On Tuesday, we woke up to the news that the famed Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris was engulfed in flames. Social media was flooded with tributes to the iconic building. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong joined world leaders to express his sorrow and wrote “The Notre-Dame is part of the heritage of mankind, an expression of the religious faith and human spirit of generations of people who conceived it, built it, and worshipped in it.” President Emmanuel Macron vowed that France will rebuild Notre-Dame and immediately launched a national campaign to restore the building to its former glory.
It is indeed particularly poignant that this happened during the Holy Week. For many, the cathedral is a symbol of their faith and to see it burn before their eyes must have caused much grief. By evening, many people have pledged to donate toward the rebuilding of this iconic building.
As I followed the news, I cannot help but think of what Jesus said about a particular temple. The Bible records for us in John chapter 2 that Jesus cleansed the temple in Jerusalem. With a whip of cords, he drove them (money changers and animals) out of the temple and overturned their tables. The religious authorities and the crowds then must have watched in disbelief at the cleansing of their iconic building. When the Jews demanded a sign for His authority, He answered them “Destroy this temple and in three days I will restore it.” (John 2:19) Jesus’ opponents and even His disciples clearly did not have a clue what He meant for it had taken forty-six years to build the temple. It was only after Jesus was raised from the dead that they remembered His words and believed the Scripture (v21). They realised He was talking about the temple of his body. We know that under the terms of the old covenant, the great meeting-place between a holy God and His sinful people was the temple. It was a place of sacrifice and atonement of sin. As a result of Christ’s death for our sins, He becomes the temple where God meets his people. In His death and resurrection, He reconciles us to God and becomes our temple, between God and sinners and therefore, we preach Christ crucified “who was dead and buried…but rose on the third day…”
Jesus Christ, our true temple is alive. The hymn Christ is Alive by Brian Wren beautifully sums up what Christ’s resurrection means for us.
Verse 1: Christ is alive! Let Christians sing.
The cross stands empty to the sky.
Let streets and homes with praises ring.
Love, drowned in death, shall never die.
As we celebrate Easter Sunday, we may be tempted to think of it as just a historical event and look at this day as a mere observance of history. But for us believers, we know that our Lord’s resurrection was more than that. It continues to be a celebration of a current event that Christ is alive. We are called to join all the believers in the world to celebrate and sing because Jesus is alive yesterday, today and forevermore. He is risen once and for all and that is why the cross is empty. Whether we are in our homes or out in the streets, our praise of this risen Lord is to ring out because Christ is alive. What He has done for us in love on the cross continues even today and it shall indeed never die because He lives.
Verse 2: Christ is alive! No longer bound
to distant years in Palestine,
but saving, healing, here and now,
and touching every place and time.
Christ is risen and yet we remain painfully aware of the suffering and sorrow in our lives. The message of our risen Lord may truly seem very distant because Palestine is so far away from us. Our sufferings, here and now may seem larger than life. Our near and dear ones may be dying, suffering and struggling. What does Christ’s resurrection mean for such people and for all of us who will eventually die too? Christ’s resurrection was not only for Palestine nor at that time in history. It is for all places and time- saving sinners and bringing healing to the nations. If Christ has risen from the dead, there is hope for the resurrection of the body. Paul says in Phil 3:21 “who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” This is our confident hope, not only for ourselves- our persons, our bodies but also for the world.
Verse 3: In ever insult, rift and war,
where color, scorn, or wealth divide,
Christ suffers still, yet loves the more,
and lives, where even hope has died.
This song was written 10 days after Rev Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. How do we believers celebrate in the midst of devastating news that continues around the world today? How do we preach the good news of Christ’s resurrection in the face of suffering? In this part of the world, we may not face what Martin Luther King went through but we are not spared from colour, scorn and wealth division. Even in the church, we will have hurts and disappointments. We continue to experience brokenness and human sufferings in families too. In the midst of the devastation that we bring upon one another, Christ suffers with us and yet loves us still even when there seems to be no way because He lives!
Verse 4: Women and men, in age and youth,
can feel the Spirit, hear the call,
and find the way, the life, the truth,
revealed in Jesus, freed for all.
Christ’s resurrection is not only for a particular group of people and age but for everyone, young and old. Christ’s resurrection – the victory already gained at the renewal sure to come have bearing in our lives now. Resurrection means Christ is with us, giving us the power within us- to change. By His spirit, God is gradually transforming us to be like His Son. There will be aspects of our character and behaviour that need to be crucified in keeping with the Lord’s death. There will also be aspects that need to be brought to life in keeping with the Lord’s resurrection. When Thomas asked Jesus “How can we know the way?” Jesus answered “I am the way, the truth and the life“ (John 14:5-6). Anyone who hears the call of the Lord can find the way in Jesus who has come to free us all from the bondage of sin.
Verse 5: Christ is alive, and comes to bring
good news to this and every age,
till earth and sky and ocean ring
with joy, with justice, love and praise.
Christ, by His crucifixion and resurrection overcame sin, death and evil. In this way, Jesus validated his teachings and vindicated his messianic claims. By faith, we share in His triumph because Christ won the battle for us. We have been freed to join an exuberant new exodus- of the new creation! Christ’s resurrection continues to remind us of the cosmic joining of heaven and earth when all creation will ring and sing together. Our joy will be complete, and justice will finally be delivered for those who have been denied for now. Our love will be complete, and we will praise our risen King eternally. This is the good news, given for all.
May Jesus Christ, our true temple continue to whip and overturn our hearts, and cleanse our temples of idolatry so that we may join the heavenly hosts in proclaiming Christ is alive!
In the Bible, we see that the story of humanity begins her journey in the Garden and subsequently moves on the city of Jerusalem and culminates in the vision of the Holy City shining with the glory of God. Interestingly, the glimpse we’re given in Revelation 21 and 22 of the climax of history is a description of a city, with all its multi-ethnic diversity, population density and cultural riches. In short, it is a picture of paradise restored.
However, like Jesus’ disciples, we can be too easily impressed with the splendour and grandeur that are associated with economic wealth and human accomplishment and be mistaken about what human flourishing in a city should look like (Mark 13:1). Indeed, in an age where wealth can flow in and out of cities with astonishing speed, our cities may be thriving only in the thinnest of senses.
In contrast, Jesus understood what God’s “shalom” should look like. And in order bring God’s shalom to the cities, Jesus had to penetrate it. Indeed, we see that Jesus didn’t box himself inside the four walls of the synagogue. He walked into the lives of sinners and ministered to the marginalised and those who were the outcasts of society. Likewise, if Christians are to impact and influence the world for Christ, we too must find meaningful and helpful ways to “penetrate” it.
John Stott said, “We are to go as he went, to penetrate human society, to mix with unbelievers and fraternize with sinners. Does not one of the church’s greatest failures lie here? We have disengaged too much. We have become a withdrawn community. We have become aloof instead of alongside.”
It is understandable that when some look at the spiritual and social plight of the city, they rush to critique the church for her seemingly lack of involvement in the well-being of the city. After all, many evangelical churches are middle-class in their demography and their worshippers may be unwilling or find it challenging to come out of their comfort zone to engage those who are very different from them. And therein lays the danger that churches can easily become irrelevant when they overlook the common good of their neighbours. A church that only does good to the household of faith, and not to “all” (Gal 6:10) will be seen as tribal and sectarian. If pagans don’t “see your good deeds” they won’t “glorify God”. In fact some researchers have suggested that if urban churches put all their energy into evangelism and none serving the needs of the city, their evangelism will be much less effective
From Scripture, we learn that an experience of grace inevitably leads to a life poured out in deeds of service to the needy (Is 1:10-18; 58:1-10; James 2:14-17). God instructs the Israelites that they should serve the needs of the poor “alien”—a foreigner who may be a non-believer—because they were once aliens in Egypt, but he delivered them (Deut. 10:19). Indeed, an experience of grace should always lead you to love especially your poor, unbelieving neighbour.
For generations Christians have been providing charity for those who suffer most from the idolatries and injustices in their midst of eking out a living in the city. Some run “rescue mission” to restore dignity to countless people who otherwise might have been lost or forgotten. Others are involved in community-development aiming at restoring and revitalising the whole neighbourhood. Church historians also record for us that the church has never left even when the city was at its worst.
When Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount, it wasn’t to a gathering of the United Nations, a conference of the superpowers, a sitting of Congress or Parliament, or even an assembly at City Hall. It was to a group of common people in mostly lowly positions or without any judiciary powers. In fact, they were under Roman occupation! They couldn’t plan their own futures! They couldn’t determine their own destinies! Yet Jesus says to them: “You are the salt of the earth! You are the light of the world! You make a difference in this community!”
The calling of every Christian is not only to maintain personal holiness, but also to touch the lives of those around us. Here in Queenstown, we are one of the most Christian- saturated neighbourhood in Singapore with churches stretching from Grace Assembly all the way to New Creation. To an average Queenstown constituent, will they find True Way Presbyterian Church – English Congregation relevant in the neighbourhood?
As a Church, we know that God calls us to serve the poor. Through PFS, our members seek to serve those in the Children’s Care club and visiting the families of inmates. We are also involved in tuition ministry every Fridays, the Senior SAC in Strathmore Green. We also have a Thai Service. There are still others who help with Meals on wheels, buying and delivering food to the Queenstown neighbourhood. What about the Domestic Helpers in our home? Do we empower them, lead them to Christ and send them back as missionaries to their own home country?
As Christians, we are to be the soul of a city, to participate actively and responsibly where we live and work. Even at a national level, we can contribute by exercising conscientiously our voting rights during the time of election. Instead of being indifferent or becoming critical, we should grow in discernment and also pray for the national leaders who are accountable to those whom they are called to serve.
It is very encouraging to know that the pastors from the various churches in our neighbourhood have sought to come together to pray and strategize to be more effective in reaching the Queenstown community. Indeed, this is a good example of modelling what a Christian community is to people living alongside our churches. Hopefully, those of us in True Way will see that Queenstown is our mission field. May we also be eager to bring glory to God as we seek to touch the lives of the people around us!
The apostle Paul says: “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). This resonates with Westminster Shorter Catechism where the very first question asked is: “What is the chief end of man?” to which the response is: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
What does it mean to glorify God? It is to recognise and acknowledge him for who he is – his character, his beauty, his excellency, and to give him the honour by praising and worshiping him. When the Psalmist declares how great God is, he is glorifying God. The opening verses of Psalm 145 are a good example of how David glorifies God as he praises him for his greatness:
1I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name forever and ever.
2 Every day I will bless you
and praise your name forever and ever.
3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable.
We too can glorify God every time we gather for worship. We sing songs of praise and adoration and many of these songs direct our attention to God’s attributes – holiness, justice, compassion, love. When we sing songs about the cross and our salvation, again our attention is drawn to God’s wrath and mercy. A favourite hymn of mine “How Great Thou Art” takes us from creation to the cross to Christ’s return, and the refrain “Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee, How great Thou art, How great Thou art” rings with much joy. It is thus good for us to pay attention whenever we sing to the Lord and to do so sincerely so that we glorify him in our worship.
We not only want to recognise and acknowledge God for who he is, we also want to point out to those around us who God is. We can do this through word and deed. When we share our testimony and tell of how God is working in our lives, when we share the Gospel and how Jesus saved us from sin and how the Holy Spirit is transforming our hearts and minds every day, we glorify Him before others. Even though others may not want to hear us when we acknowledge God, he is more than pleased by our efforts to make him known.
We can also give glory to God through our works. Matthew 5:16 says: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” When I deliver meals on wheels, when I give free tuition to the kids in the neighbourhood, when I reach out to people who are lonely, I am displaying the love of God; when I am patient with a problematic colleague or a difficult child, I am displaying the patience of God; when I forgive someone who has hurt me, I am displaying the mercies of God; when I am standing up for someone who is being bullied, I am displaying the justice of God. In all these, I am making God’s goodness and beauty visible and in so doing, my good works bring glory to God.
What about Paul’s exhortation? “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” With regards to eating and drinking, the context is about eating food offered to idols. Although an idol has no real existence, Paul urges the Corinthians not to eat in pagan temples because it may lead to the destruction of a weaker brother, weaker in terms of his conscience (1 Cor. 8). Paul offers himself as an example of one who is willing to give up his rights for the sake of spiritually building others up (1 Cor. 9). He also urges the Corinthians not to eat in pagan temples because doing so is idolatry (1 Cor. 10:1-22). Finally, a lot of the food sold in the market has already been offered to idols and if one is invited to eat in a house of an unbeliever, likely, the food served would have also been offered to idols (1 Cor. 10:23-11:1). Well, Paul says that the believer should just eat without raising any questions. But if a weak believer whose conscience does not permit him to eat such food, then for his sake, the strong believer should abstain so that no one is stumbled. The latter is exercising love in giving up his rights, displaying the love of God, thus bringing him glory.
What catches my attention is the clause “whatever you do”. Whatever really means whatever – eating, drinking, sleeping, walking, driving, commuting, reading, cooking, feeding the baby, playing with your child, talking, listening, working, looking for a job, pursuing a hobby, volunteering, rendering help, attending a concert, watching a movie, seeing a doctor, seeking medical help, merely breathing, and the list goes on. How can we do all these to the glory of God?
Start with a grateful and thankful heart. Sometimes, such a posture will result in us breaking out in prayers or songs of thanksgiving. When going to bed, I can say: “God, I thank you for a roof over my head, a comfortable firm bed, a warm quilt, and a spouse that lies next to me.” When attending a concern, I can say: “God, I thank you for the beautiful music, inspirational composers, skilled musicians, wonderful company and the great ambience in a grand concert hall.” When seeking medical help, I can say: “God, I thank you for a good and attentive doctor, for nurses who take blood without inflicting any pain, for drugs that are effective yet posing minimal side effects, for people I can talk to while I wait for my turn.” Yes, Paul says to give thanks in all circumstances, both good and bad. And even in the latter, there are still blessings to be counted for which we give thanks and in doing so, give glory to God. Even when we don’t verbalise our thanksgiving, as long as we find our contentment and joy in the secure arms of Jesus, the Lord will delight in us having such a posture of the heart.
Another way we can bring glory to God is for us to do everything as an act of worship unto him, always being very mindful of his presence in our lives. When we have this mind-set, we can be sure that we will do everything out of our love for God and we will offer him our very best, which is what the King of kings and Lord of lords is worthy of. I find in Brother Lawrence such an example. He was a 17th century French monk who spent most of his life as a humble monastery cook.
He said: “We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”
It was said that: “Even in the busiest times in the kitchen, Brother Lawrence still preserved his recollection and heavenly-mindedness. He was never hasty nor loitering, but did each thing in its turn with an even, uninterrupted composure and tranquillity of spirit. ‘The time of work,’ said he, ‘does not with me differ from the time of prayer. In the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great a tranquillity as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Supper.’”
With such an attitude, surely whatever Brother Lawrence did, he did it to the glory of God. Perhaps we can follow in his footsteps as we make glorifying God our chief end in life!
My family and I finally flew to Japan on 17 March after many weeks of waiting for our visa to be approved. Japan is unique as we are able to go there formally as missionaries but it takes some time to get the necessary approvals to do so.
When we had submitted all our forms and documents in December, I had thought that we had given ourselves plenty of time for our visa to arrive. As we planned we believed that God was preparing us to go on 4 March. We calculated that this was the best date possible as it would give us roughly one month to settle down in Japan before the school term starts in April. But with each passing week and no news yet of the approval, this deadline only served to increase our anxiety. Even so, I refused to allow myself to doubt, fearful that this amounted to a lack of faith in God’s provision.
Below is the progression of my thoughts during this period:
- “Isn’t He the God of the impossible? I’m sure He will make a way where there seems to be no way!”
- ”Surely God knows that if we don’t go to Japan by 4 March, it’s going to be a struggle to be settled in time so that the children can be ready for school”,
- “Didn’t God tell us that we should go by 4 March? Why would He do that and then not give us the visa in time?”
After much prayer and reflection, we began to realise that it was not that God had revealed the date to us but we were the ones fixated on it. My prayers had begun to sound less trusting, instead becoming increasingly more urgent pleas for God’s hand to move things in our favour.
The depth of my hypocrisy jumped out at me one day while I was deep in thought. How could I profess to be a servant to an all-knowing, almighty God and yet act as if His chief role was to serve and fulfil my needs. What gave me the right to assume that through prayer, God would just simply give me my visa right now when I wanted it? If I truly believed that God’s will is perfect and He is completely in control, I should then trust that whenever I got the visa was exactly when God intended it.
The struggle continued all the way until it finally became clear that we were not going to receive our visas till a later date. Ironically, it was only when I had no choice but to completely surrender the matter into God’s hands, that I finally received the peace in my heart that had eluded me before.
Despite my unfaithfulness, God blessed the extra time that He gave us in Singapore. We were able to spend more time with family, find a tenant for our apartment and settle many things that may have been overlooked had we gone earlier. It felt good to be able to complete these things without having to burden someone else to do them in our absence but it was also a stinging reminder for us to trust God and that His timing is best. Proverbs 16:9 says it best:
“The heart of man plans his way,
but the Lord establishes his steps.”
Now that we are here in Kyoto, these lessons are serving us well as we wait on God’s timing yet again for many matters such as renting a house and registering for schools. We have heard time and again from other missionaries that, despite being a first-world country, things don’t happen quickly in Japan. It looks like our lessons in trusting God and abiding by His timing have not ended and this is but the beginning of a much longer journey of trust in His faithfulness.
Despite all that we have been through, we are not yet perfect and still get anxious about many things. However, through our Master’s gentle correction, we hope that His love and peace will be what carries us through each trial. We need to remind ourselves again and again to wait upon the Lord and adopt a humble attitude. After all, aren’t we all just servants waiting on our just and gracious Master?
As a side note, we would like to thank all True Wayians who have been praying and encouraging us through our transition. Thank you for journeying with us! We’d also like to thank those who came to see (and pray!) us off at the airport. It was really heart-warming to us that you took the time and effort on a Sunday evening to show us your support. We are truly blessed to have such loving and caring brothers and sisters in Christ and your thoughts and prayers mean a lot to us.
Even as we mourn with those who are mourning in Christ Church, the recent massacre that took place at two mosques in this city reminds us that we cannot assume that everyone believes that every human life is sacred and has inherent value and dignity. Indeed, if there is anything we know about this lone Australian gunman who in cold-blood killed at least 50 people and wounded several others, it is that Brenton Tarrant is but one amongst many who regard themselves as superior over others. Not only so, judging from his 74-page manifesto, it appears that he has no qualms of resorting to violence in order to restore ascendency of his own “kind”.
Although the media has labelled Tarrant as a White supremacist and right-wing extremist, I do wonder if this is but a convenient label. Indeed, it would be interesting to see what the media would have called Tarrant if he is of mixed Asian ethnicity instead. But I digress. What is more important is that regardless of what our skin colour is or where we lean towards politically, we all need to guard our hearts and consider how do we treat others who are different from us, lest we become guilty of some degree of racism or form of bigotry. For example, whenever we sense some self-righteousness or disdain of others rearing its ugly head, let us repent and ask God to teach us what it means to love others.
In the case of Tarrant, it seems that his years in school and travels around the world where he recalled being treated kindly by others were insufficient to inoculate him against the indoctrination from the darkest corner of the online world. Like the ancient parable of Pandora’s Box, the free exchange of ideas that the internet brings also makes it to be a rather terribly efficient platform to propagate hatred and violence. Although Tarrant’s worldview is more of a mix-mesh of extremist ideologies, it nevertheless had a cumulative effect of pushing this 28 year-old young man off the edge and turning him into a mass murderer.
In the wake of this tragic incident, there is now further discussion about the role of social media companies and how they do have moral obligations to filter out content that are deemed potentially harmful to individuals and detrimental to social harmony. Indeed, there is no doubt of the extensive reach of the online world. After this shooting incident, Facebook shared that the videos of the attack was uploaded by users 1.5 million times in the first 24 hours. Even though Facebook’s automatic detection systems automatically blocked 1.2 million, there were still 300,000 copies left to be shared or commented on by Facebook users.
As much as we can hope that social media companies will get better at their filtering capabilities, there remains a bigger question. How are they going to determine what is extremist ideology? Does it also mean that if Facebook wants to be given access to operate in certain countries that they should take their cue from their “pay-masters” and filter out whatever the latter deems as unacceptable?
From a Christian perspective, we know that to honour a free society also means that we have to understand that honouring freedom comes with certain vulnerabilities that are inescapable with freedom. Such vulnerabilities can never be totally overcome, given that the people most determined to do evil may accomplish that evil before they can be stopped.
In addition, while we all recognise that there needs to be some limits to free speech, the challenge is that it is not always so easy to nail it down. The freedom that allows Christians to say that Jesus is Lord is also one that allows another to say Jesus is not God. Imagine the dilemma that our authorities will face if enough people complain to them that Christian evangelistic rallies in public places are deemed offensive and for the sake of public order should be banned. Or consider how carefully the government is treading on the repeal of 377A. While we can thank God and continue to pray for our government in their handling of such matters, we need to be mindful that in some other countries where there is religious freedom, crosses have been taken down from public schools or asked to be removed from civic spaces.
At the end of the day, legislation can only do so much to rein in hatred and violence. We can try to prevent potential terrorists from flying to another country to cause harm. However, we are well aware that deep-seated prejudices can easily take root even within the same ethnic group. For example, some Chinese used to frown upon marriages between different dialect groups. In the Bible, the stories of Cain & Abel (Gen 4) as well as Joseph and his brothers (Gen 37) remind us that family members are also not spared from jealousy and malice.
If we are to relate with others the way God calls us to, we certainly need to fill our hearts and minds with “whatever is true, honourable, just, pure…”(Phil 4:8-9) and to depend on God’s grace to apply it in our daily lives. Admittedly, in today’s context, this is becoming an even greater challenge as people have radically different views of what constitutes good. In an age of moral relativism, how can Christians help people to understand that love does not mean that we must condone another’s action or agree with one’s worldview?
For Tarrant, he may have thought he was fighting for a just cause for his own countrymen. Sadly, the only way he knew was through hatred and taking life away from others. For Tarrant’s hideous crime, there must be just punishment. Nevertheless, it is heartening to hear family members of some victims extending forgiveness to Tarrant. As Christians, we know that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, hatred does not have the last word. Indeed, since Jesus has born the penalty of our sins of hate and defeated hate itself, there is always hope for anyone who struggles with hate and desires to overcome it. Even for the likes of Tarrant, hate need not remain in his heart. Even if some in their hatred may wish otherwise for all that he has done.