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Renewed in Strength


“But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isa. 40:31).

Running is a very relaxing activity which many people enjoyed. Some people would make it a point to put on their jogging shoes and with an iPod in arm and pound the pavements for a relaxing evening of running. Some people are really good runners and they could run for a long period of time. However, no matter how good a runner you may be, there will come a time after a long run, you will be feeling tired. But have you considered a time where you could run and would not get tired? Well, the Bible has this special promise: “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isa. 40:31).

How wonderful it is to have such a promise in the Word of God – God will strengthen those who wait upon Him! To those who wait upon Him, the Word of God says they shall never be weary or faint. But such a promise is hard for us to accept it readily into our hearts. When we look at our own physical body – the fatigue, the tiredness, the weariness, and the infirmity of the flesh – it is hard to imagine how we could be strengthened.

Yes, when we look at ourselves we have no hope. That is the precisely what the Israelites did during the time of Isaiah. It was a time of national despondency. Their nation was destroyed and they were carried into the land of captivity. They were subjected to the rule of an idolatrous nation. They felt totally powerless. It was at such moment that Isaiah told them to stop looking at themselves but to look unto God for strength. It is noteworthy to observe that before Isaiah delivered this promise, he reminded the people to consider the attribute of God: “Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding” (Isa. 40:28).

Isn’t our Lord the Creator of the heaven and the earth? Don’t we know that the Lord is an everlasting God with everlasting strength – One who neither faints nor is wearied? Unlike human beings, God is not constrained by limited strength. He does not feel weary nor does He feel tired such that He needs a rest from the governing of the whole world: “Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Ps. 121:4). God never feels tired hearing our prayers – so pray without ceasing. God never feels tired helping us by His power. The psalmist declares: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1). How wonderful it is to note that our Lord is not only an everlasting God but also in Him is everlasting strength. So, let us learn, as Isaiah urged his hearers: “Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength” (Isa. 26:4).

Yes, the Bible reminds us to trust in the Lord forever – to put our faith and hope in Him because He is the Lord with everlasting strength. Many times, we have tried to take things head on with our own strength instead of trusting God. We do things by our ability and might. This particularly holds true for us when we are in our youths who are endowed with physical strength. But after some time, we will realize that we can never go far in our own strength, as Isaiah pointed out: “Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall” (Isa. 40:30). How true it is when you try to accomplish things based on your own strength, you will realize that you are not able to overcome the obstacles in front of you. You will never go the distance which God wanted you to. You will never reach your potential, the place where the Lord wanted to put His glory upon you. But when you put your complete trust in the everlasting God with the everlasting strength, and wait upon Him, He promises that He shall renew your strength and you shall mount up with wings as eagles.

In the Word of God, many analogies are given to a believer – he is called the light of the world, the salt of the world, a fruitful tree planted by the rivers, a sheep, and so forth. Every representative speaks about a certain trait. In Isaiah 40:31, for those who wait upon the Lord, they were likened with wings as eagles. Eagles are a symbol of speed, strength and freedom. Because of that, America uses the eagle as its symbol. Those who wait upon the Lord are likened with wings as eagles. The Word of God did not use any other type of birds to depict the believers, for example, chickens. Chickens, though they have wings yet they can never reach their potential in flying. Flying is just too tedious a task for them. Rather, they are content to eke out an existence in the barnyard, scratching the ground for grubs and worms. When a storm comes, they will run for cover.

But the Bible likened us unto eagles, with strength and majesty, belonging to the skies – the King of birds they are. Eagles have a keen eye sight and are able to spot a tiny rabbit 2 miles away. Also they have a 270 degrees peripheral vision. They have a wing span of around 7 feet and can dive at a speed of 200 miles per hour. Because of his good eyesight, the eagle can see a storm coming even though it is still far away. Unlike chickens, the eagle is fearless in the face of storm. The eagle will wait and wait as the storm approaches. And when he detects the strong winds that carry the storm getting stronger and stronger, he will stretch his wings and fly in the direction of the storm. He will use the wind that brings the storm to lift himself up to soar above the clouds of the storm and thus overcoming the storms.

This is precisely the imagery which is described for us in Isaiah: “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isa. 40:31). In life, we have to go through storms in life. Many times, we are very fearful as we feel the winds that bring the storms stronger and stronger in our lives. But let us learn this lesson from the eagles, to wait – to wait upon the Lord, and especially when we find our strength all gone. For the Lord promises those who wait upon Him will have their strength renewed. And like the eagles, we will soar. We will not be weary nor will we faint.

My friends, do you have such faith in the Lord, and especially in times of need? It is true that sometimes, the Lord calms the storm and leads us through safely. But sometimes, the Lord will let the storm rages on while He calms our soul as we go through the storm. Only when we put our complete trust in God, shall we have the strength to go through the storms in life. Cling to this promise of God.

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Year End Plan


How time flies! With a wink of the eye, we are coming to the end of yet another year. There are only three more Sundays to the end of the year. In fact, to be exact, there are only twenty two more days before the New Year ushers in. Are you ready for the ending of this year? How are you going to spend the remaining days of this year? Many people of the world are actually looking forward to the end of the year because to them, it is yet another occasion where they could spend in partying, revelry and drunkenness. What about you?

There is nothing more meaningful than to end the year with the Lord – a time spent on reflecting upon the events of the year that have past, and to give thanks to God for the many blessings which God has bestowed upon us. As we meditate upon the Lord’s goodness and count our blessings, we must also remember our sorrows and how the Lord had delivered us in times of affliction. In times of despair, did you manage to see the smiling face of God behind His seemingly frowning providence? As Moses saw the bush which was burnt with fire but not consumed, we can truly say that it is by God’s mercy that though we are burnt and yet we are not consumed. The psalmist declares, “O give thanks unto the LORD, for he is good: for his mercy endureth forever” (Ps. 107:1).

The end of the year also denotes a time to plan for the coming New Year. It is a time to take stock of our lives and to mark our own progress report. Will the coming year be a better one that we have this year? Some may be planning an ambitious strategy for their businesses. Others may be planning their career moves, be it horizontal or vertical. Still others will be planning for their academic pursuit. Whatever plans you may have, are you planning it right?

The apostle James warns against presumptuous planning based on a self-confidence on the continuity of life: “Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (Jas. 4:13-14). The apostle is not against planning per se. In fact, it is prudent for the child of God to plan. However, the apostle does warn us against extrapolating our present to the future in a continuum, with the false confidence that all things will fall into our plans by themselves. Why? Simply because of the uncertainties in life, and the frailty that comes with it.

Some of us have never given a scant thought that our life may be easily taken away from us, like what James wrote concerning the rich man in this analogy. As an illustration, our life is likened to a seven-inch candle with each inch representing ten years. Some of our candles are barely burnt, some nearly burnt. Mine is more than half burnt. But regardless of how much candle is there left to burn, when the wind blows the light on the candle will go out. Such is the frailty of life! We cannot assume that we will live tomorrow simply because our candle still has many more inches to burn.

And because of this, we can never place our confidence in the flesh. Rather, we have to put our utmost confidence and trust in the Lord. As one says, “We may not know what tomorrow brings, but we know who brings tomorrow.” In like manner, the apostle closes his thought on this matter with the exhortation, “For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (Jas. 4:15). Hence, in all your planning, the words D.V. (Deo Volente – God willing) must be always added to it.

Often, many people do not plan their lives in the right manner. They will centre all their plans upon themselves and then circumvent it by asking for God’s blessings. This is not the way it should go. Instead, we should make God as the centre of our plan, and then to plan ourselves around His will. We submit ourselves unto Him and depend upon His strength and grace to work out His will for our lives.

In today’s economy, the bread and butter issue is at stake. It is not about wine and diamonds, but about rice and garments. The sociologists will tell you that these are the basic needs of mankind. And because of the instinct to fulfill our basic needs, sometimes inevitably, we have left God far behind in our endeavour. This is precisely what our Lord warns us against. In Matthew 6, the Lord Jesus says, “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” (Matt. 6:25). Although food and clothing are our basic needs, we ought to take care that they do not become more important than God. These are things that the world constantly seeks after.

But as Christians, we have to be careful not to let our basic needs overwhelm us. Rather, we have to depend on God to provide for us. Our eye must be focused on our great Provider. We have to live by our faith in God. Even as God cares for the sparrow, He will definitely care for us, who are of more worth than the sparrows. Jesus knows our frame and our needs. He promises us, “(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:32-33). Jesus is not saying that the basic needs are unimportant. Rather, we are urged against placing these needs as being more important than the kingdom of God. Thus, we are to seek the kingdom of God “first,” and then God promises that He shall supply your needs according to the riches of His grace. Would supplying us our basic needs be too difficult for Him who owns the cattle of a thousand hills and the wealth in every mine?

Thus, when you plan for the year ahead, put God in the centre of your life and work your plan around it. Do not forget about the kingdom of God. Plan how you can build up your spiritual life. Plan how you may serve in the church. Plan how you can help edify others also. Then submit the plans you have into the hands of our loving God. For those who truly seek the kingdom of God, they shall be blessed. May I leave you to meditate upon the words of the psalmist as he declared: “1Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. 2But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. 3And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper” (Ps 1:1-3). May the Lord bless you as you plan your year with Him in the centre of your plans!

 
 

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Seeking Direct Divine Guidance


4Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.
5Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day” (Ps. 25:4-5).

Darkness had already filled the sky. As you shone the car’s headlights ahead, you realized that you had reached a T-junction. Your mind was racing very fast just as your car came to a halt. “Left or right?” You searched earnestly for a signboard but in vain. You were in a foreign country and you were lost. Your child was hungry and howling in her seat. Your eyes could hardly see through the dense darkness in front of you. You really needed to get to a place of civilization fast. You prayed a quick prayer and took the right turn, hoping that turn would turn out right. How you wished that God would appear and tell you exactly what to do, don’t you?

Daily, we need to make decisions in life. Most of the time, we make decisions without a flutter of thought. Where to eat, what to eat, what to do, and where to go – we often made these decisions daily with ease. However, at times, decision making can be quite stressful. It could mean capturing a business deal worth millions of dollars. At times, it could be a decision between life and death …

Quite some time back, I read the sad news of how a man who was torn in making a right decision. This man had taken his family on a boat ride. However, the boat was hit by another and sank. The man managed to cling on to his wife on one hand and his seven-month baby on the other. The burden of both wearied him tremendously. He knew it was a matter of time before all of them would perish together in the sea. His wife, sensing his fatigue, requested him to let go of her so as to save himself and the baby. That man had to make a very difficult decision. In the end, he managed to get on shore with the baby. His wife’s body was found a few hours later …

We need to make decisions in life, and sometimes, these are very painful decision. As Christians, we desire to make the right decisions to the glory of God. But when you make a decision, have you ever wondered if that decision of yours is pleasing unto the Lord? Sometimes, I cannot help but wish that if only God had spoken to me directly and clearly … then, I would have zero error in making the right decisions in life. But does God speak to us directly and clearly to guide us today?

Various people claim to hear God speaking to them directly today. Some of these people are crazy. They would attempt to assassinate a political leader because they believed God told them so. Others seem sincere but misguided. They would propose to a girl because they felt that God had directed them in a dream to do so. Still others claim that they were carrying on the tradition of the prophets and apostles and have received the word directly from God to deliver to the people. How can we know whether what we have heard is truly a word from God?

When you study the Old Testament, you would realize that the Israelites of old did not have such a problem. During then, God simplified matters of guidance. In their wilderness journeying, when the Israelites need to decide whether they should pack up the tent and to move or to stay put, the solution was easy.

All they had to do was to see the pillar of cloud over the tabernacle. If the cloud moved, it meant that God wanted His people to move. If it stayed, they stayed. Answers were direct and clear from God. And to find God’s voice on other issues, they could cast lots or used the Urim and Thummin to seek God’s will. Moreover, God had spoken His will to the Israelites through His own voice and codified into a book of the laws. The Law covers a complete range of judgment and behaviour, from how to discern and judge a rape case to that of stolen properties, and even on how to make the priestly garments. During then, you could hardly find people complained about God not speaking to them directly. On the contrary, the people were fearful to hear God’s voice speaking to them directly. When God pronounced the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, they trembled at the vision and noise such that they requested Moses to speak to them instead of God (Exod. 20:18-19)!

But did the clear voice of God help them to make the right decisions to glorify God? Apparently not. When God told the Israelites not to go and fight the Amalekites and the Canaanites after they had failed in their test of obedience to claim the land, the Israelites marched against the order of God and was duly defeated by their enemies (Num. 14:43-45). You would see this pattern repeating – the violation of God’s clear and direct commands by the Israelites throughout their colourful history. The clear and direct voice of God’s guidance became as much of an affront to that generation as the silent and unclear guidance is to us today. Clear and direct guidance from God does not guarantee anyone to make a right decision to the glory of God. Did not Adam sin against God even though God had told him directly and clearly, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17)?

Another point I would like to bring up is that the clarity of God’s guidance seemed to have a stunting effect on the Israelites’ faith. Why pursue God when He had already revealed Himself so clearly? Why step out in faith when God had already guaranteed the results? Why wrestle with the dilemma of conflicting choices when God would resolve it? In short, why should the Israelites act like adults when they could act like children? And act like children they did – grumbling against their leaders, cheating on the rules of God, and yes, whining about their food. When God manifested His power through the ten plagues poured out on the Egyptians and the parting of the Red Sea, did the Israelites increase their faith in God? Maybe, temporarily. When God Himself led them clearly and unmistakably through the wilderness by His own hands, providing them meat and manna and water, did the Israelites demonstrate a faith in God? Hardly. Instead, the Bible says that they rebelled against God more than ten times. And sadly, none of that generation of survived, except Caleb and Joshua, for they were consumed because they lacked faith in God despite the clear and direct guidance from God (Num. 32:10-13).

As I ponder over this, I had second thoughts about seeking crystal-clear, direct guidance. If God were to speak to us directly and clearly, it may not be good for our spiritual development. We may not be any more obedient than we think. We may not exercise our faith as we should. It is only when God seems silent to our pleading that we have to draw upon our faith the most, trusting God that He will lead and guide us as we yield ourselves unto Him, and put our trust upon Him (Prov. 3:5-6). Brethren, seek the Lord, strengthen your faith by trusting in Him. He will guide you as you wait upon Him (Ps. 25:4-5).

 
 

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The Lord’s Supper


“For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” (1Cor. 11:26).

Our church adheres to the Westminster Standards in having only two sacraments in the practices of the church, namely, Water Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. What is a sacrament? “A Sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ; wherein, by sensible signs, Christ and the benefits of the new covenant are represented, sealed, and applied to believers” (WSC#92). A sacrament is not something to be taken lightly. It is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ. Through the sacraments, we derive the spiritual benefits of the new covenant.

Water Baptism is performed with the washing with water and in the name of God the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. It signifies and seals our ingrafting into Christ and as a partaker of the benefits of the covenant of grace and with the Lord. Those who have been baptized are welcomed to partake the Lord’s Supper, which we held every first Lord’s Day of the month. The Lord’s Supper is performed by the giving and receiving bread and wine (fruit of the vine), showing forth the death of Christ with the receivers being partakers of His body and blood in a spiritual manner, for their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace.

The instructions concerning the Lord’s Supper is written for us in 1Corinthians 11:17-34. The Corinthians seemed to have forgotten the significance of the Lord’s Supper. Instead, they partook the Lord’s Supper with the wrong approach and attitude. Some came solely for the “makan”. In those days, the Lord’s Supper was held with a big feast. Those wealthy Corinthians seemed to have taken liberty at the Lord’s table, like the heathens who drank plentifully at their feasts upon their sacrifices. They would spread their feast, ate and drank their fill, despising the poor by not sharing their food. Thus, the rich had turned the Lord’s Supper into a contemptuous and disorderly scandal. How should one approach the Lord’s Supper? Allow me to list three practical aspects for your consideration as you come before the Lord to partake the Lord’s Supper.

 

REMEMBERING THE SAVIOUR

First, one of the chief reasons why we have the Lord’s Supper is to remember the Saviour. Jesus said, “Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me” (1Cor. 11:24) and again, “This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me” (1Cor. 11:25). When we partake the Lord’s Supper, we are called to remember the Saviour. We are reminded of the perfect sacrifice our Lord Jesus had offered upon the cross – His own body for our sins. The Lord’s Supper is a time for us to meditate upon our Saviour. Remember that He is the Son of God, who has condescended in the form of a lowly servant. Remember that He lived so that He might die, and He died so that we may live. Remember, also that He has shed his blood for you – a reminder of the severity of our sins, which had nailed Him on the cross. Thus, as long as we partake the Lord’s Supper, we are actually bearing a testimony of the Lord’s death.

The apostle Paul declared, “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” (1Cor. 11:26). Look upwardly unto Christ.

EXAMINING YOUR SELF

Second, in order to partake the Lord’s Supper, the apostle Paul also gave us this grave warning: “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup” (1Cor. 11:28). Here, we are called to examine our own self before partaking the Lord’s Supper. Those who partake the Lord’s Supper unworthily would bring forth damnation upon themselves (1Cor. 11:29). Thus, it is a serious matter for us to approach the Lord’s Supper in the right manner. As you approach the Lord’s Supper, examine your own selves before the Lord. If there is any unconfessed sins, bare it before the Lord. Be specific in your examination, and whatever sins that come to your mind, confess them unto the Lord, with repentance; and seek the Lord for forgiveness and cleansing. Also take this opportunity to acknowledge even your secret faults, and sins that you have committed unknowingly. The psalmist cried, “12Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults. 13Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression. 14Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer” (Ps. 19:12-14). Look inwardly in self-examination.

Also, ensure that you are reconciled with one another before you approach the Lord’s Supper. Paul strongly rebuked the Corinthians because they were profaning the Lord’s Supper – there was a great schism (division) among them, and yet they professed to be “one” in the partaking the Lord’s Supper. Examine your own heart – have you been reconciled with one who has wronged you? If not, how can you take the Lord’s Supper testifying of the unity of the body of Christ but in reality there is a great division? Therefore, we ought to reconcile with one another even as we are reconciled with God. Profane not the Lord’s Supper. God is not mocked. Heap not damnation upon your own self. Heed the warning of the apostle Paul. Turn not the blessings of the Lord’s Supper into our own sorrow and grief.

 

DEDICATION UNTO GOD

Third, we must rededicate our lives unto God, in renewed obedience and faith, as part of self-examination: “It is required of them that would worthily partake of the Lord’s Supper, that they examine themselves of their knowledge to discern the Lord’s body, of their faith, to feed upon him, of their repentance, love and new obedience; lets, coming unworthily, they eat and drink judgment to themselves” (WSC#97). After having remembered the Saviour’s sacrifice for you, what can you offer to the Lord as the fruit of your repentance? Are you living a life with faith and new obedience unto God? Are you negligent in your service unto the Lord? Spend the time of partaking the Lord’s Supper to dedicate yourself unto the Lord. Find new commitment to live to extend the kingdom of God on earth and to glorify the name of our Lord. Look forwardly to live a life worthy of God’s calling.

May this short article help you find the right approach to the Lord’s Supper. Look upward to remember the Saviour. Look inward to examine your self. And finally, look forward to dedicate yourself to the service of the Lord. The Lord’s Supper is not just a remembrance feast but it also comes with spiritual blessings and grace. May you be blessed as you partake the Lord’s Supper worthily.

 
 

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Halloween


And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Eph 5:11).

Halloween is celebrated in the Western world (and in Singapore too) as a fun time for kids to put on costumes and go door-to-door to get candy with their “trick-or-treat” call. Christians may be so caught up with this so-called fun-filled program that they may not even be aware of what they are actually involving themselves in.

Halloween can be traced back to the ancient religion of the Celtics in Ireland. One of their main feasts was Samhain (pronounced “Sow-ane”) which was held at the end of summer, Nov 1. They believed Samhain was a period when the division between the natural world and supernatural world became very thin, and ghosts and spirits were free to wander as they wished. According to Celtic Mythology, “During this interval, the normal order of the universe is suspended; the barriers between the natural and the supernatural are temporarily removed, the sidh (“fairy mound”) lies open and all divine beings and the spirits of the dead move freely among men and interfere, sometimes violently, in their affairs.” [Halloween was also a prominent celebration in the witches’ calendar. It is their festival of the dead and represents the end and the beginning of the witches’ year. They also believed that at this time the power of the underworld would be unleashed and the spirits were freed to roam about the earth.

The Druids (Celtic priests) generally performed their rituals by offering sacrifices, usually crops and animals, but sometimes of humans, in order to placate the “gods” so as to ensure that the sun would return after the winter, and also to frighten away the evil spirits. During this festival of Samhain, fires would be lit and would burn throughout the winter and sacrifices would be offered to the gods of the fires.

By A.D. 43, the Romans had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. During their rule of the Celtic lands, the Romans assimilated the festival of Samhain into one of their own festivals, where rest and peace were given to the departed. As the Roman Church spread to parts of Europe, instead of trying to abolish these pagan customs, the Romanists began introducing this pagan culture into the church traditions. In the 7th century, Pope Boniface IV introduced “All Saints’ Day” as a time to honour saints and martyrs, to replace the pagan festival of the dead. Initially, it was observed on May 13 but the festival was eventually moved to Nov 1 by Gregory III. Thus, Oct 31, being the eve of the All Saints’ Day is called “All Hallows’ Eve” (“Hallow” means “Saints”). Today, it is commonly known as Halloween.

During Halloween, the people would dress themselves up in ghoulish costumes. People believed that during this period, the spirits of the dead would rise out of their graves and wander the countryside, trying to return to the homes where they formerly lived. Frightened villagers tried to appease these wandering spirits by offering them gifts of fruit and nuts. If not placated, villagers feared that the spirits would kill their flocks or destroy their property. The people also believed that in order to protect themselves, they had to masquerade as one of the demonic hoard, and hopefully blend in unnoticed among them. This is the origin of Halloween masquerading as devils, imps, ogres, and other demonic creatures.

During Halloween, it is common to see people hanging the Jack-O-Lantern in their homes. Do not be deceived thinking that this is merely a Lantern Festival! The Jack-O-Lantern apparently comes from Irish folklore about a man named Jack who made a deal with the devil that he would not be sent to hell after he died. [Note: The devil is never in-charge of hell, but rather hell was created by God to punish the devil and all those who follow him.] According to the folklore, when Jack died, he was stranded because he could neither go to heaven nor hell. He was forced to wander around the earth with a single candle to light his way. The Irish placed a candle in a turnip to keep it burning longer. When they went to America in the 1800’s, they could not find turnips in abundance, but there was plenty of pumpkin. Thus, they used the pumpkin instead. Thus, Jack-O-Lantern is the ancient symbol of a damned soul and becomes an essential part of Halloween celebration today. Pumpkins were cut with faces representing demons and were originally intended to frightened away evil spirits. It was said that if a demon were to encounter something as fiendish-looking as themselves, they would run away in terror.

With Halloween having all these associations with the nether world, should the Christian then be involved in Halloween celebration? Some Christians justify their participation in Halloween parties as merely harmless fun. Is Halloween just another party that doesn’t harm anyone and just childish fun? On closer inspection, we can see that Halloween is no different from the Chinese “Hungry Ghost Festival” which is usually held from the month of August to September. Whereas, many of us would definitely not get ourselves involved in the “parties” held during the Hungry Ghost Festival, then why should we get involve in Halloween parties? Would you want your child to celebrate the “powers of darkness”? Would you want your child to dress up as hideous demons or witches for “the fun” of it? Would you want to inculcate a “trick-or-treat” philosophy into the minds of your children, where they have the liberty to destructive behaviour if they are not given rewards?

On examination, Halloween does not even have one single redeeming virtue. The Bible reminds us that we are to “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1Thes. 5:22). Dressing up as evil spirits and witches would definitely be a violation of this command. The Bible warns us not to associate ourselves with works of darkness: “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Eph. 5:11). All these are abominations unto the Lord, which Lord gravely warned the Israelites not to follow after the practices of the nations around them (read Deut. 18:9-12). Likewise too, today we are called: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom. 12:2). As children of light, let us walk in the light and not follow the works of darkness.

In 1517, an obscure monk by the name of Martin Luther started the spark in the reformation of the Roman Church. He chose Oct 31 (Halloween Day), to nail his 95 theses on the Wittenberg Church’s door to call for a debate on the erroneous practice of purgatory. The call was for the church to purge herself from unbiblical practices and to return to the fidelity of the Word of God. Today is Reformation Sunday. The church today must continue to reform and to keep herself pure, and not let unbiblical practices be assimilated into her fold as she prepares herself as the bride of Christ in waiting for the return of Christ. For a certainty, Christ would not want His bride to be in ghoulish attire when He returns!

 
 

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What is a Christian?


How do you know that you are a Christian? When this question is asked, you can expect some very different answers. Some will reply, “I am a Christian because I was baptised as an infant. I attend Sunday School and church worship regularly.” Such an answer will come from one who believes that salvation is obtained by one’s good works and religious activities. But the Scripture tells us that “8For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Another may answer, “I am surely a Christian. My father is an elder of the church and my uncle is a pastor.” Such a belief stems from the thinking that salvation is heredity. But the Scripture says, “12But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). This implies that physical heritage and biological lineage does not make one a Christian. Yet, another may answer, “I am a Christian because I made the decision for Christ when the pastor gave an altar call.” Does the mere profession of faith save us? What does the Scripture say? “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). Then there are those who think that no one can ever be 100% sure of his salvation and answer: “I think I am a Christian but who say for sure that he is a Christian?” But the apostle Paul had never doubt his salvation and was very sure of it: “I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2Tim. 1:12). And finally, there are those who believe in universal salvation regardless if one believes in Christ or any other deity: “Sure, I am a Christian. It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere, all religions are the same except that they use different terms only.” Jesus Himself spoke against such error: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36).

 

What, then, is a Christian? Jesus gave the answer to this question: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). This answer is so simple and yet baffling to many. Nicodemus, a religious and respected leader of the Jews, was baffled by this too. He thought that Jesus was referring to a physical birth and was puzzled as how one could enter into the mother’s womb and be born again. He missed the point. What Jesus spoke of was a spiritual birth: 5Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5-6). Spiritual birth is the work of God in making alive the spirituality in us. There must be a radical change that takes place in the nature of a person who is born again. It is not merely a bodily change like that of Naaman the Syrian whose leprous body was changed into the flesh like that of a child when he dipped himself in Jordan as commanded by the prophet (2Kings 5:14). Nor is it an attitude change like that of King Ahab when he humbled himself after being cursed by the prophet (1Kings 21:27). Not even a change of heart which King Saul received at the commencement of his reign (1Sam. 10:9) qualifies a person as being born again. All these are purely superficial changes. Similarly too, your temper may change for the better, but this does not amount to be born again.

You may turn over a new leaf, but the fact is by nature you are still a leaf. Even if the leopard can change his spot, its nature would still be that of a leopard – a spotless leopard so to speak! Improvement and rehabilitation can never amount to you being a new creature. The same sin which has been with you, will still reign in you, though it may have assumed a differed garb or it may use another voice.

 

If you are born again, you must posses a radical change in your nature: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2Cor. 5:17). Your whole old nature must be changed and transformed such that it gives way to the new. Only then, you are a born-again Christian. J.C. Ryle gave an apt description of such a nature change in a person who is a born-again Christian:

 

“Once he could see not beauty or excellence in the Lord Jesus Christ, he could not understand some minister speaking so much about Him. Now he would tell you that Christ is the pearl of great price, the chiefest among ten thousands, his Redeemer, his Advocate, his Priest, his King, his Physician, his Shepherd, his Friend, his All. Once he found no pleasure in the means of grace. The Bible was neglected. His prayers, if he had any, were a mere form. Sunday was a tiresome day. Sermons were wearisome, and often sent him to sleep. Now all this is altered. These things are the food, the comfort, the delight of his soul. Once he disliked earnest-minded Christians. He shunned them as melancholy, low-spirited, weak people. Now they are the excellent of the earth, of whom he cannot see too much. He is never so happy as he is in their company. He feels that if all men and women were saints, it would be heaven upon earth. Once he cared only for this world, its pleasure, its business, its occupations, its rewards. Now he looks upon it as an empty, unsatisfying place, an inn, a lodging, a training school for the life to come. His treasure is in heaven. His home is beyond the grave.

 

“See what an amazing gulf there is between the man who is a Christian in name and form, and the one who is a Christian in deed and truth. It is not the difference of one being a little better, and the other a little worse than his neighbour. It is the difference between a state of life and a state of death. The meanest blade of grass that growest upon a highland mountain is more noble object than the fairest waxed flower that was ever formed, for it has that which no science of man can impart – it has life. The most splendid marble statue in Greece or Italy is nothing by the side of a poor, sickly child that crawls over the cottage floor, for with all its beauty, the former is still dead. And the weakest member of the family of Christ is far higher and more precious in God’s eyes than the most gifted man of the world. The one lives unto God, and shall live forever; the other, with all his intellect, is still dead in sins.

 

“I do not hold that all must have exactly the same experience. I allow most fully that the change is different, in degree, extent, and intensity, in different persons. Grace may be weak, and yet true; life may be feeble, and yet real. But I do confidently affirm we must all go through something of this kind, if ever we are to be saved. Till this sort of change has taken place, there is no life in us at all. We may be living church men, but we are not Christians.”

My friends, Jesus says, “Ye must be born again!” Are you?

 
 

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Under the Shadow of The Almighty


“Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; 
thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance” (Psalm 32:7).

Many of us, as a child, had a secret, hiding place. It is a place where we find solace in when we were sad or when we were alone. Normally, such a place is a hidden corner of the house, away from the sight of everyone else. At this hiding place, it is a time where our young soul would cry out and find solace in life. But as we grow out of childhood into adulthood, such a hiding place became a thing in the past. The years of growing pains and struggles have hardened our lives and our wills. We no longer display flashes of emotional outpouring as when we were much younger. We are no longer vulnerable as a child.

But in reality, we are still plagued by life’s difficulties and of course, still emotionally affected. The only difference is perhaps we can handle the outbreak of our emotions better as compared to when we were a child. As adults, whether you like it or not, our emotions at many times still have a strong grip on us – we are still deeply affected with sorrow and grief. And because of that, it is important for us to have a hiding place – a place where we can find comfort and solace. Such a hiding place can only be found in God: “Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance” (Ps. 32:7). The hiding place in God is a secret place – a place of refuge where we can be shielded from the world’s danger and harm. It is also a place where we can find strength, comfort and grace in times of need. It is a place where God’s presence abounds. It is a place where we have an uninterrupted communion with God. My friends, do you have such a hiding place in your life? Do you have a place where you can find shelter and solace in?

The psalmist remarked: “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (Ps. 91:1). Take note that psalmist used the word “dwell” to describe such a place. To dwell signifies a permanent place of abode rather than a temporal one. It is not a place where we occasionally drop by only in times of need. To dwell describes a place where we can be found all the time. Thus, to dwell in the secret place simply means we must constantly live in that secret place of God. In other words, we must have a constant communion and fellowship with God. We must develop an intimate relationship with our Lord, not only a mere public devotion unto Him in the presence of the saints and the world but also a personal relationship with Him where no one could be found. Until we are such, then, we may be truly said to be dwelling in the secret place of the most High. Thus, to dwell in the secret place signifies one who makes his communion with God as his home rather than a hotel. And when we dwell in the secret place of the most High, we shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. But what does it mean to be under the shadow of the Almighty?

First, the shadow of the Almighty speaks of protection“He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler” (Ps. 91:4). The shadow of the Almighty speaks of God’s protection of us as under His wings. It is like a mother hen, who sensing danger, will open her wings wide and gathers her brood of chicks under them to protect them.

Yes, we have a sure shield and buckler under the wings of the Almighty. But take note, God does not promise us that as Christians, danger will not come our way. But rather, the promise which is given unto us is that God will keep us shielded from harm that comes our way. And even if He allows harm to come our way for His higher purpose, we are assured of His presence – for He will keep us close to His heart, under His wings. How wonderful it is to have a God who cares for us as a people redeemed by His precious blood! My dear friends, if you are going through difficult trials in life at the moment, then learn to trust God and come under His wings. Cast your burdens and cares upon Him: “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1Pet. 5:7).

Second, the shadow of the Almighty speaks of providence. Not only does the shadow of the Almighty protect, it also provides. Solomon compared it to the shadow of the apple tree: “As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste” (Song 2:3). Many times, during lunch hour, I would see the foreign labourers working near my place seeking refuge under the shade of a tree, or the shade in the void decks, to catch a nap. The shade of a tree is indeed a delight to those who labour and toil under the hot sun. Similarly, the Lord has provided us a shade to rest. There are times where we are so busy with life with making a living and in the service unto the Lord that we often forget to seek rest under the shadow of Almighty. We feel so drained out in life that we become physically and emotionally very vulnerable. We wonder what we are living for. It is at such times that we must remember the providence of God under the shadow of the Almighty. Only God can give us the rest for our weary souls. Jesus invites us: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). My dear friends, our souls can only find refreshing when we go to Jesus, for it is under His shadow that we can find rest. And not only that, Solomon uses the analogy of an apple tree to also depict the nourishment we can have under its shade. The apple tree gives us the shade to rest, and its fruits to nourish and to strengthen our souls. Thank God that it is an apple tree and not a durian tree – for though the fruits of a durian tree may be delicious (some may totally disagree with such a statement), but one can never be able to find true rest sitting under the shade of a durian tree!

Third, the shadow of the Almighty speaks of perfection, as being molded by God for His service. Isaiah observed: “And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me” (Isa. 49:2). Isaiah commented that under the shadow of God’s hand, we are likened to polished shaft. The “shaft” here means arrow. Here is a picture of how when we are under the shadow of God’s hand, we are molded and perfected by God like polished shaft, so that we may be able to serve Him. Moreover, Isaiah described the arrows as in the quiver – an expression that the arrows are ready to be used at anytime. My dear brethren, have you been availing yourself to the service of the Lord? Are you in the Lord’s quiver, ready to be used of the Lord anytime for His glory? Submit yourself in the shadow of God’s hand, and offer yourself to the Lord and said, “Here am I, Lord, use me, I pray.” And it is only when we truly dwell under the shadow of the Almighty, we will find joy: “Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice” (Ps. 63:7).

 

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