Sunday, May 10, 2015

Overcoming Discouragement: The Best Is Yet To Come

We are into the 2nd chapter of Haggai. In the previous episode, we saw how God brought the nation of Israel out of exile in Babylon after 70 long years. Those who survived the exile (the remnant) uprooted themselves and returned to their homeland around 538 BC. 

Everything was in ruins. They tried their best to pick up the pieces and rebuild up their nation once again.

Now, how does this story connect with the bigger unfolding story of God’s kingdom?

Well, we can trace through the Bible how God longs for His people to live in God’s place under His presence and rule. God’s presence was with Adam and Eve (his people) in the Garden of Eden (God’s place) and they live under God’s rule (to commune with Him, to be fruitful and multiply and to care and rule over the earth).

Then God made His dwelling in the temple at the heart of Jerusalem where His people, the nation of Israel, lived under His law given to Moses. The temple was where heaven and earth met. It’s the place where people make sacrifices and have their sins forgiven.

Now, a remnant of God’s people returned from exile. So they are back in God’s land. But where is God’s reign and presence? His temple still lies in ruin. That’s the missing piece that the message of Haggai seeks to fix.

As Tom and Steven said earlier sermons, it’s not that they didn’t want to rebuild the temple. 

They are saying, “The time is not yet.” Imagine them sitting around a table in the local coffee shop: “You know, it’s a shame that the temple lies in ruins. But the economy is not doing so well. The Jerusalem Composite Index is on a bearish run. We are just so busy building our own houses that we can’t find the time to do it. Give it some time and we can build a bigger, better temple when we are ready”. It sounds very reasonable.

But one year passed… then another year… then another… This went on for 16 years. The project was postponed for 16 long years before Haggai came with a wake up call. This is not just an innocent timing issue. Behind that procrastinating ‘not yet’ is sinful disobedience. It’s a heart problem because God’s presence is simply not their priority. As a result, they are never satisfied. It’s like keeping money in a purse with holes.

The message of Haggai is one that we desperately need to hear here in CDPC Puchong. 1 Corinthians 3:16 says: “ Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” Today, the body of Christ, the church is the temple of God where the Holy Spirit dwells. Are you investing your life in building the people of God, the church? Will you seek first the kingdom of God and trust that all these things shall be added unto you?

We can understand that there may be certain seasons in life where you can’t invest as much time or energy into ministry as you would like i.e. maybe a baby just arrived, or you are tired and need a rest or you need to be equipped… Whatever it is, but be careful that your ‘not yet’ is not just another excuse that goes on forever, that the right time never comes. Be careful that procrastination doesn’t hide distorted priorities in our hearts.

John Piper says this: If you devote yourself to sowing and eating and drinking and clothing yourselves and earning wages, but neglect building and growing the body of Christ (the temple of God), you will live in constant frustration. If you spend your time and energy seeking comfort and security from the world, and do not spend yourself for the glory of God, every pleasure will leave its sour aftertaste of depression and guilt and frustration.

Then the amazing thing happened, the people actually responded to God’s word. They started working on the temple. They got excited about God’s presence. Their spirits were stirred and roused to action. That’s where we left off two weeks ago.

Which brings us to today’s episode in Chapter 2 and this is what Scripture says:

Haggai 2 

On the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’
“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

Now, about a month has passed since the people of God started rebuilding the temple. Things had been going well until now. They would have removed plenty of rubbles and have some idea of the scope and size of the new temple.

It’s also the seventh month (17 October 520 BC). Around this time 400 + years ago, King Solomon had dedicated his magnificent temple to the Lord with a great celebration. It’s near the anniversary of that great day when the glory of the Lord filled the temple (2 Chronicles 7). On this very spot had stood the temple where heaven and earth met.

Do you remember the splendor of that original temple?

In case you forgot let me remind you that it took 70,000 laborers, 80,000 stone cutters and 3,300 supervisors to build that amazing piece of architecture. It was made of costly stones. From the floor to the walls of the ceiling, expensive intricately carved cedar wood covered everything so that no stone was seen. Then the entire house was overlaid with gold. Can you imagine how glorious it was?  (1 Kings 6-7)

Some old-timers who survived the exile may still vividly recall how it once looked like. You can imagine a young Jewish builder proudly saying to his grandfather: “Look, I want to show you our work in progress. What do you think of the new temple?”

And the old man tactfully said, “Oh… hmmm… that’s very smart of you. It’s very compact this new temple design, isn’t it? You can walk from end to end without getting tired. And the yellow paint you used on the walls looks like gold… Ahh, very clever.. You know what, back in the good old days it’s so different.”

Nothing they are building now compares with that. There’s no hope of beating the original. The difference between the glorious past and the insignificant present is so sad.

So Haggai said out loud what they are already feeling inside (look at verse 3): 
‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?’

Instead of being inspired remembering the temple dedication anniversary, they looked at the relatively pathetic and tiny structure in front of them… And they felt paralyzing despair. They are crippled by discouragement. They have lost heart and their hands turned weak. The work has slowed down or come to a complete stop.

Today, as Christians, our focus is not on a temple made of bricks and mortar. We don’t look at this passage and say: Let’s build a new temple for Jesus! Because we now understand that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. God is now present in our lives:

Paul wrote: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19)

The church (the people of God) is now the temple in which the Spirit dwells today.

And if you have invested your time, energy, sometimes blood and sweat into building a church (I don’t mean the building, but investing your life in people, to make disciples and help them grow as followers of Jesus), you are building the temple of God today.

If you’ve ever done that, you know how easy it is to feel discouraged and frustrated. You can identify exactly with what these remnants of Israel were feeling.

Sometimes, our efforts seem so pathetic and our ministries seem so insignificant that you just wonder: “What’s the point? Am I wasting my time? It’s like throwing pebbles into the ocean. It’s not changing anything.”

Have you ever felt that before? I can honestly share with you that there are days when I wonder if all of this is worth it.

Yes, there are wonderful times when you see signs of spiritual growth. Recently a brother shared with me how after years of asking questions and exploring the Christian faith that he’s now ready to stake his life on Christ and give back to society. And how different people in church have walked with him in this spiritual journey…

Such stories can encourage and motivate me for months, but they don’t happen overnight. They are few and far in between.

Sometimes, our words and efforts seem to bounce off without making a dent in people’s lives or in the wider culture that you just feel like giving up. People may be so responsive to God’s word in this area of their lives, but in some other areas, they are so stubborn and slow to change. (LRT will so many people in KL?)

Gospel ministry is not for the faint hearted. It is hard work.  

And such frustration with the fruit of our ministry is made worse if we compare our present, feeble efforts with a golden age in the past. Back in the good old days (“seong tong nin”)… “Wow! Look at the church during the Great Awakening revival. Thousands of people were converted. The gospel was preached so powerfully. What we do now seems like nothing in comparison.”

Some of you may still recall the golden era of CDPC where we had three full time pastors on top of experienced preachers like Soo Inn and Peter Rowan. Later, we also had Pastor Kay Hoe on board. Back in the good old days… things were really happening! And we may be tempted to look at the present and feel discouraged.   

When we feel like that, we may not to drop out from church altogether. But we may be tempted to scale back on the time and energy we pour into serving others and making disciples. Just do the bare minimum, warm the seats and focus our energy elsewhere.
As a result, the church of God is not being built up and the work is abandoned.
That can be true in other areas of our lives too: in our parenting, in our marriages, in our work lives, we can often find ourselves comparing ourselves to others and feeling discouraged as a result…
That’s why we desperately need to hear the message of Haggai today.

If we are to press on and to persevere in building God’s temple today, to make disciples and invest our lives in the lives of others, we need to know two things:

1)      Can it be done? Can we do it? If it’s a wonderful project but we can’t do it, then what’s the use? Is it feasible or is it an exercise in futility?

Look at verse 4 onwards:
But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’

The Lord is saying to His people: Be strong and work! Why? “For I am with you”…
When you came out of Egypt, I promised that I would always be with you. I am still with you, so do not be afraid. I will not break my covenant. I will be faithful even when you were unfaithful. That’s why I have brought you back out of exile into the land again.”

Is there anything that gives you more courage and strength than the presence of God? Would you rather hear God promise that He will send resources, expertise and angels to help us do the job? Or that He himself will be with us and walk with us all the way?

If you’ve ever taken your child to the doctor’s office, or to the dentist, then you understand how encouraging this promise is.  Your child is sitting there in the doctor’s room and what does your child say to you? 

“Don’t leave me, daddy!  Stay right here with me, mommy!”  Now why is that encouraging to the small child?  You see, there’s just something about knowing the parent is there that calms the child. If things get bad, the child knows the parent will step-in there and take charge of the situation.  

And that’s what is so encouraging about the presence of God in our lives.  God says, “Be strong and work, for I am with you.”  I am in control. I’m right here by your side. You will never walk alone. I will never leave you nor forsake you. I will keep my covenant with you. My Spirit remains with you.

Look back to how God’s presence has been with you through history.

The history of the people of Israel (how He brought them out of Egypt and then again out of Babylon) proves His constant love. In the seventh month, around this time, the nation celebrates the Feast of Tabernacles where everyone stays outside of their homes, as if they camp out in booths or tents out in the open. It reminds them of how God has brought them out of Egypt and their forefathers stayed in tents like that. It’s a testimony of how God has been faithful in their history.

When we look back through our own lives, perhaps we can trace that God is with us all along even we didn’t sense it at that time. Even when times have been difficult, God’s presence is in our lives.

And that’s exactly the promise of our Lord Jesus when He gives us the Great Commission. As we obey His call to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything He has commanded us, Jesus says: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

You can do this. Because I am with you and I have poured out my Spirit to empower you, fill you and guide you. “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit,” says the Lord.

So be strong and work at making disciples and building God’s temple. Because you know Jesus will be with you as you obey his call.

2)      Is it worth doing? If we can do it but it’s not worth the effort, then why bother? Is it something significant worth the trouble?

Look at verse 6:
“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

What Haggai is saying here is: “Don’t look down on this humble temple that you are building. The best is yet to come! The glory of this present house which seems mundane now will be greater than the glory of the former house. You build more than your eyes can see!”

In a little while, sometime in the future, the Lord will once more shake the heavens and the earth… there’s apocalyptic language here that move from the immediate present to the future. It means that God will do something earth-shattering, something planet-shaking, paradigm-shifting so to speak… He will shake the nations and what is desired by all nations will come.

There have been discussions among students of the Bible about: “What is “the desire of all nations’ about? Is it referring to the coming of Christ?” Some beautiful hymns were written referring to Christ as the desire of the nations (which is true).

But it seems unlikely that’s what Haggai is referring to because the “desired” of all nations is in the plural… so it probably refers to the precious treasures that the nations desire will one day come to the temple… That makes more sense of the following verse: ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. 

Although the builders lack resources now, Haggai prophesies of a glorious day when the nations’ treasures will be brought into the temple as tribute in honor of Him.     

But how was this prophecy fulfilled?

Like most prophecies, it was fulfilled in stages, and the final fulfillment is yet to come.
There are multiple shakings, multiple interventions of God in history in its fulfillment.

At one level, we can see this happening when the Persian King Darius ordered those who opposed the temple building to pay the costs of this project from the revenue of their own money. The treasures of the nations were used for the temple project. You can read this in Ezra 6. A few centuries later, King Herod would extend and heavily renovate this temple so that it became a truly glorious piece of architecture during the time of Jesus. That’s another possible level of fulfillment of Haggai’s prophecy.

The glory of the Lord came upon Solomon’s temple in a spectacular fashion – fire came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifices. But an even greater glory entered the second temple when Jesus the Messiah, God incarnate himself, walked in it and said in John 2:19, 20, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up . . . By that he was speaking of the temple of his body." In effect, Jesus is making a direct continuity between the temple and himself: once God met his people in the temple, now God meets us in the person of Jesus Christ.

Some students of the Bible believe a glorious temple will once again be built in Jerusalem and stand through 1000 years as Christ rules on earth (Ezekiel 41ff.; 2 Thessalonians 2:4). And the nations will indeed bring their tribute to Christ. If you are premillennial in your eschatology, that might be another level of fulfillment.

That may be the case, but the ultimate fulfillment of the temple is described in Revelation 21:22. In the new Jerusalem (when the city of God descends on earth as it is in heaven), John says, "And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb."

There won’t be a temple anymore because God and Christ will be our temple. We won’t need a temple because we will dwell directly in God’s presence, in the holy of holies. God’s people will finally be in God’s place (new heaven and new earth) under God’s rule forever.  

The point is this: God had a purpose for this humble temple. The Israelite builders in Haggai’s time could not see all of this, and what they could see seemed so small.
So God’s promise came to them loud and clear: Be strong. You build more than you see. I will take the fruit of your little labor and make it glorious beyond measure, no matter how trivial it may seem to you now.

The covenant group, the youth group or Sunday school class or English program students you are working with may seem small and ordinary today… you may feel discouraged comparing with others or with the past. 
But God takes small, imperfect things and turns them into public displays for his glory. Nothing you do is insignificant if you do it in the name of Christ, for His glory and conscious of His presence with you. He will shake heaven and earth to fill your labor with glory. 

So take courage, church, you build more than your eyes can see.

If we stay focused on God and trust in his presence with us, he will shake things up in our lives. And the glory of the future temple will be greater than the past.

 So in conclusion, God knows that we all face discouragements in life and in gospel ministry.

But He says to us through Haggai:

If you are feeling discouraged, reflect back on the past and see that God is faithful. He’s a covenant keeping God. If you are feeling frustrated, reflect on the presence of God with you now, in the present by his Holy Spirit. If you are feeling disappointed, trust in the fact that God has a beautiful future for you filled with his glory and peace.

Let us pray.

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.