We have moved house nine times in Singapore for various reasons. Each move required packing, unpacking and repacking. Some things moved with us constantly while other things moved depending on the size of the place and my children’s age. Over time, it became quite clear that we could live without many things. So we started sorting out and clearing things that we do not need. But we also realised that we have moved some things with us that we could not bear to throw away for one reason or the other.
It could be a utensil, a decorative piece or a toy that the kids no longer play with. In reality, we do not use it anymore but we continue to move it from one place to another, from one shelf to another, and from one room to another. And so it stays with us, gathering dust. In all honesty, it doesn’t emit joy too.
As Chinese New Year (or Spring Festival as it is called in some parts of the world) approaches, one cannot help but think about how we go through the rituals for the new year. To usher in the season, people wear bright colours; large floral prints and going into this rite of cleaning. It must have been there long before Marie Kondo. Our neighbours have adorned our corridor with new flower pots and flowers blooming in their full glory. What a wonderful sight it is to behold! Even outside NTUC Fair Price stores, artificial flowers line the corridor. They peer at you as if beckoning you to stop by and smell them. Of course they are not real but we end up admiring and buying them anyway. Most of us do not have the luxury of owning our own gardens where we can see flowers bursting forth in their array of colours. But the atmosphere is not far from reality. There is frenzied activity going on. There is buying, there is cleansing and there are preparations. All these for the big reunion.
The reunion dinner very interesting and heart-warming. Many families fly across the globe to be reunited with their families and they look forward to it. Of course, some dread the faces and the queries over the table. I find it interesting because it has many similar overtones with what we believe as Christians. Although the celebration is about nature (spring), for us as believers, it doesn’t end then and there. In our liturgical calendar, the season of Lent will begin a few weeks and soon it will be Good Friday and Easter Sunday (Resurrection Sunday). In fact, Easter actually began as a pagan festival celebrating the arrival of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Elsewhere, The Rite of Spring is a ballet and orchestral work written by the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. Stravinsky described it as “a musical-choreographic work, [representing] pagan Russia … unified by a single idea: the mystery and great surge of the creative power of Spring”. Interestingly the first part celebrates the advent of spring and the second part depicts the sacrifice of the chosen young girl.
“Spring festivals with the theme of new life and relief from the cold of winter became connected explicitly to Jesus having conquered death by being resurrected after the crucifixion” writes Carole Cusack. The resurrection of Jesus then, is the first fruits of the glorious spring (new creation). We look forward to the day when God will renew all things.
The Bible has many allusions to the great banquet and the wedding feast at the second advent of our Lord Jesus Christ. Meanwhile, we are preparing ourselves for that great reunion. Just as spring represents newness of life, awakening with energy and enthusiasm brought forth by the warmth of the sun, as believers, we can have newness of life as a result of Christ’s warm love for us. It ‘springs’ from there in every sense of the word. The victory already gained now in Christ’s resurrection and the renewal to come surely have bearings in our lives here and now.
As we go about cleaning our homes, preparing dinner and welcoming people into our homes, perhaps we can take stock of what we carry over year after year. Just as we move things around the house without throwing away what we really do not need, perhaps there are such things in our hearts. Now and then we might have thought about it but never really gotten rid of them. For some, it could be anger, pride, unforgiving spirit, vengeance, hatred etc. It might be still lying there, gathering dust or worse still, eating us and destroying us, impeding new growth in us. We could throw out the things that may not be welcomed at the reunion dinner; that is not in keeping with spring.
We can do it because of the ultimate spring – the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus from death. It means we have the presence and power of Christ in us to change. In 2 Cor 5:17 Paul says ‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he/she is a new creation (spring!). The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.’ In keeping with Christ’s death, are there aspects of our character and behaviour that needs to be killed and thrown off? In keeping with Christ’s resurrection, are there aspects of our character and behaviour that needs to be brought to life? As believers, we are able to do so and bear this responsibility not simply because we think we should but because of Christ’s resurrected power that is at work in us.
May others around the table feel the pulse and power of our resurrected Lord in us even as we go about doing our rite(s) of spring and welcome the season.
In last Sunday’s sermon, I spoke about the importance of prayer. Practising this spiritual discipline will definitely take effort, but it should be something we enjoy since we have been given this privilege to commune with God. We should pray at all times regardless of our circumstances as we await the return of Christ. As a wrap-up of the sermon series that kick-started the year’s pulpit ministry, I have crafted a prayer that we can all use to pray for our church community. It is a prayer that is informed by the Word of God, and if we pray according to His Word, we will be praying according to His will. If we pray according to His will, we can be confident that God will hear us and answer our prayers (1 John 5:14-15). You may want to pray this prayer in sections (if you find it too long) or you may want to pray the whole prayer at one go. It is my prayer that you will pray regularly for our church and ourselves along these lines. So here it goes…
Eternal King, our heavenly Father, we thank you for calling us out of darkness into your marvellous light. We are thankful that through Christ’s finished work on the cross and his rising again from the dead, you have redeemed us from the condemnation of sin. Once we were not a people, but now we are your people; once we had not received mercy, but now we have received mercy. Being rich in mercy, and because of your great love for us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, you have made us alive together with Christ. And by his grace, though Christ was rich, yet for our sake he became poor so that by his poverty we might become rich. Fill our hearts with gratitude for the undeserving salvation that we have in him. May the joy of our salvation so permeate our hearts that even in the face of the most difficult trial we will remain steadfast in our faith. Let our gratitude for what Christ has done for us be so deep that it becomes the compelling force that governs how we live as your beloved sons and daughters.
We thank you that we, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood. As your priests, we want to dedicate ourselves to a life of worship. We pray that we will actively engage in corporate worship every Sunday when we come to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour. We pray that we will sing enthusiastically and give to you our sacrifice of praise which you so deserve and desire. We pray that we will also listen intently to your still, small voice throughout the worship service so that, should you speak to us through the songs we sing, the prayers we pray or the Word that is read, memorised and preached, we will hear you loud and clear, and will then go forth into the world to continue our life of worship in faith and obedience throughout the week ahead. Just as the OT priests taught God’s laws to the people, as a priesthood of believers, we pray that we will mutually encourage one another through Word-centred and Christ-centred conversations, and we will also intercede for each other so that this spiritual house that we belong to can be built up by the power of your Spirit who indwells us.
Just as Jesus came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many, Lord we pray that we too will have a servant heart and will freely and cheerfully give of our time, talents and treasures to serve you and your people. We acknowledge that everything we have belongs to you. You are the one who has given us all that we possess, so help us to have a generous heart when it comes to giving of ourselves towards kingdom work. Thank you for giving us spiritual gifts out of your abundant grace. We know that as long as we have the Holy Spirit in us, we are given gifts to serve and build up one another. We want to be good stewards of the gifts that you have entrusted to us. We want to serve you with zeal and with joy, knowing that service is a privilege rather than a chore. We don’t want to depend on our own strength. We acknowledge that we are weak but you are strong, and your power is made perfect in our weakness; we acknowledge that your grace is always sufficient for the task that you have called us to undertake, so we want to constantly look to you to supply us with the strength that we need, so that in everything you may be glorified through Jesus Christ.
We pray that we will be a loving community. Just as we have received much love from you, we want to model your love so that we will love one another earnestly and sincerely. We pray that we will love as Jesus first loved us. We will forgive as Jesus has forgiven us. We are reminded that love covers a multitude of sins. As a loving community, we want to be hospitable and to welcome everyone regardless of their age, race, social background and nationality. Impress upon our hearts that each time we extend hospitality to someone, we are extending hospitality to Christ himself. We pray that in humility we will count others more significant than ourselves; we will look not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others. We pray for greater authenticity and transparency so that our relationships will not be superficial. Tear away our masks so that we do not pretend that all is well when it is not. Instead, help us to relate with one another openly and honestly, so that we can mutually support each other and speak truths into each other’s lives.
Fill us with compassion for the lost – those who do not yet know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. They may be in our homes, in our schools, in our workplaces, in our neighbourhoods, or in the mission field. Give us the boldness, wisdom and love to reach out to them. Through the way we conduct our lives, we pray that they will catch a glimpse of Jesus, and when we engage them in spiritual conversations and share with them the gift of salvation that Jesus offers, may your Spirit touch their hearts so that they will receive this gift with gladness and joy.
As a church, bind us in unity just as you have drawn us into the fellowship of the Triune God. Let us be salt and light for you where you have placed us. Transform us into the likeness of Christ as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, being assured that you are the one working in us both to will and to work for your good pleasure. And we know that you are able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, accordingly to the power at work within us. To you be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen!
Looking at the attitudes and motivations of service, we can be encouraged to serve. I am looking at offering our services to the people of God as though we are rendering them to God. Looking at the best example of service, that is, Jesus the Great Shepherd, the Great Intercessor and the Great High Priest. In Mark 10:45, we learn that “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The service rendered by our Lord Jesus is really a sacrificial service. He paid the penalty of sins on the cruel cross on our behalf so as to redeem us and to reconcile us to God. In John 10:11, we learnt that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep, that is, you and me. So, we serve because Jesus first served us. Similarly, in 1 John 4:19, we love because He first loved us. Our services offered to God and to others are demonstrations of our love for God and for others. I would like to encourage us through Galatian 5:13b which states that “through love serve one another.”
One encouragement for us to enter into service is the love of Christ. Having received Christ’s love, our lives are being transformed. We are unable to contain this love of Christ to ourselves but instead to serve one another with His life-transforming love. In 2 Corinthians 5:14b, we learnt that “the love of Christ controls us.” Christ Jesus has died for us all so that we may live for Him and His glory. Going beyond our inconvenience is another demonstration of serving one another with love. Another encouragement for us to enter into service is the heart of gratitude for what our Lord Jesus has wonderfully done for us. So, the attitudes and motivations of our service are these two aspects so far: the love of Christ and the heart of gratitude. Our hearts of gratitude for God can be demonstrated in many forms such as taking the initiative to explain the truth of God’s Word to those who are young in the faith or seizing the opportunity to bring someone who is unwell to the hospital. Being sensitive to the needs of others and always looking into the interests of others, this person clearly demonstrates the love of Christ and the heart of gratitude in him or her.
Still another encouragement for us to enter into service is the strength which Christ Jesus provided for us. I have learnt that whenever I serve, I should not serve with my own strength but with the strength which Christ Jesus has provided for me. In Philippians 4:13, I have learnt that “I can do all things through Him (Christ Jesus) who strengthens me.” In 1 Peter 4:11b, I am encouraged that “whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies.” When God calls you and me into a particular area of service, He will not leave you alone to struggle on your own or figure it out on your own but He will provide you with the resources which you would need to carry out your service for Him, that is, He will bestow upon you spiritual gift(s) or spiritual wisdom and guidance to do His work. Still another encouragement for us to serve one another is taken from 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Remember that your service rendered to the Lord and to others will be rewarded. They shall not be in vain because the loving God notices your service. The encouragement which I gather from this Bible verse is that I must endure all hardships and hurdles for the sake of Christ and His kingdom. I must persevere and be patient for I shall reap a harvest of righteousness in due time. Another Bible verse which encourages and spurs me on in my service to and for the Lord my God is Hebrews 6:10, “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do,”
No matter what service the Lord may call you to serve, He is not looking at your ability but at your availability. This is the final encouragement for us to enter into service for the Lord: the availability of ourselves. We just need to avail ourselves for Christ Jesus to use us in whichever area(s) He deems best for us to serve. The willingness to serve, despite of our shortcomings or weaknesses, is a clear evidence of our availability to serve. Putting on the humility of Christ Jesus in our willingness to serve is what pleases the Lord. So, let us be available to serve when the Lord calls. Do not hesitate by looking at your ability or preparedness but at how gracious God is when He gives you the opportunity and the privilege and also the joy to serve Him who is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. In the kingdom of God, every child of God has a place of service to be rendered to the Lord our great God. With all the above sharing and encouraging, I hope that we will all be encouraged to serve the Lord our kind and loving God. Amen.
‘Do you tithe to the church?’ a new worshipper asked. ‘No, tithing is OT thingy and we are under grace. So I give heartily whatever amount my heart desires,’ the regular worshipper replied. Another overheard and joined in, ‘Well, I give too but to para-organizations instead. They need it more and it is still for the kingdom.’ The new guy was confused. ‘But didn’t the pastor say that Christians should tithe to the church?’ ‘No, we should give to God, not the church!’ both shot back in unison.
How would you answer the poor chap? The theology of tithing is becoming more confusing these days with the proliferation of views and interpretations offered by various people with different agendas. So some churches practise tithing strictly according to the book and they tactfully remind members when they fail to keep to their law. Some practise giving heartily in the spirit and they graciously remind members to do the same. So what? Must we tithe? What does the Bible have to say about it?
It is hard to prove from the Bible that Christians are compelled to tithe a tenth to the church but it does not mean that this practice is therefore unbiblical. So allow me to share my thoughts and the best place to begin has to be Malachi 3:10 where God challenged his people to bring the whole tithe into the storehouse. This verse also serves as the basis for church tithing. But many argue that this was based on the law and applied strictly to Israel and not the church. I agree in principle that it does not apply to us according to the letter of the law, i.e. we do not bring the grains and animals according to some preset time and ritual. But because it is the Word of God revealed to teach his people how to live and conduct their lives, I believe it is still applicable to us according to the spirit of the law, i.e. the purpose that tithes serve in God’s kingdom perspective.
Well, the law required the Israelites to store the tithes collected in each town and used it to feed the Levites, widows, orphans and aliens living among them, i.e. those serving the ordinance of God and those in their midst who were in need. When the law made way for grace, caring and providing for the poor continued to be strongly enforced in the NT. And Paul also reminds us in 1 Corinthians 9:13-14 that those serving the ordinance of God need to be cared for too. So this principle of giving obligatorily for kingdom’s sake continues in the light of Christ’s revelation and has not been abolished. The form may change but the guiding principle remains. But must I give my tithe to the church or can I give to whom I desire? Well, if Israel was instructed to function as a community where tithes were gathered at a common place in each town and how the early believers in Acts did likewise, I strongly believe that it is through the local church that God desires for the tithes due him to be channelled into and dispensed out for his great kingdom work. And the word used for church in NT also has the same root meaning of a local Jewish gathering or community in OT.
So I see tithing to the church as implicitly taught in the Bible. This brings us to the next question, i.e. must I give a tenth or whatever amount my heart desires as suggested in 2 Corinthians 9:7. We need to know that this passage is not about tithing but giving to the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. It was a special collection arranged by Paul and it is in this context that the apostle exhorted them to give cheerfully and not grudgingly. It is like the special collection arranged by the English Presbytery for disaster relief in another country. And it is in this context that we should give whatever amount cheerfully and not under compulsion. So I believe this verse deals more with voluntary giving and falls into our context of offering instead, which we also give on top of our regular tithing.
But a tenth was the amount that Abraham, the father of faith who lived long before the law was instituted, tithed to Melchizedek in recognition for who he was. It might be customary in those days to give a tenth but the important thing is that God anointed such a practice before the law was given and later turned it into a law. And so I believe it is a good biblical guideline for his people living after the law to tithe a tenth to God in recognition for who he is. Therefore I do believe that tithing a tenth to the church is biblical so that the church may function and serve God’s purposes. But some will disagree with my theology just as I disagree with theirs that grace forbids us to impose a law and that we should give more in order that God will bless us more.
Now I recognize that there are some who may be burdened for certain charitable organization and so channel their tithes there instead. Is it wrong? Wouldn’t all good deeds bring glory to God? Well, as I have shared earlier, I believe it is the role of the church, on behalf of God and the local congregation, to bless others with our tithes and offerings. Woe to us if we channel all the money to improve the physical church for the sake of our comfort and convenience and neglect the more important things. True Way therefore had initially undertaken to set aside 10% of our annual collection to give to para-organizations and this was in addition to the other expenses incurred for kingdom work. Subsequently, we raised this amount to 12%. But we are not able to cover all para-organizations and so many will be left out. You may therefore need to give to the organization of your desire on top of your regular tithing.
Finally, I trust that as long as we continue to keep kingdom work in our perspective, God will be pleased to bless others through our tithes and offerings. Therefore as a pastor, I willingly subscribe to the good old tradition of giving a tenth as tithe to the church. It is biblical. And on top of this, I also strongly encourage all to give to those who are in need, cheerfully and without compulsion as the Lord so blesses or burdens us. It is pleasing to God.
[It was first printed in June 2009]