The Sin of Silence

Ezekiel 3:17 Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me.

18 When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.

19 Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.

20 Again, When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling-block before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand.

21 Nevertheless if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou hast delivered thy soul.

Dear Covenant Youth,

Although this passage concerns the calling of the watchman or the minister of God’s flock, it is not contrary to the principles of God’s Word that I apply this Word of God to your lives, for all of God’s people are called to be “watchmen” over the lives of our brethren or to be our brother’s keepers (Gen. 4:9), and even to admonish them if we see that he is overtaken in a fault (Gal. 5:1-2).

Whenever I come across this passage of God’s Word, it never fails to bring a chill to my spine, and I am sure you will have the same reaction. This is perhaps one of the most serious, frightening, awesome word of God in the whole of Scripture. This text together with the title of the article has to do with our awesome responsibility in the sight of God.

What is it about this text that causes one to sit up and pay attention to the message? It is this: we are responsible for the blood of our brethren if we do not bring the Word of God to warn them when we know they are walking in sin.

God does not allow us any excuse for not bringing a word of warning from His Word to them. Perhaps, we say in our hearts, “oh, they ought to know – no need for me to remind them”, or “I don’t wish to rock the boat and cause my brethren to dislike me”. This Word of God does not allow us to be delinquent in our duty.

There is not a more straightforward and direct word of God than this text. What does this text teach me? First, it is our solemn responsibility to warn those who belong to the instituted church of God who sin against Him. In it, there are both the wicked and the righteous – who have departed from the way of God and live a wicked life outwardly. Then, there are those who seem to be righteous but have been overtaken in sin. Both of these groups belong to the household of God. To both groups, we must warn them of their sins and waywardness. Then, it is a fearful thing that God in sovereignty places a stumbling block in the lives of the wicked. Such a stumbling block causes one to fall and sin. It is the result of God’s judgment upon the person who has hardened his heart and refuses to turn from his sins.

Whatever is the situation, our calling is to warn him of his sins, and if he repents from his sins, we have not only saved a sinning soul from death but also our own soul. But, second, if we do turn a blind eye to his sin and fail to warn him of his sin, then when he dies in his impenitence, we are responsible for his sin, simply because we have failed in our duty to warn of his sin. Third, if we warn him of his sin, and he ignores the warning, then our soul is saved but the one who refuses to listen to our admonition will be damned.

Now, practically, what are the sins of our brethren? Let me name a few: not keeping the Lord’s Day holy, failure to attend to the chief means of grace in the preaching of God’s Word and partaking of the Lord’s Supper, living a double life, worldliness, materialism, spiritual adultery and others. It is important that our brethren turn from their sins because they will incur God’s hottest wrath and displeasure. God will not wink His eye at sin and let the sinner go. Our motivation to warn them is the love of our brethren and our desire for their eternal good and blessings to come upon them. Their good that we seek is greater than their displeasure and anger that we may experience from them as a result of pointing out their sin. Ultimately, our greatest motivation is to please God, to conform to His law, and to see to it that His creatures abide by His Word and reflect His glory.

The positive teaching means that in our lives we are always testifying about God – His honour, name, good pleasure, sovereignty, and will. However, whenever we see God robbed of His glory, we cannot be silent but must speak up. This is the reason why silence is sin when sin is committed, especially when we have witnessed it. If we could prevent sin being committed, we will by warning against it. But most of the time, we cannot not prevent it and are witnesses of the sin. Then, our calling is to call the sinning brethren to repent and turn from his wicked ways.

But, we must never admonish our brother is a haughty way, as if we are higher and know better. We could be the ones who have been overtaken in our faults. Thus, we come in the spirit of humility, realising that we could have fallen in the same sins. Furthermore, the timing of that admonition is also very important. We must pray that God give us the grace, wisdom and the humility to confront our brother with love.

Dear Father in heaven, forgive me for being silent when I ought to speak – to speak of your goodness, beauty, grace, and love. Forgive me of the fear of men – what they think of me but not concerned what thou wouldst think of me. Forgive me for the sake of Jesus, who died for my sins on the cross. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Written by: Paul Goh | Issue 42

A Reformed Man’s View of National Service

Introduction

God, in His sovereign counsel, has tasked Singaporean young men to give two years of their time to “National Service”. This article aims to give readers a brief overview of National Service, some of the struggles that the servicemen may face, and a Christian’s response to National Service.

Singapore is a young and tiny country that gained her own independence after separating from Malaysia on 9 August 1965. Singapore had to develop her own armed forces to maintain her sovereignty and to deter possible invasions. Thus, conscription was introduced in post-independence Singapore through the National Service Act of 1967. All Singaporean males and second-generation male permanent residents who reside in Singapore are required to undergo a period of two years of compulsory service when they reach eighteen years of age in either the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), or the Singapore Police Force (SPF). In layman terms, they will either be a soldier, a firefighter, or a policeman. National Service is compulsory and those who fail to comply will be seen as deserters, and will be severely dealt with in the military court. National Service is commonly spilt into three different phases – the Basic Military Training Phase, the Active Operations Phase, and the Operationally Ready Phase (ORD). All who go through National Service will have to go through basic military training in training institutes, which will range from 9 weeks to 30 weeks, before going into the active operations phase where they will be enrolled into an active unit and spend the remaining time of national service there. The serviceman will complete his two years of National Service in the first two phases, after which he will be finally declared as “Operationally Ready” and enters into the ORD Phase, where his National Service temporarily ends.

It Is Not Easy

National Service is not warmly welcomed even among Christians in Singapore. A life of routine and regimentation is not easy to get used to. However, God foreordains every unique circumstance in our lives and National Service is no different. National Service is a calling from God for every young man in Singapore. To be a soldier is not something foreign to a Christian, after all, for we have been trained as soldiers for Christ.

Outfield operations and exercises are the bread and butter of a serviceman, especially those who serve within the SAF. Often, we would hear that they are required to be away for extended periods of time to train in camp or to be overseas for exercises. It is not uncommon to hear that these trainings and exercises take place multiple times a year and as a result cause many Christian young men to miss church and Sunday worship. This can be frustrating because they usually have no say in their training or exercise schedules. If they were given a choice, they would definitely not want to train and work on Sundays, but frequent the house of God and worship Him on Sundays. In frustrating times like these, we have to remember that God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isa. 59:9), and be wary and not allow discontentment to breed in our hearts due to the unhappiness we experience for being away from church, and then turn into unmotivated workers. God dislikes discontented and unmotivated workers, for He reminds us in the Bible, “whatsoever we do, we do it heartily as to the Lord and not unto men” (Col. 3:23). Our God is a great and all- knowing God. He knows what we need more than we think. Therefore, His ways are far higher than our ways. We also confess that that “He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 1). We are God’s children and He watches over us as His own, so much that without the will of our Father, not a hair can fall from our head, and this applies to us during our National Service as well. All things (including National Service) work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose. (Rom. 8:28).

Remember the Sabbath Day

Through the course of National Service, it is inevitable that servicemen will miss church and Sunday worship. God commands us to remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy, and this command has one of the greatest importance. He created the heavens and the earth in six days and rested on the seventh day. He designated the Sabbath Day for His people to rest (Deut. 5:14). The Sabbath Day was also given as a covenant sign to identify those who are the people of God. Exodus 31:13 says, “Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you”. After knowing all these, the important question that we have to ask ourselves this: can we keep the Sabbath Day when we are not in church worshipping God?

Even though we may be away from the church, we are still called to remember and keep the Sabbath Day and preserve our identity as a Christian with great care and consciousness. Being away from church and in an environment that does not promote the sanctity of the Sabbath Day, we should be even more mindful and diligent in keeping the Sabbath Day. We fail to keep the Sabbath Day when we forget the Sabbath Day itself. Therefore, it is crucial to remember the Sabbath Day, and to keep it holy (Ex. 20:8). That day is important and precious to a Christian. To keep the Sabbath Day holy means to consecrate the day to the worship of God. So, remember your devotions! The Word of God is life! Read the Bible whenever you have the opportunity to or even talk to your fellow serviceman about spiritual topics. Text a church brother or sister or tune in to the online sermons on your phone if possible. Let all these be to the honour, glory and devotion of God. Nevertheless, all these are only possible with time. But more often than not, we know that most of the time it is not so. Therefore pray for grace to remember the Sabbath Day even when you are busy. Remember the Lord even on that day, and do all things to the worship of His holy name. God is our helper. He will sustain our soul (Ps. 54:4). Crave and long for the day when you can be back in God’s house worshipping Him together with your brothers and sisters in Christ again.

Friends Matter!

Not only will the young Christian men be away from church, they will also be placed in a godless environment where the majority of their peers will be of a different faith. They speak a different language, they think and behave differently. This calls for great attention as you young men will be spending a large amount of time with them and potentially be influenced by their ungodly beliefs and behaviours.

We do not want to sit “in the seat of the scornful” (Ps. 1:1b) unknowingly. The Bible warns us: “He that walketh with wise (men) shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed” (Pro. 13:20). Therefore, we have to exercise our wisdom in the choice of acquaintances we allow into our lives because once we allow them in, it will be hard to get them out. Serving in National Service is not easy and one may also say that inevitably some form of comradeship will be formed after going through thick and thin together. This can be true. However, the Word of God reminds us that we are a holy people and may not be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14). This is a command for us as Christians to live antithetically, a life of spiritual separation from the wicked world. We do not have to physically separate ourselves from our non-Christian servicemen but it all boils down to saying “no” when sin is involved. And when you have time, spend it with your church friends! “He that walketh with wise (men) shall be wise” (Pro. 13:20). Church friends are a great source of spiritual support when your spiritual life is challenged. They are able to give wise counsel from the Word of God because they know and love God.

Conclusion

National Service is a path our Lord has ordained our young men to go through. They may experience varying good or challenging times. Let us always seek God in prayer to aid and preserve our spiritual brothers in Christ in these times. Do not be discouraged for our God is good! Press on! Remember, Everyday Requires Prayer! (ERP!)

Written by: Paul Ong | Issue 42

Catechism and Memory

Introduction

Dear young people, you and I can be very thankful to our covenant God that He has preserved the practice of catechism instruction and learning for you and our children in our church. This practice is an ‘old path’ that goes all the way to the beginning of the church in the Old Testament.1 Though it languished for a while in the Middle Ages, it was restored during the Reformation. But alas, this heritage of the Reformation is all but lost in modern Christendom today. The concept, much less the practice, of catechism instruction is hardly known in the church world today. This is undoubtedly one of the main reasons why many churches are weak in doctrine and do not know the basics of the Christian faith. The truth of the Bible is not systematically taught to covenant children and new adult believers to ground them firmly in the faith. Doctrine is glossed over, decried as divisive, and downplayed in favour of a teaching that is man- centred, minimises sin and focuses on universal love and ecumenical union. God’s Word is not taught, but man’s godless philosophy. Unless a church returns to the old path of faithful catechism instruction, she will not maintain the truth of the Scriptures in her generations.

The inestimable value of faithful catechism instruction cannot be overstated.   It   will   take   a   separate article (or even a book) all by itself to underscore this point. In this article, this fact will be assumed. We then move on to discuss the practical aspect of catechism and memory. A few words about the importance of memorising catechism ought to be said so that you have the proper motivation in memorising your catechism. Then we’ll look at some ways to help you in your practice of catechism memorisation.

Why

Why must you memorise your catechism each week before you go to class? Why do your minister and parents require it of you? Because your parents and this church take our calling and baptismal vow to instruct you in the doctrine of the Scriptures to the utmost of our power seriously. We know that the tried and tested way of ‘sounding down’ the truth to you and have you ‘echo back the truth’, is one of the best ways, if not the best way, for you to learn and remember the grand, biblical truths of the Reformed faith. Memorising the catechism questions and answers will fix the truth in your minds.   When as young children, you memorise the Bible stories, you inscribe biblical history and facts deep in your young and absorbent minds. As the doctrines and truths of Scripture are taught to you and woven into your lives from as young as you can remember, they shape your thinking and mould your character, so that you grow up to be God-fearing young men and women. And by God’s grace, you will one day confess publicly before the church that precious faith you’ve been taught and have come to love.

As you grow into adulthood and face the trials of life, as you certainly will, then having the catechism in your memories will enable you to draw strength and find comfort to go through those difficult times. The beautiful language of   our   Heidelberg   Catechism   will come to you as you lay hold, by faith, of the glorious truth of our certain preservation as God’s children unto the end, assured that “I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ…yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation”. Thus strengthened, you persevere in your pilgrim’s pathway, looking for the city which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God.

And if the Lord leads you to find a godly spouse and enter marriage, and give you children, then you will also teach   them   the   catechism,   require that   they   memorise   the   questions and answers, and explain to them the inestimable spiritual value of doing so by your own experience. In this way, the church, through you and other godly families, will raise up another generation who knows the Lord. And the cycle continues from generation to generation. Thus, God by His sovereign grace is pleased to preserve His truth among us and His church in our generations until the Lord Jesus Christ returns.

How

I hope you see why it is important that you memorise your catechism, and you are now properly motivated to do it. So how can you better memorise your catechism? Here are two ways I have found helpful for myself and my family.

First, Memorise the overview or big picture of the catechism. For the younger children’s catechism, memorise which main sections of OT or NT history the various stories fall into. For the older children, memorise the overall structure of the Heidelberg Catechism (Introduction : Q&A 1-2; Sin : Q&A 3-11; Salvation : Q&A 12-85; Service : Q&A 86-129). Having this big picture constantly at the back of your mind would not only help you to memorise the specific questions and answers better, but also helps you appreciate how a particular truth fits into the overall biblical narrative or the entire body of faith. For example, when the HC deals with the requirements of the law commandment by commandment, it does so under the 3rd section of the catechism on ‘Thankfulness’, showing that the 10 Commandments continue to be relevant in the life of a child of God as a rule for thankful living. So, as you memorise the questions and answers to each of the Commandments, you are always mindful that you obey them not to earn any favour or reward with God, but to express your deep gratitude for His sovereign grace in saving you from all your sin and misery.

Second, make catechism memory part of your daily routine. Parents, make it part of the daily routine of your child. Perhaps during lunch or dinner time, you could take out your catechism book (or an electronic version on your mobile phone) and memorise the questions (you have one week – so you don’t have to memorise everything in one sitting!). Parents can go through the catechism with their children before or after family devotion times. Just like we do for our personal and family devotions, build catechism memorisation into your daily routine. Once you establish the habit, it will become easier. Perhaps initially the daily memorisation feels onerous.

Some days you would probably miss doing it. Many times, you might feel like giving up. But don’t! Pray and ask the Lord for strength. Persevere, for in the long term, not only does it become easier, but you will also begin to enjoy it and realise how much you’re learning each day! The benefits far outweigh any difficulties you may encounter, for you are building up an entire storehouse of the knowledge of the truth of God’s Word. That is priceless!

Conclusion

Catechism instruction and memorisation is one of the greatest blessings for the church. It is part of our rich reformed heritage. Let us treasure it and preserve its practice in CERC.

Parents, be not weary in the well-doing of having your children memorise the catechism, week in and week out. For in due season, you shall reap. This is the Lord’s promise: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Pro. 22:6). Young people, memorise your catechism! It will do you, and the church of which you are a living member, great spiritual good – now and in the generations to come.

REFERENCE

Engelsma, David, (1997). Catechism! Michigan, USA: RFPA, Standard Bearer, Vol 73, Issue 21. http:// standar dbear er.r fpa.org/ar ticles/ catechism-1

Cammenga, Ronald, (1984). Catechism. Michigan, USA: RFPA, Standard Bearer, Vol 60, Issue 21. http://standardbearer.rfpa.org/articles/ catechism-0

Gritters, Barry, (2008). Catechism: The Old Path, the Good Way (1). Michigan, USA: RFPA, Standard Bearer, Vol 84, Issue 20.

Gritters, Barry, (2008). Catechism: The Old Path, the Good Way (2). Michigan, USA: RFPA, Standard Bearer, Vol 84, Issue 20.

Van Dyken, Donald, (2000). Rediscovering Catechism: The Art of Equipping Covenant Children. New Jersey, USA.

Written by: Lee Kong Wee | Issue 42

Scripture’s Covenant Youth (V): Moses

After my discussion of Joseph as an example of a very godly covenant youth, I consider with you Moses, an unusual child of God, who lived about 400 years after Joseph. I have written about Moses in the forum articles, and do not intend to repeat what I said in those articles. In fact, most of what I discussed in those articles were events in Moses’ life as a grown man. And this series of articles is about youth.

In Exodus 2:2 we are told that the parents of Moses saw when he was born that Moses was a “goodly child”, and so they hid him for three months rather than give him to Pharaoh’s police to have him killed according to the king’s command. The mention of Moses as a hero of faith in Hebrews 11 repeats what Exodus says: the parents saw that he was a “proper” child. But “proper” is the same as “goodly”, and the Revised Version translates the word in Hebrews as “goodly”.

Many guesses have been made about the meaning of “goodly”. Some say the meaning is that Moses was an exceptionally beautiful baby. Others say that at his birth Moses already possessed abilities that could only be done by children older than he. They speculate that Moses was already able to walk, or to speak; or that his understanding was beyond that of a baby. Some even speculate that he had a halo above his head.

The Bible does not tell us and we may not speculate or curiously inquire into what God has chosen not to reveal. It is, however, clear from the actions of Moses’ parents that something about the baby made them sure that this child had a special work in God’s covenant.

There is one expression in the narrative of Hebrews 11 that has struck my attention and forced me to ponder why it should be included in the Biblical narrative. The text in Hebrew 11 tells us that Moses’ choice for God’s people was “when he was come to years”.

The expression most probably did not refer to Moses’ physical and mental maturity. In our churches, generally, young people, born and raised in the church, make confession of faith when they “come to years”. That is, they have come to physical and mental maturity. We interpret that expression to mean, therefore, that God has so determined that covenant children come to years when they are physically, mentally, and spiritually mature. They are adults because they are ready to leave father and mother’s sheltering care. They are adults because they have attained such maturity that they are able to think and act for themselves without the guidance of covenant parents.

The spiritual development of a covenant child is a wonderful work of God. It comes with physical and mental maturity.

In the first five years of a child’s life, he is so dependent on his parents that he can do nothing by himself and needs constant help. Also, he depends on them to teach him what he has to know. And, in the child’s mind, what the parents say is truth, not to be challenged. When little children are taught to pray, the parents tell them what to pray. When they ask, “Why must we speak to someone whom we cannot even see ?”, the parents assure them that God, though invisible, hears what they say. They accept that without question.

This continues when they start school, for whatever their teachers say has to be true, because “Teacher said so”. The parents have a greater task if their children have to go to public schools, for teachers tell children things that are not true. Parents must know what their children are learning and must correct any wrong ideas by pointing to what God says.

As they develop into their early teens, most children begin to think that they can now make their own decisions and no longer need the guidance and discipline of parents. But deep down in their hearts children of the covenant know they need parents yet for a while. And while they may argue with parents and claim to be “old enough to decide for myself ”, they know they are not, and the struggle to be independent when they are still dependent is a large part of the difficulties early teenagers have. I have always found the most difficult catechism classes and children at home to teach are those in their early teens.

But by mid-teens young people come to a point of maturity. Maturity means that in their development spiritually and intellectually, they receive and examine what they have been taught, not mechanically, but because they have thought it over, compared it with Scripture and come to their own conclusion as to whether what they are taught is true or false. In the church, they are ready to make confession of faith. They not only believe what they do because they were taught this by parents and teachers, but because they have found what they were taught as true. They themselves have compared their knowledge with the Word of God. They know it is true, not because mom and dad have said so, not because the preacher has said so, but because they have compared it with Scripture and found that it is taught in the Bible.

So, by the time young people reach their late teens or early twenties, they are physically, mentally, and spiritually ready to make confession of faith and take their place in God’s church as responsible and eager contributing members of the church. We could say, “When so and so came to years he made his choice for the people of God – as Moses did”. Moses made his choice for the people of God when he came to years. So do we!

Confession of faith is a very important event in the life of a Christian youth. It is so important that I would like to discuss it in some detail. But it is better to do so in another article.

Written by: Prof. Herman Hanko | Issue 42

Honouring God in our Vocational Choices

Have you been to a career fair before?

If you have, you would be familiar with the many booths and attractive selling points that companies boast of, like a large pay package, opportunities for overseas travel and working in new environment. A vocation is one’s main occupation and in a rapidly progressive society like Singapore, there is pressure on students to decide what their interests are. The most concrete choice would possibly be whether they would prefer to be in a “science stream” or “arts stream”. There are also options of pursuing education in less conventional routes like homeschooling, Lasalle College of the Arts, and the Singapore Sports School which provide differing career paths.

The issue we discuss today is this: as Christians, what are we to do with our lives? How will we know if we are meant for one job or another?

In Japan, there is a concept of Ikigai which states that the purpose of one’s living is an intersection between what you love, what you are good at, what you can be paid for and what the world needs. Others would say that you can simply “follow your heart” when it comes to these decisions. While these models seem to break down large concepts simply, they do not mention God.

We must never forget that the sovereign God is the Giver of our abilities and the Sustainer of our lives. He creates us fearfully and wonderfully (Ps. 139:14) and forms our brain, heart, limbs and sets in motion our bodily functions so that our intellect, our motor function are all determined by Him. Has not the Potter power over the clay? This is to God’s glory and to His child’s comfort, that “he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory” (Rom. 9:21-23). Since He has prepared His people for glory and eternal life, He will surely provide for us in this life which is but a short sojourn!

The Bible says the following about work:

  1. We should work hard. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do,

do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest” (Ecc. 9:10).

In this life, the ability and opportunity to work are God-given and we should be thankful for them. God works by giving us personalities and interests, flaws and strengths that make us able or unable to work at each time in our lives. While we hem and haw about having to go to work while other matters of life trouble us, we must always give thanks for the ability to use our lives and gifts to serve others and treasure the opportunity to do so for it can be swiftly taken away from us.

  1. We should seek first the kingdom of God.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33).

 

What   are   “these   things”   that   will be added? They are food, drink and clothing, the daily necessities of life. Proverbs   30:8-9   records   a   special prayer, a request to “give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.” As a child of God, we trust that God will provide for our daily necessities, and acknowledge that the other pursuits of life are not essential. These other pursuits including wealth and status are instead ‘vanity’ as Ecclesiastes 5:10 reads: “He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.” Help us realise that God’s provision and anointing is sufficient for our cup to run over.

As a lady myself I feel compelled to add that Titus 2 gives instruction that older women should teach younger women to be sober, to love their husbands and children, to be discreet, chaste, and keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Although women in the workplace do not fall within the scope of this article, these words are clear regarding the occupation of married child-bearing women. From my mother’s example, serving at home as a full-time mother definitely keeps one very occupied!

What can we do to prepare now?

Other than much prayer for God to lead and make one’s path clear, let me offer a few simple ways for preparation:

  1. Find out about the vocation. “Every purpose is established by counsel:

and with good advice make war” (Pro. 20:18).

Speak to older Christians who have been in the vocation previously, who can identify the struggles that Christians may have in the field and also continue to mentor you should you embark on the similar path. Proverbs 20:18 says that every purpose is established by counsel, and the wise Old Testament kings did likewise before heading to war. Try out the job if you can too! It may seem like a completely different experience compared to what you see from a third person’s point of view.

  1. Understand that every job has its difficulties.

Just as we have difficulties in our family life, our physical health and even our spiritual life, each vocation will have days of utter weariness. As difficult as it may be, and perhaps after a period of rest, we must continue to be thankful for our jobs, for God has given them to us. A clear situation to watch out for would be a job that clearly conflicts with the life of a Christian, one which contradicts the teachings of the Bible. Then, it may be wise to seek counsel and leave the job.

  1. Get prepared for changes in your life.

Prepare thy work without,and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house” (Pro. 24:27).

Unlike school, work will not end just after lunch and there is usually more hierarchy in the workplace. Organise your time with room for church activities, exercise and your own interests. When you start the job, give yourself time to adjust to a different environment (e.g. standing all day long, a new route to get to work) and people with different belief systems and working styles.

What is the blessedness of honouring God in our lives?

Honouring God through our lives will allow us to savour all the promises in His word. He will add “all these things” unto us and we will be pleased to live out His will as “vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory.”

Written by: Julia Koh | Issue 41

Another Year

Introduction

“Why weren’t you at CK/CKS (CERC’s youth group meeting) yesterday?” Does this question sound familiar? Have you asked this question before? Been on the receiving end of it? Or, has asking (or being asked) this question become a thing of the past, especially when it has become a norm for a fellow youth (or for yourself ) not to attend CK/CKS, such that a surprised ‘What brings you to CK/CKS today?’ becomes the more appropriate question to ask?

Asking and receiving such a question is important, for it expresses a care for each other’s spiritual well-being, and provides us with a measure of accountability to each other. It is part of the admonition to “look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Phi. 2:4). We are concerned that our fellow youth is unable to make time to attend CK/CKS, which we recognise is of tremendous spiritual benefit for us, and genuinely want to find out why he or she is unable to do so. We hope to provide a listening ear if necessary, and cannot wait to share what we learnt the day before about the exciting truths of God’s Word.

If you are a CK/CKS youth, I especially ask that you read through this article to the end, so that we may briefly recap the activities of the past year, be reminded of the purpose of CK/CKS, and do a little reflection together.

A Recap

For the benefit of all, Covenant Keepers/Covenant Keepers Senior (CK/CKS) is the youth group of CERC, with youths aged 13-16 for CK, and aged 17 and above for CKS. We meet an average of three times on various Saturdays in a month, typically for a workshop, Bible Study, and outing.

Workshops: In the past year, for workshops, we finished up the series on the seven churches of Revelation, and are currently continuing our series on church history. We covered the history of the PRCA and CERC. It was extremely exciting to learn this recent church history, and the speakers did a fantastic job making it come to life, allowing us to relive past days which happened before we were born, or went by as we lived in oblivion. We were given a glimpse into the struggles of the church in her defence of the truth. Above all, it was a timely reminder of the providence of God in preserving His church through the many controversies which threatened to wreck and swallow her up. It was amazing to learn of how, at many crucial junctures, God used the power of a single vote to preserve His truth in His church.

Bible Study: We also continued our Bible study in the book of Genesis. We learnt about the wickedness of man in the pre-diluvian period and the tiny remnant of the seed of the woman. We learnt about the prophetic significance of Methuselah’s name given to him by his father Enoch. We learnt about the swift and violent judgment of the flood, and how eight souls were saved by water. We learnt about God’s covenant made with Noah and the creation, and His promise of salvation. Once again, we were richly blessed to be able to delve into the riches of God’s Word in Genesis, which sets the stage for the great drama of sin and salvation through the seed of the woman.

Outings: We also had many fun outings, including cycling, a tree top walk, a session of kickball, and an excursion to Trampoline Park! Above all, it was the opportunity to spend much time in fellowship with one another which proved the main highlight, at least for me.

 

Why did we come for these activities? Or, perhaps a better question: why should we, as CK/CKS youths, come for our youth group activities (whether we have been coming or not)? Let us explore that next.

A Reminder

Origin and Purpose of CK/CKS: CK/ CKS is part of the organic life of the church, as all societies are. It is not something commanded by God for the church to have, but is something voluntarily   created   and   maintained by all the youth of the church – and not merely by a single committee. It is created and maintained as a response to the preaching, as we grow in our knowledge and love for God’s Word, and also in our love for our fellow saints. As the chief means of grace, the preaching works in our hearts an ever greater zeal for God’s Word, such that we cannot rest content hearing it only twice on Sunday – we simply must study it personally during the week, and also look forward to meeting up with our fellow saints to study God’s Word together. The preaching also works in our hearts an abounding love for our fellow saints – we want to spend more time in their company than those brief hours on Sunday would allow us. We want to discuss God’s Word together not merely for self-benefit, but also for the benefit of our brothers and sisters in Christ, that we may provoke one another unto love and good works.

Thus, CK/CKS is formed and maintained, as it allows us to do just that. Bible Studies, workshops, and even exhortations during outings are opportunities to hear God’s Word taught by a speaker, and also to ask and answer each other’s questions. Sharing with each other the time spent with one another discussing God’s Word, and playing sports allows us to know each other personally, form and develop lasting friendships. As we grow in our love for the truth, we cannot help but grow in our unity which is founded upon the truth we love.

Importance of CK/CKS: Studying God’s Word together and enjoying blessed fellowship amongst fellow saints – these make CK/CKS so important and dear to us. But perhaps a factor that underscores its importance, and highlights the urgency for us as youth to be active members of CK/CKS, is that we have precious little time outside of Sunday to study God’s Word together and to fellowship. Many of us do not get to see each other much at all – during the weekdays, we are busy with school, homework, and CCAs. Many (though not all) of our classmates in school are unbelieving, or ‘Christians’ who put Christ’s name to shame. We receive so much ungodly influence and teaching from the public school throughout the week. CK/CKS then becomes something of a relief, something to look forward to when the weekend comes. It is a spiritual oasis in the desert of the world and we come to find rest in God’s Word and sweet communion amongst fellow saints. It is a huge blessing for a church to have such a youth group. Do you view your youth group with such importance?

A Reflection

Now is the time for a little reflection. Where have we found ourselves over most of the Saturdays in the past year? Were we at CK/CKS meetings, whenever they were held, or were we elsewhere? Can you identify with the activities listed out in the ‘Recap’ section, because you attended most of them? At the beginning of a new year’s worth of CK/CKS activities, it is a good time for us to pause and reflect. We shall revert to the singular person as each of us undertakes this reflection. Looking Back: Do I place CK/CKS as a priority to attend? If I do, is this reflected in my regular CK/CKS attendance? If I claim that CK/CKS is a priority for me, yet I do not find myself attending activities often, am I not acting according to my priorities?

Perhaps it could be worthwhile to examine some activities which take away my CK/CKS attendance: (i) Busy with school work/CCAs. (ii) Work during my school holidays. (iii) Fill in your own reason. When I am actually free from all these, do I then find myself attending CK/CKS regularly? If I still find myself not attending CK/ CKS regularly, are any of the listed reasons really the root reason for me not attending CK/CKS, or are they just excuses that I use to justify myself to others? (Note: this exercise is for us to reflect, nor to justify our non- attendance to others.) If they are just excuses, what then is the root reason?

Even if I do not attend only due to those listed reasons, are they really reasons for which I ought not to attend CK/CKS? Am I prioritising spiritual things if I choose to focus on those at the expense of CK/CKS attendance?

Perhaps I do not place CK/CKS as a priority to attend anymore. If so, why do I not? Perhaps I recognize that CK/ CKS is spiritually beneficial, yet other factors have made me not want to prioritise CK/CKS attendance: (1) I have no friends in the church. (2) My friends do not attend CK/CKS. (3) The activities are boring.

Regarding (1): Am I simply resigned to having no friends, or do I view continued CK/CKS attendance as a means of making friends? Do I have an entitled mentality that others have to always approach me? Or, do I also seek to reach out to others, to put in effort and build friendships? Am I willing to try again to make friends even if I have not succeeded in the past?

Regarding (2): Do I view CK/CKS as important enough for me to encourage my friends to attend it when they may not feel like doing so? Should my CK/CKS attendance really be dependent on whether my friend attends, especially if my friend may not seem very spiritually interested? By my actions, am I positively influencing my friends to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, or am I being influenced away from that?

Regarding (3): Do I make the effort to inform the committee of this, as a youth who is interested in and feels responsible for my youth group, or do I not really care anyway? Do I make the effort to prepare for activities and participate in discussions or do I merely sit back and let others make things work?

Looking Ahead: How can I work on being more spiritually minded in the year ahead? I recognise that I must be always growing spiritually, continually sinking my roots into Christ and being built up in Him (Col. 2:7). I also recognize that CK/CKS is a tremendous blessing and a means to help me grow spiritually. It provides me with an opportunity to learn God’s Word and to fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ, which I have precious little time to do throughout the week. I want to make CK/CKS a priority for myself to attend! I am not going to wait and see whether I happen to be free on that Saturday before deciding whether to attend – I am going to make it a point to attend as many CK/CKS activities as I can, and even be willing to cancel other appointments which clash with them.

I recognize that it is by God’s grace alone that I am able to seek things that are spiritual, while my sinful flesh always craves the opposite and comes up with excuses to justify itself. Despite my new resolve to grow spiritually, and to seek CK/CKS attendance as a means to this end, I also recognize that I can easily fail and quickly lose my resolve. I must then constantly look to God for grace, for He alone can sustain me and grant me the required strength.

Conclusion

“Why weren’t you at CK/CKS yesterday?” Our motivation for coming to our youth group must not be merely to avoid being asked this question. What then is our motivation? A love for God’s Word, a desire to grow in it, and a love for our fellow saints. Oh, how we long to see one another, and to gather together to study God’s Word! The next CK/CKS activity cannot come soon enough.

 

REFERENCES

Dykstra, Russell (1989). Our Chief Joy. Standard Bearer (Vol. 65, Issue 20), retrieved from http://standardbearer. rfpa.org/articles/our-chief-joy?keyword

Written by: Marcus Wee | Issue 41

Scripture’s Covenant Youth (IV): Joseph – A Faithful Young Man in a Foreign Land

Joseph was the oldest son of Rachel, Jacob’s favourite wife. Rachel was not Jacob’s first wife, for God had given Jacob Leah. God used a trick of Laban to give him Leah, for Leah loved the Lord, while Rachel did not; Leah was the covenant mother; Rachel brought idols into Jacob’s family (Gen. 31:27-35). Rachel was the symbol of Jacob’s carnal love; Leah was in the line of Christ as a mother in Israel.

Because Joseph was Rachel’s firstborn, Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other sons: he spoiled Joseph by giving Joseph a coat of many colors. Nor did Joseph have to work with his brothers in tending the flocks: Jacob kept him home (Gen. 37:3-4).

Joseph even curried his father’s love, for he reported to his father all the wicked deeds his brothers did (Gen. 37:2). Further, God gave Joseph two dreams; in one of which Joseph saw all the sheaves of the wheat field bowing down to his sheaf, and in another, all the sun, moon and 11 stars bow down to him. We can easily imagine that it was foolish of Joseph to tell his brothers, and even Jacob was angry with him for telling him these dreams (Gen. 37:10). The trouble was that the dreams were prophecies of an event in their lives when Joseph’s whole family did bow down to him.

In their fury, the brothers sold Joseph as a slave to a passing band of Ishmaelites when Joseph came to learn their welfare, and they lied to their father by soaking his coat in the blood of a lamb that they killed; they told Jacob that a wild beast had devoured him.

It was in Egypt where Joseph was sold that his life showed the depths of his love for God and his desire to be faithful to God. The intensity and strength of his determination to be faithful to God is underscored by the fact that to be sold as a slave in an unknown land would make most, if not all, of us despair and simply go along with the customs of a heathen land where God was not known.

The first incident Scripture records for our profit was Joseph’s repeated refusal to commit fornication with his boss’ wife, even though she did everything in her power to entice him. If we were torn from our family, sold as a slave in a foreign land, tempted by a beautiful woman to commit adultery, would we, could we, resist? And, do not forget: Joseph was only 17 years old, a youth near the peak of his powers. A youth without any hope of seeing his family again. A youth whom, it seemed, God had cut off from covenant lines.

The second temptation to abandon his faith came when, at the lie of her who had tempted him, he was put in prison.

I do not know how Joseph kept from thinking God had abandoned him: it is, of course, only the grace of God that can prevail in one’s life in such circumstances.

But Joseph remained faithful to his God. In spite of daily temptations in Potiphar’s house, he worked for the benefit of his master with diligence so that God blessed Potiphar’s house for Joseph’s sake. And in prison, rather than crawling into the corner of his cell and shutting out any memories of his home and of God’s promises to Jacob and his family, he was so hard working and so pleasant that he finally became an assistant to the jailer. Joseph was determined to serve God through obedience to his masters no matter what the circumstances of his life were. He served God while wondering how God could do these things – piling grief upon grief on his head.

The only explanation I can think of is that he believed in all his trials and sufferings what he later said to his brothers: “Ye thought evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:16-21). And God, by his grace, preserved him through all these trials when life seemed hopeless.

That, covenant youth, is an example of godliness and faithful service of Jehovah which shines before our eyes as a biblical illustration of our calling and of what we must and can do by the power of grace.

And so, we must conclude with what Scripture wants us to learn from all this is:

–Our calling is, like the calling that Joseph obeyed, to serve God faithfully no matter what the circumstances of life may be, even when all seems to be wrong and we do not understand the ways of our God.

–God’s grace is so powerful in our lives that we can serve Him in life’s darkest hours and under the most difficult circumstances.

–No matter how difficult our life may be and no matter what calamities befall us, God is working His purpose and seeking our good and our everlasting salvation.

–When it seems impossible that God works for our good, we must trust explicitly in Him and wait on Him for His favour to be restored. (Read Psalm 27 and especially the last verse. Read it slowly, word by word, and think of each word as you do so.)

There are those who want to make Joseph a type of Christ. They point to his being sold for thirty pieces of money; they find Christ’s humiliation in Joseph’s years in prison. They find Christ’s exaltation when He was raised to be second in the kingdom under Pharaoh.

However, I do not think this is true. Scripture nowhere makes Joseph a type of Christ, and I am hesitant to do what Scripture refrains from doing. But Joseph is an example of the power of grace in our live to preserve us in God’s ways.

Written by: Prof. Herman Hanko | Issue 41

Intimacy in a Courting Relationship

Is your relationship with the one whom you are courting carrying you away or towards your covenant God? Are your hearts pushing forward into the open seas of a godly life? This article will focus on how we should be intimate with the person whom we are courting. First, we will focus on the heart because out of it flows every aspect of our relationships. Second, we will examine the great snare that has destroyed true intimacy with those we are courting – sinful intimacy. Last, we shall examine the true intimacy that follows out of the new heart that God has given us.

In this article, we must be very honest and acknowledge that in the relationship there are always two principles inside of us. They are diametrically opposed to each other. The one desires Jesus Christ while the other desires sin. The new man desires Christ to be at the heart of every thought, deed and word in the courting relationship. The old man desires only sin and deception in the relationship. Therefore, we must not be surprised at the real threat of lust when courting. Although we badly wish to impress our partner, we must be downright honest. Our hearts desire Jesus Christ alone, but our depraved old man desires lust and pride. Discussing our temptation to sin and how to battle against it is important. Spiritual wisdom will guide us as to when and how to do this with our partner. “Perfect” as your partner may seem, he or she still has to daily wrestle with the old man of sin, and we must not ignore but live wisely in light of this truth.

The heart

The heart is the key issue in every relationship. It is the spiritual centre, the deepest core of man. Proverbs 4:23 reveals to us that “out of the heart proceeds all our thinking and willing, our loving and hating, and our desires and inclinations” (Herman Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics, Chapter 27, Reformed Free Publishing Association, under the section: the “seat of faith” E-book). Therefore, all decisions and emotions with respect to relationships flow out of the spiritual character of our heart. When our heart is truly, wholly, undeniably set on Jehovah, the streams of our relationship will be filled with living waters (Jn. 7:38). When our hearts are set on God, lust will is violently pushed out. When our hearts are set on God, we will humbly use the whole relationship for the glory of God and the service of His church. But when own our heart is not wholly set on God, we can expect our relationships to fall apart spiritually. May God work in us to desire Him more and more, so that every precious second we spend with our partner be in the fear of God. May every date be characterized by the mesmerisation of the loveliness of God.

Beloved, we must fight against the constant bombardment of the world that tries to define for us Christians what true and holy intimacy is in a relationship. Instagram cannot capture a Christ-centred date. What it can and does capture is the good food in a nice restaurant. Facebook cannot capture the spiritual closeness of the couple. But Facebook can and does capture how physically close the two are with a background of a beautiful location. When we are repeatedly shown the physical details of relationships, we deceive ourselves that these are what define a relationship. We forget how our relationships are to be defined in Jesus Christ alone.

Couples that press themselves to improve their courting relationship spiritually should not simply focus on modifying behaviours in the relationship. Do not start first by planning more devotions together or attending more church activities, as these should bear fruit naturally. Start first by seating together under the cross of Jesus Christ. Know your complete inability to have a godly relationship and at the same time behold the power of Christ. Ask God to work in the depths of your being to long for Him. A greater desire for Jesus Christ is central in the relationship. Pray and ask God for your heart to be fixed on Jehovah, the Alpha and the Omega, the God most High. Satan, the world, and our flesh immediately cry out: “being fixed on God in our relationship is ridiculous”. However, what is truly ridiculous in relationships is the obsession with things that are vain and unholy, ignoring the matters that are of true and weighty importance. Let the others mock your relationship as being “God-intoxicated” as the world mocked the Reformer John Calvin. Let your hearts be filled with the Word and Spirit. Set the heart of your relationship on the things above, not on things on the earth. Be fixed on God, not with each other and you will experience the sweetest date – the sweet communion with God and each other.

The snares of the heart in a relationship

One of the greatest dangers that flows from our hearts that threatens courting relationships is sexual sin. God hates sexual sins that arise from our hearts. Now that you are courting, consider what ways the sexual temptation you face will be different and similar as compared to when you were single. Sexual sins range from the inappropriate   physical   closeness   of the couple to sexual intercourse before marriage. Yet, the heart of the matter is the ensnaring temptation of lust, from which no one is spared. I met a young man once, studying to become a pastor in a conservative church. He mentioned that he enjoyed watching a fantasy show of kingdoms warring against each other. When his friend accusingly asked whether that show contained nudity, he defended himself by saying, “yes, that is true, but the girls are so ugly that I am not tempted by the sexual scenes”. Who is spared from the temptation of lust? A seminarian? A pastor? A professor of theology? You and I? Even the wise King Solomon caved in to gross sexual sins and fell into idolatry. King David, the man after God’s own heart, stole another man’s wife for his own lust and committed adultery. When I glance into my own heart I confess, “oh wretched man that I am”! Before God’s holy throne, relationships are not a game. To live in sexual purity is to seek your and your partner’s salvation. To live in sexual sin is to seek your and your partner’s damnation.

Now let us discuss some excuses our old man of sin by instigation of the devil might come up with. The young man watching “mild nudity” may think that he is not committing any sexual sin before God just because the main plot of the show is not sexuality but the drama and violence. Therefore, he tries to ease his conscience. Similarly, couples may try to reason that the main purpose of touching one another has nothing to do with intercourse. Besides, although the plan was to meet in a place where no one else is, they may claim that sexual immorality was never part of the agenda in the date. They may say, “In fact, I am strongly against intercourse! The old man of sin may go so far as to say, “Touching the one I am dating is right and glorifying before the thrice holy God!” The Scriptures, as it were, looks at us in the eye … and yells: “flee fornication for your lives!” (1 Cor. 6:18, 1 Thess. 4:3-5, 2 Tim. 2:22, Pro. 5, 6:25, Gal. 5:16, Js. 1:14-15, Col. 3:5, Job 31:1 – It may be a good idea to discuss these passages with the one you are courting. Brothers and sisters, let us not flirt with any form of sexual sin, not experiment with it, but absolutely, and categorically flee from it. For the fruit of any lust is always the grieving of the Spirit and deep anguish in one’s soul. All it took for David was a quick glance at Bathsheba from a distance and lust burned in his heart. If you are the slightest bit uncertain if your gesture will stir lust in the heart of your partner, leave it far away, be humble and tell your partner, “I am not greater than David, Solomon or Samson”. The call to flee sinful physical intimacy is a divine warning. Sexual sins are a most deadly snare of the heart.

To return to the young man that had an excuse to watch “mature” content, his answer was given with great confidence, and even a boasting of sorts. As if to say, “Come on, I am above that! I am a strong Christian; see how I can flex my Christian liberty”. The world equates violence and sexual explicitness with maturity. The label for movies with fornication is not “wicked before the eyes of God” but instead, “mature content”. It is as if the mark of maturity is the ability to flirt with sin. But how can flirting with that which is from the pits of hell demonstrate that we are spiritually strong? One thing is certain: God did not save us with the blood of Christ so that we may flirt with the lusts of the heart. Prove to your partner that God has given you spiritual wisdom, that you understand thoroughly the nature of sexual sin. Show your partner your spiritual strength by sprinting away from sexual sin. Glow as children of light if your partner as fallen into the darkness of lust. Display your understanding of true love. Loving God in your relationship means seeking holy intimacy, not the intimacy between you and your partner’s depraved old men of sin.

Unchaste physical intimacy outside the marriage always gives the illusion of closeness. In a certain sense, an unmarried Christian couple that ventures physically where they should not be will experience a kind of closeness than if they did not. That is the closeness when the old man of sin unites with another. They unite for a moment against God’s laws and therefore against God Himself. They share and assist each other in the works of the Devil. It is the closeness that Solomon experienced with his heathen wives when he worshipped their gods instead of Jehovah. It is the clossness of Ananias and Sapphira when they shared the secret of their hypocrisy, right before they were slain by the Spirit. But sinful physical closeness is spiritual distancing from the God we love. A life of sin is coldness and isolation from God. Others may buy into this illusion the couple creates. The relationship looks perfect from the outside, but what is inside, behind the closed doors, is a rotting corpse. Let us seek true closeness with our partners and repent when we have chased after sin and illusions of intimacy.

A New Heart, A real intimacy

Thankfully, we come to the realization that we cannot depend on ourselves to develop a desire to love and not lust after the one we are courting. The Spirit of God reveals to our spirit that only God can give us such a desire and save us poor sinners. Relationships are spiritually difficult with the many new responsibilities and temptations, but we must remember that the beating inside of us is not a heart of stone. It is a new heart that God has given us. The giving of this precious new heart is rooted in eternal election. He gives us a new and holy heart because He has established His unbreakable covenant of love and friendship with you and me. God swore by Himself that your heart and mine will be His own personal workmanship. True intimacy is a giving of oneself to the spiritual edification of another. True intimacy is what Jesus Christ did for us, while we were yet sinners, living a life of lust and pride. Christ gave us life for us, that we might spiritually live. While we foolishly turn again in to our sin, and committed spiritual adultery, God still maintained His unbreakable covenant with us. He chastens us, lovingly brings us to our knees in repentance, that we may once again enjoy spiritual intimacy with God. Therefore true intimacy in the relationship is when a couple seeks every way possible to show not lust but Christ’s true love to each other. This is the covanant view of a relationship. This is the secret to true intimacy which the world has no clue about. I close with this verse hoping you may reflect on it with the one you are courting – “The secret of the LORD is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant” (Ps. 25:14).

Written by: Josiah Tan | Issue 40

Scripture’s Covenant Youth (III): Jacob – A Sinful Saint

There are certain people of whom Scripture writes whose lives make us shake our heads in thinking that they could be children of God. I am sure Scripture does this to assure us that God is even able to save us in spite of our sins; but we must then also acknowledge that we are no better than these sinning saints of whom Scripture speaks. Jacob is one of them.

Jacob was not only a youth of weak faith, but he was also something of a sneak who used cunning tricks to gain his ends. He was not a man we would like very well. His brother, Esau, was just the opposite. He was a very manly person, healthy, strong, straight- forward and probably handsome. He loved the outdoors while his brother Jacob was a sort of boy who preferred to be by his mother in the kitchen rather than working or being outside to play or hunt. If we would meet the two boys, we would be attracted to Esau, but we would have difficulty liking Jacob. Isaac saw this and loved Esau above Jacob.

Yet God loved Jacob and hated Esau!

The list of Jacob’s sins is long. It began when Jacob bought the birthright from Esau for a bowl of lentil soup – as if the birthright, the blessing of God could be bought with a bowl of soup! He connived with his mother to lie to his father so that Isaac, who was blind, would think he was blessing Esau whom he wanted to bless, rather than Jacob, whom God had said should receive the birthright – as if God would bless Jacob when he obtained the blessing with a lie! He refused to marry Leah when she was a very spiritual and godly woman because he lusted after Rachel, who loved idols. He tried every way he knew how to get the majority of Uncle Laban’s flocks and herds. It was not a very good record for a child of God.

But through it all, Jacob’s motives were right and good. He wanted the birthright and would do anything to get it. Although at times he rightly wanted the birthright for its covenant blessing, he frequently seemed to want it for the wealth it would bring him and riches his soul coveted.

How like Jacob we can be! We claim to love the Lord and to seek his blessing in all our life when in fact we have our lives aimed in the direction of earthly possessions, and wealth means more to us than God and His church. We need a university degree, we think. And we need to graduate with honours. We need to have a high-paying job with power and high wages. We need a car and a nice home. We need vacations and trips abroad. We are willing to study overseas where there is no church in which to worship to gain our goals.

And yet, with priorities all wrong in our lives, we do want, sometimes desperately, God’s blessing.

Jacob did learn, but it took a long time. He learned at the brook Jabbok when he wrestled all night with the angel of the Lord and got nowhere. He did not know this, but God was showing him that this was the story of His life: wrestling with God. Finally, when all he could say was that all his efforts were in vain and only God could bless him (“I will not let you go until you bless me”) did he learn how futile his former life had been.

Jacob was an elect child of God; Esau was reprobate. God’s election and reprobation lie behind it all.

Election is God’s eternal plan to save from sin and death a certain and definite number of people who are redeemed in Christ’s blood and are destined to live in covenant fellowship with God eternally in the new heavens and the new earth.

Reprobation is that eternal and unchangeable determination of God to reveal His holiness and justice by punishing sinners eternally in hell.

This truth of election and reprobation, which almost no one wants in our day, is the central truth of Scripture. One is Reformed only if he believes this truth. It is shown to us to be the case with Jacob and Esau.

We are saved. Are we saved because we are better than others? Because God finds some good in us? Because we have earned our salvation? Never! We are saved because of God’s sovereign decree of election and reprobation. This is the clear teaching of Scripture, of all the reformers, and of God’s people through two thousand years of church history.

Election means that God saved Jacob. God chastised Jacob when his sons did very wicked things and took Joseph away from him. But Jacob was not saved because of his good life; he was saved because God loved him in spite of all his sins.

And so, God loves us – from eternity and saves us from the moment we are conceived in the womb of our mother. He knew us eternally. He loved us and loves us not because of what we are and do, but only sovereignly.

We are not to try to save ourselves or persuade God that He ought to take us to heaven because we are so good. We are not saved because we are better people than the pagans around us. Election forces us to our knees and puts within our hearts a humble prayer of thanksgiving to God who has saved us by grace.

And election actually begins God’s work of salvation in our hearts so that we forsake our sins, flee to the cross of Christ and walk in holiness, and live in grateful obedience to God.

But because we are sinning saints (or, if you will, saintly sinners) we must daily run to the cross and seek both pardon for our sins and grace to live to God’s glory.

Written by: Prof. Herman Hanko | Issue 40

Where Are My Friends?

[Continuing from “Who Are My Friends?”] Two months ago, we answered the question, “Who are our friends?” Scripture teaches that true friends are those who share the same spiritual likes and dislikes, and those who help us spiritually; we find that such friends can be believers only.

But a second question arises. Where can we find believers? Or, to put the question differently, where can we find such friends?

Therefore, we must answer our title this way: Our friends are in the church.

Scripture plainly teaches this truth. In his prayer in Psalm 122, the Psalmist sets his mind on his “companions,” whom he calls “the house of the LORD,” the church (vv. 7-8). In Psalm 16, the Psalmist speaks of his delight in the saints (v. 3). According to the Psalmist, these saints do not worship other gods; in other words, these saints are members of the church that worships Jehovah.

Consider, also, Amos 3:3 again. Two cannot walk together—befriend each other—unless they are agreed. Where can such agreement (or, unity) be found? Thinking further, we find that this agreement (unity) can be found only in the church, the one, united, body of Christ (see Ephesians 4:1-6).

The answer to our title is rather simple. But the article does not end there. I want now to focus on applying this answer. In other words, knowing our true friends come from the church, what must we do?

Knowing our friends are found in the church, we must spend our time with the church. For our church, we have many activities where we may spend our time with fellow believers. There is time in between our Sunday services for   fellowship.   Saturday   afternoons are packed with activities to study and discuss the Scriptures. Furthermore, scattered through the week are casual activities such as meals, as well as an hour or two of exercise (volleyball, basketball, soccer, etc.).

These activities give us time to forge our friendships with fellow believers. They give us time to find out what our friends like or dislike. (Remember, part of friendship is sharing the same likes and dislikes.) We may find out through casual conversations—asking what he likes and dislikes in the classroom, at home, and in the youth group. We may

discover more by silent observation. Friends do not always tell us with words what they like and dislike. Some of those likes and dislikes we figure out by watching how our friends react to various things.

These activities also give opportunity to build a trust that opens the way for us to help our friends, and vice versa. You would not be comfortable when a stranger suddenly comes to you and offers you help. You need time to know what kind of a person that stranger is before you can trust that he can really help you, and that he is out there to help you. Likewise, we need time to know our friends—and for them to know us. As we know each other better, we will know that they are willing and able to help us when we need help.

Time must be spent in the church to establish strong friendships among believers.

But, my more urgent point is that time now must be spent in the church.

Already, in your life as teenage students, you do not get much time to spend with your friends. School takes up most of your weekdays. Sometimes, even a part of your Saturdays is taken up by the school. What is left, minimally, is a portion of Saturday and Sunday. The hours you spend with fellow believers on those two days are easily countable: At most eight on Saturday (if you stay for dinner after the activities), and six on Sunday.

Moreover, you will get less time in the future. Life in junior colleges, polytechnics, and universities will eat up more of your time left outside of school. Guys, our two years in NS will eat away more time, if not our strength to join the fellowship of the church when there is time. Ultimately, for guys and girls, we all will begin to work in the world. Our jobs will take a heavy toll on our time and energy for our friendships.

It is unrealistic, then, to think that we will have more time to establish and build true godly friendships later on in life.

The time to establish and build friendships is now. The time to find ourselves in the activities and bustle of the church is now. We may not say, “There will be time later.” That is not true; that will never be true. The time is right now.

The way to true friendships in the church is not easy.

I would not be wrong to assume that some of you have faced times when you say to yourselves, “I just don’t have the strength to be in the fellowship of the saints.” Or, “I just can’t find the time.” We want to have strong friendships with our fellow believers; but we find ourselves unable to forge such friendships.

There is difficulty. What can we do to overcome this difficulty?

Among the many things we can do, three stand out.

First, pray. Our hearts must desire what is right—true friendships with believers in the church. When we desire what is right and bring that desire to the Lord, the Lord will strengthen us to establish and maintain the friendships we seek.

Telling our parents our difficulties is a second thing we should do. The Lord gives us parents to guide us through our youth. However, guidance cannot be given if we choose to be silent towards our parents about our struggles. The Lord has ordained that parents guide us when we share our struggles with them. When we do so, our parents would know the best advice to give us.

Yes, I, a child in a Covenant home for nineteen years, grant it that parents do not always give the best advice. Yet, the source of help God sets for us in the home is our parents. Do not hesitate to share your struggles with your parents.

A third thing we can do is to make time. Find ways to get your school- work done to free up time for the activities of the church. To do so may mean spending less time on Snapchat, Facebook, YouTube, or video games; it may mean spending part of your recess to get school-work done. Do not misunderstand me: My point here is not to tell you how you should make time. My point is that all of us must find our own ways to free up our time for the church. To share a little from my side, I gave up watching videos on basketball tactics and keeping up with the latest basketball news on the Internet. For me, giving up these things spared me more time in the week to get myself ready for Bible studies and workshops.

Again, these are not the only three ways to fight the struggle. Nonetheless, they are a start.

Above all, do not be discouraged to find yourself struggling. To spend our time in the church, to find true friends in the church, is one of the difficulties the Lord has given us in Singapore.

And, I say, a difficulty and struggle unique to us. We do not have our own school yet. If we were to have our own school, we would spend our weekdays among fellow believers—not just hours, but days! Indeed, an abundance of time to forge strong friendships with each other! But, this school is yet to be.

What then? Is it worth the struggle now to forge such friendships?

And, there is still that question about unbelievers.

More to come, DV.

Written by: Lim Yang Zhi | Issue 39