Latest Entries »

Church visits (Chicagoland)

I had the opportunity to visit 2 church services last Sunday. The first was a satellite extension of megachurch Willow Creek at South Lake. Worship, welcome and communion was live, but the sermon was livestreamed from their main campus at South Barrington (as they are going through a series on Philippians).The other was a homey small church near TEDS called Village Church of Lincolnshire (VCL), part of the EFCA denomination. The long-serving pastor of 20+ years there (40 years overall in pastoral ministry) is Ps Lee Eclov, who sadly, I heard, was retiring next February.More on both churches soon.

Seasons of change

Sometime towards the beginning of this year, I received news that I had been successfully accepted into the TEDS PhD in Intercultural Studies (ICS) program. For those unfamiliar, TEDS stands for Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, started by the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA), & is based in the north of Chicago, Illinois in the States. The PhD in ICS program would be at least a 4-year full-time residential program, & our hope & plan as a family was to relocate there by July this year in time for the semester start in August.

A few main factors led to our decision to pursue doctoral studies at this time. Among them was that I had been praying & seeking the Lord since 2015 regarding further studies, & God has somehow kept this desire & leading strong through the years, particularly through bringing professors & friends to encourage me towards this path. Also, having been serving in full-time ministry for 11 years, including as a pastor for close to 7 years, as well as being in my early 40s, it is indeed a timely season to take a sabbatical from ministry & devote myself to studies for these next few years.

Since seminary days, I have been greatly inspired & influenced by Bible scholars & the high level of scholarship associated with TEDS. Their motto in Greek is πιστευθῆναι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, meaning to be “entrusted with the gospel” (from 1 Thes. 2.4). This resonates with me in that we have both the wonderful privilege to take part in God’s kingdom purposes & the awesome responsibility to proclaim the gospel & God’s word to the ends of the earth. God-willing, this PhD program will be a stepping stone for me into the arena of academic teaching & research, particularly in the field of missiology or intercultural studies.

Paul writes in 1 Thes. 2.4, 8,

For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men but God, who examines our hearts … Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.

We continue to thank God for you (1 Thes. 1.2-3) and appreciate all your prayers and support, in our adjustments as a family to new environment (home, school, church, culture, seasons), in transition from ministry to student life, and also for God’s protection and blessing over our safety, well-being and health. Pray also for God’s provision over finances, home/car, and other needs according to His riches and glory.

The whole counsel of God

In Paul’s farewell speech to the Ephesian church elders, he says, “For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27, ESV). Other versions note that Paul did not hesitate to proclaim to them the whole will of God (NIV), or the whole purpose of God (NAS).

In June 2001, John MacArthur accomplished something that is extremely rare in Christendom. He finished preaching through the entire New Testament, verse by verse. To his church’s knowledge, this had not been done in over a hundred years or more. The one person that comes to mind is John Gill, who preached through both the Old and New Testaments in the 1700s. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (minister of Westminster Chapel in London for almost 30 years) took more than 12 years (1955-1968) to preach verse by verse through the book of Romans. These are feats that every pastor-preacher should seek to esteem, but is challenging to ever emulate.

What does it mean to declare or proclaim the whole counsel of God? Paul roughly spent two and a half years with the Ephesian church, and it is unlikely that he managed to preach through every verse of the Old Testament, line by line, with full explanation —he just simply did not have the time. D. A. Carson puts it this way,

What he must mean is that he taught the burden of the whole of God’s revelation, the balance of things, leaving nothing out that was of primary importance, never ducking the hard bits, helping believers to grasp the whole counsel of God that they themselves would become better equipped to read their Bibles intelligently, comprehensively

(Preach the Word, Ryken and Wilson, 2007).

He goes on to list key areas that encompasses this, including God’s purposes in redemptive history (truth, God), unpacking of human origin, fall, redemption and destiny (worldview, Saviour), the conduct expected of God’s people (commandments, wisdom), and the pledges of transforming power both in this life and the life to come (promises, hope).

Indeed, if we hold to the Bible as truly the Word of God, this is something we need to be conscious of as Christ’s disciples, whether we are the ones preaching/teaching or studying/reading His Word. Paul reminds us in 2 Tim. to be workmen who handle God’s word correctly (2:15) as all Scripture is God-breathed and useful to thoroughly equip us for His work (3:16, 17).

Paul ends in Acts 20 by reiterating his mission in life to testify to the gospel of God’s grace (v. 24) and entrusts the Ephesian church into God’s hands and His word (v. 32). May we as a church be faithful in the preaching and study of God’s Word, that we may grow to know Christ and make Him known, for God’s kingdom and glory alone.

The paschal lamb

2019 marks the fourth time this 20th century that the Jewish Passover (20 Apr) and Easter (21 Apr) coincide on the same weekend, according to Western Christianity following the Gregorian calendar. Even as we explore the events of the Exodus, we see that it foreshadows the culmination of God’s sovereign plans, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In Jn. 1:29 (and later repeated the next day in v.36), John the Baptist proclaims, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

The Hebrew word pesach (from pasah, to pass over) corresponds with the Greek pascha (29 occurrences in the Greek NT, mostly in the Gospels referring to the Passover feast or lamb). Paul uses it to describe Jesus in 1 Cor. 5:7b, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” The connections are clear – John quotes Ex. 12:46 when he observes, “Not one of his bones will be broken.” (Jn. 19:36). In the Mosaic Law, the paschal lamb was not a sin offering; instead, it was a special sacrifice tied to Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery. The blood of the lamb marked the doorposts of the Israelite houses, so that the angel of the Lord would spare those houses from the dreadful tenth plague which was visited on Egypt on the night of Passover. In Isaiah, the motif of the Suffering Servant further reinforces this link, when he declares, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did
not open his mouth (Isa. 53:7).” Peter in his epistle writes, “For you know … that you were redeemed … with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect (1 Pet. 1:18-19).”

As we wrap up the season of Lent and Easter, and look towards Ascension and Pentecost in the liturgical calendar, let us remember that all God recorded in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, finds its fulfilment in the person and work of Jesus Christ, some 2000+ years ago, but also one day in the final judgment and second coming of our Lord and Saviour. May it be our heart’s desire to exalt Jesus in our lives and ministry, our sacrifice, our Redeemer and Lord, our worthy Lamb of God.

God’s mouthpiece

In Exodus 4, Moses is seen to question or doubt God for choosing him to lead His people out of Egypt. Even after his encounter with God through the burning bush, God’s revelation of His name “I AM,” the provision of the staff, the miracle of the leprous hand as well as the promised miracle of water from the Nile turning to blood, it seemed to be still not enough for Moses to be convinced. Finally, God says to him, “Who has made man’s mouth … Is it not I, the Lord? Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say” (Ex. 4:11-12). Even with this promise, Moses still pleaded with God, and eventually Aaron was sent to be his mouthpiece.

Throughout salvation history, God has appointed men and women to speak forth His words to others, such as the judges and prophets of the Old Testament. To Jeremiah, he said, “If you return, then I will restore you—Before Me you will stand; and if you extract the precious from the worthless, You will become my spokesman” (Jer. 15:19). Jesus, in describing and promising the Holy Spirit after His ascension, encouraged His disciples about standing in front of the authorities for the sake of His name, “do not worry about how or what you are to say, for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you” (Matt. 10:19-20). Paul in his farewell speech to the Ephesian elders, described his primary ministry given by God, “For I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

Where might you be called to be God’s mouthpiece? Where has God placed you to be a witness and testify of the gospel of God’s grace? Perhaps it might be in your family, to pre-believing parents, siblings or relatives. Perhaps it might be in your school or workplace, your army camp or even to your next-door neighbours and your community. Might there be a word from the Lord or an encouragement from Scripture that you could share to bless and minister to someone hurting? Or is there a situation or circumstance that you are to speak into to affirm God’s biblical principles or gently rebuke or correct someone or something? Maybe like Moses, we might have our hangups, doubts, questions and outright fears, but we can have the assurance that God through His Spirit speaks to and through us, and guided by Scripture and godly wisdom, He will give us the right words and teach us what to do and say. If God can speak to Balaam even through his donkey, what more can we do but walk in faith and obedience, and respond like Balaam, “But can I say just anything? I must speak only what God puts in my mouth” (Num. 22:38).

%d bloggers like this: