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Journey to the Cross

As the season of Lent approaches (beginning with Ash Wednesday on 14 Feb), it is worth for us to prepare our hearts to reflect on the Lord’s death and resurrection. We have been preaching through the Gospel of Mark, covering events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion – Peter’s confession of the Messiah, Jesus’ transfiguration, and His triumphal entry, to name a few. How do we prepare ourselves as Good Friday and Easter draws near?

Firstly, we are to bear the marks of a disciple – self-denial, cross-bearing and obedience (Mk. 8:34). Often the period of Lent is marked by prayer and fasting. But more than the activities and disciplines, in what way does God want us to take up our cross and follow Him?

Secondly, we are to run the race with endurance, fixing our eyes on Jesus (Heb. 12:1-2). Luke 9:51 records, “As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Christ set His face towards the cross, determined to fulfill His Father’s will and mission, to die for the sins of the world. What has God called and purposed for you to do, in this season, in your life? Are we fixing our eyes on Him, the author and perfecter of our faith, so that we will not lose heart and grow weary?

Lastly, we are to reflect Christ through our life and witness. Do others see Christ in us, in the way we speak or act, or the way we serve or work? Do we feel compassion for the lost around us and beyond our shores, being convicted and proclaiming that indeed, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)?

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.

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Life on life

Just last week, our Young Adults spent 4 days at a serene and simple retreat centre in Malacca. God blessed our time together, being challenged and encouraged by God’s Word and Spirit through the speaker, the retreat activities planned by the organizing committee, and the many good opportunities for reflection, deep sharing, prayer and fellowship. At the same time, we were mindful to prevent this from simply ending up as a “mountaintop experience.” Rather, we hope that what we learnt, shared and committed to would continue on into our daily lives beyond the retreat.

One of the precious lessons we learnt and were reminded of was the sharing of life stories or “narratives” with one another, in the context of a safe and loving spiritual community. Paul writes about this to the church in Thessalonica, “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” (1 Thes. 2:8)

Are we sometimes guilty of focusing so much on the Word and teaching ministries (which is something we should be thankful for and continue in), but yet we do not go beyond that to sharing our lives with one another? As the old saying goes, “People don’t care how much you know, unless they know how much you care.” Paul understood this; Jesus modelled this, sharing his life and ministry with his disciples for 3 years. Mark 3:14 records, “He appointed twelve … that they might be with Him and that He might send them out …” Even the Sanhedrin council (of rulers, elders and teachers of the law) recognized this, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)

There is something valuable about sharing life together, when two or more people spend quality time in deep and meaningful spiritual and life conversations. Perhaps the greatest challenge is the precious commodity of time, as well as the increasingly fast-paced, multi-stimulus, high-stress environments most of us are accustomed to. As the year comes to an end, and we reflect and give thanks for what God has done in the past year, may it be our prayer to develop spiritual friendships, to have opportunities to share life on life, and allow God to work in, through and among us, to reflect Christ for His glory, “for where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matt. 18:20)

Famine of the Word

As we end our sermon series on the book of Amos, there is a sobering warning in 8:11-12, “The days are coming, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I will send a famine through the land – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD. Men will stagger … searching for the word of the LORD, but they will not find it.” Many scholars believe this to be a dual prophecy, meaning that it applied both to the impending judgment of national Israel for their sins during the time of Amos and other prophets, but also foretelling a probable future judgment on the modern church.

Considering the proliferation of Bibles into hundreds of languages today – it remains the world’s most translated, best selling and most freely given book – this warning in Amos is surprising. What exactly would this “famine of the word” be like? Firstly, v.11 indicates that it would be a famine of hearing God’s word. This could indicate a future time where the preaching and teaching of God’s word is scarce, or as many NT writers warn, false prophets and teachings will abound, so much so that it would be challenging to discern the truth of God’s word.

Secondly, v.12 suggests that people will seek and search for God’s word but not find it, perhaps meaning a time where even access to God’s word will be limited or rare. In this modern age of high-speed and widespread Internet access and Bible apps, it seems almost impossible to imagine not being able to find God’s word in some form, whether physical or virtual. Throughout history, there have been fierce attempts to eradicate God’s word, such as during the persecution of the early church, the start of the Protestant Reformation, and more recently during the two World Wars. In several countries today where persecution of Christians is still rampant, owning and distributing Bibles are often met with strong opposition and punishments.

Do we often take for granted God’s Word in our lives? Perhaps you own more than one unread Bible yourself, or we do not stop to think when browsing our Bible apps where several versions are available at the touch of a finger. Scripture memory has become archaic and a lost art, especially amongst younger generations of believers. Isa. 55:6 exhorts us, “Seek the LORD while He may be found; call on Him while He is near.” Let us grow to cherish and treasure God’s word, and do all we can to learn and understand it so that we may come to know Christ and grow in our relationship with Christ.

Are we involved in the spreading and teaching of God’s word to others, be it in our churches or amongst mission fields (both local and abroad) where God places or sends us? Paul explains “… how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? … Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:14, 17). May the urgency of the gospel and the love of Christ compel us, as individuals and as a church, to share the good news of God’s grace and to disciple believers towards spiritual maturity and likeness of Christ, to the praise of His glory.

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.

Heavenly Bread

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?

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