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A friend in need

No doubt you have heard the expression “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” The origins of this idiom is unclear, and seems to date back centuries, such as ancient writers Ennius, “A sure friend is known in unsure times,” and Euripides, “It is in trouble’s hour that the good must clearly show their friendship; though prosperity by itself in every case finds friends.” But why is a friend in need truly a friend? One suggestion is to emphasize or phrase it this way, “A friend, in need, is a friend indeed (or even ‘in deed’),” meaning that when we are in need, those who help us or continue to be a friend to us, are truly our friends.

The Bible puts it this way, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Prov. 17:17) Jesus Himself showed us the greatest example by His obedient death on the cross, in His own words, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn. 15:13)

When is the last time you had a friend in need? How did you react or respond? How far are we willing to help or love our friends, at our convenience, or at a sacrificial, personal cost? Would we be willing to “lay down our lives” for our friends?

Amongst our circles of friendship, think about those who seem to be more troublesome or needy. Are we often irritated or try our best to avoid or shun such people? Here, we are not talking about the stranger on the street, or even the neighbours around us. Among your friends, are there those that you tend to distance yourself from, particularly because they always seem to need help or attention? In this day and age, perhaps it seems easier because all we have to do is unfriend or unfollow someone on social media, or block or mute them on our messaging apps or devices.

How can we be better friends to those in need around us? Let me suggest some practical ways. Firstly, pray for your friends. Commit some time each day or week to intercede to God for them. Even when they hurt you or take advantage or you, God’s word reminds us to even love our enemies and pray for them, perhaps in this case, our “frienemies”. Secondly, be concerned about their lives. Don’t just turn to your friends when you yourself are in need, but take an interest in what’s happening in their lives, the goods and the bads. As we understand more of what they are going through, perhaps God will open a way in which you can be a better friend to them. Lastly, be there for them. Presence is more important and valuable in life than presents. When they need a shoulder to cry on, when they need an extra dose of encouragement and support, when they celebrate their victories, through the highs and lows of life, where will you be? By their side, being a friend, or busy with our own life, or other pursuits or things? Don’t wait until your friends are gone, to regret not being a better friend. With God as your source of love and strength, ask God to make you a better friend today.

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A good article was recently published on tips for parents of teens in a technology-crazed world. They also talk about strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of technology today. Here is a summary.

  1. Anchor your lives in eternal things.
  2. Be aware of the major trends.
  3. Have intentional and honest conversations.
  4. Engage with them in their world.
  5. Develop an understanding about online privacy.
  6. Establish some standards.
  7. Let grace prevail.

Read the full article here.

Heaven stories | Ask Pastor Time

Some people say they have died, seen heaven or even God himself for a few seconds or minutes and come back to life after. Can we believe such statements?

As a young boy, I lost my grandfather whom I was very close to, and only until recently, never was sure that he became a Christian and whether he was in heaven or not (praise God, my aunty recently confirmed that he did accept Christ before his passing, and that at the hospital, after he passed, I (aged 4) pointed out the window and said that I saw him going up to heaven). As a young man, I was also fascinated by a Robin Williams movie, “What Dreams May Come,” which was about someone dying and going to heaven (of course, from a non-Christian and very imaginative, almost-Buddhist like concept of nirvana, enlightenment).

Recently, there was a movie based on a book “Heaven is for Real,” about a pastor’s three-year-old son who, after a near-death experience (NDE), started to share accounts of visiting heaven and meeting God. The book has crossed sales of more than a few million. However, several Christians have been critical of its contents and claims. One scholar, Hank Hanegraaff, has written an excellent piece on this. Here’s a summary.

  1. NDEs are predictably contextualized by the backgrounds and belief systems of those who experience them.
  2. The subjective recollections of NDErs are wildly divergent and mutually contradictory.
  3. There is a substantive difference between clinical death and biological death.
  4. There is a clear and present danger in turning to NDErs rather than the Bible respecting those things that allegedly will happen in the future.
  5. While Christ does not tell us the time of His second appearing, some NDErs are more than happy to!
  6. Among the biblical writers who “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1.21), not one dared say that like their Lord they could speak authoritatively about heaven from firsthand knowledge.
  7. In Acts 14, Luke chronicles the near-death experience of Paul. While it may have been useful to concoct a miraculous resurrection from the dead in the narrative, Luke does no such thing.
  8. Some NDErs are greatly biased by the subjective specter of hyperliteralism.
  9. Psychological factors, including fantasy proneness, may play a part in some NDEs.
  10. Finally, there is the very real issue of apostolic authority. In point of fact, with the death of the apostles, there can be no new revelations.

Read the full article here.

In summary, there are things that God has revealed about heaven in the Bible, and there are things not revealed. Ultimately, we have to trust and rely on God’s unchanging and unfailing word, that is sufficient for life and salvation. The other issue is about predicting or claiming to know when Christ will return again.

In Matt. 24.36-51, Jesus Himself says

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man … Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come … So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. Who then is the faithful and wise servant … It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.

Jesus reminds us not to be overfixated on knowing about the afterlife, future or speculate about His 2nd coming. Rather, we are to remain watchful, ready and faithful. May God grant us the strength and wisdom to live lives worthy of Him and His gospel whilst we are here on earth. For those who have lost loved ones, may God’s grace be sufficient, and His comfort surround us, with the hope and confidence of one day being reunited with God in heaven.

#askpastortime

Psalm 102 begins, “Hear my prayer, Lord …” (v.1) How often have we uttered a cry for help to the Lord, perhaps in our times of trials, temptations or trouble? The spiritual discipline of prayer is sometimes an illusive concept – yes, generally, we are discipled and taught that prayer is essentially talking to God, but more often or not, prayer can seem like a one-sided monologue, or a crisis hotline, maybe even a habitual wishlist or to-do list of wants and complaints.

Preparing for a new sermon series on the book of James, I am reminded of a passage at the end which talks about the prayer of faith. It talks of elders praying for the sick, confessing our sins to one another, and the prayer of the righteous man, with the example of Elijah (Jam. 5:13-18). Jesus Himself taught us the Lord’s prayer, which we sing-pray at every Sunday service, yet for many, this often is the one thing that we most often struggle with, both individually and corporately as a church. Why is this so?

Firstly, prayer is a dialogue. It was never meant to be a one-way lifeline to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Rom. 8 tells us that “the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God” (v. 27) and even “Christ Jesus who died … is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” (v. 34). Have you ever thought about it that way? Sometimes when we hear of a friend or loved one in need, we send them a message to say we are praying for them. How about the baffling notion that God Himself is praying, interceding for us? Are we often too quick to speak, rather than quick to listen to what God might be speaking to us through prayer?

Secondly, prayer is a dependence on God. Martin Luther put it this way,

I have so much to do today that I’m going to need to spend three hours in prayer in order to be able to get it all done.

He would wake early each day to commit his day and plans to the Lord. Contrast our frantic scrambling to get up, get ready and leave for school or work in the morning, with an occasional chance of squeezing in a rushed 10-15 minutes of quiet time. Do we believe and more importantly, live our lives with the conviction that we need and depend on God to work, to bless, to enable all that we are and do with our lives, families, work and ministry? Sometimes it feels like prayer is a paradox. It is one of those both-and concepts in the Bible, to which Augustine wrote,

Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.

Perhaps this is the challenge we have, we feel that we need to work, as though everything depends on us, and not on God. Like salvation, we both need to depend on God for His grace and mercy, and yet “work out” our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12-13).

Lastly, prayer is a discipline. It is a commitment to the Lord, a spiritual discipline we have to spend our time and lives nurturing and cultivating. It is also a commitment to one another in the body of Christ. There is a special and valuable place for corporate prayer. The early church in Acts was birthed through prayer, as were several movements and revivals of God in church history. It has to start with ourselves, not the worshipper on your left or right. As we commit ourselves to prayer, I believe that we will hear God speak to us, see God work in and through us, and experience God moving and transforming our church community towards His good purposes and direction.

Will you pray?

As the world celebrates Star Wars Day, I chanced on a ChurchLeaders article on Star Wars quotes that (might) work in sermons. (Disclaimer: Please take this tongue-in-cheek! Don’t use these in sermons and blame me for getting fired for turning to the dark side!)

  1. “Who’s more foolish? The fool or the fool who follows him?” — Obi-Wan
  2. “The ability to speak does not make you intelligent.” — Qui-Gon Jinn
  3. “Sometimes we must let go of our pride and do what is requested of us.” — Padme
  4. “Always pass on what you have learned.” — Yoda
  5. “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” — Yoda
  6. “Your focus determines your reality.” — Qui-Gon Jinn
  7. “In my experience there is no such thing as luck.” — Obi-Wan
  8. “The belonging you seek is not behind you…it is ahead.” — Maz Kanata
  9. “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.” —Yoda
  10. “Your eyes can deceive you. Don’t trust them.” — Obi-Wan

Bonus: “All mentors have a way of seeing more of our faults than we would like. It’s the only way we grow.” — Padme
Double bonus: “I find your lack of faith disturbing.” — Darth Vader

The article ends appropriately, which is my prayer to you too,

So, this May the 4th, we’d like to say: May the Holy Spirit be with you, in you and working through you!

Read full article here.

#maythe4thbewithyou

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