Called to Be Saints

Dear brethren in Christ, our Christian life is a calling, a high calling of God. As we walk our earthly lives, we must continually press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14).

During my daily devotions, as I meditate on the Word of God, I am intrigued by the constant occurrence of the words “called” and “calling”, revealing that in all of our Christian walk of life, our sovereign God is continually working out all circumstances of our lives, preparing and sanctifying us, until He leads us to His eternal kingdom and glory.

In this article, I would like to share my musings and understanding of our Christian calling.

Calling of election (2 Pet. 1:10)

We are Christians in the first place because it is God who has called us before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). From eternity, God foreknew and predestinated us; in due time, He called and justified us; and in eternity, we shall be glorified by Him (Rom. 8:28-30). What a wonder!

Called out of darkness into His marvellous light (1 Pet. 2:9)

Without Christ, we were in bondage to sin, Satan, and self. We were children of   disobedience,   under   the   wrath and condemnation of God. We were inclined to the lust of our eyes, the lust of our flesh, and the pride of life. But, praise to be to God, through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, He redeems us out of our slavery and adopts us as His covenant children. He gives us the dominion over sin by the power of His Holy Spirit, who dwells within us. We can begin to live the new spiritual life, walking in His light. We learn more and more to walk in truth, in love, in wisdom – walking in His Spirit at all times.

Called to fellowship with God in Christ (1 Cor. 1:9)

What a privilege! We, earthly beings, can have the privilege to commune with our living God! We can partake of Him. He dwells in us and we in Him. He is our bread of life, our living water, our light in this world, our good shepherd, our resurrection and our life (John 4-15). We abide in Him when His words abide in us. If we keep His commandments, we abide in His love. We can pray to Him without ceasing. We commit all our ways and cares of life to Him. We delight ourselves in Him.

Called to walk worthy (Eph. 4:1)

As a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, and a peculiar people of God, we need to walk worthy of His calling moment by moment, day by day. To do so, we pray that God will strengthen us with might by His Spirit in the inner man. We pray that we will be filled with all His fulness. God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us (Eph. 3:16-20). We are sustained by faith, love, and hope. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world (1 John 5:4). Love is the bond of perfection (Col. 3:14). Knowing the hope of His calling and the glory of His inheritance in the saints should motivate us to walk worthy of Him in all aspects of our life.

Called to holiness (1 Thess. 4:7)

We are exhorted to be holy, even as our God is holy (1 Pet. 1:16). We are to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor. 7:1). To be holy is to turn away from all unrighteousness and sin and to be wholly consecrated and devoted to God. We count ourselves as being dead to sin and alive unto God. We yield the members of our body as instruments of righteousness unto God. We are not under the law, but under grace. Therefore we yield our members servants to righteousness unto holiness (Rom. 6:13-19). We abound in our love towards God and towards one another. We conform to the image of our Lord Jesus Christ to reflect our God of truth, righteousness, and holiness.

Called to press toward the mark of His high calling (Phil. 3:14)

The Christian life is a life of trials, afflictions, sufferings, and all kinds of pressures. The world under Satan hates Christ because their lives are full of darkness, while Christ is the light and exposes the darkness. Satan knows that his time is short and is determined to flood the world with temptations of wealth, honour, pleasures, etc. When Christians do not love the world and the kingdom of Satan, Satan seeks to tempt and persecute her in various forms. Thus, as God’s people, we are to endure hardness as soldiers of the cross (2 Tim. 2:3). We are to fight the good fight of faith (2 Tim. 4:7). We are to resist the devil, and he will flee from us (James 4:7). The Word of God is the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17). Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4). In this world we shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33).

Called to His kingdom and glory (1 Thess. 2:12)

What great glory! We must reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed (Rom. 8:18). The world shall pass away, but only those who abide by the will of God will abide forever (1 John 2:17). God has prepared for His people an everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:11). In His kingdom, God shall create a new heaven and a new earth. There shall be no more death, sorrow, or pain. We are the bride of our Lord Jesus Christ. He shall dwell with His people forever (Rev. 21).

Wherefore, my holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, let us consider our Great Apostle and High Priest, our Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 3:1). Let us walk in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for the coming of the day of God (2 Pet. 3:11-12). Let us build up ourselves on our most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, and keep ourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life (Jude 20-21).

Written by: Daisy Lim | Issue 48

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Rejoicing and Weeping Together (II): In the Church

The church is family. As every earthly family   and   its   members   experience joys and sorrows, so the church and its members experience joys and sorrows. Previously, we considered what our attitude ought to be towards these joys and sorrows. Our hearts must have the attitude of love towards one another, expressed in the way of rejoicing and weeping with one another.

How are we to rejoice and weep with one another?

The points that follow are more of suggestions than imperatives for us to consider and discuss in our fellowship.

The first two suggestions consider what our initial responses towards our joyful brother or grieving sister should be.

  1. Explicit Joy

Towards our brethren who rejoice: respond to their joy with joy! Do not give a dull response to a brother or sister that exuberates with joy. It may be hard for us to imagine what such a response looks like; but the LORD gives us illustrations of a joyful response, starting with himself. Recall that the LORD calls our attention to His face, that it shines upon us in grace and is lifted up as the expression of peace (Num. 6:25-26). Simply by the look of God’s face, we know His thoughts of love, joy, and peace towards us. So also, by a warm smile or a gentle gaze, we express the same thoughts to our brethren.

Not only facially, but also verbally, we can rejoice with our brother. Think now of John, the apostle of love, who wrote that he had “no greater joy than to hear that [his] children walk in the truth” (3 John 4). A colloquial way to read the verse is: “I am extremely happy to hear that all of you believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ and live in thankfulness for that gospel.” Simple phrases such as, “That’s good to hear” and “Thank God!” go a long way to tell our brethren that we rejoice with them in the joys the LORD has given them.

If the LORD’s own countenance and the apostles’ words are insufficient illustrations, then consider the covenant mother that smiles to her infant; or to the covenant father that exclaims “That’s wonderful!” when his child rambles along about his Sunday in church. The infant that sees his mother’s cheer and the child that hears his father’s enthusiasm knows immediately that his mother and father are happy with them.

  1. Don’t Be Quick to Criticise

Towards the grieving sister (or brother), there is one thing we can consider. Don’t criticise first. That is, when our fellow saint approaches us with a certain sorrow or trouble, do not be quick to criticise that the person is spiritually weak, carnal, impatient, doubtful, etc., so that he or she is merely murmuring about what the LORD has given them. If the first thing we always say is, “Brother/Sister, you are wrong…” more often than not, we turn the brother or sister away from the help and comfort we may bring to them. They will think, “All he ever does is criticise!” Of course, criticism is not our only intent, but it is the impression given.

While there may be a particular weakness involved that affects our brethren spiritually, we must not be so quick to focus in on that weakness. The circumstances our brethren face—the stresses of work, the financial strains of the home, the sicknesses of the body— are often the trigger to their sorrows. Patiently listen for the details of those circumstances. Ask questions to draw out the troubles of the heart. Knowing these circumstances, we can shape our advice to address both the weakness and the proper way to respond to those circumstances that affect our brethren.

  1. Maintaining Confidentiality

The third suggestion considers a specific yet common situation. The brother tells you of a financial crisis he is facing; or a sister tells you of a conflict with another person in the church. You do not know what to say; however, only you know about it. The brother (sister) has told no one else. What may you do?

Confidentiality must be maintained. Solomon’s counsel is the principle to follow: “He that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter” (Pro. 11:13b). The aggrieved person has told you only. He or she (probably) does not want others to know. In other words, the person trusts that you will keep it a secret. Even if the brother or sister has not explicitly told you to keep it a secret, we fall on the safer side to assume that it is not meant to be told.

Furthermore, the nature of our tongue is poisonous; it is full of deadly poison (James. 3:8). If anything, the Bible’s diagnosis of our tongues should have us think twice of breaking a secret.

There are serious consequences when confidentiality is broken. The brother who has confided with us will not trust us. The sister will not share anything else about the matter, even when the matter   becomes   spiritually   harmful to her. The brother or sister, though sinking into spiritual destruction, will not tell you anything.

Especially when the trouble causes great spiritual hurt to our brethren, we must be wary of these consequences. The growing trouble of spousal abuse is a real example, of which Prof. Engelsma writes:

Lack of confidentiality is a grave weakness of consistories in the matter of abuse as in other serious, sensitive matters. That elders or the pastor divulge[s] consistorial matters, especially those of a sensitive   nature   involving   sin and suffering of members of the congregation, to other members of the church, including their wives, is destructive of the pastoral work of Christ by means of the consistory and harmful to the abused woman. The abused woman will not turn to the minister or to the elders for the help she needs. The gossip of the consistory hinders the work of Christ.1

Though other matters may not bear a severity equal to spousal abuse, dealing with these matters uses the same principle: Keep it confidential. Between office-bearers and their wives, as Prof. Engelsma implies, there must be a mutual understanding that certain matters may not be disclosed; likewise for husbands who do not hold office and their wives; and likewise for friends who hold a closer bond. For the sake of the weeping saint, do not have the secret broken.

Is there room to ask others for advice for secret matters? Yes; but we need not share the details with others from whom we ask for counsel. And if the matter deems it necessary for details to be shared, they ought to be shared with the person’s consent. Scripture’s principle does not change.

But if the person would not have us utter a word about the matter, even for advice, what then?

  1. Pray

Make it a point to call upon the LORD for what our brethren need. As we pray, the LORD will grant to us wisdom to counsel and advice the grieving saint according to his Word. As Solomon received wisdom through prayer (2 Chron. 1:11), so we will receive wisdom by the same means.

Prayer towards our brethren that rejoice should not be neglected either. Our example is Paul, who always thanked the Lord when the New Testament saints experienced the spiritual joys of salvation (Eph. 1:16; 1 Thess. 1:3). By such prayers, the LORD will enable us to rejoice with our brethren to a greater extent.

“Practice makes perfect”, by God’s grace. Conscious effort must be placed into practising the proper way of rejoicing and sorrowing with others. As sinful creatures, we habitually practise indifference, over-criticism, gossiping, and worldly-wisdom; but, graciously, God has given us Christ’s Spirit to sympathise, bridle the tongue, and speak wisely according to the Word.

At the same time, if practice makes perfect, practice needs to start from the home. If we want to practice it in the MPH on Sunday mornings, we have to first practice it in the living room of our flats. We cannot expect ourselves to be sympathetic, faithful secret-bearers, and wise, if we behave coldly, unfaithfully, and foolishly at home towards our spouse (or parents) and children (or siblings).

More on the home next time, DV.

1           “Questions and Answers Regard- ing the Speech on Spousal (Wife) Abuse” by Prof. David J. Engelsma (https://www.drop- box.com/s/9q7q3na0p1p08yd/abuse%20-%20 questions%20and%20answers%20-%202017. docx?dl=0). Accessed 24 January 2018

Written by: Lim Yang Zhi | Issue 48

The Pressure of Busyness on the Covenant Family

There are evil forces at work in the world today. These powerful forces are bent on the destruction of that which is so beautiful and precious, to God and us: the covenant home.

The forces of evil are the great, spiritual triumvirate of the devil, the unbelieving world, and our own sinful natures. The prince of darkness, together with his hellish hordes, has the covenant family in his crosshairs. He wants nothing more than to see marriages explode and families leveled. The wicked world, open ally of the devil, is also intent on the destruction of the Christian home. And then there is your and my old man, the enemy behind the lines. Without intending, the sins we commit against one another in the home work to weaken our relationships and can lead to their destruction.

These enemies are so interested in the destruction of the home because it too is a powerful force in the world, a power in the hands of God that stands in the service of the advancement of His kingdom of light. Weaken and destroy the covenant home and you weaken the church.

The covenant family faces attacks from every side. The list of pressures that are placed on the family could go on and on for many pages. This list certainly would have to include such things as the pressure of being earthly-minded, the pressure of world-conformity, and for some even the pressure of persecution.

I want to focus in this article on just one of those pressures. This is a pressure that is easy to overlook or minimize. And yet it is a deceptively destructive pressure that eats away at the foundation of our homes.

That pressure is busyness.

Busyness: A Reality

Busyness is a reality for a family. In fact, some might wonder if you open the thesaurus and search for the word “family” you will find the word “busyness” there. And I trust that this is true not just in North America, but also in Singapore and in other parts of the world.

There is busyness for the newly-married couple. They do not have children yet, but they live a hectic, fast-paced life. The husband works long hours at his office job over here, while the wife works long hours in a clinic over there. Sometimes one works days, while the other is on the night shift. They are like the proverbial two ships passing in the night. They rarely see one another, and when they do they are so tired that they can barely keep their eyes open.

If possible, this busyness increases with the addition of children into the home. Feeling the burden to provide for his growing family, the husband works even longer hours. Perhaps he also serves on the board for the school association. Or he serves on some committee of the church. Or he serves in the special office of deacon or elder. Many nights he comes home from work, wolfs down a quick supper, throws together a quick report, and flies off to his meeting, and does not return home until late into the night. The mother also is extremely busy as she does the important work of caring for her children in the home. She rises with them before the sun is up, and she is up with them long after the sun has gone down. Her day is filled with dishes and laundry and dirty diapers. She is out to the grocery store and the doctor’s office and the clothes department. Because of the lack of a Christian school, some might also have the enormous responsibility of running a homeschool.

It seems unimaginable, but the busyness multiplies as the children get older. Not only do you have the busy schedules of dad and mom, but now you add in the busy schedules of teenagers and young adults. They are gone for university studies, for work, for time with friends, for sporting events, for music lessons, and the list goes on and on. Rare is the night when the family is all together at home.

Busyness is a reality.

Busyness: An Anomaly

From a certain point of view, the busyness of our families is an anomaly. I say this because we have so many things that make our life easier than ever. Consider all the advances in technology that make our lives easier. Instead of keeping food in an ice chest, we have refrigerators and freezers that store months’ worth of food. Instead of lighting a fire to cook our food, we can use ovens and microwaves to have it ready instantly. Instead of growing our own food, we can get all we need at the grocery store or the restaurant. Instead of hitching up a horse and buggy to travel somewhere, we can hop in the car or grab public transportation and get wherever we would like with great ease. Instead of writing a letter, we can send a text message or fire off an email in seconds. These things were inconceivable just a few generations ago. Our life is so much easier because of these advancements.

And yet, our lives are so much more hectic than the lives of previous generations. Their lives were so much simpler, and things moved at such a slower pace. Why is this?

The culprit for this busyness is, strangely, the very technologies that make our life so much easier. Advances in transportation make it possible for husbands to work far from home and for children to participate in so many activities outside of the home. Advances in technology make it possible for us to take our work home with us at night and to have so many distracting pings and dings coming from smartphones, laptops, and tablets.

In some ways these things make life easier, but in other ways they make life so much busier.

Busyness: The Consequences

Perhaps you’re wondering, “Is busyness really that big of a problem?” The answer is, “Yes, it is a problem!”

Understand that busyness is not inherently wrong. There is nothing sinful about being busy. In fact, we are called to be busy and diligent in serving God and His church and doing the work He has called us to perform.

But busyness can have damaging consequences in our homes and families when we handle it in the wrong way.

Busyness can have consequences on a marriage. Husband and wife can be so busy that they hardly have any time for each other. This fundamental relationship gets pushed to the sidelines because they are busy doing all sorts of other others. What can happen is that when the children grow up and move out, husband and wife realize they hardly know each other any more.

Busyness can have consequences on children. Many parents think they are helping their children by working long hours so that they can buy them nice things, but what they don’t stop to realize is that they are withholding from their children the one they need most of all: their time and attention. Too easily parents sin against their children by not being home with them enough and giving them enough undistracted attention. Children are also hurt when parents deal with their busyness by lazy parenting. Because they feel like they’re too busy to discipline properly, the parents either resort to impatient yelling and screaming or to not disciplining at all.

Busyness can have the consequence of pushing spiritual activities out of our lives. In many homes there is no time of family worship because family members are all off doing their own thing. And when they do manage to gather together, the family worship consists of a quick reading of a few verses of the Bible, no discussion regarding what was read, and then a hasty prayer, after which the whole family scatters. Everyone is too busy with other things ever to sit down, crack open a book, and read something beneficial, and too busy to attend a Bible study. The level of our busyness is often inversely related to the level of our involvement in spiritual activities.

Busyness: The Counter

What are we to do about this?

We might be tempted to throw up our hands in despair. We might be thinking, “Yes, busyness is a problem, but what can we possibly do to avoid it?”

On the one hand, we do have to reckon with the fact that having a family is going to be busy. There is simply no avoiding it: at times our homes are going to be hectic.

On the other hand, we can minimize some of the busyness in our lives. This is only possible when we radically and rigorously reorder the priorities in our lives. Things of first importance must come first in our lives. Worship and church life, quality family time, and spiritual activities must be top priority, and the time necessary for these things must be guarded jealously. The other important things in our lives are then ordered around our top priorities, and things of lesser importance may need to be cut out entirely. This may seem like a radical measure, but we should be ready to do so for the sake of the well-being and strength of our families.

Finally, recognizing the difficulties we face, we need the encouragement to look to God for the grace and wisdom to serve him faithfully in our covenant homes. “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it…” (Ps. 127:1).

Written by: Rev. Joshua Engelsma | Issue 48

The Great Flood

2017 saw increasing incidences of natural disasters – a volcano waiting to erupt in Bali, forest fires in Southern California, tropical storms in the Philippines… It might be tempting to dismiss these phenomena as climate change, or even put away newspapers to avoid further despair, but as Christians, we should not. While the world reacts in horror and fear, Christians can find comfort in these disasters. Let us put on our spiritual lenses and seek to understand them in light of the Bible.

The first and greatest natural disaster recorded in the history of mankind is the Great Flood in Genesis 6-9. Its scale of destruction is unparalleled, and only eight souls, seven of each clean beast, and two of each unclean beast survived. With the Flood, God set a precedent of how His people should view and respond to such happenings (Matt. 24:37-39).

God is sovereign

From the account of the Flood, it is stark that God directed the whole event, as He does with the entire world since its inception. From who would be saved and otherwise be destroyed, what Noah had to do to build the ark, how the wicked were destroyed by the furious water, to when it was the right time for Noah to leave the ark and so on, God was in full control.

These days, the intensity and frequency of natural disasters is increasing in diverse places all around us, but knowing that these all happen under the mighty hand of God, we need not be frightened. Furthermore, God has forewarned us that these will happen in Revelation 6 and Matthew 24. We are not at the mercy of chance, or a geoscientific process that we have to try desperately to prevent.

We might wonder why a sovereign God allows such calamity to befall the world in our day. The beautiful creation is torn apart – animals perish, men, even His beloved people, succumb to earthquakes and floods. How could a God of love and peace allow such unpleasantness? We then have to remember that God is a just God.

God is just

Being just, God cannot stand sin and has to punish man for sin. In Genesis 6:5-7, we learn that the Flood was executed out of judgment against the wickedness of the people, who were consumed in fleshly lusts and thought evil continually. As such, the Flood was sent to purge the wicked from the face of the earth.

Unlike the Flood which was sent specifically to destroy the wicked, the natural disasters in our present time occur due to a corrupted world. Just like how man was tainted with sin, the creation is inherently corrupted and no longer perfect. Extreme weather conditions, drought, volcanic eruptions and others all lie on a spectrum of natural dangers that cause much pain and risk to life, which would not have existed in the perfect creation before the fall.

While the natural world was ruined after the fall, this state was exacerbated by Man’s actions. Sinful man no longer used his dominion over the creation to serve God, but himself. We think of forest logging for profits at the expense of the ecosystem and the resultant floods due to rising river beds, burning inefficient fuel sources that is easier on the pocket, but emits more carbon into the atmosphere, causing global warming and rising sea levels. The catastrophes are God’s judgment on the corrupt world.

It is no wonder that the whole creation and the people of God wait for our redemption from corruption (Rom. 8:21-23). How can God’s people find comfort while we have to endure this?

God loves His elect

In God’s mercy, He will remember and redeem His people, like He did with His servant Noah. In His sovereignty, He had chosen to save Noah and effected his salvation from the Flood. In His justice, He sent Christ to die and wash away Noah’s and our sins.

Why   are   Christians   not   immune from   the   fury   of   disasters?   Even when Christians jointly suffer with unbelievers such ill, we know that what is to them a savour of death unto death is to us a savour of life unto life. We take comfort that our earthly suffering and death is not a punishment from God as our sins are covered by Jesus’s blood. Furthermore, just like how1 the high waters of the Flood lifted the ark nearer towards heaven, we rejoice at going to a better place, where we have communion with God forever. In the same vein, all the disasters, diseases, pain and struggles, are all part of a corrupt world. However, God uses these for the good of those who love Him.

What is our response then and what does God require of us?

First, we have to beware of spiritual complacency. We, like the sons of God in Noah’s day, are not immune from spiritual   apostasy   and   adulteration. If we are attracted to things of this world, let us remember that the things of the world are temporal, and will be destroyed by fire in the last day (2 Pet. 3:6-7); only the Word of God and our soul will go beyond the grave.

Second, we have to maintain a lively faith in God. Noah’s faith in God is a great example of the extent to which we should place our faith in God – it cost him his reputation. He was likely ostracized and mocked by people for preparing for a deluge when there was not a drop of rain since creation. This faith was borne out of a close walk and obedience to God. Do we often find ourselves an unpopular minority in our faith? Let us remember that God’s approval is our goal, not man’s (Gal. 1:10).

Third, we have to live out our faith in full obedience to God. When Noah entered the ark, he was forsaking his worldly possessions for God’s cause. He had to bear with the confinement in and inconveniences of the ark, in order to be preserved for a new world. So let us remember Christ’s command for us to deny ourselves in sufferings, and devote ourselves to the service of His Kingdom.

The world that we live in is becoming more and more like the world before the Flood. Let us learn from Noah, to walk with God and obey His commands, that we may find grace in the eyes of the Lord in final judgment.

(Endnotes)

1 Matthew Henry Commentary on Genesis 7:18.

Written by: Lisa Ong | Issue 48

Book Review: Little White Farmhouse in Iowa

This book was written by Carol Brands, a Protestant Reformed mother and grandmother in the state of Minnesota. It is a biography of Katherine Kroontje, whom Carol met when Katherine was an elderly woman. It tells of the story of Katherine’s first ten years and the many experiences she had as a child. This book is one of three books that Carol Brands wrote telling about the life of Katherine.

Susie Kroontje gave birth to Katherine in the middle of a stormy night during the Great Depression in the United States, when families were very poor. The book traces the time Katherine swallowed kerosene as a toddler to the time a blizzard swept through the United States when she was ten years old. We read about the times when Katherine’s family visited her Uncle Will and Aunt Ann to bring them food in the nearby state of North Dakota during the Great Depression.

In chapter nine, we read of how Katherine and her older brother Willie went   to   school   in   North   Dakota during the time they were visiting their uncle and aunt. It was a one-room schoolhouse that was painted a light beige colour and had a wide porch in the front. Katherine kept the four books for each of her subjects: arithmetic, writing, phonics, and music. I thought it was very interesting to learn about what subjects they had in 1935, though we still have the same subjects today!

Katherine’s family was very hard-working as they tended cows on the farm, got water at the pump, grew their own crops, cleared the table, and dried dishes. This is a good model for us to follow in our own work. It teaches us that we must work hard in the callings that God has set before us.

Throughout the book, we read of how Katherine’s family often read the Bible, followed by prayer. Devotions always made Katherine feel secure, as she knew that God’s blessings were always upon her on that day. Katherine often prayed short prayers on her own as well, to thank God or to ask Him for patience and calmness. This is a good example of how we must often pray little prayers to God, whether it is asking Him for forgiveness of sins, calmness, patience, joyfulness in a time of sorrow, or thanksgiving.

Even though there are many differences in culture between living on a farm in the United States in the 1930s and living in Singapore today, I still recommend this book to you. This is a very enjoyable book for children to read, but adults would also enjoy getting a glimpse of a godly family that lived in Iowa. This book is available on Amazon.com for those who would be interested in reading it!

Written by: Emily Lanning | Issue 48

A Letter to My Unforgiving Self (II)

Unforgiving self, let us continue our meditation   on   forgiveness.   In   the last letter, we saw that having been forgiven by God, you are to forgive your neighbour even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you (Eph. 4:32). We saw that some of your excuses for being unforgiving cannot stand up to the model of God’s forgiveness for you – unconditional, not based on what you did, but what Christ did; initiating, by approaching you first; embracing, by drawing you to Himself. Self, let us continue our reflection in this letter by examining two more of your excuses in light of God’s forgiveness of you. Next, we consider how you can grow in your forgiveness of others, and finally, some practical ways of forgiving your neighbour.

My Feeble Excuses for Being Unforgiving, Examined (Continued)

“What she did to me was so spiteful; even though she has already apologised, I’m going to be cold and distant towards her for a while, to let her realise how much she hurt me.”

You don’t actually say that, do you, self? You soothe your conscience by telling yourself that you’ll forgive eventually.

You make this excuse sound a lot better by focusing on the immense difficulty you face to forgive. Yet what makes it difficult for you to forgive? Is it not pride, that sin which thoroughly infects you? Is it not an excessive love of self, that values your own feelings so highly that any infringement against them is deserving of tenfold retribution? You know, self, even in those very moments when you justify being cold to your neighbour, that you illicitly harbour an unforgiving spirit.

Let’s see how God forgives you, self, so that you may also learn to forgive others in the same manner. What is God’s response each time you turn to Him in sorrow after sinning against Him? A cold, dismissive wave of the hand? No! As the loving father who embraced his wayward son and restored him to sonship, God forgives you the moment you turn to Him in repentance (Luke 15:20-24). How often have you crawled to the throne of grace and experienced God’s forgiveness as you began to confess your sins before Him? Having experienced such forgiveness, self, you may not withhold forgiveness from your repentant neighbour.

“I will forgive him, but I’ll never forget what he did towards me.”

Self, perhaps you think that it’s impossible to ever forget how your neighbour has hurt you. At the same time, you also know that God forgives you by forgetting your sins, as He says in Isaiah 43:25: “I, even I, am he that blotteth   out   thy   transgressions   for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins” (emphasis mine). There are a couple of things that you need to know about forgiving and forgetting, self.

First,   forgiving   by   forgetting   does not involve having no memory of the neighbour’s sin. When God Himself forgives, He does not simply lose the knowledge that we have ever committed sins. After all, He is omniscient, and will judge us out of the books where all our deeds are recorded (Rev. 20:12). Furthermore,   when   Joseph   forgave his brothers, he said, “I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt” (Gen 45:4b, emphasis mine). Joseph evidently remembered that his brothers had sold him into slavery – how could he ever forget that? – yet this was compatible with his forgiving them.

Second, if forgiving by forgetting does not involve wiping your memory, it does involve wiping clean your brother’s slate against you. God removes our transgressions from us as far as east from west (Ps. 103:12), so that there is none to be found on our slate (Jer. 50:20). He counts all our sins on the person of Christ, and none remains on our account. Likewise, when Joseph brought up his brothers’ infractions, he did so with no bitterness in his heart, desiring that his brothers come to live with him in prosperous Egypt. He had wiped their slates clean.

Self, you need to emulate God in forgiving and forgetting. You may have a physical memory of your neighbour’s sin against you, accompanied by hurt, but this memory must be void of bitterness. And when this memory flares up, tempting you to spitefully remind your neighbour of his sin, bite that poisonous tongue of yours. Also, pray to God for strength not to let this memory fester within you as a grudge that you hold against your neighbour.

Growing to Forgive My Neighbour

Self, we have tackled two more of your greatest excuses about being unforgiving, by considering God’s forgiveness of you – immediate and forgetting. Now let’s explore how you can grow in your ability to forgive your neighbour.

  1. Growing to Appreciate God’s Forgiveness of Me

Self, you need to grow in your appreciation of God’s forgiveness of you. Oh, you know intellectually that you are totally depraved and that God sent His only begotten Son to die for you. Yet if you truly appreciated how much God has forgiven you, you would be willing to forgive your neighbour. If you knew that you have been forgiven of ten thousand talents (an unpayable debt!), then you wouldn’t be casting your neighbour in prison for the hundred pence he owes you. Self, keep growing to appreciate God’s forgiveness of you. Meditate often on how horrendous each sin that you have committed is, how you repeatedly and wilfully sin, and how, despite your numerous sins, God still bestows His forgiveness on you. As you grow in awareness of how horrible your sins are and how much God has forgiven you, then you will grow in your capacity to forgive your neighbour, by recognising how small in comparison your neighbour’s sins are towards you.

  1. Growing to Appreciate God’s Forgiveness of My Neighbour

Self, what are you saying when you refuse to forgive a fellow believer? That your neighbour is “worthy” of God’s forgiveness, but not yours? That God made a mistake in His wise counsel of electing your neighbour unto salvation and forgiving her sins, and that you know better than Him, to withhold forgiveness? You probably don’t mean it, but you sure act that way by your thoughts and actions! Self, grow to appreciate your neighbour as a sibling in   Christ   who   has   been   forgiven by God, and you will find yourself growing in your capacity to forgive your neighbour.

3. Growing in My Dependence on God

Self, perhaps you are utterly exhausted from wrestling to forgive your neighbour and have thought more than once, “It is impossible for me to forgive him!” There is a ring of truth in that statement. If forgiveness were dependent on you, it would indeed be impossible. Yet you are not alone in this struggle. Self, you need to depend on God, the source of all forgiveness, by whose grace you are empowered to forgive your neighbour. Do you earnestly wrestle with God, that He may grant you the strength to forgive?

Practical   Ways to Forgive My Neighbour

Self, let us now consider some practical ways in which you can forgive your neighbour. These considerations apply especially when you have a long- standing difficulty in forgiving your neighbour.

  1. Thinking the Best of My Neighbour

Perhaps you are embroiled in a bitter, long-drawn conflict where many hurtful words have been exchanged on both sides. New events only seem to exacerbate the existing issues. When you learn that the neighbour did this or said that, your immediate tendency is to flare up in indignation, and you begin adding to the mountain of grudge that you already hold, making it that much more difficult to forgive your neighbour.

Self, even while working to wipe clean your neighbour’s slate of a past wrong, do not continue to needlessly pile on fresh wrongs! How often do you hear a piece of news about your neighbour and immediately jump to an evil conclusion about her? Without knowing the full picture, how often do you fill in the gaps with your preconceived notions about your neighbour (“Oh, I knew she was like that”)? With only external information about the neighbour, how often do you assign a motive to what he did? Oh the deceitfulness of your heart, self!

Self, do not perpetuate your unforgiving tendencies by adding sin to sin. Instead, with a charity that “believeth all things” (1 Cor. 13:7), you must think the best of your neighbour. If you are not in a position to clarify what the neighbour did, assign the best possible motive to her action. Keep your mind focused on things which are true and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8), which will help you resist the downward spiral of evil thoughts.

2. Focusing on My Part to Play

It’s always easier to focus on what the neighbour did wrongly, isn’t it, self? You have on hand a long list of what he did, while what you did is easily forgotten or minimised. After all, you were provoked into doing what you did. Or what you did pales in comparison to what he did. Really, self? Who made you a judge over this matter? What business do you have deciding that your neighbour has sinned more grievously than you have? Yes, your neighbour has sinned greatly against you. Yet it is likely that you too have some part to play in this conflict, however great or small. Focus instead on that, self. Focus on how you have wronged your neighbour and are in need of his forgiveness. Set aside your pride and approach him to apologise. Do not make your apology conditional on whether he too apologises. Yes, you have a responsibility to ensure his repentance for sin; however, be more concerned about your own sin in the conflict. After that is settled, you can then bring up the sin of the brother, and not in a manner that excuses your own.

Seeking Forgiveness for My Unforgiving Spirit

Self, continue working on becoming more forgiving and seeking strength from God to forgive. While you do that, however, do not be too easy on yourself. No matter the difficulty you face in this process, no matter the pain you experience, this fact remains: your unforgiving spirit is a sin which you choose to cling on to, and even continue to nurse with your thoughts and actions. You, self, need forgiveness for your unforgiving spirit. You need forgiveness, from God first of all, and also from your neighbour. Make sure not only to pray for strength to forgive; pray also for forgiveness for being unforgiving.

Self, consider what you are doing by perpetuating   an   unforgiving   spirit: you are claiming that your sin of being unforgiving is less serious than the neighbour’s sin, whatever he did. You are presuming to take issue with your neighbour’s sin, while permitting and justifying your own. Does that sound familiar? Self, you are trying to take the mote out of your neighbour’s eye, while there is a beam lodged in your own (Matt. 7:3)! Do not do that, self. Do not be a beam-eyed mote-remover, but recognise the beam which is in your own eye before you presume to remove the mote in your neighbour’s.

Conclusion

Self, it is difficult to snap out of this cycle of an unforgiving spirit, for however long it has gripped you. As we saw, it is even impossible to do so on your own. Yet praise be to God, who empowers you to forgive by forgiving you, sending His only begotten Son to die on the cross for your sins. From the One who said of his murderers while hanging on the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), you have new life to break free of the chains of an unforgiving spirit, and nurture a forgiving spirit towards your neighbour. May the grace of our forgiving God be with you!

Bibliography

Key, Steven. “Forgiving One Another (12).” Loveland Protestant Reformed Church, Loveland, Colorado, July 12, 2015.

Baucham, Voddie. “Forgiveness.” Tabernacle Baptist Church, Ennis, Texas, August 9, 2013.

Written by: Marcus Wee | Issue 48

Holiness as Young Adults (I)

Dear young people, as serious young Christian adults who love the Lord, I am quite sure you are desirous to live a holy Christian life, pleasing to Him. Since Elder Lee Kong Wee in his previous article ‘Holiness: A conscious Choice’ had already addressed what holiness is and what it means to live a holy life, I shall not repeat what had been written. However, before we examine the challenges young adults face in living a holy life unto the Lord, it would be good for us to understand the reason and the motivation for one to live such a life.

The reason and the motivation to live a holy life is primarily from the admonition given by the Apostle Peter in 1 Pet 1:15 and16, “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy”. 1 Pet 1:16 is a quotation from the book of Leviticus (Lev. 11:44, 45; 19:2; 20:7), thus emphasizing the important and fundamental calling of God’s people to be holy, in both the old and the new dispensations. The people of God of all ages are called to holy living! You and I must desire to live a holy life because it is God who has called us to live such a life. And God who has called us to be holy is Himself holy! Isaiah 6 gives us a glimpse of God’s glory and holiness. Even the seraphims had to cover their faces with their wings and cried, “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory.” (Isa. 6:2 and 3). Immediately, the prophet Isaiah reacted with the exclamation acknowledging his sinfulness: “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” (Isa. 6:5).

The Apostle Peter exhorts us, as pilgrims and strangers on our journey of life, to live with the hope for the glorious fulfillment of the perfect salvation to be revealed at the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are to gird up the loins of our mind as obedient children, not fashioning ourselves according to the former lusts in our ignorance but be holy in all manner of conversation (1 Pet. 1:13-14). We should, therefore, have the mindset of pilgrims and strangers living on this earth making our way to the eternal home reserved for us. Our permanent home is in heaven where our holy God dwells. We are to be obedient children, obeying God as a child ought his/her father, to flee from the former lusts we once indulged in or were enslaved to and be holy like our Father in heaven. Our pilgrimage is really to prepare us to be a holy people fit for heaven, though we will never attain perfect holiness on this side of the grave. Hence living a holy life is NOT an option but an expected obligation for all Christians!

The whole of our life must be characterized by holiness not only in our outward day-to-day living but also inwardly, in our hearts and minds. In principle, as regenerated Christians, we are a holy people since our sins have been forgiven and our guilt purged through the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, by the imputation of His righteousness on us. We are, as what the Apostle Peter says in 1 Pet 2:9 and 10, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy”. This is what we are by the grace of God, chosen of God to live in covenant fellowship with Him. A people of His possession, called to offer spiritual sacrifices of thanksgiving and to show forth the praises of Him who has called us out our darkness into the marvelous light of His Kingdom. We were once not a people, but now a people of God. We were once without mercy but have now obtained mercy in His Son Jesus Christ. Let us then, with the small beginning of this new obedience, strive to live a life of holiness as unto the Lord, not as a basis of our salvation, but as fruits of gratitude and of a new life.

While we recognize that we have been called out to be a special people sanctified by God and consecrated for holy use, we are nevertheless encumbered with the reality of the ever present depraved nature clinging to us. We continue to fall into sin each and every day. We struggle daily in the body of this death and acknowledge with the Apostle Paul in Rom. 7:19, “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do”. However, we are not only faced with the enemy within, we have to deal with the temptations posed by the world, its lusts and its philosophy as well as the prowling and roaring lion, the Evil One. Such are the challenges we have to deal with as God’s people in this world. Young Christian adults are not spared. In fact, young Christian adults will have a more difficult calling to live a holy life as wickedness abounds more and more as the coming of our Lord draws near.

The immediate challenge for young Christian adults in this life is how to rein in the youthful exuberance that you have and have victory over the three-fold enemy of self, the world and Satan; and at the same time fulfill the obligation of holy living. As young adults you have boundless energy and youthful ideals. The question is how can you direct your youthful energy and ideals to the service of God, as unto holiness and not be made used of by the three-fold enemy? How can young adults properly make use of the time and opportunities presented to them each day for the glory of God, for the edification of His Church, for the furtherance of His Kingdom and for the preparation of their souls for the life to come? How can one balance one’s studies/work, social life, social and family obligations, church calling, service, etc. with the important calling to be holy in every aspect of one’s life? There are no easy answers as we grapple with the sins that often beset us.

In the next article, the Lord wiling, we shall examine the challenges faced by young Christian adults in this day and age. We shall list out the difficulties faced by young adults as they grapple with living a life of holiness unto God in the cyber world of internet, social media, gaming, eCommerce, etc. Topics such as pressures young Christian adults face to conform to the worldly lifestyle, how financial independence affect their outlook and service to the Lord, challenges in working life and living as young singles adults and married couples shall be examined in the light of scripture.

Written by: Wee Gim Theng | Issue 48

Holiness: A Conscious Choice

Introduction

Dear young people, what comes to your mind when you think about a holy life? Do you imagine a priest in religious garb, a monk in his robe chanting, or an ascetic sitting atop a pole meditating? Or perhaps you think a holy life means abstaining from drinking alcohol, smoking, and partying. No swearing, no drugs, and no sex. People who are holy seem to take religion pretty seriously – they go regularly to church, the temple or mosque, and faithfully perform the required rituals and prayers.

It is crucial that we understand what holiness is, and what it means to live a holy life. For without holiness, no man shall see God (Heb. 12:14).

Its Real

The idea of holiness is essentially separation, or consecration. When something is holy, it is set apart and distinct from the ordinary and common. The concept of holiness is first and foremost applied to God. He is the Holy One – separate and distinct from all His creation. He is God, and there is none else (Isa. 45:22). He is separate from all sin and wholly consecrated to Himself and His glory. Because God is holy, He calls His people to be holy (1 Pet. 1:16). That means we are called to be separate from sin (to hate and forsake it) and consecrated to God (to love and serve Him whole-heartedly). To be holy is therefore to become more and more like God Himself. But all of us are by nature unholy. We were ugly sinners, spiritually dead and delighting in our sins, and wholly incapable of doing anything to makes ourselves holy. Neither do we desire to be holy.

Left to ourselves, we only become more and more unholy, falling deeper and deeper into the snare of our own sins, until we finally perish. We may live an outwardly moral life. We may observe a certain code of conduct and abstain from societal vices. We may not have broken any law of the land and are free from gross sins such as adultery and murder. But for all that, in our unregenerate state, dead in sin and without spiritual life, we are unholy.

If we are to become holy, God must accomplish the work. This work of making us holy, or sanctification, the Westminster Larger Catechism defines as a ‘work of God’s grace’ (Q&A 75). It is therefore not a work that we deserve, or that we could accomplish on our own, or in any way dependent on us. But it is wholly attributed to God. Our entire salvation, including sanctification, is of the Lord. It is of His sovereign grace and mercy. We were dead in trespasses and sins, but God Who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, has made us spiritually alive in Christ (Eph. 2:1,4,5). And the life of faith we now live is a holy life. As children of God, chosen, regenerated, justified, a holy life is not a mere possibility. It is a present reality. It is the fruit of regeneration and justification that must happen in the chain of salvation. For we have been chosen in Christ that we should be holy (Eph. 1:4).

Live it!

But that does not mean that we just passively sit around and expect God to zap us with holiness instantly. We are called to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phi. 2:12). Paul exhorts Timothy to ‘flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure hear’ (2 Tim. 2:22). We are called to mortify the old man and quicken the new man in us (Eph. 4:22-24, Col. 3:5). We are to ‘abstain from all appearance of evil’ (1 Thess. 5:22). We must walk as children of light (Eph. 5:8). The Captain of our salvation summons us to ‘put on the whole armour of God and wrestle against principalities, powers,…against spiritual wickedess in high places, that we may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand’ (Eph. 6:11-13). We are to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18).

The life of holiness is marked by two outstanding characteristics: struggle against sin, and faith in Jesus Christ.

Struggle against sin? It seems to us that godly men are hardly troubled by sin. They seem to be above the temptations of the flesh and are not attracted by the world. Aren’t they always on the mountain-top of faith, near to God and far from sin and wickedness? But regardless of how God-fearing and sinless they may appear to be, we can be certain that they do struggle with sin in their lives. The Word of God is crystal clear that sin dwells in every human heart, and there is none righteous, no not one (Rom. 3:10) (except Jesus, of course). When we were born again, we died to sin (Rom. 6:2). But sin is not dead to us. The guilt of sin is removed and the dominion of sin is broken in us, but sin is still very much alive in us, i.e. in our old man. Just read Romans 7. Yes, it is the great apostle of the New Testament who wrote that chapter, in which he speaks of the titanic struggle between the old and new man in him. We are called to mortify the old man (HC Q&A 89). We are called ‘Christians’ because we fight against sin and Satan in this life (HC Q&A 32). The very struggle against sin is evidence that we are spiritually alive and striving to live a holy life. The more we grow in grace and godliness, the more we struggle with sin, because we become more conscious of the heinousness of our sins, and how much we have offended God. Even the holiest man in this life has only a small beginning of obedience. A large part of his life involves great struggles against sin.

But the life of holiness is also marked by faith in Jesus Christ. Our very bitter struggle against sin daily drives us to the cross. We realise increasingly our utter inability to fight against sin and walk in obedience. The good that I would I do not. The evil that I would not, that I do. Our only hope is in the ONE power that is greater than the power of indwelling sin in us. When we look by faith to the cross, we know sin has no dominion over us (Rom. 6:14) – that’s the motivation to fight till our last breath! Faith that all, ALL, my sins are forgiven me and not one is counted against me to my condemnation. Faith that I shall at last have complete victory over sin and the grave when Jesus comes for me either at my death, or else at His second coming. This life of faith is sustained and strengthened as we attend to the means of grace that God has graciously given to us – worship, prayer, reading and meditating on the Word.

As we fight against our sins and walk by faith, the Lord conforms us more and more to the image of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is the ultimate goal of growing in holiness. To be conformed to Jesus Christ, the perfection of holiness, for He is God.

Blessed!

It seems that living the holy life is no easy thing to do. Indeed it is. For it is nothing less than fighting a lifelong battle against our sinful flesh. But the blessing is unspeakable. For to live a life of holiness is to live the reality of the covenant of grace: a life of covenant fellowship with the Triune God. In other words, eternal life, which is nothing but the glorious, overwhelming blessing of God Himself as our God in Jesus Christ! Life with God! (Gen. 15:1; Rev. 21:3) What can be more thrilling and blessed than that? Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God! (Matt. 5:8).

The holy life is the only life worth living. For it is life with the Holy One. Now and forever. Do we live holy lives?

Written by: Elder Lee Kong Wee | Issue 47

Bold to Witness

The day before his Saviour was killed, the apostle Peter did not have the courage to tell a young girl that he knew and loved Jesus. Strikingly, just fifty days later, the same Peter was suddenly bold to stand in front of the multitudes and preach of the wonderful works performed through Jesus. What could explain such a radical transformation in Peter? Was he emboldened by drunkenness?   “No!” Peter denied adamantly. The explanation given in Scripture was that Peter had been filled with the Spirit of Christ. By the power of the Spirit, Peter suddenly had the courage to testify in a way unlike he had ever had before.

We are not so different from Peter. Sometimes we are bold to witness; other times we have a mouth full of teeth but no words to say. We know that we ought to confess, and yet the good that we would say we struggle to say. In order that we might be “ready to give an answer”, let us look at what witnessing is, examine some reasons why we struggle with witnessing, and conclude by seeing what we might do to improve our witness.

Biblical boldness is having the courage to speak against what is wrong and to defend the truth, even when doing so will be unpopular and perhaps even cause you to be mocked by others. True boldness is having a deep and passionate love for God and the truth of His Word, which love supersedes your personal desires and concerns about reputation. It is speaking of Christ even when no one else dares to do so.

We must witness, for God commands it of us in His word. We confess in Psalm 66:16, “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul”. The mandate to witness is seen even more clearly in the NT, in texts such as 1 Peter 3:15, “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear”. Witnessing is so important that Christ warns He will deny entrance into heaven to those who do not confess Him on this earth. Matthew 10:32-33, “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven”. We must testify of Christ, or we stand in danger of eternal damnation.

Sadly, an honest examination of ourselves leads us to conclude that we are not always so willing to confess Christ before men. We rather easily talk about sports figures or weather or work, but we are hesitant to talk about the wonderful work of salvation that God has performed in our heart through Jesus Christ His Son. Why is it that we are so slow to speak of Christ?

One reason why we might not witness is that we are afraid of the social   implications   of   witnessing. We know that people in the world generally do not speak about Christ in their conversation; it is not “socially acceptable” to speak of Christ in public. We, by nature, want the respect of men and are worried that we will lose their respect if we do speak of Christ. Thus, we keep our mouths shut in hopes of maintaining our social status among men.

Another reason why we might hesitate to witness is our own ignorance regarding God’s Word. Whether it be a perceived or a real ignorance, we imagine that we are not able to give a coherent defence of the truth. We are worried that we might be “out-argued” by someone more intelligent or logical than us. Or maybe we are worried that we will not have every proof text on the tip of our tongue, so instead of revealing our own ignorance, we keep quiet.

But the ultimate reason why we do not witness is the devil, who is hard at work inside of us. The devil hates Christ, and the devil delights within himself when Christ is silenced. He does not want the Word of God proclaimed, for he knows that Christ is the Word (John 1:1), and when the Word is proclaimed, then Christ is proclaimed. Thus, the devil works to seal our lips. He tempts us to be silent when the co- worker takes God’s name in vain. The devil prompts us to doubt our ability to give a coherent defence of the gospel.

Because the devil is the one who tempts us not to witness of Christ, and because the devil is a liar and the father of all lies (John 8:44), we can rightly say that the reason we are not bold to testify of Christ is because of sin. It is because of our sinful nature, given to us by our parents, and which sin we daily add to, that we do not want to witness. And the more we sin, the more we lose the sense of God’s favour. And the less we enjoy the sense of God’s favour, the less likely we are to confess: “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul”.

Therefore, if we want to become more effective and regular in witnessing, we must start by addressing sin within us. We must search our hearts to see what hidden faults we have. And as God gives us the grace to see and know our sins, then we cry out for forgiveness, confident that “God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9). The key to becoming a better witness is not merely to change our outward behaviour, but to believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. We do not say: “I can do this. I can witness because of my own strength”. Rather, we say: “I believe in Christ who saves me from my sins! And this same Christ who saves me from sin has also given me His Spirit, who empowers me to witness of Him to others!”

But as we do go out and witness, a few warnings must be given against ineffective methods of witnessing. In the first place, a warning must be   sounded   against   inappropriate uses of the internet for so-called “witnessing”. Online argumentation about theological topics is not effective witnessing. Some Christians seem to think that boldness in witnessing means to engage in extended online discussions to defend their particular position. But I have yet to see one person convicted of the truth and led to penitent confession of sin as a result of online argumentation. This is not to say that the internet has no place at all in the realm of witnessing. It does. But the way in which witnessing on the internet is effective is when information about the truth is made available to those who are already seeking the truth. That is, their internet search is subsequent to their interest in the Reformed truth.

Secondly, a warning must be given against the mentality that the best way to witness is to share the gospel with anyone and everyone with whom we have contact. This type of individual tells   the   stranger   on   the   elevator about Christ, as well as the person sitting next to him on the bus, as well as the person in the next table at the restaurant. Although this individual may be commended for his enthusiasm about spreading the gospel, he ought to consider a more effective means of promoting the gospel. And a more effective way is to witness during God- given opportunities to those with whom we already have an existing relationship. When the colleague asks why you do not work on Sunday, take the opportunity to tell of the God who set apart one day in seven for us to rest and enjoy especially close fellowship with Him. When your friend asks about why you dress so modestly, then tell them about your Lord who rules over your body as well as your soul.

As you seek the courage to witness, be encouraged in knowing that the Lord will give you the grace necessary to testify of Him. It is especially through God’s Word that we are given the gracious power to witness. Read of God’s goodness in His work of forgiving us our sins, and you will be given a desire to share the good news with others. Read of how heinous and offensive our sins are before the holy God, and you will be given the strength and conviction to warn others against continuing in the path of unrighteousness. Sit under the preaching of the Word, hear Christ speak to you, pray for utterance, and God will equip you to be a faithful witness.

Written by: Rev. Stephan Regnerus

Rejoicing and Weeping Together (I): Introduction

The church is family.

No, don’t think about it doctrinally, as a matter of fact. Sure, we in our heads know the church is our spiritual home. Rather, I am speaking more than matters of fact; I am writing about experience. Is family life your experience in this church?

The experience of family life is an experience of love. The brother listens; the sister understands; the elder cares.

But is your experience that the brother does not take the time to listen; that the sister does not understand what you are going through; or that the office-bearer does not seem to care about you?

Now, stop right there. Do not point the finger; turn the question around: Are you the one that does not listen, does not try to understand, and does not care?

If you answered yes, something is wrong. If we, the church, are family, we should not turn deaf ears to each other. We should listen and put ourselves in others’ shoes; we should love!

That is where our title comes in. God, who eternally loves us, teaches us how we ought to love one another in the church. God, through Paul, says, Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep (Rom. 12:15).

The text has two actions: rejoice and weep. To rejoice means to be full of cheer, joy, and gladness. For a Christian, to rejoice always means to be full of cheer, joy, and gladness in our salvation. We rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, because we believe that Jesus Christ delivered us from all our sins (1 Pet. 1:8). When we hear this good news, we are glad, as the Gentiles were in Paul’s day (Acts 13:48).

At the same time, we have earthly joys that we experience daily. They are the joys of having our physical needs met—food, shelter, clothing, transportation—and having such things in abundance. They are the joys of having a spouse and children and of having friendships in the church. Over these things, we rejoice (see Eccl. 3:12-13).

But there is weeping too. Weeping is the expression of grief, sorrow, and pain. What a stark contrast to our joy! For a Christian, weeping is always rooted in our sorrow over our spiritual depravity. Listen to the cry of Paul: O wretched man that I am! (Rom. 7:24). Or listen to the cry of the Psalmist: When I kept silence [over my sin], my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long (Ps. 32:3). Our sorrow over who we are by nature is deep, and it comes out with a loud, audible cry.

There are earthly sorrows that we experience daily. Sicknesses from flus; stresses from schools and jobs; troubles in making a living—in such events, we experience pain to some degree. We can add here, too, anything we respond to with a negative feeling. A train fault that made us late for work (again); breaking the glass jar in the kitchen; getting your hands soiled with your child’s foul-smelling poop. As insignificant as these things are, they contribute to the emotional sorrow we experience.

All of us rejoice; all of us weep. All of us have joys; all of us have sorrows. Now the calling is to rejoice together and weep together—that is, with others in the church.

To rejoice and weep together with someone means we listen to the brother or sister. What is his joy; what is her sorrow? We listen for the joy when the brother tells us. We give our fullest attention when sister breaks down in our presence. Then we try to understand the brother or sister. We picture the feeling of the brother’s joy in our minds, so that we know what makes him so happy and glad. We let the sorrow of the sister sink into our hearts, so that we know what makes her devastated. When we listen and understand, then we respond with the same joy and the same weeping. Smiling with the brother, we tell him, “Thank God; that’s great to hear!” Weeping with the sister, we gently whisper in her ear, “It is okay; cry your heart out here. I am here to cry with you”.

To rejoice and weep together is the reality of the church’s way of life.

But how often we lose that reality! When I switch off my mind as my brother shares with me about his day—there’s no listening in that! When, rather than giving him my attention, my focus is, “Oh, wait till he hears what I have to say!” I don’t even try to understand what he is going through! And when our brother is finished, we dully reply, “Oh”. Life in the church, then, is not for the brother and sister; but for me, myself, and I.

Paul, under inspiration, would not have us live that way. Through the first eleven chapters of Romans, he exhausts words to describe the love of God for us, the eternal decree of God’s election of His church, and the power of justification that lies solely in God’s grace through faith. Salvation is of God, not of ourselves!

If salvation is not of ourselves, can our lives be about me, myself, and I? Find Paul’s answer in Romans 12. Present your bodies a living sacrifice…unto God: Is that about me, myself, and I? Not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think: Anything about us? Let love be without dissimulation: What about now? The texts speak for themselves. Our salvation from God alone spells out a life that gives itself to God and His people; and a life that gives itself to God and His people is a life that loves God and His people.

And if Paul’s words are not compelling enough, listen to apostle of love, John: If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar (I John 4:20). You and I are liars if we say, “Thanks be to God!” but do not love one another in the church, much less strive to learn to love.

Again, the question is: are you the one that does not listen, does not try to understand, and does not care? Are you, am I, the one that does not love?

The calling in the church is to love. The calling is to learn the proper way to love; and that way to love is to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to weep with those that weep.

How do we do so, especially in our congregation? We have talked about listening, understanding, and responding. But more can be said. Stay tuned, D.V.

Written by: Lim Yang Zhi | Issue 47