PASTORAL PERSPECTIVE

When you are in a certain need, you will naturally resort to your own means to meet that need. Perhaps, you may tell your close friend about it. You may not necessarily inform your closed ones about it but it depends really on your level of relationship with them and your trust in them. If you are comfortable with your closed ones, you will surely not hide from them your very need at hand. For those who are in a Discipleship Group (DG), if your relationship with your DG leader is good, you may even pour out your concern with him or her. If your relationship with your DG members are good, you would be free to share with them your need too. Sometimes, you may not even want to share with anyone. You just want to be alone handling the problem by yourself, provided you are able to manage it. If you cannot manage it, then who else will you turn to when you are in a certain need?

If you are a child of God, what does the Bible, the Word of God, teach you? Still, it all depends on your relationship with God! As a child of God, besides sharing with the trusted brothers and sisters in Christ in church, who should we turn to in the very first place? This Bible verse, Matthew 6:33, teaches us that we should seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. When you seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, what are you assured of or promised of by the Word of God? You are promised that “all these things will be added to you.” All these things refer to all those needs of yours. Our daily necessities are provided for by God when we put first thing first! We are dependent on God for all our daily needs. I am referring to daily needs but not daily wants! What we want may not be what we need.

As God’s beloved children, let us put God as the first priority in our life this year 2020, living a life of godliness and holiness to the glory, honour and praise of God’s holy and powerful Name. Amen. To put God first is to place God at the centre of our life. If Christ is the Lord of your life, then He should occupy the first place in your life. To think of God first in all our pursuits in life, not running ahead of God but resorting to God and His Word as the best counsel of our life in Christ. To tell God your concerns and cares before telling others is a demonstration of your dependent on Him alone and not on yourself or on others. Being conscious of God in whatever things you do is reflective of your accountability to Him alone.

How do you show others that you are depending on God? To depend on God, you actually give heed to the Word of God by reading and meditating upon it and by applying its principles into your very life and ministry. Beside this, you know that God wants you to be open to the counsels of godly people: godly men and women. “Depend on God” encompasses your dependent on God’s provisions which include God’s beloved people in the Community of Faith, the Community of Believers in Christ. In addition to this, you are willing to turn to God in worship and prayer. This also reflects that you are dependent on God. Furthermore, by relying on God and trusting Him with all your heart, you are firm in your faith in Christ, not shaken by the demands of life itself. This is what I have learnt in Proverbs 3:5-6 which says that “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Sometimes, our own understanding of the situation may not be reliable or sufficient. We really cannot depend on what we do not fully comprehend. In the first place, we need to yield to God that certain need or situation at hand, recognising that God sees beyond what we see. The best thing to do is still to acknowledge Him in all our ways. When we yield or surrender to God the matter at hand, He can make a way for us. He can smoothen the path before us and for us. Amazing thing happens under the mighty hand of God!

Let us not be wise in our own eyes but always be sensitive to the leading of the Spirit of God in our daily lives. When we practise the presence of God with us throughout the day and week, we are conscious of the things of God so much so that in all that we think, in all that we do and we say, we will ensure that we please God and bring praises to Him. All these become a reality when we make a deliberate effort to regularly spend time with God whom we love and obey with all our hearts and lives. In essence, this is all about seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. I have learnt all these in Proverbs 3:7-8 which says that “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” Fearing God is that reverence trust in the great and almighty God who knows what He is doing and who knows what is best for His beloved children.

“Depend on God” is about living the life in the Spirit rather than in the flesh, submitting and subjecting to the Lordship of Christ in our journey of faith in Christ. To God be the glory, honour and praise! Amen. 

Preacher George Ang
January 19, 2020

To help the Primary 1 students adjust to a new environment that is vastly different from pre-school, most primary schools have a buddy system. For my daughter’s school, it is the Primary 4 cohort who will get to befriend their juniors and help them find their way around school during recess for a period of 2 weeks.

My elder daughter, Sophia was rather enthusiastic about meeting her assigned buddy. She recalled how the presence of a helpful older girl made her feel welcomed and offered her some reassurance when she in Primary 1. Now that she has a chance to the same for another girl, she hopes that she can make a positive difference and help her junior ease into Primary School.

Undoubtedly, having good friends can make a significant impact upon our lives. This was certainly so for Zacchaeus whom Jesus graciously reached out to (Luke 19:1-10). Being the chief tax collector, Zacchaeus gained his riches by collecting money from his fellow Jews for the Roman government. Thus, it would not be surprising that Zacchaeus was not well liked by most Jews and that he probably had few friends, even amongst his own fraternity. After all, there was no mention of anyone helping Zacchaeus with his curiosity of wanting to see Jesus. Instead, Zacchaeus had to resort to climbing up a sycamore tree. Furthermore, when Jesus approached Zacchaeus and indicated his intent to visit him, the crowd all grumbled and expressed their disdain towards Zacchaeus whom they called a sinner (v.7).

In Jewish culture, it was understood that only someone who have a personal relationship with an individual gets to visit that person’s home and share a meal. For Zacchaeus, he welcomed Jesus with such joy and thankfulness because he never expected Jesus would choose to befriend someone like him. Someone who was looked down upon, someone who would have often compromised on his morals, someone who was more accustomed to bowing before Mammon rather than God.  

But notice what a wonderful transformation in Zacchaeus after Jesus chose to befriend him and stay at his place. One imagines that Zacchaeus would never have thought that his entire life would change in a single day. Instead of continuing with his old ways, Zacchaeus was prepared to follow Jesus. He had experienced God’s grace and readily offered to give away 50% percent of what he owns to the poor (v.8). This was far beyond what the Mosaic Law required.

In addition to showing compassion to the poor, Zacchaeus was committed to living an honest life. While Jesus did not require Zacchaeus to change his job, Zacchaeus was prepared to make restitution to those whom he defrauded. In fact, he was willing to “restore it fourfold”. From accruing wealth at the expense of others, Zacchaeus become one who would serve others at the expense of his wealth.

With Jesus now as his newfound friend, money was no longer his sole pursuit but a tool for doing good. Even though at this juncture, Zacchaeus would not have the full picture of what Jesus would accomplish through his death and resurrection, it was suffice for him to be accepted by Jesus. Indeed, Jesus had replaced money as Zacchaeus’ Saviour and Lord.

As we enter into a new year, I doubt that it will make much of a difference to how we feel about life and what we will do about it if there is no true change in our hearts. After all, a change in the date on a calendar means little apart from students having to return to the rigours of academic pursuit and many others resuming their work after the festive break. Likewise, a new day does not mean that circumstances will now be more favourable to us or that people around us will show us more favour. In and of themselves, they can hardly save us from tragedy or give us control in a chaotic world. To put our hopes in anything apart from God is to place ourselves ultimately on sinking sand. Without a real change in our hearts, we will still struggle with envy or greed and be anxious about our tomorrows.

On the other hand, if Christians learn to prayerfully reflect upon the costly grace that was shown to us by God, we are unlikely to remain the same person in 2020. For Zacchaeus, to the extent that he grasped the Gospel, money no longer had a hold over him. Zacchaeus was on his way to becoming a generous person rather than just complying to society’s expectations and trying to live a new life by merely fulfilling the letter of the law. Since salvation has come to Zacchaeus through Jesus (v.9), Zacchaeus was no longer lost amongst the crowds and in danger of destroying himself due to sin.

Some friends can really make a difference. As we embark on a new chapter of our lives in 2020, may our lives bear more and more evidence of Christ’s friendship with us. More than just redoubling our efforts to imitate the example of Jesus, let us pray that we will be like Zacchaeus who humbly and joyously responded to the friendship that Jesus graciously offered. And as we go about doing so, may God also use us to be a friend and a blessing to many others, pointing them to that one Friend whom we all need to have. Compared to all those well-wishes that we exchange during festive seasons, none can truly prosper us more than the “Son of Man who came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

Rev Edwin Wong
January 12, 2020

Human beings have a perennial fascination with astronomic phenomena. Just last Thursday, thousands of Singaporeans left the confines of their homes and offices and gathered in open spaces all around the island. This was a remarkable phenomenon in itself, for to remove us from our indoor habitats must have required something of astronomical proportions – nothing short of an annular solar eclipse. This is a solar eclipse which occurs when the moon passes centrally across the sun, but is insufficiently close to the earth to completely occlude it. This results in a spectacular ring of fire in a darkened sky at the moment of eclipse.

For most of the eclipse chasers out on Thursday, the entire affair was, perhaps, nothing more than a spectacle of nature (and a great opportunity to sneak a break). But for our ancestors who lived in a more enchanted cosmos, the solar eclipse would have been a most disturbing phenomenon. An elderly Chinese Singaporean interviewed by The Straits Times mentioned that there was still the custom of banging out loud noises during a solar eclipse when she was a teenager. This stems from the Chinese folklore that a solar eclipse occurs whenever a heavenly creature – either a dog or a dragon – is trying to swallow up the sun. To deter the creature from its dastardly deed, loud noises must be made to scare it away (it’s super effective!). Similar gastronomic folklores explaining this astronomic phenomenon are present in other cultures: for the Vietnamese the offender is a hungry heavenly frog/toad; the Koreans, a pack of hungry fiery dogs, the Indians, a decapitated demon Rahu (who tries to swallow the moon too).

The unhappy circumstances of the sun in these folklores reflect the ancient belief that solar eclipses are evil omens. On seeing one in 585 BC, the kingdoms of Media and Lydia perceived that the gods were angry at their warring and ceased hostilities immediately. The Aztecs thought the same way and made human sacrifices to propitiate the wrathful gods so that any impending disaster could be averted. The ancients believed in the astrological principle of “as above, so below,” in which celestial movements and phenomena are inextricably tied to the course of human affairs on earth. And if you see people perusing daily horoscope columns in the newspapers, you may be certain that this ancient principle still survives on in the minds of modern people.

Yet, about two thousand years ago, this same principle led a group of near eastern astrologers to Jesus (Matt. 2.1-12). They observed an unusual star in the night sky and figured it must be a sign of a significant event soon to happen on earth. The Magi are commonly referred to as sages (wise men) or kings in church tradition, but they were, in fact, neither. They were astrologers from the east, and of a significant enough social status to get an audience with Herod, the King of Judea – perhaps they were court diviners from a distant kingdom? Regardless, poring over scrolls and codices, they did their research and decided the star was a good omen heralding the birth of the Jewish Messiah.

What could have possibly caused the Magi to seek out the Jewish Messiah? The Gospel of Matthew does not give us much insight to this question. What we do know is, that unlike the Jews, the Magi were idolatrous Gentiles who worshipped foreign gods and engaged in dark practices like astrology, which were forbidden by God (cf. Lev. 19.26). They were a people who did not know God and whose hearts were far away from him. Due to their ignorance of him, only God alone could have made these Gentiles turn to the Messiah. Yet, God drew them not through conventional means like the preaching of prophets, but through something which he deplored: astrology! Here, we must not think that God therefore approves of us divining the future with astrological readings, or that he contradicts his own injunctions. In his profound mercy, he was working out his salvation plan through their ignorance and sinfulness. He is a God whose power is revealed chiefly in showing mercy and pity! He shone a beautiful light in the darkness for them whose minds have been darkened, and as they made the pilgrimage toward the light, he manifested his glory in the person of Jesus, his Messiah.

The church celebrates this manifestation of God’s glory to the Gentiles (as represented by the Magi) every year on the 6th of January (tomorrow!) in the Feast of the Epiphany. We remember how the light of Jesus fills humanity with the knowledge of God and draws us to him, thus fulfilling the prophecy in Isaiah 60 (NET):

“Arise! Shine! For your light arrives!

            The splendor of the LORD shines on you!

For, look, darkness covers the earth

            and deep darkness covers the nations,

but the LORD shines on you;

            his splendor appears over you.

Nations come to your light,

            kings to your bright light.”

Without this Light that God graciously shines into our hearts, we would be left groping about in the shadow of death.

Therefore, the only possible response to such grace is worship. Matthew does not tell us why the Magi were so ardent in their search for Jesus and their worship of him. As pragmatic Singaporeans, we certainly wonder why they had bothered to undertake an arduous land journey, braving the elements and the bandits, in order to offer gifts and pay homage to a baby, for they received nothing in return for their troubles! Was it not easier to DHL the gifts over with a nice note? After all, the Romans had a good postal system! Whatever was in their minds, they certainly believed the infant Messiah was well worth the trouble of a long pilgrimage.

The answer is simple: The Magi understood worship. In speaking of worship on Sundays, Roman Catholic theologian Romano Guardini has this to say: “When the liturgy [the church service] is rightly regarded it cannot be said to have a purpose, because it does not exist for the sake of humanity, but for the sake of God. In the liturgy, man is no longer concerned with himself; his gaze is directed towards God. In man it is not so much intended to edify himself as to contemplate God’s majesty.” The Magi recognised that there was One born on earth whose significance eclipsed and will eclipse every other human being. This fact inexorably led them to seek out the One above all so they may offer their rightful worship. This worship is not a means to an end; it is the end for all humanity. We are, after all, very acquainted with the first article of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.” This is explicitly described in the book of Revelation, where John describes the heavenly scene as a divine liturgy, with humans and other co-creatures engaged in a perpetual worship of God enthroned in all his Beauty.

Jesus is the Light of the world, the event of astronomical proportions which draws humanity out of darkness to himself in worship. If we too have seen this Light, then our response must be the same as the Magi. This is why every Sunday, we embark on a pilgrimage like the Magi, leaving the comforts of our homes and gathering around Jesus in worship. To do so is neither for self-gain nor to achieve some greater purpose. If Singaporeans can waste productive time by venturing outdoors to glimpse the fleeting beauty of an annular solar eclipse, then Christians who have experienced the eternal glory of God in Jesus can certainly “waste time” in their worship of him.

Mr Png Eng Keat
January 5, 2020

In Luke 10:38-42 we read of how two sisters, Martha and Mary differed in their responses to their very special guest Jesus. As written in the verses, Martha busied herself being a good host, while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to Him. I was familiar with this story even as a child but recently I’ve found myself reflecting on these verses again and again because, between Martha and Mary, I know exactly which one I am like. 

If I were to imagine that Jesus was physically coming to visit me in my house, I too can picture myself hurriedly setting the living room, making sure that I have food and drinks ready for Him. Perhaps I’d even polish the doorbell just so that it wouldn’t stain His perfect hands. I’d want everything to be just right for Him so that we can enjoy our time together. Wouldn’t the Lord be pleased at my diligence in preparing for Him?

Yet the words recorded in Luke 10 are a real affront to my expectations. Firstly, Luke records not that Martha was doing a good job but that she ’was distracted by much serving’. Next, Jesus appears to brush aside Martha’s complaints instead gently stating that it was Mary’s choice, to sit at His feet and listen, that is the good portion she should have chosen to do. Surely all this must have been very perplexing for Martha to hear.

I don’t think that Jesus was belittling Martha for her desire to serve Him. Rather I believe He was simply trying to teach her an important lesson. It appears that Martha was so preoccupied by all the things that she had planned and wanted to do for Jesus that she was being distracted from what was more important: simply sitting at His feet and listening to what He had to say. Could it be that Martha did not feel it was her right to sit at Jesus’ feet? Or that she had some responsibilities to fulfil as a host to her honoured guest? I may never know the truth driving her actions but there are several lessons I have learnt from Jesus’ words.

Firstly, there are times when my desire to serve ends up controlling me and drives out my fellowship with the Lord. I occupy myself with many things for the purpose of glorifying the Lord but in the midst of my busy-ness, I fail to see Him sitting there patiently waiting for me to turn my attention back to Him. From Jesus’ words, listening appears to take priority even above serving, which is truthfully easier said than done. I can recall countless times when I have simply used my own mind and reasoning and rushed in to get something done, only to struggle through it. It is only when I finally turn back to the Lord in frustration, much like Martha, do I finally realise my blunder.

Lastly, in the event where I, like Mary, choose to first listen to God before acting, there will be times when others, like Martha, may grumble and judge me for my inaction. However, as Jesus has promised, this choice is the good choice and I am comforted that Jesus Himself came to Mary’s defense. In addition, Jesus adds that Mary’s choice to sit at the Lord’s feet will not be taken away. As a Christian, it is such a blessed joy to know that my time with the Lord is seen as so precious to Him and that I can enjoy it always without fear that it will ever be taken away from me.

I am grateful for the simple lesson in this short account which teaches me so much to keep my focus on God no matter what I do. So likewise, if you too are a follower of Christ, rejoice in the gift that we have been given, that we can partake of this good choice and fellowship with a Living God, to sit at His feet and listen to His voice now and always.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in True Way,

Right now in Japan, Hooi Yin and I are not yet involved in ministry work as WEC has set aside our first 2 years for language studies. However, there have been times when I’ve found myself longing to be more involved in ministry or church work. We can see plainly the many struggles of Pastors and churches who do not have enough workers at hand and feel bad that we cannot offer more help. Yet to do so would definitely distract us from getting as seasoned with the Japanese language and culture as we can. Thus, it is wiser for us to simply wait patiently as the Lord’s plan for us slowly unfolds in His own timing.

Without fail the Lord has provided for us bountifully. Despite our busyness, Hooi Yin and I continue to progress in our studies and while we have been through many emotional ups and downs, the Lord has seen us through every obstacle.

He has also blessed our children with numerous friends in their respective schools, friends who do not care that they do not speak perfect Japanese but enjoy their company nonetheless. Our boys have been regularly inviting friends over to our house or been invited over to friend’s houses to play where they get to pick up the language at a far faster pace than either of us. We have thus also been blessed with opportunities to speak to their classmate’s parents and so exercise our language skills.

In addition, the church in Ritto we attend has been so warm and welcoming to us as a family that when I look back at how awkward our first few visits were I can scarcely recognise myself then. All in all, the changes we have experienced in the past year have been so numerous and overwhelming, but we rejoice that by God’s grace, we as a family are settling in Japan smoothly. 

So now as we stand at the cusp of a New Year, we’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you, our True Way family, for walking alongside us in our journey. Your prayers and thoughts have been invaluable in our first year here in Japan. It has also been a joy to hear how things are going back home and we too have been remembering you in our prayers as well. May the Lord continue to bless you as you too walk faithfully in the word, exercising faith and love and being a blessing to many. A blessed New Year to each of you and God’s peace and grace be with you now and always!

Sean Tan (Missionary to Japan)
December 29, 2019

For two millenniums, Holy Communion is a sacred meal that binds Christians to Christ and we read in 1 Corinthians 11: 17 – 22, 27 – 30 of the struggle and distortion in understanding of this practice in the Church. Paul had to write to correct their wayward ways. In verses 20-22, the Apostle Paul rebuked the Corinthians for treating the Lord’s Supper like an ordinary meal. “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!” The Corinthians were partaking Holy Communion in a disorderly manner, with some getting drunk while others getting hungry. It is clear that the problem was self-centeredness and if they were to carry on like that, not recognising the significance of what they were partaking, they would be eating and drinking judgment upon themselves.

Today’s concern isn’t over the disorderly participation of church members. Today’s concern is also no longer on issues such as frequency – how often should the Holy Communion service be conducted/administered? Time – what time of the day should it be conducted? Eligibility – who qualifies to participate? Elements – bread and wine – should we eat leavened or unleavened bread; should we drink alcoholic or non-alcoholic wine? Today’s issue concerns obtaining physical healing through the consumption of Communion elements. Luke 22:19 says: “And Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” Nowhere in the Bible does it say Christ’s body was “broken so that our bodies can be made well.” Following are the various views concerning Communion:

  • The Roman Catholic (Transubstantiation) views that the bread and wine literally changes to the body and blood of Christ. The recipient partakes of Christ, who is being sacrificed in the Mass to atone for sins.
  • Lutherans see it as a spiritual view (Consubstantiation). The bread and wine contain the body and blood of Christ but they do not literally change. The recipient receives forgiveness of sins and confirmation of one’s faith.
  • Reformed (Symbolic) view states that Christ is not literally present in the elements but there is a spiritual presence of Christ. Recipient receives grace through partaking the bread and wine.
  • Most of the Evangelical church holds to the memorial view, that Christ is not physically or spiritually present. The recipient only commemorates the death and resurrection of Christ by partaking of the elements.

It is now a common phenomenon and practice probably across the world for certain preachers to teach and administer the Lord’s Supper primarily for healing purposes. None of the above 4 views come close to this. I have heard some pastors charged their members to claim healing for themselves in the process of taking Communion. Is this Christ’s purpose for Communion? In my opinion, there is nothing wrong to desire and pray for healing for our sick brethren. However, it is very misleading to teach and make them believe they can obtain healing by participating in the Lord’s Supper.

One preacher gave the following reasons why it is wrong to administer Holy Communion primarily for healing:

  • There is no single biblical reference to support this practice. Even 1 Corinthian 11: 17-34 that the exponents of this practice usually quote to support their stand says nothing about receiving healing through taking Holy Communion.
  • Jesus never practised or commanded it. There is no single place in the Gospel where Christians have been commanded to partake in the Lord’s Supper for healing purposes.
  • It goes against Christ’s purpose for Communion. Jesus’ purpose is very clear in I Corinthians 11: 23-26: “Do it in remembrance of me.” I am sure that if Christ had wanted us to do it for healing he would have communicated to us accordingly in a very clear way.
  • The Apostles and Christians of the early Church never practised it. We heard of the many miracles of healing that the Lord performed through his apostles in the Church but none of the healing was received through the administering of Communion [Acts 2: 42-47; 19: 11-12]. The mother in-law of Peter was sick and in fact, Paul had a thorn in his flesh, yet neither Jesus Christ nor his apostles administered the elements of bread and wine to heal the sick [Matthew 8: 14-17; 2 Corinthians 12: 1-10.]
  • On the contrary, the Bible makes it clear that careless participation in this sacred meal could lead to sickness, weakness and physical death (See 1 Corinthians 11: 28-30).

The right question to ask is: “What is the purpose for Holy Communion?”  The Lord’s Supper is described in three of the four New Testament Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. The lessons Jesus taught at the Lord’s Supper was to live a faithful life while here on earth by serving others in love. The bread is a symbol of the body of Jesus, never to be forgotten as it was given to us. The cup represents the blood of Jesus, never to be forgotten as he poured out His life for us. Jesus Christ has offered everybody the gift of His life, death and resurrection. The Lord’s Supper reminds us of Christ’s sacrifice, and that by faith in Him, we can dine with Christ for all eternity. The Lord’s Supper is one of the important sacraments of the church (the other being baptism). God actually warns us about taking communion without considering its significance or in a flippant manner. The intent is not for us to mindlessly perform a ritual, but to intentionally set aside time to remember what Jesus has done and why He did it (1 Corinthians 11:27-31).

  • It’s not about the bread and wine; it’s about the body and blood of Jesus.
  • It’s not about the ritual or the method; it’s about listening to Jesus and doing what He says.
  • Communion is not an obligation but a celebration.
  • Communion celebrates the Gospel: Jesus was broken for us.

It mocks God when we say healing is dependent on our partaking of Communion. Our physical restoration should lie in His sovereign will to heal at any time He pleases. This doctrine falsely teaches that our visualisations and rituals are the main factors for the physical healing process. The doctrine of healing through Communion takes away the full glory of God by making Him dependant on rituals. The truth of the matter is, as God can save at any time He pleases, He could also heal at any time He pleases.

Rev Tan Cheng Huat (Non-resident Missionary to SQ)
December 22, 2019