How to Prepare the Way for the Lord

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I wrote a previous post on the ministry lessons of John the Baptist. I would like to expand it by exploring what it means to prepare the way for the Lord. How can we point the way to Jesus and prepare people for Jesus’ second coming? We shall refer to Zechariah’s prophecy shortly after John’s birth.

And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord. You will tell his people how to find salvation
through forgiveness of their sins. Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.

Luke 1:76-79

1. How to Find Salvation

To prepare the way for the Lord is this: Tell people how to find salvation. That’s our key message. That’s our first priority. We are not to tell people how to find money, a life partner or a career. We need to tell people how to find salvation. Man’s greatest need is for a Saviour. Do you believe that? We do people an injustice when we talk about everything else except the Gospel!

2. Through Forgiveness of Sins

The text explains that salvation only comes “through forgiveness of sins”. The salvation plan is simple: Jesus died on the cross for our sins, was buried and rose from the dead. Jesus shed his blood because without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins (Heb 9:22). In Old Testament times, pure animals were killed and sacrificed to forgive sins temporarily. But by believing in Jesus, our sins will be completely forgiven. That is the message we are to tell others to prepare the way for the Lord. He will be coming a second time to judge the world. Will people be ready for it?

3. Because of God’s Mercy

Why does God provide such a wonderful gift of salvation for us? Verse 78 says it is because of “God’s tender mercies.” Do you know the difference between grace and mercy? Grace is giving us something we don’t deserve. Mercy is not giving us what we deserve. I’ll tell you what we deserve: Death! All of us are rotten sinners who are on a one-way ticket to hell. We are on death-row with no way out.

But God’s mercy extends to us. He sent Jesus, who suffered and died in our place so that we may be pardoned from death. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says soc clearly:

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

God made the way for us if we are willing to accept his free gift of salvation.

4. To Bring Light, Life and Peace

Verse 79 mentions two amazing effects of salvation: 1) God gives light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, 2) God guide us to the path of peace.

God not only brings us out of darkness and death, He guides us to peace. Salvation is not just a get-out-of-hell ticket. It’s about receiving God’s peace right now. We aren’t made to scrap through life but to live victoriously in Jesus Christ. Our lives are a testimony to others that Jesus has changed us inside out supernaturally. May we not only tell others that salvation is found in Jesus, but also speak with new lives in Jesus.

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Article Summary: “Sticky faith: What keeps kids connected to church?”

I found a very helpful article by Jen Bradbury about creating sticky faith in youths. As a church, there is much that we can do to help youths keep their faith through their schooling years. I pulled out key quotes for each section and added my comments at the end of each.

1. Centered On Christ

  • When it comes to fostering sticky faith, nothing is more important than “students’ view of the gospel.” Ministries that foster sticky faith, the report says, are centered on Christ.
  • We must relentlessly remind them that the Christian faith is one centered on the person of Jesus. Developing and maintaining a relationship with God requires engagement with scripture and the stories of Christ found there
  • Use mission trips to share Scriptures.
  • Cracking open a Bible and wrestling with its content must become part of a youth ministry’s DNA.
  • The fact that God wants their very lives is something that appeals greatly to a generation looking for a leader worth following and a cause worth committing their lives to.

Seth: We don’t need to come up with more exciting programs. We need the right kind of program that challenges youth with the word of God. I don’t think youths are superficial or easily distracted. That’s just because churches assume they are. I suspect when we confront them with radical discipleship, they will rise up to it.

2. Infused With Grace

  • Instilling sticky faith means creating ministries that are expressions of grace.
  • Grace needs to be our default position, the way in which we reflexively respond to students.
  • When churches are suffused with grace they also welcome teens into the larger church community, treating them as vital parts of the body of Christ.

Seth: We have to cut them some slack because we know we’ve made similar dumb things when we were their age too! When we look at Jesus, he gave people many second chances to make it right. We need to be graceful, merciful and loving. Catch them when they fall and encourage them to keep trying.

3. Intergenerational Relationships

  • Adults need to show an interest in teens—which usually requires an intentional effort to connect people across generations
  • Change the usual ratio of leaders to students. Rather than aiming to have one adult leader for every five students, it’s better to aim for connecting every teen with five adults who are willing to invest in the teen in some way, even if rather small.
  • Utilize adults in our youth ministries as leaders.
    Such adult leadership teams are at their best when they, too, are intergenerational.
  • Look for parents, empty nesters and senior citizens who are willing to spend time with teens, asking them questions and then listening to their responses and encouraging them.
  • Adults can invest in teens by learning their names, greeting them each week, asking them a question about their week and following up on the conversation in the next week.
  • Prayer buddies can also be a powerful form of intergenerational connection. Adults commit to praying for a particular student—for a specific time period or event. Prayer buddies then write one another a note, introducing themselves to one another and encouraging each other. Whenever possible, give prayer buddies an opportunity to meet and connect with one another in person, through worship, meals or celebrations.
  • One way of connecting teens with adults is through an interview or oral history project: teens develop a set of questions to pose to older people in the congregation and then conduct formal interviews.

Seth: I think this is a great point! I’ve observed that churches with youth services have problem transitioning young adults back to the main service. But I do know churches that don’t have youth services but there is still a disconnect between age groups. What is needed is a platform for intentional connection between youths and adults. I believe that when both are pushed into the mix together, it is mutually beneficial. Youths aren’t the future of the church, they are the church. Invest in them now!

4. Intergenerational Worship

  • Involving teens in worship is crucial for learning to contribute to the body of Christ.
  • It’s time to reevaluate the wisdom of holding separate worship services for youth.If teens become used to worshiping only with people their own age, they will find it hard upon graduating from high school to transition into intergenerational worship services.
  • It requires not scheduling youth group or Sunday school simultaneously with worship so that teens are free to attend intergenerational worship.
  • Help students better understand worship so that they can more fully participate in it and, in the process, encounter God. Explore the word and the sacraments, to wrestle with the words of the creeds and even to craft our own creed, to explore the meaning of the lyrics of the songs we sing and to explore what scripture says about prayer.
  • Intergenerational worship demands not just that we invite youth to attend but that we give them opportunities to use their gifts in worship as ushers, acolytes, lectors, musicians and assisting ministers, not only on token occasions like “Youth Sunday” but throughout the year.

Seth: Youths love music and what better way than to let them contribute. Not only music but in other areas too as ushers, stewards, prayer. The key is to give them chances to serve and not label specific ministries as adults-only. Young people need to be trained, given confidence and allowed to fail. If they can’t fail safely in church, where else can they fail? The world outside isn’t so forgiving.

A Parable: Doctor’s Remedy

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After a deadly virus had spread across the world, researchers scrambled to find a cure. Thousands of people were dying daily. Within months, several countries were wiped out. However, in a small town, Dr Bob found a remedy for the virus.

The remedy was obtained from a rare plant that lived in the valley near his house. He was testing compounds and discovered that the virus was eliminated at high doses. His hands shook as he held the test results. Visions of stacks of money, expensive mansions and yachts filled his mind. He had the remedy for the virus that people would pay any amount for. He shared his joyous findings with his wife.

But Dr Bob felt a tinge of guilt eating away. If he had the cure, shouldn’t he share it with scientists all over the world so that people would not die? As a doctor, he promised that people’s lives were more important than anything else. His wife also urged him to share the secret freely with others. He was in a dilemma. Should he share and possibly lose all chance of making money? Or keep the remedy as his sole invention and risk more people dying?

Dr Bob’s greed overtook him. He started a company to sell the remedy and became famous overnight. No other scientists were allowed to know the secret of his remedy. Orders for the remedy came non-stop and he quickly hired staff to produce, pack and deliver it all across the globe. People were getting cured!

But he couldn’t cope with the demand. As any good economist would point out, with increased demand and limited supply, price goes up. Up and up it went. Dr Bob even managed to IPO the company and make a killing on the stock market. He upgraded his apartment to a mansion by the lake. He scrapped his banged up Toyota and bought five luxury cars.

Life was good. But still, people were dying all across the world. As prices had skyrocketed, only the super rich could afford it. The poor were dying of the virus even though a cure was available. Strikes and protest against his company occurred regularly. But Dr Bob didn’t care. By now, his conscience was seared by a hot iron. His wife grew more distant from him.

Dr Bob’s clients suggested that he make the remedy more palatable by adding sugar syrup. But by adding sugar, he would dilute the remedy making it less effective. The virus wouldn’t be eliminated but suppressed. If the patient stopped taking the remedy, the virus would appear with a vengeance. That’s what he did. He diluted the remedy to make it sweeter. He slapped on a nice cute label on the medicine bottle as marketing experts had advised him.

Sales went through the roof. People didn’t realise that the remedy wasn’t working as well as it should. Even Dr Bob liked the taste of the new remedy. Soon, the virus adapted and mutated. A second epidemic swept over the world and all those who took the diluted remedy were severely infected and died. However, the first group of patients who took the full remedy were immune.

Dr Bob was infected by the second epidemic wave. As he lay on his bed dying, his wife stayed beside him. His massive house looked empty and cold. Bob said to his wife in ragged breaths, “I have sinned. I didn’t share the secret formula…so many have died. Also, I diluted the remedy and thought it would be safe.”

“I know,” she said as tears streamed down her face. “That’s why I gave away the remedy freely to the poor and those who couldn’t afford it all the while. I just didn’t tell you.”

Dr Bob’s eyes widened and he smiled, before breathing his last gasp.

Poem: To Risk (William Arthur Ward)

To Risk 

(William Arthur Ward)


To laugh is to risk appearing a fool,

To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.

To reach out to another is to risk involvement,

To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self.

To place your ideas and dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss.

To love is to risk not being loved in return,

To live is to risk dying,

To hope is to risk despair,

To try is to risk failure.

But risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.

The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing.

He may avoid suffering and sorrow,

But he cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, live.

Chained by his servitude he is a slave who has forfeited all freedom.

Only a person who risks is free.

Book Summary: Why Johnny Can’t Preach

Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media have shaped the Messaengers (T. David Gordon, 2009)

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Introduction

  • Less than 30 percent of those who are ordained to the Christian ministry can preach an even mediocre sermon.
  • The problem there is not that we don’t have “great” preachers; in many circumstances we don’t even have mediocre preachers.
  • Media ecology describes how changes in dominant media alter the human and social environment.

1. Johnny Can’t Preach

  • All I really desire is the ability to answer three questions: What was the point or thrust of the sermon? Was this point adequately established in the text that was read? Were the applications legitimate applications of the point, from which we can have further fruitful conversation about other possible applications?
  • Robert Lewis Dabney’s Lectures on Sacred Rhetoric offers seven objective criteria for sermon evaluations:

1. Textual Fidelity
Does the significant point of the sermon arise out of the significant point of the text? Is the thrust of the sermon merely an aside in the text? Is the text merely a pretext for the minister’s own idea?

2. Unity
Test: If ten people are asked after the sermon what the sermon was about, will at least eight of them give the same (or a similar) answer?

3. Evangelical Tone
Does the sermon press the hearer to consider the hopelessness of his condition apart from Christ, and the utter competence of Christ to rescue the penitent sinner?

4. Instructiveness
Does the sermon significantly engage the mind, or is the sermon full of commonplace clichés, slogans, and general truths? Is the mind of the attentive listener engaged or repulsed?

5. Movement
Do the earlier parts of the sermon contribute to the latter parts’ full effect? Does the address have intellectual (and consequently emotional) momentum?

6. Point
Is the effect of the sermon, on those who believe it, similar? If it encouraged one, did it tend to encourage all, and for the same reason?

7. Order
Could the hearers compare notes and reproduce the outline of the sermon? If they could not reproduce the outline, could they state how it progressed from one part to another?

  • Dabney’s seven cardinal requisites today are honored almost exclusively in their breach.
  • When something is well done, we do not complain about its length. Therefore, I suggest that it is not the case (as is so often argued) that people have a reduced attention span today, and that this is why they object to the length of the sermons. …Bad preaching is insufferably long, even if the chronological length is brief.
  • Sermon length is not measured in minutes; it is measured in minutes-beyond-interest, in the amount of time the minister continues to preach after he has lost the interest of his hearers.
  • One common trait among [contemporary churches] is their conviction that the church’s liturgical practices need to be jettisoned and replaced with something else. What they have not yet considered, however, is the possibility that such moribund (dying) churches are so not because they are doing the wrong things, but because they are doing them incompetently.
  • My challenge to the contemporaneists and emergents is this: Show me a church where the preaching is good, and yet the church is still moribund (dying). I’ve never seen such a church.
  • Almost no churches conduct an annual review of the pastoral staff. Because ministers don’t want to be told that their preaching is disorganized, hard to follow, irrelevant, and poorly reasoned; and because churches don’t want to insult their ministers or hurt their feelings.
  • The problem is the condition of the typical ministerial candidate when he arrives at seminary. The culture has profoundly changed since the 1950s. A culture formerly dominated by language (reading and writing) has become a culture dominated by images, even moving images. …As a consequence of this cultural shift, those human sensibilities (one’s capacities to know, understand, experience, or appreciate certain realities) essential to expository preaching have largely disappeared, so that a theological seminary attempting to teach a person who is not comfortable with texts or with writing organized prose.

2. Why Johnny Can’t Preach, Part 1: Johnny Can’t Read (Texts)

  • Ministers read for information or for amusement, but they do not read because they cherish the aesthetic pleasure taken in something that is well written. They notice only the content of what they read, but do not notice the subtler semi-miracle of language well employed.
  • Ministers read the Bible the same way they read everything else: virtually speed-reading, scanning it for its most overt content. “What is this passage about?” they ask as they read, but they don’t raise questions about how the passage is constructed.
  • Reading texts demands a very close and intentional reading.
  • Our inability to read texts is a direct result of the presence of electronic media. Reading texts (and especially verse) cultivates the sensibility of significance.

3. Why Johnny Can’t Preach, Part 2: Johnny Can’t Write

  • Every technological development has an opportunity cost because once we spend even part of our day using a technology we once did not use, some of the things we once did with our time we no longer do.
  • Two developments: We can hear people whom we do not see, and that we do not compose our thoughts as frequently or carefully as we once did.
  • If we become less practiced (and therefore less skilled) at reading people’s visible reactions to our speech, we will become less skilled at reading those reactions when speaking publicly.
  • As a medium, the telephone also robs us of composition skills. We lose the instinctive habit of asking: What should I say first, this or that? The consequences of this for preaching should be very obvious. Telephone conversations rarely have unity, order, or movement.
  • A once-common sensibility (close reading of texts) is now uncommon, and a once-common activity (composition) is now comparatively rare. A once common daily occurrence (face-to-face communication allowing us to “read” the unstated feelings of another) has been replaced by telephone conversation in which visual feedback is absent.

4. A Few Thoughts about Content

  • The content of Christian preaching should be the person, character, and work of Christ.
  • What could we conclude about preaching today, other than that the great transaction of the Sin-bearer’s suffering for sinners has receded in importance from our churches?
  • Faith is not built by preaching introspectively (constantly challenging people to question whether they have faith); faith is not built by preaching moralistically (which has exactly the opposite effect of focusing attention on the self rather than on Christ, in whom our faith is placed); faith is not built by joining the culture wars and taking potshots at what is wrong with our culture. Faith is built by careful, thorough exposition of the person, character, and work of Christ.

A. Moralism

  • It was a way of understanding Christianity as essentially consisting of a particular moral framework, and of understanding Christ as essentially a great moral teacher.
  • Liberalism was an understanding of Christianity that wished to embrace its ethical system without its redemptive system.
  • Moralism occurs whenever the fundamental message of a sermon is “be good; do good”.

B. How-To

  • Unlike moralism, it expends less time describing what one ought to do, and more time how to go about doing it. In one sense, it is even worse than moralism, because it reduces life and religion to technique.
  • It pushes the person and work of the redeeming Christ out of the realm of the hearer’s consideration.

C. Introspection

  • The subtitle of each of their sermons could accurately be: “I Know You Think You Are a Christian, but You Are Not.”
  • Unbelievers are given nothing that might make believers of them, and many true believers are persuaded that they are not believers. So no one profits from this kind of preaching.

D. Social Gospel/So-called Culture War

  • The Christian pulpit is devoted to commenting on what’s wrong with our particular culture, and what ought to be done to improve it, either by individuals or (worse) by the coercive powers of government.
  • Culture warriors are not content with the two legitimate ways in which humans may exert influence on the behavior of others: through reasoned discourse and the power of example.
  • None of these false surrogates for real Christian proclamation nourishes the soul. They may inform or instruct about some aspects of religion, but they do not nourish faith; they do not feed faith. We need to feed on Christ! There is a place in the overall ministry of the church for instruction in moral behavior. But the pulpit is almost never the place to do this.
  • Curiously, when one considers the instructive role of the apostles in the early church, it is ironic that in many churches today, instruction has been handed over to the nonordained. Many ministers never teach regularly in the educational programs of their churches.
  • If preaching, in its authentic biblical, apostolic (and Reformational) sense, is to be recovered, it will also be necessary to recover an enduring commitment to Christ-centered, expository preaching, in addition to cultivating the necessary pre-ministerial sensibilities. Ministers will need to renounce their tendency to use the pulpit as a catchall, a place from which they attempt to do everything, and will need to return it to its proper place of proclaiming how (and how well) God reconciles himself to hopelessly lost sinners through the person and work of that beloved Son in whom he is well pleased.
  • A return to such Christ-centered preaching, however, probably cannot occur apart from cultivating the sensibility of reading texts closely and a sensibility of the significant.

5. Teaching Johnny to Preach

  • We need to cultivate those pre-homiletical sensibilities that are necessary to preach well. How can one preach the Word of God if he can’t read the Word of God? Similarly, while many people can talk, not everyone has acquired the skill of carefully or thoughtfully composed speech.

A. Annual Review

  • Most ministers will never know how bad their preaching really is without an annual review.
  • I believe at least five or six of Robert Lewis Dabney’s cardinal requisites outlined can be tested by carefully designed survey questions.
  • One could do a more general assessment, and simply take the primary ministerial tasks (preaching, counseling, pastoral visitation, teaching, administration, etc.), put them on a form, and ask members of the congregation to rank them in order of their perception of the minister’s competence.
  • Alternatively, a sermon or two could be submitted annually to presbytery for review.

B. Cultivating the Sensibility of Reading Texts Closely

  • If he intends to go to divinity school and become a minister, he should not major in religion but in English literature.
  • One can learn to read poetry by reading books about how to read poetry.

C. Cultivating the Sensibility of Composed Communication

  • Those who are preparing for the ministry should also write handwritten letters whenever there is justification for doing so. In addition to letters, ministers should compose other material: articles for theological, religious, or denominational periodicals; editorials for magazines or newspapers; journal entries; anything.
  • The value resides in the shaping of one’s sensibilities and abilities (especially that of composition) that comes from organizing one’s thoughts into writing.
  • Most pre-ministerial candidates, and most ministers, would be well served by taking a nonreligious course on public speaking.
  • One might even consider joining Rotary International (speech masters).
  • Some ministers work on the technical aspects of their sermon preparation by developing a homiletical partner: another minister with whom they meet once or twice a month to discuss their recent sermons, and why they constructed them as they did.

D. Cultivating Pre-Homiletical Sensibilities: Johnny Can Learn to Preach

  • To preach the Word of God well, one must already have cultivated, at a minimum, three sensibilities: the sensibility of the close reading of texts, the sensibility of composed communication, and the sensibility of the significant.
  • In terms of churches, congregations should give their pastors time to study. preaching. An individual without time to read broadly and intensely, without time to reflect on life, without time to compose (even if merely in a personal journal), is not likely to be an individual who can preach.

 

Breaking Our Alabaster Jar

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While [Jesus] was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

Mark 14:3

It was nearing Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. He had told his disciples numerous times about his impending suffering, death and resurrection (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34). But they somehow didn’t get it. They still thought that Jesus was going to be King of the Jews by conquering the Roman government. They still argued about seats in the future kingdom (10:35-44) and who was the greatest (9:33-37).

But this woman got it. She understood that Jesus was going to die soon. Knowing that Jesus was going to leave them, she sacrificed her expensive alabaster jar filled with pure nard. If you have a friend who was migrating overseas, wouldn’t you give him a good treat before he leaves? She broke her jar and poured it all on Jesus’ head.

While some said it was a waste of perfume, Jesus defended her actions and called it “a beautiful thing” (14:6). Jesus explained that “she poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial” (14:8). She was the only one in the room that believed Jesus’ words – he was going to be killed and buried. As a result, her actions have been immortalised in the gospel for all to remember.

Jesus also sacrificed an alabaster jar: Himself.

Immediately after this passage, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper in the upper room. During the meal, he broke the bread (14:22) and poured the wine (14:24). Do you notice the words used? Broke and poured. Exactly the same two words were used earlier to describe the woman who broke and poured the perfume on Jesus (14:3). Jesus’ body was broken and his blood poured out for us on the cross. His alabaster jar was himself. He suffered for you and me. The most expensive gift, more than the pure nard, was sacrificed to reconcile God and man. That’s love.

Just as some people rebuked the woman for wasting the perfume, some have said that Jesus’ death was a waste too. He had a ministry of three years, not a long time. He had so much potential to preach, teach and do miracles. Why did he not serve for 40 years and then die at 70? What a waste to die so young at 33 years old! But Jesus’ death was not a waste. It was “a beautiful thing”.

I’ve frequently met friends and church members who say, “Why are you giving up a career and joining bible school at such a young age? What a waste of your prior education!” It seems like a waste in the eyes of the world, but to Jesus, when we give our lives, it is “a beautiful thing”.

The woman broke and poured her alabaster jar for Jesus.

Jesus broke and poured his alabaster jar when he died for you and me.

Are you willing to break and pour out your alabaster jar for Jesus?

 

 

Are You Scared of God’s Will?

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Before you agree to a contract for a job, a house or a phone, you are advised to read the conditions carefully. Especially the fine prints. Why? To make sure you aren’t being cheated or given the short end of the stick. Many people have been cheated of millions of dollars by not reading carefully.

How about signing the dotted line before the conditions are even written? That’s crazy! Who in the right mind would do that? There is a rational fear that we would be taken advantage of. We assume that the other party will abuse their authority over us. Don’t we treat God’s will in the same way sometimes? “God, tell me your will first. If it’s good, I agree to do it. Show me what’s behind the door before I step in.” If God’s deal doesn’t look good, we choose not to accept it.

Here are some fears I personally experienced:

  • Fear that God will send me to a faraway land as a missionary where I’ll be killed for His glory.
  • Fear that God will give me a life partner that is ugly, blind and irritating just to “train” me.
  • Fear that God will make me do a job so menial and torturous to keep me humble.

We have an innate fear that if we hand our choices to God, He will give us something terrible. As a child, I was told that if I asked God not to send me to Africa, God will definitely send me there! So I changed my prayers to, “Don’t send me to New Zealand” trying to outsmart God.

All these fears are rooted in a wrong theology of God the Father.

Jesus had something to say about God the Father.  Firstly, Jesus asks us to A.S.K. (Ask, Seek, Knock) the father.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Matt 7:7-8

When you pray, ask, seek and knock. Plead with the father and it is promised that it will be given to you. The Greek indicates a continuous action of asking, seeking and knocking. Keep asking. Keep seeking. Keep knocking. Persistence in prayer is vital.

Jesus then assures us that God the Father will give us good gifts when we ask Him. He compares between earthly fathers and our heavenly father.

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

Matt 7:9-11

Jesus appeals to all earthly fathers in his audience. No father would give a stone when his son asks for bread. Or give his daughter a venomous snake rather than smoked salmon. Using two exaggerated almost comedic scenarios, Jesus drove home the point that no matter how good our earthly fathers are, God the father is much better.

My father is a good, loving man. A father who prays, cares and buys wonderful gifts for me. How is he “evil” as Jesus said? Evil in comparison to God’s goodness. All men are born in sin and can only do evil. This is a result of the Fall in the Garden of Eden. Since then, all fathers cannot perfectly love their child as God does. God the Father perfectly loves His children. (I wrote about this in an earlier post). That’s why Jesus said “how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him.” 

When we ask God for certain things, we can be assured that he is better than any earthly father. If my own dad gives me good gifts, what about God the Father who loves and know me so much more? He will give the best gifts to me! My irrational fears that God will give me something bad stems from a wrong view of God as a harsh, no-nonsense type of God. Indeed, God punishes sin and is just. But he also loves you more than any dad could love you. What I need is for the Spirit to reveal how much the Father loves me.

There are four answers that God can give when we ask Him in prayer: (1) Yes, (2) No, (3) Wait or (4) I got something better. We have to be open to all responses from Him and be willing to let go of any requests that is not in God’s will for us. No longer do we need to fear that God will give us something terrible. God has something wonderful for you. It may not be what you want but what you need.

God: “You Are My Beloved Child”

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How did you feel when your father praised you? It’s like a proud father boasting to his friends about his child. “That’s my boy playing soccer!” “That’s my girl dancing on the stage!” Maybe your father never praised you much (especially in Asian cultures). Maybe your father was absent. Whatever the case, I want you to glimpse and experience God the Father’s love for you. We take a look at Jesus’ baptism.

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Matt 3:16-17

After Jesus’ baptism, God the Father said a powerful phrase to him in the sight of all: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Think about it. Jesus hadn’t started ministry yet. He hadn’t done a miracle yet. He was busy in the carpenter’s workshop and taking care of the family as the eldest son. Why did God the Father say, “I am well pleased”?

This tells us that God’s pleasure with us is not dependent what we have done!  Some of us are driven to perfectionism, success and fame in order to gain our father’s approval. We believe, “If only I make it big in the business world/school/church then my father will be pleased with me.” But some fathers are never pleased no matter how much we accomplish. God the Father is different. He is already pleased with you right now. Even if you have done nothing of significance. You can stop striving to gain God’s approval and start enjoying His smile over your life. God rejoices over you with love (Zeph 3:17).

God loves you. He called Jesus “my beloved son.” If you have accepted Jesus as your saviour, you have become a son and daughter of God. You have been adopted into God’s family, gaining all the inheritance and blessings as His child. God loves you no matter how badly you have messed up your life. He wants you to return to him. He wants to hold you in His loving arms. Just like in the parable of the  Prodigal Son, the father is waiting eagerly for you to repent and come home (Luke 15).

When you find your security in the arms of God, you fear nothing else in life. Your approval doesn’t come from others. It comes from the Father. Your worth isn’t derived from how others label you. It comes from the Father. And you know that He truly loves you. He gave his son Jesus to die for your sins so that by believing in Jesus’ death and resurrection, our relationship can be restored. What amazing love! No wonder John the apostle exclaimed in amazement:

What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are.

1 John 2:1a (The Message)

God is well-pleased with you as His child. You don’t need to work to gain His love and approval. He already loves you. We work as a response to God’s lavish love for us. Many in churches still try to gain God’s love by keeping the rules, attending services and serving in many ministries. Deep down, they still don’t think God loves them as they are. I want to assure you: God loves you as you are. Keep reminding yourselves of this truths today. Hear the Father saying to you, “You are my beloved child. With you I am well-pleased.”

 

Can You Really Do All Things in Christ?

Image result for paul suffering

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Philippians 4:13 is one of the most often-quoted verses by Christians.

It’s pasted on fridges. It’s displayed in beautiful frames at home. It’s set as handphone wallpapers.

It’s a verse that encourages us that with Christ, we can accomplish any task. No task is too tough or beyond our ability when Christ is helping us.

But is that what Paul is really saying to the Philippians?

No doubt Paul is saying that Christ does strengthen us for tasks. But looking at the context, it sheds light on what else he might be saying to us.

It’s been eye-opening (and stressful) to study Greek in Bible college for this past year. One of the toughest thing translating verses from Greek to English. And translating Phil 4:13 from the Greek was interesting because it didn’t really match up with what I always thought.

The Greek for Phil 4:13 literally says: “I am strong for all things in the One strengthening me.”

That phrase “strong for all things” struck me. It means Paul is able to survive, to be content, to be strong enough for all circumstances in his life. Let that sink in for a moment. To understand this more fully, we have to track back to the previous verse:

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

Phil 4:12

Paul went through almost every kind of condition in life: Being well fed, being hungry, having plenty or having needs. But what’s more, Paul has learned the secret of being content through every circumstance that life threw at him. Reading 2 Cor 11 gives us a taste of Paul’s suffering that any normal person might have lost his faith and mind.

But not Paul. He knew the secret of being content in all circumstances. Imagine being content in good times and bad times of your life. Wouldn’t you want to know that secret?

It’s in the next verse. Paul leans in close and whispers to you:

“I am strong for all things in the One strengthening me.”

I am strong to handle all that life throws at me. I can survive a hurricane. I can survive a shipwreck. I can survive whippings. I can survive living on the streets. But I can also survive living a comfortable life and not yearning for more. It takes strength not to be greedy during the good times too.

Where does this strength come from?

From “the One strengthening me”: Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ gives us the strength to go through all circumstances of life content because we are content in Him alone. It’s not so much about doing all things but being strong in all things.

I don’t know what circumstances you find yourself in today. You might be struggling with cancer. You might be struggling to make ends meet. Or you might be enjoying a nice lunch at a posh restaurant. Whatever situation you find yourself, Christ can give you strength for all things. Christ is enough for you to be content because he promised to never leave you nor forsake you (Matt 28:20; Heb 13:5-6).

God’s Heart for Broken Families

In Singapore, there were 7,614 divorces and annulments (2016). And that’s just in one year. In ten years, there could be 76,000 divorces. If each family had on average two children, that’s 152,000 children having broken families.

Every divorce is painful, hurting not just the couple but also the children. Even among Christians, I know quite a few marriages that have fallen apart.

Time often does not heal such wounds. Single parents struggle to survive and raise their kids. Kids suffer from depression, rejection and turn to vices in some cases. Many social issues such as drugs and crime stem from broken homes.

If you have suffered from a broken home, God has a special heart for you. A short account in Scripture gives us precious lessons and hope for those hurting.

Hagar and Ismael suffered from a broken family. Abraham divorced Hagar and sent them away. Why? Sarah had baby Isaac and didn’t want Ismael to share in the inheritance. We read:

Genesis 21:10

…Sarah said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

Divorce is painful. Hagar and her son were given a skinful of water and sent off on their way. Wandering in the desert, they ran out of water. Death was looming. Many divorce fallout feels like that too. Single parents struggle to make ends meet in their own wilderness experience. It’s hard to survive and harder for parents to see their own kids suffer.

Hagar anticipates death and sobs a distance away from her son. She can’t bear to see him die of thirst. But God did something. He sees the situation and knows how they are feeling.

1. God heard Ismael crying and took action.

Genesis 21:17

And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.”

God sent an angel to comfort Hagar. God heard their cries for help. Years ago, God had sent an angel too when she was pregnant (Gen 16:13). After that incident, Hagar said, “You are the God who sees me.” God was always seeing her through the years.

God hears the Hagars and Ismaels of the world crying and comes closer. He comforts the 11 year old girl whose father has just abandoned the family for a younger wife. He tells a single mum working two odd jobs “Fear Not” because he has heard her prayers for help.

God sees. God hears. God knows. God acts.

You are not alone.

2. God opened Hagar eyes to see his provision of water.

Genesis 21:19

Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

God opened her eyes to see a well full of water. They drank and lived. It might have been right in front of her but she didn’t see it. Often God opens our eyes to see his provision right in front of our eyes.

My prayer is that God opens the eyes of single parents to see his provision for them. God has not left you alone but will find a way to provide for your survive. It might be through the community, the church, or the extended family. I hope that churches will step in to provide more for broken families. Supplying money, giving tuition for the kids or being there for them will make a huge difference. Many kids without fathers need a spiritual father for love, identity and guidance. Find a hurting family whom you can bless with your presence and love.

3. God was with the boy Ismael as he grew.

Genesis 21:20

And God was with the boy, and he grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow.

I love this verse. It says “God was with the boy” and “he grew up”. There is a link between God’s presence and the boy growing up. Many kids don’t grow up. They grow up physically but not emotionally. The little hurting kid inside hasn’t grown up. They may feel rejected, unloveable, finding love in all the wrong places. They need God to be with them.

What is God the father like?

Psalms 68:5

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.

To those who need a father, God the father is there for you.

To those single parents who need help, God is there to defend you.

Many crave the love of a father. Some on the other hand, imagine God the father to be like their own terrible father. They want nothing to do with God. If that’s the case, neither do I because that is not the God I know. God the father is loving, patient, kind, merciful, compassionate, forgiving. He’s the perfect father no one human could ever be. And that’s the kind of father we need in our lives to grow up well.