On 12 April 2014, I uttered this prayer in regards to my tongue: “Lord God Almighty, forgive me of speaking unpleasant words against some of Your people. Forgive me of slandering others with my tongue. Forgive me of saying things which I should not be saying about people. Give me wisdom in my speech and service. Let me speak encouraging words to Your people rather than discouraging words. Set a guard over my mouth and keep watch over the door of my lips. In Jesus’ most precious and powerful Name, I humbly ask. Amen.”
What comes out from your mouth? Watch out for what proceeds from your mouth! Do you build up someone or do you tear down? Do you lift up a soul or do you dishearten? The tongue needs to be watched over but are you able to watch over your tongue? This reminds me of the Word of God in the book of James which mentions that the tongue is described as a fire, a world of unrighteousness. In James 4:8, it is written as “no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” So, how? Are you in a helpless and hopeless state? Is there no solution to this problem of the tongue? By your own, you cannot overcome the problem but with the guidance, help and intervention of God, you can have the victory. Indeed, “…Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57).
You know that you require help in this area and so, you must go to God for help. In Psalm 121:2, it is written as “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” You can confidently say that “The LORD is my Helper.” (Hebrews 13:6a). We can ask God to help us to be gracious towards one another just as He has been gracious towards us. When we consider carefully the contents of our words, we would know whether they are beneficial to the hearers or not. We can learn to speak gracious words to one another. In Proverbs 16:24, it is written as “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” You do not need to use harsh words when you speak to others but gracious words. Let us learn from Jesus as in Luke 4:22, “And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. . . .” The psalmist has this prayer to teach us: “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Psalm 141:3). I will encourage us to pray to God asking Him for help to overcome the problem of the tongue and to give us the victory to utter gracious words to others so as to build others up, to edify and lift up the hearts of others.
As for me, I would rather think first before I speak or utter anything at all less I speak discouraging and disappointing words to others. Cultivating the right attitudes towards others and having the right thoughts of others will help me in how I relate with others and how I speak to others. I must not be easily agitated, annoyed and angered in my relating with others but instead exercise love and patience with them. God has called me to peace and love and with a grateful and thankful heart, I will receive others warmly in the same way Christ Jesus has received me. With God’s grace and help, I will not give in to gossiping and backbiting about others (see Galatians 5:13-15). From Ephesians 4:25-32, I have learnt to speak words which are necessary for the Body of Christ, the Community of Believers, so as to build up, to strengthen the faith of the believers in Christ and to see to it that they are growing towards spiritual maturity. I have also desired to mind my own business and not become busybodies (see 1 Thessalonians 4:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:11; 1 Timothy 5:13; 1 Peter 4:15), poking into the privacy of others or provoking others unnecessarily. I will learn to speak less but listen more instead. “Be quiet” is better than wanting to be heard. There is a lot for us to learn in regards to “watching over your tongue”.
Let us, as children of God, as fellow believers in Christ, as co-workers in the ministry, sincerely seek to speak gracious words and loving words to each other for the good of others and the community of faith here at True Way. May we deliberately and diligently seek the guidance and help of our gracious and loving Heavenly Father in the way we relate with each other and in the manner we speak with one another! May we learn to be prayerful at all times so that we really watch over our tongues! May the Name of Christ Jesus our Lord be glorified amongst us! To God be the glory! Amen.
Ordinary Time is about discipleship. The colour for Ordinary Time is green. Green has traditionally been associated with new life and growth. The more we die to our old self, the more we will grow as disciples of Jesus.
The trinitarian self – my feelings, my wants, my desires – has been worshipped for far too long. Although we have turned our allegiance to God, our old self still acts up. Therefore, there is a need to constantly put to death the old self by denying it of its desires, ambitions, interests, ego, etc. In a postmodern world, the thinking is always along this line: “As long as I feel good about it, it has to be right! No one has the right to stop me from doing whatever I want. All my desires must be fulfilled. To choose not to satisfy my desires is to warp my sense of self: I wouldn’t be me” (Jan Johnson). But Jesus has clearly told His disciples – deny self!
I have always wondered what it really means to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal for where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also (Matt 6.20, 21). We can lay up treasures in heaven by first treasuring God – earnestly seeking Him (like you would a priceless treasure), His Kingdom and His righteousness (Matt 6.33); taking in God’s living water (Jn 4.10, 14), and then letting rivers of living water flow from the center of our lives to a thirsty world (Jn 7.38); investing in our relationship with God, and we will find ourselves investing our lives in what God is doing and devoting ourselves to the good of other people. It is all about God and His preoccupations, nothing about us and our indulgences. We cannot serve two masters – we cannot serve God and self. If we choose to serve God, we have to deny self!
One way we can deny self is by living a simple life. We can begin to live simply by cutting the excesses in our lives. Let me suggest excesses in three areas – shopping, schedules, speech.
Shopping – Is there a compulsion for us to embrace the latest gadget, the newest model, the hottest fashion? It doesn’t help when possessions can be amassed simply with a click – online shopping. For some people, having more serve to elevate the self and feed the ego, causing them to look good in the eyes of others whom they subtly see as competitors. For others, the accumulation of goods is just another form of addiction. Deny self! Say ‘no’ even when we have the money to buy and if we cannot afford it, why laden ourselves with more debt when those possessions count for nothing except to boost our vain ego. It is good to honestly ask the question: “Is this a need or a want?” Perhaps the money that is spent on my want could be channeled towards meeting someone else’s need. Perhaps the time spent in the stores (physical or virtual) could be spent elsewhere since being in stores can mess with our minds. It has the power to convince us that we need things we don’t need at all.
Schedules – Packed schedules serve to elevate the self because the busier one is, the more important one feels. Many people think that busyness is a sign of power and significance. It is an indication that we are very much needed and therefore we are very important. After Jesus came back from His early morning time alone with God, He met His disciples who were searching for Him and they told Him, “Everyone is looking for you.” Wouldn’t we feel a sense of importance if that is said to us? But Jesus responded, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” (Mk 1.35-38) Jesus wasn’t about to allow the demands of the people to dictate His schedules. His time alone with God must have helped him clarify his priorities. Every appointment and activity that we are committed to has an opportunity cost. It doesn’t help if we are so busy that we don’t have time for our loved ones and we don’t have time for God. It is ironic that we may be so busy serving the King that we don’t have time for Him. If we do some soul searching, we may realise that we are serving self under the guise of serving the King – if so, let us deny self! Let us make a conscious effort to slow down, to attend less meetings, to appear in less functions so that we have time to take a walk in the park and marvel at God’s creation, to have dinner with our loved ones and be thankful to God for them, or even to enjoy a personal retreat where we can wait on God and be found in the wonder and amazement of His presence.
Speech – A posture of silence is good because when words are many, sin is not absent. (Prov 10.19) We can hold our tongues even when we are dying to boast of some achievements, voice our complaints about some trivial matters, rebut and refute so we can win an argument, pass along some juicy bits of news about our colleague, criticise the preacher because the sermon does not appeal, lie so we can avoid facing the music, or even crack vulgar jokes thinking that it will attract attention to ourselves because humour can be sexy. Deny self! Shall we not speak less and listen more?
Simplicity is a way of being. It is letting go of things others consider as normal. It is getting rid of the excesses in life so that we can be freer in attending to God and people. It is creating margins for our lives, like margins in a page, so that we have the space to attend to what is truly important and good. We may feel uncomfortable for a start but in the midst of our discomfort during these times of abstinence, something beautiful happens within us because “the enormous river barge of our life that’s flowing toward self-indulgence is turned around and begins to move upstream toward self-giving Christlikeness” (Jan Johnson).
Take baby steps. God in His enormous grace empowers us in this effort. When we say ‘no’ to self at a particular moment, we are giving it another stab. Each stab will go a long way to ensure its eventual death. Let us be encouraged to live simply in a bid to deny self so that we can be transformed into Christlikeness as we look forward to the holy city, our final destination, towards which, by faith, we are journeying.
Our bi-annual church camp was held during the June holidays at Sands and Sandals, Desaru. This year, we had a record high of 260 participants which was a great encouragement to me. We had quite a number of first time campers who were new to the church; there were also those who joined us only for the second time, the first being as long as 18 years ago. During the orientation session, we were required to share why we had chosen to come for the camp. Many said that they wanted to get to know more people and surely that is one of the purposes of every church camp where the participants have the opportunity to catch up with old timers as well as to get to know the newer ones who have joined the community. It is my prayer that the relationships forged at the camp will continue to develop even as we see each other on Sundays.
The theme of the camp was ‘Building a household of faith’. This is in line with our church’s focus on ‘Building community within and engaging community without’. Rev Dr Graham Ng, the founding pastor of our church, preached 3 sermons. The first message is entitled ‘Blueprint’ since in the construction of every building, a blueprint is needed. We are of course aware that we are not referring to the construction of a church building because church is never about the building but the people – those who have put their faith in Jesus. Becoming a Christian, we automatically become part of the spiritual house that God is building. Where the blueprint is concerned, Jesus is the cornerstone. A cornerstone forms the starting point of a building at the base of its corner joining two walls. The rest of the building takes its orientation from the cornerstone. Jesus being the foundation of our faith is rightly the cornerstone and we are the living stones (1 Peter 2:5) that God is using to build his household of faith, i.e. his church. The purpose of each local church is to glorify God. The church glorifies God when the people within are able to edify each other, helping to nurture each other’s faith. The church glorifies God when the people within testify of God’s love to the people outside the church. So for easy memory, we have glorify, edify and testify.
The second message is entitled ‘Building blocks and barriers’. According to the blueprint, we are the building blocks because we are the living stones. Living stones are meant to grow and Bill Hybels, pastor of a mega church in America said: “spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, Bible reading and relationships. And ironically these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage.” Where relationships are concerned, Ps Graham highlighted from 1 Peter the following: love each other deeply, live with each other harmoniously, serve each other compassionately, shepherd each other diligently, and remind each other joyously of the hope of Christ’s return. These are important building blocks of the spiritual house that God is constructing.
The third and final message is entitled ‘Building bridges’. We were challenged to share the good news and to show the good works so that more and more people can be snatched from the kingdom of darkness and delivered to the kingdom of light. If we do not tell, how are the lost going to hear? If they do not hear, how can faith result? Ps Graham reminded us that “Evangelism is sharing the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God.” If we remember this, we just need to equip ourselves to share as best as we can and then we rest in God for the results. Contagious Christian, the upcoming course that the church is conducting in July, is an attempt on our part to equip each one of you to share the good news in a natural way.
Doing good works in serving the community is another way we can build bridges, paving the way for us to share the good news of Jesus. This is what True Way has been emphasising on the last two years and we will continue to step up our efforts in community engagement as we partner Presbyterian Community Service in ministering to the elderly in Esther Senior Activity Center located at Strathmore Green. The tracting that we are embarking on today also serves to help us build bridges with our neighbours as we publicise events which may be of interests to them.
At the church camp, besides the teaching of God’s Word, there were also group discussions and people shared freely in response to what they had heard. I noticed that because of the group discussions, many took down notes while listening to the messages. Perhaps we can create a culture where people will remain behind after Sunday service to discuss the sermon, sharing how God has spoken to them. This can be part of what edifying each other involves. If we know that we are going to continue fellowshipping with each other around the Word after the worship service, we will definitely be more attentive during the service and possibly make more efforts in jotting down notes along the way.
Building a household of faith, like in any construction project, requires commitment for it to succeed. On one of the nights, we held a very interactive dialogue session on the importance of church membership where we considered its biblical and theological basis. We challenged those who have yet to be baptised not to tarry any longer unless they are still not sure whether Jesus is their Saviour and Lord. We also encouraged the regular worshippers to transfer their membership. This is not about showing off the numerical size of the church. We see the commitment we make to Christ being expressed through the commitment we make to his body, the local church. That is why baptism (commitment to Christ) and church membership (commitment to his body) go hand in hand. By being a formal member of the church, we are making the commitment to come under the leadership and discipline of the pastors, elders and deacons whom we as church members have elected into office. We are also making the commitment to join hands with our leaders to pursue the mission and focus of the church under the ambit of the Great Commission. That night’s dialogue session was only the beginning of our efforts in educating the church on this important matter. In the second half of the year, before we start the preaching series on Ephesians, we will revisit this issue on a Sunday morning and subsequently look at that letter which Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus to understand what it means to live out our faith in the life of the local church.
On a lighter note, there were loads of fun and laughter throughout the camp as we competed in group games, enjoyed the conversations over meals, sweated out in the sun playing beach volleyball, lazed around in the pool, outwitted each other playing board games, and of course rolling in laughter during the fun night where we played even more games while reminiscing the fun nights of past camps through the creativity of the camp committee of whom I must say a big thank you to for the great efforts in putting the whole camp together. It was an exemplary act of service on their part to build up the household of faith. I must also commend the campers for playing hard, putting their utmost efforts to win the games yet showing much grace and mercy to fellow ‘competitors’. I must confess that we are an intense lot and when it comes to letting our hair down, we are of good sport and never fearful of embarrassment.
Before we broke camp, we were reminded by Dn Charles that we had had our mountain top experiences during the camp and rightly so because we were able to appropriate the means of grace with great intensity as we had the teaching of God’s Word daily coupled with corporate worship and small group discussions and great fellowship all packed into that few days. Now that we are leaving our mountain top and going back into the valleys of our family and work routines, these same means of grace are equally available for us to appropriate – the preaching of God’s Word and corporate worship every Sunday, DG meetings and service, fellowship and caring for each other. Only if we would do our part to appropriate these resources that God in his grace has extended to us by participating in them actively with great joy and listening intently to the Spirit and to each other, those mountain top experiences can also become valley experiences too.
To God be the glory!
For many observers, the recent Trump-Kim summit held in Singapore is undoubtedly a significant turning point in history. After all, this is the first meeting ever to take place between a leader of the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) and an incumbent US president. For almost 70 years, the two nations have technically been in a state of war with each other even though there has been no overt armed conflict between them. Furthermore, it was just a few months ago that North Korea was still testing their nuclear abilities and both side had engaged in rather bellicose rhetoric.
With that in mind, one can understand why a mere handshake between two men would garner so much international attention. More than just a massive media spectacle, many do sincerely hope that this ordinary gesture (along with the signing of a joint statement) would mark an end to decades of hostility and pave the way forward for peace. As much as some may feel that whatever these two leaders sought to achieve during their time in the posh premises of Capella Singapore could have been accomplished at a much lower financial cost and less manpower given today’s technology in video-conferencing, nothing beats a face to face interaction. Besides, when it comes to matters of international diplomacy, there are often other considerations in mind.
If you think about it, it is rather interesting how this simple gesture of a handshake would come to symbolise so much. For example, soccer teams during the World Cup will give their utmost in “battle” to triumph over their opponents and can sometimes ruffle the other players with their rough play. Yet, regardless of the outcome of that match, the players are expected to shake the other team player’s hands after the game. Indeed, post-game handshakes are a time-honoured tradition and a refusal to do so would be deemed as poor sportsmanship.
Likewise, in some Christian liturgical tradition, there is this segment known as the “Exchange of peace” or “Passing the peace” which involves the shaking of hands. Usually, this is done after the Words of Assurance, when the congregation has confessed their sins to God and received the assurance about God’s forgiveness from the worship leader or officiating priest. Another time could be just prior to celebrating the Lord’s Supper. At these times, worshippers would leave the comfort of their seat, turn to shake their neighbour’s hand and speak the words, “The peace of the Lord be with you” and receive the words in turn, “And also with you.”
Although the gesture is simple, the meaning is profound. When one extends his hand to another, he is also identifying with Jesus, who extended his life to the point of death to make peace with humanity (Col 1:20-21). Indeed, it is because of the gift of peace that Christians have received through faith in Christ that we can go forth to extend peace to others. Through a handshake, we seek to practice God’s call to be peace-makers and make every effort to maintain the bond of peace (Eph 4:3).
Put simply, passing the peace goes beyond being polite and giving time to extroverts for their friendly hellos. Instead, it is meant to be a time when followers of Christ participate in the reconciling love of God. Even though the gesture is symbolic and only lasts a few seconds, we can still be sincere in our intent. Furthermore, in the same way that a toddler is trained to say “please” and “thank you” with the hope that he will learn to do so on his own one day, the cumulative impact of regularly passing the peace is meant to shape worshippers into becoming peace-makers.
Although we do not practice this at True Way, I believe there are other meaningful opportunities where we can extend Christian love and point others to God’s peace even through a warm handshake. For example, at the start of the service, we need not shy away from greeting the usher, welcome team and pastors with “Hello, God’s peace be with you”. As much as the phrase may feel awkward initially, our handshake would be so much richer in meaning than when it is accompanied with “Hi, Good morning”.
Undoubtedly, it can go a long way when we extend a heartfelt encouragement or offer a kind smile as we shake the hands of the worship leader and speaker at the end of the service. Unless one is trying to avoid the other person, we do not need to worry about holding up others from leaving the sanctuary. Moreover, if most of us are learning to be intentional about slowing down our pace or taking time to mingle after the service, there is less likely to be a bottleneck at the exit.
As God’s people, we understand that making peace is to be a daily action in our lives. We cannot say that we love God if we are unwilling to be at peace with each other within the faith community. In addition, we need not wait until Sundays before we make peace with those around us. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminded his disciples that before they go to God in worship, they are to seek reconciliation with others (Matt 5:23-24).
In a world where there is much division and hostility, our simple gesture of a handshake is like an act of resistance against all the forces of pride and bitterness that seek to overwhelm our hearts and minds. While peace is often brought to the negotiating table by world leaders as if it is something to be traded, God’s people knows that true peace can only be found through the cross. So, if making peace and shaking another person’s hand may sometimes feel like a death sentence to us, it may not necessarily be a bad thing. Unless of course, a fist-bump would suffice.
I accepted an invitation to speak in September 2018 at a Chinese Church for their missions Sunday. The topic is “Marketplace and Missions”. For my preparation, I decided to do a little research. Surprisingly, many terminologies surfaced: Tent-making, Bi-vocation, clergy and laity, etc.
In my April SQ trip, I met up with staff from Operation Mobilisation (a mission agency) and one of their concerns is the Marketplace ministry – helping Christians to be “Christ” in their workplace and also educating non-believers in work ethics. This kept me thinking if I were to be given a chance to do church all over again, what would I focus on?
Paul Stevens, Professor Emeritus of Marketplace Theology at Regent College, Vancouver, said: “Equip the church and the church will equip the world! How are we equipping people to flourish in the complexities of our world?” As Christians, we are called first to ‘be’ in relationship with God through Jesus, and then we are called to ‘do’ by following Jesus in all of life, including our daily work. Therefore, discipleship cannot be divorced from our work, but rather a call to follow Jesus in all our daily activities—housework, voluntary work and church work, as well as our employment. Our calling is not just about our job. It is about our whole life’s work, becoming a follower of Jesus in all that we do.
The basic question is: “Where are our people during the week?” Working men and women spend 45% to 70% of their waking hours in work related activities—outside the walls of the church. It is critical that we shepherd, support, and equip them to walk with Christ in the dominant segment of their lives.
People go to work each day to earn their living. Most churchgoers are part of that workforce but many are not exercising their calling. They are not effectively using their gifts and the call God has given them to transform their workplace into an environment where God can move freely and change lives.
Henry Blackaby said: ‘ The people who go out into the workplace are the church. The pastor needs to read his congregation and know his congregation from one end to the other. And see where they are spiritually, see where they are physically. Then ask God, “How do I organize the church to help equip members to function where God has put them in the marketplace?” Most of their time is not spent in the church house. It is spent in the world. And so Jesus said, “Father I don’t pray that you take them out of the world, I pray that you keep them in the world and keep them from the evil one.” ’
There should be no distinction between sacred and secular work. In God’s design, there is no such dualism. Simply put, we are to be disciples and witnesses for Christ in and through our work or business. A similar approach is having the attitude of being a full time minister in the workplace. In these workplaces, we bear witness both by deed and word.
We have been wrongly taught that our gospel mission advances most when we become a pastor or missionary or para-church worker, or when we recruit others to do the same. But Paul commends gospel incarnation and proclamation in the primary context of Christian vocation. Our gospel mission advances when we faithfully embrace our vocations, whatever and wherever they may be. As God’s redeemed people, we are called to live ordinary lives in ordinary places as bold witnesses of an extraordinary gospel.
On Sunday mornings, the Church gathers corporately and communally under the name of Christ. We sing together, we pray together, we sit under the authority of God’s word together, we lament together, and we give together. This is our corporate worship and our corporate gathering in Christ as His people, His body, His church. In this gathering, our awareness of membership with one another is heightened, our perspective of the communal nature of the church of Jesus Christ is calibrated, and our conjoined submission to and instruction from Christ is enjoyed.
Fully 98% of a believer’s time is spent in pursuits that take him away from the church building. The believer does not cease to be the church when he is away from the building – he is simply the church in a different dimension, the church scattered. Throughout the week, the Church Scattered serves as bankers, plumbers, homemakers, construction workers, transporters, caregivers, and a host of other things – all in the name of Christ as well. In varying ways, Christians serve Christ and their neighbour through the use of their individual gifts, talents, and resources. When a Christian serves someone by nobly giving away her time and treasure in the service of another, the recipient may rightly understand that he has been served by “the church” – the Church Scattered. The church gathered is a vital institution, and the church scattered is a vital organism.
Do the work you are doing with excellence. Your work has eternal value as service to our Heavenly Father, our King. “Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” (Ephesians 6:7) There are some people who may be difficult to work with, especially bosses. Remember to work as unto the Lord in all situations, but especially in these kinds of situations. Extend grace to those who do not deserve it, because this is what our Saviour did for us. Most of all, love God, seek Him first everyday, and love your neighbour as yourself. (Matt 22:37-39) When we live out our faith in the workplace, lives will be touched, and communities will be transformed. Do you know that the 9-5 window, or the time that you go to work each day is one of the most important mission fields in the world today? Be a minister of God to the people in your workplace!