of the book is Acts 1:8 where Jesus told his disciples that they will be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth really did transpire through Acts. From Acts 1-6a we see the advancement of the gospel in Jerusalem, followed by Judea & Samaria in Acts 6b- 9a. From Acts 9b-12 onward we see the gospel bearing fruit amongst the Gentiles. Subsequently we read of Paul’s journey to bring the gospel to Asia in Acts 13-16a and then to Europe in Acts 16b-19 and to Rome in Chapters 19b-28. We see the inclusiveness of the gospel of Jesus to any and everyone. It is God’s plan to welcome all peoples who turn to him in repentance, regardless of geography or ethnicity. Thank God for his work of salvation through his apostles which advanced from Jerusalem to Rome, to both Jews and Gentiles. Thank God that after this period covered by Acts, over the course of many centuries the gospel eventually reached the shores of Singapore to Gentiles like us. We, as his ambassadors now (2 Cor 5:20), are entrusted to continue his work. Have we faithfully brought the gospel to all peoples regardless of geography and of ethnicity? Are there some people groups or religions in Singapore that we feel are too far from the gospel? Consequently, have we then decided not to preach the gospel to them? Have we brought the gospel to Pasir Ris, to Jurong, to Woodlands and to the neighbouring zones wherever God has placed us?

2. The Progress of God’s work is through the preaching of his gospel
Secondly, it is clear throughout the book of Acts that the nature of the progress of God’s kingdom happened through the preaching of his gospel. Repeatedly we read of phrases that indicated that all the Christians of the early Church “proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ— with all boldness!” (Acts 28:31). We read of detailed examples of such bold preaching through Peter (2:14-39, 3:11-26, 4:1-12), Stephen (7:1-53), and Paul (13:16-47, 17:22-31, 20:17-35). The advancement of God’s work for the salvation of the people of the world is through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus. This preaching is the necessary and integral tool in God’s work of salvation. Sometimes in modern day Christian terminology, we claim to practise ‘friendship evangelism’. We try to reach the lost people by loving them and caring for them but we often shrink back from preaching the gospel of Jesus to them. The word evangelism itself means ‘proclaiming good news’ so it must go beyond loving and caring for people as Jesus would. Let us stay faithful to preach the gospel of Jesus in spite of the difficulties that ensue, be it rejection by people, awkwardness, or even accusations hurled at us, as that is the way that God’s kingdom advances. At all occasions and in all situations that God opens to us in our daily living, we must preach about Jesus – his life, death and resurrection. People need to hear the preaching of the gospel of Jesus and we are the avenues God has chosen for this to be done. As Paul told his son in the faith Timothy, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:2a).

Gospel workers

BULLETIN ARTICLE – 23 December 2018

The book of Acts is about the spread of the gospel of Jesus stretching from Jerusalem to Rome. At the close of the book of Acts, there are three points about “gospel workers” for us to consider.

1. God encourages “gospel workers” with fellow Christians
After leaving Malta, Apostle Paul and his team members continued their journey to Rome stopping by Syracuse before arriving at Rhegium. They went to Puteoli where they met Christians who extended great hospitality, inviting them to stay for 7 days. Upon leaving Puteoli for Rome, they met with Christians who travelled long distances from Appius and the Three Taverns to meet them. These Christians extended hospitality, kinship and support for Paul. He knew that they were sent to him from God. He was much encouraged by such displays of love and support for his labour for the gospel’s advancement. Questions for us to consider: Who around you are working hard for the gospel’s sake? How can you encourage them? Who has God sent to encourage you as you serve him? Take time to thank God for this gospel support and encouragement.

2. “Gospel workers” are blameless before men and yet are different
Paul appeared before the local Jewish leaders in Rome, explaining his case to them. He was in chains only because of the hope of Israel he spoke of. They had not received any ill reports about him but only heard about his controversial “sect” and desired to hear from him. Paul strived to keep his conscience clear before God and people. Gospel workers words and actions are to be blameless. However, their different words and actions usually receive a lot of resistance. Gospel workers are prepared to die to proclaim Jesus as “The Way” showing the reality of this hope. They speak boldly of Jesus everywhere. Such words and actions can cause friction yet they piqued the Jews interest to hear Paul out. Question for you to consider: Are your words and actions blameless? Do they show of your hope in Jesus? Do your daily conversations testify of him?

3. “Gospel workers” receive mixed responses
Paul went on to testify to all in Rome about Jesus and received mixed responses. Some believed his message and some did not. The Holy Spirit had foretold this situation through the prophet Isaiah. People will hear the gospel but never understand, see but never perceive owing to their dull hearts, failing eyes and closed ears. When we share the gospel, we must come to terms that some will believe and some will not. We should not get discouraged thinking that responses hinged on how persuasive or charismatic or relevant we are. It is a spiritual work where only God can make the gospel seed grow. There are two implications for this. Firstly, we faithfully strive to share the gospel for 2, 20 or 200 years, and not hinge our faithfulness on the hearers responses. Secondly, we fervently pray and ask the Lord to open eyes, ears and hearts that the people may turn to God and believe in Jesus.