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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.

Why do we pray?

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?

Beauty for ashes

This week, our church sermon passage is on Daniel and the topic of ashes and repentance. In this season of Lent, it is indeed appropriate to reflect on what Christ has done on the cross, the costly grace and salvation that came at the price of our Saviour’s own life for the sins of the world. How often do we take for granted and let slip to the corners of our minds our wretched and sinful state, before we were led to repent of our sins and acknowledge Jesus Christ as our Lord?

Yet as much as we should not shortcut the process of salvation, and belittle the value and place of godly mourning, sorrow, and repentance, God’s word in Isaiah 61.1-3 proclaims,

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor …
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour …
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion –
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of a spirit of despair.

True repentance and Spirit-led life-change leads to a lifetime of beauty and everlasting joy (Isa. 61:7). God is in the business of touching and transforming lives, to bestow comfort for mourning, beauty for ashes, and gladness for despair. That is the true and amazing power and hope we have in the gospel message – while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). Have you experienced God’s saving grace and salvation in your life? Consider what Christ has done for you and I. Is there a loved one or friend in your life that has yet to come to know the Lord? May God equip and grant you His favour to proclaim His good news, and be an agent of hope and reconciliation for the Lord. May one and all come to experience Christ and be blessed with beauty for ashes this Easter weekend!

No distinction

On this day in 1938, Adolf Hitler, the leader of the Nazi Party, delivered a much-anticipated speech in Berlin. This was the beginning of the expansion of the Nazi regime, which later resulted in World War II (1939-1945). His regime was totalitarian and fascist in nature, and he strived to fulfill the message that “his” race were superior, leading campaigns to eliminate various racial, religious, and political groups including Jews, Africans, Romanis (Gypsies), Lutherans, and anti-communists, marked by dark periods of mass genocide such as the Holocaust.

Much of the book of Romans focuses on the nation of Israel as God’s special people. Throughout history, Israel and the Jewish people have been at the forefront of attention and news, especially in American politics and the many wars, insurgencies and tensions in the Middle East region. There is no doubt that there is something special about the Jewish people. Over 22% of all Nobel Prize winners since 1901 have been Jewish or people of Jewish descent (who comprise less than 0.2% of the world’s population, or 1 in every 500 people). Jews are also among the top genetic researchers in the world, and make up 20% of America’s chief executives and 22% of Ivy League students.

The Reformed tradition often teaches that because Israel had turned away in unbelief and rejected God, the church or body of Christ has now replaced it as God’s chosen people until the fulfillment of the end of the age.

Whichever camp you may belong to or support, whether you are German, Jewish, or a Christian, God’s word teaches us that all of mankind is created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27) and that God wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth and repentance (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). How often do we pray for the world or the lost, or even for Israel? May God grow a burden and burning desire in our hearts and lives to see souls won and turned to Christ, and for the gospel to be shared and spread across the nations before the return of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, to whom will be all glory forever!

For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Rom. 10:12-13)

Blessings and Abundance


Blessed Lunar New Year to all! For Chinese communities around the world, this holiday marks the start of spring, and a significant time of celebration and family reunions. Much of the food and practices associated with this holiday is tied to the concept of abundance. For example, the eating together of a fish whole, with the word “fish” sounding like the word for abundance, hence the proverb 年年有余 (nian nian you yu), meaning “may your years overflow with surplus.”
The Bible teaches us about blessings and abundance as well. The Abrahamic covenant begins, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.” (Gen. 12:2) Jesus also gave us this promise, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (Jn. 10:10, NAS “abundantly”) Sometime in recent decades, however, the idea of blessings and abundance have begun to leave a bad taste in our mouths, or has become a sensitive or taboo topic, due by and large to the rise of the prosperity gospel, which emphasizes physical health and material wealth that can be made available to believers as long as they have enough faith and contribute significantly to God’s kingdom through giving and service. Granted the abuses and excesses that have ensued into huge scandals even here in Singapore, it is no wonder that we do not talk or teach about this subject more often. We begin to swing in a kneejerk fashion to the other extreme, we need to be humble, “poor in spirit,” live simply and don’t flaunt, boast of or pursue wealth and prosperity. The fact is, the Bible does talk about abundance and blessings, and we need God’s wisdom on how to approach the subject and apply God’s word into our daily lives. Solomon and several characters in the Bible were blessed with material wealth, and many used their wealth for godly pursuits and activities. We can indeed bless others and God’s work with what He blesses us with, and be assured that God will bless us in return (although not always in the form of material wealth). “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Lk. 6:38)
God’s word also teaches us that our lives do not consist only in the abundance of our possessions (Lk. 12:15). Abundance is also mentioned in relation to fruitfulness in our lives. What kind of fruit are we called to bear as disciples of Christ? Two examples are being moulded in our character into Christlikeness (fruit of the Spirit, Gal. 5:22-23) and winning lost souls for Christ (firstfruits of salvation, 2 Thes. 2:13). The same passage that Paul shares about giving cheerfully ends this way, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Cor. 9:8)
May this year be a year of blessings and abundance for you and your family as you seek and serve the Lord faithfully and fruitfully!

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Eph. 3:20-21)

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