Sunday, November 26, 2017

November? No, Remember! Part 3

4. Thailand - Open Doors to the Land of Smiles
Two years ago, Chumphon, Thailand did not give me a reason to return. It's a beautiful place, but I was struggling to find my own identity in Christ at the time, I wasn't in focus throughout the mission. Fast forward two years later, I returned to the place, no longer struggling with my identity, but with much weariness in my soul. Little did I expect that Thailand would be a place of healing and spiritual replenishment. The vibrant spirituality of the brothers and sisters in Thailand had brought me into worship focus where my songs and my soul are on Christ alone.
But rest and retreat wasn't our intention, our mission was to bring the Good News to the children of Chumphon, Thailand through Bible stories and activities. And so we did: over 60 children heard about Jesus Christ and the love of God, 53 of them accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. If God isn't awesome, then who is?
This trip was a trip to recall God's goodness in my life thus far. During the night at Chumphon Railway Station waiting for our train ride back to Penang, Chea Yeong and I shared a great moment of conversation. It helped me to recount some of my mission experiences: My first mission to Lenggong, Perak with USM KKJ Christian Fellowship, my solo return mission to Lenggong, my first oversea mission in Timor Leste, my missions to Thailand and etc. I can't help but noticed the transformation of my character that God brought me through the years. In fact, Pastor Matthew observed that my heart of worship had shifted from self to God, which to me was a great encouragement and a great testimony of God's goodness and faithfulness in my spiritual journey.

One of my deepest cry in my prayer while in Chumphon was for the spiritual growth and revival of Li Xin Baptist Church. Much of these cries stem from my great love for her and my brethren. The young ones are tired and distracted and the old ones are weary and needy. I asked God to bring about a great power that sweep us off our feet, that we will all rise up in faith and put Him at the center of our every day life. I asked God to bless me as He placed me in LXBC to serve.

Brace yourself, Li Xin Baptist Church. God is going to do great work in our church. You best be ready to obey Him.
8 people from 5 different churches to serve that One God on high. A great testimony of God's amazing power to use the weak to do the seemingly impossible.
To Part 4

November? No, Remember! Part 2

2. Li Xin Baptist Church, My Family Away from Home
It's been all a tremendous ride in this journey of life with them. We celebrated our 24th Anniversary. Even though we intended to have just a small celebration, but it went off like a snowball and the whole thing blew up like a great concert. I had the greatest time of worship with the church, having more than 20 songs in a long chain of medley. Imagine that!

More importantly, the English Congregation pulled off our most elaborated performance yet: a sketch + a dance. Thanks to our director Chea Yeong who managed to bring the whole congregation together to do something that we will remember as a congregation. The preparation was not easy. We met after work to practice. Though there were conflicts but it also brought us closer together as we learn to love one another in the process.
Our spirits for prayer had been refreshed once again during our Prayer Retreat, this time in Batu Ferringhi. While we hate that our time is short, we were tremendously blessed by Pastor Koe's teaching on the spirit of prayer and practical ways to help us in prayer. Personally, I was so moved by the Spirit I was in tears. I missed so much the intimacy that I share with God in prayer, yet so many time I have easily given up the privilege to come to Him in prayer.
The Sunday School had an outing to Audi Dream Farm in Balik Pulau. I had the audacity to tag along. I mean, why not? I'm a child, at heart! It was just amazing to experience animals in close encounter.
The Church is never perfect, not because God is flawed, but because the men and women He calls are broken and fallen. Yet, it is this same imperfection that magnifies God's perfect love. And as God loves us, His love is manifested in our display of love and forgiveness for one another.
3. Vocation with a Passion
Every morning as I wake up, it can be quite a challenge to bring myself. I mean, I am excited to go to work, no doubt about it, but my habit of staying up late at night takes a toll on my body and makes it hard for me to wake up at 5:30 in the morning.

That being said, I am excited as usual to be at work. I think I have come to realization that where I am now, is exactly where God wants me to be. Every waking moment has its purpose. Of course, work is never all fun and joyful. As most people do, to put it mildly, I have unlikable bosses and repulsive co-workers. I complain quite a bit too. But every moment God is calling me to love the unlovable, to forgive others, and to seek forgiveness for my own weaknesses too.

So, here I am to stay, as I am called to be faithful to the position Christ has for me. His Word for me:
One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much. 
Luke 16:10a
To Part 3

Saturday, November 25, 2017

November? No, Remember! Part 1

Time just dashed right before me, especially when I get so caught up in the actions in life, I hardly have time to stop, reflect and record.Yet so much has happened in the past 4 months: places I've traveled, people I've met, things I've experience. It's time to count all my blessings.

1. Sabah, Land Under the Wind
I was extremely excited for this trip. While it may not be out of the country, but it's certainly my first vacation after nearly 2 years as a working adult. To be able to save enough to afford a getaway is by itself a great testimony of God's great abundance in my life.

Sabah was unforgettable. Even trying to recall the experience 4 months ago was enough to captivate my heart again. Her beautiful nature, breath-taking scenery, wonderful people and generous food portion stole my heart for the place. Especially Kundasang, the doorway to Mount Kinabalu. I've lived in the city for far too long, the idea of waking up to painting-like mountain view is just mind-blowing.

The serenity of Kilimu Village: a small, hidden village just a few kilometers away from Poring Hot Spring gave both Gabriel and I a day of time-out, of mental escape and of spiritual realignment. In the village's SIB church, we experience both of simplicity of village life, yet a vigorous passion for the Lord.
The islands of Sabah are enchanting. Gabriel and I parted ways for a day and I went on a solo day trip into Pulau Sapi. I even went on riding the former longest zipline in Asia, flying from Pulau Gaya into Pulau Sapi. The view was spectacular. My camera did not work during the fly, but what I saw was indescribable. even with a video. The water was so clear I could see the corals and fishes underneath.
My time in Sabah was a time to learn to let go of my desperate need to be in control and let God take me on an exciting journey in the pace that He wants me too. Much of my properly planned schedule for the trip didn't work, but I asked Gabriel to constantly remind instead to enjoy the ride, not to be frustrated by my foiled plans. And indeed, it was one heck of a ride in Sabah with God.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sermon: Put on the New Self

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. 
Ephesians 4:17-24
How many of us has played the Pokemon card game before? Basically a player starts with a deck of 60 card which you will play against other players. As you progress as a player, you will collect more powerful card to add into your playing deck according to your strategies. One way to collect more powerful cards is to trade with other players. There’s a website online where you can check the current price and decide how you trade cards. You can pay money to the other player to obtain the card, or you can trade cards of similar or higher value. Trading involves giving up something that you have in order to gain something that you want.

If you grab a handful of sand, how much do you think it is worth? As an Industrial Engineer in an Electronic Assembly Factory, I oversee several production lines and design processes that turn sand: ugly, worthless and useless in the hands of any man, into some amazing and expensive speakers that play pleasing music to our ears. Of course, they are rather expensive for our taste in Malaysia. Ephesians 4:17-24, as with other parts in the same book describes a transformation in the way we carry ourselves.

Paul first distinctively identified two exclusive groups, referring them as “They” and “You”, so that Christians may understand that we are called to be set apart, to be distinguished from another. “They” are not us, “They” are not our identity. “They” are confused, full of darkness, ignorant, stubborn and rejected the ways and life of God. “They” have given themselves up to the pursuit of their selfish desires, lustful pleasures, greed and unholiness. We must not act like “Them”.

Instead, “You” are now children of God and you have a new identity. Paul tells us to look at Jesus as the standard of true holiness. We are called to learn from the example of Christ and to be like Him. “You” must take away “your” old self, which is like “Them”, and change into the new self, which is like God, righteous and holy.

But that doesn’t mean that this transformation is instantaneous. It doesn’t happen in a snap of fingers the moment you say your Sinner’s Prayer. Paul describes putting on the new self of the likeness of God as an ongoing process that takes both effort and time. Many of our unbelieving friends misunderstand that being a Christian means you are instantly “holy” and expect you to live according to their measurements of a “good” Christian. And many of us can get very discouraged when our friends say things like “Christians should act like that one meh?!” What they don’t understand is that Christians are not instant saints; in fact, we are people who realise that they are terribly trapped in sins and needs help. It’s like realising that our T-shirts are dirty and needs a change of fresh one. However, putting on a new self is not as easy as taking off that dirty shirt and putting on a new one. To transform raw material in my factory into a fine quality speaker takes at least 8 days before it is on its way to our customer in other parts of the world, which takes another 6 weeks. A Boeing 747, one of the largest airliner in the world, takes a series of processes over the span of 2 years to transform from raw material into a 200 tonne flying machine. Putting on the new self takes times.
A Boeing 747
While it takes time to put on the new self, it also means there is a second chance for all of us. It also means that it is possible. In the next part, Paul gave us some tips on how to put on a new self.

1. Trade lies for truth (v25)
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 
Ephesians 4:25
Humans are very good liars. Studies show that in a 10-minute conversation, humans make an average of 3 lies and research found that we are so good at lying, we don’t even realise that we are lying. Lying is so common that it has became a subconscious part of our daily life. To make things even worse, lying in a certain condition, is in fact considered an ideal option. How many of us have heard that it is okay to lie if it is a white lie? The statement itself is a big fat lie.

In a church setting, a common form of lying is found when brothers and sisters put up a fancy superficial front to cover up their brokenness, and it’s made even worse with the invention of social media. Instead of coming to God and to fellow believers in sincere openness about their weakness so that we may allow healing to begin, we snap a fancy photo on Facebook and pretend that life is good and beautiful. Relationships are formed superficially and spiritual growths are held stagnant. Lying cripples the healthy function of a church. We find a prime example in Acts 5:1-11 when Annanias and Saphira falsely declared their contribution to the church. It was a beautiful picture where every family of the church brought their possessions to share, but it was marred by death as the result of their attempt to deceive God. They could have been honest about not giving all their possessions and still get to keep their money and lives, but it was far more important for them to keep their pride. Lying ruined a good picture.

But lying is a characteristic of the Devil. The serpent lied to Eve in the Garden of Eden and had led to the fall of man. One of the earliest act of sin after the fall was in fact Adam and Eve lying to God. There are huge consequences to lying. Haven’t we seen enough destruction of relationships and of nations by lies? Sure, lying can get us out of tough situations easily. We can avoid getting caught for cheating, cover up an ugly scandal, comfort an angry boss, or even get voted into power but it is never a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card. Lying is nothing but swiping a credit card to buy things with money you don’t have, debt will catch up to us soon enough.

I think without a doubt, we all agree that the effect of lying is devastating and it is a nature of God. Paul calls us to put them away and  start being truthful and genuine to our neighbours. As a church we are called to be real to our brothers and sisters. It is when we start being truthful and genuine, we can begin to develop intimate and meaningful relationships with one another that can help to build the church.

2. Trade rage for self-control forgiveness (v26-27)
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 
Ephesians 4:26-27
In the beginning of my journey of faith I struggled with my rage. My desperate need to be in control often pushed me into an uncontrollable rage when things don’t go my way. My sister was particularly a frequent victim of my rage. When my sister ticked me off, with my larger stature I would inflict physical pain upon my sister. To this day, even though the Lord graciously reconciled my sister and I in those matters, I would still regret the things I did in those moments when rage blinded me. In hindsight, I know why I did what I did. In most cases I was too angry to forgive and too proud to apologize.

Paul clearly understands that angry is only natural. God Himself is shown to be angry at times too. In effect, Paul was saying “If you, at any point, had been provoked to anger, be angry. But watch out! Watch out for excessive anger!” Anger in itself is not a sin, but in our fallen human nature, sin follows our anger closely. You see, anger can blind us and too much anger can set ourselves out of control. 

Paul calls us to put a restraint on our anger and keep our self-control. Proverbs 25:28 “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” And a city that is breached and without a wall is a city that can be easily conquered by her enemies.The devil catches us at those moments when we are vulnerable, sets us on a path of mistakes and sins and takes control over us. Paul reminds us not to give away such opportunity to the devil and gain control over ourselves in our anger. I am pretty sure it is difficult to be angry and not sin. Personally it is tough. So maybe it is better to not get angry at all. 

But perhaps the remedy to our anger that causes us to sin is to forgive. A mentor of mine once said that “forgiveness, is to give up our attempt to get even with another person.” If someone has done something to hurt you, to forgive is to choose not to return the hurt and not to demand justice in return. In effect, forgiveness takes more than just saying “I forgive you”. It takes sacrifice and effort to reconcile the differences. Paul instructed us to settle our differences on the same day itself. Matthew Henry commented “If you have been provoked and have had your spirits greatly discomposed, and if you have bitterly resented any affront that has been offered, before night calm and quiet your spirits, be reconciled to the offender, and let all be well again.”

Brothers and sisters, if any of you among us today had been angered and offended by another in the church, I encourage you to settle your differences. If you owe an apology, apologize; if you are to forgive, forgive. Even if it happened long in the past, settle it today, before the seed of anger turn into bitterness and destroy the unity among the brethren. 4 years ago, in Chefoo Cameron Highland, I wrote a postcard to my sister, asking her to forgive me for my acts of abuse in the past. Today, I experience God’s powerful reconciliation and forgiveness in the life of my sister and I and our relationship is better than ever.

3. Trade thievery for honest work (v28)
Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 
Ephesians 4:28
“Stealing is the effect of idleness.” St. John Chrysostom wrote. Many of us will say that poverty causes stealing, put poverty in fact drives people to work. The worst poverty would do to a poor is to beg. But for a person who is too lazy to work, yet too proud to beg, is greatly tempted to steal. We see this phenomena in most drug abusers. When drug abuse cripples their ability to function well and to do productive labour, they resort to steal to fund their addictions.
So in place of idleness that leads to stealing, Paul calls us to occupy ourselves with honest and productive work. Why? Because our God is a productive God. He created the Garden of Eden and commanded man to work it and be productive. And in doing honest and productive work, we keep ourselves away from the temptation to take things that do not belong to us. Besides that, honest and productive work transforms us from a receiver into a giver. Not only does honest work provide for ourselves, it gives us the capability to provide for others as well. Certainly, “it is more blessed to give than to receive” applies here well.

The great news is, as I believe, that all of us are productive and honest. At least in most area, we are able to work and provide for ourselves. Therefore, I encourage us to be generous. Why? Because the Lord has indeed blessed all of us with honest and productive work, and the result of productive work is so that we have something to share with others generously. However, there are also some areas of our lives that we have been stealing from others. I would be the first to admit that I have been using pirated softwares and keeps copies of illegal music. Some of us may have taken something from work for our personal use. Regardless of how small it is, the salvation of Christ is complete, so let us strife to completely rid ourselves of dishonest thefts!

4. Trade filthy words for encouragement (v29)
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 
Ephesians 4:29
It is particularly hard to preach this portion of the Scripture. As a talkative guy, I tend to let my lips loose and has often spoken filthy things. I have a tendency to tell dirty jokes and to cuss. Forgive me for not being the best of a Christian example. Paul particularly warned about such corrupt talk. Filthy and unclean words are generally words that provoke the lusts and passions of others. They are useless and destructive. They spring from the speaker’s corrupt heart and they corrupt those who listen. Jesus said in Mark 7:15 “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”

However, corrupting talks are not just lustful and filthy words, but are also discouraging and destructive. The Cantonese people can be a very discouraging and destructive people with our words. My mom used to comment that our mouth are so foul, we curse our own children. These words are so common they somehow became an acceptable norm among the Cantonese speakers. Such discouraging and unhealthy curses are often very destructive and causes problems in the generations to come. Children imitate such behavior and continue to pass on such destructive behavior. Listeners of such degrading names can cause low self-esteem and psychological trauma that affect the mental health of a person.

Instead, Paul commands us that we should abandon such defiling words. As a new man in Christ, we shall no longer breathe words of death, but words of fragrance. Paul says that we should ONLY use words that build up and edify others. Our mouths should breathe life into others. And as we fill our mouth and thoughts with fragrant and edifying words, there will be no room nor tolerance for corrupt words. So today, I would like to encourage Li Xin Baptist Church, to constantly speak words of truth that build up one another, encourage one another. If in any occasion that I speak corrupt words, please rebuke me, gently. Let’s help one another to put on a new self.

5. Trade bitterness for kindness (v31-32)
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. 
Ephesians 4:31-32
Back in 2012, I went for a three-week mission in Lenggong, Perak where I first met the Sarah and other members of Li Xin Baptist Church. During that mission, I met this particular lady who was a tough one to handle. Because of her past hurts and betrayal from friends and family, there was so much bitterness in her. Troubled by sickness and lack of mobility, she would come to the coffee shop owned by a brother of the church every day because that’s the only few places that would welcome her. Every time I talk to her, I was cursed and called terrible names. It would be a miracle to find a single complete sentence without a foul word from her. It just seemed impossible for her to be touched and saved by the gospel. But by the amazing grace of the Lord, I was able, not only to be the first to learn of her salvation, but to stand by her side as she was baptised on Christmas Eve 2012.
Today, her life is completely transformed. I still remember telling her that she has to stop smoking and cussing after baptism. She cutely protested and asked for leniency. Today, she has stopped cursing, at least whenever I’m talking to her. She has also quitted smoking. In place of bitter words are prayers and kind words. Her transformation in character became the talk of the town and was a great testimony of God’s amazing grace. When she accepted Jesus as her Lord and her Savior, she traded her bitterness for kindness.

Paul asked us to trade our bitterness for kindness. Any forms of wrath, anger, rude talks, gossips, slanders and even intentions to harm others are not of God. As His children we are to leave them behind because they are natures of the Devil. They belong to “Them”. Instead, be kind to others: gentle and forgiving. Why? Because God is forgiving and He forgave us. Jesus was gentle, and so we ought to imitate Him and be gentle. Kindness, gentleness and love are signs of those who truly follow Jesus because these are the natures of God.

Let us examine our hearts to search for past hurts that breeds bitterness in our heart. Let us surrender them to God and put on kindness of our new self. Let us treat each other with kindness and love, desiring the good of others.

Conclusion
If you cannot remember one thing I’ve have said today, you should at least remember this Rule of Thumb written in v30. 
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 
Ephesians 4:30
The Holy Spirit tells us the right from wrong and we know for certain that wrong and sinful things grieve Him. He is a little like a tender mother who constantly wants to teach us to do the right thing, but our disobedience and folly grieves him as one who loves us dearly. In short, we must not indulge in anything that is contrary to His nature. If your conscience is troubled at any point at anything we are about to do today, it is perhaps good to take time to consider if our ways grieve the Holy Spirit.

Do not grieve the Holy Spirit. It is not without consequences. After all, it is by the Holy Spirit that we are sealed for the day of redemption. Surely we do not want to have Christ turn His face against us when He returns.

Brothers and sisters, what would you like to trade today? Are you willing to give up your old self to God as He gives you a new self? This trading process is not going to be an easy one. It takes time, patience and perseverance. God may be taking you through a journey of struggles and hardship as you choose to give up yourself and to put on Godly self. As we go home today, let’s give ourselves some time to ponder, which out of the 5 things we have explored today is God asking you to work on? Let us ask God for the strength to transform and let us encourage one another as we do so.

Love • Christ • Unity

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Sermon: REMEMBER! You were Hopeless!

Introduction
As of 31 October 2016, according to our Deputy Prime Minister, there are 290,437 stateless children currently residing in Malaysia. They are born in Malaysia but failed to get their citizenships, mostly because they were abandoned by their parents or born to a family with messy marriage arrangements. What does it mean to be stateless for these children? They better win the fight for their citizenship before they turn 21, else they will be in a state of limbo, with nowhere to belong to. They cannot get married legally, have no access to public education, employment and protection of their rights. They cannot even be deported because there is nowhere for them to be deported to. As the Malay Mail writer Ida Lim described, they are forever an alien.

As I preach from Ephesians 2:11-22, I titled today’s message “You were hopeless” because I realised that we were no different from these children before we know Jesus. But at the same time, such hopelessness is not that one thing that I want us to dwell on today. Instead, I would like all of us to ponder upon our attitudes as Christians in the light of our former self. This message was not meant to discourage you or to lead you to hopelessness, but to push us into a hopeful fresh reset in our spiritual life. Let’s begin with a word of prayer.

Remember!
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 
Ephesians 2:11-13
In one sentence, Paul gave 5 precise description of our former self: 1) separated from Christ. 2) alienated from the commonwealth of Israel. 3) strangers to the covenant of promise. 4) having no hope. 5) without God in the world. This was how dire our situations were.

Paul calls us to REMEMBER because it was those feelings of separation, alienation, ignorance, hopelessness and godlessness that eventually pointed us to our need for Christ. Much like the stateless children, we had no access to the Savior and all the privileges that are found in Him. we were cut off, abandoned and without hope for a future. Remember also, it was Christ that brought us near to Him and opened the door through which we may be accepted and gain access to God and His inheritance that was once only meant for the Jews. And He did so with a dear price: by His own blood.
The LORD constantly reminds us to remember. Throughout the history of Old Testament, God has repeatedly told the Israelites to remember. The Passover was celebrated with a series of symbolic food and ritual that tells the story of Exodus year after year, generations to generations. The Sabbath was kept also as a remembrance of the LORD as Israel’s redeemer. The 4th of the Ten Commandment reminds the Israelites to keep the Sabbath to remember the LORD that brought them out of slavery and gave them rest. 
“‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.
Deuteronomy 5:12-15. 
Much the remembering involves remembering who the Israelites were before God rescued them: they were hopeless slaves, oppressed by their Egyptian rulers, persecuted with brutality and had no God of their own. And 400 years of darkness and hopelessness, God saw their suffering and remembered His covenant with Abraham, and He rescued them out of Egypt with wonders and miracles. And even so, they were rebellious and stubborn, quickly forgetting their Savior God and turned to idols. So each call to repent has also been a call to remember who they were and how the Lord has rescued them.

So brothers and sisters, do you remember who you were before Christ found you? I keep a habit of journaling down my journey of faith, since the beginning of my faith. Back then it was a cool thing to keep a blog, now I often see the value of writing these special moments where God speaks to me or lead me through a season. It’s getting harder to write especially after I started work, but I insist to have at least one post per month. I put them on a blog because I love to share my stories, but it doesn’t have to be a blog. I encourage you to find ways that can help you to remember your story and the story of God’s rescue in your life. Remembering those stories will help us to remember the Lord God that has brought us thus far and remember that He will continue to do so.

Building Bridges, Breaking Walls
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 
Ephesians 2:14-18
In v14, the dividing wall of hostility is not just a metaphor to the separation between the Jews and the Gentiles. The Wall of Hostility is an actual, physical wall. The Wall of Hostility is a gated fence or wall built around the Jewish Temple that prevents Gentiles and ceremonially unclean Jews from entering the inner court. Archeologists discovered an inscription that writes “Whoever is captured past this point will have himself to blame for his subsequent death.” Those are rather hostile words against the Gentiles. But it describes the kind of tension and differences that exists between the Jews and the Gentiles. The Wall of Hostility separates the Jews from the Gentiles, the clean from the unclean. Because of this division, the Gentiles has no access to God even if their hearts fear Him and desires Him. There’s no way that we can come to Him.
As I was preparing this message, I reflected upon my behavior and asked myself this: Have I been the dividing wall of hostility that prevented others from coming to Christ? Have I been hostile to others and have decided that a certain person or group of people cannot come to Christ? Unfortunately, the answer is a painful yes.

But it’s ironic isn’t it? At this moment, God calls me to remember who I was. I was a stranger and alien to salvation, separated from Christ and had no hope. How was I any different from the rest? So then if I know myself the pain of an alien separated from Christ, how can I then prevent others from coming to Him?

The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross has done away with all the things that prevented ANYONE to come to God. Whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, a man or a woman, Malay, Chinese, Indian or our brethren of tribes, there is nothing left to stop from coming to Him. He has made all of us equal and one. All the rituals and requirements that prevented us from entering into God’s presence have been fulfilled eternally by Christ our Savior. He is making a new, unified body out of all of us where hostility is no more. He has brought peace among the chaos and we now all have equal access to the One Spirit to the Father.

Doors that are opened by Christ, who are we to close them? Therefore brothers and sisters, let us reflect upon ourselves and our behavior. Have we in any occasions have prevented others from coming to Christ? Have we made it hard for our brothers and sisters with our unforgiveness? Have we decided that a certain ethnic or race among our friends can have no access to the Gospel?

Remember that we used to be like them: strangers and without hope. So let us be the one that point them to the hope that we now have access to. And remember, they too are welcomed into God’s presence because of Christ Jesus our Lord.

Becoming God’s People
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. 
Ephesians 2:19-22
V19 describes the reversal of v12. Through the blood of Christ, we have been transformed from being a foreigner and stranger into family members. God has opened his arm wide to welcome us into his household. He calls us fellow citizens of His kingdom, along with the children that He already have in the beginning. This is our new identity: His people.

And with that, God has undertaken a new construction project. One which the foundation is not laid down by human hands, but by the work and sacrifice of Christ Jesus, the prophets and the apostles. This is a project of tremendous scale and it’s international. He is building a new temple that does away the old one. This new temple transcends the boundary of race, nationality, gender and status, it is now global with no physical temple to limit us. 
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 
John 4:21-24
As Jesus himself prophesied in John 4:21-24, that we will no longer worship God on the mountain or in Jerusalem, but in spirit and in truth. We will worship God wherever we are, in an international, global temple. More importantly, building this temple takes everyone of us to contribute into this universal family.
Experiencing the transformation of my former self as hopeless stranger into a blessed family member of God’s household is invigorating. I was without a purpose, but now I have a role in His kingdom. As small pieces of “living stone” in His temple, we are all given a role to play in this family. In Christ, the Holy Spirit builds us into the dwelling place of God. He does so by giving us powers and gifts of the Holy Spirit to serve one another. He also molds us and chisels us to fit perfectly well according to His will.

So brothers and sisters, what role do you have in this family of God? As the cell group completes the series on EQUIP, I hope you have discovered your role and place in this church. Remember that we all have access to that same Spirit, so therefore ask the Holy Spirit for the gifts to serve. If you would like to serve, hesitate no more. God will help you and enable you to serve. Let’s play our part to build this temple of God. Remember our former self, and today you have hope and a purpose in God’s kingdom. Let us rise up and help one another, serve one another and love one another. And together, let’s build our church!

Conclusion
As I said in the beginning of this message, it is never my intention to preach hopelessness. I simply cannot, because the story of God is never a story of hopelessness. It’s a story of rescue, of peacemaking and of a new beginning. Instead, I pray that this message helps us to remember that we who were once hopeless is now living in eternal hope. I pray that this hope that was given to us freely by Christ will empower us to living a victorious life dedicated to build His kingdom.

So remember, my brothers and sisters, that we are not without hope, we are not without God. We have a purpose in all that we do. So as we depart from here, as we go back to our workplace, let us point our colleagues and friends to that open door where the dividing wall of hostility is no longer there to stop them from coming to God. As we go back to our family, let us focus on building a godly family that will be a strong building block of the holy temple of God. As we serve in our church, let us be ever forgiving and loving, that we may be constantly united in Christ Jesus, our Cornerstone.

Let’s pray.
Love • Christ • Unity

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Invisible Hands of God

That night the king could not sleep; so he ordered the book of the chronicles, the record of his reign, to be brought in and read to him. It was found recorded there that Mordecai had exposed Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway, who had conspired to assassinate King Xerxes. 
Esther 6:1-2
This is where the climax begins. One fateful night of a powerful Gentile king who was left sleepless and restless. Something did not sit right with him, and his heart was stirring. In the most ungodly hour, he decided to reflect upon his own reign. On a book (perhaps books) recording all the great things he had done, all the happenings of his kingdom, chapter after chapter, something out of the ordinary caught his eyes. One overlooked man who kept him alive and sleepless was left unrewarded for his act of loyalty.

Mordecai vs Haman
As a concerned father, Mordecai paced back and forward daily in front of the king's gate to check on his lovely adopted daughter Esther, who was summoned into the king's court as queen. His regular presence fatefully led him to uncover a plot against the king. The crisis was averted before any harm was caused. But Mordecai was not a man of compromise. He refused pay his respect and tribute to Haman and this has angered Haman. Haman's bloated self-esteem and pride has taken another step further than reprimanding Mordecai: he wanted the destruction of Mordecai's people. At this, Mordecai was gravely grieved.
Putting Haman in focus, he was drunk in his indulgence of his vanity and pride. He boasted the favor of the king upon himself, and he bragged about the honor to be invited by the Queen Esther. He had riches, treasures and honor. But one thing remain imperfect: Modercai still refused to bow. He had everything but one, and he was still dissatisfied. He desires to see Modercai and his family suffer, he would go on and set up high poles to see them impaled upon the poles. Haman continued to feast and indulge.

A Mysterious Restlessness
As Haman plotted evil against Mordecai, the all-powerful King Xerxes couldn't fall asleep. He was powerful, yet he did not seem to have control over his restlessness. This mysterious restlessness rendered King Xerxes powerless and he had no rest until Mordecai was noticed. This very same night, as Haman entered the king's court to propose Mordecai's tragic demise, Mordecai became a man honored by the king.

O how ironic! Haman came to humiliate Mordecai, was instead humiliated by the command of the king to be the very person to robe his enemy. No man shall stand against God's people. As they plot to bring shame upon God's people, the Lord shall put them to shame! Even his wife and friends remarked "Since Mordecai, before whom your downfall has started, is of Jewish origin, you cannot stand against him—you will surely come to ruin! (Esther 6:13)"

Surely those who plot to bring harm upon His people, shall be brought to the very harm upon themselves. Indeed, Haman soon met his end upon the very pole he had intended for Mordecai.
The Invisible Hands of God
In the story of the Book of Esther, God was never mentioned by name. I went through all 10 chapters to search for words like "the LORD" and "God" but with no avail. But nevertheless, God was the focus of the entire story. He was there from the beginning to the end of it. From the crowning of King Xerxes in history, to the abolition of Vashti as Queen, to the installation of Esther as Queen, to the uncovering of the plot against the king by Mordecai, to the plot of Haman against the Jews, to the calling of Queen Esther to protect the Jews, to the honor of Mordecai, to the demise of Haman, to the demise of the enemy of the Jews and to the installation of Purim as celebration. From the beginning until the end, the invisible hands of God was seen. He was the focus of the entire story.

That only time in history when the Lord had ever turned His back against His faithful servant and had forsaken him, was when Jesus cried out "eli eli lema sabachthani" (Matthew 27:46). God had forsaken His own Son, so that you and I may never be forsaken.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, even when this journey of life seem so dark you cannot move on; even though God seems to be so far away in your distress; even when it seems like God is nowhere to be found, it is this exact moment that you can be sure that God's invisible hands are carrying you through the path that He has called you to endure. 
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 
Romans 8:38-39
 Love • Christ • Unity

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sermon: Fathers

Introduction
Happy Fathers’ Day. Allow me to start by sharing a bit about my father. This is my father about 30 years ago, and this is me about 7 years ago. Not only that I took after his look, I took after his personality as well. 3 months back when Pastor Matthew visited my dad in the hospital, he remarked “Now I know where you learn all your nonsense.”
My father 30 years ago
Myself 7 years ago
My father is a man of virtues: funny, talented, outgoing, gentle, humble and loving. He’s also stern, honorable, respectable and dependable. At the same time, he is also stubborn, careless and a little foolish at times.

Personally to me, my father is my role model. I look up to him as the man I want to be. I remember how my dad used to discipline my sister and I. I was always given a harsher scolding and a thicker stick. As the eldest son in the family, my dad wants me to be the protector of the family in his absence and to be the brother to my sister. Well, I got the beatings because I did exactly the opposite. Conversations with my dad are few. Our phone calls last averagely 15 seconds. But he nevertheless played an important role in my upbringing.

The role of fathers are over overlooked in the Chinese culture. We sing songs about mothers, but few are the songs about Fathers. Their contributions to families often go unnoticed and unappreciated. However, the Bible seems to give more attention to the role of fathers.

Today, I’ve taken a small portion of Paul’s instructions for the Christian households in Ephesus and put that focus on the role of children to their parents as well as the role of fathers to their children.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. 
Ephesians 6:1-4
1. Children, be obedient
Back in June 2008, about two months into my journey as a new believer, I had another episode of argument with my dad who was recovering from his surgery. My dad was greatly disappointed in my decision to convert. Perhaps he felt most agonized by the fact that his son chose to rebel at the time when he was most vulnerable. I was on the other agonised by the insults hurled at me about this God whom I had recently chose to follow.
At the time, my relationship with my earthly father was in great tension. As a new believer I didn’t know how to deal with it. But my Heavenly Father was watching the entire episode and sent guardian angels. One of them was my Mandarin teacher at school. With a tender and loving gesture, she sat me down in the school canteen and listened attentively to my story. She went on to share her testimony as a new-born Christian in a non-believing family. She remarked that most non-believing fathers tend to think that they lose a child when the child converts. But she encouraged me to keep holding on, to obey my parents, and let God transform me from the inside out because Christianity doesn’t take my father’s son away from him, but instead, make him a better son.

Paul’s instruction for children was simple: obey your parents. To obey our parents is a universally recognised by any law or culture as righteousness. Paul said that it is the right thing to do. Even the Ten Commandments specifically spelt out that we should honor our parents, and greatly emphasized on its importance by giving it a blessing that follows. I remembered how these Words of God was a great encouragement and comfort for me at the time.

My father could not be swayed by words. Despite all that logical conversations with him, there seems to be no way to break his stubborn heart with words. So my teacher encouraged me to persuade him with my actions instead. Christianity makes us better children, and our transformation in Christ speaks volume for us. Over the years, Christ has made amazing transformations in my family. I wouldn’t say that I am very good as a son, but at least my father was convinced that I remain the son he’s proud of, even though he doesn’t verbalise it. I started to see a transformation in my father as well. He was becoming a father that I’ve always wanted for me: to verbalise his love for me and to reaffirm me as a man. When I was about to begin the 2nd Semester of my university, my parents sent me all the way from KL to Penang. As I waved them goodbye, I heard something that I thought I will never heard from my father: I love you. At that moment I was stunned. It took me by surprise and for a moment, I lost words. “I love you, too!” was what I wanted to reply but did not. But those words were the words I thank God for until today. Besides my relationship with my father got better, God also reconciled my relationship with my sister, but that’s a story for another day.

The point is, Christ makes us better children. How many of us here have parents or siblings or loved one who have yet to believe? I would like to encourage you to continue to hold on to God’s Word and let Him transform you. Obey your parents, do what is right, honor them and thank God for them. Don’t forget to persistently pray for them and show them the tender love that our Heavenly Father has shown us. Our transformations into better sons and daughters will be a great testimony for our Heavenly Father.

2. Fathers, be reasonable.
As for fathers and future fathers, or in a broader context, parents, the Bible tells us to be reasonable parents. When Paul instructed us not to “provoke your children to anger” or “exasperate your children” in some translations, he was saying it in relation to his previous instruction for children. Even as he instructs the children to obey their parents, he commands fathers to reciprocate that obedience by being reasonable to their children. In Matthew Henry says in his commentary: “The duty of parents. Be not impatient; use no unreasonable severities. Deal prudently and wisely with children; convince their judgements and work upon their reason.” 

Parents must give space for children to exercise their obedience. Barnes’s Notes on the Bible says that “If children are required to "obey," it is but reasonable that the commands of the parent should be such that they can be obeyed, or such that the child shall not be discouraged in his attempt to obey.” And parents ought to encourage them in their attempt to obey. 
I think many of us can understand how discouraging it can be when our intentions and efforts to do our best are met with harsh criticisms instead of encouragements. While constructively pointing out faults can be helpful in helping the young ones to grow, but very often, particularly among the older people in our culture mistakenly thinks that young people cannot be given praises lest pride leads to their downfall. I personally think that we may have taken that too far. When parents constantly pick on their children mistakes, irritating and discouraging them, children may lose their motivations to do their best. “Why do I try so hard, when all I make are mistakes?” So parents, be reasonable: Compliment them where their credits are due, gently offer constructive comments where it can be improved. Children grow best in encouragement, not criticism.

3. Fathers, be parents.
Personally, my parents worked together to educate both my sister and I. My mother was in charge of all our educations. She taught us how to read, write, speak and calculate. My father on the other hand was in charge of imparting values to us. He taught us honesty, honor, responsibility, filial piety, humility and etc. While they sent us to schools and tuitions, they would never give up their responsibilities as parents to discipline us. My mother knows all my teachers at school and was always willing to work with teachers. If we get punished at school for being naughty, we would get an extra round of lectures and caning.

Paul reminded the fathers to do their part as parents. As parents, we are given the role to educate our children, to bring them up in the discipline and instructions of the Lord. As Christian fathers, we are responsible for teaching our children in the Christian values and behavior. Paul did not delegate this role to the teachers in our schools, nor did he instruct the Youth Pastor to discipline them, nor the Sunday School teachers. We are responsible to see that our children come to know the Lord and taught in His Words.
Today’s children lacks fundamental elements that makes up a healthy childhood. They are often deprived of emotionally available parents, clearly set limits and boundaries, entrusted responsibilities and etc. Today we are often preoccupied by electronic devices and social media, and we often relinquish our responsibilities to discipline children in the name of “giving children freedom to rule the world”. This can create serious problems in a child’s development in character, and personality. 

As we become parents in the future, let us not neglect our part as parents. Let us spend more time and more attention to the upbringing of our children. Let us equip ourselves in the knowledge of God’s Word that we may teach His Words to our children. Let us prepare ourselves in characters and manners worthy of the Lord so that we may have a moral authority to discipline our children in the future. Let us practise the godly Christian values in our family and among our friends that we may raise our children to be sons and daughters after God’s heart.

Conclusion
This Father’s Day, we want to celebrate fathers. At the same time we want to celebrate godly parents as well. We thank God for them and we appreciate their sacrifices for their children. As potential fathers and mothers, the Lord calls us to play our respective roles well in the future. As children, we ought to obey our parents and honor them. There is wisdom in their old age. As future fathers, we are reminded not to abuse our role, not to provoke or irritate them to anger, but to be reasonable and encouraging. We are also called to take up our responsibilities to nurture and discipline our children in the Christian values for it is our duty no one else can do better for our children.

Love • Christ • Unity