A wretched sinner's life made extraordinary only ever by His grace...
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Colossians 3:1-4 ~ United with Christ
New year was only less than a fortnight ago. Did you make any new year resolutions? If yes, how likely do you think you can keep them throughout the whole year? Or do you reckon that other priorities and preferences will soon take over like how you never managed to keep last year's resolutions?
Similarly, the Christian life can sometimes be analogous to new year resolutions. One may start out as a strong Christian, totally eager and keen to learn, grow and serve in every single way imaginable. But what may happen over time is a sad picture of declining enthusiasm as one begins to get lazier be it serving in church, reading the Bible, or praying.
The need for Jesus is then highlighted all the more. Colossians 1:21 tells us that we once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds while Colossians 2:13 shows us how we were dead in our trespasses and the uncircumcision of our flesh. We are helpless here because we do not acknowledge God. We sin and reject God instead of giving Him the glory He deserves. As such, it should not surprise that our due punishment is death itself.
Colossians 3:5-7 lists the various sins resulting from our rebellion against God: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. The "miraculous" thing that follows suit, however, is how Christ cancels our record of debt by nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:9-15). When we submit our life under Jesus' kingship, we are given a new life under Him as we are made alive together with Him (Colossians 2:13).
With this new-found closeness with Jesus, we are then to seek the things that are above (Colossians 3:2). We are told to put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, as well as forgiveness; all of which can be summed up in one word: love (Colossians 3:12-14). How then do we apply this in our lives? More often than not, the way we use our time reflects our priorities. That said, we should also be careful not to make a show out of it like the Pharisees did but to use our time in a godly manner with a sincere heart that pleases the Lord above all.
Colossians 3:3 also puts forth the idea that our life is hidden with Christ in God. What this essentially means is that a Christian's life is secured in Christ. The word "hidden" is contrasted with the phrase "appear with Him in glory" in Colossians 3:4. This then begs the question as to why our life is "hidden" with Christ now - it is simply because the aforementioned "glory" has yet to appear, so we cannot see it physically face-to-face but it will eventually appear when Christ returns. There is assurance and certainty that our salvation is secure in Christ and Christ alone, not anything else.
With such understanding of our unity with Christ, different challenges are then posed to different groups of people. If you are not a Christian, will you consider acknowledging Christ and submitting your life to Him? If you are a Christian, will you put Christ first in all that you do?
Time to consider these challenges and make a stand...
What do you get when you put two J's (Jane and Jin) together? Double Jeopardy!!
Ever since Jin and I first became "friends" (I say "friends", with apostrophes, for we can sometimes be the worst "rivals"!) in Primary 1, life in school was never a dull moment. We would compete to see who received the better grade, sometimes to the embarrassing extent of begging the teacher for just that one extra mark. Each of us would smirk as we casually slipped our grade reports to the other's desk with the thought, "Look who's got more brains!".
And such rivalry is not merely confined to the bounds of academia.
Whenever the teacher announced a contest, we would always be the first two students to volunteer ourselves. Sometimes, we would even compete to see who ended up volunteering first - how kiasu of us eh? Oh, in case you're not familiar with the jargon, kiasu is a Chinese slang meaning "fearful of losing". Or in other words, just plain competitive. From the amateurish story-telling contests in primary school to the more prolific debates and elocution contests in high school, both of us would proudly represent our classes respectively and aimed to defeat the other in a bid to represent our school and earn bragging rights for the year.
I can still clearly remember a time in 2003 when we were seniors in high school. The school was forming a team to compete in an inter-school Scrabble tournament. And like those "mini climaxes" you view in Oscar-worthy movies (cue: *dramatic soundtrack music plays in background*), only one spot was left in the team.
And the contenders left to clinch that final spot? The double J's.
Jin demonstrated his air of confidence as he told me to give it up. Great Scrabblers have always been males and the XX chromosome species never really stood much of a chance. Real-life evidence? The other two spots in the team were both filled by guys.
But I wasn't ready to give up just like that. Jin has clearly forgotten that the female species can be very determined and strong-willed at times (or stubborn, as some may call it). We fought it all out on one final Scrabble match. As we tallied the scores along the way, we could see that it was a neck-to-neck competition. As the tiles in the bag began to run out, Jin exclaimed during his turn, "You're dead this time, Jane."
Much to my horror, Jin tilted his tile rack and all seven tiles came toppling over onto the board. This could only mean one thing: Jin was aiming for a bingo. In Scrabble, a bingo happens when a player uses all seven tiles on his rack in a single play. Not only does the player earn a bonus 50 points and an uplifting ego boost, it is a psychologically crippling moment for the opponent who, ironically, senses a sudden moment of paralysis. And I felt my limbs go stiff as Jin began to form a word on the board.
I stared in disbelief! Beatles?! That's not even a valid word in the Scrabble dictionary!! Somehow, I managed a calm composure and my expression gave nothing away. I must have felt really generous that day as I told Jin that "Beatles" isn't a valid word and suggested if he wanted to remove his tiles and have another go.
Indignantly, he replied, "Of course Beatles is a valid word! It's an insect, you idiot! You're just jealous coz I've scored a bingo!!"
Clearly Jin forgot who won the spelling bee contest in primary school.
"Err, Jin, you're sure that's how you spell 'beetles'?"
"Of course, I'm sure! You can challenge it if you want!"
And so, challenge it I did. The marshal checked up the word and told Jin that he lost his turn for an invalid word. It was then his turn to look horrified as I reminded him that The Beatles is the name of an English band featuring John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, while "beetles" would be the right spelling for the insect.
The game was then downhill for Jin from that moment on. Scarred with the thought of his mistake, Jin could not focus on the game properly. And knowing what tiles he had, I figured the possible words he would play and strategically blocked him by placing my words down first. Needless to say, I became the only girl in the school team and we competed all the way to national finals where all those "mini climaxes" summed up into "one huge final climax": one teammate has won his match while the other has lost his and the game I played would decide which team would walk away with the glorious title of national champions that year. Playing as calmly as I could in a stiffer match than the one I played with Jin, we eventually won the title and became headliners. Smiling continuously for more than 10 minutes for the media was one delightfully "painful" highlight I would never forget.
And Jin never forgave himself for the "Beatles/beetles" mistake he made.
Perhaps such a turn of events was only fair enough to compensate for a most unfortunate incident we both encountered in Primary 6. Our mutual friends decided to play a prank by leaving me a love letter that was supposedly composed by Jin. Though I initially suspected that it was our friends' doing, those young actresses could really put up quite a show and feign their innocence. And so I confronted Jin who was busily singing away on some Disney love ballads (it was a habit of his and I've lost count of the number of times he sang A Whole New World). Jin grabbed the note and proceeded to walk away with it as he finished, denying that he wrote it.
Not knowing why I did so at that time, I asked him to return the note. When he didn't, I began to give chase (up till today, I don't know why I even bothered). Soon, it became a game of catch-me-if-you-can but such childish humour quickly evaporated into more serious business when we bumped into the vice principal and the note that Jin clutched in his palm soon came sailing down onto the ground.
Only to be picked up and read by the vice principal.
It was most excruciating trying to explain to the vice principal what has happened. This is perhaps one of the most embarrassing moments in my life. Here we were, in the vice principal's office, getting ourselves into trouble, while the monsters of our two friends got away scot-free (though they did eventually get a nice long lecture from both Jin and I later on). I never ceased to blame Jin - if only he had returned the note when I asked him to.
I could go on and on to share more stories but it may well be wise to stop here. As we both grew up, we have come to tolerate each other's antics. Our lives are made more "enriched" by such experiences and tales that we would never grow sick of retelling. And though we still try to outdo each other these days as young adults, our competitions take on a more "mature" approach as we learn humility and begin to prioritize God and other more important matters in our Christian walk. For instance, I recently backpacked across Australia alone while he backpacked across Europe. It was hard to argue who really "won" so we both shook on it, agreeing that our days of Double J's for Double Jeopardy have turned into days of Double Joy.
Speaking of all this classic boy vs girl rivalry, Disney (I could almost imagine Jin crooning away on A Whole New World once again, lol!) has recently released Tangled (Australian release date: 6th January, 2011). It's the talk of the town: the fairytale of Rapunzel spun into an animated 3D musical comedy. Will it be a case of Double Jeopardy for Rapunzel and Flynn or will things turn out happily ever after into Double Joy?
Well, go catch it in theatre if you want to find out! Judging from all the great reviews, this is perhaps Disney at its best so far. Here's a trailer for you to start straightening out those to-watch-or-not-to-watch tangled emotions:
If you're anything like me, you will not be sitting still till you've watched Tangled. And watch I will come later this evening. Less than 12 hours to go before a cinema date with some friends - can't wait!!
And if you're like Jin who loves everything Disney (me too, actually, hehe), check out this cool local official website for Disney:
Ok, here's me signing off for the night (day?) - time for me to catch some sleep (gosh, it's past 5AM!!) and reserve some energy for Tangled later... ;)
Ps. Happy birthday, dearest mummy! Thanks for making me your princess... and buying me my very first Disney collection: a colour-illustrated Disney's Aladdin storybook with an accompanying story and song audio cassette (yes, this was way before the time CD's and mp3's became popular)...
The first chapter of Paul's letter to the Philippians overflows with the joy in the Philippians' partnership in the gospel (verse 5). Paul responds to this joy he has by praying that the Philippians' love may abound more and more, with knowledge and discernment (verse 9). It is a different love from the concept of "love" that we have come to familiarize ourselves with. This is discerning love, to decide what is right and wrong, that they may be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God (verse 11).
From verses 12-26, we can see Paul rejoicing in hardship for this will turn out for his deliverance (verse 19) to honour and proclaim Christ. His desire to be with Christ is profoundly stated in verse 23 yet he realizes that it is far better to remain in the flesh (verse 24) for the sake of his gospel partners. This prompts a question to us Christians: Like Paul, are we willing to forgo the pleasures of this life and even heaven itself to proclaim Christ?
Such rejoicing in our partnership to proclaim Christ should be equally met with the joy in our partnership to live for Christ (verses 27-30). Living for Christ includes afflictions and suffering, which can be dealt with by expecting suffering (verse 29) and being united in the truth (verse 27).
Christmas was only about a week ago and is often an annual highlight for many, be it for the festive joy of carving some turkey and ham with family and friends or listening to soothing carols or opening presents wrapped in red and green underneath the Christmas tree or ... Has Christmas lost its true meaning over the years?
The story of Christmas is not an urban myth of the heartwarming tales of human generosity but a true story of a serious solution to a serious situation. Christmas celebrates the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. What kind of serious situation would require God the creator becoming part of creation where the almighty God transforms into a helpless baby? It is none other than the serious situation of our sin itself where we reject God as our ruler.
Charles Gajus who preached to us the Sunday after Christmas gave us this illustration: Imagine if you've committed a wrongdoing and have been penalized with a fine (be it a library fine, a parking ticket, etc.). If the fine is small enough, we would have no qualms of paying it. If it was a lil burdensome, we may ask family or friends for some financial assistance. But what if the fine is so huge that it is just impossible to pay off? Would you not fall on your knees, acknowledge your mistake and beg for mercy?
Similarly, our sin, deserving of punishment and death, is akin to that of this humongously unpayable fine. But God, in His loving grace, has provided us a way out. The serious solution to this serious situation? A Saviour.
Matthew 1 tells us who this Saviour is. His name is Jesus for he will save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21) and He is also known as Immanuel, meaning God with us (Matthew 1:23), for that is how Jesus saves us - by being the God who is with us by becoming human and living as a human.
Philippians 2:5-8 should remind us that what follows the actual Christmas day is not Boxing Day sales or a return to selfish lives but Jesus' obedient humility (taking the form of man) to the point of death on a cross for the sake of us sinners. Christmas day is a reminder of God's serious solution for our serious situation of sin. Jesus is therefore the worthy Saviour deserving of the exaltation of the highest glory (verses 9-12).
Will you then take the Christmas truth seriously? All this calls for is submitting to the Saviour and serving one another. Admit that you're a sinner and accept the solution that God provides. Acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Christ and respond by serving one another in love. After all, Christmas day ushers in the gift of a Saviour and the gift of a new life without sin...
In the Acts of the Apostles as recorded by Luke, the Holy Spirit has been poured down on people, empowering them to speak in tongues, pray, heal and even teleport. The Spirit also provided guidance with visions and enabled exorcism to succeed.
It is then interesting to note that in 1 Thessalonians 1, Paul tells us that the gospel came not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit (verse 5). Not only did the word came in the Holy Spirit, it was equally received with the joy of the Holy Spirit (verse 6), that the Thessalonians may become an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia (verse 7). Verses 2-3 show us three things that made the Thessalonians a good example: their work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Verses 4 and 5 also demonstrate to us the element of predestination where God has chosen His people because He loves them. The Holy Spirit has the power to work in us and in turn convict us of the truth of the gospel and accept it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
The Thessalonians encourage us with their perseverance even as they received the word in much affliction to become imitators of the apostles and of the Lord (verse 6). True repentance is illustrated in the Thessalonians' act of turning to God from idols to serve the living and true God (verse 9). It is a humble acknowledgment that God is the master and we the servants.
How then are we to truly experience the joy of the Spirit? While some believers may wrongly pray to the Holy Spirit, we need to understand that it is to God the Father, and not the Holy Spirit, that we should be praying and giving our thanks to (verses 2 and 3). We pray to God the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Also, others may sometimes find themselves confused when they believe that they are starting to "hear" some other voice from God. It is important to realize that the Holy Spirit will and should never contradict with God's Word, as is shown in 1 Thessalonians 1. If it "does", then it isn't the Holy Spirit one is "hearing" but some other spirit (possibly even an evil spirit) or one's own delusions. As for those who think that having the gift of the Spirit will free them from all sorrows and enrich them with all possible blessings, again God's Word tells us to expect suffering and affliction with the gospel that the Holy Spirit convicts us to believe in, so it is not entirely a bed of roses. Even roses have thorns...
Will you let the Spirit dwell in you to convict you of the gospel and live a changed life of faith, love and hope?