Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Giving to Caesar and giving to God

1 March Pastor’s notes

Giving to Caesar and giving to God

Last’s week’s WHAM verse of the week was Matthews 22:17-22. The context is interesting (read v.15-22) as two normally opposing groups, the Pharisees and the Herodians, joined together to try to trap Jesus. The former were strict nationalistic Jewish religious teachers, and were against Roman occupation. And the latter were from a Jewish political party who sympathized with the Herodian rulers from Rome.  Natural enemies became “friends” to lay a trap for their common enemy Jesus.

The plan they thought of was brilliant and fool proof (at least they thought it was). The Pharisees sent their disciples so it would look as if the question was a genuine query. They would flatter Jesus to get his guard down and then hit Jesus with a question where to answer either yes or no would place Jesus in a most difficult and dangerous position. “Yes” would make him seem like a traitor and a non- patriotic Jew. “No” would give the Herodians good evidence to report him to the Roman authorities for sedition.

 “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?

But without missing a beat, Jesus avoids incriminating himself and uses the opportunity to teach an important lesson.

But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.  And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

The coin had Caesar’s image and title on it, and therefore by extension, belonged to Caesar.

But it is more than that. If Caesar is to be given his due, God should likewise be given His due. For not only is the whole earth God’s and everything in it (Psalms 24:1), we bear God’s image and so belong to God. What we are required to give God was is not just some monetary taxes but our entire lives.

It’s something important to reflect on.

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (Matt 16:26)

Friday, February 20, 2015

A question on Christian tradition

A question on Christian tradition

Pastor’s notes for 22 Feb 2015

Last week’s WHAM verse(s) of the week were 1 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” 3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? (Matt 15:1-3)

Matthew 15:1-19 is personally challenging for me.  The issue was a complaint by religious leaders as to why Jesus’ disciples were not more stringent in keeping the tradition of the Jewish elders. The “tradition of the elders” is a reference to a body of oral traditions that was passed down from generation to generation. The intention was noble – to help the people obey God’s commands.

The tradition of ceremonial cleanness had the purpose of reminding the people about the need for purity of heart because God is a holy God. This was a good tradition. But sadly it became it took the place of the Law because the outward cleanliness ritual became the sole focus.

Hence Jesus’ harsh response where he accuses them of being hypocrites who were scrupulous in externals rites of cleanliness, yet did not take the same care to be clean (holy) internally.

One example Jesus gave was how they broke the commandment of God to ‘Honor your father and your mother’ by making a tradition that actually replaced the basic obligations of this sacred command of God. And to cement his point, Jesus applies the words of the prophet Isaiah as describing them – insincere in worship and only acting holy; making rules that were not from God to suit their own personal agendas.

This passage is challenging to me because we need church tradition and rituals to help us worship God in our thoughts, attitudes and actions. Good tradition and rituals are helpful applications of God’s commands.  But they can sometimes be a distraction and can usurp the biblical principle in question. How do we keep good traditions and yet not allow them to replace the commands of God?

Two simple examples related to prayer:

Giving thanks always to God is a command. Giving thanks to God for the food we eat is an excellent tradition. But saying “grace” can sometimes be just nice words that do not come from our heart. Have we for example found ourselves in the habit of saying “grace” before a meal (giving thanks for it) but soon after be often found complain about the meal?

Opening in prayer before a meeting or Bible study, humbly asking God to guide us and be with us, is a wonderful tradition based on biblical teaching. But it can become meaningless.  Have we for example been guilty of coming to meetings or studies with closed hearts and minds and with a spirit of pride?

We should often humbly pray to God for grace and discernment in this matter.

WHAM verse of the week:

17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

Matthew 22:17–22.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Amazing Faith

Pastor’s notes for 15 Feb 2015
Last week’s WHAM verse of the week was:  When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. (Matt 8:10). Do read Matthew 8:5-13 for the context if you have not done so.
I mentioned this passage in passing in my sermon last month on the humanity of Jesus and how he was able to be surprised.  But it is actually more than surprised. The Greek word “thaumazo” translated “marvelled” has the meaning of wonder, admiration, AMAZEMENT.
Ponder for a moment. This pagan centurion had faith that was able to actually amaze the Son of God. (This is an example of how the word “amazing” should be used!) Compare the centurions understanding of prayer and faith in comparison to what we see prevalent in ancient times and even in the church today.
1.      He understood the concept of authority and extended his understanding to the true and complete authority of Jesus and his relationship with God.

The centurion understood that he only had authority (as a centurion) because he was willing to be under the proper authority.

Even Jesus lived under the authority of the Father and because of that had real authority. The centurion understood this.

There cannot be amazing faith when the authority of the Bible is challenged.  Nor when the authority of church leaders or our won authority is higher than authority than of Jesus.

2.      He did not have any pre-conceived (“superstitious”) expectations as to how the healing had to be achieved. All he required was that Jesus’ speak the word.  And only when Jesus assented to this request did he exercise faith.

There cannot be amazing faith when we depend more on techniques to force faith rather than depend on God’s sovereignty. Nor when we jump the gun and proclaim authoritatively “healing” (or whatever the matter may be) in the name (and authority of Jesus) before God has actually agreed to our prayer request.

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  (Matt 6:9-10)

We can only have faith when Jesus has actually assented to our request and it has to be in the will of God.

3.      His whole demeanour was one of humility – from his request to his acknowledgement of Jesus’ granting his request.

There cannot be amazing faith when our demeanour is that of arrogance rather than  humility.   

 “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42) 

 “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” (Matt 20:23-24)

When Jesus prayed or granted a request, it had to be in accordance to the will of God the Father.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

To judge or not to judge

Pastor’s notes for 8 Feb 2015

I hope you have been enjoying the WHAM Bible reading challenge. If you haven’t started, do not lose heart. Just join in this week.

Last Sunday’s WHAM verse(s) of the week was
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matt 7:3-5)

I selected it as it is in the context of a sadly oft quoted verse, taken out of context and with the wrong attitude:  “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (Matt 7:1-2)

Verse 1-2 seems to teach it is not our place to judge anyone. And verses 3-5, that to do so would make us hypocrites as none of us are sinless. But is this the case?
Verse 6 set in the immediate context of verses 1-5 indicates that Jesus asked us to make a judgment and be discerning on how we interact with those who may treat holy things with disdain.
Jesus is not teaching us not to pass judgment, but to be wise and fair in our judgment of others. And with good measure he adds that we need to be humble in our approach - and realize that we should not judge others more harshly than is warranted or by a standard that is different from that which we judge ourselves.

To some who might be thinking along the lines of “then it is best I do not judge at all …”, that is not an option. What we should be striving to do is to learn and know God’s standard (the context is the “Sermon on the Mount”), strive by God’s grace to live by that standard and make help each other live by those standards.

But let us do our best to do so with grace and mercy, and remember that ultimate judgment comes from God and not us. Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18 might help – it ends this way …

And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you? (Matt 18:33)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

WHAM and the M’Cheyne Bible Reading Programme

* It has been a very long time since I posted in this blog. Hope I can be more consistent this year but it is not a New Year's resolution :-)

For Pastor’s notes 1 Feb 2015 (i.e. my church's Sunday bulletin)

WHAM and the M’Cheyne Bible Reading Programme

This Sunday we start on a journey / challenge as a church that hopefully all of us will undertake together: to read through the Bible in a year. To be more accurate, we will be attempting to read through the whole OT once, and the NT and Psalms twice.

To assist us, we will be using a Bible reading programme created by a Pastor named Robert Murray M’Cheyne.  A little about M’Cheyne might help inspire you. M’Cheyne passed away in 1843 before he even turned 30. Yet as young as he was, he was known throughout Scotland as “the saintly M’Cheyne”.

We know of him because a friend and colleague Andrew Bonar collected his sermons, messages and papers and published them in a book about his life. Here is an excerpt from the book, “Memoirs and remains of the Rev. Robert Murray M’Cheyne” on something he wrote to a young man. His advice is still helpful today especially as the acronym WHAM (Word, Heart and Mind) summarizes our focus for launching this programme / challenge. 

 “You read your Bible regularly, of course; but do try and understand it, and still more, to feel it. Read more parts than one at a time. For example, if you are reading Genesis, read a psalm also; or, if you are reading Matthew, read a small bit of an epistle also. Turn the Bible into prayer. Thus, if you were reading the 1st Psalm, spread the Bible on the chair before you, and kneel, and pray, ‘O Lord, give me the blessedness of the man,’ etc. ‘Let me not stand in the counsel of the ungodly,’ etc. ‘This is the best way of knowing the meaning of the Bible, and of learning to pray. In prayer confess your sins by name—going over those of the past day, one by one. Pray for your friends by name—father, mother, etc. etc. If you love them, surely you will pray for their souls. I know well that there are prayers constantly ascending for you from your own house; and will you not pray for them back again? Do this regularly. If you pray sincerely for others, it will make you pray for yourself”. (p.58)

You will note that his Bible reading programme, which he devised to help himself and his congregation read the Bible, encourages reading 4 different parts of the Bible a day.

Let me encourage you by saying that if you miss a day or two or even a few weeks of readings, DO NOT give up. If you are far behind and find it difficult to catch up, just skip ahead and read along the readings of the week with the rest of the church.  It is often easier to read as a community than as an individual. The point is to read as much as we can and enjoy and grow spiritually from the experience. Better to have read some weeks than not at all.

Also if this is the first time you are attempting to read through the Bible and you find it daunting along the way, focus on reading just the first 2 passages on each day’s list. So for example, you will note that the readings for 1 Feb are: Gen 1, Matt 1, Ezra 1 and Acts 1. Just read Gen 1 and Matt 1. This way you would at least have read the whole NT and Psalms in a year and lots of the OT.  And in 2016, if you read the 3rd and 4th readings you will complete the rest of the OT and would have read again the whole NT and Psalms.

One last tip: If you do not set aside a special time to read you will find it difficult to do so. So block time to read.

Throughout the year I will use my Pastor’s Notes column to focus mainly on short devotions related to a passage or two from the week’s first two readings.

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.1 Peter 2:2-3

p/s special thanks to Jin Wan, Shuren Sum, Steven Long, Jessica Boey, Matt Phang, Mabel Wong and Shermaine Au for being part of the WHAM team.

WHAM verse of the week:

 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matt 7:3-5)