Where do we get our food? Some children in the cities will probably say that food comes from the person who does the groceries, the fridge or from the supermarket. The long supply chain from the crops and animals all the way to our table tempts us to forget that there is someone behind all this. Today, God is hidden by human pride and greed involved in the long supply chain. Yes, there is a long chain, but there is a God behind it. Food and everything good come from God.
Farmers till and toil on the ground year in and year out to grow food. The process involves many hours of labour, different seasons, and a lot of care from the farmers. Last year, I called up my mother to enquire about her garden produce. This is our ritual every time we call each other. We would start by asking “what’s cooking?” and “what’s growing?” Last year was unusual and many of her plants didn’t do well. She wasn’t alone. Another friend who grows different flowers and vegetables told me that many of her plants did not survive or grow at all. The weather was erratic and unpredictable. Those that survived germination and reached flowering were eaten by pests. Somehow nothing grew for some months. Then there was too much rain or no rain. And it all boils down to nature. Farmers can do everything according to the book, but the outcome really is not dependent upon them.
Paul’s words recorded for us in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7 summarizes the process. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives growth.”
The process is not just true of gardening but with everything else in life. As we start another year and dedicate ourselves to serve God and one another, it is only appropriate that we pray and ask God to lead and guide us. For, without God, nothing, absolutely nothing grows. This includes our service to God. If we have been able to serve and come thus far, it is because of God’s grace that He has given us the opportunity to take part in His kingdom work. If our ministries have grown, it is also because He has given us growth.
One of the greatest musicians who lived during the Baroque period is the German composer Johann Sebastian Bach. He who wrote many beautiful and complex music that reflected his mastery in different forms of music. At the end of all his compositions, he would inscribe these letters ‘SDG’. It stands for Soli Deo Gloria which means “For the Glory of God alone”.
Today our Offertory Hymn is “Before You I Kneel” (Also known as A Worker’s Prayer) written by Keith & Kristyn Getty, Stuart Townend and Jeffrey J Taylor. They were inspired after attending ‘The Holy Ordination to Daily Work’ conducted annually at Harvard University by Intervarsity. The writers of the hymn reflected on Bach’s aim to glorify God through his music as they were writing this hymn. The introduction captures the tune of Bach’s timeless melody ‘Wachet Auf’ translated as ‘Sleepers Awake’ and sets the tone and posture of the prayer that is to become every worker’s prayer.
Before You I Kneel
Before You I kneel my Master and Maker
To offer the work of my hands
For this is the day You’ve given Your servant
I will rejoice and be glad
For the strength I have to live and breathe
For each skill Your grace has given me
For the needs and opportunities
That will glorify Your great name
Before You I kneel and ask for Your goodness
To cover the work of my hands
For patience and peace to shape all my labor
Your grace for thorns in my path
Flow within me like a living stream
Wear away the stones of pride and greed
‘Til Your ways are dwelling deep in me
And a harvest of life is grown
Before You we kneel our Master and Maker
Establish the work of our hands
And order our steps to seek first Your kingdom
In every small and great task
May we live the gospel of Your grace
Serve Your purpose in our fleeting days
Then our lives will bring eternal praise
And all glory to Your great name
And all glory to Your great name
Jeffrey J. Taylor | Keith Getty | Kristyn Getty | Stuart Townend
Getty Music Publishing (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)
May the words of the song truly be our prayer. As we embark on another year of service unto the Lord, may we order our steps to seek first His kingdom so that God will bless the work of our hands to the glory of His name alone.
According to a recent article in Straits Times (“The science of beauty”, Jan 2), it seems that science has found that what people generally consider as beautiful and attractive has very much to do with symmetry.
Whether they are faces or objects, research has shown that the symmetry is tied to this unique mathematical relationship of 1 is to 1.168, a golden ratio also known as Phi or the Fibonacci number. The closer the proportions of a face or an object get to this ratio, the higher its perceived beauty.
So for example, one of the reasons why Lisa of Kpop girl group Blackpink and Myanmar model-actor Paing Takhon are ranked as world’s Most Beautiful Face and Most Handsome Face respectively is because when one horizontally divided their faces into three parts, from the hairline to the eyebrows, the brow to the base of the nose and the base of the nose to the chin, one would find that their facial features are closely proportional to this ratio of 1:1.168.
I suppose if being aesthetically pleasing can be reduced to something that we put a number to, it is not surprising that many would readily fork out significant sums of money to undergo procedures such as injections of fillers to achieve the golden ratio for their nose and chin or requesting Botox to slim down a square face. After all, what is a little nip and tuck if it can help us to look good in front of others and to feel better about ourselves?
But perhaps this is precisely where the challenge lies. Whether we are young or old, male or female, many unwittingly buy into the world’s ideals about beauty. Even as Christians, we sometimes fail to discern that social media, fashion magazines and entertainment industry often only focus on what is skin-deep and flaunt beauty standards that are beyond most of us. After all, when was the last time any of those images were unfiltered or any of those supermodels featured on the cover page because they were known for being kind or modest?
The irony today is that while there is much talk about authenticity and being “true to yourself”, we are also living in a time where we are being inundated with all kinds of manufactured beauty. As one writer puts it, there seems to be a “cultural shift towards elevating beauty’s importance together with increasing pressure to conform to ascending beauty standards.”
Inevitably, this can have an impact on what we think of ourselves and take a toll on our mental and emotional well-being. When we are conditioned to believe that we need to fit in or gain the approval of others based on our outward appearances, we are likely to feel insecure about ourselves as it never seems to be enough.
To be sure, no one is saying that Christians should not bother about outward appearances or to value external beauty. After all, God who made us also gave us the ability to distinguish between what is beautiful and ugly and to desire to display beauty. It would not glorify God if the carpets in our sanctuary looked grubby or if worship leaders appeared on Sundays with unkempt hair.
When Apostle Peter instructed the women, “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:3-4), we need to understand that Peter was not against fanciful accessories or designer clothes in and of themselves. Instead he was teaching the believers to guard against letting their adorning be merely external. As a wise pastor, he was mindful that there is a very real temptation that people are prone to wanting to be noticed and known for external beauty.
Thus Peter instructs them that they are to care more about what God values and not be preoccupied with outward things that are of lesser importance. As God’s people, we must learn to see things from God’s perspective. Indeed, it would be foolish of us to be putting in all this effort for what will not last at the expense of neglecting what matters much more.
Just as God reminded prophet Samuel that “the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7), we need to know that there is nothing God values more than godly character. True beauty, the kind of beauty that God looks for and deems as precious is not showcased through outward appearances but through godly character traits such as gentleness. On the other hand, even if we do measure up to that magic ratio of 1:1.168, God can easily see through our aesthetically pleasing appearances that mask an ugly heart.
In contrast to Satan whose heart was filled with pride because of his God-given beauty (Ezekiel 28:17) and now disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) after being cast out by God, Jesus willingly emptied himself of his divine beauty and splendour and came as someone whom Isaiah described as one “who has no form or majesty that we should look at him, no beauty that we should desire him… one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:2-3).
Perhaps it is no coincidence that Jesus Christ did so in order to identify with those of us who are spiritually sick, sinners marred by the ugliness of our sins and the sins of others and in such desperate need of redemption and transformation.
Indeed, thanks be to God that we do not need to be beautiful first before God notices us and for him to love us. Instead, God loves us because he made us and we belong to him. By God’s grace, slowly but surely we would truly be beautiful because He loved us. Until then, may God enable us with our perishable bodies here on earth tell of a better story of unfading beauty, one than no skilful surgeons can ever offer.
In the season of Christmas, we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord, remembering the entrance of our Creator into His creation: God the Son crossed the infinite chasm between the uncreated and the created to be born as a helpless infant. Now, we may wonder: of what significance is the Son of God’s birth as the Son of Mary? Does the incarnation of our Lord have any significance in itself, apart from His death and resurrection?
The answer must be a yes. Of course, it is inappropriate to view in isolation any event of our Lord’s sojourn on earth, as if His incarnation can be properly understood apart from His death, His death apart from His resurrection, and so on. Yet, we should not turn our focus too quickly from His Nativity to His Crucifixion, as if nothing about His life mattered apart from His death. Let us still our impatience and pause for a while at the manger to join the Blessed Virgin in contemplating the joyful mystery of the incarnation. Our impatience often has to do with the assumption that the Son became human only to deal with human sin by dying on the cross. However, that is not the case: God the Son did not take on humanity primarily to deal with human sin because the incarnation would have taken place anyway even if humanity did not sin.
As St Paul writes in his epistle to the Colossians, “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created . . . all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1.15-17). Astonishingly, St Paul is referring to Jesus of Nazareth as the one in whom all things in creation hold together. He is the source, basis, foundation, and purpose of creation. St Paul is declaring that the incarnation was already in God’s mind (logically) prior to the creation of the world, making it independent of human sin—the incarnation would have happened, whether or not our forebears sinned. Why? Lutheran theologian Ian McFarland proffers that “God becomes incarnate because God wishes to share the divine life with us.” According to him, it is because “God has determined first of all to share the divine life fully with the creature that God brings creatures into being.” Sin or no sin, God wills to be with his creatures in creation and it is in the incarnation that there is the fullness of communion between Him and His creatures.
However, since humanity has fallen into sin and suffers the corruption of death, God’s sharing of His divine life with humanity in the incarnation also brings about the healing of humanity’s infirmed condition. As St Athanasius, the great church father wrote,
through this union of the immortal Son of God with our human nature, all men were clothed with incorruption in the promise of the resurrection. For the solidarity of mankind is such that, by virtue of the Word’s indwelling in a single human body, the corruption which goes with death has lost its power over all.
When the Son took up the human nature that was subject to death, the fullness of divine life (John 1.4) overwhelmed the power of death within it and thereby healing it. “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death where is your sting” (1 Cor. 15.54b-55)?
So, why should God come to us as one of us, in a way common to all of us—as an infant born of a mother? Today, many younger persons are fearful, or even disdainful of having children. Even though many may desire marriage, few desire children because they find the world an unsavoury place to raise them. There is something terribly pessimistic about this mindset, misanthropic even, that one has such disgust for their fellow humans that one has to “save” one’s offspring from them. This makes having a child a radical affirmation of humanity, that although we may have “messed up” the world, there is still a tacit recognition that it is filled with beauty, goodness, and truth that makes it worth bringing children into the world. In the same manner of thought, for God to have come to us as an infant through child birth would be the greatest affirmation of humanity.
Despite how “messed up” we might be, the Son of God became a son of man. This was unlike how the gods take on human guises to cavort with women in Greek mythology. The Incarnation is an enduring commitment to humanity on the Son’s part. The Book of Revelation speaks of this: “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them” (Rev. 21.3). The Son will dwell with us, and He dwells with us as one of us. If God, who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and unlimited by anything beyond Himself, chose to be born as a human infant, it is reveals the infinite worth of humanity (and the rest of creation)* in the eyes of God, contrary to dismal views of it. Our Lord was born like us; He ate, drank, and slept like us; He suffered the vicissitudes of life like us. By doing so, God the Son has freely inhabited all of human life, and by inhabiting it redeemed all of it.
Therefore, life in this world is sacred and blessed because of the incarnation. No matter how bad the circumstances we might be in, or how chaotic the world around us may become, when we gaze into the peaceful face of the infant Jesus in the manger, we are struck by the fact that life in the world is neither meaningless or worthless because God loves us and has come to us; He destroyed death, redeemed life, and brought about full divine-human communion. In that blessed Infant dwells the fullness of God, and is thus the hope of all humanity. The glory of God is a human being, and so we rejoice.
*Therefore God will not destroy creation, contrary to how some read 2 Pet. 3.10-12. God regarded his creation as “very good” (Gen. 1.31), gave his commitment to preserve all of it (Gen. 8.20-22; 9.12-17), and liberated it from futility by sending Jesus Christ (Rom. 8.18-25). Creation will be renewed, freed from corruption, and transfigured by God, not destroyed. 2 Pet. 3.10-12 uses apocalyptic imagery (of fiery destruction) to refer to how our deeds are all laid bare before Jesus Christ at his second coming in judgment. The same is used to describe the purgation of evil in creation that results in a “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”
Dear Brothers and Sisters of True Way Presbyterian Church,
I greet all of you in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ! Also, I want to wish all of you a very blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year. It is my great privilege to write this final perspective for the year as we stand before the year 2022.
These past 2 years have been trying, for everyone. Since the discovery of the COVID-19 virus in 2019, reliable news as to what to expect is in short supply. Each new development, whether good or bad, is blasted loudly over the media, shared relentlessly on social media and has dominated people’s conversations. Each time when things seem to be settling and we can relax a bit, something new emerges once again. What does 2022 hold in store for us? Will there really be the opening up of countries once again like we’ve all been waiting for? Will life return to some semblance of normal, albeit with suitable precautions? What does this all mean for the Church and our Mission? The truth is, no one really knows what will happen next nor how long this will last.
Again and again, we have been reminded just how little we know about the future. Expert opinion, while guided by data and research, is based on evidence of what has been recorded in the past. It cannot reliably predict what will yet come. What then can we do to settle our nerves? What hope do we have?
Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-34, where Jesus tells his disciples to not be anxious in anything are good words to meditate on at this time.
Jesus’ words in verse 31-33 (emphasis mine) are dearly needed words of comfort in these trying times:
“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
As humans we cannot help but look for things that will satisfy our daily needs. In these trying times, I have found myself seeking out familiarity, whether it is a regular schedule, or an inkling of how things used to be. My security often comes from being able to predict what will happen next. As you can imagine this kind of predictability and reliability is in short supply right now.
When I was schooling, each year we would receive a school diary for the year. Inside the front page was a poem which read,
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
The poem is titled ‘God knows’ and was written by Minnie Louise Haskins in 1908 and became famous in 1939 when King George quoted it in his Christmas Broadcast to the British Empire. At the time it resonated with the public because the nation was facing the uncertainty of World War 2. Much like us today, no one knew how things would turn out in the end.
Though I didn’t think of it much then, these words have been coming to my mind again and again whenever I am faced with the New Year. They are an apt reminder of how God, our provider, is infinitely more secure than any human device we might rely on with which to see our way in the dark. While a light might illuminate one area of the darkness before us, guiding us to make decisions with some measure of security. But God, on the other hand, knows every part of the darkness before us, meaning He can (and will, if we would just trust Him!) guide us not just safely, but where we need to go.
The poem isn’t long and the verse below is my favourite:
*God knows. His will
Is best. The stretch of years
Which wind ahead, so dim
To our imperfect vision,
Are clear to God. Our fears
Are premature; In Him,
All time hath full provision.*
Like the man, standing at the gate of the year, we too long for something that will give us security or assurance as we lay out our plans for the New Year. We may not be able to see where God is leading us even as we clasp His hand tightly. However, we have the knowledge that our God loves us. The truth is that God is the one holding us. His presence, guidance and provision in our lives is indeed something that we can rely on even as we face uncertain times. We need to let our first impulse be to seek Him first… everything else will be given to us as He provides.
However, as a body of believers, we do not just have God’s hand to hold on to. We have each other, we are not alone in this journey. Together we can remind one another of the precious hope we have in Christ, rejoicing in good times but also supporting one another in times of despair. As God’s family, we can also point each other towards the certainty and promise we have in God as we grow in faith. As frail people, we cannot help being anxious, but with one hand clasped tightly in the Lord’s, and the other holding tightly to our brothers and sisters, together we can get through this. Not only will this experience give us security, but I pray that our faith and hope will be strengthened in the process. I pray this blessing upon all of us as we face the New Year together!
God blessings be upon each and every one of you. The grace and love of Christ encourage us and the guidance and strength of the Holy Spirit be with us all through the New Year. Amen!
According to various sleep surveys, Singaporeans are among the world’s most sleep-deprived people. In an online poll conducted between June to July of 2018 across 12 countries, Singapore took the second spot after Britain. And in a 2014 survey of 43 cities, the Republic came in third after Tokyo and Seoul (Straits Times 18 Dec, 2018).
I wonder how those of us from True Way or for that matter, Christians in Singapore would have fared in this survey. After all, the Bible says it is God who “gives to his beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2) and it should be of pastoral concern if the Christian community ranked significantly amongst those who are sleep-deprived. Apart from how a lack of proper sleep can lead to a host of health issues, it could also be symptomatic of deeper issues.
As Christians, it is always wise to take time out and come before God in prayerful reflection. As we examine our hearts and life and seek to identify what are some possible causes for our sleep deprivation, we can ask God to grant us wisdom and strength in handling those causes.
For example, anxiety could be one likely cause. And when it comes to anxiety, there is a fine line between what is a natural emotional response to a real or perceived potentail threat and a sinful insistence that everything must go according to our plans and desires. For the latter, anxiety may stem from our lack of trust in God.
On other occasions, all we need is a friend to talk to or to seek counsel and receive support from. This is because anxiety could also be a consequence of sinful behaviour such as when someone gambles away all their money and are losing sleep over how they will pay their bills. Depending on what the issue is, asking the person to sleep over it would hardly resolve the matter.
However, for others, anxiety may manifest as a physiological malfunction that has become both disordered and debilitating. Besides having trouble sleeping, they also experience symptoms such as persistent anxious thoughts on most days of the week for six months and the anxiety interferes with daily functioning. In such cases, such anxiety would not be considered sinful. Instead, this individual would benefit from seeking professional help from a trained counsellor or psychologist to ascertain what are possible triggers.
While many of us could probably do with more sleep, some would still wake up feeling tired even after sleeping for more than seven hours a day. This is because apart from physical rest, experts tell us that people also need psychological rest. However, the latter can be rather elusive. This is especially so when one neglects setting aside time to do so or is unable to rest due to various circumstances.
Interestingly, it does appear that sleep is an involuntary activity. Although we can be in a posture to allow sleep to happen, we cannot simply cause or will sleep to happen. If anything, there are enough evidence to suggest that sleep tends to eludes those whose minds are preoccupied with trying to fall sleep.
As much as some may find certain preachers to be sleep-inducing, I doubt this is the kind of sleep that the Psalmist was thinking about! Neither would such cat-naps be God’s intention for his people who gather on the Lord’s Day. Likewise, we know that sleeping pills are not exactly a panacea. They come with side effects, especially when one relies on them for a prolonged period of time.
In Psalm 127, we learn that sleep is indeed God’s gracious gift to his beloved people. They are able to sleep not because their diligence at work, disciplined lifestyle or dogged determination to succeed give them cause to sleep soundly. Rather, one can find sleep because they are learning to put their trust in God. In so doing, they experience both physical and psychological rest.
Unlike those who choose to depend on their own strength and abilities, God’s people are called to be those who are learning to surrender all of life’s responsibilities and the good works they desire to accomplish by faith unto God. Since God is wiser and stronger than we are, God’s people can trust that He will not overlook any details that need to be addressed. Neither will God fail to bring about that which he has graciously desired to bless his people with.
As one Christian writer puts it, God’s people are trusting in God’s promises that if one builds in the strength God supplies, God will build the house one is building. Likewise God will watch over the city that one is responsible for protecting (Psalm 127:1). More importantly, our Lord who makes the heaven and earth watches over his people and He is one who neither slumbers nor sleep (Psalm 121:4).
As God’s people, we can take heart that while doctors recommend seven to nine hours of sleep, there is no scriptural prescription for the number of hours we should spend in bed. More than just keeping to a healthy sleep routine (eg. avoid using smartphones before bedtime, etc) and other habits that will help our sleeping, what is even more important is that restfulness should characterise God’s people.
Indeed, those who learn to rest in Christ would normally not find sleep elusive. There may be times when a restful believer would be called upon to sacrifice sleep when necessary in the service of God and others. But since we know that it is our Lord who is ultimately building the house and watching over the city, let us thank God we do not need to lose sleep as if everything depends on us alone.