Reliability of the gospel

coconut
coconut

On Thursday, I read in the TODAY free paper that Dr Aseem Malhotra a cardiologist wrote something in a respected medical journal that busts the myth of the role of saturated fat in heart disease. That is good news if you love the humble coconut that has been falsely given a life sentence for being dangerously laden with saturated fat. We have been warned unceasingly of having coconut oils in our curries, lontong, chendol and nasi lemak. Now that life sentence can be lifted, and we do not have to settle for substitutes like yoghurt or skimmed milk. Probably for a while…. until another study comes along to tell us the opposite. The words and wisdom of men shift with time and situation and place and it can be confusing to live by man’s word. God’s word however never changes, and we can confidently live by the gospel that has once and for all been delivered to us in the New Testament. With the certainty of the unchanging gospel we can live with confidence and peace. And we can be sure that it will result in the good life.

Christian Gospel Mission: tutored in grace for a mission at hand

Christian Gospel Mission

The church opposite former Keat Hong Camp

The former Keat Hong Camp was where national servicemen collected their soldier uniforms, caps, socks, belts and boots. As I stood at the worship hall of Christian Gospel Mission and looked out across Choa Chu Kang Avenue 1, I saw a large spacious bare land. Keat Hong Camp had been flattened. In its place, the Housing Development Board will be building thousands of apartment units. The harvest is coming to where the church is.

The Christian Gospel Mission, which first began in Jalan Cheng Hwa in Bukit Panjang, had relocated here, and has remained here for decades now. It is part of a stretch of shop-houses opposite what was once Keat Hong Camp. They are a church, a kindergarten and a student care center. They are Mandarin-speaking but the children of the original church congregation, have grown up and are mostly  effectively bi-lingual. They are about 70 members and with a good mix of young and old and middle-aged. They have a new pastor, a former teacher, and he has taken over from his father, Choo Fah Chong. He is pastor Kevin Choo and he preaches the message of radical grace. The church is currently adjusting well as they sit under teachings that bring a new perspective to the outworking of the Christian life.

Discussion during Sunday serviceGrace-based, bi-lingual, interesting service

The unique thing about this church is that besides being “grace-based” and bi-lingual, the church’s Sunday service has an interesting format that my Christian education director would have been proud of. After the singing, the offering and announcements, the church would break into discussion groups after the pastor gave them some directions. The fruit of the discussions of each group would then be shared, and the pastor would teach the word, using and referring to the input as he delivered the message. This is learning that is interesting, engaging, interactive and dynamic.

Teochew muay

Since I was a guest preacher they did the usual traditional order of service. I had an interpreter Joseph, who translated my message for the Pastor Kenny's message translated into Mandarincongregation. I spoke about “God’s Love Tattoo”.  One of the sermon illustrations I used was about Teochew muay. It tickled them so much that I heard this Easter service they had that after the service. They have a retired hotel chef, so their Teochew muay must have been plus, plus. I brought along a Pastor Kenny, Pastor Kevin Choo, Euclid, Josephfriend, Euclid, who had been trained for a year in the School of the Supernatural in Bethel.  He was a great help during ministry time when we prayed and prophesied over people who came forward with needs.They were friendly and hospitable and after the service, we lunched at a coffee shop nearby: Teochew muay…well almost.

Being equipped for a great mission

I left the place thinking of its potential: the congregation experiencing new beginnings in the gospel of grace; the vast numbers of new families that will have new beginnings in the apartment blocks that will be built within four years. For such a time as this, the congregation is being tutored and equipped in the truths of grace, and I pray the Lord’s word will prosper and bear fruit through their faithful stewardship of the gospel to the new harvest field in front of them.

 

 

Law and grace in Les Miserables

Watching the Wolverine and Gladiator sing felt so odd. Yet in Les Miserables, the two macho actors Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe, made brave attempts to sing in this  film version of the musical.  But what have I to complain of.? I paid only $4 for the movie – a wee bonus for being older. My son twice told me to go catch it, and I did not regret doing so. Music and song has a way to reach the heart and it did move mine. As I reflected on the themes I realized there was an iridiscent interplay of law and grace throughout the musical. Surely there must be a blog post there waiting to be written. However, I chanced upon a wonderfully written, insightful piece in a Facebook post of Soh Chin San and was just blown away by it. I asked his permission to upload it on blogpastor.net and he kindly consented. So here it is: “The Beautiful Exposition of Law and Grace in Les Miserables” . Read and be blessed.

To be honest, Les Miserables (the movie) was really dreadful for me during some parts. I was not really into the historical aspects of the French revolution, and I could not appreciate the singing talents of the young revolutionists. So I was just either watching the movie with my palm on my face, or sleeping through those parts. Berinda was so amused.

The next day after I watched it, it just hit me that the spiritual aspects of the movie is so so beautiful. You may have seen some of your Christian friends post this on their facebook after watching the movie “Law and Grace in Les Miserables, Beautiful!”, and wondered what this was all about.

Law and Grace in the Bible

In the Bible, God has two major covenants – one is the Mosaic Covenant established with Moses, and the other is the New Covenant established with Jesus. Before Jesus came, the Jewish people lived under the Law – the 10 commandments. If they perform, they are blessed. If they fail, they are condemned. Yearly, they offer sacrifices to atone for their failures of the 10 commandments. No one could keep them, not the best of them.

Jesus came, and He showed the true heart of God, the heart of Grace, and established the New Covenant of Grace. The New Covenant of Grace is not based on man’s performance on the 10 commandments, but is based on God’s goodness and what His Son, Jesus has accomplished for us on the cross. And because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are no longer under the old covenant of the Law (the 10 commandments), we are now under the new covenant of Grace and His finished work.

The Bible says “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” In Romans 6:14

In another place “But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.” – Romans 7:6

Christians are called to live by grace, lean on grace and be transformed by grace. Christians are called to live in the newness of the Spirit, not in the oldness of the letter (the law).

As the Word says, the law is holy, just and good. But it is not meant to save or transform. It is meant only for the purpose of bringing man to the end of himself, ready to receive Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.

In 2 Corinthians 3:7, Paul talks about the glory of the New Covenant. Notice that he calls the law the ministry of death.

“But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory.”

That is why we call the Gospel the Good News. It is that good. Jesus has come to establish the New Covenant. Man no longer needs to perform to be loved or forgiven by God. Everything is given through the perfect sacrifice of His Son. That we receive the forgiveness of sins, the gift of righteousness, the abundance of grace, eternal life, peace, joy, love, every manner of fruits based on His finished work. Hallelujah! Christ is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, redemption.

Victor Hugo knows Law and Grace

As the movie ended, there is just a deep sense that Victor Hugo understands law and grace. He brings it out extremely well in the characters Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) and Javert (Russell Crowe).

Back when the message of grace and the New Covenant was preached, many Christians attacked it and called it “heresy” and that Christians who live by grace and not be law practise “lawlessness”. But even back in 1862, Victor Hugo knew very well what are the effects of living under grace and living under the law. We shall use the stories of Jean Valjean (characterizing a man transformed by grace – God’s goodness and unmerited favor) and Javert (characterizing a man who lives by the law, upholds the law).

JavertLet’s look at Javert first – a man who lives by the law

1. A man who lives by the law never rests

Javert spent his whole life upholding the law, and hunting down Valjean. He will never rest until justice is upheld. He has no other life and purpose other than upholding the law and bringing Valjean to justice. Every waking day and night, he cannot enjoy life as it is, but simply spends his time thinking about capturing Valjean.

2. A man who lives by the law condemns everyone

Javert cannot see any fault in himself. He is the righteous man. And everyone else is a criminal or a flawed moral character. His vocation is to condemn. He does not lift a finger to help the person transform. He can only say “You are wrong, you need to be punished”, but cannot say “let me help you.”

3. A man who lives by the law is unbending

Javert cannot compromise on the law. The law is one composite whole. If he compromises on one, the whole system falls apart. He needs to uphold the law in its entirety.

4. A man who lives by the law can never accept grace

Valjean, after years of being hunted like a dog, chose to forgive Javert and let him go. But Javert cannot accept grace. He cannot accept love and forgiveness. He does not understand it. He spends his whole life holding people to the law and throwing them into prison. And for someone to just let go and give him grace, is something that he has never experienced and will never accept.

5. A man who lives by the law ends with death and destruction

Paul was not exaggerating when he says “the ministry of death”. Javert could not reconcile the mercy shown to him and the need to uphold the law. In his dilemma of moral wrestling, he kills himself.

ValjeanAnd now, let’s look at Valjean. A man transformed by grace.

1. Grace gives and saves and loves unconditionally.

We see Valjean going around, doing good to all the people he met. He uses his strength to save a man pinned underneath a cart. He adopts Cosette as his own daughter and loves her unconditionally. He risks his own life to save Marius because he loves Cosette. Throughout the whole time, he did not need the law to remind him to do good. The love of God burns in his heart to do good, to give, to love, to save with the sacrificial love. Amen!

2. Grace upholds Justice.

This is a beautiful part. At one point in time, Javert arrested a man and accused him of being Valjean. Valjean could have let the man die and live his life of prosperity and happiness. He would never be hunted by Javert again. But when one lives by grace, He upholds the law without even knowing it. People who live and are transformed by grace do not live lawless lives. On the reverse, they fulfill the law, and more. Valjean is an act of courage and justice, appeared in the court to clear the man’s name.

3. Grace is never vengeful, and full of forgiveness.

On one occasion, Valjean has the perfect opportunity to finish off Javert. The man who caused him so much misery, looked down on him, condemned him, and is even the cause of Fantine’s death! But Valjean, having known grace, tasted grace, decided to give Javert grace and mercy. He does not need to take revenge or take justice into his own hands. He is a man after all, shown the same grace and mercy. He never condemns others, but grace begets grace.

4. Grace lets go and lets God.

During the wedding preparations of Marius and Cosette (this part was not shown well by the movie, but it is in the novel), Valjean admitted to being a convict in the past. He upholds truth. And Marius was horrified by this truth, assumes the worst of Valjean, and asks Valjean to leave. Valjean respects Marius’ judgment and decided to leave Marius and Cosette, his beloved daughter. He loses the will to live.

And this is the beautiful part. Behind the scenes, God is orchestrating for Valjean’s name to be vindicated thoroughly. During the wedding, Thénardier (Sacha Baron Cohen) was trying to convince Marius that Valjean was a murderer, using the piece of cloth. The fabric made Marius realise that Valjean was the one who rescued his life and realised that Valjean is a man of courage, goodness and love. Marius brings Cosette to reconcile with Valjean.

When you are under Grace, God vindicates your name! You do not have to defend yourself!

5. Grace may go through trials, but will have a beautiful ending

Valjean has gone through so much in life. But yet, he has never lost sight of grace. He never stopped loving, giving and sacrificing. At times when he upheld truth and justice, he was misunderstood or landed unto trouble. But God always delivered him, never left him, never forsook him. And best of all, God gave him a glorious, beautiful ending in his life. This is consistent with all the patriarchs of the Abrahamic Covenant. Abraham, Jacob, Joseph. They went through several challenges in life. But they lived before the 10 commandments was given, based on God’s goodness. And while they faced severe trials in life, God always delivered them, gave them a beautiful ending, an eternal weight of glory. Hallelujah! 2 Corinthians 4:16-17 says

Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.

Other background that brings out the beauty of Les Miserables

Did you know that Valjean is based on a real person? An ex convict who became known for his philantrophy.

Did you know also know, that when Victor Hugo published Les Miserables, every great critic in Paris has a deep negative report on the book?

These were some of the comments:

“One cannot read without an unconquerable disgust all the details Monsieur Hugo gives regarding the successful planning of riots.”

“artificial and disappointing”

“neither truth nor greatness.”

“an “infantile” effort and brought an end to Hugo’s career like “the fall of a God”.”

Wow. Imagine how crushed he must have been, to receive such scathing words from professional critiques. But in the same way that God gives Valjean a beautiful ending and an eternal weight of glory, God has vindicated Victor Hugo by making Les Miserables one of the most celebrated musicals for the last 150 years. And I believe God honors him because of the beautiful story of law and grace.

And today, it coincides with the Gospel Revolution happening around the world.

Hallelujah! Praise Jesus for His grace!

C.S. Lewis on the finished work of Christ

cs lewisWhat, then, is the difference which He has made to the whole human mass? It is just this; that the business of becoming a son of God, of being turned from a created thing into a begotten thing, of passing over from the temporary biological life into timeless ‘spiritual’ life, has been done for us. Humanity is already ‘saved’ in principle. We individuals have to appropriate that salvation. But the really tough work – the bit we could not have done for ourselves – has been done for us. We have not got to try to climb up into spiritual life by our own efforts; it has already come down into the human race. If we will only lay ourselves open to the one Man in whom it was fully present, and who, in spite of being God, is also a real man, He will do it in us and for us. Remember what I said about ‘good infection’ . One of our own race has this new life: if we get close to Him we shall catch it from Him.” (Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis, pp. 156-157)

From job description to the dictates of love

Law There was a man who employed a maid and gave her a job description. She was to wake up at 7 every morning and prepare breakfast for him and his elderly sick mother and make sure she took her medicine. Later she was to clean and tidy the whole house and do the laundry. After that she was to cook lunch for his mother and to make sure his mum took a nap. Later she was to cook dinner and take his wheelchair-bound mother for a walk in the nearby park. After dinner she was to iron the clothing and prepare his mum for bed. On Sundays she had her day off, and he would take care of his mum then. The maid did her best to follow the job description but she often failed and faltered, and she did her best to cover her failures.

The man fell in love with the maid and confessed his love for her. She responded in kind and soon they got married. After the wedding, the man took out the old job description and tore it away and said to her, “You are now my wife. We have a love and trust relationship with one another. We do not need a job descriptions. Do as your love dictates.”

The wife did everything she used to do for the man, now her husband, and his mother, now her mother in law. However she did even much more, giving them both much love, affection and she bore three children.  She did more than her old job description and with more love, energy, purpose, devotion and faithfulness.

But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of written code. (Rom 7:6)

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.(Gal 5:18)

Pastor Lawrence Koo of Agape Community Church

Stalled car and stalled mind

My thoughts jumped about like monkeys in a tree. I had to tell pastor Lawrence Koo of Agape Community Church about what happened. He may have to be prepared to speak instead, as I was to be the guest speaker in his 4pm church service on Saturday. Maybe I should call for a tow truck. I should get a cab, but can I leave the car here on busy Bukit Timah Road? I could not get him, so I messaged him and hoped he read it.

My car had stalled in the middle lane near Eng Neo Avenue, but I managed to slowly guide it to the side with my hazard lights on. The stalled car was hampering traffic on lane 3.  Somehow I managed to get the car going again, with Ps Lawrence Koo with methe air-con switched off, but the car stalled again along the main road, and I managed to guide it into quiet Dunkirk Road. Hailing a cab, I dashed to  Toa Payoh where the church meets in a cozy red auditorium, that could easily pass off as a cinema.

Pastor Lawrence Koo

The singing had already begun and Pastor Lawrence was glad to see me and I was glad I was only 10 minutes late. My thoughts still wandered about while others worshiped. Lord, give me Your peace and I entrust the situation to You. Before I knew it, I was graciously introduced. Pastor Lawrence and I first met when we went together to visit Willow Creek Community’s Church conference about a decade ago. He is a widely respected Assemblies of God minister who during his Bible college days planted a church in Seremban, Malaysia which today is one of the more notable churches in that town. We have caught up on various occasions since then . He went frequently to the annual Leadership Summit hosted by Bill Hybels’ church. What a wonderful thing it was when he actually brought the Global Leadership Summit (an abridged video version of the Summit) to Singapore several years ago and chaired the executive committee for several years. He provides able and loving leadership to Agape Community Church and chairs the denomination’s Bible college, A.G.B.C. It was evident there was a strong bond of love between pastor and congregation.

beautiful auditorium

worship team

speaking of the Father's loveThe Father’s love for us

Before I knew it I was at the sleek modern pulpit and despite a slow start managed to gradually connect with the congregation that comprised mostly young families. I preached to them some fundamental truths of what the Father has done for us from gospel-rich Ephesians 1: 3-7. I talked about the Father’s love for us: how He wants to bless us; how he had chosen us, and adopted us as his children.  The message was peppered with lots of relevant illustrations and analogies and applications.

Chong’s car diagnosis

The service ended and the people were friendly and Lawrence introduced me to Chong, an expert with cars. They were very kind and drove me to my stalled car. Chong took about 25 minutes to investigate the problem thoroughly. His diagnosis: radiator problem. You can drive back but do so without air-conditioning and keep sight of the temperature gauge. As I drove off, I thank God for this kindness, and was happy to be safely home and to have the car to use on Sunday.

INCEPTION of the good news of God’s grace

InceptionThe plot of INCEPTION

The film INCEPTION, starring Leonardo Dicaprio, poses an intriguing proposition, and by extension an interesting spiritual application. The action film is science fiction with a tantalising idea: that ideas and secrets and technology can be extracted from people while their subconscious mind are at their most vulnerable- during dream state. So the hero is skilled at extracting secret industrial information from people, and is highly in demand by competitor clients, as well as a fugitive from those who have been milked. The tension is set when he was asked to plant an idea rather than extract ideas from a particular heir of a near monopoly. Its a tight fast-moving, suspenseful movie which ends with a successful conclusion and we are meant to assume that the idea bore fruition and the client who hired him reaped the harvest from the growth of that idea.

How is  preaching like INCEPTION?

Some people think that preaching is passe and ineffective. The monologue they say is doomed to failure in a world that is increasingly interactive, and that grew up on sound bytes, moving visuals and immediate gratification of senses. Young people and increasingly the older ones as well are having shorter attention spans than ever before. It used to be 20 minutes but I speculate that it is much less, perhaps a worrying 2 minutes! Is the sermon as a method of communication past expiry date?

Despite all this I still believe there is a place for the sermon. It does help to have power point visuals, or fill in the blanks outlines in the bulletin, or to keep the sermon interesting.  However, the sermon is not a lecture, or an interesting public talk. A sermon has life: it is impregnated by the preacher’s soul and the Spirit’s life-giving power. And the worship service is the equivalent of the dream state, when a person, with all his rational and spiritual powers intact (unlike in dream state), is most receptive to receiving an implantation of the eternal, life changing good news of Jesus Christ. With the implant of an idea, that God in Christ reconciled the world to Himself, and joined them to the life of the Triune God, the recipient would have received a word that would generate life and transformation, leading to a harvest of the Spirit, the fruit of righteousness.

INCEPTION means the beginning, the start of a process, a project and it does appropriately describe what can possibly happen through preaching of the good news of God’s grace, and its reception into the receptive, believing heart. When the Word is implanted it is just the beginning of a process, a project that will culminate in life transformation and the greater glory of God.