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For What is Your Life?

22 July 2016

It has been somewhat depressing. 

In the past two years, there seems to be a spike in the number of brethren who have been diagnosed with serious illnesses.  It might have something to do with the profile of our congregation.  It is greying rapidly. Even the number of my grey hairs have increased exponentially in the past two years. The pastoral team has been inundated with ministering to our members and comforting bereaved families.

To me, this is one of the most draining part of pastoral ministry.

How do you say “goodbye” to someone whom you have developed a friendship for a number of decades, and put on a brave front and say, “See you again in a better land“?  When I am still trying to get a handle on my own emotions, I need help from God to enable me to comfort the bereaved family & church members.  I go through a mixed bag of emotions.  Yet I have to put my feelings aside to focus on the preparation of the vigil or funeral services.  How do you juggle the human, emotional, and the professional part of ministry?  This is not something that the Bible courses teach you.  Perhaps, time will dull my emotional attachments, and fade out my memories, but in the meantime I have to prepare a devotion for the service.  And in stifling my emotions, does it make me less of a feeling human?  Or will the grief return to hit me on a melancholic day?

In the process, I’ve learnt a few things:

  1. Life is uncertain, my time here is short. James 4:14 reminds me – For what is your life? it is like water vapour that evaporates from a pot of boiling water – it floats in the air for a millisecond, and then flies away, vanishing into the air [- my paraphrase].
  2. God’s timing is perfect. “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die.” Ecclesiastes 3:1-2.
  3. Therefore I must cherish my time. Make each day count. Do something good for Jesus every day, and out-of-the-way. For tomorrow may never come, and you would have missed an opportunity to touch someone’s life.
  4. Cherish my loved ones – my beloved wife and sons, my immediate family – mother-in-law, siblings, nieces and nephews, brothers & sisters in law, aunts, uncles, etc.
  5. Cherish my friends, my church members, who are my spiritual support, and whom I am privileged to minister to with God’s word.
  6. Don’t be too hard on myself or others.  Don’t be too self-critical, or perfectionist. If I receive constructive feedback, listen and reflect on whether the criticism is justified. Is there a sin I must repent of, a weakness I can overcome, or a ministry I can improve on. Be thankful that they cared enough to tell me. “Open rebuke is better than secret love.  Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” (Proverbs 27:5-6).
  7. Be charitable to “loose cannons.”   I feel irritated by their arrogant, boastful, self-absorbed and sinful talk.  How do I deal with them wisely and charitably?  When I am attacked or criticised, it is natural to become defensive, and to think about hitting back.  But a true Christian must not be distracted, but continue to do good and keep shining for the Lord.  We follow the example of Jesus, “Who, when He was reviled, reviled not”, but committed Himself to the Righteous Judge – God (1 Pet. 2:21-23). I recall a story shared by Dr Edward Paauwe in our June 2016 Life church camp: “When there is a full moon, the widow’s dog barks and barks all night at the moon. Well, what does the moon do? The moon just keeps right on shining!”  When people irritate me, or criticise me, remember to keep shining for Jesus.
  8. Cherish my work as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ by obeying the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 4:5-8:

    “But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.  For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.  I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:  Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”

  9. Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:13-14.

  10. Christ has conquered death for the believer. Through the gloom of a funeral, there is hope in Christ.  Death for a believer is not the end, but the entrance into glorious heaven, to be forever with our Lord Jesus.  “8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” 2 Cor 5:8.

    Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved. Every human being is a sinner bound for hell. The only way we can be saved is through the blood of Jesus. Jesus is the only way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). No man goes to God the Father but through the Son, Jesus. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16. God has made a God-sized vacuum in our soul, which cannot be satisfied with money, fun, fame, family, friends, food, or fashion. Only Jesus truly satisfies.

    When we have Jesus, we have enough.“Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;” 2 Corinthians 3:5.

 

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When God was not at the Centre

29 August 2011

WHEN GOD WAS NOT THE CENTRE OF MY LIFE

Many years ago, I attended a public speaking course. The instructor sprang a surprise question on all participants,“Use the next 20 minutes to review your life: If you have only six months to live, would you change the way you live?” That question came as a shock to me, like thunder from heaven. I felt God speaking to me, wake up!
Busy with building a career in the civil service, leading the church Choir, serving in the YAF, married with wife and two boys, I thought I had tried my best to be a good father, husband, employee and Christian. My wife and I taught the boys God’s word and Christian songs, read books and prayed with them especially for their salvation. Saturdays and holidays were opportunities to visit the zoo and parks. We attended church camps regularly. We looked every bit like a solid Christian family.
Beneath the veneer, however, I wasn’t happy. Life was a mess. I often found fault with my wife. Selfish and immature, I did not love my wife as Christ loved the Church, and was often unwilling to help with house chores. Impatient with my boys, I did not teach or train them consistently but disciplined in anger. I was temperamental and irritated by their demands on my time:“Don’t bother me with these things, can’t you see I’m busy?” Stressed and physically tired, I barely coped with the demands of family, career, and church ministries. Daily devotional reading was cold and irregular. Wrecked with guilt, I assuaged my conscience by rationalizing that preparing Bible messages for YAF and choir was enough spiritual food. But it wasn’t. Gone was my first love. The overwhelming joy of the Lord I felt when I first came to Christ had dissipated.
What’s wrong with me? Why was my life so joyless? There, in that public-speaking course, tears flowed as I repented of my sins and pride, my lack of love for my wife and children. Yes, I was a hypocrite. My life was no different from non-Christians in my self-centered pursuit of career, wealth and church position. I spent the least time with the people dearest to me – my wife, children, my father, and siblings. But most of all, I grieved my beloved Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I wanted success in my career and in church ministry mostly for my own self-glory and pride. I have believed in Christ as my Saviour, but why did the abundant life elude me? I struggled with these questions for many years. Eventually, the riddle was unlocked bit by bit especially in recent years. The “lightbulb” moment came when I studied the book of Ecclesiastes.
Solomon, widely regarded as the author of Ecclesiastes, instructs us that man will find true lasting happiness only in a right relationship with an eternal God. Therefore, enjoy life as a gift from a loving God. Ecclesiastes is not pessimistic, but presents a realistic Christian view of life.
Life without God is meaningless (“vanity”). Before I was saved, I used to watch blockbuster movies and variety TV shows from morning to night. Yet after being entertained, I felt more empty and bored than before. Pursuing entertainment as an end in itself is meaningless. Watching those poor actors and actresses acting out miserable lives was depressing. Even comedies were futile attempts to put on a brave hollow front in the face of life’s harsh realities and miseries. Happiness and the meaning of life could not be found in fun and pleasures (2:1-3), entertainment (2:7-8) or possessions of luxury properties (2:4-6). Life under the sun without God at the centre is meaningless.

Instead, we are most happy when we are content with God’s beautiful plan for us, with all its flaws, ugliness, apparent contradictions and arbitrariness (3:16-5:20). Our loving God has planned every event in life to happen at His appointed time (3:1-15). The twenty-eight “time” words used in 3:1-8 (fourteen pairs of “time to …, and time to …”) emphasize that God is in control of every event in our lives. He dictates the precise time of our birth and death. Hence, it is not right to say a child is born “premature” because God has decided the precise time of his birth.

The key verse in Ecclesiastes is 3:11. The key word translated as “world” in the Authorised Version is better rendered “eternity.” We can paraphrase 3:11 this way: God has stamped eternity in our souls, in order that we may seek after the eternal God. God has planted within our hearts a deep-seated hunger and quest for Him. St. Augustine described this yearning of the human soul for the eternal Creator, “You have made us for Yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in You.”

Live to the glory of God. True joy and satisfaction in life is found only in an intimate personal relationship with Jesus Christ, trusting in His blood shed for us on the cross. When our sins are washed away, and we live in daily awe of God and thanks to Him, we can truly rejoice and eat, drink and enjoy work as gifts from our Creator God (3:12-13) to His glory. I feast on roti prata and chicken curry with relish as I thank my loving multi-faceted interesting God who created such delicious multi-textured flavours.

The Christian chef who fries char kway teow can say Halleluyah to God amidst the wok heat, oil fumes and pungent garlic. Likewise, the fatigued mother breastfeeding an infant finds meaning and joy nursing and nurturing God’s blessed gift of a precious soul despite the tedium of feeding, washing, cooking and child training. Life is messy. Life is beautiful.

Prosperity is not necessarily good; adversity, not always bad. Cherish the moments of prosperity (7:14), but remember that bad times may come. Hold happiness lightly. Don’t be too rigid in your schedules or set impossibly high standards, or you will put unnecessary pressure on yourself (7:16).

God is not a “kill-joy”. But He gives us good food, fun, marital bliss and work satisfaction (9:1-12). Youths can positively enjoy legitimate wholesome pleasures without guilt. But remember, you are accountable to God. “Rejoice, O young man,… walk in the ways of thine heart” (11:9) does not mean you can pander to all your heart’s desires. By all means enjoy your iPad and iPhone. But if we abuse them to surf pornography or commit sin or become enslaved by addictions, that would not glorify God. Enjoy life (seize the day) and work while you can, before old age and sickness come (12:1-7).

The secret to a joyful meaningful life is to know God our Creator and live with a clear conscience before Him (12:13-14) because we are ultimately accountable to God. Therefore, keep one eye on this world and the other on eternity.

Learning points for me

Looking back on those years, I struggled because I had lived my life MY way. I determined in my heart I will do my own will, and was half-hearted about doing God’s will. I wanted a picture-perfect family with smart kids, nice house, career advancement, financial security and good reputation in church. I wanted Jesus as my Saviour (benefits of heaven and forgiveness of sin), and I wanted the pleasures of the world. But I did not want to fully submit to Jesus as my Lord and Master. When I was not content with what God has given to me, I was always looking for counterfeit gods to satisfy my lusts of the eyes, lusts of the flesh and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-16). When God was not the centre of my life, I felt frustration and emptiness.

Then God spoke to my heart: “You need to repent from your self-centered way, submit to Jesus Christ as Lord, take up your cross, give up your dreams, and follow God’s will.” After several painful lessons in my life, the last being a fall from the roof of Beulah House in 2006, I surrendered my life wholly to Jesus. James 4:14 reminded me that God is in control of my life: What is your life, it is even a vapour that appears for a little time and vanishes away. I slowed down and thought much about death and heaven. I am humbled that God should choose me as His child. I am grateful for every single day that I can serve Him. I rejoice daily because my name is written in heaven (Luke 10:20)! What more do I want? What else do I need? If I have God, He is more than enough for me. I study, work, care for children, visit or preach, to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). Life is still messy; I am still sinful, but I strive to place God at the centre of my life (Ecc 12:13-14). And I am content. Joyfully content.

Place God at the centre of your life.

If you are a student, live for God. “Reach for the stars” and thank God for the learning activities you have. In school, love God and love your classmates and teachers. Find opportunities to serve others and testify for Christ. At home, obey and honour your parents, as unto your Lord and Saviour.

For the adults, you can choose to slow down and centre your life on God, or you can go on your hectic lifestyle and complain daily about stress. You can choose to love God and love your neighbours at the workplace, at home and in church. When God grants prosperity, savour the luxuries of life, but love God more by your consecrated service to Him, and love others more by your generous sharing.

For the elderly, prepare to meet your God by finishing well. Sickness and pain are reminders from our Creator that we are but frail creatures. Cherish each day you have. Love God deeply, pray fervently, visit the needy and the elderly. Encourage your children, grandchildren and relatives to know and trust God, because He has been faithful to you. Reconcile with others who have offended you or have been offended by you. You don’t want to leave this world with unresolved conflicts or regrets. Besides, they provide great opportunities to forgive and share Christ’s love with others. Through the vicissitudes of life, recognize that God is sovereign and has ordained all events for our ultimate good.

Place God at the centre of your life! You will find great joy and freedom to love God and others.

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7 Principles underlying fruitful theological use of Bible

6 October 2010

Walter Kaiser Jr in his book on Hermeneutics summarized 7 key principles that underlies a fruitful theological use of the Bible:

1. Chair Passages must carry the main burden of doctrinal teaching. Chair passages are those that contain the largest amount of material in one place on a particular doctrine. For example Gen 1-2 (creation); 1 Cor 15 (resurrection); Isa 53 (nature of the atonement); Phil 2:1-11 (nature of Incarnation).

2. Exegesis is prior to any system of theology. We should make our systems fit the Bible, not the Bible our systems. When the propensity to form a theology turns to extrabiblical sources (eg. existentialism), there is no end of trouble.

3. Doctrines must not go beyond Scriptural evidence. The temptation to say more than Scripture says is always a hazard.

4. The analogy of Scripture must take priority over the analogy of faith in exegesis. The use of biblical theology as an informing theology from the analogy of antecedent (earlier) Scripture can be helpful in illuminating later passages. Later Scripture that provides teaching on the same topic can likewise form a total analogy of faith.

5. Only what is directly taught or really implied in Scripture is binding on the conscience. In cases where the matters become more debatable, such as where cultural background is involved (eg. command to wash one another’s feet John 13:14), our interpretation must become more tentative.

6. No doctrine should be based on a single passage of Scripture, a parable, an allegory, a type, or uncertain textual reading.

7. Theological Interpretation must recognize responsibility to the church. The Holy Spirit did not begin to work only in modern times. Today we benefit from centuries of faithful accumulation of insights and understanding of the body of believers. One can be so beholden to what the church and former believers have learnt from Scripture that it is raised to the status of an authoritative tradition (or another scripture). But some others will cut off all previous insights and work as if all doctrinal knowledge began with them. Both extremes should be avoided.  The interpreting work must be done in the spirit of inviting other believers to inspect our work and evaluate it against Scripture. This need has to do with the inadequate nature of both the readers and the  interpreters of the Bible. The Reformers had a check and balance when they emphasized the priesthood of all believers as well as the appeal to the original languages of the Bible.  Where individual believer’s interpretation takes priority, chaos ensues. Where the appeal to original languages takes precedence, we would be at the mercy of scholars who consider themselves the final authority of what a text says.  Hence the need for the scholar and the layman to depend on each other.

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14 July 2009

John Calvin, the Reformer (1509-1564)

I offer mine heart to Thee, promptly and sincerely.”

Theodore Beza said there is no man in the history of mankind who had done more good for the Christian faith.  William Cunningham called him the greatest Reformer.  A preeminent theologian, a renowned Bible teacher and commentator, a statesman, a leader of the 16th century Protestant Reformation, a loving pastor, a loving husband – John Calvin was all these and more.

July 2009 marks the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth. Is Calvinism still relevant today? Be it in the area of doctrine, worship, sacraments, governance, occupation, or family life, there is not one aspect of our Christian life that has not been touched by Calvin’s reforms.  In fact, his influence extended beyond the Christian world – in university education, local government and legal protection of women.

John Calvin the Man

Born July 10, 1509 in France, John Calvin was groomed for the clergy.  His father was a financial administrator in the Catholic Church.  When Calvin was 11, his father got him a chaplaincy that paid for his education.  Calvin was brilliant, diligent and excelled in his studies. He began theology studies at 14 years old at the University of Paris and graduated with a Master of Arts degree at 17.  His father then had a conflict with the church, and directed Calvin to read law instead.  Calvin also learnt Greek, analytical thinking and persuasive argument, earning a nickname of “the accusative case.”  But Calvin was then still very much a Catholic in heart and practice, until …

A Sudden Conversion. Calvin described, God by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame.”  Two persons were instrumental to his conversion. His cousin, Olivetan, showed him the errors of Rome and encouraged him to search the Scriptures. Calvin obstinately rejected Olivetan’s views.  Then Calvin saw a young Christian burnt publicly for his protestant faith, and went away deeply impressed by that man’s faith, courage and peace despite tremendous suffering and terrors of death.  Calvin realized that his Romish rites did not give him assurance of salvation, nor the peace of that martyr.  Calvin then began searching the Scriptures.  As he did so, he learnt that his self-righteous works were as filthy rags before God. For the first time in his life, he recognized himself as a vile sinner who deserved condemnation and the wrath of God.  In Isaiah 53:5 he read that the Saviour’s death on the Cross had washed him from all sins; by His stripes he was healed. Those life-giving words struck Calvin like an arrow from heaven – Jesus’ sacrifice had appeased God’s wrath, His blood had put away my impurities, His cross had borne my curse, His death had atoned for me.  Sinking in his mire of sin, hopeless, damned for hell, Calvin finally acknowledged that he has no other hope than to flee to Jesus’ finished work of salvation.  Jesus had paid it all!  Salvation is found not in a priest, ceremony, or man’s good works, but in Christ alone and His finished work of redemption at Calvary.  That day, Calvin passed from death to life.  The self-righteous Romanist became a Sinner saved by grace.

A Harrowing Escape. His faith in Christ was soon put to the test.  In 1533, Calvin wrote his friend’s speech at the University of Paris, advocating church reform.  As expected, the authorities sought to arrest them.  Calvin escaped through the window, but eventually, was caught and suffered a short imprisonment. After release, he rested in the home of Louis du Tillet, in whose library, Calvin studied the church fathers’ writings, and became a self-taught theologian.

Writing the Institutes. Calvin moved to Switzerland, while receiving news that Christians are still persecuted and burnt alive in France.  That moved him to write to the King of France to stop the persecution.  That letter later became the first edition of Institutes of the Christian Religion.  Calvin was 27 years old when it was first published – a small pocket-sized book meant for secret circulation within France.  Calvin expanded it continually to four books in its last French edition.

To Geneva. Being reserved and timid, Calvin planned a move to Strasbourg for quiet studies and writing.  On the way there, he made a one-night stop over at Geneva.  He was met by William Farel there who tried to enlist his help. When Farel learnt that Calvin was adamant on studies, he said God would curse his studies, if he should refuse to help at such a critical moment.  Thus rebuked, Calvin remained in Geneva.

Controversy in Geneva. Calvin was appointed pastor and professor of Scripture.  Together with Farel, they began reforming the Geneva church, writing a confession of faith to bring ten thousand citizens into obedience of Scriptures.  It was too much reform too soon.  In 1538 when they tried to bar the Libertines who were living in open sin from partaking the Lord’s Supper, the City Council controlled by the Libertines responded by banishing both of them. 

Happy in Strasbourg. Through such an unusual turn of events, Calvin got to study and write in Strasbourg. From 1538 to 1541, he published a second edition of the Institutes, wrote his first commentary, taught in seminary and pastored five hundred refugees.  

Marriage. Calvin married Idelette, an Anabaptist widow, and enjoyed a short period of marital bliss.  Idelette lost a daughter at birth, and also a son of two weeks.  Calvin was heart-broken but drew comfort from God: “The Lord has certainly inflicted a bitter wound in the death of our infant son. But He is Himself a father and knows what is good for His children.”  When Idelette died, Calvin did not remarry but devoted himself to the ministry: “I do what I can to keep myself from being overwhelmed by grief.” 

Recalled to Geneva. In 1541, the Geneva City Council, which became dominated by Protestants, requested Calvin to return.  He did, and for the next 23 years in Geneva, led the Reformation.

A Preacher & Teacher. Upon return, Calvin hit Geneva preaching.  Reassuming his pulpit precisely where he left off three years earlier – in the very next verse of the last sermon – Calvin continued his verse-by-verse Bible exposition.  Geneva became a gospel beacon to refugees from all over Europe.  Among these was the Scot, John Knox, who said Calvin’s Geneva church was the most perfect school of Christ.  He and Calvin collaborated to compile the marginal notes in the Geneva Study Bible (1559).

A Pastor. Other than Sunday services, Calvin conducted daily service every alternate week.  He taught theology three hours per week, visited the sick, penned letters to persecuted Christians abroad, dictated Bible commentaries, and refuted the enemies of the gospel.

Heart Devotion. Calvin believed that the preacher’s heart must be devoted to godliness as his success depended on the depth of his holiness. “Because I know that I am not my own master, I offer my heart as a true sacrifice to the Lord.” This became his personal motto and emblem: “My heart I give to Thee, O Lord, promptly and sincerely.”

Faithful to the End. On April 25, 1564, Calvin dictated his last will: “In the name of God, I, John Calvin,…  embrace the grace which He has offered me in our Lord Jesus Christ and accept the merits of His suffering and dying, that through them all my sins are buried; and I humbly beg Him to wash me and cleanse me with the blood of our great Redeemer, … so that I, when I shall appear before His face, may bear His likeness.” 

Calvin the Reformer.  Calvin’s main contribution to the Christian faith is his reforms. He stressed the need to return to biblical doctrine and practice regarding the way of salvation, the proper means of worship, the correct administration of the sacraments, and the government of the church.

Reformed Doctrine. In order to understand Calvin’s system of doctrine, you must read his Institutes. Calvinism is not merely the “five points” or TULIP, which stands for Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverence of saints.  TULIP was coined by the Synod of Dort in 1618 as a summary of Calvin’s doctrine of salvation to rebut James Arminius’ heresy.  Neither is Calvinism merely the five solas – which was the battle-cry of the Protestant Reformation.  Calvinism is a re-statement of what the apostles Paul, James, Peter, John etc, taught: that God saves sinners, and salvation is all by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone.  Contrast this with the Romish dogma that man can merit salvation by good works plus God’s grace.  Calvin proved from Scripture that we are saved by grace (Eph 2:8-9), justified by faith (Rom 1:17) in Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the Cross, and on His merits and righteousness alone.  If our salvation is dependent on man’s good works, then it is no more by the grace of God.

Christian Living to the Glory of God. Calvin’s starting point is the sovereignty of God.  A Christian lives daily in the presence of God for His glory, whether he is physically inside or outside the church building.  Calvin locked the church doors in between worship services to counter Romish superstitions that God hears only prayers uttered in church.  Indeed, Christian living extends beyond hearing sermons and beyond church walls.  Christians are to shine the gospel light daily in their homes, the marketplace and the world. All aspects of living are for Christ.  God’s sovereignty is balanced with man’s responsibility.  Even in the workplace, a Christian does his best to the glory of God.

Reformed Church. Calvin’s true church possesses three marks: preaching, the sacraments, and church discipline. Pulpit preaching is essential to Christian growth and a vibrant church.  He adopted the grammatico-historical literary approach by interpreting a Scripture passage in its historical and cultural contexts, with due regard to grammar, word meanings, and genre.  As for the sacraments, Christ appointed only two, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Calvin enforced church discipline on members who lived in open sin.

Reformed Worship. The Roman church worship emphasized formal rites and veneration of images of saints, apostles and Mary, food abstinences, and vigils.  Calvin taught that biblical worship ascribes to God glory, adoration, and reverence through prayer, praise and thanksgiving rendered in a known tongue, in spirit, in truth (Jn 4:23) and from the heart.  God prohibits all worship through images or a mediator other than Christ (1 Tim 2:5).

Evangelism & Missions. Calvin was zealous in missions and evangelism. He taught students who returned to plant thousands of churches in France, Hungary, Holland, England and even as far as Brazil. Knox became the leader of the Scottish Reformation. While Calvin trained missionaries, Geneva funded mission work.  Calvin’s doctrines of predestination, election and particular redemption do not stifle evangelism.

Contribution to Society. In 1559, Calvin founded Geneva’s Academy.  Laws were enacted to outlaw wife abuse, and protect the financial estate of wives and widows.

Conclusion. Calvinist doctrine is still relevant today in the daily life of a Christian. Calvinism combined clear-headed faith and warm-hearted spirituality to produce vibrant living in the home, the church and the marketplace to the glory of God.  “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to Whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Rom 11:36).  That is what Scripture, Calvinism and life itself are all about.

References:

John Calvin, (1) Institutes of the Christian Religion (2) Commentaries (3) Necessity of Reforming the Church (1543).

Joel R. Beeke, Living for God’s Glory – Introduction to Calvinism, 2008.

Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, 2007.

Stephen J. Nichols, Pages from Church History, 2006.

Steven J. Lawson, Expository Genius of John Calvin, 2007.

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Conquering Unclean Thoughts

12 January 2009

Conquering Unclean Thoughts

Little foxes spoil the vines (Song 2:15).  Some have observed that little foxes that cannot reach the grapes hanging near the top of the vine, nibble the bark at the base of the vine stem every day, bit by bit.  Because the bites are so tiny, they remain unnoticed by the farmer until one day the little fox succeeded in biting the branch through, and the tender grapes pulled to the ground were gobbled up by the little ravening foxes.   Little fox bites are like our little sins that we condone.  They frustrate our spiritual life every day. If we are not vigilant to eradicate them, they can harm and ultimately destroy our lives.  One of the “little sins” many of us condone are “little” unclean thoughts.

For most Christians, the daily struggle is probably not with gross sins such as murder, robbery, idol-worship, premarital sex or homosexuality, but little unclean thoughts (ideas in the mind/heart that are morally or spiritually impure).  Lest you minimise it, our Lord Jesus specifically addressed this prevalent sin in his sermon on the mount (Mt 5:27-28).  Jesus said if we had lusted after a woman in our hearts (or minds), we have committed adultery. Are we living a double-life like the Pharisees- more concerned about man’s opinions than God’s view of us?  Are we putting undue emphasis on our external appearance (how we look, the clothes we wear, the car we drive, the size of our house) than our inner thoughts?

Our thoughts are especially hard to control, partly because nobody knows except ourselves and our invisible God.  Hence, we sometimes excuse (and deceive) ourselves that our unclean thoughts are not serious because there is no immediate accountability.    But God knows and judges our thoughts, and will hold us accountable.  “Son of man, hast thou not seen what the ancients of Israel do in the dark, every man in his chamber of his imagery (mind)?  For they say, the Lord seeth us not..” Ezek 8:12.  God knows our thoughts afar off; He sees all our secret sins.  ”O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me…. thou understandest my thought afar off.” Ps 139:1,2. “For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.” Eph 5:12. “The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord…” Prov 15:26.  We may be on our best behaviour when we are in Church or in the presence of others.  Ultimately, the real test of holiness is what we do or think when we are alone in the privacy of our room or a hotel room far away from home.

Control over thought Life is a first step towards Holiness. Discipline over thought life is a basic building block for your spiritual house.  If you have not learnt your ABCs, you cannot progress to read and write English.  Exercising self-control over your thoughts will grant you victory and self-control over other aspects of your life. The mind is the battleground for holiness. “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he:” Prov 23:7.  If you are constantly plagued by unclean thoughts, you cannot grow in holiness.  And without holiness, no man can see the Lord (Heb 2:14).

Harbouring unclean thoughts is sin. Little sins are real sins that nailed our Saviour to that cruel Cross.  Unclean thoughts may not be the greatest sin, but once admitted, they are difficult to erase from our minds and memories.  Harbouring an unclean thought breaches our first line of defense.  Satan knows the power of the mind to build or destroy and will constantly remind us of unclean images that we have seen.  They hinder not only our fellowship with God, but also our relationship with members of the opposite sex in courtship and marriage.  Whether they are fantasies fueled by romance novels, TV series, or virtual interactive online dating games, or sexual fantasies fed by exposure to pornographic media, God calls all these uncleanness, immorality and sin (Eph 5:3).   Unclean images through internet pornography have invaded our society and homes.  According to a study of American men, 70% of young men from 18 to 24 visit a pornographic website in a typical month.  Surveys among American Christians paint a similar sad picture.  Unclean thoughts, if dwelt upon long enough, take root in our hearts, and eventually bear deadly fruit – the “works of the flesh”- uncleanness, adultery, fornication, lasciviousness (Gal 5:19-21).  Fornication is a general term for sexual immorality which includes unclean sexual thoughts and acts.

Today, we are surrounded by impure images through various media.  My Yahoo inbox is spammed daily with emails touting pornography and viagra.  While surfing the net for research, I am ambushed by pop-up dialogue boxes with immoral temptations.  Add to that racy images on advertisement billboards, magazines, television, etc, we are being “carpet-bombed” every moment in our waking hours.  Even in the worship of God in the sanctuary, I confess that occasional unwelcome thoughts do invade my mind.  We are called to be holy and yet we struggle with unclean thoughts.  If we are to live a life pleasing to God, we need effective tools to reject these temptations on a daily basis.

How can we Conquer Unclean Thoughts?

We cannot overcome sin by our human will. But we thank God that His grace is always sufficient to conquer all our sins.  We need Christ’s cleansing blood and the power of the Holy Spirit to help us wage this spiritual battle:

1.            Recognize it is Sin, Confess & Repent. Lustful fantasies and harbouring unclean thoughts is sin.  But if we confess this sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

2.            Meditate on God’s Word. How can a young man cleanse his thoughts? By knowing God’s Word, thinking of them, and obeying them by avoiding sin (Ps 119:9-11).  Free yourself from bondage to sin as you meditate on God’s Word and begin thinking like God thinks.

3.            Ask the Holy Spirit to Sanctify & Renew our Minds.  In your quiet time with the Lord, ask the help and power of the Holy Spirit to renew your minds and avoid unholy thoughts.  We are sanctified (made holy) when our thinking and living are conformed to the image of God (Col 3:9,10).

4.            Put off old habits, Put on new godly habits:  We need to think right before we can live right.  “Put off” your old sinful ways of thinking, and “put on” biblical thinking (Eph 4:22-24).  This is achieved through the ministry of the Word and the Holy Spirit, through reading God’s Word, prayer, worship, and proper use of sacraments.  As the new man, what are we to think about? Phil 4:8 provides a good thinking list: things which are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report; “if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these things.”

5.            Cultivate a holy fear of the Lord. Reverential fear of our Holy God helps us avoid Satan’s traps and sin (Prov 14:27, 16:6).   Live coram deo (before the face of God), knowing that our Holy God sees every aspect of our life and we will need to account to God for every word we say or think.

6.            Guard your eyes, mind and heart vigilantly. Like a soldier standing guard is alert to enemy attacks, likewise we are to be alert to every lurking hidden danger from without (eyes & ears) and within(mind & heart). Do not let your guard down, not one second, nor one minute.  Even David the godly man after God’s own heart could fall, in a moment of carelessness and complacency, what about us?  Establish 3 guards:

a.            Guard your Eyes.  Each time your eyes stray towards a sexy image, immediately turn your eyes away. Don’t go there. You know it is dangerous.  Stay away from sensual materials. Install a good internet filter on your computer. If you are addicted to internet, place the computer in the living room open to family view.  Be accountable to someone you trust (parent, pastor, elder, fellowship advisor) to check on the internet websites you have visited. You may need to terminate the internet or cable TV subscriptions. Devise plans to avoid specific temptation triggers. Jesus teaches that if your hand or foot leads you to stray and sin, cut it off, though not physically (Mt 5:27-30). Radical amputation or spiritual surgery is needed. For example, if you are used to taking a certain route to the MRT station with a particular advertisement billboard, you must deliberately look away when you approach that location.   Look away from female joggers, avoid looking at sexy commercials and ladies who dress immodestly.  One of the reasons Job was commended by God as being blameless and upright was because he made a covenant with his eyes that he will not look at a woman lustily (Job 31:1). In clearing your daily emails, use the DELETE button immediately for all those unwanted spammed mails that rightfully belong to the trash bin.  Don’t linger for a second look.

b.            Guard your Mind. Your mind needs to be starved of impure images.  Set up a mental customs station where you will only admit clean thoughts in your mind. Impure thoughts are like dangerous suicide-bombing terrorists that need to be kept out. Bring every thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor 10:5).  Ask: does this thought or mental image glorify God? Will it grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30)? If not, reject and abandon it immediately.  Then feed your minds with pure lovely thoughts, and the word of God (Phil 4:8).   Stop masturbation as it encourages fantasies and perverts God’s design of sex meant only within marriage and hinders the development of a godly thought life.  God has provided one’s sexuality for the benefit of one’s lawful partner only in marriage.  Solo sex constitutes an unlawful use of sexuality. The rights over one’s body belong to one’s spouse. Flee from lusts (2 Tim 2:22), like Joseph who fled (Gen 39:12) from temptation.

c.            Guard your Heart. (Prov 4:23).  Women are most vulnerable to fantasies due to greater need for emotional attachment and affection.  There was once a popular TV comedy series, Ally McBeal, that glorifies and makes humour out of the romantic fantasies of a professional woman.  It justifies fantasies as normal and helpful escapism.  The Bible says immoral fantasies are sinful. Christian women must guard themselves from fantasies that harm their spiritual life.  Whether it is romance novels, TV soap, or online dating games, stay away from fantasies that corrupt your thoughts.  Girls who are seeking emotional attention are especially vulnerable to predators on internet chatlines.  Avoid virtual dating games.  Ask yourself: are they helpful for your spiritual life?  If you want to play with fire, you will get burned.  Cut off bad company (1 Cor 15:33) eg. classmates who indulge in idle chat and sms:“which boy is cool, and which star is uncool”.   Blogging per se is not wrong.  But it grieves me to see Christians fritter away precious time and energy posting gossip blogs that are unprofitable and stumble other Christians. Jesus warns “every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Mt 12:36).   Instead, channel your talents and gifts for the glory of God in the fellowship groups, and use your blogs to share the gospel and draw sinners to Christ.

Conclusion

Conquering unclean thoughts is not easy.  But God has given us a solution that works.  We can have victory by daily rejecting unclean thoughts, removing old ways of sinful thinking. Try the above concrete steps, together with bible reading and specific prayer asking God for victory over unclean thoughts by the power of the Holy Spirit.   Resolve, this new year, to have daily victory over sin, and enjoy freedom to live a holy fruitful abundant life that glorifies our Lord and Saviour.

**************

Bibliography:

1.     Adams, Jay E. The Christian Counselor’s Manual. Michigan: Zondervan, 1973.

2.    Adams, Jay E.  A Theology of Christian Counseling. Michigan: Zondervan, 1979.

3.     Hummel, Rand. Lest You Fall, Meditations to Fight Impurity. Greenville, South Carolina: BJU Press, 2005.

4.     Hummel, Rand. The Dark Side of the Internet. Greenville, South Carolina: BJU Press, 2004.

5.     Welch, Edward T.  Addictions- A Banquet in the Grave. New Jersey:P&R, 2001.

6.     Wilson, Gerald B.  Teenage Sexuality – God’s Design for Youth. Ontario, Canada: Welch Publishing, 1982.

7.     Ghent, Rick and Jim Childerston, Purity & Passion. Chicago:Moody Press, 1994.

8.      http://206.135.15.32/answers/aunclean.html

9.   P.Cameron et al., “Cognitive Functionings of College Students in a General Psychology Class” a paper presented at the American Psychological Association Convention. San Francisco, 1968.

10.   Arterburn, Stephen and Fred Stoeker.  Every Young Woman’s Battle -Strategies for Victory in the Real World of Sexual Temptation. Colorado: Waterbrook Press, 2005.

11.  Hall, Laurie.  An Affair of the Mind: One Woman’s Courageous Battle to Salvage Her Family from the Devastation of Pornography. Colorado Springs, Colo: Focus on the Family Publishing, 1993.

12.   Melton, J.Gordom, The Churches Speak on Pornography, Reformed Church in America’s stand on “Human Sexuality: Sexism and Pornography”. Detroit: Gale Research Inc, 1978.

13.   Luther, Martin, Confessions, Book 8.

14.   Binney, Jim. Living Purely in an Impure World. Ohio: The Counselor’s Pen Publications, 2003.

15.   Anderson, Neil T.  A Way of Escape. Oregon:Harvest House Publishers, 1994.

16.   Kruis, John G. Quick Scripture Reference for Counseling. Michigan:Baker Books, 2000.

17.  Scholar, Victor G. Living Free From the Slavery of Sexual Sin, chapter 5, Ed. Robert S. Scott, Sr, Secret Sex Wars, A Battle Cry for Purity. Chicago:Moody Press, 2008.

18. H.B. Charles, Putting Sin to Death, A Battle Plan to Win War Unto Death, chapter 6, Ed. Robert S. Scott, Sr, Secret Sex Wars, A Battle Cry for Purity (Chicago, USA, Moody Press, 2008), 133-134 “He was only twenty one years old. This brave young man was in the midst of enjoying a spectacular career as one of Spain’s most brilliant and celebrated matadors.  He was handily winning the bullfight that fateful day in 1985.  But Jose Cubero made a tragic mistake that proved to be fatal.  After the initial takedown, Jose firmly thrust his sword a final time into a bleeding, delirious bull.  To the crowd’s delight, the wounded bull collapsed into the dirt.  Considering the struggle finished, Jose turned to the crowd to acknowledge the applause.  The bull, however, was not dead; neither was it about to give up the fight.  Without Cubero noticing, the dying bull rose to its feet and lunged at the unsuspecting matador one last time.  Its horns pierced the young man’s back and punctured his heart. Sadly, this premature celebration led to a permanent casualty.  Let this  be a warning, brothers.  It can happen to you! You- your family, your witness, and your ministry – can become a spiritual casualty if you do not fight sin to the death.  Please do not fool yourself. None of us have reached perfection yet.  You are not immune to temptation. Given the right opportunity, any of us could fall into gross sin that betrays the ones we love, costs us our spiritual influence, and dishonors the name of the Lord. So I challenge you to take heed of the message of Colossians 3:5-7..”

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O little town of Bethlehem

12 January 2009

O Little Town of Bethlehem  Mt 2:1-18 Micah 5:2

O Little Town of Bethlehem is one of the most loved carols that we sing during Christmas.

As we celebrate Christmas, let us consider Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord.  The birthplace of Jesus in the little town of Bethlehem, holds many precious lessons for us. 

I suggest to you that Bethlehem is firstly a place of Hope, secondly it symbolizes Humility of Christ, thirdly it symbolizes the Man of Sorrows, Fourthly, Bethlehem is a place of Satisfaction, and Fifthly, Bethlehem (House of Bread) is a place of Sustenance.  In these days of gloom and doom, we all need to feed on Christ the Bread of Life, we need to turn to Him for satisfaction and not look at our circumstances.      

Firstly, Bethlehem symbolizes hope for the children of Israel who will face persecution, sufferings, captivity, a time of gloom, dark times ahead.  

The birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem was foretold by prophet Micah 700 years before Christ’s birth in a manger in Bethlehem.

Micah, a contemporary of prophet Isaiah, prophesied during a time of widespread apostasy and idolatry in Israel.  People have turned away from the Lord, and so the prophet Micah’s ministry was to warn Israel to repent, and to prophesy of God’s punishment of Israel for their sins of idolatry.  God is going to raise a strong neighbouring nation, Babylon, that will conquer Israel & Judah. They will be brought into captivity and exile; they will lose their jobs, their wealth, their freedom.  It will be a time of tremendous sufferings.  But amidst that doom and gloom, Micah 5 verse 2 provides an assurance of a glorious hope of salvation, of deliverance, of the coming of the promised Saviour – the Messiah, who will be born in Bethlehem, a ruler of Israel, whose goings was of old, even from everlasting.  Amidst the deepest gloom, and the most severe trials in life, God’s people will never be left without hope.   There is hope, mercy, and grace in our Saviour.  And God shall comfort His people in the midst of afflictions and distress, for out of Bethlehem, shall come forth a Saviour.

If you look at Micah 5:2.  Firstly, notice that it says, this ruler’s goings forth hath been of old.  In other words, there had been many human kings and rulers of Israel, but there is only One King whose generation is eternal, from everlasting: He is the Son of God, equal with His Father.  This speaks of the eternity of His Divine image.

How do we know this verse speaks of Christ? Well, whenever a portion of scripture is not clear, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture, it must be searched and known by other places of Scripture that speaks more clearly.   Let me illustrate this: Turn with me to Matthew chapter 2, verses 1 to 6:  “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea, in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.  When Herod the King heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.  And they said unto him, Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.”   We have here in Matthew chapter 2 verses 4 to 6, an interpretation of Micah 5 verse 2.  The wise men came to the palace of King Herod, intending to worship the new-born king of the Jews, because they have seen His star in the east.  King Herod was puzzled because they had been no new baby born in his royal household.  And he felt threatened, so he called all his chief priests and scribes who were experts in the scriptures to find out where the King of the Jews was born.  And they pointed to Micah 5:2 giving Bethlehem as the birth-place of Christ – the Anointed one, the promised Messiah, the Governor who shall rule Israel.

Today in the world, we are in the last days where we see widespread apostasy, and since September 11, terrorism, suicide bombings, Tsunamis, Cyclone Nargis, Szechuan earthquake, the subprime crisis, Wall Street meltdown, and economic recession looming ahead of us, pay cuts and job losses.  Amidst these dark days, the Bethlehem star holds a message of hope and light for us.

If you look at the greatest need in our world today, for that matter, the greatest needs of mankind through all ages, is not world peace, not more wealth, not more food, not more holidays, but the greatest need to day is the need of a Saviour to wash us thoroughly of our sins.  Man has not changed; no number of peace treaties or efforts between nations are going to bring about lasting peace.  Peace can only come when God and men are at peace, because the Prince of Peace has come into the world, and Jesus brings real peace into our hearts, where we who were once enemies of God have made peace with God, and we are now able to make peace with other men.  When our vertical relationship with God is right, we will have a right hortizontal relationship with men.  

2. Bethlehem is not only a symbol of hope, but Secondly, Bethlehem symbolises Humility.  You see that in Micah 5:2, Bethlehem was described as “though thou be little among the thousands of Judah”.  Bethlehem was, and still is today, a very small town, not one of the top 10 cities (today is a Palestinian city in the central West Bank, approximately 10 kilometers (6 mi) south of Jerusalem, with a population of about 30,000 – compare this to our towns in Singapore – Bishan 70,000 people, largest towns have 300,000, our smallest, perhaps Punggol is like 20,000).   First, we note that Humility characterises Christ’s humble and lowly ministry.  Christ said he came to minister, and not to be ministered unto.   Not only was He born in a small city, but when his parents Joseph and Mary came to Bethlehem, there was no room in the inn, and Jesus was born in a manger that houses animals, and laid in a feeding trough for animals.  Not even a house to lay his head, that’s how our Savior came into this world.  His father Joseph was a carpenter, and yet he did not even have a baby crib to sleep in.  He came to be a servant.  On Palm Sunday, He rode on a donkey into Jerusalem, he could have chosen a stallion or a white horse.  No, he rode on a lowly ass, proving that He came to minister as a servant.  And that he showed humility by washing his disciples’ feet. 

 

Phil 2:6-8 tells us that because Christ was God, he did not regard equality with God something to be sought after or grasped, but he humbled Himself to be born as a man.  It is a wonder and amazement that God should condescend to become man in order to save us from our sins. When the angels look on the face of baby Jesus, they must have wondered with great amazement, how is it possible that God should love us so much, that He was willing to come in human form, to live among sinful men. I am always filled with wonder as I think how much our Holy Lord must have been vexed by the sins of this evil world, to be constantly provoked by the Pharisees and Sadducees who are always waiting to trap Him.   If just Lot could be vexed by the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, how much more would our sinless Christ have been vexed by the sinful world!  

 

The application for us here is that God calls us to be like Christ, to be meek and humble like Christ, not to clamour after ambition, wealth or status in Church or society.  Just like Christ, we ought to remember that the greatness of our life lies not in our wealth or status in society, but as believers, our greatness lies in our new-birth as the adopted sons of the most High God. 

 

Humility applies to everyone in the Christian family.  As there are many families gathered here, it is appropriate we speak a word about humility in the family: While the husband is the head of the family, humility requires that he is to love his wife sacrificially as Christ loved the Church and gave His life for the Church that He loves.  Likewise, the husband is to love the wife sacrificially.  That means no lording over the wife, no ordering the wife around as a servant, but in humility the husband and wife serves each other in the Lord.  What about children?  Children can learn from the example of Christ in his childhood and youth – although Christ was God, He obeyed His parents and he grew in stature and wisdom.  That’s why the Bible says, children obey your parents in all things. And that includes limits placed on computer games, internet usage, and so on.  Humility requires that we say sorry to one another, if we have wronged one another. We are all sinners, and even parents should apologise to their children if they have wronged them or misjudged them unfairly, or been too harsh or punished in anger. 

Thirdly, Bethlehem was also a place of Sorrow

If you turn to Gen 48:7 where Bethlehem was first mentioned in Scripture.  Bethlehem was the place where Rachel had a difficult labour, and she died in child-birth.  Before she died, she called the son Ben-Oni –which means ‘son of my sorrow’.  That name was later changed to Ben-Jamin (son of my right hand) (Gen 35:16-19).  And Rachel was buried in Bethlehem.  Son of my sorrow – foreshadows and points to Christ – He was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.   

Look also at the passage we read at the start in Matthew 2:16-18 – King Herod after he realized he was mocked by the wise men, flew into a rage, and threatened by the new King that was born, he decided to commit mass massacre of all the children in Bethlehem under two years old.  There was great sadness, weeping, and mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and she would not be comforted.  It was the scene of heart-wrenching sorrow of the mothers and fathers, when their babies were snatched away from their arms by this cruel tyrant Herod who felt his position threatened by Jesus the King.  But we know nothing can thwart the will and purposes of our Sovereign God.  In verse 13, we see that God had warned Joseph in a dream to flee to Egypt, as Herod was seeking to destroy the child.  It is against this backdrop of tremendous sorrow that the man of sorrows came into this world.  A world of woe and sufferings, a world of weeping, sadness, misery and sin.  The birth of Christ points to His death on the Cross.    It is not a coincidence that when Jesus was born in the manger, he did not have baby clothes, he was wrapped in loose cloth –swaddling bands.  That is a picture of his burial, when he was buried he was wrapped in linen cloths.  The swadding bands at birth, points to his burial linen cloths at death. He was born to die.   

Isaiah 53 tells us that He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief; He was despised and rejected of men.  Surely he had borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray, but the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.  The wonder of Christmas is that Christ was born to die.  It thrills me to bits to think that Christ came specially to live a sinless life, and to die and pay the penalty of our sins, on the cross of Calvary.  As we think of Christmas, we think of Him at the Cross bearing all our sins.

3. Bethlehem was not just a place of sorrow, but it was also a place of satisfaction.  Bethlehem was known for its well of pure water that quenches the thirst.  In 2 Sam 23:15-16 – When David was battling the Philistines, he hid in the caves of Adullam, and sent his men to fetch water from ?, Bethlehem:  ‘And David longed, and said, Oh that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate!  The next moment, three mighty men broke through the host of Philistines, and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem, and took it and brought it to David, and what did David do with it? He did something really strange and I got angry when I first read it: he would not drink it, but poured the water out on the ground.  To men in the world, he wasted it on the ground.  Verse 16 tells us when the water was brought to him, nevertheless David would not drink it, but David poured it out unto the Lord.  We may say that is outrageously sinful and wasteful; 3 mighty men risked their lives to get the water, which David says he wants to drink.  After they’ve got the water, David would not drink it, but poured it on the ground  – the reason: it was an act of worship – to satisfy God – God before self.  It was a drink offering unto the Lord.  David was satisfied in God, even though He was in great danger in a war hiding in the caves, yet He was not coveting the drink for himself, but he wanted to give an offering unto God. 

You know that water is also a type of Christ – remember in gospel Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well – Jesus would give her living water, after which she would never thirst.  The living water quenches our thirst and fully satisfies us.

In our families, we must constantly look to Christ for satisfaction.  Let us not look to our jobs, our career our ambition, a higher salary, a bigger car, a bigger house, our bank account, our share prices, or even our children or grandchildren, or good looks, our clothes, our computer games, our TV for satisfaction.  In good times or bad times, let all our satisfaction be in Christ – because He is the living water who quenches all our thirst.   If we are satisfied in Christ, we will know how to be contented under all circumstances.      

Lastly, Bethlehem is also the place of Sustenance.  Bethlehem, in the Hebrew language, is Beyth(house of)/Beyth–lechem (bread) in Hebrew, literally means ‘House of Bread’.   Bread that gives us sustenance which points to Christ who is the Bread of Life.

Ruth 1:19 – tells us that there was a sore famine in Moab, and Naomi and Ruth were hungry as there was nothing left for them to eat – so they went to Bethlehem (the house of bread) because they heard that there was food and bread there where they gleaned in the barley harvest of Boaz, their relative.   They found food and eventually a home, a kinsman redeemer in Boaz their relative.

Bethlehem symbolizes the Bread of eternal. Jesus said I am the bread of life, whoever eats the bread has life.  Remember our Lord Jesus Christ who was the living bread- whose body broken for us, and blood shed for remission of our sins.  Have you tasted the bread of Life,  and see that the Lord is good.  The question for each of us tonight is : Have you eaten of the bread of life?

Conclusion

Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ our Saviour,  symbolizes Hope in this dark world of doom and gloom.  There is salvation in this sin-cursed world.

Bethlehem is also the humble place which shows us the humility of Christ, and how we also ought to be humble. 

Bethlehem was the place of sorrows, because the man of Sorrows who loved us was  born to die for our sins;

Bethlehem was the place we find complete satisfaction in good and bad times, because Christ our Living water quenches our thirst completely.

Bethlehem the House of Bread is the place of sustenance, it foreshadows the Bread of Life.  Anyone who eats of the living bread will have eternal life.  

I pray that this Christmas, despite the gloomy economic outlook, the smaller year end bonuses, the possible job losses in the new year; we do not know what the new year will bring, yet we know there is hope in a Saviour Jesus Christ from Bethlehem, and in Christ we can find our full satisfaction and sustenance.   Just as there is hope for Israel even in the midst of Babylonian captivity, there is hope for us who are in Christ. 

For those who have not yet come to Jesus, may you eat of His bread and drink of His living waters and you will find complete satisfaction in Him.

May the Lord bless us and cheer us this Christmas season.

 

15 Dec 2008

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sacrificial love …………….

19 October 2008
Sichuan Earthquake
When i saw photos of the way the parents at home and teachers in classrooms shielded the children sacrificially in order to save them from falling concrete, I am reminded once again of our Lord Jesus Christ’s supreme sacrifice by dying in our place.
 
Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friend.
 
Let us be thankful for every day that we can live to the glory of God.
 
“Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do,  do all to the glory of God.”  1 Cor 10:31