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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Naked God

Naked God.

To be honest, I was a little alarmed when I first came across the title of Martin Ayers' book. The bold combination of the words "naked" and "God" - surely Martin had good reasons to put them together?

Indeed he has, as he exposes to the reader the truth about God by stripping away false ideas, hence the concept of "nakedness". Divided into 3 parts (Naked Truth, Naked Jesus, Naked You), Martin cleverly navigates the reader to first evaluate and correct the common misconceptions surrounding the origin of life, true freedom, knowledge and morality. By examining propositions put forth by atheists and naturalists, the reader is made to uncover for themselves the existence of God.

The reader is then ushered into the next section to investigate who this God is by taking a closer look at the man Jesus who claims to be the Son of God. The Bible is well-quoted to demonstrate Jesus' true self to the reader. This section also answers with 3 common objections that the reader may have in accepting the implications that Jesus is the Christ He claims to be: Isn't His teaching socially regressive? Don't His followers have a disgraceful track record? Won't He take away my freedom?

In the final section, the reader is prompted to make a choice as Martin takes an evangelistic approach to explain faith and repentance. The assurance of the future for a Christian is also emphasized as the commonly misconstrued concept of heaven and hell is demystified. A prayer is also included for the reader who chooses to live a new life in Christ.

Packed with real evidence, illustrations and metaphors, Martin uses simple language to help the reader relate to his writings and understand the truth about God. An easy yet challenging read, Naked God is particularly helpful for the non-Christian investigating God but also lends a hand to the believer in further strengthening his/her faith.

Looking forward to laying your hands on a copy of Naked God? Order one today (or order more to give away to your friends!) from Matthias Media at http://www.matthiasmedia.com.au/naked-god where you can also sample the first chapter for free.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Genesis 1 ~ The Evolution Confusion

The age old question on the origin of the universe can sometimes be misconstrued to be a conflict between "modern science" and "outdated Genesis". While the book of Genesis is to be read literally, it should not always be read in a literalistic fashion as it utilizes metaphors as well.

God was right there in the beginning (verse 1) and He made this world from chaos to order. The earth was without form and void (verse 2) and lacked structure. It was empty save for darkness. Yet the Spirit of God (verse 2) was there - where you have the breath of God, the word of God is present as well and so God spoke from verse 3 onwards.

Certain phrases are frequently repeated in the first chapter of this first book in the Old Testament, such as "And God said" (10 times), "Let there be" (8 times), "and there was" or "and it was" (7 times), "And God made" (7 times), "God called" (5 times), "God saw that it was good" after each of the creation day as well as "And there was evening, and there was morning, the _____ day" (after each of the 6 days). Such repetitions show a very structured or orderly account of creation itself.

The pattern of creation is of complementary form and filling: day and night (day 1) and sun and moon (day 4), expanse separating waters (day 2) and birds and sea creatures (day 5), and vegetation (day 3) and beasts and man (day 6). A word can be very powerful if it brings things into existence and such is the power of God's Word and His sovereign design, which is all summed up in verse 31 where God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good. This is a personal, purposeful God who made everything, fulfilling His plan. Passages like John 1:1-3, John 1:14, Colossians 1:16-17, and Hebrews 1:1-3 demonstrate that God is personally involved with creation throughout all of time. Jesus is the one who sustains the world and He is in sovereign control of all.

The evolution confusion is that science is in conflict with Genesis. The reality, however, is that evolution does not necessarily contradict Genesis. These are two different fields of studies or disciplines in that science provides the mechanistic explanation while Genesis asks the "bigger questions" of "who made it", "what is it made for", and "where are we going". In fact, it is Genesis 1 that gave rise to modern science for the only way you can do science is if you appreciate orderliness (exemplified in Genesis 1 that proposes the clockwork model). The real conflict lies where people argue for accidental evolution (e.g. the Big Bang theory that hypothesizes that creation happened by accident, purely all out of chance) whereas Genesis has explicitly made it clear that creation is of purposeful design.

How did you get here? Are you a purposeful creation of God or a product of atoms that randomly gathered and interacted by chance and accident?

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

John 6 ~ Jesus or Who Else?

Our world today perceives religion in many distorted ways including religious relativism and pluralism. According to religious relativism, truths are relative, depending on different individuals. As for religious pluralism, it proposes that all different religions lead to God anyway.

In John 6, miracles were performed by Jesus that people may believe as they were reminded of events in the Old Testament. For instance, the feeding of the five thousand was a reminder of God’s provision of manna while Jesus walking on water could draw its parallel to the setting apart of the Red Sea. Verses 26-27 implied that the crowds were seeking the wrong kind of food. Jesus showed that He can provide food for a day (i.e. food that spoils) but He can also sustain them with food that does not spoil.

The question on our lips will then be, “What do I need to do to gain eternal life?” Sometimes we make the mistake of telling God, “Well, God, I’ll tell you what I’ll do that will make You happy.” Our self-centredness makes us tell God what He should accept as we set the bar that is high enough for us to jump over. Verse 29 tells us instead that God wants us to believe in the Son that He has sent to die for us. The subsequent verses 30-31 described how the crowd wanted to see a sign as they made the mistake of comparing Jesus with Moses. They should instead compare Him with the bread of life (verse 32).

Jesus is the bread of life that has come down from heaven (verses 33, 38, 46, and 51). John 6 also records seven occurrences of the phrase “I am”, a metaphor of the identity of Jesus and what He has been sent to do. And the purpose He was sent was to give life (verses 40, 44, 47, and 51). Jesus Christ gives eternal life by raising the dead. He offers us the resurrection of life.

What follows next in this passage can be perceived as an offensive imagery, especially to the Jews. Verses 53-54 paint the confronting idea of cannibalism and drinking of blood, which are forbidden in the Old Testament. But if one carefully reads the passage, verse 40 should hint that this imagery is a metaphor for believing in Jesus, as the idea of “eating” and “drinking” can mean to fully take something on board (e.g. “an opinion that is hard to swallow”, “thirst for knowledge”).

Christians also need to beware that John 6 is not describing the Lord’s Supper as it has not yet been instituted till a later time in this chronology of events. Also, thinking this way may potentially pose the dangerous idea that the way to gain eternal life is by partaking in the Lord’s Supper. John 6 is not about the Lord’s Supper but the Lord Supper is to remind us about John 6 that we may come and believe.

Our Saviour may appear offensive and it is easy to see how followers may be lost, as exemplified in verse 66 where many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him. It is tempting for us to lose the bits that are hard to accept and lower the bar to lure people into Christianity. But as verses 67-69 pointed out, where else have we to go if Jesus has the words of eternal life? The offensive thing to people today is that Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life (i.e. exclusivity of Jesus) and not any other religion or guru.

Will we love people enough to tell them the hard truth, to say that this is the truth and everything else is a lie?

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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Ephesians 2:1-10 ~ The Meaning of Life

The starting point of Ecclesiastes says that all is vanity yet towards the end, we find there is meaning in life for God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil (Ecclesiastes 12:14). We know there is judgment because when Jesus died, He didn't remain dead but rose to life - it doesn't all stop at just death. Acts 17:30-31 reminds us that when Jesus rose from the dead, we don't just know that judgment has begun but also that He is the one appointed to judge. Daniel 12:1-3 points out that while the Book of Life exists, not everyone's name will be listed. Some will be judged and raised to life, to everlasting life. The question that should then be asked is what Jesus will think of us. This is all the more so when John 5:21-22 and John 5:26-27 tell us that God the Father has given the Son the authority to decide who gets to enter heaven and who goes to hell.

In line with this, we need to correct our view of sin, heaven and works and this is where the first half of Ephesians 2 comes into the picture. The first 3 verses reveal our identity as being dead, followers of Satan, and children of wrath. It is not whether we sin more or less or how much good we do, it is a matter of who we belong to. If we belong to Jesus, we're on the winning team. The "good" that some may do are not for Jesus, so it is not a matter of how good a player we are but whose team we're playing for. When we belong to Jesus' team, no matter how poorly we play, we're still on Jesus' side. Even if we cannot score or perform up to expectations, we're still on victory's side because Jesus scores and wins. Jesus has victory even over death itself. The questions to then ask ourselves are: Are we followers of Jesus? Which team are we playing for? Are we making decisions that will make our team captain happy?

Verses 4-7 seek to correct our view on heaven. Some people may not want to follow Jesus just yet. They may even see Christianity as an insurance policy for the unforeseeable future where they'll cash in when they start to think they need it. Often, our view of heaven is shaped by our greed and sinful desires. Romans 1:24-32 tells us that it is a judgment from God to allow us to indulge in lusts. Hell is here now and it happens when God gives people over to their sins. We need God's mercy now as a salvation from our slavery to sin, which is hell. The correct view of heaven is to be free from our slavery to sin and to see that the best way to live now is by following Jesus. In heaven, we approach God now as Father for we are fellow heirs with Christ. I Corinthians 15:55-57 assures us that there is certain victory through our Lord Jesus Christ that even death cannot snatch away from ourselves. Our struggle with sin as Christians is an indication that we're alive. We can look forward to a final day judgment that we need not fear but will have life fully instead.

Last but not least, we also need to correct our view of works. Verses 8-10 serve to remind us that salvation has nothing to do with the tally of our good works but it is the gift of God. It is God's grace that saves so we should never boast. Heaven is God's Kingdom, not ours - Jesus is at the centre and at the top of it all. We should avoid reverting back to being slaves of sin when we have been saved from sin. It is instead good to be slaves of God (Romans 6:20-23) because our heavenly Master actually cares for us. It is this Master who has qualified us to be co-heirs with Christ who redeems us from sin (Colossians 1:11-14). God raises Jesus back to life so that we can have a life that worships Him (Philippians 2:8-11). Matthew 7:21 advises us that it is the one who does God's will who will enter heaven. Indeed, passages like Titus 2:11-14 provide us with great encouragement to leave hell and be in heaven now as we renounce ungodliness and worldly passions.

Do you find your meaning of life in Christ?

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Friday, April 29, 2011

M.O.N.E.Y. (May Our New-life Exalt Yahweh)

Imagine this: the only grandson of a wealthy tycoon decides to devote himself to full-time Christian ministry and so, forsakes an inheritance of financial riches and luxuries as his family disowns him. How would you respond to this piece of news? Would you think this man crazy or stupid for making such a decision?

Thus began the first main talk delivered by Pastor Joshua (who would rather be addressed more casually as simply Josh) in this year’s FOCUS Easter Conference (i.e. church camp). Talk 1 on “Rich Dad… Rich Kids” served to remind us that whatever family background we may come from, we were first willing children of Satan. The devil is our father from the start and his lies lead us to the ultimate murder: an eternity in hell. God, however, provides us a solution out of this situation. By the ultimate sacrifice of Christ on the cross, we are saved by grace through faith and are so adopted to become sons of God and heirs with Christ. God is now then our heavenly Father who promises us a future inheritance, which is eternal life itself, and He guarantees and seals this promise with the Holy Spirit. Such blessings illustrate the immeasurable riches of our “rich dad” in heaven. God never forsakes us and as He disciplines us, He is gracious towards us without spoiling us. We are then to learn contentment and free ourselves from the love of money as God has already blessed us with an inheritance that far surpasses that of temporary material wealth.

Talk 2 on “Greedidolatry” warns us against idolatry, which is spiritual adultery. Baal tempts us to worship materialism as we pursue material happiness and try to keep up with the Joneses, fooling ourselves into thinking that we are in control of our own future. As Christians, the lies of Baal become more attractive as he seeks to deceive us by dressing up in YHWH’s clothing. Examples of this include the false teachings of “God’s blessing” by those who preach the prosperity gospel, the illusion of God “calling” someone to a particular profession thus propagating the paganistic idea of career, and the half-truth command to “honour parents” by striving to achieve financial success in order to please them. We are to remember that all these are Baal’s lies and he never delivers, unlike God who always keeps His Word.

Talk 3 on “$tipend, $pending, $haring & $aving” teaches us the attitudes to adopt as God’s stewards in balancing out the different ways we use God’s money that He has entrusted us with. Financial income is a monetary reward for our diligent work but we need to be wary of how much we seek to earn, which may result in us dishonouring God’s name when we resort to sins like theft if we earn too little, or which may cause us to puff up with arrogance and confidence in our own self-efforts if we earn more than needed. As we pray “give us today our daily bread”, so then are we to seek to earn just sufficiently to live on. Our spending would first need to focus on our responsibilities. For some, this includes caring for children and using money wisely in furthering their education, especially their Christian education as the Bible teaches us that parents need to train and raise their children up to be godly. On the other hand, repaying our parents would involve us looking out for their needs but not helping them keep or increase their current standard of living. Since we have also received spiritual food, we are then to give material food in return by giving to the church. This should be seen as part of our responsibility and not merely an act of generosity. Spending money on luxuries is neither sinful nor wrong but God’s Word does warn us of the potential consequences of over-indulgence in riches and pleasures, which can choke us out. The value of generosity is emphasized in the virtue of sharing, with the priority for those who are Christians as they are part of our spiritual family. Saving for a rainy day is wise but how does one balance this with being rich towards God? We are called to use money now well so as to gain friends who will welcome us into eternal dwellings. This is in context of gospel ministry, in terms of helping others become and grow as Christians that they will be people in heaven who has benefited from this way that we have used money.

Talk 4 on “Desiring the Good Life” tells us that there are things in life that are far better than wealth, such as faithful and genuine relationships with other people as well as fearing the Lord. A life of true repentance is a life to be envied. It is indeed a blessing to be part of God’s Kingdom, submitting ourselves to God the Maker and having Him as the King who tells us what to do and who rules over our lives. Judgment Day itself gives us the right understanding of what to live for in this present age. As missionary Jim Elliot put it, “he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose”. Following the sound doctrine that the Bible presents to us will help us realize that the world is real but not all there is, and that there is heaven and hell that gives us meaning in life. Our desire should be shaped to first seek God’s Kingdom and His righteousness. As people for His own possession, we should strive for attachment to God’s wisdom that leads us to the zeal and jealousy to do good works. We are to pursue the shadow of greed for the Kingdom of the one who is our real rich Father, God.

On a more personal note, the long weekend away at camp was indeed a priceless experience to understand what the Bible has to say about money and wealth. Through the four talks, I am challenged by the fact that it is not my money but God’s money that I am using and so, I am called to use it wisely, all for the glory of God. The reminder that there lies an ultimate inheritance of eternal life in the future rings a bell for me to give thanks for God’s providence and to learn contentment with what He blesses me with in this present age. Being assured that God is faithful in His promises, trusting in His goodness subsequently extends to a response to share the goodness found in the gospel of Christ with others as well as to mutually encourage others belonging to this spiritual family to strive after the Kingdom of God, knowing that this is what gives meaning to life.

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Luke 5:12 - 6:11 ~ The Maverick Messiah

What makes a person maverick? He is unorthodox and unconventional, demonstrating independence in his thought and behaviour.

Jesus Christ Himself is a maverick. Instead of saying, "Be healed", He chose to say, "Be clean" in cleansing the leper in Luke 5:12-16. This shows that there is more to the event than just plain healing of a sickness. Cleansing is important in this context as one cannot approach God if he is unclean. Even more maverick was the touching of the leper when the Old Testament laws stated that such an act will cause one to be unclean. But Jesus, being the Son of God, cannot be made unclean - instead, He is able to cleanse others. His command to the cleansed leper to tell no one (Luke 5:14) indicates that He came primarily to preach, not heal.

Jesus' healing of the paralytic in Luke 5:17-26 once again displayed His maverick side as witnesses glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, "We have seen extraordinary things today." (Luke 5:26). The maverick line of "Man, your sins are forgiven you." (Luke 5:20) shows that Jesus has come to deal with the problem of sin. This is in line with His further claim that He has not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32). In the incident where He was questioned about fasting (Luke 5:33-39), Jesus' reply implied Himself to be the bridegroom of the people (i.e. God) in the Messianic banquet foreshadowed in Isaiah 25:6. In a further occasion, Jesus identified Himself to be the Lord of the Sabbath, drawing parallels with King David, when accused of allowing His disciples to pluck grains on a Sabbath (Luke 6:1-5). On another Sabbath when Jesus healed a man with a withered hand (Luke 6:6-11), it is interesting to note the turn of events as the scribes and Pharisees plotted to do harm to Jesus on the day (Sabbath) that they were meant to save and do good.

In summary, the 'outside-the-box' Jesus is a preacher, the Messiah, the ultimate bridegroom, and the Son of Man. He has come to deal with the root of the problem i.e. sin itself. More astounding is the fact that He has come for us who are sick and sinful. His death on the cross, as hinted in Luke 5:35 and Luke 6:11, is indeed a maverick way of rescuing us. Our faith in Christ is then a call to repentance in leaving everything and following Jesus, allowing Him to run our lives instead of our vain self-centred attempt. Indeed, the maverick things we do in following Jesus is simply because we are following a maverick Messiah.

Will you be maverick for His glory's sake?

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Luke 4:14 - 5:11 ~ Jesus: The Liberator

When Jesus professed that "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:21), He claimed to be the one sent to proclaim liberty to the captives (Luke 4:18). This then begs the question: what kind of liberator is Jesus?

Jesus brought with Him a complete power revolution. The power of the Spirit was involved as Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:14) and it was also reflected in how the Spirit of the Lord was upon Jesus (Luke 4:18). There was also people power as demonstrated by how people were gathered to follow Him with much love and respect (Luke 4:14-15, 20-22, 37, 40-43). Jesus, however, faced home rejection as He recognized that no prophet is acceptable in his hometown (Luke 4:24). The Old Testament examples of Elijah and Elisha were also quoted, further irking the Jews to the extent of trying to kill Jesus albeit a failed attempt (Luke 4:29-30).

The power revolution continues with Jesus having power over demons (Luke 4:35-36) who acknowledged Him as the Son of God (Luke 4:41). He too had power over sickness as He healed many including Simon's mother-in-law, where interestingly, He rebuked the fever (Luke 4:38-39). His healing boasted a 100% success rate as every one of them on whom He laid His hands were healed (Luke 4:40).

Despite all these various powers, the kind of liberator Jesus is was revealed in Luke 4:43 where Jesus explained that His mission and purpose was to be a preacher of the good news of the kingdom of God (Luke 4:43). The fishing miracle He performed in Luke 5 was but a foreshadow of how He exhorted His disciples to be fishers of men (Luke 5:10).

Jesus has come not to bring about a political regime change. Neither was He delivering people out of poverty and hunger. Instead, He confronted the devil himself. In His power to liberate those falling victims to captivity under demons / devil, Babylon or Rome (with ensuing poverty and oppression), and sickness / disease, Jesus echoed the sentiments of Isaiah 59 that ultimately, He is delivering people out of captivity under sin itself.

We live in a world riddled with the problem of sin but we have a powerful liberator in the perfect man, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He has died on the cross that we may be freed from the bondage of sin and have life anew in Him. May the mind of Christ transform the way we think, speak, act and live that we may give God all the honour and glory He truly deserves.

Will you be a fisher of men, calling them to join God's family in His Kingdom?

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Monday, April 04, 2011

Luke 4:1-13 ~ The First Temptation of Christ

Temptation seeks to lead one astray from the framework of life. Since God sets the right framework of life itself, temptation has the potential of leading one to sin. That said, temptation itself is not sin for Jesus Himself was tempted but still remained sinless and perfect. And it is here in the first half of Luke 4 that we see the first temptation of Christ right at the start of His ministry.

Essentially, the nature of the temptations can be summarized as: (i) fending for yourself for your physical needs (verses 3-4), (ii) gaining own kingdom through false worship (verses 5-8), and (iii) testing God's protection (verses 9-11). From verse 2, we can see that it is the devil who tempts. What makes it tempting is that his lies are half-truths. Temptation (i) contains the half-truth that it is not wrong to meet our own physical needs but the lie is that it is the be all and end all, and that there is no need to rely on God. Temptation (ii) tells the half-truth that the devil is the prince of the world but the lie that he has the sole authority to give the world to whoever he wants. Temptation (iii) quotes lots of Scriptures but lies in the misuse of the Scriptures, presuming miraculous protection based on our own terms.

It should not surprise then that Jesus would counter the temptations put forth to Him by using Scripture as well. He quoted Deuteronomy 8:2-3 that the Word of God is the word of promise and that we are to trust God's promised word in response to temptation (i). Temptation (ii) was countered using Deuteronomy 6:10-14 in which we are reminded that God is the one who gives us His Kingdom and it is Him and Him alone whom we should worship and serve. As for temptation (iii), Deuteronomy 6:14-16 was quoted to remind us of a past example to not test God where the Israelites questioned if God was really with them despite Him just only providing them with manna. It is thus important for us to know the Scriptures in our hearts so that when temptation arrives, we can rely on God's framework for our life.

The devil has tempted Jesus by first saying "If you are the Son of God" (verses 3 and 9) - the temptation that comes to Jesus is then precisely because of the fact that He is the Son of God. What then is Jesus' role as the Son of God? Luke 3:38 tells us that Adam is the son of God. Jesus is then the representative or second Adam. However, unlike the first Adam, Jesus is not going to fall but is instead the obedient Son who lives by God's Word.

Jesus is also not just the representative Adam but a representation of Israel, with Israel being referred to as the firstborn Son of God in Old Testament (e.g. during the time when Pharaoh refused to let God's people go). Just as how God's people were led to the desert for 40 years during the exodus, Jesus was led to the wilderness for 40 days. He is indeed the true Israelite who does not give in and who will take us into the promised land and salvation. Where Israel failed, Jesus succeeds.

Jesus is also the Messiah described in Psalm 2. He is God's superhero who has to suffer first before attaining victory. The temptation is then to take the shortcut to attain victory without the suffering. Matthew 26:52-54 describes how Jesus has the power to call on all the angels so that He didn't need to be arrested but He didn't. All the temptations were then to lead Jesus away from the cross.

The phrase "until an opportune time" in verse 13 tells us that this is not the last temptation. We see an example of this in the same temptation of having the Kingdom without first going to the cross in Peter's rebuke where Jesus then rebuked back saying, "Get behind me, Satan!" (Matthew 16:21-23). In Luke 22:42-46, we see how Jesus prayed that His disciples would not fall into temptation. Similarly, we need to pray for God's will to be done first and foremost.

In order to understand victory over sin, we need to identify three things: the real enemy, the real temptation, and the real Son. There is a very real spiritual dimension in which Satan himself is the real enemy who wants us to fall - he is a liar and murderer from the very beginning. There is indeed a real temptation that Jesus did go through. Luke 22:44 describes the anguish that He experienced while Hebrews 4:15 describes Him as a high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses for He is one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. In not giving in, He knows the depth and strength of the temptation as well as the pain that comes along after it, especially the temptation to not go to the cross.

Jesus represents us as the real Son of God, not just Adam or Israel but representing all of humanity. He is the Messiah who went through the real temptation but did not give in for us. If He did give in, He will not be perfect and as a consequence, we will be in hell for not being able to overcome the real temptation. Christ is not merely our example but our Saviour.

Hallelujah, what a Saviour!

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