For some of us, being made to wait can easily become the “unpardonable” offence even when we are not in a hurry. In a day and age where we can have instant access to a vast array of information, goods and services, a five minutes wait can feel like an eternity. Given the way that the pace of our world is increasing, it is not surprising that many find themselves unwittingly shaped by this culture of hurriedness and haste.
For me, whenever I am about to make payment at the supermarket, I will first scan through the different cashier queues instead of simply lining up behind the nearest or shortest queue. This is because at the back of my mind, I have several criteria as to which queue may actually show the most promise (ie. the queue that moves the fastest). As much as it may only end up saving me at the most a few minutes, I derive much satisfaction from being “productive” and being spared from getting stuck in a crawling queue.
However, when I pause and think about my fussing over such trivialities, I do need to ask myself “Why am I in such a hurry?” and “Where am I hurrying to?”. It is not as if I always have something urgent or more important to attend to. Indeed, I am thankful that I do not always have a packed schedule.
If I am honest with myself, I am just being impatient. In fact, my impatience only goes to show that I can be easily pulled towards the direction of my appetite for instant gratification and preference for convenience. Furthermore, I am so prone to getting things done at my own pace that I am not accustomed to having God do his work within me in the midst of waiting. Suffice to say, I struggle to see what good can possibly come out of waiting. From another perspective, it simply means that there are often occasions when I am not being filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18) and bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).
In the Bible, we find a devout priest by the name of Zechariah who is acquainted with waiting (Luke 1:5-23). As a pious Jew, Zechariah would have been like many of his countrymen who yearned for the coming of God’s Promised Messiah. For more than 400 years, there has not been another word of prophecy from God while Israel languishes under the heavy yoke of foreign armies, with the Roman conquerors being the most recent. Thus, one can imagine how difficult it must be to continue waiting as one generation after another passed on throughout the centuries without having to see the arrival of the Messiah.
On a personal level, together with Elizabeth, Zechariah would have prayed and yearned for God to bless them with a child over a considerable number of years. For this godly elderly couple, it appears that they have almost given up on their waiting such that when angel Gabriel spoke about Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Zechariah responded in disbelief.
Yet, after a long season of waiting, we read that the first words that Zechariah spoke had to do with praising God (Lk 1:67-80). Undoubtedly, Zechariah would have rejoiced as he held his newborn son in his arms. However, from his prophetic song, we “hear” that his praise has more to do with God’s faithfulness in keeping his covenantal promises to Israel. For Zechariah, God has a far greater plan in store than just answering the prayer of a barren couple.
Zechariah understood that the miraculous birth of John the Baptist and ultimately, the coming of Jesus Christ are the sure signs that God has “visited and redeemed his people” (v.68). In this one person Jesus Christ, Zechariah believed that God is finally fulfilling the Davidic (v.69-71) and Abrahamic covenant (v.72-75). Through Jesus, there will be salvation and God’s people will no longer walk in darkness and in the shadow of death (v.78-79).
Taking into consideration the historical context, Zechariah’s song was truly an amazing declaration of faith. Although Zechariah was likely to be familiar with Old Testament prophecies, he would not have known the specifics of God’s salvation plan. To begin with, Jesus was still in Mary’s womb and has yet to perform any miracles that points to his divinity! However, based on what God has already revealed and through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Zechariah spoke confidently of God’s redemption as if it is something that God has already accomplished and fulfilled. In addition, having personally received from God what he and his wife had been waiting for all these years gave Zechariah the confidence that God will certainly fulfil his promises.
To some extent, this is what demonstrating faith looks like. Faith is not some leap into the unknown but taking a step forward in view of what one already knows of God. Indeed, apart from a faith grounded in God’s Word and moved by the Holy Spirit, I doubt anyone will be able to believe that the decisive defeat of evil and humanity’s true hope would come from the womb of a teenage peasant girl in a small town.
For Christians today, we need a similar faith like Zechariah if we are to live faithfully before God. Whenever the world tell us that Jesus is taking too long to return or when we are tempted to take matters into our own hands, let us take heart and consider first the birth of Christ. If we can be certain that Jesus who is God did step into our messy world some 2000 years ago and walked out of a tomb after being dead for 3 days, then on that basis, we can take Jesus at his word about his return. We do not need all the details before we choose to trust and obey God while waiting for his return. Not when Jesus had already come down to us because of his gracious love to the glory of God’s name.
Tina turns to the person seated on her right and stretches out her hand for a handshake.
Tina: Hi, are you new here?
Chris: Not really, I’ve been coming for almost 6 months now.
Tina: Oh dear, I’m so sorry.
Chris: (laughs) No worries, it’s alright.
Tina: How do you find the worship service here?
Chris: Hmm, I like the singing — the songs are theologically sound, but I wish that people would sing louder. I also like the way you all preach through a certain book of the Bible.
Tina: I’m glad you like it here. I guess you haven’t gotten to know too many people. Would you like to visit my small group?
Chris: Is that what you call the DG? Sometimes I hear it being mentioned at the pulpit.
Tina: Yes, yes!
Morris walks towards someone seated at a table in the Event Hall.
Morris: Hello, I’m Morris.
Stranger (smiles but gives no response)
Morris (feeling a little awkward): Hi, I’m Morris. And you are?
Stranger (not smiling this time)
Morris: Are you alright?
Stranger (nods his head)
Morris: Okay, I’m going to give you some space (takes his leave) but I really hope to get to know you a bit more the next time I see you (smiles).
Suzy: Are you guys watching “Fantastic Beasts” this weekend?
James: Weekend very expensive. Why not watch on Monday since we are on holiday now?
Suzy: Aiya, but my school is still conducting extra lessons on Monday.
John: What about Wednesday afternoon?
Suzy: Wednesday is good.
James: Okay, set!
Mark: I’m really stressed out by my ‘A’ level exams. I’ve been pretty discouraged because the papers have been really bad so far.
Sue: How bad is bad?
Mark: Well, I didn’t manage to finish my GP comprehension paper and I have a feeling my essay is a bit out of point also. And then I made so many careless mistakes in my math paper. I realised it only after discussing the answers with my friends. Really want to kick myself.
Sue: Oh dear. You must be feeling so sian.
Mark: Yeah. I really have no mood to study for the rest of my papers.
Sue: But… what’s done is done, and there’s nothing you can do about it anymore… Remember that God is in control no matter what happens, so just do your best and leave the rest to him, yeah?
Mark: Okay, I’ll try.
Sue: Can I pray for you?
Stanley: So how did you find the sermon?
Tom: Aiyo, he’s so long winded and all over the place. I lost him at the second slide.
Stanley: Yar lor!
Rachel: I thought it was helpful to hear how we can honour our parents leh. My parents have been ill for some time and it has been difficult to care for them. It’s good to know that I am honouring them when I take care of them.
Tom: Now that you mention it… I’m guilty of ignoring my parents. Although we stay under the same roof, I try to avoid them because I find them SO naggy even though I’m already an adult. But maybe I can do better in honouring them.
Angela: Eh, did you hear that Lily and Walter are having issues in their relationship?
Bernard: Ya, I heard. I’m not surprised lah. He can be quite controlling and crazy.
Angela: Ya lor, she’s quite long suffering.
Bernard: Eh, aren’t you in their DG? So what are the details of the tiff?
Angela: I’m not supposed to tell, but let’s just say it’s something to do with money and children.
I have created the above dialogues to play out the different kinds of conversations that I envisage would take place in our church community. The names are fictitious. The dialogues may be caricatures and often the conversations are more complex, but I hope they will still serve the purpose of highlighting to you what transpires between worshippers when they gather together. Which of those conversations do you think would edify the body of Christ? If you were in their shoes, which of those conversations would bring joy to your heart and peace to your soul when you walk away from them?
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” (Proverbs 18:21). Do our tongues bring death or life? Do our lips utter words that build up or tear down? Do we often say many words that amount to nothing? Or do we speak a timely word that will make a difference in the lives of our hearers?
Many years ago, I was in the midst of going through a difficult period; particularly because someone that I had looked up to had let me down. The week was very hard for me. Sunday came and my mind was still very troubled. My prayer was that God would continue to sustain me and help me make it through the day. The choir was scheduled to sing that morning. Everything was in order (except my troubled mind) and it was time for the choir to go up and sing on that beautiful Sunday morning.
One by one the choir members moved to the front and lined up. I opened my file and realised that my choir score was missing. Suddenly that person who let me down meant nothing to me! The choir opened their scores and looked at me to start the song. The pianist was ready, seated in position and waiting to take the cue from me. I had no time to even think about what happened to my music score. When you are standing in front of a congregation, every second counts and there was no time to waste. Deep inside me, I was panicking and crying to the Lord, “Help me Lord, now I need you more than any anything, Amen.” I took a deep breath and let go of all my knowledge of the song and began to move my hands. I had no idea how long the introduction was and I had to look at the way the choir members were flipping their pages and breathing to kind of gauge the song. All I knew was that it was written in 3/4 time signature. There was even a repeat segment and I had to look carefully at the way they were turning back the pages to ensure that I was guiding them correctly. We managed to sing the song without a glitch. One by one, we all returned to our pews.
I had no idea how we were able to sing the song without any mistakes. The Lord reminded me then and there the meaning of the song we were singing that morning. It was taken from Psalm 121:1-8
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.
I had to let go of my hurt, my thoughts, my abilities, my dependence on the music score, my memory of the song and solely depend on Him so that the meaning of the song would come alive. Every word of the song rang in my head and it dawned upon me I simply had to lift up my eyes from me, my problems and my unhappiness and look to Him. I learnt a very valuable lesson that Sunday morning and it has stayed with me to this day.
We often pray and sing that God would do His will in our lives, that His kingdom would come in and through us, that God would use us for His glory. If we really mean it, God would often have to alter our plans and disrupt our perfectly planned lives. In order for God to take over, we have to let go and it is something very hard to do. If we analyse our prayers carefully, we tell God what to do for us- we pray for good health, safety, success, prosperity, programs that we have lined up and so on. If God were to alter our plans, are we willing?
As 2018 comes to a close and another year is dawning, the question that I want to pose to you is this: What are you looking at?
Given the circumstances we are in, it is easy to look at ourselves, our interests, our problems, our career, our family et al. The word of God reminds us that even in the midst of such compelling commitments, we are to look up to the Lord because He is our help.
David the shepherd said “The Lord is my shepherd” (Ps 23). That Sunday morning, I had to let go off of my conducting skills and music and let God be my conductor. Whatever your profession is, can God take over as your teacher, manager, director, driver, doctor, lawyer, accountant…?
2 Corinthians 12:19-20 says But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
If you are feeling weak, insulted, going through hardships, facing persecution and calamities (for the sake of the gospel), lift your eyes to the hills and may His power be made perfect.
Recently, we hear a lot about inequality in our society from the news. The government is taking measures to close the inequality gap by ensuring that children are able to compete fairly in a meritocratic system. This may mean lending a helping hand to those growing up in disadvantaged homes. An excerpt of a video entitled ‘Regardless of Class’ went viral as it showed that even among our teenagers from different educational streams, there is clearly a divide. In the video, Senior Minister of State, Janil Puthucheary, interviewed a mixture of students from the Integrated Programme, the Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) streams. They spoke honestly about how they perceived each other. The NA and NT students recalled how Express students would roll their eyes at them and call them ‘stupid’. When asked whether mixed ability students could be placed in the same class, one of the NT students said: “I think so, if they (the higher ability students) are willing to teach us and help us. I know I am very slow, I am scared they won’t teach me.” But the Integrated Programme student didn’t think it would work as the slower students would likely not be able to catch up and they would just give up. Of course that segment of the video invited a lot of sympathy for the NA and NT students but I later found out that the producer of the video edited it in such a way as to give viewers the impression that social divide in Singapore is more stark than it actually is. Regardless, the divide exists!
Is that divide apparent in the True Way community which is made up of a whole array of people coming from different backgrounds? We have the rich and the not so rich among us. We have people staying in landed properties and condominiums as well as those who are staying in HDB flats which also come in all sorts of sizes. We have both white and blue collared workers; we have those who speak Queen’s English and those who speak fluent Singlish. We have housewives, retirees, single moms, people with special needs and people who have spent time behinds bars. We have highly educated people, MBA and PhD holders, as well as those who are not so highly educated. We definitely have in our midst NA, NT and Express students as well as those who are under the Integrated Programme. I know some people have chosen to make True Way their spiritual home because of the diversity in the make-up of the church as compared to some other churches which are more homogeneous in terms of their members’ profiles. But such a diverse community is not without its challenges because I have just heard that a Poly student in our church feels rather distanced from his peers because they are mostly in JCs. Does the Poly student feel inferior? Do the JC friends make him feel inferior? How shall we perceive each other when we gather as a church, be it on a Sunday or when we meet in our Discipleship Groups (DGs)?
You have heard this being said before but if it is the truth, I will unabashedly say it again – “WE ARE ALL SINNERS SAVED BY GRACE!” This is our identity. We were once dead in our trespasses and by God’s grace we have been made alive together with Christ and seated with him in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:5-6). That was the basis for the apostle Paul to tell the Jewish and Gentile Christians that they were now one in Christ. The Jews had often looked down on the Gentiles. The Jews would see themselves as belonging to a higher class since they were God’s chosen people while the rest were not. They considered the Gentiles as unclean. Both were hostile towards each other. Yet the mystery of the Gospel was such that Christ was creating in himself “one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile [both Jewish and Gentile Christians] to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility…For through Christ, both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:15-16, 18). Between the Jews and Gentiles lie a very great social divide, yet they had been called to oneness in Christ. How does this speak into our various forms of division in church? Shouldn’t they be nullified as we too have been called to oneness in Christ?
Whether we are rich or poor, educated or uneducated, all of us need Christ in order for us to be reconciled with God and saved from the condemnation of sin. Being convicted of the truth that “WE ARE ALL SINNERS SAVED BY GRACE” can help us overcome both inferiority and superiority complexes. We shouldn’t feel inferior even if we are poor and uneducated. Our worth is established in Christ, in the fact that he has purchased us with his precious blood out of his amazing grace. We are God’s beloved. On the other hand, we shouldn’t feel superior even if we are rich and educated because we are no different from the poor and uneducated in that we too stand condemned if not for the perfect love of God demonstrated on the cross. If you are a Poly student and you don’t feel good enough to hang around with your church friends from the JCs, then think again – they are no different from you; they are sinners saved by grace. If you are intelligent and you don’t want to associate with people who are academically weaker than you, then think again – you are no different from them; you should be humble to know that you too are a sinner saved by grace.
Regardless our class, we must be able to submit to each other out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 4:21). We must learn to yield to each other as we yield to Christ. It means that we must be willing to give up our rights for the sake of others, Jesus being the classic example. We must be willing to serve each other, listen to each other, learn from each other and even be corrected by each other regardless what kinds of social background we come from. Wouldn’t the church be a very attractive community if she is filled with people from all walks of life journeying together – worshipping together, eating together, serving together, studying the Word and praying together, caring for one another, loving each other as Christ has loved us? What if we are so engaged in each other’s lives that we simply forget the differences in our social status altogether? Surely our unity in diversity will cause the local church community to stand out as light in the dark, and cause the world to sit up to notice who we are – the beloved people of God, sinners saved by grace!
Whenever I go to the Event Hall, a place where the worshippers usually gather, I notice many things happening there and different groups of people gathering there. I have seen the DG members who are doing their Cozy Corner duties and gladly serving the people of God. Some DGs are very hospitable as they provide their own unique refreshments willingly and cheerfully. They are going beyond their call of duties. They are doing them out of love for the people of God. We are not expecting every DG to do the same as what they are doing. We know that the make-up of each DG is different and their giftings are also different. Those who are in-charge of Cozy Corner duties and procedures do not insist that this very thing ought to be done by every DG but totally left it to the discretion and initiative of each DG as they are comfortable. We recognise the diversities of operations and functions among the DGs.
I have also seen two or three DGs who often meet together to have fellowship with one another. It is really heart-warming to see the people of God, making efforts to catch up with each other on a Sunday morning. The only thing that I would not know is whether they are relating with each other deeply or not. My main concern would be how they are treating each other. I have also noticed that those who are currently doing the Pew Ministry curriculum would then be applying what they have learnt in the manner they relate with other people. It is good that they are applying what they are learning and hopefully, not just as a requirement of putting into practice what they have learnt. Besides, I have also noticed some groups having their Bible Studies there. This leads me to these important questions: “How intentional are we in relating with one another as the people of God?” and “How are we treating one another as the people of God?”
I would like to suggest some practical ways where we can treat one another as the people of God, the people whom Christ loved, died and redeemed by His precious blood. Let us treat each other with love and respect. Let us see to it that those who are left alone by themselves are being readily taken care of. When we truly love them, we would walk “across the room” and take up the courage to get to know that person and befriend him or her. We can approach them politely and ask whether we can sit down with them to have a simple chit-chat. In that sense, you would not be found to be intruding into the privacy of others. Even if he or she may decline your request, at least by the grace of God, you have the courage to make the first move. To treat each other with love takes a deliberate effort on each of our part as children of God, as children of Light. If we never try, we would never succeed. Love for the people of God overcomes every obstacle and barrier. Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. (See Hebrews 10:24). To treat each other with respect would mean that we would be careful how we speak to each other, not being rude or proud, but being kind, loving and understanding. We cannot impose our values on others nor can we expect others to be like us. We must exercise love and patience when we relate with one another. What we are comfortable to do, others may not. We must also be careful of our body language when we treat each other. Each of us has our diverse temperament, background and upbringing. Some are introverts whereas others are extroverts. If you see someone who are having their quiet moment, then do not approach them to talk with lest you interrupt them or disturb them. One possible way is to be prayerful about who we should interact with and who we should not. Everyone needs some space for themselves. We really need to be sensitive to the leading of the Spirit when comes to treating one another as the people of God. Love and respect are key areas which we all need to work in and at. Good works are necessary too. Whenever I have the opportunity to sit down with someone to interact and fellowship with, I often enjoy getting to know the person better and then praying gladly for the needs of that person. Practice makes perfect! Let us practice hospitality and humility whenever we treat one another. When we are open to others, others will also be open to us. It really takes both hands to clap. Relationships in the church will be greatly enhanced when we make great effort in treating one another well with love and respect and also in showing forth really good works. So, there is intentionality as well as determination in wanting the best for each other to grow in the community of faith and love. A better community can be forged when everyone plays a part in it. We need each other because we belong to each other as we are the church. May the Lord guide and help us to be able to treat one another as the people of God! Amen.