Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What is the final chapter in your story? [edited]

One of my seminary professors once made a thought-provoking statement; that if the book of 2 Timothy was to be written today, no Christian publisher would dare send it to print as an example of success in ministry. This is because it is a letter filled with very painful experiences by the Apostle Paul in the final chapter of his life and close of his ministry. Writing to his spiritual son, Timothy, Paul was very frank that “in the last days difficult times will come” (2 Tim 3:1). He reminded Timothy of numerous persecutions he underwent at the various places he preached the Gospel, but still urged the young man to follow in his footsteps despite the perils that lay ahead (3:10, 11).
This was Paul’s last known letter, and at the time of writing, he was in his second and last Roman imprisonment (1:16; 2:9) having been arrested for preaching the Gospel. With no hope of release, he made reference to his impending execution (4:1). Further, close ministry associates had deserted him in his last days. He lamented that, “All who are in Asia turned away from me” (1:15), “Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me” (4:10), and “at my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me” (4:16). Such an outcome would have been unexpected considering Paul was arguably the spiritual father of believers in that entire region.
In his last days he was also impoverished. He urged Timothy to hurry to visit him before winter (4:21) because among other things he expected him to bring along the coat he had left in Troas (4:13) that he may keep warm during winter. He undoubtedly could not afford even a secondhand piece of clothing at the time. And it is because of such predicaments that Timothy himself, to whom Paul sought to hand over his ministry mantle, was tempted to be ashamed of the Gospel. Hence Paul had to exhort him saying, “Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner” (1:8).
It is ironic that during the last days of the ministry of such a great apostle, he was deserted by all and in significant need. This is a period we would expect him to have an unrivaled following and numerous accolades from years of tireless service to Christ. But his biography contrasted that despite sacrificing your life to know and serve the Lord, you will be abandoned by virtually all those close to you, will be persecuted and imprisoned for your faith, will succumb to poverty and suffer need, and that your Christian life will eventually wind up with your execution because of the Gospel you believe and preach.
And that was the story of Paul. When he weighed every form of earthly gain against knowing and pursuing Christ, he considered the former to be worthless. He had earlier recounted to the Philippian church, a church he identified as one of those that suffered “deep poverty” (2 Cor 8:2), that:
Whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own… but that which is through faith in Christ.” (Phil 3:7-9)
For Paul, the value of life was no longer about personal gain but rather forgoing it for the sake of knowing Christ, and now even more that he was about to lose his life for Him. In his own confession, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). Hence God Himself published the material in 2 Timothy, and has maintained its circulation for 2000 years that we may continue to read and learn from it.
But the life story of Paul is not to be confused as the testimony of a man who deserves Christianity’s lifetime achievement award, nor is it advocating a vow of poverty for Christians, for it is God Himself who blesses materially. Rather, the life of Paul is more of a testimony about God Himself. It is the testimony that outside of knowing God and having a relationship with Him through the work of His Son Jesus Christ when He died on the cross for our sins, there is no real value in life and its pursuits, especially considering the eternal implications.
The eternal implications are such that, just as the Lord maintained a sound record of Paul’s life, He is equally maintaining written records of our lives in books that He will use as the basis for eternal judgment upon unrepentant sinners. In Revelation, the Apostle John confirmed that:
“I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it… And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened… and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds (Rev 20:11-12).
If such a book was published concerning your life today, how would the final chapter read? Would it conclude with the account of an unrepentant life filled with pursuit of personal gain at the expense of knowing and following Christ; or like Paul, a truly repentant life of faith that has found value in Christ, the only source of true gain? Depending on which ending you ascribe to, eternity will either be spent in a new perfect beginning with the Lord, or in punishment for sin in the lake of fire (Rev 20:13-21:8).

End of My Story

“Thus says the Lord”, to me was empty theory
“To live for myself is gain”, was my philosophy
Entangled in sin, my life sold to spiritual slavery
So eternity in hell, with the wicked I would bury

But while I was yet a sinner, Christ rewrote my story
When God became man, to hang on a cross at Calvary
For my sin He paid in full, in Him I found victory
Christ not a tale, but Author of redemptive history

His image in me restored, His blood the refinery
A new nature in Christ, revealing His master pottery
For me “to live is Christ”, I now change my theology
Revealed in His word, so you don’t need a day in seminary

One day the saints, to heaven He will carry
His bride to be, the Church He will marry
Blessed is he, who will share in His glory
I now look forward, to the end of my story

Do not be fooled, because Christ seems to tarry
You may be counting years, but He resides in eternity
Soon He returns to judge, and head the grand jury
Will He award you eternal life, or death in His fury?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Unquestionable Sovereignty of God

The sovereignty of God refers to God’s exercise of power over His creation (GRUDEM, 1994:217). God did not only create the universe; in His providence, He is directly and continuously involved in its existence and maintenance, and also governs it in such a way that every occurrence in history is directed towards fulfilling His intended purposes. Nothing is out of His control; neither does anything happen by chance. Truly “the LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Psalm 103:19). In the Old Testament God mainly deals with the nation of Israel, His chosen people. His sovereignty is experienced in delivering them from Egypt, and eventual occupation of the Promised Land. But His sovereignty is not limited to a specific locale or people group, and is better viewed through His dealings with the nations of the world as well. Several passages support this: Job 12:23, “He makes the nations great, then destroys them; He enlarges the nations, then leads them away.” Psalm 22:28, “For the kingdom is the LORD'S and He rules over the nations.” “The God of Israel is not the God of a single nation. The power of His word is not confined within the borders of Israel; His word effects His will at any time or place it is addressed. He orders the history of nations.” (CRAIGIE, 1976:440). Below is an example of how God displayed His sovereignty at a time when Babylon, under its mighty king Nebuchadnezzar, was the global superpower and seemingly sovereign of all nations. 

Because of Israel's history of rebellion against God, He sent them a series of prophets to warn them of impending judgment. The Israeli kingdom had long been split into two after Solomon died in 970 BC. The northern kingdom, Israel, with its capital in Samaria, was ultimately judged by God when they were taken into Assyrian captivity in 722 BC. The southern kingdom, Judah, with its capital in Jerusalem, would later be taken into captivity in three rounds of deportation under Babylon, the kingdom that eventually took over as world super power from Assyria early in the seventh century BC. Daniel was one of the deportees from Judah taken in the first round of Babylonian captivity under Nebuchadnezzar in 605 BC. After the second (597 BC) and third (586 BC) rounds of captivity that led to the destruction and of the temple and city of Jerusalem, the inevitable question arose: “Who, indeed, is sovereign – Nebuchadnezzar… or the God of Israel who had either allowed [the judgment] to happen or was powerless to prevent it?” (MERRILL, 1991:387). God was faithful to give an irrefutable answer.

Nebuchadnezzar had a dream which none of his diviners could interpret (Dan 2:27) so he ordered their destruction (2:12). But “the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a night vision” (2:19). He confirmed to the king that though his diviners had failed, “there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries” (2:28, 29). This is a remarkable display of God’s sovereignty even over knowledge and wisdom. Man has no ability within himself to acquire revelation outside of God exposing it. To Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, “God gave them knowledge and intelligence in every branch of literature and wisdom; Daniel even understood all kinds of visions and dreams” (1:17). Further, in “every matter of wisdom” and “understanding”, the king “found them ten times better than all the magicians and conjurers who were in [his entire] realm” (1:20). Such was the intelligence of Daniel that he served even the Persian government when they took over Babylon (1:21). Only God could and had done this. “Nebuchadnezzar and all Babylon were therefore to be confronted with unanswerable proof that only Israel’s God was real, sovereign, and limitless in His power.” (ARCHER, 1985:43). And after Daniel interpreted the king’s dream Nebuchadnezzar himself acknowledged that, “Surely your God is the God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries” (2:47).

Concerning the king’s dream, Daniel confirmed to him that due to his power he was indeed “king of kings”, but it is “the God of heaven” who had given him “the kingdom, the power, the strength and the glory” (2:37). So his dominance was a divine act under God’s control, and not his own. To demonstrate this further, an inferior kingdom to his mighty one would rise as the next super power (the Medo-Persians) (2:39). So clearly it was within God’s ability, and not man’s, to enthrone and dethrone world rulers; and in this example, he did not need a militarily superior entity such as Babylon or Assyria to accomplish this.

But the pagan king quickly forgot his own confession that the Lord is “a God of gods and a Lord of kings” (2:47). He set up an image to be worshipped by all nations (3:1-7). He became enraged when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to worship it, and threatened to throw them into “a furnace of blazing fire” and retorted that, “What god is there who can deliver you out of my hand?” (3:13-15). But the three confessed that God was able to deliver them from the fire, and even if He did not, they would not worship the image (3:16-18). Here is an often overlooked revelation on God’s sovereignty. God’s sovereignty doesn’t always dictate that His control and protection over His people would be such that no harm would ever befall them. Everything indeed will work out together for their good (Rom 8:28), but not necessarily that everything that happens to them will be good. The three understood this very well. So they were prepared to face any trial because they knew that the sovereign God would never allow a trial beyond what they could handle (1 Cor 10:13). The Lord eventually delivered them from the furnace that was heated up seven times more than normal (3:19). This left the king “astounded” (3:24) such that he confessed “there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way” (3:29).

The king had another dream which only Daniel could interpret. In the interpretation, the king would “be driven away from mankind and [his] dwelling place be with the beasts of the field… until [he] recognize[s] that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes” (4:25); “it is Heaven that rules” (4:26). “All this eventually happened to Nebuchadnezzar” (4:28) when in pride he sung his own praises instead of God’s (v30). A voice came from heaven and declared to him that, “sovereignty has been removed from you” (v31). Not only was his kingdom taken away from him, but his human dignity as well. God created man in His image, distinct from the rest of creation (Gen 1:26). But this was taken away from Nebuchadnezzar when his reasoning capacity was withdrawn and “he was driven away from mankind and began eating grass like cattle” (4:33).  In contrast, after his judgment period was over he was restored and “surpassing greatness was added to [him]” (v36). So he acknowledged that God “is able to humble those who walk in pride” (v37). After this experience, he fully understood and acknowledged God’s sovereignty, such that he personally gave one of the most profound descriptions of it in Scripture. Contrasting his pagan and prideful background, he confessed that, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (4:34, 35).

Friday, April 8, 2011

What is the teenager listening to you writing?

I had the privilege of attending evening service for two consecutive Sundays at a Bible-believing and teaching church, a rare sight today, but the highlight was not necessarily the faithful preaching of and edification by God’s Word, as much as that was indeed a great blessing on both occasions, but the highlight was the fact that both times, I sat next to the same person, a 14 year old teenager.

In both Sundays, he did the same thing, which reminded me more of my early days when I initially got saved. He would open his now half-filled note book and faithfully wrote down as much as he could of what the preacher said, and especially the key points and important facts that were emphasized. In both cases, during most of the sermon his head was often bowed down, writing what he heard from the preacher. And even after he finished writing, he went over what he had written with his pen, slowly rewriting over each letter, this time darkening his initial writing, a practice we can identify with when we were younger. He was careful to capture and ponder over all that the preacher had said.

But the preacher never knew there was such a person in his audience. In the same way in our lives, we have teenage and younger audiences we know nothing about observing our lives. Like this 14 year old teenager listening keenly to the preacher, they watch us very closely, and ponder over all we do and say, whether they are our children living with us or those around our society. Teenagers are almost always surrounded by adults whom they observe consciously and subconsciously, and end up imitating in life. For example, we are quick to blame them for watching too much TV and picking bad habits from the programs, but overlook the fact that when they turn on the TV, it is mostly adults that they see, not fellow teenagers. Even when they go to school, it is adults that teach. Any book, newspaper, or other written material they may pick to read, is always written by an adult. When they surf the internet, chances are that probably all the websites they will visit have been developed by adults.

It is because of this that when the Lord gave the commandment that has been famously labelled the ‘Shema’, He attached certain relevant conditions to it. ‘Shema’ is a Hebrew word meaning ‘to hear’. The commandment is termed the ‘Shema’ because of its opening remark that states, “Hear, O Israel”. The ‘Shema’ is found in Deuteronomy chapter six. Verses 4 to 9 read as follows:

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 
These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 
You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 
You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 
You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

The command in its simplicity, admonished Israel to totally love the Lord with all their being, and it is this commandment that Christ repeated in the New Testament and confirmed that it was the Greatest Commandment of all (Matthew 22:37). The relevant conditions then follow, that these words not only be in their hearts, but that they should “teach them diligently” to their sons; they should talk of them when they sit, walk, lie down, and rise up; bind them on various parts of their body, and write them around certain areas of their houses. With these conditions, God not only required His people to teach the ‘Shema’ to their children, but He ensured that even more, their lifestyles would be wholly devoted to living it out; at home or away, sitting or walking, asleep or awake. This is because He knew that beyond verbally teaching their children the command, it would make more impact if they modelled it as well, because by default, children are always surrounded by adults whom they consciously and subconsciously observe and emulate.

The simple question hence arises, what are the children and teenagers around you observing? Are they seeing you live out the ‘Shema’, or are they seeing you ascribe to contrasting beliefs and practices, beliefs and practices that you would condemn if you saw them in their lives? We may accuse the teenagers and children of this generation for taking sin to a whole new level, but in honest truth, they have just been replaying the tape and rereading the books they’ve been recording from hearing and watching us rehearse life.

So, what is the teenager listening to you today writing for use in his future tomorrow?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Are you running a ‘children’s home’ or a ‘feeding lot’?

I recently attended a men's conference by a renowned preacher who focuses on men's ministry. During one of the sessions on love, he made some really convicting statements and gave testimonies on genuine love and motive for serving God. The question kept ringing in my mind, ‘Much as you are a believer, what are your motives for serving God? Is it a quest for personal glory and reward, or a genuine love and heart after God’s glory and the good of His people?’

Common preaching today when it comes to serving God, is centred on stewardship, and the fact that in stewardship, God will judge us for how much we accomplished with what He gave us (this is mostly depicted from the parable in Matthew 25:14-30 on the talents). So the result is that we have Christians running around hastily trying to do as much as they can ‘for God’ so that they may be found to be ‘good and faithful servants’ when our Lord returns. The more works we do in His name the merrier it would seem…

But during the conference, the preacher posed a very interesting thought to us. In one of his testimonies, he mentioned how the Lord had enabled him to take care of about 27 orphans on his farm. He provides them with every basic need and education. So one time a friend and fellow Christian serving God visited him; and on seeing that the preacher was taking care of 27 children, he saw it fit to mention that on his part, he was taking care of a much larger figure of 300 children. So ideally, with his 300, he would have been found to be a more faithful servant than the preacher when the Lord returns.

But interesting to note was his choice of words when he described his 300, he referred to his project as a ‘feeding lot’, to which the preacher was quick to respond that on the other hand, he was running a ‘children’s home’, and not a ‘feeding lot’. While the preacher’s friend measured his ministry in terms of facts and figures, he measured his in terms of love – the children and love for them was more important than their number or feeding program…

His friend was using secular standards of success that are tied to quantity instead of godly standards that are tied to love according to the Greatest Commandment to love God and one another (Mark 12:29-31). So instead of running a children’s home, he was running a feeding lot, where the children indeed knew his hand that provided, but couldn’t put a face that truly cares to the hand.

This poses a challenging question to us, in your service to God, which is more visible, your busy hand, or your loving face? What is your motive for serving God, personal gain or a genuine love for God and His people? What can your service be equated to, a ‘children’s home’, or a ‘feeding lot’?

The Humanity of Christ

The humanity of Christ, the fact that He actually took on the human nature and was fully man (as He was fully God) when He walked the earth has always been a contentious issue since centuries past. So I thought I’d share a brief article I wrote on the subject. I hope it will be helpful in understanding the incarnation of Christ, and be useful in Bible study as well. Interesting also to ponder is the fact that as Christ is now in heaven, He is in a physical human body, but one that if perfect, one that is glorified, a body similar to the one that those who believe in Him will enjoy in eternal life after we resurrect on His Second Coming…

Philippians 2:7 confirms that Christ “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” This verse outlines the incarnation of Christ, in that He took on full humanity and lived a fully human life (John 1:14). He did not lose His divine nature in any way but continued to be fully God (GRENZ, GURETZKI & NORDLING, 1999:65). Best (1975:48) confirms that, “He did not surrender His Divine nature, but He took a human nature. Thus, we have an unfallen (sic) human nature united to the Divine nature in one indivisible Person – the impeccable Christ.” This is referred to as the Hypostatic union.

Matthew begins his Gospel by identifying Jesus as a descendant of Abraham and David (Matthew 1:1), hence He had human ancestors. After giving His genealogy, Matthew confirms that Christ was born of Mary, before she and Joseph, her husband, “came together” (1:18). Hence Christ was born through natural birth. Mary being a virgin, made it possible to unite full deity (God's divine nature) and full humanity in one person, it also showed that salvation ultimately comes from God, and ensured that Christ did not inherit the original sin from Adam (GRUDEM, 1994:530). John 1:14 states that the Word “became” flesh, involving a change in state. This is the basic statement of the incarnation, for Christ entered into a new dimension of existence through human birth (TENNEY, 1981:33).

Christ experienced natural growth as a child. Luke 2:41, 42 highlights a rare record of His childhood as a 12 year old boy visiting Jerusalem with His parents for the Passover Feast. Luke further records that, “Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature” (2:52). Hence He experienced spiritual and mental growth as well. These verses portray Christ “in His perfection, physically and spiritually, as Child and later on as grown-up Man” (GELDENHUYS, 1951:130).

In John 1:14 we read that “the Word became flesh.” Milne (1993:46) commented that, “John deliberately bypasses (the use of the term) ‘man’ or ‘a body’. ‘Flesh’ stands for the whole person; it refers to human existence in its frailty and vulnerability… Jesus made our creaturely weakness His very own form and being.” Indeed our Lord experienced human frailty as severally outlined in Scripture. Such instances include: “being wearied from His journey” (John 4:6) and being thirsty (v7); becoming hungry (Matthew 21:18), and eating (Matthew 11:19); experiencing intense agony (Mark 14:33-36; Matthew 26:37); expressing joy (Luke 10:21), love (John 11:5) and compassion for people (Matthew 9:36); and even anger (Mark 3:5).

Hebrews 4:15 confirms that Christ was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” This underscores the fact that just like us, He was tempted by sin, but unlike us, He overcame sin! Biblical examples of temptation and triumph include an encounter with Satan himself when He was fasting (Matthew 4:1-11), and even one of His close disciples, Peter, when He revealed that He would suffer and be killed (Mark 8:31-33). Such was the intensity of the temptation leading up to His redemptive work on the cross that “an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him” while “His sweat became like drops of blood” as He was “praying very fervently” (Luke 22:43, 44). Commenting on this, Milne (1998:165) wrote, “as truly man He endured the weight and pull of temptation to a degree we shall never experience.”

The physical pain Christ underwent (e.g. Luke 22:63) that led to His death is the prime demonstration of His humanity; that He, like all of us, was subject to natural death. Even when the soldiers came to break His bones that He may die faster, they found that He was already dead (John 19:33). And like other men, He was buried according to Jewish customs (John 19:38-40). But He rose again as promised (Luke 24:6, 7)! And His resurrection body is a model of the glorified body all believers will have after their resurrection. Hence He is rightly called “the firstborn of the dead” (Revelation 1:5). Walvoord (1969:130) wrote, “The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the crucial events in His life on earth upon which the significance of His entire life and death hangs. It is the first step in a series in the exaltation of Christ.”

The humanity of Christ confirms that He is indeed a High Priest taken from among the people (Hebrews 5:1) and genuinely sympathizes with us in our human weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15) despite being God. This greatly assures believers that they can endure all temptations and trials in life through Christ, because He Himself walked on earth like one of us and was tempted in all things and triumphed.

·         BEST, W.E. 1975. Studies in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. Houston: W.E. Best Book Missionary Trust
·         GELDENHUYS, N. 1951. Luke. New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT). Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
·         GRENZ, S.J., GURETZKI, D., & NORDLING, C.F. 1999. Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms. Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press
·         GRUDEM, W. 1994. Systematic Theology. Michigan: Zondervan
·         MILNE, B. 1993. John (In_Stott, J.R.W., ed. The Bible Speaks Today. Leicester: Inter Varsity Press)
·         MILNE, B. 1998. Know the Truth: a handbook of Christian belief. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press
·         TENNEY, M.C. 1981. John (In_Gaebelein, F.E., ed. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House)
·         WALVOORD, J.F. 1969.  Jesus Christ Our Lord. Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


One of my professors made a very interesting comment, that if the book of 2 Timothy were to be written today, no Christian publisher would dare publish it. This is because it is a letter filled with painful ministry experiences by Paul, an apostle of Christ whose ministry on earth was now winding up, to Timothy, his spiritual son. Paul was very frank that “in the last days difficult times will come” (3:1). He reminded Timothy of the various persecutions he endured at various places he went to preach the Gospel, and still urged the young man to follow suit in his footsteps despite the perils that lay ahead (3:10, 11).
This was Paul’s last known letter, and at the time of writing, he was in his second and last Roman imprisonment (1:16; 2:9) having been arrested for preaching the Gospel and with no hope of release; he even made reference to his impending execution because of the Gospel he preached (4:1). Further, people close to him had deserted him in these last days. He stated that “all who are in Asia turned away from me” (1:15), “Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me” (4:10), and that “at my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me” (4:16).
In these last days he was also very poor and suffered great need. He even urged Timothy to hurry to visit him before winter (4:21) because among other things he expected him to bring his coat that he had left in Troas (4:13) to cover himself during the winter cold. He was so poor he couldn’t afford even a second hand one. And it is because of such predicaments that even Timothy himself, his spiritual son whom he sought to hand over the mantle to, was tempted to be ashamed of the Gospel; hence Paul had to urge him that, “Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner” (1:8).
It is indeed ironic that during the last days of Paul’s ministry, a period which people evaluate success in ministry by the number of people and resources one has accumulated, Paul was deserted by all and was quite broke. So surely, who would dare publish such a book; a book that contrasted the norm by stating that in ministry, you will be abandoned by virtually all those close to you, you will be persecuted and imprisoned for your faith, you will be very poor and suffer need, and that your ministry will eventually wind up with your execution.
But this was more than a testimony of Paul, it was a testimony of God; of the transforming work that He had done in Paul's life, such that Paul even confessed that, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). When he measured up every form of worldly gain against Christ, he counted all as worthless for the sake of gaining Christ. He confirmed that:
But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)
Paul’s testimony was simple, ministry for him was not about how he could personally gain from serving Christ, but rather how he was prepared to lose everything for the sake of serving Christ, and now even more that he was about to lose his life. True, no man would have dared publish this material by Paul, but interesting to ponder is the fact that God Himself got him published in His eternal canon.
So, with God being the eternal Editor of our lives, what story would you seek Him to publish concerning your life, one that is filled with pursuit of God for personal gain, or one that is filled with pursuit of God at the expense of personal gain?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Lost and found

Much as I confess to be saved, the Bible and conviction in my heart always reminds me that I, and all mankind actually deserve hell! Think about it, all of us are actually in hell, until Christ by His saving mercy through His shed blood on the cross and resurrection victory plucks us out of the pit with the revelation of the true Gospel as it is accurately proclaimed by His witnesses.
So what a dilemma if we reject the Gospel as millions have! The Bible itself confirms that “How shall we escape (judgment) if we neglect so great a salvation…?” (Hebrews 2:3; c.f. Hebrews 12:25). The destination is nowhere else but hell, an eternal abode made for the devil and his fallen angels (demons) (2 Peter 2:4), but doubtless one that he will share with those of mankind that are unrepentant.
But the most interesting and miraculous thing to ponder, such that cannot be described with words, is that when Satan and his angels rebelled and sinned against God, they were not offered an opportunity to repent and be forgiven; such an idea wasn’t even floated in heaven! But oh! When man, made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), rebelled and sinned against God, not only was such an opportunity to repent and be forgiven presented to Him by God, but the Bible reveals to us that such an opportunity was made possible for mankind even before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8)! Surely such a display of love is beyond imagination and human description!
It is even more miraculous and unfathomable when we think of what it took to save mankind… that Jesus Himself, the Second Person of the Godhead and Holy Trinity, humbled Himself and took the form of mankind, human flesh, and dwelt among us (John 1:14), and endured death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8), that He may redeem those who have faith in Him (Romans 3:28)!
And even more to think about, throughout history for a time spanning 1,500 years He used about 40 writers to pen and compile 66 books totaling over three-quarter million words into what is now called the Bible, a compilation that has been attested by historians as undeniably genuine and accurate and matchless in preservation in all of literary history. And He did all this just to ensure that through its pages, we would always find irrefutable substance of the things we had hoped for (promise of eternal life with Him), and overwhelming evidence of the things we had not seen (His progressive redemptive plan throughout history) (Hebrews 11:1).
So surely… how can we deny so great a salvation (Hebrews 2:3)?

We call you “Lord! Lord!”, but “we” know You not,
Coz we strive with the Potter, yet we’re a broken pot,
You made hell for the devil, but in sin we asked for a spot,
Coz You are our Maker, but your image in us we distort,

All our blind ways lead us, to where the fire is hot,
Coz our false wisdom guides us, to fatal paths of the lost,
In our futile pursuits, we only gather worthless worldly rot,
Coz only You bear the treasures, that carry eternal worth,

So forgive us our sin, we confess and repent our fault,
Coz we believe for our sin, you paid the eternal cost,
With the price of Your shed blood, our salvation you bought,
Coz with everlasting love, You found sheep that were lost!

Count your own buttons first

When I went to church on Sunday, I got a most extraordinary but yet the simplest of insights of what Christ once taught, not from the direct preaching of the pastor, but rather from what he wore.
As is normal with many pastors when they preach, they often move around the pulpit and sometimes draw within inches of their audience. This was the case today. As the pastor preached, he slowly advanced towards his listeners such that he was at arm’s length from those in the front row.
This was an unusual Sunday for me as I usually occupied the corner seat in the last row every Sunday. But today I sat on the third row from the front because I had arrived quite early and gave in to the usher’s beckoning to occupy and fill the front rows first. And now, during the preaching, I was so close to the pastor that I could pick out every detail of his attire. Suddenly, one particular item caught my attention – one of the buttons on his coat was broken…
I thought, “Oh my! This is Sunday! Everybody’s here, including visitors! Furthermore, he is video recording the message! Surely with all his array of pleasant attires to choose from, he could have done better, couldn’t he?” I was in disbelief.
But as the service went on the pastor quoted a certain Scripture, so I had to bow my head to follow the reference in my Bible. Then suddenly, once again, something else caught my attention, but this time twice as much! As I bowed my head, I realized that my shirt was missing a button… But this wasn’t the fact that struck me. I fully knew I had been missing a button. What hit me was the fact that I had reprimanded my pastor for just a broken button, yet I was missing an entire one. Even worse, I had worn the same shirt in the same condition the previous Sunday when I attended another church.
I was concerned about the pastor’s broken button oblivious to the fact that I had a bigger problem, I lacked an entire one. I was quick to spot his fault because I was quicker at forgetting my own unattended one. My sinful conscious was so numb that I had not only momentarily forgotten I was missing a button, but that I had repeatedly worn the shirt knowingly, and yet criticized someone for just a broken button.
This reminded me of a section in the classic Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7:3-5, where Christ cautioned His listeners about judging others, He said,
Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 
“Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?
“You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Notice the term Christ uses to describe such a person, He plainly calls him a “hypocrite”! So today, besides the sermon the pastor preached, I learned that I should be careful to count my own missing buttons first, before I ever think about subtracting fractions from other people’s broken ones. I suggest you do the same, lest Christ calls you names….