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Remembering the Reformers

This year marks the 500th year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, where on 31 Oct 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of the Catholic church in Wittenberg. That sparked a movement that has continued throughout the centuries, and today, our church is a recipient of what the Reformers stood for and sacrificed their lives for.

As much as there were several benefits and results of the Protestant Reformation, two stand out for me. The first was the translation and printing of the English Bible. John Wycliffe and William Tyndale were among the first to translate God’s Word for the purpose of distribution and circulation among the masses, and were amongst many who were burned at the stake for their efforts. We have them and many others to thank for the fact that we are able to have access and able to read the Bible for ourselves. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16)

The other thing that strikes me is the belief in the power of the gospel which many of the Reformers were convicted about. As much as there was value and history of church traditions, reason, Christian experience, Martin Luther believed that as people read God’s Word and God spoke to them through it, they would come to the saving knowledge of God’s grace through the work of the Holy Spirit. Even today, as much as we have great churches and pastors/leaders, each of us have a personal responsibility to read, study and apply God’s word into our lives, and to spread His word and gospel to others, especially the lost. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes … For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed – a righteousness that is by faith…” (Rom. 1:16-17)

What do you appreciate about the Protestant Reformation? Find some time perhaps this week to reflect on all that God has done through the Reformers, and give thanks for the many blessings and benefits, leading us to live lives worthy of His name and glory.

It’s been interesting how often this topic has come up over the past year or so. It first surfaced as we were preparing for youth thematic month last year, and going through the questions our youths were interested in. Besides other religions and life & death, animal salvation came in a strong 3rd in frequency. So it is not surprising that one would pose this question through our semi-regular segment, Ask Pastor Time, that just started this year.

Animals and pets have been a big part of my life. From my early formative days, I remember my family having an array of pets ranging from fish and terrapins, to parakeets, hamsters and rabbits. But it was only until I was halfway through primary school, when my tuition teacher’s dog had a litter of puppies, that I got my first dog, a cross-breed silky terrier, and my first taste of owning and taking care of an animal firsthand. Sadly, my parents made the decision of giving it away to SPCA when we moved around end of primary school. A few year later, eventually, my younger brother somehow managed to pester my mum to get a pure, toy-breed Maltese newborn puppy (from Australia), and we had “her” for 11 years, until she passed (mainly of old age, & jaundice) just 6 months before my wedding (and I was moving out again).

The Bible is not explicit on the topic of animal salvation. Animals feature greatly in the creation accounts, in fact, they are created before God gives Adam a helpmate, the first woman, Eve. Here we have the Adamic covenant, to rule or have dominion over all creation (flora and fauna). In some camps, this is known as dominion theology. In the early years of Israel’s birth as a nation, God establishes the temple sacrificial system, where animals are sacrificed in place of humans in atonement for their sins. Scattered throughout the Bible, there have been interesting and memorable mentions or God using animals in His grand masterplan of salvation history. The pairs of animals that were saved along with Noah and his family during the flood, the dove that bore the olive leaf after Noah sends it out after the flood, the ram that God provides in place of Isaac asked to be sacrificed by his father Abraham, the first Passover where the blood of sacrificed lambs saved the firstborns of Israel, Balaam’s donkey that rebukes him, the donkey that Jesus rode on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, etc.

Whilst we might not be certain whether animals go to heaven after death, it seems that they have a special place in God’s heart, and feature significantly throughout Bible times. Hope as much we can, ultimately we have to trust and rest in God’s sovereign and perfect plan, and know that whether we will see our favourite pets one day again lie in the hands of our almighty God, who created each of them by His will and word, for His glory and purposes alone.

Related links:
http://www.perspectivedigest.org/article/225/archives/22-2/the-salvation-of-animals
https://jamespedlar.wordpress.com/2013/10/29/john-wesley-on-animal-salvation/
http://www.academia.edu/6106098/C.S._Lewis_and_Animal_Salvation
http://www.bibleinfo.com/en/questions/do-animals-go-heaven

Do you enjoy eating bread? Whether it’s the traditional kaya toast, the 6-inch sandwiches, French baguettes, or the more recent fusion salted-egg croissants, there seems to be all types of bread to suit all preferences of taste and texture. Imagine eating the same type of bread for 40 years. That’s what happened to the Israelites where their disobedience led to their wandering in the desert for 40 years. The gracious God provided manna and quail for them, exactly how much they needed, until they arrived in the Promised Land (Ex. 16). Why did He do so? Moses explains in Deut. 8:3, “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

This was precisely the same words and passage that Jesus quoted, when the devil tempted Him in the desert, knowing that He was fasting, asking Him to turn stone into bread (Matt. 4:3-4). Jesus knew His mission, and He would not allow Satan and temptations to hinder or distract Him from fulfilling God’s purpose for Him. In John 4:34, He says, “My food … is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work.” Years later, with his dying breath, as He hung crucified on the cross for the sins of the world, He exclaimed, “It is finished.” He had accomplished and obeyed His Father’s will, to pay the penalty for our sins and purchase a place for us in heaven, that we might be reconciled to God by His sacrifice and death.

Mark 6.30-44 talks about the feeding of the 5,000 with heavenly bread. How there must have been a buzz in the air, wonder and excitement in the crowd, amazement between the disciples, when Jesus multiplied the simple 5 loaves and 2 fish into 12 baskets full of food for everyone. Yet for all that Jesus did, the healings, the miracles, teaching with authority, it was His life example pointing always toward the Father, that He reminded His disciples and followers to emulate. Do our physical needs and desires often come first, or even the pursuit of things on this earth? The Bible exhorts us that to obey is better than sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22). For all that Jesus did for us on the cross, it was His obedience to His Father’s will that we should seek to follow. The challenge for us is how to honour and glorify God above all else – above our earthly achievements, accumulations, and accolades, even above our ministry and service to Him. Is your food to do God’s will and to finish His work?

King of kings

There has been much talk and news about our upcoming presidential election. Amidst the controversies and rumours, many hearts have been stirred up for or against different potential candidates. The role and functions of our elected president have also evolved, and might differ with other countries. In fact, there are almost 30 countries in the world today which are still considered kingdoms or monarchies. There have also been recent popular dramas of ancient eras of kings and queens battling for thrones and power. What is our obsession or fascination with royal leadership? How does this relate to our Christian lives?

Paul describes Jesus in this way,

For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him … And He is the Head of the body, the church … so that in everything He might have the supremacy. (Col. 1:16, 18)

What does it mean for Christ to be supreme? Other versions describe it as “to have first place in everything.” In our day-to-day lives, is Jesus the King of kings? The Lord of lords? God does not want some place in our lives, He demands first place in our lives. To some, this might seem too harsh or selfish of God, too extreme and absolute for others’ liking. Yet, God is God whether we like it or not; Jesus is sovereign and has been exalted to the highest place, and one day every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord (Phil. 2:9-11).

Yet in the supremacy of Christ, the wonder and beauty of it all is that God chose to send His one and only Son, the King of kings, to be incarnate and dwell among mankind, to lead a perfect, sinless life, and to pay the penalty for our sins, to restore unto us our relationship with God. He is not a dictator or an evil tyrant, He desires relationship with His people. He is the Head of the body, the church, not as an uncaring or demanding autocrat, but as a loving bridegroom, and we His bride. He intercedes for us even now in heaven, and welcomes us to His throne of grace, to receive His mercy and grace in times of need (Heb. 4:16).

How can we respond? Firstly, we need to surrender – our lives, our all, to the goodness and grace of our Lord and Saviour. Secondly, we can then be free to serve Him out of the gratitude and love that flows from knowing His deep love for us, the love that led Him to obey His Father’s will to die on the cross for the sins of the world, for you and I. We love, because He first loved us (1 Jn. 4:19). As the lyrics of the song goes,

Your majesty, I can’t but bow 
I lay my all before You now 
In royal robes I don’t deserve 
I live to serve Your majesty.

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