Monday, March 29, 2010

The Purpose Of Life (IMU Interfaith Forum)

Had the pleasure of doing an interfaith forum at International Medical University on the topic of The Purpose of Life alongside Saudara Shah Kirit, Bro Michael Aloysius, Mr Ganga and Dr Phang. The message can be downloaded here

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Easter: Coming To A Planet Near You

The tomb is empty! Christ has risen from the grave.

Startled with fear and doubt, the best theory His disciples could come up with was that they have seen a ghost! (Luke 24:37)

So he shows them His very physical hands and feet, “Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones”.

Still they remain stunned in joy and amazement. Then Jesus gave them the ultimate evidence.

“You’ve got anything here to eat?”

And the risen Lord of the universe munched down a piece of broiled fish in front of their eyes (Luke 24:42). His resurrected body is capable of swallowing food neatly unlike those messy ghosts we find in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean.

This is no phantom. He is back – with muscles, bones and a functioning stomach.

All over the world, Christians celebrate the bodily resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday. It marks the end of Lent season of fasting, prayer and penance; and the beginning of Easter season that lasts for fifty days until Pentecost. Tom Wright wrote, “If Lent is a time to give things up; Easter ought to be a time to take things up.”

If Lent is a season to let go of old habits, sins and attitudes that hinder our walk with God, what are the new and wholesome things we should pick up for Easter season?

That really depends on how we understand the meaning of Easter for us today.

When many people think of the resurrection, they think of life after death in heaven. Like those popular cartoon sketches of people floating around in fluffy clouds, wearing white gowns with a harp in their hand and a halo on their head. The idea is to escape from this physical world. Life on this earth is just a temporary transit station to a disembodied state of bliss somewhere else.

And the danger of that is we can be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good. It creates a mentality where we withdraw from life and passively wait for the afterlife.

But the Christian hope of eternal life is not like that. It is not about running away from reality. Our ultimate future is a new heaven and a new earth. This world we live in will be renewed, transformed and restored. It won’t be abandoned or left to rot.

So we look forward to a resurrection just like Jesus’ where we will be raised to life in an incorruptible and glorified body. (Not as a ghostly, floating apparition!)

What God has done in Christ on Easter morning, He would do on a cosmic scale for the entire creation, including us. There will be no more sorrow, sickness, decay or violence for God will wipe away every tear and restore all that is good. C.S. Lewis described the future redeemed world to be more substantial, more tangible and more solid than the world as we know it.

The fullness of God's kingdom shall come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. So we can expect to be fruitful stewards of His renewed universe and worshipful priests who glorify and enjoy God’s presence for eternity.

But while we wait for that glorious day, we can start practicing right now! In the meantime, we are to live today as if the future is already present. The way we go about our daily chores, prayers and worship are to be signposts pointing forward to what God’s reign in its future fullness would look like.

The church community is like a movie preview: We are to display some hints, glimpses or foretastes of the actual movie so people will look at us and go, “Wow! I want to see the complete show!” New Creation: Coming soon to a planet near you…

If that is what Easter resurrection means, shall we not take up some new things that model (in small ways) the future kingdom of justice, love and hope?

Now, how would that look like?

Perhaps it could mean simple things like signing up for a new project that gets our hands dirty conserving the environment. Or maybe, getting involved in caring for the poor and the sick around us? Ever thought of spending some time and energy on a worthy social cause that promotes fairness and peace in our country?

Surely the surprising reality of Easter Sunday ought to empower us to be witnesses of Christ’s death and resurrection the way it did for the early disciples.

If the present creation and our bodies will not be forsaken but ultimately transformed, then we are to work here-and-now in anticipation of that final vision. Resurrection power is lived out in down-to-earth realities, grounded in the real world where we do business, as we cook in the kitchen, when we play with our children, study in schools, draw a painting, love and be loved, infusing everyday life with fresh spirituality and power.

If Lent is a season for fasting, then perhaps Easter should be a season of celebrating the newness of life, the goodness of creation and the hope of future glory that may even include a hearty meal of broiled fish eaten to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

“If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection” (Romans 6:5)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Lent Reflection: Preserved to Persevere In Grace

Date: Saturday, March 13
Title: Preserved to Persevere In Grace
The Bible Passage: Romans 8:18-39

Key Words: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

John Bunyan’s classic allegory Pilgrim’s Progress depicted Christian’s spiritual journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. Along the narrow road, he came across a host of temptations and dangers.

We read of how Christian was mired in the Swamp of Despondency, almost deceived by Worldly Wiseman’s advice, deserted by his fickle companion Pliable and wounded in a fight with the dart-throwing monster Apollyon. On other occasions, he was wearied into slumber on the Hill of Difficulty, bribed by Demas’ wealth and thrown into prison by Giant Despair of Doubting castle.

He was also mocked and persecuted after refusing to be enticed by the merchandises at Vanity Fair, the city of sinful pleasures!

Do you recognize some of these challenges along your own spiritual trek to the Celestial City? Ever felt being abandoned lately? Tired of plodding on the road less traveled? Hurt by cruel ridicule or gossip? Knocked down with despair and doubt? Lured away by worldly comforts?

The apostle Paul says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (v18).

As Christians, we do not wander like aimless vagabonds. Rather, we travel as pilgrims with a destination at heart. Our glorious hope of a renewed creation and resurrected bodies in God’s presence made the present hardships we face pale in comparison.

In the midst of all these obstacles, God works out His sovereign purposes for the good of those who love him. He has begun redemption in foreknowing, predestinating, calling and justifying us that we may be shaped into Christ-likeness. If God is for us, who can be against us?

If He has already done the hard part of giving His own Son to us all, how could He not do the easier bit of preserving us till the finishing line? What could possibly separate us from the love of God?

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:37-39)

“Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come,
Tis’ Grace has brought me safe thus far, And Grace will lead me home.”
- From the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Lent Reflection: Our Hope against All Hope

Date: Thursday, March 4
Title: Our Hope against All Hope
The Bible Passage: Romans 4: 13-25

Key Words: “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations.” (Romans 4:18)

Reality check: The guy was a centenarian while his wife was sterile. They faced the fact that they were never going to have a child of their own. (v19)

But here comes the promise: “Your name will be Abraham for you will be the father of many nations” (Genesis 17:5). It must have sounded like a divine punch line because even Abraham and Sarah can barely stop laughing! Yet when all hope seemed lost, they put their confidence in God. If He can raise the dead and create everything out of nothing, surely He is big enough to do what He has said.

Their miracle boy Isaac was pledged by the sheer grace of God. And they received the promise with the empty hands of faith. It was not something they had earned. God didn’t say, “Obey this law and I will bless you”.

It was more like, “I will bless you and make you a blessing. Believe in My promise”.

Abraham believed, and it was credited to him as righteousness. (v22)

Don’t we sometimes get into the habit of bargaining with our heavenly Father for goodies? “Lord, if I deny myself some earthly pleasures, would you promise to answer my requests? Or if I give extra offering, surely I deserve extra blessing!”

Such prayers look more like a business deal than a relationship. And if we fail to keep up with our efforts to appease God, we fall into despair.

Perhaps we need another reality check: Aren’t we now spiritual children of Abraham through faith in Jesus? By sheer grace, God’s promised blessing is poured out to many nations (including us!)

Like Abraham, we are declared as righteous through Christ who died for our sins and resurrected for our justification (v 25). That’s good news!

Which means the basis of our acceptance and petitions before God depends on what Christ has done rather than our track record in law-keeping. The gospel sets us free to humbly say, “Lord, it’s not about me. It’s all from you and for your glory. Help me with this need or support me without it being met. I trust in your promise to never leave nor forsake me.”

When all hope seems lost, open up the empty hands of faith and lay hold of His promises. Be fully persuaded that God has the power to do what he has said.