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Don’t stop believing

For those unaware, earlier this week, apocalyptic news sites began reporting of a claim by numerologist David Meade that the end of the world was going to be ushered in tomorrow (23 April) by the appearance of a mysterious Planet X (see related banner here). In case you might assume this is part of a comic-book superhero movie plotline, think again. A quick Google search will confirm that this is not fake news; but it could well be a fake speculation again, being that this is actually the sixth time Meade is claiming this since 2003.

Mark 13 aptly records Jesus’ teachings about the signs of the end times, and that no one except God the Father knows the day or hour when Christ will come again, ushering the end of the age (v. 32). Jesus reminds His disciples to watch out, to be on guard, and to stand firm.

I am preaching a sermon series at our youth ministry entitled “D is for Disciple,” focusing on growing in spiritual discontent or hunger for God and the things of God, nurturing our minds in spiritual discernment, and challenging our commitment to spiritual disciplines. In this day and age, with pervasive false teachings through pseudo-church groups or cults, floods of fake news on the Internet, and all forms of humanistic, post-modern and twisted philosophies and worldviews, our young people truly need discernment and wisdom from the Lord through His Word and Spirit.

Romans 12:2 reminds us not to follow or be conformed to the world’s pattern, but to be transformed by renewing our minds, testing and approving God’s good, pleasing and perfect will. Let us focus on the author and perfector of our faith, Jesus Christ, who is the only Way, Truth and Life. Whether the world ends tomorrow or not, we can have the full assurance that our lives are in God’s hands, God is sovereign, and we are to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.

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Work out, work in

Every time you attend a Christmas or Easter service, perhaps you have been
challenged or encouraged to share the gospel with your loved ones or friends. It could have been in
the past or even during a time like this coming weekend, as we spend more time reflecting or focusing on the gospel and the
message of the cross.

Paul writes about this in Phil. 2:12-13, “Therefore, my dear friends … continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.” There is an amazing balance of responsibility when it comes to our salvation, the work of the gospel in our lives. On one hand, God tells us in His Word to “work out” our salvation, and yet on the other hand, He reminds us that it is He who “works in” us to will and act out His purposes. It is the ultimate truth that at the end of the day, it is both God and us that works for the sake of His glory.

What does it mean to “work out” our salvation? A quote often attributed to Francis of Assisi sums it up this way, “Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.” Our lives, and all that we are and do, not just our words, should represent and reflect Christ and His gospel message. Do our words and our lives match up? Are people stumbled because we say one thing, but we do another? Do our actions scream out way more glaringly our values and what we believe in, more than what we claim to profess? How can the message and the messenger be more aligned, more congruent, more consistent?

Simultaneously, we need to acknowledge and recognize that it is God who “works in” us, to direct our hearts, head and hands for His kingdom purposes. If not, then we labour and toil in vain as we would only rely on and depend on our own strength, wisdom and abilities. Yet it is also a challenge as it would involved surrendering our own will to God’s will. Jesus said, “Yet not my will, but Yours be done.” What does God want for us to give up, let go or lay at the cross, so that God can work in and through us to accomplish all He has willed and purposed for our lives?

As we step out of church each Sunday, may we experience more of His joy and grace through the gift of salvation and allow the gospel to grow and resound in our hearts, and through us to the ends of the earth, to the praise of His glory.

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.

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.

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