Help is on the way

I recently watched a sermon titled “help is on the way” from Elevation Church and decided to reflect and consolidate my thoughts on the message. The sermon revolves around John 5 and the healing of an invalid at the pool. Jesus tells the invalid man to pick up his mat and walk, and he is able to do so. After this, the man proceeds to tell everyone around him of his healing. Although at first glance this might appear to be in Jesus’ favour, in reality this represented a deflection of blame on to Jesus- as the invalid was confronted by the Pharisees and asked how he was healed on the Sabbath, a day when traditionally no work should be done. He displays characteristics of disbelief, carelessness and a lack of faith. In fact, he is directly contrasted to the woman who clutched Jesus’ cloak in the hopes of becoming healed (Mark 5:25-34) , and the Officer who sent for help from Jesus when his child fell sick (John 4:43-54)). These were people with faith and hope – people who we, as Christians, should model ourselves after.

In addition, this passage actually holds a deeper message and more profound implications if we look closer: Gods healing does not depend on the quality or quantity of a persons faith. The invalid showed no sign of faith or gratitude for what Jesus had done. Rather, he continued with disbelief and indifference. According to the gospel of John, there is no greater sin than disbelief. After all, God so loved the world that he gave his one and only sin that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

For those of us who already have faith in God, the struggle can be waiting on God. This is something that I have personally found difficult because I don’t know how long I should be waiting for or what waiting looks like. But, as I was reminded in the sermon, as we wait on God, he can give us the ability to go from a position of struggle to one of surrender. As Christians, we already know that God has promised that he has certain plans for us, plans for us to prosper and not to fail. But there is not necessarily merit to be gained by remaining solely fixated on what we believe to be our ideal plan. What we need is to reach out to God so that he can come alongside us and help us step out of our doubts in to Gods grace; to step out with courage and clarity.

On a final note, the sermon highlighted that the promises of God are always preceded with an instruction. While we wait on God we must be receptive to receiving instructions from him, because the Bible tells us: “”Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” All it takes is the willingness to obey the Word and to wait on it.

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2 Timothy 4: Preaching the Truth

As followers of Jesus, we are called to be the light of the world. In this chapter, Paul offers a concrete and actionable approach of this calling. He offers guidance for us to put this into practice in a context applicable to the modern world. We are told in this chapter that we have the power to bring change and to glorify God through (1) wisdom of His word, (2) endurance and (3) the proactivity to challenge the popular opinion.

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear

Paul describes a world, a society, where people are blinded by their own desires and pride – one that is not too different from modern society. These people have their own sense of what is right and will seek to receive validation for them to indulge in their beliefs. This has culminated into an environment of confusion, frustration and anger — a place that seems most uninviting to God’s presence and teaching.

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

Just as light drives away darkness, our job is not to simply ‘coexist’ with or passively address false teachings, but to facilitate corrective action to bring forth God’s righteousness. In fact, Paul succinctly sums up the approach towards non-believers in three words: correct, rebuke and encourage. As evangelists, we are ‘teachers’ of God’s Word and a part of sharing the gospel will inherently require us to challenge these other doctrines. However, one must not simply begin provoking and deriding the beliefs of others. In fact, Paul reminds us to have great patience and to have tact: in such challenging conditions, we must rely on the guidance and wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

In verse 4, Paul promises that there will be resistance and those that will not listen. We should, in spite of this, endure the rejection and maintain a godly mindset of faith. He also assures us that God sees our heart and will reward us accordingly (verse 8). As lamps in the darkness, we must strive to bring light even when the darkness is overwhelming.

Happiness – The Sermon on the Mount

These are my thoughts after reflecting on a sermon given at Island ECC on Matthew 5:3-10.  Fun fact – the Sermon on the Mount is actually the longest sermon Jesus ever gives in the Bible. The focus of this sermon was on happiness.

I’m actually quite surprised that I haven’t studied the Beatitudes much in the past. Each beatitude announces a trouble, but likens it to a blessing. Of course, this is counter-intuitive. This is similar to when James tells us: “consider it pure joy when you ace trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-4). The Beatitudes are declarations of God’s grace for anyone who wholeheartedly follows God’s kingdom as it draws near.

These are the Beatitudes that I resonated with the most:

1. Being poor in spirit

Emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships with empathy. I think I am usually quite good at understanding and gaging my emotions, and keeping them in check (but then again, women usually are better than men at that), and at being intuitive in terms of other’s emotions.

But in terms of godly emotional intelligence – that is, making sure my spiritual health is upheld – I fall short. I sometimes blame God or simply do not understand when things do not go the way I want in life. Lately I’ve been dismissing God and opting to believe that going to him and praying earnestly about real change in my relationship would not put in motion any positive change. The first beatitude is “blessed are the poor in spirit.” To be poor in spirit means to be reliable, pliant and acknowledge full dependence on God. We need to choose to remain in the knowledge that God is the only one in control of our life and we can never truly be independent from him.

2. Meekness

Meekness is a proper understanding of one’s value and dignity in view of God’s creation; in spite of who you are. With understanding God comes great worth and humility. To be meek is to be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.

3. Righteousness

God wants us to be holy and happy. Happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Righteousness is a commitment to submit to what is right. That means not justifying your sin, but doing what you know is right, to the best of your ability and by the grace of God. For me, this means staying away from temptation and sinful activities and putting an eternity with God over temporary gratification.

4. The Peacemakers

Jesus’ primary mission in coming to earth was to make peace. In the same way, we should have a commitment to reconciling. Romans 12:18 says: “if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

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The sermon concludes that there is a direct connection between happiness and selflessness. To not do what we want to do, but to do the right thing. This is, of course, not easy, and we have to try hard to think and act this way. If our lives are marked with this kind of selflessness, God will be ever present.

2 Timothy 3: Discernment of godly and ungodly things

Following my previous post on 2 Timothy 1, Paul continues to show us what it means to be the light in the midst of darkness – especially in modern times. He continues to paint the contrast in the behaviors and attitudes between followers of Christ and unbelievers. He shows us what it means to be set apart for God.

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God

To sum up the first 4 verses, the key characteristic that Paul warns us of here is becoming self-serving and placing our desires in things of the flesh and the world. As Christians, striving for true and godly humility will shape our perspectives on our own and God’s identity, setting us apart from the people described in these verses.

In verse 4, Paul specifically draws a dichotomy between loving God and loving the flesh — there is a clear choice to be made and we cannot have both. Placing our desires within earthly pleasure is a direct obstruction towards us loving God. Paul reminds us to not be distracted by material things when it comes to making godly decisions. We should position ourselves to be continuously filled with the Holy Spirit rather than spend our energy and efforts pursuing temporary gratification from this world.

having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

Building on the characteristics and behaviors listed in the first four verses of this chapter, Paul warns us of the challenge to discern these people from true followers of Jesus. In fact, it is emphasized here that, on a superficial level, these evil people may seem ‘godly’ in some way and that we should not be drawn to it. We must pray for God’s wisdom and a spirit of discernment.

The world we live in constantly puts our moral compass in flux where the concept of righteousness is challenged and distorted. It is stated throughout the Bible that the enemy’s agenda simply consists of three things: to kill, to steal and to destroy. The inundation of different viewpoints in the world we live in creates an atmosphere of confusion – especially surrounding Christians – which is conducive to loss of faith and trust in God.

12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

As reiterated several times throughout Paul’s letters to the churches, those who are true followers of Jesus will be persecuted. This truth is frankly one that no believer wants to hear. Furthermore, this idea presents yet a greater conviction and challenge as it means that if we are not being persecuted, we have not set ourselves apart and can very well be simply “having a form of godliness but denying its power”.

In such times of chaos and confusion, God has given us the best frame of reference and guidance – His Word. We are to keep ourselves and believers around us accountable by God’s scripture:

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Sparknotes version:

  • The end-times will be confusing and chaotic
  • We must discern between true and superficial followers of Christ (and avoid the latter)
  • We must act on this discernment or we will be no different from these superficial followers
  • Use the scripture to keep ourselves accountable and to navigate through confusion

The Kingdom of Heaven

At church today, we were challenged to evaluate our mindsets in relation to the kingdom of heaven based on the following parable:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44-46)

The kingdom of heaven – this treasure – is worth everything we have and more. Yet so many of us (myself included) are guilty of treating our pursuit of the kingdom of heaven as a less significant goal that pales in comparison to our education, career, or worldly plans. In doing so, we wrongly demonstrate to those around us that the kingdom of heaven is of low value. There are many ways in which I have failed to uphold the importance of the kingdom of heaven. Being too hasty to fit in with my group of friends and spending more time socialising, drinking and participating in leisure activities rather than ensuring that my relationship with God was right.  I care more about making sure that my life is “comfortable” by looking into getting a better job with a higher salary, lusting after the next designer handbag, and satisfying my appetite in my hunt for food.

But those who perceive the value of the kingdom of heaven will sacrifice everything to obtain it:

“What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” (Philippians 3:8-9)

To reach the kingdom of heaven we need to have a knowledge of Christ that is gained through experience and not merely a factual reflection of what is written in the Bible. The pastor today alluded to the notion of a Turnstile Christian – someone who has made the initial pledge to take up the cross and honour God, but who has yet to do more in their Christian life and transform their understanding by dedicating their life to serving the Lord everyday (sidenote: read Joshua 24:15). This cannot happen unless we put in the effort to have the kingdom of heaven become a greater treasure for us.

After reflecting on this message, I’ve come up with some ways for me to pursue God and become a “Kingdom Christian”:

  • Keep up the biblogging!
  • Look for ways to serve God. I’ve signed up to help out at Vacation Bible School over the summer, but I also want to look at volunteering at a local Christian charity that provides after-school classes and tutoring for underprivileged Nepalese immigrant children.
  • Aim to become a prayer warrior. Pray steadfastly and give all my needs to the Lord. Thank God constantly for all his blessings.
  • Encourage other Christians in their walk with God, and non-Christians with their problems by bringing them to God.

2 Timothy 2: Becoming an Approved Worker

In this passage, Paul highlights a vast selection of Christian qualities that us, as Christians, should embody.

Reliability and ability 

In verses 1-2, Paul states that we should entrust the Christian gospel and God’s word to “reliable people who will be qualified to teach others.” Christian leaders must have a backbone, and be able to disciple, nurture and teach. Discipling can be a difficult and challenging task, in more ways than one. For example, imagine a twenty-something year old bible study leader who has recently started dating a non-Christian. The obvious next step is that a reliable church leader should disciple this particular individual by informing them that this decision of theirs will have an adverse impact on the group members that the bible study teacher leads.

The appeal renewed

The inclusion of strong imagery in this chapter helps us to understand the dedication and hard work, and the risk of failure, of running the Christian race. A soldier runs the risk of death or sacrifice during his service, and cannot “become entangled in civilian affairs.” He must remain solely focused on his goal. An athlete cannot expect to win by cheating (like taking sporting drugs) or without hard work and training. A farmer cannot expect a harvest without toiling from morning to night, through all four seasons. In the same way, a pastor cannot make his own job easier by eliminating the difficult or challenging verses of a bible passage in his sermons. We cannot promote cheap or idle Christianity – this ties back into the idea of a “Sunday Christian” mentioned in the previous post.

“If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” (v 13)

Faithfulness is a virtue that Christians need to possess when running the race for God. Verse 13 importantly highlights that we can rely on God to remain faithful if we endure, but we must also take this as a warning if we ever give up. Even if we do not remain faithful to the task of spreading the gospel and being disciples to one another, the rest of God’s faithful church will stand and triumph in the future.

An approved worker

Paul gives us the perfect example of an approved worker. This is a person who:

  • Watches their words by avoiding speculative and divisive word games in church or during biblical discussion (v 16; 23-24)
  • Correctly handles the word of truth by putting in the time to understand each bible passage and teaching (v 15)

Dealing with false teachers

The imagery created by the articles of gold and silver, but also those of wood and clay, symbolically reflect either (1) the presence of false teachers in the church, (2) the presence of false doctrine or teachings. We are to cleanse ourselves from these false teachings to make the church, and our work, “useful to the Master.”

Finally, the last paragraph of chapter 2 reminds us of the godly qualities we should posses: purity, holiness, usefulness, preparedness, maturity, friendliness, discernment, kindness, credibility, forgiveness, humility, courage, optimism and realism.

2 Timothy 1: Being Active Followers of Christ

With so many distractions in our everyday life, it is easy to become a “Sunday Christian” or to simply grow “comfortable”. It is easy to become passive and simply resort to the practices and mentality of this world – or a state of constant tiredness, struggle and worry of the unknown. But God wants us to enter a place of his love and grace that we can be part of if we are willing to. In this chapter, Paul reminds us that we need to be proactive and strive to follow His calling for us.

He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time

By responding to his calling, we can enter a life of spiritual abundance that we are entitled to by God’s grace — not because we have done anything to earn it (verse 9). For many believers like myself, this is a truth we have probably heard many times over many years and yet it seems so easy to slip into a state of apathy or inactivity… and with it a sense of undeserving or even guilt. And before we know it, we feel disconnected from God and His Word. This is why we must make an active effort to put God and His calling as a priority in our life. More importantly, we must be aware of when this happens and to act on it. Revelation 3:16 says that we must not become accustomed to this lifestyle — or “lukewarm”.

So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

In fact, just the speaker at church last week reminded us that it’s normal to slip into these phases — that it happens to everyone. What we need to do is to constantly renew our pledge and commitment to Him, to pray that He can sustain us.

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

With intervention of the Holy Spirit we can grow strong in our faith and be able to exercise love and self-discipline (verse 7). This strength will allow us to rise from timidity and stand strong in adverse situations and remain unmovable.

We can start growing in this way by acting on our calling. God has given each of us unique gifts and we are not to just sit around and wait for something to happen. Even for those of us who are not sure what this is exactly, we can start building cultivating our passion towards His purpose. I particularly like the image of a burning and consuming fire described in verse 6 as it reminds me of the power and potential God has reserved for each of us in pursuing His calling.

The rest of the chapter further contextualizes this strength: that our gifts and calling all builds towards having confidence in spreading the gospel and standing strong even in the face of persecution.