Sunday, March 29, 2015

Romans 16: The Goal Of The Gospel

Romans 16:
17 I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. 18 For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. 19 Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.
20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.
The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.
21 Timothy, my co-worker, sends his greetings to you, as do Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, my fellow Jews.
22 I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord.
23 Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings.
Erastus, who is the city’s director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings. [24] [e]
25 Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from[f] faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

Earlier this month, the local social media was abuzz with news that Putrajaya has purchased a new private jet for our Prime Minister’s use. It costs tax payers RM 109 million. Many people wonder if the money could be put to better use at a time when people are tightening their belt with rising costs of living. But even Putrajaya was outdone by a pastor who caused an even bigger uproar by asking 200,000 supporters to donate $300 each to his ministry. You may ask why would a mega church pastor need to raise 60 million dollars? (> two times more expensive) Is it for a noble cause like providing education and medicine to poor children? Or feed starving people around the world? Well, sadly no.

All that money will go to buy Pastor Dollar a brand new luxury private jet so he could "continue reaching a lost and dying world for the Lord Jesus Christ." A few people dug deep into their wallets to send him the cash. The rest of us started feeling sick in our stomachs at so many levels. Why can’t he just fly commercial planes? Which Jesus is he preaching anyway? The real Son of God arrived on the back of a humble donkey. He didn’t require a first class, luxury chariot. A prosperity preacher who gets rich off the offerings of poor people is not only exploiting/oppressing the church, he is denying everything that the gospel stands for. There is a word for it: He is fleecing the sheep for his own selfish profit.

That’s why the apostle Paul warns us to watch out for false teachers in the passage we read just now. He says: Be alert of what they are up to. Be on the lookout for their scams. He tells us to keep away from them. There is no getting close to them with a holy kiss. Instead, turn away. Separate yourself from their lifestyles and teachings. Because if we remain silent and pretend that everything is hunky dory, we are in effect giving them legitimacy and opportunity to cause further damage and harm. At the very least, we are showing consent by our silence and close association with them.

Look at verse 17-19: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.” 

There is a sharp transition from greetings to warnings here.

Why? Because unity of the church (expressed by the holy kiss) has its foundation on Christ. We share the same faith in the gospel of His kingdom. That is the basis for our fellowship and partnership. In Christ, we transcend all cultural, social, ethnic barriers.

That is the reason Paul now warns them to be on guard against false teachers who threaten to divide their community. His anger was aroused by their attempts to cause disunity in the church by contradicting apostolic teachings. Contrary to the claims of books like Da Vinci Code that everything is up for grabs until the church tradition defines what orthodoxy is hundreds of years later, Paul is referring to an already established body of apostolic tradition that is normative and binding even at this very early stage of the Christian faith. Truth unites God’s people. Heresy separates and divides us.   

Now look at verse 19: *Everyone has heard about your obedience*, Paul says, *so I am full of joy over you*. But there are two kinds of obedience – blind obedience or discerning, eyes-wide-open obedience. Yes, I’m happy to hear of your obedience *but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil*. To be wise and discerning is to recognize what is good, to love it and follow it. But when it comes to evil, be innocent like a child.

Now, how do we discern truth from error? Paul gives us three litmus tests that we could apply in the form of questions to any kind of teaching we come across.

Does it agree with Scripture? (The biblical test – is it contrary to the apostles’ teaching?)
Does it glorify our Lord Jesus? (The Christological test – does it serve Jesus or someone else?)
Does it promote goodness? (The moral test – be experts in good, and not even beginners in evil)

Recently, I had the chance to speak to some of our guests here and find a recurring theme: one family drove here from quite a distance because they are looking for a church that teaches the Bible consistently and faithfully. They said it’s hard to find one. One sister was greatly helped by solid Bible teachings she found online that made her to question and seek for a similar church. Yet another family shared with me that they were frustrated when teachers do not faithfully interpret what Scripture says, but go off tangent on their own favorite topics that had no connection whatsoever with the text.

Although I don’t know if they will eventually find CDPC Puchong a suitable home church or not, I want to commend them for their commitment to take the trouble to discern the truth from error. I want to encourage you to continue your hunger for faithful preaching of God’s word. Because for some people, it is simply not a priority…

Once I heard a guest preacher from the UK came to a local church and he taught from the pulpit: “There are many ways of salvation apart from Jesus. As long as they are sincere, it doesn’t matter what they believe”. Only a few people picked it up (maybe about ten), and we had a conversation with him after the service. What surprised me was that most people didn’t even realize that what the preacher taught was far from biblical. They just continued with their normal Sunday activities without a hint. Either they didn’t understand his British accent or it simply didn’t matter to them.

But it does matter. It matters whether we are divided by error. It matters for the glory of Christ. It matters for the well being and unity of God’s people.

That is why as part of our Church membership requirement we go through a few sessions on our Basic Beliefs on: What is the gospel? What are some of our core values we hold in unity? Because if we are divided, fragmented and we do not even agree on core doctrines like who Jesus is and what the gospel means, then it would be an obstacle for the church to grow and serve together. In the essentials, let there be unity. On the non-essentials, let there be diversity. We can agree to disagree on lots of other things (which are important to us, and we may have strong views about speaking in tongues or end time scenarios) because the unity we share in Christ and in the gospel transcends all these differences.
In all things, let there be charity, gentleness and respect.

That’s also why I need you to help our team of preachers who serve you by teaching God’s word. Pray for us. Discern with us. Check out our pulpit calendar and study the Scripture text in advance. Help each other to grow in discernment. I always welcome your feedback to help me to be more faithful to the text and more effective in teaching it. If I ever teach things that seem contrary to what the Bible says, you’d do me a great favor by gently pointing it out and correcting me from the authority of Scripture. Maybe that would help me improve. Maybe that would give me a chance to clarify. Whatever it is, our teachings matter so that we give Christ the glory He deserves and to maintain unity in His body.

Behind these false teachers and divisions and factions, Paul sees the work of Satan, the enemy. So look at the promise in verse 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. God’s peace is not compromise with evil. It is not through appeasing Satan but the defeat of evil that true peace is attained. For that, we need the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

With these warnings, Paul continued with a shorter list of names and greetings. Here we go again in verse 21-23 other fellow workers and friends of Paul who were with him in Corinth show up to send their greetings to the church in Rome. Timothy is his famous son, protégé in the Lord. Do you notice something interesting here verse 22? “I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord.” The ideas and words in this letter were all from Paul but he was technically not the person who wrote it down. He collaborates with a scribe named Tertius. And if I could meet him personally, I want to thank Tertius for writing one of the most influential and important letters ever written. It was a momentous task, a difficult mission to keep up with Paul’s complex thoughts especially when he gets excited, but he has done a wonderful job so we can read it today.  

With that we come to the appropriate conclusion, the grand finale of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Here he breaks forth into praise: “To the only wise God be glory forever“! There is a reason for this and it’s simply this: Theology is for doxology. After reflecting and explaining who God is and what Christ has done to effect our salvation at such length and depth, it is time to bow down and worship Him for all that He is, for all that he has done. Because the goal of all Bible studies, of all Christian education, of all Sunday school catechism, of all youth group Systematic theology, of all Alpha course, of all doctrinal reflection is ultimately for the glory and love of God. They are like fuel that feeds the fire of our worship. That’s why in our worship songs we put a high premium on solid, truthful and biblical lyrics and express that in song, with emotion.

Because the purpose of studying about God is not to just stop at satisfying our curiosity or some sort of intellectual exercise. God is not to be merely analyzed and discussed, He is to be adored, marveled at, obeyed, exulted in, to be reveled in and magnified for all that He is. If theology stops short of worship/doxology, it is stunted and incomplete. Do you see and do you love it? You were made for this. Something deep in your soul is saying to you: I was made for this—to behold the glory of God and to reflect that glory. 
What does Paul praise God for? Interestingly, God is glorified for 3 things… Three major themes in the entire letter of Romans captured in a nutshell. These are the same themes found at the very beginning of this letter’s introduction (Romans 1).

1) Earlier, he speaks of the power of God to save sinners. Now, he speaks of God’s power to establish saints. He not only brings us to faith, He also strengthens and nurtures us to grow in faith. When we see that spiritual progress is getting hard and seems hopeless, that’s not a reason to give up… All the more you should press on because God is able to establish us against errors, He is able to make us stand firm against temptation. He is able to grant us courage against dangers.

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
Till he returns or calls me home
Here is the power of God I stand.

2) Paul speaks of the gospel of Christ as something promised and revealed progressively “through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God” (verse 26). It is a mystery that beyond the powers of the human mind to discover on its own, a secret that is hidden for long ages past in symbols, hints and clues in the Old Testament. But now it is revealed fully in the person of Jesus Christ, through His death and resurrection as recorded in the NT.  

Spurgeon has this to say about how we read all of Scripture, especially the OT: “Don’t you know, young man, that from every town and every village and every hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London? So from every text of Scripture there is a road to Christ. And my dear brother, your business is, when you get to a text, to say, now, what is the road to Christ? I have never found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if ever I do find one, I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savor of Christ in it.”

Christ is in the OT concealed, and in the NT revealed.

3) Thirdly, God is praised for *the evangelization of the nations*. Not only is the gospel revealed, it must also be made known *all nations might believe and obey him* (verse 26). Again, this is a major theme at the beginning of Romans 1:5 – Paul received his calling as an apostle to *bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of Christ’s name among all nations*.

And this is not a divine suggestion. This universal, all inclusive commission to bring the gospel to all nations is by *by the command of the eternal God* to unite Jews and Gentiles, bumiputra and non bumiputra as one people in Christ. And the only proper response to the gospel is faith alone, but it is not just merely lip service (I believe, and then live just like everybody else). That faith is itself an act of obedience to what God has revealed and demanded… and that genuine faith will result in a life of obeying Christ as Lord and King.  
So, God is praised and worshiped for His wisdom and power in making known the gospel through Scripture, by God’s command, so that all nations may believe and obey.

Let us worship him for his power and wisdom displayed in the gospel.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Marks Of Healthy Ministry Team

Romans 16:1-16

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae (SEHN-kree-ay ). I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.
Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.
Greet also the church that meets at their house.
Greet my dear friend Epenetus (a-pen-nee-tus), who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.
Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.
Greet Andronicus and Junia (dzhou-nih-uhs), my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.
Greet Ampliatus (am-plee-AY-tuhs), my dear friend in the Lord.
Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys (STAY-kihs).
10 Greet Apelles (uh - P el - les), whose fidelity to Christ has stood the test.
Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus.
11 Greet Herodion, my fellow Jew.
Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord.
12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord.
Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.
13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.
14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the other brothers and sisters with them.
15 Greet Philologus (phil O' log us), Julia, Nereus (NEE-roos) and his sister, and Olympas and all the Lord’s people who are with them.
16 Greet one another with a holy kiss.
All the churches of Christ send greetings.
This is one of the most difficult Bible passages that I’ve ever had to read. There are just so many unfamiliar names that I had to spend an hour just trying to Google for the right pronunciations. And it makes you wonder (doesn’t it?): What is a list of names and greetings like this doing in the Holy Scriptures? And how in the world are we gonna do a sermon, much less a Church Anniversary sermon based on this text?

Truth be told, many of us reading this would be tempted to just skip all that and focus on something more interesting, isn’t it?

Unless of course, you are going to have a baby and would like to choose a biblical name for him or her… if that’s you, today’s passage is very relevant. It’s a treasure chest full of very original and exotic names you can choose from! Tryphosa Tan? Philologus a/l Victor? Sosipater bin Indra? How about that for a name?  

But I guess this is not the main reason why this passage is included in the Bible. Nor is its purpose in the canon just to fill up space. If other name lists in the Bible such as the genealogies of Jesus contain important precious nuggets of truth, I think this list of greetings at the end of Romans deserves our careful attention too.

But how are we going to do this?

Firstly we need to realize that when the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to write this portion of Scripture, He inspired Paul to write an epistle. By the way, an epistle is not the wife of an apostle. An epistle is basically a letter. It is not just a private letter, so it is not as if we are not intruding into somebody else’ private email.

It is an open letter to be read out in public (perhaps in a congregation as people gather to worship like what we do this morning).

And it is usually at the end of his letters that Paul does something special, something very unique that he doesn’t usually do elsewhere and it’s simply this: Paul talks about himself.
He gets into some personal details.

Of course, he did mention about himself elsewhere but it is usually at the end of his letters that Paul takes time to really ponder and reflect openly about the relationships that matter to him, about his own personal feelings, his friendships, his aspirations and plans for ministry… of what God can do and might do through him… It’s usually here that we get an insider’s look (almost from the back door) into what drives Paul or makes him tick… What frames and shapes his ministry?

Here at the end of Romans, we have a personal insight into the relationships that mean a great deal in his life and ministry.

That’s what we desperately need to hear here at CDPC Puchong on our 5th anniversary.

And there’s a reason for this: All of us gathered here as God’s people this morning are gifted to serve and minister in some capacity as Christ calls us to. It’s hard to get rid of the old idea that pastors/elders are the ones actively doing ministry and the members are the ones receiving the ministry. But that’s not the model that the Bible expresses. The biblical model is for leaders to equip all of God’s people for the works of ministry. The various gifts and abilities Christ has blessed us with are not without purpose: they are meant for something, to make disciples and grow the Body of Christ.

If all of us are doing ministry, then do you know what we need? We need someone like Paul to sit down with us and help shape our ministry and grow our spiritual friendships.

So we are invited this morning to catch a glimpse of Paul’s life, relationships and ministry aspirations and see what we can learn for our own lives, to apply to our own relationships as a church and our ministry aspirations. We are invited this morning to hear him saying to us: “Follow me as I follow Christ”.

That means we need to read Romans not only for its theology. We need to read it for the autobiography as well. We have already read it for the profound truths of the gospel.  Now we need to read it for the life examples, for the personal stories, for the meaningful friendships that grow out of the gospel.

So, what are the relationships that mark and shape a fruitful and healthy ministry team? What kind of friendships grow on fields nourished by the gospel of grace?

In chapter 15, we know that Paul has big plans to preach the gospel in places where Christ is not named. He has a macro-strategy to launch out from Rome and plant churches in cities where no one has gone before. He is like a general who can’t sit still, always restless with the world map laid out before him. He has a huge vision of gospel ministry. Next stop: Spain.  

But here in Chapter 16, we see Paul sending warm greetings to his dear friends in the Lord. He affectionately calls them his fellow workers in Christ. They are his family - notice how he calls these people: sister, brother, household, kinsmen, fellow prisoners, beloved, mother to me. And this is even more remarkable considering the fact that Paul has never been to Rome. Somebody else planted this church. But from these greetings, we get an insider’s look that actually he knew quite a lot of people here. And he knew them personally by name.

There’s a paradox here: Paul is not just a big picture kind of guy, he’s also a “people person” kind of guy. He has a global vision for mission yet he knows that you need to get involved in the personal lives of people in order for ministry to really work. He thinks global, but he acts local. He can see the forest and the trees at the same time.

And that is so rare but that is the mark of a healthy ministry. You need to commit yourself, invest time and energy in people. You dive into the messy details of each other’s lives. Gospel ministry is always enacted in the personal stories of people.  

It is not like signing up for a pyramid scheme. It is not about just downloading accurate information from a podcast. Gospel ministry is profoundly relational. Although it can be very inconvenient, our Lord Jesus did make a personal appearance and dwelt among us. He didn’t just Skype us from heaven.  

So relationships are not just the tools, not just the platform by which you get the real work of ministry done. Spiritual friendships are at the very heart of what ministry is all about.

You think fondly of your “dear friend in the Lord” (verse 7). You write long letters (or emails) to them when you are apart. You miss them. You remember what they have done for you. Look at verse 4: “Priscilla and Aquila: They risked their necks for me.”

And you show your affection to them. In those days and even today in the Middle East, you do that with a kiss (look at verse 16). In our Malaysian context, you might do that with a holy handshake. Never underestimate the significance of greeting each other with a smile and handshake.

Think for a moment  about the relationships you have formed in this church. For some of us, we are just getting to know people. Maybe for the first time, in fact... For others, we have probably known each other for many years. Maybe we have been coming to the same place for worship every Sunday for the past 5 years or perhaps even longer if you came from CDPC Subang. Maybe some of us have known each other for 10 years +.

Whether it is one month or one year or five years or more, when you look back on all the relationships you have built in and through this church, what do you find? What is significant? What is memorable? What is precious and meaningful?

I hope that when I look back, I don’t recall nothing but the quality of donuts, nasi lemak and coffee we shared (though that’s important). I hope it’s not the case that I don’t even know the names of my brothers and sisters whom I have met week in week out for 10 years. And it can easily happen if we don’t think about these things. I certainly hope that our relationships go deeper than “Hi and bye!”

Looking back on these years, I can be grateful for when Grace was hospitalized for high blood pressure, members of the church came and prayed for her. I hope I can recall having meaningful conversations and prayers over meals at each others’ homes. I can think back and remember all the ups and downs we share (especially the ministry leaders) as we stand shoulder to shoulder in laboring for God and His people. Yes, I wanna look back and remember the delicious food that many have prepared for Kopitiam too… but I see beyond the great food to the meticulous love that it represents.

Who can say what will happen to CDPC Puchong in another 5 years or 10 years?

But what I do hope is when we do look back at our relationships, we can say this together:

We are fellow workers in the gospel. We are not just friends, but friends in Christ.
You have been a sister to me. You are an elder brother to me. A mother to me.

That’s the first thing we see: Ministry is relational because God is interested in people.

He is working through his word and by his spirit to adopt sons and daughters into His family.

2) The second thing we need to realize from Paul’s greetings is this: Ministry is about doing things as a community, as a team.

If you remember, Paul is a trained and certified scholar from the Ivy League of his day. He studied law and theology from the best teachers. He can go toe to toe with the best philosophers out there. On top of that, he is authorized as an apostle of Christ. He heals the sick, casts out demons, performs signs and wonders in the name of Jesus. If anyone can pull off ministry all by himself, it’s got to be Paul.

But you can see here that Paul is not a one-man show. He’s not a lone ranger. He serves alongside a great company of friends and “fellow workers” in the Lord.

Who are these people? We begin with a sister Phoebe who was a deaconess of the church. Paul commended her to the church in Rome, asking them to receive her “in the Lord” in a way worthy of His people. Why? For she has been a benefactor, a patron to many people including Paul himself. She may have been a wealthy lady who supported the ministry.  

Then we find a husband and wife teaching team in Priscilla and Aquila. They worked as tent makers and servants of the gospel together with Paul in Ephesus. They even instructed Apollos a well known teacher in the early church (Acts 18).

There is possibility of another man and woman team in Andronicus and Junia, who had suffered alongside Paul in prison. We can’t be 100% sure whether the name Junia was male or female though. And the text could either be understood as “they were esteemed outstanding by the apostles” or “they were outstanding amongst the apostles”. In any case, if the second meaning is correct, that probably means that they were outstanding frontier missionaries or church planters in the early church.

We also see a number of women that Paul singled out for praise. He thinks highly of these hard workers in service of the Lord: Mary (v6), Tryphena, Tryphosa and Persis (in verse 12). Far from being a male chauvinist, Paul’s ministry team is actually very gender inclusive. That’s quite counter cultural in a male-dominated society.

Apart from gender, we can see that the Roman church is also racially inclusive. Paul mentioned some of the names as fellow Jewish Christians (see verse 7 and 11). And many others on his list were Gentile Christians. That’s why the church in Rome had to deal with the issue of eating ‘halal’ food, observing festivals and things like that.

Last but not least, you notice in verse 5, 14 and 15 that there are groups of people that meet in different homes. Greet so-and-so and the saints who were with them. Greet so and so and the church that meets at their house. So the church in Rome was really several churches that meet in various homes. See verse 23: Paul himself was enjoying the hospitality of Gaius who opened up his home not only for him, but the whole church.

Do you see a beautiful picture of saints working in networks, in partnerships, in collaboration? This list of seemingly mundane greetings actually give us a clue into what makes Paul’s ministry tick: He works in diverse, inclusive teams. He journeys with the fellowship of the King.   

What can we learn from that?

From Day 1 (March 21, 2010), CDPC Puchong is a collaboration of males and females of different ethnicities centered on Christ.

Like the Roman church, we can be thankful for all the women here who work very hard in the Lord – you know who you are, behind the scenes, teaching the children, decorating the church premises, running the library, English program or cleaning up after kopitiam. I can easily identify a dozen ladies who invested the lion’s share of creativity, energy, time and passion in these areas. But I’ve also learnt the ladies here prefer to remain low key: in fact I’d get scolded if I single them out for praise. Because they would say: Why didn’t you also mention so-and-so? If you mention me, you should mention everybody-lar. Anyway, ladies… we know who you are and thank you for your labor of love.  

Like the Roman church, CDPC Puchong has a great opportunity to be welcoming so that Malaysians of all ethnic groups can worship and work together with brothers and sisters from Egypt, Korea, Indonesia, the United States and beyond. We work at being racially inclusive and gender inclusive because of the gospel. There are practical reasons for that but fundamentally, the reason is theological.

In Christ there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Gentiles. In Christ, there is neither bumiputra or non-bumiputra. By our love, by serving and suffering together, we show what it means to be the only community in the world in which Christ has broken down all dividing walls.

We can also be thankful for risk-taking patrons, benefactors and partners who contributed generously to the founding of this church and the children’s library.

Let’s consider how doing ministry as a community looks like. Our priorities in CDPC are: Reach out, making disciples, growing leaders who in turn make disciples. I was like Frodo: I know I must be on this mission, to go to Mordor, but I don’t know the way. And this husband and wife team was among the first to say to me: We will help you! We believe in this vision.

They have been such an encouragement to many young disciples, reaching out to students. We would put a high level idea on the board, and every one just jumps on it, adds to it or subtracts from it. And the final result ends up so beautiful that none of us working alone would have done it.

Sure, we don’t always see eye to eye on all issues but we share a common vision to see gospel growth in people. We have come to trust in their wisdom, commitment and love for the church. So we are free to speak openly and frankly to sharpen each other or give push backs or fine tune our decisions.  It’s so beautiful. If you are available, come and sit in and observe one of these meetings. I often leave afterwards feeling so energized and hopeful because we reflect and act in community.

So a special thank you, Tom and Janet. You are our very own version of “Priscilla and Aquila”.

On behalf of all the ministry leaders, I want to say to this: We can’t do this alone. We need help to build this community. We need you in the game. Come talk to me. Talk to any of the leaders – “David, I may not be the best player, but I want to be in the game. Where can I plug in?”

If you think greetings and name lists at the end of Paul’s letters are boring, think twice. They actually reveal lots about what matters most in his ministry, about the character of the church that speaks powerfully to our own ministry, and the ethos of our church today. We need to follow him as he follows Christ as we celebrate the 5th anniversary of CDPC Puchong.

Let us pray. 

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Asleep In The Light: Living Between The Now And The Not Yet

Romans 13 
11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe your selves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.


Every morning when I get up, I look at the iPhone and wonder: “What time is it?” and I know the drill, the routine: 7 a.m. Wake up, 7.15 Clean up (take a bath), 7.30 Dress up and get ready for work.

One of the features of modern life is that we are slaves of time. We wear watches, set alarms on our phones, schedule meeting through Microsoft Outlook calendars. We keep careful track of the passing time. It tells us when we need to do something and how to prioritize our activities. But it is far more important to know God’s timing, the kairos moment, the moment of opportunity or moment of decision presented to us today.

Let’s see what we have covered so far in Romans. The apostle Paul shows us how the gospel changes our relationships for the last two chapters: You should owe no one anything but the debt of love. Chapter 12:9, Let love be genuine. Love one another with brotherly affection. Verse 14, Bless those who persecute you. Repay no one evil for evil. Verse 20, If your enemy is hungry, feed him. Chapter 13 Give to the government what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Owe no one anything, except to love each other.” And now today in verse 11, he says, And this—do all this, love like this—because you know the time.  

Because you understand the present time in which you are living in.

Friends, do you know what time is it?

The Bible divides human history into ‘this age’ (represented by darkness, violence, sin, pain and death) and ‘the age to come’ (represented by light, righteousness, peace, love and life). But there’s more that: The age to come or the kingdom of God has already broken into our world through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of King Jesus. The Holy Spirit is poured out on God’s people from every nation and tribe called out by the proclamation of His good news. So at present these two ages overlap.

Even as we celebrated Christmas last December, our joy is not complete because we remember that our world is still broken by terrorism, natural disasters and poverty. We are looking forward with hope for the return of our King Jesus, when the old age will finally disappear, and the new age of God’s reign will be fully realized. That’s why there is always a tension living in this interim period between night and breaking dawn, in the already and not yet kingdom of God.

The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. That’s the time in which we live.

And Paul says: It is now time to get up, sleepy heads.
Why? Because Verse 11: our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Wait a minute. I thought we are already saved when we first believed the gospel. Why did he say our salvation is nearer now than before? That seems to imply that we are not yet saved.

Actually, ‘salvation’ is a broad, comprehensive word that covers God’s act of rescuing us in the past, present and future. Salvation means that we have been rescued from the guilt of sin (justification) and we are being rescued from the power of sin (sanctification) and we will be rescued from the presence of sin in our future (glorification). What this means is that our future and final salvation when Christ will return to resurrect our bodies and bring us home is much nearer now. Every passing day brings it closer and closer.

In some Christian circles, a lot of energy and attention is spent on figuring out when Jesus will come back. They may not be able to tell you the exact hour and day. But based on charts of earth quake frequency, natural disasters, eroding moral values in society, the rise of microchips/nanotechnology and escalating violence in the Middle East, we are told: “See all these signs? Jesus will come back very soon (give or take 10 – 50 years). We are living in the last days.”

We are living in the last days, alright. But so did the early Christians. When God’s kingdom came, the new age had already come. This whole period since Jesus’ death, resurrection, exaltation and gift of the Spirit until the present time is called “the last days”, God had nothing else on his calendar before Christ’s return. It would be the next big thing in redemptive history. And it is in this sense that Christ is coming ‘soon’. So be watchful and alert, because we do not know the time.

How then shall we live? It is not enough to understand the time; we have to live and act accordingly. Three things: Wake up, clean up and dress up.

Verse 11: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber.

There is a provocative, no-nonsense song sung by Keith Green a Jewish Christian called “Asleep in the Light”. The lyrics are especially relevant for us who live in an urban culture of affluence and comfort where it is so easy to just sit back and be spiritually passive towards people in need.

Apathy is our constant danger. Here the song goes like this:

Do you see? Do you see?
All the people sinking down?
Don't you care? Don't you care?
Are you gonna let them drown?
How can you be so numb?!
Not to care if they come
You close your eyes,
And pretend the job is done

"Oh, bless me, lord!
Bless me, lord!"
You know, it's all I ever hear!
No one aches,
No one hurts,
No one even sheds one tear,
But, he cries,
He weeps,
He bleeds,
And he cares for your needs
But you just lay back,
And keep soaking it in

Oh, can't you see such sin?
The world is sleeping in the dark, 
That the church just can't fight,
'cause it's asleep in the light!
How can you be so dead?!
When you've been so well fed
Oh, Jesus rose from the dead!
Come on, get out of your bed!

Come away! come away!
Come away with me, my love!
Come away from this mess,
Come away with me, my love!

Don’t sleep walk in the dream world of more comfort, more entertainment, more fluff and more glitz of this age. Don’t spend your life busy chasing shadows. There are exciting, new purposeful activities that await us with a brand new day. Jesus is calling us to live in a way that points forward to the age to come.

2: Clean up. You know the day is almost here… verse 12: “So let us put aside the deeds of darkness”. Turn away from the kind of things people do under cover of darkness.

And what are these deeds of darkness? Let’s be specific here. Let’s not hide behind abstractions and generalities.

Verse 13: Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. He’s not talking about people outside the church. Paul is talking about ‘us’. Contrary to decent Christian behavior is lack of self-control in the areas of drink, sex and social relationships.

In the Bible, wine is often associated with abundance, celebration and joy. When Jesus joined a wedding party, he turned water into wine. Drinking in itself is not the problem. But excessive drinking leads to drunkenness and addiction and substance abuse. You are no longer in control. You are now a slave to alcohol. Money that should be used to support a family or children education gets wasted to buy beer. Husbands get drunk, go home and physically abuse their wives. So wives get up and leave for their own safety. And a family is broken and children suffer.

If that’s you this morning, God is calling you to put aside this sin and come back to Him.  

And Christians don’t think of sex as something dirty and shameful. No, sex is God’s idea! He made us male and female, and gave us the good gift of sexuality. It’s a sacred gift to be shared within a marriage covenant, a relationship of exclusive commitment and faithful trust.

That’s why we don’t treat it casually. Not because we see it as dirty, but because it is so precious and sacred.

Right now as we speak, sexual immorality is an epidemic sweeping across and destroying God’s people. It has come to the stage that even in some churches, it’s an open secret that young people (even leaders) are sleeping around with their girl friends and no one says a word. People just politely close one eye and pretend it’s alright. Is it any surprise that in one church, out of a group of 30 youths, only about 2 of them remain as Christians a couple of years after graduation?

That tragedy can happen anywhere if we do not have a culture of repentance, a culture of confessing our sins to each other, speaking the truth in love, a culture of accountability and church discipline. 

Guys, porn is not harmless fun. It is a deadly addiction that changes the way you look at women – it dehumanizes women and makes them into an object to be used and exploited. It changes you – it harms you, it robs you of joy, fills you with guilt and leaves you jaded and lifeless when it comes to pursuing God and his kingdom. But you are not alone.

Check out this video 

Sin thrives in secrecy, and it spreads in silence. But it dries up and dies when exposed to light.

If that’s you this morning, don’t be naïve to think that you can overcome it on your own. You need help and you are not alone. You may need to get an accountability software like XXXChurch or Covenant Eyes to filter content and protect your children, and get a brother, small group or your wife to be an accountability partner to walk alongside you to recovery and freedom.

And let us also put aside infighting, dissension, division and jealousy. How can we apply this?

I am struck by two things as I look at the members list of CDPC Puchong – for its diversity (ethnically, culturally) and for the fact many of them are what I’d call “solid Christians”. They are not the ones who say “Aiya, never mind… whatever you say, pastor! Cincai lah”! They are mature and discerning in their faith, serious about God’s word and actively serving others.

You can see that in our worship style, one week it would be Bahasa songs, another week it’s liturgical, and the next week it’s vibrant contemporary, and the next week, you have lots of Getty’s songs. And the range of in-house preachers – some are manuscript preachers, others are strong in exegesis, and yet others are into experiential learning and practical application. Naturally, some styles work for you and others don’t. Even if you don’t like my style, the good news is you only need to endure it once in 2 months!  And I’m very thankful to God for that mix.

It is a real blessing but it can also be a stumbling block if we are not careful. Because when you have gifted and diverse people with different agendas, personalities, hot buttons and interests that are not aligned, that can be an explosive formula in the test tube if we do not keep the main thing as the main thing… if we major in the minor things and minor in the major things… if we lose sight of Christ’s call to make disciples of all nations for the sake of fighting over grey areas, disputable matters. 

In fact, that’s exactly what Paul is going to talk about in the next chapter. How will God’s people love each other when they disagree on disputable matters? Phil will preach on that next week.    

In the crucial, essential things, unity. In the non-essential things, diversity. In all things, charity.

Because the night is almost over, the day is near. If we are not proactively killing sin, sin will be killing us. We need to clean up our act.

Not so that we can earn God’s favor to be loved by Him, and adopted as children of light. Live like this, do all this because you are already loved by Christ, and adopted into God’s family. Be holy like this, because you already belong to the light. He already loves you and died for you to forgive you, pour His Spirit in you and transform you. Now, live in light of that reality.

1 Thessalonians 5: “But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

3rd point: Because of the hour, we must not only get up and clean up, we must dress up as well. Look at verse 12: We must take off our night clothes, the deeds of darkness, and put on instead, the armor of light.

Church, when we come together as a community and a family centered on Jesus, when we covenant to help each other follow Jesus, we are not signing up for a Star Cruise package in Port Klang. I haven’t been on a cruise but it sure sounds like a lot of programs and fun activities, lots of good food and entertainment. And sometimes church can feel like that, doesn’t it?

But the Christian life is not a cruise ship, it is a battle ship. When we follow Jesus, we have signed up for spiritual warfare. If you don’t get that expectation right from the start, you’d be surprised and disappointed when you get on the boat and think: “Why am I sleeping in the bunker instead of a luxury suite? Hello Captain, how come the rations you provide do not include wagyu steak and abalone soup?” What’s more… you’d get very angry when you look outside for some nice fireworks, all you find are bombs exploding, bullets flying by and everyone busy fighting. “What’s going on here? I want to complain to customer service!”

When we follow Jesus, we signed up for spiritual battle against systemic evil in the world, against personal sin in our own heart and against demonic powers in the spiritual realms. As soldiers of the kingdom, put on the armor of light. The faster we realize this, the better because we need a war time mentality… It doesn’t mean you go looking for ways to get killed. But you won’t shy away from situations where you might get shot either. Gospel ministry is not a walk in the park, it is hard work. Even dangerous work… Our Commander has given a task and we obey it even if it’s inconvenient.

When we pray, do not we often say “God, please help this or that to go smoothly!” Instead of smoothness, perhaps we need to pray more for boldness: “Lord, I know that as I make disciples and fight sin in my life and my family, it’s not gonna be smooth sailing but please give me boldness and courage to press on when things get rough and when the gospel is not well received.”

Pray like this, because we can do it only by the sheer grace and protection of Jesus himself.

Look at verse 14: “clothe your selves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” Put Christ himself on as your armor, lay hold of him, cling to him like the shirt or dress that you wear.  How do you clothe yourselves with Christ? You put your faith and trust in Him, love Him and hope in Him. Faith, love and hope… You get connected to Him. Immerse yourself in Him. Cling on to Him.  

When we stumble and fall, when we succumb to sin, THAT sin again, there is a small window of opportunity for us to respond. Response One: Do we run away and hide? Like children who have angered their parents, we stay away from God for some time. We avoid Him for a few days and wait for His anger to simmer down a bit. Response Two: Or do we try to buy Him off? We bargain with Him: “Oh please forgive me God. I promise, I promise I’d do quiet time five times a day for the whole of next week.”.  

No matter what your theology is, both responses show that you don’t really experience the gospel. When you fall down, don’t avoid Him, run to His embrace. Cry out to Him to pick you up and heal you. Don’t run away, run to Him. Christ loves you and gives Himself up for you so that you can be forgiven. Have you ever talked honestly to God about your sin?

“Lord, I’m sorry my temper has exploded again just now! This hectic schedule in office and house moving is really getting on my nerves. Help me by your Spirit to be self controlled, help me to rest in you in the middle of this crazy week. Help me detect early signs of this volcano eruption. I don’t want to blow up in front of the kids.”

And don’t try to bribe God or buy him off. That’s so insulting because nothing we can offer is more valuable, more precious than Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. And it has already been paid. He loves and died for us even while we were enemies. How much more will He embrace you and save you now that you are His child!

This is not easy message today. If you are heavily convicted this morning, if you are so sick of yourself for failing again and again; and you are just waiting, waiting for the day when God will get so fed up, when He will just give up on you, well, then the good news is that day will never come.

Nothing you can do can make Him love you any less. Nothing you can do will make Him love you more. Come and find grace again and again at the cross of Christ. For nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, — absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus has embraced us.

Run to Him this morning.

In the movie Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, there is a great battle called the siege of Helm’s Deep. It was a dark and rainy night. The good guys were surrounded inside a fortress, fighting off wave after wave of horrible Orcs. They suffered heavy casualties and the enemies were about to break through the last line of defense. All seemed lost but instead of going gently into the night, Aragorn and his riders geared up for one final blaze of glory. And just then, just as they charged out against impossible odds, a new dawn has broken. Gandalf and the calvary arrived with the glorious sun behind their back, blinding the enemies and sweeping the forces of darkness away.

Today it seems like we are losing the war on sin, we feel drowsy and our strength almost spent… But the night is nearly gone, and the day is almost here. Don’t go gently into the night. Don’t waste your life sleep walking. Put on the armor of light. Clothe yourself with the beauty and righteousness of Christ. What will motivate you to press on and obey? It comes from knowing and experiencing the grace of Christ day in day out. It comes from being fascinated by and captured by a living relationship with Christ.

When that happens, you will attempt great things for God and expect great things from God. When that happens, you will help others see and savor Christ. It’s not going to be smooth and easy, but a new dawn will soon break forth and it will all be worth it. For we shall then meet Christ face to face.


PS: Let me close with an old Irish prayer called Saint Patrick’s Breastplate: it is a prayer for spiritual warfare, a prayer for protection, to put on the armor that is Christ…  

Christ be with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ within me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

What Gift Shall We Bring That’s Fit for A King? (Matthew 2:1-12)

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;for out of you will come a ruler    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Disclaimer: Credit goes to Soo Inn's Ecommentary for much of the materials in this message. 

Christmas is feel good time.

And it’s starting to look a lot like Christmas when shopping malls and radio stations start to play all time favorites like “Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light…” or you hear kids singing: “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas”… Nostalgic music that brings back sweet memories … You know Christmas is near when TV stations begin to show Christmassy scenes of gently falling snowflakes, romantic kisses underneath the mistletoe, children opening presents in front of a Christmas tree.

Christmas is feel good time. It is time out from our busy work schedule as we holiday for awhile in the world of carols, family dinner, gift exchanges and of course, a shopping spree. For a little while we turn our eyes away from the pains of the world and the pains in our own hearts.

Indeed we feel we deserve a little break, don’t we? There is so much wrong that is in the world. There is so much grief in our lives. 2014 has not been an easy year at all for most of us. Some of us have lost a mother, a father or a dear friend this year. Our national airline has tragically lost two planes with passengers and crew on board. The Sedition act is not going to be repealed after all, but instead it will be strengthened according to our Prime Minister. And we have seen how this piece of legislation can be used to suppress academic freedom and dissenting voices in the opposition.

Yup, 2014 has not been easy. And we really need a break. Because the New Year will be upon us soon enough with its rude call to get on with life. By the way, welcome to the world of GST in 2015.

So Christmas is a much needed emotional break. Christmas is feel good time.

But not for this guy King Herod. When he heard that Jesus had been born, he didn’t feel good at all. Indeed the Scripture records for us that:

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed...” (Matthew 2: 1-3)

But hold on for a second: Why should he be frightened? He was so paranoid and insecure that he tried to kill Jesus by slaughtering all boys aged two and below in Bethlehem. Similar violence against children happened again last Wednesday when the Taliban murdered more than 130 children in a school in Pakistan

So on one side of the ring, you have king Herod armed to the teeth with soldiers, weapons and unimaginable wealth. On the other side, you have a small, vulnerable baby. It was a no-brainer who would win this showdown.  

Except that this is no ordinary baby.

Herod was afraid because he was just a puppet king. He was appointed by the Roman empire. He didn’t have the support of his people.

Christmas meant that the rightful King of Israel has come. The kingdom of God is at hand. So Herod’s cruel reign was under serious threat. No wonder he was fearful.

Because the coming of the Messiah means that liberation has begun. The return of Israel’s king is at near. He is not far away, looking down from the outside. The Son of God is fully involved. He has entered our world. He has moved in to our neighborhood.

And because of that, every oppressive tyrant is in grave danger. Herod, the Taliban, Satan, sin, death, racism, disease, greed, bigotry - every oppressive value system is at risk. The King has returned. The rule of God had once again broken into our story, bringing its promise of healing and hope, of light and life, of holiness and love.

Why do Christians celebrate Christmas? Is it just a feel good time? It feels good but not that “escape from reality” kind of good. We celebrate the birth of Jesus because we remember the beginning of God’s campaign to reclaim the world for Himself. It is worth celebrating because Christ’s cosmic invasion to overthrow evil has started.

And every Christmas is a reminder that there is a war going on in our broken world.

It began with the birth of Christ. The decisive victory was won at the Cross when Jesus died to take away the sins of the world and rose to life again three days later. But the final victory over evil will be achieved one day when Christ returns. Far from feel-good escapism, every Christmas then is a renewed call to battle for us as followers of Jesus.

There is so much wrong in the world. There is so much that is broken in our own lives. The battle rages on!

And sometimes, following Jesus means not doing what feels good, but what is right even if it costs us something. You probably know that our brother Hwok Aun works as an economics lecturer in UM. Interesting things have happened in the university recently with Azmi Sharom a law lecturer being charged for sedition for giving his legal opinion in the media. And I’m very encouraged to see Hwok Aun doing what he can to stand in solidarity with Azmi for academic freedom and support student activism even though it might be seen as a career-limiting move. And I saw his Facebook status the other day: “Folks, you can stop asking whether I am in trouble. Of course I am. If we do not stand up against injustice, we are all in trouble. I've stopped wondering if I'm doing anything to jeopardise an academic career.”

His story is another real life example that reminds us of the fact following Jesus in a broken world is not always happy and clappy. It could be costly to do what is right. But it is even costlier if we do not stand up against injustice. What happens in Pakistan this week could one day happen in Malaysia if we allow religious extremism to shape our nation.

So Christmas is a wake up call that God is with us. He is among us. Stand firm through prayer, through love, through the gospel. Be salt and light in every sphere of life through the power of the Spirit and the Word. As we enter the year 2015, there are new opportunities to serve in the Name of Christ.

Now contrast Herod’s response with the Magi or wise men that came from afar to pay respect to the newborn King. Who are these people? They are most likely Gentiles, eastern astrologers who look for signs in the alignment of stars, planets and comets not unlike the ones we have today. For them, the birth of important kings is often associated with heavenly omens. That’s cutting-edge science and technology in those days. These star gazers are non-Jews wise and knowledgeable in astrology. And you might expect them to be opponents of the newborn King of the Jews like magicians and sorcerers who once opposed Moses and Daniel in the Old Testament scriptures.

But the most unexpected thing happens: They came from afar, risking their lives and possessions. They didn’t know much about Jesus, but they sought Him out anyway. Jesus was probably one year old when they finally presented him with expensive gifts befitting a king. They searched for him at great cost and worshipped Him. There’s a very ironic thing going on here: In Matthew’s Gospel, the Gentiles are now “his people” whom Jesus will “save from their sins”. He will be king not only of the Jews, but of all nations. This is the hope of Isaiah 60: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you… Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” This is a partial fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that the nations will come bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

This is not an endorsement of astrology, of course. The bible clearly forbids that. But the point is: God met these Gentile Magi precisely where they were, using whatever access to knowledge that they had – in the form of a star. Should we be surprised that God leaves us a witness in the starry sky above and the moral law within our hearts? Witnesses that point us back to the wisdom and power of the Creator? God has left us traces of general revelation in every culture, sign posts that point us back to Himself.   

At the end of the day though, that Christmas star could not lead the Magi all the way to their final destination. They needed to stop and ask for directions: “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” And it is only in Scripture, God’s written word, His final and ultimate revelation, that they found the way to Jesus. Hundreds of years earlier, the prophet Micah (5:2) has left them with the most important clue that the Christ will come from the town of Bethlehem, from among the clans of Judah. And this ruler is no ordinary king because his origins are from ancient times.

Friends, we can’t find Jesus on our own terms. We need God’s own self-revelation to find the way to salvation.

Some years back, we did our first Alpha course in CDPC Subang. It’s just an opportunity for people (skeptics, seekers, new believers, even long time believers) who want to explore the Christian faith to come together and have a safe space to ask questions. It’s a friendly place to have a conversation about the big questions – is there more to life than this? What is our final destination? Where do we come from? Who am I – really? The meetings start with a simple meal, then we watch a video presentation where these topics are discussed, and the highlight is small group discussions where people feel free to ask and talk about anything and everything. If that interests you, I would like to invite you to come for the next Alpha course on 17 Jan 2015. Sign up with me or google CDPC Puchong online.

Anyway, I was leading a small group with some very eager seekers who ask tough, challenging questions. Three of them left behind a high paying, prestigious consultancy career to go on a spiritual journey, backpacking in China for months. A mountain climbing friend invited them to come for Alpha. We had a really engaging time sharing our views of life and the question of God from various angles. We didn’t pretend we have all the answers. We could laugh at ourselves. We don’t take ourselves too seriously.

Eventually, we realized that our discoveries in science and technology, our knowledge and rationality could only take us so far. It’s the same with our personal relationships. You can only guess what’s on my mind until I truthfully reveal it through spoken words. In the same way, we can only get so far following the star of human wisdom. To understand God’s mind, we need Him to reveal Himself to us through His inspired word. And that sparked a hunger in us to dig deeper into the Bible, ask God to speak to us through it and see what He has to tell us.

Friends, it is only in God’s revealed word that we come to a real encounter with Christ this morning. So may I invite you to explore together what God’s word has to say about the big questions in life? Talk to us about the Alpha course. We’d be delighted to hear from you.

A little boy was sitting quietly, deep in thought one Christmas morning. His family was busy unwrapping presents that they have given each other. Then, he said: “Everybody gets a present on Christmas day, but what about Jesus? Why didn’t He get a gift? I thought it was His birthday!”

Funny isn’t it? Every one gets a gift on Christmas day except the birthday boy.

The Magi came and presented Jesus a tribute fit for a king. Say, what gift will you bring to the King of kings? Perhaps, the best tribute we can bring Him today are not gold, incense or myrrh. There is a nice Christmas song that goes like this (I’ll Give My Heart):  

Whose is that star
We've seen in the
You're not the least

Who is this Child
This Baby Boy
Who but the Son of God
Could bring so much joy

What can I give
What can I bring
What is a gift
That is fit for a King
I'll give my life
Not just a part
I'll give my all to Him
I'll give my heart

The best gift we can give to King Jesus is not gold but our lives! Not just a part, but our whole hearted devotion to Him and His kingdom. He is not a tyrant like Herod who lies and kills in order to keep power. Jesus is the kind of King who gives up power and becomes vulnerable in order to serve. He’s the kind of King who would sacrifice His own life on the cross to save us from our sin, guilt and condemnation. And He rose again in victory three days later so that He can make all things new.

Which King is ruling your life right now? Is your heart controlled by pride, self-promotion, lust and greed this Christmas? Do you think more about yourself than others? Do you crave for wealth and control over the people around you? If so, then sin is in the driving seat of your heart.

If you have never followed Jesus or recognized Him as King and Saviour, would you hear the call of His kingdom this morning? He’s calling each and every one of us here to follow Him, to join this kingdom of peace and justice that will one day overthrow all evil and wipe away all sorrows. Give your life to Him so He can cleanse it, renew it and purify it. 

As we gather this morning, we also come as a community of diverse people from various cultural, socio-economic, ethnic backgrounds gathered around the King and His kingdom. And there’s nothing that Jesus loves more than His bride, the church that He gave up his life for. 

So I think the best birthday gift we can give Him is to present ourselves as His people purchased by His own blood, as the bride whom He loves. Some of us have made a commitment to follow Christ and express that decision publicly through baptism. Some of us have been baptized as infants and today publicly confirm their faith before God and His people. Some of us have experienced what it means to live and grow together in a community, to serve God together with our unique abilities and to be spiritually accountable to one another. There’s a beautiful depth in relationship and growth in discipleship that is only possible when we commit and covenant with one another to serve the King as a body.  

What can we give, What can we bring
What is a gift, That is fit for a King
We'll give our life, Not just a part
We'll give our all to Him, We'll give our heart

Picture of the Magis bringing tribute to Christ by HeQi