Two Cross Words From My Wife

It’s always nice to receive a message from my wife.  And one day, in an email simply entitled “Preach the Cross”, she sent me two Cross words from her Oswald Chambers devotional …

“If we get away from dwelling on the tragedy of God on the Cross in our preaching, our preaching produces nothing. It will not transmit the energy of God to man; it may be interesting, but it will have no power.”

“Never build your case for forgiveness on the idea that God is our Father and He will forgive us because He loves us. That contradicts the revealed truth of God in Jesus Christ. It makes the Cross unnecessary…God forgives sins only because of the death of Christ.”

In a day where shallow preaching abound, these words are so timely that the depth of our Christian faith can once again be centred and rooted in the work of the Cross.  For sure, many have moved away from the Cross, or have transformed the Cross into a symbol of blessing and prosperity to suit selfish wants and desires.  How scandalous!  And if I do not constantly hold before me the vision of the Cross, upon which Jesus suffered and died, I can also commit the same mistake.

What a wonderful reminder from a preacher’s wife!  What an encouragement too, to know that Serene desires that my preaching be as effective as it can be.  Not merely based on great communication skills, dramatic deliveries or humorous anecdotes, but firmly grounded upon the Cross of Jesus Christ!

Related Article: Him We Preach

10 Keys to a Perfect Body

The number “10” always indicates a completion or a perfection in God’s divine time. How significant that I should be invited to speak on “Unity in the Church” on 10 October 2010 … 10.10.10! As I prepared, I entitled the message “The Perfect Man”, drawing 10 key points from Eph 4:7-16. But the night before, an idea popped into my head (definitely the Lord’s creative leading), and I promptly re-titled it, “10 Keys to a Perfect Body”.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how would Jesus score? Quite obviously, the answer would be, “A perfect TEN!”, for He is the only One who is perfect. From Eph 2:15, we see that the Church is a new man in Christ. A man, as we know, has both a head and a body. And Jesus, our Lord, is the Head and we are His Body. Now, whilst the Head is perfect, we know that the Body is not exactly there yet. Yet, in Christ, the Personification of Perfection, the Body has been given the Potential of Perfection! Hallelujah! That all sounds great, but look at Church Unity (or disunity) and we quickly realise that we are still a long way off the mark. For reflection and examination, to church leaders and members alike, allow me to humbly present the following “10 Keys to a Perfect Body” …

1. Recognise the place of Grace wherever we are placed by His Grace

“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” Eph 4:7

Each of us has been gifted and placed, not because we are good or deserving but entirely by His grace. As we make clear our place of calling, God graces us with a special favour to function well in that call. Some may be called to the frontlines and some to be in support of others. And to whom much is given, much is expected. According to the measure of Christ’s gift, grace is given that there may be no pressure on performance. Yet, this is no excuse for shoddy work, for in response to His grace, each will do the very best for the Master.

2. Understand and Utilise the Gifts

“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, …” Eph 4:11

Even this one verse has drawn argument and contention within the Body. For sure, God has raised men and women who function strongly as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. These are all nice titles, but may we remember that it is God who appoints and not individuals themselves. More critically, God gave these for the benefit and profit of the Body, and not for the advancement of personal ministries. Whilst not all may be called into these offices, all are called to be sent (apostolic), to declare His Word (prophetic), to bring good news (evangelistic), to shepherd and care (pastoral), and to teach, correct and direct! The Body is not about individualistic, spiritual superstars. Understanding and utilising these gifts require submission and co-operation within the Church.

3. Equip the Saints, Edify the Body

“ … for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, …” Eph 4:12

For the gifts to function and to be fully activated, the Body must be equipped accordingly. To equip means to make fully ready, to arrange, to set in order, to complete, to bring to perfection … that the work of the ministry may be done by all in the Body; not just a meagre 10% working with 90% criticising! Whilst a level of perfection is required for ministry, it is in and through ministry that the saints are further perfected. That’s how to Body is edified, strengthened and built up! It’s about the building of character and lives, not physical structures and programmes. Numbers are nice, but let’s be promptly reminded that they do not necessarily mean spiritual growth in the lives of the believers.

4. Focus on the Unity of the Faith

“… till we all come to the unity of the faith …” Eph 4:13a

If you haven’t already noticed, there is an attack on Christianity; not necessarily through physical persecution but through ideas, values and attitudes! Our faith is being shaped by consumer culture, the world has crept into the church, and pluralism has reduced Christianity into merely a system for moral living. Ask and interview Christians, and you will be sorely surprised by their lack of depth through shallow and superficial spiritual taglines! Whilst there is nothing wrong with personalising the faith, it has swung to an extreme of individualistic and self-centred faith. As such, there is no unity of the faith in the Body of Christ! Clearly, there is a strong need to go back to basics, to the fundamentals, to the “old ways” and the “ancient paths”. Our people must be taught again what the Church stands for and what she believes. Our pillars of the faith must be strengthened!

5. Strive for the Unity of the Knowledge of Jesus

“… and of the knowledge of the Son of God, …” Eph 4:13b

In the gospels, Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” and more pointedly, “Who do you say that I am?” Similarly, there are many views about Jesus today. Interestingly, Jesus is not just everything to everyone, He’s anything to anyone! We all love and know Jesus as Saviour, Healer, Provider, Lover of my soul and Friend. But how about Lord and Master? The Church must strive for the unity of the knowledge of the Son of God, differentiating from just wanting to know what Jesus can do for me, to who He really is! We have to move on from mere intimacy in relationship to obedience to His mission and purpose! And to know Him is to be like Him. Like Paul, we too must strive for that perfection that is found only in Him.

6. Raise Spiritual Giants

“… to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, …” Eph 4:13c-14

Let us not be contented to stay spiritual infants but determine to grow into His fullness! Quite obviously, the enemy knows the problems he will have if every believer rises up as a spiritual giant. No wonder he keeps bringing deception, discouragement and distraction into the Body to keep us from growing and perfecting the Body. Which teaching is right? Which church trend is of the Lord? Should we embrace every spiritual move? Little children don’t know how to discern these, but will simply go with the flow and follow the crowd! Not that the churches are not filled with activity or offerings, but it is not about more head knowledge or more bible study programmes! The only safeguard against the wiles of the enemy is once again, the pursuit of the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of Jesus!

7. Speak Truth in Love

“… but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ…” Eph 4:15

While many Christians are all caught up with the “doing”, Paul shows us that our spiritual growth is best evidenced through the “speaking”. Is it not true that our speech often reveals or betrays us? For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth shall speak! Our speech is a mark of Christian maturity (or the lack of). James 3:2 says, “If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.” Some are very quick to speak the truth but without love, bringing offence, hurt and bitterness. Conversely, some only want to speak love, but are totally unwilling to confront the situation with truth. Perfection in the Body is demonstrated through our ability to speak the truth in love!

8. Check the Joints

“… from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies,…” Eph 4:15b-16a

When Body is not aligned with the Head, it results in a lot of aches! But if we are to be aligned with Jesus, the Head, we must be aligned with His purposes and His mission. Yet often, there is a disconnect between our lives, the church and the Kingdom. Our agendas are simply not in alignment with God’s will and purposes for the Kingdom! No wonder we experience such discomfort and pain. To be aligned with Jesus also means to be aligned with His Word. Instead, we tend to learn Christian truths and concepts in parts, and then mix and match these according to how we desire, taking things out of context. More discomfort and pain! Then there is the misalignment between leadership and the congregation. If we are all truly aligned with Jesus and with one another, do we have the same heart and the same mind? Are we willing to put petty differences aside for the sake of the Body? Are we willing to give up personal ground and rights for the greater good of the Kingdom? Or do we harbour hurt and unforgiveness in the Body? Only when the above points are addressed and put back in place will the joints begin the hold the Body together and enable it to move with purpose and direction.

9. Work Effectively

“… according to the effective working …” Eph 4:16b

All said, there is work to be done but it is must be done effectively through the effective working of God’s power. In other words, it must not be working for working’s sake or doing ministry simply for the sake of serving in the church. These may be needful but not necessarily effective. Instead of relying on our own strength, we have to learn to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit. This same power that raised Jesus from the dead will also bring life to our dead works. Only the Holy Spirit can empower the Word, bring new hope into situations, change and transform lives! Is it not scary that the reliance on ourselves, our methods, our know-how’s and our tradition can all render the Spirit’s power ineffective?

10. Make It Your Business to bring Growth

“… by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” Eph 4:16c

Finally, we have come full circle to where we first began our journey. The first point challenges us to recognise how each of us has been called and placed by His amazing grace. And with the measure that has been given to us, we are now expected to do our share. If not, grace would have been given and received in vain. Clearly, it is pointless to go through these 10 keys and not do anything about it. It would just be another great concept and teaching, but nothing is going to happen! Everyone knows that you don’t get a perfect body by just sitting down, surfing the net or watching TV. It’s time get off, get up and get on with some solid spiritual workout! Growth, unity and perfection depend on each and every one of us to work out what God has already worked in. But remember, don’t go it alone. Instead, stand on the Word and rely on the Holy Spirit “by which every part does its share.” Don’t keep waiting for others. Make it your business to bring growth to the Body.

“Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.” Heb 6:1-2 (emphasis mine)

Out With The Ten Commandments?

I can understand when a preacher cautions against an over zealousness in the keeping of the Law.  That tantamounts to an attainment of righteousness through works which can eventually end up either in self-righteousness or condemnation.  We are, after all, no longer under the law, but are now under grace (Rom 6:14 – a favourite verse of extreme gracers).  As such, “we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not the oldness of the letter (Rom 7:6)”, “for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor 3:6)”.  I have no problems with this and would readily say a loud “amen”.

BUT for the same preacher to openly declare that when churches teach the Ten Commandments as a pulpit series, they are in effect, killing their congregations across the weeks ……. now, that I’ve got a huge problem with?!?!  It just doesn’t sit well with me at all.  Let me add that in support of his stand that the Law must now be done away with, he convincingly paints a picture that the Law is bad and ugly.  That’s not what the Bible says!  On the contrary, we are told that the Law  is holy, just and good (Rom 7:12).

Yes, the Law does bring death, but that’s because it brings an awareness of sin; and the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23).  Read in context, and with proper understanding, it is not the Law that kills, but sin.  Paul emphasises so clearly in Rom 7:7, “Is the law sin? Certainly not!”.  It is sin, taking advantage of the Law, that deceives me and by it kills me! (Rom 7:11)  Let’s get it straight once and for all … it is sin that is bad and ugly, and sin that kills.  Not the Law!

When Paul says that we have been delivered from the Law, what he means is that we have been delivered from the penalty of the Law.  This penalty or curse is operative when the righteous requirements of the Law are not completely and satisfactorily fulfilled.  Jesus came and died for that very purpose … to redeem us from the curse of the Law (Gal 3:13).

Does it mean I no longer need to keep the Law?  Well, yes, not in the Mosaic sense, on the outward according to the flesh.  But, no, for now, I need to keep another law – the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, according to the Spirit, one that is inward but manifests itself outward through love, for the law is fulfilled in and through love (Gal 5:14; Rom 13:8-10).

Sounds nice.  But how do I know if my understanding of love is biblically-defined and not Hollywood-influenced or societally-driven?

Simple.  I read the Bible and see God’s righteousness requirements in and through His commandments given to His chosen people … the Law*.  The key difference is that I now have the illumination and guidance of the Holy Spirit to teach and guide me into all this truth.  I don’t strive to keep the Law according to the flesh for I will fail time and time again.  Instead, I strive to live it according to the Spirit allowing Him to change me from the inside out, with the full assurance that when I do mess up (and that happens quite a lot), there is no condemnation in Christ for He has already paid the price for me at Calvary!  Not that I deserve it one bit, but because He has already made that provision … not just for me, but for everyone who would believe in His precious name.  That’s grace!

Let us recognise that the problem is not found in our contentions between law and grace.  Instead, it is found in our constant struggle between walking according to the Spirit and walking according to the flesh (that’s another topic for another article another time).

So, before anyone throws out the Ten Commandments and proceeds to rip out the entire Law from the Bible (since it’s no longer needed and makes for easier carrying to church and back), pause and think for a while.  Be a noble Berean (Acts 17:11); not just receiving the word (any word!) with all readiness, but to also check out the Scriptures for a consistent and an accurate understanding, allowing the Holy Spirit to bring revelation and conviction.

*Think about this … the essence of the Law of Moses and the Law of the Spirit are one and same … they are both from God … holy, just and good!

Made Even More Aware

The recent AWARE Saga has drawn enough attention and it is not my intention to write another article for the sake of writing another article.  However, thoughts continue to bubble and surface in my heart and I feel it is best for me to put these down for my own reflection.

The post modern world we live in today presents a very different environment for those of us who profess to be born-again, bible-believing and practising Christians.  I researched Post-Modernism during the course of my theological studies and I see its concepts being lived out in society.  That said, to observe it is one thing; but to experience it is totally yet another.  Put another way, I have been aware of post-modern ideology for some time now.  In fact, in my teaching and preaching, I make it a point to highlight it to others too.  But the AWARE Saga sheds new light and has made me even more aware of the challenges we Christians face today and in the days to come.

Take pluralism, for example.  A diversity of views and the freedom to express that is to be safeguarded and protected at all cost!  Choice is the order of day.  And we are seeing this being applied in the much-debated sexuality programme in schools.  A pluralistic mindset says, “It’s ok.  Our children need to be presented with the options (eg, homosexuality, abortion, same-sex marriage, etc) so that they can then choose for themselves.”  My theological framework encompasses choice too.  However, the bible is also clear that every choice carries a consequence.  The problem with the world today is that they are preaching choice without highlighting the corresponding consequences and its adverse effects on the individual and on society.

The guardian of pluralism is tolerance.  Simply put, for pluralism to continue and flourish, one has to allow the other the respect and freedom to do what they wish to do.  That sounds alright, but only on the surface.  In times past, I may tolerate a certain behaviour but I may not necessarily agree with it.  Today, my tolerance must extend to indicate also my acceptance!  To speak otherwise means to encroach one’s views upon the other – and that’s a no-no!  That’s fine if each group plays by the rules.  Yet, that is not the case.  We have seen that tolerance is actually one-sided in that Christians must tolerate whatever the world deems right and fit.  However, that is not reciprocated at all, for any view Christian is not to be tolerated.  Unfair, you say?  Yes, the playing ground is not level.  It has never been, and it will never be.

Let’s talk about fairness, or more accurately, unfairness.  Reading the reports and watching the news, the concensus is that it was an unfair fight, with biased reporting.  A comment was made that the Christians were at a loss when it came to handling the sharp and snide – ok, bitchy – remarks from the floor.  My question is, were they really at a loss for words, or simply at a loss as to how to respond in a nice, Christian manner?  Then again, is there ever a way to bitch in love?  No wonder, Jesus, when falsely accused and ridiculed, did not raise His voice, but chose to keep silent.

But aren’t Christians called to be the voice of truth?  Yes, I believe so.  But as we have witnessed, it is not easy being the prophetic voice.  Ask Jeremiah, Elijah or John the Baptist.  Too soft and no one hears you.  Too loud and too bold, and the Herods of the world will have your heads on a platter!  Does it mean we must keep quiet from now on?  Not at all!  But may we be reminded that it all comes at a cost.  And it is usually a lonely walk because others are not prepared to walk with you, prefering to comment from the sidelines.

Perhaps, we Christians in Singapore are not too interested in societal issues.  After all, is it not better to leave it to the government for they know best?  We have our jobs to look after, our dreams to chase, our breakthroughs to pray for and our blessings to protect.  So what if our value and moral systems are being compromised?  The sad reality is that few would do anything about it.  We are too caught up in our own little world, building our own little kingdoms … playing church?

But thank God for those who were willing to stick their necks out (whether we agree with how it was done).  Granted, the recent epic involved a women’s society and the mettle and grit of women were clearly showcased.  But that raises a pertinent question … where are the men?  Why is our school’s sexuality programme designed and determined by a women’s group?  And in response to its questionability, the mothers seem to be the ones leading the charge.  The only Christian men quoted in this incident have only come out in negative support.  That we have stronger women today is not a surprise.  Nothing wrong with that.  But does that indicate that the opposite is also true … weaker men?

As mentioned earlier, these are thoughts that have been stirring in my heart as the AWARE Saga unfolded.   The purpose is not to point a finger at anyone – for that would be too, too easy to do (and tempting too).  I am very aware of each and every point.  Only now, I have been made even more aware of its implications and severity.  In all of the above, I put myself wholly in the picture, challenging myself and wondering how I would respond in each situation.  For sure, it is extremely sobering and even convicting, at certain points.  Yet, confront these points, I must.  Deep within me, I believe that all that has happened is only an indication of what is to come.  It will not get easier for Christians; not if we desire to impact the world the way Jesus and His disciples did.  We will be called to make a stand for Jesus and everything that He stands for.  When that time comes, will we?